The Grid

Richmond Food Fight
In urban land development wars, corporations are typically the ones to employ lobbyists. Not so in the case of Lincoln Park Neighborhood Association, which has waged a 10-year battle to block the creep of grocery chains.

The Lincoln Park group first came together to halt Safeway Corp.'s plans to expand a neighborhood grocery store in 1987. During its evolution, the group has become the ultimate neighborhood hall monitor; it has put up award money to help snare gunmen involved in a local killing and drawn attention to needed street repairs. But the latest action began after Safeway bowed to the group's pressure and boarded up its 32nd and Clement property in the early 1990s. This year American Stores of Salt Lake City, Utah, started eyeing the property for one of its Lucky superstores. In February, the neighbors issued 50,000 fliers in advance of a Board of Supervisors meeting in their area. Oddly, neighbors complained that the supermarket could become a magnet for crime and drug addicts.

In response, American Stores asked its local mergers and acquisitions attorney, Lou Giraudo, to draw on his political connections and smooth the way. In counterresponse, Lincoln Park took the unusual step of matching lobbyist for lobbyist and convinced William "Billy" G. Rutland to take up its shield on a pro bono basis.

"We are always terrorized," said Jake Murdock, Lincoln Park's founder, as he discussed American Stores' hiring of the politically connected Giraudo, who lawyers for the downtown firm of Coblentz, Cahen, McCabe & Breyer. Murdock took pains to point out his belief that Lucky's parent company is controlled by Mormons.

One wonders if in Murdock's universe, Mormons are to be feared as much as Masons.

Mimi's Nirvana
Mimi Silbert, patron saint of prisoner rehab, has brought her touch to the intractable snake pit of juvenile justice.

With the ink still not dry on a one-year, $300,000 contract with S.F. -- in fact, the whole thing was fiated by Mayor Willie Brown sometime over the last several weeks -- Silbert's involvement on the juvenile front is already paying dividends. The one-time surprise liberal appointee to the state prisons board by former Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, Silbert is credited with having positioned S.F. at the front of the line for juvenile justice grants soon to be awarded by her old agency, the California Department of Corrections. The city's grant pitch, which Silbert has been hired to write, could net S.F. up to $3 million over three years. Earlier this month, the Corrections Department agreed to send S.F. $100,000 in seed money to prepare its grant proposal, due this March.

For Mayor Brown, the city's deal with Silbert marks a first bold move to shake up juvenile justice -- something he vowed while campaigning but has not delivered on.

With her track record of rehabilitating parolees at the Delancey Street Foundation residential center, Silbert is viewed by the Brown administration as uniquely situated to reform a system marooned on shoals of distrust. Career probation officers and nonprofit advocacy groups have fought to a policy standstill over the merits of institutional responses to youth crime vs. community-based alternatives to incarceration.

According to Kimiko Burton, the mayor's top criminal justice aide, Silbert picked a random Tuesday from November and pulled the files on each of the 130 or so youngsters who were then incarcerated at the Youth Guidance Center pending trial. After working up a complete profile on each youth, Silbert plans to convene a panel of probation officers, youth advocates, educators, police officers, prosecutors, defense lawyers, and public health specialists, and ask them to dream up an ideal rehabilitative course in each case.

The collective wisdom, which Burton calls "nirvana," will then be compared to the existing crop of rehab offerings operating in S.F. The city's grant application to the Corrections Department will then look to fill gaps (between reality and "nirvana") that are identified in the services network.

Next, Silbert will attempt to forge a consensus on plans for replacing the Youth Guidance Center, which houses Juvenile Hall, Juvenile Court, and the Juvenile Probation Department. The last such effort died in 1990 when a bond measure failed amid disagreements over the size of the new facility. The debate, of course, was really the same old fight over how many kids need to be incarcerated in S.F. at any one time.

This time, Willie is counting on Mimi to keep the peace. And Burton, a former deputy public defender in S.F. and the daughter of state legislator John Burton, is brimming with confidence: "Willie Brown and Mimi Silbert don't stand for failure."

Collateral Damage
Political finance reform, which has come to mean taking money out of politics, is generally a point of consensus among progressives. But these good-government types are too often blind to pragmatic realities and the unintended consequences of their crusade.

Over coffee and huevos con chorizo at an East Los Angeles restaurant last week, State Sen. Richard Polanco (D-L.A.), the chair of the state Legislature's Latino Caucus, explained how Proposition 208, the successful state measure to reduce the influence of money on politics, would have hindered the state electoral success of Latino Democrats on Nov. 5.

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