SF Gov InAction: Preeeetty Sure Barack Obama Is More Popular than David Chiu

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If there were ever a week when nobody gave a damn about local government -- this is it.

Today, of course, is Martin Luther King Jr. Day, so all city officials are staying home to have dreams.

Tomorrow is Barack Obama's inauguration, when he will save us all.

This week, David Chiu doesn't seem like such a big deal.

Still, a few meetings are happening, and I suppose we ought to pay attention on the off chance that everything isn't better by Wednesday.

Wednesday, Jan. 21, 1 p.m. -- Budget and Finance Committee

Oh boy oh boy oh boy! It's time for the monthly overtime report again. I just betcha THIS will be the one that solves our overtime problem!

The idea that charting the city's monthly overtime expenses would somehow lead to a solution for the problem of too much overtime was flawed to begin with, and has been getting a lot of deserved ridicule lately.

First we discovered that the city's overworked emergency services were in fact overworked. Did you know that when there's a fire, a whole team of people have to respond whether they've already worked eight hours or not? For real.

Then we discovered that, even if we capped the amount of overtime that any one person could earn, we were still spending the same amount on overtime because the same work has to get done. Apparently, if you have ambulances, somebody has to drive them.

Finally, we discovered that because we've been relying so much on overtime, certain departments don't actually have enough staff to do their jobs without it -- so that if we cap overtime tightly enough, people have to stop trying to solve murders.

I know the supervisors were hoping that it was just one guy who kept punching out late every Thursday who was causing the city to spend millions on overtime, but ... it hasn't panned out that way. And after months of overtime reports, we still know exactly what we knew to start with: The city isn't hiring enough people to do work that has to get done.

There are actually good reasons for that: Hiring more people means that the city has to pay their health benefits, which are incredibly expensive. It might actually be cheaper for San Francisco to just push existing employees into overtime situations.

Also, in a city dominated by unions, hiring more city employees means you can probably never get rid of them -- and so if we do come up with a way to reduce the number of murders or fires or people using ambulances in S.F., then we're stuck with all the extra hands we hired -- whereas overtime can be reduced whenever we're in the mood.

All of which is to say that despite months of reporting, we're about to have yet another hearing telling us what we already know. This month, the hearing focuses on Muni overtime, which faces the same fundamental dynamic. If the city wants to have buses, people need to drive them, repair them, and run interference when something goes wrong. You can either hire enough people to do that without overtime, or you can tell the agency to do it with overtime -- but unless you cut service, there isn't really a third option. The best you can do is trim around the edges, reducing an hour here and there, and end up pretty much where you started.

Anyway. Also worth noting at this meeting: an "emergency contract" to "design and install a new, compliant emergency electrical generation system at San Francisco General Hospital."

Apparently "the existing nonconforming steam turbine-driven generators along with the steam generating equipment" that the hospital is using as an emergency power source now "are many years behind their service life" and "this equipment is proven to be unreliable and creates a substantial risk for the City and County of San Francisco."

Ah, nothing reinforces faith in government like hearing about the antiquated steam turbine generators at a hospital.

Save us, Barack. Save us.

Thursday, Jan. 22

1 p.m. - Rules Committee

At this meeting, Chris Daly and Bevan Dufty will decide whether Jonathan Pearlman should sit on the Historical Preservation Commission. That's all.

Got it?

3:30 pm. - City and School District Committee

This committee will hold a hearing on the school district's expulsion policies. If you get there early and are good, maybe they'll let you expel a child yourself.

Go home. There's nothing to see here.

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