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Monday, May 4, 2009

SF Gov InAction: Gavin Newsom Will Be Told That David Chiu Is Rejecting MUNI's Budget Sometime In Early 2011

Posted By on Mon, May 4, 2009 at 11:59 AM


From a numerical standpoint, the Supes are finally getting their act together. At the beginning of the year, we were lucky if they made it through four meetings a week. Now they're hitting six or seven almost every time. That's the good news. The bad news is that the number of meetings apparently has no relationship to the quality of work done. Perhaps that means what we really need is a "slow legislation" movement in which proposals made of fresh ingredients are allowed to stew in their own juices until they fall right of the bone and into law. Alternatively, maybe what the Supes really need is a lightning round. But both options assume that the Supes actually want to pass any legislation -- which might not be true. An awful lot of committees this week are just "holding hearings" on items already passed and things already done. Not that there's anything wrong with that: It's important to look busy while the Titanic sinks. Perhaps 80 years from now, when San Francisco: The Movie does major box office, the part of "Eric Mar" will be a speaking role because an intern in the research department says "Wow, this guy sure held a lot of hearings." Monday, May 4 11 a.m. - Public Safety Committee Hey, remember those ID cards the city agreed to give out to circumvent the need for legal resident status to get an ID? No? Really? It's had no impact on your life at all? Well the Supes are just positive it's had an impact on something, somewhere. So they'll be holding a hearing on the program. To be fair, there were long lines at city hall to get the IDs. But can you now reserve videos with them? The Supes plan to find out. 1 p.m. - Land Use & Economic Development Committee First up is a hearing on how to better streamline the regulation of small businesses. This is a lovely idea that keeps coming up every other year, as people complain that -- somehow -- last year's attempt to ease the burdens on small businesses has only made them worse. Why can't we get this right? Easy: We don't really want to.

Oh sure, we SAY we want to leave small businesses alone to generate prosperity, but when push comes to shove we're much more interested in making sure that all their candles have permits, that their foods don't contain trans-fats, that their facades are welcoming to indigenous peoples, and that their advertising is biodegradable. We love this stuff.

We can't streamline the burdens on small businesses because we actually like telling them what to do too much. You can't "streamline" that away.

The only way to break the cycle is to unclench: To stop seeing small businesses as a repository for our social dreams, and to allow the total amount of responsibility the city has over them to reduce. To let businesses be businesses.

Can we do that? No. No we can not.

Come on, this is San Francisco: We all knew that when we walked through the door. If this city can think of a way that small businesses can help the ailing Bay sea otters, no one will stop for a minute to think "but is that their problem?" And so it will become mandatory.

For better or worse, that's how we roll: The sooner we accept that the bureaucracy will outlive all of our hopes and dreams, the easier it will be to close our eyes and just think of progress.

The only other item on this committee's agenda is a hearing on the way in which health and wellness in SF correlates with economic recovery. I'll bet you even money that somewhere out of this hearing a new regulation on small businesses will be proposed.

Tuesday, May 5, 2 p.m. - Full Board of Supervisors

The dubious solar energy agreement returns to the Supes again this week. It's been getting a lot of press, and the story being told about it now is that only wacky progressive perfectionist types are opposed to it.

Not true: That plan was first reported here, where I raised all of the very same objections -- and if the Progressives consider me one of their own I'll eat a baby seal.

The questions -- about whether this plan makes long-term economic sense for the city -- are valid. This plan would basically create a middle man to use city resources to sell the city something we could produce ourselves -- which sounds awfully dubious on its face.

If we really believe in harnessing the power of the free market for energy production, then let Recurrent pay the city to lease the space (it has value, after all), build their facility, and sell the energy to whomever will pay for it at whatever the market will bear.

On the other hand, if we don't believe the market will be there ... if Recurrent needs an iron-clad guarantee that no matter what happens the city will buy their energy ... then we're not harnessing the power of the free market anyway, and we might as well see if the city can do it cheaper by itself in the long-run.

You don't have to love the rich, creamy taste of infant seal fat -- or be a progressive -- to see the sense in that. Let's stop kidding ourselves that this has anything to do with the "free market" vs. "government interference" -- because the government's up to its neck in it either way. So we might as well get the best deal.

Moving on:

As noted last week, Ross Mirkarimi's bill to try and save SF Cable Access will be before the board today. If you've ever wanted to point at someone and say "I've seen you on local cable!" this hearing is the best opportunity you'll ever have.

Finally, the hotly debated prohibition on loitering outside of nightclubs is coming to the board for a vote. Your guess is as good as mine what happens next. Just to clarify ... we'll still be able to loiter outside of coffee shops and pretend to talk about jazz, right?

Wednesday, May 6

10 a.m. - Budget and Finance Subcommittee

Speaking of energy, this subcommittee will discuss whether to add $3.7 million more (plus an additional $3 million in contingency funds) to the "Partnership Program" between PG&E and SF. The gist of the program, intended to reduce energy use by increasing energy efficiency, is as follows (from the budget analyst's report):

The goal of the SF Energy watch Program is to reduce electricity and natural gas consumption in the City. The SF Energy Watch Program is financed through the State CPIC's Public Goods Fund, which receives monthly fees collected by utility companies, including PG&E. The utility companies use the charges collected from their ratepayers to pay for energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

Got it?

I'll grant you that there's something odd about making a for-profit utility use a portion of its profits to pay for programs to reduce the need for its product ... but this is what I mean about us not really believing in the free market for energy anyway. Efficiency is good for the public, not the provider -- and it seems clear we want the public good to come first. Does that surprise anyone?

Another odd little duckling of an ordinance worth mentioning is a proposal by Mirkarimi and Eric Mar to replace the federal poverty standard with a standard developed by the University of California for determining eligibility for city Community Living Funds -- at least on a "try it and see" basis. Those funds are used to help elders live independently rather than in institutional care, and adopting the UC standard would presumably allow more people access to the program's assistance.

Can't find anything wrong with that: Institutional care costs society a lot more than independent elderly people do, and is less humane to boot. Assuming our program is at all competent (sigh ...) why not give more people access? The City is expensive, you know?

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

You could almost mistake this for an ordinary meeting. It starts off that way, with hearing after hearing on "what-the-mayor's-cut-now?"

Budget updates ... blah blah blah ... controller's nine month report ... yadda yadda ... children's fund ... etc.etc. ... General Services Agency ... dum da dum dum dum ... rejecting the MTA's budget ...

Whoa! What was that last bit?

A motion by Board President David Chiu to reject the MTA's budget because of its fare increases, service reductions, and the way other departments are robbing MUNI blind with fees and charges? Did that really just happen?

Yes. Yes it did. Goddamn.

Chiu can be quiet, but apparently he knows how to throw a punch. This shot, which he warned people about well in advance, is directed not only at the MTA, but at the mayor, who is intimately responsible for the way city departments (like 311 or the police) charge MUNI a pound of flesh whenever they have to do something bus-related. The mayor, not coincidentally, also appoints the members of the MTA's board.

If Gavin Newsom were paying attention, this might really worry him. As it is, we can expect him to hear about it sometime in early 2011.

Thursday, May 7, 10 a.m. - Rules Committee

Today the Rules Committee will appoint people to the following commissions:

• Arts Commission

• Retirement Systems Board

• Commission on the Status of Women

• Entertainment Commission

• Eastern Neighborhoods Citizens Advisory Committee

• Reentry Council

Hey, it beats working.

By the way, what is the status of women? Last I heard women were threat level Orange. Have they gone up to Red?

The Rules Committee will also decide whether to settle three more inevitable lawsuits against the city -- all of which appear to have been filed by people we went out of our way to empower.

Shoulda seen that coming.

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Benjamin Wachs


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