A Battle for S.F.’s Budget

Monday's budget hearing was a free for all, with people clamoring for funds to improve disability services, LGBTQ events, job training programs, and more.

Millions of dollars will be distributed in San Francisco, and everyone wants to make the cut.

More than 50 people gathered at the City Hall steps on Monday, June 18 to ask the new mayor, London Breed, and the Board of Supervisors to spend $97 million on their own initiatives.

Every year after the Budget Committee reviews the initial budget proposal, it makes cuts that frees up money for other issues in San Francisco. Leftovers are up for grabs as long as people can convince the Board of Supervisors and Breed there’s a need.

The first draft of the budget for the 2018 fiscal year proposed $24 million over the next two years that increases funding for programs such as homelessness, education, sexual violence and LGBTQ organizations.

Clearly, to all those who rallied today, this is not enough.

A woman holds a sign as members of the Budget Justice Coalition rally outside City Hall, June 18, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume)

An outpour of activists, social organizations and individuals scrambled into City Hall at 10:30 a.m. for the budget hearing. Once there, people could suggest to the Board how the money should be used, formally called a “budget ask.”

The Budget Committee, which includes Supervisors Malia Cohen, Catherine Stefani, Sandra Lee Fewer, Jeff Sheehy, andNorman Yee, took notes on budget asks for consideration of the next budget plan draft.

Budget asks varied from funding elderly multi-ethnic choirs (they even serenaded the committee after their comment), the Bayview Opera House, and utility pole elimination to name a few. Depending on the issue, people asked for up to millions in funding per year.

Kristi, a representative of  Senior and Disability Action, advocated for more affordable housing for the disabled and elderly.  

“S.F. is one of the most coveted cities in the world and yet the rich are stealing our homes,” Kristi said at the hearing. “We need a budget for new buildings for the poor and job programs to remind the city we are not a forgotten people.

Kate Sorensen from Just Cause/Causa Justa organized a Budget Justice Rally just before the hearing. The platform allowed representatives from Just Cause Causa Justa, the Coalition on Homelessness, Senior and Disability Action, LYRIC, and many more to persuade the board to invest in their budget asks.

Joe Wilson from Hospitality House spoke about how money needs to go to minority groups and help those recently incarcerated to find jobs again.

“The budget is a moral document, it’s about our values, it’s about the choices we make every day,” Wilson said. “Choices have consequences, consequences have faces and names.”

Sorensen said because there are so many needs, only a few may get approved. She wanted to unite these organizations publicly to show that every issue is equally important and should be supported.

“We need to fight for each other, that’s the point,” Sorensen said.

(Kevin N. Hume)

The Budget Justice Coalition also strongly advocated for increased transparency with this year’s budget proposals. Sorensen said many people were angered by how the last budget proposal was handled.

As a result, Cohen notified those at the budget hearing that she made several changes to the process. Now, people can access the Board of Supervisors’ budget plans for the upcoming fiscal year online.

“We have changed the way the way the budget process has been handled a little bit- no, a lot bit in the last few years,” Cohen said.  

Cohen announced the second draft of a budget plan will be announced on Monday, June 25.

Sorensen said this is an opportunity for the Board to prove it cares about the city’s needs. She said problems arose in the past because of the disconnect between the Board of Supervisors and the people of San Francisco.

“It’s contradictions, what the Supervisors think the people want and what the people actually want,” Sorensen said. “We have to hold the mayor accountable to that. We have to hold the Supervisors accountable for that.”

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