By Benjamin Wachs
I voted over the weekend and discovered again that participation in the democratic process melts my cynicism away, leaving a wet but proud citizen underneath. Continued self-governance is a truly extraordinary thing, especially considering how often we screw it up, and no man with a conscience can mock Democracy within its temple.
And so this week, election week, with my presidential ballot proudly filled out, my ballot for congress people proudly filled out, my ballot for state representatives proudly filled out, my ballot for municipal representatives proudly filled out, my ballot for school board proudly filled out, my ballot for community college board left blank (because Jesus Christ are you kidding me?), my ballot for state initiatives filled out with great pride, my ballot for 22 city ballot measures filled out with something resembling pride on a foggy day, my essay section completed, my driver's test provisionally passed provided I continue to wear glasses, and my cholesterol within acceptable voting limits...
Hmmm, where was I going with this again? Oh yes...
Today, I will report on government without cynicism, without skepticism, and without distrust. I will take our elected representatives at their word, and treat them as noble human beings who went in to government to put our best interests above their own.
Try not to laugh.
Monday, Nov. 3, 10 a.m. – Government Audit & Oversight Committee
The meeting begins with a proposal by the Honorable Aaron Peskin to approve naming the San Francisco Chronicle Building a city landmark. This, of course, is not only good government, but good charity: any help we can give the Chronicle is desperately needed. For what it's worth, I'll be collecting old clothing and mittens for their reporters this Saturday at Civic Center. We can't let them shiver in the winter; many of them have no homes.******(NOTE: Since I wrote this, it has been pointed out to me by the good people at the Chronicle that the "Chronicle Building" is no longer the home of the San Francisco Chronicle, and so Peskin's preservation bill will in no way affect the actual paper, its staff, or black-hearted management. Chronicle staff confirm, however, that they really are freezing and could use a blanket.)
The meeting continues with a proposal by our Honorable Mayor to give the city's Museum and Historical Society a deadline extension on the work it needs to refurbish the city's old Mint.
The city and the Historical Society entered into an agreement to have the historical society turn the Mint into "a mixed-use development anchored by a museum celebrating the history of San Francisco," but the Historical Society is a little late hitting some of the deadlines the city set down for rehabilitating the structure. Probably because they were watching the History Channel. The Mayor is urging the supervisors to give the Historical Society more time, and this is an excellent idea. I'm sure it's not the Historical Society's fault. After all, I don't know if you've noticed, but it's incredibly difficult to get any construction work done in this city.
Next the Honorable Tom Ammiano is proposing a modification to the city's program of Municipal Identification Cards. This would tighten the restrictions on what kind of documents the city can accept for proof of residency. According to Supervisor Ammiano this is in everyone's best interests. We should therefore approve his program: he's never been wrong before.
Finally, the Honorable Supervisor Ammiano will propose to suspend the city's new Menu Labeling Ordinance, and instead support the State's new Menu Labeling Ordinance. Thank goodness this is taken care of.
Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors
This meeting begins with the Honorable Jake McGoldrick's proposal to ban the sale of tobacco products on all city property. Which is only right and proper. Supervisor McGoldrick has also proposed a ban on wooden fixed utility ladders. I'm not sure which is more dangerous – cigarettes or wooden fixed utility ladders. I admit to having not thought about this carefully. But I am sure he knows what he's doing.
The Honorable Gerardo Sandoval's blight reduction act appears ready for final passage, as does Supervisor Peskin's "Slope Protection Act," which actually doesn't protect slopes at all, but rather is intended to get more homes that stand on slopes to have their infrastructure built up in case of an earthquake.
The Supervisors shall then vote on whether to settle 8 different lawsuits. That seems like a large number to me, but I'm sure they've reviewed each one carefully before voting on it.
They shall go on to appoint ordinary citizens, like you and me, to very important boards like the Graffiti Advisory Board and the Peak Oil Preparedness Task Force. This is a great way to solve problems.
The Honorable Sophie Maxwell is continuing to propose a measure aimed at simplifying the requirements for city contractors to reach out to a diverse group of subcontractors, while the Supervisors are also set to approve a bill that would waive the competitive bidding process for at $56 million maintenance contract at the San Francisco Airport. Trying to increase the diversity of contractors strikes me as being at odds with waiving the competitive bidding process … but I'm sure this is a well thought-out exception.
$2.5 billion in airport refunding bonds are also ready for final passage. I must admit I am made proud by the extremely large budget our city has.
Next comes another lawsuit settlement. Goodness, but we do get our day in court, don't we? That must mean we're doing something right.
OK, I've got to be honest, it's at about this point in the democratic process when I start to lose interest. I mean, I want to pay attention – this is important stuff! – but I can't lie to you about it. What kind of journalist would lie to the public and pretend to have studied over information for a story that he really hasn't? Our profession would be shocked if I did that.
So I'm going to be honest with you: I'm going to start skipping over some of the duller bits. I hope that you, as citizens interested in the nuts and bolts details of government, will forgive me.
They'll be arguing about zoning for power plants again, which really means they're arguing over who's in charge of the plants, the city or PG&E. Oddly, the Mayor is on PG&E's side. I'm sure this is the result of a well thought-out policy.
Supervisor Peskin's bill to prohibit formula retail in Chinatown is up again and may get a first vote.
Supervisor Ammiano's noise control ordinance is also likely up for a vote. I'm assuming that Ammiano and Peskin have consulted, and determined that formula retail is too noisy.
Apparently we owe the National Rifle Association some $380,000 in legal fees? How did that happen?
Wednesday, Nov. 5,
1 p.m. – Budget and Finance Committee
A recently-passed law requires the city’s Controller to provide a monthly report listing the five city departments using the most overtime in the previous month.
Today, three months later, the first of those reports has been issued. I am certain there is a good reason why it took three months to begin tallying how much overtime each city department uses.
Today’s report contains the information for the preceding three months, and as a matter of fact, each month is identical. The five departments using the most overtime in each of the past three months, in descending order, are:
1) MTA (using 38% of the city’s total overtime)
2) Fire (using 15% of the city’s total overtime)
3) Public Health (using 13%)
4) Police (using 13%)
5) Sheriff (using 9%)
In total, these departments use 88% of the city’s overtime hours. There’s also an interesting chart showing how many overtime hours each department uses in comparison to its regular hours, but I’m not going to go into that because it involves charts and I think you’d lose interest.
Now that they have this vital information, I’m certain the Supervisors will use it to solve the problem of excess overtime. Or at least they will raise our awareness of the issue. That’s vitally important too.
1 p.m. – Land Use & Economic Development Committee
It is very reassuring to know that this committee is paying close attention to the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan. Nearly half of the agenda items at this meeting involve the Eastern Neighborhood plan. That’s a lot of time spent on it, but no doubt we’ll be able to see a tangible difference in the plans as a result of this meeting. I have confidence that this committee will continue to hold hearings and pass resolutions for as long as it takes, making the plan better with each iteration.
There will also be a hearing on the Candlestick Point revitalization project – which I think I heard something about from this guy this one time – and on the Mayor and Supervisor McGoldrick’s Condominium Conversion Program.
Once again, I am certain that, if you put all these different proposals next to each other, they fit together like a perfectly balanced jigsaw puzzle. Sure from where you sit, or I sit, or an impartial observer sits … and I would very much like to sit with them … it might look like a jumble of contradictory ideas that can only be made to fit together with a hammer.
But our government is better than that. The Mayor and the Supervisors have no doubt sat down together like responsible leaders, putting our best interests ahead of our own and …
They don’t sit down together?
The Honorable Mayor doesn’t even attend city meetings?
I … I … don’t know how that works, or how it’s in the voters’ best interests, but, OK… no doubt they have other open channels of communication which allows them to find common ground on important issue which …
Why, yes, I did look at my ballot. Why?
What do you mean most of those city ballot measures got put on the ballot because the mayor and the supervisors couldn’t agree on a policy in the first place?
That’s ridiculous! That …
Oh my God …
So, let me get this straight: the reason our ballot is so big is that the Honorable Mayor and the Honorable Supervisors won’t directly communicate, work through proxies, and would rather throw ballot measures at the populace on anything they disagree with than work together to form a collection of sensible, sustainable, policies?
The Eastern Neighborhoods are screwed, aren't they?
This kinda takes the bloom off the rose of self-government there, doesn’t it.
At least election night is still a good excuse to drink.
We can raise our glasses, and toast Democracy's eternal hope: may this new batch of bastards we elected show improvement.