Anniversary Issue: A city transformed - Page 2

Fighting the power structure, and building a sustainable community, for 42 amazing years

What about your job — where does your paycheck come from, and where does it go?

How do those factors affect how you live — and how well you live — in San Francisco?

The thing is, you probably don't know. And what you don't know is hurting you.

Because a truly sustainable city isn't just an environmental notion, and a sustainable urban policy isn't just about planting gardens in front of City Hall. It's about defining — and changing — the way we think about the economy, politics, business, and the local power structure.

That's been part of the Guardian's mission for 42 years.

When you talk to progressive economists these days (and yeah, there are a few) and people who think about building sustainable local economies (and there are a growing number of them), they say three things:

Cities have to think about how to become more self-sufficient, how to provide locally things that we once imported, how to use local resources to create new jobs and economic activity. Those new jobs and sustainable practices are most likely to come from locally owned, independent businesses. And — particularly these days — the public sector has to play a major role.

That's what the stories in this anniversary issue are about. A sustainable economy means encouraging start-ups and innovation, using public financing resources, and avoiding a reliance on big chains and giant corporations. A sustainable transportation and land-use policy means building neighborhoods with housing for diverse income groups and cutting down on cars and making the city a better, safer place to walk and bike. A sustainable energy policy means locally controlled renewable generation, not a monster private utility that ferries in nuclear and fossil-fuel power from out of town. Sustainable food means using community agriculture, right here in town.

It's surprising how simple that sounds — and how politically difficult it is to implement.

See, in San Francisco — this great liberal city — policy decisions are still controlled to a stunning extent by a small group of powerful people who were never elected to anything. You can see how it looks this year by following the money chart we ran in the last issue. It showed how five downtown organizations have been raising and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to take control of the Board of Supervisors.

Or look at Proposition H, the Clean Energy Act on the November ballot. Prop. H is a prescription for sustainable energy; the measure would not only set aggressive goals for renewables, it would shift control of the city's energy agenda away from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and give it to the people of San Francisco.

Big private energy companies may spend a lot of money on "green" advertising, but they never have, and never will, take the steps needed to create a sustainable system. Because that would mean undercutting their profits and limiting their growth.

A sustainable energy system would use much less electricity and import almost none. It would operate with thousands of small, distributed generation facilities, like solar panels on roofs. And power from the sun and wind is free. That doesn't work for a giant profit-hungry utility; it works great for a community-based system.

So where is Newsom, who likes to call himself a green mayor? He's against it. Where are the business leaders in town? Standing with PG&E. Where is the power structure? Fighting to prevent a sustainable energy future for San Francisco.

And the big chain-owned daily newspaper is right there with them.

There aren't many locally-owned independent newspapers left in America. Even the alternative press has become chain-happy. In Boston, New York, Washington, Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles ...

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