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Wednesday, Feb 12 1997
49er Gold Rush
Earlier this month, the S.F. Board of Supervisors made it official: A special election will be held June 3 to ask voters to endorse a near-record borrowing spree.

Bond measures to raise $237 million to refurbish and expand S.F.'s public schools, community colleges, cultural centers, and zoo have gotten the board's seal of approval to appear on the ballot. (More on these below -- and in the weeks to come.) Now, a $100 million bond measure to finance a new football stadium at Candlestick Point for the 49ers is to be added to the mix -- unless the supervisors unexpectedly revolt against Mayor Willie Brown, who officially kicked off the stadium-bond campaign with the team's brass Feb. 3.

Unlike the stadium measure, the zoo, cultural centers, and combined schools/community college bonds are conventional "general obligation" offerings. They are backed by a property tax levy that requires two-thirds of the vote for passage.

The stadium bond is a different beast, economically, legally, and, therefore, politically. Repayment of the debt is to be accomplished largely by tapping sales-tax revenue generated by the stadium and a mall to be built alongside. Because new property taxes are not assessed, state law says a simple majority is all that's necessary for approval. That's the good news for the 49ers, Brown, and other stadium proponents.

The bad news -- for city residents, businesses, and the supes, who have to decide now whether to back the project -- is this: The stadium financing relies on a speculative stream of sales taxes from an unbuilt mall that doesn't even have any announced tenants yet. This fact alone raises basic questions, which demand frank answers before anyone should allow the 49ers brain trust and the mayor to stick this thing on the ballot.

Unfortunately, whether by design or accident, there's been precious little time for any review.

Consider: The resolution to place a stadium bond on the June 3 ballot was introduced at the Board of Supervisors on the last possible day, Feb. 3, and without the traditional review and blessing of S.F.'s Capital Improvement Advisory Committee. (That body of municipal finance officials was not slated to meet on the matter until Friday, Feb. 7.)

The supervisors' Finance Committee was scheduled to hold its hearing on Feb. 12 and vote so that the full board could do the same Feb. 18, and send the package to the director of elections before the Feb. 21 deadline. Whew! All of which required new board President Barbara Kaufman to suspend her new procedural rule requiring a 30-day review period before newly introduced business is acted on by the supervisors.

Why the rush? Who knows. That, perhaps, is question No. 1. Here are a few more:

* Asked if the city's General Fund (the budget for municipal services) would need to be tapped to meet the debt obligations, Mayor Brown said, "No." He pledged that the projected $5 million annual tax revenue from the stadium-mall project would be sufficient to repay bondholders. But is that $5 million a net increase in revenue to the city? If it is a gross figure -- meaning it is derived in part from consumer spending already occurring in S.F., but expected to shift to the stadium-mall complex -- then the General Fund may end up squeezed by the project.

The supervisors' budget analyst, Harvey Rose, weighed in on this point in a report released Feb. 7: "The budget analyst believes it would be reasonable to project some drop off in sales tax revenues from other San Francisco locations instead of assuming that all sales tax revenue from the proposed mall would be new."

* Under what terms will 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and his business partners finance the $200 million mall that is being relied on as the consumer-spending financing engine?

* Is the Mayor's Office indeed committed to becoming the business partner of DeBartolo and company without undertaking an independent analysis of the project? That question, perhaps, has already been answered -- and not reassuringly.

The Mayor's Office said in April of 1996 that it would seek out a consultant who could weigh prospects for developing a new football stadium at Candlestick. But mayoral aide Stuart Sunshine says that plan was shelved.

"We never did it," said Sunshine. "It was designed to tell us what could be built out there. But the 49ers came up with that plan."

Wasn't the whole point to find someone who could gauge such a project's economic benefit to the city? "I assume the 49ers have those people," Sunshine responded.

Doesn't it make you uneasy to be so reliant on the 49er ownership? "We will have to see their proposal," he said.

We'll be looking forward to seeing it, too. In detail.

Rent Control Redux
The June special election is also being eyed by a group of residential-property owners who want a repeal of the 1994 ballot measure Proposition I. That measure extended rent control to small owner-occupied buildings with four or fewer rental units.

The Gay and Lesbian Housing Alliance has been canvassing such owner-occupied, multidwelling houses about life under Prop. I. (The year-and-a-half-old group says it has targeted 15,000 such owners.) In addition to restricting rent increases, the law regulates evictions -- and Alliance members find that particularly intrusive.

The group invited new Supervisor Leland Yee to its meeting Feb. 4 to hear its objections to the rent law, and asked him to help it place a Prop. I repeal before voters.

Yee, who acknowledges sympathy for the Alliance's view, nonetheless said he is not interested in playing a leading role in any sequel to last year's tragicomedy over so-called owner move-in evictions legislation. The ultimately failed measure pit landlords against tenants over new rules and restrictions on owners who evict tenants to move into their own buildings.

Jean-Paul Samaha, the Alliance co-chair, said the Prop. I opponents are in no rush to launch a campaign. Said Samaha: "Truth is on our side."

Barnes, Kopp's Chum?
When voters go to the polls June 3 and decide the fate of the combined $140 million public schools/community college bond measure, you might expect it to pass or fail on its merits. If so, you'd be ignoring the petty ways of the world of local political pros.

The soured grapevine has been buzzing of late about the decision of school and community college officials to tap Robert Barnes, who made his name producing campaign mail, to run the bond campaign. Because the measure needs two-thirds of the vote to pass, it can't afford serious opposition. The thinking is that that makes the Barnes hire stupid, because the bond measure will be saddled with ill will that's been pointed at Barnes since last fall's campaign.

Barnes' 1996 election tactics (on behalf of varied and irreconcilable interests) managed to piss off a parade of players -- not least of whom was state Sen. Quentin Kopp. The city's leading fiscal conservative, Kopp has never needed much prodding to oppose a government borrowing project anyway. Barnes on the schools/college campaign is like blood in the water to old shark Kopp. Happy feeding frenzy.

About The Authors

George Cothran


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