|Watching City Hall #249, (01-05-04)
What the hell is a progressive, anyway?
Search me, Eileen. No, really, search me. OK, bad joke and the year just started. Where the hell was I? Yeah, what is a progressive? I mean, shit we just won almost 50% of the vote in San Francisco and we dont even know who the hell we are? That figures. (Incidentally, Eileen will be back in columns from now on she was temporarily excised from my work at a suggestion from the highest ranks of the Gonzalez campaign. Shes pissed too, so I can hardly be expected to take responsibility for anything she says.)
Its also reassuring
As I mentioned, it not only figures that a near majority of San Franciscans cannot define their political identity, it is downright reassuring! Im working with a guy named Aaron Barnes to help him launch a new online news publication. It is dedicated to the new progressive movement in San Francisco whose crowning achievement to date has been, the near-election of Matt Gonzalez (a Green) as Mayor. Funny thing is, about a month or so ago, I tossed Aaron out of the Gonzalez Central Headquarters when he came in driving a Mercedes at midnight and said he wanted all kinds of materials to launch a new Gonzalez for Mayor effort in Gavins own backyard (District #2). I assumed he was a spy for Newsom! As happens so often, I had to apologize profusely to the boy the next day. Bottom line is that I couldnt identify a progressive.
Thats Gavins problem
The most amazing thing that came out of this race for Mayor was my new friends. Cmon, you were thinking I was gonna say I got laid? Naw, no such luck. It was a toast someone held up at Gonzalezs crib on New Years eve when they said: To New Friends! and someone across the room added the eternal Irish close: To absent friends. Somber moments. But, I realized that for the first time in awhile, the new friends portion of the toast was so very, very true. And, as tears formed in my eyes, I realized Id reached the Nirvanah of every drunken poet who ever followed some wavering tractor-beam into town. The new friends could afford to pay for the rounds! How the hell could you beat that?
Where was I? Yeah, I made friends with Aaron Barnes because we have common values although he drives a Mercedes and lives in the rich part of town and Im a rolling stone. Thats why the progressive movement can continue to grow in San Francisco. Hell, joining some political parties and movements is like going to a friggin Klan meeting, or something. Im floundering here. Progressives can be rich as well as poor. Yeah, thats the point I was trying to get out there. I thought that gentrification would mean the end of progressive politics in San Francisco and that is not the case. Recent research on the Gonzalez campaign data seems to indicate that it is possible to have money and also have a heart. You dont need to be in rehab to be an artist, either. These were all news to me. It seems that ideas matter. To the new arrivals who paid top dollar for their digs, too. Soooo, all those market-rate high-rise apartments rising South Of Market that were supposed to produce an out-of-the-closet Republican Supervisor are going to vote for Chris Daly from now on. Beats me. I was wrong, at least on the short-range effects of gentrification upon the voting demographics. If anything, the town went further left.
Where does that leave you and me?
Pack up. Its more pay to play now than ever. Newsoms people are not putting Land Trust Housing on the March ballot. Naw, its something misnomered as: Workforce Housing. Now, as Ive indicated above, that doesnt mean that the people who eventually occupy this housing will not share my own political viewpoints. Indeed, that seems to be the nature of the local immigrant. However, theyll certainly have more money than you or I. By the time they get around to voting through some land trust bond funds, Ill be living with Big Foot up North. Bottom line the town will still be liberal, but there will be no poor remaining. Thats the entire point for Downtown. I mean, how the hell can you tell someone to live on $59 a month in a town where Workforce Housing requires a family to make $10,000 a month? Lets look at some more numbers.
We have just under 780,000 people in San Francisco right now. A good friend said the other day that he thought the City could support a population of 3 million. I was flabbergasted. He noted that wed just approved an upgrade of the Hetch-Hetchy system that would increase the carrying and storage capacity of the system to that level. He didnt note that virtually all of that expanded capacity will go to the likes of San Mateo County. Imagine the increased pressure on the sewage system? Imagine a Police Officers Association with 10,000 members. Think the Texans will charge more for the gas to fuel PG&Es dinosaurs? Pack up.
Nope, what will really happen is exactly what is happening. Every turnover of rent-control property will be followed by enormous pass-through upgrades that will double the costs of the units. Hell, its been happening for years. Its the way I got the boot on my own last two places. Eventually, you and I are out of here and, whats left?
I recall when Willie Brown was asked that question (Whats a town with no poor?) Willie answered: Maybe thats not a bad thing. Hmmmm.
At the time, I was younger and still thought I might achieve some kind of financial success and recall thinking that it took lots of guts for him to say that and that I kind of agreed with him. I mean, imagine a town with no poor. Isnt that what the world has been working towards? So, here we are a few years down the line from Willies comment and Im one of the people wholl have to go unless I can boost my bottom line by a factor of 10 or some such shit. Im wondering if maybe having no poor people is such a great idea after all. I feel like a cow getting herded toward toward toward? The City limits, at least.
Sometimes I hate being right
The morning paper had an innocuous item on the Sports page about how 500 or so veteran golfers in two clubs at Harding Golf Course were complaining that prices for a shoot-around (or, whatever the hell they call it) costs more than a lap dance at the OFarrell Theatre now. (Something like, up to $75 to take your best shot in each case now.) Personally, I couldnt afford $75 for a heart transplant, but all of that aside, I am interested in rising prices among other things.
Two years ago, when Willie Brown moved through Rec & Parks flunkies to apply a portion of a hundred million or so in bond money to toss out all of the members of the golf clubs at Harding and the Swimming Pools and the folks who had stables at the Golden Gate Stables I do recall saying that these items, along with building a garage that guaranteed people would have to pay money to come to the park no more free parking I guaranteed it was to put the park more firmly under the control of the rich, who felt they owned the place anyway.
I was right! Ha ha! Funny, it doesnt feel great. Kind of a downer, actually. Yeah, the horses got sent out of the stables which are built of re-barred concrete with thousand year tile roofs (in a funny turn, the WPA reached from the grave and saved the things now, to justify tossing out horses and families for the first time in over a hundred years, Park & Rec staff are cutting holes in the concrete between the stalls sos the horses can talk to each other) yeah, dumped the horses and citizens from the stables. Word is that the new boss of the stables will be the woman who runs the horse rides on Fishermans Wharf but lives in Marin. Friend of Willies and Gavins. Then, theres the golf course.
A couple of months ago, the PGA had a tournament at a City Park back East. The pros had one hell of a time. It was an ugly course, to be sure. It was overgrown and the like and was truly urban. The pros loved it. They kept talking about how it reminded them of the courses they grew up on. Now, San Franciscos Harding, untamed made that place look like shit. The renovation was not necessary. Thats what Im saying and its the truth. A guy named Sandy Tatum (one of the swells) wanted to give our gold course to the PGA and, if Jake McGoldrick hadnt gotten in the way (there, and the Marina Jake aint on the top of the guest list for the SF old money) Jake kept em from privatizing the place, but they went ahead and spent 10 times what they needed to make the mortgage on the place so high that it would necessitate greens fees that guaranteed most of the courses traditional users could afford to come back.
Privatizing Civic Treasures is what Willie Brown did best. Ask the town of Sunol, California which he turned into a gravel pit. Ask the golfers at Harding where fees have tripled for an unneeded upgrade that could have been had for 10% of the cost actually charged against the voters bond measure funds. Ask the horses who became dog food. Ask my cat, C.C. wandering aimlessly and sending nightmare pleas in her quest to reunite with her evicted humans (I left her and her sister with a neighbor 2 months ago upon our eviction and she got out and went to find me tough, since I had no home) Ask evicted small sailboat owners in the Marina who are being evicted to make room for large yachts. Oh yeah, all true. Lord, if daddy had lived to hear me defend the owners of small yachts against those of large yachts.
Lunch with Angela
This piece was meant to be my initial contribution to the new HYPERLINK "http://www.sfprogressive.com" www.sfprogressive.com (I think thats the right address). As usual, Im late. Anyway, the centerpiece was to be my description of my lunch Tuesday with my friend, Angela Alioto. Lets backtrack a couple of days and set the stage.
I looked over the rack of suits in my closet
OK, so I dont have a closet or any suits. I knew Angela wouldnt hold my wardrobe against me. Once she took me to a party with 300 of the Citys most powerful people and, when she saw my shorts and thongs she trots back upstairs, ditches her designer stuff and comes back in a sweat shirt and jeans. My kind of girl. She does stuff like that all the time.
Did you know that if you wear one of those sports watches with the Velcro band for 3 or 4 days without taking it off, that almost all of the time youll develop a rash on the inside part of your wrist (skin more tender) ? I sanded my feet and took my change of clothes across the street from Franks (Frank Webster, my buddy who owns the place Naomi & I crash a Mission District Vic condo, hes polishing may be for sale) I took the near-new shoes I got at the junk store near Frank Gallaghers had to wash my shoes real underwear (I have 2 pair and only wear them on special occasions) few pair of socks (I change my socks lots even in the worst of circumstances the feet are always the first to go) the socks, a couple of long sleeve dark shirts that will show off my save the whale tie given to me by my professor wife who left me for a colleague so long ago Baggy jeans that are developing holes from wear that necessitated calling in the skivvies (you wanted to hear this, right? dont you get ready for dates like this?) So, my friend, Frank doesnt have hot water right now, so I have to arrange laundry in one place and a shower in another and lunch in another pretty typical for me, really.
I decide Ill go jeans jacket and baggy jeans with a woven leather belt, dark shirt, the whale tie (very tasteful all silk sea green and blue pod of whales swimming from the wearers right, toward the left side) I buy a cup of detergent from the ancient Chinese man who runs the tiny Laundromat. It is .65 and the washer is 1.00. Both are bargains. I have to stand by the dryer as it spins the first 15 minutes because the tennis shoes always hit the dryer door every 50 revolutions and knock it open. I think about the questions Aaron (Progressive editor) think about the questions he wanted me to ask. Ive forgotten them. I check for a notebook. No notebook. I check for a pen. No pen. Im nearing my ready mode. I still have to shower.
Marc & Georges house
I gather my damp clothes and shaving kit and back pack and head down Capp street for a date with a shower George Aluska has arranged for me at he and partner, Marc Salomons place on Adair. You getting the idea here, that just walking out the door clean & groomed is tough when the door isnt yours? I luxuriate in the shower for way too long. The room is warm as a tropical jungle with a floor heater, all pre-heated for the honored guest-from-the-street. Lord, gay people are sensitive. I scrub off a weeks gathering of sloughed skin and scraped and sanded callous, washing it down the drain in repeated latherings from head to foot. It is paradise. I shave, put on my just damp clothes (shit, its raining anyway, so whos gonna notice I didnt have enough time or money to fully dry my clothes theyre clean, Im clean Angela awaits).
Alioto and the Progressives
Angela Alioto is a Progressive. Anyone who thinks differently, is an idiot. There is no more faithful proponent of the teachings of St. Francis than Angela. Hey, the woman is tough, talented, loud and, has the biggest heart in town. Having said that, she and I differed on chosen candidates for the recent mayoral runoff. Ive wanted to talk to her about that since the race and shes wanted to listen to me too. She drove around Bekeley after attending Father Bills funeral looking for Noel Wilsons house (Gallaghers bride) I was crashed there sitting Jake and Harvey, the house hounds. I went in ready to hammer out a coffee table book together with Gonzalez Campaign Photographer, Matt Hitt, but ended up with no computer or no real outside contacts. Shit, I spent 2 weeks writing long hand on a table with dogs at my feet and strong drink in my nostrils (thanks, guys) I felt like friggin Hemmingway. I went into a funk about Matt losing and simply stopped returning calls Soooo, we missed connections for coffee (her) and a brew (moi) for about a month. She was, from the start, Newsoms acknowledged Vice Mayor empowered with investigating contracts, implementing her victorious prop J and being the go-to person on public power. Lots of people wanted to know what Angela would say to me about these issues. So did I.
Gavin sat at my table.
Angela had been to some kind of party thrown by Julie Lee the evening before to celebrate Gavins victory. It must have been something. There were 1,500 people there and I was seated at table one with a whole group of people important to my political and business life. Thats very important and Gavin understood that. Some of the people were chilly at first, but when Gavin showed up, he came to my table first and he thanked me numerous times in his speech.
I like this girl. I scoffed when she talked about her run for Mayor being her last political hurrah. Thats just not possible. Will you have an office at City Hall with your name on it? I asked her. I have an office to run across the street. (we were at a quiet little restaurant catty-corner to her law offices at 700 Montgomery) I spent a lot of money that I worked very hard for in that campaign and I have to take care of business.
Angelas offices are like Angela. Very classy and very traditional. As with her home, there are well placed murals. Three of them line the wall of her conference room and stare over conferees. I stared back at the guy on the end who didnt seem to like me very much. Thats Dante. said Angela. I nodded, remembering that Angela built her own novel (Straight from the Heart read this an the Sac Bees Richardsons Willie Brown if you wanna sound like a serious local wonk) I smiled. Ahhh, it made sense. Angela compared local politics to the Circles of Hell in Dantes Divine Comedy. There was the mural of Virgil, the blind poet who led Dante through the tougher neighborhoods. Walking around Angelas work space is kind of intensely relaxing if you know what I mean. Now, Im good at this stuff, so you pay attention.
I mean, youre in this building thats a combination of (Im guessing but, Im usually right on this kind of thing) a combo of gray granite and marble inside the little 3 story corner structure is a little neighborhood law firm, if you consider (as did Richard Simmons owner of Specs up the street) if you consider as Simmons once noted: Were just a little neighborhood bar. In the craziest neighborhood in the world. Yeah, Angela has a little neighborhood law practice that just happens to be in the center of the bulls eye of one of the most powerful spots on the center of the world. One that takes on giant corporations and wins. But, as you walk around the place with her, it feels (& I put lots of stock in that feels) it feels like youre back in her mansion in Pacific Heights which looks, but doesnt feel extremely rich. How does she do that?
The baby playing in the little round (no water of course) wading pool, helped. Before that, even. That was in one of the offices of her little law firm. Also, the fact that her receptionist is a senior citizen like myself and probably watched Ginsberg walk through the same door that had delivered me this day had seen them all for decades. The place feels homey. The baby was a kid of one of the staff (and, the staff didnt tighten-up or run, or look scared when Angela appeared doing one of her tours and, they were just starting work on one of the lawsuits that regularly propel Angela into the national news. The kid was cool. Angela has a new grandkid, as do I and heres yet another baby under a year, hanging with a parent at work way to be human, Angela the wading pool of about 3 feet diameter was perfect for an infant who couldnt crawl yet, but was able to roll over 3 months Im guessing able to roll over and needing to be out of a basinet, but a long way from a playpen. Im digging this stuff and feeling good about the future of Lefty San Francisco and Hey, am I boring you here!? This stuff counts. Trust me on that. Angela Alioto and Matt Gonzalez may not be Mayor of San Francisco, but together, they have the support of the majority of the City and they are not going away. The little pool-turned-infant-playpen was a gift from one of Angelas sons to the baby. Hey, Im an old softie. So, anyway.
Here I was picking Angela up for lunch. Id finished my shower at Marc & Georges and packed my dirty clothes into my backpack for the trip from the Mission to North Beach. I hung my nylon windbreaker through a strap of my leather pack (a gift from Poland from my friend, Ania)
Sooo, Im looking OK.
I mean, Im homeless. I know it. Angela knows it.
But, Im not shopping cart level and never plan to be. Im a little damp. My pack is a bit too full, but youd have to be looking for the signs. (they look full when they have a full shaving kit, a change of clothes and a pair of shoes stuffed inside the main compartment and 100 business cards in order, to add to e-mail or phone) Angela and I finished our tour of her offices and headed across the street to the little Italian restaurant (I forget the name, but owe you a mention) Angela was determined to get me: a computer, a job, &
a place to live. She took her usual table and placed herself opposite the door with a full view of everyone who entered and was already seated. She smiled like Picasso on the Riviera as she swung into the familiar seat that looked out onto Broadway.
Im Sicilian and I need to see the door.