San Francisco is a city renowned for subjecting civic procedure and development to marathon debates. Then we vote on whether we should have done that.
Our besieged city is currently engaged in a two-front war of ballot-box planning. On the east side, you've probably heard a bit about a measure that would subject every development exceeding waterfront height limits to a vote of the people — which is, itself, up for a vote of the people come June. But the city's feeling the squeeze now as, on the west side, proponents of a measure that would prevent the gopher- and pervert-infested Golden Gate Park soccer fields from being enhanced with Astroturf and lighting for night games is currently gathering signatures with an eye on November's ballot.
San Franciscans, then, may be asked to vote on both what goes up in the air and down in the ground. We're preparing to weigh in on what rises in the east and sets in the west — though the movement of the sun is still beyond voters' control.
Ballot-box planning is, essentially, government by plebiscite. It reduces complex city-planning issues to single, emotionally charged arguments (Too tall! Too plastic!); its current popularity could well indicate voters feel civic process — the daily functioning of this thing called "government" — is no longer working for them.
North Beach activist Jon Golinger is feeling that. He finagled a signature-driven resolution to maintain Coit Tower onto a 2012 ballot before contributing to last year's high-profile referendum that imploded the 8 Washington development as well as this year's aforementioned waterfront height-limit initiative, now known as Prop. B.
All of these were pokes in the eye of the so-called "City Family." And, as such, lots of money was required. High-priced consultant Jim Stearns directed the anti-8 Washington crusade, filming ads with Art Agnos, David Chiu, and other city politicos. Donors Richard and Barbara Stewart — whose view would have been blocked by the condo tower — showered scores of thousands of dollars upon the latter two campaigns at critical, early junctures.
The key to success, Golinger says, is to have cash, volunteers — or, preferably, both. But on the west side, Shawna McGrew, a member of the coalition pushing the natural-grass measure, has a succinct answer when asked if her group has any money to put toward the signature-gathering effort: "No."
No dollars, no ducats, no deposit bottles. Nothing. The strategy, for now, is to mobilize the 75 or so volunteers on hand and start hitting the farmers markets. In this way, she hopes to amass 9,702 valid signatures by July.
For those hoping to stave off an oceanside soccer-industrial complex, this is an ambitious goal. But they are boosted by flogging an emotional issue that doesn't require a nuanced explanation.
Or, as pro-grass advocate Katherine Howard puts it — pun not intended — theirs is a grassroots effort.