Potholes, boozehounds and graffiti all stricken with fear in the wake of Newsom's speech

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By G.W. Schulz

Newsom proved during his State of the City speech yesterday at Burton High School in the Portola neighborhood that he's got all the skills in the world necessary to ... fill potholes. Look out world. Our fine-looking mayor has announced a sweeping new initiative to thoroughly repair the city's roads.

"Not just patchwork," he growled, as the utilities, seen regularly these days chopping up pavement across the city to mend the network of pipes underneath, trembled in fear.

With the guts of a grizzled marine, he challenged graffiti to a duel. Forging ahead with raw conviction, he fearlessly vowed to tackle busted sidewalks. And God-damn if it ain't tough findin' a cab in this city when you're wasted and the party's movin' from last call to a friend's apartment. That will change under the FDR-inspired, second-term platform of Gavin "the pulpit-pounding populist" Newsom.

San Francisco's burgeoning homicide rate will have to be upstaged for now until the apparent plague of homeless people drinking malt liquor at 7 am across the city can be wiped out completely. ("It is wrong for liquor stores to sell high-proof alcohol to certain individuals at 6 am in the morning ... But they legally can do that. That's got to stop.")

Of course, he's right that the city's utility providers should properly fix the black holes they leave behind. Small-business owners perhaps shouldn't have to spend so much time scrubbing acrylic paint from their exterior walls. Yeah, the taxi commission should get off its ass and get us up to speed with other major cities. And while we here at the Guardian like a stiff drink from time to time, we're not exactly cheerleaders for chronic inebriation.

But more than anything else, Newsom focused on the daily annoyances of living in the city. This stirring paragraph seemed to sum up the mayor's attitude quite well:

"How do we dare to dream big when our BMWs slam frustratingly into the potholes that dot Pac Heights! I have a dream that some day the suspension on our import cars won't require so much costly maintenance!"

Okay, that's not precisely what he said, but that's kinda what I was thinking as I watched him read from a teleprompter and wondered to myself exactly what I'd think if the mayor were dating my 21-year-old sister.

Here's what he actually said, and the precise version still reflects the over-arching theme of his speech:

"How do we dare to dream, while not forgetting to fill those potholes, clean our streets and parks, and address the small problems of urban life that make such a big difference in our quality of life?"

As we've oh-so hilariously pointed out here, Newsom committed much of his speech to qualify-of-life issues. But before we continue on like the smart asses that we are, perhaps we should point out a few things about the speech first.

Cecilia Vega's coverage of the speech in the Chronicle today was -- gulp -- pretty damn good. She noted right away that Newsom dwelled on clean streets and waited until close to the end of his time before confronting the city's escalating rate of violence. She quickly pointed out, too, that there's little doubt at this point Newsom will be running for reelection, despite attempts by the mayor earlier this week to suggest that he's on the fence about it. (Vega ran another good story on Tuesday, the tone of which strongly doubted Newsom had ever seriously reconsidered running for a second term.)

From Vega's story today:

"Noticeably absent from the crowd of top police and fire brass, city officials, department leaders and even the Democratic nominee for mayor of Washington, D.C., was the majority of the 11-member Board of Supervisors. Only five members were present. 'I was looking for a little more on the police issues, especially foot patrols,' (Sup. Tom) Ammiano said, referring to recently passed legislation that would require officers to patrol certain neighborhoods on foot. It awaits Newsom's signature to become law or a mayoral veto."

While the mayor's speech was top-heavy with quality-of-life platitudes, he sounded serious about a full overhaul of the MUNI transit system, and that, all-in-all, should be something for everyone to look forward to. He spent a lot of time on the issue, and said an 18-month study of the biggest problems crippling the system should be released next fall.

He wants to use the rider-heavy 1 California route as a pilot for reform ramping up the enforcement of double-parking rules that slow down the buses, expanding backdoor boarding, putting larger vehicles on express routes and broadening service hours.

From the speech:

"Certainly, in the past several years MUNI has made great strides. But fare hikes and budget cuts have taken their toll on riders and the system. And as any San Franciscan who has been late to work because the bus just didn’t come – or when it did it was too full to board, can tell you – we haven’t done enough to improve MUNI in a way that riders can see and feel."

Notably, however, it took the mayor 45 minutes to address the homicide rate, and even then, he didn't spend an enormous amount of time on the issue. He certainly didn't mention that his administration has been lukewarm at best on the issue of increased foot patrols proposed by Sup. Mirkarimi. The San Francisco Police Officer's Association doesn’t like the idea so much right now, and he's going to need their support during reelection. He certainly didn't announce the reasons why he opposed Chris Daly's violence prevention measure Prop. A during the primary election season. He focused, as usual, on hiring new cops.

And like much of the city lately -- including the press -- he didn't compare the homicide rate with the number of non-fatal shooting injuries, which would create a much clearer picture of how truly bad street-level violence is in San Francisco.

But in the spirit of not being perpetually pessimistic, he did promise to replace thousands of decrepit public-housing units despite massive federal cuts in the housing authority's budget -- a tall order, indeed, but an admirable one if he can actually pull it off.

"Too many of our Housing Authority projects are scars on the landscape of San Francisco. They were built in an era when the federal government was focused on temporary, cheap housing. They were dropped into isolated locations because the land was cheap and there was no neighborhood opposition. And they were built without reference to the underlying problems of poverty and unemployment – which caused people to need the housing in the first place.

"There is another terrible chapter in this story – and that is the shameful history of redevelopment across this country and in San Francisco. We did something terribly wrong when we tore down our historic neighborhoods and replaced them with housing projects that are historic mistakes. We displaced and drove out families. And we incurred a debt to the people of those destroyed neighborhoods that has yet to be repaid. I can tell you right now – we are going to repay that debt – starting with restoring each of these housing projects to something much better than the original construction and something better than what was destroyed ... Right now these projects are not just some of the worst places to live. They are in some of the most isolated communities, far from jobs, services, and even the simple things like a supermarket or pharmacy. And ironically, they are also in some of the least dense areas of our city.
"We can use that accident of history to repair the damage caused by these projects. Because within the footprint of these projects is the space to replace each and every Housing Authority unit. But that’s just for starters. Our plan includes adding ground floor retail, new jobs and services ... adding units that can be rented by low income San Franciscans ... adding units that are market rate. And creating new homes for sale. The goal is to leave the city with better neighborhoods, more housing, and finally – a clean conscience when it comes to the terrible history of neglect in public housing."

That entire excerpt was among the most genuinely moving in his speech. But whether or not a second term could prove his capacity to transcend press releases remains to be seen.

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