It’s your Guardian. That’s the message we posted on the cover today, and I mean it: The new sfbg.com website is designed to be fully interactive. You can post your comments on every article, every review, every editorial. You can join in on five new blogs. In a few weeks, we’ll have a reader’s blog, just for you.
Newspaper publishing should never be a one-way communication. For more than 20 years, I’ve been hearing from readers (yeah, I answer my own phone), and your ideas and suggestions (and complaints) are what make this paper great.
And now you can share your thoughts with all the other readers, too. Argue, fight, tell me I’m full of shit, point out great San Francisco ideas that ought to be in the mix … It’s easy. Registration takes about 30 seconds. And keep coming back – there’s going to be more, much more, rolling out in the next few weeks.
The first thing I did when I learned that private housing developers in San Francisco were demanding 28 percent profit levels (see page 5) was to call my brother Mike, who runs a small business building houses in New York. He almost dropped the phone.
“Let me get this straight,” he said. “These guys say they need 28 percent profit?” That’s the minimum, I told him.
“Shit, sign me up,” he laughed. “I’ll take the whole crew and we’ll be on the next plane.”
Mike is thrilled when he walks away with 10 percent profit on a job. So is everyone he knows. So are most small businesses (and quite a few large ones). The only ones who can get away with demanding that sort of return are oil companies, daily newspaper publishers, and, it appears, San Francisco real estate developers.
This isn’t really shocking news: We’ve known for a long time that developers make a killing in an inflated housing market. Compared to the boom years of the 1980s, when the office market was running rampant and out of control, the 28 percent margins aren’t that outrageous – high-rise office developers made even more.
But there’s a bottom line for the city: These folks aren’t just getting rich; they’re getting really rich – purely off a market that exists simply because of the appeal of San Francisco. They owe it to the city to give more than a pittance of that back.
Now this: Just about every small-business owner in San Francisco is sitting down with a spreadsheet and trying to figure out how much Sup. Tom Ammiano’s health care legislation is going to cost. A lot of them seem to be nervous – in part because of the fearmongering campaign put out by the Chamber of Commerce and the Committee on Jobs.
But when you actually look at what the law says, it’s not that scary. I’ve gone over the final language, and here are some key points:
1. The requirement that employers pay for health care doesn’t affect anyone with fewer than 20 employees, which is most of the small businesses in town.
2. Nobody’s going to have to pay anything until July 2007, and companies with between 20 and 50 employees aren’t going to have to pay anything until April 2008.
3. There’s a 90-day waiting period before anyone has to pay for a new employee.
4. Nobody will have to pay for employees who either have health insurance already (from a spouse, say) or who voluntarily decline health insurance.
5. Employers will pay based on how many hours an employee works, so the price for a part-timer will be comparatively small.
6. If you have more than 20 employees and don’t currently provide health insurance for all of them (or the amount you pay for that insurance is low), you’ll have to ante up, either by buying insurance in the private market or paying into the city plan. For companies with 20 to 99 employees, the city plan will run about $1.12 an hour next year for anyone who works more than 12 hours a week. Pencil it out; it may not kill you.
It’s absolutely an imperfect system. Employer-based health insurance is the wrong model. But for now it’s all we have – and this is a way to offer at least basic primary health care to everyone in the city. It’s worth the price. SFBG