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The Week of October 24, 2004

By Betsey Culp

10.24.04: When Rebecca Silverberg goes ballistic, and Bernal goes gaga

10.25.04: When D2 courts Arts Forum SF, and artists rule

10.26.04: When Ranked Choice Voting is explained, and Dorkery is unmasked

10.27.04: When choices are made, and the heavens roll

October 24, 2004

SF Sunday. I pack the Little Black Dog into the car & head out to Pacifica, where gray waves match the gray sky.

The beach next to the fishing pier is an off-leash area. This morning a large black lab is racing back & forth, back & forth, in a zigzag quest for doggie transcendence. When he spots LBD, he freezes flat, belly against the sand, creeps forward 18 inches and freezes again, before hurtling headlong toward the prospect of a new acquaintance. The two dogs meet, leap stiff-legged, circle sniff, and head down the beach together.

Just inland is a proper paved path, much frequented by joggers and strollers. The number of people who insist on walking their dog there, on-leash, always surprises me. Last week I watched as a woman held tight to a latte in one hand and a cellphone in the other, while she tried to keep a bulldog from wrapping its leash around her legs. She had only to move a few steps to the west to achieve human-canine freedom on the sand.

Once the shoreline is certified against invading terrorists & jellyfish, we return to Bernal, and the Chron. The Business Section contains a Q&A with the director of the Palo Alto-based Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, Stephen Levy, which offers a refreshing antidote to the frequently heard plaint that California is business-unfriendly:

This is the Bay Area. We have the highest wages. We have the highest concentration of talent. Normally, the stuff we do here is pretty world-class, leading-edge, first-of-its-kind, innovative stuff.


Our biggest challenge is actually investing enough to maintain an environment that will attract people to both live and work here.


We have people who can't choose where they can live and who are worried about whether their kids have a good school and whether their son or daughter can get into the University of California or the state university system, or whether the roads work or whether there are enough airports.


It's (a matter of) public investing to attract private investing.

Levy turns the discussion of outsourcing on its head — George Lakoff would say he reframes it:

If you want to overcome the impact of outsourcing, through creating jobs to offset the ones that are eaten up, I believe you have to run a really vigorous investment economy.


We have to be the leaders in health research. We have to make sure we have the largest possible number of college graduates in fields that will lead to high-wage jobs and to entrepreneurship. This economy only competes at the top end. Unless we are producing the newest good or service or Internet application gizmo, we are going to get eaten up by people who can produce (things) more cheaply. I think that requires public investment.

There’s lots more. Go read it for yourself.

Or you could turn to the Magazine, where “staff writer” (I guess that’s more serious-sounding than “society reporter”) Carolyn Zinko tells us about the women Mayor Gavin Newsom has appointed to “deal with life-and-death emergencies” in the city. I’m fascinated by whom the media ignores. In stories about the Bay Area’s representatives in Washington, for example, one of our senators is rarely mentioned by name. And unless I’m mistaken, Senator Barbara Boxer also missed out on the litany of thanks that punctuated Newsom’s State of the City speech.  She certainly represents us as completely as Dianne Feinstein does. Do you suppose she’s excluded because she doesn’t live in SF or because she’s out of the mainstream of the Democratic Party? Just wondering.

In any case, despite the article’s impressive roster of politically active women in & around San Francisco, whether appointed or elected or simply visible, the name Kamala Harris never appears. Perhaps because she became DA on her own, without the boost of an appointment? Perhaps because, despite its title (“The Women in Charge”), the article is really a guy thing — because it’s really about the mayor?

By midafternoon the sun pushes aside the clouds and I head over to District 11, where volunteers for Gerardo Sandoval and his seven challengers are walking the streets. Rebecca Silverberg’s email request for assistance this week is intriguing: “This is the ‘bomb’ piece; next weekend we do the ‘smart’ walk. Whichever you would prefer — to ‘bomb’ or to be ‘smart’ — your efforts would be sincerely appreciated.” I’m puzzled.  Silverberg always looks so friendly and polite. And not at all prone to terrorism.

When I arrive in the Excelsior, Silverberg is off somewhere working the crowd. Angelique Mahan calls for me to come into the house. Mahan is Excelsior born & raised, a Mercy High School graduate, in Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom's class. She looks at me a little strangely when I ask her about the bomb. It turns out that, as usual, I’m dense. The campaign is bombing — I would have said blitzing — the neighborhood with leaflets, hitting every house. No need to call Tom Ridge.

Mahan has never met me before, but we dive immediately into a conversation about websites, cellphone companies, and women’s basketball. While we’re talking, Silverberg returns, ebullient and filled, as ever, with local lore. Pointing to the campaign brochure in my hand, with a photo that Mahan took of graffiti-covered walls at the corner of Naples & Brazil, she says the Excelsior suffered a sharp spike in graffiti & other crime recently. It’s the old game of musical chairs where crackdowns in one area — in this case, in Bayview-Hunters Point — move illegal activities into nearby neighborhoods.

Silverberg points to the other photo on the brochure — the Muni Car Barn at the corner of Geneva & San Jose. “Now that’s something I’m really proud of.” She tells me that the Friends of the Geneva Office Building received $500,000 from the state at the same time that Julie Lee received a similar sum for her San Francisco Neighbors Resource Center. I ask how they used the money. “We fixed the roof.”

She talks with excitement about the organization’s plans for the building once it’s been properly retrofitted (think Prop. B). It envisions space for artists in exchange for teaching community art classes. And a museum, complete with living guides. And a collection of F Line trolleys in back. And a restaurant. And maybe a system of real “dining cars,” where passengers can travel in style while snacking on food supplied by the participating restaurant of the day.

We’re standing by Silverberg’s front gate. As we talk, she keeps wandering over to a row of planters, pinching dead leaves of a red honeysuckle and checking the soil around a tiny golden bougainvillea. She reminds me that she was a victim of pre-dawn plantnappers — Supervisor Sophie Maxwell was another. Imagine walking out your front door in the morning and realizing that all the shrubbery has gone off to meet Macbeth.

The candidate & her aide head off to get some food and I return to Bernal. Cortland Avenue is showing signs of recent demographic changes. Several years ago the neighborhood literally went to the dogs, as jars of biscuits appeared on the counter of every shop on the once-gritty street and Bernal Beast opened to eager two- & four-legged customers. But the Bernal of today has gone domestic, boasting not one but two shops purveying baby clothes and fancy strollers. Guess Disney was right — it’s a small world, after all.

October 25, 2004

Arts Forum SF hosts D2 candidates for supervisor at the Magic Theatre, one in a series of “community conversations.” The theme: “In this climate of nationwide funding cuts for the arts and deficits on the state and local level, the arts community would like to hear how candidates running for City Office will keep arts and culture vital in the City.”

Mayor Newsom’s old district has sprouted one of the smallest crops of candidates — just five — including appointed incumbent Michela Alioto-Pier. (The other four are lawyer Steve Braccini, sustainable nonprofiteer David Pascal, businessman Roger Schulke, and CPA Jay Shah, who apparently has no website.) Chronicle “staff writer” (isn’t anybody a reporter any more?) Dan Levy moderates. Members of the audience make longer speeches than the candidates. And everybody agrees that (1) the arts are a Good Thing, and (2) the arts need More Money.

The candidates received several questions in advance, giving them time to think about why they like the arts, which are a Good Thing. Braccini speaks of vibrant sectors. Shah remembers pestering his mother for an electric guitar. Schulke recalls the hardships he faced as a budding printmaker. Pascal stresses the need for measures of value beyond economics. Alioto-Pier praises artists for calming violence and lifting our spirits. They talk about limited budgets & grants & education. They talk & they talk. Something’s missing.

Try this on for size:

When you come right down to it, it’s all about doin’ what comes naturally. When you come right down to it, the arts are nothing more than individual expressions of the culture where they’re created. Watch a group of three year olds. As they dance & sing, make up poems & dramas, paint & sculpt — as busy as a whole Renaissance city-state — they’re playfully exploring their human environment. (And they are likely to apply a parallel form of play to their natural environment. But that’s another story.)

If these kids are lucky, someone will nurture their natural inclinations, and they’ll develop ever-more-nuanced ways of seeing & saying. Even if they’re not so lucky, they’ll never lose those early sensibilities or discard them, like amputated body parts thrown into the trash heap of civilization. Finer nerve ends may never develop, but the impulses will remain, to emerge in the form of elaborate tattoos or impressive gun collections.

But let’s assume that some of these people, at least, will manage to develop their expressive faculties. Once they reach adulthood, what will they need to thrive?

In part, the answer is the same one that Stephen Levy gives for business: an affordable place to live, decent schools for their children, good health care.

That’s the government’s responsibility.

After that, maybe it’s not a matter for politicians at all. Beyond a roof overhead & food on the table, what artists need most is an appreciative audience. There’s an old love song that begins, “Give me a heart to sing to, or my song you’ll never hear.” Artists need our hearts, or they’ll move elsewhere.

The would-be pols in D2, and elsewhere, would have learned much from a forum held at the Commonwealth Club on August 30 on the subject ofThe Arts: Building Community Through Creativity.” There, experts — not politicians — made up the panel, artists who have worked for years to create a sustainable artistic community in San Francisco.

What was their solution?

David Dower, artistic director of Z Space, told the audience that building an artistic community was its responsibility. “Adopt [an] organization from the standpoint of advocacy. Build your circle of friends — build it into their habit — to go to these performances.”

Kary Schulman, director of Grants for the Arts, echoed Dower:

You can buy a ticket and go to something. You can buy a ticket and go to something every week. You can buy a ticket and go to something every month. You can… that is the very best way to support the arts, and also to figure out what arts you really want to support is just simply to go.

Make it a habit. Go someplace that you haven’t been before. Subscribe to something that you haven’t subscribed to before….

So go. Go more. Give your money. And when you love something, subscribe to it and support it.

In the end, it all goes back to those three year olds. Art offers an opportunity for grownups to do something they love, an opportunity to play. If they don’t want to, no amount of money can make them do it.

David Pascal says the arts are the mirror we hold up to ourselves, adding that the present administration in Washington can't bear to look at itself, and so it's cut funding to the arts. Maybe so. But what do we do when we, as a society, are so busy getting & spending that we can't take the time to look?


Ranked Choice Voting.

AKA Instant Runoff Voting.

AKA — according to political consultant Jack Davis, according to Examiner columnist P.J. Corkery — “a disaster, a case of putting in a harmful system because you don’t have the software to do it right.” And what’s more, “people don’t have the mindset for the new system yet.”

A forum at the Commonwealth Club tonight suggests Davis-Corkery skewed the facts just the slightest, teensiest bit. The speakers are SF State professor Rich DeLeon, who may know more about San Francisco politics than even the deity herself, and Center for Voting & Democracy analyst Steven Hill, who certainly knows more about alternative voting processes.

DeLeon points out that the system is not new: an Englishman named Thomas Hare was talking about something similar two hundred years ago. Nor is it un-American: a hundred years ago, during the Progressive Era, many cities adopted it as their official voting procedure.

Armed with sample ballots & volunteer candidates, Hill conducts a mock election to prove that RCV is also easy for ordinary people to understand. (Martin Luther King, Jr. won). A slew of demonstrators have visited senior centers & neighborhood organizations all over the city, providing a similar show-&-tell. Between the Center for Voting & Democracy and the Department of Elections, this may be the most explained procedure in history. Asked how prospective voters have responded, Hill says that everyone who has seen the walk-through has gotten it. (People are bound to show up at their polling place on Tuesday, completely oblivious to the changes. But you can bet that they’ll catch on pretty quickly.)

I don’t understand what — other than hype from opponents — makes Ranked Choice Voting so confusing. The voting process is a piece of cake. (I’d like chocolate, please. What, you’re out of chocolate? Well, my second choice is carrot. You just ran out of that, too? OK, I’ll have a piece of marble cake. Anything’s better than icky angelfood.)

Things get murkier when it comes to the way votes are counted, the way candidates are actually elected. It may have seemed clearer when we called the process Instant Runoff Voting. Because that’s all it is.

Assume it’s election day back in the day. Assume there are three candidates. Assume a candidate needs a majority of the votes to get elected. And assume no one does. George Washington receives 45 votes; Barry Bonds receives 30; and Mickey Mouse gets 25. So… Mickey Mouse, the lowest vote getter, is eliminated & we spend a lot of money to hold a runoff a month later between Washington & Bonds. The turnout for runoffs is notoriously low. Instead of 100 voters, this time only 50 show up at the polls. Washington wins, with 28 votes, less than even the second-runner Bonds received first time around. Not exactly a mandate!

Now assume it’s election day in San Francisco in November 2004. Assume there are three candidates & one needs a majority to win. George Washington receives 45 first-choice votes; Barry Bonds receives 30; and Mickey Mouse gets 25. So… Mickey Mouse, the lowest vote getter, is eliminated, and we look at the second choices on his ballots. Twenty-one people chose Bonds second, to make a total of 51; only 4 chose Washington, making his total 49. We’ve saved a lot of money & time by not having to go through a separate runoff election. And we’ve elected someone whom more voters prefer. Not a bad outcome for a little change in how the voting machine is programmed!

(Still confused? Go to http://www.sf-rcv.com/ & do a walk-through yourself.)

It turns out Ranked Choice Voting is neither new nor un-American. Nor is it a Green Party plot. Or if it is, it’s a pretty sorry one, and unlikely to have changed the mayor’s race last year. Because of the high number of votes Newsom received in the first round, DeLeon & Hill agree that even with RCV, a Gonzalez victory was not in the cards.

Let’s go back to Dorkery for a minute. Someone in the audience asks Hill who opposes RCV. That’s like asking the obverse of the old question, “Who benefits?” RCV encourages coalitions rather than the dog-eat-dog form of campaigning we’ve come to know & love. Some candidates have caught on quickly — several in District 5, for example, and some of the incumbent’s opponents in District 1. (Hill also suggests that part of Jake McGoldrick’s problems in D1 stem from his not having entered into a coalition.)

But under RCV, the guys who used to run the show have to learn new tricks or they’re out of a job. These dirty-tricks fellows aren’t stupid — according to Hill, the largest contributors to the campaign against RCV were political consultants (joined by the printers who have profited from the nasty campaigns). And they’d like to keep doing what they’ve learned to do so well.

Just don’t believe everything they say.


There’s a D7 candidates’ forum tonight at Saint Finn Barr Parish Hall & a League of Women Voters forum for candidates in D11.

But the full moon is also being swallowed up in the southeastern sky.

And the Red Sox have a date with destiny.

Sometimes politics can wait.