Pin in the Ass
Annoyed at one reporter's unfamiliarity with a $2 million grant under discussion at Mayor Willie Brown's news conference Dec. 17, columnist Andy Solow snapped: "It was an Urban Development Action Grant, Rachel. You should read my column."
Rachel Gordon, a sharp and diligent City Hall scribe for the San Francisco Examiner, took the barb in stride, suggesting Solow put her on his paper's mailing list.
Solow, who writes for the New Mission News, was in fact dispensing sound advice -- for anyone interested in Mission District politics, business, and society. And the columnist's prickly nature, as it turns out, had a lot to do with why the mayor, joined by Latina Supervisor Susan Leal, kicked off his final briefing of 1996 talking about that $2 million UDAG grant.
According to Bevan Dufty, whose job is to serve as a second pair of eyes and ears for Brown in the city's myriad neighborhoods, Solow turned up a few months back at a public appearance by Brown "yelling at the mayor" about why a 5-year-old federal grant earmarked for Mission economic development hadn't yet been put to its intended use.
"What's the deal here?" the mayor asked later, said Dufty.
What Brown learned wasn't pretty. The fund had been depleted by more than $200,000 by bad (Solow contends illegal) loans to Mission District nonprofits; the rest sat idle for the entire span of former Mayor Frank Jordan's administration, with no change during the first eight months of Brown's.
At the City Hall briefing Dec. 17, Brown and Leal announced that the civilian body set up to administer the grant, called the Mission Armory Foundation, would relinquish its role -- and that the Mayor's Office was immediately requesting proposals for using the remaining $1.8 million to spur Mission economic growth. Proposals are due Feb. 17, and checks are to be cut by March, they said. Among the entities that have already expressed interest is an unidentified cinema chain weighing installation of a new multiplex inside a shuttered movie house.
The entire episode points up Mayor Brown's penchant for cutting to the chase once an issue gets his attention.
Following Brown's public interrogation by Solow, the mayor held two meetings with members of the Mission Armory Foundation. (The group was so named because projects were originally expected to involve a state-owned armory, which has since been sold.) At the first meeting, Brown pointedly chided the foundation's members for not raising the need for action on the grant with him directly. "Not one of you came to tell me you had a problem with this," Brown complained, adding that he had seen all of them in person at various events during the preceding eight months. To this day, the foundation's inaction has never been fully explained.
Dufty, who as a former aide to Leal paid close attention to the Mission, had this to say about Solow: "Andy's like that pin in a new pair of jeans that's stabbing you in the butt. You can't wait to pull it out. But he's also a big advocate, and if you're smart you listen."
Blinds Closed at Housing Authority?
Last March, Mayor Brown engineered a temporary federal takeover of the San Francisco Housing Authority, landlord to 30,000 public housing tenants.
In short, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) "recovery team" secured by Brown was brought in to restore a measure of accountability at the Housing Authority, which was beset with severe management problems touching on everything from property maintenance and tenant security to basic fiscal oversight.
Ironically, with the "recovery" still a work in progress, accountability at the agency is again at issue.
This time, however, the question mark hangs over Brown's federal agents of change. And, an S.F. judge's ruling on the matter last week will probably come as a surprise to the city's public housing tenants and recipients of rent subsidies under the Authority's Section 8 program.
In a case challenging the legality of the federal takeover, Superior Court Judge William Cahill has ruled California's open meetings law, the Brown Act, no longer applies to the S.F. Housing Authority as long as it is run by HUD under the agency's pact with the city. That means major business decisions, which previously required the approval of a local, seven-member commission meeting in public, can be made behind closed doors.
Ron Sonenshine, the Housing Authority's spokesman, says the local agency hasn't kept anyone in the dark since the takeover: "We have had at least one meeting duly noticed every month." And, Sonenshine says, no changes are likely, despite Cahill's decision.
DA's Johns Problem
Since 1995, people busted for the first time for trying to solicit sex from a prostitute have had a means to avoid prosecution. The deal: Pay a $500 fee and attend "john" school, where participants learn of the hazards -- both supply-side and demand-side -- of the sex trade. The First Offender Program, a Police Department innovation instituted by former S.F. District Attorney Arlo Smith, has been widely rated a success, if DA statistics tell the whole story.
There was one hitch -- apocryphal perhaps -- in which a congratulatory letter was mailed to one graduate's home address, only to be opened by his uninformed wife. But the numbers over the past two years paint a glowing picture: Some 900 men have attended, with only a handful caught for a second offense.