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With h brown

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

The Privatization of San Francisco
(art, land, exotic animals, commissions and more)


By h. brown


February 11, 2007

George Roth, the cab driver from Mars used to say that science was the search for patterns and that once you were able to identify a pattern, you could use calculus to create a parabola identifying future actions and events and the timing of same which you could then intercept.

Well, I've identified a pattern regarding the continual privatization of San Francisco and I'm predicting future moves on the part of the Swells. I'll toss in a few comments on particular items on the 3 lists I've developed here to support my argument and because anecdotal data is cool and funny and tragic and all that other shit. I'll start with stage one of the privatization process.

Stage one

1. Identify valuable public assets

Think big. Would you like to be able to trade every bit of art owned by the City? How about all of the exotic animals in the zoo? Want to destroy a commission (e.g. Communications) that is giving your industry problems? Need a place to keep your polo ponies? Want to keep government television from the poor? Want a 50-year lease on the best spots overlooking the ocean or the Bay (with clauses allowing you to exclude the poor)? Like to buy 4 golf courses planted on the most expensive property on the face of the earth for one dollar? Want to underfund the Ethics Commission cause you're a crooked political fixer? Want to shield violent, murderous, homophobic cops by understaffing the Police Commission and the Office of Citizen Complaints? It can all be yours, but first you have to accomplish step number two.

2. Elect a mayor who will do your bidding

(having the City Attorney and D.A. in your pocket helps too)

Price is no object on this one. If you want an entire neighborhood over which to play feudal lord (as I said before, think big) … if you want that, you're gonna need to control the Redevelopment Authority and they're fully appointed by the Mayor who also has either all, or the majority appointment powers over every other commission, authority, and enterprise agency. The Mayor appoints every single department head.

Want a sweet union contract in exchange for getting out your members' vote? The Mayor negotiates all MOU's while the City Attorney takes notes.

Having elected your puppet mayor, it is time to survey the property or authority you wish to control.

What's the present condition of the physical structure or agency? Solid staff? Popular with the public? Who's the local supervisor? Will he or she look the other way when a couple of billion dollars in golf courses are handed over for a single dollar bill? Should you plant a few stories with publications that depend upon your advertising and writers to whom you sometimes or regularly provide stipends?

Is the Communications Commission anti-business because they want to look into the Comcast contract? Are those reinforced concrete stalls with the thousand year tile roofs at the stables in Golden Gate Park strong enough for the horses?

3. Defer maintenance for targeted assets

Fire gardeners in the parks and replace them with security to toss out the poor and homeless. Stop filling cracks and painting in the Veterans Building. Keep a straight face when you say that the Old Mint (which survived the '06 quake without sustaining a crack) needs retrofitting and might best be managed by a private entity.

Sell the grounds keeping equipment at Harding Park claiming it's too old and hard to maintain. Smile as the grass grows and the greens suffer. Stop cleaning the Trans Bay Terminal. Stop replacing burned-out lights there. Close all of the businesses in the building and allow the poor that your other policies have made homeless, who sleep around the gorgeous deco structure.

Stop maintaining the Marina boat slips and raise rates on all the small boaters but lower the rent for the yacht clubs. Close all of the bathrooms in the parks that the poor use and build new ones only inside areas that have already been privatized.

4. Reduce staff

Pardon me, but does the Ethics Commission really need enough staff to investigate my regular violations of the campaign finance laws? Is using a City funded non-profit like SLUG, it's equipment and workers to campaign on City time for your candidate really worth an investigation? Does the City even need a Communications Commission at all (Newsom deep-sixed ours within months of his election)? Isn't the police chief your mayor appointed doing a fine job disciplining the SFPD? Why staff the OCC to strength or give the Police Commission a civilian staff large enough to analyze the cases and proposals that pass before them daily? Why use PUC engineers to do PUC projects when you can hire outside consultants? Why clean, paint and maintain a structure when you can let contracts for consultation, design and construction of an inferior structure by a firm that contributed to the mayor's campaign, or is a client of someone who did?

5. Divert revenue and assets

So, Harding golf course makes money every year and provides a fantastic experience at a reasonable price for the general public? Take every penny that the course makes and divert it to the General Fund. Why should City workers collect money from the parking meters? Couldn't an outside contractor do a better job?

6. Wait a couple of years

7. Deplore the conditions you've created

Scream to the high heavens about the incompetence of City staff. Mention, kinda off-hand, that you just happen to have some friends who have a trade organization that maintains and trades assets or manages similar operations. Promise beautification and profits if you can only have total control of the targeted acquisition and its holdings.

8. Have your puppet mayor, or (preferably) an ignorant or in-your-pocket supervisor to propose the privatization of your desired slice of San Francisco's holdings.

9. Go to the voters

Show pictures of the cracks in the walls you've failed to repair. Show the overgrown golf course from which you diverted revenue, equipment and personnel.

10. Repeat process until you win

Stage Two

After you gain control of property or authority:

1. Restrict public access

Hey, wasn't that the entire point of this exercise? Do it right away. You are no longer a public entity. Like Yerba Buena, you can hire your own police force and install 33 cameras to watch the property that is yours for decades.

2. Build a place for the Swells to party

This will necessitate destroying historic structures and infrastructure but you don't give a shit. The people who supported you expect hundreds of millions or billions in contracts for what they gave you. That means to destroy the beautiful and historic and build the ugly and inferior (see the DeYoung and Trans Bay Terminal). If you need more room to party, as in the library, remove a few million books to make room for open space for your private cocktail parties.

3. Create a slush fund to pay for your parties

You're a private corporation of some sort now and you're licensed to collect donations on behalf of the City and spend them as you see fit. That certainly means hosting parties for the Mayor and your patrons and nobody else.

4. Tighten control of the asset or authority by making certain the Mayor only appoints members of your circle into positions of power. Price and legislate the general public out.

5. Like, party hearty, dude

+ + +

Following is an admittedly partial list of public assets that have been either privatized outright already or are in the process at one of the 9 steps listed in Stage one:

1. The Zoo

2. The Modern and Asian art museums

3. The entire public library system

4. Yerba Buena Gardens

5. The Trans Bay Terminal

6. The Old Mint

7. All of the City's golf courses

8. All of the City's soccer fields

9. All of the City's marinas

10. All of the City's parking lots

11. The stables in Golden Gate Park

12. The Ocean Beach Chalet

13. The Cliff House

14. The cable TV system

15. The electrical power system

16. The City Wi-Fi system


18. The office of Mayor

It all starts with who holds the office of Mayor. Under Gavin Newsom, privatization has actually increased in pace. That's why it is so important for the citizens of San Francisco to elect a new mayor this November. Every single asset listed above was privatized to the detriment of the average citizen and it has been done by a group of around 200 of the richest people in San Francisco because they feel that they have to control absolutely everything.

Privatization and it's evil twin, gentrification, are sucking out the soul of the City. Above, in my 'search for patterns', I've outlined the factors in the real world that produced the points on the parabola we're studying. I'd say we can safely extrapolate and send troops to the following locations at which we might slow down the surge of the Swells.

1. This year's mayoral election - We need candidates opposed to privatization.

2. Privatization of the Municipal Golf Courses

3. Privatization of the stables in Golden Gate Park

4. Reconfiguration of marinas to accommodate larger yachts

5. City Wi-Fi system

6. Public access to SFGTV

Hey, I know things are worse than I'm describing but I'm only one drunken pot head. Above is the scheme and the pressure points. Pick a project and start googling and pressuring your local supe. The one certain thing is that the Mayor will not listen to you. Not this mayor, anyway.

Loving the rain?

h. brown is a 62 year-old keeper of sfbulldog.com, an eclectic site featuring a half dozen City Hall denizens. h is a former sailor, firefighter, teacher, nightclub owner, and a hard-living satirical muckraker. Email h at h@ludd.net.


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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