Sf Government InAction: Sauron up for Public Utilities Commission, Voldemort to select Chief of Police, Gandalf will bring a budget to save us all! Or something like that

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By Benjamin Wachs

Monday, July 28, 2008

8:30 a.m. – A Very Special Rules Committee

This committee hearing is at 8:30 in the morning?

“Item #1: The Budget Analyst is hereby required to provide flapjacks and coffee. The strong stuff. None of this decaf chai crap. And also blueberries: the flapjacks must have blueberries. Except for Ammiano’s: he wants apples. Does the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice have any eggs?”

Okay, technically that’s not on the agenda. But, you watch.

The bulk of this meeting will be spent deciding whether or not to approve the Mayor’s appointees to the Public Utilities Commission. And you know what? I can’t keep track anymore. Are Ann Moller Caen, Richard Sklar, Francis X. Crowley, Nora Vargas, and Francesca Vietor the good guys or the bad guys? I don’t know. I think I used to know, but then I got distracted by this really fabulous gay wedding, and now all I can remember is that “Public Utilities Commission” used to be a band in the 80s: Really good date band. Danceable. Heavy bass line.

Shit, I don’t know. Why does something as important as the Public Utilities Commission have to be a political football anyway? Why can’t we decide these things the old fashioned way: A quest?

In fact, let’s do that: we’re going to take Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier and place her in ring of fire. Whoever can use the power of Public Utilities to rescue her is hereby appointed to rule them.

And if nobody rescues her...is that really so bad?

Also before this committee is an appointment to the city’s “Ballot Simplification Committee” (because nothing says “simplification” like a committee) and Chris Daly’s “Residential Rent Ordinance” that would protect renters from being hassled by landlords.

My landlord used to hassle me all the time. He wanted me to pay rent EVERY month! I finally told him “Dude, once is enough!” Can you believe this guy?

10 a.m. – Public Safety Committee

There are three things that make Gavin Newsom truly afraid. The first is sea otters. The second is Michela Alioto-Pier escaping her ring of fire. And the third is Ross Mirkarimi with a good idea.

What’s that, you say? Ross Mirkarimi’s had a good idea? Well about six weeks ago Mirkarimi asked the city’s legislative analyst to draft a report on alternative hiring practices for the Chief of Police:, nd since right now only the Mayor or his appointees can hire and remove the chief, “alternatives” inevitably mean taking power out of the mayor’s hands and giving it to the Supes.

Why? Because Mirkarimi, who heads the Public Safety Committee, is sick of the police treating the legislative branch of government like it’s the enemy. He’s tired of having to hold public hearings to get basic crime information out of the city’s law enforcement agencies; and he would very much like to have a larger, community wide, strategy to fight crime – but the police brass has no interest in getting involved in that because, right now, the mayor has no interest in getting involved.

So yeah, this could be a very good idea.

That report is out this week, and I’ll have a more detailed look at it soon. But for now, it has six recommendations for changing SF’s system, including:

* The Chief of Police should have a severance package for if he or she is fired without cause (which will help lure better people to the job);

* A “term of office” should be stipulated for the Chief of Police

* The Mayor and the Police Commission should continue to have the sole authority to remove the police chief, but the Board of Supervisors should have a say in approving them.

Taken together, this could be what Mirkarimi wants: if, say, the Chief were hired for a year term, and after each year needed to be re-approved by the Supes, it’s very likely that the city’s legislative branch would finally get some respect in the Chief’s office.

But that’s just one way the chips could go down. And the Mayor’s going to fight any change with all the strength of the Sea Otter who killed his brother. He is, after all, the one with something to lose.

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

By my calculation, 60% of this committee’s agenda items are about affordable housing.

I know what critics are going to say: you CAN’T have that many items set aside for affordable housing! No government will EVER function if that much of its agenda is set aside for affordable housing! It can’t work! Better to stick with a rational number, like 20%, that the market will bear.

But I say that’s cowardice! The poor legislators of San Francisco desperately need help, and middle-of-the-road legislators are getting squeezed out every day, moving to more affordable City Legislatures in Oakland and Daly City. The only way to save them is with more affordable housing legislation! As far as I’m concerned, it’s okay if 100% of the government’s agenda is affordable housing! Sure maybe we won’t be able to finish a budget or appoint people to non-affordable housing related committees, but that’s the price you have to pay for bold action!

I’m glad we’ve got that settled.

Other items on this agenda include Michela Alioto-Pier’s proposal to let landlords increase tenants’ water rates, which now has both Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd signed on as co-sponsors; a height map change on Third and Mendell street; and the designation of street artist spaces.

Have I mentioned that I think these sorts of things should be settled on the basis of quests? I say that whichever artist can travel to the underworld and return with a lock of the Pablo Picasso’s hair can have all the spaces to dispense as he pleases.

The rest is affordable housing in some form. Man, it is about time we paid lip service to this issue.

Tuesday, July 29

11 a.m. – A Very Special Budget & Finance Committee

This is just a little clean-up work before the big meeting.

2 p.m. – Full Board of Supervisors

This is the big meeting.

Except that it isn’t, so much. Yes the city’s budget will be finally passed today … but most of the heavy lifting was done last week. There’s no evidence brewing that all the union contracts, budget numbers, and bond issues that passed their first readings last week will be rejected this week.

It’s all kind of anticlimactic really.

Wednesday, July 30, 1 p.m. – Budget and Finance Committee

If you thought THAT meeting was anti-climactic, check this out: now that we’ve passed the 2008 – 2009 Budget … we have to start doing it all over again for 2009 – 2010.

Shit.

They're already talking about next year's deficit. So today there’s continued discussion of regulating overtime for city workers (geez – the one time “regulation” is a clear and unmitigated good, and we haven’t done it yet); Jake McGoldrick proposed bonds for senior housing ; and a proposal by Ross Mirkarimi requiring SF employers to offer commuter benefits. Mmmmm, I love me my commuter benefits. It’s like friends with benefits, but with a bus full of people I don’t want to touch.

Which reminds me: if you’re that pretty blond girl on the N-Judah I made laugh at around 8:50 Friday night with jokes about how all the crazy people seem to come out at once, GIVE ME BACK MY WALLET!

You know what? This whole “annual budgeting cycle” thing just isn’t working for me. I know there’s people talking about the need for multi-year budgeting … and this is extremely sensible … but it still isn’t good enough. Here’s what we need: a master budget. One budget to rule them all!

It can be legislated by a quest!

We shall gather a Fellowship of the Budget together in Civic Center. Twelve noble lords of San Francisco: the Mayor, two Supervisors, a billionaire, three housing activists, a street musician, that homeless guy who tells jokes for money, Matier & Ross, and a tech executive who (deep down) thinks he’s an elf.

Together they shall set off across the land of California to the Mountains of Sacramento, where the dark lobbyists dwell in eternal night. And while they’re gone, we’ll pass a budget.

Tell me that’s not a good plan.


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