Fault Lines: No need to preserve this plan 

The move this week to put a charter amendment on the November ballot to create a new Historic Preservation Commission in San Francisco overseeing historic buildings and landmarks seems like a great idea except for one reason: We don't need one.

That wasn't the case 10 years ago when then-Mayor Willie Brown’s handpicked planning commissioners were ignoring their own preservation guidelines during the bloated development phase of the dot-com boom on projects such as the architectural “re-use” of the old main library. At that time I argued for the need for a more powerful preservation board to protect historic buildings such as the library and the Shriner’s Hospital.

But those days are long past and most suggestions from the Landmarks Preservation Advisory Board breezes along at the commission level. The new proposed commission would essentially break that tie, making the agency an advisor to the Board of Supervisors — the last entity in the world we need to gum up the works.

There are numerous other reasons to balk at the amendment — the main one being the added layer of bureaucracy it would add to the renovation permit process. Ask any developer in town, large or small, and they will tell you nightmare stories about how difficult it is to get their projects pushed through the planning and permit process. If you think adding another layer of government is a good thing, you must not be from San Francisco.

One other sticking point is the makeup of the commission, which would consist of so-called experts — architects, historians and architectural historians. Tim Kelley, himself an architectural historian and the former president of the landmarks board, thinks making it a panel made up only of professionals in the field would be a major mistake.

“I don’t really believe that it should be exclusively from that professional pool,” he told me. “You need people on that board who are not part of the think tank. Preservation is a citizen’s thing as well.”

And one more curious thing about the proposal that came from board President Aaron Peskin, who is often seen as either an arch-preservationist or the biggest impediment to development in his North Beach district. It excludes its members from a paid compensation ban affecting most commissions — its members could essentially lobby for work with developers. Hard to believe that’s an idea worth preserving.

Messy politics are polluting The City’s water system

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is supposed to be an independent body making decisions on the Bay Area’s largest water supply system. So it was a sorry day when politics clogged up the spout.

The Board of Supervisors this week rejected a Hispanic activist for a spot on the panel because her nonprofit gets funding from PG&E, and then Richard Sklar, who used to head the agency and is by far the most knowledgeable person on the commission (and probably in its history) had to withdraw his name for consideration when it became certain that he wasn’t going to get the votes.

This whole charade began after Mayor Gavin Newsom fired SFPUC chief Susan Leal earlier this year (with cries of backstabbing on both sides) and the focal point on the board became a lesson in payback against Newsom from Leal’s supporters.

The SFPUC is far too important to be the backdrop for political games in San Francisco — the Peninsula gets most of its drinking water from the same source and its residents voted for the multibillion-dollar seismic retrofit of Hetch Hetchy. The petty squabbling at City Hall should never take precedent over the real purpose of the utilities commission — something not lost on state legislators who have contemplated taking control of the water system away from San Francisco for its often mindless politics.

The fact that some board members want to run our own power system is enough to make anyone reach for a drink.

Be kind to the hand that tickets your car

Officials at the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency on Thursday unveiled a campaign aiming to remind drivers to be nice to the people that give them parking tickets — which by the way, are going up, up, up. The goal, they say, is to get people to issue their protests in writing, not through hand-to-hand combat.

Might I suggest another strategy, like getting the parking-control officers to cut drivers a little slack? Readers tell me that with The City in a deep financial hole, our ticketing angels have really picked up the pace — and as shocking as it seems — they’re not always nice when they’re slipping that envelope under your windshield wiper.

Sure, it’s their job, but this is one case where it could be performed with a little less glee. That kind of personal touch just might make things a little less personal.

Helping to fill the environmental Gap

Is it possible that a giant corporation in San Francisco could do something that would be hailed as a good thing? Probably not, but at least state environmentalists are happy that the billionaire owners of Gap won a court victory to take over some of the state’s most treasured timber land.

A federal judge in Texas has awarded rights of Pacific Lumber’s 210,000 acres of soaring redwoods to Don and Doris Fisher, rejecting a bid from a group of bondholders. And the reason eco-warriors are giddy is because Fisher plans to keep the historic sawmill intact and running (as in jobs), while the bondholders were almost certain to sell the Humboldt County property piecemeal.

The newly named Mendocino Redwood Co. plans to harvest about 50 million board feet per year, about one-sixth the amount harvested 20 years ago, when Pacific Lumber became a target for environmentalists concerned about the forest being clear-cut. It would be hard to forget the days when Julia “Butterfly” Hill, above, was making a name for herself (not that she needed one) so lovingly engaged in the branches of her favorite redwood.

Maybe some people can actually see the forest through the trees.

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Ken Garcia

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Tuesday, Oct 13, 2015


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