OPINION The mainstream media talking heads like to claim that everything changed after Sept. 11. Like most of the slogans of the MSM, this is nonsense; events in Iraq continue to reveal just how stuck on pre Sept. 11 assumptions the current national political class remains. In that sense, Sept. 11 has changed nothing.
What will really change everything is the expanding awareness of global warming and of the central role played by the automobile in climate change. Yet as with all truly major changes, the politics of global warming lags behind the physical realities imposed by science. That's especially true at the local level, where large, important issues get translated into policy proposals and programs programs that people have to vote and pay for if the changes are going to occur.
Nobel Prizes and Academy Awards may demonstrate broad acceptance of the idea of global warming, but it is the passage of local policies and the allocation of local tax dollars that will or will not get Americans out of their cars and into a vastly improved, publicly financed transit system that is the necessary first step in reversing this nation's major contribution to the production of CO2.
The primary source of San Francisco's main greenhouse gas is the private automobile. Proposition A on the November ballot seeks to take the first, halting steps toward reducing CO2 emissions by giving transit-first policies some additional local funding and the city the policy power to limit new parking when it interferes with transit. Prop. A is not the gold standard of policy that will eradicate, with one vote, all greenhouse gases in San Francisco. There is no such single measure and even if there were, the politics around a dramatic reduction of that sort have yet to created. But Prop. A makes the clear connection between reducing dependence on cars and improving public transit a necessary building block in creating an urban politics around a solution to global warming that would unite local officials, rational developers, labor, transit advocates, environmentalists, and community residents into a single constituency for change.
But this is still the United States, where a majority of us seem to believe that the Constitution grants us the right to park no more than 30 feet from wherever we want to go. Enter billionaire Don Fisher, of child-labor fame, a true believer in the guarantee of private car use. He has placed Proposition H, which sounds like a sure winner, on the ballot, giving us what he thinks we want for free: parking, parking, parking. His measure would amend some 60 pages of the Planning Code and change, in one measure, public policy from transit first to cars first. He's betting that his money and his pro-parking values will strangle in its cradle the emerging politics of creating a majority for practical solutions to greenhouse gas production in urban America.
And he just might be right: the politics of global warming has yet to be created, while the politics of parking has long held sway in San Francisco. 2
Calvin Welch has been fighting for a better San Francisco since the 1960s.