Played for a Fool
Funding is the name of the game for San Francisco’s ambitious Department of Environment (SFE) which is now maneuvering to get the Mayor to allow the agency to draw funds directly from the City’s already over-committed discretionary General Fund.
The SFE currently is a City enterprise agency. This means that it has to be financially self-sufficient, generating its own revenue without subsidies from the General Fund. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC), the San Francisco International Airport, and the Port of San Francisco are all enterprise agencies.
If SFE becomes a “General Fund department” and annually takes a cut from the City’s shrinking discretionary money, other City agencies such as the libraries, Recreation and Park, Human Services Agency, Public Health, Children Youth and Families, plus several more departments will start to receive less annual funding. The City services that people depend on will foot the bill to pay for SFE.
SFE grew from its creation in the revised 1995 City Charter with a budget of $281,000 in 1997 to presently a $20 million operation. It employs over 100 people and occupies a rented 24,400 sq ft space at 1455 Market Street”
Unlike other City enterprise agencies, the SFE is empire building, and refuses to cut back on employees, expenses or projects even though its revenue does not cover its costs. The result is currently a budget shortfall and SFE wants a City bail out.
SF Environment’s Financial Mismanagement
Financial mismanagement was revealed at the January 27th Commission on the Environment meeting to approve the 2015-2016 SFE budget. The budget was sent to the Commission with funding gaps in salaries and unfunded obligations for employees’ benefits, referred to as “structural problems.” There was no discussion of hiring freezes, layoffs or cutting programs to balance the budget.
During the meeting, the Commissioners did discuss various strategies for enticing the Mayor to make SFE a “General Fund Department” to backfill the gaps. Then they approved the budget, even though it was unbalanced. The Charter requires Commission approval before a budget is submitted to the Mayor.
To understand the department’s mismanagement, one needs to know that SFE grew from its creation in the revised 1995 City Charter with a budget of $281,000 in 1997 to presently a $20 million operation. It employs over 100 people and occupies a rented 24,400 sq ft space at 1455 Market Street in order to house everyone.
SFE gets 46% ($9,389,000) of its revenue from grants. This is an enormous amount of their budget that varies from year to year. The funding that many staff rely on is not guaranteed. Also, many grants do not pay for all the staff benefits the City affords its employees, so these costs are shifted to other funding sources by bending the rules.
Frequently, grants do not pay for indirect costs. These indirect costs include such things as the $756,000 that SFE pays annually for rent, with a remodeling loan financed at 8%. There are other administrative expenses that bring the total to $4 million a year. When grants do not pay for indirect costs, they must be absorbed by other funding sources.
Now those other funding sources cannot sustain underwriting all the grants, so it’s City Hall to the rescue.
The culture of SFE has not reflected a desire to be a fiscally responsible enterprise department with a sound business plan. Why would they be any better at managing money if they were a General Fund Department? There is no oversight by anybody, including City Hall.
SFE could curtail some financing problems by stopping the practice of hiring long term costly City employees with short term grant funding. For example, last July SFE got the Mayor’s approval to convert four staff from temporary employees to permanent status with all the benefits that includes. Now SFE is advertising for another new permanent employee in the salary range of $84,000 - $102,000, knowing this adds to ITS deficit.
Grants can be used to hire independent contractors without City benefits to perform SFE’s work, instead of hiring employees with benefits. When the grant money ends, so does the need to pay somebody. Problem solved.
The rest of the $20 million budget comes from other City departments who contribute 9% ($1,752,000) to SFE in the form of work orders, and from the Solid Waste Management Program (SWMP) for 45% ($9,323,000). The SWMP money is a fee added to the residential garbage rates renegotiated whenever the Recology rates are periodically increased. SFE tells Recology how much money to collect on behalf of the City, and this sum is then part of the rates. The Refuse Rate Board always approves whatever SFE asks.
The Plan To Fool The Mayor
At the same January 27th meeting where the budget was approved, the Commission heard a presentation by a Mayor’s Budget Office staff member on the Controller’s 5 year financial plan to the year 2020. It projects a shortfall of $15.9 million for next year’s budget, and that expenditures are continuing to grow faster than revenue. Because the 5 year plan is presenting a “recession scenario,” the city proposes to curb growth and increase revenues.
The Commissioners heard these words of warning, ignored them, and decided that now is the ideal time to get on the City’s gravy train, before the financial picture gets any worse. Then they discussed various strategies for convincing the Mayor to make SFE a General Fund Department. Since the Mayor referred to SFE programs in his recent State of the City speech, they decided he could be manipulated into providing funds for them.
Previously, at the Operations Committee meeting on January 21st, Commissioners talked about ideas for getting the General Funds:
1. Commissioners discussed the need for more funds and how to get their expensive City Attorney fees paid with City money. They assume that becoming a General Fund Department with just “a dollar” allocation will automatically provide SFE with a large budget appropriation to pay these fees. This is a primary reason for pursuing General Funds.
Commission President Arce: “We have to get General Fund [money] period. Why? It solves the City Attorney problem. If we get $1 we get an allocation. Right? So we have to win. We have to get in there [into the General Fund budget].”
2. Commissioners discussed what would be the best way to justify and sell to the Mayor a request for General Fund money. Would it be by asking for either “discretionary” funding to pay for expenses, or for a to-be-determined “program component”, or both reasons?
Commission President Arce: “We can work hard on this to make it happen. And that’s what we’re here for as Commissioners, to work all kinds of little angles and stuff.” - including fooling the Mayor.
3. Commissioners discussed how to make their SFE budget proposal look better, “create a buzz,” and be more appealing to the Mayor by parroting back the ideas from his recent State of the City speech.
Commission President Arce: “We just say the exact same words. We just copy and paste from the shared prosperity agenda [from the Mayor’s speech] and put it into our proposal for General Fund [money]. We’ll get it. Period.”
At the January 27th meeting, Director Deborah Raphael reported that she had already had discussions with Kate Howard, Director of the Mayor’s Budget Office, about the importance of General Fund money for SFE and thanked the office for their support in this effort. Clearly, this idea is now being discussed behind closed doors on the second floor of City Hall.
It is important to note that the Commission made no effort to get any public opinion on this controversial decision to cease being an enterprise department. The topic was never on any Commission agenda. This is exactly the kind of issue that the Sunshine Ordinance intended to keep in front of the public at all times with full disclosure. That did not happen.
SFE has been left to its own devices and is now out of control. They want funding from the taxpayers as well as from the ratepayers with no oversight.
The City needs to audit SFE’s fiscal practices and business plan long before considering giving them any taxpayer money, and to decide what procedural changes need to be made. Detailed financial oversight from the City is definitely required for all of SFE’s funding sources.
SFE needs to balance the books and live within its revenue restrictions. It should not be rewarded with general funds to cover up poor management of grants.
SFE should hire independent contractors on grants, rather than City employees.
SFE should faithfully apply the Commission-approved Guidelines for Use of the funds from the Solid Waste Management Program, with periodic City audits of the expenditures for compliance.
New activities should not be accepted without the underwriting to finance them. If necessary, other City departments can take on programs SFE has trouble funding.
SFE needs a viable fund raising plan to endow the department, and then needs to implement it.
The Commission on the Environment needs to agendize all fiscal matters according to the Sunshine Ordinance. Major financial decisions are discussed without being clearly publicized in violation of the Ordinance and Brown Act, and without inviting an informed public to comment. Financial matters need full disclosure and transparency.
The Mayor needs to immediately fill two vacancies on the Commission on the Environment with people who have experience in overseeing multimillion dollar business operations and have a working knowledge of fund raising and grants.
Nancy Wuerfel, a government fiscal analyst, served as a member of the Park, Recreation Open Space Advisory Committee (PROSAC) for 9 years as an appointee of 3 District 4 Supervisors, George Wooding is a Westside Observer Investigative Reporter.
Where Can Homeless Shelters Be Placed in San Francisco?
Few citizens know this, but all of San Francisco’s Residential Housing with two attached units (RH-2) can be converted into a homeless shelter by the Planning Department.
While the City claims it does not significantly add to the capacity of homeless shelters, there is already a severe shortage of facilities.
Cruel as it sounds, most neighborhoods will not want a homeless shelter in their neighborhood due to the potential for problems with homeless residents and their friends who visit.
Consequently, San Francisco was inundated by mentally-ill patients. Many of these patients currently reside in local prisons. Many additional mentally-ill patients currently reside in the San Francisco community trapped between homelessness and shelters. The mental health problem is exacerbated by San Francisco’s inability to provide medication to mental health patients on a regular basis."
Last November 25, Mayor Ed Lee proposed an ordinance that would change the definition of homeless shelters. The Mayor’s proposal was adopted by the Planning Commission on December 18 and will be heard before the Board of Supervisors Land Use and Economic Development Committee in late February.
The proposed ordinance would amend the Planning Code to define what a “Homeless Shelter” is and to establish zoning, open space, and parking policies for this use in compliance with California Government Code requirements. It would also amend the Administrative Code to require contracts between the City and shelter operators to contain operational standards.
The Planning Code currently does not include a definition for homeless shelters.
Planning is stating that the new ordinance will be almost identical to the old homeless shelter ordinance, minus some changes in the regulations for tourist hotels.
The legislation will supposedly allow consistency in reviewing homeless shelter applications per the Planning Code. It would:
• Create a definition for homeless shelters in the Planning Code, reflecting the current implications of this type of use in the neighborhood based on the more current trends of shelter operation.
• Allow this use as a right in certain zoning districts, and with conditional approval in some other districts, reflecting the group housing zoning controls.
• Exempt homeless shelters from open space, car, and bicycle parking, as well as impact-fee requirements. More people can be placed in a RH-2 residence if there are no cars or bikes located in the facility.
According to the 2013 Homeless Count Report, 7,350 homeless people live in San Francisco, including sheltered and unsheltered persons, as well as unaccompanied children and transition-age youth. Of these, approximately 59% were unsheltered (about 4,200 people).
Current occupants of homeless shelters include people with disabilities, families, the elderly, transient individuals, and people who have mental illnesses.
City planner Kamia Haddadan explains the new homeless ordinance by stating, “Currently, homeless shelters are allowed in many zoning districts.” Where and how they are permitted depends on if they are categorized as a Tourist Hotel or Group Housing, which is determined by the Zoning Administrator on a case–by-case basis. Homeless shelters are categorized as Group Housing when the length-of-stay is a week or more. If the length-of-stay is less than that, it is considered a Tourist Hotel. The majority of homeless shelters permitted to date have been categorized as Group Housing, which is allowed in most zoning districts including RH-2 with Conditional Use (CU) authorization.
Haddadan further states, “The proposed legislation would not change these controls, but it would create a separate use category for homeless shelters so that each proposal would not need a Zoning Administrator Interpretation to determine the appropriate use category. Also, the City’s policy towards homelessness is to primarily provide permanent housing for the homeless population. While homeless shelters are necessary, the City’s primary focus will still be on finding permanent housing for homeless individuals and families.”
The proposed Ordinance would clarify the zoning controls to streamline the review process for any potential future homeless shelters applications across the City.
If the City’s CU process were utilized, and the Planning Department wanted to place a homeless shelter in your neighborhood, they would need a Planning Commission hearing in order to determine if the proposed use is necessary, or desirable, to the neighborhood, and whether it may potentially have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood.
All owners within 300 feet of proposed new homeless shelters will receive notification of the hearing. The assigned planner will gather comments and concerns from the neighborhood during the notification period. Neighborhood support or opposition will be reflected in a staff report presented at the Planning Commission hearing, complete with the Planning Department’s recommendation for approval or disapproval of the CU.
District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, who helped to introduce the homeless shelter ordinance stated, “San Francisco has been at the forefront of helping the mentally disabled, but the City has been unable to adequately address mental illness problems.”
Nearly one-third of people who are homeless have mental illnesses. With the appropriate treatment, care and support, they could live successful, productive lives in the community. Unfortunately, most people who are homeless lack access to the services they need.
The number of acute-care psychiatric beds in San Francisco are rapidly being downsized in both the public and private sectors. Lengths of stay in acute-care psychiatric units are dropping. Unfortunately, inpatient psychiatric facilities lose money.
California became the national leader in aggressively moving patients from state and county hospitals into the community. By the time Ronald Reagan assumed the governorship in 1967, California had already deinstitutionalized more than half of its state hospital patients. That same year, California passed the landmark Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act, which virtually abolished involuntary hospitalization except in extreme cases. Thus, by the early 1970’s by the time Ronald Reagan assumed the governorship in 1967, California had already deinstitutionalized more than half of its state hospital patients and, bypassing LPS, had made it very difficult to get patients back into a hospital if they relapsed and needed additional care. Ironically, President Reagan was shot in 1986 by John Hinkley, Jr., who was later found to be not guilty by reason of insanity.
The financial burden of mentally ill patient treatments quickly fell squarely on the cities and counties in California.
Consequently, San Francisco was inundated by mentally-ill patients. Many of these patients currently reside in local prisons. Many additional mentally-ill patients currently reside in the San Francisco community trapped between homelessness and shelters. The mental health problem is exacerbated by San Francisco’s inability to provide medication to mental health patients on a regular basis.
In 1985, San Francisco voters approved a proposition authorizing $26 million in bonds to construct a 147-bed psychiatric facility, the Mental Health Rehabilitation Facility (MHRF), on the grounds of San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) to keep psychiatric patients in county. Eleven years later, the “MHRF” opened in 1996. By 2003, when the City was facing a huge deficit, DPH proposed closing the MHRF. A “Blue Ribbon Committee” eventually split the three-story building into multiple uses, and today, the MHRF operates only 24 psychiatric beds. Many of its patients were discharged out-of-county.
The bond measure was actually passed in November 1987. The voter handbook said 185 beds — not 147 — would be built for a “mental health skilled nursing facility,” and that the measure would end up costing $39.7 million, including interest on the bonds. It took 11 years before the MHRF was built and opened in 1996. Sadly, the MHRF has all but closed, converted to other mixed uses.
Chronic homelessness is now a way of life in San Francisco. We cannot neglect these people, but we need to understand why so many mentally ill patients are living on the streets of San Francisco. Homeless shelters can be a good way to help the mentally ill remain in the community.
The question is, as always, where should the mentally ill, transients and poor families live in San Francisco? The neighborhoods with RH-2 housing should carefully consider the impacts of homeless shelters they add in their communities.
George Wooding, Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association
End of the Road for Residential Neighborhoods
Last year, Supervisor David Chiu rezoned the City’s residential housing stock by making secondary units legal throughout the entire City. His legislation was so bureaucratic and ridiculous that only seven residents have signed-up.
This year, on October 21, the Board of Supervisors voted 7 to 4 to help Chiu pass the Airbnb legislation that caused 1) Every residential house in the City to be rezoned as commercial property, 2) Has no effective enforcement, 3) Is purposely vague, and 4) Allows Airbnb to skip paying at least $25 million in back taxes owed to the City.
Meanwhile, New York City leaders are prosecuting the Airbnb people who are renting out their homes illegally.
The Planning Commission is set to adopt the new “Article 2” code change at their November 20th meeting. It is a 462 page umbrella article for residential lots. Changes will allow a myriad of non-resdential (e.g. institutional, public utilities, etc.) uses to be allowed without hearings in all residential areas”
New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman just issued a report claiming up to 72 percent of Airbnb lodging reservations in New York are illegally booked.
New York is taking a different path than San Francisco. Schneiderman says as his investigation continues, he’s teaming up with local authorities to step up enforcement against what he calls illegal hotels.
San Francisco’s local politicians — Chiu, Wiener, Tang, Breed, Cohen, and Kim — capitulated to Airbnb’s money and local political influence, while NewYork’s politicians chose to fight Airbnb.
Conversely, District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee showed real backbone by standing up against the commercial rezoning of residential neighborhoods zoning. Yee states, “I don’t believe in the one size fits all approach that this [Airbnb} legislation takes in legalizing short term rentals, we have zoning laws and allow certain uses in specific areas for very good reasons. I cannot support rezoning of the entire city and redefining residential use that this legislation attempts.”
Chiu does not care one whit what his Airbnb legislation has done to the character of San Francisco neighborhoods. His true goal is to beat David Campos in California’s District 17 Assembly race with the help of Airbnb’s money.
According to Joe Eskanazi, a reporter from the San Francisco Weekly, “An independent expenditure committee called “San Franciscans to Hold Campos Accountable” has, to date, poured some $600,000 into torpedoing Assembly candidate David Campos, Chiu’s opponent in the forthcoming election. Half a million dollars of that comes from early Airbnb investor Reid Hoffman, $49,900 comes from early Airbnb investor Ron Conway, and $49,000 comes from Conway’s wife, Gayle.”
Chiu’s campaign manager, Nicole Derse, is a partner in the consulting firm 50 + 1 Strategies. This same firm was also hired by Airbnb to recruit people who rent out their homes to lobby Supervisors to support a bill friendly to Airbnb.
Both Derse and Chiu claim that 50 + 1 Strategies has a “firewall” between his election campaign and Airbnb. 50 + 1 Strategies only has ten employees.
Interestingly, Supervisor Malia Cohen, the deciding vote on many of Airbnb’s contentious 6 to 5 amendment votes is also represented by 50 + 1 Strategies. A quick perusal of contributions reveals several thousand dollars worth of donations to Cohen from Airbnb interests.
Cohen voted not to collect the $25 million in back taxes owed by Airbnb to the City because, “the information on Airbnb is devoid of accurate information and is really politically motivated.” She is obviously not paying any attention to City Treasurer Jose Cisneros.
Winning her District 10 Supervisorial seat with only 4,321 votes, Cohen is a great example of the limitations of rank-choice-voting.
Last but not least, Airbnb investor Ron Conway is one of Mayor Lee’s biggest financial supporters. Conway is well known in the technology sector for his early investing in Google, Facebook and Twitter, Conway had similarly spotted early potential in Lee as a malleable candidate for mayor. Conway formed an independent expenditure committee to support Lee’s election to a four-year term. He pitched in $150,000 of his own money, and the group raised $670,000. Run Ed Run.
Mayor Lee signed Chiu’s Airbnb legislation into law on October 27th while anti-Airbnb protestors demonstrated on the front steps of city hall and discussed lawsuits. Earlier, Mayor Lee had endorsed David Chiu on October 22nd to be the District 17 Assembly representative—-no one cared.
Chiu’s Airbnb legislation will now be facing a ballot initiative according to Doug Engmann, the former head of the planning commission. Engmann’s anti-Airbnb group has already collected 15,761 signatures, likely enough to ensure the 9,700 valid signatures required to appear on the ballot. Engmann also stated that “anti-Airbnb volunteers may continue to collect signatures through May, 2015.”
Dianne Feinstein Hates What Airbnb Will Do To The Neighborhoods
California Senator Dianne Feinstein stated, “The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is poised to approve legislation that would legalize short-term stays in private homes that are negotiated through a number of online reservation systems.”
This [Airbnb] is a shortsighted action that would destroy the integrity of zoning throughout San Francisco, allowing commercial and hotel use in residential areas throughout the City. The board compounded this poor decision by rejecting a number of commonsense amendments that would have vastly improved the legislation.
Feinstein continues, “As a former nine-year member of the Board of Supervisors and nine-year mayor, I know firsthand the merits of strong zoning laws. They protect residential areas so they can support families and be free of commercial activities that are not related to neighborhood needs.”
“This home-sharing legislation blurs those lines and provides for residential housing to be leased out for hotel use. As such, those of us who value the residential character of our neighborhoods and are invested in the city’s quality of life will see all of this washed away by a blanket commercialization of our neighborhoods.”
Feinstein is right.
Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown stated in his October 26th Chronicle column, “that Senator Diane Feinstein tells me that if Mayor Ed Lee signs the Board of Supervisors’ legislation legalizing Airbnb-style rentals, she’ll support an effort to overturn it at the ballot.”
Brown further states, “It would be one heck of a fight for Lee to face when he is up for re-election next year, but Feinstein is serious in her belief that the proliferation of short-term rentals in the City will destroy the neighborhoods.”
Thanks to the new Airbnb legislation, homes will now cost more as families compete with developers and business people looking to convert existing residential units into Airbnb units. Bye-bye new families with children, tenants, and old people.
Even the high-tech workers pushing for the gentrification of lower income neighborhoods will suffer sticker shock, since the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment is $2,873 and $3,859 for a two bedroom apartment. In July 2009, the monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment was $1,416 and $1,840 for a two bedroom apartment.
Also, thanks to new planning rules many of the new apartments will only be 500 to 700 square feet. Some units are now being built as small as 288 square feet.
People used to aspire to live in the expensive house at the top of the hill. Now, they covet the affordable homes in the low-income housing areas. As lower income parts of town are being “gentrified,” lower-income people and the businesses who serve their neighborhoods are being pushed out by wealthier people ordering short, tall, grande, and venti coffees.
Why would a landlord rent/lease to a tenant for $4,000 a month, when they could make $6,000 per month by using Airbnb?
More planning changes may be coming to the residential neighborhoods.
Chui’s Airbnb legislation has run roughshod over the San Francisco Planning Department’s recommendations for Airbnb’s planning amendments and will now create new changes to Planning’s Article 2.
The Planning Department has created/combined a 462-page rewrite of Planning Code Article 2 for residential housing. Planning did excellent work and claims that there are no substantive changes to the residential housing planning code, but there will be many unintended consequences to combining housing rules and definitions.
Questions on the Article 2 can be answered by planner Aaron Starr at (415) 558-6362 and/or by e-mail at Aaron.Starr@sfgov.org
The Planning Commission is set to adopt the new “Article 2” code changes at its November 20 meeting. It is a 462-page umbrella article for residentival lots. Changes will allow a myriad of non-residential (e.g., institutional, public utilities, etc.) uses to be allowed without hearings in all residential areas.
A new “use characteristic” category will be created to allow the sea change for residential lots. Height limits may change based on topography. Rear yards shrinking to 15 feet or precious housing being automatically being turned into dormitory housing? Since the Board of Supervisors passed Airbnb (hotel-like use) for residential areas, who’ll be your next neighbor?
David Chiu’s Airbnb legislation has made a mockery of the City’s planning processes demonstrating a system where politicians who were elected to represent the voters are representing billionaires to further their own self interest.
George Wooding, Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association
Supervisor Chiu: Rezone Residential Housing to Commercial Housing
Strike two for Board of Supervisors president David Chiu.
Chiu and his downtown allies are once again trying to pass legislation to rezone all of San Francisco.
Many homeowners will remember that Chiu rezoned the entire city in a poorly written and ineffective legislative attempt to regulate secondary housing units. Thanks to Chiu, San Francisco’s in-law units became legalized throughout the City last April.
Property owners and tenants alike have to understand how Supervisor David Chiu’s weak Airbnb legislation will reduce housing, hurt San Francisco’s hotel industry, displace hotel worker jobs, and impact neighborhoods in the long-term.”
Neighborhoods that did not want legalized secondary units were not listened to and are being forced to relinquish their neighborhood character by adding density, permanent rent controlled units, increased traffic, less parking, higher building permit fees, larger housing footprints, and the destruction of neighborhood association bylaws.
Chiu’s pending legislation to “Regulate Short term Rentals and Protect Residential Housing” — otherwise known as Airbnb legislation — would regulate a resident’s ability to rent their principal place of housing on a short-term basis. Currently, residential apartments cannot be rented for fewer than 30 days under San Francisco’s Administrative and Planning Codes.
Chiu’s new legislation is weak and designed to favor the wealthy Internet companies that rent housing to tourists — not to favor San Francisco neighborhoods, or to preserve housing and rental stock.
Chiu took over a year to develop his Airbnb legislation by working with tenant organizations, developers, and tourist rental groups such as Airbnb. Chiu ignored the neighborhoods’ input when he developed his secondary unit legislation and it looks like he will again be ignoring the neighborhoods with his Airbnb legislation.
Why can’t David Chiu let the neighborhoods decide what is best for each individual neighborhood, housing type, or zone?
“The proposed Airbnb legislation would rezone the entire city from residential zoning to commercial zoning in one fell swoop,” said John Bardis, former President of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and former San Francisco Supervisor. “We hear complaints from almost every neighborhood about the detrimental effects of short-term rentals on the quality of life of tenants and residents,” Bardis adds.
When Chiu passed his secondary unit legislation, he was supposedly trying to create two-unit homes throughout the City. Now, his Airbnb legislation could fill those units with tourists.
The Airbnb trend has led to evictions, lease violations, and landlord-tenant disputes. Neighbors are concerned about security linked to ever-changing overnight visitors. Policymakers say San Francisco’s tight housing market will be pressured more if units are held back for tourist stays.
Supervisor David Campos, Chiu’s opponent in the November race for the Assembly District 17, has documented lobbying reports showing 61 contacts between representatives of Airbnb — including former City Hall insiders David Owen and Alex Tourk — and Chiu’s office.
The Tail That Wags the Dog
How much of Chiu’s Airbnb legislation was influenced by Ron Conway, the billionaire high-tech investor who is a partial owner of Airbnb? Not only is Conway Mayor Lee’s biggest financial backer, he is heavily involved in Chiu’s District 17 Assembly race.
In mid-May Reid Hoffman — another billionaire who invests in Airbnb — announced a $200,000 donation against David Campos to an independent expenditure group called the Committee to Hold David Campos Accountable, a group whose only other named donor is Gayle Conway, wife of tech investor Ron Conway.
Filings with the California Secretary of State confirm Gayle Conway also donated $49,000 to the independent expenditure fund. As the District 17 Assembly race between Chiu and Campos narrows, the Committee to Hold David Campos Accountable has started mailing out hit pieces against David Campos.
Chiu’s politically compromised version of Airbnb legislation has led a group of concerned citizens to try and place the “City and County of San Francisco Ordinance Regulating Illegal Use of Housing for Tourist Accommodations” on the November ballot.
This new proposal is much tougher than the Airbnb legislation proposed by Supervisor Chiu.
Although San Francisco is facing its most severe housing shortage in more than 100 years, an increasing number of apartments, condominiums, houses, and portions thereof are offered and advertised as short-term rentals on websites such as Airbnb and VRBO. In recent months, the number of such listings has exceeded 9,000. These listings contribute greatly to the disappearance of affordable housing in San Francisco.
A single-day sample commissioned by the San Francisco Chronicle showed 4,798 rental listings posted by Airbnb, the biggest online source. Chiu’s proposed legislation would legalize casual rentals, require payment of a 14 percent bed tax, and limit the number of nights that can be rented. In April, Airbnb pledged to collect the bed tax to meet criticism here and in other cities.
Chiu’s pending Airbnb legislation would regulate a resident’s ability to rent his housing. Whereas Chiu’s legislation would legalize short-term rentals citywide, a ballot initiative gathering signatures to qualify for the November ballot will restrict temporary, short-term rentals only in neighborhoods currently zoned as commercial districts. The ballot measure was initiated by former San Francisco Planning Commissioner Doug Engmann, housing advocate Calvin Welch, and public relations executive Dale Carlson.
“It is a backdoor rezoning of every residential neighborhood in San Francisco, and it undermines years of housing advocacy work in San Francisco and shows an arrogant disregard of established land use procedure,” said well known housing advocate Calvin Welch.
Among other things, the proposed ballot measure will prohibit four types of residential units from being offered as short-term rental:
• Any unit that has received affordable housing funds from any state, local, or federal agency, including down payment loan assistance;
• Any unit that has been the subject of an Ellis Act eviction (where the owner takes the unit out of the rental market);
• Any in-law unit; and
• Any affordable housing unit.
Property owners and tenants alike have to understand how Supervisor David Chiu’s weak Airbnb legislation will reduce housing, hurt San Francisco’s hotel industry, displace hotel worker jobs, and impact neighborhoods in the long-term.
Chiu fooled the neighborhoods once with his citywide secondary unit housing legislation and now he is on the verge of rezoning the entire city from residential to commercial zoning.
Does David Chiu represent a couple of billionaires, or the people of San Francisco? Voters — whether homeowners or renters — must decide two key issues at the ballot box: First, whether to allow Chiu’s Airbnb legislative ordinance regulating short-term rentals to stand unchallenged, or to support the Engmann-Welch-Carlson ballot measure to reign in Chiu’s wild rezoning of the entire City.
And second, whether to elect Chiu or Campos to become the next Assemblyperson for District 17.
To the extent the November 2013 defeat of the 8 Washington development project and the June 2014 victory requiring voter approval of height-limit exemptions along the waterfront were both referendums against decisions approved by the Board of Supervisors, the November 2014 ballot measure to overturn Chiu’s Airbnb legislation will be another referendum against Chiu himself. Is Chiu really who you want representing San Francisco in the State Assembly?
Please support the signature gathering process for the “San Francisco Ordinance Regulating Illegal Use of Housing for Tourist Accommodations.”
George Wooding, Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association
This is a $400,000,000 bond ordinance.
San Francisco is proposing a $400 million Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond (ESER 2014) for the June 2014 ballot. The purpose of ESER 2014 is to fund repairs and improvements that will allow San Francisco to more quickly and effectively respond to a major earthquake or disaster.
ESER 2014 builds on the Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bonds approved by 79% of San Francisco voters in 2010. ESER 2010 funded critical seismic upgrades to the City's deteriorating emergency and first response infrastructure.
ESER 2014 continues the $412 million investment of ESER 2010, the first phase of essential improvements to the City's public safety facilities.
The 2014 ESER bond was put on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors and approved by the mayor. ESER needs a two-thirds majority (66.7%) vote to pass, and authorizes landlords a pass-through to renters for 50% of the increase in the real property taxes attributable to the cost of repayment of the bonds.
For all of this bond's faults, the 2014 ESER bond is vital to the future of San Francisco's well-being.”
The 2014 ESER bond money will be spent as follows: neighborhood fire stations, $85 million (21.2%); emergency firefighting water system, $55 million (13.7%); district police stations and infrastructure, $30 million (7.5%); motorcycle police and crime lab, $65 million (41.2%); and a medical examiner facility, $65 million, (16.2%).
This bond is a classic example of politicians bundling projects that are vital with less popular projects that need to be funded. The motorcycle police, the crime lab, and the medical examiner facility are all located in the seismically-deficient Hall of Justice located at 850 Bryant St.
The 2014 ESER bonds purpose is being touted "to fund repairs that will more quickly allow responses to disasters and earthquakes." The motorcycle police could be located at police stations throughout the city. Both the crime lab and the medical examiner facility have nothing to do with allowing faster responses for earthquakes or other disasters and do not belong in the bond.
Further, the city is not telling the public where all of the $400 million bond money will be spent.
All five parts of the bond deliberately do not require any type of California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) review. By not designating where the bond money will be spent on the neighborhood fire stations, emergency firefighting water system, CEQA is avoided and the public is being asked to spend money blindly.
As the 2014 ESER legislation states, the Board of Supervisors finds that the "bond proposal as it relates to funds for facilities and infrastructure is not subject to CEQA because as the establishment of a government financing mechanism that does not involve any commitment to specific projects to be constructed with the funds, it is not a project as defined by CEQA and the CEQA guidelines."
For all of this bond's faults, the 2014 ESER bond is vital to the future of San Francisco's well-being. This bond will not be the last seismic bond that San Franciscans see. Seismic preparedness is inevitable and protecting the public safety is paramount. We highly recommend that the neighborhoods endorse this bond.
Vote Yes on Proposition B–Waterfront Height-Limit Initiative in San Francisco
Initiative: Shall the city be prevented from allowing any development on port property to exceed the height limits in effect as of January 1, 2014, unless the City's voters have approved a height limit increase?
A record-breaking petition drive by a coalition of environmental and community groups collected 21,000 signatures to place Proposition B on the June 3 ballot — more than twice the required 9,702 signatures — in just three weeks. The Coalition for San Francisco neighborhoods (CSFN) is a major ballot proponent for measure B.
Our waterfront is a place that needs careful and attentive stewardship, and if that means letting citizens be a more active part of the political process over its future, then that's a good result.”
Measure B was deemed necessary by citizens throughout San Francisco after City politicians, the Port Authority and the Planning Commission continually chose development projects that were beneficial for the wealthy and detrimental to average San Franciscans. Wealthy developers have been allowed to skirt existing planning regulations by receiving special zoning assessments, paid exemptions, and spot zoning.
The Port of San Francisco is more than $1.5 billion in debt and has desperately been trying to pay off this debt by building/planning large developments on Port lands; both the Port and the City will receive extra fees/taxes for every approved development.
City Controller Ben Rosenfield has issued the following statement on the fiscal impact of proposition B: "Should the proposed measure be approved by the voters, in my opinion, it would in and of itself, have no direct impact on the costs of government."
We are urging voters to stand behind the new Prop. B. Our waterfront is a place that needs careful and attentive stewardship, and if that means letting citizens be a more active part of the political process over its future, then that's a good result.
Proposition B's opponents claim that the passage of Proposition B will jeopardize San Francisco's vacant Port land and Eastern shore line. Opponents of Prop. B say development projects that the City has supported will now never be completed. Additionally, opponents allege that critical funding to rebuild crumbling waterfront piers and seawalls will eventually disappear. Opponents also believe that there will be less housing and fewer jobs.
Proposition B takes away the blank check given to developers to build luxury condos and high-rise hotels without regard for traffic, neighborhoods, or the long-term health of our waterfront environment. It gives voters the ability to hold developers accountable for the waterfront that we all deserve.
Please vote "Yes" on proposition B.
George Wooding,Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association
Here Come Da In-Laws
Supervisor David Chiu introduced secondary-unit legislation that will permanently change San Francisco’s zoning code to allow in-law units to become legalized throughout the City.
Although Chiu may be operating under the best of intentions, his legislation needs several amendments and adjustments before anyone will take it seriously. Most single-family homeowners of RH-1 or RH-2 homes will either hate this legislation or will not abide by it.
the division of single-family units into multiple, smaller units … further reduces the amount of housing that is suitable for families in San Francisco (which is already one of the least family-friendly cities in the Bay Area”
A secondary unit, as defined in Chiu’s legislation, is an additional, self-contained dwelling unit in an existing residential building. Secondary units are commonly referred to as “in-law” units because they allow extended family members and tenants to live together in separate, but attached, units.
Chiu’s legislation wants to provide a mechanism to grant legal status to illegally-constructed dwelling units zoned for residential use. These secondary units will continue to be rented, but cannot be sold. Chiu’s trying to frame his legislation as an immigrant, lower class issue. In reality, Chu secondary unit legislation will adversely impact zoning throughout the city and have a severe impact on San Francisco families.
Secondary units are supposed to be the magical answer to San Francisco’s affordable housing problems as they are small — usually around 750 square feet — have cheaper rent, nicer units, and stay within the confines of a home’s structure.
According to the West of Twin Peaks Central Council’s (WTPCC) policy statement on secondary units, “the division of single-family units into multiple, smaller units actually represents an anti-family policy since the vast majority of secondary units are quite small and often remove considerable living space from the primary unit. This further reduces the amount of housing that is suitable for families in San Francisco (which is already one of the least family-friendly cities in the Bay Area with less than 1/3 of San Francisco housing occupied by families vs. 2/3 in neighboring cities).”
Further (WTPCC) policy states, “the Division of RH-1 units into multiple, separate units often requires waiving the 25% open-space requirement. This will result in the Manhattanization of San Francisco. It will significantly reduce the amount of green open space available for trees and other plants and increase the “hard-scaping” of San Francisco.”
A Dog With No Teeth
Chiu’s legislation will change the character of RH-1 and RH-2 neighborhoods by increasing traffic, population density and reducing neighborhood parking. Traffic problems will explode as house garages are turned into living units. Both the home owner and the tenant will be forced to park their cars on the street.
Secondary-unit legislation proposed in 2003 by former Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin was much better written than Chiu’s proposal, as it allowed for units under 750 square feet to be built in existing buildings if they met one of three requirements: 1) they lie within a quarter-mile of a major transportation corridor; 2) were designed and constructed specifically for the elderly or persons with physical disabilities; or 3) were located within a qualified historical building with owners who agreed to adhere to preservation guidelines.
According to Chiu’s legislative Aide, Amy Chan, homes built before 1979 would still be subject to rent control, but the new secondary units would pay current market rates.
Once a unit is legalized, the building cannot revert to being a single-family home.
Home owners with secondary units must continue to be landlords and cannot sell the secondary unit. Single family homes generally have a premium value when they are sold.
Chiu’s secondary unit plan will also damage neighborhood Home Owners Associations (HOA’s) throughout the City. Many of these associations are based on covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC&R’s). The CC&R’s specifically state that the homes in their geographic area are to remain single-family dwellings. Once secondary units are allowed, the HOA will no longer be able to protect their neighborhood character.
Given the choice of converting a secondary unit or simply building an illegal unit, homeowners will build illegal units. Chiu’s proposed legislation includes tacking on permit costs, inspection costs, architectural fees, and property tax costs. All of these stipulations will greatly increase rental costs, and may actually increase tenant’s rent.
Chiu’s current secondary unit proposal has no penalties for people who have illegal units and no mechanism for finding illegal units. His current proposal is like a dog with no teeth.
Chiu can’t even prove his proposal will make units more affordable. The laws of unintended consequences will dictate higher costs for tenants and landlords, and possibly more tenant evictions. While Chui is claiming that he is creating “affordable” housing, the same market-forces that are driving up San Francisco’s rents will push lower income people out of their secondary units.
Chiu’s secondary-unit proposal will certainly get his name in the newspapers and lure the uninformed into believing he’s doing a great job, but even he admits that he can’t accurately predict how many secondary units there currently are in San Francisco. Chiu claims there are 20,000 to 25,000 secondary units, but the San Francisco Chronicle is estimating that there are between 30,000 and 40,000 in-law units.
San Francisco has worked hard not to stop the construction of illegal secondary units. No real information is available on the number of illegal secondary units that have been added to the City’s housing stock since 1990. However, a total of 80 units have been legalized between 2000 and 2008, and another 204 illegal units were removed in the same period (Table I-29).
Rosemary Bosque, the Department of Building Inspection’s, (DBI) Chief Housing Inspector stated that the DBI issued the following Notices of Violations (NOV’s): 2010: 127; 2011: 96; 2012: 90; and 2013: 83.
As can be seen from the chart in the 2009 Housing Element report, almost no new secondary units have been legalized, averaging just a paltry 10 per year. Without a diligent search for illegal secondary units, Chiu’s proposal looks more like a public relations campaign to be elected to the state legislature than a serious attempt to legalize secondary units.
It may seem counterintuitive that the City — which is so focused on creating more small, affordable units — should enact so many impediments to legalization of existing units. David Chiu’s attempt to legalize secondary units will not work as currently proposed and is not the answer.
City Hall should just leave private residences alone.
Long Lost Manzanita Brings Newfound Problems
Westside neighbors are concerned a rare manzanita plant will have a profound impact on neighborhood habitats and uses.
In 2009, a 14-foot wide Arctostaphylos franciscana (Franciscan manzanita) — a plant thought to be extinct in the wild for the last 60 years — was discovered in the Presidio during the 2009 Doyle Drive rebuild. It was deemed to be the last wild Franciscan manzanita and immediately labeled a genetically-unique plant that needed to be saved.
Does it make sense for over six percent — 318 acres — of City-managed park land to be permanently committed to planting an endangered species that can be readily purchased in nurseries?”
Flash forward to 2013. In just four years, 424 plants genetically identical to the Franciscan manzanita found in the Doyle Drive construction site have been propagated via cuttings, according to Betty Young, director of nurseries for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, who is coordinating the effort.
On September 5, 2012 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued its proposed designation of 11 areas in San Francisco as critical habitat for the endangered manzanita plant. That proposed designation includes part of Mt. Davidson. Critical habitats are places where endangered plants are either known to have existed in the past, or are places that provide what a plant needs to survive.
By June 28, 2013 the Fish and Wildlife Service designated 318 acres in San Francisco as critical habitat for the plant.
Critical Habitat vs. Eminent Domain
One of the new critical area habitats for the manzanita plant includes the area along Marietta Drive facing O'Shaughnessy Hollow all the way down along O'Shaughnessy Boulevard, and includes all of the open space known as Reservoir Lands at Glen Park, which has trails currently accessible on Marietta Drive.
The designation of 3.2 acres of private property directly below Marietta Drive as critical habitat has been controversial. The backyards of 22 homes on Marietta Drive are now designated as critical habitat for the Franciscan manzanita. The government cannot use critical habitat designations to take over or control property rights.
However, at the September 23 West of Twin Peaks Central Council meeting, it was stated that the Fish and Wildlife Service may use "eminent domain" to control the 3.2 acres for possible reforestation. But according to Robert Moler, Assistant Field Supervisor for External Affairs for the Fish and Wildlife Service, "Activities on private lands that don't require Federal permits or funding are not affected by a critical habitat designation." In other words, private citizens will still be able to control 100% of their land regardless of a critical habitat determination.
"Eminent Domain is completely different than a critical habitat designation. Eminent domain is the power of the state to seize private property without the owner's consent. A critical habitat designation only delineates the best places an organism can survive."
NAP Clams Up
All of this Mt. Davidson land is controlled by the SF Rec & Parks (RPD). The RPD's Native Area Plants Department (NAP) will be overseeing the replanting of the Franciscan manzanita throughout this area. Unfortunately, NAP has not met with neighbors to discuss its plans to reestablish the manzanita. Nor has any government agency contacted the neighborhoods about the manzanita. Calls to NAP Director, Lisa Wayne, were not returned.
As with other NAP projects, public access to large areas may become off-limits so that the Francisco manzanita can become reestablished. Neighbors are worried that large sections of Mt. Davidson might be closed to the public for years while the wild Franciscan manzanita is getting established. NAP has been completely silent on whether it will designate open space areas as being off-limits, and for how long.
It cost San Francisco $205,075 to dig up and replant the last remaining wild Franciscan manzanita, including $100,000 to pay for the "hard removal," $79,470 to pay for the "establishment, nurturing and monitoring" of the plant for a decade after its "hard removal," and $25,605 to cover the "reporting requirements" for the decade after the "hard removal."
The Franciscan manzanita is also a commercially cultivated species of shrub that can be purchased from nurseries for as little as $15.98 per plant, and have been available for purchase in nurseries for about 50 years. The plants are propagated by taking cuttings and, therefore, are presumed to be almost genetically-similar.
The last wild Franciscan manzanita may have been found, but it may be a hybrid of the manzanita plants found in nurseries. Recent taxonomic revisions have established Franciscan manzanita as a separate species, based primarily on genetic comparisons, including the fact that Franciscan manzanita has 13 pairs of chromosomes, while its closest relative (A. montana ravenii has 26 chromosome pairs.
Manzanita seeds are germinated by fire, but the exact relationship between germination and fire isn't known. This is why the plant is constantly cloned. The plant also requires full sunlight. How many trees will NAP cut down to provide the Franciscan manzanita with full sunlight?
The Francisco manzanita is listed as an endangered species. The Endangered Species Act listing for the rare bush means anyone who removes or tampers with the plant could face criminal prosecution and fines. The designation also qualifies the plant for federal conservation funds.
Does it make sense for over six percent — 318 acres — of City-managed park land to be permanently committed to planting an endangered species that can be readily purchased in nurseries? How will the Franciscan manzanita be able to survive without fire?
Neighbors need to know what is happening with the 318 acres of San Francisco private and public land that will be used to replant the manzanita, and how the critical habitat determination will impact public open space. RPD outreach to neighborhoods continues to be poor and disingenuous. NAP has stonewalled the public far too long and must be required to meet with Westside neighbors.
George Wooding, Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association
Vote "No" on Measures B and C
Are 140-Foot-High Condos in West Portal Next?
As San Francisco politicians continue racing to sell San Francisco's real estate to the highest bidder, two ballot measures on the November ballot —"B" and "C" — will have a huge impact on San Francisco neighborhoods throughout the City. If not rejected at the ballot box, a terrible precedent may be set, perhaps permitting 140-foot-high condos in West Portal and elsewhere throughout the City.
David vs. Goliath
Measure "B" is an initiative called "8 Washington Park, Public Access and Housing Initiative." The measure is developer-funded and needed just 9,702 signatures of San Francisco voters to place the developer's project on the ballot. Pacific Waterfront Properties (PWP), the developer, paid approximately $300,000 to place measure "B" on the ballot. According to its most recent campaign disclosure statement posted on-line in the Ethics Department's campaign database, the Proposition "B" campaign reports that it has received $464,990 in contributions through July 2013, and had already spent $383,604 to help pass Prop. "B." How much more in donations and spending will it rack up before the November 5 election to fool voters about this boondoggle?
In stark contrast, measure "C" is a citizen's referendum against an ordinance passed by our errant Board of Supervisors to amend the zoning map for 8 Washington Street's height and bulk. A citizen's group called "No Wall on the Waterfront" collected over 31,000 signatures to place "C" on the ballot; its campaign disclosure statement indicates it has received $244,113 in contributions through July 2013, and has spent $123,171. David, vs. Goliath?
The referendum asks voters whether to uphold the Board's spot-zoning exemption to raise the height limits for 8 Washington and let it take effect, or to reject what the legislator's did and prevent the spot-zoning from ever taking effect.
Citizens Battle Developers: Sloe-Gin Fizz
Ballot measures "B" and "C" represent a battle between citizens trying to protect and preserve the planning laws of the City, against developers supposedly "trying to make the city better'" by receiving special planning exemptions — accurately named"spot zoning" — from downtown political interests, lobbyists, and San Francisco's Planning Department.
Both ballot measures are about the conversion of the 8 Washington condominium development project. The project will demolish the Golden Gateway Swimming and Tennis Club that currently sits on a triangular-shaped, 3.2-acre lot across from the Ferry Building, and erect in its place 134 of the most expensive condominiums in the history of San Francisco, each ranging in price from $2 million up to $10 million.
With $268 million to easily $750 million in projected sales of the condo's, it's no wonder that developers and a compliant Board of Supervisors — licking its chops over millions in property tax transfer revenue for City coffers — have foisted the 8 Washington project onto the waterfront. During Board hearings last summer probing the balance between the developer's profits and the City's "benefits," Board president David Chiu estimated that the developers will net $200 million in profits, at a hefty 72 percent rate of return.
Supporters of 8 Washington ginned up claims that $140 million in today's dollars will be generated from the proposed 8 Washington project for the Port Authority and the City, echoing ginned-up claims the America's Cup races would provide massive economic benefit to the City, claims that eventually fizzled out.
The deal requires the City to pay the developer $5 million for open-space improvements, which is atypical. Although Chiu introduced an amendment to remove it from the deal, his amendment failed on a 6-to-5 vote by the Board of Supervisors. For his part, the Board's budget analyst, Harvey Rose, issued a report saying his review of the project's finances revealed that the $140 million in benefits to the City originally claimed by the developer and the Port Authority was overestimated by $50 million. Supervisor Chiu introduced a second motion suggesting that if the benefits were $50 million less than advertised, another $14 million should be added to the planned $11 million contribution to the City's affordable housing fund. The Board rejected Chiu's second amendment on a 7-to-4 vote. Chiu lowered it to $2 million extra for the housing fund, but his third amendment also failed on a 6-to-5 vote.
The new height exemptions being created by the Board of Supervisors are ridiculous. Current zoning only allows buildings to be 84-feet high. The Board's new exemptions will allow the 8 Washington project to be 136-feet high. The removed Embarcadero freeway was only 70-feet high. What was this crop of Supervisors thinking by allowing 8 Washington's height to double the blight caused by the freeway's height?
The Board of Supervisors should have learned its lesson in the early 1960's after allowing the 17-story Fontana Towers to be built at 1000 North Point Street. The public was so angry that the Board of Supervisors was forced to adopt 40-foot height limits.
In Chris Carlsson's "Height Limit Revolt Saves Waterfront Vistas" historical essay published exclusively earlier this year on the FoundSF.org web site, he states, "Before the February 1964 vote of the Board of Supervisors [that] overwhelmingly approved permanent 40-foot height limits (voting 9-to-1 in favor), neighborhood attorney Casper Weinberger had argued that the 40-foot law 'will preserve for future generations one of the priceless assets of San Francisco, the whole relationship of the city to the Bay … and particularly, the views enjoyed by the public from publicly owned lands, such as Coit Tower and other city-owned recreational spaces.'
"In further testimony, Weinberger continued 'The Master Plan has for years provided that the height of buildings should generally follow the contour of the land, and that low rise buildings should be built on the low lands, such as the northern waterfront, and high rise at the tops of hills so that the loss of views, etc., will be minimized'."
Today's pro-development Board of Supervisors has forgotten San Francisco's past development mistakes and are doomed to repeat them. Neighborhoods must understand that these same Supervisors — working with spot-zoning laws and profit-seeking developers — might easily approve a 140-foot condominium tower on West Portal Avenue or on Ocean Avenue.
The proposed 8 Washington mixed-use project will also include nearly 400 parking garage spaces for just 134 condos (an embarrassment of riches for a "transit-first" City), 20,000 square feet of restaurants, ground-level retail space, and a semi-public park. The developers struck a deal to pay an additional $11 million into the City's Affordable Housing Fund, supposedly devoted to low-income housing that will not be located near the 8 Washington project. You can't build much with a paltry $11 million — the developer's supporters claim 50 low-income housing units — but no one knows where or when this housing will actually be built, or if the payment will just be deposited into the affordable housing fund. The PWP developers aren't talking, and the Board of Supervisors may not have asked.
8 Washington's Hidden Funders: Teacher's Pension Fund
Simon Snellgrove, the owner of Pacific Waterfront Partners (PWP), is simply the 8 Washington front man for the project. Unfortunately, the 8 Washington project is primarily funded quietly by the California State Teachers Retirement Fund (CalSTRS.)
CalSTRS is the nation's second-largest pension fund, ostensibly a source of financial support for retired educators throughout California. The $152.1 billion pension fund has approximately $21.5 billion invested in real estate, but has a marginal record of successful investments.
California teachers might want to start asking themselves if this is the best use of their retirement funds.
CalSTRS real estate investments in New York were a spectacular failure,since the pension fund recently lost over $100 million in a failed attempt to convert Stuyvesant Town — 11,250 middle class rent-controlled apartments in New York City's Peter Cooper Village — into high-end luxury housing. CalSTRS has many other underperforming real estate assets in New York.
To get the 8 Washington deal, CalSTRS proposed in an October 30, 2008 letter to the San Francisco Port Authority to make an equity contribution in the range of $100 million for the project's rights, and agreed that a construction loan, construction guarantees, and lease guarantees were to be paid by CalSTRS. In a February 19, 2009 Port Authority memorandum written by its Executive Director, Monique Moyer stated that CalSTRS will have a 99 percent ownership interest in the 8 Washington project. It may have a smaller ownership percentage at this time.
CalSTRS currently has $42 million invested in the 8 Washington project. If measure "B" fails and measure "C" succeeds, CalSTRS$42 million investment will be in jeopardy. It is uncertain how much CalSTRS will lose on its 8 Washington investment, as it has not yet provided financial documents in response to a public records request submitted by the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
Meeting the Enemy
As Walt Kelly, the author of the Pogo comic strip famously stated, "We have met the enemy and he is us." San Francisco's citizens are fighting against a huge State pension fund and against our elected Board of Supervisors to keep our waterfront views for everyone, not just the wealthy.
San Francisco's Board of Supervisors are poised to allow height and bulk exemptions throughout the City, especially along the waterfront. Will citizens constantly have to go to the ballot box to fight the bad decisions of a developer-friendly Board of Supervisors? If so, West Portal — or your own neighborhood — may be next at bat.
If you would like to protect the height and bulk limits of San Francisco's 8 Washington development, and elsewhere throughout the City, vote NO on measure "B." A "No" vote on measure "B" means that you are voting against the project and it cannot be built as proposed.
If you would like to overturn the poor decision of the Board of Supervisors that allowed the 8 Washington developers to increase the height of the project from 84 feet to 136 feet, and to increase the bulk of the project, please vote NO on measure "C." A "No" vote on "C" means that citizens don't approve of the Board of Supervisor's zoning exemptions at 8 Washington, and the project can't be built as currently approved.
Please join Allan Jacobs, the former director of San Francisco's Planning Department, who opposes the 8 Washington project; the San Francisco Democratic Party; a variety of Democratic clubs throughout the City; the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods; the Sierra Club; homeowner and neighborhood associations across the City; and others, who all oppose a monstrous land-grab wall blocking the waterfront.
Help send a clear message to the Board of Supervisors. On November 5, vote "No" on measures "B" and "C"!
Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association
Editor's note; this report was shortened for print, this is the full version.
Homeowners: City Hall's ATM
The crushing weight of San Francisco City employees' salaries and benefits is one reason the City keeps pushing expenses onto homeowners.
Mayor Lee's proposed $7.9 billion City budget for Fiscal Year 2013–2014 indicates that the City will increase spending by $710 million, adding 866 more City government employees, bringing the total to 27,722 full-time equivalent employees. [The City actually had 36,761 full- and part-time employees at the end of calendar year 2012.]
Over one-half of the Mayor's budget — $3.9 billion — will be dedicated to City employee salaries and benefits. The average City employee makes $99,000 with benefits, while the average citizen makes about $73,000 with few or no benefits.
…San Francisco has the highest-paid employees in the country. We also have more employees per capita than just about any major metropolitan area. According to John Rahaim, director of San Francisco's Planning Department, Chicago has only 7 employees in its Planning Department, while San Francisco's Planning Department had 176 employees…”
[Editor's Note:Most of the City's part-time employees do not earn fringe benefits, although unions want that changed. So to be fair, excluding fringe benefits, of the 36,761 full- and part-time employees in 2012, fully 21,980 employees — or 59.8 percent — earned less than $73,000 in base pay, and averaged just $38,820 in base pay and averaged $42,741 in total pay, including overtime; they're your average secretary, gardener, or nurse's aide. That stands in stark contrast to the 14,781 employees – 40.2 percent — who earned more than $73,000, and who earned an average of $106,073 in base pay and an average of $120,762 in total pay, including overtime. And to be more fair, just 7,864 of City employees — fully 21.4 percent — earned more than $100,000 in base pay, averaging $124,716 in base pay and averaging a whopping $143,131 in total pay, including overtime. The total payroll for these 7,864 employees in the City's $100,000 base-pay club gobbled $1,125,583,168.83 in total pay, fully 41.3 percent of the $2,724,434,062 in total pay including overtime in calendar year 2012, excluding fringe benefits. You read that right: The 21.4 percent in the City's $100,000-plus club gobble 41.3 percent of the total payroll, with more $100,000-er's being added every year.]
In many job categories, San Francisco has the highest-paid employees in the country. We also have more employees per capita than just about any major metropolitan area. According to John Rahaim, director of San Francisco's Planning Department, Chicago has only 7 employees in its Planning Department, while San Francisco's Planning Department had 176 employees at the end of calendar year 2012. The list of useless City departments and overpaid City employees grows daily.
(Editors Note: Correction
Reporter George Wooding, quoted SF Planning Director John Rahaim that there were "only 7 planners in Chicago," at a neighborhood meeting, a reader wrote to inform us Chicago has a Planning Dept budget of $193 million and 228 FTE employees. If anyone was mislead, we regret the error and thankful for the follow up research from our savvy readers.)
Mayor Lee's FY 2013–2014 budget will also pay for a poorly performing transit system (MTA), a massive Department of Public Health, a dysfunctional Ethics Commission, 146 employees in its bloated Department of the Environment at the end of 2012, and a misguided and underperforming Recreation and Park Department.
Outsourcing traditional City expenses in San Francisco is causing homeowners to pay twice for traditional City services. Additionally, California's Democratic Governor, and a democratic majority in both the State Assembly and Senate have turned California into a supermajority, one-party state. With no opposition, Democrats are attempting to dismantle Proposition 13 through a series of pending legislation.
With San Francisco's $7.9 billion budget and at least 27,722 full-time equivalent City employees, here are some of the homeowner costs we should expect:
In the next three years, Public Utility Commission water and sewage rates will be increasing by over 59%. The average monthly bill today for water and sewage averages approximately $84.00 per month.
Starting in March 2014, PG&E will enroll over 100,000 City homes automatically into CleanPowerSF. The Board of Supervisors approved a $19.5 million contract with Shell Energy North America to implement the sustainable energy contract with the City. CleanPowerSF will supposedly use only state-certified energy and will add 24% to the average household's residential electricity bill. San Francisco is hoping to add carbon credits to partially reduce the bill. Citizens can opt out of this program, albeit with a lot of trouble and effort to do so.
The program also calls for SF to plough $1.2 billion of borrowed money into its own renewable-energy plants — infrastructure such as rooftop solar panels and wind farms, much of it within the City — an investment that could be backed by the promise of future tax hikes if the facilities can't support themselves.
Supervisor Malia Cohen just introduced an ordinance amending the Business and Tax Regulations Code, adding Article 15A "Public Realm Landscaping, Improvement and Maintenance Assessment Districts," to provide for establishment of assessment districts to finance landscaping, improvements, and maintenance of public realm areas (outdoor spaces open to the public), including parks, parklets, sidewalks, landscaped areas, plazas, and gardens; to authorize the purchase of real property with assessment funds, where property will be a Public realm area, and the district will provide landscaping, improvements and/or maintenance; and making environmental findings.
Cohen is quietly adding an assessment tax called a "Park Improvement District," or PID. The PID assessments are very similar to neighborhood Community Benefits Districts (CBDs). CBD's are a form of self taxation. Business owners on a commercial street agree to increase their taxes so that their street will be nicer — for example, Polk Street, Ocean Avenue, or 24th Street. Both PID's and CBD's need a defined geographical area and a majority vote of surrounding property owners. In effect, the local citizens are creating an extra tax for a specific geographic area. Funds from a PID tax will supposedly provide a sustainable revenue source for specific open space improvements.
Whatever happened to the concept of, "We paid our taxes, now fix our streets"? Our infrastructure taxes are used to pay employee salaries, not fix roads.
For decades the San Francisco Department of Works (DPW) deferred basic roads maintenance while citizens kept paying taxes for basic infrastructure needs. San Francisco's roads became so bad that in 2011, citizens were forced to vote for Proposition B, the Street and Sidewalk Improvement Bond. With interest, these bonds will cost homeowners $360 million for infrastructure repair that we have already paid for. Each homeowner will pay an increased property tax of $9.50 for every $100,000 in assessed value of their home.
Shamefully, the goal of the roads bond is only to keep the roads at the same level as when the road repair project started. Someone should hand Mayor Lee and Mohammed Nuru, DPW's director, a shovel and have them fill potholes for a couple of weeks.
Sunset Scavenger, San Francisco's monopoly garbage collector — now rebranded and renamed "Recology" to make the company more palatable to voters — will be raising garbage collection rates by 21.5% to 33% effective next year. Who can stop their rate increases? In two years, Recology will be back for more rate increases.
The cost of maintaining San Francisco's 110,000 street trees is about to be completely dumped on homeowners. Two-thirds of those trees are the maintenance responsibility of adjacent property owners, even if the property owners didn't plant the trees, don't know how to care for them, and don't want them. The DPW is now planning to release the remaining one-third to property owners. Now the City is charging homeowners huge permit fees and fines for tree maintenance.
A recent City study — produced by AECOM, which receives many lucrative City consulting contracts — shows that tree maintenance could cost a homeowner hundreds annually in sidewalk repairs and maintenance fees.
Naturally, the City is exploring options to generate funding to take care of San Francisco's trees. The three options being looked at are a special assessment districts (PID's), a parcel tax, or a property tax increase called a general obligation bond. To maintain San Francisco's urban forest and gradually increase it by 2,900 trees per year is estimated to cost $31.3 million annually. All of these taxes and/or assessments will be borne by property owners, not renters who make up 65% of the City's residents.
Also, it used to be that if City-owned tree roots grew into a homeowner's sewer line, the City would pay claims for any damage to their sewer lines. Homeowners are now responsible to fix and maintain their sewer lines, regardless of whose trees cause any damage.
San Francisco's Transit Authority is preparing a new transit fee/tax that will go to the ballot. Downtown businesses have traditionally paid a transportation fee, but now, residential builders of housing and condominiums throughout the City will be charged a TSF of $5.53 per square foot for residential buildings. Over a twenty-year period, the Transportation Authority hopes to collect $138.8 million in residential fees and $493.8 million in non-residential fees, for a total of $632.6 million in transportation sustainability fees (TSF) .
Cleverly, the Transit Authority will be creating a November 2014 ballot measure to supposedly reduce traffic congestion that will feature Automobile Trips Generated (ATG). The City will tell the public that this is a better transportation system and few voters will realize that they are creating a citywide transportation tax. It is doubtful that MUNI will either run faster or be on time.
The real disaster for homeowners is the endangered Proposition13.
Proposition 13 was passed as an initiative in 1978 to protect homeowners from being financially driven from their homes due to ever-increasing taxes.
Under Proposition 13 tax reform, property tax value was rolled back and frozen at the 1976 assessed value level. Property tax increases on any given property were limited to no more than 2% per year as long as the property was not sold. Once sold, the property was reassessed at 1% of the sale price, and the 2% yearly cap became applicable to future years. This allowed property owners to finally be able to estimate the amount of future property taxes, and determine the maximum amount taxes could increase as long as they owned the property.
Proposition 13 also requires taxes raised by local governments for a designated purpose to be approved by two-thirds of the voters. San Francisco's parcel taxes and General Obligation Bonds (GOBs) all need a two-thirds majority.
The current Democratic majority has proposed six bills that will lower the current 66.6%, two-thirds majority vote to a 55.0% level to have a parcel tax or GOB pass. These "add on" parcel and bond taxes/GOBs are on topof the property tax homeowners already paying under current law.
The two most dangerous amendments to Proposition 13:
• Senate Constitutional Amendment 9 (SCA 9), Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro) will lower the threshold from two-thirds to 55% to increase special taxes, including parcel taxes, to fund community and economic development projects.
• Senate Constitutional Amendment 11 (SCA11), Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) will lower the threshold to 55% to allow for voters representing anylocal government entity to approve a special tax for anypurpose.
Renters will often not have to pay any of these tax increases, as they own no property.
San Francisco's homeowners are about to become the City's newest ATM, if they haven't already.
George Wooding, Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association
The Ethics Commission:
Failing the Public Again
It is now more important for the Ethics Commission to protect “City Family” officials than it is to provide justice for San Francisco citizens. The Commission’s new job is to shield City agencies and politicians from their political wrongdoings.
One of the main functions of the Ethics Commission is to review and enforce Sunshine Ordinance violation cases forwarded by the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force (SOTF) for enforcement. The Ethics Commission has refused to hear at least 18 consecutive SOTF cases over the last three years, and dismissed all of the cases on the flimsiest of grounds.
The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force was created by the people to insure the City’s open government Sunshine laws are adhered to by its officials. It was created to help citizens who request timely access to government public records.
Rec & Park’s lack of compliance was also hiding City employee and Commissioner attempts to sabotage public discussions of privatization of public lands. These public officials were signing their non-public e-mails with their public titles to sway the Commonwealth Club to bias a forum arranged by members of the public.”
In my recent case, George Wooding vs The RPD, the Ethics Commission showed how far they would go to protect the corrupt behavior of the Recreation and Park Department’s (RPD) administration — a City department that has embarrassed itself repeatedly under RPD General Manager Phil Ginsburg.
This is a case about how the RPD, a public City-run agency directed by Ginsburg, abused First Amendment free speech rights of private citizens, and then tried to hide the abuse by deliberately deleting all public records relating to the RPD sabotage of a public forum at the Commonwealth Club by changing the title, the panelists, and the content of the meeting.
The RPD was unhappy that citizens with differing points of view than RPD’s official policy of park privatization were going to speak at a Commonwealth Club forum. The forum was to discuss Golden Gate Park and was initially titled “Golden Gate Park Under Siege.”
The initial panelists included:
• Jim Chappell, Moderator, Interim Director of San Francisco Beautiful, and past Executive Director of SPUR
• Anthea Hartwig, Ph.D., President of Western Office National Trust for Historic Preservation ASLA, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance
• Katherine Howard, ASLA, Golden Gate Park Preservation Alliance
• Mike Lynes, Conservation Director and General Council for Environmental Matters, Golden Gate Audubon Society
• I was also a panel member, as President of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, with my past experience as a soccer dad, coach, and team sponsor
The RPD was so worried about what the panel would say about RPD park privatization policy that they applied immense pressure on the Commonwealth Club to change the panel members, change the topic, add RPD representatives, or cancel the public discussion forum.
About ten days before the panel discussion, the Commonwealth switchboard lit up with calls denigrating the panelist’s objectivity and qualifications. This was followed by a barrage of e-mails and letters, including an April 25 e-mail from Mark Buell, president of the Recreation and Park Commission to Greg Dalton, the Commonwealth Club’s vice president, which was copied to RPD’s General Manager Phil Ginsburg. Buell wrote:
“Greg, I have been informed that the Commonwealth Club is hosting a panel on May 11 entitled “Golden Gate Park under siege” claiming that there are plans for privatization and industrial development. I assume these relate to a water plant and providing additional food vendors. I find the title inflammatory, the participants biased and the fact that no one from the RPD invited hard to understand.”
That followed an April 20 e-mail to the Commonwealth Club’s Executive Assistant, Ross Lawley, sent by Sarah Ballard, RPD’s director of policy and public affairs, which read:
“The overall tone of the panel is more likely to incite an audience than it is to rationally discuss the facts and merits of the RPD’s current direction. I write in the hopes that the Commonwealth Club will see that this is a deeply biased panel that has no interest in discussing the facts. I am hopeful that you can cancel the panel …”
Several other e-mails and phone calls were sent by lobbyists, or were initiated by the RPD, such as Susan Hirsch, the lobbyist for the City Fields Foundation run by the Fisher family.
Although the Commonwealth Club had initially found that the panelists were acceptable, they eventually succumbed to RPD’s pressure by adding Buell to the panel and changing the forum’s title, broadening the scope of the forum’s topic.
Kathy Howard, one of the original panelists, stated,
“I was frankly appalled when I learned of the e-mails written by the Rec and Park Department. I had suggested this panel discussion, and by doing so I had exposed respected professional panel members to personal attack. And I am shocked, I am really shocked, that members of our city government tried to stifle free speech and to have this panel discussion cancelled. And then they denied that they had tried to do that. All we were asking for was fifty minutes, five zero minutes, to present our love of Golden Gate Park.”
I filed a Sunshine records request with the RPD on June 3, 2011 requesting any and all records pertaining to the RPD’s involvement in changing the Commonwealth Club’s forum. Not surprisingly, the RPD told me that no such documents existed. What the RPD did not know, but would soon find out, was that I had copies of many of the documents being requested, since an anonymous source disgusted with the RPD’s behavior had already provided me with the documents being requested. I sought to obtain them from the horse’s own mouth.
After RPD denied my request, I filed a Sunshine complaint. When the SOTF heard complaint No. 11049, George Wooding v. Recreation and Parks Department, it issued a Notice and Referral for Willful Failure and Official Misconduct; the SOFT’s provided notification of willful failure and official misconduct against Phil Ginsburg and Sarah Ballard for failure to comply with the Order of Determination to produce the records.”
The SOTF took five months to adjudicate my complaint, and found the RPD, Mark Buell, Phil Ginsberg, Sarah Ballard, and secretary Olive Gong guilty of §67.21 (failure to assist the requestor of documents), §67.25 (failure to respond to immediate document disclosure requests), §67.26 (withholding documents), or §67.27 (failure to justify the withholding of public records).
SOTF President, Hope Johnson was very succinct: “The RPD e-mails should have been retained in a professional and businesslike manner under a records retentions policy, and Rec & Park needed to take responsibility for that action … this case demonstrates the need for the Mayor, Ethics Commission and District Attorney to enforce the Sunshine Ordinance is much deeper than simply adhering to an ordinance. Rec & Park’s lack of compliance was also hiding City employee and Commissioner attempts to sabotage public discussions of privatization of public lands. These public officials were signing their non-public e-mails with their public titles to sway the Commonwealth Club to bias a forum arranged by members of the public.”
The Ethics Commission Protects the “City Family”
Cowardly and completely disrespectful to the Commonwealth Club panelists, the Sunshine Task Force, the First Amendment, or to Ethics in general, the Commission barely considered how the RPD attempted to alter the free speech rights of citizens. Its main focus turned to protecting the RPD from the findings of the SOTF.
The Ethics Commission used three illegal arguments to scuttle the Wooding vs RPD case:
• Ethics accepted RPD’s claim that they can determine which documents to keep, and which to delete. Ignoring Govt. Code §340.90: “Unless otherwise provided by law and only with approval of a legislative body by resolution and the written consent of the City Attorney, heads of city departments may not destroy city records after a document is no longer required.” Nor does Section 340.90 authorize destruction of records less than two years old, but the four lawyers on the Ethics Commission ignored State law.
• The Ethics Commission forgave the RPD for not reviewing back-up tapes. The RPD did not review backup documents for 141 days, although I specifically requested it several times and despite two requests by the SOTF. It later turned out that the back-up tapes contained much of the requested information that RPD claimed it didn’t have. According to City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s misguided Good Government Guide, “electronic records such as e-mails that an employee has properly deleted under the department’s records retention and destruction policy but that remain on back-up tapes are analogous to paper records that the department has lawfully discarded but may be found in a City-owned dumpster.” Under section §340.90 the records were improperly deleted, but could have been retrieved from back-up tapes.
• The Ethics Commission helped the RPD skirt written laws. Bruce Wolfe, the former Vice-Chair of SOTF testified:
“I’m very, very concerned right now because I’m hearing suppositions being made that are not based on any law. There’s ‘I think the law should do this,’ or ‘the law should do that.’ I’m hearing those kinds of statements, instead of actually [hearing references] to the law itself as it applies.”
RPD employees delete many records immediately under the theory that they do not have to provide deleted documents. A highly embarrassed Sarah Ballard produced testimony so incredulous, that even the Ethics Commission’s President, Benjamin Hur, had trouble believing her. Their exchange during the Ethics hearing was almost comical, since Ballard claimed five separate times that she doesn’t retain “sent” e-mails:
HUR: I have some questions, particularly for Miss Ballard. Miss Ballard, I’m looking at Figure 1, which is the e-mail that you sent to Ross Lawley on April 20. Why didn’t you retain this document?
BALLARD: I don’t retain sent e-mails.
HUR: So if you had sent a government contract, that would just disappear into the ether after it had gone out if yours was the only copy?
BALLARD: If I had a copy of a contract that was sent as an attachment, I would assume that would … I would save that either on our server or on my desktop. But as a matter of practice, no, I do not save sent e-mails.
HUR: So regardless of the importance of the e-mail if you send it and there’s only one recipient who’s outside your department, that e-mail’s going to disappear in, what, two weeks?
BALLARD: I don’t retain sent documents. I don’t know… I don’t think they’re retained anywhere beyond that.
HUR: Do you know how long your sent e-mails are retained?
BALLARD: I don’t believe it is.
HUR: At all?
BALLARD: Correct. So it’s sent and it’s gone.
HUR: So you can’t go to your sent file to see, oh, when did I send this e-mail to this person?
HUR: OK. And I saw that … any other questions for Miss Ballard? (No response)
Every e-mail system automatically retains sent e-mail, as Commissioner Hur had to have known. What’s more, government e-mail systems have multiple levels of back-up redundancy, such that sent e-mails are backed up at multiple locations. Had this involved a criminal case against Ballard, the City would have searched high and low on the redundant back-up servers to locate the e-mails Ballard claims she doesn’t personally retain, and you can bet the City would have located them. But Ballard, sporting a straight face, managed to hoodwink Hur.
Nancy Wuerfel testified at the hearing: “She [Ballard] has not been forthcoming to this body or to any of us. She did not come in and say, ‘I had some records and I deleted them, now what do I do?’ She didn’t say that, she just pretended like they never existed. This is an indictment. You can’t ignore it.
“Of course any e-mails about interfering with the public forum were instantly deleted, not because of a deep commitment to the department’s record retention policy, but because Ginsburg knows that the Sunshine law requires disclosures. He’s not stupid. Had it been true that the motive for record destruction was implementing the department’s policy then this should have been stated to Mr. Wooding at the outset. The disclosure that there were once e-mails but they were indeed destroyed according to regulations would have led to the next requirement in the Sunshine Ordinance, which is to assist in referring Mr. Wooding to someone who could help him with his records request. Let us not kid ourselves. Mr. Ginsburg attempted a cover-up of an ill-advised attempt to influence a private entity from having an open panel discussion about contentious development in our City’s most famous and beloved park. He wanted to use his government position to exert power over the public who were simply exercising their First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and assembly.”
Ginsburg, who, many felt, orchestrated the attack on the Commonwealth Club panel, testified that there was an e-mail on which he had been copied.
“I did delete the e-mail. It was sent at home. I probably get well over 300 e-mails a day, and based on the department’s record retention policy that is not a record that in my view, at least at the time, was either essential or required any kind of serious departmental action.”
Dr. Derek Kerr, the former Laguna Honda Hospital physician who just won a $750,000 whistleblower settlement — another Ethics Commission failure — testified at Wooding’s Ethics hearing:
“Mr. Ginsburg mentioned something about 300 e-mails a day. … This was not a trivial matter. The individuals involved in this correspondence and this lobbying back and forth are important individuals in the city. This is not the kind of correspondence that one deletes because it’s of no value as a record.”
“One deletes this information to conceal what it contains. Mr. Wooding said that there’s a bigger issue here, and the bigger issue is one of ethics. Now, this matter can be reduced and narrowed down to a technical, legal point that will make it much easier to dismiss this case as virtually every other Sunshine case has been dismissed. But this is an Ethics Commission. It would be nice if there were a professional ethicist here. But even so, there isn’t, it would be good if once in a while the ethical dimension of the behaviors you’re hearing about would be considered rather than just the loopholes and technicalities of the law.”
Journalist Patrick Monette-Shaw, testified: “Isn’t it curious that Mr. Ginsburg is being disingenuous with you? First he says in his testimony ‘there were no documents.’ Then he changes his mind and says ‘there were no essential records.’ Then, when he reports to you that he told Miss Gong that he didn’t have any e-mails, what he should have said to her was, ‘I’ve already deleted them.’ Because that may have set off that little alarm bell in the secretary’s head that she should have turned immediately to back-up tapes to retrieve the documents that he had deleted but failed to tell Miss Gong that he had deleted.”
Mark Buell told the San Francisco Bay Guardian, “It’s not that I did anything. It’s that I just didn’t know the Sunshine Ordinance rules that you’re supposed to keep everything.”
Buell also did not know how to use his phone to find documents. SOTF chair Hope Johnson said that she was “shocked by Buell’s argument. The California records act clearly lists e-mails as a form of government documents that must be turned over on request. In Buell’s case, ignorance is not an excuse, particularly since as a RPD Commissioner, he is required to take annual Sunshine Ordinance training, and must sign a disclosure form that is submitted to the Ethics Commission that he has taken the annual training. He can’t really be that ignorant of Sunshine requirements, despite having tried to play coy with the Bay Guardian.”
I concluded my testimony to the Ethics Commission with this statement: “With this current Ethics Commission, whatever I say tonight, good or bad, I’m going to lose. So, it doesn’t seem like whether something is deleted or whether something is no longer available really matters to your Ethics Commission. I think what really happens here is Sunshine suffers and the public suffers, and the public loses confidence in government, especially when Ethics, which is supposed to maintain ethical standards and was created to help citizens, now represents the city family more than they do the public. I have very little confidence of any fairness from your Commission.”
The Commission voted against every finding of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, with the exception of sending a letter to RPD Secretary Olive Gong about being more timely in her Sunshine responses.
There will be no real Sunshine in San Francisco until Ethics stops protecting officials who are caught acting against the best interests of it’s citizens.
Nor until the Ethics Commission stops re-adjudicating every referral forwarded by the Task Force for enforcement of its Orders of Determination. The Ethics Commission continues to ignore that its sole role regarding Sunshine referrals is enforcement, it has no authority to make Sunshine decisions, that right is mandated by the voters to the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.
George Wooding, Midtown Terrace
District 7 Focus
Greater West Portal Area
Leads the City in Traffic Deaths
District 7 is the most likely place for a pedestrian in San Francisco to be hit by a car and die. Of the seven San Francisco pedestrians who died this year after being struck by cars, four of the fatalities — 57% — have been in District 7.
At San Francisco’s current pace of pedestrian–vehicle fatalities, the City will exceed last years’ 19 deaths and reach the highest levels in over ten years.
According to the SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA), April 4 collisions report, 24 pedestrians have been killed by cars in District 7 over the last five years and 1,648 pedestrians have been injured in pedestrian-car collisions in District 7 over the last five years.
The reason District 7 collisions are so often deadly is because of the unsafe speed that cars travel through District 7. Unsafe speed was the major factor in 587 of District 7’s accidents. Incredibly, 33% of all unsafe speed accidents in San Francisco are happening in District 7.
According to Walk SF Executive Director Elizabeth Stampe, and the Department of Public Health, people are six times more likely to die when hit by a driver at 30 mph than at 20 mph. The 15 District 7 streets that drivers continually speed on include: Monterey Blvd., Sloat Blvd., 19th Ave., Portola Dr., Laguna Honda Blvd., Lake Merced Blvd., John Muir Dr., Brotherhood Way, Clarendon Ave., Skyline Blvd., Woodside Ave., Terisita Blvd., O’Shaughnessy Blvd., Panorama Dr., and Junipero Serra Blvd.
Many City pedestrians who are hit are victims of inattentive or drunk drivers. Conversely, pedestrians need to take responsibility for their own actions. Pedestrians often get hit walking against traffic signals or jaywalking. Eyes glued to smart phones — twittering, texting or, wearing ear buds — pedestrians become oblivious to surrounding traffic and walk in front of cars, buses, and bicycles, and amazingly, other pedestrians.
San Francisco’s pedestrians are also growing older. Approximately 14% of us are over the age of 65. Many older people are physically unable to cross the street as fast as they used to. Approximately 13% of the public is disabled and may need more time crossing the street.
The elderly, who may suffer from age-related hearing loss, often cannot hear bicyclists — who are themselves terrified of riding their bikes on the streets and violate the law by riding on sidewalks — approaching, due to state-of-the-art bicycle dérailleurs that emit no sound as bicycles shift gears; many of the elderly simply can’t hear bicycles approaching above the din of traffic and other City noise. Similarly, state-of-the-art skate boards now make little to no noise, and neither the elderly nor other pedestrians can hear whisper-quiet skate boards approaching.
No License to Kill
Unlike many other big cities, San Francisco does not require bicyclists to obtain a bicycle license, handing some bicyclists a non-existent license to kill. Having no basic skills test for bicyclists leads to bicyclists with no basic road skills.
Bicyclists have long been a menace for pedestrians. Bicyclists often don’t obey the rules of the road. City government’s zeal to become a “bike friendly” City has led to abysmal, non-existent traffic enforcement against bicyclists who flaunt basic traffic laws. San Francisco’s police officers routinely observe bicyclists running red lights and stop signs, or riding on sidewalks, without citing the bicyclists.
A red-light running bicyclist killed 68-year-old Dionette “Didi” Chenery in San Francisco. Ralph Ang, the 23-year-old bicyclist, pled guilty to vehicular manslaughter. Sutchi Hui, 71, was killed walking across Castro Street in a crosswalk at Market by Chris Bucchere, who ran a red light and later allegedly texted, “The cops took my bike. Hopefully they’ll give it back. The moral of this little story is: WYFH (wear your F@cking Helmet).” Bucchere — who has been charged with felony vehicular manslaughter — appears to have demonstrated little, if any, remorse, and appears to have missed the real “moral” of the story: Bicycles are vehicles, and bicyclists, like drivers of other vehicles, must obey traffic laws!
Pedestrians need to obey street signs and observe good judgment while they cross the street, while motor vehicle drivers and bicyclists need to travel at safe speeds at all times, need to be on the lookout for pedestrians, and need to stop violating traffic laws.
Pedestrians’ Danger of Death
In District 7, pedestrians may have the right-of-way, but they may be very smart to look both ways before entering traffic.
The sad pedestrian death toll in District 7 between December 2012 and April 2013:
Chinese citizen and tourist, Yuee Yao, 56 was killed at 8:50 p.m. on December 19 at the Twin Peaks Lookout. Her two sons were also injured. According to the San Francisco Examiner, 23-year-old San Francisco resident Gina Eunice was charged with gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
Ellen Barrett, 72, was killed by a MUNI driver on Lake Merced Boulevard at John Muir Drive at 4:30 p.m. “A preliminary investigation revealed the bus’ middle-half struck the senior as she walked in a crosswalk.” The intersection of John Muir and Lake Merced Boulevard, a high-speed motorway, is a perilous place for pedestrians. The crosswalk spans five, wide traffic lanes, and other than a small refuge island there are few measures to protect pedestrians and slow drivers down.
Hanren Chang, a 17-year-old Lowell High School student was hit by a car at 11:20 p.m. on March 2 walking north across Vale Avenue while crossing Sloat Boulevard. Vale Avenue is located eight blocks West of 19th Avenue. Ms. Chang was on her way home from celebrating her 17th birthday. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the male driver, Kieran Brewer of San Francisco, 29, stayed at the scene, and was arrested on suspicion of felony drunken driving and vehicular manslaughter.
There is a crosswalk at Vale and Sloat, but police officers did not know whether Chang was struck in the crosswalk. The intersection does not have stop lights, and there is no stop sign at that location on Sloat.
Tania Madfes, 68, and her husband David were returning home March 21 and were walking across Vicente Street at West Portal when a car struck them at 9:40 p.m. Mrs. Madfes died from her injuries. The driver, whom police have not identified, stopped and cooperated with investigators. According to David Madfes “I looked-up as we hit the ground and the walk sign was green.” Police did not arrest the driver, but will forward the case to the District Attorney for further investigation.
Becky Lee, 60, was walking in a crosswalk at the intersection of Judson Avenue and Edna Street at 6:58 p.m. on April 10 when a Dodge pick-up truck struck her. The 42-year-old woman who was driving the truck was not arrested, and remained at the accident scene where she cooperated with the police.
Drivers who accidentally hit and kill pedestrians, but who don’t flee the scene of the accident and aren’t intoxicated, usually aren’t arrested. San Francisco’s estimated annual cost for severe pedestrian injury is $15 million, and District 7’s annual cost is $5.15 million.
Newly-elected District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee has made pedestrian safety one of his top priorities. On April 4, Yee, an acting member of the Board of Supervisors’ Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee, held a hearing on pedestrian safety. Speakers included Cristina Olea (Department of Public Works), Ricardo Olea (Municipal Transportation Agency), Meagan Wier and Ana Validzic (Department of Public Health), and Anna LaForte (Municipal Transportation Authority).
Pedestrian safety is a very personal matter to Supervisor Yee. Prior to becoming a Supervisor, Yee was the President of the School Board. On December 27, 2006, Yee was in the intersection of Fourth and Bryant Streets, crossing Bryant at 10:00 p.m., and was hit by an out-of-town driver in a rental car making a left turn. Yee was severely injured, but has recovered and is now the District 7 Supervisor.
No one wants the current epidemic of cars and bicycles hitting pedestrians stopped more than Norman Yee. “I care deeply about pedestrian safety, and I’ve heard from many, many residents in District 7 who are also deeply concerned about this issue,” said Yee.
Yee has been working with District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener to help create a central clearinghouse for project disputes between agencies that are responsible for various aspects of City traffic. Currently, there is no formalized coordination between agencies when implementing pedestrian safety projects, which has caused delays in long-overdue traffic safety projects.
Although Yee’s hearing was centered on pedestrian safety throughout San Francisco, a great deal of the information presented pertained to District 7’s pedestrian safety. Many methods of making traffic safer for pedestrians were discussed by the SFMTA.
City’s Efforts to Improve Pedestrian Safety
Measures to improve safety at signalized intersections will include: 1) Upgrading signals to improve visibility; 2) Adding pedestrian signals that are missing; 3) Re-timing traffic signals; 4) Introducing regulatory changes, such as turn restrictions; 5) Removing parking at corners; 6) Improving pavement markings; and 7) Narrowing roadway width by implementing sidewalk extensions.
Yee will help to add new pedestrian signals at 18th Avenue and Taraval, 47th Avenue and Sloat, Howth and Geneva, and at Lake Merced and John Muir.
Pedestrian crossing times are being increased by approximately 30% Citywide. Regular crosswalk markings will be changed from two white horizontal lines to “continental” crosswalk markings that look like yellow or white railroad ties. Traffic-calming devices, such as speed bumps and road narrowing, will be increased.
Supervisor Yee’s legislation to add $130,357 to a $797,000 Caltrans grant for pedestrian safety was unanimously approved on March 5 by the Board of Supervisors. The grant money will help make safety improvements on Sloat Boulevard. Sadly, the Board also officially mourned the death of Henren Chang on March 5th.
Yee, the bill’s sponsor, stated that he hoped that the Sloat pedestrian safety grant improvements will help us to, “Never have to be in this situation again.”
The grant money will be used to make pedestrian safety improvements at three streets that intersect with Sloat Boulevard: Everglade Drive, Forest View Drive, and 23rd Avenue. In addition to adding more traffic signs and flashing crossing beacons, the grant will help pay for widening the sidewalks on Sloat to reduce the distance pedestrians have to cross at each intersection.
Vale Avenue, the street where Henren Chang was killed, is less than a block from Forest Hill Drive. San Francisco police installed a mobile speed-radar trailer near Sloat and Forest View Drive three days after Chang’s death.
District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang asked that the March 5 Board meeting be adjourned in memory of Henren Chang, who would be remembered by her friends and Lowell High school classmates as “a happy person, a great student, and a good friend.”
Please observe a moment of silence for all of District 7’s dead pedestrians. Then observe another moment of silence for dead or injured pedestrians in the City’s other ten districts, who face the same pedestrian safety issues as we do in District 7.
George Wooding, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods
SFTA Takes Charge
Cash Erodes CEQA’s Auto Congestion Standards
San Francisco’s Transportation Authority wants to stop utilizing car congestion and delays as a traffic measurement.
Buried deeply inside the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) transportation regulations is a traffic measurement called “Level of Service” (LOS). LOS was developed in 1970 as the fundamental building block of SF’s transportation. Now the Transportation Authority is advocating for a change to CEQA regulations.
The chief function of LOS is to measure the delay each car experiences at a particular intersection.
LOS is a simple measuring system of how new real estate developments and transportation plans impact car usage in SF. Car congestion and delay measurements are rated on a scale of “A,” being good traffic flow, to a low of “F,” which means unacceptable congestion.
Cars are constantly blamed for high greenhouse gas emissions by San Francisco transit agencies and the Department of Environment (DOE). Yet according to the DOE’s … study by ICF International, gasoline-using cars represent only 9% of green house gas emissions.””
Under current CEQA interpretations, LOS is a quality measure describing operational conditions within a traffic stream, generally in terms of such service measures as speed and travel time, freedom to maneuver, traffic interruptions, and comfort and convenience of transportation.
The City, its Transportation Authority, Planning Department, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Department of Energy all complain that LOS does not do a good job measuring environmental impacts.
These agencies believe that the LOS-based system needs to be replaced, as it supposedly will cause roads to be widened, sidewalks to shrink, crosswalks removed, dangerous bicycle lanes added, traffic lights to be retimed, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions levels increased.
In 1973, the City adopted a “Transit First” policy that gave planning priority to modes of transportation other than the automobile. The City’s Transit First policy expressly states that decisions related to streets and sidewalks “shall encourage the use of public rights-of-way by pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transit.”
The “Transit First” policy was the first step toward demonizing car usage, blaming cars for GHG emissions, and for steeply increasing fees to own cars.
Now that the Transportation Authority will be trying to replace the LOS system in the November 2014 general election, car congestion and delay will become a second-tier priority. Greater car congestion and delay is inevitable, and the City doesn’t care.
The San Francisco Transportation Authority — the City department that serves as the designated Congestion Management Agency (CMA) for San Francisco under state law — is trying hard to get rid of the old LOS system used by CEQA by creating a new CEQA transportation measurement system: Automobile Trips Generated (ATG).
ATG is based on measuring:
1) The number of new auto trips a new real estate development might generate, and
2) Charging developers throughout the City an arbitrary Transportation Sustainability Fee (TSF).
According to the Transportation Authority’s data, automobile travel still represents 56% of San Francisco’s daily trips, bicycles and pedestrians represent 26%, and public mass transit represents 18%. Further analysis shows that automobile usage would be even more dominant if the length of trips were taken into consideration, because motorized trips are longer on average than bike and pedestrian trips.
The TSF used to apply primarily to just large downtown developers to help subsidize the huge transportation costs of bringing workers downtown. Now, every developer throughout the City gets to pay an extra transportation fee.
For example, residential builders of housing and condominiums will now be charged a TSF of $5.53 per square foot for residential buildings. Over a 20-year period, the Transportation Authority hopes to collect $138.8 million in residential fees and $493.8 million in nonresidential fees, for a grand total of $632.6 million in TSF fees.
The current LOS system requires an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in cases when an initial study of a project indicates that removing an automobile lane in favor of a bicycle lane, or a transit lane, would likely delay private automobile traffic below a specific threshold. These EIRs are very costly and time consuming.
The many potential lawsuits from changing from a LOS system to an ATG system will represent substantial legal and cost risks.
The new ATG system will almost never require an EIR, because the TSF money collected by the Transportation Authority is considered to be a traffic mitigation charge. How clever: The Transportation Authority is abandoning environmental impacts on car congestion and delays, so they can charge developers for transportation money.
The Transportation Authority now believes that any reasonable measurement of transit sustainability will satisfy CEQA requirements.
If ATG replaces LOS, the Transportation Authority has the right to do whatever it wants with San Francisco’s streets. There is no person or agency in City government fighting for the rights of automobile drivers and their passengers. Slower car speeds, delays, and congestion will not be as important as wider bus lanes, bicycle lanes, sidewalks, and limited parking.
There are currently 379,898 cars registered in San Francisco, 61,755 trucks, 20,144 motorcycles and 8,536 trailers, for a grand total of 470,333 registered vehicles. And — no surprise here — only 320,000 legal parking spaces, and that’s before vehicles registered in other jurisdictions flood into San Francisco daily, competing for parking spots. Will developers next be required to pay Transportation Sustainability Fees for the cars from other jurisdictions that flood into San Francisco annually?
Cars certainly cause their share of congestion and delay, but they have been unfairly maligned and blamed for San Francisco’s GHG levels.
Cars are constantly blamed for high greenhouse gas emissions by San Francisco transit agencies and the Department of Environment (DOE). Yet according to the DOE’s own commissioned 2010 Municipal GHG Emissions study by ICF International, gasoline-using cars represent only 9% of San Francisco’s GHG.
DOE Director Melanie Nutter stated in a November 19, 2011 Mayor Lee press release (which announced that San Francisco’s GHG reductions were 15% lower in 2010 than in 1990) that “our citywide carbon reductions are the equivalent of taking 128,000 cars off the road, or avoiding the burning of 1.5 million barrels of oil every year.”
The reason that the 128,000 cars Nutter refers to is so high is because the 9% greenhouse gas emissions for cars is so low.
Additionally, why was Nutter so quick to blame cars for the reduction in Citywide GHG emissions? According to DOE records, when the fossil fuel plants at Hunters Point closed in 2006, and the Potrero plant closed in 2010, the City’s GHG level plummeted by 11.6%.
As a corollary, if 11.6% — fully three-quarters, or 77.3% — of the 15% GHG reduction over a 20-year period that Nutter boasted of is attributable to the closure of the two power plants, this suggests that only 3.4% of the GHG reduction came from other efforts across those 20 years, including curtailing driving. Is this the best San Francisco, and Nutter, can do without further punishing car owners?
Adam Stern, the DOE’s Climate Program Manager, forwarded another transportation graph which shows that DOE creatively combined cars and trucks into one category, and stated that the two combined categories represented 40% of San Francisco’s GHG. Stern conveniently stated that the DOE couldn’t delineate between the percentages of cars vs. trucks using gas until 2014. Does this mean that car owners are going to be scapegoated and bear the brunt, since the City won’t know until 2014 how much trucks are contributing to San Francisco’s GHG?
At a recent Transportation Authority meeting regarding the 19th Avenue Corridor, one citizen declared “that he did not care that cars would be delayed.”
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director (SFMTA) Director, Ed Reiskin recently stated, “While I think most San Franciscans believe in the principles of the transit-first policy, when you start talking about changing traffic, parking, or transit, it quickly becomes very personal for people.”
Car owners and local businesses are already starting to fight the SFMTA’s transit first proposals. The SFMTA’s plan to add bike lanes and eliminate 320 parking places between Union and McAllister streets was opposed by hundreds of outraged citizens who live in the Polk Street area. The SFMTA has shelved the plan for the time being.
Before the 30% of non-car-owning citizens rejoice at the proposed attempt to replace LOS with ATG, let’s take a look at the good things that gas powered automobiles give San Francisco:
• Approximately 33% of MUNI’s revenue is generated by car fees. Transit First and MUNI could not even function without the supportive revenue from cars. Can either Nutter, or the Board of Supervisors, seriously believe it’s prudent fiscal planning to cut out 128,000 cars on the street — fully 27.2% of San Francisco’s 470,333 vehicle licenses — and doing so will actually help Muni’s budget woes? Is the Board of Supervisors prepared to cut nearly 30% of Muni’s car fee-generated revenue (which represents 33% of its budget)?
• Cars reliably transport people to and from their destinations.
• Cars give us the ability to cheaply travel long distances.
• Cars provide jobs for the local economy.
• Cars allow families more mobility.
• Car fees are the driving force [no pun intended] behind almost every attempt to keep MUNI well-maintained and solvent. There are currently 28,063 parking meters in San Francisco. The SFMTA has an option to purchase an additional 10,000 parking meters. Sunday parking was just implemented.
The SFMTA will issue over $100 million in parking tickets in 2013. [Another corollary is that chopping 27.2% — 128,000 cars — may chop $27 million from Muni’s income (27% of the $100 million) generated by parking ticket revenue. Just saying.]
In 2011, Joy Houlihan, Deputy Director of Enforcement for the MTA, stated publically that MUNI revenues were down, so parking officers should issue more citations and bring in more money.
State Senator Mark Leno’s SB1492 became effective on January 1, 2013. This bill will allow San Francisco to increase its vehicle license tax (VLT) by 2%. The Board of Supervisors is desperate to pass the VLT, since it will increase San Francisco’s general fund revenue by $72 million annually.
Under the new VLT rules, a motorist with a vehicle valued at $30,000 will see their annual license fee increase from $195 to $600 if the 2% VLT is approved.
Now let’s take a look at what MUNI is giving us:
Averaging only 8.5 miles per hour, MUNI is already one of the slowest transit systems in the United States. Remember, the 8.5 mph is a blended average between MUNI light rail and surface buses. How slow is a surface bus really going?
As MUNI maintenance funds are constantly being siphoned-off by the Board of Supervisors for social projects such as free rides for children, the bus system is deteriorating rapidly. Just look at all the broken and inoperable escalators to Muni underground the length of Market Street. Apparently it’s better to have broken escalators so children can ride free.
A recent Transportation Agency report said MUNI was on time on just 59% of its runs in October, which falls far below (by almost 25%) the 1999 voter-mandated goal of an 85% on-time rate.
MUNI’s slow service and unreliable scheduling make San Franciscans want to get off of the bus, not on the bus. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s mainstream media recently reported that Muni’s plan to reduce passenger congestion inside its own vehicles is to encourage riders to walk, instead, which any sixth grader can calculate will reduce Muni’s revenue. It appears Muni’s own advice to its riders is to get off the bus, lost revenue be damned.
Cars are one of San Francisco’s biggest cash-cow sources of revenue. If the Transportation Authority replaces LOS with ATG, car drivers’ reward for living in the City will be higher costs, more congestion, slower ride times, and less parking. For the price they are paying, drivers deserve a much better deal.
Car owners should strongly oppose changing CEQA from a LOS-based to an ATG-based transportation measurement system by contacting your elected legislators and representatives.
George Wooding, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods
Wiener Slams The Door on Public Input
At a one hour meeting Friday March 1, District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener made it clear that his third draft of legislation “speaks for itself” and will not undergo further modification requested by a coalition of groups urging changes.
“Wiener’s legislation started as a solution looking for a problem,” said SFPC moderator Roland Salvato. “Then the Supervisor wasted his opportunity to work with a community coalition to add meaningful improvements … He used the input meetings as a ‘check the box’ exercise to satisfy the Planning Commission.”
Social Justice, Environmental and Preservation organizations coordinated by Our City campaign coordinator Eric Brooks enlisted lawyers and volunteers to evaluate and comment on Wiener’s legislation, initially announced at the Board of Supervisors in October and heard by the Planning Commission November 29.
Comments and feedback to the legislation was provided by groups such as the Sierra Club, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods (CSFN), the Wild Equity Institute, The Center for Biological Diversity, San Francisco Preservation Consortium, San Francisco Tomorrow and many others.
Wiener has gone on the record saying “CEQA is an important environmental protection statute that, at times, can be used not to protect the environment but rather to oppose projects having nothing to do with the environment.” When challenged to identify specific projects that have demonstrated abuse of the process, the Supervisor reiterated his belief that the current process is “vague and chaotic, favoring those who are experienced in the process at the expense of the general public.”
A November 29 memo issued by Environmental Review Officer Bill Wycko at the behest of the Historic Preservation and Planning Commissions identifies only 48 actual CEQA appeals within a three year period, a segment of time that would typically see more than 15,000 permit requests of the Planning Department.
“Wiener’s legislation started as a solution looking for a problem,” said SFPC moderator Roland Salvato. “Then the Supervisor wasted his opportunity to work with a community coalition to add meaningful improvements [to the CEQA legislation]. He used the input meetings as a ‘check the box’ exercise to satisfy the Planning Commission.”
The proposed legislation is to be heard at the Planning Commission Thursday March 14. It is scheduled to be heard at the Historic Preservation Commission Wednesday March 20. It is likely the legislation will go to the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee Monday March 25, and to the full Board of Supervisors for final discussion and approval Tuesday March 26.
Diddling With Our Environmental Review Laws
Wiener Attempts to Gut CEQA Appeals
So far, District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, has failed to demonstrate that his newly-proposed amendments to San Francisco’s environmental appeal laws are necessary. That’s not stopping him, as he continues tinkering with San Francisco’s open government laws.
Wiener’s legislative changes are primarily designed to reduce the amount of time citizens have to review and appeal environmental impacts to proposed development projects. Wiener seeks to restrict appeals regarding projects to a short time period, so that government and project developers can then go behind closed doors to modify projects without further citizen oversight. (Photo: Supervisor Scott Wiener)
Wiener’s attempt to “streamline” the public environmental appeal process looks more like an attempt to “steamroll” a favorable path for developers through SFs Planning Department.”
“Democracy dies behind closed doors,” as federal Judge Damon J. Keith wrote in a unanimous opinion for the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals concerning the Detroit Free Press v. Ashcroft case, concluding that “When government begins closing doors, it selectively controls information rightfully belonging to the people. Selective information is misinformation.”
The First Amendment framers “did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us,” in their efforts to protect the people against secret government. “The public’s interests are best served by open proceedings,” Keith noted.
Wiener’s proposal would slam the door shut, locking out many citizens, expanding secret government by limiting environmental appeals, preventing officials from having to answer citizens’ questions—adding to the excessive secrecy that already undermines SF’s government.
Last November Bill Wycko, an SF senior environmental planner wrote: “An important consideration beyond the amount of time that appeals add to different types of projects is the monetary and time cost of appeals.”
The Planning Department receives approximately 90% of its operating income from developers’ fees. The uncertainty of the public environmental appeals process is considered to be “bothersome,” as appeals cost the Planning Department time and money. How much money is involved is rarely discussed, but is thought to be a fraction of the total.
The Planning Department is already brimming with excess cash. According to Keith DeMartini, the department’s financial manager, “We’re projecting better than a $6 million surplus by the end of the fiscal year. We’ve seen more volume of development and more large projects.”
In a “Build, baby, build!” San Francisco, citizen appeals are considered to be a monkey wrench to development. Developers contribute money to politicians, who in turn help developers build projects. This time-honored “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” restricts citizen involvement to the barest possible minimum.
Wiener’s attempt to “streamline” the public environmental appeal process looks more like an attempt to “steamroll” a favorable path for developers through SFs Planning Department.
Wiener states that his legislative goal is to codify the environmental appeals process. Currently, public environmental appeals can be filed by average citizens throughout the life of any project. Wiener wants to limit the public’s ability to appeal to only 20 to 30 days after the first entitlement/permit is issued.
Once the public is shut out after 30 days, project malfeasance may then commence in earnest. For an example of malfeasance, just look to the Parkmerced development deal, over which four City supervisors—including Supervisor Wiener—were referred to the Ethics Commission for official misconduct, as a result of withholding 14 pages of project amendments from the public until after the Supervisors voted on the deal.
Wiener and the Planning Department are currently writing a third version of his legislation.
Planning projects often change. If a project changes after the appeal process has expired, how will the public receive notice of the changed projects details? The Planning Department could simply notify the public of project changes by placing the notification of change in a file. How will the public know when a project is changed? How can a changed project be appealed again?
While Wiener experiments with our participatory democracy, we should be asking if it is a good thing to have our environmental appeal rights limited by an overzealous and very ambitious former Deputy City Attorney.
Wiener—the most pro-development Supervisor, and newly-appointed chair of the Land Use Committee—swears he’s only trying to improve out-of-date legislation.
He claims, “This legislation is not about helping developers. They can navigate the appeals process. Largely, we are talking about small property owners who do the work. We want to create a predictable environmental appeals process. The more predictable the process, the less expensive it becomes.”
The real question: Can Wiener prove that his environmental amendments are even necessary?
Susan Brandt-Hawley, an environmental preservation attorney, wrote in the SF Bay Guardian’s September issue: “The truth is that while environmental review takes time and costs money, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process usually moves quickly. In terms of litigation, a recent report recounted 11 CEQA lawsuits filed against San Francisco last year, while many hundreds of projects were approved in the City. A more in-depth analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California found that only one CEQA lawsuit is filed per 354 projects, a fraction of a percent.”
The fraction is actually less than three-tenths of one percent. Wiener’s proposed legislation to restrict CEQA appeals seems to be taking a sledge hammer to pound a nail.
When asked for data, the SF Planning Department didn’t even know the number of CEQA appeals, negative declarations, or exemptions filed last year before the Board of Supervisors. More importantly, the Supervisors have rejected every environmental appeal in recent memory, despite Wiener’s claim that the Board approved one appeal relating to a Telegraph Hill development project.
Sporting such a miniscule track-record of appeal reviews, Wiener needs to demonstrate that his CEQA legislation is even necessary, or beneficial, to the public.
California Environmental Quality Act
In 1971, the State of California passed an environmental bill of rights called the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). CEQA became law because many California developers and city projects were deemed environmentally harmful. Prior to 1971, the public had little legal say over, and no way to appeal, environmental impact decisions concerning private and public projects.
CEQA allows us to “look before we leap,” protecting us from projects that may harm the environment, public health, or our quality of life, by requiring project proponents disclose and minimize environmental impacts. It also helps find better environmental alternatives to proposed projects.
The CEQA process ensures that we can participate in identifying and solving environmental problems, alongside self-interested project applicants and City Hall insiders.
CEQA applies to any discretionary governmental planning decision. Ours is the only city or county in California where every permit is discretionary — in San Francisco, a CEQA appeal can occur for any planning permit.
We should be aware of CEQA laws as they apply to our own house, our neighbor’s house, City projects, and large development projects. CEQA projects that are approved will affect City transportation, infill housing density, water and air quality, soil, fire and public safety services, and the character of our local neighborhood.
Different versions of Wiener’s CEQA amendments were previously submitted by former City Supervisor’s Fiona Ma and Michela Alioto-Pier; both former proposals failed and were never adopted.
To help prove his case for CEQA reform, Wiener continues to assert that CEQA should not exist as a tool to delay projects. “We make it very easy for one person to delay a project for a significant amount of time,” Wiener claims. He often cites Shannon Gallagher’s late appeal to San Francisco’s Board of Appeals regarding the revamp of Lafayette Park as an example of an appeal for the sake of delay.
Interestingly, the San Francisco Board of Appeals has no jurisdiction over CEQA-related appeals. The time period for CEQA appeals regarding Lafayette Park had already expired by the time Gallagher filed her appeal.
San Francisco Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius wrote two columns about Gallagher’s Lafayette Park appeal. Wiener persists on making Gallagher a poster-child for the abuse of CEQA appeals that he asserts are designed just to be obstructionist.
“Sadly, I don’t go to the dog runs in the park anymore, after Nevius’ articles. I was publicly attacked on multiple occasions, and police reports filed. People yell profanities at me. One man left a hand print on my forearm, and a woman threw dog excrement at me,” Gallagher, who worked with the Pacific Heights Residents Association said.
Some of the impacts of Wiener’s new CEQA amendments, should they pass:
• The 20 to 30 day notification period will make it difficult for citizens and neighborhood groups to review projects. Project appeals may actually increase, because people will not have enough time to understand the ramifications of projects. This increases the risk of approving projects whose environmental impacts have not been thoroughly considered.
• Project notification now becomes vital. If citizens receive late notification or there are clerical errors, there is no time to review a project or development. Wiener’s call for weaker notice requirements by City officials and stricter appeal procedures for the community will result in citizens not being informed of certain determinations, or their right to appeal them.
• The language and procedures for filing a San Francisco CEQA appeal will become much more complicated, incomprehensible, and more difficult for people filing appeals. Clerks can disallow appeals that are not accurately filled out.
• Currently, any person who has submitted written or oral comments on a draft environmental impact review (EIR) may appeal the Planning Commission’s certification of the EIR to the Board of Supervisors. Wiener’s proposed ordinance eliminates this right. This means that the Board of Supervisors would become the final CEQA decision-making body, and the separate public appeals process would be eliminated.
• The new CEQA language will be made vaguer and weaker. Wording such as “will” or “shall” will be changed to “may,” permitting a new discretionary loophole. The Wiener amendments replace the “fair argument” standard with a higher standard of proof, called “substantial evidence.” By adopting a higher appeal threshold, the number of citizen appeals will be restricted. Although San Francisco may not even have any constitutional authority to change the “fair argument” legal standard set by State law, this hasn’t stopped or deterred Wiener.
“The Amendments arguably would better reflect state law and streamline the CEQA process for various projects. However, they pose a substantial risk of significantly curtailing public participation and the ability of public officials to make well-informed decisions, contrary to the purpose of CEQA,” attorneys at UC’s Hastings College of the Law concluded:
Wiener claims that he has been reaching out to citizen groups for months, but no one seems to know who Wiener has talked to, or when. His real “dialogue” with citizens doesn’t appear to have started until after the Planning Commission’s November 28 meeting.
The Planning Commission voted 6 to 0, rejecting Wiener’s amendments, because they were 1) Confused by his legislative changes, and 2) Wiener appeared to have little, if any, citizen input or support for his proposed legislation.
Strangely, Wiener started out his comments to the Planning Commission by insulting citizen attendees, stating “Today you’ll hear quite a bit of hyperbolic rhetoric about how this legislation somehow undermines or guts CEQA and how it will cause the sky to collapse onto the earth.” His opening remarks were both a poor way to build consensus among neighborhood groups, and a poor way to convince Planning Commissioners of the rightness of his proposed legislation.
Wiener’s attempt to “fix” CEQA is eerily reminiscent of what went wrong with Proposition E, Wiener’s failed November 2011 ballot measure to allow the Board of Supervisors or the Mayor permission to amend or appeal legislation previously approved by voters.
First, Wiener finds, or creates, a problem. Then, he tries to simplify/streamline or solve the problem by making it more legislatively complex to “benefit the public.” Lastly, he places restrictions on the public to solve the problem he has magnified. Wiener is quickly developing a history of creating legislation that places limits on citizens’ rights.
Attorney Mary Miles may have said it best in her November 15 letter to the Planning Commission: “The purpose of [Wiener’s] proposed ordinance is to ‘streamline’ approvals, by denying the public adequate time to appeal actions of the Planning Commission and other decision-making bodies to the Board of Supervisors, by limiting the public’s right to be heard, by imposing restrictions on such appeals that violate CEQA, and by imposing burdens that limit the public’s right to participate in the CEQA process. The proposed legislation defeats CEQA’s principal purposes of informed self-government, participation in the decision-making process, and protection of the environment.”
San Franciscans need to unite with other groups alarmed by Wiener’s legislative agenda before he steamrolls the door shut any further, curtailing citizen involvement in our own democracy.
George Wooding Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods
Time To Say Goodbye To Supervisor Sean Elsbernd
Whether you like him, hate him, or are just ambivalent about him, it’s time to say goodbye to District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd. What follows is an interview with him, kindly granted.
After eight years as our District Supervisor, Elsbernd has termed-out and will be replaced by newly-elected District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee. Yee, a progressive representing San Francisco’s most conservative District, may have a hard time replacing Elsbernd. In his prior job on the school board, Yee only had to know about the school system. Now, Yee will have to understand dozens of issues and their political ramifications to himself, the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the media, and constituents he will serve in D-7 and citywide.
“I failed to put myself in check. I was too cocky. It was heady stuff, and sometimes I missed the big picture…”
About the new Supervisor, Elsbernd said, “I wish Norman the best, but I hope he knows what he is getting into.”
A skyrocketing career: Taking a job that is so new that it still does not have an official job title, Elsbernd will now be running Senator Dianne Feinstein’s Northern California operations. According to Elsbernd, “I will be her [Feinstein’s] eyes and ears. I will also be helping her with legislation.”
Elsbernd’s wife of seven years is Jennifer Johnston. Johnston, the Chief of Policy at San Francisco’s main Department of Human Resources for the last five years, was just appointed on September 17 to be the Executive Officer of San Francisco’s Civil Service Commission, which is charged with overseeing the City’s merit-based employment system, employment discrimination complaints, outsourcing of work previously performed by City employees, and oddly, among other duties, setting the salaries and benefits of all City and County elected officials.
After long days at the office, Elsbernd and Johnston have their hands full with a rambunctious three-year-old boy named Michael.
Being the leader of San Francisco’s block of moderate supervisors (Elsbernd, Carmen Chu [D4], Scott Wiener [D-8], and Mark Farrell [D2]), Elsbernd currently serves as Vice-Chair of the Rules Committee and Chair of the Transportation Authority’s Finance Committee. Additionally, he sits on the Health Service System Board, and the Retirement Board serving city employees and city retirees. Elsbernd has also served on the Budget and Finance Committee.
“Former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin placed me on the Budget and Finance Committee. The current Board of Supervisors President (David Chiu) has decided not to trust me with that honor.”
Elsbernd also has had the distinction of nominating Edwin Lee for Mayor of San Francisco. When asked why he nominated Lee, Elsbernd said, “I nominated Ed because I couldn’t get six votes for my first choice. Ed Lee was my second choice. I was concerned that the progressives on the Board would get the six votes required to elect a Mayor.”
“Nominating a new Mayor was like playing Jeopardy. The faster you pushed the button at your desk, the quicker you would be recognized. I wanted to get Ed’s name locked in right away. I was selected second. I had been worried that Supervisor David Chiu might vote with the Board’s progressives and strategized that if I nominated Ed Lee, Supervisor Chiu would not stand in the way of the appointment of San Francisco’s first Chinese Mayor. In the Chinese community, Ed is highly respected. Ed was nominated for mayor and won.”
Elsbernd said, “I absolutely love District Seven. It’s a unique community out here; people work together, the different neighborhoods, the parks, West Portal Avenue, Stonestown. I intend to stay and I am not moving to Fairfield (referring to former Supervisor Chris Daly’s move to Fairfield while still in office). I’m a third-generation Saint Ignatius Preparatory College (SI) graduate and I want my son, Michael, to be a fourth-generation SI graduate.”
Elsbernd grew-up in Miraloma Park on a cul-de-sac called Vista Verde, just off of Stillings Street. “Vista Verde always had 15 or so kids playing on the street, and we played every sport. I went to St. Cecilia’s grammar school and then on to SI. I was a good kid and never got into any trouble. I had a great childhood. I had a tremendous time and my folks gave me a wonderful life.”
At SI, Elsbernd was the captain of the cross country team and the track team. “This was SI’s first co-ed class. Supervisor Mark Farrell was in the class one year ahead. Forty-five pounds ago, I was really fast. I was the league champion in the 800 meters. The saddest day of my adolescent life was when I got cut from the basketball team,” he said.
From an early age, Elsbernd had always loved politics. After graduating from SI, he attended Claremont McKenna College, a private, co-educational liberal arts college. This college offered a semester internship program in Washington, D.C. that allowed him to work in Congressman Art Agnos’ office for his Spring, Summer, and Fall terms. Elsbernd graduated in 1997 from Claremont McKenna, and then graduated from the University of California’s Hastings College of Law in 2000.
In 2000, Elsbernd was hired as then D-7 Supervisor Tony Hall’s legislative aide. Elsbernd worked for Hall for three years, and was then hired in January 2004 by Mayor Gavin Newsom to serve as Newsom’s liaison to the Board of Supervisors.
City Politics 101 In 2004, Mayor Newsom transferred former Supervisor Anne Marie Conroy, who was then administering the former Naval Base at Treasure Island, to head San Francisco’s Office of Emergency Services. In August 2004, Newsom then tapped Supervisor Tony Hall, who was then only eight months into his second term as D-7 Supervisor, to quit his job as Supervisor to become the new head of Treasure Island. Hall wanted the job due to a huge increase in salary, but City policies prohibit elected officials from being appointed to non-elected City positions for at least a year. Hall needed approval from San Francisco’s Ethics Commission to take Newsom’s Treasure Island appointment.
Fortunately for Hall and Newsom, the then-president of the Ethics Commission was Mike Garcia — yes, the same Mike Garcia that Tony Hall had helped appoint to the Ethics Commission three years earlier, and the same Mike Garcia that Sean Elsbernd had supported for District 7 Supervisor this year. Garcia and the Ethics Commission waived the one-year waiting period and “fast tracked” Hall’s appointment as Director of Treasure Island.
Hall was appointed immediately, allowing Mayor Newsom to immediately appoint his 28-year-old aide, Sean Elsbernd as District 7 Supervisor. The timing of Elsbernd’s appointment is important; he was appointed just one day before the deadline to file for running for Hall’s District 7 seat. The timing of Hall’s appointment allowed Newsom to appoint Elsbernd, so Elsbernd could claim he was the incumbent District 7 Supervisor during the election cycle.
On the day that Elsbernd was sworn into office he could barely raise his right hand, due to the crutches he was using for a broken leg. Playing shortstop for Supervisor Chris Daly’s baseball team, Elsbernd was backing-up to catch a fly ball when he stepped into a gopher hole. This might help to explain why he has been so strident about placing artificial turf at the Beach Chalet fields.
Elsbernd freely admits that suddenly becoming a 28-year-old district supervisor was a difficult adjustment. “My greatest challenge was I was young and unproven. In hindsight, I swung and missed on personality. People wondered, ‘Who is this 28-year-old punk who just got elected and is full of himself?’ Was I vested in the district issues? Did I understand the issues? Did I have enough respect for the office? I sometimes had a hard time generating constituent respect.”
“I failed to put myself in check. I was too cocky. It was heady stuff, and sometimes I missed the big picture,” he said.
Maybe worse, there was a lingering perception that Elsbernd was Gavin Newsom’s political puppet. Supervisor Chris Daly even called Elsbernd the Mayor’s field marshal. “I had absolute autonomy from Gavin Newsom. I could vote how I wanted. Gavin Newsom never came to me and asked for a vote. This was an easy attack by my opponents. I usually agreed with Gavin Newsom’s positions, and District 7 agreed with those positions, as well.
“After eight years in office, I now have a more mature understanding of how to relate to people and situations.”
Elsbernd just celebrated his seventh wedding anniversary. “The one time you could accuse me of misusing my office was the night that Jennifer and I became engaged. I told Jennifer that we needed to go to a party at the Hall of Flowers. When we got to the Hall, it was closed and all of the lights were off. I jiggled the door handle and surprisingly the door opened. We lit some candles and soon discovered a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice and two glasses. I got down on one knee and asked her to marry me. She accepted.”
Elsbernd quickly learned the ropes of being a District Supervisor. “Being a Supervisor is not rocket science. If you can’t do the job after six months, you don’t need eight years. Term limits are a crock. If you can’t figure the job out, you shouldn’t be there.
“Of course, I had already had three years working with the Board (of Supervisors), either working with Tony Hall or Gavin Newsom before I became a Supervisor. In 12 years, I may have missed a total of three board meetings.” He knew the rules and the protocol, and took pride in reading the legalese of all of the Board of Supervisors’ proposed legislation.
“To be effective as a Supervisor, you can’t pick too many projects. If you try to do everything, you’re not going to accomplish anything. I focused on (City) pensions, the Capital Planning Committee, retiree health (care), and MUNI. Another thing many people won’t believe is that I tried to make City Hall more responsive to folks.
“I didn’t fix the problems with pension (reform). We only made small changes. To curb union costs, I talked about issues that had not been talked about for awhile. I tried to find common ground and I carried a lot of water for the police officers because other cities were paying police officers more.
“The only pat on the back I would get from the unions would probably be with a knife. The unions did not consider me a friend.
“Housing was not a priority. Projects like Parkmerced initially needed to develop a master plan to stop having Parkmerced parcels sold off.
“The Laguna Honda Hospital (LHH) general obligation bond (GOB) project never had the necessary resources to fulfill the bond’s promises. The LHH bond promises in the late 1990’s were political salesmanship. The good thing to come out of the LHH problems was the Capital Planning Committee. Now, a lot more planning has to go into each GOB.
“The Capital Planning Committee has a ten-year program that coordinates (timing of issuing) City GOBs. City College, BART, and the Unified School District have not yet become part of the Capital Planning Committee. The coordination of bond issuance between the City and these agencies is piss poor.
“I am also very proud of my annual crab feeds, which have generated $750,000 for charities, and the golf tournaments at Harding Park. Now the golf course is beautiful and a region-wide accomplishment that is great for the residents. I was thrilled to be part of Harding Park’s redevelopment.”
Politicians screw things up: “I also wanted to work well with City staff. City staff tries to produce work at a “best standards” level. When politicians intervene with the staff, work product suffers. More often than not we (politicians) tend to screw things up. For example, it would be smart to eliminate bus stops from the end of every block. MUNI would become more efficient, but politicians keep MUNI from implementing this program.
“Another great example would be Supervisor David Campos’ plan to spend MUNI repair and maintenance money on free MUNI rides for kids. This is a perfect example of what’s wrong with City government. People’s heartstrings get pulled, and programs get approved that never go away. Core services are ignored. San Francisco doesn’t even have a means test regarding children’s income (to document eligibility, or need, for free transportation). Everything is so dogmatic and makes no sense.”
Regrets: “There are a few times I wish that I had acted differently. The way I handled a very contentious land-use issue at 800 Brotherhood in 2005 has always bothered me. Approximately 160 market rate homes were going to be built at 800 Brotherhood Way. I knew that there was a large amount of community concern regarding this project and I only had one meeting. I learned that you don’t wait for the issue to come to you. I should have had more outreach and addressed as many concerns as possible. The project developer should have also done more outreach.
“I was right about 800 Brotherhood Way, but I still have people who were involved in this project who won’t acknowledge me, or talk to me.
“I also regret that I listened to neighbors and tried to stop a T-Mobile antenna tower that was going to be built on top of the Safeway located at the corner of 17th Avenue and Taraval. T-Mobile sued the City, and the City lost. San Francisco ended-up paying T-Mobile a settlement and they got their antenna.”
How would you like to be remembered? “I hope that people will remember me for the hard work. I knew the legislation. I was accessible and responsive. Someone who respected the fiduciary trust that was placed in me. I will move on — I don’t need to write a (newspaper) column.”
George Wooding, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods
Jettison the Ethics Commission
The quasi-judicial Ethics Commission has failed the citizens of San Francisco once again. After it’s latest performance in the Ross Mirkarimi trial, the Commission should be abolished. (Editor: This is Part 2 of George Wooding’s Report).
Mayor Lee’s attempt to get rid of an elected official — Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi — for “official misconduct” has only served to weaken Lee’s already fading political capital and popularity, and demonstrate how useless the Ethics Commission really is.
Originally, the 1993 Proposition “K” that created the Ethics Commission, was placed on the ballot and was supported by a 7 – 4 vote by the Board of Supervisors. The Commission was established by the voters to serve citizen’s interests. Now, due to the Commission’s funding and selection process, the agency only serves the interests of politicians and the politically influential.
In 1995, San Francisco voters approved adding a definition of “official misconduct” to the City Charter, which was again expanded in 2003. These newly-created and expanded definitions of “official misconduct” became so vague as to be almost meaningless. The Ethics Commission, in effect, became arbitrators of what the vague and confusing “official conduct” terminology meant.
For example, does “official misconduct” only apply to what you do at work, but not at home? Like Mirkarimi, what if you had not yet sworn an oath of office? What is “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith, and right action” ?
Mayor Lee initially had the unspoken support of the five Ethics Commissioners who had been appointed by the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, the City Attorney, the District Attorney, and the City Controller — the same appointing officials who determine the Ethics Commission’s budget.
The Ethics Commissioners are all attorneys, with the exception of Beverly Hayon, a retired public relations professional appointed by Mayor Lee. Chairperson Benedict Hur, Dorothy Liu, Paul Renne, and Jamienne S. Studley — along with Hayon — were primed and ready to convict Mirkarimi.
One nagging question throughout the Mirkarimi trial had been whether Mayor Lee was after Mirkarimi — an elected public official — for political reasons, or was he trying to actually uphold domestic violence laws? Clearly, Mayor Lee does not like Ross Mirkarimi or Mirkarimi’s politics. Would Lee have acted the same, had Sheriff candidates Chris Cunnie or Paul Miyamoto won the election and found themselves in the same predicament as Mirkarimi?
Mayor Lee said all of the right things regarding domestic violence, but the Mirkarimi case gave the Mayor an opportunity to take out an opponent and broadly expand his personal power through the Ethics Commission. If Mayor Lee could make any of the overly broad, vague, or ambiguous definitions of “official misconduct” stick, he would acquire a powerful new tool to get rid of any City official — whether they were elected or appointed — who committed minor infractions on or off of the job. Of course, Lee would still need nine Board of Supervisor votes to make this work.
No one ever had a more stacked deck at the Ethics Commission than Mayor Lee. He had a vaguely-worded “official misconduct” Charter definition, a villain named Ross Mirkarimi (who had already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment), the unquestioned loyalty of the Ethics Commissioners, and the trial ground rules and format set-up by the City Attorney’s office.
On March 21, 2012, Mayor Edwin Lee transmitted to the Ethics Commission charges of official misconduct relating to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. So began the Ethics Commission’s kangaroo trial.
With all of their advantages, Deputy City Attorneys Peter Keith and Sherri Kaiser — who represented the Mayor — were often ineffective. They overplayed their case against Mirkarimi and were continually seeking to expand the City’s vague definitions of “official misconduct,” while introducing defamatory definitions unsupported by direct evidence. Keith and Kaiser looked like amateurs.
Ethics Commissioner Paul Renne — the husband of former City Attorney Louise Renne — called much of the testimony elicited by Keith and Kaiser: “Clearly hearsay, clearly having the intention of poisoning the well. A first year lawyer should know that much of [ the testimony] is inadmissible and should not have been given to us.“ For his part, Mayor Lee just kept claiming that Ross Mirkarimi “beats his wife.”
In stark contrast, Mirkarimi’s attorneys David Waggoner and Shepard Kopp were great. They kept exposing the vagueness of San Francisco’s “official Misconduct” Charter language. Kopp eviscerated the Mayor on the witness stand, and showed that the Ethics Commission proceedings were “far too susceptible to the vagaries of politics.” Waggoner stated “the punishment does not fit the crime,” and most importantly, “You must decide whether to uphold or overturn the will of the voters.”
Prior to the Mirkarimi trial, the Ethics Commission had never even held a complete misconduct trial for an elected official. After operating for 19 years and spending approximately $50 million in taxpayer money, San Francisco has had only had three Ethics trials, and owns a horrible track record for handling whistleblower cases and Sunshine Ordinance violations. The Ethics Commission also keeps track of lobbyist activities and election oversight (albeit badly) — a job the Elections Department used to handle.
Although very likeable, Mayor Lee is no angel. He lied about running for Mayor. Most politicians lie or obfuscate, but Lee’s big lie allowed him to first become the interim mayor of San Francisco, and then the actual mayor.
During his Ethics Commission testimony, Mayor Lee was hammered by Mirkarimi’s attorney Sheppard Kopp. Mayor Lee was accused of lying when Kopp asked him if he had consulted with any members of the Board of Supervisors about his decision to suspend Mirkarimi, and for his answer regarding whether someone potentially associated with the Mayor offered the Sheriff a lower-ranking position in exchange for his resignation. Lying while testifying under oath is a felony called perjury.
Mercifully for Lee, someone called in a fake bomb threat outside of City Hall and the Mayor suddenly had to leave the stand. No one else inside or outside of City Hall was evacuated. The convenient timing of this bomb threat saved a drowning man — Mayor Lee.
Had Mayor Lee been testifying in another venue besides the Ethics Commission, he might have been charged with perjury. On July 19, the Ethics Commission denied Mirkarimi’s request for the issuance of subpoenas for four witnesses who would have testified that much of what Mayor Lee said was false. The subpoenas were denied by the Ethics Commission and Lee was spared.
Prior to the Mirkarimi case, Mayor Lee had a curious record of following-up on Ethics Commission recommendations.
The Ethics Commission recommended over a year ago that Mayor Lee should consider removing Jewelle Gomez, president of the Library Commission, for behavior deemed inappropriate conduct for a public official. Ethics Commission chairperson Ben Hur wrote this to Mayor Lee and is still waiting for a reply: “The Commission voted to recommend that you consider taking steps to remove Ms. Gomez from her appointed office for her conduct. The Ethics Commission has not received a response from your office as to any action you may have taken regarding Ms. Gomez.” When will Mayor Lee respond to the Ethics Commission — never?
In May, Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White was declared a “deadbeat divorcee” and had her $302,000 annual salary garnished for $3,300 monthly for non-payment of spousal support. In 2005, Hayes-White’s husband called police to report that his wife hit him over the head with a pint glass. Another case of domestic violence from a City official that was — selectively — never referred to the Ethics Commission.
Does anyone remember the Ethics trial after former Mayor Gavin Newsom admitted to having a substance abuse problem, and sleeping with his best friend’s wife while she was working for him in the Mayor’s office? Selectively, there was no Ethics trial of Newsom.
Mayor Lee carpet-bombed Mirkarimi with charges such as “witness dissuasion,” “impeding a police investigation,” “abuse of office,” “engaging in a pattern of abuse toward women,” and “lying to officers.” The Ethics Commission cited insufficient evidence on all charges, except the false imprisonment count, even when using the “preponderance of evidence” standard that is lower than the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal cases.
On August 16, the Ethics Commission ruled 4 to 1 that Mirkarimi had committed official misconduct by falsely imprisoning his wife. This was identical to the charge that Mirkarimi had pled to on March 13. Six months of wasted time, energy, and over $1 million in City Attorney costs.
After the trial, Mayor Lee released the following statement: “I am pleased that the members of the Ethics Commission, following a careful review of the evidence, and in the face of a sustained campaign to distract and misdirect them from the facts, agreed with me that Ross Mirkarimi’s actions constitute official misconduct and fall below the ethical conduct we expect of the sheriff, our top law enforcement officer.”
Although four of the five Ethics Commissioners dutifully worked to help Mayor Lee and the City Attorney’s office expand the interpretation of “official misconduct” to a point where just about any elected official or any City employee could be suspended by the Mayor at any time for official actions or private actions for just about any major or minor infraction, Ethics Commission chair Benjamin Hur was brilliant.
Hur was the lone dissenting vote. Hur felt that the City should take the narrowest view of “official misconduct,” not the broadest. Hur stated: “If we don’t find a nexus to the relationship of the duties (official misconduct), then we are opening this provision up to abuse and manipulation down the road in a way that we’re not really going to like. I have grave concerns about what the next case looks like unless we interpret this in a way that I think the voters intended, and also that is narrow and understandable for elected officials.” Thank you for your intelligence and bravery in the face of overwhelming political pressure, Mr. Hur.
The Ethics Commission is a broken toy that should be taken out of the Mayor’s hands.
On October 9, Ross Mirkarimi was re-instated at the Board of Supervisors following a 7 – 4 vote, denying the Mayor the nine votes needed to remove Mirkarimi permanently. Supervisors Christine Olague, David Campos, John Avalos, and Jane Kim voted for Mirkarimi, but they were all really voting against the vague “official misconduct” charges that the Ethics Committee, Mayor Lee, and the City Attorney had presented to the Board of Supervisors.
According to the voting Supervisor’s testimony, they were not voting in favor of Ross Mirkarimi, but against the Ethics Commission’s vague interpretation of “official misconduct” and the fact that the Commission’s process could be politically abused to remove elected City officials.
Deputy City Attorney Kaiser, speaking before the Board of Supervisors, wanted the “official misconduct” statute to be interpreted as broadly as possible. Board of Supervisors president David Chiu stated: “Having clarity in the law seems to make sense.” [Despite this, Chiu then voted to support the Mayor.] Supervisor Mark Farrell stated to Kaiser: “Your position seems to me to be very contradictory.” [Despite this, Farrell then voted to support the Mayor.]
Supervisor David Campos said to Kaiser: “I don’t think the analysis makes me comfortable. She (Kaiser) said the interpretation was ‘nimble,’ but I don’t know the difference between ‘nimble’ and ‘vague,’ and I think that they are one and the same.”
Supervisor Jane Kim didn’t mince words with Kaiser when Kim stated that she would like to see a “bright line rule or test (for “official misconduct”). Kim went on and asked: “Then any misdemeanor the Sheriff pleads to is official misconduct, is that right?” Kaiser answered “No.” Kim replied: “What is to guide us in the future?” Kaiser responded by saying: “It is a discretionary decision.” Kim finished by stating: “Does that open us up to the vagueness issue, which would make the clause unconstitutional?”
There is no way to delineate what the current definition of “official misconduct” means, and no way to predict how the definition may change over time. Our current system allows only the Mayor the “discretion” to decide what is or isn’t “official misconduct.” Do voters really want to expand the “discretion” any Mayor may use to define official misconduct, since discretion is already ripe for abuse of power?
Eulogy for the Ethics Commission: Mayor Lee failed to successfully prosecute Mirkarimi. Had he not controlled the Ethics Commission and had influence over the City Attorney, Mayor Lee could have been prosecuted for perjury charges. His own appointee, Supervisor Christine Olague, betrayed him and voted to support Ross Mirkarimi. Mayor Lee has become a dysfunctional leader as he refuses to respond to Mirkarimi’s offer to sit down and talk. Lee no longer wants to work with the Supervisors who voted against Mirkarimi’s conviction (wasn’t he once trumpeted as a consensus builder?) His popularity with the public has been greatly diminished. Conclusion: The Ethics Commission has been a disaster for Mayor Lee.
The Ethics Commission is a broken political toy that should be taken out of the Mayor’s and politician’s hands. The Commission no longer serves the citizens of San Francisco — it just serves City politicians — and it doesn’t even know what “official misconduct” means. It’s time for the Ethics Commission to be retired.
George Wooding, Coalition for SF Neighborhoods
VOTE NO on Prop B: Neighborhood Parks Bond
San Francisco neighborhoods no longer trust the Recreation and Park Department (RPD) to act in the best interests of the neighborhoods. The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods (CSFN) just voted unanimously against supporting Proposition B, the Park’s Bond.
The Park’s Bond is a General Obligation Bond requesting $195 million in property taxes; $34.5 million will go to the Port Authority and $160.5 million will go to the RPD.
Traditionally, San Francisco taxes have paid for the RPD. As San Francisco public employees’ salaries and beneﬁts continued to increase, City Hall has deliberately decreased the amount of public funds that RPD receives through the City budget’s General Fund.
Because of this lack of General Funds:
1.) the RPD deferred maintenance and repairs throughout the park system, and
2.) issued a $110 million General Obligation Bond (GOB) in 2000, and another $185 million GOB in 2008, and now this proposed $195 million GOB in 2012.
When the RPD finally announced its plan for D-7, the largest geographic district in San Francisco, the District had only received $2 million — about 1% of the entire bond. This bond money is earmarked for Lake Merced. Further, the RPD absolutely refuses to tell anyone what they intend to do with this $2 million until after the bond is passed.”
The current GO Bond was originally scheduled for 2014, but according to Dawn Kamalanathan, the RPD Director of Planning, the bond must be moved forward so that the RPD’s planning staff could stay on the RPD payroll. To date, only 51% of the 2008 bond money has been spent; 49% — $73.5 million — remains unspent, and several 2008 bond projects will continue through 2013.
Kamalanathan was in such a hurry to build an acceptable RPD bond that many of her early presentations to neighborhood groups were inaccurate. She promised groups such as the WTPCC that she would come back and either ask for their opinions, or explain what the RPD was going to do in District-Seven (D-7). The WTPCC never heard from her again. Kamalanathan continued by telling the city Capital Planning Committee — the oversight committee for the issuance of long-term city debt — how well the meetings were going with the city neighborhoods.
When the RPD finally announced its plan for D-7, the largest geographic district in San Francisco, the District had only received $2 million — about 1% of the entire bond. This bond money is earmarked for Lake Merced. Further, the RPD absolutely refuses to tell anyone what they intend to do with this $2 million until after the bond is passed. Neighbors want to know what they are paying for before the park bond is passed.
$61.5 million of Proposition B will not be dedicated to a specific project until after the bond is passed.
The RPD also told selected D-7 citizens that they might also do something with Miraloma Playground. This is extremely doubtful, as Miraloma Park is not on the proposed Neighborhood Park sites list. If your park is not on the list, the RPD will do almost nothing for your park. There are many good people who have been promised park improvements who are about to be disappointed. These false RPD promises are a tactic to get citizens throughout San Francisco to support the bond.
Projects that are on the parks improvement list and are rebuilt may end up like J.P. Murphy Park. This D-7 park cost the voters $3.9 million. Just after the refurbished park was opened, the RPD fired the recreation and park director. The RPD then claimed that the park was “underutilized” and tried to install a tenant who would pay $1,500 per month. This is a good example of how the RPD is trying to take open park space away from the public and use these public assets to generate revenue.
The biggest RPD bond showdown in D-7 is the battle between a citizen’s group called the Forest Alliance and the RPD’s Native Area Plants (NAP) program. NAP is a program that planned to cut as many as 1,600 trees on Mt. Davidson and replant the mountain with native plants. To protect the newly planted native plants, whole areas of Mt. Davidson would need to be fenced off to keep people and dogs from harming the plants.
Surrounding neighborhoods were very unhappy with the NAP program, as both large and small trees were scheduled to be cut down. When neighbors purchased their homes near a forest they wanted to keep the forest — not have it clear-cut and replanted with grass, shrubs, and baby oak trees.
Forest Alliance wants to halt the destruction of city park trees and reverse NAP plans that would deny public access to park land.
With over 3,000 members, Forest Alliance was too strong for the RPD to ignore in a park bond election year. Hat-in-hand, District Eight Supervisor Scott Wiener struck a deal with Forest Alliance — that if they did not oppose the 2012 Proposition B Parks Bond, the RPD would not use any of the 2012 bond funds on NAP’s Mt. Davidson efforts. Forrest Alliance accepted the deal.
The Forest Alliance leadership is a savvy group. They must know that the RPD can use its bond funds from 2000 and 2008 for NAP projects at Mt. Davidson, plus the RPD’s open space fund gives NAP an additional annual budget of $1.5 million. All of this money can still be used by NAP at Mt. Davidson. If Forrest Alliance really wants to stop NAP, their members should vote against the Proposition B parks bond. After the November election, Forest Alliance will have lost its leverage over the RPD.
The RPD is attempting to use this GO Bond money to partially replace the General Funding that has been deliberately taken away by the Mayor’s Ofﬁce. This incessant bond borrowing is a horrible ﬁnancial policy, because the interest on the RPD bonds is costing the public millions of extra dollars — similar to ﬁnancing your car payments with credit cards. And remember: our paid taxes have already given the city more than enough money to pay for park infrastructure with no additional interest payments.
Unfortunately, the RPD has not been ﬁnancially accountable to the citizens of San Francisco. RPD funds are routinely hidden, transferred from one park fund to another, or sent directly to the city’s General Fund with no transparency or accountability to the public. Financially, the public can no longer trust the RPD.
RPD management staff has little to no training in recreation and park management, and consists primarily of City Hall cast-offs that could not tell a mole from a gopher. Fifteen new six-ﬁgure employees, each with a 33% beneﬁt package, have been hired in the last year.
Around the same time, RPD ﬁred 166 local Park Recreation Directors who were mentors to latch-key children and youth. These Rec Directors took responsibility for the sites at which they worked. After they were forced out, part-time private coaches and other casuals drop in to work on an “as needed basis.” There are no longer custodians /directors in our local parks.
The new RPD mission under its General Manager, Phil Ginsburg, has been to “extract” or “activate” as much money from the park system as possible through increased permit fees, philanthropic donations, higher or new admission fees, more events, and mandatory security fees. This has undermined the RPD’s paramount responsibility to provide accessible parks and recreation facilities to the public.
In effect, the RPD has become a lobbyist for wealthy donors rather than keeping true to its mission as an advocate for the public — and steward of our parks and open spaces.
With no operating funds for staff, our parks are deteriorating. Recreation facilities are understaffed, neglected, or shuttered. Public access is now more costly. Green spaces are being covered with hard surfaces and toxic artiﬁcial turf.
While this bond would enhance some facilities, it would reinforce the destructive practices of the Recreation and Parks Department. As noted, $61.5 million of this bond will not be dedicated to any speciﬁc project until after the bond is passed. This tactic allows the RPD to promise neighborhoods throughout the City that their local park “may” receive bond funds. The RPD needs citizens’ votes, but will often not honor the original promises made to neighborhoods.
RPD routinely sets up conﬂicts between residents and private interests. Contractors, lessees, and concessionaires become investors in the “enterprise” and ﬁght to keep their businesses, thus catalyzing more privatization of public space. Citizens’ voices are routinely ignored.
Because bond funds can legally be used only for capital improvements, this measure will not meet our parks’ most dire needs for the return of the dedicated park recreation directors who have been let go, plus more gardeners, custodians, and maintenance workers.
Only after the wayward Parks Department resumes its appointed role as steward of our cherished parks will we gladly vote to allot them more money.
VOTE NO ON PROPOSITION B!
George Wooding, Midtown Terrace Homeowners Association
A HEADS-UP ON LOCAL BALLOT MEASURES
By George Wooding
All of the below local San Francisco measures will be on the November 6 2012 Ballot. A quick analysis of the good, the bad and the ugly parcel taxes, ordinances, Charter amendments, Propositions and declarations are summarize below:
Proposition A: A District Measure: The City College Parcel Tax
This property assessment is requesting $96 per year for the next eight years from property owners.
After years of poor financial mismanagement, half-a- billion dollars in state funding cuts, an over-building of capital improvements, former City College Chancellor Phillip Day pleading guilty to felony charges of misusing public funds, the poorly run City College now faces the loss of accreditation and closure.
With over 90,000 students City College has been one of San Francisco’s Best institutions, a great learning center and a safety net for all San Francisco citizen’s who want a better education.
Only property owners will be paying this property assessment. The parcel tax does not exclude home owners over 65 and does not allow landlords to pass-through any payments to San Francisco’s 66% renters. None of San Francisco’s renters will be paying this parcel tax. Approximately 84% of collected funds will come from single family homeowners and multi-unit owners.
Although the State continues to cut between $14M to $23M per year, City College’s proposed parcel tax will only generate approximately $15M per year. The college should have asked for more money.
San Francisco needs City College. With strong leadership and prudent management City College will once again thrive. San Francisco needs City College.
Proposition B: A General Obligation Bond: Clean & Safe Neighborhoods Parks Bond
This is a General Obligation Bond that is requesting $195 M in property taxes. $34.5 will go to the Port and $160.5M will go to the Recreation and Park Department.
Traditionally, San Francisco taxes paid for the RPD. As San Francisco public employees salaries and benefits continued to increase, City Hall has deliberately decreased the amount of public funds that the RPD has received through the general fund.
This lack of general funds has 1) caused the RPD to defer the maintenance and repair of the park system, and 2) have caused the RPD to issue a $110 M General Obligation Bond (GOB) in 2000, a $185M GOB in 2008 and a proposed $195 M GOB in 2012.
The current GOB bond was originally scheduled for 2014, but according to Dawn Kamalanathan, the RPD Director of Planning, the bond needed to be moved forward so that the RPD’s planning staff could stay on the RPD payroll. To date, only 51% of the 2008 bond money has been spent---49% unspent-- and several 2008 bond projects will continue through 2013.
Financially irresponsible: The RPD is attempting to use this GOB money to partially replace the general funding that has been deliberately taken away by the Mayor’s Office. This incessant bond borrowing is a horrible financial policy as the interest on the RPD bonds is costing the public millions of extra dollars----similar to financing your car payments with credit cards. Please remember that our paid taxes have already given the city more than enough money to pay for park infrastructure with no additional interest payments.
Unfortunately, the RPD has been not been financially accountable to the citizens of San Francisco. RPD funds are routinely hidden, transferred from one park fund to another or sent directly to the city general fund with no transparency or accountability to the public. Financially, the public can no longer trust the RPD.
RPD management has little to no training in recreation or park management and consists primarily of city hall cast-offs that could not tell a mole from a gopher. Fifteen new six-figure employees with 33% benefit packagers have been hired in the last year.
In 2008-2011, RPD fired 166 recreation directors, who were mentors to latch-key children and youth, and who took responsibility for the sites where they worked. These career recreation professionals were replaced by part-time private coaches and other casuals who work on an “as needed basis.”
The new RPD mission under Director Phil Ginsburg has been to “extract” or “activate” as much money from the park system as possible through increased permit fees, philanthropic donations, higher or new admission fees, more events and mandatory security fees. This has undermined the RPD’s paramount responsibility to provide accessible parks and recreation facilities to the public.
In effect, the RPD has become a lobbyist for wealthy donors rather than an advocate for the public welfare.
With no operating funds for staff, our parks are deteriorating. Recreation facilities are understaffed, neglected or shuttered. Public access is more costly. Green spaces are being covered with hard surfaces and toxic artificial turf.
While this bond would enhance some facilities, it would reinforce the destructive practices of the Recreation and Parks Department. $61.5M of this bond will not be dedicated to a specific project until after the 2012 bond is passed. This allows the RPD to promise neighborhoods throughout the city that their local park “may” receive bond funds. The RPD needs citizens votes , but will often not honor the original promises made to neighborhoods.
RPD routinely sets up conflicts between residents and private interests. Contractors, lessees and concessionaires become investors in the “enterprise” and fight to keep their business, thus catalyzing more privatization of public space. Citizens’ voices are routinely ignored.
Because bond funds can legally be used only for capital improvements, this measure will not meet our parks’ most dire needs for the dedicated recreation directors, and more gardeners, custodians and maintenance workers.
Let the wayward parks department resume its appointed role as steward of our cherished parks. Then we will gladly vote for more money.
Proposition C: A Charter Amendment: The Creation of a Housing Trust Fund
This ill-advised billion dollar set-aside is welfare for city developers cloaked in the guise of helping to build affordable housing.
Dumped on the ballot at the last possible second to deceive the public, this opportunistic charter amendment is sponsored by the Mayor and will create a 30 year set-aside that will attempt to replace the now defunct state redevelopment agency by taking financial portions from the general fund, the hotel tax, the gross receipts tax (if passed) and tax money that the County of San Francisco is now receiving from existing city redevelopment projects such as Mission Bay.
Proposition C is a set-aside and will only need 50% of the electorate vote to pass.
By creating a 30 year set-aside, the Mayor is trying to hijack millions of dollars that should/could have went to the general fund for a variety of worthy projects. This would have allowed the public, the Mayor’s Office and the Board of Supervisors a chance to determine a reasonable, annual affordable housing budget just like every other department in San Francisco.
Just one week before Proposition C was placed on the ballot, Mayor Lee was promoting a 2% increase in the city transfer tax that would have been dedicated to a $13 million low-income housing set-aside. Now, a week later, the Mayor wants a $50.8 million low-income housing set-aside with almost no public oversight or public input. ---an incremental increase of $37.8 million annually in one week.
Redevelopment funds are based on the property tax increases in a redevelopment area. Redevelopment bonds can also be issued on the projected future revenue streams of redevelopment projects. Now that the State redevelopment agencies have been retired, SF will inherit the tax increment and the sale of bonds secured with tax increments.
Proposition C’s affordable housing set-aside is a huge, permanent tax grab/slush-fund that should not be allowed to pass.
The Housing Trust Fund set-aside will spend a minimum of $1.5 Billion in tax money and will legally allow the city to issue an unlimited amount of revenue bonds, lease financing, notes or other evidence of indebtedness or obligations over the next 30 years. If not controlled, this issuance of debt could easily skyrocket over $500 million in principle and interest.
The Housing Fund Set-aside will start with $20 million and incrementally increase by $2.8 million for the next eleven years. The set-aside will then level off at $50.8 million for the next eighteen years.
In sharp contrast to Proposition C’s $50.8 million Housing Fund, the now defunct redevelopment agency generated $448.6 million From 1990 – 2008, ---an average of $23.6 million per year. These funds created a total of 10,816 housing units of which 9,657 were affordable units for an average of 569 units per year. The average cost to build each unit was $41,476 .
Despite Prop C’s good intentions to help create 30,000 “affordable” rental units and promote affordable homeownership programs, Proposition C will become a huge financial boondoggle.
The marriage of local politicians overseeing developers who make campaign contributions and self-serving non-profit developers who survive off of the city and other developers largess will virtually guarantee sweet-heart deals and wasted or misspent funds. The hammer may cost $20.00 but the nail will cost $500.00.
Of Course, the public will have no say in how this money is spent for 30 years and there is almost no public transparency or oversight with the exception of some meaningless public appointments to an oversight committee. Handpicked political appointments usually find very little wrong with any project in San Francisco.
A big winner: the Mayor’s Office of Housing who’s annual 2011- 2012 budget jumped from $14.7 million to the 2012 – 2013 budget of $31.0 million for a $16.3 million increase.
Another winner: San Francisco first responders, police and firemen will also be eligible to receive affordable housing loans although their average salary with overtime and benefits is well over six figures. Employee benefits should be determined at the negotiation table, not snuck into city charter housing set-asides. The city claims to need more first responders living in the city in case of emergencies. Firemen and Police can already afford to live in city if they chose to. By comparison, the area median income (AMI) for a single San Franciscan is only $72,100 per year. Affordable housing was designed to help the lower income tax-payer, not the city’s wealthier public employees.
Another winner: 90% of San Francisco’s planning department budget comes from developers fees. Watch for affordable units as small as 220 square feet, increased density, the misuse of open space, secondary units and the removal of appropriate height restrictions. Just about any type of affordable development funded through the Housing Fund set-aside will be automatically approved by the Planning Department.
Another big winner: Besides the hundreds of millions in profits and fees that developers will make on Mayor Lee’s Housing Trust Fund, the on site affordable housing component is now fixed at only 12% when the city used to request 12 – 15% of the units. How interesting that a charter amendment designed to increase low-income housing will actually reduce the developers commitment to low-income housing.
Why creating a 30 year set-aside is both foolish and poor governance
The biggest problem with Proposition C is that it is a massive , 30 year set-aside. Over 34% of San Francisco’s budget is now trapped in budgetary set-asides. Prop C will increase city set-asides to over $900 million annually.
-Set-asides are usually presented to voters in a way that ignores necessary trade-offs. For example, over two-thirds of the discretionary fund is used for public health. By increasing Housing set-asides, the city is actually taking away funding for public health or…think about all of the other city agencies that could benefit from these trapped affordable housing funds.
• The growth in the use of set-asides undermines representative democracy. San Francisco politicians have no way to reallocate the city budget and can no longer represent either their own budgetary interests or the will of the public.
• Set-asides amounts are disconnected from the need or demand for service. Even if San Francisco needs less housing, the Prop. C set-aside will continue to receive $50.8 million annually.
•Set-asides do not guarantee an improvement in quality or service. Prop. C could be wasting millions of dollars and be an absolute failure and the set-aside will still receive $50.8 million per year.
• Set-asides discourage savings or discretion. Politicians, developers and complicit non-profits will spend every dime that they can get their hands on regardless of need.
Just one week before Proposition C was placed on the ballot, Mayor Lee was promoting a 2% increase in the city transfer tax that would have been dedicated to a $13 million low-income housing set-aside. Now, a week later, the Mayor wants a $50.8 million low-income housing set-aside with almost no public oversight or public input. ---an incremental increase of $37.8 million annually in one week.
Other than mentioning the building of “up to 30,000 affordable housing units” over the next 30 years and the funding of housing categories, this Proposition has no goals that are either actionable or measurable. There is also no penalty for failure to provide affordable housing. With little public oversight, Proposition C is a money-grab that is ripe for abuse and misuse.
PROPOSITION D: A Charter Amendment: CONSOLIDATION OF ODD YEAR ELECTIONS
This is a simple proposition that will cause the city Treasurer and the City Attorney to be elected in the same years as the Mayor, District Attorney and Sheriff. If this measure is approved, all of San Francisco’s elections will take place on the same date.
The Proposition will also amend the definition of general Municipal elections so that such elections occur only in even-numbered and every other odd numbered year. The first odd-year municipal election to be skipped will be in 2017, the next missed election will theoretically be in 2021, then 2025 etc. Each San Francisco election costs approximately $4.2 million, so the city is claiming that they will be saving $1 million per year. This figure could change due to state and special elections.
Currently the City Attorney and treasurer election is scheduled for November 2013. That election will take place as scheduled. If Prop D is approved, the Treasurer and the City Attorney will be elected to only a two year term rather than the normal four year term. In November 2015, the election will again be held for those offices and the term of Treasurer and City Attorney will go back to four years.
What we lose: The familiarity with our elected representatives. Who has time to spend on all of the candidate races. Voters can barely keep-up now. Odd year elections helped voters get to know the candidates who represented them.
What we gain: Not quite sure. Maybe we gain some money in the future, maybe not. This resolution is probably inconsequential. City Hall loses millions of dollars each year due to bad management, pension funds and poorly planned City contracts and voters are asked to worry about a million dollars that may or may not be forthcoming.
Proposition E: An Ordinance: The Gross Receipts Tax
This Proposition is a bait-and-switch way for San Francisco to raise taxes on local businesses while claiming to promote job growth. Prop E is simply a larger business tax because at least 7,500 new San Francisco businesses will now be paying a gross-receipts-tax (GRT).
A tale of two cities: In 1999, both San Francisco and Los Angeles were taxing businesses with a combination of payroll taxes and GRT’s, but this tax combination was ruled unconstitutional. Due to the court ruling, Los Angeles chose to use a GRT system and San Francisco chose to use a payroll tax system.
-A Gross Receipts tax is a tax on the total gross revenues of a company, regardless of there source. If San Francisco uses a GRT this would mean that every business that qualifies will be taxed on generated revenue.
-The Sans Francisco Payroll tax is a tax that is paid from the employer’s own funds and that is directly related to employing a worker. San Francisco is currently taxing businesses that have payrolls in excess of $250,000 per year.
San Francisco’s current Payroll tax generates about $410 M per year. The city is claiming that new businesses—especially high-technology businesses--- are not locating in San Francisco because they will have too many employees and our current payroll tax system will keep these businesses from relocating in the city.
Prop E’s new GRT will supposedly be more stable than our current payroll tax and generate approximately $410 M per year, plus an additional $28.5 M for registration fees based on gross receipts and amended registration fees. The new GRT should generate $438.5 M per year in taxes and fees.
A large portion of the extra $28.5 M will be used to support the Mayor’s $50.8 M affordable housing set-aside
The GRT is deemed more stable because San Francisco will now be charging 15,000 city businesses a GRT rather than the 7,000 businesses that are now paying the payroll tax. At least 7,000 – 8,000 new San Francisco businesses will now be taxed.
The GRT rates, business categories and rate schedules will be so complex/incomprehensible that many San Francisco businesses will be confused about what they have to pay. Rates will vary widely by company and industry category.
Proposition E creates seven unique categories and 28 rate tiers. Even the IRS would be envious of what San Francisco has created.
It will be very easy for the city to change fees and category rates without public input. Businesses should expect rate tinkering and a rapid increase in distinct rate categories.
The city will also have to add/hire an unknown number new tax employees. According to Controller, Ben Rosenfield adding the GRT will cost San Francisco at least $6 - $8 M more per year to administer.
As the San Francisco wanders around in the dark praising Mayor Lee and Board of Supervisor President, David Chiu’s newfound consensus on the GRT, Los Angeles is desperately trying to get rid of its GRT and use a payroll tax!!!
A recent study by LA’s Business Tax Advisory Committee (BTAC) is requesting the elimination of LA’s GRT. The BTAC report confirms that eliminating the GRT would bring hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue to LA. The report states that the GRT system literally charges companies just to engage in commerce in LA, without consideration for losses in revenue.
Some BTAC report highlights: 1)The LA GRT is not competitive with neighboring cities, 2) LA businesses tax rates are too high, 3)many businesses have left, are leaving or threatening to leave LA, 4) Other businesses decline to locate or expand in LA, 5) Increasingly difficult to attract new business to LA, 6) A large net job loss despite large increases in population, 7) High double-digit unemployment and 8) Underemployment approaching 20%
Utilizing a GRT rate as high as .507% per thousand-dollars of sales—one of the highest GRT rate in the country---LA’s GRT rate has been an absolute job killer. LA has the highest business tax by a factor of 9.5 times the average for the other 87 cities in the county. Cities like Huntington Park charge a GRT of only .040%.
Jumping out of the frying pan into the fire: Under Proposition E, San Francisco will now be charging the highest GRT in the country. Utilizing a tiered rate structure which features rates as high as $.650 per $1,000 in sales. Many of the tiered GRT rates will be lower by category and sales levels.
It’s funny how things work out, LA is laughing at San Francisco for trying to adopt the GRT system and San Francisco is perplexed why LA would adopt the payroll tax. Both cities seem to believe that the other city has a better system.
Mayor Lee will be talking about how many high-tech jobs he has created in San Francisco, but he will be very quiet about how many jobs and businesses will now leave San Francisco.
Despite Proposition E’s many financial shortcomings and the false assumption that a GRT will incrementally add new, higher-paying jobs to San Francisco, we recommend that Prop E be passed. More businesses paying more taxes will make the GRT more reliable than the current Payroll tax.
Starting in 2013, local businesses will be shocked by the new GRT systems, complexity and the high registration fees that they are about to pay. Start packing your bags.
Proposition F: An Ordinance: The Water Sustainability and Environmental Restoration Planning Act of 2012
This ordinance will request a study that would examine the ramifications of tearing down O’Shaugnessy Dam and restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley back to its original un-dammed state. If approved, the study will cost approximately $8.0M.
Nearly a century ago, the O’Shaughnessy Dam was built to contain water from the Toulumne River in The Hetch Hetchy Valley. Under the provisions of the 1913 Raker Act, which permitted the dam’s construction, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC) is allowed to draw water from the reservoir. The Hetch Hetchy Valley is located in Yosemite National Park.
San Francisco and it’s 28 wholesale water customers represent over 2.5 million people. Due to the water clarity and the granite river bed, the Hetch Hetchy water system delivers some of the highest quality water in the United States
Proponents of Proposition F state that this is simply a study that will help San Francisco develop more environmental sources of energy, restore the Hetch Hetchy valley, improve San Francisco’s water recycling capabilities and maintain San Francisco’s current water supply.
The costs of achieving Proposition F’s goals are estimated to cost anywhere from $3.0 Billion to $10.7 Billion. San Francisco just spent $4.8 Billion to upgrade our water system. The proposed studies estimated costs are incremental and are estimated to cost the average San Franciscan almost $2,000 more per year. This, of course, would come from charging higher water and power rates.
The real purpose of this ordinance is not the study but the actual implementation of the study. If approved, the ordinance will trap the citizenry into having to vote for or against the adoption of the plan. The ordinance states the following, “Complete the planning process by November 2015 in time for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors or a group of citizens to propose a charter amendment to be voted on at the November 2016 election, which if passed would authorize implementation of the plan.”
Everyone conceptually is agreeable to restoring a beautiful valley in a National Park, but this ordinance is a factual misrepresentation that has been contrived to deceive the public. Let’s count the ways:
-There is no way for environmental energy sources to make up for the lost hydro-electric power and no way for these energy sources to duplicate the lower hydro-electric costs. San Francisco will be stuck either purchasing hydro-electric power at much higher rates from outside sources or relying on environmental energy sources which are 5 to 8 time more expensive.
-San Francisco is already using alternative water sources and plans to decrease the city’s dependence on Hetch Hetchy water. Additionally, the city already has a deal in place to build a reverse osmosis waste water facility which will treat wastewater to a semi-potable level.
-The recapturing of San Francisco’s limited rainfall and irrigation water would be extremely expensive and yield little water at an exorbitant cost.
-San Francisco already has a sustainable water system that utilizes water filtration. The study features “water filtration” because once the dam is dismantled, the city’s drinking water will have to be stored in several dammed locations that have much higher levels of sediment. To be potable, this water will have to go through higher levels of filtration .
-The study also asks for higher levels of public water conservation. San Francisco already has one of the highest levels of water conservation in the state. The average citizen uses approximately 51 gallons of water per day. When implemented, the new conservation level goals would reduce usage to 43 gallons of water per day. In contrast, the average citizen in San Jose uses approximately 120 gallons of water per day.
The authors of this study want to extract a much higher rate of potable
groundwater from the aquifer beneath San Francisco. The city is already extracting approximately 2% of its water from the aquifer and wants to increase this amount to at least 4% or more. The PUC must proceed with caution. If too much of the aquifer water is extracted the remaining aquifer water may start to become brackish or salty over time.
- Proposition F is supposedly good for the environment, but the dismantling of O’Shaugnessy Dam will cause tremendous environmental damage. Camp Mather will have to be used as a holding station for 675,000 cubic yards of cement and dam refuse. And…the tap water that we receive will not be as good.
We love Yosemite Park, however; Proposition F is a proposal that will completely change San Francisco’s water and power system. It’s just not worth $10 Billion dollars.
PROPOSITION G: A DECLARATION OF POLICY: POLICY OPPOSING CORPORATE PERSONHOOD.
Even with the best of intentions, this is another only is San Francisco lost cause declaration. The US Supreme Court will not be listening to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
This declaration is trying to reverse a Supreme Court Decision.
In 2010, the US Supreme Court decided Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commissions and invalidated a federal law that limited corporate political spending. The Court held that the free speech provision of the First Amendment protects corporations as well as natural persons. It ruled that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend money for political purposes.
This is an important issue, but our self-important Board of Supervisors should be working on local issues where their opinions may actually be relevant.
Time to Elect a New District 7 Supervisor
A Survey of the New D 7 Candidates for Supervisor
D-7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd will term out during the upcoming November 6 presidential election and a new supervisor will be elected.
There are currently nine candidates running for D-7 Supervisor: Andrew Bley, FX Crowley, Joel Engardio, Michael Garcia, Lynn Gavin (the only woman candidate), Julian Lagos, Glenn Rogers, Bob Squeri, and Norman Yee.
Left to right: Andrew Bley, F.X. Crowley, Joel Engardio
Michael Garcia, Lynn Gavin, Julian Lagos
Glenn Rogers, Bob Squeri, and Norman Yee
With no incumbent, the election race for D-7 Supervisor promises to be wild, tough, and grueling. Many of the candidates started running and fundraising over a year ago. History suggests that the candidates with the most money, endorsements, special interest backing, and City Hall support will have the best chance of winning the election.
The amounts of money raised and the votes promised to financial supporters are often more binding than the ideas or the promises made to constituents. This would help explain why only 30.83% of the registered 471,657 San Francisco voters even bothered to vote in the June election — an all time low.
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) will also make this a crazy race. Some might remember that Supervisor Malia Cohen became the District 10 Supervisor by receiving only 21% of the District 10 vote. She initially received only 2,097 first-place votes out of 20,550 cast, and eventually won the D-10 race when she ended with 4,321 votes. Is this democracy?
According to elections demographic expert Christopher Bowman, “No candidate for D-7 supervisor will receive the required 50% votes needed to win the election on the first ballot.” This means that the really smart candidates will start forming voting alliances to help each other win.
In an effort to help D-7 voters better know D7 candidate positions, each candidate has responded to 17 questions for reader review. This unique candidate survey was designed to help voters find the candidate(s) that they prefer without knowing which candidate they are selecting until the end of the survey. Each candidate has been designated the same alphabetical letter throughout the entire survey.”
In an effort to help D-7 voters better know D7 candidate positions, each candidate has responded to 17 questions for reader review. This unique candidate survey was designed to help voters find the candidate(s) that they prefer without knowing which candidate they are selecting until the end of the survey. Each candidate has been designated the same alphabetical letter throughout the entire survey.
The survey was designed to create a level playing field for each candidate. Money, political connections, special interests and campaign consultants won’t help a candidate here — only answers that you, the voter, prefer.
Do yourself a favor and don’t cheat. You may find that the candidate that you thought you liked doesn’t measure up, while a D-7 candidate that you did not know or perhaps did not like may become your favorite candidate. Candidate responses were not edited for length or content.
You may download a PDF of this form here.
District Seven Supervisoral Candidate Responses to Survey
1. The Park-Merced (PM) development will cause years of construction, housing, transportation, and tenant problems throughout your term. How will you handle these problems?
A. I will work to uphold the agreement in place with its protections. I propose forming a committee of Parkmerced and neighborhood residents, city departments and Parkmerced development representatives to meet weekly to mitigate or solve problems as they arise.
B. I will do all in my power to assure that the many complex issues affecting the residents and tenants of District 7 are address to the fullest, and I will hold the developer responsible to the fullest (transportation, tenant relocation, seismic concerns, traffic congestion 19th Ave. etc.).
C. This project is under litigation. Presently, 19th Avenue is already impacted. All buildings have a life expectancy of 100 years, these apartments are no exception. The layout of this development was by Thomas Church, a giant in Landscape Architecture.
D. Assure that the reasonable safeguards in place that address displacement, maintenance of rent control, and minimal construction impacts are adhered to. Transportation problems, unfortunately, are there but are offset by increases in the housing stock, job creation, and increased tax revenues.
E. Development at Parkmerced is inevitable because SF must meet increased housing needs while protecting District 7’s single-family neighborhoods as a valued asset. Displaced tenants deserve a lifetime rent controlled contract with their units ultimately going to market value.
F. Developers have made commitments to address these issues and I will ensure that they keep their promises. I have had experience working with a tenant for 10 years to maintain her right to operate her business in Parkmerced.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force found four Supervisors in violation of the Brown Act regarding public rights to open meetings. This decision must be revisited because the carcinogens that will be released impact our health, the animals and our environment.
I. Given the current housing market conditions and the Parkmerced developer’s inability to procure financing, I seriously doubt the project will ever break ground. As supervisor, I’m confident I will never have to deal with the issues alluded to.
2. The Pacific Rod & Gun Club property, located on the shores of Lake Merced since the 1930’s, was leased by RPD and now from the Public Utilities Commission. Who should pay for the estimated $10.7 million to clean up the lead bullets and clay ducks: The PUC, the RPD, or the Rod & Gun Club? Would you keep the Pacific Rod & Gun Club in place?
A. We should consider sharing costs among the three entities. We should negotiate an agreement to preserve the Club because it represents an established and cherished tradition for many families who live in District 7.
B. Pacific Rod and Gun Club: I support the Historic RGC. I believe the cost should be paid for by a combination of the PUC and RPD.
C. The PR&GC, in 1994, changed the ammunition from lead to steel and the clay ducks from toxic to safe. With help from the PR&GC the City should remove the toxic soil but the problem is not imminent. No!
D. PUC. To pay, R&G would need a 20-year lease at $50,000 a month. R&G should be allowed to continue in a reduced space with market-rate rent with the proviso that they abate all environmental impacts on an on-going basis.
E. The SFPUC should take total control of the lake and the club should share the clean-up cost. This isn’t an immediate problem. The lead is contained and they use non-toxic bullets now. The club should stay if the market demands it.
F. I would decide based on community usage, revenue to the city, and environmental and neighborhood impact. If the cost of cleaning up the byproduct is much higher than revenues and community value, I wouldn’t recommend renewal. Club pays clean up.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. All parties involved with the property should with the gun club paying the majority. The homeowners should not bear the cost of the clean-up of this facility. I think the voters should decide on keeping the gun club open.
I. It’s pretty clear to me the gun club is responsible for the lead contamination of the soil at its Lake Merced location and should pay for the clean-up before a new lease is negotiated with the City.
3. As the cost of SF’s pension fund and health care mandates continue to increase should union members be asked to contribute an even higher percentage of their income to offset these expenses? As is currently negotiated, should safety employees receive pay increases equal to the increases that they will have to contribute or should they lose these matching pay increases?
A. The Memorandum of Understanding between the city and its employees regarding these issues has been reached and extends two more fiscal years. All city employees are contributing more to health care to help offset the increased cost. Unless there is a fiscal emergency, I am opposed to revisiting a contract that has been negotiated and ratified by both parties.
B. Yes, because the path we are on is not sustainable. We are going broke as over $800M (11% of the budget) will soon go to pensions. City employees must pay more for their benefits-just like the private sector- or our system will falter.
C. There is a need for equivalency between the public and private sector regarding benefits. This does not exist today. Public benefits need to be paid for increasingly by the employees that benefit directly from their retirement or healthcare benefits.
D. Yes. We have to figure out a model that insures the health of contractual, in-place pensions and reduces unsustainable future obligations. All options, without exception, should be examined and negotiated between the City and the affected parties.
E. Local public pension liabilities threaten a Greece-like crisis at home. Our assumed percentage returns are woefully off. Public-sector workers should pay more for benefits others don’t enjoy. Safety employees are heroes who deserve generous pay, but we have reached the limit.
F. As government is evolving to meet 21st Century challenges, public pensions have not kept stride. Pension reform needs to happen and I’ll meet with the City’s labor partners to negotiate how to reach our end goal – a sustainable pension system.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. This question does not fairly represent the issue. It’s ambiguous.
I. As recently reported by the Civil Grand Jury, San Francisco is facing a serious shortfall in funding city workers’ pensions, a situation that threatens the economic well-being of our city. Tax corporations to make-up the shortfall, not workers
4. Why should homeowners have to pay for City infrastructure with General Obligation Bonds when they have already paid for these deferred services with taxes?
A. They shouldn’t. In an ideal world, we should be able to pay for fixing deferred services with taxes. But if the city’s infrastructure is crumbling, citizens should have the option of voting assessments as needed to fix what is broken.
B. Homeowners have already paid for services that have not been delivered. Any new burdens should be borne by all residents of the City in order of fairness.
C. Home owners should not have to pay for infrastructure with General Obligation Bonds. Home owners and renters could both pay for these services by an increase in sales taxes.
D. Maintaining infrastructure is critical and General Obligation Bonds shouldn’t be the fallback position for poor administration of budgetary dollars.
E. Homeowners shouldn’t have to pay for street repair twice (first with taxes and then bonds). City Hall must focus on basics before spending our money on pet projects. Bonds should invest in our future, not provide quick cash to replace wasted funds.
F. General obligations bonds are a basic tool that governments all across our state use in order to finance large projects. We have used GO bonds to improve our schools, our libraries, and our parks.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. City infrastructure is handled like a boondoggle. The issue is accountability and spending in a city with a budget larger than some nations. The city allocates $640 million to non-profits and we still have people homeless. Why?
I. Homeowners shouldn’t have to pay any more of their hard-earned money to pay for city infrastructure, since they are over-taxed as it is. Tax major corporations appropriately since they stand to benefit most from city services
5. Should SF children receive a real preference from the SFUSD to attend their neighborhood school and not be placed in zip code districts?
A. Parents should decide on the best school for their children. We must work to have quality schools in every neighborhood. Putting children in zip code districts overlooks 70 percent of families who apply for schools not in their neighborhood.
B. Yes, parents should have the right to send their children to the neighborhood school nearest them and not be subject to the current allocation process as dictated by the SFUSD.
C. Preference should be provided by parents to have their children attend local neighborhood schools rather than zip code district schools. Zip code district schools tend to be much further away from where families actually live, placing a greater burden on parents.
E. We need neighborhood schools. That’s how families on the same street get closer. Walking our kids to school means more time at home together not spent commuting across town. Let’s focus on making every school great and uplift all neighborhoods.
F. SFUSD’s actions led to the first consideration of a child’s neighborhood in the school assignment process in a decade. The school district can further improve, with a balance between keeping parents in public schools and respecting desegregation court orders.
G. Parents should be able to choose their neighborhood school. But we need to work tirelessly for struggling schools in all corners of the City so that parents everywhere will want to send their children to the closest school.
H. Children have a right to attend their neighborhood school. There are students living outside the district and this should be addressed. A concerned parent is the best advocate for a child. All children in SF deserve a quality education.
I. Having taught in San Francisco public schools for many years, I personally can attest to the fact that students and their families would be best served if they were assigned to their neighborhood schools. Such a policy would develop “community.”
6. What should be done, if anything, about the RPD’s Native Area Plant (NAP) programs plans for Mt. Davidson?
A. I support the Miraloma Park Improvement Club’s position, which advocates preservation of the forest as an historic, natural, recreational, and aesthetic resource, with full access to the native plant area and new benches in view areas.
B. The RPD native plant program is a poorly designed concept that will destroy what generations have built up beautifully in SF. It’s costly and a big waste of taxpayers money on and ill-conceived idea.
C. The Cross on Mt. Davidson is obscured by eucalyptus trees, in 100 years
the Cross will be completely covered. The 13 rare and endangered plants growing on San Bruno Mtn. that grew in San Francisco could be planted here.
D. Modify those elements most opposed to through the EIR process and retain the core, necessary portions that address the preservation and conservation of our open space areas and the rehabilitation of trails in those areas.
E. NAP should be curtailed or stopped. Preserving areas where native plants already exist is nice (with private, not tax dollars). Taxes should pay for tree/trail maintenance and safety. But destroying healthy trees just because they’re not native goes too far.
F. I would pause the program so the community can contribute to a plan with dual goals – preserve native plants AND preserve recreational open space for residents without destroying what exists. Keep our recreational resources to keep families in San Francisco.
G. No to NAP. These thousands of healthy trees have decades, perhaps centuries of life ahead of them. They benefit us in numerous ways and removing them will negate those benefits. According to RPD itself, NAP will also increase pesticide/herbicide use.
H. Mt. Davidson is symbolic of the founding of the City. I think we should try to preserve the NAP.
I. The Native Area Plant programs at Mount Davidson should be supported and expanded to other areas of the city where the benefits will be enjoyed by the communities there, as well.
7. Should the Beach Chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park remain as natural grass or be converted into a synthetic turf stadium?
A. Synthetic turf stadium. This will triple the available field time and the new lighting will increase public safety and promote family recreation. Look to the success of playgrounds such as South Sunset, Crocker Amazon and Silver Terrace as examples.
B. It should always be Natural Grass. Leave Golden Gate Park in its natural beautiful state.
C. A question of whether to choose a field of artificial or natural turf, at the Beach Chalet Soccer Field, is best asked to those that play there.
D. The combination of easily maintained (cost-effective), environmentally sound, safe to play on fields that will be enjoyed by our youth, older soccer players, and fans compels me to agree with Planning and RPD Commissions that synthetic turf is reasonable.
E. Urban parks must prioritize recreation and access, which the turf accomplishes for kids who want more soccer play. However, I want to research the questions other cities have about toxicity, sustainability and long-term cost of the turf versus maintaining real grass.
F. My daughters grew up playing soccer here. As a father, I would support the most cost effective long-term solution to preserve this resource. However, we have a fiscal responsibility to identify sufficient funding before committing to any major project.
G. No response from candidate.
H. There is enough disruption to the environment. The migratory pathway for birds that fly in the region should be considered. Grass should remain on the soccer fields.
I. Let the soccer fields in Golden Gate Park remain “natural grass”. No artificial turf.
8. What has current D7 candidate Sean Elsbernd done right and what has he done wrong?
A. Sean answers emails and phone calls promptly, is fiscally-minded and worked dutifully to reach a compromise with Prop C pension reform. I wish he would have been more engaged in neighborhood issues such as Sloat Blvd. slimming and D7 redistricting.
B. Sup Elsbernd, other then being a machine player, he did very little on the concerns and issues in our district. What bothered me the most and showed who he is, was his self promoting handling of Tony Halls Ethics Investigation.
C. Voting in favor of the increased development of the Park-Merced project was Sean Elsbernd biggest mistake. His sensitive approach to MUNI showed political courage and an understanding that MUNI, as is, was in trouble.
D. Sean fought, for almost nine years, and often alone, to maintain the fiscal health of the City, to enact or vote for sensible ordinances, and to maintain the decorum required by the role of a legislator. I offer no criticism.
E. Sean Elsbernd’s attention to the budget is his greatest legacy. He also deserves a medal for how he handled the difficult years of Chris Daly. Elsbernd didn’t please everyone but he served well under much pressure.
F. He has served our district and our city with distinction. I believe he has been a pro-neighborhood, fiscal watchdog who has helped focus needs and improve a variety of projects throughout the district, including Doyle Drive re-build.
G. I’m aligned with much of Supervisor Elsbernd’s record, he has proven to be thoughtful, pragmatic, and civil; traits that thankfully are more abundant in City Hall today than they have been in a while.
H. The US Open, here, was good for the City; however small businesses in D7 such as the coffee shops, restaurants, the wine bar, etc along West Portal deserved tourists’ attention. West Portal is a vibrant community and should be supported.
I. Supervisor Elsbernd did a good job at championing a balanced budget, a goal which I will carry on, when elected. He failed miserably when he voted to support the demolition of Parkmerced, a foolish vote that will forever haunt him.
9. Which are the three current district supervisors that you believe that you will work the best with? Why?
A. David Chiu, Scott Weiner, and Malia Cohen. They represent different points of view across the ideological spectrum that showcase the diversity of our city. I believe it is important to consider different opinions before making a decision.
B. My best guess would be David Chu, and Mark Farrell
C. Supervisor Avalos because I appreciate his efficiency and desire to streamline
government. Supervisor Olague because of her understanding of planning issues. Supervisor Kim because she is sympathetic to children and idealistic.
D. Farrell, Chu, and Wiener. They share my views of fiscal conservatism balanced with a thoughtful concern for social issues…neighborhood character, quality of life, well maintained parks, safe streets, good schools, and care for the elderly and our youth.
E. I align closest to Mark Farrell and close enough to Scott Wiener to partner well with them. I will also work well with David Chiu when he swings moderate.
F. Chu- because of her strength in fiscal analysis and being fiscally responsible.Farrell- because of his ability to leverage city resources like opening school yards to the public. Chiu- because of his ability to build bridges and create consensus decisions.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. Campos because he expresses an interest in the overall benefit to the City. Olague has vast experience with senior issues and our population is aging. Farrell because he is fiscally conservative and we must demand accountability of our tax dollars.
I. I probably would work best with Supervisors Avalos, Campos, and Mar because we share many of the same concerns about those issues that affect the so-called "99%", working-class and middle-class people, which most of are.
10. Which D7 supervisor do you most want to be like, Quinton Kopp: John Barbagelata, Tony Hall or Sean Elsbernd. Why?
A. I would not choose a specific Supervisor. Each Supervisor brought his own distinctive style to the table.I will build on this tradition and draw from my own experience to lead effectively and respond to current issues and constituent needs.
B. John Barbagelata. John was honest and very truthful,very wise,loved his family,and wanted to put back into politics a moral compass on the decisions he would make for the City. (Without this compass you would have a system built on Deceit.)
C. I admire Quinten Kopp for having the courage to advocate for the extension of BART to the San Francisco Airport despite the fact it was costly and politically unpopular. BART made 35 million dollars profit this fiscal year.
D. All had their contributions. My experience in City government has nearly exactly overlapped Elsbernd’s so I’ve had a ringside seat on the operation of the Board of Supervisors and observed, and appreciated, his competency closely.
E. A supervisor who cares about fiscal responsibility and is independent enough to stand up to special interests best serves the residents of District 7. You’ll see some of Sean Elsbernd and Quentin Kopp in me.
F. I have observed Supervisor Elsbernd for some time now, and greatly appreciate his command of issues, the rigor of his arguments, and his exercising of sound judgment. If elected, I will bring my own brand of leadership to the district.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. Quinton Kopp because he respects the law. As a democratic society we are a nation of laws. The makers of these laws are the citizenry. However I would professionally dress from Vogue magazine.
I. I probably would aspire to model my supervisor's career after former Supervisor Kopp, an independent-minded leader, who I had the pleasure to work with side-by-side when we both fought to Save Brotherhood Way a few years back.
11. Would you support general obligation bonds, Certificate of Participation, parcel taxes, the extension of Transit Impact Development Fees throughout San Francisco, or higher fares to help fund the SFMTA/MUNI?
A. I would work with the budget provided, but I would never agree to a Grover Norquist-type pledge that would eliminate options for improving the city’s infrastructure and the residents’ quality of life.
B. None of the above. The City Budget is completely out of control, the Problem is Spending, Spending, Spending. The City should have a real budget and live within that budget.Future budgets should not be based on SF winning the lottery.
C. Presently, San Francisco is hiring more traffic policeman, providing revenue through ticketing, to advance the budget shortfall of MUNI. Tickets given fairly and honestly are a good and reliable source of revenue, taxes are not.
D. All of the above. Additionally, there are sophisticated math models that address routing that should be further explored.
E. Beware of COPs! City Hall has been using them to rack up loads of debt without voter approval. TIDFs discourage development and get passed on to homebuyers. Let’s use a combination of bonds, vehicle fees and higher fares so everyone pays.
F. Without seeing actual specifics for the type of spending proposed, it is not responsible to comment one way or another regarding these funding tools. I will say that there needs to be more funding for MUNI, period.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. Ludicrous, none of the above. MUNI gives away $63 million to Bay Area cities for transportation. Having existed for a century it is unacceptable to San Francisco a city with global recognition to have a developing world's public transportation system.
I. I would not support any new bonds, parcel taxes, certificates of participation, development fees or higher fares to fund MUNI. Instead, I would push for a downtown transit assessment tax which would be levied on major corporations yearly.
12. Do you support Payroll taxes or Gross Revenue Taxes (GRTs) for SF? If the City switches to a GRT system, should all of the concessions made to mid-Market companies that relocated/stayed in SF be completely rescinded?
A. I support Mayor Lee’s draft consensus proposal regarding GRTs. I do not believe that we should rescind concessions already made.
B. The existing sales tax structure should be sufficient to meet City needs. Payroll taxes ,or Gross receipt taxes only serve to restrict jobs, and job growth. Any concessions made to mid-Market Street companies should be made to all small business.
C. I support the Gross Revenue Tax (GRT) plan over the straight Payroll Tax plan. First, the GRT plan taxes start up companies less. Secondly, it is a progressive tax, taking more revenue from larger companies.
D. Whichever is most likely to increase employment and keep businesses in SF. GRTs should allow for pass-throughs where applicable. Contracts should be adhered to (mid-Market).
E. I support GRTs over payroll taxes because GRTs don’t penalize job creation. GRTs will help the tech and restaurant sectors but must be calibrated so law, real estate and financial firms don’t over pay. The mid-Market concessions can be eased gradually over time.
F. I support GRTs for SF. This way all businesses can contribute to the City’s revenue and not just be the burden of a smaller number of businesses. We need to find ways for the City to support job creation.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. I support payroll taxes and the loop hole should be closed for large businesses.
I. I support the Gross Receipts Tax measure because it seems to be a fairer method of taxing all businesses for the purpose of generating needed revenue money. Any concessions made in the Mid-Market deal should therefore be rescinded.
13. Why do you want to be the Supervisor for District 7?
A. I want to take my experience to the next level of public service, serving the citizens of San Francisco, by creating jobs, improving public safety and responding to neighborhood concerns, making this City the best it can be.
B. The government has lost its way. The purpose of SF government is to protect the people. We have to start electing independent people,who have the best interest of the citizens, not special interest politicians—who are more interested in their political careers.
C. Being a native son of San Francisco gives a politician a unique perspective into the post of Supervisor. My education in Sociology and Landscape Architecture provide a unique problem-solving perspective to City government. Lastly, I am not influenced by corruption
D. To apply my experience as an Educator, a Businessman, a Public Servant, and a Community Activist to the City I raised my children in and care deeply about, in order to help families stay in SF and foster economic health.
E. I want to help you realize the kind of city I’d also like to live in: where we respect diverse beliefs and defend personal liberties, champion the entrepreneurial spirit, value neighborhood quality-of-life and expect common sense from City Hall.
F. As a native and a 25+ year resident of D7, where I raised my family, I want to give back to the City. I want to be sure that D7 continues to be a place where families can thrive and prosper.
G. I love San Francisco and I love this part of town. It is within my core as a civic-minded husband, father, neighbor, and San Franciscan to work as hard as possible to maintain and improve the district and the City.
H. To ensure that D7's residents are properly represented. A representative should be receptive to all residents. It is a unique district with many homeowners and renters whose overall goal is to maintain our quality of life in our community.
I. I am committed to preserving the special place our Westside community enjoys here in San Francisco and am the only candidate that has demonstrated through my track record the ability to protect the best interests of the "99%".
14. Should secondary units be allowed in RH-1 and RH-2 neighborhoods?
A. No. I would work to preserve the distinctive character of our neighborhoods. Adding secondary units would impact traffic, parking and architectural design by tampering with existing home footprints.
B. It is a fact of life there are many secondary units in existence. They should only be allowed if the neighborhood infrastructure can sustain it, and they are legally brought up to code.
C. If San Francisco is second only to New York in population density, then there
needs to be limits on the number of families allowed to live in a home. RH-1 and RH-2 zoning requirements recognizes and monitors this issue.
D. No. To add a unit in RH-1 or RH-2 requires a certain lot size (3,000 sq. ft. for RH-1, 4,500 for RH-2) and a Conditional Use Authorization, a lengthy, costly process. Preserving neighborhood character is essential.
E. Secondary units are good for families with elderly parents or college-age children who need to stay together and save resources. But they should not be rented out to the general population, increasing the density in our single-family home neighborhoods.
F. We have an obligation to plan for the needs of our next generation. I support long-range planning with community input to allow secondary units over allowing an unregulated secondary unit market to proliferate. We must also maintain our neighborhood character.
G. Homeowners work hard to live in their chosen RH neighborhoods and illegal secondaries can cause serious disruptions. But with careful planning, regulation, neighborhood input, and oversight, a limited number of secondary units could benefit homeowners, responsible tenants and the City.
H. Preserving spectacular neighborhoods is my goal! Density works in commercial areas, not in single family home neighborhoods. D7 is one of the most aesthtic communities in SF. We are near the lake, ocean, the zoo and the concerts at Stern Grove.
I. Secondary units should be allowed in RH-1 and RH-2 Zoned Neighborhoods without restrictions since their additions will absorb any housing shortfalls our city may endure in the future. It's a "win-win" situation for everybody.
15. What did you personally do to help with the recent redistricting of District Seven?
A. I spearheaded our neighborhood effort to advocate that our community of interest be retained in District 7. This included attending many commission meetings, organizing letter writing and email campaigns and coordinating community testimony.
B. Redistricting was a good concept in theory, but has further Balkanized a City into pockets ruled by special interests. I believe the specific neighborhood characteristics of District 7 should be retained.
C. Proudly, I can say I had no input into the redistricting. It is my opinion, redistricting could have been done much better.
D. As a candidate for District 7 Supervisor, I believed that it was inappropriate for me to be actively involved in the redistricting process.
E. I attended redistricting meetings and educated people on my campaign website about the possibility of changing district lines.
F. I supported keeping as much of our pre-2012 district intact by attending community meetings. My campaign will continue to do extensive voter outreach and education, particularly in the precincts that are new to District 7.
G. Attended many meetings all over town, spread the word about upcoming meetings among friends and online, contributed comments to the record, and helped put away tables and stack chairs! Thank you, Redistricting Task Force; yours was not an easy job.
H. I followed the hearings on SFGov.org. The representatives of D7 spoke so eloquently and about not having the neighborhood become fragmented. Their words were so sincere and persuasive that D7 remained intact with minor changes.
I. I personally had no-hand in the redistricting of District 7 but am pleased with the current configuration.
16. How will you protect current homeowners and keep homeowners from paying taxes that renters are not being asked to pay because of the lack of pass through in general obligation bonds and parcel taxes?
A. As a homeowner, I am acutely sensitive to the burden of increased property taxes. I will work to minimize the expansion of future taxes on homeowners.
B. There must be a fair structure in place that allows the pass through on a very equitable basis.
C. If millions dollars of income are lost by ʻRecologyʼ by those raiding the
recyclable bins of homeowners, then there is money to be gained by levying a fee or tax to the legal access to these recyclables on ʻRecologyʼ.
D. The Supervisors can decide if there should be a pass through on a General Obligation bond. I believe that if the revenue from a bond or a parcel tax benefits all of us, all of us should bear the burden.
E. In Paris there’s taxed’habitation: a residence tax. Renters who occupy a property pay their version of a property tax. When everyone has skin in the game, City Hall will only spend our money on what’s necessary and what works.
F. We need to provide opportunities for renters to contribute to the well being of San Francisco, as we did with the 2006 and 2011 School Facilities Bonds. I will work for future bonds to give the same opportunities for renters.
G. No response from the candidate.
H. This is a spending issue and large tax cuts are going to developers. We have to say no to the large tax cuts and demand accountability for our tax dollars.
I. I think the burden to pay for a lot of our city infrastructure should fall on major corporations who do business here, since they benefit and profit most from city services. Give both homeowners and renters a break from any further taxation.
17. Are you for or against ROTC in public schools?
A. I am for ROTC in public schools as it provides an alternative enrichment activity, which helps build leadership skills and fosters a culture of service.
B. I support the ROTC Program and feel this program is so worthy of our support, that we should honor all these boys and girls and their families for showing us part of what is good about what I consider the most beautiful City in the World.
C. I believe the ROTC program has a place in the public school system.
D. Yes, I strongly adhere to the notion that a student should be allowed to elect whether he or she becomes a member of the ROTC.
E. I strongly support JROTC. The recent lifting of the ban on gay and lesbian soldiers serving openly in the military put to rest any justifiable objections to JROTC in public schools.
F. My actions show that I support JROTC. I have authored and sponsored board resolutions to continue the program that provides PE credits — but we are accountable to state regulations. I made the tough decisions to ensure SFUSD is in compliance.
G. I disagreed with the vote to ban JROTC. There are certainly military policies that I strongly oppose but it is wrong for many reasons to deny students the many benefits of JROTC.
H. ROTC was at my high school and the students looked forward to it. Many wonderful women and men have participated in the program. The program builds character, professionalism and patriotism. The students enjoy it so it should stay.
I. I understand the benefits ROTC gives to students, many of whom benefit from the structured discipline it imparts. However, I also know the ROTC is fertile recruiting ground for the military. So, "the jury's still out", for me on this question.
Welcome to the way democracy is supposed to work. This may be the only chance many of these candidates for D7 supervisor will ever have to give their unfiltered views to the public. Hopefully, you found someone you like who represents your views on the issues.
The concept of being an informed voter is slowly disappearing under an avalanche of campaign donations let loose by the Citizen’s United U.S. Supreme Court decision, fund-raising, half-truths, campaign consultants, political endorsements, union interference, special interest influence, media favoritism, paid slate cards, and political party deals. Voters often don’t know who they are really voting for or against.
Here’s the legend to the current District 7 candidates:
A. Francis Xavier (FX) Crowley fxcrowley.com/
B. Bob Squeri bobsqueri.com/
C. Glenn Rogers voteglennrogersdistrict7.nationbuilder.com/
D. Michael Garcia www.mikegarcia2012.com/
E. Joel Engardio www.engardio.com/Welcome.html
F. Norman Yee normanyee.com/district7
G. Andrew Bley andrewbley.com/
H. Lynn Gavin http://gavin4d7.com
I. Julian Lagos No website at this time
George Wooding Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jettison the Ethics Commission
It’s time to jettison the dysfunctional Ethics Commission, whose annual budgets have cost taxpayers $45 million in General Fund support ($19 million to operate the Ethics Commission and another $25.9 million in Election Campaign Funds that is part of Ethics’ budget).
Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s upcoming trial before the Ethics Commission will be more about why the Ethics Commission needs to be eliminated, than his fitness to serve as Sheriff.
SF’s Ethics Commission is now on trial. After operating for 18 years and costing just under $19 million in tax dollars over the years, (excluding the $25.9 million Campaign Election Fund that Ethics has administered since Fiscal Year ’02–’03), the Ethics Commission has never even held a misconduct trial for an elected official, City department head, or manager. It has no trial guidelines and is currently trying to develop trial procedures for Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s case.
How did an Ethics Commission established by the voters to serve citizen interests become an agency that serves the interests of politicians and the politically influential? It’s a textbook example that power and influence corrupts absolutely.”
In 2007, the Commission started preparing a trial for Supervisor Ed Jew, but Jew resigned before the Ethics Commission could develop procedures.
Attorney Stephen Gruel, Jew’s attorney, was quoted in the San Francisco Examiner, “The Ethics Commission was unclear what process to follow and rules regarding removal were murky. A number of questions were raised, including what kind of evidence could be used, how witnesses could be called and examined, and if there really could be ‘due process’ since the commissioners are all appointed by the elected officials who brought the charges. It was a kangaroo court at best.”
The obvious problem with the Ethics Commission is its inherent conflict of interest. The Mayor, Board of Supervisors, City Attorney, District Attorney, and the Controller each get to appoint an Ethics Commissioner. These are the same City officials who determine the Ethics Commission’s budget. Only friends of the powerful need apply for appointment.
How did an Ethics Commission established by the voters to serve citizen interests become an agency that serves the interests of politicians and the politically influential? It’s a textbook example that power and influence corrupts absolutely.
Ethics Violation Cases Some examples of potential Ethics violations that quietly disappeared:
• Rigged bidding allegations on a multimillion-dollar Parking contracts
• Morgan Stanley’s advance IPO options to mayor Willie Brown and then winning multimillion-dollar Airport contracts
• DPW’s contract to SLUG, the nonprofit urban gardening organization, for work on Newsom’s 2003 mayoral campaign.
• Unregistered lobbyists—unions, the Chamber of Commerce, Rose Pak, the Association of Realtors, and Willie Brown freely roaming City Hall.
Mike Garcia, a former Ethics Commissioner and current candidate for District 7 Supervisor, states, “I maintain that given its budgetary restraints, the staff at the Ethics Commission does an exemplary job. As to charges that Commissioners are unduly influenced by their appointing authorities, I was never once called by any member of the Board of Supervisors (my appointing authority) about anything that we were dealing with. I feel reasonably certain that during my tenure, none of the other Commissioners were contacted ….”
In 2007, Ethics charges hindered Tony Hall from running for mayor. Hall’s subsequent Ethics trial revealed that his violations were based on anonymous complaints, perjured testimony, and tampered evidence. Ethics took over three years before issuing any subpoenas.
Hall ended up settling his case for $6,000 — just two-and-a-half percent of the $240,000 the Commission had initially proposed. The Commission concluded that Hall mistakenly gave his daughter a campaign credit card to purchase a purse, and had used a campaign credit card to buy gas that was non-campaign related.
Former Supervisor Hall said: “The Ethics Commission should really be renamed the ‘Unethical Commission,’ since they are nothing more than a group of second-rate political hacks who are appointed by those in power, and whose mission is to destroy the reputation of anyone who dares question the policies of the current administration. They are an administrative body with no judicial power whatsoever. They engage in the most deceptive, corrupt of undertakings as the lackeys for those who exploit people in politics. As a Supervisor, one of my regrets was not initiating legislation to disband this fraudulent Commission.”
The Commission created to serve the public good now seems to be serving City Hall politicians who fund its budget.
“They do as good a job as can be expected with the resources they have in hand, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said.” His aide, Olivia Scanlon, was a star witness in the Tony Hall trial. Scanlon later pleaded the 5th amendment against self-incrimination for tampering with evidence.
No elected official seems to want to want a truly well-funded, effective Ethics Commission.
Sunshine Task Force In stark contrast to the Ethics Commission’s 16-member staff, its $2.3 million fiscal year 2011-12 budget, and its pathetic enforcement record, the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force (SOTF), which has no staff and no separate budget — although it receives $110,288 in staff support from the Clerk of the Board’s budget — has provided much more needed transparency and accountability, and has probably saved the City hundreds of millions in preventable lawsuits. The SOTF has provided far better cost-benefit return on investment than the Ethics Commission.
Supervisor’s Tantrums On September 27, 2011, SOTF found Supervisors David Chiu, Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen and Eric Mar in violation of Sunshine meeting laws, guilty of withholding public information and violating public meeting laws at a Land Use Committee meeting that pertained to the Parkmerced development. Their official misconduct was referred to the District Attorney’s office.
Supervisor Weiner is angry about the SOTF determination against him and used his position to remove incumbent SOTF members and replacing them with “friends.” As Wiener stacks the SOTF, he destroys one of the last independent bodies responsive to the public. SF does not need both an Ethics Commissions and a Sunshine Task Force, or Wiener’s temper tantrums. We’d be better off with just the SOTF, which actually takes citizen’s complaints about open government seriously.
The Ethics Commission was created in 1993 by Prop K when 52% of the voters, and seven of the 11 Supervisors, were fooled into thinking that a new government department that dealt unethical conduct would reduce or mitigate it.
Although the Controller’s statement in the ‘93 Voter Guide indicated that Prop K “would increase the cost of government in relatively minor amounts which may be offset by related fees” [and fines], Ethics’ current annual budget is $2.3 million. The Controller proposed a new definition of “minor amounts.” That annual $2.3 million might be better spent fixing pot holes or our parks or Muni, or allocated to schools. The costs of the Ethics Commission has not been “offset” by the paltry $5,226 in fees and fines collected in 2010.
The Mirkarimi Case Ross Mirkarimi — as a private citizen long before he was ever elected — was one of 53 people who signed a paid Voter Guide argument in favor of Prop K. The same ballot argument was also signed by City Attorney Louise Renne, the Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club [which Wiener has co-chaired], Supervisors Angela Alioto and Terence Hallinan, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and David Pilpel [the latter was just appointed to serve on the SOTF by Supervisor Wiener]. Ironically, Mirkarimi will now be tried under the system he encouraged be created. Careful what you ask for.
Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, representing Mayor Lee in Ethics’ “kangaroo trial” of Mirkarimi, wrote a letter to the Ethics Commissioners delineating what their legal role will be. “The commission does not participate in the investigation conducted by the Mayor and the City Attorney. The commission is an adjudicator, and does not make prosecutorial decisions.” In stark contrast, Ethics is not supposed to re-adjudicate cases previously heard by SOTF, but is must simply enforce referrals involving official misconduct
Keith continues, “The commission must hold a hearing on the charges, make a recommendation as to whether they should be sustained, and transmit that recommendation and full record of the hearing to the Board of Supervisors.”
Yawn. Regardless of how you feel about Mirkarimi, the Commission’s real job is to make Mayor Lee’s decision to fire Mirkarimi look justified, then make Mirkarimi look bad enough to have the Board of Supervisors uphold the firing.
There is no Perry Mason drama here. The Mayor wants Mirkarimi gone and the Commission’s role is to help get rid of him. If the Mayor wanted to keep Mirkarimi around, there wouldn’t be a trial.
Does anyone remember the ethics trial after Gavin Newsom’s admitted substance abuse problems, and sleeping with his best friend’s wife while she was working for him in the Mayor’s office? Selectively, there was no ethics trial of Newsom.
Voters Hoodwinked The Board of Supervisors proponent argument in the 1993 Voter Guide: “We recognize that the people of San Francisco are in danger of losing faith in our city government. Every few weeks another scandal arises and public confidence sinks to new lows.” A separate paid argument in the voter guide noted above further said: “Proposition K will put teeth into San Francisco’s Ethics laws, ensuring that they are some of the toughest in the country.”
News flash: The people of San Francisco are still in danger or losing faith in our City government after two decades of the Commission’s squalid track record.
Supervisor Kevin Shelley wrote in 1993, “San Francisco is long overdue for serious ethics reform. That’s why I wrote Proposition K. The city must get tough on politicians who break the rules.”
Kevin Shelley became Secretary of State in 2002 and was then accused of “abusive behavior toward his underlings,” Shelley was later accused in 2004 of receiving $125,000 in laundered state grant funds for his Secretary of State Campaign.
State Attorney General Bill Lockyear publicly exonerated Shelley, of any wrongdoing. SF community activist Julie Lee, who made donations to Shelly, was designated to be the “fall guy;” she was convicted of five counts of mail fraud and three counts of witness tampering.
Then State Senator Quentin Kopp’s paid argument against Prop K said that creating an Ethics Department would “create a useless layer of bureaucracy.” Now almost 20 years later, Kopp has been proven right after SF wasted over a $19 million on this useless bureaucracy over the years.
Prior to the creation of the Ethics Commission, the District Attorney and the City Attorney enforced laws regulating campaign contributions, conflicts of interest, and lobbyists. The Mayor’s office investigated complaints of improper activities by officials and employees (whistleblowing). The Registrar’s office kept campaign finance reports. The Board of Supervisors held ethics trials.
Had all these agencies kept their respective responsibilities, San Francisco would have been better off.
Why not put the Commission on trial? In 2011 the Grand Jury’s report, San Francisco’s Ethics Commission: The Sleeping Watchdog, focused on the Commission’s investigations. These included fines and enforcement irregularities; the arbitrary method by which fines are determined; failure to provide adequate transparency; the excessive influence of Executive Director, John St. Croix, over commissioners, leading to abdicating their responsibilities to serve as our independent watchdog; and staff’s investigations.
The Commission fines miscreants just two to three percent they could assess. Being fined by the Ethics Commission is financially analogous to having to buy lunch. The Commission’s fines for lobbyists and politicians average between $5,000 and $6,000 annually. These low fines hardly inspire honesty and certainly don’t collect enough to “offset” costs.
The City’s Sunshine Ordinance is not being enforced. Between October 2004 and December 2010 the SOTF referred 18 cases to the Ethics Commission for enforcement of proven “willful failure and official misconduct” allegations. In all 18 cases the Commission took no action, dismissing all 18 cases. This lack of enforcement neuters the Ordinance and is an embarrassment to transparency. All of these Sunshine cases had some degree of merit, but were dismissed without any public hearings.
Ethics isn’t the only entity ignoring the SOTF’s requests for enforcement: Of all the cases referred to the Supervisors for action, they have held no hearings on violations.
Since December 2010, there have been at least six other official misconduct complaints referred to the Ethics for enforcement; Ethics has taken action on only one case. In my own case, George Wooding vs. the Recreation and Park Department (RPD), I requested documents from the Phil Ginsburg, Sarah Ballard, Mark Buell, and Olive Gong which they denied they had. and the SOTF ruled in my favor.
One small problem for RPD: I already had the documents that I requested, so it was relatively easy, though painfully slow, to prove withholding of public records.
This episode is a case study in the total eclipse of Sunshine enforcement in the City and how one poorly managed and dysfunctional City department, the RPD, tried to stifle public dissent. Not surprisingly, no RPD employee was fined, suspended, or faced any disciplinary action.
Ethics has postponed a hearing date on my case while they are drafting newly-proposed guidelines for Sunshine violations referred for enforcement. My case will be heard as soon as these new regulations have been developed and adopted. This may be a very long wait, since prosecution of Mirkarimi’s so-called Ethics violations has interrupted the workload.
The complete lack of Sunshine enforcement by the Ethics Commission — just one official misconduct case upheld by Ethics of at least 25 cases over a 20-year period — lets every City Department know they don’t really have to be honest or forthcoming about public transparency or public information. San Francisco’s government has failed its citizenry in very fundamental ways.
The Ethics Commission won’t begin any investigation until the District Attorney and City Attorney have decided not to pursue a given case, even though the Grand Jury noted that Ethics does not have to wait until either agency completes its investigations. Consequently, there are almost no proactive investigations regarding ethics violations.
Ethics commissioners are appointed by elected officials. In turn, they scrutinize expenditures and activities of those same officials. The Civil Grand Jury felt this leads to the appearance of impropriety, or very real impropriety.
Whistleblower Program The Civil Grand Jury’s second report on the Ethics Department in 2011, titled Whistling in the Dark: The San Francisco Whistleblower Program, said “The existing whistleblower program deals with mostly low-level issues, does not foster transparency, lacks a comprehensive tracking system, angers and confuses whistleblowers, lacks an appeal system, and fails to create effective and independent oversight.”
SF’s whistleblower program has inadequate protections against on-the-job retaliation for whistleblowers. Judging from the experiences of past and current whistleblowers, it is a very bad career move to become a whistleblower.
If you’re a City employee and your boss is stealing, or your Department is cheating, wasting tax dollars, or committing fraud, look the other way or face career suicide. The City will protect your Department and supervisor; they won’t protect you.
Whistleblowers “protected” by the Ethics Commission are routinely fired, suspended, laid-off, shunned at work, demoted, or treated as traitors, regardless of the value they provide to the City as dedicated public servants. Retirement and Social Security benefits have been denied. Many whistleblowers end-up suing the city for retaliation. The City loses many lawsuits, costing unknown millions of dollars annually, to settle.
A whistleblower said: “I assure you, the next time I witness somebody dipping their hands into public funds to steal money intended to serve the disabled I will certainly not stick my neck out by blowing the whistle and being left abandoned to suffer the blowback of retaliation and retribution.”
Between 1989 and 1993 the Whistleblower program was introduced by Mayor Art Agnos and administered by then City Administrator Ed Lee. The Ethics Commission took over between 1993 and 2003, but did such a bad job that a large part of the whistleblower responsibilities were taken over by the Controller’s Office in 2003 following passage of Prop C.
The splitting of the whistleblower program responsibilities between Ethics and the Controller’s Office has created such a poor program that the Grand Jury noted, “[the] whistleblower program has failed in its mission to promote the identification of waste, fraud, and abuse.”
The Ethics Commission is not worth saving. Its only defense? They don’t have the money to do a good job (apparently its average $2 million annual budget isn’t enough to satisfy them). An in-house analyst indicated last year that the 16-person agency would almost need to double its staff to handle the agency’s current workload; the analyst neglected noting this may add another $2 million in staff costs on top of the current $2 million in salaries and benefits in the current fiscal year. Who needs a political bureaucracy costing $4 million annually that favors politicians over citizens?
It would be much easier, and cheaper, to go back to the pre-1993 days when San Francisco didn’t have a “politically correct” Ethics Commission. This would certainly be as good as what we have today, may possibly be much less expensive, and perhaps might lead to meaningful enforcement of ethics laws. After all, we could save $2 million annually by jettisoning the Ethics Commission.
And some of that savings could be better spent on strengthening our Sunshine Task Force, our only local agency that exposes misconduct of City officials.
George Wooding lives in Midtown Terrace. Feedback: email@example.com
WHAMO!—Car Drivers Hit Again At the Parking Meter
It’s official, cars—the great Satan of greenhouse gas emissions—are now the only real way that the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency (SFMTA) can balance its upcoming two year budget.
The new SFMTA budget includes: activating parking meters on Sundays; $70 parking ticket rates; the installation of 500 more parking meters; increased parking meter rates ranging from $.25 to $6.00 per hour; extending parking meter hours and enforcement until at least 10:00 pm in different parts of town; and free MUNI rides for “low income youth.”
32% of the SFMTA’s revenue currently comes from cars, and with approved changes, about 35% of the SFMTA’s budget will come from traffic parking fees and fines. Without the revenue from cars, San Francisco’s SFMTA and transit first policies would collapse.”
The SFMTA is terrified of raising MUNI rates as the agency fears that higher fares will cause a huge decline in ridership.
These controversial proposals were approved on April 17th by the SFMTA’s Board of Directors, which unanimously passed a two-year $1,661.5 billion SFMTA budget plan that calls for spending $821 million in the new fiscal year that begins July 1, and $840.5 million in the following fiscal year. The newly-approved budget was supposed to close a $53.2 million dollar budget shortfall.
Nothing like a little social engineering to help increase a projected $53.2 million SFMTA budget deficit over the next two years. Led by Supervisor David Campos and a host of self-interested San Francisco children, parents, and community advocates who either classify themselves as needy, entitled or people who just want to feel good about themselves, the SFMTA Board dutifully pandered to the crowd. Taking money from car owners is a mentally lazy and easy position for the SFMTA board to take. Citizens who talked about fiscal responsibility or increased budget deficits were studiously ignored and reviled.
The definition of who qualifies to be a low-income child has yet to be determined so no one knows the number of San Francisco children who will qualify for this new entitlement.
Campos and company originally wanted all children 4 - 17 to use MUNI for free. This entitlement would have cost a minimum of $7.9 million per year. The low-income children entitlement, which was agreed upon, will only add an estimated $4.7 million per year in additional costs.
In its rush to be politically correct, the SFMTA Board forgot to mention that they had raised monthly youth fast passes from $15 per month to $20 per month, a 25% increase, in May 2010. Apparently, this cost increase was an idiotic mistake.
In San Francisco, free entitlements have always trumped fiscal responsibility. The pro-entitlement crowd believes that the fiscal crowd “doesn’t understand,” is “cold hearted,” or just plain “stupid” because it disagrees with the entitlement crowd’s feel-good position. Meanwhile, car drivers—supposedly all members of the hated 1%—will be paying for the free rides of low income children. 32% of the SFMTA’s revenue currently comes from cars, and with approved changes, about 35% of the SFMTA’s budget will come from traffic parking fees and fines.
Without the revenue from cars, San Francisco’s SFMTA and transit first policies would collapse.
MUNI’s current average rate of speed is at an all-time low of 7.25 miles per hour. While MUNI is blaming its reduced speed on traffic congestion, they might want to consider how much traffic congestion is being caused by MUNI buses. Many of the people financially trapped on MUNI would take a car if they could afford it. MUNI receives only 24% of its revenue from ridership fares.
Roger Ritter, a member of the Balboa Terrace Homes Association, attended the SFMTA Board meeting and spoke in opposition to “free” Muni for all youths (ages 5 - 17). He said he would support free bus rides for low-income students and stated, “What disturbed me was that the MTA directors did not focus at all on taxpayer concerns. I did not even hear the word ‘taxpayer’ mentioned, nor were any concerns raised that a ‘free’ program—meaning, of course, that someone else pays for it—would encourage a sense of entitlement and a culture of dependency. In fact, all of the directors seemed to view free MUNI for youth as an entitlement, and that their task was merely to work out the details from a budgetary aspect.”
The biggest hypocrites at the MTA board meeting were the board of education members who argued that free youth programs would equalize ridership and make the city more family friendly. This is the same Board of Education that has allowed San Francisco schools to become more segregated than ever before. The same Board of Education that promised to come up with a workable plan to allow children to attend schools located in their neighborhood and then separated San Francisco into geographic regions based on zip codes that forced/allowed children to attend schools far from their local neighborhood (thus the great need for transportation).
In fact, this was the same Board of Education that was spending $5.65 million annually for 38 school buses in the 2011-12 school year and cut 13 buses to save only $1.8 million dollars. The School Board is planning to cut even more buses in 2012-13. Only elementary and middle school children receive school bus rides. According to school district numbers, a majority of the affected students live in the southern and southeast side of the City. An estimated 22% of those students are black, 24% are Chinese, 24% are Hispanic and 11% are White.
The “family friendly” school board is one of the major causes of the SFMTA’s free low-income transportation mess.
Instead of grandstanding for more “family friendly” transportation from the SFMTA, perhaps school board members should look in a mirror, put on dunce caps and go sit in a corner. If the SFMTA board, David Campos and the Board of Education could add, they might realize that it would be much less expensive to keep the school buses than to give low- income children free rides on MUNI. As Campos seems adept at creating financial entitlements, he may want to force the SFMTA board into subsidizing school buses and get rid of free rides for low-income children. The SFMTA would save at least $2.9 million annually by making this one change.
Ed Reiskin, the Director of Transportation for the SFMTA and a responsible manager states, “These proposals (SFMTA Budget) represent a significant investment in maintenance. For too long, our maintenance operation has been understaffed and underfunded, which adversely affects service reliability on a daily basis. These proposals will allow the SFMTA to invest in our infrastructure, including the buses and trains, the track and overhead lines, and other aspects of the system so that we can address any issues before service is impaired.”
Muni finally has a Director who wants to fix the large amounts of deferred infrastructure maintenance that has been routinely ignored for years and his plans are being hijacked by political entitlements. The SFMTA’s total reliance on generating funding through cars and the elimination of fare revenues is destined to fail on several levels.
It won’t take long for the SFMTA to be proposing a general obligation bond, parcel tax or certificate of participation that requires City taxpayers to pay for the SFMTA’s failed revenue policies. Taxpayers should be prepared and aware of this huge long-term debt. As currently structured, San Francisco’s transit system cannot support itself by giving away free rides and financially punishing car drivers.
The SFMTA’s $5.00 increase in parking tickets to $70.00 per ticket will be the highest priced parking tickets in the country. The entire $5.00 increase will be going to the State of California and will not benefit the SFMTA. The annual City meter revenue is $40.5 million and the 500 new meters are expected to add approximately $718 thousand, a 2% increase. No one knows how much revenue Sunday meters, extended meter hours, and extra tickets will generate, but this will certainly be another costly inconvenience to drivers. Muni fare revenue has been static and will now decrease by approximately $4.7 million annually due to the low-income youth entitlement.
Another revenue problem will be constantly-declining ticket revenues. With 328 traffic control officers, 35 supervisors and 25 dispatchers, the SFMTA is issuing fewer tickets each year. The SFMTA issued 134,102 fewer traffic citations, $7 million less in tickets, in 2009 even though parking meter rates and traffic control personnel were increased. Ticket issuance continues to decline while the cost of ticketing increases.
San Francisco drivers are not stupid and are quickly changing their parking behavior. Drivers are increasingly parking in the neighborhoods, obeying parking requirements or shopping at malls or stores that offer free parking. Many drivers are no longer even shopping in San Francisco as surrounding towns offer lower sales taxes, lower retail prices for goods and services, and—free parking.
Parking tickets and parking meters have become San Francisco’s new form of taxation.
The City will lose revenue from both sales taxes and parking fines as people go elsewhere to shop. Parking tickets will also deter shoppers and diners from visiting the City. Who wants to park and pay three dollars in parking meter fees to buy a seven dollar sandwich and then receive a $70 ticket?
How much is the SFMTA budget really costing San Francisco’s neighborhood businesses in lost sales?
The SFMTA’s dirty secret: only 17.6% of the agency’s parking ticket revenue comes from parking meters. The majority of SFMTA ticket revenue, 34.4%, comes from street cleaning tickets. If all City drivers would simply move their cars on street cleaning days at least 134 traffic control officers would be out of work and this decline in workforce might actually allow MUNI to make some money.
Even worse, according to five-time Board of Supervisors President, Judge Quentin Kopp, “San Francisco has misused its share of state and federal gas taxes.” Reports by legislative analyst Harvey Rose show that at least $8.2 million in gas taxes was misused last year to pay for street cleaning. Rather than use gas taxes to pay for basic road repairs like almost every other city in America, San Francisco uses a large percentage of its gas tax revenue to pay directly for street cleaning.
Collecting street cleaning tickets to fund the SFMTA has become more important than basic services such as road repair. That’s why voters had to approve last year’s $248 million dollar general obligation bond to pay for road repairs, for which our taxes had already paid.
The empty store fronts and small neighborhood businesses with 20% decreases in annual sales are being victimized by the SFMTA’s predatory parking/tax policies. When Mayor Lee, who ran on a “Jobs, jobs, jobs” campaign platform was recently asked specifically how the SFMTA’s parking policies were helping small neighborhood businesses create jobs, he could not give a serious answer and joked, “I know that we will be creating more jobs for traffic control officers on Sundays.”
George Wooding. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Neighbors’ Pressure Prevails
Good news for everyone who loves Golden Gate Park: SF’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) will move its planned waste water treatment facility out of Golden Gate Park!
The PUC has finally agreed to move its planned waste water treatment plant due to opposition from park advocates and a general love of Golden Gate Park. Acting as a responsible City agency, the PUC wants to be a good steward to the environment and a friend to the people who use the park.
Neighborhood outrage about the problems caused by the old plant was so great that Section 4.113 was added to the City Charter in 1995, which states “No park land may be sold or leased for non-recreational purposes, nor shall any structure on park property be built, maintained or used for non-recreational purposes…”
When completed, the proposed treatment plant will provide two million gallons per day of treated water for non-potable purposes, such as irrigation or toilet water. Customers would include Golden Gate Park, the Lincoln Park and Presidio golf courses, and the California Academy of Sciences.
According to Steven Ritchie, PUC Assistant Manager of Water Enterprises, “On one hand, I’m quite happy that the recycled water plant is no longer proposed for Golden Gate Park because it leaves options open for the future of the corner of Golden Gate Park. On the other hand, the proposed solution at Oceanside will cost more.”
The proposed water treatment plant was going to be located at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and the Great Highway. The 4.0 acres of park land dedicated to the waste water plant are adjacent to the Recreation and Park Department’s (RPD) planned 7.5 acre soccer stadium. The stadium will feature seating, 60–foot-high stadium lights, synthetic-turf soccer fields, and extra parking. The stadium lights will remain on until 10:00 p.m. every night. The $12 million RPD soccer stadium has been designed to replace the current Beach Chalet natural grass soccer fields that will be irrevocably destroyed.
The PUC’s waste water treatment facility’s new location will straddle the boundary between the Oceanside Waste Water facility and the Armory property next door. The PUC’s Steven Richie deserves a lot of credit for finding this new alternative location. Ritchie states,
“In looking at alternative sites, one thing I observed was that the National Guard Armory had always been discounted as a possible site because of the existing 99-year lease of which we’re in year 57. It took some work, but we found the colonel in charge of facilities for the National Guard. They were unwilling to give up the use of their existing operational area, but we were able to reach tentative agreement to nibble at the edge of the leased property. We need to pin that down, but the result is a good plant site.”
The PUC used to operate the Richmond-Sunset Water treatment plant at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and the Great Highway in Golden Gate Park until the plant was shut down in 1994. Neighborhood outrage about the problems caused by the old plant was so great that Section 4.113 was added to the City Charter in 1995, which states “No park land may be sold or leased for non-recreational purposes, nor shall any structure on park property be built, maintained or used for non-recreational purposes unless approved by a vote of the electors.”
The PUC always had alternative options on where to place the planned waste water treatment plant. This changed in 2008, when interim RPD General Manager Jared Blumenfield asked the RPD to place the waste water plant in Golden Gate Park in the exact same location as the retired Richmond-Sunset plant. Blumenfield had been on the job for less than two months when he struck this deal with the PUC.
Blumenfield told the Recreation and Park Commission (RPC): “We will be asking (the PUC) for compensation and it’s a prerequisite before they’ll move forward with extraction [of] any groundwater, [that] they need to compensate us (RPD) for that, and they’ll also have to compensate us for any detriment to recreational uses, and for the lease of the footprint of the recycled water facility. So I think that we have two streams of revenue that will help us in both the short- and long-term [to] close budget gaps.”
The RPD wanted the PUC’s waste water plant located in Golden Gate Park for the money it would generate for the RPD.
There are some engineering advantages in having the new waste water plant in Golden Gate Park, but the RPD’s attempt to locate the new waste water treatment plant in Golden Gate Park was all about how much money the RPD could charge the PUC. The memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the PUC and the RPD never disclosed the annual lease and/or rental amount, but was rumored to be in the millions.
Selling pieces of Golden Gate Park for money is business-as-usual at the RPD. Both the waste water plant and the planned soccer stadium go against the rules and intent of the 1998 Golden Gate Master Plan. The plan specifically calls for the Western edge of the park to remain in a natural state.
Shawna McGrew, a retired RPD director who worked for the RPD for 37 years stated, “Thank you PUC for realizing that Golden Gate Park is a world treasure and not a place for an industrial plant. I question the RPD’s adherence to their own mission statement as ‘stewards of the environment.’ Why is the RPD replacing the environmentally-friendly natural turf at the Beach Chalet with an industrial sports complex consisting of 7.5 acres of concrete?”
Phil Ginsburg, RPD’s current General Manager, stated, “We are thankful the SFPUC was able to identify a new potential site for this critical water-supply project. It is important to know the concerns of our park advocates were heard and addressed.”
What an interesting statement for Ginsburg to have finally uttered, since the RPD has consistently not listened to park advocate’s concerns regarding the proposed synthetic soccer fields. Thousands of citizens, neighborhood groups, local environmental groups, the Sierra Club, and the Audubon Society are all asking the RPD to relocate the planned synthetic turf fields, use alternative natural playing surfaces, or simply repair the tattered Beach Chalet grass fields that have not had a makeover for nearly 15 years, since 1998.
Despite the large opposition and lack of adherence to the RPD’s own environmental guidelines, Ginsburg forges ahead with a singular, tone-deaf certainty that only a synthetic soccer field complex located on the Western Edge of Golden Gate Park will provide local children and the Bay Area soccer community with the fields that they need and deserve. The money generated from extended playing hours, permits, and soccer tournaments will create another revenue source for the RPD.
At the request of the City, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR) has developed a comprehensive Ocean Beach Master Plan. One of the major features of the plan is to find ways to reconnect Ocean Beach with the western edge of Golden Gate Park. The plan prioritizes a welcoming, natural environment. Ginsburg’s planned synthetic soccer complex is located directly at the center of this “gateway” between Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park. Ben Grant, principal author of SPUR’s plan diplomatically says, “I credit the PUC for relocating its planned water treatment plant outside of Golden Gate Park.”
Much more damaging to Ginsburg’s synthetic soccer complex are the comments in a March 4 letter to the San Francisco Planning Department from Frank Dean, General Superintendent for the Department of the Interior, Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA). Dean states that Ginsburg’s project “Should complement SPUR’s Ocean Beach Master Planning process because there is potential for that plan to recommend changes in uses in the vicinity of Ocean Beach.”
Dean’s comments are a polite way of telling Ginsburg not to build the synthetic soccer fields in an area that should remain natural.
Dean further recommends that the Environmental Impact Review for Ginsburg’s synthetic soccer field consider a reasonable range of alternatives with associated mitigation measures, including renovating other athletic fields not adjacent to Ocean Beach; improving the Beach Chalet fields without the proposed lighting; rescheduling games earlier in the day in order to achieve the desired total hours of play time before sunset; and seasonal lighting limitations to avoid adding night lighting to the area during the times of bird migration, particularly to protect the presence of the Snowy Plover, a threatened small shorebird approximately the size of a sparrow.
Ginsburg’s field-of-financial-dreams will have a huge impact on Ocean Beach and surrounding areas. The bright lights will harm bird populations and change the night sky along Ocean Beach, not just in Golden Gate Park. Birds of prey that keep rodent populations in check will also be leaving the area, just as there is a tremendous increase in garbage from the soccer fields’ extended hours. Over 55 trees will be cut down. Despite the environmental harm he is causing inside and outside of Golden Gate Park, Ginsburg believes that the longer he keeps the lights on, the more money the RPD will make from soccer players using the fields.
Ginsburg’s artificial-turf fields should last between eight and ten years before they will need to be replaced, and he has no revenue stream lined up to replace decaying synthetic turf down the road. Once the natural grass is ripped away and replaced with layers of drainage beds, gravel, shredded rubber tires, and synthetic turf, it will be very difficult to restore the fields to their natural state ever again.
The PUC’s Ritchie states, “The PUC must be responsive to neighborhood concerns, just as it must be responsive to ratepayer, environmental, and regulatory concerns. We heard the concerns of neighbors and concluded that we needed to go the extra mile searching for alternatives [sites].”
The differences between the RPD and the PUC couldn’t be starker. The PUC listens to its customers and neighbors while Ginsburg schemes about new ways to generate revenue for the RPD.
Ginsburg owes the public and the City — not just permit-paying soccer players — better management of Golden Gate Park’s resources.
George Wooding. Feedback: email@example.com.
Failed America’s Cup Deal Sinks the Taxpayers
Billionaire Larry Ellison appointed former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom as the "America's Cup Ambassador at Large." Newsom appointed Monique Moyer as the San Francisco Port Authority's executive director in 2004. Moyer now has serious concerns about the "Good Ship Lollipop" deal Newsom struck with Ellison.
San Francisco’s real estate deal with the America’s Cup has collapsed, but the actual race is still planned to be held locally. City administrators were stunned when the America’s Cup event authority abandoned plans to overhaul piers 30-32 on February 27 due to financial questions and a lack of time to complete the project. With only nine months before the start of preliminary races, it was estimated that pier repairs would take over a year to complete.
On February 28, the Board of Supervisors, probably minus the votes of John Avalos and David Campos, were certain to finalize a deal struck between former Mayor Gavin Newsom and Larry Ellison, the head of the America’s Cup Event Authority.
I just don't see how we can commit the Port to financial instability by committing to these obligations. Frankly, the cruise terminal isn't worth the risk…I can't be the one who does this to the Port."
Residents throughout San Francisco should celebrate the collapse of this deal as it would have led to an economic disaster that would have plagued the City’s revenue and tax base for the next 66 to 75 years.
The collapsed deal [give-away] struck between billionaire Larry Ellison — he owns the venue rights to the 34th America’s Cup — and San Francisco’s local politicians clearly demonstrates why San Francisco has a projected budget deficit of $229 million for 2012 and $364 million for 2013, and why Ellison is California’s richest citizen. While San Francisco politicians’ legislative skills are always questionable, the City’s negotiating skills have proven to be abysmal. The Indians who sold Manhattan for $24 in beads negotiated a much better deal than San Francisco.
It is important to understand that the America’s Cup agreement that collapsed was really a long-term real estate deal that merely featured a flash-in-the-pan private boat race in 2013.
San Francisco was about to give Ellison the development rights for several ports and land for free, to help offset the costs of preparing for his yacht race. These are some of the most beautiful, valuable land and port locations in San Francisco. Piers 26, 28, 29, 30–32, and Seawall Lot 330 were going to be given away as “infrastructure reimbursements” with almost no property taxes being paid on any of these Port properties for 66 to 75 years.
Pier 29 was taken off of the table at the February 22 Budget and Finance Committee meeting because Supervisor David Chiu is running for re-election and the planned loss of Pier 29 angered his constituents intensely.
With no agreement between the America’s Cup Authority and San Francisco, the City will now have to renegotiate a scaled-down agreement that will reimburse Ellison for only $10 -15 million in expected port repairs.
According to Budget Analyst Harvey Rose’s February 15 America’s Cup analysis, “Ellison would have had to be reimbursed for at least $111,306,520 in pre-match infrastructure work and additional work performed prior to the boat race.” Foolishly, San Francisco had not negotiated a cap on the amount of money that the City would have to reimburse Ellison for repairs and additional work. A year ago, the $111,306,520 costs were estimated to be just
$55 million, but repair costs had more than doubled.
How could the structural cost estimates have increased by over 102% in a year? The entire amount of Ellison’s America’s Cup repairs was fully reimbursable by the City through the Port’s granting of free long-term leases and development rights. The more it cost to prepare the Port for the race, the more San Francisco would owe Ellison. As infrastructure costs increased, Ellison would continue to gain more Port land and concessions from the City.
In an earlier November 2010 analysis of the America’s Cup costs, Rose showed that by granting reimbursable development rights to Ellison, San Francisco would receive only $3.6 million in property tax revenues over the next 66 to 75 years from Port locations. If San Francisco had obtained a private developer through a competitive process, the City could have received estimated increased property tax and lease revenues of $89.8 million on the same property over the same 66 to 75 years. Rose’s first analysis showed that the America’s Cup deal would have cost San Francisco at least an additional $86.2 million in lost revenue.
As far back as December 8, 2010, the SF Weekly reported that Supervisor David Campos “was worried about the possibility of the city being dragged into litigation overseas or being bound to empty its general fund during a budget shortfall.” Fifteen months later, Campos’ concerns remain valid.
Originally, Ellison was only going to be reimbursed on rent credits for long-term leases. The City then agreed to issue infrastructure finance bonds and rent credits for ten-year leases. The long-term bonds/lease payments would most likely have been Certificates of Participation (COPs) that would feature higher interest rates than general obligation bonds. The COP interest and principal payments would have been paid out of San Francisco’s already ailing discretionary general fund.
The City would not have listed the COP interest payments as an America’s Cup expense. The one great advantage of COPs is that the Board of Supervisors could approve this long-term debt without either the knowledge or approval of the voters. (San Francisco is already on the hook to repay over a billion dollars in COP principal and interest that few voters even know was issued without voter approval, even though it was a major factor in Moody’s downgrade of the City’s bond rating in 2010.) We should all be thankful that the financing of the America’s Cup deal through the use of long-term payments and interest will probably not happen now that the original agreement has collapsed.
The broken America’s Cup deal also means that the City will no longer have to pay Ellison the agreed upon 11% interest rate on the accrued value of Ellison’s expenditures. Normal interest rates are between 4% and 5%.
As the SF Weekly reported on February 15, 2012:
“In a January e-mail to staff obtained by SF Weekly, Port Director Monique Moyer laments about the prohibitive cost — which, she worries, may sink the port. ‘I just don’t see how we can commit the Port to financial instability by committing to these obligations. Frankly, the cruise terminal isn’t worth the risk,’ reads the e-mail. ‘Sorry to be the ‘Debbie Downer’ on this, but I spent a sleepless night and I came to the conclusion that I can’t be the one who does this to the Port.”
The Board of Supervisors should have listen closely to Ms. Moyer, who was appointed by Gavin Newsom in April
2004, and was paid $234,275 in fiscal year 2011-2012 to expertly lead the Port. If she’s gravely worried about the risk, she’s not a “Debbie Downer,” she’s expressing fiduciary and ministerial restraint to which the Supervisors should have paid close attention, given her salary and experience running the Port. Like lemmings going over a cliff, a majority of the Supervisors were not listening to Ms. Moyer.
Shhh … don’t tell anyone, but some of the real money in this City give-away is hidden in the ubiquitously named Seawall Lot 330. The City will now have to decide if they should still transfer to Ellison title to Seawall Lot 330, a 2.8 acre waterfront parcel at the corner of Bryant Street and the Embarcadero, with no cash contribution to the City. San Francisco had agreed to allow Ellison to build 250 luxury condominiums at the Bryant Street site. These condominiums would be leased from the Port rent free for the next 75 years. The City had also given Ellison the rights to build a marina near Brannan Street, rent free for 66 years, adjacent to his condominiums. While Ellison would make hundreds of millions on this property, the City will lose millions in lost lease revenue. This part of Ellison’s agreement with the City may still happen.
City officials knew that they were in deep water financially, actually drowning in their own expenses. The new estimated upfront event cost for San Francisco had been $51.8 million, a 42% increase over the original upfront cost estimate of $31.4 million. San Francisco had expected to generate at least $1.2 billion for the local economy;
$22 million in tax revenue based on sales tax, hotel tax, parking tax, and payroll tax revenues; and over 8,000+ full- and part-time jobs. The $1.2 billion, based on an estimated 5.4 million visitor days, no longer will be feasible, since attendance is now predicted to be much lower. Former Board of Supervisors president, Aaron Peskin states, “We should be delighted if we get 25% of the City’s pie-in-the-sky estimates.”
The only way the City could possibly have paid back its estimated $51.8 million in upfront costs was if contributions from the America’s Cup Organizing Committee (ACOC) had added up to $32 million over the next three years. The ACOC, led by philanthropist Mark Buell — who is concurrently president of San Francisco’s Recreation and Parks Commission — had only been able to generate $8 million in pledges over the last year. You can’t spend pledges, so people downtown were starting to panic. Ignoring sudden, palpable panic, Supervisors
Jane Kim and Carmen Chu, two of the three members on the Budget and Finance Committee, voted on February
22nd to continue the America’s Cup deal based on an ACOC promise that they would have $12 million in real money in their bank account by June 30, 2012 to cover City costs projected to be $9.8 million at that point. Buell states, “We’re going to have a cash flow that’s timely to meet the City’s needs to spend that money.”
John Avalos, the third member of the Budget and Finance committee and one dissenting vote against the agreement stated, “There is such tremendous pressure to pass this that I don’t feel we’re putting our best foot forward…There’s always some imminent deadline that’s before us, almost like a gun to our heads.”
Mark Buell has our respect. Wishing him success is sort of like wishing a kamikaze pilot success. Imagine the sales pitch he is going to have to give to his philanthropic friends: “Look, I know that according to Forbes magazine, Larry Ellison is worth over $27 billion; and yes, we were going to give him huge chunks of the Port for free; and yes, we have to donate $32 million dollars so that the City can earn $2.3 million; and yes, Gavin
Newsom made a horrendously bad deal so that he could pad his political legacy and receive future political
donations from Larry Ellison, but here’s the deal: If you donate a million today, you get to sit at the ACOC’s exclusive viewing center and eat caviar with heads of state, local and State officials, maybe Obama, mayor Ed Lee, and important people like Rose Pak and Willie Brown. Thank you for your pledge.”
Buell currently has pledges from 16 donors. The most interesting donor is Larry Ellison. He already owns the international America’s Cup rights to solicit sponsors, while the ACOC had owned the rights to solicit local sponsors. Ellison paid Buell an undisclosed sum of “donor” money to purchase the local sponsorship rights. Ellison may be Buell’s largest donor, but Buell is running out of things he can sell.
Budget analyst Harvey Rose isn’t buying what Buell is selling. Rose stated in the Chronicle, “We don’t have the money. In fact, we don’t have this $8 million that we’ve giving him [ACOC] credit for … You can buy a lot of stuff with hard cash, but not with pledges.” According to Rose’s report, if ACOC/Buell contributes the $32 million, San Francisco will actually make $2.3 million on the America’s Cup. But if ACOC/Buell contributes only the $8 million they now have in pledges, the City would have lost $21.7 million. This is only the money that the City has agreed to spend upfront on the America’s Cup; it does not include the $100 million+ the City would have lost over the long term.
On February 24, Aaron Peskin filed a lawsuit saying he was a member of an unincorporated group of “persons and entities that objected to approval” of San Francisco hosting the America’s Cup. Peskin’s lawsuit alleges the City failed to properly review the environmental impacts that the event will have on the San Francisco Bay and the City. It asks a judge to order a halt to construction until the lawsuit is resolved. This may have finally killed the America’s Cup deal and saved the City millions.
The next time you hear Mayor Lee talk about how broke the City is, or listen to a department head complaining about budget cuts, or see another general obligation bond soliciting property taxes for maintenance services that our taxes should have already paid for, remember what San Francisco planned to give to Larry Ellison at the expense of the San Francisco taxpayers. If Ellison hadn’t cancelled the agreement, our Board of Supervisors and Mayor were fully prepared to give Ellison everything he wanted.
Who is representing the San Francisco taxpayers?
George Wooding lives and works in the District 7. Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org
Redistricting Reprieve for District 7 Neighborhoods
Red outline is current District 7 boundaries; black outline shows initial proposed Task Force boundaries.
District 7’s neighborhoods have been spared by the San Francisco Redistricting Task Force, while District 11 neighborhoods remain in limbo.
The San Francisco Redistricting Task Force (RTF) has given back some of the neighborhoods and districts that it had removed from District 11 (D11), and District 7 (D7) may be able to retain all of the neighborhoods that were removed.
In early January, the RTF moved seven District 7 neighborhoods —including Forest Knolls, Midtown Terrace, Mount Sutro, The Woods, and The Twin Peaks Improvement Association— into District 8 (The Castro District and part of the Mission District of Supervisor Scott Wiener), and moved Lakeshore Acres and Merced Manor into District 4 (the Sunset District of Supervisor Carmen Chu). District 11’s Ocean View, Merced Heights, and Ingleside (OMI) neighborhoods have been removed from D11 and placed in D7.
Besides the addition of Lakeshore Acres and Merced Manor, District 4 remains almost unchanged.
The merging of District 7 with District 11’s OMI neighborhoods had created a step-child District 7 that no one expected and that no one wanted. District 7 had been the most moderate/conservative district in San Francisco, while District 11 residents described their district at a recent meeting “as more of a blue collar, union, working class, liberal neighborhood.”
The RTF’s initial draft proposal would have reshaped D7 and D11 beyond any objective U.S. census requirements.
The OMI was pushed into D7 because 1) The RTF had wanted to move the entire Portola District into D11, and 2) The RTF felt that it might have created a Section 2, Voting Right Act (VRA) district based on race (Asian) in D11 that it could not move. Fortunately, San Francisco is much different than 1950’s Alabama and will be able to show that race is not a predominantly overriding factor in drawing redistricting lines. Just ask Mayor Ed Lee or Supervisors Eric Mar, Jane Kim, Carmen Chu, Board of Supervisors president David Chu, State Senator Leland Yee, or District 12 House Speaker pro Tempore Fiona Ma.
Red outline is current District 7 boundaries; blue outline shows WOTPCC proposed boundaries.
Now that the Portola District looks to be shifted into D10 and the VRA, Section 2 requirements appear to not apply, D11 will probably be able to reestablish a large part of its original district boundaries.
The RTF’s District 11 meeting on January 9 was packed with over 100 unhappy people from both districts complaining about the Task Force’s changes to their districts. From the neighbor’s testimony, it quickly became apparent that there were many solutions to solving San Francisco’s redistricting problems other than the original solutions presented by the RTF. Not one of the 50-plus people who spoke was in favor of the RTF’s new version of District 7.
Both Supervisors John Avalos (D11) and Scott Wiener (D8) spoke eloquently to maintain the integrity of their district’s boundaries. D7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd stated that he has also been working with RTF members to help maintain D7 boundaries.
District 11 did not want their neighborhoods to be overwhelmed by votes from neighborhoods such as St. Francis Woods, and St. Francis Woods did not want to be overwhelmed by votes from the OMI.
The Good News for District 7 and District 11:Although still a fragile work-in-progress, the new RTF draft returned all of the D7 neighborhoods that had been removed, and surprisingly, added the New Mission Terrace neighborhood from D11 — with Ocean Avenue, I-280, Alemany and Tingley as boundaries — at a Saturday, January 21 meeting. It also appears that the OMI neighborhoods will be moved back into D11. RTF members Sonia Melara, Myong Leigh, and RTF president Eric McDonnell were instrumental in these neighborhood changes and deserve many thanks. The RTF’s redistricting decisions will not be finalized until mid-March 2012 and are still subject to change.
Sensing strength in numbers, District 11 neighborhood leaders such as Mary Harris and David Hooper worked in collaboration with District 7’s West of Twin Peaks Central Council members Paul Conroy, Avrum Shepard, Matt Chamberlain, Denise LaPointe, George Wooding, and Gus Guibert — and redistricting expert Chris Bowman — to develop neighborhood maps that placed the OMI back into District 11 and reestablished the neighborhoods that the RFT had taken away from District 7 to meet redistricting legal requirements.
The great difference between the neighborhood redistricting plan developed and presentedby D7 and D11, and the RFT’s original draft redistricting plan, is that the D7 and D11 neighborhoods presented real, existing neighborhood boundaries and demonstrated that there were pre-existing communities of interest. The first draft map developed by RTF consultants did not always recognize neighborhood boundaries or communities of interest correctly. Unfortunately, the consultants were relying on Neighborhood Groups maps drawn up by the Planning Department, not citizens.
According to redistricting expert Chris Bowman, “The Neighborhood Groups map was created by the Planning Department as a bureaucratic tool to create a mailing list of individuals and organizations who had expressed an interest to be notified when a particular project or plan was being considered by Planning for a general area of the city.” The maps were never meant to define the correct boundaries of city neighborhoods.
Former Midtown Terrace president Brian McDermott gave perhaps the best explanation of communities of interest when he stated, “I hate the idea of moving Midtown Terrace from District 7 to District 8. District 7 has always been Midtown Terrace’s community of interest. Our residents live in detached homes that have yards and parking. We have no commercial development here. Midtown Terrace residents shop at the same D7 stores, live in similar neighborhoods, and go to the same schools, churches, libraries and parks. We share the same police and fire stations and geographically, Midtown Terrace is separated from the rest of District 8 by the Twin Peaks ridge line. We don’t belong in District 8 and our neighborhood will be underrepresented politically.”
The RTF was created in August 2011 and consists of nine citizen members — three selected by the Mayor, three selected by the Ethics Commission, and three selected by the Board of Supervisors. The selected Task Force members are regular San Francisco residents who have no prior redistricting experience and havehad to learn on the job after initially taking advice from redistricting consultants. The RTF members have learned quickly and are now making their own decisions. The RTF must have all of its work completed by April 15, 2012.
The district boundaries drawn by the RTF can have a significant impact over the political landscape of the Board of Supervisors. Moderate districts can become progressive and progressive districts can become moderate with a boundary change. A major challenge for the RTF is to make sure that the RTF does not become politicized.
The RTF may be the hardest and most thankless citizens committee in San Francisco. As RTF president Eric McDonnell stated at the January 25th meeting which took District 6 Supervisor, Jane Kim out of her own District, “Every boundary line we change makes somebody unhappy.” After working non-stop from 10:00 am until 2:30 pm—- on a Saturday—- listening to hours of citizen testimony and redrawing maps, RTF member, Mike Alonso stood up, put on his hat and announced, “I have to go to work now.”
The other members of the RTF are Melissa Tidwell, Mark Schreiber, David Pilpel, Marilyn Mondejar and Jenny Lam.
Now that San Francisco is using district boundaries rather than citywide voting to elect Supervisors, the City must redesign district borders every 10 years to accommodate changes in population. The RTF must draw district boundaries that ensure that the population is equal in all districts. The 2012 RTF was formed because San Francisco now has 805,235 residents — 28,502 (3.5 percent) more people than the 2000 count of 776,733 people living in San Francisco — and the growth was not uniform in all districts. Each of the eleven districts must have a mean average of 73,203 residents.
It would be extremely wise for D7 and D11 residents to continue to follow the RTF’s website (at http://sfgov2.org/index.aspx?page=2622), which is located on the City’s Elections Department web site, or send an email to:email@example.com, since the redistricting process is tenuous and subject to sudden change. D7 residents and neighborhood leaders should send thank you letters to Mr. Eric McDonnell, chair of the Redistricting Task Force,at 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, City Hall, Room 244, San Francisco, CA94102-4689, or call (415) 554-7710. All concerned residents should plan on attending Redistricting Task Force meetings and be prepared to talk about your neighborhood’s redistricting concerns.
This is a process that isn’t over…until it’s over.
FUTURE SCHEDULED MEETINGS OF THE REDISTRICTING TASK FORCE
Monday February 06, 2012 Special Meeting 6 p.m. Marina Middle School 3500 Fillmore Street/District 2
Saturday February 11, 2012 Special Meeting 2 p.m. Washington High School 600 32nd Ave/District 1
Friday February 17, 2012 Regular Meeting 3 p.m. Room 416, City Hall
Thursday February 23, 2012 Special Meeting 6 p.m. Old First Presbyterian Church 1751 Sacramento St./District 3
Thursday March 01, 2012 Special Meeting 6 p.m. Everett Middle School 450 Church Street/District 8
Wednesday March 07, 2012 Regular Meeting 6 p.m. Room 406, City Hall
Monday March 12, 2012 Special Meeting 6 p.m. District 7
Saturday March 17, 2012 Special Meeting 10 a.m. District 5
Thursday March 22, 2012 Special Meeting 6 p.m. District 4
Thursday March 29, 2012 Special Meeting 6 p.m. City Hall
RTF regularly scheduled meetings are on the 1st Wednesday at 6:00 p.m. in Room 406 and 3rd Friday at 3:00 p.m. Room 416.
George Wooding, Feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read older articles by George Wooding
Read Previous George Wooding Articls about Laguna Honda Hospital