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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Charter Amendments Ahoy! Supes' Last Chance to Really Tool Around With City Today.

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2009 at 12:01 AM

click to enlarge Of course this is the city's charter! Don't you recognize Chris Daly's handwriting?
  • Of course this is the city's charter! Don't you recognize Chris Daly's handwriting?
San Francisco supervisors have long known that there ain' t no party like a charter amendment party because a charter amendment party don't stop. Unless you don't get five other votes from your colleagues. Then the music stops.

Today is the last Board of Supervisors meeting of 2009. A longtime board insider told us that, no, there won't be any end-of-the-year party -- because "the members of the board don't like each other." That makes for interesting meetings, though. And today's meeting may be more interesting than usual because it's the last opportunity for supes to introduce charter amendments  -- which alter the city's constitution or "charter" -- prior to June's election.

If a majority of the board votes to approve a charter amendment, voters will have the opportunity to weigh in come election time. If history is a precedent, anywhere from half a dozen to a dozen charter amendments may be introduced today. But, as is the case with young sea turtles waddling toward the ocean, the path to maturity is treacherous. Most of the fledgling amendments introduced today will never safely navigate their way into the city charter.

So, perhaps it's the maternal instinct that leads supes to sometimes be a bit secretive about what their charter amendment plans are.

Supervisor Chris Daly's legislative aide, April Veneracion, for example, would only tell us that "We will be introducing some charter amendments. Stay tuned." What the amendments pertain to is apparently classified, but, extended wheedling did induce her to reveal that by "some" she means "two."

No news on why Daly's playing it so close to the vest. Meanwhile, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi -- who actually does wear a vest -- didn't return our calls. Nor did any of his colleagues.

Except Sean Elsbernd. Elsbernd is as close to the anti-Daly as you can find on the board, and he proved it again by patiently explaining exactly what his charter amendments are all about. Since he took the time to explain, we can at least summarize. "The first one has four parts," Elsbernd said. And so it did:

I. Rather than contribute 7.5 percent to the employee pension fund, new hires in the police, fire, and sheriff's department will be required to give 9 percent -- because their benefits are higher than other workers'.

II. The city would be forbidden from proposing it pick up some or all of that 7.5 percent contribution during union negotiations as an alternative to pay raises.

III. To combat "pension spiking," workers' pensions wouldn't be based on their highest salary over the course of 12 months but the average salary over a 36-month period.

IV. When investment income is enough to make up for all or some of the city's mandatory 9 percent payment toward employees' pension fund, the surplus money must be used to pay for the looming multi-billion dollar costs of retiree's health care the city currently hasn't allotted a dime for.
That'll be easy to explain to voters. Also, Elsbernd is leaning toward introducing an amendment he's kicked around before that would do away with Muni drivers' enshrined right to always be paid at least as much as the second-highest paid transit drivers in the nation.

None of the people we talked to had any ideas how many amendments would flood forth today or what they would be about. Elsbernd, however, was willing to make a prediction.

Regarding his colleague Daly: "I'm willing to bet that one of [his amendments] changes the powers of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor in relation to the budget process," he said with a laugh. "I'll bet all the money in my pocket that's what he's going to do."

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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