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Monday, February 23, 2009

SF Gov InAction: Supes Huddle in Closed Session to Gossip About Catholic Church and Landmark Trees

Posted By on Mon, Feb 23, 2009 at 12:30 PM


I wish I were a supervisor. Then I could have only three meetings this week. I kid, of course: It's hard work pretending to take this stuff seriously. Monday, Feb. 22 10:30 a.m. -- City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee If I had to pick one word to describe this meeting, it would be "quirky." As well as accepting various grants (my favorite is a grant for "children's dental disease prevention services"), Ross Mirkarimi has a bill "urging San Francisco's Congressional and State Legislative Delegations to reform laws governing use of Public, Education and Government Cable Access System Funds." See? Quirky. Also very important, if you think the cavalcade of freaks, homegrown auteurs, mad geniuses, and amateurs-with-a-cause who flock to public access television are worth watching. Personally, I think it's the only reason to own a TV.

The issue, in a nutshell, is this: Big cable companies used to have to negotiate with cities directly in order to operate in them. Cities used those negotiations to ensure that cable companies provided public access cable, and funding for cable access stations (like the city's). However, a recent spate of law has taken that power away from the cities and turned it over to state bodies: In California, the state's Public Utilities Commission is now in charge of all the city's franchises. So now the big cable companies (who lobby for these laws like crazy) can negotiate only with a single state body -- which means that cities like S.F. are no longer in a position to make sure that cable companies provide public access stations, or to adequately fund them.

The result so far has been a black death of public access station closings across the U.S., and San Francisco's public access station is deathly afraid that it's next. It may have a point.

Mirkarimi's bill is the kind of action public access aficionados around the city have been requesting for more than a year now. Unfortunately, they don't have the same lobbying clout of a Time Warner, or a Comcast.

But damn it, they're quirky.

Michela Alioto-Pier is not quirky, but she tries. Oh, how she tries. Like a blind date who wears colorful clothes in the hope that you'll mistake a really aggressive hat for personality, she's giving it her all.

Today she has a resolution "urging the Board of Supervisors to adopt the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and supporting its inalienable freedoms for children and youth in San Francisco."

See? Not quirky.

However, to be fair, the resolution does start off with one of the most inadvertently funny legislative openers I've seen in a while. It begins:

"Whereas, the San Francisco Youth Commission recognizes that children and youth are unique and invaluable to the human race as the continuum of our existence and livelihood;"

Admit it, you can't read that without chuckling.

The measure also states, explicitly, that a child is not a "harlequin object."

I have no idea what that means. I called Alioto-Pier's office and asked her staff to define it for me, and after putting me on hold for several minutes they said they'd have to call me back.

While we wait, I'm going to start finding ways to use it in casual conversation.

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

Now that Sophie Maxwell is a crucial swing vote, she's going to town on the Land Use committee. Because really, who's going to stop her?

She begins the meeting by designating a particularly fine specimen of the California Buckeye, Aesculus Californica, located behind 757 Pennsylvania Street, to be a Landmark Tree. Personally, I think she's doing it just to taunt the other supes.

Next she holds a hearing on the final report of the city's Fair Lending Working Group, which for the past year has been such a harlequin object. Then she proposes some zoning changes for the India Basin Industrial Park, and ends with a measure to create an India Basin special use district.

Watch how eager everyone is to give it to her.

Meanwhile Mirkarimi continues to work to prevent new "tobacco paraphernalia" shops from opening in the Haight, and Sean Elsbernd and John Avalos are working together (what?) to support the planning department's proposed modifications to the general plan of the Balboa Park BART station.

I know I should tell you what those modifications are, but, truthfully, I lost interest at the part where the planning department came up. The document is 92 pages, and I've been watching way too much cable access today, so I'm just going to leave it alone.

Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2 p.m. - Full Board of Supervisors

Most of the things happening today have already come up recently at previous meetings: changes to the sales tax, the payroll tax, ducking for cover from the fiscal crisis -- I think we all know the drill by now.

Those looking for new thrills are out of luck, since the juiciest things happening at this meeting are all taking place behind closed doors.

The supes will first go into closed session to discuss just how screwed they are if the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco sues the city because our assessor decided that the Archdiocese's decision to reorganize the various Catholic charities and nonprofits housed in the city is subject to $15 million in property transfer taxes. And they'll stay in closed session to get an update from the mayor's office on negotiations with the city's unions.

I have no idea how the union negotiations are coming along, but I suspect that the board isn't going to like what they hear about the archdiocese.

The Catholic Church can make a strong prima facie case (that's Latin, the language of both law and Rome) that all Catholic organizations in the diocese are part of the church itself. And even if the law's ambiguous ... well,. hey, the Catholic Church has about 2,000 years' experience defending its property against secular governments. It's pretty good at it.

Which is to say that even if San Francisco wins the inevitable court battle, it will likely end up costing us far more than the $15 million we'd get out of the deal.

But when has that ever stopped us?

The public part of the meeting is far less interesting. Mirkarimi has a measure requesting that the Obama administration establish an Office of Urban Policy. Boy, Ross is just full of helpful suggestions this week, isn't he?

Eric Mar, meanwhile, is quite the harlequin object: He's doing Maxwell one better in the landmark tree department by proposing a measure to overhaul the landmark tree criteria, evaluation, and nomination forms.

Whoa, Eric! Don't move so fast! That might be more change than we can handle! You've got to ease us into it, make sure we're comfortable with so much so soon -- otherwise you'll lose the people.

See? It's hard being a supervisor.

I'll update below when Alioto-Pier's staff calls me back with a definition for "Harlequin Object." Otherwise, I'll see you next week -- and watch out for Landmark Trees.

[Ed. The No. 1 Google result for "Harlequin object" is Alioto-Pier's bill. Also, a group of public access advocates gathered this morning at the City Hall steps. It was a small gathering -- perhaps they advertised on public access television.]

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Benjamin Wachs


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