Political Climate with Mark Simon: Flintstone House is cute, but property restrictions are bedrock law

in Featured/Headline/PoliticalClimate

All the outrage over the prehistoric decorations at the Flintstone House boils down to this: It’s cute, it’s whimsical and it’s reasonable for the city to order it taken down.

The Flintstone House and its display of dinosaurs and related detritus, visible as you cross the Doran Bridge driving north on Highway 280, is the object of widespread love and efforts by the Town of Hillsborough to remove the backyard array has resulted in more than 28,000 Facebook petition signatures in opposition.

But the authority of a city to restrict what homeowners can put up on their property is, you should pardon the expression, bedrock law.

As one person commented on the Facebook petition page, “Homeowners pay property taxes and should be allowed to decorate their home and yard however they please.”

Well, no.

And for good reason. Suppose it was something not so cute. Suppose it was a display of something so fundamentally offensive that the same people signing the petition to save the Flintstone display would be rushing just as fast to sign a petition demanding it be taken down.

Suppose it was pornographic. Or offended your religion. Suppose it was a huge display extolling the virtues of Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders, the former more likely in Hillsborough than the latter. Suppose it was a burning cross. Or a swastika.

Yes, those last two are extreme examples, and I’m certainly not suggesting the dinosaurs are anywhere near the equivalent of such patently offensive symbols. But those examples are exactly why a city has and should have the authority to regulate what people do with their property.

Had the property owner, Florence Fang, actually sought a permit from the city, there’s a good chance she would have been allowed to decorate her yard like a modern Stone Age family. Instead, she just did it. Over months, the city has provided her the opportunity to seek a permit – sought her out and asked her to obtain a permit – and she has refused. For flaunting the law, Fang has been sued by the city, which is one of its options for enforcing the law.

And now, Fang, through her attorney, Angela Alioto, is countersuing, alleging that Fang is being singled out because she’s Asian. Irony abounds, of course. Alioto is in hot water herself for using the n-word several times at a recent San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee meeting in an apparent attempt to demonstrate how pervasive racism is in San Francisco government.

Then, there’s this additional comment from Alioto that reads like it was translated from another language. “My clients say the word. ‘The n-word’ doesn’t mean anything. You do not sugarcoat or whitewash that word when you’re in litigation mode.”

MAYOR AND OTHER MATTERS: A recent story of mine in Climate Magazine about San Mateo County’s relative stature in Bay Area politics included reference to a proposal that the Board of Supervisors be expanded from five to seven seats – six district seats and one countywide supervisor who would be the equivalent of a county Mayor or President or Grand Pooh-bah. Even before anyone has proposed the necessary legislation to make such a change, there is speculation about who might be eager to run for such a job, and the two names that popped up immediately are Supervisors Don Horsley and David Canepa. … As for Canepa, he is listed as endorsing Democrat Rishi Kumar in his race for Congress. There are many reasons why this is remarkable. First of all, Kumar, serving his second term on the Saratoga City Council, is running against Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who will be seeking her fifteenth term in 2020, and who routinely wins re-election with more than 70 percent of the vote. So, for reasons unclear, Canepa is endorsing an unknown challenger to a popular and well-entrenched incumbent. Second, Canepa’s supervisorial district includes none of Eshoo’s congressional district, so there’s no local issue that would seem to be prompting the endorsement. Third, there seems to be no other issue that would prompt Canepa to support Eshoo’s opponent. Indeed, when Political Climate contacted Canepa’s office to ask why he had endorsed Kumar over Eshoo, we were told he had no comment. As endorsements go, that is less than ringing.

TRACKING POLL: As Climate Online recently reported, a three-county survey shows a sales tax increase to fund Caltrain operations and programs has a tough road ahead. To quote from the report by EMC Research to the Caltrain board: “Support for a revenue measure is just below two-thirds today, with Caltrain riders more supportive than other voters. … Support is solidified at just about the two-thirds level with additional information, although there is some evidence that the measure would be vulnerable to opposition.”

The matter starts off at 63 percent approval, below the two-thirds needed for passage. In the world of tax measures, a proposal usually has to start at about 70 percent to be assured passage – support tends to diminish over the course of a campaign. Even when likely voters are given all the reasons to support a measure – traffic stinks, Caltrain service takes cars off the road and reduces pollution – the measure still barely clears the two-thirds threshold. And given a list of reasons to oppose it – taxes already are high, including a recent gas and sales tax increases for transportation – voter support drops to 55 percent.

It is likely the Caltrain board will go ahead – having worked at Caltrain for more than 13 years, I can guarantee they need a steady and sustainable source of money to keep operating the revenue. The farebox and contributions from the three partner agencies – SamTrans, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Agency and San Francisco – aren’t enough to cover Caltrain’s annual operating budget.

Still, the latest polling is not the only problem facing a Caltrain ballot measure. Last time we checked, Carl Guardino, president & CEO of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, was pressing ahead with his own Caltrain measure – he actually wanted to do one in 2018 and had to be talked into waiting until 2020. You can expect some behind-the-scenes interplay for control over the measure. VTA faced a similar challenge over a ballot measure in 2016.

Contact Mark Simon at mark.simon24@yahoo.com.

*The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Climate Online.

Photo credit: Getty Images