SFist has noted in the past that columnist Heather Knight has emerged, in at least some ways, as a spiritual successor to C.W. Nevius at the Chronicle. While not as stridently critical as Nevius was of SF progressives on topics like homelessness, Knight has been taking on the Board of Supervisors on various issues, and things have been escalating in recent weeks.
Critiques of the Supes from Knight are by no means new, but she has some particularly notable bones to pick with the likes of Aaron Peskin and Dean Preston lately, and it's basically get-out-the-popcorn time as Peskin has started lashing back, referencing Knight's column during public meetings.
Let's start back in March, when Knight delighted in an effort by Supervisor Myrna Melgar to track the number of times that male supervisors spoke during meetings versus women, and the number of times they interrupted. Whose picture tops the column about the results of Melgar's data study? Peskin's! And Knight points to the fact that Melgar is the lone female on the Land Use and Transportation Committee with Peskin and Preston, and she barely gets a word in edgewise. "Those men make up two-thirds of the committee, but talked a combined 84% of the time," Knight notes, from Melgar's data.
Knight's April 21 column was a Nevius-esque salvo against the evils of SF bureaucracy for small businesses, focusing on ice cream shop owner and SF native Jason Yu. He reportedly spent 16 months and $200,000 trying to open his shop, Matcha n’ More at 20th and Valencia streets, and he was blocked — essentially, as Knight frames it, over objections from a nearby competitor, Garden Creamery. Yu abandoned his plans rather than lose more money on the project, and Knight pointed out that Yu didn't get to benefit from the streamlined approvals process that is now possible under Mayor Breed's Prop H.
Then two weeks ago, on May 5, Knight wrote a column that got the hackles up of many SF progressives, running with the headline, "Is San Francisco more conservative than Moscow? Top San Francisco official says yes." That top official was SFTMA Director Jeffrey Tumlin, and she quoted him as saying, having worked on transit projects in Moscow himself, that San Francisco is "definitely" more conservative than Moscow.
"San Franciscans, on a national political metric, we are far to the left," Tumlin said. "But when it comes to our own city, we are so resistant to change that the result is a lot of conservatism."
Many critics of SF politics and the development and planning process here have noted this contradiction. One article that got a lot of attention in the last decade was this 2014 piece for TechCrunch by Kim-Mai Cutler that focused on how SF's resistance to change over five decades was responsible for the present-day housing crisis.
But when Knight took Tumlin's comments and wrote "the idea holds true on a host of major issues including housing, climate change, small business reform and addressing our drug crisis," essentially accusing the Board of Supervisors for embracing the status quo, you know that's a declaration of war.
Tim Redmond, the editor of 48 Hills — one of the last bastions of capital-P Progressive commentary in SF — came out swinging a few days later with his own column.
"If you know the history of post-War San Francisco, you know that 'progress' and 'change' in [the] local economy has been driven almost entirely by a small number of powerful people, mostly white men, who sought to redesign the city for their own profit," Redmond writes. "They destroyed light industry and blue-collar jobs to build financial-services and tech offices... They encouraged the gentrification of neighborhoods all over the city... They wiped out Black and Brown communities... So: Communities resisted. People fought back against unchecked development... Some of us would like to say: Slow down. Protect existing vulnerable communities first. Save historic and environmentally sensitive areas. Use government to regulate these changes so that they don’t overwhelm what is frankly a pretty fragile city – and tax the people who get rich from them to protect the people who the late-capitalist idea of progress leaves behind."
But now, Knight has come back with a new column, and it's focused squarely on Peskin and Preston, stemming from a Monday meeting of the above-mentioned land-use committee on which Melgar also sits. There was a proposal up for discussion that Knight highlighted back in November, backed by Mayor Breed and Supervisor Matt Haney, they would end the ability of a single SF citizen to appeal any project they care to appeal that comes up for city approval.
The proposal would require anyone looking to file an appeal at the city to gather 50 signatures or the sign-off of five supervisors in order to get an appeal hearing scheduled. The proposal came after two gadflies had caused an estimated 100 hours of work for aides and supervisors by filing multiple appeals between them last year of various emergency measures by the SFMTA and city — making it a "pandemic hobby" to complain that everything requires CEQA review, even in a pandemic. The Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected every appeal.
At Monday's meeting, Peskin and Preston tabled the proposal, and Knight is fuming. Peskin even called out Knight, though not quite directly, saying during the meeting, "Fundamentally, this is a solution looking for a problem," and noting that the ordinance was tied to "the subject of however many articles in one Chronicle columnist’s thing, column."
Knight got a quote from the mayor's office, from spokesperson Jeff Cretan, who said, "“It’s really challenging when we talk about changing the status quo in San Francisco, and we can’t even get these tailored solutions to get rid of bureaucracy approved."
That column prompted another foe of Knight's, the blog District 5 Diary, to pen its own response today, calling Knight a "status quo megaphone" for City Hall/the mayor.
Anyway, the war goes on. Yes, the Chronicle has been more on the business-friendly, centrist end of the media spectrum for the past two decades, and they've never really employed a progressive counterpoint columnist to the likes of Nevius or Knight. But doesn't anyone see the absurdities at work here?
As Peskin himself said during the absurd debate over that Ferris Wheel, the "bright side" to moving into post-pandemic normalcy is that they get to have "these kinds of squabbles again between the Board and the executive branch."