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dolores park #1 // the newest installment in sf activists’ never-ending war on self-driving cars, math is still racist, mushroom churches spawn and queer cafés implode
Welcome to Dolores Park, Pirate Wires’ inaugural local politics vertical. San Francisco has been a major focus of our work all the way back from our first issue of the flagship. Now, we’re formally covering the city in its own corner of the Pirate Wires universe. Every week we’ll share a lead, stories and links from City Hall, the latest from our noble class of unhinged activists, and whatever other story from the neighborhoods that you should know about, be it helpful, or — let’s be honest — funny. Our purpose as ever is to be the signal in the noise. In terms of coverage, let us know what you’d like to read more of below. What do you consider essential San Francisco reading?
Labor’s shadow war on self-driving cars (part 2,456). Back in July, we broke the story: San Francisco’s ongoing activist war against self-driving cars has less to do with safety concerns than with union jobs threatened by the new technology. Time and again, the anti-AV side insists Cruise and Waymo AVs, which by any metric are already far safer than human-operated vehicles, will kill us all — a claim they buttress with a web of misrepresented statistics and distorted viral AV “incidents,” the vast majority of which have turned out to be either fake or human-caused. In August, the California Public Utilities Commission rejected activist hysteria and approved a full AV roll-out in the city. The statistically literate among us breathed a sigh of relief, and the battle was finally over.
Or so we thought.
Since the CPUC vote, activists and labor-owned politicians have tried at every turn to sabotage the expansion of AV operations across the city — even going so far as to insist that the death of a pedestrian hit by a Muni bus was due to a stalled Cruise car. (It was actually caused by the bus driver, as city officials grudgingly admitted a month later.)
Last month, alleging that the company had hidden video footage related to an incident where a pedestrian was hit by a (human) driver, then dragged by an AV, the California DMV abruptly suspended Cruise’s license to operate on SF streets. Local officials, including Board of Supervisors President (and labor-bankrolled millionaire) Aaron Peskin, reacted with jubilation and promised to wage “legislative guerilla warfare” to prevent AVs from breaking into the package delivery industry.
And legislative guerilla warfare they have provided — this week, Mission Local published excerpts of email exchanges between Waymo and SFO officials which show that airport officials abruptly changed their tune about AV permits after Peskin informed them that he was planning on introducing legislation restricting Waymo’s access to the airport. “[AV companies’] entire M.O. is ‘The state regulates us; we don’t have to work with you, we don’t have to partner with you,’” Peskin said. “My response is: There are things we do control. Including where you charge your cars. And the airport.” Sounds mature.
votes, policy, and more from the city’s executive and legislative branches (and their sprawling army of unelected hall monitors)
A little bit of sanity, for a treat. In a refreshing moment of ‘something not insane,’ District 8 Supe Rafael Mandelman has proposed a revision to the City Charter that would allow the Mayor to fire heads of executive branch departments (including SFPD, SFFD, and DPW). Currently, executive action of this kind requires approval from any of the city’s 130-odd “oversight commissions” (powerful groups of unelected, unaccountable, and often unqualified bureaucrats — many of whom have dramatic conflicts of interests), effectively making accountability illegal. Mandelman’s proposal, which drew inspiration from a recent report commissioned by TogetherSF, would also end mayoral and legislative power to put initiative ordinances on election ballots (a “quirk” of city government largely responsible for the fact that last year’s voter information pamphlet was over 230 pages long, and contained over 20 ballot measures.)
Speaking of dramatic conflicts of interest, federal prosecutors announced they’re charging two former engineers from SF’s Department of Building Inspection with accepting bribes in exchange for fast-tracking building permits, over the course of almost two decades.
The charges are the latest in a yearslong federal corruption probe into SF’s government, which notably took down former Public Works Chief Mohammed Nuru (convicted of taking bribes from, among others, a Chinese billionaire, a waste management company executive, and a restaurateur), along with over a dozen other city officials and contractors.
(Is anyone actually surprised a city with some of the most restrictive zoning laws in the world has a thriving permit black market?)
FLASHBACK: Remember the duo behind a series of smash-and-grab car burglaries at the Palace of Fine Arts and an armed robbery? Turns out both were “public service trainees” at the Department of Public Works who earned a total of around $700,000 in salary and benefits during their six-year careers in government.
On the possibility of actually prosecuting fentanyl dealers: Feds and city officials recently announced the launch of the “All Hands on Deck Initiative,” which purports to coordinate and ramp-up arrests and prosecutions of the (almost exclusively Honduran) drug dealers who have for years operated with impunity downtown, as the city’s fatal overdose rates soar to record highs. They also promised to track down (mainly Mexican cartel-affiliated) suppliers and bring charges against the (also mainly Mexican cartel-affiliated) money-service operators facilitating drug money laundering.
Actual Math shows the San Francisco police are racist: I mean, The Chronicle, Mission Local, and Yahoo News (!) all said it, so it must be true. The claim is that since new data shows that black people, who account for five percent of SF’s general population, made up over 44% of SFPD use-of-force incidents in the first half of the year, the city’s police department must be extremely racist. “The conclusion is racial bias is playing a role in these disparities,” said (unelected, unaccountable, and almost certainly unqualified) police commission Vice President Max Carter-Oberstone.
The statistical elephant in the room — as anyone who stopped to think about the “data” for more than a few seconds will quickly see — is that there are well-documented differences in rates of offending along racial lines. A more revealing data point would look at use-of-force per *criminal suspect*, not per capita.
In related “SF-officials-don’t understand-how-math-works” news, Supes Hillary Ronan and Myrna Melgar are on a taxpayer-funded trip to Japan this week to learn how “an institute in the country teaches math.” (As Garry Tan pointed out on X, San Francisco has not taught middle schoolers algebra in almost a decade, so maybe the city officials could use some tips.)
Mayor Breed pulled support Monday for a minimum police staffing plan proposed by a committee of supervisors over concerns about how to fund it.
Yesterday, the city’s budget and legislative analyst released a damning audit of the drug and homelessness “street teams,” claiming they failed to define or meet any meaningful success metrics.
Workers at the city’s Human Services Agency, Department of Public Health, and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, citing ongoing violence from the populations they serve, say they no longer feel safe.
The superintendent of the SF Unified School District released a set of “comprehensive recommendations” for changing the admissions process at academically elite Lowell High School. The document now heads to the (famously competent) school board for an initial review.
a brief, essential spotlight on state politics
A mushroom cap in every pot. Scott Wiener announced he will partner with Republican assemblywoman Marie Waldron to try (again) to pass a bill decriminalizing psilocybin, the psychoactive compound in shrooms, peyote, ibogaine, and DMT statewide — after Newsom vetoed it.
Californians curious about the benefits of de-facto legal shrooms should look to San Francisco, where psilocybin has been decriminalized since last year and so-called ‘magic mushroom churches’ selling edibles and offering “pastoral care” are proliferating across the city. A recent SF Standard profile of the “Church of Cosmic Consciousness” provides a glimpse at one local “church.” From the piece:
“Jade, 40, a self-described queer and neurodivergent person who uses pronouns interchangeably, is the church’s founder. He's the "Mushroom Pope,” as staffers put it.”
“I believe in psychedelics,” Jade said. “They’re my religion. They’re how I connect to a higher power.”
“If someone’s not respectful, they’re fucking out,” [Jade] said. “I’ll have no problem excommunicating someone.”
notes from san francisco’s beloved class of bat shit crazy local activists
(There was so much insanity this week that we turned it into a separate piece — check out our coverage of deranged (and taxpayer-funded) local activists chaining themselves to a US military vessel they claim is bound for Israel.)
stories from the neighborhood you should know about (and/or we just think are funny)
Queer enough? (No). New reports emerged last week suggesting the closure of MilkSF, a café in the Mission that marketed itself as a “queer-owned community space,” was not due, as owners initially claimed, to financial insolvency, but instead to a “revolt” led by “queer, trans workers of color” who allege sexual harassment and racial discrimination from the café’s white, lesbian owners. “I really wanted to prioritize having my brown identity and my gay identity interact,” one former worker, who alleged one of the owners “grabbed her rear end,” told Mission Local.
Last week, Stanford University issued a campus-wide alert following the “potential hate crime” of a Syrian graduate student reportedly struck by a driver yelling “fuck you people.” The media was incensed. This week, the student-run Stanford Review contextualized the story with further background on the alleged victim, widely considered a “pathological liar” by classmates who know him personally — and say he has previously lied about building a Syrian refugee camp with bitcoin money, turning down a massive acquisition offer from Google for his startup, and having cancer (supposedly in order to get homework help).
Local officials are freaking out over homeless encampments ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, which is set to begin Saturday and will bring scores of foreign leaders, diplomats, CEOs, and journalists to the city. Efforts to stuff the “urban campers” into homeless shelters are complicated by an ongoing federal injunction preventing the city from clearing encampments, and by the fact that the city’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing (currently getting $660 million in public funding) claims they “do not have the budget” to open special shelters for the summit.
Dreamforce is coming back to San Francisco next year, Mayor Breed announced yesterday in an X post, putting to rest speculation that Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff — who last month told the Chronicle he was concerned about persistent homelessness and drug use (problems partially of his own creation) — would move the massive annual conference elsewhere.
Hundreds of engineers participated in this past weekend’s “Accelerate SF” hackathon, an event designed to identify public sector problems (like car break-ins) in the city and build AI-based solutions to solve them.
An unnamed SoMa hangout informally known as “That fuckin’ bar” and run by self-described “moron” opens this Saturday. “There's no concept for this place,” the owner told the SF Standard. “I just want it to be whatever people want it to be.”
Hope you enjoyed our inaugural issue of Dolores Park. Share it, tell us what you’d like to see more of below, send tips and stories to email@example.com, and check us back here next week.