Exclusive to the Westside Observer

Ruminations of a Former Citizen Supervisor

Dignity and Decorum

As January City Hall events over the selection of a new Mayor and new District Attorney unfolded, I was reminded of a cardinal concept instilled in me in my early days as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in January 1972, following my successful initial effort for elective public office in November 1971. The principle of dignity and decorum was inculcated by other supervisors with whom I'd met individually as soon as I could, especially then-Supervisor Bob Mendelsohn. The concept was not only preached; it was practiced in the main. Dignity included not only proper dress, but proper language, as well as standing to argue points of support or opposition concerning legislation and procedural and similar motions. The President of the Board of Supervisors appropriately sat at a higher level than the other ten members who were distributed equally on each side of a horseshoe-drawn circumference. Social niceties were constantly observed.

I was surprised to observe, however, after the mayoral selection by the Board of Supervisors to, via the city's television station, a peculiar rotunda proceeding which included a prancing master of ceremonies and former Mayor, together with the new Mayor's immediate predecessor and various city governmental officials, and a Chinese Chamber of Commerce official who apparently engineered the new Mayor's access to Room 200, City Hall. Whatever the rationale of the post-selection rotunda proceeding, noticeably absent were two living past mayors, to with the Honorable Frank Jordan and the Honorable Arthur C. Agnos. (Former Mayor Dianne Feinstein understandably was occupied with Congressional obligations in Washington, D.C., although her husband was present). Ex-Mayor Jordan informs me he was not invited until the "last minute" and was, thus, unable to attend; Ex-Mayor Agnos failed to return a telephone call to ascertain whether an invitation was conferred upon him, although Mayor Jordan doubted it was because of past unfavorable public comments uttered by Agnos about the recently-departed Mayor. The rotunda proceeding was obviously planned in advance. Decorum dictates that all living ex-mayors be invited as early as possible.

At least one pleasing example of dignity was displayed by a new Supervisor, Scott Wiener, who resolutely stood on the occasion of his first remarks at the Board of Supervisors January 8, 2011 meeting after his installation. Other supervisors also stood in the aftermath of Supervisor Wiener's performance at the beginning, but soon lapsed into the previously observable practice of speaking to the President of the Board and other members (as well as the gallery) while seated. The dress of all supervisors was at least sober and fitting and gives some hope that slovenly practices of the Chris Daly-era will end.

One of the new supervisors, Mark Farrell, declared subsequently he would retain his private firm association, which was refreshing and might serve as an example for his ten other colleagues who pursue no private means of sustenance and treat their legislative service on the Board of Supervisors as a full-time responsibility, which as readers of the column know, it is not, despite the "full-time" amount of compensation bestowed upon these worthies. It's not merely surprising, but even ominous that all other supervisors eschew private enterprise in favor of a cocooned existence dependent entirely upon taxpayers and not the experience of "real-life" problems and issues. (Certainly, supervisors historically observed Charter Conflict of Interest provisions and avoided participation in matters creating any economic conflict between their interest and the public interest.) Incidentally, the afore-mentioned Supervisor Farrell's election, based on the vagaries of "ranked choice voting" (Janet Reilly won first place by 198 votes over Supervisor Farrell) is the subject of an unpublicized complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission and San Francisco Ethics Commission concerning alleged violation of law by former Supervisor Michaela Alioto-Pier and a committee which raised and expended funds to oppose candidate Reilly in District 2 in the amount of approximately $221,000, including a $140,000 contribution from real estate operator Tom Coates and $50,000 from arch philanthropist and socialite Dede Wilsey. California law bars a public office holder or candidate from controlling a so-called "independent expenditure" committee like the one in the issue. The major complaint by a Sacramento law firm alleges that public officeholder Alioto-Pier controlled the "independent expenditure" committee. Numerous other violations of state and local law are asserted, with the request that a maximum permissible fine be imposed against Alioto-Pier. The complaining law firm asks the Fair Political Practices Commission to file a civil lawsuit against her and other responsible parties by the end of March pursuant to relevant state law.

Speaking of legal proceedings, I've always proclaimed the integrity and objectivity of judges, Federal and State. There are few exceptions and California possesses legal authority through the Commission on Judicial Performance to administer discipline, including dismissal from judicial office of any California judge breaching the Code of Judicial Conduct. Federal law is more attenuated; the United States Constitution authorizes impeachment for lack of "good behavior" of trial and appellate Federal court judges (impeachment by the House of Representatives and trial by the Senate). That rarely occurs because of the laborious process. Unlike California judges, Federal judges are not subject to even one peremptory disqualification. Only proof of cause compels disqualification of a Federal judge, and the Federal system generally allows each judge to decide that challenge himself/herself. (Where else does an accused decide whether disqualification should occur.) Thus, it was saddening, and disquieting, to observe U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt refuse to disqualify himself from a three judge Federal appellate court panel (supposedly chosen by the clerk of the court on a random basis) to consider the appeal by sponsors of California's Proposition 8 (the ban on same-sex marriage). Judge Reinhardt's wife is Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU). The ACLU filed a brief in 2010 urging U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to declare Proposition 8 unconstitutional. According to the State Bar of California's monthly magazine, Judge Reinhardt's wife was consulted in advance of the suit to overturn Proposition 8 by a lawyer for the suing parties. After Judge Walker unsurprisingly ruled for the plaintiffs in the trial court, sponsors of Proposition 8 filed an appeal, because the then-Governor and then-Attorney General simply decided not to exercise their state constitutional responsibility to do so. A motion to disqualify Judge Reinhardt was rejected by him (not by the other two members of the appellate panel). The Federal standard for a judicial disqualification is whether a reasonable person might question impartiality of the judge or if a judge or spouse possesses an interest in the case result. Would a reasonable person question Judge Reinhardt's impartiality in view of his wife's pre-trial assistance to the plaintiffs and her organization's filing a legal brief in support of the plaintiffs? I think so. Yet Judge Reinhardt believes he's impervious to that standard, thus shaking confidence in the objectivity of the eventual appellate ruling, and the U.S. Court of Appeals.

Invited to participate in the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the transportation planning and Federal fund-allocating agency for the nine Bay-Area counties, I secured data on the financial effectiveness of the 28 operating transit agencies in our nine counties, including the Municipal Railway. The state measures financial effectiveness by the revenue obtained from fares compared to operational costs, also known as the "fare box recovery ratio." The state standard is 33and 1/3 percent. MTCs most recent data (fiscal year 2008-09) demonstrates that BART pays 62 percent of its operating costs from collected fares, meaning that taxpayers subsidize 38 percent of operational expenses, while the Municipal Railway obtains but 23 percent of its costs from fares. (The Bay area average is 23.78 percent); BART's service to San Francisco International Airport generates a 93 percent fare box recovery ratio, the highest in California. So, 17 years after supporters of ensuring BART service into SFO defeated opponents at the polls vindication of the righteousness of that cause seems manifest.

We're in a new year and it must be inevitable that a new year brings more incursions on languages. Maybe that's the reason for dismay after reading a December 16, 2010 comment from a National Weather Service Forecaster regarding prediction of heavy rain, i.e., "..it's going to be a significant weather event." That weatherman couldn't just forecast a heavy rain; let's wish for 2011 that "a significant weather event" doesn't become a normal spoken form of English and that rain remains rain. Meanwhile, be of good cheer and note the increasing success of the USF basketball team and their brilliant new mentor, Coach Rex Walters, from Santa Clara County, University of Kansas and the San Antonio Spurs. Join me on the Hilltop and watch the Dons show you a pace I never could have maintained in my salad days.

Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor and State Senator.

February 2011

Math and Aftermath

In the aftermath of last month’s Federal, State and local elections, exciting but guileful political schemes abound, including replacement of the incumbent mayor and district attorney which should be resolved by the dawn of the New Year. What seems to concern many of my friends and neighbors is the lack of sound public administrative ability on the part of the alleged contenders and, in the instance of the district attorney’s office, a career dedication to prosecuting crimes resulting from arrests by San Francisco Police Department members. Because of the problems attendant to the infamous San Francisco Narcotics Laboratory, police arrests for crimes involving the need for laboratory tests that will be admissible in evidence at a trial and convincing to a jury and judge, have turned into a policy of not filing a criminal complaint against a person arrested by our police force until such laboratory evidence is demonstrably usable at trial. Therefore, citizens are subjected to the spectacle of release of persons arrested for narcotics and similar offenses until an actual criminal complaint is filed and judicial proceedings commenced. One wonders about the existence of data showing the number of arrested persons who are released from jail and subsequently cannot be found, much less detained for trail.

Amidst the potpourri of local results, one in particular fixed my attention: the demise of the disgraceful proposal to allow non-citizens to vote in San Francisco Unified School District elections. That constitutes the second time in ten years that voters have rejected the illogical notion of enfranchising aliens, despite its consonance with San Francisco’s puzzling policies of not reporting police detentions of illegal aliens to federal authorities. There still exists a covey of SF voters with respect for Federal law.

As we await the advent of a new mayor, citizens should be aware that under current Board of Supervisors policy the board’s budget analyst is precluded from recommending the diminution of any current service level. That is, the board of supervisors has directed the budget analyst in reviewing the mayor’s proposed budget to “assume” unchanged levels of service. That such policy continues in the face of yet another prospective gap between reliably forecasted city government revenue and desired expenditures should be of interest to all residents.

Recent inquiry of this correspondent about the modern history of compensation for our eleven supervisors (now amounting to over $90,000 per year) caused me to remind inquirers of supplemental compensation garnered by all supervisors except Supervisor Sophie Maxwell, namely, service on regional agencies such as the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, the Association of Bay Area Governments, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board of Directors, the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Authority (whose governing board is composed entirely of the eleven supervisors) and the Treasure Island Development Authority Board of Directors. Most of such agencies use a per diem method of compensation to augment the supervisorial salary no longer salary controlled by San Francisco voters. For example, service on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board includes a stipend of $100 per meeting. Similar per diem sums are paid to supervisors for service on the Golden Gate Bridge and Transportation District, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the Local Agency Formation Commission, the Association of Bay Area Governments, the California Coastal Commission, the Metropolitan Transportation District and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board of Directors. Two of the supervisors, including the one whose family residence is in Solano County (shades of one-time Supervisor Ed Jew), serve on six such agency governing boards. In my youth, a popular song contained the catchy phrase, “It’s nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try.” Meanwhile, our City Hall legislative leaders propose to ban circumcision of newborn boys and meal toys in solemn exercise of their responsibilities.

I haven’t yet (to my knowledge) met a “Tea Party” member, but I continually ponder the ability of Republicans to snatch defeat from victory. As a letter writer in one of the remaining local daily newspapers observed, the Tea Party “activists” (What a word!) succeeded in doing so respecting composition of the United States Senate. In Delaware, instead of nominating House of Representatives member Mike Castle, a highly intelligent, experienced Member of Congress, a bona fide extremist by the name of Christine O’Donnell emerged triumphant in the primary before colliding with reality and losing convincingly to her Democratic Party opponent. In Nevada, with springtime polls demonstrating the vulnerability of the leader of the United States Senate, Republicans rejected a former state legislator (Sue Lowden) and gave Nevadans one Sharron Angle. Within days after Ms. Angle’s nomination in June, U.S. Senator Harry Reid had saved himself from electoral extinction. Similarly, in Colorado, the same “activists” succeeded in nominating Mr. Ken Buck (and not a respected former Colorado legislator, Jane Norton) who touted himself as a businessman capable of bestowing such principles upon the business of the United States Senate. He was humiliated by the incumbent Michael Bennet. But for Tea Party “activists”, the Grand Old Party could have claimed 50% of the United States Senate.

Speaking of the probable San Francisco budget deficit for fiscal year 2010-11, maybe the Board of Supervisors should advertise a desire to receive taxpayer suggestions on reducing expenditures. Wouldn’t that be a novelty? Let me advance some candidates for liquidation. Although the Local Agency Formation Commission (“LAFCO”) is an entity authorized in the 1960’s by state law for counties that contain several cities, San Francisco, California’s only city and county, remarkably boasts of such an agency. If all San Francisco local governmental agencies operate in boundaries contiguous with the City and County, one puzzles over the modern establishment of such an organization in city government. Moreover the general fund allocation of only $848 is a deceiving aspect of the whole story. Its budget is supported by so-called “carry forward” funds that LAFCO received in previous years; primarily from our Public Utilities Commission (PUC) estimated at $600,000 this fiscal year. In fiscal year 2009-10 LAFCO possessed a balance of $806,157 from unexpended funds, primarily derived from prior year PUC appropriations from the PUC of $700,000 annually. LAFCO possesses two “off-budget” positions, and a professional services retainer agreement with a law firm. In other words LAFCO is allowed to hire a law firm and not use the services of our city attorney’s office.

The Film Commission is a particular favorite with City Hall, operating under the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, with an annual budget of almost $1,000,000. That, of course, doesn’t include Police Department and other relevant departmental costs incurred intermittently. Films are glamorous; thus, City Hall spends $946,461 per year on the Film Commission. Concomitantly, it spends $677,920 on the Entertainment Commission, which has distinguished itself by permitting operation of nightclubs at which fatalities occur on a nearly regular basis. Instead of leaving regulation of nightclubs with the Police Department, which deals with transgressors on a daily, hourly basis, this administration maintains a policy of divesting Police Department control in favor of a commission composed in part of nightclub representatives! Maybe you can propose similar non-budget necessities to City Hall or this column. It should be done.

On a personal note I convey to readers my warm best wishes for a Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah and a healthy New Year. Until next month be of good cheer!

Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge.

December 2010

“The Prop Kopp” Takes on the Election…

Section 1 of the California Constitution proclaims that all political power “is inherent in the people.” Section 2 declares that a United States citizen 18 years of age and resident in California may vote. Therefore, the message is unmistakable: Vote on November 2, 2010. There’s plenty of material to arouse your curiosity, and, even, excitement. Besides the election of a United States Senator for six years, there’s election of a Governor, a Lieutenant Governor, an Attorney General, a State Treasurer, a State Controller, a State Superintendent of Public Instruction, a Board of Equalization member, a Secretary of State, a State Insurance Commissioner, members of the State Legislature, members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, members of the City College of San Francisco governing board, members of the San Francisco Board of Education, confirmation of three justices of the California Supreme Court, among others. There are also ballot propositions, State and local. Now that my First Amendment rights have been restored because of retirement from the Superior Court, I can resume a bygone practice of recommending support or opposition regarding propositions, which I now gladly do, while eschewing recommendations concerning individual candidates, with the exception of those public officers who directly involve law enforcement and the judiciary. Here goes.

Nine state ballot propositions are presented. Proposition 19 legalizes marijuana under California but not under Federal law and permits local governments to regulate and tax commercial production, distribution and sale of marijuana to persons 21 years old or older. I agree with the President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving that Proposition 19 constitutes a “jumbled legal nightmare that will make our highways, our workplaces and our communities less safe.” Vote “No” on Proposition 19.

On the other hand, I recommend a “Yes” vote on Proposition 20, which merely extends to the reapportionment of California’s Congressional districts the same concept that voters approved in November 2008 as a constitutional amendment for reapportioning boundaries for the State Assembly, State Senate and Board of Equalization. A redistricting commission comprised of five Democrats, five Republicans and four voters registered with neither party, will approve new Congressional district boundaries under Proposition 20. It makes sense.

Proposition 21 represents the same genre of special tax abuse that has contributed to state budgetary crises almost year after year the past decade and longer. It adds 18 dollars per year as a vehicle license “surcharge,” not for the state general fund or even Department of Motor Vehicles or California Highway Patrol expenses, but for a new fund to benefit operational costs of state parks and wildlife conservation activities. The vehicle registration fee represents a special fund to defray the costs of the Department of Motor Vehicles and California Highway Patrol, an easily understood connection between the fee (or tax) and the service to which proceeds of the fee are devoted. That’s not true with raising such tax to apply it to state parks and wildlife conservation, even if California vehicles receive free admission to state parks and beaches as a result. Not all vehicle owners and licensed taxpayers use state parks and beaches. Maybe the term “ballot box budgeting” is now trite; that, however, is embodied by Proposition 21 and, however noble the motivation, implementation of Proposition 21 drives yet another nail in the ability of the legislature and governor to execute their constitutional budget balancing responsibilities. That’s why I’m voting against Prop 21.

Proposition 22 constitutes yet another constitutional amendment effort to prohibit the state from borrowing or seizing funds otherwise designated for local transportation, redevelopment or similar projects and services. It would stop the state’s ability to use gasoline tax proceeds to pay debt service on transportation bonds or redirect redevelopment property tax proceeds or vehicle license fee income to pay for state-imposed mandates on local governments. I have never been an admirer of the redevelopment process, which essentially takes real estate from one party and allows another to purchase it at a lower price. Contrarily, the Highway Users Tax account constitutes a genuine user fee; motor vehicle operators pay the state gasoline tax of 18 cents per gallon into a specific account, the proceeds of which are used to build and maintain streets and highways, with minor diversion for buses, trolley cars and other “public transit.” The ballot argument against Proposition 22 implies that it confers state constitutional protection upon redevelopment agencies for the first time. That is untrue. The state constitution contains several redevelopment provisions. (Article XVI, Section 16) On balance, Proposition 22 is benign. Vote “Yes.”

Proposition 23 amends the California Health and Safety Code to suspend a justifiable environmental law enacted in 2006, preventing its operation until the state unemployment rate decreases to 5.5% or less for four consecutive calendar quarters! Prior legislation compels decreases in carbon dioxide emissions and is conceptually justified. Proposition 23 originates as an initiative funded by millions of dollars from two Texas oil companies. “’Nuff said?” Vote against it.

Proposition 24 repeals 2008 and 2009 laws that allowed multi-state businesses a new method of determining their income subject to California income taxation plus allows a business with available tax credits to transfer unused credits to another business in the same group. Proponents characterize the measure as ending $1,700,000,000 in corporate tax “loopholes.” I am bothered that Proposition 24, an initiative promulgated by the respected California Tax Reform Association, among others, represents another form of “ballot box budgeting” but I’m persuaded the repealed tax provisions do unfairly benefit large multi-state corporations. In my State Senate years, such corporations annually sought such legislation and obviously succeeded in 2008 and 2009. I’m voting for Proposition 24.

I’m also voting for Proposition 25, which changes the constitutional requirement enacted in 1935 as part of a compromise during institution of the state sales tax that requires a two-thirds majority of each house of the legislature to enact a state Budget Act each year. It mirrors a constitutional amendment I tried for four years to implement legislatively for voter approval, because it contains a strict provision that in any year in which the budget bill is not passed by the legislature by June 15, all legislators shall forfeit their salary or reimbursement for travel or living expenses until the budget bill is presented to the governor. It bars reimbursement for travel or living expenses or salary forfeited pursuant to the measure from being paid retroactively! (My bills also contained a requirement of five percent of general fund expenditure be placed in an annual reserve and the enactment date be changed from June 15 to June 30, the day before the beginning of the next fiscal year, but I’ll gladly accept this truncated version). Proposition 25 should eliminate the indignity of disregard of the June 15 annual deadline for passage of a budget bill. Additionally, it does NOT change the constitutional requirement of a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise taxes. (Incidentally, only two other states require a super majority legislative vote to adopt an annual Budget Act.)

Speaking of taxes and fees, Proposition 26, yet another initiative constitutional amendment, expands to regulatory fees the doctrine that state taxes must be approved by two-thirds of each house of the legislature. A true fee requires only a majority approval of each house. Proposition 26 reverses a 1997 California Supreme Court ruling that government may impose regulatory fees on companies which produce contaminating products in order to treat and correct adverse health effects related to those products. Regulatory fees can now be adopted or increased by a majority vote of each house of the legislature on a state basis or a majority vote of a city or county. Proposition 26 classifies that type of fee as a state or local tax requiring supermajority approval. I believe in user fees, charges directly related to the product or service, which underpins the fee amount, which do not result in local or state government “making profit” from the fee payers. Proposition 26 even requires a popular vote to pass local taxes. An inherent Proposition 26 problem arises from deciding whether a particular exaction is subject to Proposition 26. I can predict more business for California courts if Proposition 26 passes. I’ll vote against Proposition 26 with trepidation, hoping (perhaps vainly) that future legislators and county supervisors don’t abuse regulatory charges to obtain funds to pay the costs, for example, of hazardous waste elimination or oil spill cleansing.

Proposition 27 is easy. Vote “No”. It would eliminate the state commission on redistricting, which was just approved by voters in 2008 to stop the “fox in the henhouse” syndrome of legislators’ redistricting legislative and Board of Equalization districts every ten years. (Can you imagine that the first chairman of the California Fair Political Practices Commission under then-governor Jerry Brown is one of the proponents? You know damn well the money for qualifying this initiative and campaigning for it emanates from those affected. Need I say more?)

Now, let’s dispose of eight local measures. Proposition AA is a sure “No” vote. It imposes an additional vehicle registration fee on San Francisco vehicle owners and seizes the money for special, unrelated spending, manifestly caused by maladministration of gasoline tax and similar proceeds and subventions to City Hall.

Proposition A also merits a “No.” It’s another example of “cutesy” City Hall manipulation by the Mayor and others. It would authorize a $46,000,000 plus obligation under the guise of “earthquake retrofit” for San Francisco structures, but the structure isn’t your house or even your business building. It’s all for taxpayer-subsidized housing.

We’d repay the principal amount of $46,000,000 plus another 80% or so in interest charges on our property taxes. Isn’t that nice?

Proposition B constitutes a charter revision in city retirement and health plans, consistent with benefits in private businesses and realities of runaway city government spending which now rests on approximately $6,800,000,000 per year, an annual budget tantamount to that of Philadelphia, a city of almost five times our population. Vote “Yes” on B.

Proposition C is a silly proposed charter amendment to compel the mayor to appear on a regular basis at board of supervisors meetings, probably so people like Stupidvisor Daly, its sponsor and Fairfield, California resident can show what big men they are. Vote “NO” on Proposition C, just as you must vote “NO” on Proposition D, which, disgracefully, would allow non-citizens to vote in school board elections. (This is the kind of illogical law that affects San Francisco’s reputation for probity in public affairs.) I similarly recommend a “NO” vote on Proposition E, which would allow a voter to appear on Election Day and instantly register and vote. Registration procedures in California are generous and “liberal.” Having lived through voter fraud scandals in the 1970’s (fraudulent registrations were a part of those scandals), I strongly object to Proposition E. Vote against it.

Proposition F constitutes a method of slightly reducing the cost of elections for the Health Services Board by about $30,000 per year, but that won't occur until about 2015. Meanwhile, placing Prop F as a ballot measure causes more taxpayer expense than the claimed savings! Why reward such supervisorial foolishness? Vote "NO" on Prop F. The world, at least in San Francisco, will be better by passage of Proposition G, which removes a rigid 1968 Charter amendment spawned by one of San Francisco’s historically memorable mayors, who failed to consider adequately its long term effects. Proposition G simply removes the inflexibility of conferring salaries and benefits upon MUNI railway operators that, in practice, amount to the highest in the country! Vote “YES” on proposition G.

Finally, I earnestly recommend election of Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley as Attorney General. His experience, unquestioned dedication to enforcing state laws and disinterest in aspiring to any other office but the state’s chief law enforcement office render him so much more qualified than his (feeble and feckless) opponent whose only aim is an office higher than Attorney General. Steve Cooley will be the first Attorney General since one time San Francisco District Attorney Tom Lynch in 1965 who performs the duties of office without desire to abandon it for governor, U.S. Senator, Congress, or some other “higher office.” Do vote to confirm California Supreme Court Justice Ming Chin, (he is unopposed), and, above all, keep the faith with responsible government for we, the people!

Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge.

October 2010

Degraded, Disrespected And Disregarded

Baneful problems exist today at all levels of government, local, state and federal. The federal government operates financially without the assuredly legal restraints of state and local governments. Thus, the Congress and President of the United States lack any legal prohibition against spending money for military, domestic and foreign grant purposes every year and without the revenue from taxpayers and other sources needed to defray such expenditures. Thus, the United States of America continually incurs spending deficits of hundreds of billions of dollars and the accumulated national debt exceeds 11 trillion dollars.

At least in California, however, state and local governments must adhere to the concept of a balanced budget, meaning in the case of the State of California that the Governor, by January 10 of each calendar year, must submit to the legislature a budget for the ensuing fiscal year containing itemized statements for recommended state expenditures and estimated state revenues and, if recommended expenditures exceed estimated revenues, the Governor must recommend sources from which additional revenue should be provided. Such a state constitutional provision (Article IV, Section 12(a),) is replicated in the California Government Code for all local governmental entities, such as cities, counties, school district and special districts. In San Francisco, Charter section 9.100 mandates that the annual proposed budget ordinance shall be balanced so that the proposed expenditures do not exceed the estimated revenues. Charter section 9.102 additionally requires the San Francisco Controller to certify to the board of supervisors the accuracy of revenue estimates. (The fiscal year for California, state and local entities is July 1- June 30; for the national government it is October 1 to September 30).

Governmental financing practice basically involves two categories of funds: for example, the state general fund consists of revenue obtained for general purposes and predominately emanates from state income tax and state sales tax collections; a special fund involves revenue collected from a different type of tax, or a fee or charge. The state gasoline tax of 18¢ per gallon of gasoline represents a special tax; gasoline gas collections are deposited in a special fund commonly known as the state highway fund, although lesser portions are from time to time appropriated for non-highway purposes such as public transit systems. Each city general fund commonly consists of property tax revenue, a lesser portion of the sales tax, real estate transfer taxes (in cities that impose them) occasionally, and certain fees or charges for identified governmental services.

The general rule of proper, effective administration of state or local government treats the general fund as the singular repository of all money collected from residents and non-residents. Such doctrine rests upon the understandable principle that the legislature and chief executive, whether governor or mayor, should be able, without special interest impediment, to appropriate and allocate revenue for governmental functions and services according to their best judgment in serving taxpayers (their constituents) in the best way possible. Encroachment upon their ability to do so from the general fund diminishes their effectiveness and the good and welfare of the people who have elected them.

Special funds exist for specific governmental service purpose and theoretically embody a justifiable rationale. Again, the state gasoline tax, first enacted at two cents per gallon in 1919 is often characterized as a “user fee.” That is, the money to build, maintain and repair streets and highways in California derives from motorists who buy gasoline to operate their motor vehicles upon such streets and highways. (One can reflect upon the omission of bicycle owners from such equation!) A direct relationship, therefore, ideally exists between payment of the fee and the use of revenue from such fee, and government should not make a profit from a fee.

After more than fifty years of watching state and local government and thirty years of holding local and state elected public office, I conclude that most time-honored principles have been, and are now degraded, disrespected and disregarded, not simply by local officials who should know better, but equally if not more by taxpayers and other voters.

Examples abound. Governmental officials often will claim that a fee represents solely the cost of providing a governmental service. For example, a marriage license fee of ten dollars is supposedly measured by the average amount of time required of a city or county employee to process an application. The San Francisco real estate transfer tax supposedly evolves from the cost of an employee in the recorder’s office stamping a transfer deed and filing it digitally or otherwise. That’s no longer true. The real estate transfer tax in San Francisco was enacted to soak real estate owners, commercial and residential. It is now viewed by so-called “progressives” as a cash cow, especially when exacted from the owners of commercial real property.

Special interests now dictate revenue policy, both for state government and local governments. The cigarette tax imposed by the state was changed two decades ago by voter-approved initiative, planned and implemented by medical and health special interests to garner money for mental health services. Instead of remitting cigarette tax proceeds to the state general fund, the historic practice, a Hollywood actor with millions of dollars of wealth sponsored and secured a special interest change of policy which reduced the scope of the general fund and the ability of the legislators and of then governor to shape a truly-balanced annual state budget instead of the fiction which every year passes for a balanced state budget.

In San Francisco during the mid-1970’s another special interest, (special interests are not usually sinister or iniquitous in composition or objective) succeeded in securing board of supervisors’ and then voter approval for an Open Space Acquisitions and Park Renovation Fund (Charter section 16.107). Starting as an alleged “15 year experiment,” that measure seized two and one-half cents for each one hundred dollars of assessed valuation, money otherwise destined for San Francisco’s general fund, and placed it in a special fund for maintenance (including salaries), acquisition and renovation of parkland locally, and for after-school recreation programs. Thus, albeit for an ostensible noble purpose, budget power of the supervisors and mayor was accordingly reduced. Later, in the 1980’s, another invasion of San Francisco’s general fund occurred with the enactment of a special fund known as the “Children’s Fund.” (Charter section 16.108) That special interest notion drained the general fund of property tax revenue amounting to one and one- quarter cents per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation at its beginning, increasing to two and one-half cents per one hundred dollars of assessed value for the next nine years. (It also resulted in creation of another City Hall bureaucracy.)

San Francisco’s board of supervisors and voters have repeated that special interest funding with creation in the 1990’s of a “Library Preservation Fund,” again subtracting from the general fund two and one-half cents per one hundred dollars of assessed valuation for 15 years to increase the appropriations of the board of supervisors and mayor for the Library Department. Similar attempts to create special funds from property and other tax revenue intended for the general fund will occur this fall. A notable attempt involves State of California parks, which have suffered appropriation reduction because of the state’s impecunious financial position. Perhaps readers can analogize use of state parks to operation of motor vehicles on California streets and highways in some attenuated fashion; I cannot. Yet, California voters will vote on November 2, 2010 on a proposed state law to increase the motor vehicle registration fee (not for operation of the California Highway Patrol or Department of Motor Vehicles or streets and highways) but to augment money appropriated by the legislature and governor for the operation of state parks. Maybe the vehicle registration fee should be increased and who can dislike state parks? Not me. I do, however, dislike the special interest inclination of circumventing the allocation of general fund revenue by the constitutional process of an annual budget bill and simply seizing such revenue, so to speak, for such special state interest. Instant gratification does not usually inure to the future public good and welfare.

That is the repeated story of financial governance in the late 20th century and now in the nascent 21st century. I am an old fashioned believer in the so-called “eternal verities,” One of those eternal verities imparted to me by elders, who were wiser than I in most instances, was usage of time-tested and fundamental principles, including the rule of law about which I will comment next month. As a taxpayer who has his own special interest of eliminating and stopping waste of tax and fee revenue, one hopes our current public officials and their constituents will return to their senses, and eliminate special funds in favor of appropriating all tax and fee revenue from a general fund..

Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge. Feedback: kopp@westsideobserver.com

Sept. 2010

Supervisors’ Salary Scam

Since my last column several San Franciscans, who believe in honest, effective administration of public affairs, noted to me the current salary of nearly $100,000 for each of the eleven members of the Board of Supervisors and asked rhetorically for justification, or, at least, edification. It’s an interesting piece of city history.

In 1932 the rewriting of San Francisco’s Charter by a so-called Freeholders committee resulted in a section describing the duties and obligations of a Board of Supervisors member and establishing the salary as $2,400 per year. That remained the level of compensation for the part-time Board members until 1956. The term “part-time” is accurate. Unlike the other 57 counties in California, San Francisco is both a city and county, and functions under the administration of an elected mayor.

The Board possesses no administrative responsibilities, and don’t allow supervisors to allege otherwise! In 57 other counties, the Board of Supervisors operates with both legislative and administrative duties. For example, in San Mateo or Alameda County the Board of Supervisors exercises responsibility for administration of the Department of Public Works, the Department of Health, the Civil Service Commission, the Planning Department, the Department of Parks and Recreation and any other county service, unless by ordinance or charter such responsibility is transferred to the county manager or administrator, which has occurred in some counties. In San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors constitutes strictly a legislative body. In fact, the 1932 Charter specifically barred supervisors from interfering in the operation or management of any department, rendering it misconduct and an act which could lead to impeachment. Unfortunately, that prudent provision (Section 2.114) was modified by an ill-advised “reform” of our Charter. Under Section 2.114 neither the Board of Supervisors, its committees or any of its members could dictate, suggest or interfere respecting any appointment, promotion, compensation, disciplinary action, contract or requisition for purchase or other administrative actions or recommendations of the erstwhile Chief Administrative Officer or department heads under the Chief Administrative Officer or under any board or commission. By 1998, however, the Charter provision had been repudiated by an amendment allowing a member of the Board of Supervisors to testify regarding administrative matters at a public meeting of a city board, commission, task force or other appointed body and allowing the Board of Supervisors to adopt legislation regarding administrative matters. The result is reflected on a weekly or daily basis with supervisors attempting to coerce commission or department action. The Chief Administrative Officer’s responsibilities have literally been abolished. A substituted figurehead City Administrator occupies space in just one of hundreds of unnecessary city government positions.

I digress, however. In 1956 (24 years after the 1932 salary had been set) voters were asked to raise a supervisor’s salary from $2400 annually to $4800. That made sense, and voters did so. In 1964, a Charter amendment increasing compensation to $9600 per year was presented for voter approval. Voters again consented.

Then came the City’s first experiment with district election of supervisors in 1977, spawning a breed different from supervisors who properly treated their august position as a part-time responsibility and comported themselves (with one exception) by engaging in professional or business activity. Successive efforts were assayed to remove voter approval of any supervisoral salary change in favor of linking the salary fictitiously to a favorable comparison. One effort sought alliance to the salary of a superior court judge; another used compensation of supervisors in large counties like Los Angeles. Voters resented an effort to abolish their salary-setting power over their elected representatives and rejected such tactic.

Following a restoration of city-wide election of supervisors and a Charter initiative mandating presidency of the Board of Supervisors for the highest vote-getter, as the leading vote-getter in the 1982 supervisoral election, I was sworn in as Board President. I then proposed a Charter amendment adhering to the historical method of establishing supervisor compensation: voter approval. I asked the always-reliable budget analyst (Harvey M. Rose) to compare the 1964 consumer price index in San Francisco with the 1982 index regarding the 1964-approved $9600 salary. The extrapolation produced $23,924. I inserted that figure in the Charter amendment I proposed. My colleagues enthusiastically embraced that logical, modest proposal, and voters readily approved it in November 1982.

As the years passed, I was elected to the California Senate in 1986 and in 1996; an initiative to amend Charter Section 2.100 by electing supervisors by district was enacted. History repeated itself concerning the salary. Despite the fact that instead of responding to approximately 800,000 city residents, a supervisor now thinks in terms of responding to less than 80,000 residents, supervisors elected by district succeeded in changing the salary setting by voters. Such power was reposed in the Civil Service Commission (appointed by the Mayor, not by voters) which was directed to set the amount, based not on any change in inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index, but on alleged comparable salaries of county supervisors in other counties, jurisdictions in which the duties and responsibilities, as noted above, differ substantially from the strictly legislative role of San Francisco supervisors. The result is a salary approaching six figures for persons who mostly rely on taxpayer money as their only source of income. (That does not include additional stipends from service on regional boards such as the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation, Metropolitan Transportation Commission or the Bay Area Air Pollution Control District or the San Francisco Transportation Authority or the Peninsula Rail Corridor Joint Powers Authority or other little-known regional agency boards.) To be sure, some supervisors in May indicated voluntary acceptance of a small reduction in pay below the amount established by the Civil Service Commission because of San Francisco’s fiscal condition.

From curiosity, and at the request of San Francisco native and friend John Shanley, I secured a calculation of the inflation applicable to the 1982 salary of $23,924. Based on the Consumer Price Index increase in those 28 years, a supervisor’s salary would be $53,954 per year. A couple of voters have declared they could accept even $55,000 a “rounded off” level for part-time legislators, noting that those part-time legislators continue to attempt to breach generally accepted American forms of governance, whether national, state or local. Within the last few years, supervisors have propagated measures to divest the mayor of appointing power respecting commissions, which form the executive branch of government. In 2002 as a reaction to then-Mayor Willie Brown, the Charter was amended to empower the Board of Supervisors with appointments of the Planning Commission and Board of Permit Appeals. In 2003, that same change occurred with the Police Commission. In 2005, the supervisors, still oblivious to the time-honored principal of separation of power between the executive and legislative branches, failed to secure voter approval to enable supervisoral appointment of members of the Municipal Transportation Agency governing board. On June 8th, Proposition C on the Municipal ballot represented a Charter amendment to grant supervisors the power to appoint five of the Film Commission’s 11 members. It was defeated. (Can you imagine the reaction of the San Francisco Supervisors if members of Congress ever propagated a United States Constitution amendment to grant the Senate, or House of Representatives, or both, the power to appoint Presidential cabinet secretaries or members of the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission or any other executive branch commission member?)

In short, the Board of Supervisors dismissed history in inducing voters to allow the Civil Service Commission to utilize the pay of full-time supervisors with administrative responsibilities in counties such as Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, Contra Costa and others for a virtual tripling of their previous voter-approved salaries, and also included these part-timers, who can, at best serve but eight years, in the generous City Retirement System. Maybe historians like John Shanley are correct in craving reinstatement of historical voter rights over those who supposedly serve voters.

Since the Observer will not publish next month, I convey my warmest best wishes for a scintillating summer, free of care and full of sports and songfest.

Quentin Kopp is the former SF Supervisor, State Senator and Judge.

July 2010

Election Season Observations

Since so many people have generously commented to me over the past several years about missing my ballot measure and voter recommendations, perhaps readers of this column will find of interest my predilection respecting state and local ballot measures and some public office preferences, with brief statements of reason. I respectfully suggest support of State Propositions 13 (meaning that seismic reconstruction of a building will not cause property tax reassessment), and 14 (allowing all voters to choose a candidate for congressional and state elective offices irrespective of the candidate’s political party or the voter’s) and 15 (creating a voluntary system only for Secretary of State candidates to qualify for a public campaign grant funded by a fee charged to lobbyists, lobbying firms and lobbyist employers, together with any voluntary contributions to such a fund, and conditional upon showing sufficient specified public support to justify receiving such public funding).

I suggest voting against Proposition 16, a remarkably brazen effort by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric Co. to stop cities, counties, irrigation districts and any other local governmental entity from creating new public providers of electricity or expanding a publicly-owned utility to a new geographical area already served by an investor-owned utility. Proposition 16 requires any such local agency to obtain a 2/3 voter approval to do so. Now, I don’t know whether San Francisco’s proposed so-called “Community Choice Program” can save us ratepayers money; there has been a strong reasoned analysis by SF Weekly that it cannot, and that it will, in fact, cost us through higher rates. But that ought to be our local choice through duly elected public officials. It also should be the choice of ratepayers in other cities, counties and special districts. If Proposition 16 is approved, it will not be their choice as a practical matter— super-majority voter approval will rarely, if ever, occur.

I also suggest a vote against Proposition 17, another truly special-interest initiative by Mercury Insurance Co, that will enable automobile insurance companies to implement a surcharge on all of us who must buy automobile liability insurance. It insidiously permits insurance corporations to raise rates on automobile owners who cancelled automobile insurance for at least 91 days over the past five years, including someone in military service who cancels his/her automobile insurance while serving on active military duty. (Can you imagine doing that to a soldier or Marine?)

On local measures, I suggest support for Proposition B (the general obligation bond to repair and improve fire stations, water equipment and the emergency command center), D (which tempers taxpayer costs for the city employees’ retirement system), E (which provides clarity in the annual budget as to the money spent by the Police Department to protect City officials and asserted “dignitaries”), and a vote against Proposition C (another supervisoral attempt to blur separation of powers by gaining authority to appoint members of an already unnecessary, expensive commission), F ( another one-sided addition to rent control bureaucracy and red tape, intended to punish any landlord, be he, she, a large apartment owner or someone renting two modest flats) and G (yet another egoistic, unnecessary, non-binding, academic, infeasible nuisance by a supervisor who lives in Solano County but escapes attention from the same feckless District Attorney who delighted in prosecuting poor Ed Jew. (Remember him?) I leave Proposition A to your judgment, simply because I am over 65 and, thus, eligible for an exemption from this “school facilities special tax.” I note the existence of two contested judicial office elections about which I feel particularly qualified to recommend a position. That’s why I commend current Superior Court Judge Richard Ulmer (Seat No. 15) and Assistant District Attorney Harry Dorfman (Seat No. 6). I also am confident in recommending my wonderful wife, Mara S. Kopp, Andrew Clark, Dan Dunnigan and John Shanley for the Democratic County Central Committee. Please give each candidate your vote if you are a Democrat.

As a registered (since 1985) Independent voter, I can now, by California law, vote in any party primary. Candidates for statewide elective office are listed on pages 40-41 of the state voter information guide for the June 8, 2010 primary election in which all readers should participate. Please do so. By your leave, I invite those voting in the Democratic Party Primary to consider my suggestion of Edmund G. Brown, Junior for governor (he’s experienced and honest), Assemblyman Pedro Nava for Attorney-General (he’s an actual former criminal prosecutor and trial lawyer in Fresno and Santa Barbara Counties), Assemblyman Hector De La Torre for Insurance Commissioner (he’s a thoughtful, sound legislator who successfully led the recall of corrupt officials in Southgate, CA., his hometown), Bill Lockyer for Treasurer (an old friend who’s unopposed because he’s competent) and Betty Yee for Board of Equalization (she’s a product of a small laundry in San Francisco and a devoted Board member without apparent political guile).

If you are voting in the Republican Party Primary, I recommend Professor and former Director of Finance Tom Campbell for U.S. Senate (he’s the smartest person I’ve ever met in elective public office and a longtime friend from State Senate years), Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner for Governor (another bright, successful businessman who’s idealistic), Damon Dunn for Secretary of State (he’s a keenly-motivated young Stanford graduate with Harvard Business School training and administrative acuity) and Steve Cooley for Attorney-General (he’s been an outstanding career trial prosecutor and District Attorney for several years in Los Angeles, our largest county, and does not wear partisan political ambition on his sleeve, unlike our local aspirant).

Next month I’ll discuss more San Francisco City Hall history. Until then, be of good cheer—and be sure to vote!

Quentin Kopp is the former SF Supervisor, State Senator and Judge.

June 2010

Jig is up for SF Justice

These are not good times for San Francisco’s justice system. Particularly troubling to law-abiding citizens who want honest, competent enforcement of laws against criminal conduct is the state of the administration of criminal justice in San Francisco Superior Court. By now, readers know of weaknesses, plain misconduct and even disregard of standard procedures in the narcotics laboratory of the San Francisco Police Department

in 2009 and probably prior thereto which will eventually result in dismissal of over 1,500 criminal cases for possession, sale, trafficking and associated criminal behavior regarding unlawful drugs. Many narcotics arrests don’t even now result of filing of penal charges in Superior Court by a miscast District Attorney.

It isn’t simply attributable to a one-time laboratory technician who has admitted personally using cocaine from evidence samples in the crime laboratory or the Police Department that employed her; ultimate responsibility and failure to discharge duties as District Attorney of the City and County of San Francisco reposes in the current District Attorney, who despite an abysmally low record of prosecutorial success in her publicity-flecked tenure, now displays the unchecked ambition to succeed Attorney General Edmund G. Brown, Jr. as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.

Unassailable documents disclosed by the District Attorney’s office as part of pending illegal narcotics cases prove that as of November 19, 2009 the District Attorney knew the crime laboratory was not functioning properly. An Assistant District Attorney described the situation as “becoming ridiculous.” District Attorney Kamala Harris’ supervising lawyer in the Criminal Division was so notified. Not until February 22, 2010 was a criminal investigation instituted. By March 9, 2010 Chief of Police George Gascon had closed San Francisco’s crime laboratory, and by the end of March drug cases were being dismissed because the Superior Court concluded convictions were unlikely without reliable evidence concerning test findings on narcotics seized by San Francisco Police as part of lawful arrests.

The handling of illegal narcotics seized during the course of an arrest or an independent court-authorized search of premises or vehicles constitutes perhaps the most significant part of a criminal narcotic proceeding. Every prosecutor knows that to convince a jury or judge of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, maximum care must be conferred upon preservation of the seized narcotics, their consequent scientific testing in a laboratory, maintenance of an accurate record concerning the entire process and ultimate testimony in court by a qualified expert laboratory technician on the nature and quantity of the seized drugs. All such information must be provided to the defendant’s lawyer before trial. If infirmities exist in the process, an alert defense lawyer will utilize the opportunity to obtain a court-ordered dismissal of the case or a jury acquittal based upon insufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That is especially true in San Francisco’s Superior Court. Having served as an assigned judge at the Hall of Justice, and having observed and discussed the ability of lawyers in the Office of the Public Defender, led by a fiercely competitive, competent Jeff Adachi, I understand the observation of a former supervising criminal judge that the Public Defender’s office was the most effective agency at the Hall of Justice and the District Attorneys’ was the most ineffective. All of this is, however, at the expense of the public. Until and unless manufacturing, possession and sales of illegal narcotics are altered by the legislature and governor or a voter-approved initiative to non-criminal conduct, such acts are penal in nature and it is the District Attorney’s duty to prosecute them with probity and integrity. The people of San Francisco deserve no less; they have not been well served. As a retired judge, I’m appalled.

Criminal justice also suffers because of thoughtless acts of prior Board of Supervisors members and Mayors in persuading voters to alter the composition of the Police Commission and reduce its jurisdiction. The 1932 Charter, which provided San Franciscans a government free from corruption and major inefficiency, established the Police Commission with three members appointed by the Mayor. That was consistent with the voter-desired concept of an executive branch managed chiefly by the Mayor, but with the six important departments such as Public Works, Health, Real Estate and Electricity administered by a non-elected Chief Administrative Officer, appointed by the Mayor and confirmed by the Board of Supervisors. That gave San Franciscans admirable city service, highlighted for example by the eight-year tenure of Mayor George Christopher (1956-64), probably the most capable administrator in San Francisco’s long history. It also furnished San Franciscans a largely well-behaved Police Department, containing a Bureau of Internal Affairs charged with investigating police misconduct and recommending disciplinary action to the Chief of Police and Police Commission.

Then, beginning in 1982 some imprudent Board of Supervisors members tinkered. First they enlarged the Police Commission to five members, including a quota that at least one member be a woman. (Of course, prior thereto any Mayor could legally appoint all three members as a woman and the 1982 Mayor happened to be a woman.) About the same time, an Office of Citizen Complaints was established with detailed staffing requirements for purposes of investigating complaints of police misconduct and recommending consequent disciplinary action, replete with tax-supported hearing officers and preparation of bureaucratic quarterly reports to the President of the Board of Supervisors. The Bureau of Internal Affairs, which had been led honorably by such officers such as the late Captain Mortimer McInerny in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, was relegated to “dustbin” status.

Later, the Police Commission was enlarged two more members, both appointed by the Board of Supervisors, thus mixing the strictly legislative function of the Board with executive power, a practice conspicuously condemned by students of American government. (Suppose hypothetically the United States Constitution allowed the Congress to appoint three members of the U.S. Supreme Court.) Police Department authority over nightclub and similar entertainment permits was removed in favor of yet another bureaucracy, an Entertainment Commission. Power to issue and regulate use of taxicab permits was also removed from the Police Department, usurped by a Taxicab Commission, riddled with members from taxicab companies and industry representative to the dismay of hard working, striving cab drivers trying to obtain an individual permit under the 1978 voter-adopted Proposition K. The Police Department historically enforced laws regulating nightclubs because of the inherent problems in nightclub operations, namely, opportunities for not just anti-social behavior, but undisguised criminal conduct in such areas as narcotics, robbery and rape. Similarly, because of the potential for criminal acts in the operation of a taxicab, the Police Department historically regulated issuance of permits to ensure distribution to people of good character, a safe driving record and the honest treatment of passengers.

Now, citizens are treated almost daily to stories of criminality in San Francisco nightclubs, including homicides. Moreover, the Charter clause establishing the Entertainment Commission limits the ability of city government to yank instantly the permits of a nightclub in which crimes occur or state, federal or local laws are violated. Why? Voters were induced to approve an Entertainment Commission consisting of members who are in that very “profession.” Talk about a conflict of interest. Apparently that never entered the mind of the progenitors of this invidious concept.

With all of San Francisco’s criminal justice problems, earnest men and women in the Police Department continue to execute their sworn duty to protect people and prevent crime. One, however, wonders whether a political “earthquake” will be required to restore authority to a Police Commission composed of true citizen volunteers who do not believe in using commission appointment as a political foundation, who do believe in maximizing law enforcement capacity and who are fully able to eliminate or penalize errant police officers. That “earthquake” also needs to restore Police Department (and Police Commission) jurisdiction over nightclubs and taxicab operations. Will it happen? Probably not. The hand-wringing of newspaper columnists will continue and, maybe, just maybe, the crime laboratory technician who admits the theft and use of cocaine from the laboratory may even be charged by our fighting District Attorney with the applicable legal violations. So far, even that manifest action hasn’t happened.

San Franciscans should also know that, using California Attorney General statistics, another candidate for Attorney General reveals San Francisco’s violent crime rate is 364.63 per 100,000 people compared to the statewide rate of 153.58 incidents per 100,000 population, 3.0 annual homicides per 100,000 people versus the statewide rate of 1.8 homicides per 100,000 people, 11.71 forcible rape incidents per 100,000 population versus statewide forcible rape occurrences of 7.22 annually per 100,000 population and 201.29 robberies per 100,000 people in San Francisco versus statewide robbery incidents of 58.86 annually per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, yet another newly appointed Superior Court Judge, the Honorable Richard Ulmer, a candidate for election next month, must confront two weakly-credentialed opponents because a Republican governor selected him and Judge Ulmer was a registered Republican. (He has since re-registered as an Independent, which, as a long time Independent, I cannot criticize; it does, however, demonstrate ultimate political “correctness” in San Francisco that a non-partisan judicial office generates opposition only because of partisan registration.) The spectacle of Republican judicial appointees under attack in San Francisco is not new; just two years ago former Judge Tom Mellon was defeated by a Board of Supervisors member mostly because of the latter’s endorsement by the Democratic County Central Committee. (One of the worst events in California’s nearly 100 year old history of non-partisan County and City office holding occurred about 20 years ago with a California Supreme Court decision which enabled partisan county central committees to endorse candidates in non-partisan elections). San Francisco’s Superior Court has suffered from former Judge Mellon’s defeat. The District Attorney’s pursuit of politics over prosecution excellence doesn’t help the beleaguered Superior Court.

Quentin Kopp is the former SF Supervisor, State Senator and Judge. Feedback: quentin@westsideobserver.com

May 2010

Dismantling Voter Mandates

History shows the vagaries and moral weakness of some political institutions and public officials. Particularly in times of stress, civic affairs generate a cornucopia of distortions and thoughtless, even disrespectful, decisions.

I was thinking the other day of the disdain which City Hall often confers upon voter-approved initiatives. On June 6, 1978 San Francisco voters approved an ordinance which reformed a corrupt system of issuing taxicab permits in our city. Previously, the San Francisco Police Department processed all applications for a permit to operate a taxicab in the City and County. The Board of Supervisors and Mayor, under the San Francisco Municipal Code, set the number of such permits. That number changed from time to time, but only after a series of disputatious Board of Supervisors committee and Police Commission hearings in which taxicab companies argued for increasing the number of permits with some members of the public who complained of inadequate taxicab service, while cab drivers always opposed any such increase. The Municipal Code did not require a permit owner to actually operate a taxicab. Rather, the permits were obtained by doctors, lawyers, businessmen and women, nurses, accountants and homemakers. Moreover, the law enabled transfer or sale of a taxicab permit for tens of thousands of dollars more than the simple $50 application fee to the Police Department. By 1977, taxicab permits sold as private property for as much as $60,000.

The seeds of the June 6, 1978 initiative, Proposition K, on the Municipal ballot were nourished by the unexpected bankruptcy of the owner of the Yellow Cab Company, which held over 100 permits. For several years, after discovering that San Francisco law required no actual operation of a taxicab by a permit holder, and countenance of the million dollar business of selling a governmental permit as a private asset, I had tried to invoke enthusiasm with my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors to promulgate stiff and fair regulations of the nasty permit-trading business and its consequences. The Yellow Cab Company bankruptcy breathed life into my effort. Twice the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance with provisions similar to Proposition K, only to suffer frustration with a mayoral veto which could not be overridden.

Thus, in early 1978, the impetus caused then supervisors Ron Pelosi, Al Nelder, Lee Dolson, Bob Gonzales and me to submit such an initiative to the Registrar of Voters as Proposition K. It declared that all taxicab permits are the property of the people of San Francisco and shall not be sold, assigned or transferred, and that the Chief of Police shall have the responsibility of establishing regulations to ensure prompt, courteous service to the riding public.

Proposition K further stated that the taxicab business would operate under free enterprise principles, and permitted taxicab drivers to even charge less than the maximum rate of fares set by law. It empowered the Police Department to issue a sufficient number of permits to ensure adequate taxicab service throughout San Francisco, and declared that an applicant would pay the City a fee simply to cover the cost of investigating and processing each application.

It prohibited issuance of any permit unless the person applying declares under penalty of perjury his or her intention actively and personally to engage as a permitee-driver for at least four hours during any 24 hour period on at least 75 percent of the business days during the calendar year, and barred issuance of more than one permit to any one person. It further granted preference in the issuance of a permit to any person who had driven a taxicab in San Francisco for at least one consecutive 12 month period during any of the three calendar years immediately prior to the filing of an application, and declared that a permit shall be issued only to a natural person, and not a business, firm, partnership or corporation.

In deciding to issue a permit, the Police Commission was ordered to consider whether the applicant was financially responsible, complied with all pertinent motor vehicle laws (meaning a competent driving record and safe motor vehicle) and would be a full-time driver of the taxicab. Proposition K emphasized that all persons, businesses, firms, partnerships, and corporations who possessed a permit on the day of the election must surrender any such permit within 60 days of the election and that the new permits would be non-transferable and non-assignable. Further it mandated that a corporate permit is null and void after a sale or other transfer of 10 percent or more of stock ownership or assets of such corporation (computed on a cumulative basis).

Proposition K thereafter resulted in issuance of hundreds of permits to genuine drivers of taxicabs, those who had been prevented from entering the profession except in an indentured fashion by corporate “big shots.” Subsequent history included eight separate lawsuits in state and federal courts to overturn the people’s will on contrived and frivolous constitutional grounds, at least seven efforts to repeal or modify Proposition K’s provisions at the ballot box, all of which were rejected by voters, and sleight-of-hand tactics to obtain transfer of permits to relatives of the corporate owners at their death or otherwise. Despite the drumbeat of effort to seduce and deceive voters and subsequent board of supervisor members and mayors, and weak enforcement by the City Attorney’s office, Proposition K survives, or at least it has survived until the advent of the present Mayor and his self-proclaimed municipal government and transportation experts.

Misrepresenting himself as a believer in Proposition K’s principles, then Supervisor Gavin Newsom introduced a law which transferred administration of taxicab permits from the Police Commission to a newly constituted Taxicab Commission. Unsuspecting taxicab drivers, including their union, allowed themselves to embrace such a lure from then Supervisor Newsom. A commission comprised of the very persons who represented corporate and similar interests in undermining implementation of Proposition K gained control of the processing and retention of taxicab permits.

Proposition K was passed to stop permit profiteering but the Taxicab Commission staff was not comprised of law enforcement officers and was overpowered by a subservient commission which ignored the fundamental principles voters enacted in 1978.

But that wasn’t enough for the current Mayor. As part of another City Hall “reform,” this time with the Municipal Railway, the Charter was amended to allow elimination of Public Utilities Commission authority over the Municipal Railway and transfer of such somber responsibility to yet a new governmental agency, a San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (MTA).

Obfuscated in the dense ballot language was a single sentence, transferring all regulation of taxicabs to the new bureaucracy and bestowing upon the MTA power to establish regulations affecting permits and their possession by honest taxicab drivers. That sentence, however, was identified by conscientious taxicab drivers who prepared to oppose such Charter change. In response to the accusation that he was trying to abolish the salutary provisions of Proposition K with a Charter amendment co-sponsored by the then Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, the mayor co-signed a letter with Mr. Peskin stating unequivocally that the core features of Proposition K would not be undone by the proposed MTA.

The Mayor’s Charter amendment was approved by voters. Guess what? Less than three years later, the Mayor proposed a budget which included hundreds of thousands of dollars based upon altering the permit and driving provisions of Proposition K to allow sale as a private asset of a permit from a possessor to another party and eliminating for practical purposes any driving requirements, thus turning history’s clock back to the “good old days.” Venal permit holders who want to sell permits for $250,000 or more, (based on Mayor Newsom’s calculation of their “market value’) will now profiteer with cash from a public asset at the expense of working honest taxicab drivers who cannot afford $250,000. The façade of even a Taxicab Commission has been eliminated; Police Department authority no longer exists and while Mr. Peskin takes seriously the words of his written promise to the public, this Mayor does not. Is that a common politician or not?

A similar event has occurred with respect to the so-called nightclubs in San Francisco. Prior to the establishment of the Entertainment Commission (which provides no entertainment to bedeviled residents near many nightclubs in San Francisco), the Police Department enforced all laws pertaining to nightclubs and decided whether and under what conditions a nightclub permit would be issued. Voters were gulled into thinking that an Entertainment Commission would relieve the Police Department of excess effort. Instead, San Francisco residents are treated to the terrifying spectacle of murders by firearms and other weapons in and around nightclubs under Entertainment Commission approval.

There is no substitute for Police Department administration of local activity, which contains inherently the opportunity for violence, fraud, and other corrupt or potentially injurious activity. Instead of recognizing that stark fact, City Hall wants to embed in the City Charter (our local version of the Constitution) a managerial clause about the number of police officers assigned to “foot patrol” and the circumstances thereof. Our new Police Chief has written publicly of the plain foolishness of legislatively attempting to manage our law enforcement officers. Proper administration of justice means it must not happen.

Finally, one acknowledges an effort to correct historical excess, which has plagued San Francisco taxpayers for over four decades. In 1968, during the late, great Joseph Lawrence Alioto’s first year as mayor, he was inveighed to urge the Board of Supervisors and voters to amend Charter clauses respecting compensation of Municipal Railway coach and bus operators. The consequence was a Charter provision that forces the setting of salaries of Municipal Railway employees as the average of the two highest wage rates of other railway and bus systems in the United States, normally employing at least 400 coach or bus operators and platform employees. One supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, has publicly proposed legislation to afford voters opportunity to revise that inflexible Charter clause, which has produced distended Municipal Railway budgets during the 1970’s and 1980’s, while I served on the Board of Supervisors, and continues to do so.

While Mr. Elsbernd talks of a voter initiative to alter that illogical standard, doubt remains whether enough voter signatures can be secured for ballot placement so as to reverse a mistake yesterday’s leaders in city government afflicted upon future generations.

Former Supervisor Kopp was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1971 and served until 1986, representing the conservative West Portal neighborhood.

April 2010

High Speed: An Historical Perspective

Most people recognize that history provides guidelines and lessons in human affairs. Having served in various elective and appointed public offices, replete with varying crucibles of disputatiousness and responsibility, commencing in 1967 with my appointment by then-San Francisco Board of Supervisors President John A. Ertola to the San Francisco Charter Revision Commission, historical reminders serve a purpose for younger generations and even older generations.

Having introduced successfully the legislation establishing the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 1996, and having served since June 2006 by appointment of the State Senate as a Governing Board Member, including three years as Board Chairman until June 30, 2009, I understand the inevitable differences of opinion about the manner in which the California High-Speed Rail Project should be consummated.

As the largest non-defense and non-space industry project in California’s history and invoking memories of such national projects as the Transcontinental Railroad, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Grand Coulee and Hoover Dams, and the Interstate Highway System of post-World War II America, ultimate decisions are vigorously debated and premises are acutely scrutinized. Moreover, contemporary California (and America) functions with legally-enacted environmental analyses intended to restrain adverse effects from any construction project, much less one with the enormity of high-speed rail.

While traditional anti-governmental spending entities and persons condemn the notion of trains traveling at speeds of 200-220 miles per hour and spurn replication of high-speed rail systems which began in 1964 in Japan and have been added in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, England, Belgium, Holland, South Korea, Taiwan, and China, national transportation policy has markedly shifted, just as California transportation policy changed with then-Governor Pete Wilson’s approval of a State Senate measure creating the California High-Speed Rail Authority and handing it the responsibility to implement high-speed rail as quickly as possible. That legislative and gubernatorial action was reiterated by California voters in November 2008 (after several postponements) with approval of a $9.95 billion State General Obligation Bond for high-speed rail and its connection to regional rail systems. Having secured approval of its Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) in early 2008 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Railroad Administration, the Authority Board certified the capacious document on July 8, 2008.japanese high-speed rail train

The next step in the process includes structural engineering design at the various section alignments between San Francisco and Anaheim, through San Jose, the Central Valley and Los Angeles, together with accompanying environment analysis. It is laborious, necessitating investigation of all environmental effects and the feasibility of alternatives. As California courts have continually iterated, in the first part of the EIR, the standard is whether an alternative is potentially feasible: in the second part, the final decision on project design approval, the decision-making body evaluates whether the alternatives are actually feasible and may reject as infeasible any alternative identified in the EIR as potentially feasible. Among present public opinion differences about construction of the project between San Francisco and San Jose are those relating to whether the entire route alignment should be aerial, underground, or trenched. Such potential opinions are not endemic only to high-speed rail on the Peninsula. As the history of key decisions in the development of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) demonstrates, similar contentious differences of opinion throughout the three-county district in the 1960s occurred. In downtown San Francisco, 14 citizen advisory groups raised questions about BART facilities. Over a nearly two-year period, BART dealt with station mezzanine extensions, station locations, the depth of BART structures below ground, separate utility chases, sidewalk width, plaza developments the length of Municipal Railway platforms, placement of station entrances—all seeking to prevent adverse effects upon traffic circulation patterns. Similar discussions occurred in downtown Oakland.

In Berkeley, city planners proposed placing a portion of the alignment underground. In spring, 1964, a City Council Committee headed by Mayor Wallace Johnson, propounded the sale of “tax allocation bonds,” of which $6.2 million would be earmarked for construction of additional subway alignments throughout Berkeley. Berkeley asked BART to provide an estimate of the additional cost of total underground construction. BART’s preliminary estimate was $21 million. Berkeley’s engineers adamantly defended the estimate of $10 million for realigning the route underground. At the end of 1964, the BART estimate of total subway cost increased to $25 million, and the Berkeley City Council decided to offer Berkeley voters a choice between a shorter or longer subway extension. Voters were given three choices: First, establishment of a special district within BART, in which a bond election could be held; second, approval of a bond issue for $2.4 million, representing the difference between the Federal Capital Grant of $4.7 million and a $7.1 million low bid for the two shorter underground portions; and third, approval of a bond issue of $20.5 million to cover, with a federal grant, BART’s estimate of $25 million as the cost of placing the entire alignment underground through Berkeley.

The City Council Members strongly supported, as did a citizens’ committee, the larger bond issue. So did citizen and political organizations from the conservative Berkeley Citizens United to the radical Committee for New Politics, who waged a strong campaign amidst the crest of much anti-BART sentiment, which, in turn, was encouraged by the San Francisco Chronicle’s stinging campaign against BART. On October 5, 1966, voters approved the larger bond measure by an 82% “yes” vote. In the end, additional costs of placing the route underground from a financial concern of such additional costs were more than satisfied by Berkeley’s bond issue: The ultimate low bid for the entire subway through Berkeley was $12.5 million, thus obviating Berkeley’s need to issue the total approved general obligation bond. Today, although Bay Area residents take for granted the fact of underground Berkeley BART stations; the decision-making process was, however, arduous but different in scope than the decision-making process which California and federal environmental laws require in 2010. All interested persons may be assured that the California High-Speed Rail Authority follows (and will continue to follow) those therapeutic laws, which didn’t exist for the 71-mile initial BART system that opened on phases beginning on September 11, 1972.

Fundamental principles of fair expenditure of public funds will be practices, without favoritism based on affluence.

Former Supervisor Kopp was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1971 and served until 1986, representing the conservative West Portal neighborhood.

March 2010

Terminal Turmoil

SF Terminal Requires A Full Review

In approving the ballot measure known as Proposition 1A last November, California voters confirmed the financial foundation for development of a multi-billion dollar high speed rail system connecting Northern and Southern California. Now, voters, taxpayers, and future riders expect and deserve assurance that the system will be properly built, including selection of appropriate design and methods for traversing all sections of the project’s first phase from San Francisco to Anaheim, such as San Francisco to San Jose and selection and design of the northern terminus in San Francisco.

In 1997, the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency, San Francisco Planning Commission, San Francisco Board of Supervisors and then Mayor decided to proceed with a new train terminal between Folsom and Mission Streets and Main and Beale Streets. Thereafter, the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District accused the Mayor and City and County of violating the California Environmental Quality Act and demanded rescission of all resolutions adopted by the Redevelopment Agency, Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, and Mayor. The District allegedly didn’t like the location for purposes of operating a trans-bay bus service, which merely accounts for about 12,000 rides per day in and out of San Francisco.

Within one month, the suit was dismissed as San Francisco swiftly changed position to embrace replacement of the Transbay Bus Terminal at First and Mission Streets. Before Propositions 1A’s passage, the principal goal of the Transbay Terminal Authority, governed by a five-member board and controlled by San Francisco, was simply to accommodate AC Transit and Caltrain riders.

In 2008, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (Authority) had designated a proposed (and bedizened) Transbay Transit Terminal, replete with its $1,189,000,000 cost in March 2008 dollars, as its so-called “preferred alternative” for a San Francisco station. That was iterated in the Bay Area-Central Valley Program Environmental Impact Report, approved by the Authority on July 8, 2008.

Now that high-speed rail has been acclaimed by voters and taxpayers, all plans and options must be assiduously reviewed to ensure the needs of both high-speed rail and Caltrain are met. That is, the Authority must perform its legally enforceable duty to evaluate alternatives as part of the current project-level environmental analysis process. Final decisions on all high-speed rail stations, San Francisco and otherwise, can’t be effectuated until the end of those environmental and engineering design processes.

In particular, rail facilities at First and Mission Streets must be shown as large enough for both Caltrain and High-Speed Rail. In 2004, the Authority, to be sure, estimated that four tracks and two station platforms could satisfy all Authority trains in a revised operational plan. Those conclusions for the program-level process were based on a conceptual level of analysis; that is, rail tracks at First and Mission Streets constitute a conceptual operating plan, not, however, meeting an actual design standard or goal.

The Authority, released an updated business plan in November 2008, including current ridership and operational planning information. The Authority found it requires at least four platforms and eight tracks at First and Mission Streets (and any other potential station location) to accommodate 10 trains an hour arriving and departing the station by 2023 and 12 trains an hour in each direction by 2035. Ridership forecasts estimate 100,000,000 rides annually on high-speed rail by 2035. Stations in San Jose, Los Angeles and Fresno, for example, address such capacity; First and Mission Streets does not. Transbay Terminal Authority engineers revealed that fact only last January to the Authority and other interested parties such as Caltrans.

California and federal environmental laws, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency require analysis of all reasonable alternatives in order to reduce, as feasible, adverse environmental consequences associated with the development of high-speed rail.

In order to fulfill its legal duty and select the best possible location and design for the San Francisco station, the Authority began earlier this year a study of four alternatives, namely (1) the present railroad station at Fourth and King Streets, which can handle 12 trains an hour at peak times, (2) the current Transbay design at First and Mission Streets (which cannot), (3) the Beale/Main Street alternative, San Francisco’s previous preferred site, which contains space for all trains to come downtown and accommodate at peak hours (by 2035) 12 trains hourly and (4) splitting train service between the First and Mission and Fourth and King locations. (Incidentally, the cost of extending tracks 1.3 miles from Fourth and King Streets to First and Mission Streets in 2008 dollars is over $2,800,000,000; the cost of the entire first phase of high-speed rail from San Francisco to Anaheim, approximately 450 miles, is $33,000,000,000.)

In the aftermath of repeated demands from Transbay Terminal Authority’s retained lawyers and public relations “flacks” to eliminate from environmental analysis all options but First and Mission Streets, California’s Attorney General carefully examined that imperative and applicable environmental law, then informed the Transbay Terminal Authority, and all other interested parties, that the Authority cannot limit the alternatives to be considered in the project EIR/EIS to First and Mission Streets. The Attorney General notes that an alternative may consist of a variation on a proposed alignment, or a variation on a configuration of a station and its amenities, or may suggest a different location altogether for a station. Each option must be analyzed so that San Franciscans and all Californians receive the best possible rail service in the Bay Area and to and from Southern California. Nevertheless, institutional advocacy and political pressure, amounting almost to attempted intimidation, continues to fly in the face of the law and common sense. Whether it’s the Los Angeles Basin, the Central Valley, or the Bay Area, the Authority cannot waste billions of dollars on a faulty design or inadequate terminal location and will not do so. Our responsibility is to confer on California taxpayers a landmark infrastructure project on time and on budget. We will proceed diligently and with scrupulous care in conjunction with the Federal Railroad Administration and other federal agencies to do so using federal, local, regional, and private equity financing.

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco Supervisor and State Senator

December 2009

About the Election

Reading the voter information pamphlet for the municipal election of November 3, 2009 reveals the relatively short list of local ballot measures but absolutely no contest for either of two public offices, City Attorney and Treasurer. Those could have been the subject of contested elections. For approximately 25 years, until completion of my last term as a California State Senator, I distributed voter recommendations regarding both City and State ballot measures. Even today, San Franciscans remind me of that endeavor, usually declaring that it assisted them in their election decisions. Voter reliance on recommendations represents the highest compliment an elected public official can receive. It means the people you represent trust your analysis of often- complicated ballot measures and associate themselves with your judgment. Such reliance means to me that the considerable time and effort that I devoted to analyze every State and City ballot measure was worth it.

I thought of those unsolicited, genuine expressions of confidence as I read City Proposition B. This would amend Section 2.117 of the San Francisco Charter to eliminate the limitation on no more than two administrative assistants or “staff members” per Board of Supervisors member. As always, I reflect on the history of a therapeutic provision adopted by voters some years ago, which current occupants of the Board of Supervisors seek to change. Bear with me.

The modern San Francisco Charter was promulgated by a devoted citizens’ committee and approved by voters in 1932. It provided a salary of $2,400 per year for each Board of Supervisors member that could not be changed without a voter-approved Charter Amendment. The position was considered part-time, for the obvious reason that the City and County of San Francisco’s Chief Executive Officer was an elected Mayor, who divided responsibilities with the Chief Administrative Officer, nominated by the Mayor and approved by the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors were legislators, not administrators. In fact, the Charter specifically barred Supervisors from trying to intervene in the hiring or firing of City employees or the letting of City contracts, or speaking at City commission or board meetings. Even to appear was considered “bad form.” Supervisors did not rely on taxpayer funds for livelihood. All eleven earned income to support their families and themselves in the “private sector”, a term fancied over the past three decades as an antidote to that other currently revered term, “public service.” Their salaries could only be changed by the San Francisco voters.

In 1956, the voters did so, authorizing an increase to $4,800 per year. In 1964, voters approved an increase to $9,600 per year. In 1967, legislation was enacted to enable each Board of Supervisors member to engage one administrative assistant. In 1972, the annual Budget Ordinance was amended to allow an additional employee, namely, a secretary. Throughout the turbulent 1970’s and 1980’s, each member functioned ably with one administration assistant and one secretary. Those salaries were as modest as the voter-sanctioned supervisor salary. There were no answering machines. Every telephone call received during regular business hours was answered either by the administrative assistant, the secretary or the Supervisor. Voicemail didn’t exist.

Several times during the 1980’s efforts were undertaken by aggrandizing Supervisors to amend the Charter to eliminate voter approval of salary increases and link Supervisor salaries to higher paid public positions such as Superior Court Judges’ salaries. Those efforts were understandably rejected. In 1982, after voters mandated my Presidency for a second time of the Board of Supervisors, I sponsored a Charter amendment to change the salary by an increase based upon the increase in the local Consumer Price Index (CPI) from 1964 to 1982. Beloved Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst, (Harvey M. Rose) calculated the Consumer Price Index figure as $23,924. My proposed Charter change, now embraced by then supervisor colleagues, was approved easily by understanding voters.

In the late 1990’s, however, a new generation of Supervisors, mostly without profession or business in which to earn a living, convinced voters their service was ”full-time.” Although voters had imposed term limits amounting to eight years upon Board of Supervisors members, the Supervisors persuaded voters to admit them to the Retirement System of the City and County, not withstanding the shortness of their “public service.” They then boot-strapped that tactic by altering the salary method of the Charter. Supervisorial salaries would be established upon the basis of comparing the salaries of other county Boards of Supervisors and using comparability as the measurement, similar to the hoary “like pay for like work” principle embedded in the Charter in 1932 for almost all City employees, except those with special compensation like municipal railway employees whose salaries were essentially set by computing the average of the two highest-paid public transit systems in the United States!

That, of course, has resulted in a current Board of Supervisors salary of almost $100,000 per annum. Additionally, supervisors serve on regional agencies such as the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, Bay Conservation and Development Commission, Transbay Terminal Authority, Peninsula Rail Corridor Joint Powers Authority and, thus, receive additional “per diem” compensation based upon attendance at meetings of full governing boards and committees thereof. Although not at the level of State legislators, Board of Supervisors members today need not trouble themselves with businesses or professions – and they don’t.

Another change involved supervisors adding a third aide. Voters, however, removed that power by adopting Charter section 10.104, “allowing each supervisor two staff members”. (As of Nov. 1995, incidentally, under Section 2.203-3 the Charter authorized but one administrative assistant per member, non-civil service.) Obviously, appetites for staff are insatiable. Therefore, at the behest of a feckless former Board of Supervisors member (McGoldrick) whose departure emanated sheerly from term limits, on August 5, 2008 (before that “worthy” departed the Board of Supervisors) the Board voted 9-2 to place Proposition B on the ballot. Incidentally, the Controller, lamely states that Proposition B “would not in and of itself affect the cost of government.” Presently the legislative aide job classification pays from $69,500 to $93,100 annually and the total costs of those current 22 positions is approximately $2,300,000 annually including salary and benefits. The Controller refuses to inform us how much 11 new aides will cost us.

As we all know, Supervisors now are elected from 11 districts, not from citywide voters in an at-large system. Each district contains approximately 70,000 people, not 770,000 or 800,000, the latter, a figure which some “experts” estimate as the current San Francisco population. (I doubt it). Supervisors like John Barbagelata, Dianne Feinstein, Ron Pelosi, Peter Tamaras, Jack Molinari, Bob Gonzales, Terry Francois and Terance Hallinan represented our entire San Francisco population with two administrative assistants. History is instructive. In 2000, voters emphatically rejected the same proposition, also Proposition B, and that was after the advent of both “voicemail” and answering machines, which, according to friends and neighbors, appear usually in operation during afternoon business hours at the Board of Supervisors.

Apropos of history, for those who still may be interested, I will vote against Propositions A, C and E, as well as B. Proposition A, establishing a two year budget bill and a 5-year financial plan, constitutes another guise for avoidance of continuing annual responsibility. I voted on 15 Annual City Budget Ordinances and 12 Annual State Budget Bills. Those were arduous responsibilities, trying to evaluate estimated revenue and expenditures annually. Can you image trying to do so over two years in the future? Allegedly brilliant economists of our nation disagree about the probable end of our current economic conditions. Do you think amateur elected officials can do better with two-year cycles and five-year financial plans? It’s tough enough to do it one year in advance. Ordinarily, I’d vote for Proposition C, which allows sale of the naming right to Candlestick Park. I won’t do it, because it contains the policy of requiring one half of all revenue from such sale to be divided between the 49ers and the City into a “special funding” account, the bane of financial public policy decisions. The money from the sale of the name should be deposited either into San Francisco’s General Fund or the Recreation and Parks Department, without specifying its finite use.

I shall vote for Proposition D simply because I don’t find billboards offensive, especially on Market Street and private property. (I don’t like the idea of selling advertising on public property. And I know-Candlestick Park signifies an exception). I’ll vote against Proposition E for that reason.

Don’t, however, rest your decisions on my personal predilections; even though California law renders voting decisions confidential to the voter, I don’t mind revealing my choices, which with my status as a retired judge don’t mean much anyway.

November 2009

Breaches, Bridges & Buses

Within the past month, two disclosures reminded me of more history concerning San Francisco and the Bay Area. In order, one related to the West Portal Branch of our citywide library system. In 2000 voters approved a general obligation city bond issue of $106,000,000. That evidently wasn’t enough; in 2007, tens of millions of dollars were additionally approved by San Francisco voters, long known for their admiration of San Francisco’s library system. A recent examination and audit of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the so-called “Branch Library Improvement Program” by the City Controller disclosed that not only was the West Portal Branch Library remodeling late in completion, but also costlier to taxpayers than the City’s contract with the general contractor allowed. In bygone days, the Department of Public Works, under the leadership of the late Myron Tatarian and City Engineer Robert Levy of Lakeshore Acres insisted upon compliance with standard public contract provisions which included all monthly schedules of expenditures and completed work, rigid evaluation of change order requests and additional costs relating thereto and meticulous final inspections of the public project before acceptance by the City.

Regarding the West Portal Branch Library project, the City Controller discovered that the DPW had waived $405,000 penalty payment required of the contractor for late completion of the project. Also discovered was a failure by the DPW to demand compliance with expenditure details, schedules or thorough final inspection. The Dept. of Public Works’ excuse was that such taxpayer protections were “overly burdensome…” The investigation also revealed that DPW did not even verify the validty of the contractor’s insurer, instead approving an insurance company which was in violation of state law. Mind you, this was an audit by the City Controller, not the famed Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst, Harvey M. Rose, whose time and effort since his first engagement by the Board of Supervisors in 1971 has produced tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars in savings for concerned taxpayers. In the post-WWII era of Controller Harry Ross and Controller Nat Cooper (his successor) it was common for controller audits to expose misspending. The advent of Mr. Rose inspired cooperative efforts by former Controller John Farrell. It is not fantasy to observe that episodes like those described relative to the West Portal library project spawned taxpayer revolts, which thirty years ago resulted in passage by voters of Proposition 13.

A second event affecting Golden Gate Bridge toll payers was identified by my old friend, Ken Garcia in the September 25 edition of the once-vaunted Examiner. He informed us that the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District may raise that bridge’s toll for passage even beyond its present $6 per trip. Mr. Garcia asserted that the GGB Board of Directors promised previously not to increase the toll to $5. Readers may recall that bit of history. Mr. Garcia reminded us that the GGBH&TD was created to operate a bridge, “not a transportation agency with a fleet of ferries and buses and annual budget problems.”

That reminded me sharply of my efforts to secure the promise to San Francisco and other Bay Area residents at the time of its creation by the legislature in the mid 1930s. Old-timers and students of this niche of Bay Area history will recall that the energetic notion of spanning the Golden Gate from San Francisco to Marin County evolved during the Great Depression. A bond issue payable from toll proceeds was authorized by all counties between San Francisco and the Oregon border (under legislative authorization) except Humbolt County, which didn’t want to risk charging its residents property taxes for a major project that might not succeed. That’s the reason the swollen 19 member governing board of the District consists of representatives from San Francisco, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and tiny Del Norte Counties, but not Humbolt. The covenant with taxpayers arose from expectations that once the bonds were repaid from toll revenue the district would cease as a public entity and the bridge would be transferred to the state for maintenance and operation. It is, after all, part of US Highway 101. The bonds were repaid with interest in the late 1960s. Instead of dissolution, district board members with legislative allies, succeeded in expanding their power to operate a public transit system consisting of buses and ferry boats. Both systems require subsidies for operation. That’s the reason for the $6 toll which continues to exceed the $4 toll on the state-owned and operated bridges crossing San Francisco Bay.

Twice during my State Senate service, I introduced bills to transfer the bridge to the California Department of Transportation for operation and authorized the North Bay counties to establish their own transportation system. Instead of charging San Franciscans to defray the cost of public transit in Marin, Sonoma and Napa counties, the taxpayers of those counties could do so themselves. That legislative initiative was thwarted easily by GG Bridge district board members who inveighed their legislative representatives to bar abolition of the district and assumption of public transit responsibilities by those counties primarily benefiting from them. I thank Ken Garcia for reminding me of my legislative failure in that respect. I can assure readers I didn’t win ‘em all.

October 2009

Been there, done that!

In a time of financial turmoil, nationally and globally, California has been beset with the failure of revenue to satisfy expenditure expectations of a state containing over 38,200,000 people. Three times in the last 13 months the legislature and Governor have enacted budget bills purporting to comply with the generally accepted accounting principal that a budget bill should be balanced, meaning that proposed state expenditures should be paid from estimated state revenues. The first of such budget bills was enacted nearly three months late in September 2008 for the state 2009–10 fiscal year; beginning July 1, 2008 and ending June 30, 2009. By the beginning of calendar year 2009, it was apparent estimated expenditures would exceed estimated revenues, so the legislature and governor enacted last spring a revised budget bill. The fiscal year 2009-10 Budget Act was finally adopted July 28, 2009, again based upon the implicit (and explicit) representation by the Governor and legislature that revenues would pay the proposed expenditures.

The results have been discussed by scores of interest groups, from cities, counties and school districts to non-profit entities and community action groups. My immediate experience as a retired Superior Court Judge in the Assigned Judges Program parallels other Californian’s to a lesser degree. The courts will close one day per month until June 30, 2010. The Administrative Office of the Court instructs presiding judges in each of California’s 58 Superior Courts not to request a retired judge to substitute except if an active judge is absent for medical reasons and then only from an immediately adjoining county, so as to reduce reimbursed expenses.

The entire process reminds me of my legislative experience from 1986 until 1998. Our State Constitution (Article IV, Section 12) provides that within the first ten days of each calendar year, the Governor must submit to the Legislature, with an explanatory message, a budget for the ensuing fiscal year “containing itemized statements for recommended state expenditures and estimated state revenues.” The Constitution further declares that if the Governor’s recommended expenditures exceed estimated revenues, “…the Governor shall recommend the sources from which the additional revenue should be provided.” Manifestly, the import of Section 12 (a) of Article IV provides that the Governor shall recommend and the Legislature shall adopt a Budget Act with estimated state revenues sufficient to pay recommended expenditures. In Pete Wilson’s first year as governor (1991) the predicted gap between revenues and expenditure amounted to approximately seven billion dollars. At the time, state general fund expenditures amounted to approximately thirty eight billion dollars. The gap was closed by Governor Wilson and the Legislature. Again, in 1992 the forecasted gap between revenue and expenditure amounted to approximately fourteen billion dollars. The problem was solved by approximately seven billion dollars of eliminated expenditures and seven billion dollars of increased revenue, principally from higher state income tax rates. By 1994, under Governor Wilson’s stewardship and assisted by legislative leadership, California possessed a small, but noteworthy, estimated surplus. State income tax rates were reduced.

It was during that period that I began promulgating state constitutional changes relative to the annual budget bill. Our constitution since 1974 has required the legislature to pass the budget bill by midnight on June 15 of each year. The rationale is to enable state agencies 15 days to prepare for their financial and operational responsibilities in the next fiscal year, commencing July 1. In my legislative experience the June 15 deadline meant nothing. Not once in those twelve years was the budget bill passed by June 15th. Therefore, I began my budget bill revision measure by changing the June 15 deadline to June 30.

One of the banes of the annual budget statute arises from the requirement of a two-thirds, super-majority vote to approve the annual Budget Act. That constitutional clause is found in only two other states. Like much law, it arises from an historical event. Sales taxes weren’t allowed in California until 1935, the depression era. As a part of the constitutional inclusion of sales taxation in Article XIII of the State constitution, a compromise requiring a two-thirds approval of the annual budget bill was also included. Although the Democrats had regained the control of the Assembly by 1997 and controlled the State Senate during my entire service as an Independent in the legislature, I argued to Republican colleagues that they would not always be in the minority and that their budgetary axe would be gored someday by Democrat refusal to supply a two-thirds majority vote for a budget bill. My proposed constitutional amendment, therefore, repealed the super-majority vote requirement on the budget bill and substituted the commonplace simple majority. I also mandated a reserve fund each year amounting to five percent of the General Fund expenditures. (Consider that the 2009 -2010 California budget General Fund expenditures amount to about 110 billion dollars). My proposal also granted the Governor after January 1 of the calendar year unilateral power to reduce expenditures if it appeared that estimated revenues would not pay all the expenditures, which had been estimated some six months or more previously.

Finally, on the theory that a legal sanction must accompany every law, I added a provision forfeiting the salaries of all legislators for each day after June 30th in which a budget bill had not been adopted.

In order to alter the state constitution, any change must be submitted to voters for approval by a two-thirds majority vote of each house; voter approval requires but a simple majority. Twice I introduced such legislation. I was successful in obtaining two-thirds Senate approval each year, but failed in the Assembly each time. You can imagine the reaction of some legislators to the idea that if the law were not obeyed, a penalty would befall them. Members argued they should not be penalized because their legislative colleagues refused to comply with the law. Contrarily, I emphasized that non-compliance with a law almost always brings a consequence; the legislature as an institution represents no exception.

I am reminded of those unsuccessful efforts by the current clamor to change the two-third majority voting requirement for an annual budget act. You can draw your own conclusion as to whether doing so without the “bells and whistles” I attached to my legislation is merited.

A similar clamor exists with respect to Proposition 13. Taxpayers and property owners who did not pay property tax in the 1970’s probably don’t comprehend the popular sentiment that triggered Proposition 13. Property tax assessments of homes increased on a steady basis in the period I served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Market value of those homes increased. It was, however, a “paper profit”, affecting many retired homeowners living on Social Security or pension income. A homeowner could not capture the increased market value until sale of the home. Nevertheless, homeowners paid a soaring property tax based upon the yearly assessment increases. The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr. was the Governor. I personally recommended to him that he establish a commission of property tax experts to devise an equitable rearrangement of taxing “paper profits.” He ignored the idea. I introduced, and the Board of Supervisors passed, a resolution urging the Governor and legislators to alter property taxation so that homeowners could accumulate their property tax debt, payable from the proceeds of the eventual sale of their homes. That was, of course, also ignored.

Proposition 13 then qualified for the June 1978 statewide ballot by the initiative process. Once it qualified, the Governor and Legislature tried mightily to divert support for Proposition 13 with a tepid alternative. Proposition 13 passed strongly.

There are, to be sure, a few inequities in Proposition 13. If a residence changes ownership by sale, the purchase price becomes the assessed value. Residences change ownership more frequently than the business property, owned by corporations. I sought in the legislature a rational change for real estate owned by a corporation, so that change of ownership would be deemed if 50 percent or more of the common stock of the owner corporation changed ownership. Despite logic, the idea failed. I note proposals today for a constitutional convention, which include efforts to do exactly what my failed bill would have done. I smile. Been there, done that. Similarly, some argue for a “split roll”, which means taxing commercial property at a higher rate than residential property. Good luck. Been there, done that – unsuccessfully.

In fact, I am now tempted to reiterate the old refrain that, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

September 2009

Where’s the Brotherhood?

Brotherhood Way is a very well traveled street West of Twin Peaks containing six religious institutions, five sectarian grammar schools, four Sabbath religious schools and one Masonic Temple. It wasn’t always known as Brotherhood Way; prior to 1958, the thoroughfare was called Stanley Drive. Under the leadership of then Mayor George Christopher, unquestionably the best business administrator to lead San Francisco in the post-World War II era, the City and County of San Francisco transferred all the property on the south side of Stanley Drive, which it owned except for the present location of St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church and school, to religious and educational entities, including the Grand Order of Masons in 1957 and 1958, with the unanimous acquiescence of the Board of Supervisors. Stanley Drive’s name was changed to Brotherhood Way by a duly adopted resolution of the Board of Supervisors. The intent was clear: Brotherhood Way connoted City government’s intent to devote the entire block between Lake Merced Blvd. and St. Thomas More church to a diverse assembly of religions and accompanying schools.

To further that intent, the Board of Supervisors in the 1970s rejected efforts to purchase and develop for housing of senior citizens a portion of a parcel on the south side of Brotherhood Way. The religious institutions flourished, building beautiful places of worship and schools on land essentially donated for that purpose by City Hall. On the other side of the street, Parkmerced and other property owners treated their real estate in a manner compatible with Brotherhood Way’s purpose, eschewing development in the neighboring park placement of Benny Bufano’s world famous statue, “Peace.”

Almost five decades later, in a sorry episode demonstrating disregard for history and the environment, the San Francisco Planning Commission granted permission to a developer to build 182 residential units on land referred to as 800 Brotherhood Way. It did so without requiring an Environmental Impact Report, instead allowing the developer to submit a so-called mitigated negative declaration, notwithstanding the project’s frontage at 3711 19th Avenue or the cumulative effects of traffic, noise and other environmental elements. The Planning Commission did so over the earnest opposition of the St. Thomas More Parish Council, Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, Calvary Armenian Congregational Church, St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church, KZV Armenian School, Lake Merced Church of Christ, Brotherhood Masonic Temple, the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity and the Lakeshore Acres Improvement Club, of which I have been a member since 1973. An appeal by this congeries of institutions known as the Brotherhood Way Coalition to the Board of Supervisors was rejected. The Coalition’s suit in San Francisco Superior Court and review by the Court of Appeal failed, the Planning Commission having approved with specific conditions the Conditional Use of the parcel by the developer on May 5th 2005 and the Board of Supervisors having rejected on August 16th, 2005 the Coalition’s request for relief.

The development itself and the Conditional Use Authorization violated the limitations of the Residential Mixed Low Density and Residential Mixed, High Density district controlling the parcel. A principle condition imposed on the project sponsor was that it “provide and maintain publicly accessible pedestrian paths from Brotherhood Way through the site to MUNI routes on Gonzales Drive and Font Blvd.” In the Planning Department’s own words, the reason for the imposition of such conditions was to improve transit access for such residential development and to “provide social connections between residents of the project and surrounding residential development.” In other words, project sponsor was required to obtain an easement through Parkmerced’s lands so as to furnish access to the Municipal Railway for the buyers of the 182 planned units. That has never happened.

Under the Planning Code, a Conditional Use Permit expires in three years. That is, the project must be commenced and completed in this instance by May 18, 2005, three years after Planning Commission grant of this deviation from the San Francisco planning code. The Planning Code also provides that authorization of a change in any condition previously imposed in authorizing a Conditional Use shall be subject to the same procedures as a new Conditional Use, namely, approval by the Planning Commission.

After the approval, the developer/project sponsor failed to secure the necessary easement to provide for the pedestrian connection to the MUNI although its lawyer wrote the deed of sale for his client. To overcome such failure, the project sponsor then requested, without notice to the Brotherhood Way Coalition or its constituent institutions, a “Letter of Determination” regarding such condition of approval of the Conditional Use Authorization for the 800 Brotherhood Way development. In violation of §Sec 303 (e) of the San Francisco Planning Code, which confers on the Planning Commission the sole power to grant any such absolution, Zoning Administrator Lawrence B. Badiner issued a letter on November 7, 2008 deleting such condition and instead allowed fulfillment of such condition by construction of a pedestrian pathway to within 10 feet of the Parkmerced property line. Badiner sent no copy of his November 7, 2008 letter to any religious or educational entity on Brotherhood Way.

Subsequently, a coalition member discovered Badiner’s illegal action. At a February 26, 2009 meeting of the Planning Commission, I brought it to the attention of the Commission, asking whether the Commission knew its powers had been usurped? Commission members did not know usurpation had occurred. On motion of Commissioner Gwyneth Borden the Commission ordered a public hearing on the action. Unfortunately, more time elapsed before such hearing occurred on May 28, 2009. In the interim, acting on reports of similar previous actions by Badiner, I asked City Attorney Dennis Herrera if he knew of an apparent practice by Badiner to authorize Conditional Use deviations without Commission action. He did not.

On May 28, 2009, Badiner fell on his sword, admitting that he violated §Sec. 303(e) and apologized three times for doing so.

I recommended and requested Commission action to vacate and set aside the November 7, 2008 change in the project sponsor’s pedestrian walkway easement requirement through Parkmerced. Other persons testified, including the project sponsor’s attorney, who uttered the false assertion to the Commission that the condition only consisted of building a pedestrian walkway to the Parkmerced boundary, not through an easement across Parkmerced to MUNI bustops. (A state bar referral might be in order for that lawyer’s misleading statement to a public forum.) The Planning Director stated that since Parkmerced needed a Planning Commission permit to rearrange numerous residential units therein, that would provide opportunity to persuade Parkmerced to grant the failed easement. (The Planning Director repeated that threat of intimidation in a conversation with others and me after the hearing, thus showing a willingness to extort a condition from Parkmerced in its permit application process.)

The lessons are clear: present day bureaucrats care little for San Francisco’s brotherly history West of Twin Peaks and care equally less about fine points of the code under which they operate. Compliance with the Planning Code rests mostly on citizen vigilance at City Hall — and that is difficult in the lives of everyday people, working and otherwise. While even as a retired judge in the Assigned Judges Program, the Code of Judicial Ethics precludes comment directly about non-judicial matters, exceptions exist in instances of neighborhood issues, I can participate and have done so, because it affects my Lakeshore Acres neighborhood and my synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel-Judea. And I have been pleased to do so with all the religious and educational representatives of theBrotherhood Way Coalition, which will continue to insist upon probity of the Planning Department and the Zoning Administrator, hoping that the Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors and City Attorney will do likewise.

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco Supervisor, and State Senator

June 2009

Remembering Gene McAteer...

As one reflects upon history, and especially San Francisco history, it is perplexing to realize that memories even in San Francisco wither and sterling leaders are forgotten. One example is the manner in which the San Francisco Unified School District has treated the legacy of the late (and great) J. Eugene McAteer. Gene McAteer was a San Franciscan, born in 1916, and raised in the Mission District. A superb football player, he graduated from Mission High School and entered the University of California at Berkeley. A guard in an era in which football players performed “both ways,” on offense and defense, he was a member of the Cal football team which defeated Alabama, 13-0, on January 1, 1938 in the Rose Bowl. During World War II, he served with distinction as an officer in the U.S. Navy. On discharge from the Navy, he returned to his hometown and entered the restaurant business in a partnership, which operated Tarantino’s Restaurant on Fisherman’s Wharf. Married to Frances Twohig, a Mission High School classmate, he enrolled and finished law school at night while operating the restaurant and raising sons Tom, Tim and Terry. After the Korean War broke out in 1950, Gene McAteer was recalled to active duty and eventually assigned to the Supreme Headquarters in France. Upon discharge, he was admitted to the State Bar of California and in July 1953, after the so-called Korean Conflict ended, was appointed to fill a vacancy on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. He was elected to the Board later that year, in the November election, serving from 1954 to 1958. In 1958, he was elected to the State Senate, replacing the late Bob McCarthy, who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General. A strong force in San Francisco and the State Capital, whose Navy background endeared him to then-President John F. Kennedy, Gene McAteer aimed to run for Mayor in 1963. He would have confronted Member of Congress, John F. Shelley, but was dissuaded from the race in then-popular lore by President Kennedy on the asserted theory that Shelley, who had served seven terms in the House of Representatives, was entitled to the mayoralty as a matter of seniority.

The mayoral term of Jack Shelley having proved less than riveting, in 1967 Gene McAteer announced without equivocation his candidacy for mayor that November, only to die from a heart attack in May 1967 while engaging in his favorite sport, handball, at the Olympic Club. That eventually laid the foundation for Joseph L. Alioto, chairman of the McAteer for Mayor-campaign, to run for mayor successfully that November after Jack Shelley was persuaded by Democratic chieftains to withdraw. McAteer supporters comprised the nucleus of Alioto’s campaign and McAteer’s chief of staff, Bob Mendelsohn, was elected to the Board of Supervisors at the same time. Frances Mc Ateer, a high school cheerleader and all around athlete, served for over 10 years on the Recreation and Park Commission. McAteer’s sons achieved prominence in business and public school administration; Tim McAteer, a three sport Lowell High School athlete, is in the San Francisco Prep Hall of Fame. The McAteer family home, replete with swimming pool, on Santa Ana Avenue in St. Francis Wood, was occupied by Frances until her death a few years ago.

In 1969, the San Francisco School District built a new high school on Portola and O’Shaunessey Boulevard. It was rightfully named J.Eugene McAteer High School. McAteer High School opened as the only high school named for an actual San Francisco public high school graduate, and became an important part of San Francisco, containing a sturdy football field and track used by thousands of young San Francisco athletes over the years. Then, in February 2002, in that burst of revisionist history that has befallen other San Francisco landmarks like Army Street, the Board of Education decided to remove McAteer High School from its’ nomenclature, turning the school into a” School of the Arts” and relegating the McAteer name to an almost illegible afterthought as the “J.Eugene McAteer campus” thereof. With Gene McAteer dead and a changed San Francisco polity, no public indignation occurred. And, so it goes for San Francisco political history – sadly.

Noted in the last edition of this mighty journal was an account by Tony Hall of mismanagement of Treasure Island. Missing from the account was, again, history. If Hall’s analysis is accurate, an act of legislative history may be relevant. During my service as a State Senator, the closing of military bases throughout the country occurred. One of those bases was the Treasure Island Naval Facility, which included the command post for the Pacific Fleet. In all instances throughout the state of closure of Air Force, Army and Navy bases, legislation for redevelopment of such real estate occurred and the governing authority for such reclaimed real estate reposed in a congeries of city, county and other local elected officials. Such policy was based on balancing the power between various governmental entities and persons, rather than permitting one person to control.

Located within the City and County of San Francisco, Treasure Island was treated differently, not because of any desire on the part of the legislature, but because of the demand of the then-Mayor, operating through then Assemblywoman Carol Migden. Instead of a bill separating the governing board between the Board of Supervisors members and the Mayor, Migden introduced a bill conferring exclusive governance power upon the Mayor. Despite my efforts to secure parallel treatment respecting governance of the redevelopment of Treasure Island as the legislature had done elsewhere in California, the bill was eventually passed by the legislature and, curiously, signed by then-Governor Pete Wilson just prior to the last day for gubernatorial action. That legislative history should form the foundation for commentary about the present state of Treasure Island, perhaps even explaining a City government contract under yet another Mayor (the present one) which enabled the afore-mentioned Hall to leave his mayoralty-appointed post as then-Executive Director of the Treasure Island Development Authority with a severance payoff of $250,000. The idea of “severance payments” for City employees must stun members, like me, of the Retired Employees of the City and County of San Francisco; I suspect they notice also the $500,000 payoff handed Susan Leal last year, at At the time the current Mayor terminated her as General Manager of the Public Utilities Commission in favor of the then-City Comptroller. From a historical standpoint the concept of such severance payments flies in the face of sound civil service practices of yesteryear.

One of my noble disappointments from State Senate service involved my proposed constitutional amendment to revise in a logical way the process for enacting the annual State Budget Act, which requires a super-majority two-thirds approval of each house. Over the last several decades, and especially now, pundits, commentators and majority party members (usually Democratic) complain bitterly of the unjustification of such provision, noting correctly that only two other states require more than a simple majority for adoption of an annual budget. During my Senate service, I twice introduced constitutional amendments (1) to require a simple majority for passage of the Budget Act, (2) require an annual reserve equal to 5% of general fund expenditures, (3) alter the date by which the Budget Act must be completed from June 15 (a date never honored by compliance in over 50 years) to July 1, the commencement of state government’s fiscal year, and (4) require forfeiture of legislative pay for each day after July 1 until date of passage of the Budget Act. In order to submit a constitutional amendment to voters, a two-thirds vote of each House must be obtained. I was twice able to secure passage of my measure by the Senate, with even a couple of Republican votes, but never achieved the two-thirds margin in the Assembly, although closing to within 3 votes of doing so in 1998. I argued to Republicans that one day they would constitute the majority in the legislature, but would be frustrated on over the two-thirds vote requirement by the Democratic minority. Although persuasive to a few Assembly Republicans, that argument was always trumped by the forfeiture-of-pay provision, which reminds me of Proposition 1F on the May 19, 2009 Statewide Special Election Ballot. Proposition 1F merely prevents a salary increase for legislators and other state officers if the Director of Finance certifies to the California Citizens Compensation Commission that there “will be a negative balance on June 30 of the current fiscal year in the initial Special Fund for Economic Uncertainties in an amount equal to, or greater than, 1 percent of estimated General Fund revenues.” Historians can contrast a salary increase prevention device with salary default for failure to perform lawful budget obligations.

May 2009

Quentin Archive March 2008-March 2009