On Guard - Page 2

Our perspective on the most important San Francisco news this week

Is the death chamber at San Quentin headed for extinction? Maybe.

Yet when the Guardian asked SFMTA chief Ed Reiskin in a recent interview to address these concerns, Reiskin responded as if this assessment was news to him. "I'm not sure what the discrepancies are that you're talking about," he said. "We have a lot more people who are going to be living along that corridor, and as you know with the Stockton bus we're beyond capacity. So if it were going to cost $15 million more — which I don't believe is correct — this is investment that we need to make." (Rebecca Bowe)



The state of Georgia killed a man who is quite possibly innocent last week, pushing the debate over the death penalty back onto the front pages. Well, some front pages — the execution of Troy Davis made page one of the New York Times, but was buried inside the San Francisco Chronicle.

Which is odd, because here in San Francisco, the death penalty is moderately big news: Nearly all of the candidates for district attorney are proclaiming how immoral, expensive, and ineffective it is.

In fact, if the change in attitude among San Francisco prosecutors in any indication, public sentiment on ending the barbaric practice may be shifting in the right direction.

Consider this: In 1999, three major candidates sought the office of D.A.: Former Supervisor (and defense lawyer) Terence Hallinan, veteran prosecutor Bill Fazio and Deputy Public Defender Matt Gonzalez. Hallinan was a death penalty foe, but was pretty quiet about it; he and Fazio wound up in a runoff, and Fazio asked Gonzalez to endorse him. Gonzalez told us he asked Fazio one question: Will you promise never to seek the death penalty? Fazio hemmed and hawed, but refused to make that promise. Hallinan won.

Today, candidate David Onek has made opposition to executions a centerpiece of his campaign. Fazio is loudly proclaiming his opposition to the death penalty. So is incumbent and former Police Chief George Gascon, who told us that he will never file capital charges (not even in the case of the murder of a police officer) and wants the death penalty repealed.

Maybe were getting somewhere. (Tim Redmond)



During the debate earlier this year over giving big tax breaks to Twitter and other companies that create jobs in the Mid-Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods — an initiative pushed primarily by Mayor Ed Lee, his Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and Sups. David Chiu and Jane Kim — critics called the deal a wasteful giveaway that mostly benefited commercial landlords and rich corporations.

Not so, said advocates of the deal, touting the community benefits agreements (CBAs) that Twitter and other companies would be forced to enter into. They said it was all about keeping Twitter in town and eliminating the vacant storefronts in the Mid-Market area. And when City Economist Ted Egan said creating a punitive fee on vacant commercial properties would be more effective at that goal than tax breaks, Kim announced her intent to carry that legislation.

Later, Sup. David Campos — who voted against the Twitter deal, along with Sups. John Avalos and Ross Mirkarimi — also endorsed the idea and said he wanted to help Kim move it forward.

There were meetings and reports on the legislation, including a 15-page analysis by the Budget and Legislative Analyst's Office in June that looked at how other cities have similar ordinances and how it would work here. It estimated that charging the owners of vacant commercial buildings (there are at least 77 in San Francisco, half of them owned by banks) could raise about $1.8 million per year (or as much as $17 million if we used Washington DC's model of very steep fines), in addition to encouraging the owners to fill the buildings with tenants.