"You Go Down to Moscone Convention Facilities. It's Compostable." And Other Gavin Newsom Environmental Insights from the State of the City Address

Does Gavin Newsom turn into Stalin when the moon is full?

By Benjamin Wachs

(This is State of the Citysode III: The Environment. Click here for Part II: Education, and Part 1: Health Care)

00:00 - Gavin begins philosophically. "I like to say that the world's consumption is the sum of all local consumption."

Well, he's blown my mind already.

00:35 - "SF Forward" is a five year plan to curb our carbon and consumption.

You know, given how inevitable comparisons were between Gavin and communist leaders once he announced a 7.5 hour speech, I'm not sure if he REALLY wants to be in the business of "5 year plans." I'm just saying. The symbolism is terrible.

00:50 - San Francisco's secret weapon in cutting its emissions is its ability to measure its emissions. Does this really follow? Is it really a secret?

01:02 - San Francisco has not only measured it's Co2 emissions (say it with me now: "Knowing is half the battle!") but we've "submitted them to a third party."

Gavin doesn't say who. I'm guessing the Rotary Club?

01:05 - Our Co2 emissions, according to this unnamed third party (Disneyland?), are presently 6% below 1990 levels - despite our growing population and economy. "We're proud of that."

01:48 - "We have been able to do it, not by costing the economy - again - but by growing the economy."

I'm big on the Al Gore notion that environmentalism can be good for the economy, but without offering any further proof, Gavin has committed the logical fallacy of "Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc;" the idea that just because something happened (our economy grew) after something else (we started trying to limit emissions) the one must have caused the other (the economy grew because we went green).

We don't know that this is true - it's possible the San Francisco economy would have grown MORE if we hadn't been environmentally conscious: to prove Gavin's contention, we'd have to demonstrate that the economy would have grown as much or less if we hadn't gone green

Gavin, any thoughts about that? Gavin? Gavin? Oh...he's moved on.

02:11 - The camera change is MUCH more artful this time, even if it's still completely unnecessary. Everyone seems to be getting better at this thing as they go along.

02:13 - San Francisco was one of the first cities in America to start a green building program for city buildings. Then comes a shocker: "I'm actually standing in one!"

My God! What's next!

02:40 - The Mayor says we're enacting tough new green zoning standards for private buildings too. He calls them "A partnership with the private sector."

What? That's crazy talk!

Zoning standards are REQUIREMENTS. When the government says "You MUST include a fire escape if you want to build your building!" that's not a "partnership" with the fire department - it's an order.

A dangerous transformation seems to be happening before our eyes:

First the Mayor puts out a speech in the style of a communist dictator; then he tells no jokes and shares the stage with no other human being, just like a communist dictator; then he refers to a "5 year plan," just like you know who. Now he's calling government compulsion a "partnership" - all of which forces me to ask:

Does Gavin Newsom turn into Joseph Stalin every full moon?

By hour 7, will he be wearing an army dress uniform, smoking a cigar, and sporting a mustache?

He doesn't redeem himself with what comes next. This "partnership," in which we tell the private sector what to do, "builds trust."

What? How? The whole point of more restrictive zoning standards is that we DON'T trust them!

There's more. It "builds the opportunity to have the private sector become a model in terms of their ingenuity and their innovative practices."

See? It's not an imposition - it's an "opportunity!" That may be true in the sense that ANY hardship can also be an opportunity (Your five-year prison sentence will give you lots of time to catch up on old magazines!), but it's not true in the way that we would say that "college is an opportunity," or that "this government grant money gives us an opportunity."

Look, I'm generally in favor of green building standards - but this is Orwellian political doublespeak dressed in Green, and no good ever comes of it.

Right comrades?

03:35 - The city is offering up to $6 thousand in solar rebates to individuals who want to add solar panels to their roofs - but the highest rebate comes only if you work with their workforce training program so that your solar panels will be installed by...who? Interns? He doesn't say.

05:15 - Seventy percent of the people and businesses in SF recycle - that's the highest rate in the US. Once you reach this level, Gavin says, it's hard to get any more recycling out of a community without "dramatically changing the way you do business."

Why do I smell another "partnership" coming up?

05:36 - Maybe because that's what he's cooking. "In an effort to get to that next level, we are going through a very controversial phase of initiating ... a requirement on recycling that you do composting. All private residents and businesses will be forced to compost."

Wow! What an opportunity for private residents to be innovative!

If this speech weren't so boring, I suspect that a clip of Gavin saying "All private residents and businesses will be forced to compost" would be to the environmental movement what "whether you like it or not!" was to gay rights.

It still could be. What a gift this man has.

06:02 - Gavin notes that we've been "required" to have garbage pick-ups since 1932. Um ... anybody think that my tax dollars going to garbage pick-up is the same thing as being forced to compost? Anybody?

06:35 - Gavin believes it's possible for us to get to 0% waste by 2020. "Mark my words, it's possible. I won't be here as mayor, but I think the next mayor can raise the bar ... we can get to zero by being more aggressive."

MORE aggressive? Like what - house to house searches? Jail terms for littering? How "aggressive" do we have to be to have a million people leave no trace?

By the way, what happened to "innovative?" The fact that he says "Aggressive" strikes me as telling.

07:10 - Gavin doesn't like bottled water. I'm with him on this one.

08:23 - Gavin comes awfully close to taking credit for the city's ban on plastic bags. He does, however, thank Jerry Bloomfeld, of the Department of the Environment. He relegates Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to second tier status, saying "he picked up on this, to his credit."

Tsk tsk.

Hey, on the off chance that anybody watches the State of the City address ... ever ... you can turn it into a drinking game: every time Gavin tries to take credit for somebody else's policy, do a shot.

09:20 - He seems to forget Aaron Peskin's name for a good four seconds. Or can he just not bring himself to say it?

10:14 - The city's "grease-cycle" program is powering the city's biodiesel buses. That's good ... "but we're going to take it to the next level." Now, in addition to "fat, oil, and grease," the city's fleet will be powered by "livestock that has passed away."

He pauses. "It's a tough business, the biodiesel business."

11:51 - Cliché alert!

"I hate to keep saying 'leading the way,' but I think in this one we're raising the bar."

12:38 - Gavin plans to promote the city's local carbon offset fund. "We're starting with city employees first: so every time someone travels on city business, you have to buy an offset of the green house gas emissions associated with that travel ...We're going to scale it to the private sector next year."

I'm sure the private sector is VERY excited. There's nothing they like better than contributing to city-managed funds.

Let me see if I can picture how this will go: it will start as a voluntary effort, of course: companies will be "encouraged" to donate to the city's offset fund for all travel they engage in coming and going from SF. Next, the city will announce that it will only do business with companies that contribute to its offset fund. Some people would call this a "tax," others a "kick back," but what the hell - we already do it for building in SoMa, so why not roll with the punches. It's for a good cause, right?

Then the city will announce that it is developing a mandatory contribution to be added to ticket fares to all flights out of SFO: the amount you pay will be based on the cost of fully offsetting your travel.

Finally, a review by the Controller's office will find that despite the tens of millions spent on the fund, no carbon was actually offset. Instead, all the money was spent on three areas:

1) A "Green your Ride" campaign dedicated to "raising awareness" of the city's carbon offset program;

2) Additional staff for the mayor's office, in order to manage the carbon offset program;

3) A series of public meetings, headed by mayoral appointees, to determine where we want to plant the trees that we no longer have money to buy. Somehow, the only plan to emerge from this process places new tress directly on MUNI lines.

After the story breaks, Mayor Newsom will announce that he is starting a new fund to ensure that the streets are kept clear of vegetation for transit. "Project Vegi-Clear" will require donations from the private sector.

Don't look so shocked, people - we've been through it all before.

13:30 - Did you know that San Francisco has urban wind farms to create renewable power? Yes? Been talking about that for years? Okay.

13:59 - "Wind farms are not just these farms you see in the slide," he says, pointing to an unintelligible slide.

14:46 - He has an applause line. "People are talking about 'Drill baby drill'? Not out here in San Francisco!" If only there were other human beings around to clap.

15:25 - They're preparing set up a tidal power generation system underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. Who thinks an oil tanker will ram into it?

16:43 - The city has "great partnerships" with both PG&E and the Public Utilities Commission.

Wait, isn't the PUC part of the city?

17:07 - Shhhhhhh! Gavin can't talk about "Green Building 2.0" yet ... it's top secret.

But, he says, it's "not a carbon tax."

18:44 - Gavin has announced that, in the future, "gas stations" will be called "switch stations."

19:53 - Is he still talking?

20:15 - Gavin is putting up a brave front, but he looks like he's getting tired.

20:54 - Gavin takes the gloves off: "With all due respect to the person who forced us into the (bicycle) injunction ... ah ... we ... ah ... are not deviating from our commitment to do more with bicycling in our city."

Give 'em Hell, Gavin!

22:35 - Gavin's talking about the "Green Tech" firms that are moving to San Francisco. It's funny: from the smallest village in America to the biggest city, every single state of the city and/or county address in America crows about the companies moving in. It's a staple.

23:08 - Did Gavin Newsom just say that green tech will end racism? You be the judge:

"This is an opportunity for us to truly lead the renaissance in terms of our economic conditions and the changes we want to see in terms of our climate, and to twin the two in a meaningful way and focus on environmental justice at the same time, focus on poverty eradication, and focus on the issues of race and the inequalities: this is the tech sector that is now taking shape in our city."

25:14 - The Moscone center is compostable.

26:35 - Gavinism: Any time he doesn't like someone, but knows he can't ignore their contribution to something good that happened, Gavin says he was behind this issue and that it's "to their credit" that they got on board too. The phrase "to their credit" never appears when he's talking about his political allies.

30:00 - His lips are still moving.

32:31 - As I sit here suffering, it occurs to me that Gavin missed a great opportunity to hurt his enemies by inviting them to attend the taping.

I don't know who the first to try and leave would be ... I'm thinking Aaron Peskin ... but he would have discovered that the doors were locked.

Conspiracy minded Tim Redmond would have been the first to understand what was going on - and I can see him tearing at his flesh in the corner, rocking back and forth, mumbling "PG&E! PG&E!"

Chris Daly would have sat, stony faced and silent, through the whole thing, determined not to show weakness in front of the Mayor. He would never recover.

33:00 - Gavin is "also very proud that we've invested a historic amount of general fund capital into our parks."

Uh huh - that's nice. And it would be even nicer if we saw the amount we bond for parks go down correspondingly. But we haven't, so answer me this Ranger Gavin (if that is your real name): is having a park system that you have to perpetually borrow money just to maintain... sustainable? Is it? Is it really?

33:55 - He's talking about the "Victory Garden" in front of City Hall. It was just taken down, but now he wants more throughout the city. Given how much security was needed for the Civic Center garden...has he really thought this through?

Funny how the security debacle doesn't come up.

36:00 - Talking about power plants now ... hot on the heels of a big defeat of his in that area.

36:36 - Gavinism: When he's talking about his political patrons he says:

"Thank you Speaker Nancy Pelosi, thank you Senator Diane Feinstein, thank you Senator Boxer. Thank you for your efforts, thank you for our efforts, to lobby the federal government to get this money."

Do you get them impression that, as a child on the playground, Gavin couldn't play nicely with the other kids?

37:00 - "You ask me what I'm most proud of as mayor in the last four years, it's probably this slide, in terms of that work that we all did together, with again the leadership of those people that I just exampled, to deal with (closing the candlestick point power plant)."

38:03 - I'll be damned, he does talk about the Portrero power plant. He mentions that the "some of the Supervisors" "disagree" with him on this issue, not that they kicked his ass - but he does bring it up.

39:12 - "As we move forward into the new year, we want to elevate and raise the bar with Civic Center."

Elevate AND raise the bar? Man - that's one high bar.

He wants to connect all the buildings - their waste water and power generation - without really explaining the benefits. It does sound like a cool program, though ... although he ruins it for me when he describes it as "programmatically engage(ing) the space."

41:57 - "San Francisco wants to lead the way in adaptation."

42:20 - he wants to start investing in adaptations for when much of the city is underwater.

He gives no details on how we could "adapt" to that.

42:45 - "We hired a third party that has shown last year ... and independent third party ... that analyzed the dirtiness of our streets that showed a reduction of 19%."

Why won't he name these mysterious "third parties" he brings up. Who are they? Zorro? Batman? The Elders of Zion?

43:03 - "You'll see the types of litter that are most problematic out there (on city streets) - we call them the 'dirty dozen - you got McDoland's wrappers everywhere, Marlboro, I guess the brand of choice for cigarette smokers ..."

Did he just endorse Marlboro?

"...with respect Starbucks ..."

Why "with respect" Starbucks?

"the ATM machine cards ... Wells,"

Wait, wait ... is he telling us that ATM cards are one of the most common kind of litter on the streets of SF?

Damn, we are careless.

"... and Burger King, Taco Bell, Safeway. We're working with all of those private sector partners ..." so now the polluters are partners? "...to help reduce litter and waste and holding them a little more accountable and responsible to helping us do so."

Once again, I'm not sure he really understand what a "partnership" is. Police are not in a "partnership" with muggers when the catch them: the city is not in a "partnership" with organizations it forces to the table. They're not "helping," they're "responding to demands."

I hope Gavin knows this - because you bet they do.

43:37 -Gavin's beginning to lose his voice. I'm losing my mind.

44:53 - "That's the nutshell of what we're doing on the environment."

Dude, that's not a "nutshell," that's the whole almond tree. Why isn't it blooming?

He ends by saying he's looking forward to an even more exciting 2009. That's when he expects to conquer Poland.

Final review: Three out of five Lenins.


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