Thursday, February 4, 2010

San Francisco Diary--Journal Of An Exile

I'm sure that some of my readers think I've become obsessed with photos of courthouses lately, but I assure you, it's pure coincidence. And believe it or not, that photo is the San Francisco Federal Building in which the Prop 8 trial (like many famous trials before it) is taking place. It is perhaps the ugliest building in San Francisco. Well, wait. The new Federal Building (no courts) does look faintly like a giant Crosley radio, circa 1959, but that's another story.

San Francisco is a city of many beautiful structures and architectural wonders, but the federal buildings are definitely not among them. It's as if the people in D.C. figure that they already have San Francisco in their hip-pocket, so they can assign their novice architects to design the cracker-boxes that pass for architecture and impose them on The City. I'm old enough and have lived here long enough to remember when they built the one in the picture. San Franciscans were spontaneously walking around the building with picket-signs that read, simply: "This is an ugly building." It hasn't gotten any prettier with time. On the other hand, maybe the architecture is just symbolic of how ugly the whole federal government is.

NOTE: Mark Leno, former San Francisco Supervisor and current State Senator, has introduced legislation to allay the concerns of those who oppose gay marriage in California. The proposed legislation purports to exempt clergy from possible litigation in the event that Prop 8 should be struck down by the federal courts as unconstitutional, or some new popular initiative should supersede Prop 8 if the current state decision is upheld at the federal level. Although it appears to address one of my objections, it is a long way from solving them.

Think of it this way. Prop 8 is currently a part of the state constitution, which has preeminence over any state law which might conflict with it. Leno is proposing a measure passed by the legislature which at best would muddy the legal waters, and at worst, conflict with the California constitution. If Prop 8 is upheld, the measure would be mere surplusage, since gay marriage would not be legal in any event. If Prop 8 is stricken by the federal courts, then the measure may not have legal sufficiency to protect the clergy under multiple "hate crimes" laws and the whole plethora of "civil rights" statutes.

Oddly, the main thrust of the proposed legislation addresses the tax-exempt status of religious institutions which refuse to perform gay marriages. Leno wants to guarantee that there will be no tax consequences in such matters. OK, good. But what difference does that make if the institutions have had their pastors or rabbis jailed, or muzzled, or their congregations crippled by civil rights lawsuits? The whole issue here revolves around religious freedom, not tax laws. And the question remains, can a legislative act prohibit litigation filed under other portions of state law or the state constitution? I think the answer is a resounding "no," and I can't support this move.

If gay marriage proponents ever want to convince the People of the State of California to tolerate gay marriage, it will still need to be done in the form of a new gay marriage amendment to the state constitution, passed by the people by a larger margin than Prop 8, and thereby superseding Prop 8. And such a measure would necessarily have to include all the guarantees that Leno left out in a mere legislative act. If Prop 8 is upheld, Leno's proposal would logically have to be re-introduced as a future ballot measure (a "referendum" from the legislature to the people, rather than the Prop 8 "initiative" which came from public sources, not from the legislature). In its present form, Leno's proposal is completely inadequate and would most likely fail if presented directly to the people.

NOTE: Speaking of Prop 8, the evidentiary and testimony portion of the trial ended last week. Nothing new to report on that. Closing arguments will come next month, and if there's anything of genuine importance, that's where it will take place. Then it will come down to just how pro-plaintiff the judge's decision will be. So far, he has shown no interest in much of anything the defense has produced, interrupting the attorneys on multiple occasions to ask "questions" which clearly favor the anti-Prop 8 side.

But wait, there's more! You all thought that the trial would not show up on film. You would be wrong. The trial is being televised, but not the way you might think. A group has gotten together to present the trial for YouTube, but it won't be the actual lawyers and litigants. Instead it will be a twelve-part reenactment, starring Adrienne Barbeau (Swamp Thing, Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death) and Tess Harper (Ishtar, Starflight: The Plane That Couldn't Land). It's nice to know that if San Francisco couldn't produce either light or heat out of this boring trial, at least Hollywood can, and at the same time provide work for underemployed "stars." Frankly, I can't wait. Adrienne Barbeau has always been a favorite of mine, ever since she came out of that swamp, rather scantily clad. And who wouldn't love a woman who had twin boys at age 51? She remarked that she was the only woman in the maternity ward who was also a member of AARP.

NOTE: San Francisco's anti-blight law directed at landowners appears to be having next-to-no success. First, it requires those who own abandoned property to pay a $765 annual fee to register their vacant buildings with the city government. The vast majority of those owners have simply ignored the law. Those who have registered remain almost entirely non-compliant with the provisions of the ordinance. Director of the Department of Building Inspection (yep, they have a whole department) says "It's frustrating. The goal is to use government regulation to return the buildings to their intended uses as housing, shops and offices. We want them to benefit neighborhoods, not bring them down." It all goes to prove the inefficacy of government control of nearly everything. The City has imposed such horrendous controls on prices, rentals, businesses and individuals, that the landowners have nearly no incentive to do anything much with their properties.

Of course, "blight" is in the eye of the beholder. You're picturing squatter-occupied tenements and falling-down factories. Fair enough. But where have the largest number of complaints come from? The swells in Pacific Heights (think Beverly Hills, with real hills). The horrified residents of the area near Webster and Broadway awoke one day to find that one of their residents had exited town and left a blighted property behind. Horrors! The defect? A brick missing from one of the house's several chimneys, and a lone broken window, visible only from very close since the crack is on a side, back, second-story window. Since San Fran Nan and several bigwig politicos live nearby, I'm sure this ghastly problem will be remedied very soon.

NOTE: There has been an interesting development in the upcoming trial of Johannes Mehserle, the BART cop who shot and killed thug Oscar Grant during an attempted detention and arrest on the Oakland side of the Bay. Several friends of Grant have volunteered to testify--for the defense. One told police in a taped statement that Mehserle hadn't cursed or used racial slurs against African-American victim Grant during the incident. Another stated that he had also been detained with Grant, and was two feet away when the shooting occurred. He said that he heard Mehserle warn Grant that if he didn't quit resisting arrest, he would tase him. This is vital to the defense, which claims that Mehserle was an inexperienced rookie who intended to tase Grant, and grabbed his service weapon accidentally. It's hardly a perfect defense to homicide, but it substantiates Mehserle's own statement, and could reduce the final verdict from murder to negligent homicide.

NOTE: A rally/party for the "peaceful protestors" who occupied buildings at San Francisco State University and UC Berkeley last month turned, well, violent. (I had nothing to do with this, folks, even though I have radical credentials from both universities) Last Sunday, the police were called to the scene of a party gone wild that had spilled out into the streets, and which produced loud, drunken behavior and an occasional fist-fight. The conclusion that can be drawn is that the original protestors were fighting increased UC and State University student fees, and the partiers were protesting the police. The first arrest was that of Jared Aldrich, a 32 year-old "student" at Laney College in Oakland (which has no connection whatsoever to the university system). Needless to say, the party-goers are blaming the police (how unusual) for causing the whole problem. Multiple charges of public drunkenness, unlawful assembly, and resisting arrest have been filed. Can civil suits for police brutality and civil rights violations be far behind? Ah, San Francisco.


Writer X said...

Adrienne Barbeau had twin boys at 51?? OMG. Good for her!

Is there ever a time when there AREN'T any Berkeley protestors? I think protesting (anything) is a Berkeley student requirement.

Anonymous said...

WriterX: I protest!

HamiltonsGhost said...

Lawhawk--Does Barbeau play Olson or Boies?

Anonymous said...

HamiltonsGhost: Neither. Rumor is she'll play one of the witnesses who hasn't been allowed to get married. When Olson asks her a question she doesn't like, she punches him out. Harper plays Olson's co-counsel, and when she sees that, she gets into a battle royal on the courtroom floor with Barbeau. It's rumored to be as close to Girls Gone Wild as you'll ever see in San Francisco. Sean Penn is said to be in line for the part of the judge, who seeing all this, screeches "Girlsss, order in the court!" And you thought we had boring trials.

AndrewPrice said...

This idea of exempting religions strikes me as entirely false. If gay marriage is a constitional right, then it's a right -- it can't be a right except that some people can ignore it. So either this should be considered an admission that it's not a right, or we need to wonder if this isn't just an attempt to get their nose under the tent, and they will then argue "well it's a right, so those exceptions we agreed to aren't valid."

Anonymous said...

Andrew: I think you've hit the nail right on the head, and I'm sure that it's the scheme that Leno's not-too-clever ploy is intended to accomplish. They are determined to get us troglodyte traditionalists to take our eyes off the ball while they sneak in for the touchdown.

Unknown said...

Is there a way to grant gay marriage, protect religion and move on? I don't want gay marriage, and you and Andrew have both done a good job of emphasizing why I don't want it. But as a Californian, I'm just plain fed up with all this litigation and political sniping. At a time when California is broke and going under for the third time, we have more important things to do than fight over gay marriage.

Anonymous said...

CalFed: Like you, I've had it with this distracting nonsense. The answer for California as to an alternate route is an initiative or referendum that simply changes the legal definition of marriage, and replaces it with "domestic partnership" or some similar term that doesn't describe the traditional institution with religious overtones.

There are several ways to accomplish the task, but the most logical is to simply eliminate the word "marriage" which is causing all the wrangling. In order to fend off future litigation, traditional church/synagogue weddings would still require a separate civil ceremony (or even a simple signed, witnessed and recorded civil document). That would place traditional and gay partnerships on an equal legal ground, while leaving religious institutions free to perform or refuse to perform "gay weddings" without violating civil rights and equal protection laws, since a solely religious ceremony is protected by the First Amendment (at least for the foreseeable future).

I have to make it clear that I oppose gay marriage on all the grounds we've discussed in the past. But if this rancor is going to continue to divide people from each other and distract us from the legitimate issues of civil governance, then perhaps this is the most practical solution for both sides. I won't like it one bit, but I can live with it. So long as the Metropolitan Community Church is allowed to perform "gay marriages," and my church is equally free to refuse to do so, while each "marriage" requires the extra trip to the County Clerk for legalization, it's a minor thing to have to tolerate.

Your screen name indicates that we are talking about another issue as well--federalism. I firmly believe that marriage, by any definition, is a matter which ought to reside solely with the states rather than the federal government. I am somewhat confident that the Prop 8 trial will affirm that concept, but there's no guarantee. A decision favoring the anti-Prop 8 position at the Supreme Court would be another deadly excision of the power of the states to determine their own laws. For that reason alone, I tend to lean toward the above solution, even though I hate it. It's like very bad-tasting medicine, but it would confirm California's right to make its own decisions on the marital relationship. How this would work in states that don't have the initiative/referendum constitutional amendment process is an entirely separate issue.

StanH said...

Be thankful for the ugly architecture of the federal building Lawhawk, cheaper. The terrible part of many of these federal buildings is the public “art,” of which they budget tens of thousands of dollars. They purchase said art on the basis of diversity, as opposed to aesthetics.

It sounds like Olson and Boies are soft peddling knowing this is headed up to the Supremes?

Barbeau did look rather nice crawling out of the swamp.

The blight law is an example, of the consent of the governed. Much of what the government imposes on society is a matter of trust, we quit trusting, we quit paying.

Anonymous said...

PS: To clarify, I suspect the trial court in the Prop 8 case will decide in favor of overturning Prop 8. No matter what the result, one side or the other will appeal to the Ninth Circuit (the most-reversed of the federal appellate courts), which will probably affirm the lower court decision. My statement that I believe that Prop 8 will ultimately be restored on adequate independent state grounds at the Supreme Court is based on my assessment of the current sitting justices, and could change completely if Obama continues in office and succeeds in putting one or two justices like Sotomayor in the place of current sitting justices who are "strict constructionists."

Tennessee Jed said...

Adrienne Effin' Batbeau--good on yah Hawk. I will wait patiently for the Crosley Radio c. '59 picture for next time. Did you see your man Gavin on Fox the other night? I think it was either O'Reilly or Shep.

Anonymous said...

Tennessee: I knew somebody would pick up on Barbeau. She looks a little the worse for wear because she spend a lot of time in the sun, but the rest of her doesn't look much different from what I remember in Swamp Thing, except for the outfits, of course.

I missed Newsom's appearance. Pity. Did he say anything interesting?

Anonymous said...

StanH: It's really very sad how this has all come about. I think it started in the FDR era. Some of most beautiful old buildings are federal buildings put up from the early 1900s through the 30s. The old federal court which hasn't been used in years, was built right after the Great Quake, and is a Greco-Roman beauty. The Old Mint is still there, it survived the quake of '06 (one of the few buildings in that area that did), and it's a federal revival style. The federal buildings from the mid-century period look like blockhouses, and the later ones look like gigantic Motel 6s. Even the "new" Mint vaguely resembles the Lincoln Memorial, but it's built on top of a hill that perpetually looks like a construction zone, and can't really be appreciated. The City is famous for its Beaux Arts buildings, most notably city hall, but when the feds stopped asking for local input, everything went to crap.

I guess this latest YouTube thing should be called Legal Swamp Thing.

Anonymous said...

Tennessee: Alas and alack. I was going to post the picture of the new federal building here, but I couldn't figure out how to do it. So, you will simply have to wait until next week's Diary to see the Crosley Federal Building. LOL

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