The machine - Page 3

Sup. Scott Wiener is relentless, driven, prolific — and changing San Francisco in sometimes alarming ways

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Scott Wiener follows Harvey Milk, Harry Britt, and Bevan Dufty representing a neighborhood that's changed profoundly.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY KEENEY + LAW PHOTOGRAPHY

Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City, puts it this way: "One thing he's really doing is reforms in the process of government. He wants to smooth the way for the transformation of the city."

While smoothing the way for change is good for those who desire certain changes — whether it be a developer building luxury condos or the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition trying to add more bike lanes — there are often good reasons why change occurs in a slow, methodical way in San Francisco, a city of great wealth and power but also lots of checks and balances on how power gets wielded.

"Process is important in San Francisco," Radulovich said. "For a lot of people that want to slow things down, they are very process focused, and he's really messing with that."

Wiener's efforts particularly rankle people like Aaron Peskin, who started as a historic preservation activist before leading a prolific agenda (he said he authored 205 ordinances in eight years, far faster than Wiener's pace) as a supervisor during the board's modern progressive era.

Peskin — who successfully ran against Wiener for DCCC chair in 2008 and has fought him on historic preservation and other progressive issues since then — doesn't mince words when describing Wiener's agenda and key votes as supervisor: "Supervisor Wiener is intent on turning the clock back on San Francisco's decades-long legacy of cutting edge legislation to protect consumers and the environment."

Radulovich says the trend is upsetting the city's balance in unpredictable ways. "The net result is he's speeding everything up, the good, the bad, and the ugly. He's taking the brakes off of change," Radulovich said. "In all of these changes, it's hard to tell what's going to happen because these are big, complex systems."

Wiener sees it differently. His bill to modify the city's CEQA interpretation would make it harder to file multiple project appeals — and he thinks that's a good thing: "There are people who want to the option to be oppositional and to just have something in their hip pocket, even if it has no merit."

Yet activists fighting the measure say it also makes it easier for projects to slide through without proper public or environment scrutiny. For example, the city originally exempted the controversial Beach Chalet artificial turf project in Golden Gate Park from doing an Environmental Impact Report, which eventually found significant impacts to wildlife, drainage, and from bright artificial lights.

There are some who worry that the Land Use Committee will be more friendly to market-rate developers under Wiener's leadership.

"I'm really concerned with the direction the city is going on land-use issues, particularly with him now chairing the Land Use Committee," Tom Temprano, president of the Harvey Milk Club, told me. "It's about the future of the city and who it's being built for."

Peter Cohen of the Council of Community Housing Organizations notes that Wiener's focus during "affordable housing" discussions has been on middle class homeowners: "I'm interested to see if he pushes that narrative, that we're not doing enough for the middle class, because it is a bit of a zero sum game with housing and land use."

Radulovich said Wiener may not be critical enough of projects that seek more than their zoning entitles them to, a growing problem in San Francisco that has set precedents for more intensive development and made it difficult to analyze cumulative impacts of the decisions: "Having a Land Use chair that going to move those things along will allow planning by exception."

Between watching out for Wiener's legislation and tracking the development projects that seem to keep springing out of nowhere, progressive activists are busy.