Oh bleary eyed passengers on San Francisco's ship of fools:
I have to say I'm getting quite the kick out of my vacation. Last week I went a whole six days without thinking of Sean Elsbernd! Honestly, life is too short to think about Sean Elsbernd. I don't know how he does it.
Instead, I am spending my time in the Sierra Foothills, searching for El Dorado, the Lost City of Gold. I hope to find it, and gain two things:
2) Insight into how they handle zoning permits.
There must be so much we can learn from them.
In the meantime, I leave you in extremely good hands. This week's guest writer is none other than Paul Hogarth, managing editor of the influential website Beyond Chron. When it comes to understanding San Francisco government, Paul is the analyst's analyst, combining a keen knowledge of the city with an idealist's passion and a statesman's view.
If someone has to think about Sean Elsbernd, I'd like it to be Paul. Enjoy, and I'll see you next week.
After a relatively uneventful week (which my friend Greg Dewar did a good job summarizing), this week's Board of Supervisors agenda is jam-packed with goodies. So good, that the agenda for Thursday's Rules Committee (which I've been told should be interesting) isn't even available yet. But never fear ... there's plenty other stuff to keep us busy:
Monday, January 25
10:30 a.m. - City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee
Sean Elsbernd has a "do-not-feed-the-animals" ordinance stemming from a local man's attempt to feed himself to the animals. It's a pretty mild amendment to the Parks Code, raising fines for "disorderly conduct" and adding more naughty things we won't be allowed to do. It makes it illegal to enter the Bison Paddock at Golden Gate Park or enclosures at the S.F. Zoo without staff permission -- or to feed undomesticated animals. It also adds "taunt" and "endanger" to the things we are currently banned from doing to these animals: a list that includes "hunt, chase, shoot, trap, discharge or throw missiles at, molest, disturb, capture, injure or destroy." (I wonder if "taunt" includes religious harassment.)
There are also two state grants totaling $4 million to the Department of Public Health for AIDS prevention and treatment. I'm the last person to question such funding, but it's odd that the Supervisors are asked to approve these grants "retroactively." Here, it looks like it was the state's fault (we got their award letter in December, for a grant that started on July 1st) -- so the delay is excusable. But I'll have more to say on this subject later.
1 p.m. - Land Use & Economic Development Committee
Supervisors Eric Mar and Sophie Maxwell want to rename 3.3 acres of land by Ocean Beach "Sutro Dunes," and we also have four ordinances -- sponsored by David Chiu, Carmen Chu and Maxwell -- dealing with city contracts that are designed to help small businesses.
But what grabbed my attention was an amendment to the Planning Code called "interim controls related to affordable housing requirements." When developers build market-rate housing, San Francisco's inclusionary ordinance requires them to either (a) build a few affordable units on-site; (b) build a number of affordable units off-site, or; (c) pay an in-lieu fee so the City can build affordable housing elsewhere. The problem is a Godawful court ruling just came down -- which says you can't require developers to build affordable rentals, because that would be "rent control" for new tenancies (which the state previously made illegal.)
There's an urgent need to amend state law to fix this -- but until then, the 150 California cities that have "inclusionary zoning" are scrambling to amend their ordinances. What's being proposed on Monday is to scrap the requirement that half the "affordable" units at Rincon Hill be rentals -- so the only affordable units would be condos -- and make fixes to the "in-lieu fee" option developers have. Bring popcorn.
Finally, the Municipal Transportation Agency is asking authorization to implement and extend its parking meter pilot project -- which could allow it to do "peak-hour" charging (i.e. charging more for a spot when people are willing to pay more for it). It's not a new idea -- the MTA brought this up in October, but the Land Use Committee has a 30-day rule that requires legislation to lay fallow for at least a month before the supes can take it up. But with the mayor-controlled MTA balking about extended parking meter hours (meaning less revenue to Muni, more fare hikes, and service cuts), the timing of this is cruelly humorous.
Tuesday, January 26, 2 p.m. - Full Board Meeting
Okay, lotsa stuff on this week's agenda, much having to do with the mayor's spiteful relationship with the board.
First, we have a "Special Order of the Mayor" -- time for Gavin Newsom to engage in "policy discussion" with the supervisors, pursuant to Proposition I that the voters passed in 2006. The Mayor has never complied -- and he doesn't have to, because Prop. I was merely advisory. It's been at the top of the board agenda once a month for the past three years, and every month the mayor sends an aide to inform the supes that -- surprise! -- he's not coming.
Big deal. Nothing new, right? Well now, it is getting a little absurd. On Friday, Newsom sent out a press release (what else?) complaining that the supervisors haven't yet put his three tax-saving initiatives for businesses on their agenda. Well, gee, Gavin -- if you're so upset why not show up this week and ask them yourself?
Next, we have Eric Mar's measure to restrict "owner move-in" evictions of families with children. San Francisco's "just cause" ordinance allows landlords to evict tenants when they want to move into the rental unit. But because this was heavily abused during the dot-com boom, the voters in 1998 passed a measure that restricted this sort of evictions if the tenant was a senior, disabled, or catastrophically ill. Mar's ordinance would extend this to tenant households in which a person under age 18 has lived for at least a year. Exceptions are made if the landlord owns no other rental unit, or if they want to move in a child.
Sophie Maxwell dissented in committee, which means that -- like John Avalos' measure to extend "just cause" to units built after 1979 -- the supervisors don't have the votes to override a Newsom veto. There may yet be a compromise to get eight votes, however.
Ross Mirkarimi's ordinance on the mayor's "bodyguard bill" is back. If passed, local elected officials must refund the city any cost incurred on security guard detail while traveling out-of-state for campaign purposes. Last summer in the Budget Committee, Ross grilled the Police Department about how much was being spent to protect Newsom while he was campaigning for Governor -- but the police refused to divulge the total. Newsom has since dropped out, but the measure is still on the table -- and has been watered down. Now it only applies if the elected official is traveling out-of-state, as opposed to outside San Francisco. And only if they are campaigning for themselves, but not for others.
Next, we have the mayor's proposed mid-year budget cuts -- a hearing to consider cuts to deal with the fiscal crisis, which include $7.6 million to Public Health, $1.7 million to the fire department, $6.4 million to police, $3.8 million to Human Services, $1.1 million to Parks & Rec, $1.78 million to the Department of Technology. It's a total of $35 million.
In the past, Newsom would not even give the board a say, making these mid-year cuts unilaterally. But this year, he has submitted a supplemental de-appropriation -- giving the supervisors a chance to take an "up-or-down" vote on his cuts. This is part of the budget deal that John Avalos and David Chiu cut with the mayor that -- despite its progressive critics -- now gives the legislative branch a meaningful role.
Speaking of budgets, the board will also vote on approving the mayor's re-negotiated union contract with the firefighters. As you may recall, the top-heavy firefighters were the only city employee union last year that did not make "give-backs" to deal with the budget crisis. But Newsom's deal with the firefighters is similar to the "concession" that the police earlier agreed to -- postpone half of their 4 percent raise this year to the end of their contract in 2011. Far from being a real "give-back" that saves the city money, it merely postpones our financial liabilities. Newsom's successor will be thankful to him for this, no doubt.
But the highlight of this week's board meeting should be the Special Order at 3:00 p.m. -- where Assessor (and future mayoral candidate) Phil Ting will give a report on the city's tax delinquents. The culprit? San Francisco's Roman Catholic Archdiocese, which owes $21.7 million in real estate transfer taxes on 343 of its properties. Should be explosive!
Wednesday, January 27, 11 a.m. - Budget & Finance Committee
Remember how I said earlier that the supervisors get asked to rubber-stamp city contracts retroactively? It's one thing to approve $4 million for AIDS funding from the state (who wouldn't take that money?), but how about an $11 million grant from PG&E? By way of the state Public Utilities Commission, the mayor landed an "energy efficiency" grant funded by PG&E for the Department of the Environment that (among other things) pays for 12 city employees. It's on this week's Budget Committee agenda.
Then, there's a proposal to put a $652 million bond on the June 2010 ballot -- to retrofit the city's fire and police stations (along with other public safety buildings) for when the "Big One" hits. The mayor and seven supervisors (everyone except Chris Daly and the three Newsom appointees) have co-sponsored it, so expect to see it voted on soon.
And, finally, Mirkarimi wants Budget Analyst Harvey Rose to do an audit of the city's General Fund. Ummmh ... yeah!
Paul Hogarth is managing editor of Beyond Chron, and a fascinating conversationalist.