NIMBYs Blocking Civic Improvement Is Sad S.F. Tradition

On April 21, Richmond District landscape architect Kathy Howard warned members of the Board of Supervisors about a new kind of urban blight: Out-of-towners, she wrote in a letter, planned to erect "monsters in our neighborhoods permanently."

"This is not a NIMBY issue," Howard insisted, employing the classic initials for Not in My BackYard. "It is a DTOC — Don't Trash Our City — issue."

Howard was among neighbors, associated civic groups, and sympathetic politicians raising an alarm about a plan by AT&T to install 726 broadband-Internet-equipment boxes next to its telephone-service boxes throughout the city.

This would allow AT&T to provide bundled phone, Internet and high-definition TV service as an alternative to Comcast, named last fall the Worst Company in America by the Consumerist for what the site's managing editor called its "consistent dedication to providing low-quality service at ever-rising prices."

However, San Francisco customers may not have the option of switching, or at least threatening to switch, to AT&T. That's because DTOC fretting is this city's favorite participant sport. It enlivens every Board of Supervisors hearing, government committee meeting, and gathering of DTOC-focused community groups.

Such battles involve issues as diverse as blocking apartment buildings, bike lanes, and — apparently most abhorrent of all — improvements in technology infrastructure. The question is always the same: Should San Francisco allow changes benefiting the city at large? Or should politicians block whatever individual neighborhood groups declare a nuisance?

Such questions are about to become more than mere civic entertainment as the city heads toward what seems to be — gasp! — an economic recovery. As social media and related companies expand, office buildings are changing hands and tech companies are seeking more local space.

The last time San Francisco experienced this kind of economic good news, DTOC activists flared with antichange rage, fighting technology investment as if it were a hostile invasion. The Board of Supervisors followed with prohibitive ad hoc zoning and other laws designed to block construction.

As fond as those protest memories may be for some, repeating the dot-com backlash would be disastrous. Five-year financial projections show a $829 million San Francisco budget shortfall, with services for the poor and unemployed the hardest hit. As of March, San Francisco unemployment was at an official 9.1 percent — so bad that a recent McDonald's hiring event drew an around-the-block line. In this context, Don't Trash Our City should mean inviting, rather than prohibiting, technology investment.


The work of a committed DTOC activist never ends. Howard, for example, boasts online of her active role in such groups. The Planning Association for the Richmond is a neighborhood improvement group whose goals include blocking the AT&T broadband plan as well as proposed new bike lanes in Golden Gate Park. The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods counts itself as an AT&T broadband opponent and a scourge of cellphone antenna permit applicants everywhere. And Howard is on the steering committee of the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance, which seeks to block construction of a water treatment plant and to obstruct a plan to renovate and expand soccer fields.

This may sound like a busy to-do list. But it's not unusual here. Resisting proposed changes in the city's landscape is a pastime that occupies thousands of San Franciscans' time. And they seem energized by repeated success. Five days after Howard's letter joined other complaints about AT&T, the board heard hours of public testimony over whether to reverse a Planning Commission decision to allow the boxes to be installed without requiring a lengthy and expensive environmental review. The board voted to postpone its decision, as Supervisors Scott Wiener and Sean Elsbernd urged their colleagues to step back and take a broader view.

If past antitechnology moves are a guide, however, the narrow DTOC perspective may prevail. This is the second time, for example, that AT&T has attempted to bring its U-Verse broadband package to San Francisco; DTOC groups such as San Francisco Beautiful blocked the company two years ago. So the company put its boxes in 260 other California cities and came back to try again. They've stepped over tech-proposal corpses along the way.

Last September, Bernal Heights residents gained Board of Supervisors support blocking mobile broadband antennae from being installed on an existing tower. They feared, groundlessly, that earthquake vibrations might redirect the antennae to smite residents with concentrated radio waves. This Luddite victory, alas, was of a tradition:

In 2001, investors spent $31 million to turn the former National Guard Armory into an Internet switching center. Neighborhood activists filed an appeal and other protests against the project, and it was eventually scotched. Now the building is an S&M porn studio.

During the late 1990s, activists took to the streets to protest proliferation of dot-com businesses. Soulless technology firms might ruin San Francisco's character, they cried.

In 2006, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom negotiated a deal with Google and EarthLink whereby the two companies would blanket the city with free Wi-Fi service. Residents complained that the corporations would zap us with radio waves. The Board of Supervisors took up the cause, delaying implementation until the project fizzled.

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
21 comments
Sort: Newest | Oldest
AAFerguson
AAFerguson

This would have been a pretty decent piece if only there had been any research and truth to it.

Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard

Actually, no, the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance has not opposed the water treatment factory. They oppose the location of the factory in Golden Gate Park. Here's why.

A little south of the Beach Chalet fields is neglected parkland currently used for construction storage. The water treatment plant is proposed for this area. This will be a 40,000 square foot facility, with a chemical building, 30 foot tall blank concrete walls, 24 hour lighting, and security gating. Over 200 park windbreak trees with either be cut down or threatened by the construction. This is a very simple issue - it's an industrial building, it shouldn't be in Golden Gate Park. The 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan states that either there should not be an industrial building in this location, or, if there is, it should be completely underground with recreation uses on top. The Master Plan was written by the Recreation and Park Department with input from many city departments, neighborhood organizations, and individuals, over a period of years. It has its own EIR. It is hardly a NIMBY document. What the Master Plan does is to recognize that Golden Gate Park is a treasure that must be protected. Read the plan -- it is very eloquent! It can be found on the RPD website or through the GGPPA website link.

GGPPA and other neighborhood and environmental group representatives met with the SFPUC and together we identified alternative locations outside of Golden Gate Park for this factory. The SFPUC is including those locations in the Environmental Impact Report process, and we look forward to that document.

Let's have a broader vision for this whole area -- how about new meadows? Ever try to get a picnic table in Golden Gate Park on a holiday weekend? How about an additional grass soccer practice area? How about a native plant reserve or wildlife habitat area? Near Amsterdam, there is a bulb garden that preserves the old DNA stock for the original bulbs that were brought from the Middle East hundreds of year ago.

The factory site is next to the Murphy windmill and the restored millwright's house, which is going to house a restaurant. Would you rather eat lunch next to a factory, a chemical building, and a bunch of plastic grass and tire waste or would you rather dine while overlooking a bulb garden? Tough choice!

Seriously, Golden Gate Park is a gift from past generations to us today. Let's find ways to enhance rather than to destroy the heritage we are leaving for future generations.

Find out more at: www.goldengateparkpreservation...

Jonathan
Jonathan

Sadly, as the City paints miles of green bikeways to recapture our public realm, turns former parking spaces into parklets, and celebrates the pedestrian uses of the public sphere every Sunday Streets, this issue is turning from a public space and aesthetic issue to a technological issue. AT&T's proposed "upgrade" offers internet speeds no faster than Comcast's, and opinion's in favor of an EIR exemption miss the point of the appeal altogether: an EIR would present a credible list of alternatives, whether they may be the status quo of sidewalk utility boxes, a fiber optic network or undergrounded utility boxes. Instead of a 1-sided sales pitch from AT&T, an EIR would provide a transparent and objective review of the project.

Regarding the scene 2 years ago, AT&T withdrew their proposed network upgrade before a vote in front of the Board of Supervisors after hours of testimony on the issue, contrary to your reporting that groups such as SF Beautiful "blocked" the upgrade.

Jonathan Goldberg, AssociateSan Francisco Beautiful

Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard

Actually, no, the Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance has not opposed the water treatment factory. They oppose the location of the factory in Golden Gate Park. Here's why.

A little south of the Beach Chalet fields is neglected parkland currently used for construction storage. The water treatment plant is proposed for this area. This will be a 40,000 square foot facility, with a chemical building, 30 foot tall blank concrete walls, 24 hour lighting, and security gating. Over 200 park windbreak trees with either be cut down or threatened by the construction. This is a very simple issue - it's an industrial building, it shouldn't be in Golden Gate Park. The 1998 Golden Gate Park Master Plan states that either there should not be an industrial building in this location, or, if there is, it should be completely underground with recreation uses on top. The Master Plan was written by the Recreation and Park Department with input from many city departments, neighborhood organizations, and individuals, over a period of years. It has its own EIR. It is hardly a NIMBY document. What the Master Plan does is to recognize that Golden Gate Park is a treasure that must be protected. Read the plan -- it is very eloquent! It can be found on the RPD website or through the GGPPA website link.

GGPPA and other neighborhood and environmental group representatives met with the SFPUC and together we identified alternative locations outside of Golden Gate Park for this factory. The SFPUC is including those locations in the Environmental Impact Report process, and we look forward to that document.

Let's have a broader vision for this whole area -- how about new meadows? Ever try to get a picnic table in Golden Gate Park on a holiday weekend? How about an additional grass soccer practice area? How about a native plant reserve or wildlife habitat area? Near Amsterdam, there is a bulb garden that preserves the old DNA stock for the original bulbs that were brought from the Middle East hundreds of year ago.

The factory site is next to the Murphy windmill and the restored millwright's house, which is going to house a restaurant. Would you rather eat lunch next to a factory, a chemical building, and a bunch of plastic grass and tire waste or would you rather dine while overlooking a bulb garden? Tough choice!

Seriously, Golden Gate Park is a gift from past generations to us today. Let's find ways to enhance rather than to destroy the heritage we are leaving for future generations.

Find out more at: www.goldengateparkpreservation...

Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard

There are some additional errors in the above story.

SF Ocean Edge is not fighting the renovation of the Beach Chalet soccer fields. In fact, that organization supports their renovation. The fields are in a meadow, surrounded by groves of trees and inhabited by wildlife. The playing fields need maintenance, but in terms of parkland, it's a pretty great place. Beautiful trees, birds singing, and you can hear the ocean just a few hundred yards away.

The Beach Chalet construction project will change these soccer fields forever into a hard-edged, urban sports complex. It will rip out over 7 acres of top soil and living, natural grass, and replace it with artificial turf. Artificial turf is made up of a base of gravel, 6 inches or so deep, with a mat of plastic grass on top and then filled in with old ground-up tire waste. There will also be lots of new concrete and asphalt, an expanded parking lot, seating for 1,000, and other built elements. The Park will lose at least 55 windbreak trees and probably more, because once you get into construction, that is what happens.

To cap it all off, there will be 10 sets of 60 foot tall, multi-fixture sports lights. The lights will be twice as high as the trees that screen the fields from the beach. So you'll have these intense stadium lights that will give off one quarter of a million watts of light from sunset until 10:00 p.m. every night of the year. When you stroll along Ocean Beach with your significant other, warm yourself at a fire ring, and gaze up at the stars, all of a sudden - wham ! - these lights will come on. It will be like the Mother Ship landing!

SFOE supports youth soccer. It would be really great if the kids could play on a quality, real grass soccer field. The fields should be renovated with real grass, using modern construction methods, better drainage, good sod, and some kind of gopher controls. Yes, there will be more maintenance. But Rec and Park is pursuing endowments -- Let's use one for a groundskeeper for Golden Gate Park's playing fields. Don't you think that the kids are worth having that experience of playing on a quality, natural grass field?

This project is a $12 million project. It would take less than $1 million to revamp the fields with grass (the Polo Field - a larger area - was just renovated for $1.2 million) and then the rest of the money could be spent on playing fields all over San Francisco. Don't all the City's kids deserve great playing fields?

Find out more and help to get some great playing fields for the kids at: www.sfoceanedge.org

Katherine Howard
Katherine Howard

What other business gets to install this kind of urban blight? A neighbor owns a coffee shop, and she was cited for putting her tiny fold-up sign a little too far from her business. And now we are going to let AT&T place these monsters in our neighborhoods permanently?

According to on-line reports, AT&T profits rose 39% in the first quarter of 2011. AT&T can afford to spend a little to make all San Francisco neighborhoods more pleasant. Let’s have a full EIR and find some other places for this equipment, places that do not destroy our neighborhood character or prevent low-income housing areas from improving their neighborhoods.

The real question is – would you want this in front of your house? I doubt it – and neither does anyone else. This is not a NIMBY issue – it is a DTOC - Don’t Trash Our City issue !

K. Howard,

esseff11
esseff11

Hey NIMBY's and DTOC's: YOU AND ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS SUCK.

Seriously. I hope you're happy that SF is hurtling closer and closer to a Boulder-esque wealthy/Caucasian "utopia" (see article below) while you and your pals engage in self-important masturbatory blocking sessions as you "preserve" the "character" of San Francisco.

Please, please...please just go away. You are the sole reason this City will remain in quicksand.

I urge you to read this SPUR interview which will exhibit to everyone why NIMBYism in SF is far more nefarious than anyone cares to admit:

http://online.wsj.com/article/...

craeg
craeg

First you said no such thing - then its "out of context" and I see that you glossed over everything in the next paragraph except for your last sentence - which was likely just included as a diversion from your anti density NIMBYism

"Transit corridors spell density: Planners envision "overlay zones" adjacent to heavily traveled streets ("transit corridors") within which the Planning Commission would have the discretion to approve much higher, denser, bulkier buildings than present zoning codes allow, a trade-off for such things as no on-site parking requirements for multi-unit housing. The housing there would be nearly all market-rate, not affordable, which is the goal."

craeg
craeg

O really now?Housing and Urban Land Use / Coming soon to your block -- ManhattanOctober 07, 2003|By Judith BerkowitzAnd I quote:"Single-family housing downplayed: The plan, by working so hard to provide multi-unit development (it's far easier to gain more housing units per lot that way), offers the Planning Commission no incentive to approve any more single-family housing, which is now only 31 percent of our present housing. This creates a hardship for businesses that are hoping to attract employees with families, who are seeking the dream of a detached private home."

The Internet never forgets. Nimby.

craeg
craeg

This is the Judith Berkowitz who complained that SF was not planning for enough detached single family homes?Yeaaaah. NIMBY.

LindaLinda
LindaLinda

I haven't seen the boxes AT&T is proposing to install, but utility boxes don't need to be ugly.

Say what you will about Emeryville, but they made their utility boxes into neat public art projects that are fun and create a sense of place (in a pretty placeless place, at that).

http://www.ci.emeryville.ca.us...

____
____

That's emeryville, we have tagger dogs that think it's a fire hydrant and need to defile it with their nonsense.

Sdillard5715
Sdillard5715

I live in the East Bay. I switched from Comcast to ATT U Verse months ago and I get more and better service for one-third less money.

But, of course, that doesn't matter to SF's "activists". It never does. (Guess why I don't live in SF anymore).

yentu
yentu

Why is it that AT&T needs to have its boxes on public property when cell antennas rent space from private owners in order to deliver their service? Oh, sorry - am I being a NIMBY? or am I allowed to wonder why public space needs to be given to private businesses without being called a NIMBY?

mossy buddha
mossy buddha

i'm going to guess that there's a pretty doable engineering solution to this problem...put the damn things underground in a dumbwaiter type unit that can be raised to street level for maintenance or other access. is it gonna be more expensive. you bet. but the BOS' job is to safeguard the interests of the city and its residents. it is not obligated to help AT&T maximize its profits.

Marianne Hesse
Marianne Hesse

If you truly intended to write an objective article that would illuminate the issues, rather than showing some biased photograph of ludicrous Luddites marching, you would have shown a picture or two of those large boxes (graffiti and all) in order to let the readers know why people are actually protesting these boxes which will litter our landscape. Had you actually included photographs of the intended boxes, you would be allowing your readers the opportunity to make their own determination as to whether or not they would want such boxes in front of their property, in their neighborhood or dotting our city's landscape. Now that would be unbiased reporting. determination as to whether or not this is a good idea for the city

craeg
craeg

I am also opposed to the large green traffic control boxes that are attached to every pole which contains a traffic light. I am opposed to anything upright actually, because it just becomes a graffiti magnet. We should, as residents, be able to block anything by legal means, simply because we feel it may become a problem. This is not NIMBYism

Maria
Maria

Well, Matt, you have covered a lot of controversy and conflict over the years, and what surprises me in this piece is that I know how much of the absurdity from many directions you have noted on these pages for well over a decade, and yet the common thread you choose to weave through it this time is the overused term NIMBY.

That seems shallow to me.

I would say the common thread is a city government apparatus that is woefully ill prepared and usually unwilling to stand with actual residents and property owners and businesses while working to seek solutions that make sense for everyone.

The examples are endless, whether it be pot club regulations that concentrate multiple clubs in already struggling neighborhoods, zoning laws that *create* conflict between residents and businesses, appeals processes that are wasteful and drawn out, city departments tasked with one thing but doing something totally unrelated to the task... It goes on and on, and the common thread is a city government that is basically a laughing stock.

That vacuum is what the public then has to fill by organizing itself around issues the city is too incompetent to effectively address. Its exhausting to be a NIMBY unless you're paid for it (as with our city subsidized non-profits who dominate most process and trample individual citizens, businesses and property owners in the process).

Matt, you have always stood up for the little guy, and by lumping it all together under a stock term like NIMBY, your letting the little guy get lost in the word soup shuffle. Which is just what the city government always does.

craeg
craeg

He lumps them together because that is what they are. NIMBY luddites.Why does the city have to expend time and energy appeasing the desires of people who make a career out of opposing change anyplace, anywhere, anytime? Some people have to go to work and earn a living and dont have the time to devote to opposition at daytime BOS meetings.word soup shuffle - wth does that even mean? Lets make it simple - because it is a simple thing - the people in this article are NIMBY's

Grannygear
Grannygear

Why doesn't Comcast need to install those huge boxes to provide its bundled service?

 
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.
Loading...