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The Art of Obstruction

Call them neighborhood activists when you agree with their cause, NIMBYs when you don’t. either way, these San Franciscans have the power to stop or stall all manner of projects—and they’re not afraid to use it. 

Gerald Cauthen,

Street cred: A former civil engineer, Cauthen was a member of the SPUR task force in charge of the Central Subway project—until he was gently nudged out.

Current crusade: Stopping that project at all costs.

The wrench thrown: Cauthen’s group recently sued to put the placement of the planned Union Square station to a citywide vote. If they win the lawsuit, and then the appeal, and then the ballot referendum, the city would have to go back to the drawing board.

The principle of the thing: According to SaveMuni’s studies, getting from point A to point B would take longer on the subway than on the bus. As for the Union Square station? “It’s in direct violation of the city charter,” Cauthen says. “You can’t build in a public park without the public’s consent.”

Allies: Republican congressman Tom McClintock, who persuaded his fellow GOPers to deny additional federal funding to the project (though that vote has been stalled in the Senate); Aaron Peskin; and various neighborhood groups.

On the other side: Chinatown CDC, SPUR, SFMTA, and Nancy Pelosi.

Mari Eliza, Eastern Neighborhoods United Front (ENUF)

Street cred: A relative novice when it comes to neighborhood activism, this graphic designer/car owner and her group have nonetheless driven rings around the SFMTA.

Current crusade: Keeping the streets safe for long-term parkers in Dogpatch, Mission Bay, Bernal Heights, Potrero Hill, and the northeast Mission.

The wrench thrown: Since its founding in January, ENUF has stopped the city from installing smart parking meters in the area.

The principle of the thing: “The SFMTA is trying to make it impossible to own a car,” Eliza argues. “[Installing meters] would just make the eastern neighborhoods a parking lot for commuters coming from the South Bay.”

Allies: Area residents, “every” neighborhood group, and supervisor David Campos.

On the other side: The SFMTA, whose 2011 deficit hovered around $17 million, but which has now supposedly (and miraculously) balanced its budget. Sniffs spokesman Paul Rose, “a parking meter is a management tool [that] allows for better parking policies to ensure there’s turnover and better parking available.”

Jon Golinger, No Wall on the Waterfront (“No Wall”)

Street cred: A public interest attorney, campaign adviser, and president of the development-averse Telegraph Hill Dwellers, Golinger has waged war against everything from waterfront malls to the Washington Square subway station.

Current crusade: Undoing the Board of Supervisors’ vote to increase the height of the 8 Washington condo project from 84 feet to a scenery-stealing 136 feet.

The wrench thrown: Led by Golinger, “No Wall” and its troops collected more than 30,000 signatures in a mere 30 days to put the issue on the ballot next year—the first time in two decades that a zoning decision has been subject to a voter referendum. Planning has come to a screeching halt.

The principle of the thing: “One hundred and thirty-six feet would be the standard for all future waterfront projects,” Golinger claims—the end of the bay view as we’ve come to know it (post–Loma Prieta edition).

Allies: Boston properties, Friends of Golden Gateway, and Mr. Gadfly himself, Aaron Peskin.

On the other side: Eight supervisors and 8 Washington’s spokesman, P.J. Johnston, who pegs Golinger as nothing but a “well-funded obstructionist.”