"19th Avenue: I Know, I Know, I Know." - Gavin Newsom's Message on Transit


By Benjamin Wachs

I have to admit something before I begin: Gavin's ability to be boring is stronger than my ability to be funny.

I'm slipping.

I think I can hold the line for seven-and-a-half hours, but if he posts a sequel (perhaps "State of the City: Revolutions," or "State of the City: Attack of the Moderates") I'll be overwhelmed.

In the meantime, here's the State-of-the-Citysode on Transit. For the Citysode on Healthcare, Education, and the Environment, click the respective links.

00:07 - 2008 was an exciting year for transit. "We just initiated the most comprehensive program of its kind in over 30 years."

To be accurate, by "we," Gavin must be referring to Aaron Peskin.

01:30 - People want more reliability and predictability in transit. Who knew? Thank God we had a study.

Not a single result of what people want is a surprise. And I say this as a supporter of the Transit Effectiveness Project.

02:54 - "2009 will mark the controversy...may I dare say...around the implementation."

Dare! Dare!

03:30 - The system has been starved for employees. "You wonder why that bus driver sometimes doesn't show up? Why the bus then is backfilled or put out of service if the driver doesn't show up? It's because we don't have enough operators. But you can see here..." (and you can't really see here) "...that we've made a lot of progress in the last year in hiring up."

By "we," Gavin once again means "Aaron Peskin."

04:14 - 2008 was the first time in six years that we've had a net gain of new transit operators.

04:35 - We still need more maintenance officers and parking control officers to issue tickets and move cars. He seems to think this will be popular.

04:54 - Gavin momentarily confuses "parallel" and "perpendicular," but catches himself at the last minute. Phew. What a high wire act.

05:03 - Gavin also promises more MUNI fare inspectors, and fare inspections. "All those folks out there, you've seen them: you paying your fare, but someone in the back is not paying theirs, you're upset about that, and you're wondering what the heck the city's doing ... well we're going to be doing a lot more with these transit fare inspectors."

Quick hint: people in the front aren't paying either.

Also, they put graffiti all over the bus.

And they pee in it.

05:31 - "I'll spare you this slide and I'll just jump right in to some of those new technologies."

Gavin...Gavin...the slides aren't helping. The only thing the slides do is cause you to turn around sometimes. If you really wanted slides, you should have had someone edit the video to insert them in.

But, of course, that would have meant taking the camera off of you.

06:32 - Gavin really hates the "old green boxes" that control the traffic system at various intersections.

He really hates them.

"You have this old technology, 1950s technology, those old green boxes on the street corners that get all that graffiti tagging on them that look horrible, and are horrible. Well that represents the old, it represents a system that's antiquated."

The new system, as Gavin describes it, will be so smart that it won't even need human beings. "The computer literally will make the judgment, you don't need actual people to make the judgment, so it's constantly evolving, constantly improving, and it's actually building, getting smarter."

Look for it to destroy us all sometime in 2010.

07:52 - The city's transit mapping website has a new partnership with Google. If you want to know which route to take to get from point A to point B, the system will now be able to sell you flatware and penis enlargement.

09:10 - Transit may not be green enough, so each connected bus will come with its own guilt meter. "One of the nice things that it has is this green gauge which provides environmental information on the environmental impact of your ride on that bus. Even though it's reduced by 95 percent, in terms of emissions, it still has an impact, and you're able to actually monitor that."

You didn't really need to go anywhere anyway.

09:29 - Apparently those TransLink boxes you see on buses and trains are not decorative. Gavin swears.

He also refers to the way we all want an "uber card" to use on transit.

Gavin: When giving 7.5 hour speeches, STOP making it so easy to compare you to ruthless dictators! I swear to god, if you refer to an "uber card" again I'm going off on a riff about how you think San Francisco needs "lebensraum." And we wouldn't want that, would we?

So BACK OFF!

11:02 - Forward mounted cameras on cars are coming to buses and trains to catch the license plates of cars double parked. Gavin's message: "If you're going to (double park), do it off a MUNI corridor."

12:17 - "This year we have invested, this last year, a lot in upgrading facilities and upgrading our transit system."

By "we" Gavin means Aaron Peskin.

I'm sorry to keep making the same joke, but following the State of the City address so far I've watched Gavin take credit for Healthy SF, the plastic bag ban, and the work of the School District - but at least he's had the decency to acknowledge that Tom Ammiano, Ross Mirkarimi and Carlos Garcia were around when the stuff they did happened.

But city transit? It was Aaron Peskin who broke his back last year to get a major MUNI overhaul passed and put before the voters - Gavin Newsom didn't lift a finger. Sure, he technically endorsed it, but he spent all his time campaigning against a measure that would have forced him to attend Board of Supervisors meetings. Where he presumably would have had a time limit on his speeches.

Transit reform passed anyway, and that's why MUNI's been flush with cash to hire new staff and make other improvements. Talking about transit reform in 2008 without mentioning Aaron Peskin is like talking about the 2008 election without mentioning Barack Obama. Talking about transit reform in 2008 without mentioning Gavin Newsom is like talking about German history without mentioning Pee-Wee Herman.

12:33 - Once again, Gavin is "very proud" of something in San Francisco. This time it's the T-3rd line. The system "enhances the streetscape" and "improved the conditions all up and down 3rd street." Someday, he hopes it will run on time.

13:30 - The next phase, he says, will be the Chinatown extension. He shows us schematics that we can't really see. But, apparently, the brown line intersects the blue line.

He mentions that this is controversial, but doesn't say why. Only that "this is an important project," and an "interesting one" too.

14:20 - He does say that, "west of the Mississippi there is no other more utilized line that does not have a light rail system than this line that does not have a light rail system. That's why we're moving forward with this phase two of the 3rd street light rail into the central subway."

Notice that this isn't actually a reason: it says nothing about why the extension is a good or bad idea in our case. It's just a piece of trivia that Gavin happens to know.

I bet Aaron Peskin has some reasons why the T-third extension into Chinatown is a good or bad idea.

15:07 - MUNI's new 180,000 square foot maintenance facility is "remarkable." "State of the art. World class."

I don't think Gavin knows any words that aren't used in brochures.

15:50 - Sean Elsbernd is mentioned as having been a "great champion" of transit issues for having gotten some landscaping around the West Portal station. If that's all it takes, then I'm a "great champion" of the visual arts for having doodled on my cocktail napkin at the House of Shields.

Still, West Portal station does look nice.

16:35 - The city is just a few months away from putting out "world class" bus shelters. See what I mean about language from brochures?

The shelters will have solar panels, WiFi capacity, real time updates, and advertising from Clear Channel. Because nothing is world class without advertising from Clear Channel.

I remember back when the advertising deal with Clear Channel was approved: it was at the same meetings in which the Supervisors urged the Golden Gate Bridge Authority not to sell naming rights to its visitors center. Because when THEY do it it's selling out.

17:54 - The city will pursue a "free bike transit strategy." One of the reasons is that he hopes to encourage more bicycling, but that's actually the last reasons he gives. The first are to "liven people's senses" and "instill a great sense of pride and spirit."

18:25 - Gavin heard about the idea of a free bike transit strategy while attending the World Economic Summit in Davos. In keeping with his environmental values, he biked there.

18:35 - The bikes in SF will be "smart bikes." Oh God.

19:29 - Gavin is really looking forward to having double-decker buses. "It shouldn't just be London!"

We'll get you yet, London!

20:26 - Gavin is a little worried about the sustainability of the "culture bus'" if nobody rides it. But he still maintains it's a good idea. He's probably right. He thinks we should all go to cultural institutions. He's probably right.

21:19 - "2008 was an unacceptable year as it relates to safety and collisions. We have got to do more and do better."

As a result, MUNI is looking for a "chief safety officer."

I'm just curious: is hiring a new, high priced, executive staff member Gavin's solution to EVERYTHING?

21:52 - I have NEVER heard Gavin lavish as much praise on anyone as he does the transit union. Not Diane Feinstein, not Nancy Pelosi, nobody. It has to be read to be believed:

"We're working with probably the most enlightened labor leadership, with Irwin Lum and others, at TWU local 250A. Those guys are as good as it gets. And so I say this with respect: to the days where people used to take cheap shots at MUNI labor, those days are over. These guys are stepping up: they're holding their operators accountable. They want to champion their workers, but they're not trying to hide folks that aren't doing their job and keeping us safe. They've really been great partners with this, and I want to compliment them. They deserve to be complimented. Please be respectful of your bus drivers. This is the toughest job that exists outside of probably of being a parking control officer."

This struck me as BS, but I don't know too much about inside-MUNI dirt. So I sent the quote to Greg Dewar, of the estimable N-Judah Chronicles and asked him what he thought: is the Mayor just giving out well deserved props?

Here's his response:

"The Mayor's kind words for Local 250A stood out as a nice holiday present for the union leadership. The Mayor's kind words also stand out as they seem to be completely at odds with news reports in local media and recent events. Given that the union pushed back on even the modest workplace reforms voters endorsed in 2007's Proposition A, one has to wonder what the Mayor's team is hoping to accomplish with this kind of statement.
Put it another way- if this was all true, you wouldn't have so many blogs about MUNI in San Francisco!"

I understand that, as a politician, Gavin sometimes has to suck off the people he works with: I just thought it would be prettier.

Did the union even buy him dinner?

23:15 - Pedestrian safety is a concern too. But when he talks about "pedestrian enhancements" I get worried. Does he want to give us shock absorbers?

24:00 - "MUNI is the most sustainable, greenest system of its type in the country."

But he still wants to go further: the goal is 100% renewable energy sources for public transit by 2020.

That's also the year, in his State-of-the-Citysode on the environment, when he wants us to have 0% waste.

Which, in principle, means that all the city's buses and trains will be 100% biodegradable too: because at some point those things have to be replaced.

25:30 - San Francisco has already adopted more alternative vehicles per capita than any other city. Gavin wants San Francisco to be the electric car capital of the world.

27:03 - He's REALLY enthusiastic about electric cars. "This is the game changer, this is the best foreign policy, environmental policy, domestic innovation, and new jobs policy that I can think of."

Don't forget it will end racism, too. I mean, it's green tech, right?

29:00 - New York envy rears its ugly head. "Congestion pricing: it's NOT JUST Mayor Bloomberg in New York City that's been been talking about congestion pricing."

30:45 - OKAY! Finally, a principle about transportation that explains in broad terms what the city is trying to accomplish, and how: Gavin wants to incentivize public transit by making it more efficient, and disincentives cars by making them more expensive to use - thus pushing people to transit.

This is the rationale behind congestion pricing, "smart meters" that raise the price to park based on demand, the Transit Effectiveness Project ... this is the principle that ties it all together.

Except for the bit about electric cars. Why would you want to invest heavily in electric cars if you're trying to get people to phase out cars altogether?

But that (debatable) objection illustrates the point: a well articulated principle can take a discussion much, much, further than any blanket list of facts and programs.

Couldn't he have just told us the principle at the beginning, given a few quick examples, and ended this whole thing in 5 minutes?

34:00 - "Let's get to the key points of this year in the State of the City as it relates to transportation."

WHAT? We're 34 minutes in and NOW you're getting to the key points? NOW?

If it's a key point PUT IT AT THE BEGINNING! Or better yet, how about NOT SAYING STUFF THAT ISN'T KEY!

Who wrote this thing?

35:25 - At 35 minutes in, he FINALLY mentions last year's Prop A, and Aaron Peskin.

"Prop A, and I want to thank Supervisor Peskin and others that worked hard on Prop A ..."

And others? Like who, Gavin?

"... Nat Ford, and in my own office Phil Ginsburg, my former chief of staff, that worked overtime to get Prop A on the ballot ..."

Yes, these are CRUCIAL mentions. Nat Ford, as I understand it, brought donuts to a meeting. And Phil Ginsburg explained to Gavin ... several times ... how Prop A worked. Certainly they deserve as much credit as the guy who authored, proposed, negotiated, defended and campaigned for the measure!

I mean, they were good donuts!

I'm sure it's an accident that crediting his own chief of staff makes it look like Prop A came from Gavin's office.

36:00 - If you want to hear what the speech should have been, start about 30 minutes in, and just listen to the last 10.

If you don't have that kind of time, listening to the last 5 minutes will still get you about as far ahead.

If you don't have that kind of time, skipping it is a pretty good option too.

38:02 - "19th Avenue: I know, I know, I know."

Either you get that or you don't.

39:00 - It's odd: while talking about Doyle Drive, "One of the most seismically unsafe thoroughfares in the United States," and "one of the most dangerous thoroughfares in America," his demeanor doesn't change at all. He's still upbeat and cheerful as he talks about how likely it is that the entrance to the Golden Gate Bridge will collapse in a stiff wind.

In fact, almost 3 hours in to the State o' the City address, Gavin's had only one emotive expression. It's a tone and look that would be perfect for a bunch of executives getting drinks after a big conference, to brag about their quarterly reports.

I call it "San Francisco Leading the Way."

"You think your bridge is dangerous? San Francisco's leading the way!"

"You think YOUR traffic system will evolve into a hostile intelligence capable of killing us all? San Francisco's leading the way!"

"You think YOUR mayor is long winded? San Francisco's leading the way!

There's 4 more hours of this still coming.


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