SF GovInAction: So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu


There's virtually no government happening this week, and the few meetings scheduled are so pointless that you'd be excused for calling them vanity government. David Chiu just likes to call stuff to order -- and can you blame him?

But before I cover this week's vanity meetings to reveal once again that the emperor has no clues, a personal note:

I quit.

This is not a joke, but it will be my last SF Gov InAction. After nearly three years I am resigning from coverage of San Francisco politics and handing off the reins of this column.

Everything of significance that I have to say about San Francisco government I said in my recent cover story with Joe Eskenazi -- and repeating it over and over again is neither fun nor aesthetically pleasing. Some generous people have told me that it is effective, but I just don't see it.

Thank you for reading.

This does not represent the end of my relationship with SF Weekly. I will continue to write those funny little lists I do for the paper, and am likely to periodically show up in other ways. I am only resigning from covering San Francisco politics -- but I am doing it whole cloth. I plan to forget the mayor's name as soon as humanly possible. I am willing to hit myself on the head if that's what it takes.

If you know me from this column and see me in the future, please do say hello. But please do not try to catch me up on everything that's happening at City Hall.

Once again, thank you for reading. And now, it's time for my farewell lap.

Tuesday, February 16

2 p.m. -- Full Board of Supervisors


Actually, there is no full board meeting on Tuesday, because Monday is a holiday: President's Day. You remember presidents, right? They were government employees who worked for a living.

Honest-to-God, supervisors, how can you cancel Tuesday's meeting without at least a glimmer of shame? Show us something! Some trace of humanity that hasn't been eaten away by the corrosive mendacity of promising people you can make the world reasonable! Some redeeming sense that you know this is an exercise in hypocrisy rapidly turning into an exercise in absurdity! An honest ...

... I'm just going to stop there.

See? This is why it's not fun anymore.

Anyway, Goodbye San Francisco Board of Supervisors: You are perhaps the purest proof that even democratic government is an exercise in misanthropy.

3 p.m. -- Government Audit and Oversight Committee


There are several things happening at this meeting that, in theory, are big and important. Like a proposal by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi to have the city's Budget and Legislative Analyst audit the city's general fund revenues to see where the money is coming from, what new sources of it might be, and how it might be better collected. That sounds important, right?

Incidentally: Goodbye Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi: You were the man I wanted to grow up to be back when I thought there was a slim chance comic books could be real.

Another measure is a proposal by David Campos to have the budget analyst conduct an audit of the city's Municipal Transportation Authority to see if it's run at all effectively with the massive amounts of money it takes in. That sounds like it could be important, right?

Incidentally: Goodbye Supervisor David Campos: I think I'll miss your emphasis on the importance of effective process most of all.

Sophie Maxwell has yet another favor to ask of the Budget Analyst: She'd like it to conduct an audit of the Alemany Farmer's Market. That ... well, it's not so important, really ... but it's legitimate, right?

Incidentally: Goodbye Supervisor Sophie Maxwell: While you are a baffling example of how anyone can get elected somehow, you have also worked tirelessly for your constituents and your district.

So all of these things sound important, and honestly they should be, but they're probably not; in every case (well, maybe not the Alemany Farmer's Market) the supervisors actually have virtually no control over the issue in the final analysis. The MTA board is exclusively appointed by the mayor, and is more dismissive of the legislative branch than the Taliban is of The Vagina Monologues. The mayor's ability to make ad hoc "adjustments" to the city's budget -- even when it goes against the express wishes of a supermajority of the Board of Supervisors -- would make Louis XIV, the Sun King, embarrassed for autocracy.

Today's agenda items, good and worthy on paper, aren't worth the paper they're written on because of the dysfunctional nature of San Francisco democracy.

A proposed charter amendment that would require the mayor to abide by the budgeting decisions of a supermajority of the supervisors has caught a lot of flack in the press for empowering what is -- unquestionably -- the world's best-paid clown troupe. But it should be on the ballot and it should be passed because that's how democracy works. I don't like the lunacy of the supervisors any better than you do. But when eight of the people's 11 representatives -- the legislative branch, which is the closest branch of government to the people -- tells the executive officer what his marching order are, he needs to march.

If at least the possibility of a legislative override doesn't exist, then there is no check on the executive branch, and we become a city not of laws or of men, but of one man -- the mayor. Are we surprised that he governs like an egomaniac?

And for crying out loud, get the supervisors some representatives on the MTA board.

Goodbye Government Audit & Oversight Committee: I can't wait until you actually get to have oversight of the government.


Wednesday, Feb. 17, 11 a.m. - Budget & Finance Committee


Unlike the last meeting, which should be important, this meeting actually is. The very first item is a proposal to file the new plan for CleanPower SF with the state. Like it or not, that's a big deal. Also on the agenda for today are the various business employment tax cuts proposed by the mayor and ... Bevan Dufty? Really? Bevan? You wanted a piece of that action? Think it'll look good on a mailer with a picture of you talking to construction workers and a caption saying "Bevan Dufty supported tax cuts to create jobs"?

Ah, you're probably right. It's terrible economics though: Providing tax cuts as incentives that might conceivably possibly vaguely encourage private sector hiring while almost certainly leading to cuts in public sector positions doesn't actually help the city's employment picture. At best it's a wash, at worst it makes things worse. They might make sense as part of a comprehensive budget package that mitigated the damage to the public sector by increasing efficiency ... but as we know San Francisco doesn't really do "comprehensive budget package." Its process could more aptly be defined as "Haphazard scramble for lifeboats on the Titanic."

Goodbye Supervisor Bevan Dufty: You'd make a great legislator if you'd just stop running for mayor.

Also on the agenda, hearings on how to balance the budgets of the Department of Children Youth and Families and the Fire Department for the 2010-11 fiscal year. See the last meeting for all the reasons these hearings are ultimately as futile as they are boring.

Goodbye Budget and Finance Committee: You are a beacon of hope to every stupid idea attached to a noble cause.

Also hello and goodbye CleanPower SF: I am extremely thankful that I won't have to argue with anyone about you from this day forth. But, since we're here, I might as well say: This is a good program that should be implemented and given a chance. Just expect the worst. The cost savings won't be nearly as high as predicted -- in fact, it will probably cost us more money for a while until the kinks are worked out. Why? Because any new program usually has growing pains, this one's been overhyped by its supporters, and because San Francisco is particularly bad at running things.

But it's worth it anyway, for two reasons: First, municipal power (when it's run well) really is cheaper and better managed than private utilities. I've seen that myself as a reporter covering communities with both; the government is better at some things than private industry, and this is one of them. Second, with no competition and lax regulation, PG&E has no incentive to create affordable renewable power, and clean power is important in its own right. Even if we have to pay more for it for a while.

I'm a realist about how much of a headache CleanPower SF will be, but it's a good idea whose time has been here for a while. Pass it and do it.

Thursday, Feb. 18, 10 a.m. - Rules Committee


Can I just admit something? Back in the day, when Tom Ammiano and Aaron Peskin were on it, I loved the Rules Committee. Man did those guys know their rules. Watching them on the Rules Committee must have been like watching Brando in Streetcar Named Desire, only with public comment.

Those guys ruined it for me, though: Now, the thrill is gone. Now it's like watching Owen Wilson in Streetcar Named Desire, only with public comment.

So let's get this over with quick.

• Ross Mirkarimi's getting appointed to LAFCO.

Goodbye LAFCO: I never understood how much progressives believe the ends justify the means until I saw how they created and managed you.

• Sean Elsbernd's getting appointed to the Peninsula Joint Powers Board.

Goodbye Sean Elsbernd: It takes an extraordinary man to make reasonable answers so unpalatable to so many people, but you did it.

• Ross Mirkarimi is proposing that the amount the SFPD spends on security for city officials and dignitaries be a line item in the budget;

• A ballot amendment by Mirkarimi and Campos requires that a "Statement of Policy regarding the Regulation of the Cultivation and Sale of Cannabis" be submitted to the voters in the June election. (Insert pot joke here. Hah! Hilarious! You sure got them!)

• A proposal by Campos, Avalos, Mirkarimi, David Chiu and Eric Mar that a charter amendment be submitted to the voters requiring "community-based foot beat policing." How sad is it that to get the attention of the police department, the supervisors feel they need to enshrine the police tactics du jour into the DNA of our city?

Goodbye John Avalos: You haven't been hyped much, but don't believe it -- it's still hype.

Goodbye Eric Mar: I didn't know who to call "the progressive Michela Alioto-Pier" until I saw you.

Goodbye Michela Alioto-Pier: Words fail me, as they have you so many times in the past.

Goodbye David Chiu: However many points you get for competence, they will never add up to anything so long as you believe government is a meritocracy.

Goodbye Rules Committee: You left your heart in Ammiano.

Is that it? Is there anybody I've forgotten? Let's see:

Goodbye Carmen Chu: "..."

Goodbye Chris Daly: There's nothing I can say about you that hasn't already been said, except "Thank you for dragging us all down to your level." When politicians have no standards, it makes a reporter's job so much easier.

And, of course, Goodbye Gavin Newsom: You're probably the only man who wants to get out of San Francisco politics more than I do.

I think that's everything: My apologies to anyone I've missed. As for myself, Goodbye Benjamin Wachs: Goethe said that being brilliant is no great feat if you respect nothing -- and, all too often, you succeeded in proving him right.

But ending with a Goethe quote? Nice.

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