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Monday, June 9, 2008

SF Gov InAction: Supes to Help Ration Water by Making it Cost More, and Debate whether the Handicapped and Elderly Have Too Many Parking Spaces

Posted By on Mon, Jun 9, 2008 at 10:25 AM


By Benjamin Wachs

Let’s get one thing straight at the beginning: There’s more government happening this week than you want to read about, and there’s definitely more government here than I want to write about.

We could ignore it – but that would be irresponsible. You chose to live here, and I got drunk with the wrong people one night and woke up enrolled in journalism school. Life goes on.

Monday, June 9

10 a.m. – Government Audit & Oversight Committee

This is not a small meeting.

“Oh,” you might say to yourself, “it’s only the Governing Audit & Oversight Committee – it’s what the Supervisors do when they can’t find enough people to play hoops.” But you would be wrong. At least today. (Chris Daly is an excellent point guard, by the way – but Ross Mirkarimi can’t jump). Big, big changes are being discussed at this meeting.

So PAY ATTENTION! I don’t get to tell you that the Board of Supervisors are being relevant and farsighted very often, so I kind of don’t want you to blink.

First the Supes will be voting forward what I call their “What the Fuck?” bill. Here’s where that comes from:

At last week’s Full Board meeting the Supes were about ready to vote on the “Peaker Plant” issue when, low and behold, the California Independent System Operating Board (Cal-ISO)sent a letter to the city informing them that – hey! – you don’t need to build the new peaker plants in order to close the Potrero Power Plant after all! All those years of us saying you would? PSYCH! We so had you going there!

Instead, the letter said, the power coming from the Transbay Cable will, once it’s installed, be sufficient to let the city close Potrero down without any further steps needed towards developing public power.

“Huh,” said the Supes. “That’s not what you were telling us all those years. What the Fuck?”

So they proposed a bill, now in front of this committee, to get Cal-ISO to explain What the Fuck. The bill is much longer, of course, and does not actually contain the word “fuck,” but, that’s what it is. It instructs the city’s Public Utilities Commission to ask Cal-ISO “What the Fuck,” “Are you guys for real?” and “Seriously, can we do this, or are you just dicking us around like Gavin Newsom at an intern fair?”

We will await the answer with bated breath.

Next the Supes will state their intention to create two aggressive – and expensive – zoning districts.

I’ve just lost you, haven’t I? Goddam zoning: nobody wants to hear about it until it’s your flower-pot-on-the-fire-escape that’s considered a non-conforming use and you get an angry letter from the Planning Department asking if your rhododendrons have a Special Use Permit. THEN you’re all “Why didn’t somebody TELL me this was a horticultural-container special use district?” But by then it’s too late. If you don’t catch zoning early, it catches you.

These particular zoning proposals – one for the “Broadway entertainment corridor” around Broadway and Kearny, another for the Yerba Buena neighborhood – are called “Community Benefit Districts,” and involve property owners in the affected areas paying extra taxes in order to fund special services that the district needs. The idea has been implemented under a variety of names across the country, generally with good results. San Francisco has also done it before – around Fisherman’s Wharf, Nob Hill, the Tenderloin, Noe Valley – with “meh” results.

In the case of these two districts, budgets have been set and additional taxes will be laid on property owners in the districts (which have a shelf life of 10 and 7 years) to pay for additional police presence, next day graffiti removal, extra sidewalk cleaning, and publicity campaigns to attract tourists, among other goodies.

There’s a lot of “ifs” that need to be taken into account to make this work. If the budget is reasonable and well thought out (and, surprisingly, both proposed districts look to be); if the impacted property owners are really on board (and, at least according to the documentation, they seem to be); if the people in the district have input into how their money gets spent (again, looks like it) – then we might actually have a way to enhance important neighborhoods without increasing the general tax burden or taking attention away from anybody else.

Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

Finally at this meeting the Supes will vote on whether or not they really want to “end health disparities” among different groups. The answer is probably yes.

10 a.m. – Public Safety Committee

Ross Mirkarimi’s Three-Ring Circus of Justice continues to grill the city’s top cops. These are, unquestionably, the most useful public hearings in San Francisco week after week.

The other item before this committee is a resolution authorizing city personnel to apply for some of that delicious, cream-filled, Homeland Security grant money that’s out there. It’s part of a balanced budget.

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

The Supervisors give and the Supervisors taketh away. Today they taketh away.

They start by taking over the Dolores Hotel … which is only fair since the city paid to have the structure maintained and the current owners, the Mission Housing Development Corporation, aren’t able to maintain it. The city’s intention is to take the vacant building, find a new owner-operator, and have it continue to serve as transitional housing for the homeless. Sounds like a good deal. There must be somebody in this town who wants to pay for the privilege of taking over a run-down transitional hotel for the homeless. That’s not even a joke.

Next a proposal by Michela Alioto-Pier would “encourage water conservation” by authorizing the owners of rent controlled apartments to raise their tenants’ water and sewage rates. She is SUCH a conservationist! Come on, everybody: let’s follow Michela’s lead and hurt poor people until the environment is saved!

Next week I hear she’ll be introducing a bill to conserve our city’s historical landlords.

But the biggest single thing the Supes are taking away this week is … parking spaces. They’ll be looking at a measure, proposed by Aaron Peskin, to reduce the required parking spaces for buildings that contain (get ready to hiss):

• Senior citizens

• Physically handicapped persons

• Group homes

• Residential care facilities

• Affordable housing projects


Um … Mr. President Peskin, sir, WHAT THE HELL IS THAT?

It looks like it’s part of a broader package of legislation to encourage car-sharing, reduce the cost of new affordable housing by separating it from the need to add parking spaces, and generally make the city more transit and bicycle friendly.

“A basic assumption …” the legislation reads, “is that a desirable living environment and a prosperous business environment cannot be maintained if traffic levels continue to increase in any significant way. A balance must be restored to the city’s transportation system, and various methods must be used to control and reshape the impact of automobiles on the city. These include improving and promoting public transit, ridesharing, bicycling and walking as alternatives to the single-occupant automobile.”

Okay. Damn.

The Land Use & Economic Development Committee can be cruel. Your mother warned you about committees like this.

Tuesday, June 10, 2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors

I still think that Bevan “game on” Dufty’s attempt to resurrect Mayor Gavin “I’ve got such wavy hair” Newsom’s “Community Justice Center” from the dark dungeons of the budget committee is doomed to fail – but a man’s got to admit when he’s wrong, and I didn’t think Dufty would get this far.

Last week the full board voted to give the measure a hearing, and today we’ll see if they really intend to let this proposal see the light of day. If they do, pushing some $500 grand at the project, it will be a major win for Newsom … proving that the progressive majority on the Board of Supes has no leverage over room 200. Chris Daly’s going to fight this one tooth and nail – which may just be the ace in the hole Dufty needs.

This could be a very good week for Dufty, since his solar incentive program also looks set to pass. Ross Mirkarimi’s, meanwhile, may finally get up for a vote. What’s the difference? Well … um …. Hrm …. LOOK! Over there! Flying monkeys!

Far as I can tell, Dufty’s measure creates the city’s own solar incentive program, which is geared to residents and businesses, while Mirkarimi’s would locally implement a state program, and focus it on providing solar grants to non-profits and low-income families. I think. Probably. Look, there’s a lot of words involved here, and I drank a lot last night.

Other measures of interest coming across the Supes’ desk include the street artist fee hike, which looks set to pass … suggesting there’s going to be a lot of really nasty frescos of Aaron Peskin and Tom Ammiano appearing on walls around town ... and the Mayor’s crazy idea of eliminating the rule that businesses need to create new jobs in order to qualify for Enterprise Zone tax credits. Because apparently just having an Enterprise Zone is good enough for us. It doesn’t have to do anything. That would be a crazy waste of tax dollars.

Finally it’s interesting to note that, last week, the city was recommending that the Supes appoint one newspaper – Asian Week, to be the city’s “Chinese outreach paper of record” and the San Francisco Bay View to be the “outreach paper of record” for the African American community. But there would be no outreach papers of record for the gay and Hispanic communities because the city’s office of contract administration determined that no locally printed LGBT or Hispanic papers had applied for the position.

This week that problem seems to have been undetermined. The Supes are on track to designate The Bay Area Reporter and the Bay Times to be the LGBT outreach papers and the El Reportero to be the Hispanic outreach paper. Further, the Sing Tao Daily and the China Press are being added – along with Asian Week – as the Chinese outreach papers.

Because you can never have enough outreach, dammit. Never.

Wednesday, June 11, 1 p.m. – Budget and Finance Committee

Is it possible that the budget committee somehow gets less interesting the closer it comes to passing a budget?

Why, yes. Yes, it is.

Friday, June 13, 10 a.m. – Special meeting of the Rules Committee

I’d like to tell you what’s happening here, I really would, but no meeting agenda is yet available. The Clerk of the Board’s office confirmed that it’s still being prepared.

I’ll update as soon as I know more. In the mean time, here’s a sea otter picture for you to enjoy.


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Benjamin Wachs


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