Thursday, July 13, 2006

Open Mic at the Board of Supervisors

At 2PM on most Tuesdays of the year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors meets in their ornate main chamber.

There is a large area for public seating, and though you can come in dressed or undressed any old way, the attending sheriff's deputies make a point of coming over to any males who don't remove their caps or hats, and order them to do so.

In a way, the custom is charmingly old-fashioned, as if one were in a Catholic church, but Kimo Crossman the Wifi Dude think it's just an excuse for the deputies to harass people, which they seem to enjoy.

One of the highlights of each meeting is the time set aside for "Public Comments" after committee recommendations have been made, various legislative items have been voted upon, new business proposed, and eulogies and commendations have been read.

This means that the time for "public comments" is variable. It can come up at 2:30 PM or at 7 PM, depending on the contentiousness and length of the preceding agenda.

According to San Francisco's "Sunshine" Law, the public is allowed three minutes to comment on any issue before the government.

Recently, Board President Aaron Peskin had the City Attorney rule that what was really meant by the law was "up to three minutes," so the open mic public comments at Tuesday's Board of Supes meetings has been recently whittled down to two minutes.

In truth, public comment is more ritual than anything else, since most of the Supervisors don't bother to listen anyway.

Recently, there was a whole afternoon of eloquent and angry black speakers from Bayview/Hunter's Point protesting the Redevelopment Agency, which had destroyed their neighborhood in in the 1950s through the 1970s in the Western Addition. Most of them stated they didn't want their current neighborhood entrusted to the same agency.

After much pontificating by all the Supervisors, along with many assurances that things would be different this time and the neighborhood wouldn't be gentrified out of existence, the Board voted to hand the neighborhood over to the Redevelopment Agency.

It wasn't many weeks later before there was a newspaper headline announcing Mayor Newsom's plan for securing the Olympics in San Francisco, and it involved building an "Olympic Village" smack in the middle of Bayview/Hunter's Point. So much for those assurances.

On Tuesday the 11th, the meeting advanced quickly and a small, all-male group of stalwarts lined up behind the podium for their two minutes of fame on Channel 26, the San Francisco Government TV station.

They were the usual combination of paranoid schizophrenics and intelligent good government advocates...

...with issues ranging from the shutdown of the horse stable in Golden Gate Park to the takeover of the public library system by an elite, irresponsible cabal calling themselves Friends of the Public Library.

Lately, representatives from the Falun Gong cult have been showing up, and creating media events for their large journalism network ("The Epoch Times," etc.).

They talk about their fellow members' body organs being harvested in Chinese prisons, which is probably true. What puzzles me, however, is why most of the adherents I see in San Francisco are either elderly Chinese ladies or apple-cheeked white boys who look like they're ready for a Mormon mission.

The meeting went into a closed session with the City Attorney talking to the Supervisors about a possible IRS problem with city telecommunication taxes, and the public was thrown out of the chambers.

When exiting City Hall, I realized I'd forgotten the cap which the deputies had asked me to take off... I returned to the Supervisors' chamber in City Hall, where Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval was being interviewed by both the Falun Gong and a group of student journalists from San Francisco State University.

He saw me trying to get into the chambers for the cap, and asked if he could help.

About ten minutes later, his head poked out of a doorway down the hall, "Hey, guy, here it is," and he tossed the cap onto a bench.

Not only was Sandoval unfailingly polite to the student journalists, but he went and looked for my crappy cap, which he didn't need to do at all. You've got my vote, Mr. Sandoval, for whatever office you want.

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