With P. J. Corkery - Guy in a jam at City Hall

With P. J. Corkery

Guy in a jam at City Hall

Wednesday, October 22, 2003
Aaron Peskin, a snappy enough fellow, fun to know, quick with a quip,
eager to encourage, and a rising politician of the new philosophical
school, recently got himself into a jam. Seems he was part of an effort
that used some Old School tricks ... gosh, these tricks could get you
sent to Reform School ... to help some busybodies on Tellygraft Hill, as
it was called, show the world that they and they alone are the only law
west of Prescott Ct., ... your Constitution, Rule of Law, and Democratic
Ideal be damned. So I went to the Bd of Supes yesterday to see if he'd
work himself out of it.

I used to think that the old gang that hung out afternoons at the Dovre
Club trying to figure out how to raid the Bonding Capacity of the City &
County by constantly coming out with ever more weird but lovely sounding
Propositions that seemingly would create some wonderful Public Good, but
which primarily would benefit their own pockets via contracts and gigs,
gamed the people of San Francisco like no others. But they at least
would build something, put some people to work. And you knew you were
being had.

But the busybody Beachheads, in the course of a seven hour Bd of Supes
meeting yesterday in which more than 75 people spoke, -- including
charming children, the elderly infirm, an array of unparseable
bureaucrats, soccer coaches, poets, builders, number crunchers,
airheads, architects, lawyers, the merely befuddled -- pushed back the
frontier of sheer audacity. It's now out beyond the far Farallons.

On the one side of the issue, you have the fact that the owners of a
small property, having gone through the long process of gaining planning
permission for a lot of land off Columbus Avenue, found themselves last
month suddenly facing seizure of their land by The City via eminent
domain. The landowners had less than four hours notice of the impending
action against them, and then were told they would have only two minutes
to speak. That, by the way, is how Aaron came in. He was the sponsor of
the eminent domain decree, proposing it on behalf of the Tellygraft Hill

And this is also where the audacity came in. You see, the proponents of
this eminent domain seizure - having snuck it through various City
agencies without so much as a public hearing - say their gaming of due
process is coolio because it is in aid of creating a park! A park!
Brilliant. Never mind that the lot of land is so small that it would fit
twice inside the Supervisors' Legislative Chamber, and is isolated
between three busy streets. The seizure is for a park! Who could be
against a park? Well, now I think that if someone mentions that the
reason she or he wants you to sign a petition or speak up at a meeting
is because they want The City to build a park, you should reach for your
mother wit and cover your wallet. A scam is at hand. A park! Brilliant!

What was Mark Twain's marvelous line from that episode in The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn where con men are planning a grift? "How can we
lose?" says one, "Hain't we got all the fools in town on our side? And
ain't that a big enough majority in any town?"

If you want to seize something in San Francisco, just say it's for a
park - no matter how addled the proposition is. The majority will come
running to support you. No matter how corrupt the process is. No matter
how badly you will ride over the law. Just say it's for a park.

So for six-plus hours yesterday, at the rescheduled and at last
publicized eminent domain hearing, people urged the creation of a park
on the triangular lot. Representatives of the Rec & Park Dept - talk
about backpedaling - who had no plan, and who had told the owners that
The City had no interest in their land, came up with all sorts of feints
to suggest they had been interested all along. Not persuasive.
Shameful tactics were resorted to. The name of Joe DiMaggio was invoked
by the proponents. Leaflets were passed around suggesting the
acquisition was actually an expansion of the dilapidated park across the
way named in Joe's honor. But the record showed otherwise.
So what is it really all about? Power. The power of a neighborhood
association - the equivalent of Political Commissars in the

That's really it.

They had no plan, they had just an appetite and they used friendly
bureaucrats, and the honest love of San Franciscans for parkland as an
excuse to toboggan ride through due process. In the course of their
actions, they broke Sunshine laws, the Open Meeting Act, and wrapped
themselves in a green flag. But they were about to show who's boss.

Peskin's an obliging fellow. He has many friends and indeed a family
member, his wife, in the association behind the land/power grab. And he,
like most politicians, likes power. And deals. That's what makes him
likeable and approachable. But he got carried away in this one: aiding
secret meetings to seize property.

How would he get out of this jam? At first he seemed determined to
brazen it out, insist all was on the level. He led the floor fight for
the cause for many hours, answering questions, quizzing opponents,
comforting his wounded cohorts in Rec & Park. He made a final speech,
full of cause and flourishes, and then suddenly it seemed he went to
pieces. He stopped his oration. Then he said to the crowd, still heavy
after ten p.m. and six hours of speakers, "I haven't the votes." He
repeated it: "I haven't the votes."
His supporters seemed stunned and confused that he would abandon the
rhetoric and speak an unpleasant home truth. But I was proud of him. He
was thinking, at last, like a real politician. He moved the motion for
the up-or-down vote to be postponed. The motion carried by a 7-to-4
vote. And I don't think any of the four wanted the up-or-down last night
because they wanted to vote for the eminent domain seizure.

Now the seizure advocates will make some attempt in the four or five
weeks until the next meeting to fix up the offensive record and put a
good face on it. And there will be another effort by some other
supervisors, sensing that this really stinks, to ease away by turning
this into an occasion to reform the shocking system by which land - in
this city where it usually takes ten years and ten hundred public
hearings to put up a statue - statutorily can be taken from people with
four hours notice and two minutes to speak. That's laudable.

But just as Italian parsley still sprouts along Edgardo Place on
Tellygraft Hill after a heavy storm, some bitter herbs will grow on the
Hill's political places now. ... Gosh, that was a long meeting. Intense.
A heavy storm. ...

Tip off P.J.at <mailto:pj@…> pj@pjsf.com