Volume 40 Number 35

May 31 – June 6, 2006

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Downtown’s “Hail Mary” lawsuit


EDITORIAL This one is way over the top: The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Committee on Jobs filed suit last week against the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, alleging that the supes won’t implement Proposition I, the 2004 ballot measure that was aimed at derailing progressive legislation. The suit makes little legal sense: The downtown crew is demanding that the city do something that it’s already doing, for the most part. But it shows an aggressive new strategy on the part of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s allies, who are out to scuttle three important bills that will probably win board approval.

Prop. I was designed to do two things: Delay anything that downtown might consider "antibusiness" and promote the political fortunes of Michela Alioto-Pier, who authored the ballot measure. The idea: Create an Office of Economic Analysis, under the city controller, with the responsibility to do an "economic impact analysis" of any legislation that comes before the board. Of course, that economic impact analysis will by definition be fairly narrowly focused; it won’t consider the social impacts or consequences of decisions.

That was always the flaw in Prop. I, and that was the reason we opposed the measure. Economic impact studies that show only how much a proposal would cost or how it might harm the "business climate" ignore the fact that a lot of government regulation improves things that aren’t quantifiable. And even when they can be measured, certain effects are ignored: Clean air has a tremendous value but typical studies of antipollution measures focus only on the costs of compliance. Safe streets, nice parks, and good schools are worth a fortune but a study that examines the tax burden required to pay for them won’t account for that.

Downtown spent a fortune promoting the measure (and sending out colorful flyers with Alioto-Pier’s face on them, which didn’t hurt her reelection efforts). It narrowly passed but since Alioto-Pier never put in a request for the additional money the plan would cost, it took an entire city budget cycle to fund and hire the two staff economists who will do the work.

Now, for better or for worse, they’re on board, and the analyses are beginning but downtown isn’t satisfied. Chamber spokesperson Carol Piasente told us the group wants to eliminate any board discretion in deciding what needs analysis and what doesn’t; right now, the board president can waive the analysis on relatively trivial things like resolutions and appointments.

But what’s really going on, according to Sup. Chris Daly, is that downtown is gearing up for a full-scale attack on three bills: Sup. Tom Ammiano’s proposal to require employers to pay for health care; Sup. Sophie Maxwell’s plan to better enforce the minimum wage laws; and Daly’s proposal to require additional affordable housing in all market-rate developments. "Downtown’s hail mary pass involves using the economic analysis to kill these socially critical proposals," Daly wrote in his blog.

Oh, and while the chamber is always worried about city spending, the group’s lawyer, Jim Sutton, is asking for attorney’s fees (likely to be a big, fat chunk of taxpayer change) if the suit prevails.

This is ridiculous. City Attorney Dennis Herrera needs to defend this aggressively, but that’s only the legal side. The mayor, who has become ever more closely allied with these downtown forces (see page 11), ought to join the supervisors in publicly denouncing the suit. SFBG

Why Conroy should go


EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom made a weak attempt to deal with the political fallout from the Office of Emergency Services audit last week, appointing Laura Phillips, who appears to have some qualifications for the job, as the head of emergency communications.

But Newsom refuses to follow the most important recommendation from the scathing audit. OES director Annemarie Conroy still has her job.

It’s more than a little bit unsettling: Newsom, who claims to be a competent manager, is sticking with Conroy, the Donald Rumsfeld of San Francisco, an incompetent political crony who won the job only as part of a stupid and transparently political deal.

The audit, by Board of Supervisors budget analyst Harvey Rose, shows why this sort of political chess game is such a bad idea. Conroy, who had no credentials whatsoever for the top disaster planning job, has, not surprisingly, fared poorly. Her office, the audit says, is larded with top management a full 40 percent of her staff are at the highly paid management level, which Rose called "unacceptable" while little of the $82 million it’s received in federal and state grants has gone to emergency training. Conroy has bungled efforts at coordinating disaster planning with other departments and hasn’t even applied for federal reimbursement for some $7.6 million that the city is owed.

Conroy, a lawyer and former supervisor, got the $170,000-a-year job largely because Newsom wanted to get Tony Hall off the Board of Supervisors. So he offered Hall a plum job running the Treasure Island Development Authority but since Conroy was already in that job, Newsom had to move her someplace else, and he chose emergency services. The problem is, this is no sleepy bureaucratic backwater where a hack can rest on a nice salary for a few years without doing any real damage. The OES handles a huge amount of money and is responsible for getting the city ready for things like a major earthquake, which every scientist agrees is overdue, or a terrorist attack, which is certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

This was the sort of game former mayor Willie Brown played all the time, shuffling political allies around to agencies and commissions without much regard for the public policy impact. Newsom promised to do better, but the fact that he’s still standing behind Conroy is evidence that he’s letting old-fashioned politics get in the way of running the city.

Let’s face it: Annemarie Conroy should never have been appointed to the OES and clearly isn’t up to the job. Rose recommends abolishing her position and letting the new head of emergency communications run the whole show. That seems like an excellent idea. SFBG

Prop. D’s misinformation campaign


OPINION Why are Joe O’Donoghue and the Residential Builders Association funding Proposition D on the San Francisco ballot? Could it have anything to do with the RBA’s rapacious hunt for profits?

You bet, because Prop. D would change the city’s zoning laws to potentially allow private development on 1,600 city parcels that are now protected for public use purposes only.

The RBA has modeled its campaign on the current national trend of winning through fearmongering. That’s why the RBA sent San Francisco voters a slick campaign ad featuring an elderly woman (who is not even a Laguna Honda Hospital patient) with a photoshopped black eye, misleading "facts," and not one word about zoning.

But Prop. D is much more than a giveaway for builders it’s also an assault on San Franciscans of all ages with psychiatric disabilities. It perpetuates stereotypes about people with such disabilities by suggesting that individuals with a primary psychiatric diagnosis are violent. Studies have consistently shown that people with mental illness are not any more likely than members of the general public to commit acts of violence.

If proponents had wanted to keep dangerous patients out of Laguna Honda, they would have proposed banning people with a history of prior violence the best predictor, by all accounts, of future violence.

Instead, Prop. D guarantees that the stigma of mental illness will continue to dissuade people from seeking help. And it does absolutely nothing to increase safety for LHH residents.

What Prop. D does do is violate nine state and federal laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act, which ban discrimination on the basis of disability. Prop. D singles out people with mental illness and mandates that "only persons whose need for skilled nursing care is based on a medical diagnosis that is not primarily psychiatric or behavioral shall be admitted" to Laguna Honda. It endangers more than $100 million dollars in federal funds San Francisco receives each year, since that money is conditioned on city compliance with nondiscrimination laws.

Prop. D would force the eviction of Laguna Honda residents who have age- or HIV-related dementia. The city would be forced to transfer those residents to institutions in other counties, far from family and friends, at an annual cost of $27 million dollars. Moreover, Prop. D puts a Planning Department official in charge of making health care and admissions decisions.

All of this is why nurses, health care workers, and public health officials are opposing Prop. D, as are the members of the city’s Community Alliance of Disability Advocates and the Human Services Network, representing more than 100 organizations serving people with disabilities and those in need of all ages in San Francisco.

The RBA’s campaign for Prop. D is so misleading that one of its major proponents, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, rescinded its endorsement when the members discovered the RBA’s lies about Prop. D.

Don’t fall for the RBA’s exploitation of LHH residents for the sake of profits. Support the city’s disability rights community. Vote no on Prop. D. SFBG

Belinda Lyons

Belinda Lyons is the executive director of the Mental Health Association of San Francisco. This op-ed is also endorsed by Steve Fields, cochair of the San Francisco Human Services Network; Bill Hirsh, executive director of the AIDS Legal Referral Panel; and Herb Levine, executive director of the Independent Living Resource Center.

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› tredmond@sfbg.com

The San Francisco Board of Education agreed this month to spend a little north of $1.3 million fixing up some dilapidated bungalows at Rooftop Elementary, which happens to be one of the most popular schools in the district. This sounds like a fine idea. The school has too many kids to fit in the classrooms, and the outdoor bungalows, which handle the overflow, are in pretty bad shape. The school district’s facilities officer, an architect, says the students are in no immediate danger, but seriously: How can anyone be against repairing rotten old school buildings?

Well, I’m against it.

Here’s the thing: The board just shut down a bunch of schools, many of them serving primarily nonwhite populations, to save a few million bucks. The rationale: The district is short of money, and those schools were underenrolled there were too many empty spaces in the classrooms. So they could be closed and the kids sent to other schools. Closing John Swett in the Western Addition, for example, infuriated a large African American community, but saved around $650,000.

Now think about this slowly for a moment, and see if it makes any sense to you: We’ve got a school that has too many kids, so they’re crammed outside in old bungalows. And we’ve got a school that has empty classrooms, so we’re going to shut it down. Instead of trying to move some of the kids from Rooftop to Swett which costs nothing we’re saving $650,000 by closing Swett, then spending twice as much as we saved rebuilding the Rooftop bungalows.

Isn’t there something really screwy here?

Well, of course, there’s an explanation: Rooftop has a long waiting list, and all the upper-middle-class white people want to send their kids there. I understand it’s got a great program, great teachers, and a parent community that raises a ton of money every year for curriculum enrichment.

And I know I’m not as smart as all the people with advanced education degrees at school district headquarters. But I have to wonder: Why can’t we take what’s good about Rooftop a couple of the teachers, the overall program approach, maybe even (gasp) some of that fundraising cash and, you know, export the revolution? Why not make Swett sort of a Rooftop Annex? Save the money, help the kids, don’t close anything everybody’s a winner.

Sarah Lipson, one of two school board members who opposed the bungalow rebuild (Mark Sanchez was the other) told me the whole deal was crazy. "How can we talk about long-range planning and then do this?" she asked.

The district wouldn’t have to kick anyone out of Rooftop this year the bungalows aren’t going to fall off the hillside, and they’ll hold up another 12 months. There’s supposed to be a real community-based process to evaluate facilities and school closures anyway; why not make this part of it?

Do I really have to answer that question?

Now this: The attack ads and scare tactics of this spring’s campaign are even worse than usual. The "shocking secret" flyer, with the older woman with a photoshopped black eye, attempting to convince people to vote for Proposition D, ranks number one on the sleaze list. The hit on Mike Nevin for a 30-year-old voter fraud charge is truly special, as is Nevin’s hit on Leland Yee, which purports to show Yee lifting weights with the governor.

Aren’t there any real issues in these races? SFBG