As the city this week makes its pitch to host the next Cup, only one thing is truly certain: uncertainty. JE

A Bay Bridge Over Willie Waters
San Franciscans were witness to two telling examples of How Stuff Works this year delivered by the same bridge.

The first came via the ethereal new eastern span of the Bay Bridge, a luminous ivory tower resembling a Tolkien fortress — only wrought from concrete and steel of questionable provenience, and decked out with palm trees.

At last the question was answered: How many years late and how much over budget will the Bay Area's most vital connector be? Answer: A decade late and billions over budget. In a nod to those niggling truths, a costly extravaganza slated to mark the opening was replaced by Gavin Newsom wielding a blowtorch on Sept. 2 to cut a chain (the industrial version of a ribbon-cutting). He mentioned something about the monument to runaway capital projects being an impetus for big dreamers to dream big dreams — but many people were likely distracted by the proximity of an open flame to Newsom's pomaded head.

A lesson of another sort was imparted via the photogenic western span of the Bay Bridge (which in March was adorned with artist Leo Villareal's Bay Lights mega-sculpture). With rapidity befitting a shipment of milk to hurricane victims and a series of lopsided votes akin to parliamentary procedures in a junta, the state Legislature on Sept. 10 named the city side of the bridge after Willie Brown. The move was foisted upon San Franciscans by a coterie of Southern California representatives and, on its face, didn't jibe with the legislature's own rules. But only dreamers dreaming big dreams would think that mattered in the least.

Brown, the former boss of the Legislature, two-term mayor of San Francisco, and current influence-peddler extraordinaire, now shares a name with the bridge those priced out of the city via his actions will take to their new hometowns. JE

View from the Top
San Francisco's municipal election of Nov. 5 was far, far below whelming. In a city of more than 800,000, featuring 440,000 registered voters, only 129,000 of us bothered to cast a ballot.

And yet, elections do matter. And it was a rough, dare we say underwhelming, one for proponents of the 8 Washington luxury condo tower. Powerful developers, powerful influence-peddlers, powerful members of the building trades, powerful money-laundering downtown groups, and powerful members of the so-called "City Family" were folded, spindled, and mutilated by the electorate. Some two-thirds of the voters gave the thumbs-down to the notion of $5 million condos for the uberwealthy in a structure nearly triple waterfront height limits and mere feet from a sewer pipe carrying a quarter of the city's effluvia.

For observers sifting through the wreckage of 8 Washington, the message in the black box seemed to play differently to those of differing ideologies. If you're a pro-development, downtown sort forced to scoop your teeth off the pavement, you can blame disingenuous sloganeering and cheap NIMBY populism. If you're a self-styled progressive, you can crow about cracks appearing in the armor of the pro-development forces enthusiastically running this city.

Or, maybe, it was just a tough sell to ask voters' permission to slap down condos on the public boulevard they could never, ever afford — in the midst of giddily spiraling home prices and rents and a scourge of evictions.

More certain is what's to come: continuing battles for the plight of the waterfront and, all but surely, more ballot-box city planning.

Don't forget to vote. JE

The Silk Road Moves Onward
Up until the day of his arrest, in the science fiction department of the Glen Park Public Library, local currency trader Ross Ulbricht lived the life of any cash-strapped, aspiring tech bro. He sublet a room in the West Portal neighborhood, worked out of coffee shops, hewed to all the standard libertarian principles, talked about forming a start-up the way nerds of yesteryear talked about writing the great American novel, and told everyone his name was "Josh." All the while, he allegedly ran a vast Internet black market called Silk Road, which offered product listings for narcotics, fake IDs, weapons, and other contraband, all traded via the electronic currency Bitcoin.

Now Ulbricht awaits a criminal trial in New York, and in the meantime, a new Silk Road has risen from the ashes, with more than 3,000 drug listings to date. Bitcoin, meanwhile, has only strengthened in value, becoming an object of fascination for bankers, and a somewhat viable transaction system in San Francisco, where it's accepted by sushi restaurants and certain enlightened landlords. The FBI has launched yet another game of wack-a-mole with Silk Road 2.0 and other such "dark" Internet sites, but with one case ostensibly closed, others keep opening. If Ulbricht remains behind bars, the Silk Road might go on without him. RS

Dispatch from the Future
One of the best symbols of "new" San Francisco is actually a relic of the past — the black Lincoln town car, gliding along Market Street with all the slow-motion elegance of a spacecraft in orbit. Many of these livery vehicles now contract with the technology start-up Uber, a company launched in 2010 with grand aspirations to "disrupt" the taxi industry. In the three years since its inception, it's spawned a veritable empire.

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