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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. 

Alicia Gamez, Mission resident

Street cred: A tax and estate-planning attorney, Gamez has lived in a primo part of the Mission for two decades.

Current crusade: Forcing businesses—especially all those dining hot spots on the stretch of Valencia from 18th to 20th streets—to comply with the city’s noise ordinance.

The wrench thrown: Gamez has been harassing restaurant owners about their loud air-conditioning units and late hours for two years. Now, she has a landlord seeking her approval on blue prints before a single nail is hammered into place.

The principle of the thing: “When I first moved here, businesses were run by local people who invested in their neighborhood,” she says. “Now, it’s all new money coming in from outside, and they don’t seem to have the same amount of respect.” The Grub guys—who recycled glass outside her window at 2 a.m., among other sins—“were flat-out rude.”

Allies: Her boom-weary neighbors.

On the other side:Cash flow–challenged restaurateurs, some of whom have poured thousands of dollars into acoustic engineering to placate Gamez. Their not-so-nice label for her: “neighborhood vigilante.”

Katherine Howard, SF Ocean Edge

Street cred: This landscape architect has helped block various projects in Golden Gate Park, including plans for a 40,000-square-foot water treatment plant.

Current crusade: Preventing the Beach Chalet soccer fields, which have been ravaged by gophers for decades, from being covered by synthetic turf.

The wrench thrown: A series of appeals of the city’s environmental impact report has stalled the project for two years and counting.

The principle of the thing: “Using artificial turf is as environmentally unfriendly as pouring asphalt,” Howard contends. The park “is supposed to be as wild and natural as possible. This is the exact opposite of that.”

Allies: The Golden Gate Audubon Society, the Coalition to Save Ocean Beach, and the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods.

On the other side: S.F.’s Recreation and Parks Department and the City Fields Foundation, established by Gap scions Bob, Bill, and John Fisher in 2006. “The challenge comes when you don’t have the spirit of collaboration,” opines the nonprofit’s spokesman, Patrick Hannan. “Instead, they’ll delay and hope to win by attrition.”


Originally published in the December 2012 issue of San Francisco.

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