The last Friday of every month, thousands of bicyclists converge in downtown San Francisco to, well, make driving difficult. That's their goal. The tension underlying the monthly pro-environmentalist/anti-car "Critical Mass" demonstrations occasionally breaks through to the surface, as aggressive riders and touchy drivers resort to curbside altercations to resolve their differences. There were, for instance, 115 arrests during the July 25 Critical Mass ride.
By recently endorsing the controversial Sustainability Plan for the City of San Francisco–an eco-friendly, long-term municipal planning strategy–the city's Board of Supervisors is broadcasting another loud, if less volatile, environmentalist statement. Nearly 400 people spent three years pooling notes and attending meetings to produce the plan–an audacious document weighing in at 177 pages.
The Board of Supervisors approved the plan with only one member voting no: President Barbara Kaufman voiced her opposition by citing what she called such "wacky" ideas as banning cars on parts of Market Street. The plan contains plenty of other recommendations that cry out for further scrutiny–including limits on the use of perfume and scented deodorants, subsidies for beekeeping in parks and fish harvesting in the Bay, a requirement that sellers of homes plant trees on their streets, and elimination of landscaping when it interferes with nesting birds. (One part of the plan that was axed was a proposal to poison all the city's stray cats because they eat birds; cat lovers eventually prevailed.)
The press has not been kind. A San Francisco Chronicle editorial called the plan "A Tree-Hugger Manifesto," and said, "Instead of sticking with achievable goals dealing with energy use, housing design or open space, the report vacuums up every nutball nostrum out there in the woods." Capitol News Service columnist David Kline said the plan proves that San Francisco "is nuttier than a Snickers Bar."
Beryl Magilavy, the director of the city's newly created Department of the Environment and the editor of the plan, says the critics are misguided, that the plan deals with serious environmental concerns.
Magilavy and others are working behind the scenes to get some of the plan's specific proposals codified in legislation. "With a sympathetic board [of supervisors] and mayor [Willie Brown has endorsed the basic idea of sustainability]," says Magilavy, "what more do you need?"
The entire plan is available on the city's Web site (www.ci.sf.ca.us/environment/).