David Chiu's Yellow Pages Jihad Is Smart -- and Smart Politics

Thumbnail image for phonebooks-discarded.jpg
This is your apartment foyer...
Supervisor David Chiu's pending legislation to require residents to opt-in before receiving a Yellow Pages isn't just smart -- it's savvy.

Anyone who's ever taken a trip to the city's recycling plant knows that phone books are so heavy, they confound machines designed so bulky items tumble to the bottom and light items -- namely paper -- stay up top. Phone books must be manually plucked from the filth and tossed onto a separate conveyer belt. And anyone who's ever waded through a battalion of phone books in his or her apartment foyer has had a "what the hell?" moment.

So Chiu is definitely on to something here. If he fails, he fought the good fight and it won't cost him a penny of political capital. But if he succeeds, then he hits the jackpot -- and can claim he accomplished what his rival Sen. Leland Yee could not.

Last year, Yee attempted to eliminate the mandatory delivery of phone books to homes on a statewide level. While his bill made it out of committee, his chief of staff, Adam Keigwin, blames AT&T and other telecommunications giants for leaning on legislators to ensure a down vote on the state senate floor.

It's no secret that Chiu is openly contemplating a mayoral run. Yee is already a declared candidate. And while Chinatown power broker Rose Pak is an ally and patron of Chiu, she loudly chides Yee as a degenerate to anyone with a notebook and a set of ears. It's hard not to see the political gears grinding here.

"Obviously it's a political thing," said consultant David Latterman. "It's pretty clear Leland tried this at the statewide level and failed. David Chiu is trying at the local level -- and he could undercut Leland Yee. If Chiu is successful, his argument is pretty clever: 'You failed. This is what it looks like when someone can get shit done.'"

Both Yee's office and Chiu's camp denied this. Keigwin pointed out that Yee was at Chiu's press conference today, lending overt support for the measure. Chiu's people said it was a coincidence that the men who may divide Chinatown's political apparatus both settled on legislation regarding proliferating phone books. It remains to be seen how the city's progressives -- who are still perturbed at Chiu over that whole Ed Lee thing -- will react.

One thing everyone agreed on: This is an intriguing ordinance.

"It's great legislation," says consultant Jim Ross. "It's one of those things that's a pet peeve for people in San Franciscans. With people getting hung up on this moderate/progressive terminology [Chiu can say] 'here's a problem that we face. I fixed it. I made people's lives a little bit better.'

"With a ranked-choice voting election with what seem to be eight [mayoral] candidates that have some level of credibility, that's what voters are looking for."

And they're not looking for it in the phone book.

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Evan 88
Evan 88

David Chui will never become mayor. He has failed his first big test. Every candidate comes to a point where their political future turns. Sarah Palin's moment came when she was asked what newspapers she read. David Chui's crucial moment came when Chris Daly screamed at him:"I WILL HAUNT YOU!"...Chui should have responded: "BRING IT ON, DOUCHEBAG!".... He would have won in a landslide!


A somewhat naive question, but what percentage of yellow pages advertising revenues comes back to the city directly, i.e. taxes. Said another way, eliminating yellow pages does what to SF revenue (aside from eliminates excess garbage processing/disposal)?


I like the idea as I hardly use the yellow pages and rely on my computer to find my listings.

This would be a great idea for the city to cut back on those election booklets. Instead of sending a book to every single resident, the city sends a postcard asking the voter if they want to get a book by sending the card back, or by using the web address to view the book online.


mail piece politics at its finest. he doesn't care if it passes, he can just say "lookitme!"

this is going to be a lonnnnnng election year.

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