Progressive Failure

Why San Francisco supervisors who call themselves progressives should get the boot in November

"I don't care if the plumbers' pension trust property is in there or not in there. This is a piece of bad legislation where the Board of Supervisors is going around the Planning Commission," says Larry Mazzola, Local 38 business manager, and, as it happens, president of the San Francisco Building and Construction Trades Council. "That little board ought to understand that there are other people that respect the Planning Commission, and they ought to respect the Planning Commission, too. You quote me on this: I think the Board of Supervisors is a bunch of jerks."

And so it came to pass that union members jingled the phone lines and visited the offices of San Francisco supervisors without really needing to mention that organized labor tips elections in this city whenever it sees the need. That Tuesday, what was supposed to be a slam-dunk vote on the Daly rezoning legislation didn't happen.

"Fellow supervisors, my brothers and sisters of the labor unions have been educating me during the last couple of days about the legislation I voted for last week. There is going to be continuing dialogue," McGoldrick said before moving to postpone the vote until September. Daly, seeing he didn't have sufficient votes to pass the bill, seconded. And for a moment, all was quiet in Progressiville, as extortionist-activists, supervisors, developers, and their representatives all prepared for the battle's next round.

I can't say the San Francisco progressive experiment hasn't had fun moments. Aaron Peskin's successful fight against filling in the bay to expand airport runways was inspiring. Chris Daly's renegade installment of former Sierra Club President Adam Werbach on the city's Public Utilities Commission was delicious. And it was hard not to be uplifted by Matt Gonzalez's shoestring bid for mayor.

But fulfillment of the no-growth imperative that brought some of them to office is the greatest legacy of the current, progressive Board of Supervisors. And it's the greatest delight of real estate speculators and other property owners who see their equity increasing in response to a building shortage, and of anti-development lawyers, turf-hungry public-welfare charities, and nonprofit developers adept at gaming the building-approval process.

In helping their friends, the progressives have ruined things for the rest of us. They've greatly exacerbated the city's housing shortage, discouraged employers from locating here, made impossible in San Francisco the middle-class dream of owning a home, and spurred the environment-destroying sprawl that's degrading once-beautiful Northern California. To listen to supervisors describe it at meetings, you'd think development pressure just went away once housing projects were killed. But the fact is, every person must, and most people do, find places to live, even if they aren't in this city. People move against their better wishes into housing tracts built at the edges of the Bay Area, in what had been open space. Then, by dint of artificially created necessity, they must commute huge distances by car. (You're not going to believe this, but I've heard S.F. progressives claim they favor preserving the environment.)

In the Mission, the progressives are trying to block 1,000 desperately needed apartments from being built exactly where they should be -- in a blighted neighborhood that's near transit lines and downtown.

There are unremarked monuments to the failure of San Francisco progressivism across the city. Vacant buildings and weedy, crime-infested blocks -- once slated to be new residential and apartment districts -- pockmark San Francisco. Homeless residents live on the streets, and middle-income families pack into tiny apartments, because neither can afford a better place to live, because progressive policies ultimately work to keep the supply of housing low and rents, therefore, exorbitant. Because housing isn't built here, ugly sprawl development pops up where it can -- across the Central Valley and into the Sacramento River Delta and the Sierra Nevada foothills.

"There is only one sure-fire solution" to our housing shortage, said a recent misguided guest editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle: "Chop down the trees, say goodbye to unused open spaces, and put up more homes."

There is a far better solution. As this fall's campaign season heats up, and you happen to be accosted by erudite, charming, energetic, and idealistic-sounding people who wish to represent your neighborhood on the Board of Supervisors, don't commit to anything until you've asked this question: Are you a progressive? If the answer is yes, remain calm. Politely excuse yourself and walk away -- as I should have done.

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