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Monday, September 8, 2008

SF Gov InAction: The Supes are Back. Do We Need Them?

Posted By on Mon, Sep 8, 2008 at 11:21 AM


By Benjamin Wachs

The Olympics are over; Gavin’s honeymoon’s done; the conventions are played out; the man has burned.

Try as they might, our city’s leaders can no longer come up with a single good reason not to be here. They could, I suppose, pretend to have a family crisis in the Midwest –- but that would mean admitting to having family in the Midwest. That they care about. Not going to happen.

So finally, at long last, the Mayor and our Board of Supervisors returns to us. And just in time. There’s crucially important work that city government has to pretend to do.

The first rule of politics, as a Very Important Politician once told me, is simple: LOOK BUSY! And the Supes, still dreaming about all the cutting things they could say about Sarah Palin if someone were only to ask (Tom Ammiano is just going to BURST if someone doesn’t ask!), are failing badly.

They’ve only got two meetings scheduled for this week: After taking a month off, most of them are only working a single day their first week back. Which raises a Very Important Question: Are they fooling anyone?

The politicians – the people’s representatives – don’t actually run this city. The bureaucracy does: which is why much of the shit the politicians tell the city to do doesn’t get done. Any city which can have its government out for 5 weeks without incident is a city that can have it out for 10. And a city that can effectively have no government for 10 weeks is probably paying too much for it.

Which is why I make a modest proposal to help solve our budget crisis: eliminate Democracy. We’re not using it: why should we pay for it?

Each Supe makes just shy of 100 grand annually. Multiply that by 11 Supes, and we’ve trimmed a million off the budget right there – plus the Mayor’s hefty salary, plus all the aides whom the public basically pays to make the Supes look pretty and Gavin look smart. (According to this interview he gave, the city actually pays Gavin’s aids to take notes on the books he reads for him. This is not healthy). Put it all together, along with the money we save by not having municipal elections, and we’ve cleared $10 million easy.

The alternative is to have meetings like these, in perpetuity. Think it over.

Tuesday, Sept 9, 2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors:

The very first thing that the Supes will vote on as they get down to business will be to accept a grant funding the Mayor’s After School Snack Program (and, retroactively, his Summer Food Program). If you really think it takes an 11 member deliberative body to accept a federal grant, then I beg you to tell me how many Supervisors it takes to change a light bulb.

One of the next items on the agenda is a proposal to change “the name of the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services to the Department of Technology.”

Uh-huh. The Founding Fathers would be proud. George Washington originally wanted to name Congress “The Department of Technology,” you know.

Then we come to an item that is legitimately important: a proposal to implement the “Whistleblower Protection Program” proposed by the Controller. If this plan makes it into law, the Controller will be empowered to investigate reports of misuse of city funds, improper activities by city officers and employees, bad delivery of government services, and wasteful city practices – without revealing the names of the people who brought the complaints to them.

It’s a good idea, and I admit I relish the thought of Gavin Newsom’s aids calling up the 24-hour whistleblower hotline to report that the mayor is making them read too many trashy romances and underline “the good parts.” So we should definitely keep the Controller. I in no way advocate for the elimination of the Controller. Just Democracy. Let’s be clear on that. This city couldn’t possibly function without a Controller. That’s crazy talk.

Also on the agenda, and a long time coming, is Ross Mirkarimi’s proposal to set up a “re-entry council” that would help develop programs for prisoners who are returning to regular life in San Francisco. I don’t know if a “council” is really needed for this, but something has to happen: the vast majority of people we send to jail for crimes have already been to jail and back. Breaking that cycle – even by 10 or 20 percent – would have a huge impact on city crime rates, especially in its worst areas. I know .. I know … this involves coddling criminals. But, come on, would you rather be righteous or have less crime? As someone who enjoys taking long walks at night, I say cut crime. It’s a good idea.

BUT, and this is key, we don’t need a Board of Supervisors for Ross Mirkarimi to have good ideas. I say we spend $12 to set up a drop box for Mirkarimi, and any time he has a good idea he can put it in the drop box, and eventually the Controller will get around to implementing it.

THAT’S good government.

After that, the Supes get back to purely symbolic business, like urging the SF school district to let people go to their neighborhood schools. I’m not sure if we need a school board or not: at least those people don’t get paid. (News & Booze’s take on this resolution can be heard here).

Then they debate Chris Daly’s proposal on whether to change the zoo into an animal sanctuary. Quick question: if the city can’t run a zoo, what makes us think we can run an animal sanctuary? I’m just asking.

Finally, we have Chris Daly’s proposal to ban smoking in even more places. While the measure doesn’t specifically address it, I’m assuming that smoking in the Animal Sanctuary is out of the question.

Wednesday, Sept. 10, 1 p.m. – Budget and Finance Committee

The last meeting makes the case that having an election to decide who gets to do that stuff is serious overkill: but if that meeting didn’t do it, this one will. It’s 13 items of purely pro-forma management that could be better left to a part-time accountant.

Tax rates will be formally set for the city, school district, community college district, and BART district (all of which is really just combined into one city tax bill). Now tell me the truth: in what way is this a job for Jake McGoldrick?

How is any of it? The city will be working out its financial responsibilities to SanTrans and the other regional joint transportation agencies; it will be amending the city’s salary ordinance to add two new police officers; it will be appropriating $110 grand and change for Leland Avenue Streetscape improvements; extending its agreement with the Navy over Treasure Island by a year; releasing some reserve funds … blah blah blah.

Serious idea: give all that stuff to an intern. He’ll do it faster, more efficiently, and get college credit. If you want, she can be a poor minority whose acupuncturist says she needs more self-esteem. I’m good with that.

Let’s just not pretend that any governing body that could have Michela Alioto-Pier as a member is highly qualified to act on our behalf.


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Benjamin Wachs


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