photos copyright 2005 by luke thomas of the sanfranciscosentinel.com
We have all been ill-served by the campaign of misinformation spewed about over the community benefits that were gained by the South of Market community in negotiations with the developers of five towers of luxury condos being built in the Rincon Hill area of SoMa.
The Chronicle predictably sided with big business, snarling at any suggestion that the tremendous gain in property values afforded to the owners of vacant South of Market land might require an investment in the low income community that surrounds the new planning area.
The internet chatrooms -- represented by the right wing offering called The Wall -- continue to pile on District Six Supervisor Chris Daly with hundreds of comments posted on its discussion of how "progressives 'grease palms' with the best of them." Beginning in early August, the postings now fill eight pages of internet chat:
The online San Francisco Sentinel chose to ignore the news until Mayor Gavin Newsom lashed out at his nemesis Daly in a letter to the Board of Supervisors, faithfully reprinted at the Sentinel, that accompanied the legislation after he signed it into law.
I'm not sure which of these forums was responsible for the greatest disservice to the truth.
Chronicle reporters Charlie Goodyear, Cecilia M. Vega and Rachel Gordon did their best to provide accurate reporting of the mitigation measure as it worked its way through the Planning Commission and the committees of the Board of Supervisors. There was tension, accurately reported, between Supervisors Daly and McGoldrick, but it was over how the fees would be distributed, not whether developers should be charged anything at all.
So it came as a bit of a surprise when Chronicle management unloaded on Daly with a one-two punch: political gossip columnist Phil Matier led off with a distortion-filled item titled, "Daly pulls in the pork for SoMa," followed by the predictable "Shakedown at City Hall" editorial. "Putting the squeeze on developers eager to build in a hot real estate market has become a favorite political pastime," lamented the editorial board.
Participants in The Wall chatroom range from its moderator, Mike Ege, head of one of the myriad of (small "d") democratic clubs that solicit donations through their slate cards every time elections roll around, to former disgruntled challengers to Supervisor Daly (losers) ... and include a remarkable assortment of very confused lunatics. Contributors weighed in with ninety postings before anyone actually explained what the Daly legislation was all about. One overly-confidant political analyst confused the Rincon towers development with the now demolished Geneva Towers housing project. Another noted that Daly's legislation gave the mayor "a golden opportunity to cast himself as the hero defending clean government, with an eye on the common good, and to cast Daly as the cheesy ward boss, entrenching himself in his petty fief." A third confidently predicted that "we should expect a vocal opposition to arise to the Daly Deal ... pressure will build on Newsom to reverse course and veto [the legislation]."
Of course they were all wrong. But Pat Murphy of the Sentinel maintained a grim silence.
Until last Spring, I believe I had been one of the longest running contributors to the Sentinel. My "Good Morning SoMa" column actually got its start when Pat was still publishing the "District Six Sentinel." People have asked me repeatedly why I left the publication and until now I never actually explained what was behind the rift.
The Sentinel was once a progressive publication. Randy Shaw, h. brown (he'll fire you again, h.), Chance Martin, John Elberling and Chris Daly once dominated the coverage. Gavin Newsom was often presented as a dim-witted fool while Murphy's adulation of Chris Daly sometimes bordered on lust. There are some very interesting old issues of the Sentinel available -- unfortunately with many broken links -- at a website called the Internet Archive Wayback Machine:
But about a year ago, the coverage of Daly and the whole progressive movement changed. Pat was struggling with money problems. He had already accepted funding from the RBA's Joe O'Donoghue. Daly had loaned him money to pay his rent. Pat even hit me up for $20 a couple times when I posted new columns.
Murphy offered editorial control of the Sentinel to Chris Daly. Daly reportedly laughed and shot back that the Sentinel was worth more than that. I don't know ... maybe Pat misunderstood. Perhaps he thought Chris had said it wasn't worth that much. Or maybe Daly, in his gruff and sometimes insensitive manner, deflated Pat's hopes of expanding the Sentinel into a legitimate news organ. Whatever it was, the Sentinel coverage took a very negative turn.
There was one Murphy opinion piece, titled something like "Support Softens for Chris Daly," that began to find it's way to the top of the left hand column repeatedly. Now, I have read convoluted explanations by Pat about how that left hand column is a function of the Sentinel's up-to-the-minute editorial policy, but "Support Softens" kept coming back to the top. The glamorous Luke Thomas technicolor images of Gavin Newsom also began to crowd out the progressive news coverage. Photo ops. Press conferences. Newsom at crime scenes. Trips to the ghetto. All sorts of Bobby Kennedy moments.
Now nobody can fault Luke for his fantastic photography. He caught me once at a ribbon-cutting ceremony and I swear I looked ten years younger and twenty pounds lighter. I thought warmly of Luke. Briefly. I had been "Luked."
I continued to post "Good Morning SoMa" and got a lot of positive response. But every time I put up a new column, the very same "Support Softens" opinion piece managed to find its way back to the top too. Then Pat covered a committee hearing that involved Daly. I forget what it was ... probably Budget. But I had just watched it live on Channel 26 and Pat's coverage was just a great big distortion of what had actually happened. I asked Pat over for coffee.
"You have to understand that nothing is more important to me than increasing the readership of the Sentinel," Pat began. That's fine, I agreed. But I told him I was troubled that Pat seemed to have personal problems with Chris Daly and he was letting that spill over onto the pages of the Sentinel. "I'll give you an opposing column to counter anything I write," Pat offered. You mean something like a "Point/Counterpoint" thing, I asked? (Sorta a "Pat, you ignorant slut" idea, I guess).
But Pat, you're printing things that are not true, I said. "Everything is a matter of interpretation," he countered, and I said, no, somethings are open to interpretation and somethings are big fat lies. "As I said," Pat responded, "my main goal is to increase the circulation of the Sentinel and since I've taken this direction, readership is up."
That was the last we talked and now Pat pretends he doesn't even see me when we pass.
Sentinel publisher Pat Murphy finally headlined his coverage of the Rincon Hill community benefits legislation:
"NO RINCON HILL PLAN FUNDS WILL BE SPENT ON POLITICAL ORGANIZING, MAYOR ASSURES BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: Strong-armed alderman style tactics simply not acceptable."
In the letter reprinted at the Sentinel, Newsom had cast himself as the hero defending clean government, with an eye on the common good, casting Daly as the cheesy ward boss, entrenching himself in his petty fief. "Comprehensive plans like the Rincon Hill Plan are critical tools for us to effectively manage development in San Francisco," Newsom wrote, but added, " Ironically, however, our efforts to move away from back-room dealing as the basis of land use policies at Rincon Hill was (sic) marred by the worst type of strong-armed 'alderman style' tactics."
This, coming from a politician supported by Don Fisher from the Gap and the Committee on Jobs, a downtown lobbying group that pours gobs of money into local elections, headed by executive director Nathan Nayman, who likes to say that the COJ is out to make San Francisco a more business-friendly city. The Committee on Jobs poured thousands of dollars into campaigns to unseat progressive Supervisors Geraldo Sandoval and Jake McGoldrick last year.
The man who decried "back-room dealing as the basis of land use policies" was also the same Gavin Newsom who vetoed Daly's legislation that would require the replacement of all the affordable housing about to be demolished at Trinity Plaza by millionaire downtown developer Angelo Sangiacomo, the same Newsom who was upstaged when Daly helped broker a deal that will require Sangiacomo to put 360 of the 1,700 rental apartments he intends to build at Market and Eighth streets under the city's rent control regulations. And the same Newsom who negotiated behind closed doors, with the support of his downtown cronies, to create the sweetheart deal that landed the stem cell institute at Mission Bay.
Newsom continued: "That type of behavior is simply unacceptable. It requires immediate attention. Specifically, I intend to work with the Board of Supervisors on legislation to ensure that the individuals and institutions we need to implement our planning goals -- whether in Mid-Market, the Bayview or anywhere else in San Francisco -- do not have to face an ad hoc gauntlet of shakedowns and threats. And if I am not able to craft an appropriate solution with the Board, I am prepared to take this issue directly to the City's voters."
The Sentinel printed this diatribe without comment.
There are several dubious assumptions that are being presented as fact:
The Chronicle editorialized that Daly's stabilization fund "smacks of questionable outlays of cash to his favored organizations and political allies not unlike the crony ways of former Mayor Willie Brown."
They charged that $34 million dollars will go into a "nonprofit community fund'' that will be overseen by a group handpicked by [Daly] and his fellow board members to do with as they please.
The Chronicle editorial board concluded that just because the Board of Supervisors had approved a massive upzoning of a part of South of Market, that "does not call for funding political action groups or a number of unspecified community-based programs." "Deals of this dubiousness usually happen behind closed doors," they fumed. "The outrage is that no one at City Hall is stepping forth to stop it."
First, does anyone ever recall the Chronicle criticizing Willie Brown while he was still in office for the wealth he spread among his cronies?
Second, the idea of a South of Market Community Stabilization Fund was created by a group calling itself the SoMa Community Coalition, not by Daly. The group contains representatives of a host of non-profit and community serving organizations.
Third, rather than favoring organizations and allies, the Citizens Advisory Committee that Daly's legislation creates will contain seven members who are chosen by the Rules Committee (upon which Daly does not even sit) and who must be approved by the full Board of Supervisors.
Fourth, the recommendations of the CAC are only advisory and must be forwarded to the Mayor's Office of Community Development. Does this support the charge that these funds can be used "to do with as they please"?
Fifth, the MOCD must then forward these recommendations, with their own analysis, to the full Board which will then decide how every single penny of the stabilization funding will be spent.
Sixth, the $11 million (minus a $3 million set-aside) allocated to the actual infrastructure improvements in the Rincon Hill project area will be spent by the Planning Department without any further review and the $35 million that goes towards affordable housing will likewise be managed by the Mayor's Office of Housing, again without further review.
Finally, should we be outraged when the Mayor's Office of Community Development and his Office of Housing, the Planning Department and the Board of Supervisors have complete control over a generous package of mitigation funds that will benefit not only Rincon Hill and South of Market but will also fund an equal amount of affordable housing city-wide? Of course not.
All this bullshit about "ward boss politics" goes back to the ravings of a couple crackpots at The Wall chatroom and for the Chronicle to use this as the basis for another anti-Chris Daly tirade, for the Mayor's staff to actually write this nonsense into a letter containing his signature and for the Sentinel to print that letter without any critical comment is simply pathetic.
The Chronicle is a reactionary force in local politics. The Wall is a looney-bin. The Sentinel is just plain screwed up, absorbed by some twisted unrequited love that its publisher is unable to resolve. That's why I will never submit a contribution to the Chronicle, have never posted anything to those chatrooms and left the Sentinel for the Bulldog.
All those pretty pictures of the mayor and all that critical coverage of Daly at the Sentinel are adding up to some sort of emotional breakdown. If I ever seek to find fulfillment in puppy love directed at heterosexual politicians -- be they lumbering socialist hotheads or smooth-as-greased-seal-shit moderates -- please, just shoot me.
Jim Meko is a South of Market activist, currently serving as chair of both the SoMa Leadership Council and the Western SoMa Citizens Planning Task Force and is a member of San Francisco's Entertainment Commission. Here at the Bulldog, of course, he's expressing his own personal opinions. He can be reached at email@example.com.