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Monday, May 19, 2008

SF Gov't InAction: The Yacht Club's in trouble! San Francisco is the Bermuda Triagle of cash! AND the Supes think street artists have disposable income!

Posted By on Mon, May 19, 2008 at 11:04 AM


By Benjamin Wachs

Monday, May 19:

10 a.m. – Government Audit & Oversight Committee

It’s disconcerting to see a bill before the Supes to “correct typographical errors” in the city’s administrative code.

Do you really want some crimes to be punishable by “the bleath penalty?”

Still, the city code is a junkyard where everything gets dumped and nothing ever gets removed. So maybe they’re not really typos – maybe they were perfectly correct in the original Olde English.

More significantly this bill, by Carmen Chu, would also change sections of code involved in the awarding of city bids and the way the city relates to its contractors during the process.

Some of these changes – like allowing more flexibility with progressive payments – are surely important to somebody. Other changes, like replacing the term “developers” with “design-builders” are oddly trivial; and some changes, like this one …

“Limit contract negotiations to negotiations that are necessary to effectuate the award of a design-built contract”

… are just bizarre.

Do we have a problem with the city and developers engaging in negotiations that have nothing to do with development? What exactly are they negotiating? Middle-east peace? How to split the check?

Nestled in between all this, however, are a few small provisions that could significantly change the way the city does business.

Check this out: right now the city evaluates development … er, “design-build” … proposals on the basis of “qualifications and cost.” Under this law, projects “will be evaluated based solely on cost.”

That could be a huge change. Of course, there is a loophole. “(A)n alternative final selection process” may “be used if a department determines that it is in the public’s best interest to consider qualifications and other subjective criteria.” But that will require extra effort and justifications not currently needed – most of which will probably be bullshit, and self-evident bullshit at that. And even if this alternative process does get used cost can make up no less than 65% of the total criteria.

Just as huge could be this proposal, also tucked neatly in Chu’s bill, to require “a mandatory pre-qualification process for design-build projects.” The department heads will rank all proposals as part of this process, establish a short list, and restrict bidding to that shortlist.

In other words, it could get much, much, harder to bid on city contracts. In principle, this will weed out the companies that wouldn’t win contracts anyway and save everybody lots of time. In practice, department heads (and through them political patrons) will have a much easier time slamming the door on people they don’t like.

Interesting. We’ll keep an eye on this.

Moving on ...

Today there will also, be a hearing on the “management of the Marina Yacht Harbor Fund.” Oh, I do hope nothing’s wrong with the yachts!

For those who like petty-ante government scandals, the recent audit of the Marina Yacht Harbor is just filled with goodies. My personal favorite is the way in which cash payments to the harbor enter the Bermuda Triangle. As the report puts it in bland bureaucratese:

“Cash handling at the Marina yacht Harbor is characterized by weak controls, insufficient cash handling procedures specific to the Harbor, and manually intensive processes.”

In other words, nobody’s keeping track. How bad does it get? Well, aside from the fact that berth payments are recorded in triplicate (do people even do that anymore?), check this out:

“(T)he Harbor does not record temporary berth and miscellaneous fee payments in the Marina Program, nor does it have a cash register or formal cash receipting system in place.”

Wow. It’s so bad they need a CASH REGISTER. Not a new computer system, not better software, a CASH REGISTER.

Geez. Until this all gets straightened out, could someone at least toss them an abacus?

1 p.m. – Land Use and Economic Development Committee

Jake McGoldrick has a measure that will “impose a two year-limit on sidewalk flower-vending stand permits and establish a lottery process for subsequent permit issuance for such stands, to clarify application requirements.”

Is this … really … how we want to spend our time? Life is short.

Oh well: at least he didn’t offer it as a charter amendment.

6 p.m. – Public Safety Committee

These days the Public Safety Committee does more intellectual heavy lifting than any other agency at city hall. It’s good that they take their work so seriously, since figuring out how to keep homicides down is not an academic question.

Today they’ll be looking at the much hyped report by the Public Safety Strategies Group that says the city should cut the number of police districts in half. This will cut the number of police stations in half, which will … in theory … free up a lot more officers to walk the streets.

It’s an interesting idea, but the fact that it’s been proposed at all represents both the best and the worst of the way law enforcement happens in SF. On the one hand, it’s an innovative idea that might very well improve police resources. On the other hand, foot patrols were only added last year and the department still doesn’t have the resources to evaluate their impact.

We can’t even evaluate the current plan, and now we’re already talking about the next big thing.

That might be the way to run a tech company, but it’s a terrible way to social policy. Government requires consistency to work well, and that’s been in very short supply in local law enforcement. As I’ve written recently, the homicide division has had three heads in the last three years. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice has had four heads in 3-and-a-half years (five heads if you count an interim guy with a long tenure).

It gets worse. The police department keeps getting “re-organized.” New programs and oversight structures keep getting added. The result is that we’re a community who will try anything to solve crime, just not for very long.

None of which has any bearing on whether redrawing and cutting the number of districts is a good idea. But expect to see a certain amount of frustration on the part of the committee charged with making a system that have virtually no control over work.

Tuesday, May 20, 2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors

The third item on the Supes agenda is whether to have a sidewalk easement for the Small Business Week Sidewalk Sale. Again.

Oh my God, are the supervisors STILL discussing this? This is REALLY dragging on!

In fact … wasn’t Small Business Week last week? Hasn’t the sidewalk sale already happened?

Yeah, it was May 17.

Hmmmm . Well, good luck to the Supervisors on settling this incredibly important question.

Amazingly, that’s not the only agenda item that’s a little dated. Michela Alioto-Pier has a resolution before the committee declaring the week of May 15 “National Police Week.”

As in … last week.

Come one, people: this is getting embarrassing.

Speaking of items that don’t seem to be going away, last week the Mayor (through a spokesman) begged the Supes to delay a vote on the east side “peaker plants” so that he’d have time to try and find a compromise that would satisfy all the people who have given his campaign money.

For some reason, they board decided to humor the mayor who won’t show up.

Anybody made any progress? Got big compromises in the works? That week has now gone by: dazzle us.

The final item of note is a report by the planning commission on Gerardo Sandoval’s moratorium on new Head Shops in the Excelsior. The report says they’re still studying it.

Sure glad we got that accomplished.

It’s not the planning department’s fault, though: they’ve been told to both “study the impact of a moratorium” AND “have the results on our desks no later than 25 days into the moratorium.”

What the hell else can they say but “yep, that sure is a moratorium you got there.”

Wednesday, May 21, 11 a.m. – Budget and Finance Committee

I’ve said before that it must suck to own something in San Francisco … but we all knew that. It doesn’t surprise anybody. But here’s something I never thought I’d say: it must suck to be an artist in San Francisco.

In what is probably the biggest slap in the face to artists since Lenin renamed Siberia the "Happy-Time Artist's Collective," San Francisco is proposing to significantly bump up the fee for a street artist’s permit, at the same time that it significantly increases the pay for the people who advise the city on street artists.

No wonder everybody’s a critic in this town: it pays better.

A measure before this committee would increase the fee for a 3 month street artist permit from $94.40 to $133.07 (or from $373.60 to $532.28 for an annual certificate). Payments to members of the “Advisory Committee of Street Artists and Craft Examiners,” on the other hand, will go from $80 to $100 for each meeting attended or each artist’s workshop inspected.

The justification for the increase is to retain and attract better advisory committee members. What about better quality artists? By this logic, wouldn’t lower fees attract them?

As a citizen, I’d love to get some better quality street artists in this town. These inspectors, on the other hand? Not doing anything for me.

Still, in this kind of budget season all kinds of fees go up. Another measure on the Budget Committee’s agenda calls for numerous planning and building permit fees to go from $13 to $18.50; some Public Works permit fees from $1 to $2.50; some police permits from $10 to $18; some Entertainment Commission permits to go from $3 to $5, and so on.

No explanation is given.

Nor is one likely to be asked for. On the other hand, a measure certifying that private contractors should be hired instead of government employees to run a number of functions is likely to call up a firestorm.

According to the Controller’s report, the city can save millions of dollars by outsourcing the following functions, as authorized by Prop J:

“employee and public parking management services, information booth services, security services, and shuttle bus services (Airport); paratransit services, security services, citation information, janitorial and landscaping, meter collection and coin counting, towing services, and transit shelter maintenance and advertising (MTA); janitorial and security services (Port).”

To which the only rational response is: OF COURSE hiring private contractors will cost less money than the government. That’s what private contractors do – work cheap and pocket the profit. What that doesn’t mean is that it’s a good idea: private prisons have higher rates of violence than government-run prisons; public schools actually trounce private schools that have comparable funding and pull from comparable ranks of kids.

On the other hand, the government runs the Marina Yacht Harbor – and look how that turned out. You’d better believe that if they were run by a private contractor, they’d have a cash register.

So cheaper is no surprise: private industry is always cheaper. Better value for the money? That’s a completely different question, and it varies from job to job. It’s also a question that the Controller’s report doesn’t really address.

Thursday, May 22, 11 a.m. – Budget & Finance committee Special Meeting

It doesn’t look all that special to me, but, maybe it’s what’s on the inside that counts.

They’ll burn through a few agenda items – vehicle for hire fees are going up – and then reconvene at 4 o’clock to hold the public comment period for the city’s departmental budgets. I’d say that if you don’t show up now and speak, your voice won’t count.

But who are we kidding? Your voice already doesn’t count. I mean, they are holding the hearing at 4 p.m.. How much could they really want to hear from you?

In fact, all of their meetings are held during working hours … which means that given a choice the Board of Supervisors would rather hear from crazy people and professional activists than from you. Also they think your art sucks and that it’s last week.

Don’t listen to those people: I don’t think they’re really your friends.

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Benjamin Wachs


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