SF Gov InAction: Special "Budget Week" Edition! DO: Tip Your Skycap! DON'T: Pay Any Fees

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By Benjamin Wachs

Speaking as someone who’s personal budgeting process involves paying for gin with dollar bills I find in the laundry, I have no idea what really goes into making a $6.5 billion city budget. I don’t think my couch can hold that many quarters.

I kind of wonder if the Supes get it, too. I mean … $6.5 Billion? For a city of 750,000?

By way of quick comparison: Chicago’s most recent budget was $5.9 billion for a city of almost 3 million.

Indianapolis’s most recent budget: Just over $1 billion with a population of 750,000. I know things are cheaper in the Midwest, but, come on, $5 billion cheaper?

You wanna talk West Coast? Sure: Los Angeles is debating a budget of just over $7 billion with a population of just over 3 million.

Granted I'm picking examples that make us look egregiously bad - but all the examples make us look pretty bad.

What does this say about San Francisco? Who knows. It might not be that we’re fiscally irresponsible; it might not be that we’re astonishingly inefficient. Maybe our huge budget/population imbalance comes from our caring and compassionate natures … the way we take care of everybody in our city so that there’s virtually no homelessness, no pollution, and mothers in poor neighborhoods don’t have to worry about their children at night.

It could be anything, really.

I’m just wondering if the Supes think about how out of whack this is when they work through the numbers, or if it’s all just second nature to them now. If I were a Supe, would I expect to find $500,000 in the “Take-a-penny/Leave-a-penny” bowl at the gas station where I buy beef jerky? Would I expect beef jerky to cost $1.2 million and eliminate gun violence?

Well it’s budget time, and this week some Supes have dollars in their eyes while others are seeing red. There will be, count ‘em … 1, 2, 3 meetings of the Budget and Finance Committee, with literally dozens of city agencies making presentations and hoping manna falls from heaven. Department heads will be building a giant golden calf that looks like Jake McGoldrick and non-profits will sacrifice sex-positive virgins to Chris Daly to avert his wrath.

To accommodate this June Budget Monetary Madness I’m going to treat all the budget committee meetings as one giant meeting which we’ll wade through together.

Now, budget hearings can be kinda thick and it’s easy to get lost, so I recommend you read using the “buddy system." You can hold on to whatever part of your buddy you want provided it’s consensual. Just don’t let go until the budget’s passed.

Who said government reporting isn't fun?

Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 11 a.m. – Budget Hearing Highlights

If you want to talk about the city budget – and to be clear you are the worst date EVER – your big chance comes on Thursday.

Thursday, at 5 p.m., in city hall room 250, the Supes will hold public comment about the city’s budget. If you go, bring silver bullets, a wooden stake, and garlic: You can never be too careful.

Other items sure to attract attention include the Mayor’s crazy-ass plan to have the city take over the U.N. Plaza farmer’s market and antique/collectibles fair.

Huh – if you Google “Gavin Newsom” and “crazy ass” you get 465 hits.

Speaking of farmer’s markets, another proposal by the Mayor would authorize the city to lease space for up to three cellular transmission sites at the Alemany Farmer’s Market. Huh. Is that a clue about how he’d try to make the Civic Center market profitable? I have visions of billboards saying “These strawberries brought to you by Verizon: Can you taste me now?”

The Mayor also has a proposal, and oh won’t this be fun: To “de-appropriate” $2,500,000 of Hotel Room Tax from the Low Income Housing Program and put it back into last year’s general fund. This raises an important question: are we just leaving millions of dollars for affordable housing lying around? Why? Do affordable housing advocates know? Because I bet they’d want to spend money earmarked for affordable housing on affordable housing. That’s just my guess.

Here are a list of fees that are likely to go up this year, based on items before the budget committee:

• Environmental review fees;
• Community Streamlined intake fee;
• Chlorofluorocarbon Recovery and Recycling Fees;
• Diesel Backup Generator Fees;
• Hazardous Materials Fees;
• Hazardous Waste Management Fees;
• Hazardous Waste Soil Analysis Fees;
• Department of Public Health License and Permit Fees;
• Medical Waste Generator Registration, Permitting, Inspections And Fees;
• Risk Management Program Fees;
• Ambulance Permit Fees; (YIKES!)
• Health Inspection Fees;
• San Francisco Public Library Fees
• Athletic Fields Fees;
• Aquatic Facilities Fees;
• Recreation and Park facility rental fees;
• Athletic Field re-scheduling fees;
• Coit Tower Admission fees;
• Japanese Tea Garden admission fees; (Awwwwwww)
• Athletic League Fees;
• Conservatory of Flowers facility rental fees;
• Fire Department Services and Permits fees (YIKES!);
• Fire Department Emergency Medical Services fees (YIKES YIKES!)
• Department of Public Health Patient fees (YIKES YIKES YIKES!)
• Fixed Pedestal Permit fees for newsracks (JOKE'S ON YOU, Gavin: nobody reads newspapers anymore! Ha ha ha ha … ohhhhhhhhh)
• County Fair Building & Botanical Garden Facility Rental Fees;
• Fees for Processing a Redemption of Tax Defaulted Property or a Secured Property Tax Second Installment Delinquency Notice;
• Recorder's fee for Social Security Number Truncation Program;
• Building code fees.

So, good advice for 2008-2009: Try not to pay any fees. You can’t afford them. God help you if you’re a poor minority who depends on the city for health care, hauls toxic waste, and has an event at the botanical garden when the fire department needs to be called.

Is that enough budget for you? That’s way too much budget for me. Let’s get back to our regularly scheduled meetings.

Monday, June 16, 10 a.m. – Government Audit and Oversight Committee

Even the committees that aren’t about the budget this week are really about the budget.

The bad news for city employees not represented by unions is that, according to a proposal before this committee, there will be no wage increases for you in 2008 – 2009.

The good news? You’ll get four extra “floating holidays.” So no more money for you but take an extra day off and try not to spend it.

“Designated bilingual” employees, on the other hand, will see wage increases based on the number of hours they provide translation services. There will also be a slight tuition reimbursement increase for all unrepresented employees.

The net fiscal impact of all of these changes, according to the Controller? $658.00. Seriously. On salaries of $12.8 million.

I don’t see how that’s possible, but, hey, nobody’s called me “controller” since this one time in a club when. . .You don’t need to know that.

What you might need to know is that Tom Ammiano has called a hearing to discuss proposed staffing changes at the Department of Telecommunications and Information Services. Um, no, actually. On second that, that’s probably not something you need to know either.

Another hearing, this one called by Aaron Peskin, will discuss MUNI’s biennial review – examining how the agency thinks it’s been doing on its goals and objectives. Now THAT I want to see. Assuming I’m awake.

Tuesday, June 17, 2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors

All the real action is happening in the Budget Committee (or rather, Budget Committees) this week, and everybody knows it. This meeting is kind of a legislative ghost town … sure there are some old bills hanging around the dusty streets and maybe a crazy old prospector waiting for a Public Comment period that will never come, but mostly it’s quiet. And it’s gonna stay quiet until the budget passes, the next gold rush hits, and everybody knows there’s money in this here town … if you can only reach the right people.

Ross Mirkarimi’s solar pilot program comes up for a second vote, and will likely pass, setting the stage for an interesting showdown between Mirkarimi and Sean Elsbernd. Mirkarimi’s solar bill is aimed giving grants to implement solar power to low-income people and city non-profits. Last week Elsbernd said there’s no evidence that a significant number of San Francisco non-profits are actually interested in implementing solar power. Who are these non-profits? Elsbernd asked. Why haven’t we heard from them?

A year from now, I’ll be fascinated to see who was right about the number of non-profits who are looking for an opportunity to go solar. Hopefully it’s Mirkarimi – Elsbernd said he hopes so too – but we really don’t know, and there’s likely an important object lesson here if we pay attention. Which we never do. Hey I’m hungry. What were we talking about?

Meanwhile a 7-vote majority is proposing a way out of the Peaker Plant debate: they are urging “the Public Utilities Commission and the City Attorney to present to the California Independent System Operator a transmission-only solution to close the entire Potrero Power Plant; and establishing minimum criteria for any in-City generation projects to close the Potrero Power Plant.”

Basically they’re saying: “Fine, CAL-ISO – if you say we can close Portrero without opening any new power plants in the city, we’ll do that … but our back-up option is going to be city-owned power, and if you don’t like that you’d better work with us on option #1.”

Let’s see, other happenings:

Peskin, Daly, and Sandoval are supporting a code change that would require the city assessor to list all properties that his office has devalued each month. Um, okay. What am I missing here?

Jake McGoldrick’s charter amendments proposing an elected city treasurer and creating a new Public Works Commission got no love in the Rules Committee, but are back on the Full Board’s agenda. Smart money says they won’t make it to the voters … but anything could happen.

Finally, Ammiano is putting in a request that the City Attorney “investigate the City's options to ensure skycaps and other service workers at SFO will retain their tips.” How very thoughtful of him. For the record, yes, skycaps should retain their own tips, and if they or other airport employees don’t get to, maybe the city should get involved.

Wait … who else at the airport am I supposed to tip?

Dammit. Tom, could your office put out a pamphlet on that?

Thursday, June 19, 3:30 p.m. – City and School District Committee

I really like this committee: they keep their meetings sharp and focused. This week, the subject is truancy. How are the city and school district anti-truancy programs working? Could they be doing better?

Nice.

Friday, June 20, 10 a.m. – Rules Committee

For the second week in a row a late-breaking Rules Committee meeting has not had an agenda available by the beginning of the week. Last week they got a Sea Otter for that. This week they get a Sea Otter:

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AND a Marmoset!

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Listen to me, Rules Committee: you don't want this to go three weeks like this.


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