WITH JORDANNA THIGPEN
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
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
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
been requested, right next to Zeitgeist as one potential site
all District 6 candidates
Some of Ms. Bierman's proposals met with apoplexy from the City's
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
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 email@example.com.