Saturday, October 25, 2008

Haight St. Whole Foods/Apt Building Update: Well Look At That, They Approved It

Okay, yes, as usual, I didn't mince words when discussing the ridiculous NIMBY baloney that was driving the discussion of a mixed-use building for the long-vacant lot at Haight and Stanyan. The whole thing seemed all too familiar, a typical San Francisco notion that any development whatsoever is bad, because it might not exactly fit the supposed character of this city-in-a-bottle, or whatever, and so let's just keep the crack-pipe-filled parking lot since that's obviously working so well for us. But perhaps my outrage has contributed to a turnaround (well, it's possible). As Socketsite reports:

Last night, the Planning Commission voted 6-0 to approve the Conditional Use for the 690 Stanyan project, the mixed-use proposal with Whole Foods as the anchor tenant. During the four hour hearing, we produced nearly 400 letters of support, a spreadsheet showing 244 supporters for the Draft EIR, and a list of nearly 260 supporters from This, in addition to the dozens and dozens of supporters who came to speak and show solidarity to the project, I believe, convinced the Commissioners that this was indeed a project that had overwhelming support.

Halle-freakin'-luyah. Now we'll see if the damn thing gets built. And while they're at it, any chance they could do something about this useless empty triangle? A mini-Ikea and a cheap sushi bar, plus someplace that sells socks, would be my suggestion.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Gavin Newsom: The Savior or Saboteur of Gay Marriage?

Call me suspicious, paranoid, a pessimist, but my celebration of San Francisco's brief "legalization" of same-sex marriage in 2004 was tempered by deep concern, something I tried to keep hidden in order to support my friends who were taking advantage of the moment to tie the knot. While most San Franciscans immediately hailed the decision, I felt worried about the actual effects down the road.

There's a certain political chaos theory that seems to come into play a lot of the time, where actions taken eventually have the opposite of their intended effect. Look, for instance, at President Bill Clinton's attempt to end the military's anti-gay discriminatory policy, or his and Hillary's attempt to put together universal health care. Both were handled so terribly that they caused an enormous backlash, which, in my opinion, set both causes back 20 years or more. We humans have such emotional reactions to politicians that I find it useful to look at the actual results, the real effects, of their actions: while Clinton was an inspiring speaker on gay rights, and hired lots of gays and lesbians in the White House, what were the effects of his eight years in office? DOMA and "Don't Ask Don't Tell." It's sad we have to play that game, but it's something we don't think twice about doing with George W. Bush, whose every word seems to be the direct opposite of his actions and their effects.

So, while seeing long-time couples finally tie the knot in the dramatic rotunda of San Francisco's City Hall was undeniably emotional and affecting, let's talk about reality. What did those marriages "mean"? They were issued in defiance of state and federal law, they had no legal weight whatsoever. It was almost like the couples were being used, their emotions toyed with: here, sign these papers that would be legal in any other circumstance, but for you, they're just a "protest." Then, in a couple weeks, this "marriage" you thought you had will be dissolved, but Gavin Newsom will get all the credit for "fighting the system" in a way that had no real consequences, and his approval ratings will go through the roof, assuring him of reelection.

Actually, I take that back: there were real consequences, and they were negative. A country unsure about this whole gay thing was treated to visions of their most-hated city enacting "play" gay marriages, enacting every concern they have. Not to defend their points of view, but we've seen how rhetoric and terminology are important recently with John McCain and Sarah Palin inciting nutbag supporters to scream "Kill him" at their rallies, so I think we can all agree that understanding how to "play a crowd" is a vital part of politics. While McCain/Palin seem to be fanning flames of hatred with secret whispers and winks (although McCain, at least lately, seems to have come to a sobering realization of what's going on), Newsom's unilateral marriage stunt was like making Frankenstein's monster do a breakdance in front of an angry mob: just a useless taunting of a dangerous crowd. Of course, we all know what happened in 2004: John Kerry lost a close election and state after state amended their constitutions with bans on same-sex marriage or any recognition whatsoever of same sex couples.

Now, in the wake of this year's California Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, Proposition 8 is on the November ballot to ban it again. For a while this summer, it looked like it was going down, but new polls seem to show it winning. What, pray tell, is part of the reason? The San Francisco Chronicle has an idea:

The mayor has become the reluctant face of the campaign opposing same-sex unions with the help of a prominent Yes-on-Proposition-8 television ad. Conservative blogs have been atwitter about Newsom last week officiating at the wedding of a lesbian teacher whose class of first-graders took a field trip to celebrate with her.

In many ways, Newsom has become the single best campaign tool for proponents of Prop. 8 - and that might have been inevitable, political experts said.

"His pictures have become the rallying cry for Prop. 8. It's unfortunate for him, and it's unfortunate for the anti-Prop. 8 campaign," said Barbara O'Connor, a professor of political communications at California State University Sacramento. "I don't know that I would change his behavior, because he's representing his constituency, and he's been totally consistent in his position. But he's become everyone's worst nightmare."

Of course, in all truthfulness, I would be a terrible politician: I'd just blurt out whatever I was thinking at all times without any regard for the consequences, and I'm sure I'd screw things up. But that's why I don't run for office. There are people I know who have deified Gavin Newsom, and I've had to listen to them give tearful tributes to him at more than one wedding, as though he alone has made the marriages possible. On the contrary: there doesn't seem to be any evidence that the 2004 stunt did anything but energize the opposition and complicate the inevitable court case, and his naive, self-serving actions are now galvanizing the forces who would take these rights away again.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Oh, Blue Angels, Please Crash Down Upon South of Market and Release Me From This Mortal Coil, You Sweet Angels of Death

Hey everybody, it's Fleet Week time again, and in addition to drunk, horny sailors, you know what that means: Blue Angels! As I type this, five of these blue-and-yellow aeroplanes just went right the fuck over my street, with that terrifying noise that starts out up in the high registers, a hiss of impending doom, then suddenly, massively deepening into a gigantic, thunderous rush, becoming louder than you think it's possible for a sound to be, and then when you think it's as loud as it's going to get, it gets louder, and all the car alarms in the neighborhood go off.

Okay, okay, sure, fast airplanes are neat, and I get giddy like a little schoolboy watching them zoom around in bonkers formations, wing tips inches from touching. But the whole thing strikes me as completely, utterly insane. First question: doesn't anybody in this town have any work to do? Like, say, some of us, who maybe have work to do that has to do with, uh, audio?!? So, sorry, clients, all your shit is going to be like 5 days late since I can't hear a goddamn thing.

Second, perhaps more important question: has it occured to anyone that these daredevil flyboys, performing intricate maneuvers in their fuel-filled super-jets, are doing so over the most densely-populated area west of the Mississippi? And if one of them was to, say, get a little distracted for a split second while buzzing the Bank of America Building and plow into North Beach, they're likely to cause death and carnage on a scale that the human mind can barely comprehend?

Wow, honey, North Beach coffee is so tasty. Wait, what's that noise? And, kablooey.

Not to mention the jingoistic, military symbolism of the whole thing. All of this seems a bit crazy for liberal San Francisco, right? Well, the good old Board of Supes has tried and failed to get in the way of this juggernaut of military showmanship and daredevilry, thinking that perhaps they could appeal to the Bay Area's senses of, you know, peace and love and all that. But they failed, as all efforts to stop the Blue Angels and their vertigo-inducing maneuvers over our city, and I think I know why: it turns out there's something stronger even than our lovey-dovey liberalism here in San Francisco, and that's our longing for death.

Not only does the Bay Area have a rather high suicide rate, the Golden Gate Bridge presents an almost irresistible opportunity for the morbidly, er, morbid, and is often cited as "the most popular place to commit suicide in the world," with someone jumping to their death about once every two weeks.

Whether it's the city's reputation as a glowing haven for the unconventional drawing people who are intrinsically more likely to off themselves, or it's something about the dreary fog and insanely high cost of living, San Franciscans really just want to call it quits. But of course, everybody knows we're all supposed to be life-loving liberals in a place that's held up as an example of how to live for the rest of this trashy, red-state nation, so there's no way we can actually say that. Instead, our death wish spurts out in other, random ways, like say the way we drive, and also the invitation to our military to do some crazy dangerous shit right over our heads. Well, Blue Angels, I for one openly salute your death-defying ways, and invite you to aim right for South of Market, because not only would your crashing explosively into my pad save me from enduring more of this soul-crushing Curb Your Enthusiasm episode that's masquerading as my life, it would also be really hilarious: Party Ben, killed by a falling angel. Hold on while I go paint a target on my roof.