The BART Strike: A Microcosm of Progressive Power and Policy
Of course, it is not just mass transit that moves people out from the city; it is also a variety of government policies that push people out, especially people with families. San Francisco is the nation’s most welcoming gay city and the city most unfriendly to families. It has the lowest proportion of children, between the ages of five and eighteen, of any American city. The city council can wax seriously on how to keep the U.S. Navy from docking in the harbor and what is wrong with our foreign policy. But when it comes to keeping families in the city, it not only has no interest, it also actively wages warfare against them.
As soon as children reach school age, families flee. What is most difficult for parents who cannot afford private schooling is the Kafkaesque policy of school assignment in order to achieve the vaunted diversity that wealthy San Franciscans pontificate about, as they rush to put their children in private schools. For the rest of us, and I write from personal experience, there is a student-assignment system that is so convoluted that no one on the Board of Education seems capable of explaining it.
It works something like this: In the quest for the holy grail of diversity, children are assigned to schools based on the mother’s ethnicity and education. Having arrived in San Francisco late in the summer and after the middle-of-the-night campouts to get children into the few choice schools, I learned that my children could be assigned anywhere in the city. Given that my wife has a post-graduate degree, is white, and that it was August, my children would end up as white totems in a nearly all-black school where they would help ramp up the diversity statistics and suffer the consequences of being a hated minority.
Consequently, we joined the exodus along BART to the East Bay, where the location of our home determined what neighborhood school our children would walk to each morning.
Our monthly mortgage payment was less than our rent would have been on the San Francisco apartment in which we were interested. The progressives’ obsession with rent control actually inflates rents. Regrettably for progressives, economic policy is often counterintuitive. With rent control, the only way a property owner can raise rent is to charge high rents when a new tenant takes over. Initial rent is not controlled. The rent-control bargain for the tenant comes with time but it is also accompanied by reluctant maintenance. With parents fleeing the city when the oldest child enters the Kafkaesque school assignment program, there is enough turnover to enable property owners to stay in business. But instead of the real rental costs being shared by all tenants, new tenants bear a disproportionate share of the burden.
Because of the quest for thousands and thousands of acres of open space and the progressive political and social policies that dominate the schools and the rental markets, the population has been forced to move farther and farther away from where they work. As a result, they become more dependent on mass transit and the unions that have the political muscle to control its operations.
I have no illusion that anything will change. Progressives seem incapable of judging policies by anything other than their aspirations; results are inconsequential if intentions are good.
For now, BART has started running again as talks continue. Neither side could afford the $80 million the strike was costing the community every day. Developments in the hinterland will continue to sprout up, as will demands for expanding BART’s reach, at the cost of a billion dollars a mile, enough to buy 1700 high-quality commuter buses that operate at lower costs. The system will continue until the impending ecological and political costs reach an inescapable crisis.