KQED anchor Joshua Johnson, an ace web surfer, pointed me to this must-have in any connoiseur of city government's collection: The complete seven-hour director's cut video of last week's Rec and Park Commission meeting.
This SF Examiner column by Melissa Griffin trumpets the event, which features a quintessentially San Franciscan public-comment period.
...during general public comment, a woman named Linda walked up to the podium and carefully placed a large reindeer made of balloons on the ledge beside her left shoulder. Did I mention she was dressed as a clown? She was. First speaking in rhyming couplets, then in word cloud, Linda explained that she has traveled the world as a street performer and was upset that recently she was prevented from plying her tumescent trade in Union Square. (Linda seemed to be operating under the misapprehension that Union Square is managed by the Recreation and Park Department. It is not.)
(To watch that bit, fast forward to 14:00 of the video.)
It's true, in some ways, the public-comment period is reminiscent of that recurring Saturday Night Live skit in which a motley assortment of lunatics interrupts the proceedings at a funeral in order to make highly inappropriate announcements:
However, along with the pet peeves and hyper-local gadfly gripes, the Examiner column lumps in the concerns of those who oppose contentious proposals like the eviction of the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council Recycling Center in favor of a community garden. (Skip to around 2:20 in the video to watch the beginning of that debate.)
Whether you view these types of proceedings as a sort of grotesque NIMBYism-on-parade, or the height of open-government participation as practiced by an informed citizenry, really depends on your vision of the city. There are certainly those who feel that the strong anti-development instincts of many San Franciscans has degenerated into a reflexive and obstinate opposition to any new project or attempt at economic development. But there are also those who continue to believe that only this type of heightened vigilance can keep deleterious monied forces at bay.
I've lived in the city 20 years, but only recently have I found these debates to be a primary topic of conversation. This year's brouhahas over both the runaway success of Ike's Place and the proposed opening of Whole Foods in the Castro, and the aborted plan to license a Blue Bottle coffee trailer in Dolores Park, have tested some longtime lefties' tolerance and support for neighborhood activism. (The Blue Bottle incident, in particular, seems to have triggered a big debate after the fact.)
While I may have my opinion yes-or-no on individual projects, I have to say that I generally like living in a city in which proposed changes are the subject of rigorous debate. Every time I go back to Manhattan, where I grew up, it's like entire areas have been transformed in the blink of an eye. I don't know what the planning process is like on a neighborhood level -- or even if there is one -- but when I lived there I don't think I ever heard a single conversation about the cost or benefit of something opening or closing in advance of it actually happening. Thus, a few years ago, you had I think three Starbucks on Astor Place all within sighting distance of each other.
You'd never see that kind of thing here. But still, a seven-plus hour Rec and Park meeting... Sometimes, ya gotta let go a little bit...