When we first heard that Mayor Gavin Newsom was giving a SALT talk (Seminars About Long Term Thinking) for The Long Now Foundation, it seemed a curious combination: Long Now’s focus is to foster long term cultural responsibility and to establish a framework of thinking that spans 10,000 years. Mayor Newsom is a pretty green Mayor by these standards, and while he’s in his second term, the contrast to Long Now’s mindset makes his service to San Francisco as Mayor seems like way less than a drop in the bucket in comparison.

* Listen to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s entire Long Now seminar “Cities and Time” (MP3; includes Twitter-fueled Q & A)
* Get the free “Cities and Time” podcast (iTunes).
* Read The Long Now Foundation’s post-seminar summary of the talk by Stewart Brand.

As it turns out, Mayor Newsom (Facebook page) was more than prepared to talk about the long term impact of everything from what San Francisco does with its plastic bags and water bottles to some very long-term plans he’s been working on to make San Francisco not just the greenest city in the nation, but also the most sustainable. It was quickly apparent that he geeks out on this stuff — along with his quick and nimble adoption of tech and social media into his political communication processes.

The intent is there: for the “Cities and Time” talk, the Mayor took questions from Twitter along with Q&A from the audience. As the seminar started, we were told that people could tweet their questions to @gavinnewsom and they’d be added to the queue; as it turns out they were in fact, screened and selected by Stewart Brand so it was an open process, although filtered, agendized and controlled. Let’s just say that for all the people asking me and Eddie Codel to ask Mayor Newsom about The City cracking down on events like Pillow Fight and Bring Your Own Big Wheel races, that particular question wasn’t going to get asked. But a lot of interesting eco-specific questions did get asked and answered, making for a pretty fascinating conversation.

The Mayor’s seminar was all about his obsession to make San Francisco the “greenest city in the world” and at one point was even humorously injected with his angst that SF comes in second to Portland every year in the list of greenest cities. Newsom said, “If you’re from Portland, I’m sorry. But… Enough!” He reminded the room that of all the cities in the world, San Francisco can get all of its food within a relatively short striking distance, yet still locally grown produce was being trucked thousands of miles away, flash frozen, and then trucked back to be sold at places like the Marina Safeway (which is across the street from Cowell Theater, where he was speaking). This, he said, made no sense and is something that needs to be corrected.

In Mayor Newsom’s inclusion of San Francisco and long-term sustainability, he talked not just about food, but also recycling in all it myriad forms, health care (he cited to the very white and very *landed* audience that unlike the Marina, the instance of asthma is currently eight times higher in Hunters’ Point). Newsom talked about creating hiring incentives by zip code; hire someone from, say Hunters’ Point and one could get a financial break from The City — listen to Long Now’s podcast for details. But the Mayor made energy and renewable resources the centerpiece of his seminar. We were surprised to see how much he knew and how worked up he got about the wastefulness of cars running on gas, and went on a tangent that the technology has been available to solve this issue for a very long time, but has yet to be implemented.

Topics of high interest the Mayor also talked about were parking meters: apparently The City is going to be rolling out a new style of high(er)-tech meters (25% is the projection) which are congestion priced to be higher during peak hours and lower in off-hours, will broadcast their availability, and Newsom said he wants them to also become electric car plug-in stations. Notable as well is the plan Newsom has had green-lighted to create offshore wave generators to supplant The City’s energy needs with the ongoing renewable resource of… the ocean’s tides.

When it came to Q&A, there were some tangents mixed with bright spots. No “hard” questions were asked, but I did notice that Newsom’s response to a question about homelessness was a straight-up non-answer. However, when he got a chance to talk about gay civil rights and making them federal, and all the reasons why this is a no-brainer — and that our city’s continual celebration of diversity on this particular point is what makes us naturally a city of the future in terms of taking care of people and places… it wound up being a fantastic talk overall. It was fun to see the Mayor really have to act on his feet to non-prepped questions.

After the talk, Mayor Newsom hung out and spoke with everyone who wanted to talk to him.

The Long Now Foundation made this all possible, and they have regular talks with movers and thinkers about their work and its impact on the long term. Next month (Tuesday, May 5) is Michael Pollan, author of “The Botany of Desire” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” — and you bet we’ll be there. See their full calendar of talks here. Also, peruse their podcast, full of talks from all kinds of amazing people,

* Special thanks to The Long Now Foundation for the audio, and making us feel warm and fuzzy.

* Image shot at a distance and instantly uploaded with a Nokia N95-4.

the author

Violet Blue (tinynibbles.com) is an award-winning author, columnist blogger, journalist and is regarded as the foremost expert in the field of sex and technology. Blue features at global conferences on the topics of sex, technology and privacy, and her appearances range from Oprah to Google Tech Talks at Google, Inc.

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  • Greg Dewar

    These kinds of events are perfect for Gavin : he can stand up in front of a group, look cute, and talk about lots of nice sounding Big Ideas. No dissent is allowed and he blocks anyone on Twitter or Facebook that dares to ask even the most innocuous of questions.

    However, his rhetoric is completely at odds with his record as Mayor (looting MUNI and not supporting public transit, etc. for starters and the list goes on) and often with the truth (SF has NOT banned plastic bags at all – only at chain stores, and neighborhood stores still use ’em every day.)

    He drives around in a gas guzzling SUV that gets worse gas mileage than even a regular SUV, and he hasn’t bothered to show up or tell us what he’s doing about the fiscal disaster the city’s in.

    I used to think he was a good guy, and even voted for him in the last election, but I don’t know that we can afford Gavin anymore. The city is too broke, and too broken for an absentee mayor who’s off chasing another job elsewhere.

    I’ll cut him some slack when I see him do something that actually makes life in SF better. When that happens, I’ll be the first to give him a high five. Until then, I’m not impressed with him anymore.

  • generic

    Who are you supporting for the next mayoral term, Greg?

    And what are the odds that Gavin will endorse your candidate? Pretty good, methinks.