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Monday, March 2, 2009

SF Gov InAction: Psychologically Healthy Legislators Do Not Act Like This. No, They Do Not.

Posted By on Mon, Mar 2, 2009 at 12:21 PM

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I'm worried that the Supes are depressed. There's been a lackluster quality to their meetings lately ... like leaves turning brown on a hot summer day. Instead of being the Supervisorial equivalent of Lance Armstrong, they've been the Supervisorial equivalent of his older brother, Kenny Armstrong, who sits on the couch eating Doritos and watching reruns of House. "I like that doctor House," he says, "because he's mean to everybody but, deep down, you know he cares." You want to shake him, or slap him. "Snap out of it, Eric Mar!" you want to shout. "Pull yourself together, Bevan Dufty! You're better than this! Get off the couch and go pass a resolution condemning Israel, or protecting whales, or condemning the noble Israeli whales!" But that never works. When you slap a depressed person, all you end up with is a depressed person with an injury, and sometimes they press charges. Besides, I can't blame the Supes for letting the air seep out of their meetings. The city's fiscal crisis has everyone deflated. Who wouldn't be depressed by life on the city council? Hundreds of city workers are being laid off, programs that people depend on are being cut, and ordinary citizens are taking precious time out of their day to come and yell at you. It's hard. We get that. But do they need to be so mopey? Stoicism is not a virtue San Francisco esteems -- this city teaches that only the squeaky wheel is righteous. But come on, people: You were elected to do a job, and you might as well do it with élan. Outside of a recent spat between Chris Daly and Michela Alioto-Pier about whether she should sit on the commissions Chris Daly wants her to sit on because Chris Daly wants it, there've been virtually no signs of life at recent city meetings. The Supes need help. This week at SF Gov InAction, we'll be watching the meetings carefully to look for signs of psychological trauma among the Supes, and offering helpful diagnoses. We'll start with the first meeting of the week, the Public Safety Committee. But first, this just has to be said: Chris Daly -- get help. Monday, March 2 11 a.m. - Public Safety Committee There are only two items on this meeting's agenda. Both are ongoing public hearings. One of them is Ross Mirkarimi's massive two-years-and-counting hearing on what-it-is-exactly-the-Mayor's-Office-of-Criminal-Justice-does. So far all we know is that it involves beans. To really understand what's going on here, I think we need to talk about Ross' issues with his father.

For seven generations the Mirkarimis have been the finest shoe-makers in Paris. "Mirkarimi & Sons Shoes for Gentlemen," on the Rue de Lapp, has shod the feet of priests and kings. When the Germans conquered Paris during the war, Ross Mirkarimi's father made shoes for the resistance -- and they were so comfortable that the Gestapo had orders to shoot him on sight.

But on his 12th birthday, young Ross (his full name is "Rossenfarge") told his father that he did not wish to make shoes. Instead, he wished to make laws.

His father was a drunk because he carried a terrible secret: He'd once tasted Wisconsin cheese, and all the finest wines in France could not wash the taste out of his mouth.

"A politician?" his father shouted at him across a table piled with frog legs. "No son of mine! For a good pair of shoes will outlast even the best of laws, and better serve mankind."

"But father," shouted Ross, exchanging coy glances with his mother, with whom he was secretly in love, "only through laws can mankind finally put an end to the terror of Israeli whales!"

Papa Mirkarimi gave his son a dire stare. "Whales," he said, "will never give you the arch support you crave."

"Papa!"

"I would sooner see you dead than a lawmaker, Rossenfarge, and so we must fight -- as shoemakers do."

And so Papa Mirkarimi picked up a stiletto heel and Rossenfarge picked up a pair of open-toed pumps and they battled across Paris; until at last, before the cathedral de Notre Dame, young Rossenfarge struck his father a mortal blow and cut him down like wheat before a sandal.

His father died in his arms. His final words were "Be good on law enforcement issues!"

Rossenfarge fled Paris, changed his name to Ross, and eventually was elected Supervisor of San Francisco's fifth district. He has tried to honor his father's dying wish by holding hearing after hearing at the Public Safety Committee and working tirelessly to reduce crime.

But it is not enough. Late at night, his feet hurt.

That's what's really going on.

(Ahem)

Where was I. Public Safety Committee? Right.

The other public hearing is from Bevan Dufty, who wants to know more about the increased frequency of robberies in San Francisco. As with Mirkarimi, there is a psychological motive behind this, too: Not long ago someone stole Halloween, and Dufty is determined to bring whoever did it to justice.

It's a self-destructive impulse, for you see: Dufty is that very man. It's a fact he has repressed, along with much of high school. Later this year, he will hold a hearing on the increased frequency of lacrosse-related taunting ... another tragic attempt to destroy himself.

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

This committee kicks off with a bill to correct numerous typos in the zoning code. Something like that should be uncontroversial, but these days it's just begging for a mayoral veto.

Seriously: he's done it before.

Gavin Newsom's official explanation for why he likes to veto bills that correct typos is that typos represent democracy for people who can't spell. But, in fact, a close examination of Gavin's psychological makeup suggests that he is merely transferring to others the anger he feels when Nathan Ballard corrects him on his typos, sets his schedule, and makes him eat his vegetables. This explains both why Gavin is vetoing bills that correct typos ("I HATE people that do that") and why he is trying to encourage more San Franciscans to eat local produce ("if I have to do it, everybody does!").

Now that Jennifer Siebel is picking out his clothes, you can expect him to propose a citywide dress code. Money will be taken from the Department of Public Health in order to pay for "Wear a tie, San Francisco!" campaigns.

Supervisors Daly and Dufty have a bill to allow "full service spas" to apply for permits to offer massages. This is obviously a response to the loss of Aaron Peskin on the Board of Supervisors: They are seeking affection and human contact through other means. That, or it's become so hard to find legal massages in San Francisco that a whole new business model needs to be created for them.

Also, maybe the Supes should hug more.

Sophie Maxwell ends the meeting with a hearing on the city's proposed "economic stimulus package," which is a clear cry for attention. I think we'd better ignore this; acting interested will only encourage her.

Tuesday, March 3, 2 p.m. - Full Board of Supervisors

One supervisor whose socialization I'm very worried about is Sean Elsbernd. The Mayor and every supervisor but Elsbernd and Daly have all written a bill declaring that the city intends to use Rainy Day Funds to support the school district.

Daly is just incorrigible, but why isn't Elsbernd playing nicely with others? Most of the time his work as a supervisor has been developmentally appropriate: He understands shapes, colors, and lobbying rules. He keeps his desk neat and responds well to adults he knows -- and he always holds the Mayor's hand when they cross the street together.

So why is he falling behind here? What's the matter, Sean? Is something not right at home? Have your parents been arguing? Are you scared by the fact that your wife is having a baby? It's normal to be frightened of that, Sean: But it's okay. Your little boy or girl will look up to you for guidance, and you can have a big impact on his or her life. You can even play with him with your trucks! Don't you want to share your trucks?

I promise you, we'll figure this out.

Virtually every item on this agenda is either routine or something that's been covered before, suggesting that the Supes are in a rut. Instead of proposing interesting new laws, the Supes are focusing on a bunch of bills "urging" other people to do stuff. Here is the week ahead for urging:

• The state to pass the Marijuana Control, Regulation and Education Act
• State and Federal governments to better support Community Access Television

• Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act
• President Barack Obama and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to appoint a new U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California

• The organizers of Bay to Breakers to collaborate on a comprehensive plan protecting the neighborhoods while preserving the unique spirit of the race.

Psychologically speaking, people who constantly urge others to do things are generally responding to a perceived inadequacy in themselves. In the case of the supervisors, I think they're insecure about the fact that however much they urge, nobody is paying attention. Barack Obama is paying so little attention that he thinks Gavin Newsom is responsible for Healthy SF; the people of the Midwest are still capitalists; China has not freed Tibet. Doesn't anybody LISTEN to us?

A psychologically healthy governing body would find a more productive use of its time: San Francisco will find six more things to urge seven more people about next week. We are not healthy.

Finally, Mirkarimi has a motion that will set a schedule for audits of some city programs. This is hilarious, although you'd have to read the city's audits to understand why.

Wednesday, March 4, 11 a.m. - Budget and Finance Committee

The Supervisors have questions about their inner lives and the nature of truth. When you reach a certain stage in your political life you begin to wonder "what does it all mean? Have I sacrificed happiness by not following my dream of designing the perfect zoo-based video game? Can people tell I'm a fraud who doesn't know a damn thing about zoning?"

The truth is, supervisors, that there are no given answers to these questions: You need to look inside yourselves, because the only answers will be found within.

Except for Michela Alioto-Pier: She will receive the answers to life's mysteries from a note inside the mouth of a flying turtle.

Needless to say, it's a magic turtle.

But until the Supervisors learn that you can't seek answers outside yourself, they'll be looking for them at a group of budget-related public hearings. Look for "budget updates," a hearing on "health and human services budget cuts," and the monthly overtime report. This month, they'll learn all about overtime in the Sheriff's Department: But they won't learn about why they cry at night.

Side note: Could we get a report on how much overtime departments are assigning in order to complete overtime reports? I'm just curious.

I'm warning you though, supervisors, you will not find the answer to why your life is meaningless in the monthly overtime report. Except Eric Mar. He's in for a real shock.

Thursday, March 5

10 a.m. - Rules Committee

So here's the deal: Last week at the Board of Supervisors, Michela-Alioto Pier had been on track to be appointed to the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District -- which only seemed natural because the Golden Gate Bridge's entry and exit in San Francisco is in her Supervisorial district.

However, at the meeting, she asked to be removed from consideration because she would rather be on the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission. No one's sure why. It's been suggested that she'll find it easier to shake down businesses for money on that committee, and hey, maybe.

But at the board, Chris Daly announced that she should sit on the Golden Gate Bridge district commission, and when he couldn't talk her into it he actually tried to appoint her to it against her will.

This was a no-win scenario for everybody -- were we seriously going to appoint someone who a committee who doesn't want to sit on it? It also raises the frightening question of what Daly would have done if he'd gotten her on it and she'd resigned.

Kidnapped her children? Threatened to blow up a bus? Started a hunger strike?

Fortunately he failed, and that should have been the end of it. But since all appointments initially go through the Rules Committee, and Chris Daly chairs the Rules Committee, it won't be.

I think all of San Francisco needs a safe word that Chris Daly will recognize.

Other appointments to be discussed today include members of the Asthma Task Force, the Library Citizens Advisory Committee, the zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

3:30 p.m. - City & School District Committee

The City & School District committee gets no respect -- including from me -- but it really does have the potential to do important work. Not only is this committee holding a hearing on how federal stimulus dollars will impact the city schools (which really ought to precede any discussion of the Rainy Day Fund), but it will be holding a discussion on summer programs for children in 2009.

Think that's not a big deal? It is: Every year summer programs for city kids, especially the most economically vulnerable, are a confusing maze of forms and schedules that nobody seems to know a way through. Summer activities are a key to violence prevention and job preparation -- but for them to work properly, people need to know they're available and how to register.

If the city and school district really could their acts together on this, it would be a solid win.

It would also help address Eric Mar's crippling fear of failure. Really, it's terrible. He has trouble getting out of bed in the morning for fear that he'll say something wrong about Israeli whales. And if you want to really see him freak out, say "Dodgeball."

Just make sure there aren't any matches around.

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Benjamin Wachs

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