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San Francisco Giant
Melissa Griffin | Photo: Timothy Archibald | February 13, 2013
Supervisor Scott Wiener isn't just City Hall's tallest tenant. He's also rapidly becoming its most effective lawmaker.
Not surprisingly, Wiener’s perceived impatience has earned the wrath of a good many local activists. One of them is Gary Virginia, an LGBT community organizer who, despite his denials so far, is on the short list of people likely to run against Wiener when he comes up for reelection in 2014. Virginia, who has clashed repeatedly with Wiener over condo conversions, public nudity, and the sit-lie law, lays out the most common accusation against the supervisor: “Over and over again, you get people who are blindsided by his legislation... The first time different perspectives have a chance to meet one another should not be at the Board of Supervisors with a room full of people and a spillover room watching it on TV.”
Exhibit A for Wiener detractors is what they see as his high-handedness in September 2011, when he bypassed meetings at the Historical Preservation Commission in proposing a law restricting the commission’s power. Radulovich chuckles when describing Wiener’s approach in this and other instances: “Throw everything in there, stir it up, and see what you can get accomplished.” What Wiener accomplished in this case was giving the Planning Commission some oversight over the HPC, which still enrages preservation activists.
That Wiener shoots first and aims later is a recurring complaint from his opponents. And the strategy isn’t always successful. When Wiener tried in December of last year to close a loophole that exempts huge nonprofits like hospitals and colleges from paying the transit impact fees to Muni that are required of commercial developers, nonprofits kicked into overdrive. Even entities far too small to be affected by the fee came out against it. Their chief complaint? Not enough dialogue. This despite the fact that Wiener had postponed the vote on the fees four times over three months to allow for more community feedback. Under the umbrella of a newly formed group called NOTT (Nonprofits Opposed to Transit Tax) that was associated with the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, the organizations managed to kill the legislation, but promised that they would consider paying such fees next year, when they would not be “caught by surprise.”
When I ask Wiener to respond to the notion that he doesn’t do enough outreach, not surprisingly, he disagrees. “First of all, that criticism is bogus,” he says, approaching something like passion for the first time in our conversation. “A lot of times when people say that there wasn’t enough outreach, it’s really their way of saying, ‘I don’t agree with this legislation.’ Rather than defend the fact that a mega-hospital or university campus doesn’t have to pay a penny in transit impact fees—because that is an indefensible position—they say, ‘Oh, you didn’t reach out.’” Wiener maintains that the legislation had been around for years and that the mayor’s office had already done plenty of outreach. He claims that he spent three months meeting with “scores of nonprofits,” but that, in the end, they just didn’t want to negotiate. “And that was that.”
Ending the dialogue—even repetitive, circular dialogue—can be a cardinal sin in the consensus-obsessed world of San Francisco politics. But even occasional Wiener detractors like Radulovich agree that the supervisor should be praised for refusing to feed this toxic vein of the local culture. “Some people,” Radulovich says, “expect superhuman amounts of outreach, and at some point, that’s just a delay tactic.”