A couple of decades ago, the American Civil Liberties Union sued San Francisco over the cross on Mount Davidson. The issue was pretty simple a religious symbol on public land but the furor was insane: critics attacked the ACLU up, down, and sideways and acted as if the separation of church and state was some form of blasphemy.
Yes: even in this tolerant, secular city, people get amazingly bent out of shape over this stuff. In fact, when I called Mission Police Station this week and asked why churches are allowed to use the middle of Guerrero Street for free parking on Sundays, Sgt. Larry Gray tried to talk me down.
"Tim, Tim, you don't want to go up this tree," Gray, who is a charming and funny man, told me.
Sorry, Sarge, but I'm going there.
See, if you live in the Mission, it's pretty hard to ignore. Double parking and parking in the medians is strictly illegal, and people get stiff tickets for it except on Sunday morning, when churchgoers get a complete pass.
The churches don't have to get permits or pay the city a fee or anything. According to Gray, there really aren't any rules. The cops just look the other way.
"It's a San Francisco tradition that goes back a hundred years," Gray told me. "They used to do the same thing with horses and buggies."
I know, I know, tradition and all. Last Sunday was Easter, for Christ's sake, and I ought to give the believers a break. And on one level, it's not that big a deal at all. The streets are still passable, mostly, although it's a little more dicey for bikes and cars to coexist on a narrower strip of pavement. Traffic isn't a big deal on Sundays (mostly), and if it is, people shouldn't be driving so much anyway.
But nobody else gets to do this.
If you go to see the (secular) Mime Troupe in Dolores Park and you stick your car in the middle of the street, you get a ticket. If you drink at a (secular) bar or eat at a (secular) restaurant and you leave your car in the Valencia Street median, you get cited. You can't double park while you run in for a (secular) cup of coffee at Muddy Waters.
So, with all due apologies to Sgt. Gray and the good people of faith, I have to ask again: Why do the churches get something nobody that else does? Am I the only one who thinks this is a bit sketchy?
I continue to get calls from people who are furious about the state's plan to spray chemical pheromones from helicopters over San Francisco in August as a way to wipe out the Light Brown Apple Moth. Assemblymember Mark Leno and state Senator Carole Migden both are fighting it. Mayor Gavin Newsom wrote the governor this week to urge a health study before the spraying starts.
An environmental impact report is underway, but the state and the feds are calling this an emergency (the LBAM damages crops) and they're planning to go forward no matter what.
I fear the only way to stop this is in court, with a challenge to the EIR its timing, validity, the emergency declaration, etc. City Attorney Dennis Herrera ought to take this on. Thousands of people with young kids in the path of the spray would be immensely grateful.
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