Fissilingual Predictions

Chewing on the past and future is a New Year's cliché that no word-loving breedbate can resist

With 2002 emitting death rattles and 2003's cervical mucous plug just popping out, it seemed again time to fustigate(1) that reliable bromide: New Year's reflections and predictions. In 2003, will Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez, or Sophie Maxwell become the next president of the Board of Supervisors? Who will be our next mayor: Tom Ammiano, Gavin Newsom, or wild card Carole Migden? During the new, post-anti-Willie era, what will S.F. fustilarians(2) talk about? Anything?

For answers, I needed to speak with a psychic. I imagined that these soothsayers would have meaningful insights into the careers of Peskin, who just carried legislation requiring local psychics to pay a licensing fee; Ammiano, who helped the legislation along; and district attorney and local fadge(3) Terry Hallinan, who used the psychic-licensing bill as a soundbite op. (Hundreds of unlicensed S.F. psychics stand ready to defraud good San Franciscans, was the gist of Hallinan's latest aboiement(4).)

I gave a friend a half-dozen psychic phone numbers from the S.F. Yellow Pages, with instructions that the psychics be told to phone me. This way, the seers could say they "sensed" my need and therefore called. This is known in the psychic world as etiquette.

As it turned out, though, Mrs. Marlo had a disconnected phone, as did Mrs. Bogart. Mrs. Betty's phone rang, but nobody answered. Mrs. Celina's listed number now belongs to someone else, sadly, a nonpsychic. Mrs. Helena's was disconnected, too. And Mrs. Helen's number produced a fax machine squeal. My 1998 phone book, while replete with dozens of San Francisco-based psychics, was proving as useful as coprolite(5) . And the 2001 version, with only three psychics with a 415 area code, proved just as useless. Most local psychics seemed to have moved over to the East Bay. (That's the last time I listen to Hallinan's debacchating(6).)

At the last possible moment, a Mrs. Mariah called from Marin County, which wasn't San Francisco, but was good enough for a desperate columnist working the day before Christmas Eve.

Whither Willie, Aaron, and Tom?, I asked.

"It would be irresponsible to say things about events in people's lives without their direct involvement," Mrs. Mariah demurred. "Sometimes more harm than good comes in odd ways."

Not wishing to become infausting(7) , I abandoned my quest. Better, I thought, to reflect than predict.

And there's no better time for reflecting on San Francisco. According to calendrists' convention, the 21st century of our era began on Jan. 1, 2000, or Jan. 1, 2001, depending on personal taste. Here, though, the century is finishing only now, with the end of San Francisco history and the final demise of the progressive era.

For much of the past decade, San Francisco occupied a privileged place in world history. We were the heartland of the most massive and rapid accumulation of wealth ever. Then came the backlash, rising from a sensibility that had always existed here: tune out, turn on, drop out, and resent the rich (particularly if you came from wealthy stock yourself). But the anti-dot-com movement injected xenophobia into the mix: Adherents stridently rejected newcomers and the new things they brought.

The city's mayor, a famous liberal, saw in the dot-com boom a chance to promote the kind of economic development craved by supporters in disadvantaged neighborhoods like Bayview-Hunters Point. And he, and more specifically his planning director, became a catchall political target.

So the end of 2002, and the end of the S.F. "progressive" era, seemed a perfect time to catch up with Gerald Green, who, as Willie Brown's appointed director of planning, spent most of the dot-com era as San Franciscans' scapegoat of choice.

Green recalls going to a meeting 2 1/2 years ago at Horace Mann Middle School organized by a group calling itself the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. Five hundred breedbates(8) had come to vilify Green as the water carrier for Willie Brown and his developer friends. Dozens lined up to call Green a bloodsucker, and worse.

"People were hungry to have someone to blame. We went through an era of blame," is Green's assessment.

At the height of the Internet boom, San Franciscans elected a new Board of Supervisors that promised to erect stiff boundaries against the development that the boom was fueling. The board instituted an interim freeze on construction in the Mission, Potrero Hill, and South of Market areas. Board members sponsored a ballot measure giving the supes veto power over mayoral Planning Commission appointees. The board gave itself the privilege of hearing permit appeals, and then listened to picayune appeals of individual permit applications for hours on end.

In a move that had the appearance of the final anti-dot-com-era showdown, the board last summer blocked all of Mayor Brown's Planning Commission appointments. This parliamentary maneuver had a deeply ironic effect: Because no Planning Commission had been seated, Green was put in the position of making all the Planning Commission's decisions. The very Board of Supervisors that had been elected condemning Green had now made him absolute planning czar.

"I thought I must be on acid," Green jokes, noting the backward-world aspect to his erstwhile role.

Brown subsequently appointed new planning commissioners more amenable to the Board of Supervisors. And Green tells me his own relationship with the board has improved dramatically. Last month San Franciscans elected two new supervisors, Bevan Dufty and Fiona Ma, who are presumed to be sympathetic to the mayor. Later this year, Willie Brown will leave the Mayor's Office, taking with him the political shouting matches that represent the last vestiges of the dot-com boom.

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