Friday, November 21, 2008
Legislative Sausage at The Board of Supervisors
While fasting and purging all Monday in anticipation of a colonoscopy on Tuesday, I ended up watching the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' Land Use Committee meeting on Channel 26.
The meeting was an eight-hour marathon, mostly concerned with the "Eastern Neighborhood Zoning Plan," which is a piece of legislative sausage that's been put together piecemeal over the last ten years by the Planning Department with input from every concerned party imaginable. The result, which calls for more housing density along transit corridors such as Mission Street, seems to entirely please no one, and the long line of public commenters made that clear, but after a decade of work, the legislation seemed like a done deal.
As has been his mode of operation for some time, outgoing Board President Aaron Peskin (above) added a few crucial amendments late in the process on Monday evening, including a "use it or lose it" clause for building permits, and the Planning Department didn't have time to incorporate them into the published text before the next day's full Board of Supervisors meeting. It was decided early on Tuesday that the full board would wait until next week's meeting on November 25th to vote on the legislation, including Peskin's new amendments.
However, at the end of the meeting, there was a discussion of a measure expressing disapproval of Don Fisher's proposed art museum in the Presidio, with Peskin wanting to condemn it and Supervisor Alioto-Pier offering a competing resolution welcoming Fisher to build his museum anywhere he wanted to in San Francisco. The venal, wheelchair-bound Alioto-Pier had already tried to shaft renters with a water rate pass-through from landlords that had been narrowly voted down earlier, so her proposal felt perfectly consistent. Fellate her rich cronies, and to hell with everyone else would probably be the best way to describe her governing philosophy.
The competing proposals were tabled to next week's meeting, but the conservative Supervisor Elsbernd decided to personally attack Peskin for bringing back a resolution that had already been voted on. "It's been tabled already, this is just a whack at the mayor, and doesn't belong back here," he railed, and that's when all hell broke loose.
I had wandered over to City Hall to check out the Don Fisher art museum debate, but found myself the lone audience member in the huge Board chambers when Peskin decided once again that "payback is a bitch." Peskin announced that he had changed his mind and that he wanted a vote on the Eastern Neighborhood Zoning legislation because Tom Ammiano's last meeting would be next week before going to Sacramento for his new seat on the State Assembly.
As Melissa Griffin described it on her great blog (click here for the whole thing), "Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval was acting as chairman of the board while Peskin participated in the debate. Sandoval, a recently elected Superior Court judge, ran the meeting with all the dignity of a homecoming-decorations committee, chewing gum the entire time and repeatedly asking, “What do you guys want to do now?” Sandoval had also sneaked in an amendment at the committee the evening before for a political backer having something to do with height restrictions around the abandoned Mission Theatre, which Supervisor Ammiano voted against. "No, because it sucks!" is how he put it.
Supervisor Elsbernd, who is up to some serious hanky-panky of his own involving former Supervisor Tony Hall and the Ethics Commission (click here), became apoplectic over Peskin's sneak attack, and for the next two hours they engaged in one parliamentary maneuver after another, severing the new amendments for separate votes. As it turned out, Peskin narrowly won on each of the votes during the ugly but entertaining process.
As my friend Marc Salomon put it, the entire zoning package is essentially meaningless because it's city planning for a moment in time that has come and gone because of the financial freefall currently taking place across the world. "It's a bit like the Soviet Politiburo in the early 1990s continuing with their central planning when the entire system had already collapsed. They just didn't know it, and neither do these San Francisco city planners."