Dr. David Smith, founder and president of Haight Ashbury Free Clinics Inc., left his home at Cole and Frederick streets a few weeks back and walked toward his office. The trip was the same he's made almost every morning since the Summer of Love -- when the then-LSD researcher at the University of California at San Francisco got tired of injecting psychedelics into mice and decided to treat tripped-out flower children.
Smith said hello to merchants and neighbors, and had almost reached the office when a man stopped him. "You may not remember me," the man began. "But you got me into detox several years ago. I've been clean and sober ever since. Thank you for saving my life."
Despite the streetside tribute, that very evening Smith found himself facing a hostile audience. Neighbors were upset over the clinic's plans to consolidate operations in a vacant church across from Buena Vista Park. The move and its political consequences, which have played out in community meetings, had been sparked because the clinic is forbidden under disability law from operating its federally supplemented programs in the walk-up Victorians that it currently inhabits.
Critics said the clinic draws addicts and drunks to the neighborhood -- the same complaint Smith heard in 1967. Smith shared the story about the man who had thanked him that morning. "I was told that was irrelevant," he recalled a few weeks after the meeting. "It was as if we had not been around for 30 years."
What irks the good doctor is that he isn't given his due for taking an ad hoc program that talked down hippies on bad trips and turning it into an organization with a $10 million-a-year budget that provides free health care and substance-abuse treatment to 17,000 visitors a year.
That said, even Smith acknowledges that the illiberal complaints are joined by legitimate concerns -- parking impact, the possible construction of a garage, whether the clinic's old buildings will be used for more social services. He says it's all starting to pile up.
When the load becomes too great, Smith, a recovering alcoholic, recites the seminal prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous: "Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
A visitor suggests a twist: "Maybe it should be 'and the wisdom to hide the bodies of those people I had to kill because they pissed me off.' "
San Francisco's Stuart Smalley of free rehab throws back his head and laughs.
It's been a precedent-setting year under rookie District Attorney Terence Hallinan. Among others, there was:
* The fistfight between the DA and a local politico at a San Francisco restaurant, followed the next day by the resignation of the office's No. 2 prosecutor, Marla Miller, after Hallinan second-guessed Miller's handling of an office sex scandal.
* Hallinan's appointment of friend and personal lawyer David Millstein as Miller's replacement. Under an arrangement fraught with ethical peril -- and downright illegal in other counties -- Millstein was allowed to maintain his outside law practice while taking down a $123,000 salary as chief assistant district attorney. (See "The DA's Svengali," Sept. 4.) Millstein resigned on Oct. 18.
* The DA's decision to act as a real trial lawyer -- personally prosecuting a high-profile case.
Unlike these signature occurrences, however, what transpired the day before Thanksgiving could have lasting implications for how one class of crime is prosecuted in S.F.
On that day, the state Attorney General's Office tried unsuccessfully to convince a judge to block Hallinan's settlement of a nine-year pollution prosecution, the biggest environmental case ever undertaken by the DA's Office.
In a bizarre proceeding, the AG accused Hallinan's office of reneging on a promise to allow California Environmental Protection Agency officials to have prior review of any settlement with Triple A Machine Shop Inc. Triple A had illegally dumped hazardous wastes at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard for years (see "Where Crime Pays," Oct. 23), but the Hallinan pact calls for payment of only $1.1 million by the defendant (Hallinan says he'll use it to "combat" other Hunters Point pollution) -- which apparently will be covered by Triple A's insurers. The deal also releases Triple A, which was convicted on criminal pollution charges in 1992, from ever being pursued by the state for its share of cleanup costs, a project expected to run as high as $300 million.
State environmental officials typically refer cases such as the Triple A matter to local prosecutors. But Hallinan's weak run is sure to make them look long and hard before calling again on the S.F. DA.
All's Fair in Litigation
Hit last month with a verdict for predatory pricing, the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, which handles advertising sales for S.F.'s two daily newspapers, tried out some new interview techniques recently.
Looking for ways to upset the $1.2 million verdict on appeal, the Ex and the Newspaper Agency hired an outfit called Forensic Technologies International Corp. (FTI) to interview the jurors about their deliberations in the case. Rather than disclose her purpose or client in letters to jurors, the FTI representative, Ursala Connolly, exercised some artful deceit. Wrote Connolly: "The interviews will be used for educational purposes only." On one point Connolly was clear. FTI was willing to pay $50 for 40 minutes of questions and answers.
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