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Monday, July 14, 2008

Sf Government InAction: Is Ross Mirkarimi Captain Ahab? Is Burma a Root Vegetable? And Who is that Masked Supervisor, Anyway?

Posted By on Mon, Jul 14, 2008 at 11:49 AM

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By Benjamin Wachs

Monday, July 14

10 a.m. – Government Audit and Oversight Committee

In this very special episode of the Government Audit and Oversight Committee, Little Billy has gotten old enough to ask his mother: "Mom, where do Access Line Taxes come from?"

His mother's been dreading this conversation. They grow up so fast! But she sits Little Billy down and pours him a tall glass of lemonade, closes the kitchen door so that his younger sister can't hear, and she tells him: "Well Dear, when the Board of Supervisors wants to keep its 911 Emergency Call Center fully funded, it holds a public referendum during the next election requesting the voters to replace the Emergency Response Fee of $2.75 per month per phone line (with increasing rates for higher capacity lines) with an Access Line Tax of an equal amount. Should the voters approve this measure then the Access Line Tax becomes law."

Little Billy scrunches up his face. "But why?" he asks.

His mother closes her eyes. If only Billy's father hadn't died in the war! Then he could be having this discussion with his son, like men – men who use telephones.

"Well Billy," she says, "the Emergency Response Fee is governed by complex provisions to ensure that only "eligible project costs" at the 911 center are covered. The Access Line Tax, on the other hand, would go directly into the city's General Fund - and so could fund anything the city wants. They say the 911 center will remain fully funded, but they can also use that money to pay for other essential city services."

Billy looked up at his mother, and spoke carefully. "Or … for pet projects in their districts?"

His mother beamed. "Yes, Billy! Yes! Oh, I think you're finally growing up!"

The music swells.

Also at this meeting:

* Aaron Peskin and his trusty horse Silver will expand San Francisco's Payroll Tax statute to include services paid to the people who own trusts, limited liability corporations, and a whole bunch of other businessy type stuff who previously weren't required to pay payroll taxes to the city on this work. Hi Ho Silver, Away!

* Jake McGoldrick, the Supervisor stitched together from pieces of other, dead, Supervisors and brought to life by a bolt of lightning in Tom Ammiano's lab, will propose increasing the Real Estate Transfer Tax on properties worth in excess of $1 million. (Peskin and Silver have a similar bill, but it starts the increase with properties worth in excess of $2 million)

* The San Francisco Chronicle Building, where news goes to die, may finally be given historical property status.

Makes me all weepy inside.

10 a.m. – Rules Commtitee

If the Board of Supervisors ever decides to put on a play – 'ya know, just for fun – I strongly recommend that they cast Ross Mirkarimi in the role of Captain Ahab. I say this with no disrespect intended, but with some admiration: because Mirkarimi honest-to-God believes that if this City's government could just get its act together it could truly live up to all its progressive dreams.

This isn't the belief of a Chris Daly who, for all that he is an honorable man (very rare in politics) and by all accounts a better-than-average human being, believes in the movement more than the people in it or what it does – making him the kind of unctuous party official who blacklists dissidents for daring to have their own opinion. Nor is it the belief of an Aaron Peskin, the master mechanic who believes in tinkering with the engine until it's running as well as can be expected, and then checking up on it every 3,000 miles, swapping out parts on an as-needed basis. And it's certainly not the belief of a Gavin Newsom who believes – deep in his heart of hearts and with every fiber of his being – that he looks really good in this suit.

No, Mirkarimi really believes that a city government like San Francisco's – if well organized and run – can be an instrument of paradise on earth. Like Ahab he will pursue this dream relentlessly, without concern for other human cares, until something drowns.

He's had many successes so far: he is actually very, very, good at this. But his latest effort – a mammoth charter amendment to "promote and sustain music and culture in San Francisco," has all the hallmarks of Ahabian overreaching. Sometimes you get the whale, sometimes the whale gets you.

Some parts of this proposal seem sensible: an on-line application process for art event permits, an appeals process for when they're denied, and a general statement of purpose that it is city policy to facilitate the arts, art events, and affordable artist housing … and even to generate an "arts master plan" of some kind. All good.

But at a time when no-one can really decide what the hell the Entertainment Commission is supposed to do (Bevan Dufty only recently proposed making it much less powerful) and it is at the forefront of what many perceive as an effort to kill fun, Mirkarimi's proposal make it the clearinghouse of all arts activities … shoving it in everybody's business and everybody in its during a ginormous planning process that will go on for too long, with far too much input, to possibly work.

When it comes to the arts, small steps are good: get out of artists' way, let them do their thing, and lend them a hand in small ways as needed. Big steps … well, there's a reason why planned economies tend to produce crappy art. A vibrant art scene comes from a level of chaotic creativity, not public hearings and committee meetings.

Mirkarimi understands that if everybody can pull together, coordinate, and work effectively, the city can reduce violence and improve distressed neighborhoods. He seems to have missed, in his hunt for the good government white whale, that the same process will probably maim the art scene he wants to protect.

It would make for a hell of a play, though: Chris Daly could play Che Guevara; Aaron Peskin could play Benjamin Disraeli; his horse Silver could play JFK; and Gavin Newsom could play this guy who thinks he's JFK. Man, I'm so going to write that.

There are a lot of other BIG THINGS in front of this committee today, too. A proposal by Peskin and Ammiano to create a Historic Preservation Commission (eh – why not). Another proposal by Mirkarimi would "clarify the authority of the Commission on the Environment"; and still another one by Ross would move the city towards renewable energy, public power, and other good stuff (see: sometimes you DO get the whale).

1 p.m. – Land Use & Economic Development Committee

Last week the "Green Building Requirements" before this committee just had the Mayor's name on it. This week it has Aaron Peskin's name on it too – which mean's its coming to a city near you. It also has Gerardo Sandoval's name on it, which means it's not expected to be controversial.

The law itself seems mostly unchanged, and you can read my review of it last week.

Jake McGoldrick has a proposal that would significantly change the way the Below Market Rate condominium program handles capital improvements and condominium sales. Life is much too short to read this proposal.

Tuesday, July 15, 2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors

If this meeting were a tree, it would be a mighty willow.

Jesus I don't know WHY. What do you want from me?

They're going to modify a bunch of fee structures … that's kind of like what willows do, right? Building code fees, inclusionary housing project fees: definitely sounds willowy to me. And Peskin, Dufty, and Alioto-Pier are proposing shoreside power equipment at the port of San Francisco – that's pretty damn mighty.

I rest my case.

Of course, the Mayor's proposal to use rent-a-cops for the city hospital is before the board … as is his proposal to take $2.5 million in Low Income Housing Program money and apply it to the general fund … so maybe this meeting is more like a hazelnut tree.

Hazelnuts … have trees, right? Nuts grow from trees? Yeah, I'm pretty sure.

There are a couple of big juicy "power plant" hazelnuts sprouting at this week's meeting: Maxwell and Peskin are proposing that $272,515,000 be spent on combustion turbine projects … and McGoldrick and Dufty join them to propose approving the various agreements needed to get started on that.

So who here likes Hazelnuts?

Anybody?

Actually maybe I'm wrong about this meeting. Maybe this meeting isn't a tree at all. Maybe it's a root vegetable. Most of the various charter amendments floating city hall around will show up at this week's meeting (recall petition votes, Pier 70 financing, municipal elections in even numbered year … the whole bunch), suggesting that they have roots in the ground but could be picked up at any moment.

And … and … they'll be raising the fees for everything from ambulance services to using setting up a newsrack … and everybody knows ambulances look like rutabagas. So there: root vegetable.

Last week's proposed "dust control" regulations have also made it to this meeting (root vegetables love dirt), while last week's water-is-for-rich-people measure did not (and everybody knows potatoes can grow without a lot of water). And August 8 will be declared "Burma Day," celebrating the 1988 popular uprising against the country's military dictatorship. Which failed spectacularly. Still, I'll take any opportunity to support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi… so party on Burma.

Also, I don't know if you've ever looked at Burma on a map, but it looks exactly like a carrot. Case closed.

Wednesday, July 16, 1 p.m. – Budget & Finance Committee

The proposal to transfer $5 million from the election campaign fund to the general fund is sticking in everybody's craw: it's also stuck in Budget Committee. I'd say that's a fate worse than death, but, death is pretty bad.

The $3.25 "children services fund" augmentation also makes an appearance before the committee this week – and yes, it still contains $50,000 for "implementation of a marketing campaign showcasing public education to help increase enrollment and sustain families in our public schools."

Wait, we have public schools? Damn, who knew? I'm sure glad they're planning a marketing campaign.

There will also be fee increases for recreation and park events, along with city owned athletic fields. And let us never forget about this item: an MOU between the SFPD and the FBI. It's about cars. It seems the police want to borrow the FBI's, using as many acronyms as possible.

Thursday, July 17

10 a.m. – Rules Committee

Aw man, MORE proposed ballot initiatives? November's ballot is gonna be HUGE!

It's gonna be so big poll workers will have lower back injuries.

It's gonna be so big there won't be any room at city hall for Gavin Newsom's ego.

It's gonna be so big you won't vote on it … it will vote on you.

Ballot initiatives to be considered at this meeting include Chris Daly's "tenants have rights too" proposal; McGoldrick's "Supervisors can have as many aides as they want" proposal; the Progressive Alliance's "Let's appropriate $1.5 million or to fund Mental health trauma Recovery Services" proposal; the Mayor's proposal to lower Payroll Expense Taxes; and the odd combination of Peskin, McGoldrick, Maxwell, and Dufty, who are proposing to require conditional use permits for Steam or Fossil Fueled Power Plants in Industrial Districts … or something.

Whew. Maybe I just won't vote this year. That'll show 'em: that'll show 'em all.

Is apathy the ultimate form of culture jamming?

Also on this week's Rules Committee agenda: a motion by Chris Daly that would redirect the Zoo to focus on the welfare of animals: it's their world, we just visit it. Also a much discussed motion requiring lobbyists to wear identification badges while inside city hall.

1 p.m. – City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee

This is a bad meeting for smokers: Chris Daly's ordinance prohibiting smoking just about any place with oxygen is back up before the committee, as is Hizzoner the Mayor and Aaron Peskin's proposed ban on tobacco sales at pharmacies.

Meanwhile Supervisor Chu will hold a hearing on the city's plans to replace its aging system of water pipes. Possibly because she wants to use them to put out cigarettes.

And finally Michela Alioto-Pier has a resolution that would "welcome private attorneys to aid in the prosecution against animal cruelty as volunteer attorneys under the District Attorney's office." Which is great if there's a shortage of D.A.'s to prosecute these cases, but bad if the kind of attorney's who would volunteer to prosecute animal cruelty cases are the kind who get excited by the thought of prosecuting animal cruelty cases.

We've all gotta have passions ... but you wouldn't want me in charge of prosecuting bicyclists who ride through red lights and then act like they're doing pedestrains a fovor by nearly running them over. Death penalty every time.

It's important to think of these things before you take volunteers.

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Benjamin Wachs

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