SF Gov InAction: Supes Divide the City Amongst Themselves, have Big Plans for 19th Avenue, Try to Ban Smoking in Small Steps

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By Benjamin Wachs

Monday, Sept. 29, 10 a.m. – Land Use & Economic Development Committee

If someone were to ask me: “Lionel,” (for some reason they think my name is Lionel), “what does the Land Use & Economic Development Committee do?” I’d have to answer them: “Rosebud,” (for some reason I think his name is Rosebud), “if I see you coming around this cannery again I’m going to have to tell Big Murray you’re the one who tipped the feds about his cockfighting ring.”

There’s a lot of truth to this.

Today the committee is mostly focused on new rules for development along the 19th Avenue corridor (or, as I like to call it “19 Ave.”), although betting is also high on weather Sean Elsbernd’s prize rooster “La Avenger” can survive three rounds against Carmen Chu’s cat Wiggles.

They’ll also be designating the “Tobin House” at 1969 California Street to be a landmark. The Tobin House is worthy of this designation because it embodies the work of master architect Willis Polk, and is associated with the life of Michael H. de Young. But most of us know it best as the celebrated spot where Willie Brown first took Gavin Newsom’s virginity.

The committee rounds out with a hearing on the Mayor and Jake McGoldrick’s controversial proposal to change the rules on below market rate condos…which, honestly, I can’t figure out (although admittedly I’m not trying very hard because, well, life’s too short), and a proposal by Chris Daly to put a moratorium on converting buildings to student housing.

Hey Academy of Art? This means you!

Unless...you think your celebrated mascot “L'enfant terrible” can go three rounds with Chris Daly’s progressive Russian rooster “Vladivostok!” Then it’s game on!

Rosebud.

Wednesday, Oct. 1, 11 a.m. – A Very Special Meeting of the Land Use & Economic Development Committee

That’s right, they’re back. And this time it’s personal. They set aside a special meeting just to deal with these long simmering issues.

Cue Music. Open credits. Directed by Francis For Coppola.

(Dum dum dum.)

There was tension in the air, the kind of tension that kills people faster than a steak before a heart attack. The members of the five families stared bullets at each other across the table and didn’t touch their food. There was business to be done.

“Don Peskin,” said young Sean Elsbernd, head of the Barzini family, “we have all suffered losses in this war. Your cousin Angelo, my rooster La Avenger, and Public Utilities Commission head Susan Leal. All gone. But the important thing is to look forward, not back, and find a way to work together to control this city.”

“Don Peskin,” said Michela Alioto-Pier, who was reluctantly claimed by the Alioto family, “Elsbernd has no honor! He doesn’t understand the way things are done in this city! And he’s new money! My family will never do business with him!”

Carmen Chu, head of the Tattaglia family, chuckled. She was holding her cat Wiggles closely, the way an elephant trainer holds a coral snake. “We don’t do nuthin’,” she said in her thick Irish brogue, “without Room 200’s say so.”

Sophie Maxwell, head of the Stracci family, banged her fist on the table. “I want the Eastern neighborhoods!” she shouted. “They’re mine! Once I have them, the rest of you can go to hell!”

They began shouting at one another … “19th avenue!” “Master plan!” “Affordable Housing!” “Wiggles!” until Don Aaron Peskin Corleone stood up from his chair.

Suddenly the fighting stopped.

“What … what … what is this?” he said in his scratchy, mumbling, voice. “You come to my house, as my guests, you drink my wine, and now you threaten each other? Colleagues, this is not how we do business! Listen … you killed Quentin Mecke, a man who was like my own son … but I did not retaliate. You let unions gut Prop A, and I did not retaliate. But now … now … I am stepping in. Let me make you an offer you can’t refuse.”

He stared them all down.

“Sophie can have the Eastern Neighborhoods,” he said. “And she can control all the drugs, extortion, and bicycling that goes on there. But Michela, Carmen, and Sean … my condolences, Sean, about your rooster … get to allow landlords to raise their tenant’s water and sewer rates. This will keep the landlords they have in their pockets happy, make them very rich, and make all our lives easier this election. Okay … fair enough. BUT IN RETURN, I get new Controls for the North Beach Neighborhood Commercial District, to Limit the Establishment of New Bars and Restaurants and Preserve Basic Neighborhood Services! And no one will ever question my authority again!”

As one, they all bowed their head.

“Yes Don Peskin,” they said.

Slowly, they all filed out of the room. But at the last minute Peskin put his hand on Alioto-Pier’s shoulder, stopping her. She turned, trying not to fidget.

“Good meeting, Aaron,” she said.

He sighed. “I know it was you, Michela,” he said. “I know it was you, and it breaks my heart.” He kissed her on the forehead. “You were always the weak one. Goodbye.”

Thursday, Oct. 2,

10 a.m. – Rules Committee

Several people will be appointed to commissions – The Commission on the Aging Advisory Council; The San Francisco Children and Families First Commission; The Treasury Oversight Committee; The Human Rights Commission; and The Graffiti Advisory Board – and then never be heard from again.

I hear they killed Socrates the same way.

Other issues: supervisor Peskin has a proposal that could only come from a man not seeking re-election, requiring all lobbyists to record any contacts they have with San Francisco officials. Supervisor Daly has a proposal to lower the requirements for candidates attempting to qualify for public funds, and Supervisor Maxwell has a proposal to create a “Task Force on Residential Treatment for Youth in Foster Care.”

My question: will candidates seeking public funds have record all contacts they have with foster children?

I don’t think the law requires it … yet … but it couldn’t hurt.

1 p.m. – City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee

Most of this meeting is so dull that it couldn’t cut our morning fog. Even saying “Wiggles” again won’t help. But there are two items worth a little attention.

Following the failure of Chris Daly’s enormous “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em … in jail” bill, Sophie Maxwell is now leading the charge to pass it in smaller chunks, one piece at a time. Her bill, would prohibit smoking in taxis and vehicles for hire, as well as free distribution of tobacco promotional items.

Now, to be honest, I can take or leave smoking in taxis … although my rule of thumb is that whatever helps the driver stay awake behind the wheel is doing God’s work.

But that second part makes me wonder. I mean, obviously there’s precedent here … tobacco companies can’t advertise to kids or on TV. But, come on, isn’t it some kind of free speech issue to say “you can’t give away promotional materials for a legal product?”

Sure, there’s a health risk to cigarettes … but, there is with just about anything we do from eating a piece of birthday cake to driving a car in rush hour traffic. Free speech doesn’t mean anything if you’re not allowed to advocate for a position, product, or action that others find risky.

Now sure, you can’t shout “fire” in a crowded theater … or advocate the murder of someone specific … but come on, are we really saying that promoting tobacco products is of that caliber?

And if we are, then tobacco should be criminalized outright ... which, honestly, I'd probably support on the merits. But until such time, and probably even then, I can’t square myself with saying “we don’t like your position so we’re going to outlaw the promoting of it.” That’s playing too fast and loose with fundamental rights.

Note to city hall: “Progressive” ought not to be synonymous with “repressive.” To the extent that they have anything in common, you’re not doing it right.

The other item of interest is a hearing on the Presidio Neighborhood Work Group. The Work Group (for those of you who might not have followed this issue from its humble beginnings to its equally humble present) is charged with evaluating the Presidio Trust Management Plan and Supplemental Environmental Impact Report, and to develop a report on the planning actions by the Presidio Trust. The Supes will now evaluate whether the Work Group is doing its evaluations right.

I mention this only because it makes me laugh inside when the Supes pretend like they’re holding anybody accountable.

4 p.m. – Government Audit and Oversight Committee

Once again, two items stand out from the dreary pack.

The first, a “performance and efficiency review” by the Controller’s office on the Department of Public Health.

Why is this a stand out item? I already told you: because it makes me laugh inside when the Supes pretend like they’re holding anybody accountable.

And then I cry.

The second is a resolution by Peskin and Bevan Dufty “establishing the City's support for affordable rates for PG&E customers and directing the City Attorney and the Public Utilities Commission to participate in PG&E rate proceedings to advocate for reasonable rates.”

Oh thank God! I was afraid the Supes were going to come out for unaffordable and unreasonable rates! Phew! What a close one! I’m sure glad Bevan Dufty is such an experienced legislator!

I'm sure PG&E will do whatever is best for the city. Now that they know we want lower rates, what could go wrong?

Lots of luck with that.

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