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7th January
2005

First Published in The New York Sun, January 7, 2005

By Andrew Wolf

When did San Francisco turn into the New York of the pre-Giuliani years? I got that old feeling walking around the city by the bay last week as I gingerly stepped over the sleeping homeless folks on the sidewalks and dodged the panhandlers who accosted me wherever I went during a short holiday week vacation.Was this a step back into the past, or a glimpse into the future?

Don’t get me wrong. I loved San Francisco, I loved the views, the cable cars (a ride worth every penny of the $3 fare), and I loved the fabulous food.
San Francisco is not as unsafe as New York was back in the days of the Dinkins administration. Like most American cities, crime decreased there during the last decade. But a serious spike in homicides in the first half of 2004 led the city’s mayor, Gavin Newsom, to institute a “CompStat” type of program to study the patterns of murders, leading to a decline in the body count during the second half of last year. Mr. Newsom even took to interviewing witnesses himself at crime scenes, either a reflection of real concern or an indication that he has watched too many “Law & Order” reruns.

But there still was a substantial increase in murders in 2004, and I have to wonder whether this is yet another reflection of the linkage between crime and the tolerance of practices that diminish the quality of life.

Like New York, San Francisco has problems with its schools, but here again, events on the left coast could suggest the future for us in New York. Chinese immigrant parents are pressing hard for an end to the city’s 20-yearold busing plan for desegregation, and the restoration of neighborhood schools. This is a growing problem in New York as well. While there is no desegregation plan here per se, the side effect of the Bloomberg reorganization and small-school initiative is a blurring of neighborhood school lines, compounded by the school choice provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act.

Thus, we hear stories of children told that there is no room in their neighborhood high school — often the reason their parents move to the community in the first place — as children from other neighborhoods take their places, the grim side-effect of the troubled New York City high school admission policy.

In San Francisco, the Chinese parents are being aided by a centrist Democratic thinktank, SFSOS. According to Wade Randlett, who heads SFSOS, “The Brown [v. Board of Education of Topeka] case was about a little [African-American] girl who wanted to go to her neighborhood school. Now, we have nonwhite kids in San Francisco who are saying they want to go to their neighborhood school, and they’re being told they can’t.”
Will the growing diversity of New York spawn similar efforts? There is growing evidence that it already has, something Mayor Bloomberg should take note of this election year.

Of course, San Francisco does not exist in a vacuum. It is part of a larger entity called California, a place very different from New York State in some ways, and disturbingly similar in others. California is, as we all know, virtually bankrupt. Disgusted voters tossed out Governor Gray Davis in a recall election, replacing him with actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The state was so deep in a budget deficit that Mr. Schwarzenegger, nominally a Republican, was forced to adopt a borrowing program right out of the Lindsay, Cuomo, and, yes, Pataki playbook. So strapped for cash are the state of California and its localities that there is a serious effort to turn “high-occupancy vehicle” lanes on highways and bridges into a cash cow. Not enough passengers in your car? Don’t worry, you can still take the fast lane and just pay a surcharge that will increase, perhaps double, your toll.

But the most disturbing thing I learned during this quick trip was that California has become the first state to prohibit the feeding of birds in such a way so as to enlarge their livers “beyond normal size.” This is the method by which foie gras is produced.

The banning of this gourmet delicacy is a high priority of animal rights activists. The law will not fully take effect until 2012, clearly an acknowledgement by the Legislature that economic harm will come to one California company and its employees.

There are only two large foie gras farms in America, the doomed one in Sonoma County, just north of San Francisico, and the largest one here in New York State’s Hudson Valley. Mr. Schwarzenegger not only signed the bill, but apparently he instructed the managers of a restaurant he owns in Santa Monica, Calif., Schatzi on Main, not to include foie gras on the menu.

The new law has been greeted with glee by the animal rights crew and their celebrity supporters, including Martin Sheen, Sir Paul McCartney, and Kim Basinger. But those of us concerned with the chipping away of our individual freedoms can only wonder whether this is a first step in imposing a vegetarian diet on those of us who savor a good steak. Already, the same activists have targeted kosher meat-slaughtering procedures.
Would we be so foolish as to follow California’s lead and pass similar legislation in New York,closing down the world’s largest foie gras farm in the economically crippled Catskills? Just ask Democratic Assemblyman John McEneny of Albany, who has introduced such a bill in the New York State Legislature.

© 2005 The New York Sun, One, SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

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