Letters

Freedom of Info
Not so fast: Don't let nostalgia and misfortune thwart a public service that most class-A libraries around the country are already offering (Bay View, "Runaway InfoExpress," July 19). And offering to people who want data fast, sent to their home, for a few bucks.

Think about all the non-corporate people who have no access to on-line data bases and no time to get to the library. Writers, scholars, entrepreneurs, environmentalists, political activists, and, yes, small businesses: These are the people who want articles faxed or e-mailed. They pay taxes, too. They are part of the public we serve, and they're willing to pay for extra service. The fat-cat corporations have their own on-line access, so they're not going to have to go through the public library.

The most important criterion is whether the ordinary library user has access to the same body of information as the fee-paying user. In other words, InfoExpress should be an expediting service, not a ticket to a greater source of data.

As for using Prop. E money: InfoExpress was approved as a revenue-generating service, way before Prop. E. The start-up costs were approved as part of the 1995-96 budget.

The truth is that stopping InfoExpress will not improve the service library users are now getting; it will simply deny an expediting service to those who want it. Can that be considered a win?

If the Library Commission approves the fee schedule on Aug. 1, InfoExpress will be under close scrutiny to determine its effect, if any, on the quality of reference assistance available for free. InfoExpress should be passed on a trial basis for a limited time. Only then will we be able to evaluate it knowledgeably.

Karen Crommie
Library Commissioner
San Francisco

Picture Perfect
I think Ellen McGarrahan did a great job of sketching as true a picture of Bolinas ("Bolinas? Baloney!" July 12) as one can get without writing a novel. I am sure that she has now entered the folklore of BoBo.

I have lived and worked in Marin for almost 30 years, and McGarrahan's article is the best thing I have read on that controversial state of mind.

Jim Scanlon
San Rafael

Dream On
Every year or so a reporter finds Bolinas, spends a few hours "downtown" at the bar and the restaurant, interviews the usual subjects, and writes an article about how Bolinas is not living up to the ideals it espoused 20-25 years ago ("Bolinas? Baloney!" July 12). After the article appears, the Bolinas Border Patrol may designate a Bolinasian to respond to some of the more misleading bits. These letters to the editor also serve as progress reports to people in other communities who might be interested in knowing how some of our efforts really are faring.

Your article had two criticisms of Bolinas: "not everyone thinks the water moratorium [which has strictly limited growth for 24 years] was such a wonderful idea," and real estate has become expensive, presumably an effect of the water moratorium.

In 1971, the utility district decided not to allow more hookups because we didn't have enough storage capacity for the existing population. At every opportunity since then, we have voted three- or four-to-one not to tax ourselves to expand water capacity beyond needs of the current population.

As is also the case in the neighboring communities of Muir Beach, Stinson Beach, and Inverness, high real estate prices in Bolinas are primarily the result of being surrounded by public lands that can't be developed. In reality, there is virtually an unlimited demand for coastal property within an hour's drive of San Francisco. So, Bolinas, along with most other communities in the Bay Area, has failed to keep housing costs down. That likely will be so unless we can secede from the surrounding economy, or until we figure out how to unmoor Bolinas from the continent, stick a mast in it, and sail away.

What has Bolinas accomplished in the 24 years since deciding to steer toward a destiny that might be a little different from that of other towns? We wanted growth control, and Bolinas has perhaps the most effective growth control of any town in the country. Because of the water moratorium, the population has remained constant, a little below 2,000.

The Bolinas Community Plan talked dreamily of increasing local agriculture, which in 1971 amounted to one family ranch of about 40 acres. Today, eight Bolinas families are successfully farming or ranching about 1,700 acres.

The community plan also had the goals of limiting the size of the downtown commercial district, encouraging establishment of businesses that would serve residents, and discouraging primarily visitor-serving enterprises, all policies that have succeeded.

Less tangible but most important, the character of the community remains much as it was 20 years ago. How many towns is that true of?

Bolinas hasn't lived up to all of its ideals, but then, if the community plan included only what's easily achievable, it wouldn't be worth much. It's heartening to see a community's idealistic reach exceeds its grasp.

Burr Heneman
Bolinas

Artful Dodger
Wow! I've been accused of a lot things, but until Larry Bush's column (Paper Trails, July 26) I've never been accused of "dodging reporters." Larry would have your readers believe I was sneaking around City Hall in abject terror that someone might find out that the ACLU actually agreed with the Police Officers Association (POA) on an issue. However, as loyal readers of Larry's work no doubt already suspect, there is another side to this story.

On July 20, I participated in a meeting with lawyers from the City Attorney's Office, the OCC, the SFPD, and the POA, where possible compromise language for a police-accountability charter amendment to be proposed by Supervisor Ammiano was discussed. This meeting was necessary because of a city attorney's opinion (which the ACLU opposed) claiming the POA's "meet and confer" rights would keep major portions of Ammiano's proposal off the ballot. It was hardly a secret meeting, since a representative of the major opponent for the proposed compromise, the SFPD, was present and offered suggestions on appropriate wording.

Less than one hour after this meeting broke up -- with agreement in principle but no final language compiled or circulated -- I ran into Larry outside the board's hearing on the mayor's curfew proposal. I told Larry that I did not feel comfortable discussing the details of this meeting since, to the best of my knowledge, even Supervisor Ammiano had not yet been provided this information.

Larry accused me of betraying the principle of open government in a democratic society! To an ACLU lawyer, them's fightin' words. I tried to tell Larry that I was not aware that the tedious process of crafting language for proposed ballot measures could not be worked out in meetings before they were presented publicly to the full board. (Larry may have participated in a few of these meetings himself over the years.) By way of analogy, I pointed out that it is customary for lawyers in settlement discussions in litigation not to discuss the details of those negotiations until a final agreement is reached and/or brought before a public body.

Of course, what's lost in all of this is what the ACLU and POA were arguing about in the first place. I hope that by the time this letter is published there is a measure on the November ballot that: 1) finally guarantees adequate funding for the OCC; 2) gives the board a voice in choosing the OCC director (we've had too many watchdogs who won't bark or bite); 3) takes police misconduct settlements and judgments out of the SFPD budget rather than the general fund; and 4) denies promotion for two years to any cop found guilty of serious misconduct.

John M. Crew
Director, ACLU Police Practices Project
San Francisco

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