Marc Solomon

Real set-aside reform


Whenever conservative elements within San Francisco’s political mix put forth measures that carry the moniker "good government," liberals, progressives, and those of us concerned that good government serve the people rather than the corporations should take notice.

Last year, one so-called good government measure usurped the right of four members of the Board of Supervisors to check a mayoral veto by putting a measure on the ballot at the last minute. The reform imposed a requirement that hearings be held before the supervisors put any legislation on the ballot.

Never mind that empirical evidence shows no correlation between the route to the ballot and the quality of measures; good as well as crap has made it onto the ballot and into law from all origins. Never mind that there were other ways to ensure that voter-initiated ordinances were amendable and flexible. Downtown wanted to crimp the power of the Board of Supervisors and our neighborhoods and, with the help of some progressives, succeeded.

They’re back at it again, as government grapples with revenue shortfalls caused by the second Great Depression, a depression caused by the economic policies championed by our local conservative/moderate coalition. We are seeing another effort at good government that would only benefit those who wish to destroy popular public services, to enable Reaganism, and to wipe away much of the public sector.

In order to secure a dedicated, reliable stream of funding, activists have run campaigns to create set-asides for various public programs. The earliest funded the San Francisco Symphony during the first Great Depression. Since then, programs that carry great public appeal, from the Children’s Fund to the Open Space Fund to Muni have been given set-asides by the votes.

The proposal on the table now would change the way the city handles budget set-asides, ostensibly to allow greater flexibility during tough times. It would allow the Board of Supervisors, under certain budgetary shortfall conditions, to dip into funds earmarked for particular purposes. But the result would be dangerous to the ongoing essential function of government. And the proposal would prevent the voters from solving a problem created by our City Charter — the inability to do multiyear budgeting.

What this city needs is a way for voters to express their long-term funding priorities and to hold the feet of elected officials to the fire in funding those priorities — but in a manner that accounts for the vicissitudes of the economy.

The reason the city can’t do multiyear budgeting without a Charter set aside is that any regular ordinance passed by the board and the mayor can override any other ordinance. One way to approach the problem: amend the charter to create a new class of ordinance, one that would allow for multiyear budgeting. This class of ordinance would need to be classified as a multiyear budget ordinance when proposed, and would require either a vote of the people or a super majority at the Board of Supervisors and a mayoral signature to enact.

The multiyear budgeting ordinances would govern subsequent years’ budgets and could be overridden only with a super-majority vote, and only under conditions of economic hardship. In normal times, the city could set longer-term spending priorities for projects and priorities that last longer than one budget year, as well as those areas that are important to San Franciscans year in and year out. *

Marc Salomon is a neighborhood activist in San Francisco.

Shut down the zoo


OPINION In San Francisco’s June 1997 special election, the swells convinced the voters to float $48 million in bonds to build a "world-class" zoo, which would entail largely privatizing a public institution, leaving the city on the hook for liabilities while giving a private nonprofit the benefits.

The initiative passed — you can’t get warmer or fuzzier than a tiger or a koala — and the San Francisco Zoo, relinquished to the tutelage of corporate fixer Jim Lazarus, was largely gifted as another privatized party space for the rich.

The case might be made that zoos can serve as genetic incubators in the face of widespread habitat destruction. But the city’s precautionary principle, like the Hippocratic oath, should prevail on us to do no harm in seeking to prevent extinction.

The record of the privatized Zoo has hardly been a story of precaution:

In 2000, two already sick koalas were kidnapped from the Zoo and not returned for two days.

A 12-year-old Siberian tiger, Emily, died in October 2004. Tatiana was just murdered at age four. Siberian tigers generally live to be 24 years old in captivity.

Two elands, majestic African antelope, were introduced improperly into close quarters with an already resident eland at the Zoo, which led to a spate of deadly eland-on-eland violence and the deaths of the two newcomers.

Apparently, shoddy attention to detail hastened the demise of Puddles the hippopotamus in May 2007. Hippos, like African elephants, thrive in nature preserves located in their native tropical habitat.

If zoos are to be a successful component of protecting endangered species, it’s paramount that their conditions not kill the specimens. Perhaps an affiliation with a major research institution is required to ensure that professionalism is the order of the day to ward against what appears to be amateur hour at the zoo.

It’s one thing for the swells to occupy public spaces such as the de Young Museum, City Hall, and the San Francisco Public Library as edifications to their egos — only fellow humans are inconvenienced. But for the rich to wrap themselves in the distinction of being movers and shakers in the San Francisco Zoological Society and wring glee from the glow of imprisoning animals in inhospitable conditions is truly pathological.

The Zoo should be closed, its animals sent to facilities capable of caring for them, and the land used for affordable housing. The city should replace the Zoo with an academic partnership with legitimate wildlife sanctuaries around the world to subsidize conservation, produce video footage of animals in their natural habitats, and arrange trips to see wild animals in the wild for San Francisco youths who otherwise could not afford it.

That would be a true 21st-century, world-class approach to bringing the wonder of exotic animals to San Franciscans.

Marc Salomon

Marc Salomon is a member of the SF Green Party County Council.

Harm reduction in the park


OPINION Mayor Gavin Newsom’s moves to sweep homeless people out of Golden Gate Park have generated a lot of controversy — and a lot of people are missing the point.

I’m not so concerned about people sleeping in the park, just as I’m not so concerned about people sleeping on the sidewalks or the streets if there is no other place available, so long as they are just sleeping.

If folks just slept in the park, cleaned up after themselves, and moved on during the day, most of us would probably not notice. If my friends and I decided to take our tents and sleeping bags to the park and spend the night, there probably wouldn’t be any trace of our stay the next day.

My main concern is when ancillary conduct related to a poverty existence, such as defecation, urination, and the dispersal of syringes, becomes problematic. Is it worse when these things happen in Golden Gate Park or Corona Heights than it is when the same behavior occurs around Marshall Elementary in the middle of the Mission? The costs to police the park and the concrete public realm to the extent that one would see a difference in less feces and fewer syringes are probably as significant as the cost of constructing facilities to house and treat the homeless.

A feasible midrange political solution would be to adopt a broad front of harm-reduction policies designed to lighten the annoying footprints of the homeless on our public spaces without attacking them as human beings. Many are seriously messed up for an often overlapping variety of reasons. Outreach workers, instead of forcing homeless people through the criminal justice system, should offer appropriate technology disposal solutions for the most dangerous waste and trash as well as services to help with sanitation. I’d like for the city to initiate a "shit in a bag" program under which city workers would communicate to the homeless the importance of not befouling public space and provide plastic bags, toilet paper, and sanitizers for them to use.

Similarly, syringe-disposal systems are inherently safe, are designed to be unopenable without tools, and should be deployed in sites frequented by injection drug users.

It should be noted that nobody is noticing any more of these annoyances now than they were five years ago. The San Francisco Chronicle is simply tossing Newsom a softball for his reelection campaign so that he can appear tough on crime for his base voters (as if that is going to be an issue this year). It’s not cost-effective to deploy the San Francisco police to deal with homelessness. It’s also not cost-effective for the city to make up for the abdication by the state and federal governments of their responsibility to deal with the mentally ill and drug abusers.

So we can either complain or attempt another approach.<\!s>*

Marc Salomon

Marc Salomon is a member of the San Francisco Green Party County Council.