Like wagon loads of nineteenth-century Boomers about to tear across the border into Oklahoma territory, dozens of real estate developers gathered at the Hotel Nikko last week to hear pioneers like Chief Economic Policy Advisor Kofi Bonner and Catellus CEO Nelson Rising describe the excitement of creating a paradise in the midst of the urban wilderness. The hungry diners at the breakfast meeting sponsored by the San Francisco Business Times seemed to be following a Field of Dreams maxim: if they build enough buildings, then housing and jobs will come. The result will be a city within a city, or --- Allan Temko's term --- a bi-nucleate city. And a grateful San Francisco will not only relax its stringent zoning regulations but also foster a downtown Business Improvement District where commercial enterprises, like twenty-first-century vigilantes, can maintain law and order.
Catellus's own private Oklahoma is the Mission Bay project, a vast development on former Santa Fe Pacific land between Townsend and Mariposa. At the same time other, smaller ventures are busily laying out homesteads between China Basin and Market Street, and SPUR envisions a continuous development all the way to Islais Creek. There is no reason to assume, however, that the course of manifest destiny will stop there, although the next logical areas to the north and south are occupied by hostile natives.
Across Market lies the Tenderloin, a densely populated residential region bordered by highrise tourist hotels and upscale neighborhoods. Its aging buildings are crying out for renovation. Since the 1980s a different kind of developer has responded to their call, creating affordable housing for the people already living there. But recently other entrepreneurs have heard the siren's song, lured by the possibility of a market-rate enclave in the heart of the city. Sensing the threat, organizations like Conard House and the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation are joining forces with the tenants of a number of buildings along the perimeter in the hopes of erecting a low-rent firewall. Nevertheless, they must feel as though the cavalry encircling their camp is inexorably pressing in on them.
In the other direction, at the outermost reaches of the city, lies Bayview--Hunters Point, in the midst of wide open spaces where housing is sparse and even buses rarely interrupt the daily lives of the inhabitants. Its version of development is government-sponsored and, until the arrival of Housing Authority executive director Ronnie Davis, more identified in the media with savage living conditions than human habitation. But its residents, like those of the Tenderloin, must feel that the neighborhood's days are numbered, that it is only a matter of time until the army of mid- and highrises crosses the creek and invades India Basin.
Or maybe not. Maybe the natives are finding ways, if not to reverse the onslaught, at least to penetrate into enemy territory.
The inroads began innocently enough. TNDC, for example, bought up buildings south of Market and in the Haight when the opportunity arose to use its long-honed redevelopment skills beyond the confines of the Tenderloin. And Bayview activists like Sophie Maxwell found themselves traveling to meetings in Laurel Heights when plans for a UCSF campus in Mission Bay raised the same kinds of sewage issues that were already occupying them closer to home.
But history is also made by apparently unrelated events. In this case, the press raised the stakes, naively, by failing to recognize that the media operate in a war zone where every word has the effect of a bullet, aimed at one side or the other. Despite Ed Lempinen's pious distinction between "good" reporters and the other kind at a recent SPUR forum on advocacy journalism, it turns out that news stories in the Chronicle can provide as much ammunition as any screed by Warren Hinckle.
For starters, widely covered city budget hearings opened with the proud projection of a $102.7 million surplus. A tremendous surplus, in a city with 6,500 homeless families. Martina Gillis and rest of the Coalition for Ethical Welfare Reform streamed to City Hall from all parts of the city --- from the Tenderloin, Bayview--Hunters Point, the Mission, the Haight --- armed with a carefully itemized People's Budget. On the day of the final vote, they listened to an unsuccessful attempt by Tom Ammiano to incorporate their proposal into the city budget. Then with a clatter, they opened a sea of umbrellas ("San Francisco rains on poor people") as the Supes cautiously approved Mabel Teng's "responsible, compassionate and forward-thinking approach to fiscal management --- within the framework of sound public policy." But the Coalition wasn't through. One after another, the members promised a return engagement. At the polls.
Or take another series of reports in the media, a cautionary tale linking security guards with criminal records to incidents of violence in the beleaguered public housing projects. Simply the product of a too hurried investigation? Perhaps. But in a city where one-third of all African-American men have had some sort of encounter with the law, the suggestion that a past record determines one's future was seen as elitist and racist. And also a portent of attempts to destroy the projects themselves by demonstrating their unviability, thereby opening up new areas for more profitable development. So a parade of men and women streamed to city hall from all parts of the city. One after another, they passionately protested what they regarded as a slur and proclaimed their support for the TURF program (Together United Recommitted Forever). And one after another, they promised a return engagement. At the polls.
People with long memories may recall another time when, like today, real estate prices were rocketing out of sight and everything south of Market seemed fair game. But the feeding frenzy of the early 1980s was cut short, as neighborhood organizations united and forced the Supervisors to change zoning codes and halt highrise construction. They can do it again.
Through the first nine stages I strained to catch a glimpse of him in the peloton: an elfin limb, a shimmer of the bald head, the glint of the earring or the smear of the goatee. But of course he was waiting, anticipating his moment and savoring the drama as he hid in the pack, and when he finally moved it would be an unmistakable sign that from then on he would be unrelenting. Off the saddle, the diminutive legs would dance the pedals in a minuet to the rising terrain, the sprinters would nod in acknowledgment as they dropped behind, and Marco Pantani would be in his element, coursing the mountainous French countryside as no cyclist has done before.
Many have predicted that Pantani would be among the favorites to win the Tour de France this year, on the strength of his third place showing in 1994 and his second place finish last year. His victory last month in the the Giro d'Italia, along a route which he admits was not designed for his characteristic style, earned him his first ever grand tour win. Traditionally, the Giro has favored the sprinters, in keeping with the peculiar Italian antipathy to seeing climbers mount the winner's podium, and this year was no different, with the mountains situated in the final four stages of the race. The Italian fans' reverence for pretty boy sprinters like Mario Cipollini --- who abandoned the Tour de France earlier this week, and who has never made it all the way to Paris --- may be waning as Pantani's admirers grow legion. This 125-pound mountain goat, nicknamed Il Elefantino early in his career because of his jug ears, has fought tenaciously for his place in the sun, and miraculously returned last season to racing after being told that the injuries he sustained in a collision with an automobile in 1995 would prevent his ever riding competitively again. He has since been dubbed with the appellation "The Pirate," less for the visage he affects with the cloth head rag with which he frequently races, than for the hostages he can quickly commandeer and humiliate on a climb.
Pantani, like many of the greats who have preceded him, has made his mark in the clouds, so to speak. The stuff of legends is to be found in the mountains, and on one arm Pantani sports a tattoo of a red devil standing on a tuft of cumulus. It is on the ascents where the men and the boys are separated, and where specialists like Robert Millar and Raymond Poulidor always contested right to the end, if only to lose to the all-around skills of a Coppi, Merckx, or Indurain.
Among the specialists, the personality quirks and offbeat behavior of those drawn to cycling are rather pronounced. The sport, perhaps like no other competition, has been a haven for those who never excelled at other forms of play. The loner, the romantic, the volatile, with their inbred visions of glory, indeed even the demonstrably disturbed, have found acceptance and flourished along the European roads. Post-WWII politics were played out in the rivalry between the openly leftist Coppi and the equally forthright neo-fascist Gino Bartali, and national rivalries equal those to be found in soccer's World Cup competition. The intensity and self-absorption of specialists adept at one phase of riding have understandably produced a uniquely distinctive breed within the cycling profession, and Pantani's celebrated bohemianism and eccentricities are of that mold.
But as a pure climber, Il Pirata has his work cut out for him. During the last two stages in the Pyrenees, he has moved into fourth place, finishing second in stage 10, and winning the next day's climb to Plateau de Beille, launching an effortless and exhilarating attack which brought him in 1 minute and 26 seconds ahead. The Tour resumes today with the first of three stages in the Alps, where Pantani must take the lead and hope he has enough cushion to retain it through the remaining level stages. He has improved his prominent weakness, his time-trialing, and faces a final time trial test on the next-to-last stage. At his light weight, his descending must also be expert, and he seems to have perfected a tuck which drapes his body over the top tube. The analogy of a second baseman with power who averages 30 home runs a year being on an equal pace for the grail Mark McGwire is currently pursuing, is a useful gauge with which to measure what Pantani is up against.
A large part of the drama and charm of the Tour is the annals recording the great riders who over the years of this overwhelmingly grueling test of human endeavor and character never quite managed to achieve a Tour victory, or even a stage win. To watch Pantani is to be aware of his former teammate, roommate and mentor, the exuberant and enterprising climber Claudio Chiapucci, who finished second, third, second and sixth in successive years. To that commonplace destiny which befalls specialists you can add the pressures of national pride, and the fact that no Italian has won the Tour since Felice Gimondi in 1965.
The Tour is its own sovereign state, with its own police force, bank,
transportation system, citizens and workers. The only thing comparable is
the World Cup, which demanded our rapt attention last month, and as the
summer wears on, baseball's home run derby and subsequent World Series may
provide the same sort of atmospherics. The front pages and nightly newscasts
have also detailed the grisliness of climactic terror and the rituals of
political ignominy and vendetta in this sweltering season, but in the coming
days as you notice the openmouthed awe around the McGwire batting cages
and see the crowds of thousands part like the sea on a narrow mountain switchback
as Marco Pantani flickers a bicycle toward the summit, be reminded of how
the human spirit can soar against the longest odds.