Friday, May 12, 2006

Whither San Francisco?

When I first announced that I was moving to San Francisco a year ago, there were several different reactions; however, the general one was something to the effect of, "Have you lost your marbles?"

With GayPatriot's announcement of yesterday that he was headed this way, regular commentor Michigan-Matt put into words what it seems many conservatives think about the Peoples' Republic.

Visiting SF has always been a dilemma for this gay Republican –no, a real dilemma (Dan). I see the kind of hostility the leadership of SF has toward our military, toward conservatism, toward mainstream American values and wonder how thinking people ever let SF get this bad. When I go there, I see chaos in the public transit, disdain for tourists, dirt in the streets, and reminders everywhere that the city is a testament to dysfunctional governance –and yet it continues! The nonsense about making a political statement against war, against American military history in favor of anti-imperialistic principles underscores how far SF has fallen into the abyss of decay. Why spend a dime there helping to indirectly prop-up the failure?

From a distance, the city is beautiful –on a rare sunny day, something akin to RR’s shining city on the hill. But when I get there, tranverse the city, open the newspaper, listen to the news… it is so depressing that something with such potential is allowed to wallow in inferiority and neglect and failed vision. Is civic pride in such short supply?

After living here for a few months, I can say that Matt's characterization is to a great deal correct. Day-to-day operations and activity in The City are a crazy-quilt mess, driven by identity politics and a schizophrenic tendency to champion "individual rights" while enacting even harsher regulations ("Let's ban smoking indoors AND outdoors!"). If another large enough earthquake comes, The City will be leveled -- and if you thought New Orleans's response to Katrina was disorganized, you haven't seen anything yet.

What keeps this city alive, though, is twofold -- its sinews and the people who live in it.

The 1906 earthquake, while it for all intents and purposes leveled the city, also provided the impetus to start over and fix what local leaders already knew to be broken. Out went the corrupt Gilded Age politicos, and in came the progressive leaders like Mayor "Sunny Jim" Rolph and City Engineer M.M. O'Shaughnessy. Over the next three decades, these leaders constructed on the blank canvas of the ruined city a stupendous and colossal infrastructure -- the Muni railway network, the Hetch Hetchy water and hydropower complexes and systems, the advanced sewers -- that not only met the needs of the time, but looked forward to the future, aided by the fact that geography prevents San Francisco from growing beyond a clearly-defined set of parameters. By and large, the systems that make the city of 2006 function were completed over 70 years ago and are still fully operational today.

In addition, San Francisco is a cash cow, just by virtue of where it is. Face it, we're gorgeous, and we know it. Tourism is the number-one industry in the city -- not just tourists from the US, but people from around the world, who come by the millions to see Fisherman's Wharf, shop at Ghirardelli Square, and watch the sunset from the Golden Gate. As the real-estate mavens go, location is everything, and San Fran has it in spades.

However, because of this embarras de richesse of inherited wealth, San Francisco has become the Paris Hilton of cities -- spoiled, self-centered, and clueless. Because the infrastructure systems work so well, city politicos have felt free to divert the money that would ordinarily be earmarked for their maintenance and improvement into pet baubles -- or, more precisely, influence-buying among special-interest groups. Furthermore, like Ms. Hilton, dear S. Fran, under the influence of the low-oxygen atmosphere in City Hall, is under the delusion that people love her for her political posturing, not for her body -- so she feels free to demand impeachment of the President while her chest and shapely rump fill up with human and other flotsam and jetsam.

It is obvious to almost every resident of The City that San Francisco exists by the grace of the San Andreas and Hayward faults -- and if either of those stop liking us, San Francisco may be red-tagged for the better part of a half-century. But by and large, we residents of "The City That Knows How" have learned to treat our politicians and byzantine legal codes as we do the hills -- as the interminable price we pay of living in one of the most unique, scenic, and vibrant areas in the world.

For me, sure, I could do without the daily sense of exasperation I get from reading the Chronicle and Examiner, as well as seeing the tangle of signs and fouled-up construction, the rampant and endemic homelessness and dirt, and the protestors walking up and down the street who have never known hardship greater than losing the soles on their favorite Birkenstocks.

But the grandeur of the fog blowing over Twin Peaks.....the sunlight on the Pacific and the Golden Gate from Land's End.....rows after rows of stately, beautiful Painted Ladies on my drive to the gym....and the sense as I walk down Castro and up 24th Street of being here, of being part of such a fusion of natural and manmade wonders.....those make living here all worthwhile.

Hugs to you, San Francisco.

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