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Monday, April 6, 2009

SF Gov InAction: What Kind of MONSTER Wouldn't Get a Candle Permit? Plus: Save the Budget Analyst!

Posted By on Mon, Apr 6, 2009 at 12:39 PM


Monday, April 6 11 a.m. - Public Safety Committee Who watches the watchers? Why, the Public Safety Committee does. Every other week. Its recent agendas haven't actually involved DOING much -- there's not much legislation coming out of these meetings -- but they've been crammed with hearings looking into things. They've examined police procedures, crime trends, and best practices - to the extent that the Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice has any. Today's agenda continues the committee's general look at crime 'n stuff -- although now the hearing is under David Campos' name rather than Ross Mirkarimi's -- and calls for a special hearing to review the work of the SFPD's Fraud Division. I'm sure no one else will think this nearly as funny as I do, but I desperately hope the Fraud Division shows up with a huge binder of facts and statistics -- all of which are fraudulent. "Give us the real numbers, damn it!" David Campos would shout. "Never!" the Fraud Division representative - who swears his name is "Alex Clemens" - shouts back. "But if you like, I can sell you these official 'Fraud Division' cookies for only $1.50 a box." "Huh," says Mirkarimi. "That's a pretty good deal. I'll take three boxes. I assume all the proceeds are going to charity?" "Oh ... uh ... yeah. Absolutely." "Waaaaaaait a minute," says Michela Alioto-Pier, examining the cookies. "These are Thin Mints! Are you fencing stolen Girl Scout cookies?"

"Absolutely not!" says Clemens. "I have an affidavit from the Girl Scouts testifying to that. It's in my other pants. But I am trying to raise money for my grandmother's cancer treatment, and she's authorized me to sell her antique bracelet at a fraction of the cost. Interested? It's solid gold."

"Really?" asks Alioto-Pier. "Pure gold? Wow, it's ... HEY, CUT THAT OUT! I'm writing you up to the police commission!"

"Hey, go easy on him," says Campos. "His grandmother's sick. That's why the DCCC held that fundraiser for him last week ... oh Hell."

"Um, hey, Mr. Clemens?" says Mirkarimi, "I'm looking at your Human Resources file: Why is your city employee ID number my Social Security Number?"

The real Fraud Division can't possibly be that fun.

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

As I've noted elsewhere, public hearings are a great way to get the public's input on priorities to set or values to hold ... but a lousy way to write policy.

That's because policy oriented public hearings always get stuck:

1. On the department head who thinks that the only way to keep his job is to publicly insist that his department has never done anything wrong. Ever.

2. On the deputy director who maintains that the colossal mistake his department lost a lawsuit over was in fact all part of the five-year master plan that he swears is on file in the Mayor's office.

3. On the Mayor's office, which refuses to confirm or deny that there is a master plan on file. Because Gavin knows that political courage means never letting anyone else have ideas.

4. On the people from the Neighborhood Institute for Insistent Do-Gooding , who think that money grows on good intentions.

5. On the people who come out to speak without knowing anything about the subject, but who still insist that their opinions be acted on; and ...

6. On the Supervisors themselves, who don't want to offend any of their constituents in a public discussion, even though they know damn well that their constituents are part of the problem.

After enough public hearings everybody's incredibly defensive by the time you're ready to sit down and plan, except for the SFPD's Fraud Division, which has a charming smile. By that point whoever proposed the hearing is more concerned with not offending anybody than they are with making a good plan.

Which is a pity, because the centerpiece of this meeting is a very promising public hearing that absolutely should not be a public hearing. It's been called by David Chiu, Carmen Chu, and Sophie Maxwell to discuss "streamlining the regulation of small businesses" in SF. The Supes have identified 15 (!) city agencies that "interface" with small businesses, and intend to review all of their roles and responsibilities.

Yikes. This could take a while.

Duration aside, there's so much right with this hearing: It's on a crucial issue, where a lot of good can be done, and is co-sponsored by a Supervisor from every voting block: the progressives (Chiu), the swing votes (Maxwell) and the Mayor's Nazgul (Chu). I beg and pray that something good will come out of this.

But I doubt it.

Speaking of prolonged exercises in futility, Eric Mar will be continuing his public hearing for community input on the creation of jobs in San Francisco. This is a another perfect example of something that would never have to happen in a rational city, because there Mar could just ask the department heads informally "Hey, kids, what are we doing to use federal stimulus money to create jobs in San Francisco?" and they would tell him.

God I wish I lived in that town. They're solvent.

2:30 p.m. - City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee

The sole reason for this meeting is to pass a resolution "Urging the organizers of the Bay to Breakers to collaborate on a comprehensive plan that protects the neighborhoods while preserving the unique spirit of the race."

I look forward to the many, many blog posts about this meeting that will explain how vomiting in a stranger's yard is triumph of sex-positive empowerment, progressive neighborhood activism, local district elections, and/or queer rights.

Come on, pseudo-intellectuals, don't you get it? Anarchy is its own reward. It never really serves another agenda.

Tuesday, April 7, 10 a.m. - Full Board of Supervisors

Everything interesting at this meeting has already been covered, and anything not already covered is not interesting.

Wednesday, April 8:

11 a.m. - Budget and Finance Subcommittee

They say you can't fight City Hall, and maybe they're right. But you sure can fight the public library. If -- for some reason -- you think that's a productive use of your time. I'm not convinced.

But somebody's been fighting the library, and winning, because the Supervisors are considering a proposal by David Chiu authorizing the city's library commission to create a fee amnesty program for overdue library materials.

For two weeks in May, if this bill passes, you can return that very, very, dog-eared copy of Sex For Dummies to the library with no questions asked about the stain on page 82. You can return In Search of Lost Time without having to account for all the extra time it spent in your closet. You can return Twilight ... if you really want to foist that kind of thing on the public. I'm not convinced.

The last time the city conducted a library amnesty period was in 2001 (the year Bridges of Madison County was finally returned) and it's not a big financial windfall. Between the materials they won't have to purchase again and the fines they won't get, the library is expecting to save a net $7,000 (yes, a mere "thousand").

But the benefits go beyond money: Getting the materials returned allows library patrons who could no longer use the library because of the fines they owed get back into the system. Where I'm sure, having learned their lesson, they will never accrue a fine again.

If nothing else, you've got to admire libraries' optimism.

Not so optimistic is a proposal by Michela Alioto-Pier to waive the "candle permit fee" for "Earth Hour." Which, for those of you not paying close attention, was in March -- making this bill kind of pointless.

Making it even more pointless is the fact that the Fire Department says it received no one-time applications for use of candles for Earth Hour anyway ... and what kind of monster would use candles in our city without a permit? It's unthinkable.

1:30 p.m. - Budget and Finance Committee

In addition to the standard "where is the budget now?" hearing:

• Bevan Dufty has asked for a public hearing to be held on all MTA work orders since 2006. You've got to admire his ambition.

• Chris Daly has called a hearing on the impacts of budget cuts on the Department of Building Inspection and Housing Inspection Division. He suspects they will have a bad impact on San Francisco residents living in substandard housing. He just might be right.

• A continuing hearing examining the way the Board of Supervisors contracts for a Budget Analyst. The Budget Analyst's contract with the city expires at the end of this year. Right now the city is budgeted to spend $2.5 million on the Board of Supervisors' budget analyst. Next year, they're budgeted at only $2 million. Yikes. Contracting with the same firm for less money will mean less service. Should they accept that? Look for another firm? Boost the budget? Combine the Budget Analyst with the Legislative Analyst and have all functions be done in-house?

This hearing makes me very sad, since the Budget Analyst's office is one of the few things in city government that works the way it's supposed to.

Well, that and the Fraud Division.

Seriously, how often does something work the way it's supposed to in this town? I, for one, plan to get a t-shirt saying "Save the Budget Analyst" made as soon as possible.

Until then, I leave you a little sadder, and a little wiser, with this message: Return your library books.

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Benjamin Wachs


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