Guardian Editorial

Another BART police tragedy

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EDITORIAL The video isn’t the highest quality — it was taken on a cell phone — but it’s pretty simple to figure out what’s happening. A young man named Oscar Grant is lying on the ground on a BART train platform, surrounded by BART cops. His hands are behind him, and the police have him completely under control.

Grant was one of a group of young men who had been removed from the train and arrested after reports of a fight early in the morning on New Year’s Day. The other suspects are handcuffed; Grant is not, but in early footage, he has his hands in the air and appears to be cooperating. Witnesses on the scene say that’s what they saw — a young man doing what the police told him to do.

Then suddenly — shockingly — one of the officers reaches back and pulls his gun. He points the weapon at Grant, and fires, point-blank, from perhaps two feet away. The bullet entered Grant’s back, ricocheted off the concrete, and hit him again, in the chest.

It’s mind-boggling. It appears to violate so many standards of police conduct we don’t even know where to begin. Oakland lawyer John Burris, who is representing the Grant family, puts the first question pretty succinctly: "Why did he take his gun out?"

Let’s go a few steps further. Why did the BART officer, who has been identified only as a two-year veteran of the force, feel he needed to use lethal force on a suspect who was unarmed, was (at worst) guilty of fighting on a train, and was on the ground with two other cops on top of him? Why did the officer fire his gun at close range, with the prospect not only of hitting his colleagues but also of injuring bystanders? Why didn’t any of the other cops tell him to put the gun away? Why is the young father of a four-year old daughter dead?

We’ll add a few more: Why is BART still in full-on public relations-cover-up mode, acting as if the evidence is still unclear? Why is the name of the officer still a secret?

And why — why, as we’ve asked a dozen times over the past 15 years, do the BART police operate with absolutely no civilian oversight?

The structure of the BART police force is a recipe for disaster. BART’s general manager, (who is not an elected official and has no expertise in law enforcement) hires the BART police chief, who then runs a force with some 200 armed officers. There is no police commission, no police review board, not even a committee of the elected BART board designated to handle complaints against and issues with the BART police.

The BART board holds no regular hearings on police activity or conduct. There is no public forum where the chief is held to account. There is no procedure for complaints against BART officers to be heard and adjudicated by anyone except the BART police.

There is, in other words, no civilian oversight or accountability. This is unacceptable.

The killing of Oscar Grant isn’t an isolated case. Back in 1992, a BART cop pulled a shotgun and killed an unarmed man named Jerrold Hall. Hall wasn’t threatening the officer or anyone else. He was walking away. The shotgun pellets hit him in the back of the head. The officer, Fred Crabtree, was never subject to any discipline, and BART tried to cover up the whole thing (see "Lethal force," 12/9/92). In 2001, a BART cop shot an unarmed naked man who was seriously mentally ill (see "Gun crazy," 10/17/01).

The BART Board simply can’t let this continue. The board must immediately create a process for civilian oversight of the BART police, including a civilian monitor to handle complaints. The BART board must establish a permanent police oversight committee that meets regularly to hear public comments and monitor police practices. Every city that BART passes through, starting with San Francisco, should pass a resolution demanding accountability for the BART cops, and the state Legislature (which granted the BART police peace officer status in 1976) should pass a measure mandating that the BART police have civilian oversight proceedings.

We’re sick of this. How many more people have to die before BART gets its act together?

The next board president

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EDITORIAL We’ve had our fights with Aaron Peskin. He’s been on the wrong side of some key votes and issues, and he’s had a penchant for political games. But on balance, he’s been a good Board of Supervisors president. He made sure that progressives controlled the Budget Committee; he kept legislation on track; he helped put together the votes for good bills (and made sure that bad ones died) — and perhaps most important, he established himself as the leader of the loyal opposition, the person who took the front role in fighting the worst ideas of Mayor Gavin Newsom.

That’s a crucial role at a time when the mayor’s office is foundering, when the chief executive is thinking more about his political future than the city’s present problems, and when the center of policy leadership in San Francisco has shifted from the mayor to the board. It’s a job that requires experience and political acumen. And since the progressives fought mightily to keep a majority on the board, the top job simply must go to one of the six solid progressives who will be sworn into office Jan. 8.

Our clear choice is Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. He’s compiled an excellent record in his first term, crafting environmental legislation (like the ban on plastic bags), leading the community choice aggregation (CCA) effort, and pushing effective, progressive approaches to crime. He has a long, distinguished record as an activist and organizer, running campaigns for sunshine and public power and for Terence Hallinan for district attorney and Matt Gonzalez for mayor. He devoted most of his first term to district and a few citywide issues and hasn’t done as much as some other supervisors to build his own political constituency on the board, so as president, he’d have to make an effort to help his colleagues promote their own legislation. He’s made no secret of his interest in running for mayor in three years, and he would have to make sure that his ambitions didn’t overwhelm his ability to keep good working relations with potential opponents on the board.

But he’s shown in his dealings with the police, the community, and the mayor’s office around crime in the Western Addition that he can be a forceful advocate and work toward effective consensus at the same time. And he’s well situated to lead the progressive coalition in developing its own agenda.

Mirkarimi would appoint good committees, make sure that the Local Agency Formation Commission (the center of public power efforts and the only agency focusing on the city’s alarming lack of an energy policy) remains in place (with strong leadership), and have no trouble standing up to the mayor. The progressives on the board should support him.

However, that’s not as simple a prospect as it ought to be. Sup. Chris Daly, who claims he is still angry at Mirkarimi for one vote on one bill several years ago, has told us he wants to see someone else elected board president. That’s foolish, and Daly ought to back off and support the most experienced progressive for the job. Splitting the left like this, and damaging a potential mayoral candidate, would do no good for the progressive movement. And those who argue that Mirkarimi, as a Green Party member, would be less effective are making matters worse — there’s no reason for the Greens and progressive Democrats to be fighting each other. But several of the newly elected supervisors — particularly John Avalos, a former Daly aide — have thrown their hats into the ring. That’s led several supervisors to suggest that a compromise candidate from the more moderate bloc ought to be seriously considered — possibly Sophie Maxwell or Bevan Dufty.

We understand Mirkarimi’s frustration with Daly’s ploy and his disdain for the prospect of putting a Daly ally in the top board position. And we agree with both Mirkarimi and Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who have argued that, with the nearly cataclysmic budget crisis and all the other issues facing the board, it would be risky to put a newcomer in the presidency.

But in the end, the board president ought to be someone we can count on to appoint progressives to key committees and fight the mayor’s regressive policies. And with all due respect to Maxwell and Dufty, we don’t see either of them in that role. So if the balloting drags on and it’s clear Mirkarimi can’t get six votes, he ought to be a statesman, put the progressive agenda first, and vote for another progressive.

A flawed energy bill

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EDITORIAL Two months after Pacific Gas and Electric Co. spent $10 million to defeat a clean energy measure on the San Francisco ballot, Sup. Sophie Maxwell has stepped into the battle, introducing a mild ordinance that lifts some of the language from the Clean Energy Act but would accomplish very little. We’re glad to see Maxwell stepping up her efforts to close the dirty Mirant Power Plant in Potrero Hill, but her legislation needs some significant amendments.

Maxwell’s ordinance, cosponsored by Sup. Aaron Peskin (who is one meeting away from being termed out), would make it city policy to "take all feasible steps" to close the Potrero plant. That’s a laudable goal. It also borrows the aggressive environmental goals from the Clean Energy Act, stating that the city needs to meet all its energy needs by 2040 with renewable power. But unlike the Clean Energy Act, Maxwell’s mandate ignores PG&E, which supplies the vast majority of the electricity in San Francisco and which can’t even meet the state’s weak alternative energy standards. Her requirement would apply only to the city’s own power supplies, which come mostly from the Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric project and thus already meet the 2040 standards. So the part of the bill that deals with climate change and greenhouse gas emissions is utterly useless.

The measure calls on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to study the ways the city can meet its energy goals without the Potrero plant — again, a fine idea. But it ducks the central question: who’s going to control the local electric grid, and thus the city’s energy future? Will PG&E continue to call the shots (in which case San Francisco will never meet credible green-power goals)? Or will the city take control of the distribution system, which would allow lower electric rates and far higher environmental standards?

As Amanda Witherell reports on page 17, Maxwell’s aide, Jon Lau, said the ordinance is "sort of agnostic toward public power." That’s a mistake — leaving public power out of the equation amounts to a capitulation to PG&E and a guarantee that nothing substantial will change in the city’s energy portfolio.

Maxwell wants to close the Potrero plant as quickly as possible, and so do we. The best way to do that is to block the plant’s water permit when it comes up next year (see "Water board can close Mirant," 11/25/08), and Maxwell and City Attorney Dennis Herrera are moving on that front. But the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), which controls the state’s grid, has in the past argued that the city needs a certain amount of generating capacity within its borders, and could force the Potrero plant to keep running.

Maxwell originally supported a plan to replace the in-city generation capacity by installing city-owned combustion turbines that would run only during periods of peak demand. But that plan failed after both environmentalists and PG&E opposed it. Now she’s pressing an alternative that would use new transmission cables, one owned by PG&E, to eliminate the need for power plants in the city.

That might work — but it would still leave the city in PG&E’s clutches, and while it would eliminate a source of pollution in southeast San Francisco, the city would still be using dirty power from PG&E’s nuclear and fossil-fuel plants elsewhere.

The best long-term solution is to build city-owned renewable generation to replace Mirant. The city’s community choice aggregation plan is moving in that direction. But ultimately, San Francisco will only reach aggressive clean energy goals if it controls its own fate.

Maxwell’s ordinance should be amended to clearly mandate a study that examines the feasibility of a public power system in San Francisco. If that’s not in the final version, the bill should be voted down.

Beyond the bloody cuts

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EDITORIAL There’s actually a bright side to the brutally depressing budget struggles in San Francisco and Sacramento. This could be the year Californians finally start to recognize that they can’t have a functioning state, with the services everyone wants, without paying taxes. It could be the end of the Republican lie that the budget problem is only on the spending side, the end of the famous no-new-taxes pledge — and the end to the requirement that two-thirds of the Legislature pass any budget, an archaic rule that is crippling California.

And with a little leadership from the new supervisors at City Hall, this could be the year San Francisco takes a serious look at how local government is financed.

This is no time for modest, cautious proposals. The budget situation is alarming. California is looking at $40 billion in cuts over the next 18 months — more than a third of the entire state budget. San Francisco is looking at $500 million in red ink — roughly half the discretionary spending from the general fund. Filling those holes with cuts alone would be devastating.

This isn’t your average budget battle, where everyone fights to save a few hundred thousand dollars here and a million there for a crucial program. This is, by all accounts, something of an order that the state and local government haven’t seen since the 1930s.

So small-time, piecemeal fixes aren’t going to work. Here’s what the state and the city need to be talking about.

AT THE STATE LEGISLATURE


The first thing that has to go is the two-thirds rule. It’s become almost a farce — a handful of Republicans, who have sworn never to raise taxes under any circumstances, are holding the world’s sixth-largest economy and a state of more than 37 million people hostage to their failed ideology. Enough talk: the Democrats need to mount a massive signature drive for a special election this summer to repeal that requirement.

There are many fair ways to raise taxes to bring in enough revenue to stave off devastating cuts. Raising the income tax levels on the highest wage earners makes the most sense. Gas prices are way down; raising the state gas tax by a few cents a gallon won’t bring prices even close to last summer’s level. We’re nervous about taxing services (medical care, for example, is a "service"), but a carefully crafted tax that exempts essentials ought to be on the table. California is the only oil-producing state that doesn’t tax oil at the wellhead; that’s a no-brainer. So is restoring the vehicle license fee; Gov. Schwarzenegger’s decision to eliminate that fee has cost the state $40 billion over the past five years.

AT CITY HALL


Step one: the mayor has to recognize that there’s no way to solve a half-billion dollar shortfall with cuts alone. Step two: the mayor needs to back off from the layoffs and cuts for a few weeks until the supervisors and the community stakeholders have a chance to meet, talk, and look at all the options. Step three: some far-reaching changes have to be on the agenda, right now.

We like the idea of a city income tax. Technically, under state law, all the city can do is tax income earned within local borders, meaning that commuters would pay (good) and San Franciscans who work out of town would escape payment (bad). But overall, the concept is better than anything else out there. A local income tax that exempts, say, the first $50,000 (assuring that lower-income people pay nothing) with progressive rates skewed toward charging very high wage-earners the most could bring in significant revenue in the fairest way possible.

We’d like to see a progressive business tax — raise the rates on the biggest companies. We could live with a short-term hike in the local sales tax; frankly, we could live with most short-term revenue increases. The supervisors need to look at what new taxes make the most sense and prepare for a special election in the spring to put a revenue package before the voters. And everyone — including the mayor — needs to campaign hard for it.

The city also needs to look at the rainy-day fund, money set aside for bad economic times. Only a small amount of the close to $100 million now in that fund is available in any one year, but that rule might have to be changed.

This crisis is an opportunity — a chance to examine how the city’s current revenue sources are unfair, unstable, and unwieldy. Why are business taxes flat (big corporations and small businesses pay the same rate)? Why does San Francisco rely so much on property and transfer taxes, which shift radically with economic ups and downs? And of course, a public power system would generate enough money to cover a huge part of the deficit. The supervisors need to find an immediate revenue-based solution, but should also start creating a serious task force to overhaul the entire revenue side of the budget. Today.

Making the Transbay Terminal work

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EDITORIAL The Transbay Terminal project is way too important to get bogged down in a pointless political fight. But that’s what’s going on — and it’s the responsibility of the terminal project director, Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan, to put an end to it.

Ten years from now, the terminal is supposed to be a centerpiece in the city’s transportation infrastructure. Buses from around the Bay Area will pick up and unload passengers upstairs, while Caltrain and the new high-speed trains from Los Angeles stop below ground. Shops, restaurants, and other services should make it a grand San Francisco landmark, like the great urban train stations of years past.

As Steven T. Jones reports in this issue, the project is breaking ground this week. But there’s currently not nearly enough funding secured for the rail component.

It’s going to be expensive to bring trains into the new terminal. The Caltrain line now ends at Fourth and King streets; extending it a mile or so (and boring the necessary tunnels) will cost more than $2 billion. The full build-out, including the platforms, will run close to $3 billion. As of today, the terminal authority has only shaky commitments for about $600 million of that.

The project plans mandate a multiuse terminal for trains and buses. And Ayerdi-Kaplan promised us, repeatedly, that there’s no way the project will end up getting built without the facilities for rail in the basement.

But Quentin Kopp, a retired judge who heads the state’s high-speed rail agency, has nothing but harsh words for Ayerdi-Kaplan and her operation. He insists that she hasn’t been working with him and that none of the $10 billion in bond money approved in November for the project will go to extend the tracks beyond the existing Caltrain terminal at Fourth and King. In fact, Kopp is making noises about keeping the end of the line exactly where it is today.

That would be a mistake — building an adequate terminal for high-speed rail at its present location would cost at least $750 million, money that would be better spent funding the downtown extension. But Kopp has some legitimate gripes. Ayerdi-Kaplan, who is supposed to be building the station that will serve as the northern anchor for high-speed rail, has met with Kopp only once. She’s going ahead with the project before she has any guarantees that even the framework for the underground station will be funded. And frankly, it’s not going to work for the head of the Transbay Terminal project to remain at odds with the head of the high-speed rail authority.

Ayerdi-Kaplan has managed to secure money for the first part of this project, which is an accomplishment (even if the city is going to have to accept a giant, hideous skyscraper as part of the deal). But building the Transbay Terminal with no rail connection would be a disastrous waste of money — and waiting and hoping for more money later isn’t a very good financing plan.

At this point, the project is also as much a political challenge as a fiscal and management problem. Ayerdi-Kaplan needs to demonstrate, and quickly, that she can mend fences with Kopp and get the two agencies working together — or the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, which oversees Ayerdi-Kaplan’s work, needs to step in.

Stop PG&E’s corporate welfare

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EDITORIAL Just in time for the holiday season — and the colder weather — Pacific Gas and Electric Co. wants to shift millions of dollars in fees off big industrial customers and force residential consumers to pay more for natural gas.

The move would set a terrible precedent, and San Francisco officials should join the consumer groups that are calling on the California Public Utilities Commission to reject the plan.

At issue is California Alternative Rates for Energy (CARE), a state-mandated program that helps low-income consumers pay for basic gas service — enough to heat their homes and cook their food. CARE costs PG&E nothing; the entire subsidy system is paid for by modest surcharges on every utility bill in the state. But now the biggest gas users — giant corporations like Exxon Mobil and Chevron — want to stop paying the surcharge, and PG&E, along with San Diego Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, is taking up their cause. The three giant utilities have asked the CPUC to reduce their subsidy contribution by $90 million. Residential customers would pick up the slack. Why? Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman, told Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus that "We’ve got to try to help make it more attractive for businesses to do business in California."

But Chevron and Exxon Mobil aren’t suffering from a hostile business climate in this state. Both have reported record profits in the past year. The CEO of Exxon Mobil, Rex Tillerson, was paid $16.7 million; Chevron’s CEO, David O’Reilly, made $15.74 million. The fee shift wouldn’t help small businesses much; it’s based on how much energy a customer uses, so the big energy-intensive industries pay the most.

The best way to boost the business climate in this recession era is to promote consumer spending — which means putting more money in the pockets of residents. Raising the gas bills of people who are already hurting will have the opposite effect.

"It’s an absolute outrage that the biggest companies would be given a discount on the backs of ratepayers," Mindy Spatt, media advocacy director at The Utility Reform Network (TURN), told us. "Everyone’s so worried about making the climate good for businesses, but what about the climate for people?"

A CPUC administrative law judge ruled against the utilities in November, but the case will go to the full commission, possibly as soon as Dec. 18. (Details are online at the Bruce Blog at sfbg.com.)

San Francisco has an interest in the outcome, since the city’s economy will take another hit if PG&E gets away with this. And, of course, it’s ironic that the utility would take this step just after it spent $10 million to defeat a local public-power measure (which would have lowered electric rates and helped both small and large businesses, as well as consumers).

The supervisors ought to pass a resolution opposing the plan and City Attorney Dennis Herrera should file a formal statement of opposition on behalf of the city.

In another front on another battleground, state assemblymember Tom Ammiano and state senator Mark Leno are introducing a joint resolution that would put the Legislature on record as supporting the legal challenge to the same-sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, and as raising concerns that the measure violates the equal protection and separation of powers safeguarded in the state constitution (see "Tyranny of the majority," 11/26/08).

Leno told us that the intent isn’t to put pressure on the California Supreme Court, which will begin considering the case in January, but to make clear the Legislature’s intent that substantial changes to the constitution such as this should go through the more cumbersome revision process.

Joining Leno and Ammiano in sponsoring the bill are Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Assemblymember John Perez, and state senate president Darrell Steinberg and state senator Christine Kehoe. Leno said he expects others to sign on as well. It’s a solid idea, and the Legislature should approve it.

Fueling change

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EDITORIAL As a lame duck Board of Supervisors winds down, and the economic crisis and bloody budget cuts absorb most of the political focus at City Hall, there’s a major environmental issue creeping toward a January deadline — and city officials need to present a united front.

At issue is the Mirant power plant in Potrero Hill, an aging fossil fuel dinosaur that has been belching pollution into the southeastern part of the city for years. It’s been hard to shut down — the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), the regulatory agency that controls the electric grid, wants some sort of generating facility inside the city lines. Sup. Aaron Peskin, backed originally by Mayor Gavin Newsom, sought to replace the Mirant plant with city-owned combustion turbines — so-called peakers — that would run only when needed. But Pacific Gas and Electric Co., fearing city ownership of power production, fought that proposal, and some environmentalists, arguing that the city should build no new fossil fuel plants at all, also opposed the plan.

On May 5, seven PG&E lobbyists descended on the Mayor’s Office and gave Newsom his marching orders: drop the peakers proposal or we’ll spend whatever is necessary to kill it. Newsom suddenly decided he didn’t like the peakers after all, and started pushing a PG&E-backed alternative: the Mirant plant, which runs on diesel and natural gas, could be converted to run entirely on natural gas, thereby reducing emissions.

The emissions numbers are pretty complicated. If the city ran the natural-gas-fired peakers for only a limited amount of time, they would emit less pollution than the Mirant plant. Obviously neither option is pollution-free; neither is sustainable; and neither is perfect.

Still, the worst of all possible alternatives would be allowing Mirant to continue to operate a private plant. At least the peakers would be city-owned and city-run. The city would have some control over how often they were fired up and could shut them down when more renewable technology becomes available. The Mirant plant — even after a retrofit — would continue burning fossil fuels; the private company would continue to profit; and the city would have no control at all.

Besides, it’s not clear that the plant even can be retrofitted for natural gas. The project that Newsom, PG&E, and Mirant are proposing has never been done before. Mirant may not be able to get the financing; the technology may not exist.

Which means that it’s entirely possible nothing will change. If all goes the way PG&E wants, the city will abandons the peakers, the dirty Mirant plant will continue to run without a retrofit, and the people of southeast San Francisco will continue to suffer.

But there’s a problem facing Mirant, and it could potentially change the whole picture. The plant sucks 200 million gallons of water out of the bay every day for cooling — and its Regional Water Quality Control Board permit expires at the end of this year. The board has said it’s not inclined to renew the permit, since the plant can’t meet modern water-quality standards. So as of January, Mirant could be forced to shut the plant anyway — unless the company, and Cal-ISO, find a way to force the water board to back down.

That’s where the city comes in. The mayor, the supervisors, and City Attorney Dennis Herrera should publicly inform both the water board and Cal- ISO that San Francisco does not want the permit renewed for the current Mirant plant. Even if Newsom thinks the facility can be upgraded, it’s hard to argue that the existing plant is anything but a disaster. And unless and until there’s a credible, peer-reviewed retrofit plan, Newsom has no business siding with Mirant and PG&E.

The water board could force the issue. If the Mirant plant has to close, the city either needs to come back with a peaker plan that environmentalists can accept or find a way to meet Cal-ISO’s mandates without new fossil fuel generation. That sounds like an excellent outcome to us. *

Clean energy

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EDITORIAL Pacific Gas and Electric Co., its political hacks, and to a great extent, the San Francisco Chronicle all seem to take the same line on the defeat of Proposition H: It’s done. The people have spoken. Public power has been on the ballot 11 times, and it’s never passed.

And — as is always the case with a losing campaign — supporters of the Clean Energy Act are discussing what went wrong, looking at how the measure was written, the details, the language, the scope to see if there was something that could have been done differently.

But that ignores the central reality of the campaign for Prop. H: PG&E spent nearly $10.3 million to kill it. And it’s very, very hard to fight that kind of money.

The truth is, there was nothing wrong with the language or scope of Prop. H. If it had passed, it would have given the city the tools to create a sustainable energy portfolio that would be the envy of the nation. In fact, there is little doubt that the Clean Energy Act was well ahead in the polls when it was first placed on the ballot.

But as we’ve seen with so many races over time (and as we saw with Proposition 8 this fall) when a ballot measure it becomes a citywide or statewide race, big money has a serious impact. And we’ve never seen this kind of money in a San Francisco initiative campaign. In the end, PG&E spent about $53 per vote. That’s an outrageous sum, dwarfing any political spending that’s ever happened in San Francisco

Yet despite the barrage, the Clean Energy Act got tremendous grassroots and political support. Clean Energy has a strong constituency in San Francisco, including from the Sierra Club, and the power of this campaign won’t go away. Despite the efforts of downtown and PG&E, progressives still control the Board of Supervisors. Three of the city’s four representatives in Sacramento — Senator-elect Mark Leno, Assembly Member Fiona Ma and Assembly Member-elect Tom Ammiano — supported the legislation and will continue to back efforts to replace PG&E’s dirty power with locally- owned renewable energy. PG&E has money but it’s running out of friends in this town — and its illegal monopoly is the very definition of unsustainable.

There’s now an organized constituency for clean energy and public power, seasoned by this campaign and ready to continue the battle. That’s what needs to happen. There are numerous fronts: the city needs to be moving forward quickly with community choice aggregation, which offers the potential for cheaper, cleaner power. (The downside to CCA is that it doesn’t allow the city to make money; PG&E would still own the transmission lines, and thus make all the profits in the system.) Potentially, however, a CCA agency could begin moving toward creating local generation facilities and eventually toward building a local transmission system. A CCA also could directly access the city’s own Hetch Hetchy power and begin delivering it to local customers (once San Francisco can get out of the contracts requiring it to send too much of that power out of town).

The supervisors need a strong Local Agency Formation Commission to keep monitoring and pushing this, and the new board president needs to be sure LAFCO members are committed to and energized about renewable energy and public power.

Several supervisors — Sean Elsbernd, for example — told us they saw no reason for Prop. H to be on the ballot since so much of what it called for could be done by the board. Fine: Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, one of the authors of Prop. H, should immediately introduce legislation to do everything in Prop. H that doesn’t require a city charter change. Let’s see if Elsbernd and the mayor are really just PG&E call-up votes or if they’re willing to support an energy options feasibility study and strong renewable-energy mandates for the city.

And there are still legal options that the board should look at. City Attorney Dennis Herrera never wanted to go to court to enforce the Raker Act, the federal law requiring San Francisco to operate a public power system, but that’s an area the board can push. David Campos, the apparent supervisor-elect in District 9, is a lawyer who has worked in the city attorney’s office and sued PG&E, so this is an area where he can show leadership.

The bottom line is that this battle isn’t over.

There were other disappointments on what was generally a progressive ballot. Proposition V — the phony measure calling on the school board to reinstate JROTC — passed, narrowly. It was mostly a wedge issue to hurt progressive candidates for supervisor, and has been a horribly divisive issue in the schools. The school board, which cut off JROTC last year, is now pushing for an excellent public service alternative and doesn’t need to go back and reexamine the issue. JROTC is a terrible idea for San Francisco, and the newly elected board members shouldn’t even bring this up again.

Of course we were deeply unhappy about the passage of Prop. 8. The repeal of same-sex marriage was such a blow to San Francisco that it dampened a lot of the enthusiasm over the Obama victory. But that one’s not over, either; it has just begun. Statistics show that voters under 30 overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage — and if the campaign is run differently, and the message is positive, it’s likely that Prop. 8 can be overturned. Marriage equality advocates should think seriously about preparing now for a major campaign in November 2010 to restore equal rights for same-sex couples in California.

Fighting Newsom’s mid-year cuts

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EDITORIAL If Mayor Gavin Newsom moves forward aggressively with mid-year cuts to the city budget, a lame duck Board of Supervisors with four veterans — including the board president and chair of the Budget Committee — on their way out the door could be voting on harsh reductions in city spending on health care, parks, and other services. That’s not the best way to make policy; we’d rather the cuts go to the new board, which will be dealing with next year’s budget anyway. But if the mayor is pushing reductions now, the current board needs to act aggressively and quickly to be sure that the mayor’s wrongheaded priorities don’t carry the day.

We recognize that the city has money problems. Like every other taxpayer-financed entity in America, San Francisco is getting hit hard by the recession. When retail sales drop, so do local sales taxes. When real estate values plummet, so do property taxes receipts. And while some prominent economists are urging President-elect Barack Obama to pour federal money into cities this spring, nobody can count on that happening.

City Controller Ben Rosenfield is projecting that the city will be around $100 million short of cash by the end of the fiscal year. And since California cities (unlike the federal government) can’t run a deficit, that money has to come from somewhere. (Fortunately, the red ink won’t be as bad as it might have been — with little help from the mayor, Sup. Aaron Peskin got two new revenue measures passed in November that will bring some $50 million more into city coffers).

Newsom’s chief target at this point is the Department of Public Health, which is facing more than $256 million in cuts. That’s on top of all the cuts the department has had to absorb over the past two years — and it will cut deeply into the city’s ability to maintain its landmark Healthy San Francisco program. The Recreation and Park Department, libraries, and Muni will face cutbacks too, and there’s almost certainly a Muni fare hike (essentially a tax on the poor) on the horizon.

But there’s no talk of reducing or eliminating any of the mayor’s pet programs — like the 311 call center, which is a fine service but perhaps not as important as medical staff at SF General — or cutting significantly into his own office spending.

And, as always, the mayor has failed to look at any additional sources of revenue (with the possible exception of new parking meters in Golden Gate Park and at Marina Green). It’s particularly frustrating that Newsom and his hired gun, Eric Jaye, pushed so hard to help Pacific Gas and Electric Co. defeat the Clean Energy Act when public power would be the source of hundreds of millions in annual revenue. (PG&E killed 10 other ballot measures that would have brought cheap Hetch Hetchy public power to San Francisco, the largest source of potential new revenue for the city, and the private monopoly yanks more than $650 million a year out of the city in high rates, according to a Guardian study.)

The supervisors don’t have to wait for the mayor to propose cuts and then react. They can begin to move now. They can begin to identify their own set of cuts and revenue enhancements — and can begin establishing an alternative set of priorities. Is it better to cut 311 and the mayor’s special global warming deputy than to cut nurses at General? Is it better to close some redundant fire stations than cut hours at libraries? Should parking meters and garage fees go up downtown before city parks get meters? Back in 1973, in his first run for supervisor, Harvey Milk proposed eliminating the police vice squad (see "I remember Harvey"). That’s an idea whose time may have come again.

The point is that the mayor, who is weak and more focused on running for governor than on running the city, shouldn’t be driving the fiscal agenda alone. The supervisors need to either agree that they won’t act on cuts until the new board takes office or offer some alternative plans today.

Clean energy: the next moves

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EDITORIAL Pacific Gas and Electric Co., its political hacks, and to a great extent, the San Francisco Chronicle all seem to take the same line on the defeat of Proposition H: It’s done. The people have spoken. Public power has been on the ballot 11 times, and it’s never passed.

And — as is always the case with a losing campaign — supporters of the Clean Energy Act are discussing what went wrong, looking at how the measure was written, the details, the language, the scope to see if there was something that could have been done differently.

But that ignores the central reality of the campaign for Prop. H: PG&E spent nearly $10.3 million to kill it. And it’s very, very hard to fight that kind of money.

The truth is, there was nothing wrong with the language or scope of Prop. H. If it had passed, it would have given the city the tools to create a sustainable energy portfolio that would be the envy of the nation. In fact, there is little doubt that the Clean Energy Act was well ahead in the polls when it was first placed on the ballot.

But as we’ve seen with so many races over time (and as we saw with Proposition 8 this fall) when a ballot measure it becomes a citywide or statewide race, big money has a serious impact. And we’ve never seen this kind of money in a San Francisco initiative campaign. In the end, PG&E spent about $53 per vote. That’s an outrageous sum, dwarfing any political spending that’s ever happened in San Francisco

Yet despite the barrage, the Clean Energy Act got tremendous grassroots and political support. Clean Energy has a strong constituency in San Francisco, including from the Sierra Club, and the power of this campaign won’t go away. Despite the efforts of downtown and PG&E, progressives still control the Board of Supervisors. Three of the city’s four representatives in Sacramento — Senator-elect Mark Leno, Assembly Member Fiona Ma and Assembly Member-elect Tom Ammiano — supported the legislation and will continue to back efforts to replace PG&E’s dirty power with locally- owned renewable energy. PG&E has money but it’s running out of friends in this town — and its illegal monopoly is the very definition of unsustainable.

There’s now an organized constituency for clean energy and public power, seasoned by this campaign and ready to continue the battle. That’s what needs to happen. There are numerous fronts: the city needs to be moving forward quickly with community choice aggregation, which offers the potential for cheaper, cleaner power. (The downside to CCA is that it doesn’t allow the city to make money; PG&E would still own the transmission lines, and thus make all the profits in the system.) Potentially, however, a CCA agency could begin moving toward creating local generation facilities and eventually toward building a local transmission system. A CCA also could directly access the city’s own Hetch Hetchy power and begin delivering it to local customers (once San Francisco can get out of the contracts requiring it to send too much of that power out of town).

The supervisors need a strong Local Agency Formation Commission to keep monitoring and pushing this, and the new board president needs to be sure LAFCO members are committed to and energized about renewable energy and public power.

Several supervisors — Sean Elsbernd, for example — told us they saw no reason for Prop. H to be on the ballot since so much of what it called for could be done by the board. Fine: Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, one of the authors of Prop. H, should immediately introduce legislation to do everything in Prop. H that doesn’t require a city charter change. Let’s see if Elsbernd and the mayor are really just PG&E call-up votes or if they’re willing to support an energy options feasibility study and strong renewable-energy mandates for the city.

And there are still legal options that the board should look at. City Attorney Dennis Herrera never wanted to go to court to enforce the Raker Act, the federal law requiring San Francisco to operate a public power system, but that’s an area the board can push. David Campos, the apparent supervisor-elect in District 9, is a lawyer who has worked in the city attorney’s office and sued PG&E, so this is an area where he can show leadership.

The bottom line is that this battle isn’t over.

There were other disappointments on what was generally a progressive ballot. Proposition V — the phony measure calling on the school board to reinstate JROTC — passed, narrowly. It was mostly a wedge issue to hurt progressive candidates for supervisor, and has been a horribly divisive issue in the schools. The school board, which cut off JROTC last year, is now pushing for an excellent public service alternative and doesn’t need to go back and reexamine the issue. JROTC is a terrible idea for San Francisco, and the newly elected board members shouldn’t even bring this up again.

Of course we were deeply unhappy about the passage of Prop. 8. The repeal of same-sex marriage was such a blow to San Francisco that it dampened a lot of the enthusiasm over the Obama victory. But that one’s not over, either; it has just begun. Statistics show that voters under 30 overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage — and if the campaign is run differently, and the message is positive, it’s likely that Prop. 8 can be overturned. Marriage equality advocates should think seriously about preparing now for a major campaign in November 2010 to restore equal rights for same-sex couples in California.

Nix Lennar’s higher profit deal

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EDITORIAL The troubled homebuilder that wants to develop the Hunters Point Shipyard and Candlestick Point has come back to the city asking for a higher profit level, more market-rate housing, more retail, and more office space. In essence, Lennar Corp. wants to change the deal voters approved in June. The supervisors should give this a hard look, hold hearings, and check the numbers, because the entire project is looking more shaky and dubious by the day.

Lennar is one of the nation’s largest residential development companies, but it’s been walloped by the drop in the housing market. A Lennar project at Mare Island recently went bust and is being auctioned off. The company’s stock has tanked. And some wonder if it will be able to get the financing necessary for a multibillion dollar project in San Francisco.

But Lennar is not only moving forward — it’s demanding more. In fact, as Sarah Phelan reports on page 16, the Redevelopment Agency just signed a deal with Lennar agreeing that the city and the project sponsor "will work cooperatively to reduce risks and uncertainties" and "find additional efficiencies and values" to achieve the developer’s proposed 22.5 percent annual return target.

That 22.5 percent — which is far more profit than many San Francisco businesses ever make and seems almost obscene in this economic climate — is up 7.5 percent from when the deal was first signed. And remember, Lennar gets the land — public land — essentially free.

Of course, a consulting firm the city hired to evaluate the deal finds that perfectly reasonable. The firm, CBRE Consulting, is a subsidiary of CB Richard Ellis, a global real estate firm headed by Richard Blum, who is married to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a big supporter of the Lennar plan.

The original plan called for 8,500 to 10,000 housing units; that’s now up to 10,500. There’s no significant increase in community amenities, affordable housing, or infrastructure payments.

If this sounds a little funky, it is. From the start, Lennar has been playing around with the numbers and promising more than it may be able to deliver. And if the project starts to go belly up before it’s finished, Lennar will walk away and leave the city with the mess.

We’ve always been a bit dubious about the way the Redevelopment Agency turns to a single "master developer" and gives that private outfit exclusive rights to build on a large piece of land. The deal always seems to be a lot better for the builder than it is for the city.

And this one was bad from the start. At the most, Lennar would offer 25 percent of the units at below-market rates; that’s less than half the amount of affordable housing mandated in the city’s general plan. Much of the land on the site is toxic, and Lennar has been steeply fined by the air quality board for failing to control asbestos dust. The whole concept of a suburban-style community of luxury condos with special freeway access in southeastern San Francisco is inappropriate, if not bizarre.

But voters approved the program after Lennar spent millions on a ballot measure campaign, so the city has to continue working with the developer. But there’s nothing that says the supervisors have to sign off on changes in the deal that don’t serve San Francisco’s interests.

The board ought to demand, at the very least, that Lennar devote some of its higher profit margin to increasing affordable housing — and that the funding for community amenities should be set aside before the builders break ground on the luxury condos. Ideally this entire thing should go back to the drawing board. But short of that, any changes need to benefit the city, not the private developer.

Voting to save the local economy

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EDITORIAL On Oct. 21, a string of economists and advisors from the Newsom administration, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Convention and Visitors Bureau appeared before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to present a picture of the local economy that was stunning in its lack of reality.

The experts talked about how San Francisco isn’t really hurting that much right now. They said the downturn would hit eventually, but that housing and jobs are still relatively strong here. And what we need to do to boost the economy, the mayor and his experts said, is to promote downtown business, cut fees — and further reduce the city budget.

Cut taxes? Cut spending? Boost big business? That sounds a lot like the economic prescriptions we’ve been hearing from the right wing of the Republican Party for decades. And it hasn’t exactly worked out well.

In fact, for many San Franciscans, the recession is already here — and is deep and painful. Small businesses are struggling. People are losing jobs and finding it hard to pay the rent. Like Washington, DC, San Francisco needs to be taking this seriously — but what we’ve seen from Mayor Gavin Newsom is a bunch of hot air. The mayor wants to accelerate capital spending. Fine. But he’s counting on projects like rebuilding Airport Terminal Two that rely on bond sales — and this isn’t a great time to be selling bonds — and that create jobs mostly for big out-of-town construction firms. And he wants to cut fees on business — which has never proven to be an economic stimulus, but would require deeper cuts in city programs and layoffs of city staffers. The worst thing you can do in a recession is cut public jobs.

At the Oct. 21 hearing, the supervisors were a bit dubious. "We need to be straightforward and real," said Board President Aaron Peskin. "Not half-baked schemes and empty promises." But if Newsom and his downtown and landlord allies get their way, the board that takes office in January could be very different. The progressives who have held the line on cuts, pushed for higher taxes on the wealthy, and promoted measures that will actually help the economy could wind up in the minority. And we could see a dramatic shift to the right in economic policy.

The November election is critical — and the top of the ticket isn’t the only vote that matters. Preserving the progressive majority on the board and passing the key ballot measures will take the city a long way toward avoiding the worst of what could be a catastrophic economic downturn.

Let’s look at the ballot from that perspective:

<\!s> Proposition H would inject millions into the economy. San Francisco residents and businesses pay some of the highest electric rates in the country, and money that goes to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is sucked right out of town and invested elsewhere. Since electricity is a necessity, cutting electric rates would instantly inject cash into the economy. In fact, a 2002 study by Hofstra University economist Irwin Kellner showed that public power expanded the economy of Long Island. by $10 billion over the first four years after that region got rid of its private electric utility.

Based on his methodology and calculations, we estimated in 2002 that PG&E cost the local economy $620 million over the previous two years (see "The $620 million shakedown," 10/4/02). Updating those figures today shows a dramatic impact: In the past decade, PG&E rate hikes have taken 1.015 billion out of the local economy. And if, as we have estimated, a public power agency could cut rates by 15 percent, that would inject $477 million a year into the local economy (see sfbg.com for a detailed calculation). That’s a lot more money than the city would see from any of Newsom’s proposals.

Proposition B would create thousands of new jobs. Building a new terminal at the airport attracts big national construction companies. Affordable housing in a much more home-grown operation. The nonprofits that build below-market housing in San Francisco hire local construction workers, at union scale; that money stays in the economy. Affordable housing also helps stabilize and upgrade neighborhoods, adding small business and cultural institutions that create more jobs and economic impact. "It’s a monster source of jobs," Rene Cazenave, who is working on the Yes on B campaign, told us. In fact, Prop. B alone would create a lot more jobs than the mayor’s entire economic stimulus plan.

Propositions N, O and Q would save jobs. As the city’s budget deficit continues to grow, Newsom is talking about cutting more services — and that means cutting public sector jobs. Many of those workers live in San Francisco; eliminating jobs hurts the local economy. Prop. O would prevent the city from losing $80 million in tax revenue every year; Props. N and Q would bring in millions more. That would save jobs and help stave off a deeper recession.

Preserving an independent board will keep Newsom’s worst economic policies in check. If supervisorial candidates Sue Lee, Joe Alioto, and Ahsha Safai win in Districts 1, 3 and 11, Newsom will have a loyal majority — and the city’s economy will be in trouble. The mayor of San Francisco is a Democrat, but his economic policies are much closer to what John McCain is proposing — and they won’t work. San Francisco needs a strong independent board to keep asking the tough questions and demanding alternatives. It’s critical to elect Eric Mar, David Chiu, and John Avalos in those swing districts.

There’s so much at stake in this election. Vote early, vote often, and vote all the way to the bottom of the ballot.

Economic stimulus, at home

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EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom is planning to announce a local economic stimulus package some time this week. The Board of Supervisors is holding hearings on how the city can help the San Francisco economy. As the presidential candidates thrash around with proposals to address the worst economic crisis since the 1930s, local politicians are hoping to do their part at home.

And that’s a fine idea. Even in this globalized economy, San Francisco can do a lot to protect its residents and businesses from the ongoing disaster. But the best way to do that will require political courage — and a recognition that economic stimulus works best from the bottom up, not the top down.

The most effective way to get a depressed economy going, in other words, is to put money as directly as possible in the hands of the people most likely to spend it. That means the sorts of policies that big business and landlords will want — say, cutting "red tape" and reducing business fees and taxes — isn’t gong to help.

Progressive economists say that on the national level, one of the most effective policies would be a short-term reduction in the payroll tax. Most working people pay 7.5 percent of their wages into the Social Security trust fund, and most businesses match that contribution. Suspend the employee contribution for three months and everyone in the nation instantly gets a significant raise. (The Social Security fund would take a hit, but this is an emergency and that can be fixed later; despite all the gloom and doom, Social Security will be fine for the next half century with just a few minor fixes.)

The idea is that people who get a raise during a recession are likely to spend it, quickly, which pours money into the economy. The same principal can work in San Francisco. Any economic stimulus package will cost money and add to the city’s deficit (unless Newsom and the supervisors are willing to raise taxes to fund it). But some short-term policies could more than pay for themselves by jump-starting local spending.

A few ideas:

Place a moratorium on all residential evictions. Barack Obama is talking about a short-term freeze on mortgage foreclosures, which makes sense for the nation. But in San Francisco, where most residents are renters, evictions are far more of an economic threat. The mayor and the supervisors could ask the sheriff to refrain from carrying out any eviction actions for a limited period (and potentially cut off funding for eviction actions).

Create an emergency rent-subsidy fund. Make city cash available to anyone facing eviction because of economic circumstance.

Reduce Muni fares for a few months. Muni is in many ways a tax on the poor and working class, who have no other travel options. Almost every penny that people spend on transportation would go right back into the economy.

Suspend the payroll tax on small businesses. Small businesses create most of the jobs in the city; suspending the tax on the smallest businesses (those, say, with payrolls of less than $500,000) would help the most vulnerable and keep the engines of the local economy from failing. Raising the tax on big businesses would, of course, more than pay for this.

Raise the general assistance payment. Sure, some of that money would be spent on alcohol and drugs, but most would be spent on things like food and clothing.

Spend more, not less, on the public sector. Government spending creates jobs; government programs saved the United States from the Great Depression. Taxing the wealthy to fund public jobs programs makes excellent economic sense at the city level, too.

Those are just a few ideas. The supervisors should devote their hearings to developing more. But a plan that only helps big business and doesn’t put money in the pockets of the rest of San Franciscans won’t do anything to help the local economy. *

The big landlords’ blackmail

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EDITORIAL The landlords who are threatening the San Francisco General Hospital bond are thugs, and the supervisors and the mayor need to hold firm and refuse to pay their blackmail.

It’s almost too amazing to believe — an organization financed and controlled by the biggest residential property owners in town is trying to hold Proposition A — without which the city’s entire public health system will collapse — hostage to an unrelated policy dispute.

The landlords, represented by the Coalition for Better Housing, want the city to let them pass increased sewer charges through to their tenants. The sewer charges, a 9 percent hike, will pay for the massive rebuild of the city’s aging water and sewer infrastructure.

The supervisors have been reluctant to allow the pass-through, and for good reason. Even in this slack housing market, landlords in San Francisco have a great deal. Rents are strong, even rising, as would-be homebuyers find it hard to get financing. Property values in this city seem immune to the market forces that are devastating housing markets elsewhere. And the big property owners who run the coalition can hardly claim they are having problems making ends meet — most own hundreds of units and are very wealthy. They’ve all done quite well, thank you, under the George W. Bush tax cuts. And they prosper under Proposition 13, which keeps their property taxes artificially low.

We have no sympathy at all for big landlords who complain about paying a few bucks extra for public services. And it’s staggering to think that some of the richest people in San Francisco would be whining about what amounts to about $6 a month increase per apartment.

But we’ve seen these same folks take greed to mind-bending levels in the past, and we’re seeing it again now. The landlord group has filed papers to oppose Prop. A — and while virtually every elected official and community group in the city agrees that rebuilding San Francisco General is a top priority, a bond act needs 66 percent of the vote. And while polls show support for Prop. A at more than 75 percent right now, a well-funded and deceptive landlord campaign could trim that margin by enough to sink the measure.

So the Mayor’s Office is pushing the supervisors hard to come up with a compromise that would let the landlords pass half the new sewage costs along to their tenants. That’s a bad idea, and the board should stay firm.

Property owners benefit when the city’s infrastructure is improved. They have immensely favorable tax laws as it is. And as the economy tanks, tenants are hurting much more than landlords.

There’s no good argument for allowing the pass-through — and there’s a very good argument for blocking it. If these thugs can threaten a popular and essential public works program just to make themselves a tiny bit richer, then the mayor and the supervisors will forever be vulnerable to this sort of threat.

The board needs to call the landlords’ bluff. If the Coalition for Better Housing really wants to undermine the central public health facility in San Francisco and take the only trauma center in the city off the map, then the mayor needs to stand up and expose these folks for who they are.

We’re with Sup. Aaron Peskin, who says he’s "not interested in negotiating with terrorists." The supervisors should reject the pass-through with extreme prejudice.

An economic locavore policy

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EDITORIAL Local food is all the rage in San Francisco these days. The locavores and the slow-food people held a conference at Fort Mason a couple of weeks ago that drew huge crowds. Mayor Gavin Newsom is on board, and he loves to talk about creating a sustainable San Francisco. There are people in town who talk about energy independence, who talk about shopping locally, about building a city where people can live and work without using private cars.

We’re all for it — but in the wake of the wrenching meltdown in the financial markets, San Francisco needs to take a broad approach to the city economy. It’s time to develop a comprehensive plan to turn San Franciscans (and their government, businesses, and institutions) into economic locavores.

There are three basic reasons why the housing, credit, and financial markets are in the worst crisis since the Great Depression. The first two are related: The complexity of the financial instruments and securities being traded has increased so dramatically that even the heads of big investment banks didn’t know exactly what they were buying and selling. And the regulatory system under the George W. Bush administration has been unable and unwilling to keep up.

There’s not a lot San Franciscans can do locally to fix either of those problems (other than work to elect Barack Obama in November).

But the third factor in the current crisis is the globalization of money — and that’s something San Francisco can address.

For years, most famously in Seattle in 1999, protesters in this country have clashed with major institutions like the World Trade Organization over globalization issues. For the most part, they’ve focused on trade — on America losing jobs to low-wage companies, on big American chain stores selling goods made in third-world sweatshops, and on American money going to multinational corporations that prey on impoverished people and foul the environment. All of those are crucial issues — but so is the globalization of finance, which has received less attention.

And we’re not just talking about the stock market. The money San Franciscans deposit every day in local banks, the payments on mortgages and credit cards, the insurance premiums … all that cash goes into a financial system that instead of reinvesting in communities is buying and selling complex international securities like credit default swaps and derivatives. The traders and top executives who make these markets get colossal paychecks and bonuses — and most of us get nothing. Now that the whole house of cards is starting to topple, the small businesses and the people who need credit to buy cars or washing machines or bicycles or a house — the ordinary residents of cities like San Francisco — are the biggest losers.

The plan the White House has put forward is one of the grossest examples of corporate welfare in a generation — and even the Democrats in Congress are hesitant to oppose it.

But if San Francisco is serious about building a sustainable city, the mayor and the supervisors ought to start working, now, to create a citywide policy for economic localism. Among the elements:

Banks that do business with the city should be required to set aside a significant amount of their loan portfolio for local small-business and housing loans. (The Treasurer’s Office can start with Bank of America, which currently holds the city’s deposit and payroll accounts.) The Community Reinvestment Act is far too weak and rarely enforced; San Francisco, with the leverage of a $6 billion city budget, can do much better.

Most city contracts go to companies outside of San Francisco. Local businesses need to get a strong preference.

The San Francisco controller needs to start looking at the city’s balance of trade — what do we import, what do we export, and how can we use more local products?

The city needs to use tax policy to encourage local enterprise and discourage the out-of-town chains that use San Francisco as a strip mine.

There’s much more on the agenda, and there are plenty of people with good ideas. The crisis will define our political era; the city ought to be moving now to be in the lead.

A planning primer for the supes

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EDITORIAL The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which comes before the Board of Supervisors this month, is more than a set of rezoning and fee proposals. It’s a blueprint for how San Francisco sees its future as a city. When the supervisors are done with it, the plan will either preserve and expand the city’s affordable housing stock and protect blue-collar jobs, or it will usher in a vastly expanded land rush for developers who will wipe out small businesses that employ local residents and build tens of thousands of high-end condos for rich single people who work in Silicon Valley.

The stakes couldn’t be higher — and not just for the Mission, Potrero Hill, South of Market, and Dogpatch districts, but for the entire city. Because if the supervisors can’t get this right, the pattern will be set for development that will profoundly change the demographics (and politics) of this city.

The language the board will wrestle with is complicated, but the fundamental concepts are simple. And that’s where the discussion needs to start. For example:

Affordable housing can’t be a token concession; it has to be the heart of the plan. The city’s own general plan states that 64 percent of all new housing built in San Francisco should be made available at below market rates. That’s because the vast majority of the people who need housing in this city earn far less money that it takes to buy a market-rate unit. Even with the nationwide housing slump, new condos in the city start at $500,000 for a tiny studio or one-bedroom unit; places big enough for families cost a lot more. Even families with two wage earners who have decent, unionized jobs (like teachers, firefighters, and bus drivers) can’t afford the lowest-end market-rate homes.

Most discussions of affordable housing seem to start with the premise that forcing developers to set aside maybe 25 percent of their units for below-market sale is some sort of a victory. That’s nonsense. If 25 percent of the units in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan are affordable, that means 75 percent will go to very rich people — and a city in which 75 percent of the population is rich while most of the people who work in the city’s major industries can’t afford to live in town is not a sustainable city.

The supervisors should set affordable housing at 64 percent — that is, compliance with the general plan as a bottom-line goal. Any aspect of the plan that doesn’t advance that goal needs to be examined and changed. If the evidence shows that to be an impossible standard, let’s negotiate down from there instead of taking the city’s anemic affordability levels and trying to bump them a few points up.

For example, the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition has suggested that any height or density bonuses should be used for 100 percent affordable housing. Sup. Tom Ammiano is carrying that amendment to the plan, and it needs to be approved.

Developers have to pay to build new neighborhoods. You can’t just toss 40,000 new housing units into the eastern neighborhoods and expect to have a decent community. Neighborhoods needs parks and schools and bus lines — and the area targeted for this level of development has nowhere near the level of infrastructure it needs to handle the proposed housing influx.

So the developers who want to make money building housing also have to pony up for the public works and amenities that will make the plan viable. City officials estimate that the area needs $400 million worth of new infrastructure. The development fees currently proposed would cover less than half that. The ratio just doesn’t work: either the money is set aside — up front — to pay for neighborhood services and improvements, or the supervisors should reject the entire plan.

Blue-collar jobs can’t be sacrificed for more millionaires. The Planning Department admits that the current proposal will destroy hundreds of jobs in what’s known as production, distribution, and repair — jobs that offer decent wages for people who don’t have an advanced education. The city desperately needs those jobs. If the plan envisions new industries to replace the PDR facilities, those industries have to offer similar employment opportunities.

Residents of the eastern neighborhoods aren’t opposed to new development. But everyone in town ought to be fighting a developer giveaway that brings the city nothing.

PG&E’s $107 million lie

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EDITORIAL The entire focus of the campaign against the Clean Energy Act is the claim that the measure will cost you money. This isn’t rocket science: Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has clearly paid for expensive polling and focus groups, and concluded that this is the best way to attack Proposition H. It’s brutally cynical. The PG&E strategy assumes that San Franciscans are essentially selfish and would be unwilling to spend a little more money on electricity in exchange for radically reducing greenhouse gases. In Marin County — admittedly, a wealthier area — polls showed the opposite to be true: residents were willing to pay more to save the planet. And if you asked San Franciscans the question honestly, most would probably answer the same way as their neighbors to the north.

But the most astonishing part of PG&E’s claim is that it’s utterly false.

As Amanda Witherell reports in this issue, Prop. H will save consumers money. It will save the city money. Like most modern clean energy proposals, it challenges the notion that greener has to be more expensive. Prop. H, our analysis shows, would allow the city to cut electric rates, dramatically shift away from fossil fuels — and still wind up with a surplus.

In fact, if the city cut rates 15 percent — saving the typical ratepayer $400 a year — a municipal utility would wind up with $107 million in surplus revenue every year — after paying off the cost of taking over PG&E’s system. That’s enough to fund massive investment in renewable energy, keep the power infrastructure well maintained, and leave extra money on the table to fund other city services.

If the city keeps rates at what PG&E currently charges, the surplus would reach $214 million.

The reason is simple. Prop. H not only sets aggressive targets for renewable energy; it opens the door for a city-owned and city-operated electrical system. And as the charts on page 14 show, residents of every community in California that has a publicly-owned electric utility pay lower rates than San Franciscans pay to PG&E. Most of those cites generate significant revenue from their publicly owned utilities.

Again, this isn’t rocket science. PG&E is a private company that pays exorbitant salaries to top executives. Your rates cover that. The company also has to make a profit every year to satisfy shareholders; your rates pay for that as well. And as the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office has shown in legal briefs, PG&E has taken millions of dollars of your money out of town and used it to invest in power projects (including many fossil fuel projects) all around the world.

PG&E will never have an incentive to shift to decentralized renewable energy (for example, solar panels on homes) because the company makes no money from that sort of generation.

City-run utilities pay more modest salaries to managers, are under public scrutiny, and aren’t out to make a profit. The goal is to serve the public — and if the best way to do that is to encourage every resident and business to have renewable generation onsite, the public agency isn’t forced to consider the impact on its bottom line.

It’s no surprise, then, that public power systems like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District are leaders in alternative energy — and that PG&E, which operates a nuclear power plant and continues to build new fossil fuel generators, can’t even make the modest state-mandated targets for renewable power.

This needs to be a central part of the campaign for Prop. H. PG&E calls the measure a blank check — but the truth is, PG&E gets the equivalent of a blank check nearly every year from state regulators, who allow the company to raise rates, pay luxurious bonuses to executives, and waste hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that have nothing to do with providing electric power to San Franciscans.

Prop. H is both a money saver (for residents and businesses) and a money maker (for the city.) Every politician who has signed on to PG&E’s campaign of lies needs to be asked the obvious questions: did you know PG&E was misleading the public? If not, why didn’t you check the facts? If so, can you ever be trusted to represent the public interest and hold public office again?

Take Lowe’s off the table

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EDITORIAL The battle over a proposed Home Depot store on Bayshore Boulevard several years ago dominated politics for a while in two supervisorial districts and became a nasty battle over race, jobs, small business, and community development priorities that spread citywide. In the end, with Sup. Aaron Peskin providing the swing vote, the Board of Supervisors approved the giant chain store.

And then — as giant out-of-town chains will do — Home Depot abruptly pulled the plug last spring. After all the tumult and the shouting, the bitterness and bad feelings, the big-box retailer decided it really didn’t want a store in southeast San Francisco.

Since then Sups. Tom Ammiano (who opposed Home Depot) and Sophie Maxwell (who supported it) have met and worked together to create a development plan that makes sense for the big empty lot on Bayshore. The two supervisors involved community leaders and tried to create a public process that would prevent the kind of fight the neighborhoods faced over Home Depot.

It was a hopeful sign — until now. Because the owners of the lot — the Goodman family, which once ran Goodman Lumber there — have come forward with a new proposal that’s almost exactly the same as the old one. This time, it’s Lowe’s Home Improvement.

If the supervisors, the mayor, and the community learned anything from the past few years, it’s that big-box chains can’t be trusted and aren’t an appropriate base for community and economic development in San Francisco. The mayor and the supervisors should make it clear now, before we go through another long, ugly battle, that big-box isn’t part of the future of Bayshore Boulevard.

Big chain stores defy all the basic premises of progressive urban planning. They exist and operate on a car-driven suburban model, with large parking lots that attract drivers. They add traffic and pollution to local streets and are inconsistent with the city’s attempts to be a greener, more sustainable community. They pay low wages (in fact, Lowe’s is the subject of a class-action suit in 11 states charging that the chain makes its employees work overtime without pay). The money they make leaves the community immediately, offering little in local economic benefits. And they destroy neighborhood-serving small businesses.

They are, by their nature, monocrop economic entities — when the entire future of an area depends on one so-called anchor store, then the community is vulnerable to decisions made elsewhere. Home Depot could have opened, then been closed after a year. Lowe’s could do the same.

The Eastern Neighborhoods plan envisions a huge new influx of housing into the area, and city planners admit the result will be a loss of blue-collar jobs. So the city can’t let the Bayshore site sit empty for years while some North Carolina–based megaretailer decides the neighborhood’s fate. And the last thing the Bayview, the Mission, and Bernal Heights need is another drawn-out conflict over a home improvement store.

The Mayor’s Office ought to be working with Ammiano and Maxwell to come up with an alternative plan for the area (solar energy? local home improvement stores?) that creates decent jobs, generates tax revenue — and remains true to a sustainable economic and environmental vision for the city. Step one is to take Lowe’s off the table.

Getting beyond JROTC

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EDITORIAL The racial achievement gap is the most important issue in the School Board race, but JROTC is the most politically divisive. The ballot initiative that seeks to save the military recruitment program will be used to attack progressives, and there’s a real risk that San Francisco will wind up sending a terrible message to the rest of the country.

This madness needs to stop. The School Board needs an alternative to JROTC that includes all the elements that make the program attractive to kids and families, without the military baggage. The outlines of that sort of plan are being discussed widely, and there’s a fairly good consensus emerging about how such a program could be put together. The mayor, the supervisors and the school board ought to be working together, now, to make it happen.

The Junior Reserve Officer Training Program costs the San Francisco schools about $1 million a year, and it’s a bad way to spend the money. Pentagon officials are very clear about the purpose of high-school JROTC: it exists to lure young people into the military. Recruiters take full advantage of the opportunity — JROTC enrollees are barraged with pitches to join up, and even after they’ve left the program, the recruiters keep calling.

The queer community is properly angry about our local tax dollars going to encouraging kids to join the military at a time when the armed forces won’t allow lesbian or gay people to serve openly. But even after "don’t ask, don’t tell" is abolished, as it probably will be during the Obama administration, JROTC is the wrong sort of educational activity for San Francisco kids.

Supporters say the program offers leadership training and a sense of community — but if the best leadership and community building the San Francisco public schools can offer is through a program that instills the values of the Army, there’s something seriously wrong.

So the school board did the right thing in phasing out the program.

But right now, the only thing the district is offering as a replacement is an ethnic studies program — a wonderful and deserving part of the curriculum, but not one that carries the same qualities that made JROTC popular. The substitute for JROTC ought to have some physical elements, ought to involve special training — and be set up to lead toward public service careers that don’t involve enlisting in the armed services.

The idea that’s been floated out by numerous School Board candidates involves some sort of emergency-response training for students. The idea would be to teach kids how to handle the aftermath of a disaster, like a major earthquake: participants would learn CPR, first aid, emergency communications, search-and-rescue and other skills that not only will be useful, but critical when the inevitable quake hits. The Fire Department already runs a very successful citizen-based Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT), so the infrastructure is in place. The Police Department has a cadet program for high school graduates, and it could easily be adapted to train younger kids for emergency response duties.

The program would get students outside, involve physical exercise, and, yes, uniforms and badges (which the JROTC participants love). It could be a successful recruitment tool for careers in the Fire Department and Police Department (and since many of the JROTC kids come from communities of color, the result might be more diversity in those two agencies). We’d much rather see local kids encouraged to become cops than directed into the military.

There’s $1 million on the table. Mayor Gavin Newsom, to his shame, supports JROTC — but if the school board stands firm and the leading candidates make it clear that they will not go back on this decision, then there’s no reason the mayor, the police and fire commissions, NERT, and the school board can’t move forward — today — with a credible alternative that will take the political wind out of the issue. JROTC is, and ought to be, dead in San Francisco. It’s time to move on.

Pelosi can’t duck the next Bush war

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EDITORIAL The last time the George W. Bush administration began the saber-rattling that would take the nation into war, the Democratic leadership in Congress was afraid to say a word in opposition. It was that period of fear-driven politics just after 9/11, but even then, the evidence was pretty clear that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had never attacked the United States. And every intelligent observer around the world predicted (correctly) that invading Iraq would be an expensive, bloody, and ultimately counterproductive nightmare.

Now there’s talk about sending US troops to Georgia to help the Georgian army fight the Russians. (There are, according to the Army newspaper Stars and Stripes, 127 military trainers and advisors already in that country.) This time, there’s nothing resembling a national security threat; it’s just Cold War madness bubbling up again. And once again, there’s a resounding lack of protest from the leaders of the Democratic Party.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) joined the two top Republicans in the House, John Boehner of Ohio and Missouri’s Roy Blunt, in issuing a militaristic and aggressive statement that reads, in part:

"The bipartisan leadership of the US House of Representatives stands united in condemning — in the strongest possible terms — the recent Russian invasion of the sovereign state of Georgia. The United States is committed to Georgia’s absolute sovereignty."

The speaker herself, according to her press office, has said nothing further on the matter. She has not, for example, said she would oppose sending US troops to the region.

The US news media has done a terrible job of covering the geopolitics of the conflict, but if you read the British press, particularly the UK Guardian and The Independent (London), and you review what progressive think tanks are saying, you get a very different perspective. This isn’t simply a case of Russian aggression. As J. Victor Marshall, of the Oakland-based Independent Institute, put it in a piece that’s posted on sfbg.com:

"There’s no real doubt that Georgia began the latest conflict by launching an artillery barrage against South Ossetia’s main city the night of Aug. 7, though it claims to have been provoked by armed militants from the tiny region’s 65,000 people."

That’s not to say Russia reacted properly, or that the United States shouldn’t condemn the invasion. But the situation is a lot more complicated than the simple spectre of Russian tanks attacking a purported US ally.

And the prospect of the United States getting involved in that conflict — with American soldiers fighting Russians — has the potential to ignite a serious military conflagration.

Pelosi can’t be allowed to duck this time. She needs to come out strongly and say that she will not support sending combat troops to Georgia and will work to cut funding for any such military adventure.

And now, the controller’s big lie

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EDITORIAL Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will get a huge political windfall if the San Francisco Controller’s Office moves forward with a wildly inaccurate estimate of the cost of the Clean Energy Act.

In an Aug. 7 letter sent to the Department of Elections, Controller Ben Rosenfeld wrote that the costs to the city of acquiring PG&E’s local distribution facilities are "likely to be in the billions of dollars." That’s a scary figure, the sort of information PG&E will use to attack the measure. In fact, the company is already sending around flyers calling this a multibillion-dollar proposal.

But it’s completely untrue.

For starters, the Clean Energy Act never mandates that the city buy PG&E’s facilities. The charter amendment, which is on the November ballot, sets aggressive goals for renewable energy and directs city officials to study the best way to achieve those goals. Since public power agencies around the country are leading the way on renewables — and since PG&E has already said it can’t meet even the state’s weak clean energy mandates — the city ought to be looking at taking over the business of selling retail power to residents and businesses. But buying out PG&E’s old system might not be the best way to pursue public power.

But that’s just one flaw in the controller’s reasoning. Because even if San Francisco did buy out PG&E, there would be little or no cost to the city at all.

To understand that, you have to look at the realities of how the measure would work. The Clean Energy Act would authorize the city to issue revenue bonds to buy electric power facilities. Revenue bonds aren’t backed by the taxpayers; they are paid off entirely through a dedicated income stream. So unless the city can prove in advance with a detailed study that buying out PG&E would bring in enough money to cover the costs, there’s no way Wall Street would ever buy the bonds.

In other words, there is no possible scenario under which the Clean Energy Act could cost the city money. The opposite is almost certainly true: public power cities all over the United States make money — often large amounts of money. And our figures have always shown that San Francisco would net millions, maybe hundreds of millions, in revenue from buying out PG&E.

We called Peg Stevenson in the Controller’s Office to ask her about this, and she agreed with us: revenue bonds don’t cost the city any money. Buying out PG&E with revenue bonds wouldn’t cost the city any money. So why does the analysis say the measure could cost billions? "That’s not how I expect people to read it," she said.

But that’s exactly how people will read it. And it’s grossly misleading.

PG&E is already on the attack, and costs will be a huge part of its campaign. In fact, in a July 24 letter to the controller, David Rubin, PG&E’s director of service analysis, argues that the company’s San Francisco system is worth $4.18 billion.

The letter states that PG&E "has not done an inventory of its system" — in other words, the figures Rubin cites are just estimates. And the method PG&E uses to calculate the fair market value of the property is economically and legally dubious, at best.

PG&E insists that the only way to establish a price for the city to pay for a takeover is a method known as "replacement cost new less depreciation." The idea: the city would have to pay the price that it would cost today to replace all of PG&E’s equipment, much of which is old and was purchased (and paid for by the ratepayers) long ago.

The state Board of Equalization, which sets the value of PG&E’s property every year for tax purposes, doesn’t use that method. The board bases its valuation on what’s known as the rate base — the amount of invested capital state regulators allow PG&E to earn a return on. By that standard, the system is worth less than a quarter of what PG&E is claiming (and when tax time rolls around, you can bet the utility isn’t insisting that its property ought to be assessed at a higher value).

Stevenson said the Controller’s Office might replace the term "in the billions of dollars" with a more specific figure. If that’s the case, taking PG&E’s word, and accepting the wildly inflated $4.18 billion figure, would be a clear violation of the public trust.

The Controller’s Office needs to change its statement to reflect, at the very least, the fact that no city money is at risk and that there’s a reasonable assumption that the end result of a public takeover of PG&E would be increased revenue. It should say: "The costs of purchasing or building energy facilities would be substantial — but those costs would be covered entirely by the revenue from operating the facilities. The net cost to the city would, at worst, be minimal and the potential exists for the city to bring in significant new revenue to offset taxes and general fund expenses."

That, at least, is a true and accurate statement.

PS: The supervisors should hold hearings on the economics of this measure and demonstrate how lucrative public power is for cities — and how cheap for ratepayers. Public power is cheaper. Two charts below (PDF) show how public power is consistently less expensive than PG&E’s private power. The first one looks at utilities in California; note that SMUD, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, has significantly lower rates than PG&E. The second one, from the American Public Power Association, shows overall rates for public and private utilities state by state.

The relevant line shows public, private and co-op rates, average per kilowatt-hour. Note that public power in California is about one-third cheaper overall.

California ……………….10.9…….15.3……..11.5

www.scppa.org/Downloads/Rates/chart1.pdf

http://appanet.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/2/PDFs/utilityratecompstate2006.pdf

PPS: We’ve seen these shenanigans from the Controller’s Office for years; see our 1982 story (PDF) on how PG&E forced a misleading statement onto the ballot.

PG&E’s first big lies

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EDITORIAL The San Francisco Chronicle reported Aug. 2 that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. is almost certain to miss the state’s deadline for increased renewable energy generation. It’s a pretty modest goal: 20 percent of the company’s electricity is supposed to come from renewable sources by 2010. But PG&E is nowhere near on track.

But the company is well on its way to spending a record amount of money to block San Francisco voters from passing the Clean Energy Act, which would allow the city to develop renewable energy on a schedule that would meet much more aggressive goals. A political front group funded by the utility has already mailed out or paid operatives to place on doorknobs tens of thousands of flyers packed full of lies about the proposal. It’s the earliest we’ve ever seen a full-scale ballot campaign get underway — the election isn’t until Nov. 4. By then the barrage of PG&E misinformation will reach a fever pitch.

So it’s not too early to start evaluating the campaign rhetoric and exposing the most ridiculous of the lies.

PG&E is starting out with four basic themes that will probably form the center of the fall campaign. The main attack will be economic — the measure, PG&E will say, is too costly for these tough economic times.

The information the company’s flacks are putting out is so blatantly inaccurate that it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Here’s what the utility is saying:

<\!s> The Clean Energy Act will cost $4 billion and raise electric rates by $400 per household. That’s based on two complete fallacies, and even by PG&E’s standards, this has to go down as one of the worst lies in local political history. For starters, PG&E is assuming that the city will decide to buy out its old local distribution system (that’s not mandated in the Clean Energy Act; there may be smarter ways to get into the renewable energy and public power business). But even if the city did buy the system, there’s no way it would cost close to $4 billion. The state Board of Equalization appraises utility property every year, and PG&E’s own appraisers participate in the discussions. Last year the BOE concluded that all of PG&E’s local property — including a big downtown office building — was worth about $1.2 billion. PG&E, to our knowledge, has never attempted to have that figure (and thus its own tax bill) increased to $4 billion. Without the office building, which the city would have no need to buy, the actual distribution system is probably worth closer to $800 million — putting PG&E’s number off by a factor of five.

The $400 per household figure is based on the cost of paying off $4 billion in bonds — but all the Clean Energy Act does is give the supervisors the ability to issue revenue bonds. Unlike typical general obligation bonds, the revenue bonds would not be backed by taxpayers, and would be repaid by the money the city would make selling retail electricity. And the only way the supervisors would move to take such a dramatic step as an eminent domain action to seize PG&E’s distribution system is if the figures show that the city can pay off the bonds without raising electric rates.

<\!s>The act would give the supervisors a blank check to issue bonds without voter approval. Actually, it would just give the board the same authority the Port Commission and the Airport Commission already have — the ability to issue revenue bonds — just revenue bonds — to fund renewable energy and utility projects. If the projects make no sense economically, investors won’t buy the bonds anyway. So only well thought-out projects with a clear revenue stream are even possible. Lots of public agencies have this authority, and it’s rarely misused.

<\!s>Electric rates would go up. Nonsense — every public power city in Northern California has lower electric rates than San Francisco. PG&E has some of the highest rates in the nation. Public power is always cheaper.

<\!s>The city will lose $20 million in tax revenue. Yes, if the city were to take over PG&E’s distribution system, the city would no longer collect the tiny pittance it currently gets as a franchise fee. The fee is the lowest in the state and among the lowest in the nation (and is set in perpetuity). The revenue from a public power system would more than make up for that loss.

PG&E is terrified by this proposal, so nervous that it started a massive campaign months before the election. There will be more lies coming, most of them attempts to scare the voters into thinking that the Clean Energy Act is expensive and risky. We’ll debunk them as they come along. In the meantime, the supervisors ought to hold hearings on these issues, particularly the cost issue, and ask the Board of Equalization’s experts to come and testify — so that PG&E’s lies can be exposed to the broadest possible audience.

Going green requires cooperation

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EDITORIAL There are some clear and compelling things San Francisco needs to be doing to protect the environment and reduce its carbon footprint, such as converting to renewable electricity sources and promoting alternatives to the automobile. But as the past couple of weeks at City Hall have demonstrated, city officials are letting petty politics interfere with working together to do the right thing.

Obviously, the most important step toward combating climate change is to convert the power portfolio of city residents to renewable energy sources. Nobel laureate Al Gore challenged the entire country to move toward 100 percent renewable power sources within 10 years during a landmark speech July 17.

But days later, when Gore appeared at the Netroots Nation convention in Austin, Texas, to repeat the challenge to the assembled bloggers, fellow guest speaker Mayor Gavin Newsom came out against the San Francisco Clean Energy Act, which would set even more modest goals for conversion to green power sources.

Newsom’s reason, as Sarah Phelan and Janna Brancolini explain in this week’s Green City column, is fear of provisions in the legislation that call for studying — just studying — public power options for achieving these goals. Considering Newsom has repeatedly told the Guardian that he supports public power, it’s disgraceful that he’s so beholden to Pacific Gas and Electric and so mindlessly adversarial toward the Board of Supervisors that he would oppose setting high green power standards.

But Newsom isn’t the only one playing this game. Board president Aaron Peskin is trying to scuttle Sunday Streets, which would temporarily close six miles of roadway to cars as part of an international trend to promote carfree spaces, simply because it was Newsom who proposed it (see "Pedal power," 7/23/08).

True, Newsom is a newcomer to the carfree movement — having spent years blocking proposed street closures in Golden Gate Park — but his conversion was warmly embraced by progressive groups such as Livable City and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition and should have been supported by Peskin and other supervisors.

Meanwhile, the city is doing little to fight the ongoing court injunction against bicycle projects even as required environmental work on the Bicycle Plan falls behind schedule. In connection with a July 21 hearing on that delay, both Planning Director John Rahaim and City Attorney Dennis Herrera have called for reform to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and for changes in how the city interprets traffic impacts under the act.

"It’s truly ironic that an activity that is inherently environmentally friendly is being challenged under an environmental law," Rahaim said of bicycling as he testified before the Land Use Committee. He’s right. City officials should aggressively move forward with the local reforms under consideration and push the bureaucracy to keep the Bike Plan on the fast track.

Meanwhile, our state legislators should work to amend CEQA to exempt pedestrian and bicycle improvements from costly and time-consuming environmental impact reports and our federal representatives should start laying the groundwork now to ensure next year’s big transportation bill reauthorization promotes alternatives to the automobile.

As a gesture of cooperation and goodwill, Newsom should come out and support Sup. Chris Daly’s latest proposal to close Market Street to automobiles, which would greatly speed up public transit, improve pedestrian safety, and create an attractive bicycle boulevard in the heart of the city.

The idea was first pitched by former mayor Willie Brown and has already been studied and vetted by the city bureaucracy. This could be the first big cooperative project between the board and the Mayor’s Office, a team effort against the forces of the status quo. And if it is successful, just imagine what they could take on after that.

What the candidates need to tell us

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EDITORIAL The traditional kick-off date for fall campaigns is Labor Day, but in San Francisco, the candidates for supervisor have been in full campaign mode for months now, and some of the races are beginning to take shape. As political groups start making endorsements, it’s worth looking at what’s at stake here — and what the candidates ought to be talking about.

For starters, it’s going to be a crowded fall ballot, and there’s the potential for a broad progressive coalition to come together around a clear agenda for the future. Among the proposals headed for the ballot are an affordable housing plan, a green energy and public power measure, two new tax plans that focus on bringing in revenue from the wealthy, and a huge bond act to rebuild San Francisco General Hospital. All of the progressive candidates should be backing those measures and working together for their passage.

But the candidates also need to offer long-term solutions to the serious problems facing San Francisco. This is a city under enormous pressure, and unless some dramatic policy changes take place, San Francisco will continue its rapid slide toward becoming a city of and for the very rich.

A few items that ought to be on every progressive candidate’s platform:

<\!s>The city’s energy future. The fall ballot measure, the Clean Energy Act, will lay the groundwork for a sustainable local energy policy, although the supervisors will have to aggressively push the key element: creating a city-run electric utility. As long as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. controls the local grid, San Francisco will never meet its environmental goals. Rates will remain high, conservation will be an afterthought, and PG&E will resist any type of renewable program it doesn’t control. The candidates need to make clear that they’re committed to a full-scale public power system and tell us how they will move the goals of the Clean Energy Act forward.

<\!s>The housing crisis. San Francisco’s housing policy today is utter insanity. If it continues, the city in 10 years will look nothing like it does now. The middle class will be gone. Families with kids will be a vanishing species. Tens of thousands of people who work in this city — and keep its economy going — will be forced to live far away. Fancy new towers filled with millionaires will destroy entire neighborhoods and displace the city’s remaining blue-collar jobs.

The affordable housing ballot measure is a good first step, but much more is needed. Solutions aren’t easy, but they start with one premise: the city doesn’t need any more housing for the rich. Affordable-housing programs that set aside, say, 20 percent of new units for non-millionaires are a losing game because they accept as reality the prospect of a city where 80 percent of the residents are millionaires.

San Francisco needs a comprehensive policy that forces the city to meet its General Plan goals, which call for 64 percent of all new housing to be available at below-market rates. We need to hear how the candidates would make that happen.

**The structural budget deficit. San Francisco is a wealthy city, but there’s never enough money in the budget for the level of services residents want and need. With the exception of the rare boom years, the city has always had a revenue shortfall. Sup. Aaron Peskin’s two tax measures could bring in another $50 million per year — no chump change by any means. But the city needs about $200 million more per year to make the numbers balance. The candidates need to talk about where that will come from.

**The Muni meltdown. You can’t have a transit-first policy without effective transit, and Muni’s in trouble. Budget cuts are a big part of the problem, but the city needs a modern transit program — and that’s barely even on the drawing board. How are the candidates going to fix one of the city’s most important services? Will the candidates support the long-overdue completion of the city’s bicycle network and other bold efforts to decrease reliance on the automobile?

**The war on fun. As the city gets richer, it gets more uptight. Street fairs are under attack. Clubs are facing police crackdowns. Permit fees and red tape are making it almost impossible to hold events in Golden Gate Park. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has a ballot measure to make some of the permitting easier, but what are the candidates going to do to end the Gavin Newsom–era attack on arts and entertainment?

There’s much more: The police aren’t solving homicides. Small businesses feel utterly ignored by City Hall. The Planning Department is run by developers. The list goes on. And the next Board of Supervisors will need to address all those issues. Over the next few months, the candidates that want the progressive vote need to give us some clear explanations of where they stand.