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Seeking a cure for premature capitulation

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A medical affliction plagues the Bay Area. It’s hobbled the mayors of San Francisco and Oakland, as well as a great many other public servants. You can see it in the listless gaze of Supervisor Scott Wiener, in the garbled speech of Supervisor Julie Christensen, in the shuffle of Supervisor Mark Farrell. Let us not even speak of the ravages it has wrought on the staff of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, Steve Kawa and countless other innocent souls.

We don’t openly acknowledge it because it is a source of shame for its carriers. The first occurrence, they dismissed it as a one-time humiliation. Now it has evolved into a malady so debilitating it entitles its victims to ADA reasonable accommodation. Hopefully, if we can talk about it honestly, medical researchers at the UCSF Ron Conway Mission Bay Campus can find a cure.

The condition, of course, is premature capitulation, or PC.

PC infects negotiations between governments and corporations. It flares up every time City Hall allows a corporate interest to maximize private profit with whatever subsidy, tax break, entitlement, permit, regulation or exemption they want.

Negotiations are all about the leverage you bring to the table. Whoever can’t walk away is weaker. Cities that believe they can’t walk come down with PC. Often, what Marxists call “objective conditions” provide cities leverage they promptly squander.

San Francisco could have told Airbnb, “Thus and such is how you will be regulated. You can agree, or we will enforce current laws.” Enforcing existing laws would have shuttered Airbnb. Since Airbnb cannot not operate in San Francisco, and no one actually needs Airbnb, Airbnb would have had no choice but to accept reasonable regulations
(por ejemplo those in Proposition F).

Instead, San Francisco succumbed to PC: “Airbnb, how would you like to be regulated?” Once politicians surrendered their main leverage, Airbnb could and did write whatever rules it wanted.

The City could have handled the Google buses similarly. Since Silicon Valley needed the buses, and could pay any price, The City need only not blink first. Techies were not about to buy cars to drive themselves like common commuters. But The City did blink first, and now multiple precedents will continue to embolden big companies to rewrite laws they broke.

For more PC episodes, see also Twitter Tax Break, anything involving Uber, Oakland’s 12th Street Parcel, and so on.

Attributing premature capitulation to campaign cash or corruption is inadequate. There are other aggravating factors, like bureaucracy. When city offices get their mitts on a new project, they spend thousands of hours reviewing permits, applications, CEQA and cobbling together backroom deals. They’re not concerned with a project’s merit. Bureaucrats have a hard time letting something fail after toiling on it.

Meanwhile, politicians want to be known for Getting It Done rather than Doing Nothing. Is It bad? Who cares? They can win elections delivering a weaksauce deal (“compromise,” “bringing people together”) more than obstructing a bad project (“being ideological,” “having principles”). They also get photo-ops and groundbreaking ceremonies. They attend catered receptions where developers showcase fancy schematics. The main perks of sitting through hearings and not wearing pajamas all day are photo-ops and crudités.

Politicians who manage never to defy the richest 1 percent do so because their ideology and lifestyles make it inevitable. They don’t decide to sell out. I suspect that each of them genuinely believes they are doing good.

PC isn’t a chronic condition. It’s acute, and symptoms flare up with certain triggers. The same politician with PC before naked corporate power can negotiate as ruthlessly as Tywin Lannister against low-income people of color.

Until there’s a cure for premature capitulation, I’m wearing a green wristband to raise awareness of the suffering in our midst, and will do what’s necessary to get politicians with PC like Mayor Ed Lee to the care they need, so they can stop infecting the rest of us.

Nato Green is a comedian who performs on Saturdays at Cynic Cave. Tweet wordplay to @natogreen.

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