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Monday, December 15, 2008

SF Gov InAction Fire Sale: Supes Sell Their Legacies Off for Pennies on the Dollar

Posted By on Mon, Dec 15, 2008 at 2:22 PM


By Benjamin Wachs

Come on down to San Francisco, boys and girls, where the deals are hot, hot, HOT! That's right, I'm Crraaaaaaazy Gavin Newsom, and this week everything must go! We have an ENORMOUS deficit looming up after the holidays and our entire inventory must be cleared out! No deal too big, no savings too small! See the price tag on this vintage substance abuse treatment center? I'm slashing it in HALF! How about this neighborhood policing program? Yesterday it connected troubled neighborhoods with law enforcement for $1 million - starting today, it will have to do it for just $250,000 ! What an incredible deal! And folks, if you come on down to City Hall, we're giving pink slips away! That's right, just giving them away! Why? Because I'm Crraaaaaaaazy Gavin! I'd have to be crazy to think that keeping my enormous PR machine intact is more important than keeping MUNI operators! But that's the kind of crazy I am! You want my furniture? I'll sell you my furniture! Just make the check out to "Craaaaazy Gavin Newsom for Governor," and you'll walk out with the desk where I first decided to stop talking to other elected officials! If anything that happens at this week's jam-packed meeting schedule puzzles you, just remember: SF is no longer a government, it's a government wholesaler. Monday, Dec. 15, 1 p.m. - Land Use & Economic Development Committee But surely, you think, the Board of Supervisors won't give into Gavin's fire sale mentality, right? Silly rabbits. Four influential Supes are being termed out in a few weeks - you'd better believe they're panicking. Here's my educated guess as to what's running through their heads right now...

Aaron Peskin: "Only my superior knowledge of parliamentary procedure can save the city now!"

Sophie Maxwell: "Only my dedication to the downtrodden can save our city now!"

Gerardo Sandoval: "Screw this, I'm a judge!"

Jake McGoldrick: "Your Earth weapons are useless against me!"

The list of items proposed by these Supervisors that are suddenly being fast-tracked towards a vote is kind of stunning. They include:

* Changing the name of Chelsea Place in the downtown district to "Timothy Pflueger Place" (Peskin)

* Establishing city policy supporting Smart Grid technology and protocols for city electric systems (Peskin)

* A clarification to the city's "Large Tourist Hotel Conversion Ordinance" (Peskin)

* Approving the "Preferred Alternative" for the South Access for the Golden Gate Bridge: Doyle Drive Project. (McGoldrick)

It's almost like government can work if they put their minds to it.

Tuesday, Dec. 16

9 a.m. - Government Audit & Oversight Committee

This meeting starts off with a big load of budget cuts being tightly packed into a detonation chamber and set on a hair trigger: the committee will be handing it off to the full board to pull the trigger later that afternoon.

You know, if I were a progressive Supervisor getting termed out, this is not how I'd want to go. Not only because these kinds of cuts go against everything they've stood for - which generally speaking has been to fund everything - but because there's a good chance this is how they're going to be remembered.

As in: "Peskin, Peskin...oh yeah, weren't you the guy who cut my sister's job, and then when she got depressed about it, discovered you'd also cut all the mental health services? So she started to drink, and then discovered you'd cut the rehab options? So she tried to throw herself off the Golden Gate Bridge, but the MUNI bus never arrived so she couldn't get there? That Peskin?"

Ouch. Still, it's better than Gavin Newsom's eventual fate, as the top spokesperson of "Hair Club for Men."

But I digress.

The rest of the meeting will be anti-climactic, mostly consisting of an amendment to the managerial agreement for Moscone Center, accepting grant, and setting prevailing wage laws.

There will be an interesting moment near the end, however, when Peskin attempts to salvage his legacy by requiring that tow truck firms prominently display brochures explaining the rights that citizens have when their cars are impounded.

Hey, it's hard to salvage a legacy on short notice. What have you done today?

2 p.m. - Full board of Supervisors - OR - How I learned to stop worrying and love the budget


Wednesday, Dec. 17

1 p.m. - Budget & Finance Committee

Now, if you'd asked me last week "Which will happen first: a giant set of decisions to eviscerate the city budget - including that program that you, personally, like - or a meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee," I would have said the meeting.

But instead, the Supes will talk - and likely vote - amongst themselves about budget cuts on Tuesday, and then the budget committee will continue to hold hearings on proposed budget cuts on Wednesday. I should make fun of them for this, but, hey, they're facing legitimately impossible choices. Whatever helps them get through this is fine with me.

Besides, the odds are that there are an awful lot more cuts coming down the pike - so you know what? I shouldn't make fun of them for this. Not even Sean Elsbernd. And that takes willpower.

Other items being taken up at this meeting include:

* An emergency contract to replace the stator core in the Kirwood Powerhouse generator number 1. Would now be a good time to panic?

* "PGA related improvements" to the Harding Park Golf Course. Because if there's one thing everybody in this city can agree on, it's golf.

* Releasing $800,000 in reserve funds for: "The Civic Center Relocation Project."

* Releasing another $1,400,000 for the Therapeutic Foster Homes Program.

* A hearing on SF's "Go Solar" program (Go Solar! Was ... was I supposed to cheer there? It shounded like I was supposed to cheer).

Plus a couple of other things you care about even less.

6 p.m. - A special joint meeting of the Public Safety Commission and the Police Commission

Look, I know city committee meetings aren't "fun" - there are no DJs, VJs, or BJs. Nobody dances 'till they can't dance no more. (Well, Tom Ammiano). Nobody tells funny jokes. (Well, Tom Ammiano). Nobody who's been in movies stands up and calls legislation bullshit. (Well, Tom Ammiano.)

Okay, look, what I'm trying to say is: Tom Ammiano won't be at this hearing. He's gone now, okay? All evidence suggests that David Campos isn't funny.

But maybe you should still show up at this meeting. No I'm not kidding.

And yes, I know that most if not all city activists will be focused on the various budget hearings that proceed it, trying to develop impassioned speeches they can deliver that will persuade the Supervisors to save their community centers, arts programs, empowerment seminars, homeless shelters, multi-ethnic sing-a-longs, interactive art projects celebrating the fluidity of gender, and sanctuary programs for (worst case scenario) violent illegal immigrant prostitutes with gang ties who need public funds to help learn English in prison in order to support their lawsuit against the city.

And what I'm telling you is that you should skip all that.

Even if you're an activist, you should skip all that. Because all the commotion you'll make is irrelevant. City officials in San Francisco do not really solicit the public's opinion in city hearings, for the simple reason that they know they'll get it. Over and over and over again. They view public comments not as opportunities to be treasured but as ordeals to be endured.

They do listen: they listen to the people in their districts, they listen to the people who contribute money, they listen to the activists they know personally, and they listen to power brokers who they think have ties to voters whose minds aren't already made up. They do not listen to eloquent speeches yelled at them, one after the other, in two minute increments, by people whose minds never change.

I'm sorry: it just doesn't happen.

But that's the budget hearings. This hearing, on the recent reports on how the SFPD can be turned into an effective 21st century crime fighting force, is much fresher ground. Because to no small extent, nobody knows what the other participants are going to say - or how the public will react to some suggestions. If you want to influence public policy from the back benches, this is your chance. And if you want to learn something about how law enforcement works now and the obstacles to it working better - this is an even bigger chance.

I'm not saying this hearing is more important than the budget hearings - although it could be, over time. I'm saying that if you want to get in on the ground floor rather than jump out of the penthouse, this is the hearing for you.

I'm just saying.

Thursday, Dec. 18, 1 p.m. - City Operations & Neighborhood Services committee

If you have a liquor license transfer request pending, this is the meeting for you: they seem to be clearing out a backlog today. Maybe somebody got back from vacation.

The fun begins after the booze is over (ironically), when Michela Alioto-Pier gets her game on - which is what we satirists call "happy hour." First she (and Jake McGoldrick) have a resolution "urging" the DPW to eliminate the cuts it made to its street sweeping schedule.

Timing is everything in comedy, and what's extra funny about this is that Gavin Newsom required the DPW to make these cuts before there was a real budget crisis; Alioto-Pier and McGoldrick are trying to rescind them now that we have a looming half-billion deficit. I'm having trouble deciding if that's funny like Nichols and May were funny, or if it's funny like Cheech and Chong were funny. The great ones are always so hard to classify.

Next up is Alioto-Pier's resolution supporting the Presidio location of the proposed "Contemporary Art Museum." Alioto-Pier (and the Mayor) apparently belong to the school of thought that says any idea which someone is willing to throw a billion dollars behind must be a good one. To which I can only reply: have you ever lived in this city?

The fact that Don Fisher is willing to pay a billion dollars for contemporary art says nothing about his taste in it, or the appropriateness of the location. But, I know I lost a lot of you at "a billion dollars." Okay, nevermind, we can agree to disagree.

The meeting ends with a hearing on the "General Advertising Sign Program Annual Report," which means it's time to go. You can sit through that if you want.

I'm going to take a walk around the city, taking a fond last look at it before we sell it off as spare parts.

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Benjamin Wachs


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