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A Lioness in Winter

By Jordanna Thigpen

August 14, 2006

On August 7, 2006, our City lost one of the mothers of modern politics.

Hon. Susan Bierman was a progressive supervisor. In these troubled times, "progressive" can mean many things. But Ms. Bierman was a true progressive, long before it was politically popular to be known as such, and when it really meant something.

As has been widely reported, Ms. Bierman spent 16 years on the Planning Commission after founding the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (still in existence today), and was then elected to the Board of Supervisors. Later, Mayor Newsom appointed her to the Port Commission. She was the only Port Commissioner to speak out against a proposed plan to change the format of the Port Commission, claiming "It's questioning our value and our experience, and I hope we can just keep working like we are."

Many people serve on the Board of Supervisors in their youth, and they bring energy, vision, and their special generational perspective to the office. Ms. Bierman was first elected to Supervisor at the age of 68 in 1992.

We have a large population of young people in the City, and it's important that young people continue to represent the City. But it would be interesting to see how the Board would change if a senior were elected in the present day. Seniors bring wisdom, institutional memory, and perspective that the young lack.

Ms. Bierman spent the majority of her political life in the City simultaneously fighting the expansion of the automobile, and making housing a planning priority. One of her first battles was the defeat of a plan to create a link between I-80 and I-280 at Golden Gate Park. Had this plan gone through, our City never would have recovered.

Later, as a Supervisor, she advocated for a resolution encouraging demolition of the Central Freeway, but unfortunately she could not carry the votes necessary to secure its passage. Certainly, had the resolution passed, and Caltrans cared enough about the Supervisors' policy statements to follow through, the Inner Mission would be a vastly different place. Perhaps we would have had green space (although come to think of it, we still could…it's been requested, right next to Zeitgeist as one potential site…calling all District 6 candidates…)

Some of Ms. Bierman's proposals met with apoplexy from the City's developers.

For example in 1999 she suggested a moratorium on new live-work projects in SoMa until the impact on the surrounding small business community could be studied. Unbelievably, a Chronicle article quoted then-current prices for live-work lofts at $135,000(!)-$450,000.

Today, live-work projects are still under scrutiny in SoMa, because it is alleged that some occupants are not fulfilling their duties under the zoning requirements. Additionally, a proposed Eastern Neighborhoods Rezoning in its current incarnation will eliminate scores of SoMa businesses and jobs for residents.

Ms. Bierman was the best kind of public servant because she was willing to stay true to her principles, without fear of retribution or toeing the party line. Some electeds have been known for playing the field or doing what is politically shrewd, rather than acting for the populace. Standing next to Ms. Bierman, these individuals shrink beneath her light.

Ms. Bierman was a compassionate lioness, if ever such a one existed: she fought for what was dear to her, and protected her own, for the greater good of the City.

Ms. Bierman, your heart was so big that it broke…Godspeed and the City will miss you!

District 6 resident Jordanna Thigpen is an attorney, small business owner and President of the San Francisco Small Business Commission. You can usually find her at work and she doesn't get to Ocean Beach often enough. Email Jordanna at jgthigpen@gmail.com.




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