Aaron Peskin

Vote for three but not Ed Lee


OPINION Halloween 2011. Next week San Francisco will choose a new mayor. Is this a masquerade? Who is behind Mayor Ed Lee’s mask?

I’ll call it exactly how I see it: I am disappointed in Ed Lee. I’ve known him since before I was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2000. I wanted to be hopeful, but I actually can’t say that I’m surprised. Ed Lee has always been a go-along-to-get-along bureaucrat who has moved up the feeding chain by doing the bidding of former Mayor Willie Brown and Willie’s loyal lieutenant Rose Pak. I had a fantasy that maybe Ed would rise to the occasion, become his own person, and emerge as an independent leader free of those that orchestrated his appointment to “interim” mayor.

But in the first year since appointment (in one of the most masterful political plays since Abe Ruef got Eugene Schmitz installed as mayor in 1902), Ed has consistently sided with the powers and their “City Family” that “made” him. Even I was astounded when Ed moved legislation to displace hundreds of hotel workers at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel. And I was actually shocked when he did the bidding of the right-wing Restaurant Association and vetoed common-sense legislation to stop the exploitation of local restaurant workers.

His list of disappointments grow. He orchestrated the demolition of more than 1,500 units of rent controlled housing at Park Merced. Then he had the audacity to laud Pacific Gas and Electric Co. as a “great local corporation” on the anniversary of the lethal San Bruno pipeline explosion.

Several pols have been credited with the statement that “money is the mother’s milk of politics.” Well, Willie and Rose and their friends at the Chamber of Commerce got milk! Willie Brown is fundraising for three different committees to get Lee elected, Rose Pak started two different fundraising committees of her own, and right-wing Republican billionaires like Ron Conway and right wing corporations like Pacific Gas and Electric are lining up to throw money into the coffers.

Why? Because Ed is their guy.

The proof is right in front of us. All of Willie’s trademark slights of hand are resurfacing in Ed Lee’s friends’ bag of tricks: money laundering, pay to play politics, allegations of voter fraud. These are all hallmarks of Brown and his cronies, all executed under the visage of the supposedly humble Ed Lee. And voters shouldn’t fall for it. Because if we do, we’ll go back to the days before Gavin Newsom when backroom deals, self-dealing, cronyism and out-and-out corruption were the rule of the day.

It is no coincidence that in a year gripped by the divide between the 99 and 1 percent, the latter is working feverishly to elect Lee. If you don’t believe me, look it up on the Ethics Commission website (sfgov.org/ethics). PG&E alone has contributed at least $50,000 to one such “independent” committee.

I know this is the first race for mayor with ranked choice voting—and it is confusing. That’s a concern. But frankly, at this point all I care about is that voters understand not to mark Ed Lee anywhere on their ballot.

The good news? The outcome of the Mayor’s race is far from a foregone conclusion. San Franciscans are seeing through the millions of corporate dollars being spent on behalf of Lee.

You have a choice—three, in fact. And you should use them strategically, because you can make a difference by voting not just with your heart, but also with your mind. That means making sure you do your research and vote for three candidates who represent your values—and have a chance to win.

The Guardian has endorsed three candidates—Avalos, Herrera, and Yee—who have demonstrated enough of a commitment to progressive values and an aversion to the powers of the once-dormant machine that, like a vampire, is attempting to rise from the crypt. These three candidates also happen to have the best shot to beat Lee. Your votes for all three—in any order—are your best guarantee not to elect Ed Lee.

Vote for three and don’t vote for Lee!

Aaron Peskin chairs the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.


7.5 better ways to balance the budget


OPINION In Mayor Gavin Newsom’s seven-and-a-half-hour YouTube series on the state of our city, he spends barely 30 seconds addressing the budget deficit.

Newsom’s mid-year budget cut plan is completely out of touch with the fundamental priorities of our city. At a time when residents are feeling the impact of the recession in their daily lives, the mayor’s plan guts our public health safety net by slashing programs that serve seniors on fixed incomes and by reducing frontline healthcare workers.

What’s more, the mayor’s mid year cuts leave untouched his bloated senior staff and protects management-heavy departments around City Hall.

So, in response to the effort to balance the budget by slashing tens of millions in health services for the city’s neediest, a coalition of health workers, health providers, and patients are putting forward alternative ways to address the city’s budget problem that are worth our time and thought.

Among the ideas offered by the Coalition to Save Public Health are the following:

1. Start at the top, not at the bottom. Since the mayor first took office, the number of highly paid managers has skyrocketed while the number of employees providing basic city services has stagnated. It’s time to tighten our belt at the management level and eliminate all but the most essential positions that pay more than $100,000 per year.

2. Practice what you preach. In November 2007, the mayor announced a non-essential hiring freeze to deal with the budget crunch. Newsom then promptly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring new senior staff including highly paid and duplicative special assistants for climate control initiatives, "neighborhood empowerment," and a new greening czar. All new staff hired since November 2007 who are paid more than $100,000 should be cut.

3. Cut duplicative programs. The city spends more than $10 million per year on small business outreach and economic development. The Mayor’s Small Business Assistance Center duplicates those services and costs nearly $800,000 every year.

4. Listen to the voters — cut the Community Justice Court. Proposition L was rejected by more than 57 percent of the San Francisco electorate. It’s time to listen to the voters and preserve revenue by cutting current-year funding for the CJC.

5. Save on spin, spend on substance. A recent controller’s report found that the city spent more than $10 million in salaries for public relations and public information staff, including funding for seven people in the Mayor’s Office of Communications last year. The mayor should cut all unnecessary PR staff and reduce his spin operation to two people.

6. Cut the fat, not the bone. Both police and fire unions are due for 7 percent pay increases. As the city cuts salaries or lays off staff across the board, the mayor should work with the board to reopen fire and police contracts.

7. Eliminate unnecessary drivers. For years, the Fire Department’s battalion chiefs have relied on "chief’s aides" to chauffer them around the city. The estimated cost for these positions is more than $2 million.

7.5 Cut in half the city’s contribution to the opera and symphony. In the current year, the city is contributing close to $4 million in General Fund revenue to the operation of the opera, symphony, and ballet. We can’t afford to subsidize organizations with enormous endowments while we slash services for people in need.

Aaron Peskin is president of the Board of Supervisors.

This November, let’s fix Muni


OPINION In 2007 quality public transportation is not just a hallmark of a world-class city; it’s our best defense against global warming. In a state where half of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from mobile sources, we have to provide people the real choice to get out of their cars and onto public transit.

Nationwide, public transit use was up 3 percent last year. In San Francisco, Muni’s ridership declined 2 percent. This is a city that understands the threat of global warming, rallies against oil wars, believes in an improved quality of life with fewer cars, and long ago adopted a transit-first policy; the Muni ridership drop is totally unacceptable.

Muni should be attracting new riders, not driving the existing users off the system. A reliable Muni is also a serious social justice issue: 29 percent of San Francisco households get by without a car, mostly because they can’t afford it.

Muni’s meltdown in the 1990s was one of the biggest failures of the Willie Brown administration. The crisis caused voters to amend the City Charter in 1999 and create the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA), setting explicit standards of service quality and guaranteeing predictable funding. Using new capital from the reauthorization of the sales tax for transportation, Muni was able to replace its bus fleet and restore most of its operability.

However, early in the Gavin Newsom administration, Muni service quickly began to deteriorate. Recently, Muni officials even sought to lower their on-time goals. This month’s opening of the T–Third Street line brought Muni metro service to a near standstill. Muni leadership apparently agreed that the problems were unacceptable — they spent much of their time passing out written apologies to Muni riders. However, these service interruptions are symptoms of deeper, structural problems at Muni. Apologies are not enough. It’s clear that significant additional Muni reform is necessary.

That’s why we are proposing a charter amendment for this November’s ballot to make managers and operators more accountable for their performance and to find new sources of revenue for this struggling system.

The MTA currently lacks the vision, accountability, and resources to deliver the transportation system that San Francisco needs. While Muni’s structural deficit has risen to $150 million a year, Muni officials have been slow to propose revenue options, and we know voters won’t be happy to provide more funding without structural reforms that make those public investments worthwhile. Measured in passengers carried per hour of revenue service, Muni’s current productivity has dropped to a historic low.

We need to make sure Muni’s managers and service planners have the tools to deploy their workforce efficiently, and we need to hold them accountable for delivering promised service.

We don’t know if Newsom will support substantial Muni reforms — but the system has broken down on his watch, and every San Franciscan who relies on Muni and who cares about the environment needs competent leadership from city hall now. *

Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin

Supervisors Chris Daly and Aaron Peskin represent Districts 6 and 3, respectively.


City College’s latest abomination


OPINION Battles to preserve the unique character of San Francisco’s neighborhoods are nothing new. Indeed, most of the current crop of supervisors were elected in large part as a reaction to east-side development battles that raged during the first dot-com boom a half dozen years ago.
In the northeast corner of San Francisco, I have long been part of the struggle to preserve the character of some of the city’s oldest, most historic neighborhoods against the onslaught of incompatible development.
Decades ago, as downtown was expanding northward, gobbling up thriving, diverse communities and destroying dozens of historic buildings, community activists won a monumental zoning battle by drawing a bright line down Washington Street. On one side is the massive Downtown Business District, where the Transamerica Pyramid sits. On the other side are the human-scale neighborhoods of Chinatown, North Beach, and Jackson Square, San Francisco’s first historic district.
We have fought hard to maintain this barrier against the Manhattanization of our neighborhoods. In the late 1990s I joined with neighbors to successfully prevent the destruction of the landmark Colombo Building at the gateway from downtown into these historic neighborhoods. So when more than 200 neighbors showed up at a recent public meeting to protest the threat of yet another high-rise encroachment, I certainly took notice. Who was it this time? Not a private developer but our very own City College is now proposing a 17-story, 238-foot glass monstrosity at the corner of Kearny and Washington streets. And the college is arguing that, as a state agency, it can ignore San Francisco planning and zoning codes.
As the city’s Chinatown Area Plan states, the proposed site, which is located diagonally opposite Portsmouth Square, one of the city’s most heavily used parks, is not an appropriate setting for tall buildings. Seventy-five percent of the structures in Chinatown are three stories or less in height. The permitted height of buildings at this site is 65 feet. In addition, the proposed building would overshadow Portsmouth Square and likely condemn it to significant shading.
While I support a new campus for the Chinatown–<\d>North Beach area, City College administrators have failed to reach out to the community — and now they appear to be jamming through their latest proposal, ignoring objections from their neighbors and simultaneously committing millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to the project well before the completion of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Plans for the site were hurriedly submitted for environmental review in September without prior community input or consideration of alternatives such as a combination of smaller buildings or a location of adjunct campuses in underserved areas of the city — the Richmond, the Sunset, or Visitacion Valley. Moreover, the college’s construction bureaucracy apparently tried to stifle public comment by providing little notice and scheduling the only environmental scoping hearing immediately after Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately, just a week after that meeting the college’s Board of Trustees approved a $122 million budget for the project, which can only be interpreted as a clear sign that they have already made their decision regardless of what impacts are identified in the EIR. And perhaps, most ominously, administrators may be pushing to make the project a fait accompli before newly elected Sierra Club leader John Rizzo is inaugurated.
It’s time for City College to listen to its neighbors and go back to the drawing board.

Aaron Peskin is president of the Board of Supervisors.