SEIU Local 1021

Newsom agrees to meet with Local 1021


By Tim Redmond

The members of SEIU Local 1021 have agreed to stand down for a day, suspend their unfair labor practices claim and hold off on sending protesters to Mayor Gavin Newsom’s campaign events — and he’s agreed to meet with the union tomorrow (Tuesday) morning to discuss their grievances.

Larry Bevan, a Local 1021 shop steward who works as a site tech at Laguna Honda Hospital, told me that Labor Council director Tim Paulson has agreed to mediate the discussion.

“I am told that the mayor will be there personally,” Bevan said. “Going through intermediaries doesn’t seem to be working.”

The union wants to challenge the mayor to live up to his promise during budget season — that he’d work to find a way to raise new revenue this fall so that 600 union members, most of them women of color, most of them front-line service workers in the Department of Public Health, wouldn’t face layoffs.

It’s too late for a ballot measure to raise new revenue. That plan fell apart when it became clear that the supervisors would not unanimously declare a state of fiscal emergency — a move that would have allowed a revenue measure to pass with a simple majority of the vote. WIthout all 11 supervisors, any attempt to raise taxes would require an insurmountable two-thirds majority.

The Oakland City Council agreed unanimously to seek new revenue, but in San Francisco, Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto and Carmen Chu refused. All three were originally Newsom appointees.

Elsbernd told me that the mayor’s office tried to get him on board, but he refused to bend. The reforms that the mayor was proposing weren’t strong enough to get the relatively conservative supervisor to drop his opposition to new taxes. “Oh, they tried, all right,” Elsbernd said. “But the reform was bogus. I said no.”

But I have to wonder how serious Newsom was: He never picked up the phone and called Elsbernd personally. His chief of staff, Steve Kava, did that job.

Sorry, Mr. Mayor — when there are millions of dollars and hundreds of jobs on the line, if you actually want to get a reluctant supervisor who owes his career to you on your side, you talk to him personally. It still might not have worked — but sending an aide over with the message was clearly doomed to fail. It almost seems as if Newsom was fine with that.

At any rate, the unions will try to get Newsom’s support for a new fee on alcoholic beverages, money that could go directly to DPH. Maybe he’ll go along; maybe he’ll drag his feet. Still, Local 1021 got him to the table, which these days, with this mayor, is quite an accomplishment.

Newsom goes ballistic at SEIU


By Tim Redmond

The mayor is getting a wee bit sensitive about a flier from SEIU local 1021 that accuses him of breaking his word during contract talks. And he’s clearly getting more and more angry at the 1021 activists who are following him to fundraising events and making noise about his labor record. (The union plans to appear in Los Angeles Oct. 5 when Newsom holds a gala with Bill Clinton)

In fact, on Sept 28th, around 6:45 p.m., union member (and certified nurses assistant) Evalyn Morales approached the mayor at a Filipino Americans for Progress event and handed him a copy of the flier (PDF). It charges that the mayor had cut a deal with the union that he hasn’t kept:

“The deal was that city workers would make $38 million in concessions to help with the city’s half-billion budget deficit if the city would let the workers keep their jobs long enough (5 more months) for government, business and city workers to put a revenue measure on the Nov. 2009 ballot. …. Suddenly, the deal’s off … Newsom and his board allies prevented a revenue measure from reaching the ballot.”

And it notes that 600 union workers have received layoff notices — and virtually all of them are women of color.

(They’re also mostly lower-level jobs — the Management Employees Association hasn’t faced any real layoffs, and the mayor’s staffers — including five people in the press office — continue to be well compensated.)

Newsom, according to Morales, was furious to see the flier. And apparently he lost his shit. Here’s her account of the interaction, taken from a sworn statement she filed with the union:

“He said ‘this is a lie,’ referring to the flier. “I don’t want to do anything to deal with the union. I hate Robert [SEIU organizer Robert Haaland]. What you’re doing now is hurting me …. I hate Robert. I don’t want to do anything for the union.”


In fact, Local 1021 is planning to file a complaint with California’s Public Employee Relations Board citing the mayor’s statements as intimidation and harassment.

Now: I can’t speak to the legality of what the mayor did under labor law, but I can say that it fits in with something we’ve seen all too much over the years: Newsom loses his temper over little stuff. He can’t take a punch; the minute you go after him he gets all pissy and says stupid stuff (like “I hate Robert.” How statesmanlike and gubernatorial.)

Nathan Ballard, his press secretary, isn’t exactly conciliatory, either. Here’s what he sent me when I asked him about the incident:

MisterMayor? Is anybody home?


By Rebecca Bowe

Video by Sarah Phelan

SEIU Local 1021 paid a visit to Mayor Gavin Newsom at his City Hall office yesterday, but his doors remained closed and locked. It won’t be the last time Newsom will hear from them, however. The union is launching an aggressive campaign to “dog the mayor,” organizer Robert Halaand told the Guardian, to pressure him to uphold the city’s commitment to comparable worth.

In 1986, San Franciscans approved Proposition H to enshrine the principal of comparable worth — ensuring pay equity for jobs that are held predominantly by women and people of color in an effort to combat institutional sexism and racial discrimination. Since certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and unit clerks employed in San Francisco’s public hospitals fit that description, their pay was gradually increased in the years following the passage of Prop. H.

However, budget cuts made in recent months resulted in those hospital employees getting cut and simultaneously reclassified into lower-paying positions. From SEIU’s perspective, the downgrades signify a form of discrimination and the reversal of a hard-won gain for women and people of color in San Francisco.

Embattled Ethics Commission heroes


By Steven T. Jones

Two of the best, most public-spirited individuals ever to serve the San Francisco Ethics Commission – former staffer and commissioner Joe Lynn and current staffer Oliver Luby – are each fighting serious battles.

Luby — a Lynn protégé who has fought persistent corruption and dysfunction within the department — has been hounded by Director John St. Croix and his lieutenant, Mabel Ng, and now faces a ridiculous investigation for daring to comment from his work computer on flaws in new state ethics rules.

His many progressive supporters and his union, SEIU Local 1021, have each formally protested what they see as illegal retaliation against a whistle-blower and the matter has been shopped out to Oakland’s Ethics chief Dan Purnell (who also did the 2004 investigation of Ng improperly ordering Luby to destroy a document showing a money laundering scheme by the Gavin Newsom for Mayor campaign, the very thing that Ethics is supposed to regulate).

Meanwhile, Lynn faces a far more consequential battle: he’s fighting for his life against leukemia and about to undergo another round of chemotherapy. Friends and supporters of Lynn – a true Ethics pioneer – plan to gather tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Tacqueria Reina at 1550 Howard to show their love and support. All are welcome.

The LA Times nails APRI


Fascinating story in the LA Times today about the A. Philip Randolph Institute.

It focuses on James Bryant, the APRI president who earns $117,000 a year from the nonprofit while also working full-time for the city as a Muni station agent (at $68,000 a year), who hired his son as a $62,000 acting executive director and who charged APRI $5,000 in rent for the use of his half-million-dollar house.

“There is just a conflict of interest all over this thing,” said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, an online review service. “It looks like something that should be reported to a government entity.”

Daniel Borochoff, president of the American Institute of Philanthropy, said Joseph Bryant’s job — the son says his salary last year was $62,000 — is similarly troubling.

“In effect, it’s like putting himself on the payroll,” Borochoff said of James Bryant.

The story also notes that Bryant is on the executive board for SEIU Local 1021 and that there’s an internal union complaint against him.

But it mentions only in passing that APRI has received $290,000 from Pacific Gas and Electric Company since 2005, and tens of thousands more from Lennar Corp;, and in many ways, that’s the real scandal here.

Because APRI, named after the legendary African American trade unionist, has become little more than a shill for PG&E and Lennar. APRI worked against the public power campaign, worked against city efforts to install peaker plants (and thus compete with PG&E for energy generation), and worked in favor of giving Lennar control of the entire Bayview Hunters Point revedelopment project.

It’s a bogus astroturf front group for corrupt big businesses. That’s the real issue with Bryant and his sleazy organization.

Why is this guy chairing the political committee for Local 1021, a progressive union that has always supported public power? Now that the whole world knows that he’s PG&E’s guy, he should resign from that job.

No service area



A little less than an hour before the Tenderloin Health Resource Community Center is scheduled to open for the afternoon, a line forms outside and stretches down Leavenworth Street. If they arrive early enough at this drop-in center for the chronically homeless, people can get health services or be put on a list for a bed in a homeless shelter. For many, the drop-in center is simply a place to use the bathroom, have a snack, or take refuge from the street.

Once the doors have been unlocked, every seat inside the center is filled. Most clients are African American men. A few are in wheelchairs. One has a hacking cough. The atmosphere feels like a rundown waiting room at a doctor’s office, filled with dispirited patients. Standing quietly near the entrance is a security guard, dressed all in black with a pink mask covering her nose and mouth.

Tenderloin Health is contracted to provide services for 6,000 individual clients per year, according to Colm Hegarty, the organization’s director of resource development. In reality, it serves twice as many.

But it appears that the center’s days are numbered. Its initial city funding of $1 million a year was halved in 2008, Hegarty explained. In the latest round of deep budget cuts — dealt to address next year’s gaping budget deficit — the rest of its funded was eliminated.

While the decision hasn’t been finalized, Hegarty says, the center will likely have to close its doors for good June 30. It’s just one of many San Francisco health and human services programs that will be affected by looming budget cuts, which were mandated by Mayor Gavin Newsom to balance an unprecedented shortfall, projected at more than $500 million for the coming fiscal year, that was triggered by the economic downturn. Newsom, meanwhile, has twice vetoed legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors calling for a special election to ask voters to raise taxes to save programs such as this one.

For the clients of Tenderloin Health, just a stone’s throw from City Hall, the deep cuts have real-life consequences. "The question is going to become where will these people go?" Hegarty wonders.

Brendan Bailey, an occasional client at the drop-in center who says he’s currently staying in a shelter, echoed Hegarty’s concern. "I’d think that they would rather have them here than wandering the street," he said, gesturing toward the center’s crowded waiting room.

Jennifer Friedenbach, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness, sounded a similar note at a recent Human Services Agency budget hearing, where it was announced that homeless shelters might also be shut during the day in an effort to save money.

"We were basically putting forth this idea that if they’re both going to close the Tenderloin Health and close the shelters during the day, it really ends up being a recipe for disaster in terms of people’s ability to get off the streets," Friedenbach said. "It just would be incredibly problematic … They need to be somewhere."

Another blow to homeless services are cuts to the Mission Neighborhood Resource Center, which operates a program that caters to homeless women. All told, Newsom wants 25 percent slashed from the Department of Human Services budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year. According to a list of proposed reductions presented to the San Francisco Human Services Commission Feb. 12, at least 62 staff positions will be eliminated. That figure doesn’t include layoffs that are taking effect in the next couple months as a response to the current year’s midyear budget adjustments.

Another eliminated component of human services is the agency’s Civil Rights Office, which consisted of two full-time staffers who were responsible for investigating complaints from clients who felt they had experienced some form of discrimination. When the Guardian contacted one of those staff members, she declined to comment but did acknowledge that her position had been written out of the budget.

Steve Bingham, an attorney with Bay Area Legal Aid, notes that state law actually requires the city to have a civil-rights mechanism in place. "The law doesn’t require that there be specific full-time people to do it. The law requires that somebody be designated and that certain work be done," he explained, adding that he’d been told the civil-rights responsibilities would now be shared among several staffers.

"I’m very disturbed that they’re basically going to divvy up responsibilities," he said. "We are constantly bringing to the attention of management in the department deficiencies that are essentially civil rights deficiencies. For example, somebody who just can’t process written information misses a meeting with a worker that he was informed about with a notice. Accommodation means that you figure out that that person needs a telephone call. If you miss a meeting with a worker, you get a notice that you’ve been terminated from benefits."

Human Services Agency executive director Trent Rohrer did not return repeated calls requesting comment about budget cuts.

Meanwhile, in the Department of Public Health, the consequences of deep budget cuts are already taking a heavy toll. Over Valentine’s Day weekend, 93 certified nursing assistants employed at Laguna Honda and SF General hospitals received pink slips, a blow that represents just one of several rounds of layoffs being administered in the wake of midyear budget cuts. (An earlier round, which included 19 CNAs, took effect Feb. 20.) The fallout from budget reductions for the 2009-10 fiscal year won’t take effect until May 1, according to Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda. Everyone the Guardian spoke with expects that round to be worse because there’s a much larger projected deficit.

Ed Kinchley, healthcare industry chair and executive board member of SEIU Local 1021, is employed as a social worker in SF General’s emergency room. He says the cuts have diminished the quality of service the hospital can provide. "Part of my job is trying to hook up the patients who are coming into the emergency room with services, and almost every week when I come into work, there’s some service we have had in the past that isn’t there anymore," he says.

"The biggest thing they’re doing is what we call ‘de-skilling,’" Kinchley continues. "For example, in the first round, they took 45 unit clerks — the clerical people who sit at the centralized desk and make sure the right labs get done and sent to the right place — and replaced them with clerks who don’t have any medical knowledge. That’s at the clinic where all the people go who are supposed to be getting quality care under Healthy San Francisco."

Reassignments are another issue, he says. When an African American nurse was reassigned, she was made to leave her post at a program that offered therapy for youth and adolescents that had suffered sexual abuse. Since many of those clients are African American, Kinchley points out, her removal diminishes the culturally competent service that was previously in place for these youth. Sometimes the new assignments shake up people’s lives: staffers in the process of completing nursing programs who were recently reassigned to completely different work hours, for instance, have had to abandon their studies because of the scheduling conflict.

The end result, in his opinion, is a decline in both the quantity and quality of service at SF General, even in the wake of voters approving a bond measure in the November election to borrow some $887 million to rebuild the facility.

"I have worked there since 1984," Kinchley says. "Right now, morale is lower than I’ve ever seen it."

As the cuts create ripple effects in the lives of health and human services staffers and the clients they serve, a City Hall fight over raising city revenue continues between the Board of Supervisors and the mayor. In the face of opposition from Newsom and the business community, the special election proposed for June 2 has been pushed back to late summer at the earliest.

"I firmly believe that moving forward precipitously with a special election not only puts the success of needed revenue measures at risk, but bypasses our responsibility for finding long-term and enduring budget solutions," Newsom wrote in a Feb. 13 veto letter to the Board of Supervisors.

Labor, meanwhile, continues to advocate for raising city revenues, saying it’s the only way to stave off cuts to the most critical services. A group called the Coalition to Save Public Health, comprised in part of SEIU members, will host a forum called State of the City: Budget Crisis Town Hall to discuss across-the-board cuts (See Alerts for details).

"If the voters of San Francisco are willing to vote for a tax increase — or even if they’re not — if they’re given the opportunity to vote for it, then they’re not going to hold that against [Newsom]," Kinchley says. "The initiative is coming from the Board of Supervisors anyway. All he needs to do is get out of the way."

The wheels come off



Criticism of Mayor Gavin Newsom’s handling of the city’s budget crisis has intensified since the mayor refused to attend consensus-building sessions at City Hall, instead choosing to promote his gubernatorial bid and push a flawed "local economic stimulus package" that will only make the deficit larger.

The wheels began to come off Newsom’s public relations machine when news hit that Newsom refused to attend roundtables that board president David Chiu convened to discuss the city’s financial emergency. These meetings marked the first time business and labor leaders were brought together since the mayor announced the city’s $575 million deficit two months ago.

"I’ve asked the mayor to convene these meetings, but obviously that hasn’t happened," Chiu told the Guardian last week. "He has said he plans to convene them soon."

Insiders say Chiu was told that the mayor, his chief of staff, and his budget analyst will not attend the roundtables until a June special election is off the table, but that Newsom is open to considering revenue measures for a November election. As a compromise, Chiu proposed moving the election to late summer.

Mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard told the Guardian that the mayor has been holding a series of meetings with labor, business, elected officials, and community leaders on the budget, but Ballard hasn’t yet fulfilled the Guardian‘s Sunshine Ordinance request for details and documents connected to those meetings.

"Some of those meetings have included Supervisor Chiu and other supervisors," Ballard said. "However, the mayor is not scheduled to attend meetings about a summer special election to raise taxes, which he opposes."

That position places Newsom squarely with the business community, which continues to maintain that it is too early to develop revenue measures and that structural budget reforms should be considered first.

On Jan. 29, Steve Falk, executive director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, wrote to Chiu that "Any action to call a special election without the specifics of proposed tax measures and Charter amendments would be premature and doomed to failure. City government can take steps that either help to stimulate a quick recovery or, through the wrong actions, extend the downturn by placing greater burdens on local employers."

But labor groups believe that revenue boosts are necessary if San Francisco is to weather the economic tsunami, and that it’s unreasonable to demand that their members give back millions in negotiated pay raises while forgoing revenue options. These concerns, attendees report, are publicly aired at Chiu’s roundtables, and Newsom’s refusal to participate has left city workers feeling alienated.

"He wants Labor to come to the table, but the problem is, his whole approach is all stick and no carrot, all doom and gloom and no hope that there is revenue on the horizon," SEIU Local 1021’s Robert Haaland told the Guardian.

Noting that labor anticipates 2,500 layoffs in the coming year, on top of the 400 city workers who were laid off this month, Haaland said, "Our people provide frontline services. This is about the wheels of government coming off."

Sup. Bevan Dufty, who participated in Chiu’s roundtables with Sups. John Avalos and Sean Elsbernd, praised Chiu for bringing together stakeholders, even as he extended hope that Newsom will assume the leadership role. "It always helps to have people face-to-face," Dufty said. "David primed the pump, got people to start talking. I’m looking forward to the mayor taking it to the next level."

Dufty said Newsom was "disappointed with the board’s override of his veto [of the June special election], doesn’t see a June election working, and doesn’t understand why the board is reluctant to let it go…. But from our point of view, it’s hard to ask employees to give back $90 million in negotiated benefits if they are going to be laid off in three months anyway."

Falk, who represents almost 2,000 local businesses, wrote that "The business community recognizes that a $500 million budget shortfall can only be bridged through a combination of reductions in the size of city government, program consolidations, work-rule reforms, and new fees and revenues. However, any solution must be the product of discussions with all affected parties at the table. To date, these meetings have not happened."

Chiu replied to that letter by inviting key business and labor groups to his Feb. 8 City Hall roundtable. Attendees report that a productive dialogue ensued, and two days later, when the board overturned Newsom’s veto of its special election legislation, the impacts of that first roundtable were palpable.

"I respect the mayor’s perspective, but I believe that by getting on with the election, less damage will be done," Chiu explained as the supervisors pushed ahead with their plans to hold a special election this summer.

Elsbernd opposed the election but expressed frustration with the current situation: "The city is facing a multi-year problem. People are missing the big picture here. I don’t want to be part of brokering a deal that is simply going to be a Band-Aid. Let’s fix the problems now. "

"You could tell the impact of Sean having sat in on the discussions," Dufty observed. "Instead of ‘Get over it, this is the way it’s going to be,’ he understands that we have to work together."

Falk told the Guardian that he found Chiu’s roundtable "very productive."

"Everyone is feeling the pain of this recession," Falk continued. "People are losing jobs, businesses are losing sales, which results in layoffs, which results in a bigger strain on the city’s services. It’s all connected."

But he also noted that a special election on taxes requires a two-thirds vote. "That is a very difficult hurdle," Falk noted, "which is why we have to consider all the pieces, and as we do, the more we realize that June is out of the question."

Chiu continues to reach out to his critics, countering arguments that a special election will cost $3.5 million — and will be impossible to do by summer — with the observation that, done right, it could result in $50 million to $100 million in additional revenues and thereby spare some vital jobs and programs.

"We’re facing a $565 million budget deficit, so if we can raise $100 million, we’ll still have to cut $465 million. But it would save us from making the most painful cuts," Chiu said, noting he would support pushing the election to no later than Aug. 31 "if there were more firm agreement on elements of a plan that must include structural reforms, layoffs and wage concessions, and new revenues."

But Ballard said, "The mayor doesn’t support more revenue without real reform," while promising that Newsom would shortly announce "new cost-saving reforms."

Unveiled the next morning, Feb. 11, during a mayor’s breakfast with business leaders, Newsom’s so-called local economic stimulus package included more spending on tourism marketing, targeted reduction in the payroll and property taxes, a $23 million interest-free revolving loan program for local businesses, and tax relief for Healthy San Francisco participants. The package, which must be approved by the board, would actually increase the city’s budget deficit.

Chiu says he is open to discussing most ideas in Newsom’s economic stimulus package, but that he’s concerned about widening the deficit, telling us, "That is why this needs to be done in the context of an overall revenue package and not in a vacuum."

Money talks



The economy’s a mess, and the housing crisis, financial meltdown, and skyrocketing unemployment rates have left a lot of San Franciscans short of cash. But the flow of big downtown money into political campaigns hasn’t slowed a bit.

In fact, a tally of all 2008 monetary and in-kind political contributions logged in the SF Ethics Commission Campaign Finance Database shows that even in the face of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, money spent on local political campaigns in the city swelled to a whopping $20.6 million. That grand total, which does not include loans or so-called "soft money" like independent expenditures, is higher than that of any previous year recorded in the Ethics database, which tracks campaign spending back to 1998.

A review of the entire database paints of picture of how influence money flows in San Francisco: Six of the top 10 donors over the past 10 years are big businesses and downtown organizations that promote the same conservative political agenda. The campaign cash often wound up in the same few political pots — a handful of supervisorial campaigns and some coordinated political action committees.

And despite spending ungodly sums of money, downtown lost more races than it won.

More than half the total money spent in 2008 came from one source: Pacific Gas and Electric Co., which plunked down $10.2 million last fall for the No on Proposition H campaign against the San Francisco Clean Energy Act. That November ballot measure, which lost under PG&E’s barrage, would have paved the way for public power, initiating a process to make the city the primary provider of electric power in San Francisco with a goal of 50 percent clean-energy generation by 2017.

The powerful utility wasn’t only the biggest spender last year — it claims the No. 1 slot on a list of all campaign contributions spanning from 1998 to 2008, which the Guardian compiled using Ethics data. PG&E dropped a juicy $14.7 million into local political campaigns over that period, beating out runner-up Clint Reilly by more than $10 million.

Below are brief introductions to the 10 biggest spenders, 1998-2008.

They’ve got the power. The colossal sums PG&E has forked over to influence ballot measures over the years puts the utility in a category all its own. SF isn’t the only municipality where the company has poured millions into defeating a public power proposal. In 2006, when Yolo County put measures on the ballot to expand the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), which would have edged PG&E out of the service area, the utility spent $11.3 million to try and keep it from happening.

Pay to the order of Clint Reilly. Reilly, the former political consultant, now runs a successful real estate company. While his name routinely comes up on the roster of campaign contributors, he owes his status as No. 2 to his 1999 campaign for SF mayor, into which he poured some $3.5 million of his own money. "Most of the money we give is for Democratic candidates or progressive politicians, or neighborhood-oriented issues," said Reilly, who also served as president of the board of Catholic Charities.

Committee on really high-paying jobs? Third in line is the Committee on Jobs, a political action committee that aims to influence local legislation affecting business interests. The PAC is bankrolled in part by the Charles Schwab Corporation, Gap, Inc., and Gap founder Don Fisher — all of whom surface on their own in our Top 30 list. With a grand total just shy of $3 million, the committee coughed up about $100,000 in campaign-related spending in 2008. Much of that funding went to similar political entities, including the SF Coalition for Responsible Growth, the SF Chamber of Commerce 21st Century Committee, and the SF Taxpayers Union PAC (see "Downtown’s Slate," 10/15/2008). This past November, the COJ also backed the Community Justice Court Coalition, formed to pass Proposition L, which would have guaranteed first-year funding for Mayor Gavin Newsom’s small-crimes court in the Tenderloin. Prop. L failed by 57 percent.

Bluegrass billionaire. San Francisco investment banker and billionaire Warren Hellman has dropped nearly $1.2 million over the years into local political campaigns, our results show. Dubbed "the Warren Buffet of the West Coast" by Business Week for his sharp financial prowess, Hellman co-founded Hellman and Friedman, an investment firm, in 1984. Hellman is known for putting on Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, an annual SF music festival. While he tends to contribute to downtown business entities such as the Committee on Jobs and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, in 2008 he devoted $100,000 to supporting a June ballot measure, Proposition A, that increased teacher salaries and classroom support by instating a parcel tax to amp up funding for public schools.

Fisher king. Don Fisher, founder and former CEO of Gap, Inc., is another one of SF’s resident billionaires. While Gap, Inc. turns up in 17th place in our results, Fisher himself has poured more than $1.1 million into entities such as the Committee on Jobs, SFSOS, the San Franciscans for Sensible Government Political Action Committee, and other conservative business groups. Fisher’s total includes money from the "DDF Y2K family trust," a Fisher family fund that shows up in Ethics records in 2000. In that year, $100,000 from that trust went to support the Committee on Jobs’ candidate advocacy fund, and another $40,000 went to a pro-development group called San Franciscans for Responsible Planning.

Not a very affordable campaign, either. Sixth up is Lennar Homes, the developer behind the massive home-building project at Hunters Point Shipyard, which the Guardian has covered extensively. The vast majority of its $1 million reported spending was directed to No on Prop. F, a campaign sponsored by Lennar to defeat a June ballot measure that would have created a 50 percent affordable-housing requirement for the Candlestick Point and Hunters Point Shipyard development project. The measure failed, with 63 percent voting it down.

Chuck’s bucks. Charles Schwab Corp., which set up shop in San Francisco in the mid-1970s, is an investment banking firm that reports having $1.1 trillion in total client assets. The corporation ranks seventh in our Top 30 list, with some $973,000 in donations. In 27th place is Charles R. Schwab himself, the company’s founder and chairman of the board (and the guy they’re referring to in those "Talk to Chuck" billboards posted all over SF). If Schwab’s individual and corporate donations were combined, the total would be enough to bump Warren Hellman out of fourth place. Schwab’s dollars are infused into the Committee on Jobs, the San Francisco Association of Realtors, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, SF SOS, and other downtown-business interest organizations. "We’re a major company here in the Bay Area and a major employer," company spokesperson Greg Gable told the Guardian. "We’re interested in political matters across the board — it’s not limited to any one party." But it’s limited to one pro-downtown point of view.

The brass. The San Francisco Police Officer’s Association is another major player, spending some $913,000 since 1998 on political campaigns. The organization backed candidates Carmen Chu, Myrna Lim, Joseph Alioto, Denise McCarthy, and Sue Lee for supervisors in 2008, contributions show. All but Chu lost.

At your service. SEIU Local 1021 and SEIU 790 crop up frequently in Ethics data, with a grand total of about $860,000 in spending over the years. SEIU representatives recently turned out en masse at a Board of Supervisors meeting to urge the supervisors to support a June 2 special election to raise taxes in order to boost city revenues and save critical services from the hefty budget cuts that are coming down the pipe.

Friends in high places. No real surprises here: the Friends and Foundation of the San Francisco Public Library contributed its money to, well, ballot measures that would have affected the library. In 2000, for example, the F and F plunked $265 thousand into an effort called the "Committee to Save Branch Libraries — Yes on Prop. A."

Top 30 San Francisco campaign donors, 1998-2008

1. Pacific Gas & Electric $14,831,486
2. Clint Reilly $4,138,089
3. Committee on Jobs $2,970,857
4. Warren F. Hellman $1,191,970
5. Don Fisher (incl. Don & Doris Fisher Y2K trust) $1,164,286
6. Lennar Homes $1,002,861
7. Charles Schwab Corporation $973,176
8. S.F. Police Officers Association $913,834
9. SEIU Local 1021 & SEIU Local 790 $860,979
10. Friends & Foundation of the S.F. Public Library $858,082
11. California Academy of Sciences $818,154
12. Residential Builders Association of S.F. $753,857
13. Steven Castleman $665,254
14. S.F. Association of Realtors $647,299
15. S.F. Chamber of Commerce $614,824
16. SEIU United Health Care Workers West & Local 250 $585,937
17. Gap, Inc. $573,959
18. California Issues PAC $556,238
19. Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums $541,474
20. Wells Fargo $464,899
21. Building Owners & Managers Association of S.F. $464,027
22. Bank of America $429,316
23. Golden Gate Restaurant Association $422,685
24. SF SOS $407,491
25. AT&T Inc. and affiliates $404,704
26. Clear Channel $391,783
27. Charles R. Schwab (individual) $362,250
28. Yellow Cab Cooperative $344,907
29. S.F. Apartment Association $280,376
30. San Franciscans for Sensible Government PAC $279,009

Newsom still MIA


By Tim Redmond

You know the mayor is in serious trouble when his business allies say he’s missing in action. From the Chron this morning:

Scott Hauge, a San Francisco business owner who is president of the advocacy group Small Business California, said the meetings that Chiu organized this week were the first occasions small business has been brought into City Hall talks since budget negotiations started heating up several weeks ago.

“The mayor has not brought us to the table, which is very frustrating because we are the major employers in San Francisco and we are really hurting right now,” said Hague, adding that he’s worked with every mayor since Dianne Feinstein and that it is unprecedented to have a board president, not the mayor, convene these types of discussions.

While nobody who has been attending Board President David Chiu’s meetings will talk about the details, I’m getting the clear impression that business (including the Chamber of Commerce and the Committee on JOBS) and labor (particularly SEIU Local 1021) are actually making progress toward a July special election that could help prevent a total meltdown in city services.

And Newsom didn’t even send a representative to the meetings.

My favorite comment from the mayor:

“But I guess the question is, what more can I do? I can make things up to do today in order not to go down there (to San Jose)

Newsom has to “make things up to do today?” How about talking to the key stakeholders and trying to arrange a deal on a budget that everyone can live with?

Nathan Ballard, the mayor’s press flak, told us that

The mayor has been meeting with labor, business and the supervisors to work together on solutions.

But nobody in business or labor or on the board of supervisors seems aware of that.

Fallout from the union clash



Fallout from the power struggle between Service Employees International Union and its Oakland-based local, United Healthcare Workers, has been felt particularly strongly in the Bay Area since SEIU took over UHW and ousted its leaders Jan. 27 (see "Union showdown," 1/28/09).

After SEIU replaced UHW head Sal Rosselli and more than 70 elected leaders of that union for defying SEIU demands, Rosselli and his team formally resigned from SEIU Jan. 29 and formed a new union, National Union of Healthcare Workers, hoping to draw thousands of current SEIU members disgruntled with the top-down management style of SEIU head Andy Stern.

It took a few days for SEIU to take physical control of UHW’s Oakland offices, where Oakland police officers were called Jan. 30 to mediate a final showdown between UHW loyalists and the new SEIU management team, which is under the direction of two SEIU executive vice presidents that Stern appointed as trustees: Eliseo Medina and David Regan (see "SEIU seizes last holdout: UHW’s Oakland headquarters," Guardian Politics blog).

"It’s not about the building, it’s about the members," Regan told the Guardian Jan. 30, later adding, "At the end of the day, the members of the union get to decide if they want to be in the union or not be in the union."

And after a weekend when Rosselli said SEIU was aggressively trying to close outstanding contracts with many employers, a move that would make it difficult for members to disaffiliate from SEIU and join NUHW, he filed petitions showing that many members do indeed want to leave SEIU.

"We don’t trust them with our contracts and we don’t trust them with our dues," Shayne Silba, a psychiatric technician with Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland, told reporters during a Feb. 2 teleconference announcing that about 9,000 workers at 62 medical facilities have filed petitions with the National Labor Relations Board asking to leave SEIU and join NUHW.

Rosselli said that more than 50 percent of workers at most of these facilities signed the petition, and he’s asking SEIU to honor the request and let them go.

The list of facilities includes some prominent Bay Area medical centers such as Children’s Hospital in Oakland, Alta Bates, and California Pacific Medical Center and other entities run by Sutter Health. Sutter has clashed with union members and community leaders over numerous issues, including the future of St. Luke’s Hospital in the Mission District.

"The Sutter Healths of the world are colluding with SEIU just like they did before the trusteeship," Rosselli told reporters, echoing his persistent theme that SEIU is too cozy with employers and doesn’t negotiate good contracts.

SEIU spokesperson Michelle Ringuette disputed that characterization and the accusations that the union was trying to quickly sew up outstanding contracts with employers to forestall moves to NUHW. "There were an astonishing number of contracts left incomplete," she said. "It’s callous to leave contracts open for whatever purpose."

Regan said SEIU will challenge the NUHW petitions. "We are not going to let these discredited, deposed members weaken UHW," he said, adding that the petition drive "is incredibly cynical and reckless in this economic climate."

But the wheels are now set in motion for a protracted fight over who will lead UHW’s 150,000 members, as well as the question of whether Rosselli’s highly democratic management style might be attractive to members of other unions.

"We’re getting calls from other SEIU members from other locals about joining NUHW," Rosselli said, citing Alameda County Medical Center, whose employees are part of the San Francisco–based SEIU Local 1021, one of many locals that have been reformulated in recent years by Stern, who then appoints its leaders.

Rosselli plans to hold a founding convention for NUHW in March, when members would vote on bylaws and a constitution, and elect their leaders, while Regan said SEIU will work to win the confidence of its members: "We have to show people that we’re on their side and we care about the work we have to do together."

>>Read more union struggle coverage here.

Without a net



The Board of Supervisors heard more than four hours of public comment at its Jan. 27 meeting, as hundreds of labor representatives, public-health workers, homeless advocates, hospital staffers, and others crowded into the board chambers to sound off on the deep budget cuts that many charged would leave they city’s critical-services safety net in shreds.

The message was chilling.

On the ground, the budget cuts Mayor Gavin Newsom is proposing translate into staggering losses in services that segments of the city’s most disadvantaged populations rely on. Among those who will lose their jobs: some San Francisco General Hospital staffers who are trained to watch the cardiac monitors. "They are the first responders when someone goes into cardiac arrest," nurse Leslie Harrison told the board during public comment. "This is a life and death job — literally."

The Huckleberry House, which was established in 1967 and provides assistance to more than 7,000 homeless youth each year, may face closure.

Homeless shelters are already being forced to turn away two out of three clients seeking a bed due to lack of space, according to Coalition on Homelessness Executive Director Jennifer Friedenbach.

Demand for hot meals from the St. James Infirmary, a clinic for uninsured sex workers, has tripled since the onset of the recession, Executive Director Naomi Akres told the Guardian. As a result of the cuts, the clinic will lose its ability to continue either the food program or an outreach program that aims to get people off the streets.

Other areas that face funding reductions, according to a tally of midyear reductions issued by the mayor’s office, include some programs that administer STD testing and HIV prevention services, the Adult Day Health programs at Laguna Honda Hospital, aid for foster care, and the Single Room Occupancy Collaborative (which assists low-income tenants living in dilapidated hotel rooms across the city). San Francisco’s Human Services Agency will lay off 67 staffers.

Of the $118 million in midyear cuts rolled out by the mayor’s office last December, some $46 million will be shed from health, human welfare, and neighborhood-development services.

The midyear reductions, which will begin to take effect Feb. 20, are aimed at addressing a steep drop-off in revenue for the 2008–09 fiscal year. Now, health and human services providers and others across the board are anxiously looking ahead to the next round of blows, which will be dealt to address a projected $576 million deficit for the 2009–10 fiscal year, which begins in July. That figure could be reduced to $461 million after budget cuts, according to Deputy Controller Monique Zmuda.

Newsom has known about the gravity of the current budget problem since late October, when City Controller Ben Rosenfield issued a memo projecting fiscal disaster. "Since the adoption of the budget in July, the City’s economic outlook has significantly worsened, particularly since the onset of the global financial market upheavals that began in September," the memo states. It goes on to predict a worst-case scenario of $125 million in tax-revenue shortfalls for the 2008–09 fiscal year.

Cuts in frontline services don’t have to be the only answer. Supervisor Chris Daly has introduced an alternative budget proposal, which includes reductions in funding for management positions, cuts in the city’s subsidy to the symphony, and a reduction in the size of the mayor’s press office in an effort to free up funds that could then be diverted back to critical services. "I don’t think any of the choices are good. There’s really only the lesser of the evil," Daly noted at the meeting.

The choices the city faces were described in clear terms. "I’m sorry to say it, but you have some tough decisions in front of you," Friedenbach told supervisors when it was her turn at the podium during public comment. "You have to choose between abused children, or the symphony. You have to choose whether you want to decimate the mental-health treatment system — or do you want to get rid of the newly hired managers since the hiring freeze? You have to decide whether you want to cut half of the substance-abuse treatment system — or do you want to create a new community justice center that will have nowhere to refer its defendants?" Rather than choose, however, supervisors voted 6–5 to send Daly’s alternative package back to the Budget and Finance Committee for further consideration. The swing vote was Board President David Chiu, who was elected president with the support of the progressive bloc.

Had Chiu voted for Daly’s alternative, it wouldn’t have mattered much — the mayor would almost certainly have vetoed it.

Eight supervisors — enough to override a veto — did demonstrate a willingness to move forward with a June special election. With Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Michela Alioto-Pier, and Carmen Chu dissenting, the board voted to waive deadlines that would have prevented new tax measures from being placed on a June 2 ballot.

Several different tax ideas are under discussion. According to a list of preliminary estimates calculated by the Office of the Controller, slight increases over the current rates of taxes levied on business registration, payroll, sales, hotel-room stays, commercial utility users, parking, property transfers, and Access Line fees together could bring the city an estimated $121.6 million per year.

Other proposals include creating parcel taxes for both residential and industrial property, gross-receipts taxes on rental income for commercial and residential properties, a local vehicle license fee, and a residential utility users tax. If all of those proposed new taxes were voted into effect, the city would have the potential to raise an additional $112.9 million.

The problem: under state law, unless the mayor and supervisors unanimously declare an emergency, any tax increase would require a two-thirds vote to pass.

Supervisor John Avalos voiced strong support for the special election. "I think that the people of this city are still grappling with the meaning of the crisis that we’re in," Avalos told his colleagues.

Avalos amended out the possible new parcel tax, increased parking tax, and utility-users taxes, and instead proposed two new revenue measures that could be added to the ballot: a vehicle-impact fee, and "a possible new tax to discourage the consumption of energy that produces a large carbon footprint."

It won’t be easy to pass any of these proposals. Business interests are mobilizing against the very idea of a special election. In an e-mail newsletter distributed by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, a "call to action" urged supporters to contact Supervisors and voice opposition to the emergency election.

The language in the Chamber of Commerce message closely resembled that of Small Business California, which put out a message to the small-business community warning that higher taxes "would be the straw that breaks the already strained back of our local businesses, resulting in more layoffs and acceleration of our downward spiral."

Labor organizer Robert Haaland asked supervisors why they would be afraid of allowing voters to decide on the tax-revenue measures. A poll commissioned by his union, SEIU Local 1021, demonstrated that a significant portion of voters would rather raise revenues than allow vital services to disintegrate.

Even if new revenue is raised, Haaland told us, no one is under the illusion that there won’t be painful cuts. "Everyone’s going to feel some pain," he said. "It’s a question of how much pain."

Protesting budget cuts at City Hall


By Steven T. Jones

San Francisco City Hall is packed with people waiting to testify about Mayor Gavin Newsom’s midyear budget cuts and the need for a special election in June for new revenue measures. The Board of Supervisors chamber is filled to capacity, with another few hundred people filling the overflow room in the North Light Court.
Usually, public testimony is taken at the committee level rather than at the full board, but Sup. Chris Daly, who gathered the mayor’s unilateral cuts into his own legislative package, opted to skip the committee and convene the full board as a Committee of the Whole to give the cuts a full public airing.
Labor leaders and community-based groups took the opportunity to turn out their supporters in the hundreds, many wearing the purple shirts of the public employee union SEIU Local 1021, with slogans that include, “Got Public Health?”
Testimony should last for hours. The supervisors should earn their pay today while Newsom does Paris. On the special election proposal, they’ll need eight votes today to move it forward to next week, when the board will discuss what specific measures to place on the ballot.

The decimation of public health


OPINION Crisis seems omnipresent these days.: it’s hard to find a newspaper that doesn’t carry the word in a headline at the top of the business section, or even on page 1. But a liquidity crisis seems a lot less solid when compared to the kind of crises faced by people in a society without health services.

San Francisco has developed a strong mental-health infrastructure, with respect for mental health consumers’ viewpoints and rights.

As an alternative to confinement — a coercive practice that can alienate patients — this city has acute diversion units: houses that serve as recovery centers for people in psychiatric crises. Psychiatrists manage medication, and nurse practitioners conduct health screenings, as you’d expect, but this is just the beginning of a broader approach to mental health. Residents work with professionals to develop their own treatment plans. They meet for discussion groups and trainings on topics that affect their ongoing mental health, like relapse prevention, symptom management, and medication education.

Participants help cook and clean to prepare themselves for independent living. Every year, 1,400 San Franciscans use these units.

We also have created culturally competent services. In immigrant neighborhoods and at San Francisco General Hospital, we have services in Spanish and Asian and Pacific Islander languages — services that help prevent the problems that can occur when native-language support is unavailable.

And the city has embarked on a grand experiment: Healthy San Francisco is designed to provide health care — before things get to crisis level — for any city resident who lacks insurance.

Unfortunately the crises have collided. These programs, along with dozens of others, are slated for closure next month as part of the city’s emergency rebudgeting response to our economic crisis. Half our acute diversion units will close. Hundreds of monolingual San Franciscans will lose services in Chinatown and the Richmond District, and General Hospital may lose half the Asian languages with which it can communicate with mental health consumers. New Leaf will cut therapy for 50 gay clients with combined mental health and addictive disorders. The sexual assault trauma recovery center will close.

Healthy San Francisco will be gutted. Staffing has not increased sufficiently to provide high quality care for all patients, and SF General will downgrade service by replacing skilled nursing jobs with less-skilled positions. Some RNs will be eliminated, LVNs will be replaced, certified staff will be replaced by noncertified staff, and clerks with medical training will be reduced to clerical work.

These are just examples. Cuts were made so hastily that nobody yet understands their full extent. But budgets — for all those digits and decimals that smack of hard economic truth — exist in the nebulous apparition of What May Be. And what may be, may yet be changed.

This month, the Board of Supervisors has the opportunity to change this future, and to protect the health and, in some cases, the lives of thousands of San Franciscans. Public health will receive cuts: that’s a sad truth of a faltering economy. But these cuts need be neither as numerous nor as deep as the current plan.

By reallocating funding from less essential programs to our most vital services, and by giving San Franciscans the option to vote on new revenue in June, the supervisors can respect the priorities of a city that cares about the well-being of its ill, its injured, and its uninsured.

Alysabeth Alexander works with La Voz Latina. Jennifer Friedenbach works with the Coalition, and SEIU Local 1021 activist Ed Kinchley is a member of the Coalition to Save Public Health.

Six aren’t enough



The historic Jan. 8 vote electing Sup. David Chiu as president of the Board of Supervisors — rare for its elevation of a freshman to the post and unprecedented for a Chinese American — clearly illustrates the ideological breakdown of the new board.

The six supervisors who claim membership in the progressive movement (Chris Daly, Ross Mirkarimi, David Campos, John Avalos, Eric Mar, and Chiu) gave Chiu the presidency after their efforts to give it to Mirkarimi or Avalos fell short, while the other five supervisors voted for Sup. Sophie Maxwell in each of the seven rounds, refusing to support any of the progressive picks.

But there are limits to what a bare majority of supervisors can do in San Francisco, particularly when the mayor is threatening vetoes and the city is wrestling with a budget deficit of gargantuan proportions. Overriding a mayoral veto or approving some emergency measures requires eight votes.

So the first question is whether Mirkarimi and Daly can come together after their split divided progressives and led to Chiu as a compromise candidate. But the second, more important, question for progressives is whether they can attract swing votes such as Maxwell and Bevan Dufty when the need arises.

The answers to those questions could start coming immediately as supervisors consider proposals to close a looming $575 million budget gap, including the proposal for a special election on revenue measures in June. Mayor Gavin Newsom opposes that election, so the board would have to muster eight votes in the next month to move forward with it.

They might even need more than that. A confidential memo to supervisors and the mayor by the City Attorney’s Office that was obtained by the Guardian sorts out the complex requirements needed to approve new taxes, including the requirement of unanimous board approval to place tax measures that can be passed with a simple majority vote on the ballot this year.

So President Chiu, who pledges to bring his colleagues together, certainly has his work cut out for him.



Achieving a unanimous vote on anything significant or controversial seems impossible right now. Mirkarimi is unhappy with Daly for thwarting his presidential ambitions; Maxwell and Dufty are unhappy with progressives for keeping her out of their club; and Chiu must quickly learn his new job during a time of unprecedented turmoil.

Chiu told his colleagues that he was “incredibly humbled” by an election that he didn’t think he’d win, and said that he is “acutely aware that I am new to the institution and the body.” But observers say Chiu’s temperament, intelligence, and connections to both the business community and the progressive movement could serve the city well right now.

“I think Chiu is a great choice. He has the humility that will help him,” outgoing Sup. Jake McGoldrick told the Guardian.

This compromise pick for president was praised by all sides, from the progressive coalition that feted him after the vote at a party at the SoMa club Temple. Rob Black, government affairs director for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, told reporters that “David seems to be someone who is very willing to listen and willing to ask questions.”

“We have a progressive supervisor running the board,” Mirkarimi told the Guardian as he walked back to his office following the vote. Or, as Daly told us, “In the end, the progressive coalition stuck together and I’m happy about that.”

Walking back to Room 200 after the vote, Newsom told reporters that Chiu was “an outstanding choice” who represents “a fresh air of progress.” Asked whether he expects to have a better working relationship with Chiu than with outgoing president Aaron Peskin, Newsom replied, “That’s a gross understatement.”

“We’re looking forward to working with the new Board of Supervisors,” Newsom spokesperson Nathan Ballard told the Guardian after the vote. “The mayor has a long relationship with David Chiu. In fact, he was on our short list to be named assessor just a few years ago.”

Yet at the progressive party that night, Chiu sounded like a rock-solid member of that group, promising to help Mirkarimi with police reform, Campos with protecting undocumented city residents, Mar with strengthening city ties to the schools, and Avalos with safeguarding progressive budget priorities.

“I think this is the best outcome we could have,” Mirkarimi told the Guardian shortly after Chiu was elected. “I was the deciding vote that delivered Sup. David Chiu, the first Asian American president of the board. That doesn’t mean that the seasoned experience of Maxwell and myself wasn’t hard to pass by.”

In fact, both Dufty and Maxwell groused about the progressive bloc’s opposition to Maxwell, noting her positions on issues such as public power, affordable housing, and transportation issues. “The people that voted for me did so because they felt I would at least listen to them,” Maxwell told us, expressing frustration at not being accepted “by the board’s progressive clique” which, she noted, “are all males.”

“I think David will be great,” Dufty told the Guardian. “Obviously there was a desire to have someone strongly aligned with the progressive movement. I think it’s a mystery that Sophie isn’t considered part of the progressive movement.”

Progressives are going to have to work at resolving those differences if they are going to play a leadership role in the midyear budget cuts and prevent an expansion of the bloc of five supervisors who stuck with Maxwell and often align with the mayor.

“There has been tension between Ross and myself, but also between Sophie and Ross,” Daly told us. “Sophie is feeling that she might be a progressive, too. And some of the things we do on the board need eight votes. The rift between Ross and I is little. The real question is, when do we get Bevan and Sophie back?”

After fending off a progressive challenger in his reelection bid two years ago, Dufty seemed to move to the left, only to return to Newsom’s centrist faction — which mixes social liberalism with fiscal conservatism — in the last year. He prevented progressives from being able to override a mayoral veto of their decision to cancel $1 million in funding to Newsom’s Community Justice Center. And on Jan. 6, the old board delayed a vote on a mayoral veto of an ordinance that amends the Planning Code to require Conditional Use hearings and permits for any elimination of existing dwelling units through mergers, conversions, or demolitions of residential units, something sought by the tenant groups that are an important part of the progressive coalition.

Those issues, and the thicket that is the budget debate, illustrate what Daly admitted to us last week: “We can’t run this city with six votes.”



The most pressing problem facing the new board is the budget, which requires $125 million in midyear cuts for the current fiscal year and will be an estimated $575 million out of balance for the fiscal year that begins in June. Chiu’s first move to deal with it — one lauded by progressives — was to name Avalos as budget chair.

“John Avalos has more experience on budget issues than me,” Daly, who chaired the Budget Committee for two years, said of his former board aide. But even Avalos was awestruck by the tsunami of bad budget news hitting the city, telling us, “I was visibly shaken.”

Mirkarimi and Elsbernd, the Budget Committee’s two other current members, also admit they face a daunting task.

“We can’t put a Band-Aid on the problem,” Elsbernd told the board last week. “This is not just about San Francisco now, but about San Francisco 20 years from now. We need to think about the next generation.”

Mirkarimi agrees with Elsbernd, at least in terms of the enormity of the problem.

“We cannot be incrementalist. We can’t dance around the edges,” Mirkarimi told his colleagues, shortly after making the surprise announcement that he’s expecting a child in April with Venezuelan soap opera star Eliana López, who he’s dated since meeting her last year at a Green Party conference in Brazil. Elsbernd and his wife are also expecting their first child.

Progressives strongly argue that such a large budget deficit can’t be closed with spending cuts alone, so one of Peskin’s final acts was to create legislation calling a special election for June 2 and having supervisors hold hearings over the next month to choose from a variety of revenue measures, but Newsom and the business community opposed the move.

“Basically, it’s not fully baked. It will take a citywide coalition (à la Prop. A) to win something like this and the coalition just hasn’t been built yet,” Ballard told the Guardian. Even Mirarimi echoed the sentiment, telling the Guardian, “I’m not opposed to a June election, but you can’t put something on the June ballot that’s half-baked because I doubt we could win in November if we put something half-baked on in June. My preference is that we work harder to create alliances to assure a healthy chance of getting something on the ballot and delivering a victory.”

Yet many progressives and labor leaders say it’s important to bring in new revenue as soon as possible, particularly because the cuts required by the current budget deficit would slash about half the city’s discretionary spending and devastate important initiatives like offering health coverage to all San Franciscans.

“For Healthy San Francisco to survive, the Department of Public Health has to have a minimum level of funding,” said Robert Haaland, a labor representative with the public employee union SEIU Local 1021. “Given the cuts that have been proposed, it’s not going to survive.”

While Peskin was criticized for acting prematurely, the City Attorney’s Office memo indicated that he couldn’t have waited and still allowed supervisors to play the lead role in determining what ended up on the June ballot. The memo was requested by Daly.

“In response to your specific inquiry about maximizing the amount of time a committee could deliberate the underlying measures and ensuring that the Board would have enough time to override a Mayoral veto, the emergency ordinance and the resolution calling for the special election should be introduced today,” the City Attorney’s Office wrote Jan. 6, the day Peskin introduced his revenue package.

Even then, supervisors would need to vote to waive certain election procedures, such as the 30-day hold for proposed ballot measures, and to move expeditiously forward with hearings, selection of the tax measures, and preparation of findings related to the special election and declaration of fiscal emergency.

The City Attorney’s Office wrote that the package needs final approval by Feb. 17. “We recommend that to meet this deadline, the Board adopt the resolution at its January 27 meeting and that the Mayor sign the resolution no earlier than February 2,” they wrote.

But Newsom has indicated that he would veto it, thus requiring eight supervisors to override. “Aaron had the right to do what he did, but in some ways he rushed the discussion, so it’s been a bit rockier than it otherwise might have been,” Dufty told us, noting that he’s still open to supporting a June ballot measure. “There is no way to avoid spending cuts, and we need more revenues and more givebacks from public employees … I think labor is spending a significant amount of time with the mayor, and he’s making a strong effort to work with the board. I’m trying to encourage us all to work together to the maximum extent possible.”

In fact, San Francisco Labor Council director Tim Paulson told the Guardian he couldn’t talk about the tax measures yet because of intense ongoing discussions. Ballard said Newsom might be open to tax measures in November, telling the Guardian, “Ideally we could do it all by streamlining government, reducing spending, etc. But the mayor lives in the real world and so he is open to the possibility of a revenue measure with a broad base of support.”

So, can the new board president help coalesce the broad base of support that he’ll need to avoid cuts that would especially hurt the progressive base of unions, tenants, social service providers, affordable housing activists, and others who believe that government plays an important role in addressing social problems and inequities?

“In light of the global meltdown, national slowdown, local crisis, and largest budget deficit in history, I believe this board understands the importance of unity and working together,” Chiu told his colleagues. “We don’t have time for the politics of personality when we have the highest murder rate in 10 years, when businesses are failing, and the budget deficit grows exponentially.”

Anniversary Issue: Beyond the automobile




Download the the transportation roundtable discussion (DivShare)

Transportation is the linchpin of sustainability. Fix the transportation system, and almost every other aspect of the city’s ecological health improves: public health, conservation of resources, climate change, economics, and maintaining our culture and sense of community.

The region’s unsustainable transportation system is the biggest cause of global warming (more than half the Bay Area’s greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicles) and one of the biggest recipients of taxpayer money. And right now, most of those public funds from the state and federal governments are going to expand and maintain freeway systems, a priority that exacerbates our problems and delays the inevitable day of reckoning.

It’s going to have to change — and we can do it the easy way or the hard way.

“We’ll get to a more sustainable transportation system. The question is, are we going to be smart enough to make quality of life for people high within that sustainable transportation system?” said Dave Snyder, who revived the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and founded Transportation for a Livable City (now known as Livable City) before becoming transportation policy director for the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. “People will drive less, but will they have dignified alternatives? That’s the question.”

That notion — that transportation sustainability is inevitable, but that it’ll be painful if we don’t start now in a deliberate way — was shared by all 10 transportation experts recently interviewed by the Guardian. And most agreed that needed reform involves shifting resources away from the automobile infrastructure, which is already crowding out more sustainable options and will gobble up an even bigger piece of the pie in the future if we continue to expand it.

“Yeah, it’ll be more sustainable, but will it be just? Will it be healthful? Will it be effective? Those are the questions,” said Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City and an elected member of the BART Board of Directors. “You can’t argue against geology. The planet is running out of oil. We’re going to have a more sustainable transportation system in the future. That’s a given. The question is, is it going to meet our other needs? Is it going to be what we need it to be?”

And the answer to all those questions is going to be no — as long as politicians choose to fund wasteful projects such as a fourth bore in the Caldecott Tunnel and transferring $4 billion from transit agencies to close California budget deficits accruing since 2000.

“Our leaders need to be putting our money where our collective mouth is and stop raiding these funds,” Carli Paine, transportation program director for Transportation and Land Use Coalition, told us. “I’m hopeful, but I think we all need to do more.”



There is reason to be hopeful. With increased awareness of global warming and high gasoline prices, public transit ridership has increased significantly in the Bay Area. And one study indicates that the number of people bicycling in San Francisco has quadrupled in the last few years.

“Look at what’s happening on the streets of San Francisco: you have biking practically doubling every year without any new bike infrastructure. I think the demand is out there. The question is, when is the political leadership going to catch up to demand?” Jean Fraser, who sits on the SPUR and SFBC boards and until recently ran the San Francisco Health Plan under Mayor Gavin Newsom, told us.

But the political leadership and federal transportation spending priorities are behind the times. Of the $835 million in federal funds administered by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission for the nine Bay Area counties in 2006-07, 51.4 percent went to maintain and expand state highways. Only 2.5 percent went for expansion of public transit, and 2.4 percent for bike and pedestrian projects. Overall, Paine said, about 80 percent of all state and federal transportation funding goes to facilities for automobiles, leaving all modes of transportation to fight for the rest.

“Historically we favor the automobile at the expense of all those other modes,” Radulovich said at a forum of experts assembled by the Guardian (a recording of the discussion is available at “It’s been given primacy, and I think everyone around this table is saying, in one way or another, that we need a more balanced approach. We need a more sustainable, sensible, and just way of allocating space on our roads.”

Yet the Bay Area is now locking in those wasteful patterns of the past with plans for about $6 billion in highway expansions, which means the MTC will have to spend even more every year keeping those roads in shape. Highway maintenance is the biggest line item in the MTC budget, at $275 million.

“We can’t pay for what we have now — to maintain it, repair it, seismically retrofit it — so why we’re building more is kind of beyond me,” Radulovich said. “We continue to invest in the wrong things.”

The experts also question big-ticket transit items such as the Central Subway project, a 1.7-mile link from SoMa to Chinatown that will cost an estimated $1.4 billion to build and about $4 million per year to run.

“There are 300 small capital projects we need to see,” Snyder said. “That’s really the answer. The idea of a few big capital projects as the answer to our problems is our problem. What we really need are 100 new bike lanes. We need 500 new bus bulbs. We need 300 new buses. It’s not the big sexy project, but 300 small projects.”

The most cost-efficient, environmentally effective transportation projects, according to renowned urban design thinkers such as Jan Gehl from Denmark, are those that encourage walking or riding a bike.

“I think Jan Gehl put it best, which is to say a city that is sweet to pedestrians and sweet to bicyclists is going to be a sustainable city,” Fraser said. “So I think focusing on those two particular modes of transportation meets the other goals of the financial viability because they’re the cheapest ways to get people around — and the healthiest ways — which I submit is one of the other criteria for sustainable transportation…. And it helps with the social justice and social connections.”



In fact, transportation sustainability has far-reaching implications for communities such as San Francisco.

“I think of sustainability in two ways,” Fraser said. “The first is sustainability for the environment. And since I have a background in health care, I think of a sustainable transportation system as one that’s actually healthy for us. In the past at least 50 years, we’ve actually engineered any kind of active transportation — walking to work or to school, biking to school — out of our cities.”

But it can be engineered back into the system with land use policies that encourage more density around transit corridors and economic policies that promote the creation of neighborhood-serving commercial development.

“If my day-to-day needs can be met by walking, I don’t put pressure on the transportation system,” Manish Champsee, a Mission District resident who heads the group Walk SF, told us.

The transportation system can either promote that sense of community or it can detract from it. Champsee said San Francisco needs more traffic-calming measures, citing the 32 pedestrian deaths in San Francisco last year. Almost a third as many people are killed in car accidents as die from homicides in San Francisco — but murder gets more resources and attention.

“There’s a real sense in the neighborhoods that the roadways and streetscapes are not part of the neighborhood, they’re not even what links one neighborhood to another. They’re sort of this other system that cuts through neighborhoods,” said Gillian Gillette of the group CC Puede, which promotes safety improvements on Cesar Chavez Street.

Radulovich notes that streets are social spaces and that decisions about how to use public spaces are critical to achieving sustainability.

“A sustainable transportation system is one that allows you to connect to other people,” he said. “Cities have always thrived on connections between humans, and I think some of the transportation choices we’ve made, with reliance on the automobile, have begun to sever a lot of human connections. So you’ve got to think about whether it’s socially sustainable. Also economically sustainable, or fiscally sustainable, because we just can’t pay for what we have.”

So then what do we do? The first step will take place next year when Congress is scheduled to reauthorize federal transportation spending and policies, presenting an opportunity that only comes once every four years. Transportation advocates from around the country are already gearing up for the fight.

“We’ve built out the freeways. They’re connecting the cities — they’re pretty much done. So what do we need to do to make streets more vibrant and have more space for people and not just automobiles?” asked Jeff Wood, program associate for the nonprofit group Reconnecting America and the Center for Transit-Oriented Development.

Then, once communities such as San Francisco have more money and more flexibility on how to spend it, they can get to work on the other sustainability needs. “The key component is having all the transportation systems fully linked,” Paine said. That means coordinating the Bay Area’s 26 transit agencies; expanding on the new TransLink system to make buying tickets cheaper and easier; funding missing links such as connecting Caltrain from its terminus at King and Fourth streets to the new Transbay Terminal; and timing transfers so passengers aren’t wasting time waiting for connections.

And the one big-ticket transportation project supported by all the experts we consulted is high-speed rail, which goes before voters Nov. 4 as Proposition 1A. Not only is the project essential for facilitating trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles, it takes riders to the very core of the cities without their having to use roadways.

Paine also notes that the bond measure provides $995 million for regional rail improvements, with much of that going to the Bay Area. And that’s just the beginning of the resources that could be made available simply by flipping our transportation priorities and recognizing that the system needs to better accommodate all modes of getting around.

At the roundtable, I asked the group how much a reduction in automobile traffic we need to see in San Francisco 20 years from now to become sustainable — with safe streets for cyclists and pedestrians, free-flowing public transit, and vibrant public spaces. Sarah Sherburn-Zimmer, an organizer with SEIU Local 1021 and the Transit Not Traffic Coalition, said “half.” Nobody disagreed.

That may sound outrageous by today’s standards, when cars use about 30 percent of our roadways to handle about 5 percent of the people-moving (a similar ratio to how Americans constitute 5 percent of the world’s population but use more than 25 percent of the world’s resources). A sustainable, just, efficient mix would drastically beef up the operating budgets of Muni, BART, and other transit agencies, and transfer all the capital set aside for new freeways into new transit lines that would better serve, for example, the Sunset and Excelsior districts.

Alternative transportation advocates insist that they aren’t anti-car, and they say the automobile will continue to play a role in San Francisco’s transportation system. But the idea of sustainability means beefing up all the other, more efficient transportation options, so it becomes faster, cheaper, and easier to walk, bike, take transit, or rideshare (probably in that order of importance, based on the resources they consume). As Fraser said of residents choosing to drive cars, “We should make it so it’s their last choice.” *


Endorsements 2008: San Francisco measures



Proposition A

San Francisco General Hospital bonds


This critically needed $887 million bond would be used to rebuild the San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, which is currently not up to seismic safety codes. If the hospital isn’t brought into seismic compliance by 2013, the state has threatened to shut it down.

Proposition A has the support of just about everyone in town: Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, all four state legislators from San Francisco, Mayor Gavin Newsom, former mayors Willie Brown and Frank Jordan, all 11 supervisors, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Service Employees International Union, Local 1021 … the list goes on and on.

And for good reason: SF General is not only the hospital of last resort for many San Franciscans and the linchpin of the entire Healthy San Francisco system. It’s also the only trauma center in the area. Without SF General, trauma patients would have to travel to Palo Alto for the nearest available facility.

Just about the only opposition is coming from the Coalition for Better Housing. This deep-pocketed landlord group is threatening to sink the hospital bond unless it gets concessions on Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier’s legislation that would allow landlords to pass the costs of the $4 billion rebuild of the city’s Hetch Hetchy water, sewage, and power system through to their tenants.

These deplorable tactics should make voters, most of whom are tenants, even more determined to see Prop. A pass. Vote yes.

Proposition B

Affordable housing fund


Housing isn’t just the most contentious issue in San Francisco; it’s the defining issue, the one that will determine whether the city of tomorrow bears any resemblance to the city of today.

San Francisco is on the brink of becoming a city of the rich and only the rich, a bedroom community for Silicon Valley and an urban nest for wealthy retirees. Some 90 percent of current city residents can’t afford the cost of a median-priced house, and working-class people are getting displaced by the day. Tenants are thrown out when their rent-controlled apartments are converted to condos. Young families find they can’t rent or buy a place with enough room for kids and are forced to move to the far suburbs. Seniors and people on fixed incomes find there are virtually no housing choices for them in the market, and many wind up on the streets. Small businesses suffer because their employees can’t afford to live here; the environment suffers because so many San Francisco workers must commute long distances to find affordable housing.

And meanwhile, the city continues to allow developers to build million-dollar condos for the rich.

Proposition B alone won’t solve the problem, but it would be a major first step. The measure would set aside a small percentage of the city’s property-tax revenue — enough to generate about $33 million a year — for affordable housing. It would set a baseline appropriation to defend the money the city currently spends on housing. It would expire in 15 years.

Given the state of the city’s housing crisis, $33 million is a fairly modest sum — but with a guaranteed funding stream, the city can seek matching federal and state funds and leverage that over 15 years into billions of dollars to build housing for everyone from very low-income people to middle-class families.

Prop. B doesn’t raise taxes, and if the two revenue measures on the ballot, Propositions N and Q, pass, there will be more than enough money to fund it without any impact on city services.

The mayor and some other conservative critics say that set-asides such as this one cripple the ability of elected officials to make tough budget choices. But money for affordable housing isn’t a choice anymore in San Francisco; it’s a necessity. If the city can’t take dramatic steps to retain its lower-income and working-class residents, the city as we know it will cease to exist. A city of the rich is not only an appalling concept; it’s simply unsustainable.

The private market alone can’t solve San Francisco’s housing crisis. Vote yes on B.

Proposition C

Ban city employees from commissions


Proposition C would prohibit city employees from serving on boards and commissions. Sponsored by Sup. Jake McGoldrick, it seems to make logical sense — why should a city department head, for example, sit on a policy panel that oversees city departments?

But the flaw in Prop. C is that it excludes all city employees, not just senior managers. We see no reason why, for example, a frontline city gardener or nurse should be barred from ever serving on a board or commission. We’re opposing this now, but we urge the supervisors to come back with a new version that applies only to employees who are exempt from civil service — that is, managers and political appointees.

Proposition D

Financing Pier 70 waterfront district


Pier 70 was once the launching pad for America’s imperial ambitions in the Pacific, but it’s sadly fallen into disrepair, like most Port of San Francisco property. The site’s historic significance and potential for economic development (think Monterey’s Cannery Row) have led port officials and all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to put forward this proposal to prime the pump with a public infrastructure investment that would be paid back with interest.

The measure would authorize the Board of Supervisors to enter into long-term leases consistent with the forthcoming land use and fiscal plans for the site, and to front the money for development of roads and waterfront parks, refurbishing Union Iron Works, and other infrastructure work, all of which would be paid back through tax revenue generated by development of the dormant site. It’s a good deal. Vote yes.

Proposition E

Recall reform


The recall is an important tool that dates back to the state’s progressive era, but San Francisco’s low signature threshold for removing an officeholder makes it subject to abuse. That’s why the Guardian called for this reform ("Reform the Recall," 6/13/07) last year when downtown interests were funding simultaneous recall efforts (promoted by single-issue interest groups) against three progressive supervisors: Jake McGoldrick, Aaron Peskin, and Chris Daly. The efforts weren’t successful, but they diverted time and energy away from the important work of running the city.

This measure would bring the City Charter into conformity with state law, raising the signature threshold from 10 percent of registered voters to 20 percent in most supervisorial districts, and leaving it at 10 percent for citywide office. The sliding-scale state standard is what most California counties use, offering citizens a way to remove unaccountable representatives without letting a fringe-group recall be used as an extortive threat against elected officials who make difficult decisions that don’t please everyone.

Proposition F

Mayoral election in even-numbered years


This one’s a close call, and there are good arguments on both sides. Sponsored by Sup. Jake McGoldrick, Proposition F would move mayoral elections to the same year as presidential elections. The pros: Increased turnout, which tends to favor progressive candidates, and some savings to the city from the elimination of an off-year election. The cons: The mayor’s race might be eclipsed by the presidential campaigns. In a city where the major daily paper and TV stations have a hard time covering local elections in the best of times, the public could miss out on any real scrutiny of mayoral candidates.

Here’s what convinced us: San Francisco hasn’t elected a true progressive mayor in decades. The system we have isn’t working; it’s worth trying something else.

Proposition G

Retirement system credit for unpaid parental leave


Proposition G brings equity to city employees who started families before July 1, 2003. Currently this group is unable to benefit from a 2002 charter amendment that provides city employees with paid parental leave. Prop. G gives these parents the opportunity to buy back unpaid parental leave and earn retirement credits for that period.

Critics charge that Prop. G changes the underlying premise of the city’s retirement plan and that this attempt to cure a perceived disparity creates a precedent whereby voters could be asked to remedy disparities anytime benefit changes are made. They claim that there are no guarantees Prop. G won’t end up costing the taxpayers money.

But Prop. G, which is supported by the San Francisco Democratic and Republican Parties, the Chamber of Commerce, SEIU Local 1021, the Police Officers Association, and San Francisco Firefighters 798, simply allows city workers to buy back at their own expense some of their missed retirement benefits, thereby creating a fiscally responsible solution to an oversight in the 2003 charter amendment.

Proposition H

Clean Energy Act


Proposition H is long, long overdue. This charter amendment would require the city to study how to efficiently and affordably achieve 51 percent renewable energy by 2017, scaled up to 100 percent by 2040. Should the study find that a publicly owned utility infrastructure would be most effective, it would allow the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) to issue revenue bonds, with approval from the Board of Supervisors, to purchase the necessary lines, poles, and power-generation facilities. The measure includes a green jobs initiative and safeguards benefits and retirement packages for employees who leave Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to work for the SFPUC.

PG&E hates this because it could put the giant private company out of business in San Francisco, and the company has already spent millions of dollars spreading false information about the measure. PG&E says the proposal would cost $4 billion and raise electric bills by $400 a year for residents, but there’s no verifiable proof that these figures are accurate. An analysis done by the Guardian (see "Cleaner and Cheaper," 9/10/08) shows that rates could actually be reduced and the city would still generate excess revenue.

PG&E has also spun issuing revenue bonds without a vote of the people as a bad thing — it’s not. Other city departments already issue revenue bonds without a vote. The solvency of revenue bonds is based on a guaranteed revenue stream — that is, the city would pay back the bonds with the money it makes selling electricity. There’s no cost and no risk to the taxpayers. In fact, unless the city can prove that enough money would be generated to cover the cost of the bond plus interest, the bond won’t fly with investors.

At a time when utility companies are clinging to old technologies or hoping for pie-in-the-sky solutions like "clean coal," this measure is desperately needed and would set a precedent for the country. Environmental leaders like Bill McKibben and Van Jones, who both endorsed the bill, are watching San Francisco closely on this. Prop. H has been endorsed by 8 of the 11 supervisors, Assemblymembers Mark Leno and Fiona Ma, state senator Carole Migden, the Democratic Party, the Green Party, SEIU Local 1021, the Sierra Club, Senior Action Network, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, and the San Francisco Tenants Union, among many others.

The bulk of the opposition comes from PG&E, which is entirely funding the No on H campaign and paid for 22 of 30 ballot arguments against it. The company also has given money, in one way or another, to all the public officials who oppose this measure, including Mayor Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, and Sups. Michela Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, and Sean Elsbernd.

Prop. H pits a utility that can’t meet the state’s modest renewable-energy goals and runs a nuclear power plant against every environmental group and leader in town. Vote yes.

Proposition I

Independent ratepayer advocate


At face value, this measure isn’t bad, but it’s superfluous. It’s a charter amendment that would establish an independent ratepayer advocate, appointed by the city administrator and tasked with advising the SFPUC on all things related to utility rates and revenue. Passing Prop. H would do that too.

Proposition I was put on the ballot by Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier as a way to save face after her ardent opposition to the city’s plan to build two peaker power plants, in which she made impassioned pleas for more renewable energy and more energy oversight. (She opposes Prop. H, which would create both.) During the debate over the peaker power plants, Alioto-Pier introduced a variety of bills, including this one. There isn’t any visible campaign or opposition to it, but there’s no need for it. Vote yes on H, and no on I.

Proposition J

Historic preservation commission


There’s something in this measure for everyone to like, both the developers who seek to alter historic buildings and the preservationists who often oppose them. It adopts the best practices of other major US cities and updates 40-year-old rules that govern the Landmark Preservation Advisory Board.

Proposition J, sponsored by Sup. Aaron Peskin, would replace that nine-member board with a seven-member commission that would have a bit more authority and whose members would be preservation experts appointed by the mayor, approved by the board, and serving fixed terms to avoid political pressures. It would set review standards that vary by project type, allowing streamlined staff-level approval for small projects and direct appeals to the Board of Supervisors for big, controversial proposals.

This was a collaborative proposal with buy-in from all stakeholders, and it’s formally opposed only by the Small Property Owners of San Francisco, an extremist property rights group. Vote yes.

Proposition K

Decriminalizing sex work


We’re not big fans of vice laws; generally speaking, we’ve always believed that drugs, gambling, and prostitution ought to be legalized, tightly regulated, and heavily taxed. Proposition K doesn’t go that far — all it does is make enforcement of the prostitution laws a low priority for the San Francisco Police Department. It would effectively cut off funding for prostitution busts — but would require the cops to pursue cases involving violent crime against sex workers.

The opponents of this measure talk about women who are coerced into sex work, particularly immigrants who are smuggled into the country and forced into the trade. That’s a serious problem in San Francisco. But the sex workers who put this measure on the ballot argue that taking the profession out of the shadows would actually help the police crack down on sex trafficking.

In fact, a significant part of the crime problem created by sex work involves crimes against the workers — violent and abusive pimps, atrocious working conditions, thefts and beatings by johns who face no consequences because the sex workers face arrest if they go to the police.

The current system clearly isn’t working. Vote yes on K.

Proposition L

Funding the Community Justice Center


This measure is an unnecessary and wasteful political gimmick by Mayor Newsom and his downtown allies. Newsom has long pushed the Community Justice Center (CJC) as a panacea for quality-of-life crimes in the Tenderloin and surrounding areas, where the new court would ostensibly offer defendants immediate access to social service programs in lieu of incarceration. Some members of the Board of Supervisors resisted the idea, noting that it singles out poor people and that the services it purports to offer have been decimated by budget shortfalls. Nonetheless, after restoring deep cuts in services proposed by the mayor, the board decided to go ahead and fund the CJC.

But the mayor needed an issue to grandstand on this election, so he placed this measure on the ballot. All Proposition L would do is fund the center at $2.75 million for its first year of operations, rather than the approved $2.62 million. We’d prefer to see all that money go to social services rather than an unnecessary new courtroom, but it doesn’t — the court is already funded. In the meantime, Prop. L would lock in CJC program details and prevent problems from being fixed by administrators or supervisors once the program is up and running. Even if you like the CJC, there’s no reason to make it inflexible simply so Newsom can keep ownership of it. Vote no.

Proposition M

Tenants’ rights


Proposition M would amend the city’s rent-control law to prohibit landlords from harassing tenants. It would allow tenants to seek rent reductions if they’re being harassed.

Proponents — including the SF Tenants Union, the Housing Rights Committee, St. Peter’s Housing Committee, the Community Tenants Association, the Affordable Housing Alliance, the Eviction Defense Collaborative, and the Tenderloin Housing Clinic — argue that affordable, rent-controlled housing is being lost because landlords are allowed to drive long-term tenants from their rent-controlled homes. Citing the antics of one of San Francisco’s biggest landlords, CitiApartments, the tenant activists complain about repeated invasions of privacy, constant buyout offers, and baseless bogus eviction notices.

Because no language currently exists in the rent ordinance to define and protect tenants from harassment, landlords with well-documented histories of abuse have been able to act with impunity. Vote Yes on M.

Proposition N

Real property transfer tax


Prop. N is one of a pair of measures designed to close loopholes in the city tax code and bring some badly needed new revenue into San Francisco’s coffers. The proposal, by Sup. Aaron Peskin, would increase to 1.5 percent the transfer tax on the sale of property worth more than $5 million. It would generate about $30 million a year.

Prop. N would mostly affect large commercial property sales; although San Francisco housing is expensive, very few homes sell for $5 million (and the people buying and selling the handful of ultra-luxury residences can well afford the extra tax). It’s a progressive tax — the impact will fall overwhelmingly on very wealthy people and big business — and this change is long overdue. Vote yes.

Proposition O

Emergency response fee


With dozens of state and local measures on the ballot this year, Proposition O is not getting much notice — but it’s a big deal. If it doesn’t pass, the city could lose more than $80 million a year. With the economy tanking and the city already running structural deficits and cutting essential services, that kind of hit to the budget would be catastrophic. That’s why the mayor, all 11 supervisors, and both the Republican and Democratic Parties support Prop. O.

The text of the measure is confusing and difficult to penetrate because it deals mainly with legal semantics. It’s on the ballot because of arcane legal issues that might make it hard for the city to enforce an existing fee in the future.

But here’s the bottom line: Prop. O would not raise taxes or increase the fees most people already pay. It would simply replace what was a modest "fee" of a couple of bucks a month to fund 911 services with an identical "tax" for the same amount, while also updating the technical definition of what constitutes a phone line from a now defunct 1970s-era statute. The only people who might wind up paying any new costs are commercial users of voice-over-internet services.

It’s very simple. If Prop. O passes, the vast majority of us won’t pay anything extra and the city won’t have to make $80 to $85 million more in cuts to things like health care, crime prevention, and street maintenance. That sounds like a pretty good deal to us. Vote yes.

Proposition P

Transportation Authority changes


Mayor Gavin Newsom is hoping voters will be fooled by his argument that Proposition P, which would change the size and composition of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, would lead to more efficiency and accountability.

But as Prop. P’s opponents — including all 11 supervisors, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, and the Sierra Club — point out, the measure would put billions of taxpayer dollars in the hands of political appointees, thus removing independent oversight of local transportation projects.

The Board of Supervisors, which currently serves as the governing body of the small but powerful, voter-created Transportation Authority, has done a good job of acting as a watchdog for local sales-tax revenues earmarked for transportation projects and administering state and federal transportation funding for new projects. The way things stand, the mayor effectively controls Muni, and the board effectively controls the Transportation Authority, providing a tried and tested system of checks and balances that gives all 11 districts equal representation. There is no good reason to upset this apple cart. Vote No on P.

Proposition Q

Modifying the payroll tax


Proposition Q would close a major loophole that allows big law firms, architecture firms, medical partnerships, and other lucrative outfits to avoid paying the city’s main business tax. San Francisco collects money from businesses largely through a 1.5 percent tax on payroll. It’s not a perfect system, and we’d like to see a more progressive tax (why should big and small companies pay the same percentage tax?). But even the current system has a giant problem that costs the city millions of dollars a year.

The law applies to the money companies pay their employees. But in a fair number of professional operations, the highest-paid people are considered "partners" and their income is considered profit-sharing, not pay. So the city’s biggest law firms, where partners take home hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in compensation, pay no city tax on that money.

Prop. Q would close that loophole and treat partnership income as taxable payroll. It would also exempt small businesses (with payrolls of less than $250,000 a year) from any tax at all.

The proposal would bring at least $10 million a year into the city and stop certain types of businesses from ducking their share of the tax burden. Vote yes.

Proposition R

Naming sewage plant after Bush


This one has tremendous emotional and humor appeal. It would officially rename the Oceanside Water Pollution Control Plant the George W. Bush Sewage Plant. That would put San Francisco in the position of creating the first official memorial to the worst president of our time — and his name would be on a sewage plant.

The problem — not to be killjoys — is that sewage treatment is actually a pretty important environmental concern, and the Oceanside plant is a pretty good sewage treatment plant. It’s insulting to the plant, and the people who work there, to put the name of an environmental villain on the door.

Let’s name something awful after Bush. Vote no on Prop. R.

Proposition S

Budget set-aside policy


This measure is yet another meaningless gimmick that has more to do with Mayor Newsom’s political ambitions than good governance.

For the record, we generally don’t like budget set-aside measures, which can unnecessarily encumber financial planning and restrict elected officials from setting budget priorities. But in this no-new-taxes political era, set-asides are sometimes the only way to guarantee that important priorities get funding from the static revenue pool. Newsom agrees — and has supported set-asides for schools, libraries, and other popular priorities.

Now he claims to want to rein that in, although all this measure would do is state whether a proposal identifies a funding source or violates a couple of other unenforceable standards. Vote no.

Proposition T

Free and low-cost substance abuse treatment


Proposition T would require the Department of Public Health (DPH) to make medical and residential substance abuse treatment available for low-income and homeless people who request it. DPH already offers treatment and does it well, but there’s a wait list 500 people long — and when addicts finally admit they need help and show up for treatment, the last thing the city should do is send them away and make them wait.

Prop. T would expand the program to fill that unmet need. The controller estimates an annual cost to the General Fund of $7 million to $13 million, but proponents say the upfront cost would lead to significant savings later. For every dollar spent on treatment, the city saves as much as $13 because clinical treatment for addictive disorders is cheaper than visits to the emergency room, where many low-income and homeless people end up when their untreated problems reach critical levels.

This ordinance was put on the ballot by Sups. Daly, McGoldrick, Mirkarimi, and Peskin, and has no visible opposition, although some proponents frame it as a way to achieve what the Community Justice Center only promises. Vote yes.

Proposition U

Defunding the Iraq War


Proposition U is a declaration of policy designed to send a message to the city’s congressional representatives that San Francisco disproves of any further funding of the war in Iraq, excepting whatever money is required to bring the troops home safely.

The progressive block of supervisors put this on the ballot, and according to their proponent argument in the Voter Information Pamphlet, the Iraq War has cost California $68 billion and San Francisco $1.8 billion. The Republican Party is the lone voice against this measure. Vote yes.

Proposition V

Bringing back JROTC


The San Francisco school board last year voted to end its Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, which was the right move. A military-recruitment program — and make no mistake, that’s exactly what JROTC is — has no place in the San Francisco public schools. The board could have done a better job finding a replacement program, but there are plenty of options out there.

In the meantime, a group of JROTC backers placed Proposition V on the ballot.

The measure would have no legal authority; it would just be a statement of policy. Supporters say they hope it will pressure the school board to restore the program. In reality, this is a downtown- and Republican-led effort to hurt progressive candidates in swing districts where JROTC might be popular. Vote no.

>>More Endorsements 2008

Endorsements 2008: San Francisco races



Board of Supervisors

District 1


The incumbent District 1 supervisor, Jake McGoldrick, likes to joke that he holds his seat only because Eric Mar’s house burned down eight years ago. Back then Mar, who has had a stellar career on the school board, decided to wait before seeking higher office.

But now McGoldrick — overall a good supervisor who was wrong on a few key votes — is termed out, and progressive San Francisco is pretty much unanimous in supporting Mar as his successor.

Mar, a soft-spoken San Francisco State University teacher, was a strong critic of former school superintendent Arlene Ackerman and a leader in the battle to get the somewhat dictatorial and autocratic administrator out of the district. He’s been a key part of the progressive majority that’s made substantial progress in improving the San Francisco public schools.

He’s a perfect candidate for District 1. He has strong ties to the district and its heavily Asian population. He’s a sensible progressive with solid stands on the key issues and a proven ability to get things done. He supports the affordable housing measure, Proposition B; the Clean Energy Act, Proposition H; and the major new revenue measures. He’s sensitive to tenant issues, understands the need for a profound new approach to affordable housing, and wants to solve the city’s structural budget problems with new revenue, not just cuts.

His chief opponent, Sue Lee, who works for the Chamber of Commerce, doesn’t support Prop. H and won’t even commit to supporting district elections. She ducked a lot of our questions and was either intentionally vague or really has no idea what she would do as a supervisor. She’s no choice for the district, and we found no other credible candidates worthy of our endorsement. Vote for Eric Mar.

District 3




The danger in this district is Joe Alioto. He’s smooth, he’s slick, he’s well funded — and he would be a disaster for San Francisco. Make no mistake about it, Alioto is the candidate of downtown — and thanks to his famous name and wads of big-business cash, he’s a serious contender.

Two progressive candidates have a chance at winning this seat and keeping Alioto off the board. David Chiu is a member of the Small Business Commission (SBC) and the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC) and is a former civil rights lawyer who now manages a company that sells campaign software. Denise McCarthy ran the Telegraph Hill Neighborhood Center for 25 years and spent 7 years on the Port Commission.

Tony Gantner, a retired lawyer, is also in the race, although he is running well behind the others in the polls.

We have concerns about all the candidates. Chiu has a solid progressive record as a commissioner and committee member: He was one of only two SBC members who supported the living-wage ordinance and Sup. Tom Ammiano’s city health care plan. He backed Sup. Aaron Peskin, his political mentor, for chair of the DCCC. He backs Prop. H, supports the two revenue measures and the affordable-housing fund, and wants to give local small businesses a leg up in winning city contracts. He has some creative ideas about housing, including a community stabilization fee on new development.

He’s also a partner in a company that received $143,000 last year from PG&E and that has worked with Republicans and some nasty business interests.

Chiu says he doesn’t get to call all the shots at Grassroots Enterprises, which he cofounded. He describes the firm as a software-licensing operation, which isn’t exactly true — the company’s own Web site brags about its ability to offer broad-based political consulting and communication services.

But Chiu vowed to resign from the company if elected, and given his strong record on progressive issues, we’re willing to take a chance on him.

McCarthy has a long history in the neighborhood, and we like her community perspective. She supports Prop. H and the affordable-housing measure. She’s a little weak on key issues like the city budget — she told us she "hadn’t been fully briefed," although the budget is a public document and the debate over closing a massive structural deficit ought to be a central part of any supervisorial campaign. And while she said there "have to be some new taxes," she was very vague on where new revenue would come from and what specifically she would be willing to cut. She supported Gavin Newsom for mayor in 2003 and told us she doesn’t think that was a bad decision. It was. But she has by far the strongest community ties of any candidate in District 3. She’s accessible (even listing her home phone number in her campaign material), and after her years on the Port Commission, she understands land-use issues.

Gantner has been a supporter of the Clean Energy Act from the start and showed up for the early organizing meetings. He has the support of the Sierra Club and San Francisco Tomorrow and talks a lot about neighborhood beatification. But we’re a little nervous about his law-and-order positions, particularly his desire to crack down on fairs and festivals and his strong insistence that club promoters are responsible for all the problems on the streets.

But in the end, Chiu, McCarthy, and Gantner are all acceptable candidates, and Joe Alioto is not. Fill your slate with these three.

District 4


What a mess.

We acknowledge that this is one of the more conservative districts in the city. But the incumbent, Carmen Chu, and her main opponent, Ron Dudum, are terrible disappointments.

It’s possible to be a principled conservative in San Francisco and still win progressive respect. We often disagreed over the years with Quentin Kopp, the former supervisor, state senator, and judge, but we never doubted his independence, sincerity, or political skills. Sean Elsbernd, who represents District 7, is wrong on most of the key issues, but he presents intelligent arguments, is willing to listen, and isn’t simply a blind loyalist of the mayor.

Chu has none of those redeeming qualities. She ducks questions, waffles on issues, and shows that she’s willing to do whatever the powerful interests want. When PG&E needed a front person to carry the torch against the Clean Energy Act, Chu was all too willing: she gave the corrupt utility permission to use her name and face on campaign flyers, signed on to a statement written by PG&E’s political flak, and permanently disgraced herself. She says that most of the problems in the city budget should be addressed with cuts, particularly cuts in public health and public works, but she was unable to offer any specifics. She refused to support the measure increasing the transfer tax on property sales of more than $5 million, saying that she didn’t want to create "a disincentive to those sales taking place." We asked her if she had ever disagreed with Newsom, who appointed her, and she could point to only two examples: she opposed his efforts to limit cigarette sales in pharmacies, and she opposed Saturday road closures in Golden Gate Park. In other words, the only times she doesn’t march in lockstep with the mayor is when Newsom actually does something somewhat progressive. We can’t possibly endorse her.

Dudum, who ran a small business and tried for this office two years ago, continues to baffle us. He won’t take a position on anything. Actually, that’s not true — he’s opposed to the Clean Energy Act. Other than that, it’s impossible to figure out where he stands on anything or what he would do to address any of the city’s problems. (An example: When we asked him what to do about the illegal second units that have proliferated in the district, he said he’d solve the problem in two years. How? He couldn’t say.) We like Dudum’s small-business sentiments and his independence, but until he’s willing to take some stands and offer some solutions, we can’t support him.

Which leaves Dave Ferguson.

Ferguson is a public school teacher with little political experience. He’s a landlord, and not terribly good on tenant issues (he said he supported rent control when he was a renter, but now that he owns a four-unit building, he’s changed his mind). But he supports Prop. H, supports Prop. B, supports the revenue measures, and has a neighborhood sensibility. Ferguson is a long shot, but he’s the only candidate who made anything approaching a case for our endorsement.

District 5


Mirkarimi won this seat four years ago after a heated race in a crowded field, and he’s quickly emerged as one of the city’s most promising progressive leaders. He understands that a district supervisor needs to take on tough citywide issues (he’s the lead author of the Clean Energy Act and won a surprisingly tough battle to ban plastic bags in big supermarkets) as well as dealing with neighborhood concerns. Mirkarimi helped soften a terrible plan for developing the old UC Extension site and fought hard to save John Swett School from closure.

But the area in which he’s most distinguished himself is preventing violent crime — something progressives have traditionally had trouble with. Four years ago, District 5 was plagued with terrible violence: murders took place with impunity, the police seemed unable to respond, and the African American community was both furious and terrified. Mirkarimi took the problem on with energy and creativity, demanding (and winning, despite mayoral vetoes) police foot patrols and community policing. Thanks to his leadership, violent crime is down significantly in the district — and the left in San Francisco has started to develop a progressive agenda for the crime problem.

He has no serious opposition, and richly deserves reelection.

District 7


We rarely see eye to eye with the District 7 incumbent. He’s on the wrong side of most of the key votes on the board. He’s opposing the affordable housing measure, Prop. B. He’s opposed to the Clean Energy Act, Prop. H. It’s annoying to see someone who presents himself as a neighborhood supervisor siding with PG&E and downtown over and over again.

But Elsbernd is smart and consistent. He’s a fiscal conservative with enough integrity that he isn’t always a call-up vote for the mayor. He’s accessible to his constituents and willing to engage with people who disagree with him. The progressives on the board don’t like the way he votes — but they respect his intelligence and credibility.

Unlike many of the candidates this year, Elsbernd seems to understand the basic structural problem with the city budget, and he realizes that the deficit can’t be reduced just with spending cuts. He’s never going to be a progressive vote, but this conservative district could do worse.

District 9




The race to succeed Tom Ammiano, who served this district with distinction and is now headed for the State Legislature, is a case study in the advantages of district elections and ranked-choice voting. Three strong progressive candidates are running, and the Mission–Bernal Heights area would be well served by any of them. So far, the candidates have behaved well, mostly talking about their own strengths and not trashing their opponents.

The choice was tough for us — we like David Campos, Eric Quezada, and Mark Sanchez, and we’d be pleased to see any of them in City Hall. It’s the kind of problem we wish other districts faced: District 9 will almost certainly wind up with one of these three stellar candidates. All three are Latinos with a strong commitment to immigrant rights. All three have strong ties to the neighborhoods. Two are openly gay, and one is a parent. All three have endorsements from strong progressive political leaders and groups. All three have significant political and policy experience and have proven themselves accessible and accountable.

And since it’s almost inconceivable that any of the three will collect more than half of the first-place votes, the second-place and third-place tallies will be critical.

Campos, a member of the Police Commission and former school district general counsel, arrived in the United States as an undocumented immigrant at 14. He made it to Stanford University and Harvard Law School and has worked as a deputy city attorney (who helped the city sue PG&E) and as a school district lawyer. He’s been a progressive on the Police Commission, pushing for better citizen oversight and professional police practices. To his credit, he’s stood up to (and often infuriated) the Police Officers’ Association, which is often a foe of reform.

Campos doesn’t have extensive background in land-use issues, but he has good instincts. He told us he’s convinced that developers can be forced to provide as much as 50 percent affordable housing, and he thinks the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan lacks adequate low-cost units. He supports the revenue measures on the ballot and wants to see big business paying a fair share of the tax burden. He argues persuasively that crime has to become a progressive issue, and focuses on root causes rather than punitive programs. Campos has shown political courage in key votes — he supported Theresa Sparks for Police Commission president, a move that caused Louise Renne, the other contender, to storm out of the room in a fit of cursing. He backed Aaron Peskin for Democratic Party chair despite immense pressure to go with his personal friend Scott Weiner. Ammiano argues that Campos has the right qualities to serve on the board — particularly the ability to get six votes for legislation — and we agree.

Eric Quezada has spent his entire adult life fighting gentrification and displacement in the Mission. He’s worked at nonprofit affordable-housing providers, currently runs a homeless program, and was a cofounder of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. Although he’s never held public office, he has far more experience with the pivotal issues of housing and land use than the other two progressive candidates.

Quezada has the support of Sup. Chris Daly (although he doesn’t have Daly’s temper; he’s a soft-spoken person more prone to civil discussion than fiery rhetoric). If elected, he would carry on Daly’s tradition of using his office not just for legislation but also as an organizing center for progressive movements. He’s not as experienced in budget issues and was a little vague about how to solve the city’s structural deficit, but he would also make an excellent supervisor.

Mark Sanchez, the only Green Party member of the three, is a grade-school teacher who has done a tremendous job as president of the San Francisco school board. He’s helped turn that panel from a fractious and often paralyzed political mess into a strong, functioning operation that just hired a top-notch new superintendent. He vows to continue as an education advocate on the Board of Supervisors.

He told us he thinks he can be effective by building coalitions; he already has a good working relationship with Newsom. He’s managed a $500 million budget and has good ideas on both the revenue and the spending side — he thinks too much money goes to programs like golf courses, the symphony, and the opera, whose clients can afford to cover more of the cost themselves. He wants a downtown congestion fee and would turn Market Street into a pedestrian mall. Like Campos, he would need some education on land-use issues (and we’re distressed that he supports Newsom’s Community Justice Center), but he has all the right political instincts. He has the strong support of Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. We would be pleased to see him on the Board of Supervisors.

We’ve ranked our choices in the order we think best reflects the needs of the district and the city. But we also recognize that the progressive community is split here (SEIU Local 1021 endorsed all three, with no ranking), and we have nothing bad to say about any of these three contenders. The important thing is that one of them win; vote for Campos, Quezada, and Sanchez — in that order, or in whatever order makes sense for you. Just vote for all three.

District 11




This is one of those swing districts where either a progressive or a moderate could win. The incumbent, Gerardo Sandoval, who had good moments and not-so-good moments but was generally in the progressive camp, is termed out and running for judge.

The strongest and best candidate to succeed him is John Avalos. There are two other credible contenders, Randy Knox and Julio Ramos — and one serious disaster, Ahsha Safai.

Avalos has a long history of public-interest work. He’s worked for Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth, for the Justice for Janitors campaign, and as an aide to Sup. Chris Daly. Since Daly has served on the Budget Committee, and at one point chaired it, Avalos has far more familiarity with the city budget than any of the other candidates. He understands that the city needs major structural reforms in how revenue is collected, and he’s full of new revenue ideas. Among other things, he suggests that the city work with San Mateo County to create a regional park district that could get state funds (and could turn McLaren Park into a destination spot).

He has a good perspective on crime (he supports community policing along with more police accountability) and wants to put resources into outreach for kids who are at risk for gang activity. He was the staff person who wrote Daly’s 2006 violence prevention plan. He wants to see more affordable housing and fewer luxury condos in the eastern neighborhoods and supports a congestion fee for downtown. With his experience both at City Hall and in community-based organizations, Avalos is the clear choice for this seat.

Randy Knox, a criminal defense lawyer and former member of the Board of Appeals, describes himself as "the other progressive candidate." He supports Prop. H and the affordable-housing fund. He links the crime problem to the fact that the police don’t have strong ties to the community, and wants to look for financial incentives to encourage cops to live in the city. He wants to roll back parking meter rates and reduce the cost of parking tickets in the neighborhoods, which is a populist stand — but that money goes to Muni, and he’s not sure how to replace it. He does support a downtown congestion fee.

Knox wasn’t exactly an anti-developer stalwart on the Board of Appeals, but we’ll endorse him in the second slot.

Julio Ramos has been one of the better members of a terrible community college board. He’s occasionally spoken up against corruption and has been mostly allied with the board’s progressive minority. He wants to build teacher and student housing on the reservoir adjacent to City College. He suggests that the city create mortgage assistance programs and help people who are facing foreclosure. He suggests raising the hotel tax to bring in more money. He supports public power and worked at the California Public Utilities Commission’s Division of Ratepayer Advocates, where he tangled with PG&E.

We’re backing three candidates in this district in part because it’s critical that Safai, the candidate of Mayor Newsom, downtown, and the landlords, doesn’t get elected. Safai (who refused to meet with our editorial board) is cynically using JROTC as a wedge against the progressives, even though the Board of Supervisors does not have, and will never have, a role in deciding the future of that program. He needs to be defeated, and the best way to do that is to vote for Avalos, Knox, and Ramos.

Board of Education





Two of the stalwart progressive leaders on the San Francisco School Board — Mark Sanchez and Eric Mar — are stepping down to run for supervisor. That’s a huge loss, since Mar and Sanchez were instrumental in getting rid of the autocratic Arlene Ackerman, replacing her with a strong new leader and ending years of acrimony on the board. The schools are improving dramatically — this year, for the first time in ages, enrollment in kindergarten actually went up. It’s important that the progressive policies Mar and Sanchez promoted continue.

Sandra Fewer is almost everyone’s first choice for the board. A parent who sent three kids to the San Francisco public schools, she’s done an almost unbelievable amount of volunteer work, serving as a PTA president for 12 terms. She currently works as education policy director at Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. She knows the district, she knows the community, she’s full of energy and ideas, and she has the support of seven members of the Board of Supervisors and five of the seven current school board members.

Fewer supports the new superintendent and agrees that the public schools are getting better, but she’s not afraid to point out the problems and failures: She notes that other districts with less money are doing better. She wants to make the enrollment process more accessible to working parents and told us that race ought to be used as a factor in enrollment if that will help desegregate the schools and address the achievement gap. She’s against JROTC in the schools.

We’re a little concerned that Fewer talks about using district real estate as a revenue source — selling public property is always a bad idea. But she’s a great candidate and we’re happy to endorse her.

Norman Yee, the only incumbent we’re endorsing, has been something of a mediator and a calming influence on an often-contentious board. He helped push for the 2006 facilities bond and the parcel tax to improve teacher pay. He’s helped raise $1 million from foundations for prekindergarten programs. He suggests that the district take the radical (and probably necessary) step of suing the state to demand adequate funding for education. Although he was under considerable pressure to support JROTC, he stood with the progressives to end the military program. He deserves another term.

Barbara "Bobbi" Lopez got into the race late and has been playing catch-up. She’s missed some key endorsements and has problems with accessibility. But she impressed us with her energy and her work with low-income parents. A former legal support worker at La Raza Centro Legal, she’s now an organizer at the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, working with immigrant parents. She’s fought to get subsidized Muni fares for SFUSD students. Her focus is on parent involvement — and while everyone talks about bringing parents, particularly low-income and immigrant parents, more directly into the education process, Lopez has direct experience in the area.

Kimberly Wicoff has a Stanford MBA, and you can tell — she talks in a sort of business-speak with lots of reference to "outcomes." She has no kids. But she’s currently working with a nonprofit that helps low-income families in Visitacion Valley and Hunters Point, and we liked her clearheaded approach to the achievement gap. Wicoff is a fan of what she calls community schools; she thinks a "great school in every neighborhood" can go a long way to solving the lingering issues around the enrollment process. That’s a bit of an ambitious goal, and we’re concerned about any move toward neighborhood schools that leads to resegregation. But Wicoff, who has the support of both Mark Sanchez and Mayor Newsom, brings a fresh problem-solving approach that we found appealing. And unlike Newsom, she’s against JROTC.

Jill Wynns, who has been on the board since 1992, has had a distinguished career, and we will never forget her leadership in the battle against privatizing public schools. But she was a supporter of former superintendent Ackerman even when Ackerman was trampling on open-government laws and intimidating students, parents, and staff critics, and she supports JROTC. It’s time for some new blood.

Rachel Norton, a parent and an advocate for special-education kids, has run an appealing campaign, but her support for the save-JROTC ballot measure disqualified her for our endorsement.

As a footnote: H. Brown, a blogger who can be a bit politically unhinged, has no business on the school board and we’re not really sure why he’s running. But he offered an interesting idea that has some merit: he suggests that the city offer free Muni passes and free parking to anyone who will volunteer to mentor an at-risk SFUSD student. Why not?

Community College Board




There are four seats up for the seven-member panel that oversees the San Francisco Community College District, and we could only find three who merit endorsement. That’s a sad statement: City College is a local treasure, and it’s been badly run for years. The last chancellor, Phil Day, left under a cloud of corruption; under his administration, money was diverted from public coffers into a political campaign. The current board took bond money that the voters had earmarked for a performing arts center and shifted it to a gym — then found out that there wasn’t enough money in the operating budget to maintain the lavish facility. It’s a mess out there, and it needs to be cleaned up.

Fortunately, there are three strong candidates, and if they all win, the reformers will have a majority on the board.

Milton Marks is the only incumbent we’re supporting. He’s been one of the few board members willing to criticize the administration. He supports a sunshine policy for the district and believes the board needs to hold the chancellor accountable (that ought to be a basic principle of district governance, but at City College, it isn’t). He wants to push closer relations with the school board. He actually pays attention to the college budget and tries to make sure the money is spent the right way. He is pushing to reform the budget process to allow more openness and accountability.

Chris Jackson, a policy analyst at the San Francisco Labor Council, is full of energy and ideas. He wants to create an outreach center for City College at the public high schools. He also understands that the college district has done a terrible job working with neighborhoods and is calling for a comprehensive planning process. He understands the problems with the gym and the way the board shuffles money around, and he is committed to a more transparent budget process.

Jackson is also pushing to better use City College for workforce development, particularly in the biotech field, where a lot of the city’s new jobs will be created.

Jackson was president of the Associated Students at San Francisco State University, has been a member of the Youth Commission, and worked with Young Workers United on the city’s minimum-wage law. His experience, energy, and ideas make him an ideal candidate.

Bruce Wolfe attended City College after a workplace injury and served on the Associate Students Council. He knows both the good (City College has one of the best disability service programs in the state) and the bad (the school keeps issuing bonds to build facilities but doesn’t have the staff to keep them running). As a former member of the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force, Wolfe is a strong advocate for open government, something desperately needed at the college district. He told us he thinks the college should agree to abide by the San Francisco Planning Code and is calling for a permanent inspector general to monitor administration practices and spending. He wants City College to start building housing for students. He has direct experience with the district and great ideas for improving it, and we’re happy to endorse him.

Incumbents Rodel Rodis and Natalie Berg are running for reelection; both have been a key part of the problem at City College, and we can’t endorse either of them. Steve Ngo, a civil rights lawyer, has the support of the Democratic Party, but we weren’t impressed by his candidacy. And he told us he opposes the Clean Energy Act.

Vote for Marks, Jackson, and Wolfe.

BART Board of Directors

With rising gasoline prices, congested roadways, and global warming, it’s now more important than ever to have an engaged and knowledgeable BART board that is willing to reform a system that effectively has San Francisco users subsidizing everyone else. That means developing a fare structure in which short trips within San Francisco or the East Bay urban centers are cheaper and longer trips are a bit more expensive. BART should also do away with free parking, which favors suburban drivers (who tend to be wealthier) over urban cyclists and pedestrians. San Francisco’s aging stations should then get the accessibility and amenity improvements they need—and at some point the board can even fund the late-night service that is long overdue. There are two candidates most capable of meeting these challenges:

District 7


This district straddles San Francisco and the East Bay, and it’s crucial that San Francisco—which controls just three of the nine seats—retain its representative here. We would like to see Lynette Sweet more forcefully represent the interests of riders from San Francisco and support needed reforms such as civilian oversight of BART police. But she has a strong history of public service in San Francisco (having served on San Francisco’s taxi and redevelopment commissions before joining the BART board in 2003), and we’ll endorse her.

District 9


Tom Radulovich is someone we’d love to clone and have run for every seat on the BART board, and perhaps every other transportation agency in the Bay Area. He’s smart and progressive, and he works hard to understand the complex problems facing our regional transportation system and then to develop and advocate for creative solutions. As executive director of the nonprofit Livable City, Radulovich is a leader of San Francisco’s alternative transportation brain trust, widely respected for walking the walk (and biking the bike—he doesn’t own a car) and setting an example for how to live and grow in the sustainable way this city and country needs.

>>More Guardian Endorsements 2008

Newsom hacks away at the budget


It’s no surprise that many of the items Mayor Newsom hacked out of the city budget at the last minute were important to supervisors who didn’t go along with the mayor’s original budget proposal.

Just look at the complete list (here as a pdf). Among the items axed: $130,000 for a Bernal Heights childcare center (a project Sup Tom Ammiano has been working on for two years or more), $397,000 for homeless drop-in services (which progresive board members have pushed for); $300,000 for home health nurses (a priority of SEIU Local 790) … the list goes on.

The Chron quotes Robert Haaland:

“It’s a very aggressive and obviously retaliatory move. But we’re not just going to roll over,” said Robert Haaland, a political organizer for SEIU. “Imagine you’re a working person and all of a sudden your salary gets slashed. People can lose their homes just because the mayor wants to retaliate. It remains to be seen how we’ll fight back, but we’re certainly not going to watch our members lose their homes.”

I just got off the phone with Haaland, and he went even further: “What they did is an unfair labor practice, retaliating against someone who refused to make concessions,” he said.

Which pretty much sums it up. SEIU Local 1021 wouldn’t play ball with the mayor, so now the union members get hit.

Ammiano was more than a bit pissed off. “It’s all retaliatory,” he told me. “Look at the Bernal preschool. This is a tiny amount of money, but it’s important to the community. And he didn’t even have the courtesy to call me himself and tell me about it.”

Added Ammiano: “It’s particularly ironic since he talks all the time about keeping families in San Francisco. I guess that doesn’t mean low-income families.”

The killer here is that these kind of cuts seem minor when they’re part of a $5 billion budget, but on the ground, on the streets, they really matter.

I’m still waiting to hear if the mayor will support Sup. Aaron Peskin’s revenue measures on the fall ballot, which would provide plenty of money to avoid these kinds of cuts.

McGoldrick’s privatization betrayal


OPINION This isn’t the first time it’s happened. Most politicians break promises. That’s the nature of politics. But when someone signs a pledge — twice — saying he won’t privatize city services, when he holds himself out as a champion of anti-privatization and then goes directly against that stand —well, it kind of makes you wonder.

That politician is San Francisco Sup. Jake McGoldrick. In the past, he stood against privatizing services. He has fought for golf courses, for the Internet; heck, he even fought for horses when Mayor Gavin Newsom threatened to privatize the stables. During the Service Employees International Union endorsement process, he signed a pledge that he would not privatize work currently done by city workers. We endorsed him and even fought against the effort to recall him. But when the rubber hit the road for people, he screeched out of there.

Newsom has proposed contracting out the work of the Institutional Police, a group of workers represented by SEIU Local 1021. Institutional police officers work primarily at San Francisco General and Laguna Honda hospitals, but they also provide security at health clinics throughout the city. That security — not only for the workers, but for the community that these institutions serve as well — might soon be gone.

If you have ever been in SF General’s emergency room during a violent incident, you know exactly how bad a decision that would be. A nurse who met with McGoldrick described how bad it got on her shift one night. A man who had been shot was being transported to the ER, and the shooter was following closely behind, hoping to finish off the job. When the victim and assailant pulled up to General, the institutional police were there waiting with guns drawn. They disarmed the shooter and arrested him.

The nurse who told this story looked McGoldrick squarely in the eye and told him that the community would know immediately when the ER was staffed by private security officers, and that would endanger the workers and the patients there.

Even the union that represents the private security officers — whose members would get the jobs — told McGoldrick the work should remain with the institutional police.

Training for private security officers is minimal and inconsistent. Turnover is rapid. When private security officers are transferred to new buildings, they’re often not trained on its specific emergency procedures. There is little oversight to enforce existing state training requirements.

This shouldn’t be about money. A couple of weeks ago, during public hearings on the budget, the Controller’s Office reported on the exponential growth of six-figure salaried executive positions in the past few years; 55 new management jobs were created this year alone. McGoldrick, who heads the Budget and Finance Committee, could easily have moved some of that money around, as SEIU 1021 advocated, rather than leave the city’s health care facilities at risk. But he didn’t.

Unfortunately, it only takes one bad incident to expose the false "savings" of contracting out security to inexperienced and less-trained guards. Six supervisors appear to agree. What happened to Jake McGoldrick?

Robert Haaland

Labor activist Robert Haaland works for SEIU Local 1021.

Newsom’s manager to worker hiring ratio? 10:1.


Does Newsom show more love to managers than workers?
photos and text by Sarah Phelan

SEIU Local 1021’s Robert Haaland says the City has a pattern of hiring way more managers than front line workers over the last decade.

“Over the last ten years, the City has hired managers to front line workers at a rate of ten to one, “says Robert Haaland, SEIU Local 1021’s political coordinator. “That means 1,000 managers to 100 front line workers. And fifty percent of these new management hires have occurred within the Newsom administration.

Haaland makes his argument using an analysis of full-time equivalent positions that the City has budgeted and funded over the last ten years, broken down. by union.

SEIU requested this analysis through the office of Board President Sup. Aaron Peskin.

These figures, Haaland observes, show that SEIU gained 113 new positions over the last decade, the Municipal Executives Association gained 334 positions, and Local 21, which represents professional and technical engineers, gained 781 positions.

“We’re not going after Local 21, or any union,” Haaland says. “We’re going after the City’s hiring practices, in which their priority is to hire executives and managers.”

Haaland’s explosive claims come as the City is going through one of the most painful budget hearings in memory, in an effort to reconcile a $338 million projected deficit–a deficit that Newsom’s critics claim has been predominantly balanced on the backs of the poor.

Monique Zmuda, Deputy City Controller, confirmed that there are 53.95 FTE MEA positions budgeted for 2008-09, with many occurring in the Municipal Transportation Agency and at the airport.

“The Muncipal Executives Assocation is sort of the top management level of the City,” Zmuda told the Guardian.

She noted that when the Mayor recently talked about deleting management positions, “He was not talking about the unions, he was talking about managers generically.”

“We also have managers who are attorneys, police, firefighters and physicians, and of we are looking at hiring increases over time, most are in police, nurses and sheriffs,” she said.

Says Haaland, “We’re not haggling over positions, we’re haggling over an institutional priority in every City department of hiring managers over workers.”
And people wonder why the real Newsom looked stressed at his June 2 budget announcement at the Shipyard.

What union democracy means


OPINION The troubles in the Service Employees International Union, and within SEIU Local 1021 in San Francisco, share a similar theme. How much do individual locals direct their work in the face of the international’s set agenda? And more important, how do union members themselves direct the vision, use of resources, and work of both their local and international union? What is union democracy and how is it made real?

Active members in Local 1021 learned a painful lesson recently when we discovered that senior 1021 staff ran a clandestine campaign during a member election to choose delegates to SEIU’s quadrennial convention this June. These same senior staff demanded that their junior staff remain completely neutral and uninvolved in the election.

A key tenet of union democracy is recognition by all parties that the union staffers work for the members, whose dues pay for their salaries and benefits, their offices, and the programs run by the union.

Local 1021’s governing bodies were appointed by Andy Stern, president of the international, at the time of the merger of 10 locals into one. Next year, Local 1021 holds its first officer and executive board elections. It is essential that we lay out bylaws and an election process guaranteeing that the direction of our local union will be led by its members.

We are at a vital juncture. Do we allow the programs and process to be driven by the international, Stern, and his loyalist staff — or do we assert ourselves as members, examine the issues for ourselves, and choose how we prioritize the work to be done?

At stake is not just the true empowerment of our union, but its credibility. We demand a sense of fair play from the employers we bargain with and consistently take a hard line against managerial favoritism.

In practically every contract campaign, there is a battle over the definition of our union and our very identity. We put forth photographs of our members, use their quotes in the press, and otherwise say to the public, the press, and elected officials that “these people are the union — the nurses, transit workers, librarians, road crews and others who serve our community.”

Meanwhile, management — as well as anti-union lobbies, officials, and think tanks — speak in more pejorative terms of “union bosses” and “big labor,” conjuring images of bureaucrats who cut deals, make the real decisions, and are disconnected from their rank-and-file membership.

It is critical that we don’t prove our opponents right. If the boss-like behavior of our leaders and the manner in which they govern this union promotes double standards, favoritism, and a lack of local autonomy, we only make it easier for anti-union forces to drive a wedge between our members and their union.

Nobody has more at stake in SEIU than the members who pay the bills and whose wages, benefits, and working conditions are being negotiated. Without the international showing respect for local autonomy or democratic empowerment at the local and worksite levels, we cannot hope for existing members to feel like stakeholders in their union, or to inspire prospective members to join us in the future.

Mary C. Magee and Roxanne Sanchez

Mary C. Magee, RN, works at San Francisco General Hospital. Roxanne Sanchez works for Bay Area Rapid Transit. They are members of SEIU Local 1021.


41st Anniversary Special: Wrecked park



The San Francisco Recreation and Park Department has a long history of maintaining parks, community centers, and other recreational offerings. In fact, it controls more land in the city than any other entity, public or private. But after seeing its budget repeatedly slashed during lean fiscal years, the underfunded department has become a prime target for some controversial privatization schemes.

There are ongoing efforts to privatize city golf courses, supported by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Rec and Park general manager Yomi Agunbiade (see “Bilking the Links,” page 22). And there are ongoing fears that the city intends to privatize its popular Camp Mather vacation spot, something the RPD studied a few years ago and Sup. Jake McGoldrick has fought and highlighted.

Rec and Park has identified $37 million in needs at Camp Mather — the product of a private study the agency has been unable to fully explain to the public (see “From Cabin to Castle,” 4/4/07) — but left Camp Mather off a big bond measure planned for February 2008.

“They say $37 million you need up here, and how much you got in there for the ballot measure? Zip, zero,” McGoldrick told the Guardian. “It’s a familiar pattern: you underfund the hell out of something, and then you turn around and say, ‘We, the public sector, cannot handle taking care of this.'<0x2009>”

Rec and Park spokesperson Rose Dennis denies there are plans to privatize Camp Mather or that its omission from the bond measure is telling. “Many people disagreed — including you — with the funding needs and whether we could back it up,” she explained as the reason for its omission from the bond measure.

In his Oct. 1 endorsement interview with the Guardian, Newsom said, “We actually made some commitments just this last week with Sup. McGoldrick to help support his efforts, because he’s very protective of Camp Mather, and I appreciate his leadership on this, to help resource some of the needs up there without privatizing, without moving in accordance with your fears.”

And while Newsom said he hoped to avoiding privatizing Camp Mather, he refused to say he wouldn’t: “I’m not suggesting it’s off the table, because I’m not necessarily sure that the conditions that exist today will be conditions that exist tomorrow, and I will always be open to argument.”

But at least the Camp Mather and golf arguments have been happening mostly in public. That’s what voters intended in 1983 when they passed Proposition J, which requires public hearings, a staff study, and a vote by the Board of Supervisors before city services can be privatized. Yet over the past couple of years, there’s been an effort to quietly shift operations at a half-dozen rec centers away from city programs and toward private nonprofits.

It’s called Rec Connect. Its supporters bill it as an innovative effort to bring much-needed recreation programs to underserved, low-income neighborhoods. “This is a pilot program to see if a collaboration between a community-based organization and a rec center yields a richer program and a more engaged community,” said Margaret Brodkin, director of the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families, which created the program and oversees that and other uses of the city’s Children’s Fund.

But to members of the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 — which includes most city employees and has filed grievances challenging Rec Connect — the program is a sneaky attempt to have underpaid, privately funded workers take over services that should be provided by city employees, who are better paid, unionized, and accountable to the public.

“The city took funds from the city’s coffers and gave them to the Department of Children, Youth and [Their] Families,” Margot Reed, a work-site organizer for the union, told the Guardian. “DCYF is using these funds, through Rec Connect, to contract out to private nonprofits work that rec staff were doing for a quarter of the cost.”

Brodkin was the longtime director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth — a perpetual thorn in the side of City Hall and the author of the measure that set aside some property taxes to create the Children’s Fund — before Newsom hired her to head the DCYF. She sees her current role as a continuation of her last one, and she sees Rec Connect as an enhancement of needed services rather than a privatization.

“There is a commitment that no jobs would be lost. I’m a big supporter of the public sector,” Brodkin said, while acknowledging that the RPD is chronically underfunded. “I am certainly aware of the resources issue at Rec and Park…. I’d be a happy camper if the Rec and Park budget was doubled. But I’d still believe in this program and say it offers a richer experience.”

Rec Connect began in 2005 with a study that looked at unmet recreational needs and evaluated facilities that might be good places to bring in community-based organizations to offer specialized classes. The whole program was financed through a mix of public funds and grants from private foundations. The three-year pilot program started just over a year ago.

“The Rec Connects,” Newsom told the Guardian, “are a way of leveraging resources and getting more of our CBOs involved and using these great assets and facilities, instead of limiting use to the way things have been done.”

Rec Connect director Jo Mestelle denied that the initiative is a privatization attempt.

“Rec and Park brings the facilities, the sports, and traditional recreation. The CBOs bring the youth-development perspective and nontraditional programming,” Mestelle said. “Hopefully, together we build a community that includes youth-leadership groups and advisory councils.”

Few would dispute the need for more after-school or other youth programs, particularly in the violence-plagued Western Addition, where some of the Rec Connect centers are. But the means of providing these programs is something new for San Francisco, starting with the fact that even though Mestelle works in the DCYF office, her salary is paid for entirely by private foundations.

That relationship and those funders aren’t posted anywhere or immediately available to the public, but Brodkin agreed to provide them to the Guardian. They include the Hellman Family Philanthropic Foundation ($50,000), the Hearst Foundation ($50,000), the San Francisco Foundation ($128,000), the Haas Foundation ($100,000), and the SH Cowell Foundation ($150,000).

Brodkin and Mestelle characterized those foundations as fairly unimpeachable, and Brodkin defended the arrangement as part of a national trend: “The thing that’s odd about SEIU’s perspective is this is happening all over.”

That’s precisely the point, SEIU’s Robert Haaland says.

“It’s been a strategy since the ’70s to, as [conservative activist] Grover Norquist calls it, ‘starve the beast,'<0x2009>” or defund government programs, Haaland said. “On a national level there is a lot going on that impacts us locally.”

Minutes from a recent Recreation and Park Commission meeting confirm that rec center directors have only about $1,000 each year to cover the cost of buying basketballs, team jerseys, referee whistles, and other basic sports and safety supplies. The SEIU grievance also notes that recreation staff positions have decreased by a third just as senior management positions increased by a third.

“We don’t have enough dollars for $20-an-hour rec center staff who are directly responsible for the kids and are well known to the community. We believe kids deserve great coaches, consistency, longevity, and commitment,” Reed said.

SEIU Local 1021 chapter president Larry McNesby is also the Rec and Park manager who oversees Palega Park, one of the Rec Connect sites. He told the Guardian that while his rec directors are “under pressure from the mayor to show him numbers of people that they are serving,” Rec and Park’s new online registration fails to reflect the “hundreds of drop-ins” that rec staff serve on a daily basis.

But he said the department has been set up to fail by chronic underfunding.

“I’d love Rec Connect and DCYF to be on a level playing field, because my directors could out-recreate theirs any day,” McNesby said. “You can’t just eliminate our jobs and replace them with someone who makes just above minimum wage.”

Actually, Brodkin and Mestelle note that negotiations with SEIU over Rec Connect have resulted in a guarantee that no jobs will be replaced and an agreement by the city as to 250 different tasks that the Rec Connect CBOs can’t perform. Still, they say the program brings innovation to a stagnant city agency.

“Before Rec Connect the rec centers always had a Ping-Pong table and some board games, but some of them were really poor, many were tired looking, none had computers or Internet. So we’ve had to think outside the box. Rec [and] Park is a big department, and it’s not always efficient,” Mestelle said.

Public records show that in 2006, the DCYF, whose primary function is to administer grants, sent $1 million in public money to Rec Connect from the Children’s Trust Fund, a pool of cash the city gathers each year by levying 3¢ per dollar of property tax.

Both Rec Connect and city workers stress the importance of offering a range of good programs to young people. “Our work is at a more social level,” McNesby says. “Every minute a kid spends in a rec center is a minute they’re not breaking into a car or victimizing someone or being victimized.”

The question is who should provide those programs. “It’s society’s value system that controls where the money goes,” Rec and Park spokesperson Dennis said. “It’s a really provocative discussion. There are some very compelling trade-offs argued in convincing fashion by intelligent people on both sides. These aren’t easy decisions.”

But the union people say that when it comes to Rec Connect, that discussion isn’t happening in public forums in a forthright way. As Reed said, “Gavin Newsom never went to the voters and said, ‘Here’s what we want to do: cut the rec staff and bring in private nonprofits.'”

41st Anniversary Special: Bus stop



There’s a money room in the basement of 1 South Van Ness, where the Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, is headquartered. Workers literally count by hand bags of cash and coins taken in as fares from passengers throughout the day.

When Muni recently needed to pull some of those unionized bean counters away from the money room to staff kiosks around the city where transit passes are sold, its managers hoped to replace them with workers from a private contracting outfit.

The plan unsettled the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which persuaded Muni against the idea and instead encouraged it to create 10 new full-time city positions to cover the work that was needed. But the MTA’s immediate turn to the private sector is telling.

Powerful local unions would no doubt fight it, but public-transit consultants working with the city have insisted that the outright privatization of San Francisco’s municipal transit system is worth consideration. Advisors to the Transit Effectiveness Project, first unveiled by Mayor Gavin Newsom during a 2006 speech, insist nothing is too controversial for debate.

"There’s nothing we’ve been told to take off the table," a consultant hired by the city told the San Francisco Chronicle late last year.

The Transit Effectiveness Project’s final recommendations are expected next year, when it’s likely Newsom will be starting his second and final term. Big segments of Muni have already been privatized over the years. In fact, Controller’s Office records show the MTA has privatized far more formerly public services over the past two decades than any other city department by far.

In 1983 voters passed Proposition J, authorizing the city to contract out services performed by city workers who’d passed civil service exams to prove their skills as long as the Board of Supervisors passed a resolution certifying a cost savings. The MTA issued $46.5 million worth of private contracts last year covering 689 positions, according to figures maintained by the Controller’s Office.

Muni has used private security guards since 1975, and 400 private workers handle paratransit services, which aid the disabled. Towing, janitorial, meter-collection, and citation-information services have all been privatized. In total, the MTA’s purported cost saving is as much as $20 million per year.

But that’s a sliver of MTA’s $680 million budget, and there are perennial fears of more privatization pushes. This fall’s Muni reform measure, Proposition A, nearly went to the ballot with language that could have allowed millions of dollars in new privatized work at Muni without review from civil service commissioners, but it was removed at the insistence of labor leaders.

San Diego privatized many of its transit services in the ’80s, gradually contracting out services as public employees retired. By last year about half of San Diego’s bus routes were managed by three private contractors, including Violia, an Illinois company that also runs Muni’s paratransit services. Labor leaders say service in San Diego suffered under privatization, and they oppose similar changes here.

"Whenever you contract out a department, whenever you let go of control, then you don’t have control of the product," Cristal Java, an organizer for SEIU Local 1021, told the Guardian.

Prop. A’s language was changed to preserve union jobs if new routes and lines are introduced that may otherwise have been susceptible to privatization, but there are no assurances that city officials won’t eventually point to Muni’s widely bemoaned system deficiencies and claim that further contracting out is necessary.

"We see the same operational problems, and hiring new full-time, permanent people is a way to deal with it instead of contracting out," Java said. "The unions, allies, and MTA got together to make Prop. A something that worked for everyone."

Problems with Peskin’s Muni plan


OPINION Last week the Board of Supervisors received a proposed charter amendment that takes a misguided stab at the much-needed reform of the Municipal Transit Agency, which oversees Muni. In undertaking reforms we all agree are needed for the MTA to better serve our city, the supervisors should consider the Hippocratic oath required of doctors: “First, do no harm.”

Our union, Service Employees International Union Local 1021, which represents almost a thousand MTA workers, has enormous respect for the bill’s sponsor, board president Aaron Peskin. We know that Peskin strongly supports workers’ rights and has always stood for openness, transparency, and accountability in government. This initiative, however, undermines everything that he and his board colleagues stand for, and we urge progressives to oppose it.

Most important, the initiative is profoundly undemocratic and would transfer oversight from an elected body to an appointed one. An MTA that no longer had to answer to our elected representatives would be a less accountable and less transparent board.

Downgrading elected oversight into appointive power resting in the hands of one person — the mayor — is not reform but a political power grab. Commissioners would be well aware that they might not be reappointed if they voted too independently of the mayor’s preferences.

The initiative would present additional risks for the abuse of power in local government by allowing MTA to approve its own contracts. This is a dangerous conflict of interest that would create more opportunities for problems, not reform.

The amendment furthermore would undermine workplace protections by increasing the number of nonunion workers from the current 1.5 percent to a whopping 10 percent. Working people would serve at the pleasure of an unelected board and lose their right to collective bargaining. Seven years ago many members of the Board of Supervisors and progressives strongly opposed a nonunion special assistant position in Mayor Willie Brown’s office. The board converted this position to a civil service job because of the perception of patronage and corruption. The current charter amendment exhumes that political cadaver while hiding behind the fig leaf of flexibility — which in this case is a code word for the power to fire people without just cause or due process, or for political expediency.

On one point we agree with this charter amendment: it’s true that the MTA needs more money to serve our residents the way it should, and this amendment would take $26 million from the General Fund and transfer it to the MTA budget. But we do not believe we should be raiding the General Fund without carefully considering the possible impact.

This is a charter amendment and cannot be easily undone. If it turns out to be a disaster, as we believe it will, San Francisco will find itself in a very dire situation without a timely remedy.

SEIU Local 1021 strongly opposes this charter amendment unless it undergoes major revisions. Sup. Jake McGoldrick’s competing initiative, by contrast, offers us a path that is much more democratic, promotes accountability and transparency in government, and protects the rights of working families. We agree that reform is needed, but if passed, Peskin’s initiative will create many more problems than it purports to solve. *

Damita Davis-Howard and Robert Haaland

Damita Davis-Howard is president of SEIU Local 1021; Robert Haaland is San Francisco political coordinator for the union.