Thursday, December 22, 2022

Water barons move into Napa, and Supreme Court considers wine shipping again

The property now owned by Wonderful. Photo courtesy Visit Napa Valley

According to Mother Jones, the owners of Fiji Water use "more water than every home in Los Angeles combined." Now, after buying a Napa wine brand last year, they are buying up a property right on Silverado Trail. But they won't take possession right away -- showing just how valuable Napa winery buildings are now.

Details in this story for Wine-Searcher

Also, your humble correspondent has somehow carved out an extremely infinitesimal niche as the leading journalist on issues relating to wine and the U.S. Supreme Court. Next month the Court will meet in its chambers to discuss whether or not it wants to hear a case on retailers shipping wine from one state to another. Here's the analysis I wrote about that.

By the way, I'm trying to avoid conversations on the Musk site, so if you want to chat with me the way we used to there, I'm tooting like I used to on Mastodon. So check it out.

Have a great holiday season -- and open the best bottles of wine you have in the house! Life expectancy is dropping in the US and you never know. There's no better time to open a great bottle than the present. Stay healthy, and Merry Christmas!

Follow me on Mastodon: @wblakegray and Instagram @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Monday, December 19, 2022

If you like Chianti Classico, you'll like Chianti Rufina


Chianti Rufina makes good wines, the equal of Chianti Classico in quality but with a more rugged, savory character, the product of its cooler, mountainous terrain. But it's not in Chianti Classico, which makes nearly 12 times as many wines per year.

In October I visited the region for the first time to write about its new higher-end classification, TerraElectae. I was impressed by the wines. If you like cool-climate Sangiovese, you'll like these: more red fruit than black; savoriness more than fruitiness; good freshness and structure.

Here's the article I wrote for Wine-Searcher. Cheers.

Follow me on Mastodon: @wblakegray and Instagram @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Monday, December 5, 2022

Herbicide overkill and a story about Mexican enology

Photo courtesy iStock

Hey friends. I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with the unpleasant Musky aroma of Twitter, which I used to frequent both for fun and professionally. I haven't deleted my account, but I don't like giving Musk free content either. 

Until some other social media site pops up to fill the sparrow-sized hole in my day, I'm going to try to fill in at least the professional gap by touting my new stories here. 

Herbicide the Star of New Napa Movie: A new documentary set in Napa examines the omnipresence and danger of Roundup and its active ingredient glyphosate. 

Mexican Wine Gets Its First University: Mexican wine country is unique -- a desert close to an ocean. Cooling winds make fine-wine possible, but water is precious. The region really needed a university program in viticulture and enology, and now it finally has one.

Please follow the links to read the stories. See you here again soon!

Follow me on Instagram @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Endorsements for the November 2022 election in San Francisco

It's always darkest before the dawn. We can turn San Francisco around!

Here we go again! It's the fourth election this year in San Francisco, and I am here to share with you how I plan to vote.

Usually I write a very short intro of who I am and why I do this. But this election is different. The No. 1 issue in SF this year was whether or not to recall pro-crime District Attorney Chesa Boudin in June, and the local media failed us. All but one publication recommended voting to keep Boudin, but 55% of voters rejected him. Clearly local publications are out of touch with the electorate and many people might be looking for new guidance. So I wrote a long screed about who I am and what I believe: It's here. In it I listed some new publications offering pragmatic endorsements like mine, some of which you will see quoted below.

Before the endorsements, let me explain ranked-choice voting, which is used in San Francisco races. You do NOT have to choose more than one candidate. I usually don't. You CANNOT choose the same candidate twice (as your first and second choice, for example) as this will invalidate your vote. You can choose only a 1st choice, a 1st and a 2nd, or all 3.

If your first choice is eliminated, your vote will go to your second choice if she is still in the race. If she is eliminated and you don't have a third choice ... well, you lose. But to me, if my first two candidates lose, I lose anyway. I have never chosen all 3 because there have never been three good candidates, and that's true again this time.

One overarching issue to consider on local races is that we are likely entering a time of fiscal shortfalls. The downtown business district has not recovered from the pandemic, and that's going to hurt the tax base. Families have moved away from our dysfunctional school district, which means there will be less funds there as well. Everyone we elect this time is going to have to deal with cutting budgets. They must choose wisely and so must we.

So let's get to it!

Governor: Gavin Newsom

Newsom has had an up-and-down term, faced a recall himself, and might run for President in 2024 rather than finish out this second term as governor. However, his GOP opponent is anti-abortion, anti-legal cannabis, and pro-gun rights. This is not Texas.

Lt. Governor: Eleni Kounalakis

Kounalakis used her family's money to run for this do-nothing office and has successfully done nothing in it. Her opponent is a bank vice-president supported by GOP House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, who is smart enough to know Trump committed treason but too craven to do anything about it. If Newsom has a heart attack, we'd have a typical GOP conservative as governor. Kounalakis is a safer choice.

Secretary of State: Shirley Weber

Weber is a Democratic machine candidate. She was appointed to this job after Newsom appointed Alex Padilla to Kamala Harris' Senate seat. She's a former professor of African American studies and California assembly member. Grow SF likes the way she has stood up to California's powerful teacher's unions, while the Bay Guardian likes her progressive bona fides. What's not to like?

Controller: Lanhee Chen

I'm fighting a losing battle here, endorsing a Republican in California in 2022, but Democrat Malia Cohen is not qualified for this job and is running a disingenuous campaign.

Cohen had the worst attendance record when she was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The board of equalization had most of its powers stripped away but the six-figure salaries remain, so Cohen ran for that do-nothing job and won. Now, she is claiming that her experience there gives her the ability to oversee California's budget. Moreover, she's making her pro-abortion stance the centerpiece of her campaign. 1) This is California: we're all pro-abortion here, including Chen. 2) The controller's job has nothing to do with abortion rights.

Chen was nominated by President Obama to sit on the Social Security Advisory Board. He was Mitt Romney's chief policy advisor during Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. He's a public policy professor at Stanford. I don't love all of his political positions, but he's a Romney Republican, not a McCarthy Republican. And the plain fact is that he's qualified to oversee California's budget while Cohen is not. The LA Times, which is very liberal these days, endorsed Chen.

Treasurer: Fiona Ma

Ma is a CPA who graduated from the San Francisco board of supervisors to the state assembly, then to the board of equalization, and she won this job in 2018. The best thing about her is that she ordered three external audits of the board of equalization, which is still using a lot of state money despite its powers largely being stripped. Her first term has some personal controversy, but she seems to have weathered it.

Attorney General: Rob Bonta (ugh)

I dislike this race, and might be making the wrong choice. Bonta was appointed by Newsom and immediately used his position to solicit donations to his wife's high-paying charity from firms with business before him.
That bothers me a lot, but Bonta has been good on the issues in a year and a half in office, notably on trying to force California's many anti-housing cities (like San Francisco) to build the new housing they are legally obligated to.
Because of my concerns about Bonta's integrity, it wouldn't be difficult to convince me to vote for a GOP Attorney General. I did so in the primary, but she lost. We may be better off with Republican Nathan Hochman, a former federal prosecutor and onetime head of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission. I'm deferring to the LA Times, which saw Hochman's work up close yet is endorsing Bonta for the same reason I am: Bonta is more likely to be aligned with Democrat values, and unlike controller or treasurer, this is a position where that matters.

Insurance Commissioner: Robert Howell

Democrat Ricardo Lara is corrupt: he took money from insurance companies and then intervened in cases on their behalf. He should be in prison, not on the ballot.

Lara is also not good on the issues. He wants to force insurance companies to cover high fire-risk buildings. I know this is a sensitive issue for the wine industry, but we need to look into our climate future here: the state shouldn't prop up construction in fire-hazard areas.

I don't know anything about Howell: his website is nearly devoid of info other than that he's a "Reagan Republican" who owns a small business in Silicon Valley. Ugh. He might be awful. But I know Lara is awful: both corrupt and wrong-headed. I'm taking the devil I don't know. And I blame the Democratic Party machine, which -- if it's going to run the state by itself -- should clean up its own trash.

Board of Equalization Member, District 2: Sally Lieber

The actual duties for this job have been eliminated so it's just a big paycheck for a Democratic politician (see Malia Cohen, above.) Lieber was smart enough to win the nomination, and her opponent looks like a garden-variety conservative. He has more policies online than she does -- she's a cypher and I'm not sure how she won -- but it just doesn't matter.

US Senator: Alex Padilla

There are two spots on the ballot for Padilla, who was appointed to fill Kamala Harris' Senate seat: one to finish this term (why did they wait until now?) and one for a new six-year term. Padilla hasn't distinguished himself one way or the other in the Senate, but his opponent Mark Meuser is a GOP lawyer whose claim to fame is that he has sued Gov. Newsom 22 times, and defended some right-winger from a lawsuit by "one of antifa's front groups (sic)." Also, according to his website, Meuser reads one book per week. Being in the Senate might prevent Meuser from finishing "The Expanse" series (no spoilers!) so we'd better send Padilla.

US Representative, District 11: Nancy Pelosi

A few years ago I wondered if it was time for Pelosi to step aside for new leadership in the House. I was wrong: Pelosi has had an outstanding last two terms. She helped keep the country from going completely haywire under Trump. And her whip skills for the past two years in the House are underappreciated. The Democrats have a very small (220-212) majority, and the left and moderate wings of the party are far apart on issues, yet the House keeps passing legislation anyway; it's the Senate where it all bogs down. If the Democrats lose control of the House next year, which seems likely, Pelosi, who will be 83 in March, may decide to step down from a leadership role. If so, she'd be doing so at the top of her game.
Her opponent? Be serious -- San Francisco is not sending a Republican to the House in 2023.

State Assembly Member, District 17: Matt Haney

Matt Haney has been in this seat for a few months now and it's possible that he's the next rising star of San Francisco politics. That may not be a good thing. While on the school board, Haney was the joker who came up with the idea of renaming schools named after racists like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. You won't see that anywhere on his campaign materials. Progressives are angry at him for lurching centrist to campaign for the assembly job, but the moderate Democrat vote is far more important for his future statewide ambitions. Haney is a good speaker, but he's also a political opportunist.
But his opponent David Campos was Chesa Boudin's top aide, and his political brand is "uncompromising leftist," which is commonplace on the SF board of supes, but in the state assembly just means you get nothing done.

California Supreme Court and Court of Appeals justices: Yes on all

Judges should not have to run for election. The US Supreme Court is making that argument harder to understand, but we don't want justices considering the electoral effect of their rulings: only what's fair. Judges should only be voted out in cases of malfeasance or extreme incompetence. None of these judges have been accused of that.

It's tempting to go through the list of judges who keep releasing career criminals in San Francisco and hold them accountable. But these judges are higher level than that.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tony Thurmond

I dislike Tony Thurmond, a Democrat owned by the teachers' unions. But here is an answer by his GOP opponent Lance Ray Christensen to a questionnaire sent by Grow SF: "We recently moved to Wheatland to be closer to our roots where we could raise our children in the ethics of hard work and in a community that values family, faith and freedom." That sounds like a right-wing dog whistle to me.

Member, Board of Education: Lisa Weissman-Ward, Lainie Motamedi, Ann Hsu

Earlier this year we recalled three incompetent members of the school board. Before their recall, the board refused to pass a budget or discuss a plan to reopen schools, but it did find time to rename 44 schools that had been named after notorious racists like Abraham Lincoln.

The worst of those three board members -- Gabriela Lopez -- is right back on the ballot. There should be a law against that. She was elected in 2018 by just 13.7% of voters in a 19-candidate race. She was recalled in February by 72% of voters. We clearly don't want her! Yet progressives support her so she might win again. The second most important thing on this ballot, locally, is to keep her out of office so we can keep the school board from sliding back into dysfunction.

Lopez is terrible: she is the only board member who supported Alison Collins' $87 million suit against the city. (Collins made racist remarks against Asians and was forced to resign as board vice-chair; she thought her hurt feelings entitled her to 7% of the annual school budget.) Lopez was board chairman yet complained about having to deal with budget issues, and avoided it so long that the state nearly took over our schools. She lectured parents at board meetings and gave one the finger on Twitter.

You may have noticed we don't hear much about the school board anymore. That's because post-recall, once Mayor London Breed appointed Hsu, Motamedi and Weissman-Ward, they got to work. They dealt with the budget mess left by their predecessors. They put Lowell High School back on the right track. Progressives in SF these days believe that "merit" is racist, and that all students should get the same education as the lowest achievers. That philosophy hits Asian kids especially hard; for years, poor Asian families encouraged their kids to study hard so they could get into Lowell to get the kind of quality education that white progressives send their kids to private schools for. There's a distinctly anti-Asian tint to the progressive school board candidates. Collins' mistake was saying the racist part out loud.

Lopez is not the only bad progressive candidate on this ballot. "Diversity Inclusion Educator" Karen Fleshman was so involved in the Chesa Boudin cult that she physically stole a banner supporting his recall. Putting these two on the board would take us right back to the days of 6-hour meetings where nothing is accomplished and parents are lectured and given the finger. And don't forget: very soon the board is going to have to deal with a smaller budget because we have fewer students. It will be ugly: classes will be eliminated, teachers might be laid off, schools might close. It's going to happen no matter who we elect, but we should elect people who can make good choices in that situation, not avoid it entirely as the pre-recall board did.

Please, please re-elect Hsu, Motamedi and Weissman-Ward. I would write 4000 more words on this if it would convince you. Please. I'm tired of our school board being a laughing stock as well as a budgetary sinkhole.

Community College Board (term ending 2027): Jill Yee, Marie Hurabiell, Thea Selby

I always hate this election, in large part because of the lack of information about the candidates. For years the Guardian recommended ideologues and they won because the Chronicle, the dominant local media, ignored the race. That led to a dysfunctional board that nearly cost the college system its accreditation.

Fortunately Grow SF has stepped up to do what the Chronicle never did: take this race seriously. I recommend that you read Grow SF's no-endorsement, in which it narrows the candidates down to four acceptable ones. Let's not stray from those four: budget cuts are likely to be needed this year and we need board members who can hold adult conversations about them. Please don't vote for candidates who say they will fight budget cuts because that's not how it works, and you would be electing someone to do a job that they don't want to do.

I chose these three from the Grow SF quartet because this board was a huge problem until about five years ago, so anybody from the board before that should not benefit from incumbency.

(By the way, if somebody from Grow SF reads this ... please don't do the "no endorsement" thing. We're going to vote anyway. We have to make a decision so you should too.)

Community College Board (term ending 2025): Murrell Green

Green was appointed to this board by Mayor Breed. The other two candidates' websites say their focus will be on preventing classes from being eliminated. Sorry, but that isn't going to be possible if the budget is cut. The bad old CC board would spend hours fighting over class cuts and wind up not making any decision at all. Let's not go back to that.

Assessor-recorder: Joaquin Torres

Torres was appointed to this job in 2021 and is running unopposed. I don't have any reason to not vote for him, and it wouldn't matter if I did.

Remember, you can vote for one to four candidates, but you don't have to. I'm only voting for two and recommend you do also. Do NOT vote more than once for any one candidate or your vote will not count.

District Attorney: Brooke Jenkins 1st, Joe Alioto Veronese 2nd

Even after being recalled, former pro-crime DA Chesa Boudin looms large over San Francisco politics. Hatred of his appointed successor Brooke Jenkins caused Hearst to debase itself so utterly that I won't even read the Chronicle's endorsements anymore because I don't condone misogyny (for that story, read my intro). And I'm not even on the bitter political side. Boudin supporters are angry and want to take their anger out on someone. I hope it's not the city itself, but that's a real possibility in this race.

How badly do progressives want this? Austin Hills, scion of the coffee-bean family fortune that also owns Grgich Hills winery, tried to run for it, only to learn he didn't fit the minimum requirement of being an attorney. Trust-fund progressives, sigh.

This is part of a national progressive movement: after we recalled Boudin, progressives around the country immediately dumped on San Francisco, accusing us of being right-wingers and/or duped by Republican billionaires, and hoping our city deteriorates further. Nice!

Boudin's not running again this time, and the progressive who is on the ballot is the dream of those out-of-towners who want to see more crime here. John Hamasaki must be stopped. Which candidate stops him is not important. If he wins, the quality of life here will go down overnight.

"Overnight" is not an exaggeration. The No. 1 problem during the Boudin regime was not Boudin himself: it was the unofficial work slowdown by San Francisco police, who told residents multiple times they wouldn't bother investigating crimes or arresting people because Boudin wouldn't prosecute them anyway.

That's a huge problem: I don't like being held hostage by our own police department. But electing a DA the police hate even more is not going to solve it. Hamasaki was the most angry, aggressive member of the police commission. He is not an even-tempered person: he had to delete 8509 tweets to run for this office. You can search them to learn why. He doesn't think teenagers arrested with assault weapons should have those weapons confiscated. He enthusiastically videoed a sideshow that stopped all traffic on the Bay Bridge after a gang funeral. Hamasaki frequently defends gang members and might be one himself.

He's also not qualified. Boudin at least had been a public defender. Hamasaki has never held a government job. He has never supervised a department; he has only one employee. He has never set a budget. He's a defense attorney with an affinity for gang members. He has all the integrity of Saul Goodman.

UPDATE: Since my first draft I learned Hamasaki has credit-card and tax liens against him AND had a domestic violence accusation filed against him this very month, seeking a restraining order against him. THIS is the progressive candidate for DA? Why are you doing this to us?

I defended Jenkins online from Hearst's misogynistic attacks on general principle, and I'm going to vote for her first because I think she deserves more than three months to show us if she can do the job. She was a homicide prosecutor, including under Boudin, and she seems to be good at politics. One huge improvement over Boudin is that she will talk to groups that don't agree with her. This job will be on the ballot again either this year or next, depending on Proposition H, and we'll have a better assessment by then of whether she's good at it.

But I can live with Veronese. He and Jenkins both say they want to stop the open-air fentanyl markets that have led to more overdose deaths in this city since 2020 than deaths by Covid. (Hamasaki is pro-fentanyl dealers; of course he is.)

If you are so angry at Jenkins that you can't abide voting for her, let's meet in the middle at Veronese. Please don't put a gang lawyer in charge.
Public Defender: Mano Raju (1st only)

I don't love Raju, who has expanded his job past defending clients into agitating for reducing police funding and other progressive social justice goals. There is no shortage of local nonprofits who make those arguments. But his opponent quit the PD's office to go work for Chesa Boudin. Raju at least stayed in the job he's supposed to be doing.

State proposition 1 (Constitutional right to abortion): Hell Yes!

This would codify any woman's right to abortion in California. It is necessary after the Trump Supreme Court took away women's rights to control their own bodies. California is going to be an important sanctuary for women around the western US, and we should embrace that role.

State proposition 26 (Online gambling controlled by Native Americans): No

We have two props that would allow online sports gambling. I'm against both. I'm a prude on online gambling. If gamblers have to make some minimal effort -- driving or flying to Las Vegas -- then almost by definition they're not spending their kids' lunch money. Online sports gambling will lead to more child poverty and homelessness.
Both of these props are offensive not because of the issue itself -- clearly many people disagree with me on online gambling -- but because they represent an attempt by one entity to grab a monopoly on it. This prop would give a monopoly to Native American tribes. I'm vehemently against that AND YET it's still better than prop 27.

State proposition 27 (Online gambling controlled by mega corporations): NO

If you want to vote for online sports gambling, please choose prop 26, not this one, which would require that companies that run it pay a $100 million license fee. This is a naked power grab for the biggest gambling companies, none of which are local: BetMGM, DraftKings and Fan Duel. It would allow these companies to set the rules and regulate the business.

If we're going to allow online gambling, we really should let the legislature write the bill. Both of these bills are written by the entities that would profit from them. California deserves better.

State proposition 28 (arts and music school funding): No

This would require the state to set aside 1% of school funding for arts and music education. This is a typical ballot funding mandate issue; it sounds like a good idea, but those funds are going to come from somewhere. This would force the state to spend nearly $1 billion on arts and music education, and if the budget shrinks, those funds are untouchable. Arts and music education is a good thing, but setting a funding mandate makes it the most important thing.

State proposition 29 (union attack on people who need dialysis): NO, DAMMIT! (Didn't you get that the first time?)

California voters have rejected this attack on people who need dialysis twice before, in 2018 and 2020, but the powerful SEIU supports it so it's back on the ballot. It would require a doctor to be on-site for all dialysis treatments. That's expensive. Clinics would close. Some dialysis patients would die. Don't do this.

State proposition 30 (tax the rich and spend it on electric cars): No

This is funded by Lyft, which would benefit from it. I like what the Bay Guardian said about this: "The great modern economist Thomas Piketty says: Taxing the rich today is a good idea, by definition, no matter what you do with the money. Taking income and wealth from the top 1 percent always makes society more equitable." Sure, but Lyft is a $3.8 billion company, and that's pretty 1% also. It's just moving money around between rich people.

State proposition 31 (bans flavored tobacco): Yes

The state banned flavored tobacco, but the big tobacco companies gathered enough signatures to put it on the ballot. The whole purpose of flavored tobacco is to turn young people into lifelong nicotine addicts. "Yes" keeps that from happening here.

City proposition A (increases pension money for older retired city workers): No

This would put a cost-of-living increase on the pension for city workers who retired before 1996. I'm sure this is going to pass and maybe it even should, but city pensions are already quite generous. I feel hardhearted voting no, but just think about all those former SF cops who are going to get this money.

City proposition B (puts Department of Public Works back together): Yes

Matt Haney foolishly proposed a 2020 measure to split DPW in two, and voters foolishly approved it. We were feeling a little burned by the Mohammed Nuru scandal at DPW.
But splitting the department in two made no sense and just added bureaucracy and extra costs. What DPW needs is oversight, not two separate divisions.
DPW, incidentally, is responsible for cleaning our streets. DPW is doing a terrible job. I see more human feces on the streets now than ever. I understand the anger at DPW. Maybe by the next election we can come up with a better idea for fixing it.

City proposition C (creates homelessness oversight commission): No

We spent $1.1 billion on homelessness last year for about 9000 people, with little to show for it. It's not a bad idea to put somebody in charge of seeing what the hell we're doing with all that money.
The problem with this proposition is that it reserves every commission seat but one for people in the homeless industrial complex: companies that benefit from keeping our homeless population high. They're not going to solve the problem; they're going to find a way to make more money for themselves from it.

City proposition D (streamlines housing construction approvals): Yes

Housing is not my main issue and that has enabled me, for years, to stand aside amused at San Francisco progressives' NIMBYism. Progressives support housing projects as long as they are affordable, sustainable, allotted by social justice standards, shaped like a banana and able to levitate.
We have a shortage of housing. We won't fix it by continuing to not build housing. Market-rate housing is not the devil: we have rent control here. You can't say you're "pro-housing" while continuing to oppose every single housing initiative.

City proposition E (prevents new housing from being built): No

The board of supes was so upset that Prop D might lead to new housing being built that it put this on the ballot. Don't fall for it; the whole point is to overturn D.

City proposition F (library preservation fund): Yes

This reauthorizes an existing 0.025% property tax to fund the library system. I'm a big fan of the public library, which among other things allows kids of any income level to have access to free reading material. I would vote yes for this twice if I could.

City proposition G (grants for schools from general fund): No

This funding measure is a bit complicated. The state typically collects property tax for school funding and redistributes it to schools first. The extra, about $300 million a year, can go into the general fund. This would make those funds available for schools, which would have to apply for them, but some percentage of it would be required to be spent on schools.
I like the idea, but I don't like new funding mandates in this environment. The city might be scrambling for funds in the next year or two. We might want to spend this money on schools, but we should keep our options open.

City proposition H (changes city elections to presidential years): Yes

We have had 4 elections this year in San Francisco, and we haven't even voted on mayor, sheriff, city attorney or treasurer. The only reason we've voting on district attorney is because of the recall.

Most likely San Francisco was set up to have these important city officials elected in non-presidential election years so that a minority of interested voters could control them. Exactly which minority has shifted over the years; what likely started as a white male power grab now benefits whatever political group is the most motivated.

We could analyze which group would benefit from moving those elections to presidential election years, but I don't care. More people vote in presidential election years. I'm pro-democracy. Having more voters turn out to choose the mayor and DA is a good thing.

Progressives might grumble that this gives Breed another year, and law-abiding citizens should quake in terror at an extra year for Hamasaki. I would rue the latter (we all would soon enough), but that just shows that the idea itself is apolitical.

City proposition I (reopens JFK Drive to car traffic): No
City proposition J (keeps JFK Drive closed to cars): No

Props I & J are my most difficult decisions on this ballot. On most issues I know where I stand pretty quickly. I don't feel good about voting either way on either of these measures, and frankly I wish they weren't on the ballot.

The debate is over JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park as well as the Great Highway, both of which Mayor Breed closed to car traffic during the pandemic. This was the dream of a lot of relatively well-off people who like having their own private park. The Great Highway has since reopened on weekdays but JFK Drive is now "JFK Promenade," with no cars allowed.

I don't think JFK Promenade supporters realize how classist their position is. Golden Gate Park should be an important recreational space for everyone, but Muni service there is weak. Where I live, I can drive to the park in about 20 minutes but it would take about 2 hours, one way, by bus. I like walking on pedestrian-free JFK Drive, but I prefer driving and parking there and then walking. Supervisor Shamann Walton complained that his constituents can't use the park if they can't drive to it.

The Great Highway is another problem. The city was not laid out with any good north-south alternatives in that area. With the Great Highway closed, more traffic has been diverted to become stop-and-go on local streets. Also, people who would have parked on JFK Drive are circling around looking for parking nearby instead.

I don't like Prop I in part because it was written by a socialite in support of the deYoung Museum. I get that, though: People with limited mobility can no longer visit the museum. I spent some time talking about Prop I with a disabled man at a farmers' market, and it's difficult to dismiss his concerns.

However, Prop I also overturns a 10-year-old plan for the city to close the Great Highway south of Sloat in order to build a seawall and protect a wastewater treatment plant. And it demands that the Great Highway be open 24/7 when closing it only on weekends is a reasonable compromise.

Prop J was put on the ballot by the Board of Supes to basically codify the status quo: it's a competing measure, but it would also hamstring the board against making future changes without another referendum. If Prop I fails, there's no reason to vote for Prop J, and thus I will not.

By the way, Prop N makes a difference if it passes. Check it out below.

City proposition L (sales tax to fund Muni): Yes

This measure reauthorizes a 1/2 cent sales tax to fund mass transit, with most of it going to Muni. Muni is pretty terrible and this city should have better public transit, but cutting off its funding isn't going to make that happen.

City proposition M (tax on vacant apartments): No

My instinct is to vote Yes on this, because I agree with the Democratic Socialists that I'd like to see landlords who have removed rental housing stock for Air BnB pay up.

However, I was persuaded by GrowSF's argument that this bill will not help. The problem is that it doesn't apply to single-family homes; only to large apartment buildings that have an apartment open for more than six months.

The (un?)intended consequence is that developers will be less interested in building more apartment buildings. But the Democratic Socialists hate new housing projects anyway, so maybe that's a feature? It isn't for me. I'm going to vote No and hope this bill comes back with a provision that targets all rental property, not just apartments in large buildings.

City proposition N (city control over Golden Gate Park parking garage): Yes

For some reason, city voters in 1998 took the Golden Gate Park parking garage out from under city control and put it in control of a separate public entity, the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority, over which the city has no power. What the hell were they thinking?

The main selling point of Prop I is that working-class families need to drive to the park to enjoy it, and there aren't enough places to park cheaply. The city could change that. If JFK Promenade remains closed to cars, we could subsidize parking in the garage. Right now it costs up to $30 a day.

Voters made a bad and inexplicable decision in 1998. We can and should fix it.

City proposition O (parcel tax for City College): No

This is the definition of throwing good money after bad. City College can't keep to its budget, nearly lost its accreditation, and now is asking for additional funding at the ballot box. I don't mind taxing landowners but City College hasn't demonstrated that it can responsibly use the money it gets now.

Election endorsement intro: who I am and why I do this

Who am I, and why should you care about my political endorsements?

I'm a freelance wine journalist; I chose this path because wine is the most interesting topic. But I have more relevant journalistic experience. In the SF Bay Area I have been a city editor at two local newspapers. At the second, I was on the editorial board, did some endorsements and won an award for editorial writing. I started my career covering cops and courts in Florida. I have also won awards for public service reporting and investigative reporting. I have lived in this area for more than 20 years. Before that I spent about a decade abroad so I have an international perspective. 

I rarely blog about wine anymore (instead I am writing about wine for publications that pay me to do so). But I keep doing these endorsement posts because I think we don't talk enough about politics in this country. Talk, not scream. We have devolved from a country where bipartisanship problem-solving was possible to a two-party system with extremists on both sides who are against any kind of cooperation. I believe if we actually discuss who we're planning to vote for with our neighbors, we will elect fewer extremists, and that will be better for everyone.

Also, I consider voting to be a sacred right and responsibility, so I do research to decide how I'm going to vote on every ballot measure and school board candidate. I might as well share what I come up with.

Politically, I am a Democrat, but foremost I am a pragmatist. That said, while I'm endorsing two Republicans for statewide office this year, in 2022 or 2024 I don't think I could vote for any Republican candidate for national office. I support democracy. That wasn't a political position in the past but Trump has made it one.

In San Francisco, where 85% of us are Democrats, the ongoing battle is between Progressives and Moderates. For most of my life I have sided with Progressives because they have been right about the big issues, starting with climate change. However, lately in SF Progressives have lost their way. They're putting ideology over practicality, whereas I will always vote for practicality. It's practical to drastically reduce our carbon emissions, and to increase taxes on the wealthy. Public transit is practical. Public power might be practical. It's impractical to have a school board that can't pass a budget or a DA who won't prosecute Honduran drug dealers because he doesn't want them deported.  

I see San Francisco deteriorating and don't think we're taking it seriously enough. Polls show I'm not alone. Our No. 1 industry, pre-pandemic, was tourism. We can't keep mocking reports from tourists who are horrified by the filth on our streets. We can't keep ignoring business leaders who say their employees don't want to work downtown. We definitely can't keep ignoring anti-Asian violence in a city that is 37% Asian. We need to take control of our streets. Recalling DA Chesa Boudin was a good start, but we need to keep on it.

The No. 1 issue for this city, all sides agree, is homelessness. For many of us, we just want fewer homeless people so there's less human feces on the street and fewer alarming confrontations.

But we have a huge homeless industrial complex in this city that gets paid because we have so many homeless people, so they show up to every board meeting advocating for solutions that line their pockets, rather than helping the city. Keeping the homeless population large is in the homeless industrial complex's best interest. And because they are loud and ever present, too many city leaders believe that what voters in general want is large expenditures to make street life more pleasant.

We spent $1.1 billion last year on a homeless population estimated at under 9000. We could have given every homeless person $100,000 dollars cash, and that would have been cheaper. We don't distinguish between homeless people. For families that lose their housing because of illness, I'm in favor of a huge amount of support. But our homeless industry treats every junkie that hitchhiked here the same as actually needy people.

If you actually ask the drug users on the street, as SF Standard did, they're not from here and "they come to party." Let's not reward them by giving them free hotel rooms.

Thanks to Chesa Boudin, criminal justice has become the main dividing issue between Progressives and Moderates. I'm with the Moderates. I'm glad first offenders are getting opportunities to avoid prison, but career criminals should be held while awaiting charges. If there is one aspect of the US criminal justice system I could reform, it would be our prison system, which is overly punitive with insufficient opportunities for prisoners to learn trades and improve themselves. Prison is bad! But it exists for a reason, and the DA's office exists not to be an adjunct of the public defender's office, but to put away criminals who pose a danger to the rest of us. Boudin's defenders have sealed themselves into an ideological bubble that apparently prevents them from seeing how terrible he was for the city.

On candidates: I want them, foremost, to not be corrupt. I would vote for an honest person I don't agree with (Mitt Romney, for example) over a corrupt person on my political "team." (Another reason I can't accept today's national Republicans at all. How can any person of conscience continue to condone Donald Trump?)

That's who I am, why I do this, and my main views on the issues of the day. (I'm very pro-abortion, btw, but that's not a local issue at this time.)

Now, where do I get my information? That changed a lot this year.

The San Francisco Chronicle and defunct San Francisco Bay Guardian were my twin towers for years. I used to be firmly between them politically -- right of the Guardian, left of the Chronicle -- but the Chron has taken a hard left turn and is back to practicing the kind of yellow journalism that its owner Hearst Corp used to start the Spanish-American war.

Hearst broke its own rules about anonymous-source content to run the picture and cutline on the right on the front page of SFGate for District Attorney Brooke Jenkins' first four days in office. Four days they left this up! They know exactly what they're doing: labeling a political opponent like Donald Trump does.

Misogynist Eric Ting wrote a story claiming "anonymous sources" (i.e., Ting himself) called Jenkins "icy," "horrible" and "insane." You don't see the Chronicle calling male politicians "icy." This is holding female politicians to a different standard: a DA who must not only fight crime, but be warm and, well, maternal while doing so. Nobody asked that of Boudin.

And what job does the author do? Misogynist Eric Ting is SFGate political editor! I won't be reading Hearst's endorsements again while he's in that job, because I vote for a lot of female candidates and want to see them treated fairly.

Fortunately, the pragmatic vacuum created by the Chronicle going misogynist-progressive has been filled by a couple of organizations doing pragmatic endorsements.

Grow SF does such a good job that I really don't even need to do this anymore. (And it's a lot of work, so maybe in the future I won't.)

Take Action SF also did a nice job.

From the left, the San Francisco Bay Guardian still does endorsements even though it's a cobweb site now; editor Tim Redmond uses the SFBG site to get around rules for nonprofit news sites like his new place of business, 48Hills. I have tremendous respect for Redmond even though the publication is far left of me politically. Unlike the current regime at the Chronicle, it treats candidates fairly and takes every issue seriously, and its endorsements are always worth reading even when I don't agree.

The new SF Standard is doing good journalism work online, and its voter guide is pretty good although it lacks endorsements.

And here's a shoutout to the Marina Times. I never paid attention to it until this year, but it was the only local media organization to endorse the Boudin recall. Has the city's media ever been more out of touch with its readership? Editor Susan Dyer Reynolds is a Twitter crank who goes after hypocritical progressives like a terrier shaking a squeaky toy, but she does the work journalistically, which I respect. I'll pay more attention to it now.

For statewide issues I also read the LA Times and the Sacramento Bee. I read the candidates' statements on Smart Voter. At some point I make a decision, and then I share it with you. I have been doing endorsements for more than a decade so if you really want to know where I stand, it's all online.

Thanks for reading and please vote.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Endorsements for the June 2022 election in San Francisco (including the Chesa Boudin recall)

Chesa Boudin's philosophical predecessor, Judge Jonathan Crane

Welcome to a very ho-hum primary election, with one exception at the very end.

All of the statewide office elections on the ballot are primaries, but unlike most states, California allows the two top candidates into the November general election, regardless of party. Democrats will ultimately win most if not all of the statewide offices, and it's unlikely that any of the incumbents will fail to reach the November ballot.

Let's go to the endorsements. It was challenging to write these because once again the San Francisco Chronicle has chosen to put its endorsements behind a paywall, which I never understand. So has the Sacramento Bee. Fortunately, the San Francisco Bay Guardian rose from the dead to support Boudin and also weigh in on the local ballot issues. And there's no paywall! If the Chronicle wonders why it doesn't have the influence it should in a one-newspaper town, that's why.

Governor: Gavin Newsom

There are 26 candidates on the ballot for this job; it's like last year's recall election all over again. But none are serious challengers.

Lieutenant Governor: Eleni Kounalakis

Kounalakis is the incumbent; she used her family's wealth in 2018 to run a successful campaign for this do-nothing office. I didn't vote for her before, and I haven't had any reason since to improve my opinion of her, but there isn't any serious opposition, a Democrat is going to win this, and she's the Democrat. Her investment might pay off in 2026 if she's a serious candidate for governor.

Secretary of State: Shirley N. Weber

Despite the title, the main job for the Secretary of State is overseeing elections. Weber is a former professor of African American studies and California assembly member who was appointed to this post by Newsom after he appointed Alex Padilla to Kamala Harris' former Senate seat. There isn't any serious opposition. But Weber is just the first of a series of Democratic machine candidates, getting incumbency despite not actually having been elected.


Controller: Ron Galperin

This is a wide open race because incumbent Betty Yee is term-limited out. I am impressed by Galperin's very relevant experience as controller for Los Angeles. One of his first initiatives was the city's first open data portal. He has been trying to get LA to rein in spending because it is over budget. One doubt I have is that the LA Times has seen Galperin's work yet endorsed somebody else: Republican Lanhee Chen, apparently agreeing with Chen's argument that with Democrats in charge of almost everything in Sacramento, it would be sensible to have a Republican watching the money. But I can't get past the fact that Chen worked for Marco Rubio's presidential campaign.
Malia Cohen, a member of the state board of equalization, has the Democratic Party's endorsement and that's probably enough to get her into the general election. I don't support putting a former member of the profligate San Francisco board of supervisors, with no relevant experience for this job, in charge of state finances.

Treasurer: Fiona Ma

Ma is the incumbent. Her first term has not been without controversy, but she faces only weak Republican opposition and will easily land on the ballot in November.

Attorney General: Anne Marie Schubert

Rob Bonta was appointed last year to fill the shoes of Xavier Becerra, who joined the Biden administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services. Bonta was pretty good on crime-and-punishment issues in the legislature, but
he has solicited donations to his wife's high-paying charity from companies with business before him
. I like him on the issues but I don't think Newsom should have appointed someone with such an ethical challenge to the Attorney General's office. I also don't think it's fair, under the circumstances, for him to waltz into re-election as an incumbent.

Schubert, Sacramento's District Attorney, is running as a sort of anti-Chesa Boudin. It's a good election cycle for that; I probably don't need to say more. She's not as progressive as Boudin, but her record shows nuance. She oversaw not only the arrest and prosecution of the Golden State Killer, but also the DNA-based exoneration of Ricky Davis, who spent 15 years in prison for murder. Someone is going to make the final one-on-one showdown with Bonta; she's a good choice.

Insurance Commissioner: Marc Levine

Incumbent Ricardo Lara got caught accepting money from insurance companies shortly after taking office, and must be voted out.
This is an increasingly important job, as wildfires have become an annual event. Policies made by this office in the next four years could either save state residents whose houses burn from being homeless, or bankrupt the state, or both. This job could use a fiscal conservative, but none of the Republicans on the ballot are very impressive.
Levine, a state assembly member from Marin County, won endorsements from the Chronicle and the LA Times.

Board of Equalization Member, District 2: Michela Alioto-Pier

The Chronicle refused to endorse a candidate in this race because it thinks the board should be eliminated: most of its powers were taken away in 2017. The Chronicle is right, but the job pays $164,000 a year to do nothing and somebody's going to win it. Alioto, from the San Francisco political dynasty, was smart enough to see a stepping-stone opportunity (see Malia Cohen, above) and is hopefully smart enough to not blow it.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tony Thurmond

This is my least favorite vote on this ballot. Thurmond wasn't very good in his first term. The LA Times and Sacramento Bee refused to endorse anyone; the Chronicle endorsed Thurmond, but not enthusiastically. The problem is, the opposition is very weak, unless you're a Trumpy Republican, which I am not. Thurmond doesn't deserve to win as easily as he will. Apparently the Democratic Party leadership kept the field clear for him.

US Senator: Alex Padilla

Speaking of the Democratic machine ... I don't really know whether Padilla is a good Senator or not. He was appointed to fill Kamala Harris' seat and he hasn't been terrible (in fact he's better than Dianne Feinstein.) Nor has he done anything noteworthy. He's just another appointed official who gets to run as an incumbent, for the rest of his life. That's how we do things here. It works: I don't see anybody better on the ballot.
You have to vote twice, once for the rest of the term, and also for him to inherit the seat for the next term.

US Representative, District 11: Nancy Pelosi

It's not Pelosi's fault that the Democrats haven't been able to get much done despite controlling the House, Senate and White House; that's on the Senate. She has kept a fractious House coalition together and deserves not only another term, but also another term as Speaker.

State Assembly, District 17: Matt Haney

This race was decided in the April election; David Campos conceded and has stopped campaigning. So it's a zombie race, and we'll have to vote on it again in November. I wonder how badly Haney would have to screw up to make it a race again?

Proposition A: Yes

This $400 million bond would help Muni improve its facilities. We need to keep public transit operating, especially after a difficult two years because of the pandemic.

Proposition B: Yes

This would bring some accountability to the Department of Building Inspection, which has a corruption problem.

Proposition C: NO

Brought to you by the supporters of the recently recalled school board members, this would make recall elections more difficult. Bad timing for this: the Boudin recall is a divisive, close, emotional issue, but the school board recall was necessary to get rid of incompetent members elected by a tiny minority of voters who nearly put our schools under state control. We need to keep the flexibility to fire people like that.

Proposition D: No

The idea of an Office of Victim and Witness Rights sounds good in the Boudin era, but in fact this would just create more bureaucracy -- and cost more money -- without actually giving victims any more rights. Boudin's lack of concern for crime victims is a problem, but this isn't a good solution.

Proposition E: Yes

Above, I said I won't vote for Rob Bonta because of the "behested payments" he requested from people doing business with the Attorney General's office. This bill would prevent the Board of Supervisors from seeking such payments. It's a good anti-corruption bill that the state should also consider.

Proposition F: Yes

We have a monopoly in garbage collection and a single overseer of the contract. This would create a three-person board to oversee it, which would include a ratepayer advocate. It's a good idea that should have been done years ago.

Proposition G: Yes

This would require companies with 100 employees or more to give workers 80 hours of paid medical leave during a public-health emergency. That's two weeks off if they get Covid. It would have been great to have had this law in place in March 2020, but better late than never.

Proposition H: Yes

Photo by Jonathan Gonzalez

In 2021, nearly 500 people died of fentanyl overdoses in San Francisco. Fentanyl dealers operate openly in the Civic Center. You might wonder why the police don't arrest them. It turns out they do, but Chesa Boudin refuses to prosecute them for fentanyl dealing, instead offering plea bargains to lesser offenses.

Boudin did not convict a single person of dealing fentanyl in 2021, even though our drug crisis is worse than in 2018, when his predecessor George Gascon -- also very progressive -- secured more than 90 convictions.

Why? Because many of the drug dealers are Hondurans here illegally, and Boudin is concerned that if they are convicted, they might be deported.

 Boudin's father David Gilbert (in cuffs)

That sums up Boudin quite neatly. He is who he is: the son of felons, terrorists convicted of driving the getaway car in a bank robbery. He grew up visiting them in prison. He sympathizes with criminals, so he became a public defender. That's the perfect job for him, because all criminals deserve a vigorous defense. He had the chutzpah to run for DA on a platform of being tough on cops and soft on crime, and he won fair and square. Now he's enacting the program, and he might be recalled for it.

Is that fair? Philosophically, it might not be. I have written several drafts of my endorsement on this ballot measure in both directions. Most were more than 2000 words long. But it comes down to this: I don't want Boudin as DA. My head says that he won the election and he's doing what he promised. My heart says, I want to see criminals prosecuted. But Boudin doesn't believe in that.

I agree with much of Boudin's judicial philosophy, but he is inflexible. He is an ideologue who apparently does not believe that there is such a thing as a career criminal. His office is so poorly managed that judges are chastising him for it. He won't keep people in jail awaiting trial, so they are free to commit more crimes. He doesn't care about crime victims, and he doesn't care about anti-Asian violence. We are less safe with him in office.

If you want to protect Honduran drug dealers from deportation, vote no. Otherwise, let's get a DA who believes in prosecuting criminals.

  I had to stop allowing comments on endorsement posts because people just pasted in campaign statements. But I wish there was a place for intelligent discussion of the Boudin recall. If you want to talk about it, let's do so at The Gray Report page on Facebook.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Lisa Perrotti-Brown makes some interesting accusations, and maybe solves the Wine Advocate sake mystery

Lisa Perrotti-Brown MW

Longtime readers of The Gray Report may remember that in 2016, I discovered an unusual situation whereby every sake rated 90 points or more by the Wine Advocate was available at one retailer that sold only those sakes. It was as if the retailer, which I later learned seemed to have a connection to, had prior knowledge of which sakes the Advocate would recommend, so it could corner the market and raise prices.

At the time, Wine Advocate Editor-in-Chief Lisa Perrotti-Brown said she would investigate, but never released any results of the investigation.

Earlier this week, she may have revealed what happened.

Perrotti-Brown has only worked for one wine ratings organization: The Wine Advocate, where she was Editor-in-Chief from 2012 until last year, when she quit to go solo.

In launching her new project, The Wine Independent, Perrotti-Brown issued a press release and did interviews with writers from The Drinks Business and Wine-Searcher (not me.) In all three of these opportunities to speak out, Perrotti-Brown leveled some interesting accusations about ratings organizations. The wine world isn't as obsessed with the Wine Advocate as we were before Robert Parker retired, but nonetheless I'm surprised this hasn't been bigger news.

This is a story she seemingly wants to tell. But she might be afraid of being sued by her former employer, which is now owned by The Michelin Guide, which has been accused of ethical breaches for its food guide. It's worth noting that Robert Parker recruited Perrotti-Brown to the Advocate -- she started writing a column for the publication in 2008, before he sold it -- and Parker's personal ethics were always impeccable.

Let's start with her press release:

Perrotti-Brown and (partner Johan) Berglund seek a return to the high ethical standards initially championed by Robert M. Parker, Jr. back when he started The Wine Advocate in 1978 ...

"Still, numerous conflicts of interest have come to light in recent years, such as selling event tables to wineries and score previews to retailers through ultra-premium subscriptions. Some supposedly reputable publications – ones that claim to be independent - are guilty of such practices. As a result, faith in wine reviews has been eroded to the point where buyers no longer know who they can trust.”

Hmm, score previews through ultra-premium subscriptions. Well, that would explain the sake mystery, right?

But as I said at the time, score previews for sake are a small market. Imagine how much retailers might be willing to pay to know Bordeaux scores, if there's a possibility to buy futures before the ratings are released?

Here's what The Drinks Business article says:

Perrotti-Brown told db that such “shenanigans” were the source of “large amounts of money” for wine criticism titles

But there's a bigger ethical problem she hints at, much bigger than selling scores to retailers or semi-blackmailing wineries to buy event tables.

What if a 95-point score can be bought?

Here's what she told Don Kavanagh at Wine-Searcher (hi Don!):

There are other models now where you get wineries to pay huge amounts of money – I mean, thousands of dollars – for an event table, or to do this or that. And that's happening behind the scenes, and everybody's like "Oh, yeah, no, they don't do pay-to-play, you know, there's none of that going on". It's just hidden and nobody realizes.

We all know the shenanigans that go on, but I'd say, 90-95 percent of consumers have no idea that any of this is going on – all they see is a score, and they just believe that it's got some meaning behind it. But the problem is, you know, the penny is starting to drop [with consumers], because they're starting to say "What's the big deal about this 95-point experience that I'm supposed to be getting? This is a mediocre wine at best." What's going to happen is wine criticism is going to become meaningless. So because there is too much emphasis on scores, scores are being inflated, you don't know what's behind those scores in terms of agendas, and ultimately the consumers are being had. They're, they're the ones that are getting a bad experience when they follow scores. And that's just wrong.

It's possible to read the criticism of event tables as a criticism of Wine Spectator, which (pre-pandemic) staged a huge event every year called the Wine Experience. Winery people have bitched to me for a long time that they feel pressured to participate in Wine Spectator's shindig.

It's not just Spectator; independent critic James Suckling, a Spectator alumnus, hosts "Great Wines" grand tastings. Vinous, run by Advocate alumnus Antonio Galloni, hosts wine events as well. Wine events are a good way for wine ratings organizations to make money.

Is there a connection between participation in events and the ratings a winery receives? People including me have tried to prove one, but I haven't seen it proven yet. You could read Perrotti-Brown's criticism as being leveled at other organizations.

But let me say this again: Perrotti-Brown hasn't worked at these other organizations. She has only worked at The Wine Advocate, which also hosts events called Matter of Taste. So while she might be leveling criticism at a ratings-industry trend, the fact is she only has inside knowledge about one organization.

As she said, you don't know what's behind those scores in terms of agendas. But she does. And she sounds like she really, really wants to tell us.

Whenever you're ready, Ms. Perrotti-Brown, I am all ears.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Endorsements (with bonus rant): San Francisco school board recall election February 2022

Total Recall!

There are three races on this ballot, but one is much more important and attention-getting than the others, and will get the bulk of this post.

Let's do the easier ones first:

State Assembly District 17 special primary
: Bilal Mahmood

This is ironic. The position is open because David Chiu, who beat Chris Campos for an assembly seat in 2014, decided to take the San Francisco City Attorney job last fall, as he would have been term-limited out of the assembly this year. Thus we have four elections for this seat this year: this February primary and an April general election between the top two in this primary (all four are Democrats) to fill a seat that will be on the ballot AGAIN for the regular June primary and November general election. Incumbency is really powerful in San Francisco, and now Campos might get incumbency 8 years later because Chiu quit early.

Campos, a former member of the Board of Supervisors, is running against current Board member Matt Haney; early polling shows these two in the lead. This sucks because they are the two worst candidates. Campos is considered more liberal than Haney, but the progressive San Francisco Bay Guardian -- which hates Chiu -- refused to endorse Campos in 2014. Haney is a "progressive" NIMBY; he recently voted to delay approval of a 250-bed homeless shelter even though the second phrase of his campaign website says he supports "housing more homeless." When he was president of the school board in 2016 (something he doesn't even mention in his four-page election flier), Haney is the joker who first proposed renaming schools named after racists like George Washington. It's probably not great for him to be on this particular ballot (you'll read a lot more about the school board below) but all he has to do is finish second and he'll get a shot in April.

I am torn between Mahmood and Thea Selby. Read about Mahmood here. Though he worked in the Obama administration as a policy analyst, Mahmood has no experience running for office. Selby has been on the community college board since 2014, and to her credit it has improved from being the most-irresponsible government agency in SF during her tenure. I slightly prefer Mahmood's stands on issues including housing and a potential Green New Deal. Either is better than the other two.

UPDATE: The Chronicle endorsed Mahmood! I'm stunned and pleased. And also validated: I made my choices by reading their positions and watching a debate, but the Chronicle has the resources to interview the candidates and the expertise to parse all their past decisions. I hope this is the push Mahmood needs to make it to the runoff.

Assessor-Recorder: Whatever

JoaquĆ­n Torres was appointed to this job in February 2021 and is running unopposed for election to a full term. I have no idea if he's any good at the job, but it doesn't matter because he only needs one vote to win. Here's his website.

Now the main event:

San Francisco School Board Recall Election (Propositions A, B and C): Yes, Yes, Hell Yes! TOTAL RECALL!

Here is the TLDR version of this election endorsement:

Vote to recall all 3 of the San Francisco school board members on the ballot for these reasons:

* The school board that includes these three was more interested in renaming schools that had been named after racists like Abraham Lincoln and George Washington than in coming up with a school reopening plan.
* The board still has never come up with a plan for students to make up for all the lost learning
* The board has not paid any attention to its budget, building up a huge deficit. In December it was finally forced to approve an immediate $90 million in cuts in an attempt to avert a state takeover.

* The state might have to take over our schools! What more clear evidence could you ask for that this board is incompetent?

* These three were never the choice of a majority of the electorate in the first place.
* Alison Collins, after her racist tweets from 2016 were exposed, tried to take $87 million out of the school budget and put it in her own pocket.
* Collins' ally, board chairperson Gabriela Lopez, has led the board through its era of complete incompetence. She has shown us she cannot do the job
* Faauuga Moliga is not as bad as Collins or Lopez, but he hasn't shown that he's part of the solution. Removing him will give a more competent administrator a chance to do a better job.


Recall these three: Collins, Lopez and Moliga

I have a lot to say about this recall election, so if you lose interest just go back to the TLDR version. I want to look at how the board got this bad, and what might be done to get a more professional school board in the future.

I also want to wring my hands about recall elections in general. I don't think they're good for American democracy unless required by malfeasance or egregious incompetence. Generally I won't vote "Yes" on a recall even if I dislike the office holder. And whether the recall succeeds or not, these three seats are also up for election in November.

But this recall is very necessary, just to get Alison Collins out of a job that nearly every city political leader asked her to resign from two years ago because of her anti-Asian racism

Having already staked out a position that even Abraham Lincoln was not sufficiently anti-racist,
the school board had little choice but to strip Collins of her title as Vice President.

Collins turned around and filed a lawsuit for $87 million, attempting to redirect about 7 percent of the annual school budget into her own bank account. She failed, but undermined the schools anyway. Her lawsuit was ridiculous, but it cost the school district $110,000 to fight it.

Collins could file something like this again, at any time. She needs to go. A school board member who thinks it's OK to sue the school district for $87 million because her feelings were hurt cannot stay in a position where she has any influence on how money for schools is spent.

Collins is the headliner here, but there are many other reasons this recall is happening, and her lawsuit isn't the main one. I'm not going to touch on most of them; this official site for recall proponents does an excellent job, and I recommend that you read it. While you're there, check out the who's who of local politicians from both left and center (we have no right) who support this recall.

Instead, I want to talk about how these three people got elected to a job they have proven they are unqualified for.

The 2018 election had 19 candidates for 3 school board spots. Collins got the most votes of any candidate -- 15% of the votes cast. Lopez got 13.7% and Moliga got 13.2%. This meant relatively easy wins for them: the next closest candidate, Phil Kim, got 9.3%.

If those numbers were quadruple, I would have serious qualms about voting for this recall. But here's a statistical fun fact for you: at least 2/3 of people who voted in the 2018 school board election DID NOT CHOOSE ANY OF THESE THREE CANDIDATES.

In other words, they were not the choice of a majority of voters. Not even close. 817,920 votes were cast in the school board election. Between the three of them, they amassed 342,153 votes -- not even close to half, and many people voted for more than one of them for reasons I will explain below. They were chosen by a minority of voters: less than one in seven voters in the cases of Lopez and Moliga.

That's how democracy works in a crowded race. But my point is that there was no "will of the people" to install these three on the board. (I'm going to revisit the "will of the people" argument when District Attorney Chesa Boudin's recall election comes up later in 2022.)

So, how did they get elected?

Let's credit the three of them for good campaigning. Here's a nice story about how Lopez became the youngest elected official in San Francisco.

We wanted our own AOC; we love AOC in San Francisco. But AOC is uniquely brilliant, and unfortunately, the job of school board chairman for a huge, combative school district turned out to be too much for this 27-year-old schoolteacher, though you gotta admire her moxie.

Collins, an educator for 20 years, won in part because she had the support of the teachers' union. Moliga had widespread support from the city's liberal organizations. That's how you get above 10% of the vote when that's all that's necessary.

What did the media have to say about them? Glad you asked: that was a problem.

There are only two major publications in San Francisco that do detailed election endorsements, and one of them, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, went out of print several years ago and continues to exist online only for endorsements. We should be very grateful to SFBG editor Tim Redmond (who now runs the site 48 Hills) for this pro-bono work. I always appreciate that the Guardian interviews all the candidates and parses the issues. I find the Guardian's endorsements very helpful in making up my own mind.

However. The Guardian is very left-wing. In elections where the city is paying attention, the Guardian's "clean slate" endorsement is never enough to win. Former Mayor Willie Brown once said (I don't remember the exact quote), "In San Francisco, the left can muster 40% for every election. That's always enough to lose." Brown is right: though considered very left-wing for California, he was the centrist candidate in San Francisco, as was Gavin Newsom, as was Kamala Harris, as was London Breed. For citywide offices, the centrists almost always win. (Chesa Boudin is an important exception.)

But what about when the city is not paying attention? That's the problem with school-board races: only very involved people pay attention, which means a committed minority -- in this case as little as 10% of voters -- can win even if their views don't represent the city as a whole.

That's when we need the city's only remaining newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, to step up and give us guidance. The Chronicle has always been fairly pragmatic with its endorsements. It also has easily the most resources for this: it has an editorial board to interview the candidates and reporters to research them. For elections like the school board, where I know very little about the candidates, I like guidance from the Chronicle.

But the Chronicle doesn't provide much coverage of school board races, perhaps because it still sees its coverage area as regional and not local, and it doesn't want to parse the school board races in Napa and Livermore, etc. More irritating is that periodically it puts its endorsements behind its paywall. This makes no sense, because Chronicle endorsements are a public service -- the newspaper could make this community better by telling us how to vote in these obscure races.

The Chronicle's 2018 school-board endorsements are not behind a paywall, but they weren't easy to find on the site at the time either. And the endorsement editorial is only six paragraphs long, with only four paragraphs about the candidates. It's not a compelling argument, unfortunately, though personally I voted for the Chronicle's choices anyway. We wouldn't be having this recall if more people had done so; none of them won.

Chronicle people will tell you that the newspaper and the website SFGate are separate entities, though owned by the same company. Fine. Hearst Corporation, you have a civic responsibility to bring these two entities together when it comes to election endorsements, which could be posted on SFGate, but are not.

When the Chronicle hides its endorsements and short-plays them, that gives the Guardian, as well as special interest groups (which in San Francisco are usually very left-wing) much more power. I look at these winning candidates' vote totals -- 15%, 13.7% and 13.2% -- and see an election that a committed group of ideologues can win. And in fact, Collins, Lopez and Moliga all got the Guardian's endorsement.

This was the case in the past with the community college board; left-wing ideologues ran the community college district into the ground, blowing its budget and nearly losing its accreditation. That situation started to get better when the Chronicle started paying attention.

We need you, Chronicle! Please don't abandon covering local politics, and please stop minimizing the impact of your endorsements.

UPDATE: The Chronicle endorses this recall. (But I couldn't find this on the Chronicle website; I follow a Chronicle staffer who tweeted it.)

So Collins, Lopez and Moliga were basically elected by the far left, and they immediately went to work to please their small constituency, ordering a historic mural of George Washington destroyed in a decision that was overturned by a judge:

Then they went after Lowell High School, which has been the one gem of the San Francisco public school system: a merit-based school that allows the children of working-class families to have the same high-quality education that private schools offer. The board voted to basically destroy it by opening up admissions on a lottery basis. If you don't have the best students, you're not going to have the best school. Their theory is that it's unfair that some kids get a better education than others, so everyone should have the same subpar education. You can't call it socialist thinking because even the Soviet Union found ways to get its brighter students into technical programs. It's more akin to sibling jealousy: if I can't have something nice, you can't have it either.

The Lowell issue was the one that sparked parents to begin gathering signature for a recall. I agree with the parents on this, but I wouldn't vote to recall the board members based on Lowell alone. The board members can argue that they represented the wishes of the people who voted for them (though that brings me back to pointing out that at least 2/3 of people who voted in the election did not choose any of them.)

If anyone is reading this looking for anything that might reflect national politics, first of all, it's schools not reopening during the pandemic, but hopefully by November that won't be an issue anymore. Otherwise, it's Lowell. I've been thinking about this a lot in the wake of the Democratic Party's hand-wringing over losing the Virginia governor's election. That election turned on education issues, but exit polls showed that despite GOP posturing, fear of Critical Race Theory didn't move as many voters as expected.

That would be the case here. If San Francisco had a referendum on teaching Critical Race Theory to kindergartners, it would pass by a large majority; we're not afraid of it. But take away a merit-based admissions policy and voters revolt. Keep that in mind, national Democrats.

The school renaming issue was the final straw for many voters; it was what induced me to sign the petition. During the pandemic, the board spent many hours discussing renaming 44 schools instead of coming up with a plan for reopening the schools. That's a clear sign that the current school board doesn't care about education; only about left-wing politics. And even after they spent a year on the project, the board couldn't get its facts straight! They put Paul Revere on the wrong side of the Revolutionary War, and blamed Abraham Lincoln for allowing 38 Santee Sioux to be hanged when in fact he pardoned and thus saved 262 Santee Sioux in the incident. (Not to mention that when regarding Lincoln's legacy, is this the only incident that matters?)

How can you tell people how to teach history when you can't understand it yourself?

I plan to vote against all of the current school board members when they come up for re-election, with the exception of Kevine Boggess, who voted against the school renaming.

But let's get back to the recall. Because of her lawsuit, Collins has to go, as soon as possible; she's a danger to the school system. Lopez has been president of the board during this period of incompetence. She is in over her head. Perhaps the board would have been better served by making someone else president, but they chose Lopez and she has failed at the job.

How badly? The school board spent an entire year not addressing its budget deficit; instead, the board assigned the deputy superintendent who oversees the budgeting process to the school renaming project. By the time the board realized it needed to make cuts, the cuts had to be more sudden and extreme than they might have been if Lopez had put the item on the agenda earlier. Teachers protested outside the board meeting against the budget cuts; it makes me wonder how many of them intentionally chose candidates who would ignore fiscal issues (this happened with the community college board). Lopez voted against the cuts, saying she was "cornered into accepting a proposal." You were in charge! You should have done something earlier!

Public school enrollment is down 4.7% since fall 2020, and private school enrollment is up 1.1%. Some parents have left the city, and unfortunately more parents have decided they must pay for education because the public schools couldn't put together a plan to open for so long, and still don't have a plan to make up for missed education. That's a failure.

I will also vote to recall Moliga, but the argument against him is the weakest. The only knock against Moliga is that he hasn't been part of the solution.

But I will vote against him because this is a rare chance to get three pragmatists on the board at once. Mayor London Breed, a centrist, will appoint replacements for whichever candidates are recalled. It is so hard, for structural reasons, for a pragmatist to get elected for this school board; look at the failure of all of the Chronicle's endorsees in 2018. The most influential media for school board races -- the Guardian -- endorses ideologues. If 48 Hills supplants the Guardian (please don't give up, Tim, we need you for the ballot questions), it will be the same.

As long as a candidate can win a board seat with just 13% of the vote, this board will be owned by the city's activist progressives. Our schools will have great equity initiatives, but not much focus on education.

If Mayor Breed nominates three replacements, they can run in the November election as incumbents, and maybe that will give them the edge to stay on the board. They would be in the minority, but it would be amazing to have, on an ideological board, a pragmatic faction. So, sorry Moliga, but if we recall you, we can do better.

And if we recall all three, maybe we will bring some seriousness to a board that has been very silly.

Also, a reminder: if you don't like the current school board, it was assembly candidate Matt Haney (see above) who started them down this path, a fact he would rather not have mentioned.

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