Pin It

Regulating Change 

Bush will likely gut national health and safety regulation; local liberals screw up regulation by forgetting its purpose -- protecting the general public

Wednesday, Dec 27 2000
Not long before 5 p.m. on the eve of the New Hampshire primary, an Alaska Airlines plane carrying 88 passengers twisted upside down in the sky west of Ventura, killing all aboard with a back-flop into the Pacific Ocean.

I happened to be watching television that afternoon, and couldn't remove myself from the endless, mesmerizing footage of a choppy square of ocean off Point Magu. "That is a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter you are watching live, hovering over the area," newscasters said, for lack of any other information, hour after hour, on every channel on the dial. "All we've seen float to the top so far are a few pieces of debris. At least one large piece of fuselage, at least one yellow aircraft floatable item."

During the next 11 months the terrifying upside-down image of the Acapulco-San Francisco flight became an icon for the inadequacy of U.S. airline regulation. And the week George W. Bush began putting together his presidential Cabinet, the National Transportation Safety Board held hearings to determine the cause of the crash. Testimony depicted an understaffed, low-morale regulatory agency that failed to act on serious safety lapses by Alaska going back to the early 1990s.

"The extent of government failure, that was stunning to me. And I'm an old warrior in that arena," said Mary Schiavo, inspector general of the U.S. Department of Transportation during the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations, when I spoke with her a few days after she attended the Alaska 261 hearings. Like no time in the history of aviation, Schiavo told me, the government must drastically improve the way it regulates the air-travel industry.

But, as anyone who's following national politics right now knows, increased safety regulation is not the sort of initiative likely to see daylight during the George W. Bush years.

Whether in the areas of health, safety, or the environment, industry groups and lobbyists are now savoring the idea that they will have a direct hand in hiring, then directing, the staff of government regulatory agencies. During a press conference last week George W. suggested he would grant their wish. "Reviewing federal regulations "that hamper the accumulation of capital' should encourage economic growth," Bush said.

If there were ever a moment when it was appropriate for all good liberals to fancy themselves in a state of siege, it's now. In the air, in factories, in oil fields, and elsewhere, capitalism and public safety are duking it out in a minute-to-minute battle over real dollars and real death. The referee has publicly announced he will recuse himself from the match, and the next four years are going to be a brutish period. So it's time to start choosing battles and fighting them, I'd surmise.

Which is why the San Francisco liberal political ferment of the past week or so has struck me as just about exactly as banal as an endlessly filmed square of ocean graveyard.

While much-needed federal regulations stand to be ravaged on the national stage, at home, activists are pursuing the idea of increased regulation in ways that would seem to negate the very reasons liberal-minded people support regulations: to improve public safety, protect the less fortunate from the more fortunate, and preserve the environment.

Last Tuesday, for example, more than 100 people turned out to a Muni Board hearing to advocate on behalf of natural gas buses -- a neat idea; don't get me wrong. Neat, but pointless and destructive.

Still, if the raucous meeting was any guide, natural gas buses will be a San Francisco progressive rallying cry for the coming political season. The only problem is, the Muni system is in the middle of a desperate push to elevate service to levels that might lure back the thousands of riders who abandoned the system during the previous decade of neglect. Those people now drive cars to work. But if Muni can exercise an option to buy 175 new diesel buses by Jan. 31, the agency will be able to replace the entire bus fleet by the year 2002, reducing the number of buses that break down and go offline, reducing the number of missed trips, and, in general, making bus transit a more efficient and pleasant proposition in San Francisco. Converting the system to natural gas, meanwhile, would require lengthy design studies, a whole new bidding process, the construction of natural gas fueling stations, and the creation of a new repair facility -- ergo, years more of awful Muni service, years when thousands and thousands of cars would clog the streets, fouling the air.

Another indication of local leftist battles to come might be found in the Board of Supervisors' "manifesto" published by attorney Sue Hestor this week. Now, I certainly hate to credit a muddle-minded shylock such as Hestor with status as an Opinion Leader. But Hestor indeed has followers, and I'm in a gregarious holiday mood, so I will. Her latest opinion is that the board must "Strengthen Neighborhoods," according to one of her manifesto's subject headings. She goes on at length, inciting our new supervisors to rise up and battle live-work lofts, a done-with, non-issue if there ever was one.

Housing construction "expanding into rear yards often takes away light, air, and livability for people next door," she said, adding that new housing along commercial strips might be allowed, but "should be met with additional protections for side streets."

Only in San Francisco, where racist, no-growth neighborhood associations are bizarrely treated as though they embody liberal ideals, would a progressive manifesto include protecting the airiness of rich homeowners' yards.

In California, state regulators are routinely scolded by EPA auditors for letting egregious polluters off with a wink and a nudge. Clean water supplies are threatened by creeping sprawl. More and more species of birds and fish are becoming endangered thanks to dwindling habitat. And in a month the family members of those 88 people bound for San Francisco on Alaska Flight 261 will commemorate a year's passage since their relatives died, perhaps needlessly, perhaps as a result of lax FAA oversight.

About The Author

Matt Smith


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment


  • Nevada City and the South Yuba River: A gold country getaway

    Nestled in the green pine-covered hills of the Northern Sierra Nevada is the Gold Rush town of Nevada City. Beautiful Victorian houses line the streets, keeping the old-time charm alive, and a vibrant downtown is home to world-class art, theater and music. The nearby South Yuba River State Park is known for its emerald swimming holes during the summer and radiant leaf colors during autumn. These days the gold panning is more for tourists than prospectors, but the gold miner spirit is still in the air.

    South Yuba River State Park and Swimming Holes:
    The park runs along and below 20 miles of the South Yuba River, offering hiking, mountain biking, gold panning and swimming. The Highway 49 bridge swimming hole is seven-miles northwest of Nevada City where Highway 49 crosses the South Yuba River. Parking is readily available and it is a short, steep hike to a stunning swimming hole beneath a footbridge. For the more intrepid, trails extend along the river with access to secluded swim spots. The Bridgeport swimming hole has calm waters and a sandy beach -- good for families and cookouts -- and is located 14 miles northwest of Nevada City. Be sure to write down directions before heading out, GPS may not be available. Most swimming holes on the South Yuba River are best from July to September, while winter and spring can bring dangerous rapids. Always know the current before jumping in!

    Downtown Nevada City
    The welcoming, walkable downtown of Nevada City is laid back, yet full of life. Start your day at the cozy South Pine Cafe (110 S Pine St.) with a lobster benedict or a spicy Jamaican tofu scramble. Then stroll the streets and stop into the shop Kitkitdizzi (423 Broad St.) for handcrafted goods unique to the region, vintage wears and local art “all with California gold rush swagger,” as stated by owners Carrie Hawthorne and Kira Westly. Surrounded by Gold Rush history, modern gold jewelry is made from locally found nuggets and is found at Utopian Stone Custom Jewelers (301 Broad St.). For a coffee shop with Victorian charm try The Curly Wolf (217 Broad St.), an espresso house and music venue with German pastries and light fare. A perfect way to cool down during the hot summer months can be found at Treats (110 York St.) , an artisan ice cream shop with flavors like pear ginger sorbet or vegan chai coconut. Nightlife is aplenty with music halls, alehouses or dive bars like the Mine Shaft Saloon (222 Broad St.).

    The Willo Steakhouse (16898 State Hwy 49, Nevada City)
    Along Highway 49, just west of Nevada City, is The Willo, a classic roadhouse and bar where you’re welcomed by the smell of steak and a dining room full of locals. In 1947 a Quonset hut (a semi-cylindrical building) was purchased from the US Army and transported to its current location, and opened as a bar, which became popular with lumberjacks and miners. The bar was passed down through the decades and a covered structure was added to enlarge the bar and create a dining area. The original Quonset beams are still visible in the bar and current owners Mike Byrne and Nancy Wilson keep the roadhouse tradition going with carefully aged New York steaks and house made ingredients. Pair your steak or fish with a local wine, such as the Rough and Ready Red, or bring your own for a small corkage fee. Check the website for specials, such as rib-eye on Fridays.

    Outside Inn (575 E Broad St.)
    A 16-room motel a short walk from downtown, each room features a unique décor, such as the Paddlers’ Suite or the Wildflower Room. A friendly staff and an office full of information about local trails, swimming and biking gets you started on your outdoor exploration. Amenities include an outdoor shower, a summer swimming pool and picnic tables and barbeques. Don’t miss the free vegetable cart just outside the motel in the mornings.

    Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

  • Arcade Fire at Shoreline
    Arcade Fire opened their US tour at Shoreline Amphitheater to a full house who was there in support of their album "Reflector," which was released last fall. Dan Deacon opened the show to a happily surprised early audience and got the crowd actively dancing and warmed up. DEVO was originally on the bill to support Arcade Fire but a kayak accident last week had sidelined lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and the duration of the west coast leg of the tour. Win Butler did a homage to DEVO by performing Uncontrollable Urge.

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed