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The Eye


April 18 2003


The Eye has been alliteratively perusing the pages of SFPolifix, trying to fathom the minds of the city’s notorious political junkies. A thread called “Reading List” reveals that they’re also news junkies, finding useful info in everything from Soldier of Fortune to the Economist (although observant eyes might question the utility of reading that produces statements like “The 4th derivative being zero on the interval you're integrating over is sufficient”).

Less than sufficient, the posters generally agree, are the main players in this “two-newspaper” town. The Eye concurs.

The Chron appears headed toward anorexia (never too rich or too skinny?). Wizards Falk & Bronstein have been busily waving their magic wands, turning distinctive columnists into nearly invisible reporters while announcing that the paper is “going to run, not walk” in the direction of a 20% staff cut. Fewer ads; fewer pages; fewer people. More wire service stories; less local news

Meanwhile, The Senior Paper has become a joke. If the Independent is delivered to your doorstep (it never makes it to The Eye’s domicile, but nobody’s perfect) and if it carries the same local news stories as the Ex, why on earth would anyone pick up the Ex? For the horoscope? You can still get national/international news & sports from the Chron. And you can find more local news in Paul Kozakiewicz’s Richmond Review & Sunset Beacon, in the Ratcliffs’ Bay View, and in the SF Business Times than in either big guy.

Fortunately, the Hearsts’ subsidy ends soon so we can put this pathetic travesty of a newspaper out of its misery. Where is Clint Reilly when we need him? Surely the token tabloid that sits in miserly piles in the Examiner’s white newsracks violates the spirit of the sales agreement, if not the letter.

But does this really matter to the SFPolifix junkies? Despite San Francisco’s reputation as a city with a passion for politics, it often turns out that it’s personality, not political analysis, that triggers rapid heartbeats and fevered brows. Like readers in any other city in any other country, these addicts thrive on the soap opera of deals & snubs that floats on the surface of the political process.

The Eye’s evidence for such a damning assertion? Several weeks ago, a new feature called the News Hole began to appear in the Call (for the journalistically challenged, in a print paper the news hole is the open space between the ads where the news goes), which sought to carry items of local interest unavailable in other, larger publications. Some came from private citizens like Michael Lyon; some from people in the public eye like Angela Alioto. Quite often, they’re press releases. These items ran as written - a no-no in journalism, where the rule is to rewrite press releases, presumably to ensure objectivity. But the Call lacks rewrite staff, and its readers are likely to encounter the “other side” in the big media anyway. The idea isn’t new: according to BusinessWeek, the Korean online newspaper OhmyNews.com, which is credited with swinging the last election to Roh Moo Hyun, operates a “shoestring operation, which now has 45 full-time staff working alongside some 10,000 ‘citizen reporters’-- who generate 80% of the site's stories.”

You want news? We got it.

Only you don’t want it. Week after week, the stats on News Hole articles are in the cellar. Nobody wants to read Police Officer Shoots Dog and Harasses Mobile Residents or Docs in Some DPH Primary Care Clinics Told Not to Make Appointments After June 30th. But you scrutinize every press release that Gavin Newsom’s campaign headquarters sends out.

There are good tales in the city’s political soap opera. But as the old radio announcer used to say, there are 8 million stories in the naked city. We’re missing most of them.

There’s the story that didn’t bark: the question that lurks unasked. The In Crowd & Bruce Bellingham smile affectionately at the daily imbibers at Moose’s, for example, and they duly cover festivities like the Herb Caen celebration and the Doormen’s Lunch there. But the big story lies behind the pretty balloons: in a down-spiraling economy Ed Moose, ever the wily old softball player, is keeping his team alive by a series of carefully planned events. In a city that lives & breathes food, what are other restaurateurs doing to prevent disaster?

Even worse, there’s the where’s-the-other-shoe story: we hear the beginning, with much fanfare, but never learn how things turn out. That happened with the Pagoda Theater in North Beach. After heated neighborhood meetings and Planning rigmarole, in 2001 developer Doug Ahlers took on the task of converting the old Chinese-movie venue and late-night home of the Cockettes into a place for live entertainment, a place where it’s “hip to go to the theater.” In 2001 the Chron reported delays. Today the structure is boarded up, with a large For Lease / For Sale sign. What happened? Alfonso Felder, of the San Francisco Neighborhood Theater Foundation, drops the other shoe: “The plan for Muriel's Theatre fell apart midway through the conversion process. Most of the seismic and structural work was completed but the building is now a vacant shell. I have toured the theatre recently and definitely got the sense that the property owner is inclined to maintain a use consistent with the building's prior uses.” The collapse of dreams isn’t news?

Then there’s the shoe that Ron Kaufman wore in 2000 when he ushered his plans for the huge Macromedia headquarters at 450 Rhode Island through Planning, sending an old auto-repair shop to the sticks. Remember the furor? At one hearing, affordable housing advocate Calvin Welch fumed, “This is the worst EIR I've ever read on a major project.” Three years later, in the March 14 SF Business Times, Kaufman drops the other sneaker: Faced with an office-sated city, “we’ll get out money out of the site and move onto something else.” A.F. Evans proposes housing on the spot - “adjacent to Potrero Hill, which is one of the nicest areas in the city” -- two buildings with 172 units. The changing of the development guard isn’t news?

Anecdotes. Stories. The tesserae that make up a city’s political mosaic. The floor upon which political decisions are made. The stuff that political junkies live for. If they only knew.


Closer to home, The Eye spies gloom. The Boss is in a funk: Aaron Peskin doesn’t know who she is.

The Eye watches a tear roll down her face. “Didn’t we spend a lovely afternoon together at Paul McConnell’s Russian Hill apartment, discussing public power with the PiG&E pig?” Her brow furrows. “Didn’t we sit across from each other at the table in Matt Gonzalez’s office, trading wisecracks, with only h. brown & Jim Dorenkott as chaperones?” She sighs. “And now he’s cruelly sent me into oblivion.”

The Eye wonders if the 3-D supervisor’s bump of curiosity is so flat that he assumes h. brown’s columns spring fully formed, like Minerva from her daddy’s head. Or does he subscribe to the androcentric theory that all in-your-face columnists reside at the Sentinel? (In which case, The Boss & Florence Fang become very strange bedfellows.)

Theory-schmeary. The Eye grows weary; The Boss is teary. There is no joy in Mudville: Aaron Peskin has announced, “I do not know Betsey Culp.”

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