What a strange day Tuesday was! The 48-year-old San Francisco Bay Guardian announced it was ceasing publication. Hardly a big surprise given how it has shrunken to a pale shadow of what it was 20 years ago, and earlier. But still, after it was absorbed into the SF Examiner + SF Weekly “empire” it seemed like it might be sustainable. I thought the editorial content got deeper and better during the past year even if the paper remained a skinny little thing. I was never a huge fan of the SFBG, but there’s no denying that it was often the only place to read about various political developments at City Hall, in the Bay Area, and even in California. For example, they published the top ten Censored Stories each year, which I never see anywhere else.
I know a lot of folks are lamenting the demise of the Bay Guardian as though some crucial institution of “progressive” San Francisco has fallen. But I always thought of the Bay Guardian as the political voice of small business. They fought tenaciously against their own typesetters who wanted to unionize back in the 1980s, claiming the unions were doing the bidding of the big newspaper monopoly (SF Chronicle + SF Examiner, and their Joint Operating Agreement). I certainly don’t doubt that the newspaper unions in that era were in a cozy relationship with the big newspaper duopoly, but the exploitative relations suffered by Bay Guardian typesetters, and freelancer writers, photographers, and illustrators, too, were reason enough to support their getting organized.
Speaking of organization, San Francisco did lose a giant of local political organizing Tuesday too, in the sudden demise of Ted Gullickson. Ted has been the guy who kept the San Francisco Tenants’ Union going for the past few decades. He was dogged and indomitable and though I was not really friends with him, I always appreciated seeing him rolling around on his bicycle, knowing that he was a key reason why we have strong rent control. He will definitely be missed.
San Francisco is melting away. Everyone who has been here for a long time can feel it, and these twin losses really bring it home to many of us. For the steady slide into a dark, pecuniary, and reactionary future, we’ll have more evidence after the coming November election. Whatever happens with local candidates for Board of Supervisors probably won’t alter anything much. The contest between centrist David Chiu and leftier David Campos for the Ammiano state legislature seat is a tight one, and I hope Campos prevails. He’s a vastly preferable candidate, honest, smart, and very capable. I’ll always remember fondly the public hearing a couple of years ago where he ripped the police department for claiming they needed the poverty-punishing “Sit-Lie” ordinance to clear the sidewalks of bad behavior when they already had a half dozen laws they weren’t enforcing. David Chiu on the other hand has proven to be a vacillating worm with no principles and an abject willingness to prostrate himself before the wealthy and influential. His latest disaster is the legalization of AirBnB rentals without recovering the $25 million in back taxes they just blew off paying. Campos attempted to amend the bill before passage to collect those taxes (for a city with a permanent fiscal crisis) but the conservatives on the Board voted it down 6-5. So much for a progressive Board!
There’s a lot to dislike on the November ballot in terms of propositions. Governor Jerry Brown and big agribusiness and other interests have placed a bond initiative on the state ballot (Prop 1) to raise $7.5 billion for water “improvements.” Some of the money will go to water recycling, gray water development, and other worthy projects. It claims it will ensure water supplies, but as a UC Davis study showed, surface water allocations have exceeded available water supplies (irrespective of the drought, which only makes it worse) by around 300 million acre-feet, the equivalent of 2.5 Lake Tahoe’s! In this bond there is apx. $2.5 billion for more surface water storage which translates into more dams in a state that has already dammed nearly every river and many more than once. More dams will NOT create more water! It will only lead to more evaporation and more riparian corridor destruction. So let’s hope this Prop 1 is defeated.
Locally, our San Francisco ballot has a couple of litmus tests for our ever-more reactionary population. The one that gets my goat the most is Prop L, which is luckily a non-binding advisory proclamation that has the gall to call itself “Restore Transportation Balance”!!
More than half of San Francisco is covered in asphalt. These ubiquitous roads are primarily and overwhelmingly dedicated to the housing and movement of private automobiles. The bizarre idea that there is an imbalance in transportation priorities that discriminates against cars and car owners is completely and obviously insane. Just spend a few minutes on any street in the city and find out how long you can be on foot or on a bicycle before you have to move out of the way for a motorist or someone who thinks they should be able to park their car where you are standing or walking or cycling. I’d love to “restore transportation balance” to what it was before 1920 when the horse-drawn vehicle, the cable car, the electric streetcar, and pedestrians all had more or less equal rights to the roads along with the early automobiles. Cars were expected to accommodate these other forms of transit, but in the following decades nearly all other uses were systematically discriminated against in favor of private car ownership.
The streets of the city were widened at the expense of sidewalks. Jaywalking was invented as a new crime to be regulated. And vast public expenditures were made to build roads, parking facilities, and highways, culminating in the frenzy of freeway building during the Interstate Highway period of the 1950s-1980s (a program thankfully stopped in its tracks by San Franciscans who organized to block most of the freeway plans meant to crisscross the city). More »