This time each year, San Francisco politicians smear on the grease paint to stage their painfully predictable — yet perversely amusing — public drama: The Balancing of the City Budget.
Lacking the talent or motivation to re-imagine their roles, the city's public servants repeat the same performance each budget season as they chew the scenery and bellow about the city's perennial fiscal crisis. But after the curtain falls and the audience leaves, nothing much changes. The budget still hovers at about $2.5 billion and the deficit remains stuck between $100 million and $200 million. The only kind thing one can say about the presentation is that the players — the politicians, the press and the pressure groups — always dive into their roles with gusto.
The cast in this existential farce has changed over the years, as the mayors who write the budget and the supervisors who make it law have been booed offstage and moved on to bigger venues. But only one actor in The Balancing of the City Budget has survived 25 seasons: Harvey M. Rose, the Board of Supervisors' budget analyst.
Rose is a private CPA hired on contract by the board to calculate the cost of legislation and programs, to audit departments and to review the city budget. His role is tightly written: to excavate the inanities, pork and prevarications in the budget and report back to the super-visors. In the hell that is the San Francisco budget process, Rose is the city's Cerberus, whom mayors and bureaucrats must pass in order to get their budgets approved.
No line item is too small to escape Rose's attention, and the worst thing a bureaucrat can do is try to sneak a lie past him.
“One time in a moment of weakness I mis-represented my budget to the Board of Supervisors,” says Public Defender Jeff Brown. “Harvey found me out and took me to the woodshed. Boy, I will never, ever do that again.”
But while his fastidious attention to minutiae helps supervisors trim the edges of the deficit and pass a budget each year, many say Rose is too stubbornly focused on his role as bean counter to see the bigger picture. They say that the hammy Board of Supervisors, locked into its budget histrionics, needs a stronger actor to play off than Rose.
Not that Rose doesn't know the numbers — or his lines. But the budget analyst's critics say he's too narrowly focused on finding the sort of “gotcha” waste in government that makes headlines for his clients — the Board of Supervisors — and less interested in fundamental questions about how the budget could be shaped to improve the quality of life in the city.
The analyst rejects this analysis, saying that it's the board's and the mayor's job to shape the broader public-policy drama; if the supervisors want more of the vision thing, they'll have to rewrite his role. It's well within their powers, Rose says, seeing how he works on a year-by-year contract.
The critics respond with shouts of “cop-out,” insisting that Rose, a self-described Reagan Democrat, has gladly marginalized his role in the budget process so that he won't offend too many of his bosses. The public is the loser, they say. Critics question whether the board is getting its money's worth — an annual $1.4 million — from the Harvey M. Rose Accountancy Corporation.
“I could have a junior-college accounting student do what he does,” says Sam Yockey, Art Agnos' deputy mayor for finance.
If Yockey's hyperbole is rooted in truth, the critics ask, shouldn't the supervisors at least put the budget analyst's contract out to bid, something the board hasn't done since it was first awarded in 1971?
“It's long past time for him to go,” says one former Rose staffer who currently works as a high-ranking administrator in city government.
“I'm a recent grandfather,” says Rose in his office overlooking Market Street and Fox Plaza. “This is Nick, this was at approximately two and half months old,” he adds as he passes along the baby picture.
“You see he's lying down, his arms are up, he's really happy. I said [to him] he's got a shot at being the board's analyst,” continues Rose, pausing to deliver the rim shot: “He must not have understood me.”
If Rose is suffering under the weight of the job, he hides it well. As staffers walk in and out handing him memos, Rose grunts orders and waves them away. Like every modern office built since the '40s, Rose's space is equipped with a telephone intercom system, but the accountant prefers to bark orders in person — all of which promotes his pit-bull image.
As Rose's opening anecdote indicates, the pit bull is a family man. One wall of his office is decorated with framed drawings made by his two grown daughters when they were children. The pit bull is a health nut, too. A set of shelves is lined with pairs of battered running shoes — Rose rises at 4 am six days a week to run the five miles around Lake Merced. On the wall opposite the children's sketches is a series of photos of the accountant crossing the finish line in a dozen separate Bay to Breakers races going back to the '70s.
Asked about his personal life, Rose reveals only enough details to fill a who's who entry. He likes going to the movies and loves the 49ers.
Rose, 59, grew up in New Jersey and Florida, the son of a grocer. He graduated from the University of Miami in 1958 with a degree in business administration, and during two years in the Air Force, Rose served as a chaplain's assistant and studied for his accountant's license. Once certified, he entered government service as an auditor at the federal General Accounting Office. He moved on to Los Angeles and worked for the city administrator before coming to San Francisco in 1971 to work directly for the Board of Supervisors. [page]
Two years into his job, Rose left the city to take the prestigious post of California Auditor General (he answered a want ad in the Wall Street Journal). But Rose wasn't ready for the bigtime world of backroom politics. In 1975, Assemblyman Robie Wilson, a Southern California Democrat, asked Rose to suppress a report on the state of the budget reserves. “It would be embarrassing for the Democrats,” Rose remembers Wilson telling him. “So let me get this straight: If the report embarrassed the Republicans it would be okay to release it?” Rose asked Wilson, who, as chair of the joint legislative audit committee, held Rose's job in his hands. Amazingly, Wilson said yes, it would be okay to release the report if it hurt the Republicans.
“He tried to make a deal with me where I wouldn't go to the press,” Rose says. “I told him to go to hell.” Wilson had Rose fired shortly thereafter and the budget analyst returned to San Francisco.
Although Rose is happy to make small talk, his attention quickly returns to the subject of the city's ongoing budget follies, which date back to the days of Mayor Dianne Feinstein.
“Let me get right to the point: The problem is that the city has never faced up to making its annual revenues meet its annual expenditures,” Rose says.
The underlying cause of the deficit is quite simple, he says: Proposition 13, the statewide referendum that froze property tax levels at 1974 levels and allowed only nominal annual increases. (The city treasury has also been hurt by the recession.)
Rose calls Prop. 13 a “meat-ax approach.” Meat ax or not, Prop. 13 presents a fiscal reality that city officials have never accepted. In the shopworn lexicon of A.A., the mayor and the supervisors are in deep, deep denial. Which is easy to understand. In order to compile a fearless inventory of the city's fiscal woes, Rose says, the supervisors would have to confront three politically repulsive options — cut government, cut labor costs or raise taxes.
So instead of biting the bullet, mayors and supervisors nibble on it. Roll it around in their mouths. Suck on it like candy.
Or, to extend the A.A. metaphor, they employ “avoidance techniques” and “negotiate.” Feinstein drained the city's surplus accounts to “balance” the budget. Her successor, Art Agnos, raised a few taxes but froze wages of city employees, which at the time were set against the average paid by public and private concerns in the Bay Area. A year later, when the freeze came off, Agnos had to match that two-year hike in average wages, as did Mayor Frank Jordan when he was elected.
The trend continues, says Rose, as Jordan imitates his predecessors by presenting the board with “phony budgets” that are deliberately based on foolish assumptions about incoming revenue and expected outlay.
Lately, the Board of Supervisors has devised its own avoidance techniques, some of which harken back to Feinstein. The supes have raided pots of money that shouldn't be touched to balance the budget: Last year, they tapped the airport's reserve and the year before hit the city's pension fund.
In principle, balancing the budget is no more complex than balancing a checkbook. So why do the city's elected officials mount such a protracted drama each year? Why don't the supervisors and the mayor (and the press) learn from the mistakes of past years? Why does the city return to the starting line each year, nary an inch closer to the intractable budget problem's resolution?
You can't blame the budget farce on Rose; in many ways he's a bystander. He just keeps his head down and crunches the numbers. If you'd seen what Rose has seen over the past decade, you'd keep your head down, too.
In Act I of the annual budget farce, Rose, the mayor's budget director and the city controller meet each spring to calculate revenues and expenditures. Without fail, they predict a massive deficit for the approaching fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. (The early, but by no means conclusive, deficit estimate for the coming 1995-96 fiscal year is $100 million.)
Upon hearing the number, the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors react as if the shortfall has been visited upon them by some totally alien force. “It's a disaster.” “It's a bombshell.” “It's a fiscal hurricane.” (Actual quotes from previous productions.)
The mayor has the supervisors in a jam: It's his budget. Under the City Charter, they can raise taxes and cut programs, but they can only suggest to the mayor where to spend any new money.
The politicians then announce that everything must be put on the table: service cuts, layoffs and — gag — increased taxes. “Tough decisions have to be made.” “Everyone is going to feel the squeeze.” “There are no untouchables.” (More actual quotes.)
Act II: Enter the constituencies. Department heads howl as if enduring amputation without the benefit of anesthesia. Business leaders and their smarmy lobbyists offer studies that prove they're taxed more onerously than the 13 colonies. (In 1992, when a taxation study sponsored by the Committee on JOBS, the political arm of corporate San Francisco, showed that the local tax burden was moderate compared with other cities, COJ lobbyists shitcanned it. They commissioned another study from JOBS member Arthur Anderson, and carefully selected the right benchmarks to ensure the desired outcome: San Francisco taxes are higher than those in most cities.) Advocacy groups and unions pound the mayor's and the supes' doors (literally, sometimes precipitating armed police response), promising total war if welfare benefits are cut or if union wages are frozen.
Act III: The plot thickens. State and federal aid to the city is reduced. Progressive supes threaten to throw themselves off the City Hall dome before cutting services. Slinging the rhetoric of class warfare, some supes propose new taxes on big business but never muster the votes to pass them. Meanwhile, those loath to offend powerful CEOs — a group that includes a majority of the supes and all recent mayors — yammer about government efficiency but never follow through on proposed reforms. [page]
Act IV: Midway through the process, the projected deficit magically doubles in size. Again, officials feign surprise and shake their fists in impotent anger at the heartless careerists in Sacramento and Washington. (Actually, they're exhaling in relief because they now have a distant bogeyman to divert attention from their own ineptitude.)
Act V: Boxed in by politics and fiscal realities, the mayor and the board make a few marginal cuts and enact fee hikes (which hurt low-income residents most), and a tax increase (usually targeting small businesses) in order to appear fair. But the deficit just … won't … go … away. With the clock ticking, our sweating stewards of government adopt serious parental tones and talk about tough choices. “We have to make some fundamental changes in the way we do business,” Supervisor Kevin Shelley said in 1992, presaging nothing. But then, at the last minute, the music swells, someone dashes into the boardroom and stops the rusty budget ax midswing! To applause from all sides, the savior declares that a secret stash of money has once again been uncovered and democracy has been preserved.
The supervisors and mayor wipe their brows, hug, weep, congratulate each other. The disaster averted, they scurry back to their full-time jobs: raising campaign donations and angling for higher office.
Curtain call? Nope. As the press and the pressure groups return to other pursuits, San Francisco city department heads queue outside City Hall and request millions in additional funds because the mayor and the board have underfunded the budget. So the stage is set for the annual sequel: The Midyear Budget Crisis.
During the furious three-month period (June to August) the board grapples with the budget, Rose provides a critical service. The only boardwide adviser, Rose alerts supervisors to unreasonable projections in the mayoral budget. (San Francisco's mayors routinely underestimate police and fire overtime costs by millions, knowing full well those two departments will demand — and win — more later.) Rose also searches for places in the budget to cut, all with the board stipulation that the reductions not affect service levels.
The remainder of the year, the Harvey M. Rose Accountancy Corporation, in joint venture with four other minority and women-owned firms, audits city departments at the supervisors' direction. He also costs out all new legislation that will have fiscal impact. This legislation can range from supplemental budget requests for the district attorney to a costly new program that monitors juvenile delinquents.
The Rose firm performs similar work for the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, and various California and Arizona municipalities. These are Rose's only clients, and he claims to earn a total of $105,000 a year from them, making him as well paid as the upper echelon of public servants.
Walking his beat, the budget analyst regularly uncovers all manner of embarrassing fiscal malfeasance. Rose once caught City Attorney Louise Renne buying fancy oak furniture costing $171,000 more than the standard government-issue desks and chairs. (Renne had hidden the cost of the furniture in her moving bill, and convinced supervisors she needed the lush digs to improve morale.)
Last year, Rose scored big when he audited San Francisco's workers compensation system and discovering that the city would save $1.1 million if injured city workers were admitted to the University of California at San Francisco and San Francisco General Hospital for treatment instead of the more expensive St. Francis Hospital. Supervisors took his advice.
The same year, he took a scrub brush to negotiations over the now-famous public toilets the French firm of J.C. Decaux contracted to place on city streets. Rose revealed that the company had under-estimated the pissoirs' kiosk advertising revenues by $44 million. Armed with this information, the supervisors laid claim to a portion of the ad revenue.
This year, Rose revealed that a criminal justice program targeting repeat juvenile offenders was stuffed with goodies — computers, cellular phones and new office furniture — that had little to do with fighting crime.
And just this month, he revealed that two new rows of 800 seats built by the city at Candlestick Park at a cost of $1 million were flawed because the field couldn't be seen from the new back row.
Naturally, Rose's fiscal truffle hunt has earned him citywide respect.
Herb Caen once suggested Rose be appointed mayor and reporters frequently flatter him by calling him the 12th super-visor.
“He's very good at schmoozing that constituency,” a former Rose staffer says of the press.
“Without him, the mayor and the departments would walk all over us,” says T.J. Anthony, an aide to Supervisor Barbara Kaufman. Sam Yockey, Agnos' deputy mayor, confirms the board's vulnerability to mayoral smoke and mirrors.
“I learned a long time ago that I could say anything I wanted to the board,” Yockey says. “I could even make up numbers, and if I said it with enough conviction, they'd swallow it.”
Rose basks in the praise: The mayor can make the budget, but he can break it. Even so, Rose insists on telling the story of how he was taken down a peg a few years ago when his father visited.
“I told my father, 'I'm a pretty important guy here.'”
Rose Senior replied: “If I were to ask 1,000 people in the city if they knew you, not only would they not know who you were, they wouldn't know what the budget analyst does.”
To drive the point home with a 10-pound sledgehammer — a trait Harvey Rose has inherited — Rose's father asked a clerk in the Taraval Safeway if she knew who his son was. Not surprisingly, she proved the old man's point for him. [page]
Months later, Rose related the story to Examiner reporter Jane Ganahl, who included it in a piece on Rose. A week later, a postcard from Cole Valley arrived in Rose's mail. It was from a woman who asked Rose to forward the note to his father. It read: “Mr. Rose. You have it all wrong. Your son is a local hero.”
Rose's audits provide great fodder for newspapers. A computer search of Chronicle stories back to 1988 produced more than 200 stories naming the budget analyst. Editorial writers frequently crib Rose's reports to bolster their arguments, and reporters love him because he provides the juicy and outrageous nuggets about bad government that sell papers. (Rose distributes his reports to the entire City Hall press corps; he also collects every news clip that mentions him.)
The mayor's department heads are not so enamored of the budget analyst. Rose became unhinged at a recent meeting of the board's budget committee when arguing a minor point with a department rep. Sitting in the audience waiting for her agenda item to come up was Mayor Jordan's criminal justice czarina, Katherine Feinstein.
Feinstein leaned over to a reporter.
“Who's right?” she asked, somewhat bemused.
“I don't know, but I sure know who's loudest,” the reporter replied, to Feinstein's laughter.
Rose is intense and defensive about his work. He once offered to eat one of his audits (with ketchup) if he were proved wrong, and claims to have been born obsessive — “I used to get to school so early I'd beat the janitors to work.”
“I don't sleep very well because I'm constantly getting up and taking notes on the budget,” adds Rose. “My wife hates it.”
But the budget king's perfectionist ways sometimes lead him into petty squabbles. In 1992, at a board budget committee meeting, Rose acted hastily when he thought that the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was resurrecting an economic development plan for the Mission District. Rose had recommended the blueprint be temporarily shelved and thought the agency was proposing it just to insult him.
His idea of retaliation was to instruct one of his analysts to interrupt an agency staffer in the midst of his presentation to the supes, and whisper into his ear.
“Harvey wants you to know that he thinks you're a snake,” the analyst said.
Rose is such a niggler he can't even take an insult without conducting an investigation. At an early-'80s meeting of the Board of Supervisors, public utilities chief Dick Sklar called Rose a nasty, 11-letter name in the heat of an argument. Rose didn't know what the 11-letter word meant, so he jotted it down and looked the word up when he returned to his office.
Today, Rose can't remember what the word was, but he remembers this thing for sure: Sklar had insulted him.
The fiscal trophies collected by San Francisco's budget sleuth are easy to arrange on the mantel. But on closer scrutiny, the plaudits are tarnished by the institutional failure of the Board of Supervisors and Harvey Rose to tackle the thorny issues of public policy.
Rose's critics, some of whom retreat behind a screen of anonymity, call him an “anachronism” and a “micromanager,” ill-suited to help supervisors navigate the big-picture issues that lie at the heart of governance.
“I decided a long time ago that it was unfair of me to compare B movies to A movies,” says a former Rose staffer. “And Harvey is simply a B movie. What he does is referred to by many people as gathering the pennies that clank around at the bottom of the piggy bank. Harvey is not a big thinker.”
“Not everyone is interested in how much a particular kind of computer costs,” says Stephen Agostini, an Agnos budget analyst, who now serves as finance director for Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
“What they really need to know is are our jails doing what we say they should be doing,” Agostini says. “If we are putting money into the criminal justice system, what are we getting out? Reduced crime? Are there better ways to reduce crime? If we're pouring money into a park system, are we getting cleaner parks? Is attendance up? We don't need to know what the mower schedules are.”
A former Rose staffer compares government to a “black box” into which tax dollars are poured: Rose knows what's going in, but he doesn't analyze what's comingout the other side. Consequently, super-visors only get half the picture.
Although he respects Rose, Sam Yockey willingly joins the critical chorus.
“Harvey's approach is the picayune approach. Around budget time it would drive me crazy,” says Yockey, who admits to fleeing to Sacramento to avoid Rose's “chickenshit stuff.”
“His way, you get so immersed in the details you lose the overview of what you are doing,” Yockey adds.
This narrow focus on the cost of government prevents Rose's reports from capturing its benefits, says a former supervisorial aide. This shortsightedness encourages the supervisors to adopt an anti-government posture, notes the aide.
“If a supervisor disagrees with his analysis, they can be characterized as tax-and-spend liberals,” says the aide. “If they agree with him, however, they're automatically frugal, which sells.”
A case can be made that Rose's obsession with number-crunching to the exclusion of all else is an indication of his political ideology. After all, he's a fiscal conservative to the bone, maintaining a close relationship with independent state Sen. Quentin Kopp. Last year, Rose and his wife and his company donated $600 to Kopp's re-election bid. A registered Democrat, Rose says he voted for Reagan in 1980 and 1984 and for Bush in 1988 and 1992.
Rose recoils from these critiques.
“Who said this?” he snaps. “Is this you saying this? Or is it really other people?” [page]
Informed that Yockey and Agostini are among his critics, Rose relaxes — “Oh, okay. So you have a couple of old Agnos people. Okay.” — and dismisses them because they misunderstand his role.
Rose grows agitated at the idea that his role should be rethought, insisting that the big policy questions — like whether emphasizing outpatient clinics over hospital care would better serve people with AIDS, or whether a psychiatric lock-down facility is more effective than community-based clinics — are best left in the hands of department heads, the mayor and the board.
“My job is just to report the facts,” he says. “Recommending policy would be a ridiculous role for me to play.”
But analyst Ken Bruce, Rose's right-hand man at Harvey M. Rose Accountancy Corp., yearns for a bigger role.
“One, we will do whatever the board wants us to do,” Bruce says. “Two, we have the guns to do the kind of analysis our critics ask for. And three, we do it in other counties.”
The firm recently conducted comprehensive studies in two California counties that prompted the overhaul of governmental programs. In Santa Clara County, the firm's study of the health system led to major restructuring and increased delivery in services to AIDS and mental-health patients.
“We also did a similar review of domestic-violence programs in Los Angeles County,” Bruce boasts.
The implication is that if San Francisco supervisors want Harvey Rose to engage in the vision thing, they must assign him to do it.
In 1990, Supervisors Nancy Walker and Harry Britt decided they wanted Rose to do just that.
Supervisor Walker's feud with Rose became legendary. Never the most even-tempered pol, she would sometimes tell the budget analyst to shut up in meetings. She tried several times during the Agnos era to put the budget analyst's contract up for bid, but could never convince her fellow boardmembers. Once, Walker asked the controller to audit Rose's shop, and much to her chagrin learned that Rose had failed to bill the city for $3,000 in overtime.
“That's why that audit never saw the light of day,” Rose says.
Frustrated with Rose's reluctance to survey the big picture, Walker and Britt convinced their colleagues to hire three policy analysts: Martha Jiminez, an attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; Caroline McCall, a health department analyst; and Del Price, a recruiting officer for the U.S. Census Bureau.
Shortly after they were hired, Terence Hallinan and Bill Maher, the supervisors closest to Rose at the time, tried to excise Walker and Britt's visionaries from the budget before they had produced their first report.
Walker and Britt prevailed, but the antagonism between Rose's shop and the analysts' office was palpable. One of the analysts says Rose was out to “get” them, apparently fearful that they would show him up.
“They wouldn't return our phone calls requesting information and they could never remember our names right when they did call,” says the analyst.
Rose associate Ken Bruce denies any tension between the two offices, but he still can't get the names right. He calls Jiminez “Marty Gomez” and can't recall the names of the others.
During one finance committee hearing, Hallinan yelled at McCall in front of the audience, “I don't need some 22-year-old telling me what to do!”
For a year and a half, the analysts struggled under mounting opposition from Rose's shop and some supervisors to provide the sweeping analysis Britt and Walker had found missing in Rose's reports. McCall left under a cloud of hostility, followed closely by Price. In mid-1991, the lone holdout, Jiminez, packed her pads and pencils and went back to MALDEF. The analysts' positions were soon eliminated from the board's budget.
McCall, who now serves as an analyst for Kaiser Permanente, blames the supervisors more than Rose.
“It's not Harvey's fault,” McCall says. “The system does not support Harvey asking the bigger questions.”
The battles between Rose and Agnos' people and between Rose and the three policy analysts were as much about the collision of cultures as they were about substantive disagreements over the role of the budget analyst.
“He used to call me a young punk,” the 34-year-old Agostini says.
Make that young, overeducated punk. Most of Rose's critics hail from ivory tower graduate programs, like the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Public Policy. Others, including Yockey, spent time in the big leagues of Democratic Party politics. Agostini, McCall, Yockey and others were steeped in the thinking that government is a tool for social change. The mission is all. Packing heady big-picture concepts and computer software “models” that calculate urban economies, they came to City Hall to shake things up, to make a mark. There they ran into Mr. Old School.
But the idea that Rose is merely following orders doesn't wash. He wields enormous influence with the supervisors, often advising them which areas of government to audit.
“I can't count the number of times I've been sitting next to Harvey in the box [the seating area for department reps at the board meetings] and seen him call over a supervisor and go, 'Psst, hey, why don't you ask for an audit of the such and such,'” says one city bureaucrat who asked not to be named. “If Rose wished, he could move the board toward a more ambitious policy review.”
But that would force Rose into the controversial areas that could upset some super-visors and endanger his city contract. Rose resolutely won't suggest major policy shifts, changes in service delivery or funding increases. Nearly every one of his reports to the supervisors ends with this phrase, by now a City Hall cliche: “Adoption of this legislation is a policy matter for the Board of Supervisors.”
Given his conservative politics, it's a miracle Rose still works for a Board of Supervisors that has been solidly progressive since 1988. How does he do it? [page]
“I don't get caught up in liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. My job is to report the facts regardless of where the chips may fall,” Rose says, repeating a phrase that's inscribed on a cigar box he keeps on his desk.
City contracts ordinarily go up for bid every few years — not just to locate the cheapest bidder, but to find the best company for the job. But since Rose beat out 80 some competitors in 1971, the supes have never asked themselves the question of whether Harvey is the best man for the job. Does Rose think the board owes it to itself to put the contract up for bid?
“That's a policy matter for the board,” he recites.
Rose defends his ongoing contract saying that he does the best job and charges the lowest rates going — $67 an hour.
But some board watchers offer a differently calculated explanation for his longevity. By ignoring prickly issues of policy, Rose avoids confrontations with the supervisors' myriad ideologies. His “just the facts” style provides the supes with what they need to sound conversant on legislation.
Instead of focusing Rose on the issues, the supervisors loose him on their foes. By commissioning a Rose audit, supervisors can launch political missiles at their adversaries to generate headlines and votes. In late 1992, Supervisor Terence Hallinan dispatched Rose to study the $15 million in stadium-lease breaks Mayor Jordan wanted to bestow upon the new owners of the Giants. Rose informed the board the arrangement “was one of the worst financial deals in the city.” When the super-visors approved it anyway, Hallinan whipped neighborhood groups into mounting a referendum drive that qualified for the ballot. Nervous about such a high-profile fight, the board rescinded the lucrative lease package.
During the Agnos years, Supervisor Tom Hsieh sicced Rose on Agnos' deputy-mayor system, leading to a ballot initiative that ended the layer of bureaucracy.
In 1992, when then-supervisor Bill Maher was out to make his name attacking the Redevelopment Agency, all he had to do was ask for a jab of Rose's number-two pencil. Rose's report on the extravagant agency detonated like a nuclear warhead. At the time, the agency director, Ed Helfeld, criticized Rose for failing to judge the agency in terms of its mission — alleviating urban blight — and instead focusing primarily on the top-dollar salaries of administrators.
“The supervisors don't want to engage in a serious policy discussion,” says a former supervisorial aide. “They just want fodder to play politics and Harvey gives them that. He knows what side his bread his buttered on.”
A high-ranking city administrator echoes this sentiment.
“Harvey's politics don't fall along ideological lines. They do, however, play out along the lines that Harvey wants his contract and he makes damn sure he does something at some point that makes every supervisor look good.”
Rose would never admit it, but his 25 years of service have inflicted upon on him — and the Board of Supervisors — a sort of institutional amnesia. City budgets are crafted in crisis and immediately forgotten; supervisors slide, mostly disposing of legislation drafted by other arms of government. Rose coasts behind them, counting the beans but never commenting on the quality of the brew.
So where does the buck stop? Who is responsible for the strategic planning that will become increasingly important as Republicans gain more powerin Sacramento and Washington? One might say the board, but the supervisors' notorious penchant for squabbling among themselves over personality differences has prevented them from forming a unifying vision.
Like it or not, a measure of responsibility falls to institutional figures like the budget analyst.
But Rose has dodged this responsibility. Instead of serving as a wizened critic of government, instead of drawing on his breadth of experience to help the board make more intelligent choices, Rose has taken the path of least resistance.
Asked in an interview to draw on his 25 years as budget expert and identify the problem areas in government, the areas of chronic waste and inefficiency, Rose makes the telling statement.
“I don't know,” he says. “I take it on a case by case basis.