Farming, Park Parking and Empty Promises

Victory_garden_w_city_hall_aug_08_3695.jpgThe Potemkin Victory Garden during Slow Food Nation, August 2008.

Gavin Newsom is running for President, er um, I mean Governor (you gotta take these things one step at a time). Maybe he’ll make it, maybe something will wreck his chances. It’s an interesting drama from the point of view of recent American history, as he follows in the footsteps of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and has surrounded himself with a retinue of advertising professionals… you know, those people who do nothing useful for society but are extremely well-paid to craft lies and deceptions and help the powerful stay on top. Newsom is a vacuous politician with no rudder or internal gyroscope grounded in any values other than what will get him on to the next stop of his political ambition. His advertisers (do they advise? I think they just advertise) are shrewd enough to keep associating the Newsom Brand with the innovative thinking and practices that are practically boiling out of political sight in San Francisco. But we cannot and should not think of him as an ally since his track record is demonstrably empty when it comes to doing what he says.

Newsom got a bunch of local press last week when he announced that he was directing his department heads to examine their city-owned surplus real estate holdings for the potential to kick-start a serious effort at locally grown urban agriculture. As a person who has—even here—promoted the idea of “One Lane for Food” I am of course glad to see the idea of urban agriculture gaining traction. But having Gavin Newsom using the idea as the buzz-of-the-week in his gubernatorial campaign is simply aggravating.

alemany_farm_midsummer_09_0012.jpgAlemany Farm below Bernal Heights, June 2009

San Francisco has a flourishing urban horticulture amidst over 100 community gardens. The Alemany Farm just south of Bernal Heights is a 4.5-acre productive farm, run largely by volunteers who have brought it into production after it almost collapsed a few years ago. Elsewhere, the SF Glean group are out picking plums and loquats and anything else they can find in front yards, sidewalk medians, and even some backyards and public lands. Another similar effort called Produce to the People is dedicated to getting the food already growing in the city to the hungry people who can best use it.

plum_tree_peralta_and_franconia_0038.jpgFlourishing plum tree at Mullen and Franconia on Bernal Heights.

Did Newsom think to salute these efforts or offer city support for them? Is he proposing to use City resources to support the dozens of community gardens and thousands of gardeners, who are the obvious backbone of any move towards urban agriculture? Did he even throw his support behind the Victory Gardens program launched a year ago with much fanfare during the Slow Food Nation gathering? You all know the pathetic answers…

loquat_9901.jpgHeavily laden loquat tree on south side of Bernal Heights, June 2009.

There are a lot of examples of Newsom’s vacuity and hypocrisy, but one that he’s not even that directly responsible for leaped out at me last Friday. I was going to the Inner Sunset to lunch with a friend, and took a detour through the Golden Gate Park Concourse. Those of you who have been around for a while will remember the intense fight that erupted over the rebuilding of the DeYoung Museum and the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, especially with regard to building a parking garage under the concourse. After much ado, including a hotly contested election, a number of lawsuits, and then the construction of the garage with entrances inside the park violating the original proposition, it’s all finished now. The main promise of the garage proponents is that it would allow the Concourse to become a pedestrian oasis, with space for walking, cycling, and no parking or cars, which would be kept below ground.

Newsom wasn’t personally involved much in that original fight. He came to the Board of Supervisors from the Pacific Heights district where the monied interests who backed him had been the financiers of the campaign for a garage. Those same interests promised that the underground garage, with its entrance directly to the museums, would preclude the necessity of having cars driving through the Concourse. Once built though, there was a road put back to the front door of both museums, at the behest of the museums and their wealthy benefactors, so people could get “dropped off” at the door.

from_tower_straight_south_0320.jpgThe so-called pedestrian oasis, ringed by busily trafficked roads.

As these photos illustrate, this has proven to be a lie. Granted, it’s a small issue in the scheme of things, but it’s a perfect example of the kind of politics and baiting-and-switching that brought us Gavin Newsom in the first place. Today there are signs at either end of the Concourse saying it’s closed to through traffic, and that only drop-offs are allowed (why they can’t loop through the underground garage to drop off passengers has never been explained). But on Friday, first around 1, and then later when I took these photos around 3 pm, there was a steady flow of private cars streaming through the park, not making drop-offs, but just using it as a shortcut between the Inner Sunset and JFK Drive, just like they always have! Add the many taxis and the 44 Muni line that runs through, and the promised pedestrian oasis is a joke. As Park Ranger Rodriguez told me, it’s always like this, and as much as she tries to block cars from driving in the bike lane, she’s given up worrying about enforcing the “no through traffic” rule.

8_cars_head_on_w_ranger_rodriguez_in_road_0319.jpgCars drive through against the "no through traffic" signs. Park Ranger Rodriguez stands in road trying to keep traffic moving.

It’s aggravating, but twice so when you consider all the blather about a crisis in city finances. Why not set up some officers at either end of the Concourse and generate a few tens of thousands of dollars per day on scofflaw motorists driving through? Why were they trying to charge entrance fees to the Arboretum (thankfully abandoned now) when there’s a huge revenue source in enforcing existing promises and rules a few yards away? Gavin Newsom doesn’t want to ruffle the feathers of all his wealthy benefactors, who for all their tolerance of green rhetoric (good marketing after all), can’t bear the idea of not being able to drive wherever they want, whenever they want, including right to the front door of their museums, past promises be damned.

5_cars_from_rear_w_ranger_rodriguez_0345.jpgAre there museums here? Who knew? And where was that pedestrian oasis?

Newsom has been terrible on getting cars out of the park, as his long opposition to Healthy Saturdays demonstrated. He is even waffling over the question of placing parking meters around the eastern end of the park to generate revenue from drivers. We’re glad he’s signed off on the Sunday Streets program, of course, but it’s all marketing with this guy. So let’s take the credit for the burgeoning culture of public life and celebration that we’ve created ourselves, and make sure the politicians who try to wrap themselves in a green hue have to answer for their hypocrisy. By all means, take stock of public lands that can be converted to urban agriculture! But the transformation of San Francisco is well underway, no thanks to lagging politicians whose allegiance remains to those who own this society’s wealth (and pay for their campaigns), and then issue empty proclamations rather than putting the city’s resources behind existing citizen efforts.


  • What about the role of “Healthy Saturdays” in funneling autos onto the concourse on Saturdays?

  • marcos

    Nobody’s going to bite at my cryptic iPhoned comment from the shaky 33 bus?

    So we made the mistake of taking the Bauers shuttle from the Marriott at 4th and Mission to the De Young to see the Tut exhibit.

    Almost an hour after being the only people to board the shuttle, we ended up in the park on JFK. Heading to the Concourse, to drop us off, the “Healthy Saturdays” street closure made it so that the only thing that traffic could do was to turn left/south into the Concourse.

    SO, what about the role of “Healthy Saturdays” in giving auto traffic no option BUT to turn into the Concourse?

    Is this a case similar to the 17th/Castro/Market sliver, of one modality trumping others, making a mockery of comprehensive intermodal planning?


  • hey marc,
    yes, that was quite cryptic, that first one! I kinda knew what you meant, but anyway, glad you elaborated on it in #2… Clearly the piecemeal approach, like stepping on a water balloon, doesn’t really get us anywhere we can be too enthused about. The main point I was trying to make is that for all the campaign rhetoric and endless photo ops and public declarations, this mayor and the people who support him, really don’t give a rat’s ass about real change or meaningful transformation of the urban fabric. They are happy with cosmetic improvements, like the Guerrero medians–which I like very much–rather than any redesign of streets, parks, or altering rights of way that have been utterly usurped by private cars for decades… The surprise I felt on hearing Newsom “embrace” an urban agriculture initiative was quickly tempered by a sour antagonism that is all too familiar based on past experiences like the fiasco of Golden Gate Park… thanks for responding….

  • Nick

    If you look closely at the Music Concourse, it seems to represent the most the City is currently willing to give us in regards to a complete Bike Network.

    They’ll give us a bike lane, one lane for autos, traffic calming, and some greenery. Well, maybe the next mayor might.

  • ZA

    Seems to me we’re still in an era of politicians, not statesmen. Therefore it behooves us to make our own green ways and our own community solutions, if a politician wants to honor or replicate it for their own purposes, there’s no stopping them, but demanding a bit of credit and additional resources is always healthy negotiation.

    Regarding the rich – they will always wield more direct influence, but the rest of us can channel their ambitions to get a better (fair?) share. All the response development of the GGPC is largely the result of failing to adequately engage the rest of the communities that use that space. It’s tragic that MUNI never gets enough bus capacity to support anything like the numbers of people who already use GGPark, let alone those who want to. This is exactly the sort of deliberate underinvestment that gives us this half-assed logistics for this real gem in GGPark…to say nothing of the confusing and unrealistic bikelanes in GGPC. I suppose we can only be grateful the error wasn’t entirely repeated in the Presidio (yet).

  • marcos

    @Chris Carlsson, there is little need at this point to “speak the truth to power” as relates to Newsom’s vacuity. I’d wager that a public opinion poll taken now would demonstrate that San Franciscans have rubbed through the press releases to allow the bare nub of lies beneath to shine through. A recall of Newsom would have a fair chance of success right now.

    So far this year, my luscious tomato garden has suffered 100% crop loss to varmints in my .0001 acre spread in the North Mission. Newsom’s Potemkin garden in Civic Center, within spitting distance of the Tenderloin, apparently did not suffer crop losses due to varmints even though the population density is 75K/mi2 and sanitary conditions in the TL are, shall we say, favorable to vermin and varmints.

    Sure, I could use poison for the rats or raccoons, but that would probably poison whatever raptors might feast on the varmints, and it would violate San Francisco’s integrated pest management program that I read about in a Newsom press release several years ago. Here’s a picture of a Cooper’s Hawk that lived in our interior courtyard last year, taking a big ole dump while using its talons to squeeze the life out of a pigeon:

    Unfortunately, our neighbors cut down the avocado tree where it nested and I’ve seen no raptors since.

    But kicking Newsom is easy. When we raise our own political power through organizing and successfully contesting competitive elections, the ball is now in our court to set our policy agenda. When we fumble, we own that or else we deny it and are condemned to repeat it.

    When we misplay our hand in ways that run counter to our own stated policy goals, such as going shortsighted Ahab on “Healthy Saturdays” which neutralized McGoldrick as an ally against gentrifying development in the Mission and which apparently forces automobiles onto the “pedestrian oasis” at the Concourse, or when we sign onto a sliver plaza which bisects a bicycle route and creates dangerous conditions, we’re actually one-upping Newsom on the stupidity scale.

    I don’t not get paid to do that.

    “Healthy Saturdays” was more about Ted and Leah saving face after getting whipped by light weight Newsom repeatedly, and responding by irrationally quadrupling down on road closure in GGP (while ignoring most every other bicycle related policy initiative) than it was about thinking through a sustainable, equitable policy.

    To recap: Concourse = pedestrian oasis – pedestrians + cars. 17th Street = pedestrian plaza – bike route. And people say that I don’t play nice with others.

    Hate to quote Jesus, but “physician, heal thyself!”


  • Like a lot of bike people, Carlsson is still bitter about losing on the garage under the Concourse. The bike people opposed it, but city voters voted for it. Many readers will forget what the Concourse was like before the garage was built; it was in fact a lot like a parking lot, with 200 parking spaces on the surface of the Concourse. Those parking spaces are gone, along with 600 other parking spaces in the area to match the 800 spaces in the underground garage. Newsom supported the garage, and a majority of the Board of Supervisors did, too, not to mention a solid majority of city voters. The Concourse is now a lot closer to being a “pedestrian oasis” than it was before, since the traffic that does cross through is minor and slow-moving. A little enforcement would reduce even that to a trickle.

    Carlsson and the bike people preferred the park the way it was before the garage was built—gridlocked with people in cars looking for a place to park—so that they could weave in and out of the perpetual traffic jam on their bikes, thus demonstrating the superiority of their “mode” of transportation.

    Once the decisions were made to keep the de Young and the Academy of Sciences in the park, the garage was essential to handle the crowds. And the ballot measure authorizing the garage included an important provision that’s never mentioned by the bike people—guaranteeing access to the park for everyone, including families, old people, and handicapped people. The garage does in fact allow easier access to that part of the park to everyone.

    Weird that Carlsson even mentions the Healthy Saturdays issue. In fact the SFBC had to compromise—a compromise facilitated by Newsom and his staff—because they understood that if it went to the ballot they would probably lose, as they did on the issue twice on the same ballot in 2000. This is the unpleasant reality behind all the huffing and puffing by the bike people: they really aren’t terribly popular in the city, which is why the SFBC backed down on their threat to put the Bicycle Plan on the ballot a few years ago.

  • jabber_jabber

    One huge yawn. A temper tantrum by another entitled SF shouter. Newsom has as much substance as say, any member of the board, the problem with Newsom’s empty suit status is that he isn’t a progressive empty suit.

    Mr Anderson’s analysis is very astute, when the entitled bike riders don’t get their way they freak out. Once upon a time my fellow bike riders just wanted to share the road, now riding a bike is a statement of their superior values.

    I would guess that the author of this ridiculous freak out gets in a lather over born again Christians who tantrum in the same way.

    The bike nuts lost their “healthy Saturday” before the voters twice, TWICE, so they went crying to the board of losers and got their way, while I’m sure complaining about Bush’s secret oil deals, or some other crazy right wing scheme.

  • “They’ll give us a bike lane, one lane for autos, traffic calming, and some greenery. Well, maybe the next mayor might.”

    It’s remarkable that you bike people are complaining about Newsom, who has given you everything you’ve asked for, except for his veto of the first move to close the park to autos on Saturdays. But he then engineered the compromise that got it done anyhow, in spite of the already expressed will of the voters. He supported the city’s attempt to illegally push the Bicycle Plan through the process. What more could he have possibly done to support your dangerous hobby?

  • jabber_jabber

    Oh Rob, I liked your other post so much, I know you are just mocking the bike nuts, still, its not a hobby, I ride a bike every day so its not a hobby.

    You should just stick to mocking the cities bike self righteous self centered intolerant bike loons for their crazy antics.

    That post by za, pure mental illness. Those are the people that are a problem in this city of entitled whiners, not the average bike rider who actually believes in sharing the road.

  • marcos

    @jabber_jabber, “Those are the people that are a problem in this city of entitled whiners, not the average bike rider who actually believes in sharing the road.”

    On this we agree. The problem is that the people who can afford to move here now are amongst the most entitled brats to walk the surface of the planet, all take, no give.


  • “On this we agree. The problem is that the people who can afford to move here now are amongst the most entitled brats to walk the surface of the planet, all take, no give.”

    Yes, the sense of entitlement is extraordinary, which is best exemplified by Critical Mass. How did San Francisco get by before the advent of the bike people? And ironically it’s our progressive leadership that is accelerating the gentrification of SF, with projects like the luxury highrise condos on Rincon Hill (Daly and Peskin), the Market/Octavia Plan (Mirkarimi), and allowing UC to hijack the old extension property (Mirkarimi again). The anti-car jihad—making it unnecessarily difficult and expensive to drive in the city—has also made it hard for middleclass people to remain in SF, since those who have children in particular need cars for their daily rounds.

  • marcos

    Would that the entitled condo owners release their sense of entitlement in one monthly ritual, but alas, they’re all entitlement, all the time.

    I agree that progressives are part of the development problem. My guess is that they’re shown a political zapruder film of their own by the powers that be and asked afterwards, “any questions?” That, or promised lucrative gigs once termed out. Jake McGoldrick has only five months left in his post-employment restriction period. My guess is that he ends up as a governmental relations person for a residential developer next year.

    I bet that Rob hates Mardi Gras too.


  • g

    That’s a real nice shot of the garden. I can’t believe I just read all of that.

  • jabber_jabber

    The problem with the condo’s and other developments that some complain about, someone has to pay the ever growing tax burden that the progressives demand.

    It would seem the most anti-development types are also the ones who expect the city to fork over in services to the; “poor and needy”… and bike lanes, neighborhood improvements, high city employee wages and benefits, and everything else the shouting progressives demand.

    If the city was really broke I wouldn’t mind the tore up streets, but if the DA can run some make work program out of her office and we can re-strip the streets for bike nuts and mayor can order the endless silly department audits for such idiocy as community gardens… well the city isn’t broke, its just throwing good money after bad.

    Oddly the condo owners like Daly move to the city because of the “live and let live” attitude and then because they have born a again Christian like sense of self awareness, they jamb their authoritarian agenda down our throats.

  • marcos

    @jabber_jabber, the “poor and needy” were here long before most of us arrived, were not always “poor and needy,” but as the end product of 40 years of gentrifying social policy, are now clinging to their city just barely.

    The numbers on condo property taxes funding city services just don’t pencil out to a net gain. They don’t pay for their own impacts on infrastructure and city services and given their relative wealth, will probably drain services from the “poor and needy.”


  • jabber_jabber

    The “poor and needy” are shipped here from other cities or have developed a serious drug problem not of the tax payers making, nor is the various love children to be found on the dole of the tax payers making.

    Still, I would be all for limiting the services of the SF social state to people who have lived here for some length of time and have contributed somehow to the city.

    After 40 years of gentrification social policy? What does that mean? The city offer’s more in services than it ever has, the city employ’s more people in these fields than it ever has and what we have to show for it is a demand for more, even in “good times.” Living in the city of SF isn’t an entitlement by the way.

    Considering the development fees and the property taxes paid by condos and how the only services they get via utilities only one of which is the SFPUC, I seriously doubt they are a net loss, or even come near breaking even. If they do break even then they are paying for in taxes and what they use, unlike the cities lifestyle bums.

    Also the relative wealth argument is just your sense of entitlement, because people who live in the city did something with their lives they should not be punished to serve the agenda of sub market rate condo owners like Chris Daly. “I got over so as to make sure you can’t”

    Somehow liberalism turned into just giving the loudest shouter the most stuff. Liberalism’s anti-statism turned into taking the state over and forcing it onto people, the old liberalism used to have a expectation of personal responsibility from those collecting from the government.

  • marcos

    @jabber_jabber, “Still, I would be all for limiting the services of the SF social state to people who have lived here for some length of time and have contributed somehow to the city. ”

    The Supreme Court says that such an approach violates the right to free travel and is unconstitutional.

    There is a long history involved in battles between downtown and neighborhood alliances that is not best understood using FoxNEWS dualisms.

    Instead of challenging people’s ideologies or motives, or your perceptions of them, it is more useful to criticize instances of their conduct.

    Progressives = bad, blah, blah, blah, just goes out the other year.

    We’ve just endured 30 years of unprecedented transfer of wealth upwards. There is nothing wrong with reversing that.


  • Can we get a Rob/jabber/marcos cage match, in say, Santa Barbara?

  • jabber_jabber

    taxing people less is not a transfer of wealth.

    Creating residency requirements for services is pretty standard, Hawaii has been doing it for years. Perhaps you mean on the federal end?

  • marcos

    @jabber_jabber, if it were possible to establish residency tests for public services such as entitlements or even affordable housing, it would have been done by now.


  • jabber_jabber

    Ah marc, you may have heard of Tom Ammiano’s residency card, you know the one so that illegal aliens can get city services? There is a residency requirement, you move here and immediately you are a resident entitled to city services even if you are an illegal alien.

    Anyone can move to SF, have their pal put their name on the electricity bill go down to city hall get a card and start leaching.


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