Thursday, December 5, 2013

#339 / Retail Politics

Art Agnos (pictured) is a former Mayor of San Francisco. Most recently, he led a citizen effort to stop what he and other opponents called a "Wall on the Waterfront." 

A major high-rise development was proposed in San Francisco, along the Embarcadero, and Agnos and his allies defeated it at the polls. The development would have resulted in spectacular housing for those who can afford condominium apartments with prices at around $15 million dollars or more. The majority of the voters didn't, apparently, identify with the public benefits of that sort of new construction. 

An article in the November 23, 2013 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle discussed Agnos' continuing efforts to preserve the Embarcadero area from overdevelopment - and specifically from the kind of development that tends to dedicate public spaces to those with the highest incomes. 

Agnos' newest battle is against a proposed arena for the Golden State Warriors. The arena would be on the Bay side of the Embarcadero, blocking Bay views, and would fundamentally change the character of the San Francisco waterfront. As the Chronicle notes, "the proposed 18,000 seat arena would come with a pair of 10-story hotel towers and a 16-story luxury condominium complex across the Embarcadero, plus retail stores and a 500-space garage." In other words, an area that is now relatively open to all income levels would become much more the preserve of the super-rich. 

What I most liked about the Chronicle article was this statement about San Francisco politics: 

San Francisco ... has "always been a retail town," said political analyst and attorney Michael Yaki, who served on the Board of Supervisors from 1996 to 2000. While social media plays an increasingly important role in business, marketing and even the lifestyles of San Franciscans, Yaki said, that "really hasn't been the case in terms of the politics" of the city. In campaigns, "it's still very much person to person, door to door."

That kind of "retail politics" is how Agnos is working to defeat development proposals that would overwhelm the City's waterfront, and that would substitute existing public spaces with areas that cater to the well to do. 

"Retail politics,"in fact, is "real" politics. A politics run with money, and advertisements, instead of person to person contact, is a politics gone wrong.

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