EDITORIAL When Rep. Nancy Pelosi began peddling her plan to privatize the Presidio back in the 1990s her chief weapon was fear: If the Democrats didn’t cut a deal to let the private sector control the fate of the new national park, she argued, the Republicans who ran Congress would simply sell off the land. Then there would be no park at all.
That was a highly unlikely scenario — there was a Democrat named Bill Clinton in the White House, and it’s hard to imagine him going along with the GOP on the sale of 1,491 acres of parkland in San Francisco (part of his loyal California base). But even if that happened, we argued at the time, San Francisco wouldn’t have been helpless: The city at least could have had some zoning control over the private land.
Instead, we’ve wound up with the worst of all worlds — a park controlled by an unelected, unaccountable federal trust that’s dominated by real estate and development interests, that has already handed over big chunks of the park to the private sector (George Lucas and others), and that refuses to abide by any local land-use regulations or ordinances.
That’s the problem at the heart of the dispute over the plan to build 230 luxury condominiums and apartments on the site of the old Public Health Service Hospital Complex just off Lake Street. Neighbors want a smaller project, one more in sync with the (relatively) low density district. More important, Sup. Jake McGoldrick, who represents the area, wants to see the developer add some affordable housing to the mix.
But the Presidio Trust has no interest in affordable housing. For the Bush appointees who run the park, the only thing that matters is the bottom line. Luxury units mean more profit for the developer and more cash for the trust. The needs of San Francisco aren’t even part of the equation.
This is what Pelosi wrought, with the help of then-mayor Willie Brown and the entire old Burton Machine (along with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups), and it is the most enduring legacy she will leave behind. (See “Plundering the Presidio,” 10/8/1997.) It’s important for every activist infuriated with the arrogant behavior of the Presidio Trust to remember that — and to start mounting some real pressure on Pelosi to undo the damage and repeal the Presidio Trust Legislation. The Presidio is a national park and ought to be run by the National Park Service.
In the meantime, though, the city has no choice but to play hardball. McGoldrick was only half joking (if he was joking at all) when he suggested that the city close portions of 14th and 15th avenues — literally blocking off the only entrance to the Presidio from the Richmond, a move that would seriously damage the new development. The city can also deny water and sewer service, which would pretty much end any plans for luxury housing.
Those aren’t pretty solutions — but if the trust won’t back down and at least meet the city’s requirement for affordable housing, McGoldrick and his colleagues should pursue them. SFBG
Volume 40 Number 41
July 12 – July 18, 2006
EDITORIAL When Rep. Nancy Pelosi began peddling her plan to privatize the Presidio back in the 1990s her chief weapon was fear: If the Democrats didn’t cut a deal to let the private sector control the fate of the new national park, she argued, the Republicans who ran Congress would simply sell off the land. Then there would be no park at all.
EDITORIAL The Oakland City Council is moving toward final approval of a plan to build 3,100 housing units along the Oakland Estuary near Lake Merritt, and while the project sponsors have come a long way toward offering community benefits, there’s a big hitch: The entire project was devised backward. City planners never sat down and decided what Oakland needed on the site; the developer, Signature Properties of Pleasanton, came forward with its own vision, and the people who actually live in the area have had to respond to it.
The result is the Oak to Ninth Project, a plan with too much market-rate housing, not enough affordable units, and a hefty price tag for the city. If the council signs off on it July 18, a gigantic project that never had proper scrutiny will be underway.
It will also be finalized just a few months before mayor-elect Ron Dellums — who has serious problems with the project — takes office.
The voters of Oakland made clear in June that they didn’t like the way the current mayor (and Oak to Ninth backer), Jerry Brown, was running the city. Brown’s candidate (and another big Oak to Ninth backer), Ignacio De La Fuente, was handily defeated, receiving only about 33 percent of the vote. The other two candidates, Dellums and Councilmember Nancy Nadel, both had strong reservations about Oak to Ninth, and together they got some two-thirds of the votes.
In fact, the pro-Dellums vote was pretty clear in Oakland: His former aide Sandré Swanson won the Democratic primary (and thus effectively the election) for assembly over City Attorney John Russo. The odds are pretty good that Dellums will be able to change the direction of Oakland politics — and possibly shift the balance of power on the council — fairly soon after officially taking office.
When that happens, he needs to come back to the developer and demand some changes in the project. In San Francisco, political leaders like Sup. Chris Daly have managed to force developers to build fairly significant amounts of affordable housing — without bankrupting any projects. Signature Properties could probably sell at least 15 percent, and maybe 25 percent, of the units at below-market rates and still make a profit, and the new mayor ought to demand to see the company’s financial statements for the project as a basis for negotiating.
But all of that will be after the fact. Signature Properties will have a deal in place, plans will be in the works, architects and engineers will be well into their final drawings — and if Dellums demands and wins changes, all of that will have to be scrapped (and the developer will fight, scream, and threaten legal action to prevent that from happening).
There’s a simple, logical solution here: The council ought to delay any final action on Oak to Ninth until Dellums is in office and can put his own imprint on the project. It’s been in the works for years and will take as much as a decade to complete; a few more months at this point won’t hurt anyone. And Oakland could wind up with a much better project. SFBG
Wow: A little more drunkenness and a bit of public nudity, and San Francisco could have had a real world-class soccer party Sunday. As it was, things were pretty darn festive: I was too busy chasing the kids around and watching the game to get a good count, but I bet there were 15,000 people at Dolores Park, more than I’ve seen in one place in the Mission for anything short of a big antiwar rally. The sun was shining, the mood was upbeat, people waved French and Italian flags around and cheered when either side scored a goal… what a great event.
And it only happened because a German-born former teacher named Jens-Peter Jungclaussen, who is traveling around in a bus trying to bring the world to local kids, decided to get the permits, line up a big-screen TV and a huge forklift, and pull it off.
And as I stood there and marveled at how one motivated person could create a massive civic event, I had to wonder: Why can’t the Recreation and Park Department do stuff like this?
How hard would it have been for the city to rent the TV screen (or better, three or four screens; there were so many people the ones in the back could barely see), put out the word (Jungclaussen did, as far as I can tell, no advertising — the whole thing was by e-mail and word of mouth), and maybe even do this in half a dozen places around town?
It’s funny, when you think of it: So much of the fun stuff that happens in San Francisco is done by private groups. The street fairs, the festivals, the concerts… the city does almost none of this. Even the Fourth of July fireworks are run by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Rec-Park spends a lot of time pissing people off, making dumb rules about permits that make even the private events harder to finance. It’s a nest of bureaucrats without any vision.
This ought to be a wake-up call: There are all sorts of things that can bring people together. There are all sorts of ways to spend the public’s money helping the public have fun (and along the way, reminding people why we pay taxes).
You want to cough up extra money every year to pay someone to tell you that you can’t drink beer in North Beach? I don’t either — but a few events like Sunday’s impromptu festival in Dolores Park, and one of the most loathed agencies at City Hall could become one of the most loved.
Think about it, folks.
Now this: I think just about every Guardian reader in the world has noticed that we’ve had some serious Web problems in the past few weeks. We got hit with something — maybe an attack, we’re still not sure — on Election Day, and whatever it was pretty much fried sfbg.com, and we’ve been limping along ever since.
But we’re back now and way better with a bunch of big changes that we’d been planning anyway. Sfbg.com now has a new design, a (much, much) faster user interface — and several new blogs that will be updated daily and full of everything you need to know about politics, arts, culture, and the unconventional wisdom of San Francisco.
It’s still a work in progress, but it’s going to be a lot easier to tell us what you think. SFBG
OPINION Universal health care. These days, most people want it, but no one wants to pay for it.
But like it or not, we all share in the expense of providing health care. We pay for it directly in our health care premiums or indirectly from higher costs for goods, services, and taxes. According to the activist group Health Care for All, “We spend over $6,000 per person in the US — two to three times the amount spent in other countries that insure everyone and have better health outcomes.” Our health care system, if you can call it that, is currently based on a corporate, for-profit model that increasingly leaves large numbers of people uninsured — and they must rely on taxpayer-subsidized public health programs.
Mayor Gavin Newsom is pushing for universal health care in San Francisco, and there are three ways on the table to fund it.
The Committee on Jobs, Chamber of Commerce, and Golden Gate Restaurant Association champion a plan in which all businesses pay a set fee, whether or not they are providing health care for their employees. Under this plan, large businesses that are not providing health care for their employees will save big money. Small businesses — and every business already doing the right thing — would subsidize the minority of large businesses that don’t provide health care.
In fact, 63 percent of the projected $50 million in revenue raised by this plan would come from businesses with fewer than 20 employees. A full 80 percent would be paid by employers with fewer than 50 employees.
The local papers say Newsom supports a voluntary plan. I assume that means employers can choose whether to pay. I’m surprised anyone would propose this with a straight face. Most employers do provide health care. This legislation is about those that don’t. They haven’t volunteered to pay for their own employees’ health care; why would they pay for a city plan?
Then there’s Sup. Tom Ammiano’s proposal.
Ammiano’s plan includes a minimum spending requirement for health care services for all employers with 20 or more employees. Small businesses with less than 20 employees (the vast majority of registered businesses in San Francisco) don’t have to pay anything. Of the three proposals, Ammiano’s seems the fairest to the majority of employers that already provide health care.
The Committee on Jobs tells us that small businesses will be hurt by this plan. I’m always suspicious when a well-funded organization that exists to lobby for the interests of the largest corporations in San Francisco leads with an argument related to the impact to the small business community.
The SFSOS thinks that any decision on Ammiano’s health care plan will be made “predominantly by people who have never worked in retail business, never managed a staff, nor ever had to make a payroll.”
I operated a temporary employment business in San Francisco for 25 years. Ammiano’s plan levels the playing field for all businesses.
For the record, many of my former colleagues within the small business community provide very generous health care benefits. Employees in small businesses, after all, are like family. Many small business owners think that those who do not provide health care have an unfair competitive advantage.
If we’re going to have universal health care, everyone should pay. SFBG
Barry Hermanson is running for state assembly in District 12 on the Green Party ticket.
“You are my rabbi,” said the caller who claimed to be a Methodist. “Good,” said the talk show host, “Everybody needs a rabbi.”
This is no shock jock being irreverent — he’s a real rabbi. But make no mistake, this is no jolly rebbe kvetching about marrying a nice Jewish boy, nor a lefty Jew talking about justice, diversity, and the Holocaust. He’s Daniel Lapin, dubbed “the show rabbi of the Christian right” by the New York Times. And now he’s a San Francisco talker, Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. on right-wing radio station KSFO.
But Lapin’s more than a front man. He’s a faith-based political operative who was deeply implicated in the Jack Abramoff scandals when Lapin’s nonprofit, Toward Tradition, was exposed as one of a cluster of tax-exempt organizations through which Abramoff secretly routed tribal Indian and other gambling clients’ funds to an aide to Rep. Tom DeLay in return for favorable legislation.
According to news reports published as recently as last month, Abramoff’s nonprofit money-laundering operations are still under investigation. “It’s not a tax-exempt activity to act as a bagman for Jack Abramoff,” Marcus S. Owens, a tax lawyer and former IRS official, told the Washington Post in June.
The Post piece claims Lapin introduced Abramoff to deposed GOP House leader Tom DeLay, a social feat of epic political proportions. Lapin wrote in a letter to supporters after the scandal broke, “Although I have no clear recollection of having formally introduced them, it is certainly possible.”
Former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has called Lapin his “spiritual adviser,” and white supremacist David Duke wrote, “There are so few honest voices like that of Rabbi Lapin.”
A rabbi without a congregation, the 59-year-old Lapin gave up his Seattle talk show in February. He’d been filling in for other KSFO hosts and began his show in April, broadcasting from a Seattle studio. Although Lapin denies it, observers opine that he moved to the Bay Area for a fresh start after national publicity about the Abramoff scandals made him radioactive in Seattle.
Toward Tradition has reportedly fallen on hard times after postscandal donations tanked. Lapin has given up his offices, laid off staff, and works out of his home on Mercer Island, a wealthy suburban enclave outside Seattle. He founded Toward Tradition with film critic and neocon radio talker Michael Medved and Abramoff in the early 1990s. The disgraced lobbyist joined the board and served a few terms as chairman. Lapin calls his organization a coalition of Jews and conservative Christians dedicated to faith-based American principles of constitutional and limited government, the rule of law, representative democracy, free markets, a strong military, and a moral public culture.
Until his recent problems, Toward Tradition allowed Lapin to pay himself a $165,000 annual salary, according to a 2003 IRS filing. He also fetched high speaker’s fees and right-wing Christian street cred that’s taken him to the George W. Bush White House for Shabbat dinners and the speaker’s podium at the 1996 Republican National Convention.
Lapin has been a conduit between the GOP and the fundamentalist “values” crowd, but was also directly involved in Republican fundraising. Newsweek reported last year, “When fundraising began for Bush’s re-election effort, Rabbi Daniel Lapin . . . urged friends and colleagues to steer campaign checks to Bush via Abramoff.” For his loyalty, Bush appointed Lapin to the US Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which helps protect cemeteries, monuments, and historic buildings in eastern and central Europe. He recently resigned from this post.
Although Lapin can be tedious on the radio, he’s charismatic one-on-one and on the stump. A striking figure in expensive dark suits, bright ties, meticulous ear-to-ear rabbinical beard, and bald pate usually covered with a yarmulke, he is a tall, lanky, ascetic presence.
His mission, as stated on his Web site, is “standing astride America’s secular path to decline, decadence, and depravity.” But his version of Judeo-Christianity looks like a right-wing Republican wish list. Lapin believes that currency and capital markets are revelations granted by God to the Jews and passed on to Christians.
As a man of God, he not only supports stable marriages, family life, faithfulness, and integrity, but (along, he says, with God) favors tax cuts, property rights, sodomy laws, school prayers, school vouchers, arranged marriages, and elimination of government social programs. He opposes promiscuity, abortion, homosexuality, welfare, crime, funding for the arts, gun control, environmental laws, and black people giving their kids “funny” names.
“Recycling,” Lapin told the Guardian, “is the sacred sacrament of secularism.” He told KSFO listeners recently that saying a prayer over your dead pets is sick and bizarre.
According to Lapin’s writings, Terri Schiavo’s death was a “premeditated murder-plot,” and he’s said on the radio that living wills are “suicide notes.” Tattoos, birth control, piercings, abortions, and assisted suicide are all sinful because, as he told the Guardian, it’s not your body, thank you very much, you’re only a tenant. And tenants, in Lapin’s view, have no rights, especially when it comes to moving or evictions.
Lapin also crusades against homosexuality and is a headliner and co-organizer, with virulent Seattle homophobe Rev. Ken Hutcherson, of the effective, antigay Mayday for Marriage rallies, one of which drew some 150,000 supporters to the Mall in Washington, DC, just before the 2004 elections. He makes appearances on the pulpit of Hutcherson’s megachurch near Seattle and they’re jointly involved in other political activities. (Hutcherson is the evangelical who bullied Microsoft in 2005 into withdrawing support for a gay rights bill before the Washington State Legislature, which effectively killed it.)
There was comic relief at hearings last year before the Senate Indian Affairs Committee provided by e-mails between Lapin and Abramoff, and read by North Dakota senator Byron Dorgan. Abramoff asked Lapin to help him sex up a résumé to help him get into Washington’s exclusive Cosmos Club, whose membership includes Nobel Prize winners and establishment elites.
“Most prospective members have received awards and I have received none,” Abramoff complained, going on to say, “It would be even better, if it were possible, that I received these in years past, if you know what I mean.”
Lapin apparently knew what he meant, writing, “Yes, I just need to know what needs to be produced . . . letters? Plaques? Neither?”
Lapin wrote in a letter to supporters that it was merely a “jocular interchange” that he regrets, but Abramoff later used Toward Tradition’s award of “Scholar of Talmudic Studies” in serious applications, according to investigators.
Lapin also leads an organization called the American Alliance of Jews and Christians, which seems to exist only as a page on his Web site. Its board of advisers shows the company he keeps, such far-right luminaries as James Dobson, the current Christian right’s front man; the scandal-tainted Gary Bauer, a failed 2000 presidential candidate; the came-to-Jesus Watergate convict Charles “Tex” Colson; Michael Medved; and preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, whose wacky prophecies and laughable gaffes of the last few years have rendered them useless as national spokesmen for the evangelical right. It also includes hard-right orthodox rabbis like Barry Freundel, David Novak, and Meir Soloveichik.
Many Jews are nervous about such lovey-dovey political alliances with the Christian fundamentalists, considering many evangelicals don’t believe God even answers Jewish prayers. To born-agains, Jews will burn in hell if they don’t accept Jesus as their personal savior. Their support of Israel is not born of Christian love, but of Book of Revelation end-world myths that say Jews must control Israel for Christ to come back.
Lapin reassures Jews that despite evangelicals’ having been some of the most persistent anti-Semites in the past, they are the Jews’ natural allies. “I do not fear a Christian America,” he was quoted as saying in an Eastside Weekly article. “I fear a post-Christian America.”
So why does David Duke — the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard turned Republican congressional candidate — like Lapin? Good question, since Duke’s Christian Identity beliefs hold that Jews are “the children of Satan.” This does not look good on a Judeo-Christian résumé.
In an essay that ran in the Orthodox paper Jewish Press in January, Lapin denounced the silly 2004 movie Meet the Fockers, which starred his old friend Barbra Streisand. He compared its Jewish producers (and such Jews as Howard Stern) with the Jews producing Berlin theater in Weimar Germany, with their “deviant sexuality in all its sordid manifestations.” Lapin quoted Adolf Hitler (the leading voice on “values” of his day) charging that these Jews were responsible for “nine-tenths of all literary filth, artistic trash, and theatrical idiocy.” Apparently, Jews were practically begging to be hauled off to the ovens.
Duke, on his Web site, heartily agreed with Lapin and Hitler, and added that anti-Semitism isn’t just blind hatred, it’s for a darn good reason: “It is revulsion to the actions of the Jewish overseers of our mass media.”
Although he spent time growing up in Britain, Lapin was born and raised in and around white supremacist South Africa in the 1950s. Alongside his Afrikaner accent, it’s easy to detect in Lapin a sense of superiority reflecting the mid-20th-century South African Dutch Reformed Church, whose retributive, racist, and self-righteous worldview justified the apartheid system and provided a sociopolitical framework for his formative years.
Lapin often says non-Judeo-Christian cultures and secular liberalism are more of animals than of God and holds historically contentious theories that Western scientific superiority was developed directly from Judeo-Christianity. “Why didn’t the periodic table surface among the Eskimos?” he asked in a 1996 Eastside Week article. “It doesn’t make sense that Africa hadn’t figured out the wheel by the time England was at the end of the Industrial Revolution.”
The reason, Lapin said in that article, is because they never had the opening lines of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and earth.”
And that’s not just for third world heathens — it goes for the rest of us who don’t share the rabbi’s opinions. “Modern American liberalism,” he was quoted as saying, “is unquestionably at odds with everything Judeo-Christianity stands for.”
Strange worldview for a Bay Area audience? Maybe, but not for the station that launched Michael Savage and other angry right-wingers. However, the didactic Lapin has never had real broadcasting success, with short stints at Seattle stations and a stab at national syndication that was short lived. He says he’s doing well in the liberal Bay Area, but time will tell. SFBG
For Lapin’s denunciation of Meet the Fockers, see www.towardtradition.org/our_worst_enemy.htm. For David Duke on Lapin and anti-Semitism, see www.davidduke.com/?p=226.
The greatest irony of Proposition A’s failure last month seemed to be what took place just a few short weeks after the June 6 election.
Prop. A would have budgeted $30 million over the next three years to fund violence prevention services for at-risk populations, such as anxious teens looking for a break from order during the warm summer months. It was a clear response to the city’s headline-grabbing homicide rate, which has continued its stubborn ascent this year, making life politically difficult for Mayor Gavin Newsom, District Attorney Kamala Harris, and the Police Department.
But with the mayor and the cops in opposition, the measure lost by less than a single percentage point. And just two weeks later, 22-year-old Andrew Ele — known among his friends as DJ Domino — was shot and killed at a bus stop near 24th Street and Folsom. Ele was a regular teen-outreach volunteer at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, a San Francisco nonprofit that helped run the Prop. A campaign with Sup. Chris Daly.
On June 20, as Ele waited for a bus with his brother André, a gunman walked to the middle of 24th Street and fired several shots at each of them before escaping in a waiting white Mazda MPV, the Police Department told the Guardian. André survived with non-life-threatening injuries, but Andrew was pronounced dead at the hospital.
The police still don’t know who killed Andrew, but as we’ve reported previously, the department hasn’t had the best luck with recent homicide investigations. As of January 2006 police had made arrests in fewer than 20 percent of the homicide cases that were opened the previous year, and the district attorney’s office has managed to file charges in only a fraction of those cases.
BACK TO THE BUDGET
The day after the election, the San Francisco Chronicle framed Prop. A’s failure as a big political win for Newsom rather than what it really was: an enormous letdown for groups such as Coleman Advocates that are offering something other than increased law enforcement. The $30 million may not have immediately improved DJ Domino’s chances of remaining alive, but neither did $18 million the city paid police overtime last year prevent a Mission bus stop from being filled with bullet holes.
The issue of violence prevention is still alive, though, and it surfaced again during the recent budget negotiations.
The press release accompanying the mayor’s late-May budget proposal for the next fiscal year boasts that Newsom set aside $2.7 million for violence prevention and intervention, which he combines with $7 million the board supplemented for the current fiscal year. Featured more prominently in the press release is his bid for 250 new cops — and yet more money to pay them overtime.
However, the board’s budget committee, chaired by Daly, found $4 million more for violence prevention, including $1 million to save the Trauma Recovery Center, which assists victims of violent crime and was close to shutting down in November for lack of funds. Not to be outdone, the mayor unveiled “SF Safe Summer 2006” last week, just as the Guardian was putting together this story, which includes an expansion of the Community Response Network, a Police Department program.
The budgetary give-and-take reflects the city’s growing frustration over a homicide rate that has at times resulted in tense Police Commission meetings. Last month a meeting at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center — held the day after Prop. A failed — was commandeered by Western Addition and Bayview–Hunters Point residents angry over a perceived failure by the city to respond to chronic gang and street violence. (Police Chief Heather Fong and Sup. Sophie Maxwell were literally shouted down at the meeting.)
The campaign for Prop. A forced the city to address its ongoing philosophical divide on how to face off against violence. More cops or more outreach? More patrols or more job training? More overtime or more murals?
“Their approach is suppression,” Coleman Advocates youth coordinator José Luis said of law enforcement. “They get rats; they send in informants. They don’t want to use prevention.”
Luis knew Ele for eight years and said the latter used to help provide security at drug- and alcohol-free hip-hop shows that cops in the Mission eventually stopped.
“[Ele] on countless occasions jumped into a brawl and stuck his neck out to stop it,” Luis said of the events.
Ele, who often performed at clubs in the city with the DJ troupe Urban Royalties, had big plans for his life. He was going to record an album at CELLspace in the Mission once construction of a recording studio was completed there. Then he’d planned to teach young people how to spin and record hip-hop themselves.
THE OTHER APPROACH
CELLspace is a 10,000 square foot warehouse on Bryant Street that has for the last several years served mostly as an outpost for industrial artists. Locals know it best for the acrylic bombs that cover its exterior honoring fallen graf heads and Mexican revolutionaries. The building hosted dance parties for teens in the ’90s, but they were eventually shut down by the city.
By 2003, however, CELLspace had recharged its outreach efforts, slowly building an administrative staff, acquiring grant money, and implementing new after-school programs. Staffers are working with ex–gang members and specifically targeting recent Latino immigrants, who are often recruited by gangs.
“Those of us who sort of grew up in street culture, we have more experience with what could work now,” said CELLspace’s 25-year-old executive director, Zoe Garvin, who was born and raised in the Mission.
The place is brimming with ideas. There’s talk of outfitting a low-rider car with a biofuel engine and solar-powered hydraulic suspension. Staffers are building low-rider bikes and collaborating with other Mission-based groups to teach kids screen printing and break dancing. They even have a class for skaters, but the ramps that quietly appeared a couple of months ago at the Mission Flea Market, across Florida Street on the west side of the warehouse, will soon have to make way for a moderate-income housing complex, Garvin said.
CELLspace, she said, would have applied for Prop. A funding, but is looking elsewhere now. The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice in early July passed over their $600,000 grant application, which would have funded a street outreach and case management program for 18- to 24-year-olds.
“I think we’ve done a really good job creating a sanctuary in here,” she said. “You have to be careful how you do it. You can’t just hire anyone.”
While the city eventually found money for community-based organizations through the budget process, it’s doubtful the debate over how to take on street violence issues will cease.
“Something like Prop. A,” Luis of Coleman Advocates says, “was long overdue.” SFBG
Mayor Gavin Newsom has taken credit and sought the national spotlight for a plan he touts as an innovative way to deliver universal health care access to the city’s uninsured. Yet Newsom has consistently ducked the vitriolic public debate over how to the pay for the plan, which a companion measure by Sup. Tom Ammiano would cover with a controversial employer mandate.
But as the measures were headed for the first of at least two hearings before the Board of Supervisors (on July 11 after Guardian press time), a board committee and Newsom’s public health director, Dr. Mitch Katz, finally made it clear that Newsom’s plan can’t stand alone, as much as the business community would like it to.
“The two pieces of legislation were created to and do fit together,” Katz said at a July 5 Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee hearing. “One can’t successfully move forward without the other.”
Katz made the comments after budget analyst Harvey Rose said the mayor’s plan doesn’t contain a specific funding mechanism. Rose’s admission prompted Sup. Ross Mirkarimi to characterize the mayor’s proposal as “a one-winged aircraft that doesn’t fly.” Sup. Chris Daly added that “It’s time to be up front that [the San Francisco Health Access Plan] only works if it has significant contributions from outside sources, including Ammiano’s plan.”
Neither Newsom nor his spokesman Peter Ragone returned repeated calls for comment on the issue. The Mayor’s Office also has not fulfilled a June 22 request by the Guardian for public records associated with the plan in violation of deadlines set by the city’s Sunshine Ordinance.
“Celebrating one resolution while pooh-poohing the other is disingenuous, because if they don’t work together, nothing works,” Mirkarimi added at the hearing, shortly before he, Daly, and a mostly mute Sup. Bevan Dufty voted to combine both proposals into one health care plan: the San Francisco Health Care Security Ordinance.
“After today’s meeting,” Ammiano wrote in a follow-up press release, “I’m confident that the citizens of San Francisco and the media will understand that the Worker Health Care Security Ordinance and the Health Access Program are one comprehensive health care plan, and are now codified as such in a single bill.”
The decision to amalgamate left small business owners voicing fears over the economic impact of the employer spending mandate, which would raise an estimated $30 million to $49 million of the $200 million cost of providing health care access for San Francisco’s uninsured.
As the controller’s Office of Economic Analysis points out, most of the financial burden of the employer mandate “falls on businesses with 20 to 49 employees, since these firms currently are less likely to offer health care benefits to their workers.”
With the cost of covering 20 full-time employees’ health care estimated at $43,000 to $65,000, many business owners fear the mandate will result in layoffs, economic downturns, and the erosion of their already marginal profits.
Although the controller predicts a “nearly neutral impact” on the city’s economic picture — a loss of 60 to 590 jobs from staff cuts or business closures mitigated by 140 to 250 new health care–related positions — small businesses worry about the controller’s “moderately adverse impact” prediction for employers who currently aren’t offering health care benefits at mandated levels.
“It’s going to add another $50,000 to my already high health care costs,” John Low, who runs a small company in the Tenderloin, said at the hearing. San Francisco Soup Company owner Steve Sarver claimed the mandate could force him to abandon expansion and hiring plans: “Projects that I was borderline on, I’m now going to go toward eliminating those jobs.”
As written before the July 11 hearings, the mandate would kick in January 2007 for large businesses and the following January for small businesses. Mirkarimi says the board should be “extremely sensitive” to the small business community’s concerns.
“The business community knows best how to speak about profit margins. Right now, an employer spending mandate is the only option in orbit. If there are other options, great, but so far all we’re hearing is nothing but distortion,” Mirkarimi told the Guardian. He said the proposal by some downtown leaders to increase the sales tax by a half cent — an alternative to Ammiano’s mandate — comes from “the same community who would sabotage any attempt to enact a tax-based funding mechanism.”
Mirkarimi told us the mayor’s plan was “prematurely pitched through the media on a national stage,” while Ammiano’s legislation, “which is really the heart and soul of the plan, has struggled to get any notoriety locally.” Mirkarimi told us he hopes Newsom will directly address small business concerns — including the reality that his health access plan can’t work without Ammiano’s mandate.
“The mayor needs to make an effort to show small business that he intends to mitigate the negative financial side effects of his plan. But what is the mayor’s communication? And why is he relying on the Board of Supes to fill in the blanks? The mayor needs to exercise leadership, to admit that for his plan to work somebody has to pay, and decide who that somebody is going to be, then build confidence that he has adequate answers. But right now, he’s deflecting that responsibility onto the board.”
Dr. Katz, who was a member of the Universal Healthcare Council that created the plan to offer health access to all the city’s uninsured residents, said he neither hopes nor believes that all 82,000 of the city’s uninsured will enroll.
“We hope that large employers continue to chose commercial health insurance,” Katz said at the meeting, noting that 95 percent of businesses with more than 100 employees already have commercial health insurance.
“If people enroll in a commercial health insurance plan, the city doesn’t get the revenue, but we also don’t get costs,” said Katz, who believes the city can offer health access to all uninsured residents without building additional health centers.
“All existing clinics and facilities have shown a desire to join the program and accept people,” Katz said, noting that the $104 million the city already spends on San Francisco’s uninsured is on the lowest-income individuals, plus a minute subsidy to small- and medium-size business but no subsidy for large businesses.
“Most of SF’s 82,000 uninsured residents are getting care right now, but not in a rational way,” Katz explained. “I look at how much capacity could we add to health centers by only paying for additional providers, like nurses, doctors. And the answer is a lot. We’re not doing evenings or Saturdays, so we just need to open for more hours and hire more doctors, nurses.”
Acknowledging that the Department of Public Health already saw 49,000 uninsured residents last year, Katz said that doesn’t mean that people are getting what he calls “rational care.”
“So when we create a system, we’ll create a demand,” he said. “It’s not just the woman with a bad cough who comes in, but now she’ll also get a pap smear.” SFBG
For coverage of the July 11 hearing and other updates on the health plan, visit www.sfbg.com.