They found their restaurant victory to be short-lived. The pursuit of food and drink by the pesky masses was again threatening the neighborhood: Coffee shops had gone to City Hall and gotten the Noe Valley restaurant ban changed, so they could legally serve muffins, croissants, and -- when the croissants were sliced in half and placed around subversive meats and cheeses -- sandwiches.
To the barricades!
The neighborhood activists immediately dubbed this change in city law the "Starbucks amendment," to color it with the patina of corporate evil, and, therefore, to arouse mindless hysteria.
But for purposes of this column, let's call it what it is: the muffin amendment. Whether connected to Starbucks or muffins, this amendment to the planning code set the Friends of Noe Valley and the East and West of Castro Improvement Association into renewed action. And renewed flights of unlikely fancy.
The muffin amendment, they cried, would lead to restaurant creep. The creep would happen according to the slippery slope muffin theory of commercial development, which goes something like this: The purveyance of muffins leads inevitably to harder stuff -- croissants, for example. One day, you'll find people filling those croissants with tuna, or ham and cheese. All of a sudden you have a sandwich. And then you're going to see someone providing private seating for mastication of sandwiches.
And then you've got a restaurant -- and you know what restaurants can do!
Re-energized and fully informed by the slippery slope muffin theory, the activists focused on Bakers of Paris, a bread shop that was a clear harbinger of Noe Valley restaurant creep. At first, the shop innocently sold bread and cakes. At a point uncertain, however, someone at Bakers of Paris took some bread, cut it into slices, stuck meat and cheese between the slices, and innovated the shop into a confrontation with the busybody brigade.
The activists were similarly annoyed when a tea room just off 24th Street began serving sandwiches. Crumpets were surely just around the corner. Obviously these people had to be stopped.
So in the spring of 1996, the neighborhood activists found a champion at City Hall, the queen of micromanaging neighborhoods, Supervisor Sue Bierman. Bierman shepherded through a temporary ban on all new Noe Valley coffee shops and specialty stores that provided takeout food -- cheese shops, delis, and grocery stores, for example.
The temporary ban expired in October 1997, but Bierman and her busybodies have been trying to make it permanent ever since -- even though there is little evidence a ban is needed.
For 13 months the free market, as it applies to coffee shops and stores that provide takeout, returned to Noe Valley, to no particularly spectacular result. Only one takeout operation sought to enter the area: Extreme Pizza hoped to open a ready-to-bake pizza takeout place in the space where the now-defunct Bakers of Paris had once served its evil bread-and-meat creations. But the Friends of Noe Valley and their fellow busybodies chased the pizza shop out of the 'hood.
It is important to note that during the last 13 months not a single coffee shop has sought to open on 24th Street -- the very area where Bierman & Busybodies Inc. maintains such shops will rain down like toads if a permanent ban is not enacted.
But the natural workings of the marketplace and other simple economic realities don't seem to matter much to B&B Inc.
The permanent ban on Noe Valley coffee shops passed out of the Housing and Neighborhood Services Committee last week with unanimous support. It is cruising to almost certain success at the Board of Supervisors before Christmas.
Moratoriums are all the vogue now in San Francisco. Coffee shops and juice bars are banned in a huge swath of the Upper Market and Castro area, thanks to Supervisor Leslie Katz. Financial institutions are banned in the West Portal area. New liquor licenses are banned from the Inner Sunset, the Haight, and the Mission, at the urging of a variety of supervisors. And massage parlors are banned in the Mission District because Supervisor Jose Medina feared that all the massage parlors chased out of the Tenderloin by Supervisor Leland Yee's massage parlor moratorium would end up in his neighborhood.
Carefully designed zoning controls are a reasonable way to address certain urban problems. The liquor license limits in the Haight and the Mission are certainly warranted. I've lived long enough in both neighborhoods to know that an overproliferation of liquor licenses can ruin the quality of life.
But these moratoriums correspond to actual, serious, verifiable social problems.
That's just not the case in Noe Valley, which enjoys a wonderful and rich mix of commercial services and, I'm sorry to report, could probably use a few additional restaurants.
If Noe Valley were actually undergoing some radical sea change -- if Starbucks, Pasqua, and other coffee chains were dotting each and every corner, and hardware stores, florists, and shoe repair businesses were being chased out in favor of Plutos and Pasta Pomodoros -- I would be the first to advocate a temporary ban.
But that sort of onslaught is not happening, and it's not likely to come about. Even if coffee shops and restaurants took over 24th Street, the social damage done by office workers picking up to-go on the way home to must-see TV simply cannot be equated with widespread public inebriation.