Editorial: Mayor thinks small, as he should

Now, that was good. Very good. We don’t know if the big thinkers were pleased, but Mayor Newsom’s small-is-beautiful theme, articulated last week in his “State of The City” speech, gets us down to constructive business.

Let’s hope the winners of next week’s municipal elections will reflect such thinking.

“How do we dare to dream big,” the mayor asked his audience of various officials and interested parties, “while not forgetting … [to] address the small problems of urban life that make such a big difference in our quality of life?” Awkward syntax aside, he was homing in on exactly the right point.

If you spin around blindfolded and ask the first 10 constituents you bump into what they want their local governmentto busy itself with, you can be sure they’d rattle off six or seven of these “quality of life” issues. Potholes. Hailing taxis. Making the Muni run on time. Newsom introduced a receptive agenda built on resolving just such matters.

If some in the audience were listening for more specific commitments to fighting crime, perhaps uppermost on residents’ minds, the mayor did call for the District Attorney’s Office to target “quality of life” infractions on the streets. Newsom surely knows the best current criminological thinking, namely that you reduce major crimes once you’ve established you won’t tolerate the petty ones. Call it the Giuliani lesson.

To be sure, the mayor, who seems unable to conceal his higher political ambitions, felt obliged to remind his listeners that they were living in a municipal model for all the world to emulate. But you don’t attain that international status unless — and here comes the paradoxical wisdom — you first block out the rest of the world and focus on your little corner of it.

Few expect the mayor to back off his impulse to end global warming from City Hall. And, no, he hasn’t been disabused of the notion that, if you just think locally and order business to provide it, universal health care will materialize. Some dreams are too hard to drop.

His centerpiece, much more down to earth, is to tear down 2,500 units of public housing, rebuilding them to include as many market-rate dwellings to sell. His vision, including low-income housing and retail opportunities, would remake Bayview, Excelsior and Visitacion Valley into more livable neighborhoods. He may have more confidence in such renewal efforts than history supports.

But Newsom is on to some good, workable ideas. He proposes to place public works on 100 commercial blocks to clean up trash and remove graffiti. He promises a 311 telephone number so that residents can quickly access all city services. Also courtesy of the mayor: Prepaid parking meter cards; Fast Pass distribution machines; taxi stands at major traffic hubs. All fine ideas. And all keeping it real.

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