Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The San Francisco WiFi Battle: Part 2

On last Wednesday the 14th, Kimo Crossman and I had lunch at Original Joe's in the Tenderloin, not far from where he lives on Market Street.

We walked the five blocks from the restaurant to City Hall, where there was a media frenzy in progress.

There had been a press conference about the infamous Bayview Station "cop videos" involving lots of questionable humor.

The Bayview/Hunter's Point neighborhood wasn't amused, the mayor and police chief Heather Fong got hysterical, and lots of absurd drama ensued involving the suspension and quick reinstatement of 24 policemen and lots of posturing by all kinds of spokesmodels.

The local media, as usual, didn't bother asking the obvious question. How can you have "community policing," the latest buzz phrase, when the overwhelming majority of new hires over the last five years have been from outside the city and county of San Francisco, worsening a nepotistic, lazy and out-of-touch police force.

It really might help to recruit some new officer from Hunter's Point/Bayview itself. Last I heard, it's not as if the neighborhood is suffering from too many jobs.

And the argument that San Francisco is too expensive for police and their families is nonsense. They all make more than most of my friends living in the city and have benefits galore.

Oh well, the old media is crumbling in front of our eyes, as evidenced by developments like Eddie Codell's "Geek Entertainment TV." Eddie was one of the organizers of WebZine 2005, which I wrote about earlier in the year here.

One of his first Quicktime movies is an interview with Kimo by Irina Slutsky that's very funny and conveys a lot of Kimo's charm. Click here to see it.

Kimo first got in touch with me at WebZine and then started hounding me with emails and phone calls when he started looking into the WiFi situation in San Fracisco. As a number of city officials have discovered, he doesn't take "no" for an answer very well.

At first I thought he was a complete flake but I turned out to be wrong.

Though he's amazingly naive about politics, particularly the institutional corruption at San Francisco's City Hall that probably dates from Barbary Coast days, Kimo is not stupid.

Supervisor Mirkarimi's aide, Steven, had the best line of the day which he uttered after being handed a four-page packet to brief the supervisor. "A really intelligent person like yourself going after bureaucrats? Gosh, the poor people. I actually feel sorry for them."

Because Kimo has thrown such a wrench into the works of whatever plan Mayor Newsom, his overseers and his minions were working out behind closed doors, there have been many rumors that Kimo was being paid by rival commercial entities.

Recently, he sent me the following note explaining who he was and what he was doing:
I am not a politico, just a techie. I've never done this before. I just want a good solution for San Francisco. And I'm not against antennas or against Google, and I am representing absolutely no other organization. I am not a conspiracy freak, just upset that the creation of a new de facto Franchise that sells the public's privacy for a free WiFi system is probably something that should have maximum public input.

WiFi has the ability to replace the following services: Cell Phone, DSL, Cable HSI, Cable TV, Land Phone Line, Alarm System Radio. So it's kind of a big dealio...

It's also a chance to roll out a diaster-proof communication system that the Public can use for Public Safety, unlike what happened in Katrina and 9/11. So far the City has been unwilling to seriously consider this option.

As I can attest, he's extremely determined, and once he discovered the local Sunshine Act legislation, his programmer's detail-oriented brain went into overdrive and he's been trying to get to the bottom of the mucky barrel with a host of document requests, which are making a number of people in City Hall insane.

On the Department of Telecommunications and Information website, in the TechConnect section (which is amazingly skimpy with its updated information), there is a recent "ALERT" in a box which takes one to a one-paragraph PDF that says the following:
Notice Regarding Unauthorized Posting of an RFP Draft

The City is aware that a copy of a draft document labeled “Confidential Draft – For Internal Review Only”, titled “City and County of San Francisco Request for Proposals for Wireless Tech Connect – Community Wireless Broadband Network”, and dated December 8, 2005, has been posted on a website that is not hosted or controlled by the City. This confidential draft is a document protected by the attorney-client privilege. The City did not authorize the person who obtained this document to view or possess it. The City does not consent to its disclosure on a website or in any other manner, and does not waive the attorney-client privilege for this document. All persons should disregard this document for purposes of reviewing or responding to any Request for Proposals that the City may issue in connection with a community wireless broadband network.

Somebody anonymously sent the document to Kimo and all of a sudden we have our very own "Pentagon Papers." There are also rumours that the City of San Francisco is going to sue Kimo for making them liable to lawsuits, which makes as much sense as the "attorney-client" privilege in the statement above.

On Friday the 16th, another oddly named Board of Supervisors group, the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFco) had another hearing into the secrecy of the WiFi process, and the three supervisors, particularly Mirkarimi, grilled the DTIS director Chris Vein fairly harshly.

Most of the same people who testified at Monday's Government Audit and Oversight Committee hearing came up to the microphone and repeated their testimony for Supervisors McGoldrick, Ammiano and Mirkarimi.

The vast majority of the speakers were extraordinarily articulate and were able to translate intelligently and calmly why the current process needed to be rethought.

For more info on this issue, there are a few good articles on the web. Jackson West from SFist wrote a really prescient guest column about all the players in this drama some months ago (click here). Renee Zelles at BeyondChron wrote a good wrap-up of the Monday Government Oversight meeting (click here). And an article just appeared in the San Francisco Bay Guardian detailing the ramifications of Friday's meeting (click here).

You're doing good, Kimo.

UPDATE: The RFP (Request for Proposal) has just been issued by the Department of Telecommunications, etc., and it's being universally reviewed as an inadequate disaster. Go to Kimo's blog (click here) for more information.


Sam said...

man - you make me feel bad about the turkey. It wasn't just me - in fact originally our gracious host vinny put a refusal on having turkey at his meal, but he forgot to state it (along with all the other things that needed to be stated) in the original invite which he promised to run by me before sending out but failed to do so.

Lamb stew sounds delicious to me but maybe (I've probably blown it now) you can do the turkey another time bacause it sounds delicious too. A turkey day in its own right. I do have a spare one in the freezer for now.

Oh - an great wi fi repporting by the way. we have an internet blog dsl story to tell you on sunday.


answer-man said...

ps I'm having a little trouble sending comments so if I do it twice please excuse me and I apologize.