Budget blowback

Pub date June 26, 2007
WriterSarah Phelan

› sarah@sfbg.com

People’s Budget Coalition member Esther Morales says she’s angry that the media obsessed over Sup. Chris Daly’s June 19 comments about whether Mayor Gavin Newsom has honestly addressed allegations that he’s used cocaine yet ignored hours of testimony that hundreds of San Franciscans gave at the very same meeting, a state-mandated hearing on the impact of Newsom’s proposed spending cuts on the city’s neediest populations, including those with drug and alcohol problems.

"There’s been so much press about that hearing, but it’s all been about what’s happening between Sup. Chris Daly and the mayor," Morales said, accurately observing that there has been no coverage by the mainstream media of the addicts who waited for hours that night but only got to talk for two minutes each about how they would have died had it not been for the substance abuse programs that Newsom plans to cut.

Nor has much been written about the folks who pleaded for Buster’s Place, the city’s only all-night homeless shelter, which was to close at the end of June unless the Board of Supervisors saved it from Newsom’s $1.6 million cut. Nor has much mention been made of the organizers from the city’s four single-room occupancy hotel collaboratives that showed up at City Hall a few days earlier to decry Newsom’s proposed $233,000 cut in their combined budgets.

As David Ho of the Chinatown Community Development Center told the Guardian, "These are programs for the poor and for public health, and they are always on the chopping block. The mayor talks about the need to preserve working-class families in the city, and here we are being left out of the budget."

Muna Landers of the Coalition on Homelessness said SRO hotel rooms were originally meant to be single dwellings, but now more than 450 families — 85 percent of whom are immigrants — live in such rooms without bathrooms or kitchens. "When one family moves out, three families move in," Landers said.

Meanwhile, in light of Newsom’s proposal to restore only 50 percent of a $9 million federal cut in San Francisco’s HIV/AIDS programs, San Francisco AIDS Housing Alliance director Brian Basinger accused the mayor of "playing bullshit games."

As Morales told us this week, "What’s really behind these fights between Chris and the mayor is the fact that Chris spearheaded the board’s $28 million affordable-housing supplement…. Without Daly’s footwork the $28 million supplemental would not have passed by an 8–3 majority, and the mayor only refused to sign it because it was Chris’s measure."

Morales works with 60 community-based groups as the organizer of the Family Budget Committee, one of seven committees of the People’s Budget Coalition, which unveiled its annual report June 21 on the steps of City Hall. The group values services for those struggling to get by.

"But this mayor’s budget is a law-and-order, streets-and-potholes, increasingly right-wing conservative budget that is not reflective of what San Francisco is about, and it will drive even more families out of town," Morales told us.

Months ago the Family Budget Committee met with the mayor’s staff to ask for a $30 million package of services, part of the People’s Budget Coalition’s $78 million request from the mayor’s record $6.1 billion budget.

"The mayor’s staff talked to us about how dismal the budget year looked, how the firefighters’, the police[‘s], and the nurses’ contracts are up for negotiations, and so they didn’t know how much money they would end up with," Morales recalled.

So the Family Budget Committee whittled down its needs, first to $20 million, then $10 million, and sent those priorities to the Mayor’s Office for consideration. Ultimately, it said, the mayor found just $1.5 million for its priorities, so it turned its attention to the Board of Supervisors.

Since board president Aaron Peskin removed Daly as chair of the Budget and Finance Committee on June 15 and took the reins himself, the body has restored $4 million in HIV/AIDS funding, and much more is on the way. Peskin told us that he intends to significantly change the mayor’s budget, promising more so-called add backs than the board has ever approved.

"It’s all about priorities," Peskin told us. He said Daly "never intended to actually cut" any of the mayor’s top-priority projects when he introduced his motion to slash $37 million from Newsom’s funding plans. It was simply a negotiating tactic that "backfired majorly" when the targeted constituencies rallied against Daly.

Yet board progressives haven’t been derailed by Daly’s actions, as many pundits predicted. At the same meeting at which Daly mentioned cocaine while making a point about substance abuse program cuts, Sup. Ross Mirkarimi led a challenge of Newsom’s proposed San Francisco Police Department contract on the grounds that it would grant cops a 25 percent pay increase but give the city little in return. And there are still eight supervisors who supported Daly’s affordable-housing plan.

Peskin told us, "I’m hopeful that by the end of the week you’ll be able to write that Peskin took the baton that Newsom handed him, and while it may not have been as pretty as we might have liked, I’m hopeful that after reversing cuts to health care and [making the additions requested by] the Family Budget Committee, we’ll even be able to dump money back into low-income, affordable, family, and rental housing." *