Fountain in 1985. From the industrial nucleus of a city springs hope,
From the Passion of Angela to Finding Vaillancourt
Alioto is, as usual, aiming high. The former Supervisor and three time
mayoral candidate negotiated a leadership role in the city's effort
on homelessness with Gavin Newsom before last fall's runoff election.
This month, with the backing of Mayor Newsom, Alioto convened the 33-member
council she formed to draft San Francisco's 10-year plan to end chronic
homelessness. Yes, end.
"E-N-D," Alioto says, "If you replace the word 'improve' in the sentences
of most bureaucrats, administrators, and community program people with
the word 'end,' you'll scare those people. They don't get that 'improve'
is an excuse to fall short, but they will before I'm finished."
When the council's work is completed by the end of June it will produce
a document, 60-90 pages in length, which Alioto says will provide measures
for intervening in the lives of homeless people and for keeping at-risk
individuals off the streets in the first place.
"Prevention is half the job," says Alioto, "You have to target the programs
that stop peoples' entrances into homelessness - from the mentally ill
to the incarcerated, to AFDC mothers, to kids in foster care or in lifelong
The chronically homeless - those living outdoors for more than a year
or intermittently for more than two years - are the most visible members
of San Francisco's homeless population. "That group is 10 percent of
the homeless problem but it uses 50 percent of the resources," Alioto
To skeptical members of the public, who have seen homeless plans come
and go while homelessness is perennial, Alioto says do not expect a
cut-and-paste document based on past failures. "Been there, done that,"
she says, "At this stage in my life I'm not putting my time and passion
behind something that's not going to be effective. I refuse to do useless
things and I think Mayor Newsom has shown he's about getting the job
Getting this job done is, on the face of it, a conundrum. In a country
with the richest of the rich, living with the poorest of the poor seems
inevitable in the spectrum of a competitive economy.
"First of all, the Lord says the poor will always be among us," Alioto
says, "But as far as the economy is concerned, those that lose the competition
are not on the same playing field.
"As a discrimination lawyer I've represented hundreds of African-American
men. If you are going to have black males under-represented in employment
statistics and over-represented in homeless statistics, we need to see
the correlation and that has to do with an unfair field."
Alioto's careers in politics and the law burnished her reputation as
one of San Francisco's intriguing personalities. Asked how she feels
about politics today, Alioto is reflective.
"Until I was 31 years old, I was not only apolitical, I hated politics,"
she says. "It kept my dad away from the dinner table. It took my dad
away from me. I hated trying to have lunch with him when 40 people would
come up and say hello. We couldn't enjoy the chicken Jerusalem at Jack's.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
"Then, I got into politics because I found out it's the only way that
you can really help people. You legislate something and then it's the
law of the land. What I'm doing now is absolutely dependent upon the
fact that the mayor of this city is my partner."
In other news, Supervisor Aaron Peskin has
asked city departments to consider removing the Vaillancourt
Fountain from Justin Herman Plaza.
After speaking with Peskin it becomes clear that he is not at all adamant
about removing the public fountain, which was installed in 1971 but
has been dry for the past three years due to energy conservation.
While he personally thinks the industrial design has lost its context
without the Embarcadero Freeway, Peskin raised the issue only after
some failed attempts to have the water turned back on. His current move
is a "use it or lose it" proposition.
It's a bold move for Peskin to court controversy by suggesting the destruction
of public art in this decidedly preservationist city. The Vaillancourt
Fountain was not intended to be viewed as it is today, barren and bereft.
When operating as a fountain, the Vaillancourt is simply one of the
most beautiful and compelling works of art in the entire city.
Here's a hint: It's about climbing over and among the fountain's roaring
apertures. It is to be experienced, not misunderstood from afar. To
see the City through the fountain, not the other way around, is artist
Francois Vaillancourt's vision. I am confident that Mr. and Ms. San
Francisco will follow Peskin's initiative and see to it that funding
is found to return the fountain to its glory. (Update: Thanks to
Peskin's effort and support from the public and Mayor Gavin Newsom,
the Vaillancourt Fountain sprang
to life on August 2, 2004. - HD)
As a columnist who is gay and has written about
his marriage in a city-wide San Francisco newspaper, I have been asked
to comment on the San Francisco Chronicle's decision to take reporter
Rachel Gordon and photographer Liz Mangelsdorf off the gay wedding story
because they themselves got married.
The fact that we're having discussions in our culture about gay reporters
and "the story," gay lawyers and "the story," gay judges and "the story,"
gay children of right wing political leaders and "the story," all reveals
to me that the real story is the universal existence of gays and the
sheer wrongness of discrimination against them. That's why it becomes
more black and white as a civil rights issue each day and it's why gays
will win the right to marry in the long run.
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