Newsom's Nanny Problem

Posted: Oct 04, 2009 12:01 AM
Newsom's Nanny Problem

It's been a long, strange trip since Gavin Newsom became San Francisco's mayor. When he first ran for City Hall's top job, Newsom led with a campaign to do something about the city's homeless population. Well, the homeless are still here, but Newsom has moved on to a new target -- he is running to be the next governor of California by picking on the personal habits of people who for the most part work hard and pay taxes.

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Example: Ask some out-of-towners to walk Market Street from the Ferry Building to City Hall. They'll tell you how beautiful San Francisco is, but it's too bad that the farther they traveled from the waterfront, the grungier, smellier and scarier Ess Eff's Main Street became. The problem? Too many panhandlers and crazy people living on the streets. Halfway through the walk, the visitors were hugging their purses and hesitating before looking passers-by in the eye. It's simply not a sunny walking experience when you're trying to dodge people who want to scam you, hit you up for money so they can self-medicate or peddle the kind of sex that you suspect will require penicillin.

So what does Hizzoner want to do to clean up Market Street? He wants to get rid of automobiles -- his Market Street Closure Pilot Program directs private cars off the eastbound side of the main drag from Eighth Street down.

Newsom, of course, can say his plan will promote a cleaner, less-congested city -- although usually squeezing traffic onto fewer streets creates gridlock.

The idea is especially irritating because Market Street traffic is not a real problem, as urban problems go. And as long as the sidewalks are as gooey as they are, it's never going to be a venue for quaint sidewalk cafes.

I suspect that Newsom has come to see little upside in going after the down-and-out on Market Street. Say a word against the homeless and panhandlers and the city's many advocacy groups will slam you for going after poor people.

Conversely, if Newsom goes after generally law-abiding folk who drive to work or use their cars to go shopping, he's -- all hail -- an environmentalist. He gets to brag that he's making San Francisco more green and more European when he jets off to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

The biggest plus, however, is that while street people are politically inviolate, Newsom can go after the lifestyle of Bay Area drivers and they are likely to respond by shrugging and wondering if maybe pulling their cars off Market Street is, after all, for their own good.

The city's middle class is, you see, so well trained. Tell San Franciscans that they consume too much and they'll probably give you a quarter.

So the Prince of The Special City has chosen to pick on the behavior of contributing members to society. There's his Shape Up SF program with a campaign for a Soda-Free Summer. Newsom has proposed a "sweetened beverage fee" on retailers who sell soft drinks, which would bankroll ads to scold people about the evils of soda. His Democratic Party, which wants to get government out of the bedroom, has moved it to the kitchen.

And to the garbage can, with mandatory recycling. The city banned plastic grocery bags in supermarkets in 2007 and pharmacies in 2008. Newsom's City Hall also banned bottled-water purchases by city departments. Big government morphs into niggling government.

Newsom boasts that his legislation to ban the sale of cigarettes at pharmacies is "the first of its kind" in the nation. Talk about butting into other people's business.

At a California Target Book seminar Thursday, San Francisco pollster David Binder noted that last week's Rasmussen poll of gubernatorial candidates shows that 30 percent of California voters have a "very unfavorable" view of Newsom.

Binder believes that Newsom is paying a big political price for ads run by the Proposition 8 campaign that depicted Newsom roaring on City Hall's steps that same-sex marriage would be the law of the land, and that it's "gonna happen -- whether you like it or not."

Those ads, Binder said, "really penetrated among voters" -- even people who supported same-sex marriage. Binder didn't buy my contention that voters see Newsom as too much of a nanny figure. He thinks that Newsom's problem is that people see him as "arrogant."

But as Target Book publisher Allan Hoffenblum observed, "If you want to see a dysfunctional government, just look at the city of San Francisco."

No lie. I suspect that the biggest problem the mayor will face as he tries to win the Democratic primary for governor will be voters who wonder why Newsom wants to tell everybody what to drink, where they can buy cigarettes and that they must get out of their cars -- when he still hasn't cleaned up San Francisco.