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The Eye


April 30, 2003

  The Eye assumes that by now you’ve made your way through the de-clawing of the Fangs in this week’s Guardian. Don’t start snoozing just yet. SFPolifix points out that the fur has only just begun to fly.

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A little fur might fly at Fino Restaurant, if the proprietors don’t get their act together. The bar & ristorante, part of the fine old Andrews Hotel on Post, says its “fine Italian cuisine is skillfully and creatively prepared using fresh California ingredients, with a menu designed for many tastes. Service here is excellent. High ceilings, arched windows, a cozy fireplace, rich mahogany bar and open kitchen create an inviting ambiance.” Fine & dandy. But not so fine is their valet parking, which sets you back a solid $15. The valets apparently trundle the cars off to Daly City or Vallejo: be prepared to wait a good 20 minutes for your flivver to chug up to the front door. And if you’ve just paid a visit to the neighborhood ATM machine, be prepared to pungle up a hefty tip: the far-trundling valets don’t make change.

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There are no hefty tips this year, the Chron tells us, for worthy institutions like the Symphony & the Opera. In a new version of the trickle-down effect, the falling economy has sent donations plummeting. If the big guys are suffering, imagine the plight of small non-profits.

The Eye attended a party thrown by just such an organization at Midtown Terrace recently. The Blind Babies Foundation, which has been helping Bay Area kids & parents for more than 50 years, is still hurting for funds. But some very generous people came through to make their Easter fete a fine event.

Imagine a tribe of happy toddlers, some sighted, some not, meeting up with a larger-than-life Easter Bunny. Or tracking down eggs that beep. Or descending on a petting zoo of musical instruments.

One tiny fairy princess settled down with a real live bunny. “Look, Sarah,” her mother said, it has the same color hair as you.” Sarah, delighted, pulled off her bonnet to compare white coiffures.

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Monday night The Eye went to temple, to hear seven of the mayoral candidates go at it. The debaters gathered in the remodeled mortuary at 16th & Dolores that has become Sha'ar Zahav. We're told the name means Golden Gate, a subtle play on the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, the entry point for the Messiah.

The Magnificent Seven were raring to enter the golden portals of Room 200 at City Hall. They spent 90 minutes telling an audience of about 200 why and how. This was the 4H Club of mayoral aspiration: homelessness, housing, handshakes, healthy smiles.

The host was Plan C, which president Michael Sullivan says has picked up 900 members since it got started about a year and a half ago. Its middle-road stance, which favors goodies for the middle class, is bruited to have boosted new supervisor Bevan Dufty's campaign no end.

Before the Seven came the Three: the D.A. candidates, with Bill Fazio and Kamala Harris giving incumbent Terence Hallinan a poke from the right and center, respectively. Kayo stuck to his themes of rehab, redemption, and reform (of the SFPD and anyone else who qualifies). Fazio got the biggest hand.

By contrast, the mayoral debate was decorous. With the prospect of Instant Runoff Voting, "making nice" is common sense. After all, if you don't get their first vote, you might score next time around.

Off the podium, every political junkie in sight was looking for change, in one direction or another. One speaker with cleanliness issues complained that homeless people were using the showers at Mission High School, but he thought the city should step squarely into the doggie do problem on city streets and call out the plastic baggie brigade. On the podium, Michael Denny got a big hand when he said rent control was a disaster. Jim Reid reintroduced himself every time he spoke. Ammiano was low-key; so was Leal. Alioto wasn't. Ribera has softened his ultra-conservative stance, though it likely would have scored points with the Plan C crowd.. Newsom was the only one in shirtsleeves and clearly the crowd favorite.

Eye-catching sound bites were already in evidence. Ammiano wants to be the Education Mayor. Reid opts for Housing Mayor; Leal, the Get-Along-With-Everybody Mayor; and Alioto, the Mayor Who Throws the Rascals Out.

Newsom had called out his troops. At least 40 supporters occupied the four corners of 16th & Dolores with big signs, little signs, and placards, all emblazoned with a megawatt red, white & blue NEWSOM. Despite the rain, these faithful stayed outside during the debate, cheering and shouting from time to time. Paid staff or volunteers? A little of both. The 2-D supe can muster a crowd in any weather. Move over, 104.5 FM. The true FOG-heads are Friends Of Gavin.

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They’re threatening to spring up like mushrooms after a heavy rain! The Planning Commission has scheduled a hearing on yet another wireless antenna encampment for May 1, this one consisting of “a total of eight antennas and related equipment for Verizon Wireless” on the roof at 3725 Buchanan. (Don’t even think of watching the proceedings on TV. Planning ran out of money to pay its cable bill -- to get in on the fun, you’ve got to take your baby blues and wander down in person to Room 400 City Hall.)

For years, the telecompanies would line up at the doorway & Planning would wave them through. But nowadays it ain’t necessarily so. The new Planners received a lesson in the democratic process from a well-organized gaggle of grass-rooters by the name of SNAFU, and the teletubbies are beginning to worry that they’ll have to climb a few flights of stairs to get to the promised land.

Here’s the deal. Way back in 1996, when cellphones were first crawling out of the primordial ooze, Congress passed a telecommunications act setting guidelines for the placement of antennas. People in the know say this act was virtually written by its beneficiaries, the telecommunications companies. It pronounced a number of no-nos, in particular: “No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission's regulations concerning such emissions.” In other words, we know the science; your health concerns are irrelevant. Shortly afterward, in August 1996, the Planning Department of the City & County of California put forth its own Wireless Telecommunications Services Facilities Siting Guidelines. (The Ethics Commission report for lobbying activity during the 3rd quarter of 1996 shows a remarkable interest in the subject.)

  Here an antenna, there an antenna. Today the number of permitted antennas has grown to an estimated 2,400, excluding microcell antennas, those baseball-bat-shaped gizmos on flagpoles and light posts, which need no permit. “An estimated 2,400”? No one, including Planning, seems to know how many are really out there.

Health concerns grew alongside the antennas. Original worries about heat effects (mirroring the dangers of microwave ovens) gave way to discussions of electromagnetic effects on brain physiology. People began to wonder about the cumulative dangers of multiple antennas. “Stop!” they tried to say. “Call a moratorium and do a careful re-examination of the hazards.” But their lips were sealed by those magic words penned in 1996: “No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission's regulations concerning such emissions.”

Here’s where the grass-rooters come in. SNAFU began searching for ways to challenge the teletubbies. They weren’t hard to find. People objected to the unsightly forest of wires that was creeping across their roofs and hilltops. People asked why their neighborhood needed more… and more… and more antennas when their own cellphones worked just fine, thank you. They found ways to appeal Planning decisions to the new district-elected Board of Supervisors, which heeded the lines of constituents who appeared at hearings and began, ever so occasionally, to turn down requests for permits.

Board president Tom Ammiano introduced legislation to change the guidelines, which sat unheeded, like an green frog on a green lily pad, until the new Planning Commission took office. Besieged by emails & phone calls, Planning demanded explanations and guidance. “Stay off our turf!” howled the teletubbies. “Sez who?” the commissioners howled back. “No change without new funding!” bellowed the Planning Department. “Let the telecoms pay to dance,” suggested Ammiano. “What shall we do? What shall we do?” moaned the Planning Commission. “Meet with us,” said Ammiano. “A joint hearing will show the way.”

The Eye wishes there was a happy ending to this story, but there isn’t. Not yet. Despite many good intentions, a helluva lot of paving stones are filling the roadway: there has been no hearing. Will there ever be? The answer is two little letters: AA. Ask Ammiano. (Go on, you can do it: tom.ammiano@sfgov.org; 415 554-5144.)

There’s no happy ending, but there is a happy middle. SNAFU managed to put together one of the niftiest political campaigns this city has seen in many moons. It also managed to put together a rather nifty video called “Bad Reception,”  which chronicles its activities and introduces some of the players in this successful drama. Check it out.

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These days Barbara Reilly, receptionist to the Clerk of the Board, dangles her ID from a stylish new lanyard. It’s a gift, she says, from Abdullah Megahed, the supes’ regular head-of-the-line public commenter. Do you think he knows something we don’t? White letters on a black background spell out T-I-T-A-N-I-C.

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