Signs of Progress

San Francisco politics were dysfunctional in the 2000s,but recent changes suggest there's reason for hope.

Plans to redevelop land held by the Port of San Francisco along the Embarcadero foundered — even though developer fees were desperately needed to rebuild rotting city piers. It turned out the plans threatened Bay Bridge views from Aaron Peskin's Telegraph Hill district.

Even after years in office, these pols never seemed to grasp that San Francisco had problems more complex than old neighborhood development battles.

Happily, a series of scandals toward the end of the decade served to further erase the sheen from neighborhood-by-neighborhood politics. In 2008, Sunset political queenpin Julie Lee was sentenced to prison on charges she had illegally funneled government grant money into a political campaign. A month later, Sunset District Supervisor Ed Jew, formerly a neighborhood activist and flower shop owner, pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud and extortion charges.

That fall, a miracle seemed to occur. City voters elected supervisors who seemed, at least in terms of experience in actually providing government services, the exact opposite of some of their predecessors.

Instead of the inexperienced Dalys and McGoldricks of the world, we now have longtime players such as former S.F. government financial officer Carmen Chu, who has a public policy master's from Berkeley; and former attorney Eric Mar, who was a Board of Education commissioner. The president of the Board of Supervisors, Harvard Law graduate David Chiu, was a U.S. Senate staffer. And his fellow alum, David Campos, was counsel to the San Francisco Unified School District, where 10 years ago he was among the first public officials to bring attention to a consultant's scam to skim $850,000 from facilities contracts.

Among that scam's first telltale signs: bid splitting.

Some local wags have griped that San Francisco's end-of-the-decade politics seem to lack vision, and that all politicians seem to be able to do is chip away at a budget cruelly out of whack. I prefer the mundane toil of this new crop of technocrats to the madcap vision of a decade ago.

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