by Zelda Bronstein : 48hills – excerpt
Tomorrow evening (Wed/30) the Planning Department will hold a “Community Discussion” of the Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Feasibility Study (RAB) at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House. This is a re-do of the February 23 at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center, where an overflow crowd of more than 200 could not be fully accommodated.
The infrastructural changes under consideration, including a proposal to take down I-280 and re-route the former freeway traffic on a boulevard through the neighborhoods, are massive and controversial. What’s also controversial, but has received far less attention, is the Planning Department’s approach to public engagement.
Though the $1.7 million study has been underway for two years, the February 23 event was the first time the community had a chance to weigh in on the project—and the chance it had was paltry. That’s because the planners set up the meeting in a way that would dissipate the public’s authority and aggrandize their own. They chose the format I call Enhanced Science Fair: A ranking public official briefly introduces a complex topic and then directs members of the community to view poster boards arranged on easels or on the wall. A staffer assigned to each poster board chats with the small group huddled around the display.
On February 23, the program was introduced by Citywide Planning Director Gil Kelley, not to be confused with his boss, Planning Director John Rahaim. Kelley showed a PowerPoint (posted here under “Presentation”) and took questions from attendees. Some queries were quite specific. Kelley’s repeated advice that people should ask “the experts” standing by the poster boards in the back of the room or write their questions on a survey that staffers had distributed indicated that he had but a passing familiarity with the RAB. The crowd grew restive. The last neighbor who spoke said, “For you to invite us here and then refuse to answer our questions is insulting.”
Agreed. Communications Director Gina Simi tells me that on March 30 Kelley will give the same presentation, and the meeting will have the same open house format as last time, but that a panel with Kelley, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Ed Reiskin, RAB Planning staffer Susan Gygi and Mayor Lee’s Director of Transportation Policy Gillian Gillett will also take questions.
That’s encouraging—but only slightly: What’s missing from the panel are representatives of the affected neighborhoods and members of the public who have expertise about transit and land use, and—more to the point—who can offer well-informed criticism of the RAB. This way, only official supporters of the project are appearing as the sole authorities in the room; members of the public are cast as supplicants.