San Francisco Summer Notes

First off let me say that if you’ve recently discovered this blog, or had some reason to go back through my older entries (it starts back in 2004) during the past year and a half or so, I apologize for all the lost photos and truncated entries that were littering it. I had no idea! So having noticed recently that I had 1,100 broken links, probably over 1000 of them photos that were no longer showing up (due to moving the blog from one host to another a while back), I finally spent the requisite dozens of hours to fix it.

The blog is fixed! All the beautiful photos are back! All the writing is complete! Check it out! (If you’re especially fond of photo-rich entries, they really get going in 2006 and keep gaining ground from then.)

Second day of our first heat wave all summer. It says it’s 90 degrees out there! I went up to the top of Twin Peaks yesterday around 5 pm, first time in weeks that I could even see it for more than a half hour at midday. The fog has been relentless (on the bright side, it’s free air conditioning all summer!). Here’s a few shots, two from Twin Peaks, and one from the freeway as we returned from a trip to Kings Canyon a week ago, with the big fog hanging over the City.

The late afternoon light really makes San Bruno Mountain look great, and it was so clear that Montara Mountain behind it in the distance stood out too!

The fog has hung over us all summer! This view from east of the Bay Bridge, across the Port of Oakland towards SF.

I’ve mostly been at home all summer, working on FoundSF and also the new book that’ll come out next spring with City Lights. Here’s the cover:

I’ve also been having a blast working on the 2nd edition of Vanished Waters for the Mission Creek Conservancy. I got to meet a lot of stakeholders for an updated chapter at the end of the book that they commissioned me to write, and my sense of that part of town and the larger dynamics of urban growth, redevelopment, planning, etc., have all gained greater nuance from these discussions.

I’m going to do separate posts on a couple of fun things we did this month, one was going to Kings Canyon and the other was taking a ride on the Alma down the southeastern shoreline of San Francisco. Tons of great photos from both of those trips”¦

But here in town there are a couple of things that went down during the past few weeks to comment on. One, the “Fix Fell” protests, are ongoing. The 2nd annual Street Cart Food Festival happened, right outside my front door!

First, Fell Street:

A new group emerged in the wake of the Gulf oil spill to mount a protest at the hazardous spot by the BP/ARCO cheap gas station at Fell and Divisadero where the bike lane connecting the Wiggle to the Panhandle passes by. Over two months they’ve showed up every Friday to block the entry driveways that cause motorists to double park in the bike lane while they wait to buy gas. Very symbolic and a logical place to register outrage at the nightmare of the Gulf Oil Spill while also insisting on changing local transit patterns to promote cycling at the expense of auto-driving. Weekly protests, arrests, and a slowly growing campaign have already produced a new green-painted lane which has made it somewhat better. But the demands have grown now, and the protesters insist on closing the curb cuts permanently on Fell, and putting in a dedicated, separate bikeway (on Fell, which is basically the surface freeway going from east to west) to connect the heavily used Wiggle route through the lower Haight with the delightfully safe and green Panhandle. Here’s a few shots from last Friday’s action:

Seems like no problem with there's no cars...

I turned out at the beginning of this and had to leave after about an hour. As you can tell if you sit through the 10-minute video, it took many hours to complete this particular protest, ending with a bunch of fire department personnel sawing off u-locks from protesters necks. I’m not personally attracted to this kind of tactic. The time it takes, the legal bills, the burnout, all seem like major impediments to me. And that’s the larger message of this culture. If it’s not convenient, fuggeddaboutit”¦ So these guys are engaged in a series of actions that are inconvenient for all concerned, the participants as well as the city’s resources. Raising the costs this way has historically brought a response, so time will tell if the more thorough-going vision of a transformed Fell Street will be achieved under this pressure. I hope so!

Me and Hugh doing our duty!

Here is the just released minimum program by Fix Fell:

In the short term, the minimum the city must do is the following:

-close motor vehicle access to/ from Scott St. at Fell to eliminate danger from speeding cars down the hill and left turning conflict.   Allow full permeability for people on foot and bicycle.

-remove approx 36 parking spaces along the south side of Fell St. between Scott and Baker to provide safe, separated space for bicycle circulation.  If local n’hood opposition is an issue, investigate use of DMV lot for residents in evenings to compensate.

-DPW take action to revoke Fell St. driveway permits to both the 76 and Arco stations based on documented safety impacts- both businesses would retain an ingress and egress on Divisadero

-prohibit left turns from Fell St. onto Divisadero or provide separate signal phase

-Undertake turn volume and safety studies to determine potential conflicts between tow company and supermarket parking entrances and bicycle circulation.  Shut these entrances if minimum safety standards are not met

-Prohibit left turns onto Baker, or install separate phase

-construct an attractive, two way bikeway on the south side of Fell St. between Scott and Baker, with possible extension along Panhandle to GGP, buffered with landscaping.

We hope you will give us feedback on this platform, and support these efforts by contacting the Mayor and your supervisor, and getting involved with our ongoing protests!

Ride safe out there and take the lane!

I’m in discussion with some of these guys, and others, and want to figure out some other tactical approach. Not just for this issue of one gas station at one intersection, but as a way of attacking a culture that chooses to murder 40,000-50,000 people annually as a “natural” and “normal” outcome of the transportation choices made by planners, bureaucrats and Americans who are religiously and fanatically attached to their cars. To say nothing of the cancer epidemic that we’re living in, mostly resulting from environmental pollution and toxic exposures, often also related to the auto and oil industries. The strategic goal of altering the streetscape of this near-freeway is a fine target. It’s a crucial piece of the de facto east-west bike corridor and we should be able to reorient it to maximize the safety and convenience of bicyclists, which ultimately would not cause any great hardship to motorists anyway!

But as usual, I’m dismayed by this campaign too. I don’t think political efforts driven by moral outrage appeal to people who don’t already share the same values. I don’t share the palpable sense of urgency that these guys put out. As noted above, tens of thousands of people die each year on the highways and streets of North America. Many thousands more planet-wide. The structural imperatives that keep the system running, no matter how many (human) bumps are in the road, are far deeper and more intractable than a moral campaign can excise. So the protesters are not wrong, and their demands are perfectly reasonable. But the larger question of political agency, mobilization, and vision, are not adequately addressed here. One of the participants responded to this line of thinking by arguing that the answer was to have more people participate in the blockades. If 500 or 1000 people did it instead of 5-10 or 20, it would be more effective. Well, sure. But why aren’t these tactics attracting those larger crowds? Just saying they *ought to* doesn’t solve the problem.

In fact, the tactics and style chosen largely reinforce a kind of neo-Christian sacrificialism that I abhor, and cannot participate in. Some might say I’m just chicken, I just don’t want to be arrested, I don’t want to take any risks. Yes and no. I’m not afraid, but I don’t think my getting arrested is an effective tactic for the strategic goals that I have. Besides, it is demonstrably a waste of time and money to get tangled up in the legal system. But my own reticence, as someone who has engaged in many kinds of political action over decades, probably highlights something that other people who are less inclined towards political action feel even more strongly. I don’t feel excited or hopeful by the thought of participating in this. I feel small and powerless and kind of dumb actually. I want to participate in things that are unpredictable, that open space up, that generate excitement because they’re changing life already. That’s a tall order, to be sure. But these kinds of forms, whether picket lines, sit-ins, nonviolent civil disobedience, etc., are all extremely well-known and tired forms that have been used time and again. The system is at ease with them, and has a well established system of managing them.

I’m not claiming to have a box of new tactics to replace them with. For that reason I turned up as a body to hold a sign for a while on Friday night. But I didn’t love doing it, and found myself leaving long before it got “hot.” In any case, I am a strong supporter of a radically redesigned Fell Street. In fact, I’ve been a proponent of a “City of Panhandles” (crisscrossing dedicated bikeways, at least three each going north-south, east-west, and a couple of diagonals) for more than 20 years!

OK, the other topic of today is the Street Food Cart Festival that was held by La Cocina, a neighboring organization a block from where I live on Folsom Street in the Mission. It was fun to step out my front door and find this massive fair going on, with thousands of people gnoshing on all sorts of delectable foods. The festival benefits La Cocina, whose mission is to help poor and unsupported people, mostly women, to start their own food businesses. They incubate the effort, give them training in various aspects of running a small food business, help them with branding and licensing and all that, and they also maintain a beautiful industrial kitchen for all the various start-ups to use while they’re getting going. We used the kitchen for one of our Feasts a few years back.

The view from my front doorstep.

Anyway, it was a madhouse again, even though they expanded the space by a half dozen blocks. Must’ve been 40,000 people during the day, and there was sure a whole lot of eating going on! It’s a lovely re-use of public space. Compared to the struggle over the Fell Street Traffic Sewer, here we had an often busy Folsom Street closed for the day, filled with dozens of booths and thousands of people, hanging out, talking, sharing bites, making a public space out of what’s usually a thoroughfare. What a delightful phenomenon! Why can’t we close some streets and do this permanently? I hope we’re heading in that direction! (Oddly, a lot of the vendors are fancy local restaurants who I guess as a benefit to La Cocina, turn out and kind of “slum it” for a day, selling some of their gourmet goodies for $3-8 as street food”¦) Here’s a whole bunch of folks hanging out with each other and getting the food into their mouths!

By the end, it all ends up like this:

3 comments to San Francisco Summer Notes

  • Hooray! For large street festivals in, e.g., Munich, they only provide washable plates, beer mugs etc (with a deposit). Result: Almost no trash. A lot of water gets used (can probably be recycled) and regarding job loss or gain I would guess that the washing staff is similar in number to the group who would clean up during and afterwards. More water, less trash and related transportation…. someone needs to do a study.

  • Hi Chris,
    Thanks for your reasonable criticism of our tactics. While I don’t agree with you, I appreciate that you are offering your point of view in a nice way, and not attacking us or working against us. Not that I would expect it of you – it is just a nice contrast to some others who haven’t agreed with our tactics.
    – Stu

  • Martin

    Fascinating and essential – the kind of street-level reporting and honest contemplation that is the largely unfilled promise of the Web.
    I agree with so much of what you say – but forlorn sign-holding is just to certify geekhood. And as one excellent report from college youth who participated in the G-20  wrote in an anarchist newsletter, the transported-in cops begged them to do more – the heavily armored cops received great overtime pay and got play paintball games, to boot.
    Protests that end up harassing and pissing-off regular nobodies are targeting fellow victims. The powers-that be are far, far above the fray, so why take justifiable anger out on anonymous folk? The most defensible protests are the ones that directly target, within the law, the actual and operating masters of the universe – some group (actually extremely well-organized and deep) has trucked in hundreds to sit outside vetted and contacted corporate unindicted criminals around the theme of economic warfare – hats off to them.
    As you say, why bait the system into giving you a record? Knowing what I know about the state’s powers to economically devastate and continually fine and demand fealty from any person with a record (no record, but knowledge of prisons), I would recommend no one get a record of any kind. As a brilliant article in Rolling Stone about a hacker covered, going against the laws and regulations of the land mean going so far underground.

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