The politics of rancidtown

Posted: Sep 23, 2003 12:00 AM

"I actually gagged due to the rancid smell of urine, feces and vomit," writes a former Bay Area resident living in Hawaii, of his last trek down Market Street. He won't be staying in San Francisco, he tells me, until he hears the city is cleaned up.

Poor rube. He hasn't grown accustomed to the squalor. He's not used to walking through downtown streets dotted with dysfunctional, pitiful souls. He hasn't learned to ignore antisocial elements -- panhandlers, those who urinate in public -- who revel in making the city uglier for the people who come here to work, live or enjoy the sights.

Why, my correspondent is probably so unsophisticated that he actually thinks there is something City Hall can do about homelessness. You know the type -- the ones who point to other cities where you don't see sleeping bags on busy streets in broad daylight and then talk as if that's something the Special City can do.

They haven't learned: If there's change in San Francisco, it's only for the worse.

Homelessness is different in the Special City -- thanks to the Board of Supervisors and robes like San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ronald Quidachay.

This is the city so compassionate that its leaders really, really care about everything -- except results.

To start, many homeless people don't want housing -- not if it means they have to give up most of a cash welfare benefit that runs as high as $410 per month. According to city welfare chief Trent Rhorer, 84 percent of those who enroll in the city's homeless program either refuse a spot in a city shelter or just don't show up to use it.

If the homeless don't want housing, that's not important to the Board of Supervisors.

If the voters don't want to pay big cash grants, that is not important to the board. If voters would rather see their tax dollars pay for housing and treatment, that is not important to the board, either. Or the courts.

Last November, some 60 percent of voters approved Proposition N, the "Care Not Cash" measure that would reduce welfare payments to homeless people who receive housing -- from a shelter cot to a room -- to $59 a month.

In May, Quidachay ruled that voters didn't have a right to determine General Assistance policy. He gutted a chunk of Proposition N.

The ruling left the supes free to adopt Proposition N, which was sponsored by mayoral candidate Supervisor Gavin Newsom.

But noooo. Last week, the supes voted 6-to-5 against adopting Proposition N.

"I will protect the constituents in my district who didn't have the advantage of reading the fine print or really knowing what they are voting for, " is how Supe Tony Hall explained his no vote.

Translation: What Hall reads in a city study on homelessness is more important than what his constituents see and smell every day.

And: I can do what I want. Voters will forget.

Besides: My constituents want to protest the homeless situation, but they're not really serious about change. If voters really wanted to clean up the city, they wouldn't elect people like me to the Board of Supervisors. (For the record, the six San Francisco supervisors who voted against implementing Proposition N are Tom Ammiano, Chris Daly, Matt Gonzalez, Hall, Fiona Ma and Sophie Maxwell.)