Pension reform

Endorsements 2013


We’re heading into a lackluster election on Nov. 5. The four incumbents on the ballot have no serious challengers and voter turnout could hit an all-time low. That’s all the more reason to read up on the issues, show up at the polls, and exert an outsized influence on important questions concerning development standards and the fate of the city’s waterfront, the cost of prescription drugs, and the long-term fiscal health of the city.




Note: This article has been corrected from an earlier version, which incorrectly stated that Prop A increases employee contributions to health benefits.

Throughout the United States, the long-term employee pension and health care obligations of government agencies have been used as wedge issues for anti-government activists to attack public employee unions, even in San Francisco. The fiscal concerns are real, but they’re often exaggerated or manipulated for political reasons.

That’s one reason why the consensus-based approach to the issue that San Francisco has undertaken in recent years has been so important, and why we endorse Prop. A, which safeguards the city’s Retiree Health Care Trust Fund and helps solve this vexing problem.

Following up on the consensus pension reform measure Prop. B, which increased how much new city employees paid for lifetime health benefits, this year’s Prop. A puts the fund into a lock-box to ensure it is there to fund the city’s long-term retiree health care obligations, which are projected at $4.4 billion over the next 30 years.

“The core of it says you can’t touch the assets until it’s fully funded,” Sup. Mark Farrell, who has taken a lead role on addressing the issue, told us. “The notion of playing political football with employee health care will be gone.”

The measure has the support of the entire Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Labor Council. Progressive Sup. David Campos strongly supports the measure and he told us, “I think it makes sense and is something that goes beyond political divides.”

There are provisions that would allow the city to tap the fund in emergencies, but only after it is fully funded or if the mayor, controller, the Trust Board, and two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors signs off, a very high bar. So vote yes and let’s put this distracting issue behind us.




Well-meaning people can arrive at different conclusions on the 8 Washington project, the waterfront luxury condo development that was approved by the Board of Supervisors last year and challenged with a referendum that became Prop. C. But Prop. B is simply the developer writing his own rules and exempting them from normal city review.

We oppose the 8 Washington project, as we explain in our next endorsement, but we can understand how even some progressive-minded people might think the developers’ $11 million affordable housing and $4.8 million transit impact payments to the city are worth letting this project slide through.

But Prop. B is a different story, and it’s something that those who believe in honesty, accountability, and good planning should oppose on principle, even if they support the underlying project. Contrary to the well-funded deceptions its backers are circulating, claiming this measure is about parks, Prop. B is nothing more than a developer and his attorneys preventing meaningful review and enforcement by the city of their vague and deceptive promises.

It’s hard to know where to begin to refute the wall of mendacity its backers have erected to fool voters into supporting this measure, but we can start with their claim that it will “open the way for new public parks, increased access to the Embarcadero Waterfront, hundreds of construction jobs, new sustainable residential housing and funding for new affordable housing.”

There’s nothing the public will get from Prop. B that it won’t get from Prop. C or the already approved 8 Washington project. Nothing. Same parks, same jobs, same housing, same funding formulas. But the developer would get an unprecedented free pass, with the measure barring discretionary review by the Planning Department — which involves planners using their professional judgment to decide if the developer is really delivering what he’s promising — forcing them to rubber-stamp the myriad details still being developed rather than acting as advocates for the general public.

“This measure would also create a new ‘administrative clearance’ process that would limit the Planning Director’s time and discretion to review a proposed plan for the Site,” is how the official ballot summary describes that provision to voters.

Proponents of the measure also claim “it empowers voters with the decision on how to best utilize our waterfront,” which is another deception. Will you be able to tweak details of the project to make it better, as the Board of Supervisors was able to do, making a long list of changes to the deal’s terms? No. You’re simply being given the opportunity to approve a 34-page initiative, written by crafty attorneys for a developer who stands to make millions of dollars in profits, the fine details of which most people will never read nor fully understand.

Ballot box budgeting is bad, but ballot box regulation of complex development deals is even worse. And if it works here, we can all expect to see more ballot measures by developers who want to write their own “special use district” rules to tie the hands of planning professionals.

When we ask proponents of this measure why they needed Prop. B, they claimed that Prop. C limited them to just talking about the project’s building height increases, a ridiculous claim for a well-funded campaign now filling mailers and broadcast ads with all kinds of misleading propaganda.

With more than $1 million and counting being funneled into this measure by the developer and his allies, this measure amounts to an outrageous, shameless lie being told to voters, which Mayors Ed Lee and Gavin Newsom have shamefully chosen to align themselves with over the city they were elected to serve.

As we said, people can differ on how they see certain development deals. But we should all agree that it’s recipe for disaster when developers can write every last detail of their own deals and limit the ability of professional planners to act in the public interest. Don’t just vote no, vote hell no, or NO, No, no!




San Francisco’s northeastern waterfront is a special place, particularly since the old Embarcadero Freeway was removed, opening up views and public access to the Ferry Building and other recently renovated buildings, piers, and walkways along the Embarcadero.

The postcard-perfect stretch is a major draw for visiting tourists, and the waterfront is protected by state law as a public trust and overseen by multiple government agencies, all of whom have prevented development of residential or hotel high-rises along the Embarcadero.

Then along came developer Simon Snellgrove, who took advantage of the Port of San Francisco’s desperate financial situation, offered to buy its Seawall Lot 351 and adjacent property from the Bay Club at 8 Washington St., and won approval to build 134 luxury condos up to 12 stories high, exceeding the city’s height limit at the site by 62 percent.

So opponents challenged the project with a referendum, a rarely used but important tool for standing up to deep-pocketed developers who can exert an outsized influence on politicians. San Franciscans now have the chance to demand a project more in scale with its surroundings.

The waterfront is supposed to be for everyone, not just those who can afford the most expensive condominiums in the city, costing an average of $5 million each. The high-end project also violates city standards by creating a parking space for every unit and an additional 200 spots for the Port, on a property with the best public transit access and options in the city.

This would set a terrible precedent, encouraging other developers of properties on or near the waterfront to also seek taller high-rises and parking for more cars, changes that defy decades of good planning work done for the sensitive, high-stakes waterfront.

The developers would have you believe this is a battle between rival groups of rich people (noting that many opponents come from the million-dollar condos adjacent to the site), or that it’s a choice between parks and the surface parking lot and ugly green fence that now surrounds the Bay Club (the owner of which, who will profit from this project, has resisted petitions to open up the site).

But there’s a reason why the 8 Washington project has stirred more emotion and widespread opposition that any development project in recent years, which former City Attorney Louise Renne summed up when she told us, “I personally feel rich people shouldn’t monopolize the waterfront.”

A poll commissioned by project opponents recently found that 63 percent of respondents think the city is building too much luxury housing, which it certainly is. But it’s even more outrageous when that luxury housing uses valuable public land along our precious waterfront, and it can’t even play by the rules in doing so.

Vote no and send the 8 Washington project back to the drawing board.




San Francisco is looking to rectify a problem consumers face every day in their local pharmacy: How can we save money on our prescription drugs?

Prop. D doesn’t solve that problem outright, but it mandates our politicians start the conversation on reducing the $23 million a year the city spends on pharmaceuticals, and to urge state and federal governments to negotiate for better drug prices as well.

San Francisco spends $3.5 million annually on HIV treatment alone, so it makes sense that the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is the main proponent of Prop. D, and funder of the Committee on Fair Drug Pricing. Being diagnosed as HIV positive can be life changing, not only for the health effects, but for the $2,000-5,000 monthly drug cost.

Drug prices have gotten so out-of-control that many consumers take the less than legal route of buying their drugs from Canada, because our neighbors up north put limits on what pharmaceutical companies can charge, resulting in prices at least half those of the United States.

The high price of pharmaceuticals affects our most vulnerable, the elderly and the infirm. Proponents of Prop. D are hopeful that a push from San Francisco could be the beginning of a social justice movement in cities to hold pharmaceutical companies to task, a place where the federal government has abundantly failed.

Even though Obamacare would aid some consumers, notably paying 100 percent of prescription drug purchases for some Medicare patients, the cost to government is still astronomically high. Turning that around could start here in San Francisco. Vote yes on D.




With residential and commercial property in San Francisco assessed at around $177 billion, property taxes bring in enough revenue to make up roughly 40 percent of the city’s General Fund. That money can be allocated for anything from after-school programs and homeless services to maintaining vital civic infrastructure.

Former District 4 Sup. Carmen Chu was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to serve as Assessor-Recorder when her predecessor, Phil Ting, was elected to the California Assembly. Six months later, she’s running an office responsible for property valuation and the recording of official documents like property deeds and marriage licenses (about 55 percent of marriage licenses since the Supreme Court decision on Prop. 8 have been issued to same-sex couples).

San Francisco property values rose nearly 5 percent in the past year, reflecting a $7.8 billion increase. Meanwhile, appeals have tripled from taxpayers disputing their assessments, challenging Chu’s staff and her resolve. As a district supervisor, Chu was a staunch fiscal conservative whose votes aligned with downtown and the mayor, so our endorsement isn’t without some serious reservations.

That said, she struck a few notes that resonated with the Guardian during our endorsement interview. She wants to create a system to automatically notify homeowners when banks begin the foreclosure process, to warn them and connect them with helpful resources before it’s too late. Why hasn’t this happened before?

She’s also interested in improving system to capture lost revenue in cases where property transfers are never officially recorded, continuing work that Ting began. We support the idea of giving this office the tools it needs to go out there and haul in the millions of potentially lost revenue that property owners may owe the city, and Chu has our support for that effort.




Dennis Herrera doesn’t claim to be a progressive, describing himself as a good liberal Democrat, but he’s been doing some of the most progressive deeds in City Hall these days: Challenging landlords, bad employers, rogue restaurants, PG&E, the healthcare industry, opponents of City College of San Francisco, and those who fought to keep same-sex marriage illegal.

The legal realm can be more decisive than the political, and it’s especially effective when they work together. Herrera has recently used his office to compel restaurants to meet their health care obligations to employees, enforcing an earlier legislative gain. And his long court battle to defend marriage equality in California validated an act by the executive branch.

But Herrera has also shown a willingness and skill to blaze new ground and carry on important regulation of corporate players that the political world seemed powerless to touch, from his near-constant legal battles with PG&E over various issues to defending tenants from illegal harassment and evictions to his recent lawsuit challenging the Accreditation Commission of Community and Junior Colleges over its threats to CCSF.

We have issues with some of the tactics his office used in its aggressive and unsuccessful effort to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office. But we understand that is was his obligation to act on behalf of Mayor Ed Lee, and we admire Herrera’s professionalism, which he also exhibited by opposing the Central Subway as a mayoral candidate yet defending it as city attorney.

“How do you use the power of the law to make a difference in people’s lives every single day?” was the question that Herrera posed to us during his endorsement interview, one that he says is always on his mind.

We at the Guardian have been happy to watch how he’s answered that question for nearly 11 years, and we offer him our strong endorsement.




It’s hard not to like Treasurer/Tax Collector Jose Cisneros. He’s charming, smart, compassionate, and has run this important office well for nine years, just the person that we need there to implement the complicated, voter-approved transition to a new form of business tax, a truly gargantuan undertaking.

Even our recent conflicts with Cisneros — stemming from frustrations that he won’t assure the public that he’s doing something about hotel tax scofflaw Airbnb (see “Into thin air,” Aug. 6) — are dwarfed by our understanding of taxpayer privacy laws and admiration that Cisneros ruled against Airbnb and its ilk in the first place, defying political pressure to drop the rare tax interpretation.

So Cisneros has the Guardian’s enthusiastic endorsement. He also has our sympathies for having to create a new system for taxing local businesses based on their gross receipts rather than their payroll costs, more than doubling the number of affected businesses, placing them into one of eight different categories, and applying complex formulas assessing how much of their revenues comes from in the city.

“This is going to be the biggest change to taxes in a generation,” Cisneros told us of the system that he will start to implement next year, calling the new regime “a million times more complicated than the payroll tax.”

Yet Cisneros has still found time to delve into the controversial realm of short-term apartment sublets. Although he’s barred from saying precisely what he’s doing to make Airbnb pay the $1.8 million in Transient Occupancy Taxes that we have shown the company is dodging, he told us, “We are here to enforce the law and collect the taxes.”

And Cisneros has continued to expand his department’s financial empowerment programs such as Bank on San Francisco, which help low-income city residents establish bank accounts and avoid being gouged by the high interest rates of check cashing outlets. That and similar programs are now spreading to other cities, and we’re encouraged to see Cisneros enthusiastically exporting San Francisco values, which will be helped by his recent election as president of the League of California Cities.




With just six months on the job after being appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, Sup. Katy Tang faces only token opposition in this race. She’s got a single opponent, accountant Ivan Seredni, who’s lived in San Francisco for three years and decided to run for office because his wife told him to “stop complaining and do something,” according to his ballot statement.

Tang worked in City Hall as a legislative aide to her predecessor, Carmen Chu, for six years. She told us she works well with Sups. Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener, who help make up the board’s conservative flank. In a predominantly Chinese district, where voters tend to be more conservative, Tang is a consistently moderate vote who grew up in the district and speaks Mandarin.

Representing the Sunset District, Tang, who is not yet 30 years old, faces some new challenges. Illegal “in-law” units are sprouting up in basements and backyards throughout the area. This presents the thorny dilemma of whether to crack down on unpermitted construction — thus hindering a source of housing stock that is at least within reach for lower-income residents — look the other way, or “legalize” the units in an effort to mitigate potential fire hazards or health risks. Tang told us one of the greatest concerns named by Sunset residents is the increasing cost of living in San Francisco; she’s even open to accepting a little more housing density in her district to deal with the issue.

Needless to say, the Guardian hasn’t exactly seen eye-to-eye with the board’s fiscally conservative supervisors, including Tang and her predecessor, Chu. We’re granting Tang an endorsement nevertheless, because she strikes us as dedicated to serving the Sunset over the long haul, and in touch with the concerns of young people who are finding it increasingly difficult to gain a foothold in San Francisco.

Compromises deliver results


OPINION When Guardian Editor Steven T. Jones asked me to respond to his recent columns (“Chiu becomes City Hall’s go-to guy for solving tough problems“, 7/23/13; “Chiu: Centrist Compromiser, Effective Legislator, or Both,” 7/30/13), I reflected on how our Board of Supervisors’ 2013 accomplishments exemplifies the lessons and rewards of working together.

After several decades of intense fights between TIC owners and tenants, I asked both sides to sit down, share perspectives, and brainstorm beyond the impasse. To our surprise, when TIC owners shared their struggles and offered to pay a fee to condo convert, tenant advocates agreed to finally support conversions as long as their core principle of preventing evictions — which I strongly shared — was addressed.

After a decade of failed CEQA reform attempts, the pundits predicted an epic battle between developers and neighbors this year. The breakthrough for unanimous support occurred when both sides acknowledged to me that real neighborhood input and predictability in the planning process are not mutually exclusive, and progressive leaders wanted to ensure that pedestrian, bike, affordable housing, and public projects are not delayed.

After years of controversy, CPMC/Sutter and the coalition of dozens of community-based organizations deadlocked over how to rebuild the Cathedral Hill and St. Luke’s hospital campuses. After exposing financial documents challenging the original proposal, I worked with colleagues for six months at a mediation table that refashioned a CPMC plan to rebuild those 21st century hospitals the right way.

While each story is unique, what all of these accomplishments — along with recently balanced budgets, business tax reform, and pension reform — have in common is hard work and extreme patience by dedicated San Franciscans seeking creative solutions.

As Board President, my job is to build consensus among our diverse supervisors and deliver results. When I first came to City Hall, I asked my colleagues to move beyond past politics that had magnified differences. I am proud that today’s Board has the highest approval ratings in a decade, as we do more together working through our differences.

At the negotiation table, it’s essential to stand firm on core values. My vision for San Francisco has been of a city that protects tenants and families; creates good jobs across the economic spectrum; offers high quality public services with Muni, our schools, and our parks; and embraces our diversity, our immigrants, our seniors, and those who have been historically disenfranchised.

When we can’t always find creative win-wins, it’s still important to fight for what’s right. I’ve taken my political lumps championing the right of noncitizen parents to vote in school board elections, standing up for workers requesting family-friendly workplaces, and taking on a Yellow Pages industry dumping millions of phone books on our streets.

When I hear criticisms of “compromise,” I reflect that the most important federal legislation in recent years — from the Civil Rights Act to the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reform to comprehensive immigration reform — were also criticized as “compromises.” Critics often forget the big picture: by incorporating different views, reforms actually get done, and if we wait forever for the perfect policy, people will suffer.

San Franciscans are at our best when we unite around shared values — from marriage equality to universal health care to environmental protections. We still have plenty of challenges: housing affordability, struggling workforces, family flight, public transit.

Let’s continue to work together to show the rest of the country how our city can govern.

David Chiu, who represents District 3 (North Beach, Chinatown, Nob Hill), is serving his second term as president of the Board of Supervisors.

UCSF medical centers prepare for strike

On Tuesday morning at 4 a.m., a 48-hour strike will begin at University of California medical centers across the state.

The strike was called by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 3299, a union representing more than 13,000 UC patient care technical workers.

AFSCME has been at an impasse on contract negotiations with UC for months. Administrators have pointed to proposed pension reform measures as the central issue, while the union has highlighted rising executive salaries and bonuses that they deem unfair at a time when frontline staff positions have been cut. AFSCME also recently called for new caps on UC executives’ pensions.

Speaking on a conference call earlier today, Jack Stobo, senior vice president for health sciences and services at the UC system, told reporters that the upcoming strike would affect patient care. He said 150 surgeries had to be rescheduled, and estimated that some 100 patient transfers would be delayed. “We have canceled a number of chemotherapy sessions and approximately half of radiation sessions with patients who are about to start radiation therapy,” he added. 

UC administrators pegged the total cost of the two-day strike at about $20 million for the entire system, mostly associated with hiring temporary staffers. They did not provide the number of temporary staffers that would be brought on. Stobo said the strike “will impact our ability to provide the quality services that we’re committed to provide to a large number of patients.”

AFSCME, on the other hand, says it has been working for months to craft a patient protection plan. “We have a patient protection task force in place in the event of a medical emergency,” such as an event that would cause a major influx of patients, AFSCME 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse told the Bay Guardian. “Our workers are the ones … who understand the stakes. That’s why they’ve taken pains to make sure patients are protected.”

Union representatives say they are striking in part due to concern about the long-term erosion of patient care, stemming from cuts to frontline staff positions earlier this year.

“This strike is not just about the next two days – it’s about the fact that UC is endangering its patients every day with chronic understaffing and reckless cost cutting,” said AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger. “If we don’t stand up to it now, we are inviting disaster when thousands of new patients begin flooding UC hospitals with the onset of the Affordable Care Act in the coming year.”

Earlier today, a California Superior Court decision enjoined certain respiratory therapists and other critical classifications from striking, but the ruling does not prevent the strike from going forward. The decision stemmed from an effort by UC to halt the strike by petitioning for injunctive relief with the Public Employees Relations Board (PERB). The labor board upheld the union’s right to strike and only sought a temporary injunction in court.

Meanwhile, AFSCME-represented UC service workers will also hold a “sympathy strike” in support of patient care employees, and the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), a union which represents pharmacists, clinical lab scientists, social workers and other health care professionals, is also planning a daylong sympathy strike on May 21. 

Jelger Kalmijn, systemwide president of UPTE, told the Bay Guardian that his union membership had voted to strike because “we support our sisters and brothers who work at UCSF.” He added that UPTE is also in contract negotiations with UC, and noted that pension reform is a key issue. “People stay here because of the benefits and the pension,” Kalmijn said. “It’s a serious concern. When [UC] makes half a billion in profit, why should employees have to give up their right to retire with dignity?”

Hospital union targets UC executive pensions [VIDEO]

An update to this story has been posted below.

An ongoing labor rift is intensifying between frontline University of California hospital employees and the UC medical center system. UC administrators have minimized employees’ stated concerns about eroding patient care due to staffing rollbacks, saying the real issue at the heart of the dispute is AFSCME’s “refusal to agree to UC’s pension reforms.”

But now the union is striking a different note on pension reform, most recently taking aim at UC executive pensions – or what AFSCME 3299 spokesperson Todd Stenhouse glibly refers to as the “golden handshake protection program.”

AFSCME 3299 represents 13,000 UC patient care and technical workers. The union is expected to announce the outcome of a strike authorization vote, stemming from a contract negotiation that has been at an impasse for months, any day now.

Meanwhile, the hospital workers’ union issued a statement on May 3 pointing out that top-ranking UC executives, particularly longtime administrators whose robust retirement benefits were grandfathered in from a more bountiful era, stand to receive pension payouts that dramatically exceed the reduced retirement benefits most public employees can now expect.

“Our point is simply this,” Stenhouse explains. “How can you even pretend to have pension reform when you’re not capping executives’?”

UC spokesperson Steve Montiel noted that UC restructured its pension program several years ago. He justified the higher payouts, saying, “That’s something we see as being necessary to attract the best people at all levels, and to compete with others for the very best people.”

This past January, sweeping pension reform legislation took effect after winning bipartisan support in Sacramento. The new limits cap pensionable salary levels at $110,000 for public employees who earn Social Security, and $130,000 for those who don’t.

Yet the leaner retirement regime does not apply to employees in the UC system, which operates under a separate pension structure. Under the UC framework, pensionable salary levels are capped at $250,000, or $375,000 for employees hired prior to 1994.

“The cap on compensation for the governor of California is $110,000,” Stenhouse points out. “They say they want pension reform. Well, we want real pension reform.”

AFSCME is targeting Mark Laret, CEO of UCSF Medical Center, in particular. Since he was hired early enough to benefit from the higher pensionable salary cap, the hospital director, whose total annual compensation exceeds $1 million, is expected to earn more than $309,000 per year in retirement benefits.

In 2010, Laret joined 35 other UC executives in threatening to sue the Board of Regents if pension caps, mandated by the Internal Revenue Service, were not lifted. The IRS had offered to grant an exemption to the UC system but Regents ultimately determined that the caps should remain in place, despite executives’ objections.

In this clip, AFSCME 3299 President Kathryn Lybarger and Pathology/Lab Technician Margaret Mann confront Laret during his onstage address at the UC Health Center for Health Quality and Innovation’s Spring Colloquium, held at Oakland Marriott City Center on May 3. Video courtesy AFSCME.

Had they succeeded in lifting the caps, Laret could have received more than twice as much in annual retirement benefits, according to AFSCME estimates. (The medical center CEO recently co-authored an Op Ed in the San Francisco Examiner admonishing AFSCME for resisting “modest reforms” on pension contributions proposed by hospital management.)

Montiel emphasized to the Bay Guardian that contract bargaining negotiations are the central issue, noting that executive pensions haven’t figured into that discussion. “They haven’t raised this at the bargaining table,” he said. “If they wanted to propose caps on pensions for their units, we would look at that, but what they’re talking about is beyond what’s being bargained right now.” A key issue, he added, is a proposal for employees to contribute 6.5 percent toward retirement savings, up from 5 percent.

AFSCME has estimated that the UC system could save $35 million annually if executives were held to the $110,000 pensionable salary cap now in effect for a majority of state, county and municipal employees.

“I haven’t looked at the math on that,” Montiel said when asked about this potential source of savings. “The medical centers are supported by medical center revenue, so there’s really no state funding that is going into salaries there. … There are lots of savings that could be made. These are all things that have been taken into consideration for years as compensation levels have been set and so forth, but this is not part of the negotiations with AFSCME.”

Sen. Leland Yee has introduced legislation, SB 8, to prohibit pay increases for top UC administrators within two years of a tuition hike or when budget allocations are not increased. According to a fact sheet prepared by Yee’s office, the bill is meant to address a trend where “the UC and the CSU systems have historically hiked executives’ pay while raising student fees and have given new administrators more than double digit pay hikes.” The legislation is working its way through the approval process, currently in committee.

On this latest debate, Yee sided with the union. “I don’t see why, when state workers are in a pinch and tuitions are at record highs, UC executives should be pulling down $300,000 a year on their pensions,” he said. “This shows yet again the profoundly backwards priorities in the UC system.”

UPDATE: We just got word that AFSCME 3299 members voted to authorize a strike with 97 percent support. The union can lawfully call a strike any day now, but dates and duration of a strike have not been finalized.

Care clash


The first week in April was a rough time for Connie Salguero. The Filipina nursing assistant, who says she would’ve been eligible to retire in two years, reported to her shift at the University of California San Francisco medical center at Mt. Zion on April 1 — and was told she was laid off. Two days after that, she was forced out of her home through an eviction, but fortuitously met an elderly Filipina woman who said Salguero could stay with her until she gets back on her feet.

“This manager said to me, Connie, come here, let’s talk,” and delivered the bad news, Salgeuro recounted, getting a little misty-eyed. Two other Filipina hospital assistants in her unit met with the same fate that day, she said.

“I’m trying to find a job,” Salguero said. “It’s very hard. But I will survive.” She projected a sense of resolve despite the whirlwind of sudden stress, which seemed fitting for someone whose job entailed feeding, bathing, and assisting up to ten bedridden patients at a time, many of them suffering from cancer.

Salguero said management told her the layoffs were necessary because of the most recent wave of federal budget cuts. But Cristal Java, lead organizer for UC patient care technical workers’ union, AFSCME 3299, interjected during an interview with the Bay Guardian to refute that explanation, calling it “total crap. They don’t want to tell workers the truth,” Java said, “which is that the hospitals are extremely profitable.”


Salguero is one of about 25 UCSF certified nursing assistants whose recent layoffs prompted AFSCME to register a formal complaint with the Public Employee Relations Board, an agency that mediates labor disputes. The CNA layoffs hit in March and early April as part of a raft of cutbacks that eliminated a total of 300 full-time equivalent positions. Some of those positions were unfilled while other staffers were reassigned elsewhere or had their hours cut; a total of 75 individuals were laid off.

The cuts prompted union representatives to organize a protest at UCSF’s Parnassus Campus April 4, with San Francisco Sup. John Avalos and California Sen. Leland Yee turning out in support of the workers. Salguero was there too, waving a sign, and she wound up telling her story for an international broadcast by a Filipino news station. Things took a dramatic turn when police arrived on the scene, and Union President Kathryn Lybarger and some others were escorted off the premises in handcuffs.

Asked to explain the rationale behind the layoffs, UCSF spokesperson Karin Rush-Monroe responded, “We evaluated the impact of the Affordable Care Act, expected reductions in Medicare, MediCal and private insurance reimbursements,” as well as employee benefits and rising costs in drugs and medical supplies, and ultimately decided on a 4 percent labor budget cut. “We must make a ‘course correction’ if we are to maintain our resources to care for our patients,” Rush-Monroe said.

But the staffing cuts hit just weeks after AFSCME published a blistering report, titled “A Question of Priorities,” charging that UC has prioritized profit margins at its medical centers since 2009 while needlessly eliminating frontline staff positions, all to the detriment of patient care.

“It feels very much like they’re chasing down the Wall Street model of business,” Randall Johnson, an MRI technologist at UCSF Parnassus Campus who is active with Local 3299, told the Guardian. “We’re pressed to move faster and faster and faster. It’s more about profit than it is about patient care.”

Steve Montiel, spokesperson for UC Office of the President, told us that UCSF is “consistently ranked as one of the top hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report,” and pointed out that the AFSCME report coincided with an ongoing contract dispute concerning patient care technical workers, which may lead to a strike authorization in the next few weeks.


Billed as a “whistleblower report,” AFSCME’s 40-page publication portrays an internal environment throughout UC medical centers in which staffers — particularly frontline workers — are exhausted, overburdened, and dangerously likely to make mistakes.

Peppered with anecdotal horror stories describing things like dried blood observed on operating room tables at facilities where custodial staffing was cut to a bare minimum, or an incident in which a mentally altered patient was found on a window sill at a medical facility where harrowed nursing assistants’ attention was divided too many ways, the report portrays an unsafe environment that seems out of sync with the system’s reportedly healthy earnings derived from patient care.

“Bring it up at bargaining, and you get told to kick rocks,” said union spokesperson Todd Stenhouse. AFSCME has called upon state agencies and lawmakers to investigate UC policies on “cutting costs, reducing staff, and maximizing revenue.”

“We’ve been getting lots of reports about short staffing, and no coverage for breaks,” said Tim Thrush, a diagnostic sonographer who works with patients experiencing complications in pregnancy, and has worked at UCSF for years. “If you get a break or a lunch, it seems to be rare — even though it’s state law.” Thrush added. “It looks to us … that UC’s response to us raising concerns … is to say, OK well then let’s make it worse. Let’s lay off a whole bunch of people.

“It’s been very disappointing,” he said, “and it’s getting to be kind of scary.”

The report emphasizes California Department of Public Health findings of violations relating to bedsores from 2008 to 2012. The sores can occur if a patient stays in one position for too long, causing reduced blood flow and damage to skin tissue, and have been linked to infection.

Among those affected by the layoffs were “lift and turn team” members, including care workers tasked with turning immobilized patients to prevent bedsores.

Ironically, Rush-Monroe, the UCSF spokesperson, noted in response to a Guardian query that a $300,000 “incentive pay” bonus CEO Mark Laret received in 2011 was based on multiple “clinical improvement goals” that had to be satisfied in order to qualify for the 2011 compensation increase. One of these targets was a reduction in the number of hospital-acquired bedsores.

While the union report points to rising instances of bedsores, and the UCSF administration claims they were reduced to the extent that the CEO was monetarily rewarded for the accomplishment, a quick look at scores on hospital ranking website California Hospital Compare showed that pressure sore rankings at UCSF are almost exactly even with the statewide average.

Meanwhile, hospital rankings of patient safety indicators on Health Grades, an online consumer ranking website, didn’t reflect any dramatic differences between patient safety scores at UCSF, CPMC or Kaiser Permanente.


In the midst of these staffing cuts, AFSCME charges, the $6.9 billion system has enjoyed robust finances, with UCSF earning $100 million in net revenue last year. Between 2009 to 2012, management positions increased by 38 percent system-wide, while payroll costs for managers grew by 50 percent, with an additional $100 million a year allocated to administrative staffing.

According to a 2013-14 budgetary report prepared at the UC level, the system’s network of public universities have suffered deep financial cuts while its five medical centers “have continued to flourish and grow,” and “enjoy robust earnings.”

A revenue breakdown in the UC budget report shows that 62 percent of medical center earnings system-wide were derived from private health care plan reimbursements, while about a third came from Medicare and MediCal, funded by the federal and state government.

Meanwhile, ASCFME’s report has raised eyebrows in the California Senate. Sen. Ed Hernandez, who represents part of Los Angeles County and chairs the Senate Health Committee, “has expressed an interest in looking at it further,” according to committee consultant Vincent Marchand. “We may decide to call a hearing” sometime in May to see if further action is warranted, he added.

Sen. Yee lambasted the UC system for what he called “blatant disregard for the working staff.” Yee said the layoffs raised concerns about the quality of patient care, saying, “How do you lay off 300 individuals and think that it’s not going to compromise patient care?”

Yee added that he thought the UC budget ought to be scrutinized when it goes before the Senate. “Although the Constitution gives the UCs of California tremendous autonomy via the Board of Regents, ultimately we in the Legislature still allocate dollars … so there is a legislative and moral responsibility that we need to exercise,” he said. “Are the dollars within UC being used appropriately to take care of patients and in ensuring their safety?”


In early 2015, UCSF will open its new Mission Bay complex, a 289-bed facility featuring a children’s hospital with an urgent/emergency care unit and an adult care unit for cancer patients. The estimated price tag for the project is about $1.5 billion, and construction costs associated the project were referenced in an Oct. 12 letter Laret, UCSF’s CEO, issued to hospital staff announcing the pending staffing cuts.

Thrush questions decisions made at the highest administrative levels. Laret is “eliminating 300 jobs, and we’re opening a new facility, and he’s getting a $300,000 bonus,” he said, referring to a “retention bonus” expected to be awarded this year, which could be followed by a $400,000 bonus in 2014. “Why is he getting a huge bonus if we’re having to lay off so much staff?”

With a total compensation of around $1.2 million in 2011, Laret’s salary seems excessive in comparison with that of frontline workers — and it is. At the same time, it seems to be within the realm of a CEO of a major medical facility, a quick Internet search reveals.

ACSFME’s report targets Laret specifically, saying he repeatedly emphasized to hospital staff, “When you see patients, you should see dollar signs.” Johnson, the MRI technician, told the Guardian he heard Laret make this statement years ago, when he first came on as CEO. “I know that some physicians were outraged by it,” he said. “I heard that the physicians told him to stop, and he stopped saying it.” UCSF did not respond to Guardian requests for a comment on this allegation.

The report also focuses on a practice of so-called “VIPs” — patients connected with the UC Regents or other influential persons — receiving preferential care. “I got called in on a Sunday to take care of a celebrity, because they had a headache,” said Johnson. “I’ve seen patients have to be on hold so we can scan the [VIPs]. They definitely get preference. I’ve been told, if one of those VIPs comes in, we have to get them on the scanner.” UCSF didn’t respond to Guardian questions concerning VIP patient treatment, either.


Montiel, the media relations director for the UC system, responded to a Guardian query with a wholesale rejection of the detailed 40-page report, without directly addressing any of the allegations. Instead, he said the whole controversy arose from a labor rift over pension reform.

“These claims by AFSCME coincide with a bargaining impasse, and the scheduling of a strike vote by its patient care technical workers,” Montiel wrote in an email. “Quality of care is not the issue. The real issue is pension reform. AFSCME has resisted pension reforms that eight unions representing 14 other UC bargaining units have agreed to. The reforms also apply to UC faculty and staff not in unions.”

AFSCME recently announced that its membership would begin voting on April 30 over whether to authorize a strike, following months of stalled negotiations over a contract that expired last September. Stenhouse, the union spokesperson, called it “the impasse of impasses” yet suggested to the Guardian that the strike authorization vote was a side issue from the concerns raised in the whistleblower report. The workers are there to “provide patient care,” he told the Guardian. “They’re not making Buicks.”

“This report is about something much bigger than our members’ livelihoods,” Lybarger stated when the report was released. “It’s about whether the UC is prioritizing quality care for the millions of Californians who put their lives in our hands.”

Compromise measures


San Franciscans are poised to vote this November on two important, complicated, and interdependent ballot measures — one a sweeping overhaul of the city’s business tax, the other creating an Affordable Housing Trust Fund that relies on the first measure’s steep increase in business license fees — that were the products of intense backroom negotiations over the last six months.

Mayor Ed Lee and his business community allies sought a revenue-neutral business tax reform measure that might have had to compete against an alternative proposal developed by Sup. John Avalos and his labor and progressive allies, who sought around $40 million in new revenue, although both sides wanted to avoid that fight and find a compromise measure.

Meanwhile, Mayor Lee was having trouble securing business community support for the housing trust fund that he pledged to create during his inaugural address in City Hall in January. So he modified his business tax proposal to bring in $13 million that would be dedicated to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, but that didn’t satisfy the Avalos camp, who insisted the city needed more general revenue to offset cuts to city services and help with the city’s structural budget deficit.

Less than a day before the competing business reform measures came before the Board of Supervisors on July 24, a compromise was finally struck that would bring $28.5 million a year, with $13 million of that set aside for the affordable housing fund, tying the fate of the two measures together and creating a kumbaya moment at City Hall that was reminiscent of last year’s successful pension reform deal between labor and the business community.

But there was one voice raised at that July 24 meeting, that of Sup. David Campos, who asked questions and expressed concerns over whether this deal will adequately address the “crisis” faced by the working class in a city that will continue to gentrify even if both of these measures pass. Affordable housing construction still won’t meet the long-term needs outlined in the city’s Housing Element that indicates 60 percent of housing construction would need public subsidies to be affordable to current city residents.

It’s also worth asking why a business tax reform measure that doubles the tax base — just 8.4 percent of businesses in San Francisco now pay the payroll tax, whereas 16.4 percent would pay the gross receipts tax that replaces it — doesn’t increase its current funding level of $410 million (the $28.5 million comes from increased business license fees). Some industries — most notably the technology and restaurant industries that have strongly supported Mayor Lee’s political ambitions — could receive substantial tax cuts.

Politics is about compromise, and Avalos tells us that in the current political climate, these measures are the best that we can hope for and worthy of progressive support. And that may be true, but it also indicates that San Francisco will continue to be more welcoming to businesses than the working class residents struggling to remain here.



As Mayor Lee acknowledged during his inaugural speech, the boom times in the technology industry has also been driving up commercial and residential rents, he sought to create “housing for the 100 percent.”

The median rent in San Francisco has been steadily rising, jumping again in June an astounding 12.9 percent over June of last year, according to real estate monitor RealFacts, leaving renters shelling out on average an extra $350 a month to landlords.

Driven by a booming tech industry and a lag in new housing, the average San Francisco apartment now rents for $2,734. That’s an annual increase of $4,000 per unit over last year, in a city that saw the highest jumps in rent nationally in the first quarter of 2012. Even prices for the average studio apartment have edged up to $1,800 a month.

The affordability gap between housing and wages in the city is stark. Somebody spending a quarter of their income on rent would need to be making $85,000 a year just to keep up with the average studio. With a mean wage of $64,820 in the San Francisco metro area, even middle class San Franciscans have a difficult time affording a modest apartment. For the city’s lowest paid workers, even earning the country’s highest minimum wage of $10.25 an hour, even devoting every earned dollar to rent still wouldn’t pay for the average small studio apartment.

For those looking to buy a home in the city, it can be a huge hurdle to put aside a down payment while keeping up with the city’s high rents. Almost 90 percent of San Franciscans cannot afford a market rate home in the city. The average San Francisco home price was up 1.9 percent in June over May, climbing to $713,500, or a leap of $50,000 per unit over last year’s prices.

In the 2010 census, before the recent boom in the local real estate market, San Francisco already ranked third in the nation for worst ratio between income and home ownership prices, behind Honolulu and Santa Cruz.

But as the city leadership grapples to mitigate the tech boom’s effects, the lingering recession and conservative opposition to new taxes have gutted state and federal funds for affordable housing. Capped off last December by the California Legislature’s decision to dissolve the State Redevelopment Agency, a major source of money for creating affordable housing, San Francisco has seen a drop of $56 million in annual affordable housing funds since 2007.

Trying to address dwindling funding for affordable housing, the Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 on July 24 to place the Affordable Housing Trust Fund measure on the fall ballot. Only the most conservative supervisors, Sups. Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu, opposed the proposal. Sup. Mark Farrell, who has signaled his support for the measure, was absent.

“Creating a permanent source of revenue to fund the production of housing in San Francisco will ensure that San Francisco is a viable place to live and work for everyone, at every level of the economic spectrum. I applaud the Board of Supervisors,” Mayor Lee said in response.

At the heart of the program, the city hopes to create 9,000 new units of affordable housing over 30 years. The measure would set aside money to help stabilize the ongoing foreclosure crisis and replenish the funds of a down payment assistance program for those earning 80 to 120 percent of the median income.

To do so, the city anticipates spending $1.2 billion over the 30-year lifespan of the program, with a $20 million annual contribution the first year increasing $2.5 million annually in subsequent years. It would fold some existing funding in with new revenue sources, including $13 million yearly from the business tax reform measure. Language in the housing fund measure would allow Mayor Lee to veto it is the business tax reform measure fails.

The board was forced to delay consideration of the business tax measure until July 31 because of changes in the freshly merged measures. That meeting was after Guardian press time, although with nine co-sponsors on the board, its passage seemed assured even before the Budget and Legislative Analysts Office had not yet assessed its impacts, as Campos requested on July 24.

“I do believe that we have to ask certain questions when a proposal of this magnitude comes forward,” Campos said at the hearing, later adding, “When you have a proposal of this magnitude, you’re not going to be able to adjust it for some time, so you want it to be right.”

The report that Campos requested, which came out in the late afternoon before the next day’s hearing, agreed that it would stabilize business tax revenue, but it raised concerns that some small businesses exempt from the payroll tax would pay more under the proposal and that it would create big winners and losers compared to the current system.

For example, it calculated that between the gross receipts tax and business license fee, a sample full service restaurant would pay 69 percent less taxes and a supermarket 33 percent less taxes, while a commercial real estate leasing firm would pay 46.7 percent more tax and a large engineering firm would see its business tax bills more than double.

Board President David Chiu, who has co-sponsored the business tax reform measure with Mayor Lee since its inception, agreed that it is a “once in a decade reform,” calling it a “compromise that reflects the best sense of that word.” And that view, that this is the best compromise city residents can expect, seems to be shared by leaders of various stripes.



The business community and fiscally conservative politicians have long called for the replacement of the city payroll tax — which they deride as a “job killer” because it uses labor costs to gauge the size of company’s size and ability to pay taxes — with a gross receipts tax that uses a different gauge. But the devil has been in the details.

Chiu praised the “dozens and dozens and dozens of companies that have worked with us to fine-tune this measure,” and press reports indicate that representatives of major corporations and economic sectors have all spent hours in the closed door meetings shaping the complicated formulas for how they will be taxed, which vary by industry.

When the Guardian made a Sunshine Ordinance request to the Mayor’s Office for a list of all the business representatives that have been involved in the meetings, its spokespersons said no such list exists. They have also asked for a time extension in our request to review all documents associated with the deliberations, delaying the review until next week at the earliest, after the board approves the measure.

But the business community seems to be on board, even though some economic sectors — including real estate firms and big construction companies — are expected to face tax hikes.

“The general reaction has been neutral to favorable, and I expect we’ll be supportive,” Jim Lazarus, the vice president of public policy for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, who participated in crafting the proposal but who said the Chamber won’t have an official position until it votes later this week.

Lazarus noted the precipitous rise in annual business license fees — the top rate for the largest companies would go from just $500 now to $35,000 under the proposal, going up even more in the future as the Consumer Price Index rises — “but some of it will be offset by a drop in the payroll tax,” Lazarus said.

He also admitted that the new tax system will be “hugely complicated” compared to the payroll tax, with complex formulas that differ by sector and where economic transactions take place. But he said the Chamber has long supported the switch and he was happy to see a compromise.

“I’m assuming it will pass. I don’t believe there will be any major organized opposition to the measure,” Lazarus said.

Labor and progressive leaders also say the measure — which exempts small businesses with less than $1 million in revenue and has a steeply progressive business license fee scale — is a good proposal worth supporting, even if they didn’t get everything they wanted.

“We fared pretty well, the royal ‘we,’ with the mayor starting off from the position that he wanted a revenue-neutral proposition,” Chris Daly, who unsuccessfully championed affordable housing ballot measures as a supervisor before leaving office and becoming the political director for SEIU Local 1021, the largest union of city employees.

Both sides say they gave considerable ground to reach the compromise.

“Did we envision $28.5 million in new revenue? No,” said Lazarus, who had insisted from the beginning that the tax measure be revenue-neutral. “But we also didn’t envision the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.”

Daly and Avalos also said the measures need to be considered in the context of current political and economic realities.

“We were never going to be able to pass — or even to craft — a measure to meet all of the unmet needs in San Francisco,” Daly said. “Given the current political climate, we did very well.”

“If we had a different mayor who was more interested in serving directly the working class of the city, rather than supporting a business class that he hopes will serve all the people, the result might have been different,” Avalos said. “But what’s significant is we have a tax measure that really is progressive.”

Given that “we have an economic system that is based on profits and not human needs,” Avalos said, “This is a good step, better that we’ve had in decades.”



The tax and housing measures certainly do address progressive priorities — bringing in more revenue and helping create affordable housing — even if some progressives express concerns that conditions in San Francisco could get worse for their vulnerable, working class constituents.

“I don’t know if the proposal before us is aggressive enough in terms of dealing with a crisis,” Campos told his colleagues on July 24 as they discussed the housing measure, later adding, “As good as this is, we are truly facing a crisis and a crisis requires a level of response that I unfortunately don’t think we are providing at this point.”

Not wanting to let “the perfect be the enemy of the good,” Campos said he still wanted to be able to support both measures, urging the board to have a more detailed discussion of their impacts.

“I wish this went further and created even more funding for critically needed affordable housing,” Sup. Eric Mar said before joining Campos in voting for the proposal anyway. “I think they need to build 60 percent of those units as below market rate otherwise we face more working families leaving the city, and the city becoming less diverse.”

Yet affordable housing advocates are desperate for something to replace the $56 million annual loss in affordable housing the city has faced in recent years, creating an immediate need for action and potentially allowing Lee to drive a wedge between the affordable housing advocates and labor if the latter held out for a better deal.

Many have heralded the mayor’s process in bringing together developers, housing advocates, and civic leaders to build a broad political consensus for the measure, particularly given the three affordable housing measures crafted by progressives over the last 10 years were all defeated by voters.

“One of the goals of any measure like this is for it to gain broad enough support to actually pass,” Sup. Scott Wiener said at a Rules Committee hearing on the measure.

In the measure’s grand bargain, developers receive a reduction in the percentage of on-site affordable housing units they are required to build, from 15 percent of units to 12 percent. The city will also buy some new housing units in large projects, paying market rate and then holding them as affordable housing — the buying power of which could be a boon to developers while creating affordable housing units.

At its root, the measure shifts some of the burden of funding affordable housing from developers to a broader tax base and locks in that agreement for 30 years, which could also spur market rate housing development in the process.

A late addition to the proposal by Farrell would create funding to help emergency workers with household earnings up to 150 percent of average median income buy homes in the city, citing a need to have these workers close at hand in the event of an earthquake or other emergency.

While some progressives have grumbled about the givebacks to developers and the high percentage of money going to homebuyer assistance in a city where almost two-thirds of residents rent, affordable housing advocates are pleased with the proposal.

“Did we gain out of this local package? Yes, we got 30 years of local funding. We came out net ahead in an environment where cities are crashing. We essentially caught ourselves way early from the end of redevelopment funds,” said Peter Cohen, executive director of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations.

Without it, Cohen says many affordable housing projects in the existing pipeline would be lost. “This last year was a bumpy year, and we will not be back to the same operation level for a number of years,” Cohen said. “There was a dip and we are coming out of that dip. It will take us a while to get back up to speed.”

The progressive side was also able to eliminate some of the more controversial items in the original proposal, including provisions that would expand the number of annual condo conversions allowed by the city and encourage rental properties to be converted into tenancies-in-common.

With ballot measures notoriously hard to amend, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund measure is a broad outline with many of the details of how the fund would be administered yet to be filled in. If passed, it will be up to Olson Lee, head of the Mayors Office on Housing and former local head of the demised redevelopment agency, to fill in the details, folding what was essential two partnered affordable housing agencies into a single local unit.

But even the most progressive members of the affordable housing community said there was no other alternative to addressing affordable housing in the wings — which is indeed a crisis now that redevelopment funds are gone — making this measure essential.

As Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco told the Rules Committee, “We lost a very important funding mechanism. We have to replace it. We have no choice.”

Taxes and pension reform


Our friends at CalBuzz, who are almost always right, have a point when they say that the right wing is going to use the lack of comprehensive pension reform against Jerry Brown’s tax measure in the fall. That’s unless the Legislature does something productive in August, which is always a challenge.

But whenever I hear this kind of analysis, I think about some of the political campaigns I’ve seen — the tobacco tax is an excellent example — and I wonder: Will it really make a difference?

No matter what the Leg does, Joel Fox and company are going to raise a ton of money and attack the tax plan — and no matter what happens in August, they’ll use public employees, and public employee pensions, as a flash point.

Brown could propose eliminating every dollar of pension spending tomorrow — and he’d wind up in court, because a lot of this is mandated by contracts. But even if he could get away with it, the righties would still harp about pensions. Because even if we weren’t paying modest pensions today, we used to — and in these campaigns, the facts don’t matter at all. See: Prop. 29. The truth is irrelevant when this much money is involved.

I guarantee the anti-tax groups will find some overpaid public employees and a couple of folks who spiked their pensions and they’ll plaster it all over the airwaves. And the fact that Brown and the Democrats in Sacramento are working 23 hours a day to try to craft a reform plan won’t matter a bit. Even if the reform plan passes, it won’t be enough for these clowns — and if they can outspend Brown’s side by 5-1, well … start holding bake sales for your local public school.

And by the way, who’s going to put up a lot of the money for the Jerry Tax Plan? Public-sector unions.

My point is not that Brown and the Legislature should ignore pension reform (although, as Calbuzz also notes, public-employee pensions aren’t the major cause of the state’s fiscal problems). I know it’s a huge political flashpoint, and the Righties have done an exceptional job at blaming union members for just about everything wrong with the state, and most people now believe that pensions are bankrupting us all and saddling our kids (who will work nonunion jobs with no pensions) with mountains of debt.

(Wait a second. Two wars? More than a trillion dollars wasted? The repeal of the CA vehicle license fee? Prop. 13? But never mind that; the debt’s coming from pensions.)

The missed opportunity here, and the move I wish Brown had been willing to make, was to combine the two in the same package, to wit:

We’re going to ask the public employees, who have already taken tens of millions in pay cuts and furloughs and suffered huge layoffs, to suffer even more and give up part of their pension package. And we’re going to ask everyone who benefits from the Bush tax cuts and all of the corporations who benefit from loopholes in the state code to take a proportional haircut.

Proportional — that is, if a union worker who gets a (typical) $30,000 a year pension has to pay 15 percent more of his or her paycheck a year into the pension fund, then a hedge-fund manager who makes $50 million a year has to pay 15 percent more of that paycheck to help fund for education and public services.

Everyone suffers, equally. Come on, Jerry — put that on the ballot and make Joel Fox fight it.

Meister: It’s not true, what they say about pensions


By Dick Meister

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.

So, what are we going to do about those big fat pensions collected by public employees? You know, those retirement benefits that supposedly are threatening to bankrupt state and local governments everywhere.

What to do? That’s easy. We can make that problem disappear quickly – just like that! We need only realize that the problem simply does not exist, despite the claims by rabid anti-union forces and the many people who they’ve duped.

Here’s the basic situation: Anti-union forces are attempting to weaken the public employee defined pension plans that provide employees a specific monthly payment on retirement. The plans cover about five million older Americans, providing money that many drawing benefits very much need to escape poverty and stay off government assistance.

Those receiving the benefits, many at rates granted originally in lieu of pay raises, in turn create more than $358 billion in economic output nationwide and create more than 2.5 million jobs.

State spending on pensions amounts to no more than 4 percent of the state budget, on average. In most states, employees must contribute up to 8 percent of their wages to their pension fund, a bit more than private employees contribute toward their pensions.

You should also know that, despite what you may have heard, government pension funds are not going broke. They in fact have been growing as Wall Street has been doing better.

Those basic facts and others that are often lost amid the anti-pension clamor from those on the political right who would just as soon do away entirely with pensions, But they were laid out clearly by panelists in a forum earlier this year sponsored by the National Public Pension Coalition.

Panelist Dean Baker, an economist who is  co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted the concern that pensions are endangering government services stems from “a crisis that has been invented” by employer groups.

Baker said the make-believe crisis stems largely from the 2008-09 market crash. That caused an estimated $800 billion of the $1 trillion shortfall in pension plans, but he said the plans should be able to recoup their losses.

But what of the public employees supposedly drawing pensions of $100,000 a year, or even more? As panelists pointed out, they’re pretty much make-believe, too.

Then how much do they make? In New York, as another panelist, New York State Controller Thomas DiNapoli reported, the average pension, including those of police and firefighters, is just a little over $19,000 a year. Three-quarters of New York’s pensioners overall get less than $30,000 a year, and less than one-half of 1 percent get more than $100,000.

Panel member Janet Cowell, North Carolina’s state treasurer, said the average pension in her state is a mere $22,000 a year. She said fewer than 300 retirees get $100,000-plus pensions – “and some of those are basketball coaches.”

Rhode Island retiree Dolores Bresette, a voice from the trenches, as it were, told her unfortunately not uncommon story to the panel.

She said “I worked for the State of Rhode Island for 37 years and contributed 9 percent of my salary to my pension fund. Now, after years of saving and preparing for my retirement, so much of what I and thousands of other public workers were promised is being taken away.” That’s because of last November’s enactment of a “Retirement Security Act” which, among other things, suspended cost-of-living adjustments for Rhode Island retirees indefinitely.

“There are real human implications of the current efforts to dismantle public workers’ pension funds”, Bresette declared, “and people in Washington and the country need to see that.”

She and other panelists warned that “in addition to the human implications there are serious social and economic consequences that will develop over the long term if the shift away from defined-benefit pensions continues. Instead of dismantling public employee retirement systems, policymakers should be working to improve retirement security for the private sector workforce.”

Policymakers will soon face another major crisis related to retirement benefits, noted panel member Hank Kim, an expert on public employee retirement systems. He said that overall, pension funds covering privately employed workers now contain more than $8 trillion less than they’ll soon owe retirees.

If pension benefits are denied or reduced as a result, that could very well cause a significant segment of the 75 million baby boomers to delay retirement. Which would put them in competition for jobs with 80 million younger workers, the so-called millennials, over the next 10 to 15 years.

That could also cost taxpayers. For, as panelist DiNapoli said, if needy retirees couldn’t find jobs that would provide them enough to live on, the government would ultimately have to provide them welfare grants.

The pension opponents wouldn’t be left with much of a choice. They’d have to abandon their anti-pension position or agree to tax increases which, as you might imagine, they don’t much care for.

Either way, we’d be winners.

Dick Meister, former labor editor of the SF Chronicle and KQED-TV Newsroom, has covered labor and politics for more than a half-century. Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 350 of his columns.





Why the public thinks government is fat


Polls from the PPIC are typically pretty accurate, so I have no reason to doubt the results of a recent one showing that a majority of Californnians still think government can be cut substantially without a reduction in services. It’s hard to fathom; as Brian at Calitics notes,

Cuts to government expenditures mean direct cuts to services. There is simply no way to provide the same level of services for an ever decreasing amount of money. Go take a look at your local government offices and then compare it to the offices of your local bank corporate office.  There are no fancy waterfalls and lavish breakrooms offering wide selections of Odwalla and Rice Krispies, there are just a dwindling level of state employees working ever harder to keep up.  

So, while most voters strongly support raising taxes on the rich, 59 percent also think that government can easily be cut just by eliminating waste. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took office pledging the same thing, left saying there wasn’t much waste left to cut. And while I fully believe that any organization that spends $80 billion a year is going to have some things in the budget that don’t belong — it’s simply humanly impossible to run anything, public or private, that big without some employee sleeping in the supply room or somebody sneaking cookies on the company dime — it’s also the case that what’s missing in the California budget is more important than what’s being mis-spent.

Why don’t people get this? Part of the reason is a 30-year concerted campaign by the right wing to convince people that the public sector is a waste of money. But part of the reason is also that the news media, by its very nature, is much more likely to report on waste in government than similar (or worse) waste in the private sector.

For one thing, it’s easy: Government records are public. Figuring out how Enron, which kept its records private, stole $40 billion from the state of California is really, really hard. There’s also the (correct) notion that the government is spending OUR money, so we ought to watch where it goes.

And of course, corrupt politicians like Willie Brown give everyone in government a bad name, and there are plenty of them.

But remember: The government typically spends a lot of our money on private contracts with companies that don’t make their records public. How many employees of the contractors building the Central Subway are sleeping on the job, double-billing, charging fancy lunches and wasting the public’s dollars? That takes a lot more digging — weeks of investigative reporting — and it’s not the sort of stuff that can just pop up in a Matier and Ross column, the way a city worker who pulls in a lot of overtime can (and does).

I think there’s also a general lack of interest in exposing corporate wrongdoing. PG&E’s records are public, and all the money the company spends is OUR money (we’re ratepayers, and we have no choice). But how much do you see about overpaid PG&E executives compared to how much you see about (far less) overpaid city employees? PG&E has hundreds of executives making far more than the most bloated City Hall salaries, and they all have nice pensions — but you never hear about PG&E needing pension reform, or how the utility needs to tighten its belt to keep rates low in a recession.

When you’re bombarded day after day with stories about a deputy sheriff or a nurse who works a huge amount of overtime and takes home $150,000 a year, you can’t help but think that the public sector’s wasting your money. But the private sector does a lot worse.

And sure, under capitalism, a wasteful private company should pay the price in the marketplace — but we all know that a lot of the big private companies don’t really compete much (see: the financial sector), and when it comes to regulated utilities like PG&E, they don’t compete at all. You think ATM fees and checking account fees and all the other shit that banks hit us with isn’t in part a result of waste, fraud and bloated payrolls? Isn’t that my money, too?



Money and values


Warren Hellman left a hole in the heart of San Francisco when he died on Dec. 18 at the age of 77. That’s where he existed, right in the city’s heart, keeping the lifeblood of money and values flowing when nobody else seemed up to that task. But as the outpouring of affection and appreciation that followed his death attests, he set an example for others to follow…and maybe they will.

Hellman was born into one of San Francisco’s premier wealthy families, a status he maintained by becoming a rich and famous investment banker. His great-grandfather founded Well Fargo, as well as the Congregation Emanu-El, the spectacular temple where Hellman’s memorial service was held Dec. 21, attended by a huge crowd ranging from Gov. Jerry Brown to young country music fans.

Hellman was more than just a philanthropist who funded key institutions such as the San Francisco Free Clinic, the Bay Citizen newsroom, and a variety of programs and bond measures benefiting local public schools. He was more than the go-to guy for mediating sticky political problems such as this year’s pension reform struggle.

Hellman was the conscience of San Francisco, reminding his rich friends of their obligations to fair play and the common good. And he was the rhythm of the city, single-handedly creating and funding the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, perhaps the greatest free music festival in the country. And he was so much more.

“What do banjos, garages, Levis, 50- and 100-mile runs, ride and tie, investment banking, public policy, ballot measures, free medical clinics, and a zest for women,” U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said at his service, causing the room to erupt in laughter at the misstated last item, “for winning — correction, a zest for winning — have in common? The answer, of course, is simple: Warren Hellman.”

It was a gaffe that Hellman probably would have appreciated as much as anyone. Speaker after speaker attested to his marvelous, and often risqué, sense of humor. It was a theme that ran through the testimonials almost as strongly as two of his other key qualities: his competitiveness and his compassion.

For a charter member the 1 percent, Hellman had a deep appreciation for the average person of goodwill, and he found those people as often on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder as he did on the top. While most of his contemporaries in San Francisco’s uber-wealthy class, such as Don Fisher and Walter Shorenstein, often used their money to wage class warfare on the 99 percent, Hellman used his wealth and influence to bridge the divide.

He generously gave to good causes and advocated for higher taxes on the wealthy to lessen the need for such charity. Hellman understood that we all help make San Francisco great, and that perspective animated his love of bluegrass music, which he called “the conscience of our country.”

As he told me in 2007, “A big passion of mine is to try to help — and people have defined it too narrowly — the kinds of music that I think have a hell of a lot to do with the good parts of our society.”

Hellman may have started the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival because it was music he loved and played, but he turned it into such a major spectacle — booking some of the biggest acts from around the country, going as big as the city and space would allow — because he thought it was important to the soul of his city.

“I’m glad that we have first-rate opera, but it’s equally important that we foster the kind of music, lyrics, etc., that support all this,” Hellman told me. And by “all this,” he was talking about the grand social bargain, the fact that we’re all sharing this planet and we’ve got to understand and nurture one another.

At the memorial service, that attitude came through most strongly in the words — spoken with a country twang — of musician Ron Thomason, who became good friends with Hellman through their shared loves of bluegrass music and horseback riding, including the endurance rides in which they each competed.

“I know I’m amongst all good folks,” Thomason told the packed synagogue. “The plain truth is Warren didn’t tolerate the other kind.”

That was true. No matter your perspective or station in life, Hellman wanted to know and appreciate you if had a good heart and curious mind. And if not, he would let you know — or cut you off, as he did with the political group he helped start, SFSOS, after its director Wade Randlett launched nasty attacks on progressive politicians and advocates.

Thomason joked about how ridiculous much of this country has become. “It’s hard to believe that only half the people are dumber than average,” he said. “But I don’t think anyone ever saw Warren Hellman talk down to anybody.”

He told the story of meeting Hellman backstage at Hardly Strictly. Thomason knew Hellman from equestrian events and didn’t know that he was a wealthy banker or that he created and funded the festival. And Hellman didn’t immediately offer that information, telling his friend that he was just backstage because he knew someone in management.

“He knew everyone in management, and he expected them to do right,” Thomason said, later adding, “In his mind, there should not be any disenfranchised.”

It was a perspective that was echoed by people from all parts of Hellman’s life, from his family members to his business partners.

“He taught us to respect people from all walks of life,” said Philip Hammarskjold, the CEO of Hellman & Friedman and Hellman’s business partner of 17 years, describing how Hellman was as engaged with and curious about the firm’s low-level support staff as he was its top executives, an attitude that infected those around him. “His culture is now our culture. His values are now our values.”

“Money meant noting to Warren,” said his sister, Nancy Bechtle. “But in business, money was the marker that you won and Warren always wanted to win.”

He was a competitive athlete and an investment banker who wanted to give companies the resources they needed to succeed, rather than slicing and dicing them for personal gain. And he used the wealth he accrued in the process to make San Francisco a better place.

“He treated San Francisco as if it were part of his family, nurturing its health and education,” said his granddaughter, Laurel Hellman.

Personally, he was an iconoclast with a lively sense of play.

“He never worried about the things that most parents worried about,” said Frances Hellman, the eldest of Warren’s four children. Rather than getting good grades and staying out of trouble, Hellman wanted his children to be happy, hard-working, respectful of people, and always curious about the world.

She told stories about taking Hellman to his first Burning Man in 2006 (along with Rabbi Sydney Mintz, who led the service), an event he loved and returned to the next two years, and watching his childlike pleasure at leaving his painted footprints on a sail that was headed around the world, or with just sitting on the playa, picking his banjo, watching all the colorful people go by.

“I love him and I miss him more than I can express,” she said.

As Hellman told me in 2007, he just loved people and was genuinely curious about their perspectives.

“I’m so grateful for the friendship of Warren, to know this incredible man,” singer Emmylou Harris — one of Hellman’s favorite musicians — said before singing for a crowd of others who felt just the same way.

Lessons from 2011 for 2012


With the release of precinct results for the 2011 election, we are able to actually see, for the first time, what San Francisco voters did, as opposed to hearing what various nabobs said they did.  There are a couple of key conclusions about the vote that should guide any left-liberal thinking of the key 2012 Supervisor races.

The first thing San Francisco voters did- about 40,000 of them-  was stay home.  Turnout – about 40% – was the lowest for a mayor’s race in 40 years. Moreover, counter to several “expert” narratives, turnout in neighborhoods with large numbers of Chinese voters — Chinatown, the Richmond, the Sunset, and Vis Valley — was lower (average 33%) than in neighborhoods with few Chinese voters — Diamond Heights, Noe Valley, the Castro and West of Twin Peaks — where turnout averaged 40%.

There seems to be four reasons for this curious outcome. A couple of them have lessons for us for the 2012 election that we ignore at our peril.
First, in a City that is clearly center-left, voters were presented with nine center-right candidates, seven of whom were declared by the Chronicle at one time or another to be “serious.” Only John Avalos was a clear center-left choice. This was shown in the huge number undecideds that appeared in poll after poll. Undecided voters are often unhappy at the lack of choice being offered by the field and simply don’t vote.

Second, professional campaign management of the supposedly serious candidates was terrible and actually counter-productive to their candidates’ best interests. The pros actually seemed to have suppressed turnout in key neighborhoods. Ace Smith and Bill Barnes, working for for Ed Lee, spent most of their time trying to distance their candidate from his base and key supporters, made rookie fund-raising mistakes time and again and gave their counterparts in the Yee and Herrera campaigns ample ammunition for a  series of negative ads and mailers.  John Whitehurst and Mark Mosher, working for Herrera, and Jim Sterns, working for Yee, took the opportunity and went negative on the least threatening figure in San Francisco politics in recent memory. 

As we all know negative campaigns generally suppress turnout — and that seems to be the case in this election. Avalos, who after September had no professional management, stayed positive and gained votes by doing so.

Third, organized labor, for the first time in living memory, did not endorse the winning candidate for mayor. Indeed, its official candidate, Yee, came in FIFTH. It’s as if labor decided to concentrate only on its issue — pension reform — and devote no energy, people or money to the myors race. Without labor’ support,effective GOTV in left-liberal neighborhoods is all the more difficult and was clearly beyond the ability of the Avalos campaign to carry by itself.

Labor knew who it wanted to vote on pension reform and narrowly focused only on those voters. That it still has the ability to do electoral politics can be seen in the fact that more total votes were cast on  Proposition C (186,336) — labor’s pension- reform measure –than were cast for all candidates in the mayors race (179,888).

Finally, there were 160 fewer polling places this election than last year, and to make matters worse the Department of  Elections mailed 115,000 voter handbooks with the wrong polling place address causing them to send postcards with the corrections. While this in no way was responsible for the 40,000 fewer votes cast, it was probably worth several hundreds of missed votes.

The lessons for next year? We need good candidates who actually align with political sensibility of the voters. This will be especially true in District Five after Mayor Lee appoints some center-right clone in the most left-liberal district in the city, and equally true in District Three with David Chiu, who has certainly turned to the right since his election. 

Supervisor David Campos in District 9 will be fine in this regard as will Supervisor Eric Mar in District 1 — where he will face a real fight.
Avalos’ showing in the mayors race should do him well in District 11 and offers a real chance for him to be board president in 2013.
Community-based left-liberals and labor must come together closer than in this election and perhaps closer than at any time since the Great depression. Labor’s support for the Occupy movement is a good indication that fruitful common ground can be found. We need each other more than ever in 2012.

We need to work to get good lines for the new districts and have a grand meeting of the minds on how we address the absentee voter issue.  Both labor and the Mirkarimi campaign did absentees well enough to win.  We need to apply their lessons to the Supervisors races.

Dare to struggle, dare to win.

Calvin Welch is a housing activist who has been watching San Francisco elections for more than 40 years.


Adachi, smiles, frets about Prop C


By Shawn Gaynor

A montage of campaign pictures projected on the wall of the packed Harbor Court Hotel ballroom (totally fancy, good desert) show a man who wears a smile with a natural, genuine ease. Mayoral candidate Jeff Adachi arrives with that smile and looks up, reflecting on the photos for a moment before his supporters notice he has entered. Suddenly, a cheer goes up.

“We’re still in it, we have to be patient,” Adachi announces to about 200 supporters.

Adachi is concerned, though at the apparent passage of Prop C pension reform, saying this means $400 million more in SF budget woes.

“It’s just pushing the issue down the road,” says Adachi who worries that the voters’ choice will put additional pressure on the city’s social safety network.

Adachi encouraged his supporters to go out and “do the right thing and make change happen.”

“If you look at everything we’ve done together, it was honest and from the heart and real — and that’s what I’m proud of.”

The first numbers


The absentees are in, and it’s no surprise that Mayor Ed Lee is in the lead. In fact, he’s way in the lead — he’s got 39 percent of the 67,000 absentees. I expected him to have a big advantage here, since he did a lot of early GOTV.

Worth noting: John Avalos, the most progressive of the major candidates, is in second in the absentees. That’s a very good sign for the Avalos campaign. But Lee is almost 20,000 votes ahead of Avalos and Dennis Herrera, and that, folks, will be very hard to make up.

The district attorney’s race is over; George Gascon has won.

The sheriff’s race is interesting; Ross Mirkarimi — again, the most progressive candidate — is actually ahead in what is looking like a very conservative absentee vote. He’s only got a slight lead over Chris Cunnie (31.7 percent to 31.4 percent, a total of a couple hundred votes) but that margin will grow as the night moves on. Mirkarimi, it appears, will finish first.

Here’s why I say it’s a conservative absentee turnout: The sales tax, Prop G, is losing 57-42 and Prop. H, the neighborhood schools measure, is ahead 58-41. Both results suggest a strong westside turnout in the absentees.

I’m surprised that Mirkarimi is doing so well with this bunch.

And I’m a little surprised that Prop. C (the “consensus”) pension reform is so far ahead of Prop. D (the Adachi pension reform). Even in the conservative areas, C is leading by 7 percent.

By the way, the school and street bonds have won. If they’re over 66 percent (and both are) in this batch of votes, they’ll win handily.


Lee benefits from vetoing health care reform


Downtown groups that pressured Mayor Ed Lee to veto legislation that would have prevented businesses from raiding their employees’ health savings accounts have been funneling big bucks into independent expenditure campaigns formed to keep Lee in the Mayor’s Office.

Meanwhile, the Board of Supervisors today strengthened a weak alternative to the vetoed legislation by Board President David Chiu, which it then continued for two weeks. The amendments by Sup. Malia Cohen were unanimously approved by the board, but her five allies in supporting the vetoed legislation – David Campos, John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, Jane Kim, and Eric Mar – preferred that the measure be returned to committee for more analysis, losing on a 6-5 vote.

“We need more time to understand the implications of the amendments. We’re not sure if it actually closes the loophole,” Campos, the vetoed measure’s sponsor, said of provisions in the Health Care Security Ordinance – the city’s landmark measure that required employers to provide some health coverage to employees – that allowed businesses last year to pocket more than $50 million from health savings accounts they created for their employees.

One Cohen amendment specifically addressed one of the more egregious violations – restaurants that charge customers at 3-5 percent surcharge for employee health care and than pocket that money at the end of the year – which Chiu had addressed only by calling for more scrutiny of the tactic by the Office of Labor Standards. She also would require businesses to keep two years worth of contributions in the account, rather than the one year sought by Chiu to address the so-called “January problem” of businesses draining the account at the end of every year and leaving nothing for employees who get sick or injured at the start of the year.

It was perhaps a sign of the heat that Lee took from labor and consumer groups for his veto that he quickly issued a press release today praising the supervisors for addressing the issue. “I applaud President Chiu, Supervisor Cohen, organized labor, small business owners, and the Department of Public Health for finding the solutions to this important public policy that can strengthen our City’s landmark Health Care Security Ordinance. By closing the loophole through these proposed amendments, we can increase access to health care, protect jobs in our small businesses and protect consumers while growing our economy at the same time,” it read.

But Lee appears to have already benefited from heeding the demands of downtown – particularly the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) – who made defeating the Campos legislation a top priority, casting it as a new “fee” that would drain $50 million from the local economy.

The San Francisco Alliance for Jobs and Sustainable Growth PAC, created by notorious downtown bagman Jim Sutton, is the best-funded on the four independent expenditure groups that are supporting Lee, taking in $390,000 this fall, including $27,000 from the GGRA and $25,000 from the Chamber’s SF Forward group. Both groups also support the Committee on Jobs, which kicked in $110,000 to the Alliance campaign. GGRA also gave another $10,000 to the pension reform campaign that Lee is pushing, support the Chamber had threatened to withhold if the Campos measure was approved.

GGRA Executive Director Rob Black denied this was pay-to-play politics, noting that the Alliance is also supporting DA George Gascon, Sheriff candidate Chris Cunnie and two ballot measures. “But absolutely, the mayor’s name is on there and the organization voted to endorse him,” Black said.

GGRA voted in August to endorse Lee, Chiu, and Michela Alioto-Pier for mayor. Black said the organization is “generally supportive of Sup. Chiu’s approach to reforming the Health Care Security Ordinance,” and Black specifically said it supports improving requirements that businesses notify employees about the health savings accounts and how to use them.

The GGRA led the original fight against the HCSO in 2006, which was sponsored by then-Sup. Tom Ammiano, who lined up a veto-proof majority on the progressive-dominated board and eventually persuaded then-Mayor Gavin Newsom to support it. The measure created the Healthy San Francisco program and required employers to spend a minimum amount per employee on health care, although federal ERISA law bars cities from prescribing how that money is spent.

GGRA challenged the employer mandate all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on the grounds that it violated ERISA, losing the case. Many of its members restaurants then opted to use health savings accounts rather than paying into Healthy San Francisco or private health insurance, even though health experts say such accounts are the worst option.

Campos and his allies have maintained that money in these health savings accounts belongs to employees and that businesses that use and raid them gain an unfair competitive advantage at the expense of their employees, customers, and city taxpayers, who are often forced to foot the bill for the uninsured.

Campos and the coalition that supports him has said they may take this issue to voters if the Chiu/Lee legislative fix doesn’t address their concerns.

Adachi video attacks public financing


This is odd: An eight-minute video narrated by Matt Gonzalez in support of Jeff Adachi devotes a considerable amount of time to attacking public campaign financing — something Gonzalez always supported as a supervisor.

The video claims that the $4 million that “politicians” are taking to pay for their mayoral campaigns could have helped the city avoid cancelling summer school and cutting school bus routes.

Actually, the city doesn’t pay for summer school or for school buses; the school district does. But I suppose the city could have scrapped public financing and given the money to SFUSD. Unlikely, but possible. (The city actually does share some money with SFUDS, under a measure that Gonzalez opposed.)

The thing about public financing, of course, is that it allows candidates like John Avalos, who won’t get big business support, to run a competitive campaign. If it prevents special interests from buying elections, it saves the city far more than it costs. Public financing has always been a central part of the progressive agenda, nationally and locally.

The rest of the message is about what you’d expect — pension reform, Recology’s franchise fee, giveaways to the police and fire unions. All stuff that Adachi has made part of his campaign. It’s nicely (if inexpensively) produced, and, as always, Gonzalez is a great presenter.

But what’s up with the attack on public finance?

(UPDATE: Gonzalez emailed me to say that Adachi doesn’t oppose public financing but thinks this is a bad year to accept it. He also said when he chaired the Budget Commitee the city sent a lot of money to the schools. But he did oppose the measure that guarantees some city funding to SFUSD.)

The Guardian Clean Slate 2011


1. John Avalos
2. Dennis Herrera
3. Leland Yee

1. David Onek
2. Sharmin Bock
3. Bill Fazio


1. Ross Mirkarimi


Proposition A (school bonds): YES
Proposition B (street bonds): YES
Proposition C (consensus pension reform): YES
Proposition D (Adachi pension reform): NO
Proposition E (changing voter initiatives): NO
Proposition F (campaign consultant rules): NO
Proposition G (sales tax increase): YES
Proposition H (neighborhood schools): NO

>>Read our full endorsements here

>>Download the Clean Slate PDF

On Guard!



If wealth trickled down from Oracle’s OpenWorld conference in San Francisco last week, very little of it reached a small group of low-wage laborers hired from out of state to set up for a concert hosted as an event highlight on Treasure Island.

Oracle is a prominent Bay Area tech company helmed by Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO who worked closely with top city officials to bring the America’s Cup sailing regatta to San Francisco.

The Oct. 5 Oracle OpenWorld concert on Treasure Island featured Sting and Tom Petty as headliners. Registration packages for the weeklong tech conference, which drew some 45,000 attendees to San Francisco, ranged from $1,395 to $2,595.

A member of the carpenters union contacted the San Francisco Office of Labor Standards & Enforcement (OLSE) Sept. 16 to formally complain that a construction crew assembling a large seating structure for the event was being paid less than the city-mandated minimum wage of $9.92 per hour, city documents show.

Josh Pastreich, an OLSE official, went to the worksite to interview crew members. Their names were redacted from public records, but Pastreich described them as monolingual Spanish speakers who travel from city to city building seating arrangements for major events.

“Everyone is being paid $8 an hour (except for the supervisors),” he reported in a city document. “Workers generally started at 6:30 am but there was a little confusion about quitting times.” At least one work day lasted 11 and a half hours, according to a timesheet. The workers were hired by subcontractors brought in by Hartmann Studios, an events management outfit working directly for Oracle.

“We made a phone call, and sent them some emails,” OLSE director Donna Levitt explained. “Nobody said, ‘we intended to pay them the [legal] rate,'” but the subcontractors increased workers’ hourly wages to comply with San Francisco minimum wage ordinance requirements, Levitt said. Since the company adjusted the rate immediately, no fines were issued. There were fewer than 20 workers on the project.

OLSE did not correspond with Oracle directly, but spoke to the subcontractors. One was T & B Equipment, a Virginia-based company. “We were not aware of the minimum wage there, but we fixed it before the payroll was done,” a T & B representative identified only as Mr. Waller told the Guardian. Lewmar, a Florida-based subcontractor, assisted with staffing for the job. Oracle, Hartmann Studios, and Lewmar did not respond to Guardian requests for comment.

Since the enforcement agency intervened, the laborers earned $9.92 per hour instead of $8 — still well below the average Bay Area payscale for similar work. Building bleachers is comparable to raising scaffolding for major construction projects, and the prevailing wage for unionized scaffolding erectors in California is $37.65 per hour, or $62.63 when benefits are factored in.

None of the workers were from San Francisco, which likely spurred the carpenters union complaint — Carpenters Local 22 has faced significant losses in membership since the economic downturn due to high levels of unemployment disproportionately impacting the construction sector. Represenatives from Local 22 did not return calls seeking comment.

Boosters of the America’s Cup have hailed the upcoming sailing event as an engine for local job creation, but Oracle’s use of low-wage, out-of-state laborers at its pricey, high-profile OpenWorld event raises questions. While the tech company is a separate outfit from the America’s Cup organizing team, Ellison holds leadership positions at both.

Ellison was named the world’s sixth wealthiest individual in a Forbes profile in 2010, with a net worth of $28 billion. His total compensation last year was listed as $70,143,075. That’s 3,399 times the amount a person earning $9.92 an hour would make in a year working 40 hours every week — before taxes, of course. (Rebecca Bowe)



The Board of Supervisors approved legislation to close a gaping loophole in the city’s landmark Health Security Ordinance on Oct. 4, in the process forcing Mayor Ed Lee to promise his first veto and reveal his allegiance to business interests over labor and consumer groups.

Sup. David Campos sponsored legislation that would prevent SF businesses from pocketing money they are required to set aside for employee health care, seizures that totaled about $50 million last year. These health savings accounts are often used by restaurants who charge their customers a 3-5 percent surcharge, ostensibly for employee health care, instead simply keeping most of the money.

Despite aggressive lobbying against the measure by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce — which went so far as to threaten to withdraw support for Prop. C, the pension reform measure it helped craft with Lee and labor unions — the Board of Supervisors approved the measure on a 6-5 vote on first reading (final approval was expected Oct. 11 after press time).

But then Lee announced that he would veto the measure, claiming it was about “protecting jobs,” a stand that was criticized in an Oct. 5 rally on the steps of City Hall featuring labor unions, consumer advocates, and mayoral candidates John Avalos, Leland Yee, Dennis Herrera, and Phil Ting.

Lee and Board President David Chiu — who voted against the Campos legislation, along with Sups. Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, Carmen Chu, and Scott Wiener — have each offered alternative legislation that lets businesses keep the money but make some minor reforms, such as requiring businesses to notify employees that these funds exist.

Both Lee and Chiu talk about seeking “compromise” and “consensus” on the issue, but Campos and his allies say it’s simply wrong for businesses to take money that belongs to the employees, to gain a competitive advantage over rivals who actually offer health insurance or pay into the city’s Healthy San Francisco program, and to essentially commit fraud against restaurant customers.

“This money belongs to the workers and it’s something that consumers are paying for,” Campos said. “We have a fundamental disagreement.” (Steven T. Jones)



In a press release on Oct. 6, mayoral candidate David Chiu stated his concerns over Mayor Ed Lee’s potentially illegal campaign contributions from employees of the GO Lorrie airport shuttle service. That company benefited from a decision by airport officials in September and then offered to reimburse employees for making $500 contributions to Lee, according to a Bay Citizen report.

“These revelations raise deeply troubling questions that merit a full investigation by state authorities. City Hall cannot be for sale. Pay-to-play politics has no place in San Francisco, and will have no place in a Chiu administration — you can count on that,” he said in the release.

But has Chiu — one of the top fundraisers in the mayoral field — been engaging in a little pay-to-play of his own? That was the question we had after we saw that he had received lots of donations from restaurant owners, whose side he took last week in opposing Sup. David Campos’ legislation to keep them from raiding their employee health care funds.

The Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA) waged unsuccessful legal battles against the Health Care Security Ordinance and lobbied against Campos’ recent reforms of its loophole. And in the latest donation cycle, the GGRA donated the maximum $500 to the Chiu campaign. Other Bay Area food services contributed up to $5,950.

So the question remains, despite Chiu’s posturing against “pay-to play politics”— are these food service companies contributing to Chiu’s campaign because he’s doing their bidding in opposing the Campos measure and sponsoring an alternative that lets them keep most of the money?

When Liane Quan, co-owner of SF’s Lee’s Deli, was asked if the health care legislation was a reason she donated, she said, “Yes, that’s one reason.” She then hesitated to elaborate why. Members of the Quan family associated with Lee’s Deli contributed a total of $1,000 to the campaign.

Maurizio Florese, an Italian-speaking co-owner of Mona Lisa’s Restaurant who contributed $100, didn’t want to talk about his contribution or employee health care. Neither did his wife and co-owner, Filomena Florese, who is also President of Mona Lisa Inc., which manufactures chocolate and pastry products.

In fact, despite leaving messages at seven local restaurants who donated to Chiu, none wanted to talk. But we did finally get ahold of Chiu campaign manager Nicole Derse, who said Chiu has a broad array of supporters and his donations from restaurants had nothing to do with his stance on the Campos legislation.

“There definitely is no correlation at all,” she told us. “Any suggestion to the contrary is ludicrous.” (Christine Deakers)

Will Mayor Lee veto legislation that helps workers and protects consumers?


After the Board of Supervisors today voted 6-5 to bar San Francisco businesses from pocketing money they and their patrons set aside for employee health care, Mayor Ed Lee faces a tough but telling choice: Whether to heed business community demands that he veto legislation that has wide labor and consumer support.
A veto is widely expected, but complicating that decision is the position that was staked out today by one of his main rivals as a mayoral candidate, Leland Yee, who issued a statement echoing supporters claims that this is an issue of workers’ rights and consumer protection versus corporate greed: “This is a defining issue of who we are as a city. If Ed Lee vetoes this legislation, one of my first acts as Mayor will be to reverse his veto and sign this legislation into law.”
Neither Lee’s mayoral nor campaign spokespersons answered a Guardian email about whether he will veto the measure, which would kill it unless two supervisors who opposed the measure (David Chiu, Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, Carmen Chu, and Scott Wiener) break ranks, which is unlikely given the polarization on this measure. San Francisco Chamber of Commerce officials have made a top priority of killing the measure, even threatening to withdraw support from Prop. C, the pension reform measure that they helped create with Lee.
At issue is the roughly $50 million per year that San Francisco businesses have been taking from health savings accounts they create for employee health care – funds that are often subsidized by 3-5 percent surcharges that many restaurants have chosen to tack onto their customers bills – under legislation that then-Sup. Tom Ammiano created to require employers to provide health care coverage for their employees.
The position of the Chamber – which fought Ammiano’s legislation and supported years of unsuccessful lawsuits challenging it – is that this $50 million “loss” to city businesses would be a “job killer.” Chiu has also accepted that paradigm and introduced legislation that would let businesses use that money, but require them to let employees know they can tap into it and other reforms. But supporters of the legislation say these businesses are deceiving their customers, defying city law, and stealing from their employees.
“People have tried to complicate this issue, but it is a simple issue. It’s about the right of workers to have health care,” Sup. David Campos, the author of the legislation, said at today’s hearing.
Campos said he would limit his comments, given how widely the issue has already been discussed, and he announced a limitation on how long employees could tap the fund after their termination “in the spirit of compromise.” But then opposing supervisors attacked the measure, its timing, and supporters’ refusal to “compromise,” with Elsbernd chiding Campos that his legislation is “not the best way to encourage jobs.”
So Campos went into more detail about why his measure was needed, noting that Chiu’s alternative would cap an employee’s access to health care at just $4,300, far less than the cost of a night’s hospital stay and a small fraction of the cost of a serious ailment. “You’re looking at a situation where very little could be provided for them,” Campos said.
He also said how important it is to ban the fraudulent practice of restaurants charging customers for employee health care costs and then simply keeping the money, a practice that a recent Wall Street Journal investigation discovered was widespread. Campos said 80 percent of the money collected on diners’ bills is pocketed by the restaurants.
“When consumers are paying for this, the expectation is that workers will have basic coverage,” Campos said, noting that his legislation would guarantee that “every cent that that consumer pays is actually spent on health care…This is not just about workers, it’s about consumer protection.”
Even worse, Campos noted that these consumers are actually paying twice for restaurant employees’ health coverage, first on their dinner bills, and then again as taxpayers when those uninsured employees end up in General Hospital with their expenses paid for by the city.
Under the federal ERISA law – which was the basis for the failed lawsuit challenging the city program, brought primarily by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association – the city cannot tell employers how to provide health coverage, and so they have the option of providing health insurance, paying into the city’s Healthy San Francisco plan, or providing the medical savings accounts that this legislation addresses.
Sup. Jane Kim said she supported the legislation largely because of the horror stories she’s heard from employees who not only weren’t told of the existence of these accounts, but who were denied payment for medical procedures even after they learned about them. She also said the city could be vulnerable to another ERISA lawsuit if it took Chiu’s approach of directing how businesses used their funds, citing an earlier discussion of the board’s role in protecting the city from litigation.
On that issue, Kim today introduced an alternative to legislation by Farrell and Elsbernd that would end the city’s program of providing matching funds to publicly financed mayoral and supervisorial candidates once their privately financed competitors break the spending cap. The US Supreme Court recently ruled a similar program in Arizona to be unconstitutional.
The Chamber and other downtown groups – mostly supporters of Mayor Lee, who are close to breaking the spending limits – had signaled their intent to sue the city over the issue. The Farrell/Elsbernd legislation, which needed eight votes to change the voter-approved program, today failed on a 6-5 vote, with Sups. Campos, Kim, John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Ross Mirkarimi opposed.

Defy the business community’s shameless ultimatum


On the same day that a Wall Street Journal investigation revealed that many San Francisco restaurants are scamming their customers by tacking an employee health care surcharge onto bills and them simply pocketing the money, the Examiner reports that San Francisco business leaders are threatening to withdraw support for pension reform and other measures if the Labor Council supports legislation that would regulate a similar scam.

So, because labor leaders and progressive Sup. David Campos think that employees should actually get health care benefits from the money that city law requires employers to set aside for that purpose — money that many restaurants are supplementing with surcharges on customers of up to 5 percent — the business community is pitching a fit.

We really shouldn’t be surprised that business leaders are acting in such a hostile manner to the city and their own employees. After all, the SF Chamber of Commerce and Golden Gate Restaurant Association bitterly fought the Healthy San Francisco plan created by Tom Ammiano, appealing it all the way to the Supreme Court and losing every step of way.

Then, rather than being gracious losers, they devised deceptive schemes to: 1) jack up people’s dinner bills and make it appear that the city was requiring such a surcharge; and 2) satisfy the letter of the law by creating difficult-to-access health savings accounts for employees, then pocketing what was left unclaimed at the end of the year, which amounted to $50 million last year.

And now, because labor supporters are trying to now, you know, support workers and their rights, the business community has turned on pension reform? Hilarious! I say, good, call their bluff, and let ‘em stop supporting Prop. C. Then next year, we can come around with a new pension reform plan that’s coupled with tax increases on big business, sharing the burden for reforming long-term city finances in a way that it should have been done in the first place.

C’mon, Labor Council, stay strong and show these greedy corporations what we all think of their attacks on their employees, customers, and the city.    

On Guard!




While supporters of the controversial Central Subway project — from Mayor Ed Lee and his allies in Chinatown to almost the entire Board of Supervisors — dismiss the growing chorus of critics as everything from ill-informed to racist, they refuse to address the biggest concerns about the project.

In a nutshell, the main concerns center on serious design flaws (such as the lack of direct connections to either Muni or BART), the city’s responsibility for any cost overruns on this complex $1.6 billion project, its estimated $15.2 million increase to Muni’s already strained annual operating budget (a figure used by the Federal Transportation Administration, well over the local estimate of $1.7 million), and the city’s unwillingness to implement its own plans for improving north-south transit service on congested Stockton Street rather than relying solely on such an expensive option for serving Chinatown that doesn’t start until 2019.

Judge Quentin Kopp, a longtime former legislator, called this summer’s grand jury report, “Central Subway: Too Much Money for Too Little Benefit,” the best he’s ever read and one that should be heeded. He recently wrote a letter to top state officials urging them to reconsider the $488 million in state funding pledged to the project. As we reported last week, mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera is also challenging a project that he supported before its most recent cost overruns and design changes.

But supporters of the project pushed back hard on Sept. 14, using taunts and emotional rhetoric that avoided addressing the core criticisms. “Beneath the unfounded criticism about costs is actually a disagreement over values. The grand jury report relied upon by critics makes a only brief and superficial criticism about costs,” Norman Fong and Mike Casey wrote in an op-ed in last week’s Guardian.

Actually, the 56-page grand jury report goes into great detail about why it believes cost overruns are likely, citing the myriad risks from tunneling and SFMTA’s administrative shortcomings and history of mismanagement, including on this project’s less-complicated first phase, the T-Third line, which was 22 percent over budget and a year and half late in completion. Even with the contingencies built into the Central Subway budget, the report notes that a similar overrun would increase the local share of this project from $124 million to more than $150 million.

Mayor Lee purportedly addressed criticism of the project during the Question Time session in the Sept. 14 Board of Supervisors meeting, prompted by a loaded question from Sup. Sean Elsbernd offering Lee the “opportunity to move beyond the clichés and one-liners of political campaigns.”

But Lee’s answer was classically political, touting the estimated 30,000 jobs it would create, praising those who have pushed this project since the 1980s, offering optimistic ridership estimates (that exceed current FTA figures by about 9,000 daily riders), and ignoring concerns about whether the city can cover the ever-increasing capital and operating costs.

“Now is the time to support the Central Subway,” Lee said, flashing his trademark mustachioed grin.

We called the normally responsive Elsbernd, who prides himself on his fiscal responsibility, twice, to ask about financial concerns surrounding the project and he didn’t call back. During their mayoral endorsement interviews with the Guardian last week, we also asked Sups. John Avalos and David Chiu to address how they think the city will be able to afford this project, and neither had good answers about the most substantive issues (listen for yourself to the audio recordings on our Politics blog).

Once Congress gives final approval to $966 million in federal funding for this project sometime in the next couple months, the city will be formally committed to the Central Subway and all its costs. It’s too bad that, even during election season, all its supporters have to offer to address valid concerns are “clichés and one-liners.”(Steven T. Jones)



Mayoral candidates faced tougher questions than usual at a Sept. 15 forum hosted by the Harvey Matthews Bayview Hunters Point Democratic Club. Whereas debates hosted in the Castro and Mission Bay, for instance, featured questions on how candidates planned to clean up city streets, what they thought about AT&T’s plan to place utility boxes on city sidewalks, or how they’d promote a more business-friendly environment, residents brought a thornier set of concerns to the Bayview Opera House.

One question pointed to an alarming statistic based on U.S. Census data and cited by racial justice advocates, showing that residents of the predominantly African American Bayview Hunters Point have a life expectancy that’s 14 years lower, on average, than that of residents of the more well-to-do Russian Hill.

Someone else asked about improving mental health services for lower-income community members struggling with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). High unemployment figured in as a key concern. And one member of the audience wanted to know how candidates planned to “improve the behavior of the police,” alluding to the mid-July officer-involved shooting that left 19-year-old Seattle resident Kenneth Harding dead, triggering community outrage.

Mayor Ed Lee attended the beginning of the forum but left early to attend an anniversary celebration for the Bayview Hunters Point Foundation; other participants included Terry Joan Baum, Jeff Adachi, Bevan Dufty, Dennis Herrera, David Chiu, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Joanna Rees.

Answers to Bayview residents’ sweeping concerns varied, yet many acknowledged that the southeastern neighborhood had been neglected and ill-served by city government for years.

“There is no economic justice here in Bayview Hunters Point,” Adachi said. “There never has been. That’s the reality.” He pointed to his record in the Pubic Defender’s Office on aggressively targeting police misconduct, and played up his pension reform measure, Prop. D, as a vehicle for freeing up public resources for critical services.

Dufty, who has repeatedly challenged mayoral contenders to incorporate a “black agenda” into their platforms, spoke of his vision for a mayor’s office with greater African American representation, and emphasized his commitment to improving contracting opportunities for minority-owned businesses.

Herrera, meanwhile, was singled out and asked to explain his support for gang injunctions, an issue that has drawn the ire of civil liberties groups. “I only support gang injunctions as a last resort,” he responded. “We shouldn’t have to use them. But … people should be able to walk around without being caught in a web of gang violence. I put additional restrictions on myself to go above and beyond what the law requires, to make sure that I am balancing safe streets with protecting civil liberties.”

Herrera asserted that gang violence had been reduced by 60 percent in areas where he’d imposed the controversial bans on contact between targeted individuals, and noted that the majority of those he’d sought injunctions against in Oakdale weren’t San Francisco residents.

Baum brought questions about a lack of services back to the overarching issue of the widening income and wealth gaps. “Right now, the money is being sucked upward as we speak,” she said. “We have to bring that money back down.”

She closed with her signature phrase: “Tax the rich. Duuuuh.” (Rebecca Bowe)



The selection of Ed Lee as interim (or not-so-interim) mayor of San Francisco was one of those moments that left just about everyone dazed — how did a guy who wasn’t even in town, who had shown no interest in the job, who had never held elective office, suddenly wind up in Room 200?

Well, former Sup. Bevan Dufty, who was going to nominate Sheriff Mike Hennessey and switched to providing the crucial sixth vote for Lee at the last minute, told us the story during his mayoral endorsement interview last week.

Remember: Lee, as recently as a few days earlier, had told people he didn’t want to be mayor. “An hour before the meeting, Gavin (Newsom) called Michela (Alioto-Pier) and me into his office and said Ed Lee had changed his mind,” Dufty told us. He walked out of the Mayor’s Office uncommitted, he said, and even Newsom wasn’t sure where Dufty would go.

After two rounds of voting, with Dufty abstaining, there were five votes for Lee. So Dufty asked for a recess and went back to talk to Newsom — where he was told that the mayor thought the reason the progressives were supporting Hennessey was that the sheriff had agreed to get rid of about 20 mayoral staffers — including Chief of Staff Steve Kawa, “who had engineered Ed Lee running.”

So Kawa, with Newsom’s help, preserved his job and power base. “It’s all turnabout,” Dufty said. “I figure Mike Hennessey’s had a couple of beers and a couple of good times thinking about my vote. But that’s politics.” (Tim Redmond)



Friends and supporters of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal were kept in a state of agonizing suspense over whether the two men, both 29, would be released from the Iranian prison where they’ve been held for more than two years following an ill-fated hiking trip in Iraqi Kurdistan.

On Sept. 13, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stated publicly that Bauer and Fattal could be freed “in a couple of days.” The announcement brought hope for family and friends who, just weeks earlier, had absorbed the news that the men were sentenced to eight years in prison after an Iranian court found them guilty of committing espionage, a charge that the hikers, the United States government, religious leaders, and human rights advocates have characterized as completely baseless.

Reports followed that the Iranian judiciary would commute the hikers’ sentences and release them in exchange for bail payments totaling $1 million. But by Sept. 16, when supporters gathered in San Francisco in hopes that of an imminent announcement, they were instead greeted with new delays.

The constantly shifting accounts hinted at internal strife within the Iranian government, and contributed to the sense that Bauer and Fattal were trapped as pawns in a power struggle. By Sept. 19, their Iranian lawyer remained in limbo, awaiting the signature of a judge who was scheduled to return from vacation Sept. 20.

“Shane and Josh’s freedom means more to us than anything and it’s a huge relief to read that they are going to be released,” the hikers’ families said in a statement Sept. 13. “We’re grateful to everyone who has supported us and looking forward to our reunion with Shane and Josh. We hope to say more when they are finally back in our arms.” (Rebecca Bowe)

On Guard!



For weeks now, protesters have descended on Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations to denounce the fatal July 3 shooting of homeless passenger Charles Hill by a BART Police officer, and to call for the agency’s long-controversial police force to be disbanded. Commuters have had to contend with service disruptions and delays, and costs to the transit agency have exceeded $300,000. Yet it isn’t just bullhorn-wielding protesters who’ve been thrust into the spotlight — BART’s police force is also facing scrutiny for its conduct under pressure.

BART drew the ire of numerous media outlets after a Sept. 8 protest when transit cops detained members of the press along with protesters on suspected violation of California Penal Code Section 369i, which prohibits interfering with the operations of a railroad. Most journalists were eventually released, but the protest resulted in 24 arrests.

Although BART police later contended that they issued dispersal orders prior to closing in, many who were encircled and detained (including me) insisted they’d heard no such announcement. BART police also instructed San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers who were on hand to assist to seize reporters’ SFPD-issued press passes — a move that SFPD spokesperson Troy Dangerfield later told the Guardian was an error that went against normal SFPD protocol.

In a Sept. 10 editorial, the San Francisco Chronicle blasted BART police for placing Chronicle reporter Vivian Ho in handcuffs despite being informed that she was there as a journalist. Ho’s experience was mild compared with that of Indybay reporter David Morse (aka Dave Id), who told the Guardian he was singled out for arrest by BART Deputy Police Chief Daniel Hartwig and isolated from the scene — even though Hartwig is familiar with Morse and knows he’s been covering protests and BART board meetings for the free online publication. Asked why Morse was arrested when other journalists detained for the same violation were released, BART spokesperson Jim Allison told us, “The courts will answer that, won’t they?”

No Justice, No BART — a group that was instrumental in organizing the Sept. 8 protest — telegraphed to media and police at the outset that they intended to test BART’s assertions that people’s constitutionally guaranteed rights to free speech would be upheld as long as they remained outside the paid areas of the station, in what was dubbed a “free speech zone.” (Rebecca Bowe)



Scott Wiener tried to do something eminently reasonable, and ask the naked guys in the Castro to put down a towel before they sit on public benches. Although the Department of Public Health hasn’t made any statements about the issue (and people put their naked butts on public toilet seats without creating major social problems), it’s pretty much an ick factor thing — and using a towel is an unwritten (sometimes written) rule at almost every nudist resort in the country.

The whole thing is a bit ironic, since it’s already illegal for fully clothed poor people to sit on the street — but so far, it’s not illegal for naked people to sit on benches. So far.

Wiener’s move set off an anti-nudity campaign at the San Francisco Chronicle, starting with columnist C.W. Nevius suggesting that the nudies are all perverts: “If these guys were opening a trench coat and exposing themselves to bystanders in a supermarket parking lot we’d call them creeps.” A Chron editorial called for a new law banning nudity in the city (an excellent use of time for a police department that already says it can’t afford community policing). The national (right-wing) press is having a field day. The commenters on are arguing about whether the pantsless men are shedding scrotal hair, or whether they’re mostly shaved. For the record, we haven’t checked.

And for the record, in a couple of months it’s going to get way too cold and rainy for this sort of thing anyway. (Tim Redmond)



City Attorney Dennis Herrera has always been limited by his office’s neutral role in criticizing city policies and officials. But as a mayoral candidate, he seems to have really discovered his political voice, offering more full-throated criticisms of Mayor Ed Lee and his policies than any of the other top-tier candidates.

“I think it’s kind of liberating for him that he can talk policy instead of just about legal issues,” Herrera’s longtime spokesperson Matt Dorsey, who recently took a leave from his city job to work on the campaign full-time, told the Guardian.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Herrera’s shift began a little more than a month ago when Lee bowed to pressure from Willie Brown, Rose Pak, and other top power brokers to get into mayor’s race, prompting Herrera’s biting analysis that, “Ed Lee’s biggest problem isn’t that he’s a dishonest man — it’s that he’s not his own man. The fact is, if Ed Lee is elected mayor, powerful people will continue to insist on things. And I don’t think San Franciscans can be blamed for having serious doubts about whether Ed Lee would have the courage to say no.”

Herrera followed up last week by providing an example of something Lee and most other mayoral candidates don’t have the courage to say no to: the Central Subway project, with its runaway price tag and growing number of critics that say it’s a wasteful and inefficient boondoggle that will worsen Muni’s operating budget deficit.

“Fiascos aren’t born that way. They typically grow from the seeds of worthy idea, and their laudable promise is betrayed in subtle increments over time,” was how Herrera began a paper he released Sept. 8 called “It’s time to rethink the Central Subway,” in which he calls for a reevaluation of a project that he and the entire Board of Supervisors once supported.

He notes that the project’s costs have tripled and its design flaws have been criticized by the Civil Grand Jury and numerous transit experts. “Let’s look at this thing and see if it still makes sense,” Herrera told us, a stand that was greeted as blasphemy from the project’s supporters in Chinatown, who called at least two press conferences to decry that they called a “cheap political stunt.”

While the stand does indeed help distinguish Herrera from a crowded mayoral field, he insists that it was the grand jury report and other critiques that prompted him to raise the issue. “Good policy is good politics, so let’s have a debate on it and let the validity of the project stand or fall on its merits,” he said.

Herrera and fellow candidate John Avalos were also the ones who called out Lee on Sept. 2 for praising Pacific Gas & Electric Co. as “a great company that get it” for contributing $250,000 to a literacy program, despite PG&E’s deadly negligence in the San Bruno pipeline explosion and its spending of tens of millions of dollars to sabotage public power efforts and otherwise corrupt the political process.

“It shows insensitivity to victims’ families, and poor judgment for allowing his office to be used as a corporate PR tool. No less troubling, it ignores the serious work my office and others have done to protect San Franciscans from PG&E’s negligence,” Herrera said in a prepared statement.

Now, his rhetoric isn’t quite up to that of Green Party mayoral candidate Terry Baum, who last week called for PG&E executives to be jailed for their negligence, but it’s not bad for a lawyerly type. Herrera insists that he’s always wielded a big stick, expressed through filing public interest lawsuits rather than campaign missives, “but the motivation in how I do either is not really different.” (Steven T. Jones)



The mayor’s race just got a new player, someone who is guaranteed to liven things up. His name is Jack Davis — and he’s already gone on the attack.

Davis, the infamous bad boy of political consulting who is so feared that Gavin Newsom paid him handsomely just to stay out of the 2003 mayor’s race, has been keeping a low profile of late. But he’s come out of semi-retirement to work for Jeff Adachi, the public defender who is both running for mayor and promoting Prop. D, his pension-reform plan.

Davis and Adachi first bonded when Adachi ran against appointed incumbent Kim Burton in 2002. Now, Davis has begun firing away at Mayor Ed Lee, with a new mailer that calls the competing Lee pension plan a “backroom deal.” The piece features a shadowy figure (who looks nothing like Ed Lee) slipping through a closing door, a fancy ashtray full of cigars and an allegation that Lee gave the cops a sweet pension deal in exchange for the police union endorsement.

Trust us, that’s just the start. (tr)



Meanwhile, Adachi sent Lee a letter on Sept. 8 challenging him to debate the merits of their rival pension measures — Lee spearheaded the creation of Prop. C, with input from labor unions and other stakeholders — sometime in the next month.

“I believe there is a vital need — if not an obligation — for us to ensure that the voters of San Francisco understand both the severity of our pension crisis as well as the significant differences between our two proposals,” Adachi wrote, later adding, “As the two principals behind the competing ballot measures, I hope that we can work together to increase awareness of this important issue and work toward a better future for our city.”

Lee’s campaign didn’t respond directly to Adachi, but Lee’s ever-caustic campaign spokesperson Tony Winnicker told the Guardian that the request was “the oldest political trick in book” and one they were rejecting, going on to say, “Voters deserve to hear from all the candidates on pension reform, not just two of them.”

Perhaps, but given the mind-numbing minutiae that differentiates the two measures, some kind of public airing of their differences might be good for all of us. Or I suppose we can just trust all those dueling mailers headed our way, right? (stj)

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