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The Eye


May 16, 2003


The Eye's baby blues are spinning. What goes round comes round. There's nothing new under the sun. I mean, chees! How often do you have to hear something before you get the message?

Take, for instance, the fine documentary hosted by the Department of the Environment on Monday in Koret Auditorium. "Blue Vinyl." Shades of Elvis? No. This particular vinyl encases a little old house on Long Island in a light blue siding that will never need painting, never need repairs. Hallelujah!

More like hell on wheels. Turns out Old Scratch himself is in that siding. The film follows the Michael Moore-like peregrinations of one Judith Helfand, whose Jewish mother -- & father -- signed the fiendish pact. Helfand travels from Lake Charles, Louisiana to Venice, Italy to the San Francisco Bay Area with an 18-inch slab of vinyl siding under her arm, seeking to unravel the mysteries of the miraculous substance known as PVC that her parents have purchased. She discovers that the "miracle" is often accompanied not by fire & brimstone but plain old deadly dioxin. Bad stuff. To convince her parents to undo their mistake is both daunting, and hilarious. "They may do things like that in California... " protests her mother.

In California, indeed they do. Despite the blandishments of the Vinyl Institute  and mainstays like Andersen Windows, the SF Department of the Environment was warning about the hazards of dioxin  nearly five years ago. And it’s compiled a list of PVC-Free Alternative Building Materials to help people like Helfand’s parents out of their jam. Crikey! Even the SF Call warned you about PVC more than three years ago. Guess you weren’t paying attention.

OK, so you were asleep at the wheel when PVC rolled by. What about the water you drink? Did you catch Pat Martel’s Hetch Hetchy flimflam in Sunday’s Chron? “Life is better for Patricia Martel now that she can keep a plastic bottle of Hetch Hetchy Mountain Water at her workstation. That means she doesn't have to go to the office faucet.” Ignore the “plastic bottle” part. Does Martel know something the rest of us have missed? The Eye has yet to taste Hetch Hetchy bottled water, but it sounds sweet and refreshing, like good mountain water should be. Ilene Lelchuk says in the Chron that “it's similar to the city's tap water, except that for $1.25 you get a half-liter bottle that is micron filtered, treated with ozone.”

Jeez Louise! Does The Boss have to trot out her fish story again?

“Treated with ozone” is what doesn’t happen to the water that flows through the pipes of your house. At present, it’s laced with chlorine instead, to kill any nasties that might be swimming around in it. Chlorine imparts a taste and -- whoops!!! -- creates new nasties in the form of trihalomethanes. So the SFPUC, in all its wisdom, plans to get rid of the bad egg this fall and switch to chloramine as its disinfectant of choice.

Here’s a sample of the announcement that The Eye found in its water bill:

* Some people will need to remove or neutralize chloramines from water before using:

-- Fish, amphibian and reptile owners

-- Kidney dialysis patients and providers

-- Business using highly processed water

* Chloramine cannot be removed from water by boiling or letting an open container of water stand to dissipate chlorine gas.

* Chloramine may degrade rubber plumbing components more quickly than chlorine.

For more info, check out better.sfwater.org. Or stock up on the bottled variety. But jumpin’ jehosaphat! Don’t say The Eye didn’t tell you.

     Then there’s our Unplaza, right down the street from City Hall. Despite the persistent efforts of civic minds, an equally persistent passel of scruffy low-lifers insist on congregating there. Consternation all ’round. What to do? What to do? Over the squawks of creator Lawrence Halperin, the city proposes to do away with the fountain where, once upon a time, “jets of water shot into the air, alerting passersby that the fountain was about to fill - and then drain - in a re-creation of the ocean’s tidal movement.” The city proposes to move Simon Bolivar, complaining he’s out of scale, meaning he’s big enough to let the scruffers congregate at his feet. The city has moved out the benches and declared the lawns off-limits. The city has introduced wholesome farmers’ and flea markets to attract substitutes for the undesirables (who simply move west on market days, to the next hospitable-looking statuary installation).

  Gorblimey! Does The Eye have to remind you this is all old news? Does anybody really look at our Unplaza these days? Jim Reid does. As he sits in his newly opened campaign cubbyhole at 1155 Market, directly across the street from the plaza, every day is a reality check.

Let’s talk about those scruffies, since they’re on everybody’s mind -- those homeless people who clog our streets and drive away the tourists. Or something.

Did Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay realize what kind of hounds he was unleasing when he tossed part of Prop. N into the kitchen midden? Every pol in the city has sprouted a “Care” armband -- “We Care!” “Real Housing & Real Care!” “Cash for Care!” “San Francisco Cares!” -- and leaped to defend TWOP (the will of the people).

Before the supes meeting on Tuesday, Care Not Cash sponsor Gavin Newsom held a pep rally on the steps of City Hall, where his mantra, “Change is coming! Change is good!” clashed with the same-old, same-old faces amassed behind him. Once inside, he quite naturally supported the TWOP that he orchestrated last November by introducing the absolutely identical self-same measure the voters supported then.

6-D supe Chris Daly also spoke TWOP-ly -- “This, I believe, was the will of the voters last November.“ Nevertheless, he tweaked Prop N a little, proposing to create more transitional housing: “A home, not a shelter bed,” would alleviate voters’ “frustration with the city’s homeless crisis” and save the city some money at the same time.

Jake McGoldrick TWOP-ed eloquently, co-sponsoring Newsom’s resolution. But it looked like a case of “With friends like these…” The media were so busy giggling at the Richmond supe’s long-windedness that they missed the content of his remarks. The Eye took notes. Here’s what he said:

Last year at every opportunity, Supervisor Newsom told the voters that Prop N would replace cash welfare payments with decent housing, addiction treatment, medical care, and job training for the homeless. This is what voters were promised in official campaign literature on expensive billboards, in expensive television ads, and in newspaper stories and editorials. These services were what were promised and these services are what the city is now ethically, legally, morally obligated to provide in implementing Prop N. We must keep faith with the will of the voters. I look forward to Super Newsom providing a detailed plan.

The 1-D supe offered a plan of his own for putting money where TWOP’s mouth is: establish a city fund to match, dollar for dollar contributions from business and other interested parties for homeless programs. SFSOS, where are you? Then -- horror of horrors! -- he offered to carry TWOP a step further, to set up a committee composed of homeless advocates, business leaders, nonprofit representatives, neighborhood associations, and city officials to recommend the best ways to disburse the money.

 If the media didn’t catch the radical implications of McG’s remarks, how could they be expected to understand the strategic leap that Angela Alioto took on Thursday when she unveiled her own homeless plan? Does The Eye have to explain everything to you? Alioto, an outsider to the supes’ debates, raised the stakes for everyone else involved. Armed with charts and courting TV cameras, she argued that if homelessness is indeed San Franciscans primary concern, then it’s TWOP to tackle the whole problem and not just the small slice of the pie that Prop N represents.

Her proposal: “A Comprehensive Solution to San Francisco’s Homeless Crisis.” It may not work. But it’s brave and honest. And it echoes what The Boss said four years ago:

Now is the time, I say, to stop all the palaver and recognize that homelessness is not another word for lawlessness. It's a symptom of a life-threatening social illness that demands immediate treatment. Would it be so difficult to declare a state of emergency and begin to institute some desperately needed changes? The quality of thousands of lives is at stake.

If it works, you can say The Eye told you so!

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