SF Gov't InAction: 2,400 Square Feet in SF Renting for only $200. WHAT?

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By Benjamin Wachs

There’s so much government happening this week that it can be seen from space. Seriously: check it out on Google Earth. That thing you thought was a hole in the ozone layer? That’s government.

Is it … laughing at us?

Must be my imagination. Anyway …

You can learn a lot from looking carefully at big things. This week’s massive set of meetings, for example, demonstrates a very important lesson: it’s harder for a good idea to get passed by the Board of Supervisors than a bad one.

Think I’m kidding? Read on.

Monday, May 12

10 a.m. – Government Audit & Oversight Committee

The week starts on a high note with the best … news … ever … for reporters. City Hall’s getting a café. This will make it SO much easier to sneak food into government meetings. This is also the best … news … ever for the Mayor’s Press Office, since they’ll now presumably have a way to give reporters food poisoning (I know you hate me, David Miree).

According to an agreement to be voted on at this meeting, Juma Ventures … the same people who provide ice cream and coffee during Giants and 49ers games … will be renting out 2400 square feet of primo city hall space on the ground floor (the “North Light Court” for those of you who have been there) to operate a café that will “deliver fresh, nutritious, wholesome foods for breakfast, lunch and a full coffee and tea bar to City Hall.” No liquor license is mentioned, so apparently it will remain difficult as ever to sneak booze into government meetings (damn you, city hall’s crack security staff!)

Here’s the kicker: Juma will get to do this while paying only $200 per month in rent.

Yah - $200 a month for 2400 square feet in San Francisco: dreams really do come true.

They get a deal this good because Juma is a non-profit dedicated to youth development, and will be employing underprivileged youth to run the café … which means it might not be so difficult to score booze after all, depending on which kids they get. According to the contract now on the table: “Juma’s North Light Court program will train approximately 6 – 8 youth per quarter in food service and small business management through a combination of on the job training and the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship’s entrepreneurial classes.” This will “provide a deep and rich experience for the participants and thoroughly prepare them for transitioning into the food service industry.”

It makes sense: serving food to city hall bastards will definitely prepare you to serve food to bastards in private industry.

The lease is for 5 years, with two optional extensions.

One kind of wonders: where will all the money be going? The average daily take of a good coffee shop makes $200 look like pocket change. Juma also notes that it will be paying for some of the capital expenses incurred in opening the shop with “funds made available from Department of Children, Youth & Families and the Mayor’s Office of Community Development” (so we’ll be helping finance the café as well), but gives no indication of where all the money to be raised by the public’s largesse is going to go.

One assumes it will be programs for youth development, but … should one have to assume? Isn’t that the sort of thing we should work out? We are partnering with them on this venture, aren't they?

I really don’t mean to pick on what is doubtless a worthy program, but, this is an incredible location with a built-in customer base and no competition in the building. Additionally, Juma is (according to its own business plan) “a $3 million organization.

So given that we’re talking about what is essentially a job training program for no more than 32 kids a year … in food service preparation … couldn’t we ask the $3 million organization to shoulder a little more than $200 a month rent – and then get a pledge for how they’ll use the money raised? It seems like we’re offering them a lot more than the program’s promising in social good.

Besides … they’ll be using Starbucks coffee. Do we want to subsidize that?

10 a.m. – Public Safety Committee

In addition to Ross Mirkarimi’s usual three-ring circus of justice (which I hope will be the title of his memoirs), the committee will also be reviewing a report on the SFPD’s use of technology.

I haven’t read the report yet, but I promise you that if it includes the words “web 2.0” or “enhanced productivity through social networking” I will still be laughing tomorrow.

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

Chris Daly thinks that somebody’s gonna get in trouble: he’s called a hearing to review CitiApartment’s “rate of property acquisition, tenant relations, code violations, and the status report from the City Attorney's office on the City's pending litigation.”

This poses a deep existential question to most San Franciscans: is it better to rent from a small private lunatic or an evil corporate behemoth?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Meanwhile Ross Mirkarimi’s proposal to let historic movie theater owners actually repair or even replace their decaying marquees is still being debated in committee: our first piece of evidence this week that it actually takes a good idea longer to get through city hall than a bad one.

Finally, this committee is likely to recommend a whole host of rezoning proposals for the Bayview, adding more areas for industrial work in an effort to keep manufacturing … and manufacturing jobs … in the city. I know we don’t like to talk about it, but not everybody can work in advertising or the tech sector. Many of the people who don't are, in fact, cooler than the rest of us.

Tuesday, May 13, 2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors

It is highly unlikely that the Board of Supes is going to override the Mayor’s veto of Ross Mirkarimi’s proposal to have every city committee meeting video or audio recordedand broadcast.

Highly unlikely. But they don’t, they should be ashamed of themselves.

Even if they do, the Gavin “I use my iPhone for government calls and that’s PERSONAL, dammit!” Newsom can still get around the idea that people ought to know what government’s doing by freezing the funds.

If Newsom were human, he should be ashamed of himself. But I don’t know what the corresponding emotion is for a plastic that high grade. Maybe some kind of burbling at high temperatures, or a really glossy shine?

Still, whatever the Supes and the Mayor that Hasbro Built do … this is clearly exhibit B in today’s thesis: it’s easier to get a bad idea through City Hall than a good one.

Speaking of which, other long delayed items coming round the mountain again at this meeting include:

• Extending the code deadline for pot clubs. Sean Elsbernd opposes this measure, on the grounds that people who can’t turn their paperwork on time have probably been smoking too much already, which I appreciate. But Michela Alioto-Pier makes the argument that it’s the city which actually screwed up the paperwork and forced people to miss their deadlines, which I believe. (This would be exhibit C)

• The Deferred Retirement Program for police officers. This is pretty nuts and bolts: we need more cops, so why not give cops who don’t want to retire yet an incentive (and ability) to stay on the force? Everybody wants it (except Chris Daly). Yet, somehow, it’s still churning around government. (Exhibit D.)

Meanwhile new items to cross the Supes path include a proposal to make June, July and August a “Soda Free Summer!”

That’s right, it’s time to urge “all San Franciscans to join Shape Up SF, to ‘Rethink Your Drink’ and go Soda Free this summer.”

Yeah … about that … sodas are nasty, and if you want to eliminate them from schools I’m all for it. But doesn’t there come a point at which introducing one more slogan into the atmosphere (“Rethink your drink!”) is its own kind of pollution? Forget the fact that maybe … just maybe … the government shouldn’t be lecturing people about something as trivial as a legal beverage selection, and focus instead on this concept which I’ve put in “progressive-friendly” language:

Slogans are bad for your brain. They’re ESPECIALLY bad for the brains of developing children. Slogans are what corporations use to pollute our airwaves, our public spaces, and to corrupt our schools. Slogans convince senior citizens to invest poorly and they give evangelical Christians cover to oppose gay marriage (“God didn’t create Adam and Steve”) without really thinking about it. If you MUST go on a public health campaign of dubious efficacy, I urge you to go on the warpath against all tacky government slogans.

People might actually thank you for it.

Besides, I think there might be something here you’ve overlooked. According to the “Soda Free Summer” proposal: “Approximately 46% OF Bay Area Region adults and teens and approximately 41% of San Francisco Adult and teens are overweight and obese.”

Now, in health terms we may call that an “epidemic,” but, in political terms we call that a “voting block.” And a pretty commanding near-majority, too.

Are you sure tomorrow’s voters want to Rethink Their Drink? I’m just asking.

Anyway, if this thing passes, it’ll be Exhibit E.

Wednesday, May 12, 1 p.m. – Budget and Finance Committee

Hey, here’s a funny question: in a time of budget crisis so deep that we can’t even afford $70,000 for an initiative that would truly open government, has anyone considered NOT spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on the mayor’s proposed “Community Justice Center?”

Anybody? Anybody?

I just ask because I notice that there’s a request to release $500,000 from the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice reserve funds to pay for the “Community Justice Center.” And, it occurs to me that – in a time of budget crisis - $500,000 from a public safety fund is an awful lot of money to fight “quality of life crimes.” I’m not saying that the center is a bad idea or shouldn’t be a budget priority but … I wonder, given how many good programs that cost so much less are getting the ax … has anybody forced this one to fight for its survival the same way?

I’m SURE the mayor wouldn’t give his own pet projects a free pass in a tough budget year. Also, I’m positive the tooth fairy is a unicorn named Santa.

We might just have exhibit F here … although I admit it’s debatable.

Aside from this, the budget committee keeps chugging along its merry way, “refunding” $120 million in general obligation bonds (a fiscal measure that uses new bonds at more favorable rates to the city to pay off the debt of old bonds with less favorable rates), and arguing about solar power. There will also be a budget update, and … intriguingly … a public hearing on the “status of city fees and charges.” I don’t think I’ve ever been to one of those before. Do you think they’ll have the new café up and running in time … or should I BYOB?

Thursday, May 15:

10 a.m. – Rules Committee

There’s only 3 items on the agenda today: continuing to discuss the re-establishment of the “Presidio Neighborhood Representative Work Group”; the extension of the Local Business Enterprise and Non-Discrimination in Contracting Bonding and Financial Assistance Program” (don’t ask – it’s going to run out of money soon anyway, which is the point of this measure); and appointing two members of the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force – there are two seats open and four applicants. Who doesn’t love sunshine?

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

Today this committee will hold a hearing with members of four public agencies “to discuss the presence of limousines in hotel taxi stands and other white zones.”

That’s Exhibit F right there. I know it doesn’t directly relate but … dammit … that’s Exhibit F. You have to draw the line somewhere.

2:30 p.m. – City & School District Committee

At the last full Board of Supervisors meeting Sean Elsbernd stood up to speak about the proposal authorizing the school district to tap in to the “Rainy Day Fund” to meet projected budget shortfalls.

He wasn’t going to vote against it, he said – boy did he not need that kind of headache – but he wanted to remind the school district and the Mayor’s office that putting out a press release saying “School budgets saved by release of rainy day fund moneys” BEFORE contacting the Board of Supervisors and asking if they would consider releasing Rainey Day Fund monies was not appreciated.

“I’m putting the district on notice,” he said. Aaron Peskin concurred with the comment.

Neither Elsbernd nor Peskin sits on the City & School District Committee, but it’s no surprise to see that they’ll be holding a hearing on “the Rainy Day Reserve Fund as it relates to projected SFUSD budget shortfall.” That’s not exactly unusual – they’ve held one already this year – but I suspect that this time it will have a little extra spit on it.


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