The Power (and Perils) Of Internet Advocacy

by Jim Meko on April 8, 2005

‘Requiem for Doug’s Place’ and other on-line tales of the city

(Ed note: The editor of The Sentinel removed this column from his site soon after it appeared. The author has asked us to make it available here).

In September of 2000, I wrote a little essay I called “Requiem for Doug’s Place.” It was about the demolition of the little yellow Victorian next door to me. Doug, my partner Roy and I were the only people living on this South of Market block at the time, although we were occasionally joined by Doug’s sister Vera. We knew when Vera was back from Detroit when the glorious smell of bacon came wafting in on a Saturday morning. Doug sold the place to a live/work developer and, with what he considered to be a small fortune, moved with Vera to a fancy senior apartment building in Millbrae. When his house came down, an era came to an end. Pat Murphy published the story. I guess that makes me one of his longest-running contributors.

There are so many good stories in my beloved South of Market. When they contain additional truths — generally involving land use and good government — I think some of you have found them relevant to the city as a whole. The story of the Bindlestiff Theater is one of those tales.

Bindlestiff began in the basement of the old Plaza Hotel. It was (and still is) the only resident Filipino theater company in the United States. The replacement of the Plaza Hotel got embroiled in the politics of gentrification back in the Willie Brown days. After taking an impolitic stand against the developer-driven decisions engulfing SoMa, non-profit developer TODCO had the project jerked from their control by the Redevelopment Agency.

Now half-completed, the new Plaza Hotel will no longer be the mixed income project the community had come to expect. Several weeks ago, Redevelopment announced that it would become supportive housing to augment the mayor’s Care Not Cash program. That means more recovering drug addicts and sex offenders will be relocated onto Sixth Street. A community struggling to lift itself up just got put down. SoMa has plenty of room for supportive housing. Sixth Street already has its share.

Worse yet, Redevelopment continues to raise the bar for the Bindlestiff. Before the demolition of the old Plaza, the replacement of the theater was a given. Now, if they cannot meet the financial goals imposed by the agency, we could lose this important cultural institution. The theater company wants Mayor Newsom to know:

(1) Bindlestiff receives broad community support (2) Bindlestiff serves a vital function in the Filipino community (3) The City should insure that Bindlestiff is allowed to return to its original home in the newly built Plaza Hotel later this year.

A troupe of bright young actors, operating out of temporary quarters that barely seats fifty people, is struggling to raise a lot of money. Please sign the on-line petition to Save the Bindlestiff.

I hope that helps. Internet advocacy is thriving and important local issues are well-chronicled by the Sentinel, Betsey Culp’s Call, Randy Shaw’s Beyond Chron, Left in SF, Alex Clemen’s Usual Suspects and individual commentaries such as h. brown’s brilliant (albeit besotted) Bulldog and the blogs of Chris Nolan and Chris Daly.

Beyond Chron offers some of the most insightful coverage of progressive issues but compromises its own credibility by turning a blind eye to the excesses of the Residential Builders’ Association.

The RBA is locked in a blood feud with the local carpenters union. Joe O’Donoghue’s bluster is frequently pitted against the carpenters’ conspiracy theories and sense of moral superiority. Burnishing their progressive credentials, the carpenters sided with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition’s “Peoples’ Plan” for the North Mission … but they also chose to support one of San Francisco’s largest landlords, Angelo Sangiacomo, in his efforts to evict the tenants of Trinity Plaza.

The carpenters have been shopping around their half-truths and scurrilous charges against RBA developers for years. When they bring their bickering into the hearing rooms of city hall, commissioners have to repeatedly admonish both sides to shut up and sit down. That explains why the mainstream media has ignored the latest allegations against the RBA’s Joe Cassidy.

The bottom feeders of Internet advocacy wallow in the anonymity of the chatrooms. Mike Ege of the somewhat mythical City Democratic Club, recently exposed as Able Dart, the moderator of The Wall, spends most of his waking hours hurling mudballs at his political enemies.

I don’t believe repetition necessarily makes one a crackpot. I hope not. As I feuded with the Planning Department’s Eastern Neighborhoods program, I found it highly effective for months to include the phrase “The SoMa Legacy of Gerald Green” in every headline over this column. That increased the exposure of my arguments to many Google searches. Eventually most of SoMa west of Fourth Street was removed from the process.

But the thrice-repeated “Support Softens for Two Pillars of Daly Base” opinion piece, based on allegations by the Executive Director of the Mission Housing Development Corporation that employees had campaigned for Chris Daly while on the clock, pits an agency charged with reducing support services in low-income housing and diverting funds to hire spin doctors against a Supervisor who advocated an audit of city funds that went to the non-profit.

Last January as Matt Gonzalez was closing out his tenure as President of the Board of Supervisors, while politicos milled around outside the chamber, why was I one of the few engaged in conversation with recently deposed Planning Director Gerald Green? Because I believe you should get mad, get even and then get over it.

This new world of Internet advocacy doesn’t look kindly on complexity. Doug’s little termite riddled Victorian leaned on its crumbling brick foundation against my building. I grudgingly chose to support the demolition against the preservation arguments of Sue Hestor and John Elberling. Sue and I share irreconcilable differences. John and I have built a relationship based on so many common concerns that our mutual interests have led to a profound friendship.

I wrote: “I’ve known this was coming for a year … Many people pass through South of Market and a few like me kinda stick. It’s not pretty or convenient or very homey. Of course neither am I. But I hope ten years from now something will be left to remind me why I moved here in the first place.”

Gotta keep everything in perspective. Aha! Stop the presses, this just in … “Newsom Blows His Nose: Photos by LUKE THOMAS.”

Gotta go.

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