SF Gov InAction: The Supes are Dead! Long Live the Supes! Plus: Why It Doesn't Matter Who the New Board President Is

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By Benjamin Wachs

I cannot imagine a board without Aaron Peskin, Jake McGoldrick and Gerardo Sandoval - let alone Tom Ammiano. As the old board reaches its end and transitions to the new this week, I find myself hoping that - like a bad sitcom - our departing cast members will come back as guest stars doing walk-on appearances.

Maybe the new board will be discussing a bill to put some historic sea otter habitat up for development, and then Aaron Peskin will walk in (to thunderous applause) and teach everyone a very valuable lesson about otters. He'll also teach Carmen Chu how to love.

Or maybe the new board will be pulling its hair out over the budget, and someone will say "What we need is a way to really shake things up!" and then Jake McGoldrick will ride in on a razor scooter, with a monkey on his shoulder, and a bill in his hand to pay non-profits the city contracts with in carnival tickets. "Everybody loves a carnival!" he'll say. "Even Michael Tilson Thomas!"

"My God," David Chiu will say, "it's so crazy it just might...wait...no, that's just crazy, isn't it? I mean, there's absolutely no redeeming value in that idea at all. Did you really used to run the budget committee? What the hell?"

Sadly, none of this is likely to happen (at least not until the first Chicken John administration), and so San Franciscans need to use this week to appreciate what we've got before it's gone.

Even if it kills you. Which, at this rate, it just might.

Tuesday, Jan. 6,

10 a.m. - Rules Committee

"I keep these old photographs in a cigar box passed down through my family for five generations," says Historical Preservation Commission nominee Myrtle Doitsberg (Myrtle is a composite of several nominees). "I still take photographs in film to this day. These pictures show San Francisco the way it used to be: look at that lovely architecture, and those horrible sailors. I don't like those sailor-songs, and I don't like the music kids play today, and I think the city's buildings should be built that way."

I wonder if, as a child, Bevan Dufty ever went to bed thinking "When I grow up, I'm going to help select members of a Historical Preservation Commission! That's MUCH better than being a fireman!"

I know Aaron Peskin did: in fact, I have it on good authority that his favorite childhood toy was a Malibu Dream House that "Planning Commissioner Ken" wouldn't let Barbie take out of the box because she might want to change the curtains.

By contrast, I'm pretty sure Chris Daly's only childhood dream was to destroy a city economy. He would have his Godzilla action figure stomp on Lego buildings, shouting "Take that, credit rating! Grrrrrr, you're dead private industry!" You wait: it's coming. If he has to appoint some Historical Preservation Commissioners to get there, it's a price he's willing to pay.

But Dufty? I can't help but think that as the Rules Committee sits through four more of the Mayor's nominations for the city's new Historical Preservation Commission, he will at some point catch a glimpse of his own reflection in a shiny surface. He'll think "Are my eyes really sinking into the back of my head? Is it too late for me to become a chef? I'm still relatively young - I could leave right now and enroll in cooking school."

Indeed, since the only purpose of this meeting is to sit through presentations by, for, and against the mayor's nominations to the Historical Preservation Commission, it will be a perfect time for Dufty to stop and reflect: "When did things go so wrong?"

"I understand that everybody today is using those comp-uters," Commission nominee Art Gurken (also a composite) tells the Rules Committee as Bevan Dufty sinks deeper into his chair. "Well, I remember back when you could use a slide rule for the same thing, and it didn't cost electricity! This was back when I could hear better, and the girls all dressed like ladies. I think we need narrower sidewalks, to discourage hooliganism, that's what I think: the way they built them back in 1890. Now there was a sidewalk!"
"That's SO interesting!" says Peskin, leaning forward and licking his lips. "Tell us more!"

Lurking beneath it all, like a shark in the water, is a proposal by Chris Daly not to be discussed at this meeting, that will allow the city to appropriate all of its Rainy Day Fund if the current fiscal crisis so demands. You wait ... it's coming.

2 p.m. - Full Board of Supervisors

We all know that San Francisco will end not with a bang, but a whimper. But what language will that whimper be in? Will it be translated into Mandarin, Spanish, and Tagalog? Will it be closed captioned for the hearing impaired? Will it have been whimpered through a public outreach campaign, so that everyone can hear it regardless of race, sexual orientation, and income?

These are the questions that consume the Board of Supervisors. How to prevent the end in the first place? Not so much.

Exhibit A is $136,000,000 of the General Obligation Bonds to upgrade the General Hospital and Trauma Center, which will be offered as the Supes first order of business. It became explicitly clear in 2008 that city has a truly abysmal record on keeping bond projects on time, on budget, and ... for that matter ... finished at all. But as the city engages in one of the largest borrowing projects in its history, are there any proposals on the table to better monitor city projects and spending - to hold cost estimates and work orders more accountable?

Nope.

Despite an outbreak of evidence that SF just doesn't handle money well, the idea of reforming our systems before we blow $1.4 billion on a vitally important hospital project just ... hasn't ... come up.

I guess that's because fixing stuff that's broken is soooooo Midwestern. Here in San Francisco, we'll spend our way out of this mess!

While we're at it, the city will also be issuing $45 million in bonds for improvements to Moscone Center.

I have a headache.

Aaron Peskin, however, has a "Know Your Rights" brochure which towing firms are required to display. This, of course, assumes that people who drive in San Francisco still read stuff on paper - which may be a flawed strategy. Perhaps if the "brochure" could be condensed to a 140 character "tweet" that could be sent via iPhone, we might have something here.

The Supes will also: turn a portion along the Mission Creek Channel into a public park; attempt to override a mayoral veto of a law that would require a special authorization any time a property owner wants to reduce the number of residential units in a building; and defund the Community Justice Center just to see Gavin Newsom cry. (In fairness, I too would like to see Gavin Newsom cry).

They'll round out the meeting by finally passing Ross Mirkarimi's mammoth proposal to "Promote and Sustain Music and Culture in San Francisco." This will lead to a series of hearings in which an extremely sickly Bevan Dufty will have to ask himself "Did I deliberatly grow up to be the person who helps vet members of the Music and Culture Committee?" and "Is it too late to go to clown college?"

Meanwhile, I can't wait to learn if SF will do to arts and culture what it did to race relations, or if it will turn out more like what we did to the anti-war movement.

Thursday, Jan. 8 - Full Board of Supervisors (the NEW board!)

The question on everyone's mind: WHO will be the new president of the Board of Supervisors?

Can I break ranks for a second here? Let me be the first pundit in San Francisco so say: I don't care who the new president of the Supes is. It's irrelevant.

Yeah, yeah, I know: the board president has power. But not nearly as much as Peskin made it look. This is fundamentally a consensus-driven board: the president has the power to screw his colleagues only so far as he can keep a majority of them happy. A president who does not have the ear, the fear, or the respect of a majority of the board can't use his position to do much of anything that anyone cares about.

What matters then, is not who the new board selects as president but HOW they select him: the actual selection of Ross Mirkarimi (my candidate) or John Avalos or Bevan Dufty is far less important for the future of SF than whether the whole board comes to a consensus cooperatively - or if it's a tightly fought contest that creates new personal enmities and stronger factions.

This is the first decision the new board makes: do they do it in a way that opens the lines of communications, or closes them? Does it increase cooperation or kill it? These are the important questions, because the progress the board can make over the next two years depends far more on whether the board president can spend his time advancing an agenda that the board has developed and stands behind, or is forced to spend it managing factions that fight for scraps.

The actual person matters far less than the circumstances in which he is elected: the question San Francisco should therefore be asking is now "Who will he be?" but "will the process that selects him be unifying?"

Stay tuned.

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