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Monday, March 31, 2008

Run! Run! "Project eMerge" and it's terrible Mission Statement will destroy us all!

Posted By on Mon, Mar 31, 2008 at 9:54 AM


By Benjamin Wachs

There’s a whole lot of government happening this week, kids. I know that terms like “special use district” make you turn to the numbing solace of animals on YouTube, but hey, that’s what the officials you elected care about (except for the urban hipsters among you – we both know you didn’t vote). So here’s my proposal: SF Government InAction is now a drinking game: any time a zoning term comes up, do a shot.

You might as well: that’s what I do writing it.

Fasten your seat belts and pass the bottle, because it’s a good week for a hangover.

Monday, March 31, 1 p.m. – Land Use & Economic Development Committee

Here’s probably the only funny story about zoning you’ll ever hear. A few months ago, Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval proposed banning new “Head Shops” in the Excelsior. He said this would be legal because the city already restricts new liquor stores there. But, as it turns out, the liquor store regulation he was talking about was one of his own proposals that still hadn’t gotten out of committee yet.

I’m calling this “Quantum Zoning Causality” – where future zoning is used to justify present zoning, which is then used to justify the zoning of the future. It’s brilliant: you can’t protest new zoning, because it’s ALREADY BEEN ZONED – you just don’t know it yet.

String theorists might want to take note: both measures justifying each other are on the agenda of the Land Use committee this week. If they collide at high speeds, we might be able to see the way the universe was first zoned just milliseconds after the Big Bang.

The committee will also be declaring the Hunter’s Point School to be a landmark; stipulating that any reduction of residential units in a building requires a special authorization; and amending the zoning (and zoning maps) for a bunch of “special use districts” including the Laguna, Haight, Buchanan and Herman Street district; the Market and Octavia district; and the Van Ness and Market districts. These zoning revisions have been banging back and forth from committee to committee for months now … I’ll get back to you on them when it looks like something might actually be in a final form.

Of course there might not be a “final form.” It might exist in multiple forms at once, in and out of different committees. I’m calling this “Schroedinger’s Zoning.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2 p.m. – full Board of Supervisors

Whether you want to condemn China for its oppression of the Tibetan people or celebrate the Olympic spirit by welcoming China into the colloquium of nations, the Supervisors have a bill for you. One to welcome both the Tibetan Freedom Torch and the Olympic Torch, and another “commending” the Tibetan Freedom Torch and Global Human Rights Relay. Can’t we all be friends?

They’ll also be “supporting public access to information regarding the Olympic torch route” and Commending the Asian Chefs Foundation.

Okay, I’m not sure if that last part is really related to Tibet and the Olympics, but, if you commend the Asian Chefs Foundation just moments after articulating your position on Tibet (your two positions on Tibet), it kind of all gets tangled up. After all, according to the resolution, the Asian Chefs Foundation “aims to empower the culinary and hospitality community to serve society and promote humanitarian causes” ... so, now’s their time to shine.

And speaking of odd timing for legislation, SF recently passed a substantial “gate fare increase” for taxi cab drivers … letting taxi cab companies charge drivers more for the privilege of driving their cabs around. Part of the justification for this (there was kind of a revolving door of explanations) was that taxi companies needed the additional funds to help make their vehicles more environmentally friendly.

Now, the Supes will be accepting a $157,000 grant to ”assist taxi companies with grant funding to help them offset the incremental costs associated with the purchase of 75 light-duty clean air vehicle taxis.”

So, wait … we’re letting the taxi companies take more money from drivers in order to pay for cleaner taxis, and then giving them public money to pay for cleaner taxis? It’s too bad I’m not a supervisor, because then I’d understand how this makes sense.


Some old favorites on the Supes’ agenda this week include adjusting the “Northeast Waterfront Historic District Signs” (be still my heart); coming up with effective penalties against people who violate zoning laws (apparently being nice to them didn’t work); a mammoth water system reconstruction project that somehow will leave the system even more expensive to run each year; and changing the width of Mission Street around the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

But we don’t have to go over all that again.

A final quick note about this meeting: I’m sure that San Francisco is doing something noble by participating in the "National HIV Behavioral Surveillance project” – but, doesn’t that sound sinister? If I were to try and make up a suspicious, Stalin-like name for an HIV program, I doubt I could do any better.

Reading the text of the resolution doesn’t help. San Francisco’s accepting money from the CDC to “monitor HIV prevalence, incidence, related risk behavior and utilization of prevention service among men who have sex with men (MSM), injection drug users (IDU) and heterosexuals living in high-risk areas (HET).”

Yep – the government’s paying us to track the behavior of people society’s suspicious of. Brrrrrrr. Are all federal grants this creepy? I’m sure this is a good program, filled with positive, affirmational science, but … big brother is not only watching you, they’re giving you a clinical nickname.

If it makes you feel any better, SF will also be accepting almost $300,000 in grants to help test HIV vaccines. Presumably with willing subjects.

Wednesday, April 2, 1 p.m. – Budget and Finance Committee

Finally a short meeting. Here goes: reserving $3 million for solar power incentives next year; approving airport concession stand leases; authorizing more than $13.5 million to “to integrate the City’s human resources and payroll functions,” and yelling at each other about the budget.

Wow – it costs $13.5 million to put Human Resources and payroll on the same computers? Doesn’t Google have a free application for that?

Apparently this is called “Project eMerge” – a name that came up out of a city administration “Name the Project contest.” The winning contestant from the Recreation and Park Department described the project as “Emerging from the old and merging stand-alone legacy systems into an integrated multi-functional system.” I could not make that up no matter how hard I tried. This $13.5 million is only 36% of the total cost of Project eMerge, so there will be even more expensive goodies to come. What will we get for our money? Well, project eMerge’s mission statement … yes, it has a mission statement … says that it will:

“(A)chieve operational efficiencies across all City business processes and systems with the acquisition, configuration and deployment of a dynamic and comprehensive human resource management system that enhances and improves workforce management and helps ensure the highest quality of service to the public.”

Which is, you know, nice. But it begs several questions: will we get so efficient that we’ll be able to lay people off? Will we then actually lay people off to realize the savings? Do we have any estimates of exactly how all this workforce management improvement will save money? Or do we just have words like “efficient” and “dynamic” because we think they’re magical? After reading all 64 pages of the proposal, I’m still not sure.

Damn – and here I thought this was going to be a short meeting.

Thursday, April 3

10 a.m. – Rules committee

All right – I swear we’re keeping this one short.

• Someone will get appointed to the Urban Forestry Council (if an Urban Forestry Council fell and nobody heard it … aw, never mind)

• Appointments will also be made to the … screw it, too many committees and life is short.

• Ross Mirkarimi is proposing a measure that would require any government meeting in a room with audio or video equipment to be recorded and posted to the web. Rock on, McDreamy.

• Michela Alioto-Pier is still trying to help film producers get a break in San Fran. This time it’s by eliminating the cap on city tax rebates they’d get. Question: do film producers really decide if to make a movie in a really distinct urban environment like San Francisco on the basis of the tax breaks available? I mean, does it ever come down to us or Montanna, based on the tax breaks? I’m just curious.

See? Short.

1 p.m. – City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee

Congratulations, San Francisco! You’re getting greenhouse Gas emission targets! Because damn it, we just didn’t care enough until today.

3:30 p.m. – City & School District Committee

It’s a Christmas miracle! The last time the City and School District Committee met, they started planning ahead on how to meet the district’s budget goals in future years … and now they’re STILL PLANNING AHEAD! This just might work …

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Benjamin Wachs


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