A bigger government is a hard sell in these times. Or so you'd think listening to national political discourse. But here in San Francisco, it's boom times: The city's budget swelled to more than $7 billion per annum ($7.3 billion this year, $7.6 billion the next) for the first time. And some ambitious players in City Hall say local government may not be big enough.
In addition to the nearly 400 new police officers and firefighters the city will hire over the next two years, the Board of Supervisors set aside $1.5 million to allow all 11 legislators to hire an extra full-time staffer, increasing each entourage to include three full-time legislative aides.
Like an assistant in Congress, the aides help draft and push through legislation, deal with public requests, and otherwise help to keep City Hall's 11 district offices running smoothly. These jobs are also among the few political rewards supervisors can hand out to campaign staffers who helped elect them.
Two of City Hall's most aggressive climbers pushed hardest for extra help: District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener and District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim. Both are considered frontrunners to supplant Board President David Chiu in January — but both have also been floored by the workload at their new jobs since taking office in January 2011.
“There's an enormous amount of work and it's too much for two aides to do effectively,” says Wiener, a legislating machine — he's written several laws regulating nudity and public behavior in the Castro — who notes that managing the office calendar alone takes “15 to 20 hours of staff time.” As for Kim, she's petitioned by constituents who “call every day, asking for a job or housing,” she said at a July hearing.
More people in the office also means more political independence, Wiener says: “If the voters want the Board to be independent of the mayor and departments — and I believe they do — then we have to have adequate staffing.”
Thus far, eight of the Board's 11 members have already hired or have made plans to hire a third aide. The holdouts are District 7 Supervisor Sean Elsbernd — the Board's resident fiduciary hawk, who called the third aide a “complete waste of money” — and Carmen Chu of District 4 (staffers for Supervisor Mark Farrell did not respond to our inquiry). Their share of the $1.5 million pot will instead pay for parks, playgrounds, or other district projects yet to be announced.
“I can think of a million better projects to fund than a third board aide,” said Elsbernd, who is termed out in January — when his successor will also be able to take on more help.