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Believe It or Not! 

Let's get beyond the balderdash and take a closer look at the motivations behind some political campaigns

Wednesday, Jun 7 2006
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First, a pop quiz.

(A) Could it possibly be true that Dudley Perkins Harley-Davidson, a San Francisco institution since 1913 and the world's second oldest family-owned Harley dealership to boot, is leaving the city for good?1

(B) Are financiers really predicting the median San Francisco home prices will continue ballooning for at least another year?2

(C) Does California enjoy a "preschool market that is largely serving California parents and children well," as asserted by opponents of Tuesday's universal-state-preschool Proposition 82?

(D) Was Assembly District 12 candidate Janet Reilly a grassroots champion for the uninsured poor and sick?

(E) Was the local ballot measure to restrict admissions to Laguna Honda Hospital really a real estate development scam in disguise?

True.

True.

False.

False.

False.

And two bonus questions: True or false?

Now that Tuesday's voting's done, is it still worth lamenting the outlandish statements, absurd assertions, and nonsense that turned credulity inside out? True.

Should we remain perturbed that implausible nonsense became so commonplace that it became hard to distinguish political consultant-ginned balderdash from real news? True again.


As our streets remain wet with the hogwash splashed about during last week's political campaign, it's interesting to note the capacity for cognitive dissonance among San Francisco voters. We're quick to outrage at "truthiness" from our reality-indifferent president, or from "fair and balanced" Fox News. But the city's civic conversation seemed to pay little notice during recent weeks to a spring political season where bogus rhetoric replaced truth so completely even Karl Rove might have become disoriented.

Few balked at the absurd logical premises underlying the locally financed campaign to keep California parents and children locked in our current, horrid system of private preschool.

I detected no astonishment at the truly creepy race for the District 12 Assembly seat, a clash between once-powerful political dinosaurs Clint Reilly and John Burton, each of whom backed attractive, young female protégés in a proxy match distinguished by assaults on the truth.

And S.F. coffee chatter and blog blather of recent weeks seemed indifferent to the disingenuous campaign against the initiative designed to keep the violent mentally ill separated from disabled elderly patients at Laguna Honda. Rather than refute the arguments of the measure's backers, the mayor's people postulated a dubious scenario, based on a creative interpretation of the measure's language, in which city parks would someday become sites for old-folks homes.

Amid toasting and mourning this week's election results, it's worth commemorating the political actors who tried to play us for fools, with the idea of reserving a spot in our memories for the spring 2006 class of political creeps.


I'm glad I wasn't drinking coffee last Thursday when I read the Chronicle editorial page's Open Forum piece titled "Preschool Yes, Prop. 82 No," signed by two directors of Northern California Montessori schools, stating "Prop. 82 will essentially hijack a preschool market that is largely serving California parents and children well, without doing much to increase preschool enrollment."

Prop. 82 was the measure that proposed raising taxes on rich Californians to pay for incorporating preschool into the state's system of universal K-12 free public education. No serious specialist in child development denies preschool helps children. So opponents, mostly private preschool operators whose business plans depend on desperate parents with no other options, were left with arguing that a perfectly good system of preschool was already in place. They found a backer in Republican activist and retired Gap Inc. founder Don Fisher, the nation's foremost money-where-his-mouth-is advocate of the notion that privately run schools are preferable to public ones.

Ironically, Fisher couldn't have picked a situation that more conclusively refuted his opinion than California's hodgepodge market of expensive, private, and in many cases substandard, preschools and day-care facilities.

Just two weeks before the election, a state audit revealed that California wasn't doing enough to keep convicted criminals from working in child care facilities such as preschools, and that the government was doing a poor job of cracking down on child care centers with safety violations.

Even in cases where state licensing officials do investigate safety conditions in private preschools, there apparently isn't much regulators are able to do to improve conditions.

Take the case of Don Krause, whose son until recently attended a private cooperative preschool in northern San Francisco where my daughter also goes. Krause found himself banished after he had complained to school officials, then state regulators, of the school's lack of a hand-washing policy for kids. He was concerned in part because of the possibility of traces of arsenic-tinged wood-preservative in the children's play areas.

"You don't want kids playing with arsenic, basically," Krause said.

Licensing officials visited the preschool after Krause called with a series of complaints. Inspectors visited and came away with a list of citations, most unrelated to Krause's concerns. Afterward, Krause was ordered permanently off the preschool premises due to "repeated conflict" with co-op members.

If the co-op were to have expelled Krause to silence his safety complaints, it would have violated the portion of the California health code governing preschools.

"The case is under investigation at this time," state licensing official Karen Huang told me.

However, even if the school were found to have expelled Krause to censor him, the punishment to the school would be insignificant. If state investigators found such a violation, it would merely go on the school's "permanent record," which prospective students' parents can call state regulators and request if they choose.

The lack of health and safety regulation of private preschools is the least of the deficiencies of the state's system, however. Preschool teachers have little job protection and have been underpaid with typical teachers earning less than $30,000 per year.

And it's prohibitively expensive, with a typical private San Francisco preschool charging in the neighborhood of $14,000 per year, condemning most parents with children to poverty, which in turn drives families from San Francisco. An example: My wife recently quit her job when we realized the necessary preschool and child care costs consumed $500 more per month than she earned.

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Matt Smith

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