Anyone for ballot barbecue?

In case you’ve been too busy celebrating your teams during the World Cup, California recently had an election in which more than two-thirds of the voters decided to sit on the sidelines.

If this is such a great democracy, how come more people don’t participate? Of all the countries playing in the greatest tournament on Earth, only one probably has a less-engaged citizenry — and that’s because if they engage, they’ll likely go to prison (hats off to you, North Korea).

I realize it wasn’t a particularly exciting election — Jerry Brown has now been on the ballot in California since wide ties were considered cool. But you’d think with the state, and all the individual cities and counties teetering on the brink of economic doom, people might think drastic measures are needed, like walking to a polling place.

You’d be wrong.

“There are three kinds of voters: proactive, passive and potential,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, which, as its name implies, tracks such things. “This was a primary, and primaries by design are more of a political party affair.”

But now that the affair has ended, will we see a new voting relationship come November?

“We might,” Alexander said, no doubt with fingers crossed.

So as someone who likes to see people get involved in their local communities, I’m going to suggest a new trend. Think of elections as a sporting event — have your friends over for pizza, beer and debate. Throw a political barbecue. Think of November as the time of political fireworks.

Recent studies show that one of the most important elements in elections is the input from family and friends. Voters — at least those who actually step up to the ballot box — are heavily influenced by their peers. When they get fired up, so do the people around them. The water cooler is the new town hall.

When Barack Obama was running for president, people got excited and they shared their feelings, and the state had a 60 percent turnout. I realize Meg Whitman may not elicit that kind of buzz — but spending $150 million to be governor should. And PG&E may not have another cynical measure on the ballot, but it appears Big Oil will.

You still have a few months to rest and brush up on your election guides. And remember, voting is cool. Catch the fever. Tell a friend.

Steady rain would negate fast-food fee

If it hadn’t first been uttered, oh, maybe 15 years ago, it might have been considered a creative solution. That would be the desire of the Department of Public Works to consider looking at a fee on fast-food purchases to pay for garbage cleanup.

I realize that fast-food outlets are easy targets for just about everything — obesity, poor nutrition, corporate greed, et al. — but singling them out for being more litter-prone than your average paper-laden businesses might be a tad difficult.

Yet, it does have some history. I remember talking to Mayor Willie Brown years ago about how dirty San Francisco’s streets were and he solemnly told me that the real culprit was fast-food wrappers that people neglected to drop in nearby trash bins.

And that made about as much sense as when the then-head of Public Works told me that the best weapon against dirty streets wasn’t more garbage cans or even public education, but rain.

I haven’t checked recently, but the last time I was in Portland, Ore., the streets did seem pretty debris-free. I’ll check with my sources in Seattle, too.

Still, while Public Works looks at a study to see if there’s a basis for establishing a fee on fast-food sales, I think the city attorney might be weighing the potential lawsuits about what is and what is not fast food. Is it a formula based on the seating to serving ratio or the time of food delivery?

Meanwhile, pray for rain.


SFMTA keeps sticking meters all around town

San Francisco officials battle each other to be the greenest. But how can they be considered so environmentally sensitive when their only response to vacant sidewalk space is to put a parking meter on it?

As predictable as a late bus, an administrative panel for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency gave the green light to a plan to install 1,300 new parking meters from the South of Market Street area to Fisherman’s Wharf. The approval came despite angry words from local citizens about The City’s latest money-grabbing idea.

There was a time, back when Mayor Gavin Newsom was a novice supervisor, that officials actually listened to their constituents and backed away from unnecessary plans to install parking meters, as Newsom did with an idea to meter the Marina Green. That was about nine years and 5,000 meters ago.

If the SFMTA is so desperate for money, perhaps it might consider laying off some of its greedy, overpaid drivers who have refused to make any wage concessions despite the fact that almost every other union in town has done just that.

About the only thing “green” about the SFMTA these days is the color of the old F-line cars on Market Street.


Appeal of LA mayor’s job must be the money

This week, we got an indication perhaps as to why two dozen people line up to run for mayor — and it’s not because of the frequent flier miles or the chance to spend quality time with district supervisors.

It’s the freebies.

That’s what our friends in the southland report, now that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been found to be a free-ticket hound to the tune of about $100,000 for such things as a Grammy Awards dinner and a Carlos Santana concert. And Villaraigosa didn’t even bother to report the serious schwag.

Maybe that’s the real reason he decided not to run for governor.

The L.A. Weekly compared Villaraigosa unfavorably to our own mayor, who, we are told, leans toward overreporting free gifts. Los Angeles’ chief executive did pay for his own seats at a U2 concert, which shows that at least he has good taste — if a bit ethically challenged.

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