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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Daly, Ammiano Push $200K to Fix Nicaragua - Peskin Questions Relief Package

Posted By on Thu, Sep 27, 2007 at 8:26 AM

By Benjamin Wachs


Sometimes it’s reeeaaaaaaally hard to tell the difference between political charity and political pandering.

Exhibit A is the country of Nicaragua, which most of us only think of when we think of …. oh … geez … war? ... gimmie a minute …

That’s me, and that’s most San Franciscans. But when Supervisors Chris Daly and Tom Ammiano think about Nicaragua, they think “Hurricane Relief.”

Hurricanes have tore up Nicaragua in recent years. Most recently Hurricane Felix which, I should admit, I was paying absolutely no attention to. Humanitarian agencies, along with the U.N. have sent a call out for people to provide relief.

As a result, Daly proposed, and Ammiano backed, a cit- funded relief package of $200,000 to lend a hand.

“The city has occasionally participated in activities of this kind,” Ammiano said after last week’s budget committee meeting. “It’s not a usual thing to do, but it’s not so unusual.”

Both Ammiano and Daly Legislative Aide John Avalos say locals with Nicaraguan heritage care a lot about this kind of thing.

“California is the place where there are many Nicaraguan refugees from what was happening in the 80s, and the Bay Area is one of the major areas where people have come,” Avalos said. While he couldn’t give an estimate of how many live in San Francisco, he estimate there are millions around the entire Bay Area. A number I have tried, and failed, to verify.

“I certainly expect that there were people who would deny that city funds should be used this way, but there are real connections between immigrants in the San Francisco and the Bay Area, and given these connections and how strong they are, it’s not something that should be considered an action by the city government outside its normal means of supporting people,” Avalos said.

Right now the aid package isn’t going anywhere, for one simple reason: they don’t know who to give it to. Avalossays the proposalto the budget committee came without a list of legitimate charities who could be held accountable for how the dollars are spent.

Board President Aaron Peskin was just a few shades down from apoplectic when the city’s budget analyst informed him that “we don’t have any information” about where the money would go or how the transaction would be handled.

He gave the proponents two weeks to get the city all the information it needs. Avalos says it will be taken care of well before the budget committee hearing next week.

Assuming everything’s in order, the city faces a tough question: is this the kind of thing we do?

Third-world relief efforts have come to city hall before - remember the tsunami of 2005? – but the results have never been definitive and the question hasn’t really been answered.

There’s certainly no question that $200,000 could fix quite a few roads, or pay for another few police officers. Do we really want to send it down south? Can’t we keep it for ourselves?

Dammit. From now on when I think about Nicaragua, I’ll always wonder: “is Chris Daly actually a better person than me?”

(Readers, it's your call. Our roads, or Nicaragua's? Affordable housing and anti-gang relief here or there?)

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David Downs


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