Exclusive to the Westside Observer
Ruminations of a Former Citizen Supervisor
Probably the most significant measure on the June 2014 San Francisco Municipal Election ballot protects the right of San Franciscans to authorize any vertical desecration of our waterfront.
In the post-World War II era of waterfront devastation and general freeway spread throughout the state and nation, San Francisco political leaders and businessmen, together with the California Department of Transportation, facilitated the construction of the so-called Embarcadero Freeway. For about 30 years, many (if not most) San Franciscans clamored for removal of that waterfront impediment. The best that such like-minded people could accomplish was prevention of a freeway through the Panhandle near Golden Gate Park, and another one through the Marina to the Golden Gate Bridge.
No sooner last month was the measure certified for the June election than special interests filed a lawsuit to prevent San Francisco voters from voting on it. The suit is financed by the San Francisco Giants and big Labor Union organizations. It is scheduled for hearing in San Francisco Superior Court on March 13th.”
On October 17, 1989, however, the world changed for the Bay Area in the form of the Loma Prieta earthquake, which expunged a portion of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge (that will always be its name, notwithstanding venal politicians and their lackeys) and damaged other local freeways. Eventually, the Embarcadero Freeway was demolished and the real property upon which it was constructed was transferred to San Francisco by a State Senate Bill I introduced. Previously, the Port of San Francisco's administration had been divested by the State of California to San Francisco under the so-called public trust doctrine, which essentially signifies that San Francisco must utilize all port properties for public benefit, and not simply to make money.
Last November San Franciscans rejected an effort by high-rise condominium developers to construct a skyscraper commonly called 8 Washington Street. That parcel was across the road from the water, not on the Bay itself. Almost all the political "big shots" attempted to enable such a view-hindering structure's construction. The vote against it was approximately 66.6%. In the aftermath, many sincere citizens promulgated an initiative ballot measure for June 2014 with a simple requirement, namely, any future development on the Embarcadero which exceeds the current limits of approximately 50 feet must be expressly approved by a majority of voters at an election.
The signatures required to qualify such initiative ordinance were collected in a majestic three weeks. No sooner last month was the measure certified for the June election than special interests filed a lawsuit to prevent San Francisco voters from voting on it. The suit is financed by the San Francisco Giants and big Labor Union organizations. It is scheduled for hearing in San Francisco Superior Court on March 13th. I expect that regardless of the Superior Court ruling, the losing parties will seek review and reversal by the California Court of Appeal in expedited fashion. The principle is clear; it's mystifying to believe California law stops voters from adopting a local ordinance, despite the opponents' claim that the state statute transferring the Port to San Francisco only allows the mayoral-appointed Port Commission to set rules for waterfront land use. I predict the initiative, led by Jon Gollinger of Telegraph Hill, former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, former Mayor Art Agnos of Potrero Hill, and Sierra Club President Becky Evans, will pass with as much as a 70% affirmative vote, (barring court rejection).
Last month, 12 California legislators revealed they had formed a "Jewish Caucus," even if three of the asserted members are not Jewish. That reminded me of history; it also reminded me of the continuing degradation of American culture (does anyone remember the "melting pot"?). On my election to the California State Senate in 1986, I discovered existence of a "Jewish Caucus"; I qualified as a Jew to attend uneventful meetings. The chairman was a non-Jewish Assemblyman from Los Angeles, whose wife was Jewish and a conspicuous Democratic Party fundraiser. There were perhaps eight members, including a Republican Assemblyman from Marin County who decided in 1988 to seek election to the United States House of Representatives. The Democratic chairman of the "Jewish Caucus," covertly and unknown to the other members of the group, lent his name to a Primary Election Campaign flyer for the Republican Assemblyman, proclaiming his status as "Chairman of the Jewish Caucus." Upon discovery by other caucus Democratic members, indignation raged. The late Senator Leroy Greene, a Sacramento Democrat, demanded a meeting at which the offending chairman was excoriated for unauthorized conduct, and the "Jewish Caucus" was, thankfully in my strong opinion, dissolved on Senator Greene's motion and my second. Senator Greene properly observed that a "Jewish Caucus" represented separatism, not the unified American culture the California Legislature should signify. We know that history repeats itself, whatever the professed motivation, in a legislature which I discovered already contains a Black Caucus, A Women's Caucus, a Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus, an Outdoor Sporting Caucus, a Republican Women's Caucus, a Latino Caucus, an Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, an Animal Protection Caucus, an Environmental Caucus, an Inland Empire Caucus, a Rural Caucus, and a San Gabriel Valley Caucus, plus a Mental Health Caucus with but two members! One expects in a legislature a Democratic Caucus and a Republican Caucus. That's logical. (As the Legislature's only Independent during most of my 12 years, I didn't have a caucus.) Those do exist and employ at taxpayers' expense numerous staff members. Now taxpayers' increasingly must support additional state employees for proliferating special interest caucuses. That's foolish and contributes to disrespect of the California legislature.
Here's how progress overcomes history. In 1987, I organized, qualified for the ballot and secured passage of a San Francisco initiative ordinance forbidding imposition of San Francisco's infamous utility tax on any residential utility consumers. (Commercial ratepayers can claim an Income Tax deduction). After passage, the initiative ordinance was challenged in Superior Court unsuccessfully, then in the California Court of Appeal unsuccessfully. Last month I noticed on my mobile telephone bill a "San Francisco Telecom Utility Tax." Outraged at first, I discovered upon investigation that our cell telephones are not considered residential telephones and are, therefore, subject to the San Francisco Utility Tax, unlike our "landlines." Is that progress? Why didn't I cover that in 1987?
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Amidst disagreements between motorists and bicyclists in San Francisco and other California entities and pundits in local newspapers, biased in favor of bicyclists, or less so, annoyed by bicyclist behavior, one quintessential fact is overlooked. If you purchase gasoline in California, you pay an 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax and a 39 cents-per-gallon State of California gasoline and sales tax. The proceeds of the federal gas tax are deposited in the Highway Trust Fund, created by the United States Congress and then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1956 to pay costs of construction and maintenance of the Interstate Highway System. That same financial mechanism has been utilized in California since 1922; thus, all proceeds of the California gas tax are deposited in the State Highway Account. The purpose of that account is similar to the federal gas tax concept; the State Highway Account money is applied to pay costs of building and maintaining the State Highway System.
Both the federal and state gasoline tax highway funds have, outrageously, been raided and distorted to finance uses unrelated to streets, roads, or highways…spending over $105,000,000,000 in fiscal years 2012-13 and 2013-14 for “surface transportation programs” which are not just roads and bridges, but also include “transit, bike and pedestrian” projects.”
Additionally, California vehicle owners pay a registration fee to the Department of Motor Vehicles, proceeds of which are used to support the expenses of the DMV and the California Highway Patrol. Furthermore, the possessor of a California driver’s license, whether for trucks, motorcycles or automobiles, must be licensed by the DMV and pay a driver’s license fee. Proceeds of the driver license fee are utilized for, among other purposes, defraying the costs of the California Highway Patrol. To the contrary, however, owners of bicycles do not need to register such ownership with any entity, state, county or city. Bicyclists, additionally, need not possess a license to operate bicycles. Nevertheless, bicyclists use the city streets, county roads, and even state highways, which have been built by motor vehicle owners and drivers, both trucks and automobiles. (Would you call that a “free ride?”) Gasoline taxation of motorists, both owners and drivers, has, additionally, been stripped of its original user fee status, a philosophy based upon the concept that those who use a public or governmental structure such as a street should pay for its construction and upkeep. Both the federal and state gasoline tax highway funds have, outrageously, been raided and distorted to finance uses unrelated to streets, roads, or highways. One example federally is the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act” enacted by the Congress and President in July 2012, and spending over $105,000,000,000 in fiscal years 2012-13 and 2013-14 for “surface transportation programs” which are not just roads and bridges, but also include “transit, bike and pedestrian” projects. As Lawrence J. McQuillan of the Independent Institute in Oakland has noted, “Walking is now a Surface Transportation Program.” Approximately $800,000,000 of Federal Highway Trust money was appropriated to the OneBayArea Grant Program dealing with housing, transportation, and land use in the nine-county Bay Area through 2040 after approval by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and Association of Bay Area Governments in July 2013. About $10,000,000 of such money was routed to “priority conservation areas,” which represent city and county purchases of land for “long-term protection.” Thus, taxes from motorists are blatantly diverted to general government uses. Gasoline taxes will finance parks, bicycle paths, pedestrian walkways, scenic overlooks, viewing areas and even parking lots in the nine Bay Area counties, not better or more (God forbid!) streets, roads, or highways. Potholes be damned. Bicyclists be revered; they must be exempted from paying to use streets, roads, and highways.
And then there exists the problem of stolen bicycles. The San Francisco Police Department recovers thousands of stolen bicycles annually. The owners can’t be located because they don’t need to register their bicycles or obtain a license for their (sometimes) unsafe operation of bicycles. Motorists subsidize bicyclists, and no elected or appointed official demonstrates the integrity of rectifying such illogical public policy. Logically, bicycle owners should be compelled to register bicycles in the owner’s city or county of residence or business. Bicycle operators should be required to possess a license. Violations of safety ordinances and statutes, local and state, by bicycle owners and operators should be treated as owners and operators of motor vehicles are treated for asserted violations of law. To do otherwise constitutes unequal treatment of those who pay for public structures which bicyclists use without tax or fee. If the gasoline tax is abolished as a user fee (which has occurred in large part) and continually spent not for road-building and repairs, but for current societal fads, it becomes a regressive tax similar to the sales tax, meaning that it is paid in greater proportional amount by those less able to do so than a progressive income tax which is levied on one’s financial ability to pay the costs of government.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge
Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
A Wall Street Journal article last month about New York City taxicab medallions, permits to operate a taxicab, reminded me of the somewhat common aphorism "No good deed goes unpunished." A combined debt of over $2,500,000 for two medallions in New York City at the taxicab permit auction by New York City parallels the 35-year past history of taxicab medallions in San Francisco. Until the advent of Willie Brown as Mayor, with then-Supervisor Gavin Newsom as his Board of Supervisors spear carrier, taxicab medallions were issued by the Police Department. The application and grant procedure was simple, requiring about $500 worth of police department personnel time and a resultant application fee. That resulted from a ballot measure (Known as Proposition K) approved by San Francisco voters in June 1978. It had been initiated by then-Supervisor John J. Barbagelata and me. It ended the practice of Yellow Cab and other taxicab mogul companies treating public property, the taxicab permit, as a private asset, selling at that time for $40,000 to $50,000 to neophyte supplicants, who, under the law didn't even need to drive the cab. Thus doctors, lawyers, storeowners, nurses, and other non-drivers could, and did, own permits, renting them at profitable prices to actual drivers. Proposition K changed the law. It treated a taxicab medallion as a public, not a private, asset. It required all holders of a medallion to operate the taxicab for a minimum number of hours per year, rather than use the medallion as a device to profit from its rental. To obtain a permit, an applicant completed a simple application form, and the Police Department verified his or her driving ability and record together with the condition mechanically of the taxicab he or she wanted to operate. Taxicab moguls who actually owned permits were "grandfathered" until the requisite minimum taxicab operation by them was no longer possible. The medallion was then returned to the Police Department and issued to the next driver applicant on the waiting list.
In the 1990's, however, Newsom fostered an amendment to Proposition K which transferred administration from the Police Department and Police Commission to a newly conceived Taxicab Commission, comprised of specified categorical members such as a cab company representative, an actual driver, and others. Almost all of them possessed some financial interest in taxicab operations and enforcement of Proposition K and related industry rules, unlike the independent Police Commission. Previously, taxicab companies had sponsored 8 unsuccessful ballot measures and at least 5 constitutional lawsuits to repeal or weaken Proposition K from 1978 to 1998, claiming Proposition K deprived them of due process of law by seizure of their personal property, the City permit. Thereafter, as Mayor, Newsom sponsored a Charter amendment establishing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) primarily for operation of the Municipal Railway. It, however, included an obscure clause transferring administration of taxicab medallions and industry rules to the MTA and permitted the MTA to establish new rules, thus enabling abolition of Proposition K and allowing treatment of a taxicab medallion once again as a private asset for purchase by non-taxicab drivers who could afford a purchase price of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Newsom even signed a letter with then-Board of Supervisors Chairman Aaron Peskin declaring that the MTA would never change Proposition K rules. Thereafter, the MTA nullified Proposition K and began a practice last year of selling taxicab medallions for $250,000 each and abolishing minimum annual driving requirements. That inevitably creates pressure for higher taxicab fares, which encourages competition from new methods of providing transportation for hire, such as a technology company that matches passengers to automobile owners. Passive ownership of a medallion is again permitted by the MTA. The venal system has been restored by City Hall though stealth and mayoral lie.
Salmon P. Chase, who died in 1873, was Governor of Ohio, a U.S. Senator, Secretary of the Treasury, and Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He once observed: "The fundamental principal of all just legislation is that the legislature shall not take the property of A and give it to B." The recent predicament of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Board of Directors grappling with a permissible "days off" clause in the vaunted contract concluded with employee unions in September raised that thought of financial waste. Readers may recall that BART hired and paid about $400,000 to an alleged labor negotiation expert from out of town. The BART board late last month, after all unions approved the final contract with a $68,000,000 cost in employee days off, attempted to correct such searing carelessness by voting final approval of a form of contract which deleted the wasteful clause. The unions charge impropriety and the outcome is unclear as I write. It appears clear, however, that such malpractice by an alleged labor negotiation expert will be ignored by BART. Suppose your attorney neglects to read all clauses in a proposed contract and allows you to sign such contract with a clause costing you millions of dollars. That's negligence, a legal malpractice claim waiting to be asserted by you. Thus far, the so-called labor negotiation expert has been paid without consequence to his carelessness.
That pales in comparison with Transbay Terminal Joint Powers Authority and U.S. Department of Transportation waste locally. As part of President Obama's ballyhooed American Recovery and Rehabilitation Act in February 2009, commonly called the "Stimulus Act", the Transbay Terminal Project snagged $400,000,000 to build a so-called "train box" underneath the terminal. The ideas was founded upon extending Cal Train tracks 1.3 miles from Fourth and King streets to the Transbay Terminal, together with California High Speed Rail tracks. Now, the California High Speed Rail Authority has been thwarted by two Sacramento County Superior Court decisions finding the current 2012 project plan illegal under the 2008 High Speed Rail Ballot Measure known as Proposition 1A for failure to authenticate financial sources for completion of the first section from Merced to the San Fernando Valley and obtain environmental clearance for the entire section. The court also ruled against the State on its bond validation case, commenced by the High Speed Rail Authority to enable sale of $8,000,000,000 of State General Obligation Bonds. A second part of the case, alleging six other High Speed Rail Authority violations of Proposition 1A, will be tried next spring in the same court. The Transbay Terminal Joint Powers Authority claims the cost to extend its tracks from Fourth and King Streets to First and Mission Streets is about $2,500,000,000. That's based, however, upon a 2006 estimate, which includes a supposed inflationary rate. As noted previously in this column, the current cost is probably over $4,000,000,000. There's no money for such an extension, but work has already begun on the "train box" thus causing expenditure of $400,000,000 of taxpayer money for a purpose never to be consummated.
On that lugubrious note, I bid readers a Happy Holiday season, which includes the early eight days of Chanukah and infinite days of Christmas and New Year's celebration. Happy 2014.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
The Oblivious Led By the Willing
On the November 5th municipal election ballot are four propositions, A, B, C and D. I'm voting against each of them. I'll explain why.
Proposition A is a charter amendment purporting to prevent any "raiding" of the City employees' health care trust fund. It's just the opposite, but so cunningly worded and promoted by the willing Mayor and oblivious Supervisors that one wouldn't know so at first glance. Proposition A permits and promotes "raiding" of the healthcare trust fund for city employees, active and retired. It adds a so-called "stabilization" provision, which allows City Hall to take, not borrow, from the fund to pay the health care costs of existing retired city employees; it, thus, relieves the annual General Fund of the City and County of its customary obligation to pay such health care costs. That, in turn, creates alleged "savings" for the General Fund.
(Prop A) The City Hall “family” can then divert such “savings” for non-health care purposes. It amounts to stealing employees’ health trust fund contributions and accumulated earning thereon for non-retiree healthcare purposes.”
The City Hall "family" can then divert such "savings" for non-health care purposes. It amounts to stealing employees' health trust fund contributions and accumulated earning thereon for non-retiree healthcare purposes. One subsection declares that regardless of any other trust fund provisions, "different limitations" may apply. Unexplained is the meaning of "different limitations." Our controller, in consonance with a governmental accounting standards board actuary can develop a recommendation for the Mayor, Board of Supervisors and the healthcare trust fund governing board to tap such healthcare trust fund for up to ten percent of "City payroll costs," if total City retiree healthcare costs exceed ten percent of City payroll costs in the next fiscal year. While proponents claim that could happen only if San Francisco's financial condition deteriorated, a two-thirds vote by the Board of Supervisors and the majority of the Healthcare Trust Fund board plus the Mayor could make such a finding. The judiciary will not overrule such action. Past and present City employees are omitted from the process. The trust fund board is comprised of the City Controller, City Treasurer and Executive Director of the San Francisco Employees' Retirement System, plus one active city employee and one retired city employee. City Hall outnumbers the retired and active City employees. Proposition A constitutes yet another City Hall fake "reform." Vote against it.
Propositions B and C demand a "no" vote. If you vote "yes", you're voting to raise waterfront height limits to 136 feet, twice the height of the demolished Embarcadero Freeway, a 62% increase in height limit on the waterfront. We spent two decades trying to demolish the Embarcadero Freeway. I have no intention as a citizen to allow another waterfront wall. Propositions B and C create private, not public, recreation and open space; the "parkland" added by the developer is smaller than a tennis court.
(Props B & C) …the developer labels 134 ultra-luxury condominiums, costing $5,000,000 each, as “neighborhood housing.” The developer’s gall is an indignity to all San Franciscans.”
Spending upward of $2,000,000 to pass Propositions B and C, the developer labels 134 ultra-luxury condominiums, costing $5,000,000 each, as "neighborhood housing." The developer's gall is an indignity to all San Franciscans. Even the Chronicle admits that Propositions B and C "could threaten the City's sewage systems." The development for millionaires is close to a sewer line handling 20,000 gallons of raw sewage daily. An earthquake or construction accident could cause an environmental disaster and fiscal consequences for taxpayers. I say protect our waterfront by voting against Propositions B and C.
Proposition D is another San Francisco fairytale. It's a mere declaration of policy with no legal effect. It declares San Francisco "policy" should be one of reducing the cost of prescriptions. Isn't that wonderful. As a letter to the San Francisco Examiner by Frank Norton points out, almost all of us use prescriptive medication. If Proposition D had actual legal effect, it would mean that all residents would be entitled to "reduced-cost medication, …" Who would pay for that? Property, sales and real estate transfer taxpayers of course. The San Francisco Examiner laughably states in its endorsement editorial: "Prop D can help City fight cost of prescriptions." How? It has no legal effect. It, however, produces "brownie points" for incumbent Supervisors who want to run for other public elective offices.
(Prop D) Oh yes, our elected officials surely can effectuate prescription price reductions, and I can fly to the Moon.”
The Chronicle on October 20 endorsed Proposition D after observing: "Non-binding policy statements don't belong on the ballot." It then disregards that truth and talks about calling "for the city's elected officials to do what they can to bring down the price of prescription drugs." Oh yes, our elected officials surely can effectuate prescription price reductions, and I can fly to the Moon. Remarkably, I counted ten paid supporting arguments in the Voter Information Pamphlet, all paid by something called the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a Los Angeles-based operation with no local office listed in the San Francisco telephone directory. There are no paid arguments against Proposition D, because it's a meaningless measure, which clutters the ballot. A "no" vote might sway local politicians to stop wasting our time and money.
I inveighed last month against an Assembly Bill, which granted legal immigrants the privilege of jury service in Superior Court and recommended the Governor veto it. To my surprise (this is a fellow who signed a bill granting illegal immigrants motor vehicle driving privilege) Governor Jerry Brown did exactly that. Hurray!
The "chutzpah" award for 2013 should probably be conferred on the Golden State Warriors, who misrepresented to The Wall Street Journal in its October 19 story about Barclays Center, the new basketball arena in Brooklyn, that the Warriors' proposed arena is 100 percent privately financed by them. After city taxpayers provide the land, the Warriors would finance only the structures and improvements built on taxpayer land. City taxpayers would bestow as much as $170,000,000 or more to fill the Bay with concrete and create "artificial land" at Piers 30-32 upon which the Warriors would build the arena and allied structures in the Bay. The entire project reportedly would cost about $1,000,000,000; thus taxpayers confer about 17% of the project cost. Taxpayers should be spending 0%, considering the gift of free land to the Warriors.
Equally interesting in The Wall Street Journalarticle was disclosure that the vaunted Barclays Center's operating income is less than its debt service. (The article is entitled; "Arena Glitters, but Is It Gold?") Barclays with approximately 212 events in its first year, including National Basketball Association Brooklyn Nets' playoff and regular season games and forecasted 2,100,000 spectators, will generate only some $25,000,000 in revenue for the year, not the $76,000,000 predicted by the owners. That's less than the $29,000,000 in annual debt repayment. Barclays Center isn't generating a profit from events like the MTV video music awards, Beyoncé and Paul McCartney concerts, and 212 other events (the Warriors boast of 200 events per year at the proposed arena). Bestowing $170,000,000 or more of San Francisco taxpayer funds on a Warriors arena constitutes a bad investment.
The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments last month in a case attempting to overturn Michigan's Constitutional prohibition against granting racial, national origin, gender or ethnicity preferences in public universities, public jobs or government contracts. The University of Michigan wants to give preferential treatment in admissions on account of race, color, ethnicity and gender, despite voter adoption of a Michigan constitutional amendment modeled on California's 1996 initiative measure, declaring that Michigan shall not discriminate against or grant preferential treatment to any individual on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education or public contracting. As co-chairman with then-Governor Pete Wilson of the 1996 California Constitutional Initiative, I fearlessly forecast U.S. Supreme Court rejection of University of Michigan efforts to discriminate on account of race or sex. I am reminded of columnist George Will's observation last September that tens of millions of dollars could be saved in higher education budgets if every college or university abolished every administrative position "whose titles contained the words 'diversity', 'equity', 'race', 'ethnicity', 'gender', 'inclusion', 'identity', 'interconnectivity', 'cross-cultural' or 'multi-culturalism.'" That would be nirvana.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Ah, yes, it was a grand day on September 2 for the opening of the eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. To be sure, the cost of the two hour speechmaking by elected and appointed public officials on a rather warm afternoon was less than the once-planned $6,000,000 celebration announced last spring before more imperfections were discovered in bridge bolts and related material, but it massaged the egos of state and local officials, culminating in remarks by our “hip” Lt. Governor striving for Jesuitical brilliance even without a tie. Initially estimated by the state Department of Transportation as an $800,000,000 project, the current reputed (again by Caltrans) cost is approximately $6,400,000,000. While the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge remains part of the federal and state highway systems, well over one half of the cost will be paid by tollpayers. On October 17, 1989, the day of the Loma Prieta Earthquake, the toll on that bridge was 75 cents. Today the toll is $6.00 (Fast Pass cuts it to $5.00).
After all, it was Brown’s selfish actions that prompted delays in the construction of the new eastern span for two years and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in supplemental studies and inflationary costs…”
Last week I discovered a historical memento; it was a receipt dated April 4, 1939 for travel on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge by a truck. The toll was 60 cents. (For automobiles it was then 25 cents). The receipt on one side states: “A time and money-saving service owned by the people. When you pay toll you pay yourself.” On the reverse side, the receipt states: “Many thanks for your business.” (I kid you not!) Below that remarkable legend the receipt states: “Patronize your bridge so that tolls may be reduced and the bridge made free at an early date.”(Emphasis added) People who were cognitive in 1939 may remember that Bay-Area tollpayers were promised travel on the bridge would be free once sufficient toll revenue was collected to pay bond holders who underwrote construction costs. (Do I hear any reader exclaiming that’s the time-honored way of government conveying promises which are never redeemed?)
Amidst the publicity and self-congratulatory back-patting over the opening of the new eastern span, consternation and public concern surfaced over a commonplace legislative tactic to secure the renaming of the western span of the Bay Bridge after one-time Assembly Speaker and Mayor Willie Brown. In late June, an obscure Assemblyman from Compton, CA (Los Angeles County) introduced an Assembly resolution to effectuate a new name for the Bay Bridge, or at least one-half of it. (Some wag thereafter suggested renaming the new eastern span after Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr., who contributed with Willie Brown to the multi-year delay and consequent billions of dollar increase in tollpayer and taxpayer expense.) Although the Assembly Transportation Committee (and the State Senate Transportation Committee) adopted five rules two years ago to control the naming of highways, bridges and similar public transportation structures after any person, those rules were ignored by most legislators, intimidated by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) of California whose president is a former member of Mr. Brown’s staff. Among the five rules were: (1) the author or a co-author of the resolution must reside in the area in which the facility is located, not 500 miles away; (2) the proposed designation must reflect a community consensus and be without local opposition. Neither the author nor any co-author of the resolution represents the district in which the Bay Bridge is located. (As an artifice to cure the improper authorship problem, Assemblyman Phil Ting of San Francisco later joined as a co-author. Ting, however, does not represent the district in which the bridge is located; Assemblymen Tom Ammiano represents such district, and he refused to vote for the resolution.) As legislative staff analyses of the measure noted, several Bay-Area editorials emphatically advocated rejection of the resolution. After the Chronicle’s political columnists exposed existence of the resolution in late August, nearly 1,000 comments on the Chronicle’s blog site voiced rabid opposition to it. Only a literal handful supported it. A San Francisco Business Times survey asking: “Should the Bay Bridge be named for former S.F. Mayor Willie Brown?” produced 883 responses, with 89% voting “no” and 11% voting “yes”. On September 16, after legislative adjournment, the Oakland Tribune declared: “The governor should reject the state Legislature’s request to rename the western span of the Bay Bridge after former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown…. After all, it was Brown’s selfish actions that prompted delays in the construction of the new eastern span for two years and cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in supplemental studies and inflationary costs….As former state Business, Housing and Transportation Undersecretary Robert Wolf, who dealt with Brown on the bridge project during Gov. Pete Wilson’s administration, told our investigative reporters back in 2002, ‘Willie Brown was playing games with people’s lives’.” (The Governor, a former Oakland Mayor, stated publicly on September 8 that the Bay Bridge should not be renamed. He rightfully declared that structures like the Bay Bridge and Golden Gate Bridge should not bear an individual’s name.) As the Oakland Tribune correctly noted, those bridges are “regional, national and international symbols for the entire Bay Area. They link together disparate communities, and should help unify, not divide.” The Department of Transportation is the Governor’s responsibility. He should simply disregard the resolution, which unlike a statute or state constitution provision possesses no binding legal mandate.
Another under-publicized Assembly measure allows non-citizens to be jurors in all California courts. Assembly Bill No. 1401, passed by the Assembly in April and the Senate on August 19, grants legal immigrants the privilege of jury service. Currently, the California Government Code bars all immigrants legally present in California from jury duty, no matter their duration of residence in California or other states. Many immigrants reside in California for years without becoming citizens. Persons selected for jury service are chosen at random from mailing lists, telephone directories, registered voter lists and the Department of Motor Vehicles licensed drivers’ list. No citizen is exempt by reason of occupation, economic status, race, national origin, religion, sex, sexual orientation or disability. An eligible citizen may only be excused from jury service because of undue hardship, as determined by the trial judge. Excluded are persons who aren’t citizens, are less than 18 years of age, don’t live in California, don’t live in the county in which they are summoned to serve, been convicted of a felony or malfeasance in public office, don’t possess sufficient knowledge of English, or are the subject of a conservatorship.
Why is this bill unworthy of gubernatorial approval? First, no shortage of qualified prospective trial jurors exists in any county in California. Most people are called, appear for jury service and are not selected. Secondly, why wouldn’t a lawful immigrant become a citizen as soon as he or she qualifies after five years of legal residency? It makes no sense to reward a legal immigrant who demonstrates a lack of interest in citizenship to permit service on juries in criminal or civil cases, involving life, liberty, money, land, governmental action and wills or trusts. The bill reminds one of efforts the past decade to allow non-citizens to vote in Board of Education or other San Francisco Unified School District elections, such as bond measures. Even in liberal San Francisco, those measures were rejected by voters. Expanding the jury system to include non-citizen eligibility diminishes citizenship, which is based upon tested knowledge and understanding of American government and history. The idea is unwarranted and a potential precedent for allowing non-citizen voting. Veto the bill, Governor.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
During the Westside Observer's summer hiatus, (and while my wife and I tried to catch Atlantic salmon as guest of a law school classmate on a river in Eastern Canada), BART employees engaged in a four and one half day strike in the first week of July. The adverse effect on BART's average daily 350,000 riders was grueling and debilitating, first to the riders, and then to the Bay-area economy. Thereafter, BART and its employee labor unions resumed bargaining for several weeks, but the labor unions planned in early August to resume their strike until the Governor, exercising authority under California's statutes, sued in San Francisco Superior Court for imposition of a legally-authorized (by state law) court order suspending strike activity for 60 days. The 60 days expire at midnight on October 10th; BART and labor unions have reconvened bargaining sessions, all in private and not open to public observation.
Mr. Brown's confession speaks worlds for those who expect truth from public officials, but it also represents a casual acquaintanceship with probity sadly characteristic of many current public officials..."
BART employees contribute no money to their retirement system. BART asked that employees contribute a modest 2% for their pensions the first year of the contract, and 3, 4 and 5% in each of the following three years. BART increased its original proposal of an 8% pay raise over four years to 10% and on August 11 lowered its proposed employee pension contribution to 1% of just the base wage in the first year, and 2, 3 and 4% in three subsequent years. The labor unions rejected any contribution to the retirement system from employees, later demanded an 11.5% pay raise the first year, with a 5% per year increase in each of the next two years, and pension contributions of 7% for each such year. That means a 21.5% pay raise over three years.
Public opinion surveys demonstrate the Bay area citizenry wants a legal prohibition against BART employee strikes. That's not surprising. California law prohibits police officers and firefighters from striking, and historically,
American and California common law and California court decisions barred public employees from striking, including a strong California Supreme Court decision in 1949. In 1985, however, a divided California Supreme Court, in a case involving Los Angeles County Sanitation District employees, rewrote and judicially made new California law under the leadership of the late-Chief Justice Rose Bird, who, with two other California Supreme Court Justices, was recalled by voters a year later. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously informed U.S. Post Office workers who were contemplating a strike that no such right existed for government employees, and President Ronald Reagan in 1982 instantly fired FAA air traffic controllers who had struck. President Roosevelt declared that any strike by postal workers would be tantamount to a denial of governmental authority. Governmental employees, unlike private business employees, possess statutory civil service protections regarding discharge only after an administrative hearing before an independent hearing officer, and other beneficial conditions. In private industry, employment conditions are subject to collective bargaining; there exists no statutory civil service protection. As a practical matter, which even the Rose Bird California Supreme Court noted in 1985, because legislative bodies bear responsibility for governmental employee decision making, such as pension and health care benefits, the right to strike affords government employees "excessive bargaining leverage, resulting in a distortion of the public process and an improper delegation of legislative authority."
The Court could have mentioned that governmental employees can, and do, collectively through labor unions, or individually, donate to legislators' political campaigns. Those legislators can (and do) grant government employees pay and other benefits. That's not the case with private industry employees; managers don't become managers based upon employee votes. The California Supreme Court ruling, however, dismissed all the reasons for maintenance of California's historical bar on government employee strikes, including distortion of the political process. It simply made law by itself, allowing public employee strikes, with one exception: so called "essential public services." (The legislature had previously prohibited firefighter strikes). The court decided that only strikes by "public safety" employees are illegal, and that such employees and their unions are subject to damages to taxpayers. Thereafter, in 1989, the California Supreme Court held illegal a strike by police officers because public safety was threatened. Thus, only the legislature can enact a law prohibiting a strike by BART or any other public agency employees. Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. This legislature won't do it despite public sentiment. Prepare for BART management to surrender, for BART fares to increase and a sales tax increase to be submitted to voters in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties to supply the enormous amount of money (over $1,000,000,000) BART needs to replace cars and other equipment, widen the Embarcadero Station platform and, of course, probably cover increased BART labor costs. A law school classmate of mine as a Professor of Labor Law at Yale 40 years ago proposed that bargaining between governmental employees and elected officials or representatives thereof should be open and public, not closed to the public behind conference room doors.
I still wait for some elected public official to propose that for California. The effect could be benign. The worst idea in the field is agreeing to transfer the decision making to a "neutral" arbitrator. Utilizing a neutral mediator to secure agreement constitutes a justifiable policy. Allowing an unelected arbitrator, however, to render a decision that binds taxpayers and governmental employees, represents abdication of responsibility and is illogical. An arbitrator doesn't answer to taxpayers or public employees unless desiring selection by unions as an arbitrator in the future. Don't be fooled into supporting the notion of an arbitrator to resolve the BART or any other governmental agency-employee dispute.
Regarding transportation, I note that the gaudy Transbay Terminal project cost is revealed already as over budget by at least $300,000,000. That doesn't include the expense of extending tracks from the present CalTrain terminal at Fourth and King Streets to the proposed pie-in-the-sky Transbay Terminal, a distance of 1.3 miles. I recently requested public records showing the supposed current costs of such extension and received 153 pages of documents; dated March 2008, (over five and one-half years ago) stating the extension in 2007 dollars would cost $1,801,622,823, including construction design, right of way acquisition and a reserve. Escalation at 4% per year is estimated as $663,987,471. That's not believable. A source informs me the current cost is probably about $4,200,000,000, with a reserve and cost escalation. That's reminiscent of the Central Subway fiasco, which will cost taxpayers at least $1,600,000,000 for 1.6 miles.
Former Board of Supervisors President and Democratic County Central Committee chairman Aaron Peskin told the truth in a July 29 communication to MTA General Manager Ed Reiskin, referring to a Willie Brown statement in the July 29 San Francisco Chronicle that the Transbay Terminal "over budget" revelation "should not come as a shock to anyone." Brown admitted; " We always knew the initial estimate was way under the real cost. Just like we never had a real cost for the Central Subway…in the world of civic projects the first budget is really just a down payment. If people knew the real cost from the start, nothing would ever be approved. The idea is to get going. Start digging a hole and make it so big, there's no alternative to coming up with the money to fill it in." Mr. Peskin observed that decisions like the Central Subway… "end up having a profound, negative financial impact on San Francisco's municipal finances." Beware of progenitors of projects from the MUNI or MTA. Mr. Brown's confession speaks worlds for those who expect truth from public officials, but it also represents a casual acquaintanceship with probity sadly characteristic of many current public officials, elected and appointed.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Chronicle asked the headline question on two letters to the editor, "Are bikes taking over City Hall?" Of course, they are. A healthy pursuit, it saves gasoline expenditures and it's trendy. The Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) assuredly intends to spend as much as $6,000,000 to expand bicycle lanes and create other ways to enhance the bicycle "experience" in our city. In any public discussion of bicycling in San Francisco, one must be sure to express admiration and high regards for such an environmentally benevolent method of travelling. I now do so. I also point out the irony, and unjustifiable fact, that bicyclists, as such, don't pay a penny for the streets and roads they use. Since 1922, California motor vehicle operators have paid a user fee in the form of gasoline tax upon each gallon of gasoline purchased. (In California today, that tax amounts to 39.5 cents per gallon) Motorists also pay 18 cents per gallon gasoline tax to the United States of America. The proceeds of state gasoline taxation are placed in the State Highway Fund. That fund is used to build streets, roads and highway bridges used by motorists. The theory is simple and fair: those who use streets and highways should pay for the streets. Since bicycles don't require gasoline for operation, bicycle riders pay no tax or fee to use streets, roads and bridges.
The theory is simple and fair: those who use streets and highways should pay for the streets. Since bicycles don't require gasoline for operation, bicycle riders pay no tax or fee to use streets, roads and bridges.""
Motor vehicle owners also pay fees to register their vehicles with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and drivers pay fees for licenses to operate motor vehicles. The proceeds of those fees are specifically devoted to paying the cost of the Department of Motor Vehicles and defray some costs of the California Highway Patrol. Bicycle owners do not pay a bicycle registration fee, or a fee for a license to operate bicycles on state streets and highways. Is that fair? I don't think so. It constitutes a manifest subsidy to bicycle owners and riders. Meanwhile, people continue to comment over the widely prevalent disregard of bicyclists to traffic control signals or stop signs, or even pedestrian crossings. But if the term "self-entitlement" is applied to bicyclists, they shouldn't be surprised or insulted. One other point is relevant: Prior to my departure after 12 years from the California State Senate, including 11 years as Chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, I was selected to chair a joint conference committee of three Assembly members and three Senators to promulgate resolution of differences between legislation in the two houses for replacement of the eastern section of the Bay Bridge. Compromises between Southern California and Bay Area legislators were required respecting financing of the replacement span. Then-Assemblywoman Carole Migden was a member of the joint conference committee. Under pressure from the comparatively nascent bicycle lobbyists, such compromise resulted in inclusion of a little noticed one-way bicycle lane from Oakland to Treasure Island on the new eastern bridge section. The alleged cost was $ 50,000,000. The estimated cost of the incomplete eastern section bicycle accommodation is now $ 200,000,000. As you know, tolls on the Bay Bridge and the other six state-owned bridges on San Francisco Bay were increased to pay most of the projected cost of replacing the eastern bridge section. Those higher tolls have been paid by motorists, not bicyclists. It's one matter for a small portion of gasoline tax proceeds to be utilized to subsidize public bus and rail transit; it's another matter for bridge tolls and gasoline tax proceeds to be thusly applied for bicycle lanes and related accoutrements.
As the Chronicle's editor writer, John Diaz, phrased it on June 23: "If you think San Francisco has gone bonkers for bikes with green-painted riding lanes and a ride-sharing due this summer, get ready for more."
In June, the Anaheim City Council defeated another proposal to establish a district system of electing City Council members. Anaheim contains approximately 330,000 residents and is the largest city in California which still employs at-large voting for its five city council seats. In June, San Mateo County's Board of Supervisors surrendered to threatened lawsuits under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 to force abandonment of its long-established and successful one-of-its-kind system. In my strong opinion, its system has always represented the best method of electing a county Board of Supervisors or any local governing board of the population size of San Francisco or fewer in residents. Until now, a candidate for one of the five San Mateo County supervisorial offices had to live in one of five geographically-drawn districts; as a candidate, however, that person was elected by all county voters. To me, it's been the best of both worlds as between San Francisco's historical at-large system, and the current district election system for San Francisco's Board of Supervisors. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is antiquated and unjustified in most respects. (The U.S. Supreme Court so ruled last month.) Certainly, in California and San Francisco no barriers exist for those who wish to vote and those who wish to assay elected public office. That Anaheim has resisted demands from the usual sources demonstrates cool-headed elected local officials do exist, Virginia, in one California city of size.
I am regularly inveighed or asked about restoring San Francisco's at-large system, which existed until 1977 and was reinstated by voters (not the Board of Supervisors) in August 1980 in a special initiative election. The reason for that resuscitation of the at-large system was the tragic murders of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk. In my opinion, we will never in our lifetimes (including yours, dear readers) see the restoration of the at-large election. The eleven district supervisors in our city are now tantamount to "ward bosses," the dukes and duchesses of their respective fiefdoms. Whatever the district supervisor/ward boss wants, for example by way of real estate development, that supervisor/ward boss gets. As you drive up or down Brotherhood Way between Lake Merced Boulevard and the 280 ramp, you'll notice an horrendous excavation and scarring of the north side of Brotherhood Way for a 182 units of millionaire housing which will change Brotherhood Way forever for the worst. Denuded of all but 2 trees on the site, that development resulted from the acquiescence and support of then-district supervisor Sean Elsbernd. Despite the educational and religious history of Brotherhood Way, renamed as such by the at-large Board of Supervisors and Mayor George Christopher in 1957 from Stanley Drive, and the continuous eight year project opposition of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, the Masonic Temple, the Armenian School-(Krouzian-Zekrarian), St. Gregory's Armenian Church, the Lake Merced Church of Christ, the Brandeis-Hillel School and Congregation Beth Israel-Judea and the early opposition of the St. Thomas More Parish Council (until ordered by the archdiocese to desist), all except a few supervisors deferred to that district supervisor's desire and the project was approved by the Planning Commission, then the Board of Supervisors. Brotherhood Way as created to celebrate religious brotherhood, not million dollar housing. That sorry spectacle is repeated on a regular basis in every other supervisorial district of San Francisco, but repeal of district elections sorrowfully won't happen.
Finally, I learned last month of the commencement of a private service in the Marina on a route that follows the Municipal Railway's 30x Marina Express line. Dubbed the Chestnut Express, the service guarantees seats for all passengers, with fewer stops and service once an hour during morning and evening rush hours. The cost is $6 per trip compared to a $2 fare on a MUNI bus. Few readers will remember that transit services in the form of cable cars, trolley cars and Mission Street jitneys once were privately operated in San Francisco. Only after wage escalation and other expenses, plus advent of universal automobile transportation after World War II ,did those private enterprises cease operation in favor of public purchases of such enterprises and, thereafter, huge taxpayer subsidies for operation. (Taxpayers now subsidize over 75% of MUNI expenses.) One jitney service, from the train station at 4th and Townsend Street to Market Street, remains. I personally wish the very best of success for the new Marina private bus system. Maybe it can be expanded to West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods. Wouldn't that be wonderful?
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
The Art of Picking the Public Purse
It’s all privately funded! Those aren’t my words; those are the words of the billionaire owners of the San Francisco Warriors and compliant Mayor Edward Lee respecting the proposed (and financially complicated) Warriors proposal to build a mammoth sports and entertainment arena on San Francisco Piers 30-32.
Forget for the moment the elevated Embarcadero Freeway no longer precludes our enjoyment of San Francisco Bay, or the Embarcadero itself with a revamped Ferry Building, a multitude of marvelous restaurants, attractive offices and other creature comforts. For over two decades from the 1960’s to the 1980’s, San Franciscans lost their Bay and Embarcadero. Only an earthquake on October 17, 1989, and the public resolve (led by then-Mayor Art Agnos), prevented post-Loma Prieta Earthquake restoration of the elevated freeway. The Warriors proposal, with Lee as the spear carrier (proudly proclaiming that the wrongly-placed arena would be his “legacy”), would, if ever built, be higher than the hated Embarcadero Freeway, which many San Franciscans spent years detesting and attempting to eliminate.
…under the proposed Warriors deal, the $120,000,000 borrowing would be approved by a simple majority of the Board of Supervisors, not taxpaying voters. The San Francisco Giants in 1996 and the San Francisco 49ers in 1971 were not afraid to secure voter/taxpayer approval. Maybe Lee and the Warriors are afraid the truth is that $120,000,000 is needed for the extraordinary cost of bearing the proposed arena’s weight, and supporting facilities the Warriors want to build on a platform over San Francisco Bay.”
Concentrate, instead, on the taxpayer subsidy of up to $200,000,000 (including interest) to the Warriors. The Warriors demand that Piers 30-32 be fully reconstructed, at Port cost, to a standard that will support the immense 19,000-seat arena. The reconstruction cost is an estimated $120,000,000. Every single penny of such $120,000,000 is public money, i.e., the Port. The Port must borrow the money to reconstruct those piers. From whom? The Warriors, of course, and for the privilege of borrowing such money (for the Warriors’ benefit), the Port will pay the Warriors an exorbitant 13% per year as interest.
Additionally, the Port must sell the Warriors an enormously valuable piece of public land across the Embarcadero (Seawall 330) for a high-rise hotel, condominium and retail development. The Port doesn’t, however, sell it by competitive bid like any homeowner would do; the Port sells Seawall 330 for $30,400,000 to the Warriors. It should be fair market value, but under the Warriors’ proposal with Mr. Lee’s concurrence, “fair market value” will never be established by an open, competitive bidding; it has been “established” by a single appraiser selected by the Port and Real Estate Division, but paid by the Warriors, whose 2012 appraisal will, in a rising real estate market, be several years old by the time final terms are approved by the Board of Supervisors and Mayor, and signed by the Mayor and Warriors. The $30,400,000 is a reduction from the $33,050,413 assessment for the America’s Cup deal cancelled by billionaire Larry Ellison.
The Port, instead of obtaining money from Seawall lot 330’s sale through competitive bidding and applying it for worthwhile waterfront projects now lacking funds, takes the Seawall lot 330 sale proceeds and returns such money to the Warriors to reduce its $120,000,000 debt to the Warriors. Lee then proposes to use all the property taxes (called possessory interest taxes for leasing public land) owed by the Warriors and divert those taxes into an Infrastructure Financing District, another public borrowing gimmick. Thus, the Warriors pay no such taxes, and an estimated $60,000,000 in waived taxes reduces the Port’s $120,000,000 debt further. (Property taxes are, of course, normally placed in the City’s General Fund, usable for police, fire, park and similar purposes, but the length of time the Warriors’ property or possessory interest taxes will not be paid to the City’s General Fund [or Port] is more than 30 years.)
After all that, the Port will still owe the Warriors approximately $40,000,000 or so. Seemingly, the Port would possess nothing else for a giveaway. But it does: the Warriors will pay no rent on their 66-year lease for Piers 30-32 (or the arena) for a time probably longer than the useful life of the arena itself. If the City issued general obligation bonds for the $120,000,000 required to reconstruct Pier 30-32, two-thirds voter approval would be required, but taxpayers would pay only about 4% annual interest, not the 13% yearly interest Lee commits the City to pay the Warriors on the $120,000,000 loan. If the City decided to issue revenue bonds (which are repaid from revenue produced by a City structure, like an airport terminal), the interest rate would not exceed 5% per year. Moreover, under the proposed Warriors deal, the $120,000,000 borrowing would be approved by a simple majority of the Board of Supervisors, not taxpaying voters. The San Francisco Giants in 1996 and the San Francisco 49ers in 1971 were not afraid to secure voter/taxpayer approval. Maybe Lee and the Warriors are afraid the truth is that $120,000,000 is needed for the extraordinary cost of bearing the proposed arena’s weight, and supporting facilities the Warriors want to build on a platform over San Francisco Bay. It would, however, cost only approximately $45,000,000 to demolish Piers 30-32 entirely, restore full access to the Bay, and perhaps later extend the new Brannan Street park next to the site. It would cost approximately $80,000,000 to rehabilitate Piers 30-32 completely and sell the public’s property on the open market to a developer for a project less environmentally destructive, providing more public benefits, and paying the Port rent and possessory interest taxes immediately.
Finally, the charging of 13% annual interest by the Warriors represents sheer profiteering. Experts estimate the Warriors billionaire owners can borrow their own capital at an interest rate of 6-7%. It requires gall to compel the Port and City taxpayers to pay an interest rate higher than the borrowing costs of the Warriors owners for money borrowed by the Port/City to meet the Warriors’ own demands.
I’m a basketball fan. I played basketball in high school, college, law school (once at the Boston Garden in a Celtics’ preliminary game), coached it in the U.S. Air Force, and kept going until my 50’s at the Jewish Community Center, the Olympic Club, and playgrounds. An arena in an untroubling location such as Port property further south in a less densely tangled area, or Civic Auditorium (which housed the same Warriors from 1962 until 1971 under different ownership), and without taxpayer money or subsidies, would be swell. The bald giveaway of taxpayer money to billionaires in an injurious location is anything but “swell.”
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Gascon and other aches and pains
Debra J. Saunders, my favorite San Francisco newspaper columnist, illuminated on March 31, 2013 a 2012 California Department of Motor Vehicles report which finds that unlicensed motor vehicle operators cause fatal motor vehicle crashes in California almost three times more than licensed drivers. Yet, our inexperienced District Attorney (George Gascon) who has never tried a case, told her newspaper editorial board that illegal immigrants need automobiles for work and transporting children to school and that San Francisco’s policy, enunciated in 2009 by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom, prohibiting San Francisco police officers from impounding motor vehicles of unlicensed drivers will therefore continue. Consider that if a licensed California driver, whose licensed was suspended, is stopped by a San Francisco police officer and fails blood alcohol content tests, his or her vehicle is subject to impounding. Ms. Saunders cited the case of a law student (Drew Rosenberg) killed on November 16, 2010 by a 52-year-old legal immigrant, who had flunked a driver’s license test three times and thereupon suffered impounding of his vehicle, which a friend then retrieved and returned to the unlicensed legal immigrant. Instead of effectuating change of the Newsom-formulated policy, Gascon embraces it. He thus encourages unlicensed driving.
Quizzed by the press, Gascon dismissively (and curiously) declared: “People have way too much time on their hands.” Asked about his intentions regarding prosecution of corruption cases in city government during his 2011 campaign on West Portal Avenue, Gascon refused any explanation or statement of intent. One shouldn’t be surprised by the foregoing events.”
Now, this is the same D.A., who it was revealed in the same newspaper and on the same day, obtained $26,945.43 from 13 individuals described in the Bay Guardian as “well-connected donors” for furniture and free decorating services in his office without obeying the law, which requires approval of the Board of Supervisors and a timely reporting to the state Fair Political Practices Commission receipt of the same as gifts. The gifts were conferred upon Gascon last October. In 2008, the City Attorney issued a memorandum opinion requiring city departments and officials to report gifts worth more than $100 on their websites. The same City Attorney opinion informed City Hall and other local public officials that a department chief must obtain Board of Supervisors approval before (not after) accepting any gift to his department worth more than $10,000. The District Attorney never disclosed the $26,945 in furniture and decorating services until February 2013, and never even tried to obtain supervisors’ approval until after newspapers exposed those violations of law.
Then, early last month, and only then, did the Board of Supervisors pass a resolution accepting the furniture and decorating services as gifts to the City and County of San Francisco. One Ron Conway, usually identified as a venture capitalist or investor; Nibbi Brothers Contractors, a construction company with public housing, the Port, and other City projects; their lawyer at City Hall, James Reuben; Victor Makras, a member of the San Francisco Public Employees Retirement System governing board and his wife and son; Ryan Brooks, a Cablevision executive and former Public Utilities Commission member; Pius Lee and Benny Yee, two longtime Chinatown operators, who, respectively, were on the Police Commission and Redevelopment Agency; Charlotte Schultz, City protocol director; one Joseph Tsang; Martin Richards, a decorator for City Hall functions; and Dr. William Breall, father of Hall of Justice Judge Susan Breall, comprise the donor array. Conway’s contribution was $9,999, one dollar shy of the $10,000 limit on gifts to public officials; other donations were in $2000 and $1000 chunks, except for Reuben and Richards. The gifts were finally reported by Gascon on a Fair Political Practices Commission Form 803 for gifts received after a specific request from the public official. As gifts, the legal question arises of whether such gifts preclude the donors from doing business with the city. One also wonders whether the furniture can be reused by city government or whether it’s not of a typical governmental character. As two San Franciscans characterized such gifts to me in the aftermath, it’s protection. The Fair Political Practices Commission ducked a complaint by several San Franciscans on the ground the Board of Supervisors had in April approved receipt of the furniture and decorating which “do not convey any personal benefit for Mr. Gascon.” Quizzed by the press, Gascon dismissively (and curiously) declared: “People have way too much time on their hands.” Asked about his intentions regarding prosecution of corruption cases in city government during his 2011 campaign on West Portal Avenue, Gascon refused any explanation or statement of intent. One shouldn’t be surprised by the foregoing events.
Amidst the five-year or more debate on banks being “too big to fail” and incurring debts requiring loans from taxpayers, I have been struck by the lack of action, even by Congressional Democrats, much less the President, to restore a fundamental principle enacted during Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency in 1933 as a consequence of the Great Depression. The Banking Act of 1933 prohibited paying interest on demand deposits (like checking accounts) and granted the Federal Reserve Bank authority to impose limitation on savings deposit rates. The idea was based upon discouraging competition for deposits, which could cause bank instability. The Congress and President also enacted the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated investment activity by banks and other financial services from regular banking, which consists of receiving deposits and then providing loans. During the administration of President William Jefferson Clinton, the Republican-controlled Congress passed a bill repealing the Glass-Steagall Act. Mr. Clinton signed the repeal measure. As pointed out by Thomas M. Hoenig, Vice Chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in Washington, D.C., and Charles S. Morris, Vice-President, Federal Reserve Bank, Kansas City, in the 1990’s banks weakened the Glass-Steagall Act prohibitions on investment banking activities by creating statutorily-permitted subsidiaries to deal in stocks and bonds, which the Federal Reserve Board then encouraged by approving higher thresholds before accusing a bank of being “engaged principally in the issue, floatation, underwriting, public sale, or distributions of stocks, bonds, debentures, notes, or other securities.”
As Messrs. Hoenig and Morris note in a marvelous paper last December, the limit to not being “engaged principally” was that underwriting issuance of new stock and dealing in stocks accounted for 5% or less of a bank subsidiary’s gross revenue. That limit was increased to 25% in 1997 and the entire repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act prohibition against banks affiliating with securities companies occurred by enactment of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act in 1999, allowing formation of financial holding companies in which banks could engage in specified non-banking activities such as securities underwriting, broker-dealer transactions and insurance underwriting previously prohibited. Thus, the large banks (“Too big to Fail”) began activity traditionally limited to investment banks like Goldman Sachs or the late and lamented (by creditors and stockholders) Lehman Brothers. That exposes banks to risks, unlike the traditional bank which obtained deposits and loaned money for home mortgages, businesses or otherwise.
Big banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Citibank thereby incurred risk from trading stocks and other investments. They bought and sold stocks, including those supported by “bundled” home mortgages. As the housing market collapsed, such banks lost much, much money, and taxpayers, through their Congress and President, lent them money to survive. The line was destroyed between commercial banks, in which we deposit money for checking and savings purposes, and investment banks for the high-rolling Wall Street, Montgomery Street and similar financial entities which now can “wheel and deal” at will. Why not restore the Glass-Steagall Act? The aforementioned Messrs. Hoenig and Morris so argue cogently in a 29-page paper which I gladly will supply any reader upon request. Our country must again separate banking functions from stock broker-dealer functions. Ask Mrs. Pelosi and Senators Boxer and Feinstein what they have done to foster such restoration of financial integrity. Let me know the answers, if any.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Sugarcoated Taxes Walesa-Out/Chavez-In
It’s of course income tax time, both federal and state. The income tax’s history surpasses 150 years. In 1861, Congress enacted the Revenue Act, which included a tax on personal incomes. Its purpose, obviously, was to pay the cost of the Civil War. That tax was repealed by the Congress in 1871, but in 1913 the Sixteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified by the last requisite state and certified as adopted on February 25, 1913, granting Congress “power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”
…here’s President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his annual State of the Union speech to Congress on January 4, 1935: “To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able bodied but destitute workers. The federal government must and shall quit this business of relief.””
The current Congressional disputes about the taxing percentage on regular personal income, and separately on income from capital gains (meaning the sale of a tangible asset like common stock or real estate), neglects for the most part twentieth century history of federal income tax rates. Until approximately 1932, the United States income tax rates weren’t fodder for general complaint or commentary. Beginning after the 1932 election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as President, however, income tax rates rose. In 1944 and 1945, the highest income tax rate federally was 94%. After World War Two and from 1951 through 1963, the highest such rate was 91% or 92%. The reason for lack of disputatiousness about the U.S. income tax until World War Two was that the U.S. income tax applied to less than 10% of the population. It’s been estimated that the personal exemptions of $3,300.00 for a family of four in 1939 would equal in excess of $100,000 in 2013. (According to one tax historian, 1935’s highest rate of 79% applied to only one person in the United States, John D. Rockefeller Jr., commencing at an income of $5,000,000 annually!)
In that era, the income tax rate on capital gains peaked at 25%. That motivated an industry of accountants and other financial operators to calculate methods to effectuate capital gain treatment of income and consequent exemptions. The tax-shelter industry was born.
After Ronald Reagan was elected President in 1980, the highest federal income tax rate declined to 50%. In 1986, it decreased additionally. In more recent times, the highest capital gains percentage was lowered to 15% and the highest income tax rate to approximately 35%. Last December, the President and the Congress effectuated an increase in the highest income tax rate to about 39% (it is almost 41% with surtaxes) and the highest capital gains percentage is nearly 25%.
Once upon a time, federal income tax returns needed to be filed by March 15. In 1954, the filing date was changed to April 15. The California state income tax individual rate is about 13% now and the corporate income tax rate is 8.84% (States such as Florida, Texas and Nevada levy no state income tax, individually or otherwise) and, as you mail your income tax return for 2012, recall FDR’s pronouncement about the Federal Revenue Act of 1942 as “the greatest tax bill in American history.” (I kid you not.) Contemplate also perhaps that California possesses the highest state sales tax rate in the country, 7.5%, which does not include local sales tax. On the other hand, as the national deficit debate continues between the President and Congress, here’s President Franklin D. Roosevelt in his annual State of the Union speech to Congress on January 4, 1935: “To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit. It is inimical to the dictates of sound policy. It is in violation of the traditions of America. Work must be found for able bodied but destitute workers. The federal government must and shall quit this business of relief.” (He also declared respecting a potential U.S. Post Office employees strike in 1935 that public employees have no right to strike against the sovereign people anytime or anyplace!)
Incidentally, an entity named Public Policy Polling, noting the unpopularity of the U.S. Congress, tested Congress’ popularity against dislikable aspects of life early this year and learned that lice were disliked by 60% of those polled compared to 19% disliking Congress, brussel sprouts were disliked by 69% of the responders compared to 23% disliking Congress, cockroaches were disliked by 45% compared to 43% for Congress (a close one), traffic jams were disliked by 56% of those polled compared to 34% regarding Congress, and Genghis Khan was disliked by 41% compared to 3% disliking Congress. (In today’s educational world, I wonder how many people can even identify Genghis Khan.) The poll also found that Congress was more popular than North Korea, methamphetamine laboratories, Communism, the Kardashians, lobbyists, and telemarketers, in that order.
One wonders about the popularity of supervisors, especially after one of our “heroes,” Supervisor John Avalos, mourned publicly at a Board of Supervisors meeting the death of Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, characterizing Chavez’ domineering methods as “…a great beacon of hope for a lot of countries around Latin America that were able to bring forward new forms of government that would actually look at self-determination, free of U.S. imperialism.” Even the U.S. monarch of liberalism, the New York Times on March 8 stated editorially that Chavez’ “legacy is stained by the undermining of democratic institutions and the embrace of malevolent foreign leaders like Bashar al-Assad of Syria and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran.” The New York Times identified “… shocking levels of corruption, shoddy construction, chronic shortages of basic goods, and neglect in the investment needed to maintain and increase oil production (in Venezuela).” It noted that Chavez’ “government weakened judicial independence, intimidated political opponents and human rights defenders, and ignored rampant, and often deadly, violence by the police and prison guards.” It concluded: ”Billions have been squandered (by Chavez) through inept and careless management.” Another local weekly (j weekly) remarked that Chavez “leaves behind a country wrecked by violent crime and mired in economic turmoil.” All is well, however, because we have a supervisor who believes obviously in the concept of “U.S. imperialism” and that Chavez’ conduct, in Avalos’ words, “has been a blessing for a lot of places around the world.”
While San Franciscans are treated to supervisorial extolling of an authoritarian anti-American, another “hero”, Supervisor Jane Kim, introduces a resolution to change the name of Lech Walesa Street. For those who didn’t know San Francisco possesses a street named after the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize winner and the person usually credited with initiating actions leading to the liberation of Poland from the then-Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the one block street runs east and west from Van Ness Avenue. I personally recall the 1986 honoring of Walesa in my final year on the Board of Supervisors. Then-supervisor Carol Ruth Silver, one of the doyennes of liberalism in San Francisco civic affairs, introduced the legislation, which was enacted by the Board and signed by then Mayor Art Agnos, another emphatic progressive. In Kim’s view, however, Walesa is now evidently politically “incorrect” after television comments inimical to non-heterosexual Polish parliamentarians. Fame is indeed fleeting in San Francisco and infamy lurks around media interviews. Political history certainly isn’t safe as supervisors ignore taxpayer-costing enterprises such as the Americas’ Cup “deal” (more next month) and a multi-million dollar giveaway to professional basketball billionaire owners, while trying to rename structures to fit contemporary political fads and biases.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Last month I devoted space to another set of contemporary astonishing developments engineered by the “City Family” which the Mayor and some 36,000 full time and part time city employees (an historical record) like to proclaim sanctimoniously from time to time, namely, a hidden (in the City Controller’s budget) $1,000,000 appropriated “slush fund” enabling each supervisor to finance his or her own fancy projects within each supervisorial district. Each incumbent can spend $100,000 of taxpayer money to ingratiate himself/herself to voters. (A non-incumbent can’t do that!) I noted the supervisors also appropriated funds to furnish themselves last year with a third administrative aide. Here’s the latest caper: The immediate past District 7 supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, spoke eloquently last year against using the appropriation for a third administrative aide, thus drawing admiration from superficial City Hall analysts, including one Chronicle reporter who dubbed him a “fiscal hawk.” (With a “hawk” like that, no city government bird in a nest need be worried.)
Who does Norman Yee then hire as his third administrative aide? Why, of course, retiring Supervisor Elsbernd’s administrative aide, one Olivia Scanlon. Westside Observer readers may remember the account of Ms. Scanlon asserting the Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself after being called to testify as a witness in the San Francisco Ethics Commission hearing involving spurious charges against former Supervisor Tony Hall, which were based, in part, upon a falsified check stub furnished to the Ethics Commission by the same Ms. Scanlon.”
After last November’s election of District 7 successor, Norman Yee, who was not installed until January 8, 2013, the lame-duck incumbent effected use of taxpayer money from a different “honey pot” for a third legislative aide in District 7, benefiting successor Norman Yee. Who does Norman Yee then hire as his third administrative aide? Why, of course, retiring Supervisor Elsbernd’s administrative aide, one Olivia Scanlon. Westside Observer readers may remember the account of Ms. Scanlon asserting the Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself after being called to testify as a witness in the San Francisco Ethics Commission hearing involving spurious charges against former Supervisor Tony Hall, which were based, in part, upon a falsified check stub furnished to the Ethics Commission by the same Ms. Scanlon. (I wonder if our City Hall press will ever write about this latest caper by the fiscal bird of prey.)
Another provocative tale emerged last month in our morning newspaper, reciting the fact that 572 city employees were paid more money than California’s Governor in 2012. The governor’s salary is $173,987 annually. California’s Governor, of course, presides over a state yearly budget approximating $110,000,000,000; San Francisco’s mayor, paid $260,547 per year, operates within an annual budget of approximately $7,600,000,000, itself a dizzying amount of money for an entity with only about 810,000 residents. That any California public official receives compensation in excess of the governor constitutes illogical policy. Other legislators and I thought so almost 20 years ago after I introduced a bill to bar any elected California public official from drawing an annual salary exceeding the governor’s. The State Senate approved my bill. After the then-Los Angeles County Sheriff, the then-Alameda County District Attorney and other elected public officials observed the possibility of Assembly approval, they “went to work” and overwhelmed my effort to secure passage in the lower house of the legislature. There’s a lesson there somewhere for politicians, present and future.
City Hall isn’t, however, the only venue for government anomalies. Last month the District Attorney lobbied the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee for an increase of $750,000 solely for more domestic violence attorneys and so-called “Victim’s Rights Advocates.” According to the San Francisco Examiner, the District Attorney attributed the need to bestow more taxpayer money on his office to the Public Defender’s office refusing to persuade its impecunious clients to plead guilty to domestic violence charges at the Hall of Justice. Yet, the Examiner also found that Police Department domestic violence incident reports have decreased somewhat. How can that be, a citizen might ask: fewer domestic violence complaints are received by police, but the D.A. wants more domestic violence prosecutors. The answer probably lies in the superior professional performance of Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s deputies, who actually try and win such cases before San Francisco juries. (This D.A. has never prosecuted a jury trial.) Mr. Adachi demonstrated last month that in 2012 his deputies secured acquittals in 20 domestic violence jury trials, plus four deadlocked trials. Juries convicted his office’s clients in 13 trials. He also showed there were no convictions in cases of alleged domestic violence in which his deputies defended the accused in 2009 and only 9 in 2010. The conclusion is inescapable: Mr. Adachi and his deputies perform constitutional duties more effectively. Nevertheless, the Board of Supervisors will choose to reward ineffectiveness by appropriating almost $700,000 more for the District Attorney to hire more lawyers to lose to Deputy Public Defenders in domestic violence jury trials, while the D.A. assails Adachi for not persuading his innocent-until-proven-guilty clients to plead guilty.
As I write, I do so in the context of the latest fad word, “sequestration,” and its reputed effects upon virtually all aspects of American life as measured by governmental services, military and otherwise. The “talking heads” and other alleged experts bemoan inability to obtain a “consensus” in Washington. Some news media claims are bewildering. Some presidential claims are also bewildering. For example, he referred last month to the loss of “first responders”, in automatic federal spending reductions initiated by his 2011 suggestion to solve a national debt problem. Except for federal activity, such as policing and fire-fighting in Federal parks and military bases, so –called “first responders” emanate from local fire departments, city, county or special district or some state agencies, not the Federal Government. I imagine we all love “consensus.” Some admire “pragmatism.” Consequently, I am reminded of Lady Margaret Thatcher’s 1981 comment as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: “For me, pragmatism is not enough. Nor is that fashionable word ‘consensus’…
To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but towards no one objects- the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead. What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner ‘I stand for consensus’…?
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
San Francisco Style
In the world particularly of national politics, the term “pork barrel” conveys an unjustified expenditure of taxpayer money. Contemporary discussants of “pork barrel” refer to the infamous Alaskan “bridge to nowhere” as a shorthand method of expressing disgust over members of Congress who procure taxpayer funds for special interest projects in the districts or states they represent. Occasionally, one finds it in California’s annual Budget Act. Rarely (until recently) can I recall it as a part of San Francisco’s annual budget ordinance, certainly not in the years in which supervisors were elected on a citywide basis.
…the former Assessor, Mr. Phil Ting, ran for Mayor in 2011 and garnered about 1,600 votes while spending over $150,000 of public taxpayer funds on his campaign. If he withdrew or abandoned the campaign effort in the face of inevitable early defeat, he would suffer a legal duty to return the taxpayer funds to the City and County of San Francisco. Instead, he used taxpayer funds to advance his name in his hopeless mayoral campaign preparation for a successful 2012 candidacy for the California Assembly.”
It’s a new world, however, for San Francisco property, sales and business taxpayers. First, we now have supervisors elected from 11 different districts. That ignoble experiment first occurred in 1977 and was repealed by voters in 1981 after the murders of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk by another supervisor, Dan White. The current version arose about a generation later, after memories of this ill-advised aversion to “ward politics” had dwindled. For the foreseeable future, San Francisco voters and taxpayers are stuck with this provincial and costly system. Now, taxpayers can agitate over a new form of “pork barrel” for San Francisco’s 11 supervisors. The 2012-2013 San Francisco budget stealthily includes an appropriation of $1,000,000 in taxpayer money for individual supervisors to spend virtually without strictures. Ten supervisors have each received $100,000 (or more) of taxpayer money to spend for purposes they choose. Thus, the spectacle of Supervisor Mark Farrell in the Marina spending $300 on a treasure hunt (I kid you not)! The defeated Christina Olague distributed $15,000 of taxpayer money for “housing workshops,” and another $3,000 on “workshops” concerning the reusable bag ordinance.
Our own one-time Supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, spent $141,000 in some undefined way for his favorite parks and the Hidden Garden Steps. Sunset District Supervisor Carmen Chu paid $20,000 to private businesses of her choosing for compliance with Americans With Disabilities Act provisions (Can you imagine that one?) and $2,000 for permit fees for unspecified “community events.”
Supervisor David Campos stated publicly he would spend it on buying guns for Police Department disposition from private persons in the Mission. Supervisor Mar gave $45,000 to nine schools, even though we pay property and parcel taxes to the S.F. Unified School District already, and Supervisor Avalos bestowed $5,000 for Excelsior Street “historic names”, whatever that means. To top off this ward boss method of ingratiating incumbent supervisors to their district voters, our heroes inserted the $1,000,000 last July not in their own $12,414,121 annual budget, where it could easily be located by inquisitive taxpayers, but literally buried in the City Controller’s budget!
In addition, the Supervisors have expended money exceeding $100,000 annually each for a third aide, after covertly effectuating repeal of a prohibition on a third aide that had been inserted in the Charter by a voter initiative a few years previously. Hence, Supervisors who, instead of representing all 810,000 or so San Francisco residents, now represent less than 80,000 San Franciscans, operate with three aides (not one aide and one secretary, as was historically the case during at-large elections), are paid about $100,000 per year, obtain membership in the San Francisco Retirement System after only a maximum eight years of service, and draw per diem payments of $50 to $100 per meeting for serving on the boards of regional governmental entities like the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Authority, the Association of Bay Area Governments, and the like. It appears the supervisors have contrived their own form of special favors at taxpayer expense to influence voters with tax-paid “goodies.”
Finally, the flawed system of “ranked choice voting” spawns practices which impair the purity of electoral voter decisions. While proponents have boasted of the cost-saving from eliminating runoff elections in the 11 supervisorial districts, plus mayor, district attorney, city attorney, sheriff, assessor and treasurer, they ignore the “hanky-panky” which inevitably becomes part of the ranking of choices by voters. Typically, two or more candidates in a multi-candidate district election will enter into a bargain by which Candidate A advises voters who rank him first to rank Candidate B second and vice-versa. This bartering system and the pre-ordained result of desperate politicians to secure election may eventually involve other and even more corrupting bargains between candidates and supporters. Adding to the descension into insidious political tactics is so-called public financing of campaign costs. Sure, candidates are compelled to raise certain amounts of money (varying upon the office sought) from a requisite number of contributors to qualify for taxpayer money to finance campaigns. The matching requirements, however, are not difficult, except for hapless candidates, so taxpayers pay for candidates to assay a higher political office and remain in a race despite the absence of any genuine ability to win. For example, the former Assessor, Mr. Phil Ting, ran for Mayor in 2011 and garnered about 1,600 votes while spending over $150,000 of public taxpayer funds on his campaign. If he withdrew or abandoned the campaign effort in the face of inevitable early defeat, he would suffer a legal duty to return the taxpayer funds to the City and County of San Francisco. Instead, he used taxpayer funds to advance his name in his hopeless mayoral campaign preparation for a successful 2012 candidacy for the California Assembly. For those who still believe public financing of political campaigns, local, state or federal, remains the solution to the corrupting influence of personal and corporate donations, San Francisco’s current landscape of aggrandizing politicians and despairing taxpayers should be instructive.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
The Governor’s plan to raise state income taxation of all taxpayers reporting annual income of $250,000 or more and an understandable change by an initiative statute in income taxation of out-of-state corporations to a measurement based entirely on the percentage of sales within California compared to total sales revenue of a corporation were approved by voters last month. I argued that both measures were afflicted with infirmity arising from failure to allow the increased state revenue from higher income taxation to augment the General Fund of our State. Instead, the Governor’s plan allocated 89% of the increased income taxes to kindergarten through the last year of high school and 11% to the state university and college systems, while Proposition 39, sponsored and funded by a billionaire Californian, allocated most of the higher out-of-state corporate tax payments specifically to energy spending, not the General Fund.
Remember the congratulatory felicitations exchanged among the “City Hall Family” last year in the wake of passage of a charter measure to prevent the insolvency of the city’s retirement system (Proposition C) while an authentic prevention of such insolvency, qualified for the ballot by voter signatures as an initiative and sponsored mainly by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, was belittled by the “City Hall Family” as unworthy of voter approval. … Now, it’s revealed that the city retirement system still faces inability in 10-20 years to satisfy financial obligations to retired city employees.”
I tried to explain that sound governmental accounting principles have always, until recently, placed all income, sales and excise tax revenue in the General Fund, thus enabling the Governor and Legislature to perform their responsibilities of appropriating the money as circumstances in our state dictate, whether for education, health, welfare, the courts, prisons, parks or other services funded historically (and rightfully) from the General Fund, as compared with specially-funded services such as roads and highways which are financed by that user fee known as the state gasoline tax. Sure enough, the day after the election, the Speaker of the Assembly declared he would renew his effort to reduce tuition on “middle-class” public university students at a cost of approximately $1,000,000,000. His plan to do so in the Legislature is assertedly based upon increased revenue from the change of income taxation of out-of-state corporations, and earners of $250,000 and more, as I described above. The increased revenue from out-of-state corporate income taxation cannot be used for such justifiable purpose; it must be spent upon the energy programs described in Proposition 39. The high income taxation of “wealthy” Californians can’t be spent on reduced state college tuition either. It’s apparent that state fiscal problems will continue because of disregard by officeholders, whether the Governor, the Assembly Speaker or otherwise, of the elemental principle of state and local government funding, namely, unless it’s a user fee like the gasoline tax, deposit all revenue from income, sales, excise and other general taxes into the General Fund and then decide on priority expenditure purposes.
In the aftermath of the national presidential election debate about the place of government in our private lives, I found instructive, if not amusing, disclosure last month of a proposed Visitacion Valley development, principally on the 12 acres formerly owned by Schlage Lock, which occupied and operated those premises since 1922. The project assertedly contemplates as many as 1600 housing units, together with the usual shops, a community center, a supermarket and open space. The plan originally included a $70,000,000 subsidy for the developer from taxpayer funds. In 2011, however, redevelopment agencies in California were abolished by a statue initiated by the then newly recycled Governor Jerry Brown. Redevelopment funds (which are, after all, tax dollars) would have supplied the developer with $70,000,000. Now, the developer supposedly can build only a supermarket and approximately 225 residential units on top, using his own moneyentirely, as he should. That story reminds me of the constant chest-thumping by so-called “private entrepreneurs” about the virtues of private enterprise, while they not so loudly snag taxpayer subsidies in one form or another. It’s not just the well known cases like Solyndra, with its hundreds of millions of dollars of wasted tax dollars from our pockets through the U.S. Department of Energy; it’s also our local “entrepreneurs,” on the prowl for gimmicks like the twisted redevelopment process to achieve their private profits. Redevelopment was essentially a process by which local governments seized your property at or below market value and then transferred it with neighboring other properties at a subsidized price to a new owner (or owners) who reaped the profit. Its elimination constitutes Governor Brown’s best public interest achievement in his reincarnation.
Remember the congratulatory felicitations exchanged among the “City Hall Family” last year in the wake of passage of a charter measure to prevent the insolvency of the city’s retirement system (Proposition C) while an authentic prevention of such insolvency, qualified for the ballot by voter signatures as an initiative and sponsored mainly by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, was belittled by the “City Hall Family” as unworthy of voter approval. Spending tens of thousands of dollars, Proposition C was passed. Now, it’s revealed that the city retirement system still faces inability in 10-20 years to satisfy financial obligations to retired city employees. Simultaneously, the City Controller revealed in a report last month a $4,420,000,000 liability in health care funds for retired city employees during the next 30 years. In fiscal year 2008, the city expended approximately $111,000,000 on health insurance premiums for retied city employees; by fiscal year 2012 that cost rose to about $151,000,000 and the Controller estimates it will double by fiscal year 2021 to $300,000,000 and reach $500,000,000 by fiscal year 2032. It’s simple arithmetic and practice with businesses to require adequate contribution from employees in advance of receiving pensions or incurring medical expenses. City Hall characterizes that as a “pre-funded model.” Leave it to City Hall to utilize language that describes a system taken for granted in any business. It’s as if city government discovered a better system than ensuring sufficient money in advance of retirement or medical expense for its employees. I suppose that’s why we get the city government we deserve.
With the foregoing observations, let’s hope for peace accomplishments in the Middle East and Africa in 2013 and a gladsome Chanukah, followed by a Merry Christmas.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
The State of the State’s General Fund
As promised, I convey State ballot measure and recommendations and observations for the November 6 election. Perhaps, not surprisingly, almost all of the ballot measures contain a common theme, especially rkegarding tax increases. The source of such measures this year (and increasingly) is wealthy Californians, who, having succeeded financially either by work or legacy, evidently believe they can solve State fiscal and other problems by their personal ideas. They’re not alone. Our Governor and legislators similarly violate the fundamental principles which characterize sound government, state or local.
Every tax increase measure at the November 6 election, however, diverts desired tax revenue increases to special purposes. That then limits the ability of the executive and legislative branches of state government to spend those tax proceeds in accordance with policy decisions, which change from year to year...””
Our state budget depends primarily upon the principle of transmitting state income and excise tax revenue to the General Fund of the State of California, thus allowing the legislature and Governor thereafter to decide on the allocation of money in the General Fund. Every tax increase measure at the November 6 election, however, diverts desired tax revenue increases to special purposes. That then limits the ability of the executive and legislative branches of state government to spend those tax proceeds in accordance with policy decisions, which change from year to year depending upon economic, social and other circumstances. Repeatedly, we read of political frustration over voter-adopted initiatives limiting the ability of the Governor and Legislature to govern in prudent, wise ways. Initiatives were authorized by California voters in 1914 as a hallmark of Governor Hiram Johnson’s reforming of California government. His idea was voter action if elected representatives avoided desirable actions benefiting the general welfare of Californians. Today, initiatives qualify for the ballot almost always because of tens of millions of dollars of expenditures by unions, corporate associations, and billionaires, not volunteer citizen voters. Each such initiative possesses pet policy objectives, unions for more tax money to pay public employees, corporations to avoid paying taxes and regulation, and billionaires for some perceived omission or public malady which, in their singular opinion, needs curing.
Proposition 30 represents an example; it’s the Governor’s vaunted $6,000,000,000 increase in the state sales tax by 0.25% for four years and the state personal income tax on annual earnings over $250,000 for seven years. Instead of placing the increased tax revenues in the General Fund, however, to obtain campaign money from the teachers’ unions and seduce single interest voters, 89% of the tax revenue is allocated specifically to K-12 schools and 11% to community colleges. Yet, the State Constitution, as a result of a 1988 Constitutional Initiative, already guarantees public school education a minimum 40% of the total General Fund. (Never discussed regarding Proposition 30 is its elimination of state reimbursement of local government costs for imposition of new responsibilities or “mandates” on cities, counties, school and special districts. Also ended would be the historical state financial responsibility to local agencies for the costs of following open meeting procedures of the 1953 Brown Act.)
To save suspense, I recommend a vote against every state proposition which increases taxes of any kind and does not convey the increased tax revenue to the State’s General Fund. That includes disapproving Proposition 30.
Although separated numerically, Proposition 38 is of the same genre as Proposition 30. It increases personal income tax rates on annual earnings over $7,316, allocates 60% of the tax increase to K-12 schools, 30% to repaying State debt (a salutary purpose), and 10% to early childhood programs during the first four years it’s in effect. Thereafter, it allocates 85% of increased revenues to K-12 schools, 15% to early childhood programs. The sponsor is one Molly Munger, a billionaire’s lawyer daughter who has upstaged the Governor and Legislature with this even more transparent special funding measure. Vote “No” on prop 38.
Proposition 39, another billionaire sponsored measure, begins with a laudable policy, namely, requiring businesses operating in other states to calculate their California income tax liability based upon the percentage of their sales in California, instead of allowing them to choose a tax liability formula which is more favorable for businesses with property and payroll outside of California. The rich sponsor, however, could not resist the idea of attracting voters by dedicating $550,000,000 annually for five years to a special fund for projects which supposedly increase energy efficiency and clean energy. Half of the increased revenue would be allocated to public schools and community colleges. Why? Obviously, the proponent thinks such praiseworthy activity as conserving and improving energy efficiency and education spending will motivate voters. He couldn’t simply allow the Legislature and Governor to distribute increased $1,000,000,000 or so in corporate taxes to such purposes. Taxing multistate corporations properly should have been done by the legislative and executive branches, but nevertheless, I will vote against Proposition 39 in my singular effort to restore elementary fiscal governmental principles.
Proposition 31, yet another initiative constitutional amendment and statute, establishes a two-year state budget cycle, prohibits the Legislature from approving new expenditures of over $25,000,000 without identifying off-setting new revenue or spending decreases, enables the Governor to cut the state budget unilaterally if he finds and declares a fiscal emergency and the Legislature fails to act, requires performance reviews of all state programs, performance goals in state and local budgets and publication of bills at least three days prior to legislative vote. On balance, it deserves support.
So does Proposition 32, which prohibits unions and corporations from contributing directly or indirectly to candidates and candidate-controlled political committees, permits voluntary employee contributions to employee-sponsored committees or unions if authorized annually in writing, prohibits corporations from using payroll deductions, if any, for political purposes, prohibits unions from using payroll-deducted funds for political purposes and prohibits government contractor contributions to elected officers or officer-controlled committees. The aim is justifiable. We wring our hands over special interest influence on candidates and officeholders. Unless the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, however, is amended, this measure and similar future measures cannot stop so-called “independent committee” expenditures for or against candidates, much less ballot measures. That is law established by the United States Supreme Court in 1975 and most recently in 2010. Proposition 32 opponents condemn Prop 32 because it doesn’t halt such special interest committees from collecting and spending enormous amounts of money, usually to defeat a candidate, often to elect a candidate. That’s an unjustified condemnation; it ignores existing constitutional law. Vote “Yes” on Proposition 32, which does as much as a law allows.
Proposition 33 is a tricky initiative funded by an insurance company magnate which allows insurance companies to grant discounts to drivers with history of prior insurance coverage and increase premiums to drivers who haven’t maintained continuous coverage. It allows insurance companies to set premiums based on whether the insured driver previously bought automobile insurance from any insurance company. It’s unnecessary; it is potentially punitive towards tens of thousands of Californians. California law presently allows automobile insurance policy premiums to be predicated upon the insured’s driving record, the number of miles driven annually, and the number of years the insured has been driving, in descending order of importance. It doesn’t need change. Vote against Proposition 33.
Proposition 34 repeals the death penalty for first-degree premeditated or murder during a felonious act and replaces it with life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Noteworthy is its retroactive application to persons already sentenced to death. Here’s another special funding “teaser” to stimulate voters to approve it; estimating state and county savings of $100,000,000 per year from death penalty abolition, it allocates all that money to law enforcement agencies, ostensibly for investigation of homicide and rape cases. By now, you see the cunning method used by initiative sponsors: throw some money at a special interest and you’ll get votes.
That’s what Proposition 35 similarly does. It begins with the logical provision to compel persons convicted of human trafficking for sex to register as sex offenders, increases fines, requires sex offenders to furnish information about Internet access and identities, prohibits introduction in trials of evidence that a victim engaged in sexual conduct with other persons, and requires human trafficking training for police officers. The sponsor is an attorney who ran unsuccessfully for Attorney General last year and probably thinks this will promote his ability to do so again in 2014. Its worthy purpose, however, is diluted by use of revenue from higher fines for specific purposes, instead of the General Fund. I refuse to award such voter pandering with a vote. Oh, and by the way, trafficking victims are no longer dubbed prostitutes, whores or harlots; they’re now “sex workers.” This is, after all, the New World.
Proposition 36 represents an unnecessary initiative. It purports to repeal the so-called “three strikes law,” adopted by initiative in 1994. The rationale for Proposition 36 claims that current law (in effect for almost 18 years) which provides that a criminal convicted twice or more of serious or violent crimes and convicted a third time of any crime is subject to a 25-year to life sentence, and that too many criminals are serving life sentences for petty crimes, leading to unacceptable taxpayer costs and dangerous prison overcrowding. I strongly recommend a vote against Proposition 36. Its sponsors take pains not to inform voters that the original law allows any county attorney to exercise discretion not to charge a petty crime (misdemeanor) as a “third strike,” or that in 1996, the California Supreme Court in People v. Romero interpreted the “three strikes law” to allow judges also to ignore prior felony convictions on the Court’s own initiative for purposes of sentencing. In other words, Penal Code Section 1385 confers authority upon both a county prosecutor and a superior court judge to dismiss from the record prior “strikes” in furtherance of justice. District attorneys have and do exercise that authority; superior court judges commonly exercise such authority (I know no judge who would treat a misdemeanor petty crime as a third strike so as to submit a convicted criminal to a potential lifetime prison sentence). Yet Proposition 36 sponsors would lead innocent voters to believe convicted criminals are sentenced every day to lifetime imprisonment for a misdemeanor petty crime. Crime in California has declined since adoption of the “three strikes law” in 1994, violent crime by 17.6%, homicides by 30.9%, property crimes by 22.8%, larceny and thefts by 16.9%, and arson by 38.9%. Of the total prison population of 134,868, the “third-striker” population is 8,873 (6.6% of the total), and 83% of those were sentenced before the last decade. For the last three years, only 91 third-striker inmates have been added to the prison population for a non-serious or violent offense, and the 327 inmates serving a three-strikes sentences for petty theft with a prior such conviction represent less than 4% of all third-strikers. Proposition 36 is based upon voter hoax. Vote “No.”
Proposition 37, opposed by the chemical and agricultural industry, simply requires that genetically modified food be labeled as such, consistent with all of the European Union, China, Japan, even Russia. I’m voting “Yes.”
Finally,Proposition 40, a referendum on State Senate redistricting, lacks any campaign by the proponents after a California Supreme Court decision rejected a challenge to the gerrymandered action of the Citizen Redistricting Commission. It’s not worth a vote for or against.
May all your Thanksgivings be bright.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Dejection in District 7 and Proposition Perspectives
On September 22, 2012, I became dejected listening to nine candidates for the Board of Supervisors assaying the high honor of representing what is commonly referred to as District No. 7. To suggest that district election of Supervisors is in the 21st Century as harmful as it was for approximately five years in the 20th Century minimizes the deleterious effect of a concept which deprives San Franciscans of knowledgeable, informed legislative governance.
I was struck by the naïveté of a couple commentators and deceptive remarks from Mr. Wiener, claiming the Recreation and Park Department needs “a dedicated source of revenue.” Iteration of fundamental governmental principles appears necessary.”
As readers may know (and I reiterate), I’ve endorsed Joel Engardio and F.X.Crowley. Neither embarrassed me at the West of Twin Peaks Central Council-sponsored session at Aptos Junior High School. Others, unwittingly or otherwise, embarrassed themselves. Messrs. Julian Lagos and Glenn Rogers espoused a local tax on corporations, as if San Francisco legally possesses the power to impose a corporation tax. It does not. While corporations pay state and local sales tax, the San Francisco property tax (if they own real estate in San Francisco), a real estate transfer tax, applicable parcel taxes and utility tax (which, thanks to an initiative I sponsored in the 1980s, cannot apply to residents), the State of California enacted Revenue and Taxation Code Section 17041.5 in 1963, prohibiting any local governmental entity, a city, county, city and county, school district or special district from levying an income tax on any person, resident or non-resident. That prohibition applies both to people and corporations. Probably, it would surprise Lagos and Rogers to learn that elemental fact of law.
Another candidate, Ms. Lynn Gavin, who accurately portrays herself as the only woman candidate, credited the incumbent and departing Supervisor, Sean Elsbernd, with “bringing the U.S. Open to San Francisco.” I nearly fell from my first row chair with that untrue statement. Try that on the Olympic Club membership which secured the event. At least Ms. Gavin knew that the annual $7,300,000,000 San Francisco budget for fiscal year 2012-13 is larger than Philadelphia’s, which contains nearly three times the population of San Francisco. Another candidate, Mike Garcia, a manifest enemy of the Pacific Rod and Gun Club, falsely represented to the audience that the cost of removing lead from Lake Merced was $14,000,000. It is not. There is a dispute between the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Club for the cost of removal, the PUC having obtained a bid estimate of $10,000,000, the Club having obtained a bid estimate of $5,000,000.
Thereafter, the candidate discussion of the justifiability of allowing “food trucks” to operate on West Portal Avenue ignored the basic fact, clearly leading to the objection of not just West Portal Avenue restaurants but other businesses, that “food trucks” pay no rent; West Portal Avenue restaurants do pay rent — and probably lots of it every month.
Later that day, I attended a reception in Pacific Heights for a District No. 1 candidate, David Lee. His opponent is Supervisor Eric Mar, a fellow known, among other things, for opposing the continuation of Junior ROTC in our public high schools. In condemning Mr. Mar for lack of housing development in the Richmond District, Mr. Lee offered faint praise by declaring that Mar “has built only 500 units of housing.” I didn’t realize Board of Supervisor members “build” housing. They, of course, do no such thing, no more than they create jobs except by adding public employees, and it is folly to utter misstatements to the public based upon fanciful language. The best any Board of Supervisor member can do with housing is to “get out of the way” and allow private owners and contractors to proceed with new housing units, consistent with zoning, California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance and financial ability to do so.
On Monday, September 24, the monthly West of Twin Peaks Central Council meeting heard former Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin cogently urge defeat of Proposition B, a $195,000,000 general obligation bond issue mainly for parks, but also for the Port of San Francisco, and current Supervisor Scott Wiener contend the measure merited voter approval. Although the 20-member neighborhood organizations failed to adopt a resolution of non-support for Proposition B, which had been scrupulously written by former Council President George Wooding, such failure was based mostly upon abstention due to no prior authority from some Council associations. Not a single vote was recorded against the resolution; if failed only because of lack of a requisite majority vote. During the discussion, however, I was struck by the naïveté of a couple commentators and deceptive remarks from Mr. Wiener, claiming the Recreation and Park Department needs “a dedicated source of revenue.” Iteration of fundamental governmental principles appears necessary. The many, many departments of the City and County of San Francisco are divided basically into (1) a few “enterprise’ departments, such as the Airports Commission, the Port Commission, and the Public Utilities Commission, and (2) General Fund departments, meaning departments whose appropriations emanate from San Francisco’s General Fund. The General Fund is chiefly comprised of revenue from property taxation, local sales taxation, a real estate transfer tax, a utility tax on commercial real estate, allocation of a small share of the state gasoline tax of $0.18 per gallon, interest paid on city bank deposits, license, permit and similar fees, and some state and federal statutory subventions. The Port, SFO, and PUC don’t merit money from the General Fund because they operate like private enterprise services. In fact, SFO, under a Charter-established formula, contributes money to the General Fund in good revenue years. A “dedicated revenue source” for any other city department could only be derived from the General Fund. That would decrease the money available for all other General Fund departments. Proclaiming “dedicated revenue source” to solve Recreation and Park Department mismanagement constitutes an illusion. It’s one matter for everyday citizens to advocate chimerical policy; to hear an elected Supervisor do so bespeaks the duplicity for which too many local (and state) elected legislators and executives are infamous.
It is hypothetically possible legally to impose a parcel tax by a two-third super majority vote of the electorate, as Proposition A attempts to do to cure City College’s fiscal maladministration. A parcel tax is perhaps the most imbalanced governmental financial practice, applying only to real estate, but not based upon the value of such real estate. The owner of the Transamerica Pyramid, a Shorenstein& Co. or Clint Reilly building, or one of those monstrous buildings South of Market would pay the same amount of parcel tax as every homeowner. (None of that tax will be paid by tenants.) That’s the reason I’m not voting for Proposition A, despite my love of the National Championship City College football team and its coaching staff. It’s unspeakably unfair. I strongly also urge a “no” vote on Proposition B, which allocates $34,500,000 to the Port and $160,500,000 to Recreation and Park. It’s the third such bond in 12 years, following a $110,000,000 issue in 2000 and a $185,000,000 borrowing in 2008, of which $73,700,000 (49%) has not been spent! If you’re parochial, you’ll note that only $2,000,000 of the $195,000,000 indebtedness will be spent in District 7 (Lake Merced), but without detail as to such asserted “improvements.” Only city government has the audacity to encumber taxpayers in 2008 for alleged specific improvements, then ask for $195,000,000 more, not even using half of the 2008 indebtedness. This is a department which last year eliminated about 160 playground directors in favor of creating “property managers” to rent and lease our public properties to private entities, such as a “for-profit” school. The San Francisco Consumer Price Index has increased 50.3% from 1996-97 to 2012; but this department’s General Fund budget has increased from $74,218,771 in fiscal 1997 to $138,504,752 in this fiscal year, an approximate 95% increase.
That’s fiscal profligacy.
Remaining San Francisco ballot measures C, D, E, F and G are of lesser moment. I’ll probably vote for D (consolidating municipal elections), E (eliminating the payroll tax, which I tried to do in 1984), and G (a declaration of policy opposing corporate personhood, which seems consistent with my support of State Proposition 32). I certainly oppose Proposition F artfully characterized as “restoring” Hetch Hetchy, and I’ll vote “No” on Proposition C, a “housing trust fund,” for developers, their “affordable” housing allies, and similar political housing hacks. The measure seizes $20,000,000 in the first of 30 years of existence, amounting to about $1,200,000,000 over 30 years. It also seizes and increases the hotel tax and business license fees. It’s unworthy of your support.
(Next month I’ll discuss State ballot measures.)
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
The author is unknown, but it was a wise wag who declared: “The main hope of civilization is that people may get together someday and try it.” They’re about to try again at the national, state and local election on November 6, 2012, but, meanwhile, pithy comments abound respecting contemporary civic and neighborhood problems and issues.
…the pitiful public extravaganza commonly known as the Central Subway project, about which many others and I have written over the past year”
One such issue is the pitiful public extravaganza commonly known as the Central Subway project, about which many others and I have written over the past year. Business owners in North Beach have awakened to the fact that construction of the Project in the environs of Columbus Avenue will cause disruption on a scale never before occurring in North Beach, including the 1906 Fire and Earthquake. Realization that the project doesn’t even involve a subway station in Washington Square, which theoretically could be used by riders to Chinatown and North Beach, and that Washington Square use will rest upon utilization of tunneling machinery which will eventually be left beneath Washington Square, generated several public meetings over the summer with MUNI bureaucrats and flacks. (I know the current nomenclature is the Metropolitan Transportation Authority or MTA, but to me it’s the MUNI whether operating buses, trolleys or cable cars while socking it to automobile drivers with enormous parking meter tax increases.) The City Charter prohibits the use of any public park for a permanent structure without a vote of the people! The Central Subway Project will insert structures in both Washington Square and Union Square. A City Attorney opinion from the 1970’s on another subject constitutes Municipal Railway bureaucratic reassurance about ignoring voter approval, but fortunately, several San Franciscans and a North Beach association may file suit under the Charter to stop the multi-year destruction of Columbus Avenue.
The daily press, whenever it covers the project, ignores the absence of federal transportation money ($942,000,000) essential to completion. Municipal Railway officials misrepresented to the public last year that federal grant approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation would occur by the end of 2011. It didn’t. It happened only two weeks ago, subject to Congressional rejection, but the House of Representatives, meanwhile, passed a transportation-funding bill last June specifically barring any federal money for the Central Subway Project. The United States Senate version of the same program doesn’t contain that bar, but no joint conference committee to resolve House and Senate differences has occurred or is even scheduled this fall. Meanwhile, all four construction bids for the Stockton Street station were rejected because they exceeded MUNI estimates (!). Local sales tax money has been, and is, being spent to promote this pipedream, which must be a subject of debate for all nine District 7 Board of Supervisors candidates this fall. MUNI riders suffer daily from inadequate equipment maintenance. Even MUNI bureaucrats admit the Central Subway project operationally will increase MUNI’s maintenance financial deficit by over $15,000,000 per year. Instead of improving MUNI performance, the project, if built, would increase the maintenance deficit.
Under the radar lies another civic transportation fiasco, replete with deceit. The Transbay Terminal Project is really a real estate project, premised upon building a lavish “Transbay Terminal” for MUNI, Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District and Alameda-Contra Costa Transit Authority buses as well as Peninsula commuter trains and, supposedly, California High-Speed Rail trains. Two tracks would be extended 1.3 miles from Fourth and King Streets to First and Mission Streets. Awarded to a partnership consisting of Texas-based Hines & Co. and the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, the real estate project comprises on paper residential units and commercial spaces, (naturally with much subsidized housing), thus theoretically providing a financial foundation for the $1,500,000,000 public terminal and park niceties displayed over the past years in gaudy color presentations to an unwitting public, with engineers, environmental analysts, construction firms and public relations flacks panting excitedly over snagging more taxpayer dollars. Now, it’s disclosed that last June the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company withdrew from the project. Metropolitan Life Insurance doesn’t want to gamble upon this fanciful real estate project. Hines & Co. had agreed to pay the Transbay Terminal Authority approximately $180,000,000 for the First and Mission parcel, meaning Metropolitan Life Insurance would have paid half that sum. Not any more.
The aggrandizing Transbay Terminal Authority, comprised of a supine governing board of nine people from San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, and led by six-figured salaried bureaucrats and press agents, aided and abetted by local Washington politicians, extracted $400,000,000 from the 2009 Federal stimulus bill for construction of a “train box” to accommodate the theoretical extension of tracks from Fourth and King Streets to First and Mission Streets for Peninsula commute and California High-Speed Rail trains. Undisclosed to San Francisco residents and taxpayers is the cost of building tracks from Fourth and King Streets to the vaunted new Transbay Terminal: $4,200,000,000 as of 2011 to traverse just 1.3 miles of city streets and valuable commercial properties underground. Unstated also is that no source of such money exists or is likely to exist. If $400,000,000 is ever spent for such “train box,” it will constitute public waste within the meaning of California Code of Civil Procedures section 526(a) (2). Litigation in Sacramento County Superior Court against the California High-Speed Rail Authority raises inferentially that issue in a case not yet set for trial.
Other examples of violations of basic governmental budgetary principles include Governor Brown’s Proposition 30, the wealthy Mollie Munger’s Proposition 38 and Proposition 39. State income and sales tax revenue belongs in the General Fund of the State of California for allocation by the Legislature and Governor. Income and sales taxes shouldn’t ever be treated as special funds. Instead of following that financially sound historical principle, Brown’s tax increase measure would divide the increased taxes only to California’s educational system and law enforcement. Munger’s Proposition 38 pushes all its higher income taxes into education. Proposition 39, almost entirely financed by yet another multi-millionaire Democrat, changes current corporate income taxation in California, which lamentably permits corporations to choose the least expensive measure of taxation on an individual business basis. Proposition 39 is meritorious in principle, but rather than deposit the estimated $500.000.000 of annual increased corporate income taxes into the state general fund, the increased taxes will be devoted specifically to alleged energy efficiency and non-polluting energy activities. If you are a multi-millionaire, you can underwrite an initiative tax measure and decide on the special fund purpose for which the increased taxes will pay. It’s no wonder governing California rationally becomes more difficult after every state election and the deceitful state budget isn’t balanced.
The San Francisco Bay Guardiansince its inception over 40 years ago has furnished readers and the commonweal a source of debate and thought over local government, taxation, real estate development, public office integrity, drug legalization, criminal law and, yes, outcroppings of the nanny state. One infers from the Bay Guardian that a perfect San Francisco pictorially should reflect people riding the MUNI for free, smoking marijuana, maybe even trading stashes of same, living in taxpayer-subsidized apartments with vegetable gardens front and back. Even for great intellectual theorists, however, a recent Bay Guardianeditorial demanding increases in the neighborhood parking charges for the good of MUNI riders demonstrated an elemental lack of reasoning. The Guardian opined last month that residential parking permit rates should be doubled and the revenue applied to defer the MUNI deficit, arguing that parking spaces, even in residential neighborhoods, constitute “free parking,” a privilege for vehicles to which owners aren’t entitled. Ignored is the fact that those streets were financed by vehicle drivers! Their gasoline taxes (18 cents to the State, 18.4 cents to the Federal government) built and maintain those streets, a logical example of user fees for public structures. Parking meters were invented and installed beginning in the late 1930’s for the sole purpose of motivating motorists in commercial areas to execute their shopping and other business quickly to allow more customers nearby parking. Parking meters were not designed as income-producers. Motorists had already paid for the streets on which parking meters were located. Nanny Government, however, dictates that all is fair in the taxation war to eliminate automobiles in favor of public transit, much of which itself is subsidized by sales taxation on the 18 cents per gallon State gasoline tax. Let’s see what our nine District 7 Supervisorial candidates, of whom I have endorsed two (Joel Engardio and F.X. Crowley) say about this MTA aggrandizement. (Remember the iniquitous “ranked choice voting” scheme allows a vote for three candidates.) That’s civilization in 2012 San Francisco.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Election Recomendations and Other Issues
Now is the time for all good Westside Observer readers to make sure they vote on June 5th, if they haven’t already done so by “absentee” ballot, and particularly to vote “yes” on Proposition A and Proposition B.
Only Proposition A’s passage by voters will end San Francisco’s singular garbage monopoly, with its effective control of city government, and vindicate the unpaid efforts of San Francisco rate-payers like Tony Kelly of Potrero Hill, Judy Berkowitz of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, Jennifer Clary of San Francisco Tomorrow, George Wooding, past-President of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, Fred Martin of the West Portal Neighborhood Association, and even this now-retired, and humble, but not always obedient public servant.
The fanciful Central Subway project manipulators continue to try to deceive the public into believing it is a “done deal.” It is not. The Federal Transit Administration has not approved the MUNI’s requested $942,000,000 contribution. Governor Brown, in 2011, vetoed a State budget appropriation of $61,000,000 from the California High Speed Rail project bond issue. A proposed amendment to the Federal Surface Transportation Act to eliminate any federal money for the project is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives.”
I’m sure you’ve seen the million dollar campaign the monopoly has waged against Proposition A, spending some of the $220,000,000 dollars per year extracted from us rate-payers. In watching Recology’s insidious ads, there’s no reference to the monopoly’s forthcoming post-election application for yet another massive garbage and recycling rate increase. Although denied by Recology’s President in a downtown editorial board meeting, documents from the Department of Environment give the lie to such heretofore concealed attempt to add financial burden to the 136% rate increase suffered by San Franciscans in the past 11 years.
City Hall’s Department of the Environment, a $24,000,000, 115 employee bureaucracy, paid principally by us rate-payers, has issued requests for bids by alleged consulting experts to “review” (then rubber stamp) the contemplated rate increase by Recology.
And, if you have read or heard the monopoly’s touted 78% recycling rate, a press conference on May 24, 2012 disclosed lawsuits by Brian McVeigh to recover over $1,000,000 of taxpayer funds obtained by Recology from the state and City from false claims respecting recycling material. The false claims lawsuit was filed under court seal in December 2010 pursuant to California law, which enables the state Attorney General to proceed against anyone fraudulently obtaining taxpayer money from the state.
The Attorney General, a San Francisco city government product, held the suit for one year before the seal was allowed to expire and Brian McVeigh, a West Portal native and former Recology manager, was allowed to proceed on behalf of the state. As a one-time supervisor at Recology’s recycling facilities on Tunnel Road and Pier 96, McVeigh alleges he uncovered fraudulent weight tag inflation (a higher rate was claimed for recycled material by Recology for redemption from the State Department of Conservation), theft of collected recyclable material, false reporting of content to the state agency and employee kickbacks from resultant fraudulent payments. The suit charges Recology with invalidly excessive reimbursement and redemption payments from California.
Perhaps you won’t be surprised to learn that after reporting such cheating to his superiors at Recology, Brian McVeigh was fired!
All of such alleged fraudulent conduct partially explains the ficticiously-claimed 78% recycling percentage by both City Hall and Recology. Another former Recology official has stated that San Francisco counts as recycling sand removal from the Great Highway!
In voting, don’t rely on the Controllers’ statement on Proposition A in the voter information pamphlet. City Controller Ben Rosenfield invidiously chose complicity with City Hall treatment of the monopoly by, among other things; incorrectly stating that Proposition A requires “publically-owned garbage collection, processing and transfer facilities within the City limits…” Proposition A does require use of a transfer facility on city property. Why? Because that’s already the case at Piers 96, which the monopoly now uses for sorting recycling trash. The days of reliable City Controllers like Harry Ross, Nate Cooper and John Farrell are unfortunately gone.
At the May 21 West of Twin Peaks Central Council meeting, I watched and heard another demonstration of city government waste in the form of a presentation by Recreation and Park officials concerning removal of about 1600 trees on Mt. Davidson in the name of substituting “native species.” My colleague, George Wooding, discusses the subject fully in his monthly column but revelation of ten city employees, at our expense, engaging in such nonsensical “make work” represents evidence of the reason for a bloated yearly city budget of almost $7,000,000,000.
Adding to such taxpayer injury is the now defined plan of the same city department to obtain voter approval in November of a $195,000,000 bond issue for itself. Remember, approving bonds means creating debt. In February, the department intended to seek approval of an $185,000,000 general obligation bond. It commissioned a poll under auspices of the Port of San Francisco, at taxpayer expense, probably because the department had just submitted to voter approval a similar amount of indebtedness a few years previously. According to the poll of 600 voters averaging 20 minutes in length, 21% of those citizens identified themselves as progressive, 33% as liberal, 28% as moderate and 13% as conservative, with 5% refusing to answer. If about 55% of San Francisco voters are genuinely “progressive” or “liberal” City Hall’s confidence of passage of more indebtedness seems warranted, although I can assure readers of my opposition. I urge the West of Twin Peaks Central Council to do likewise.
The fanciful Central Subway project manipulators continue to try to deceive the public into believing it is a “done deal.” It is not. The Federal Transit Administration has not approved the MUNI’s requested $942,000,000 contribution. Governor Brown, in 2011, vetoed a State budget appropriation of $61,000,000 from the California High Speed Rail project bond issue. A proposed amendment to the Federal Surface Transportation Act to eliminate any federal money for the project is pending in the U.S. House of Representatives. Meanwhile, the Municipal Railway confronts a dreadful operating deficit in the next fiscal year and thereafter, which reminded me that the MUNI constitutes one of the least financially efficient transit agencies in the Bay Area. According to a June 2011 statistical summary of Bay Area transit operators, prepared by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the MUNI recovers but 25.8% of its operational cost from fares, lower even than the state statutory standard of 33.3% fare-box rate recovery ratio. Only such inefficient agencies as AC Transit and the Valley Transportation Authority in Santa Clara County report lower fare-box recovery ratios, about 20% for AC Transit and 12% for Valley Transportation Authority bus service and 17.1% for its unsuccessful light rail operation. MUNI’s cable car service, with its $6 fare, reaches a 47.6% fare-box recovery. (The most efficient transit agency in the Bay Area is BART with a 66% fare-box recovery including a 95% ratio on its San Francisco International Airport service.) The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, which socks it to toll-payers and uses proceeds to subsidize its bus and ferry services, secures 15.6% of its bus operating expenses from fares, while recovering 47.1% of expenses from ferryboat riders. The best ferryboat operation in the Bay Area is Vallejo, with a 60% fare-box recovery, followed by Alameda at 55%. And SAMTRANS achieved 48.5% on the Cal Train operation, but a sad 17.9% of its bus operation costs.
Having already urged passage of state Proposition 28 to change term limits, I reiterate my opposition to Proposition 29 only because cigarette tax proceeds belong in the state general fund, not allocated to various special uses in defiance of sound governmental excise tax principles. I add a recommendation of a vote for James Pan for the 19th Assembly District. He’s an honest real property appraiser with the highest reputation in the community for truth and veracity. He is also a Democrat.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Break the Garbage Monopoly and Other Election Reflections
The June 5, 2012 California and San Francisco elections present an uncommonly mere four ballot propositions, two of which are statewide and two of which are local.
San Francisco’s Proposition A constitutes the compelling measure to enable voters to save money and even save city services. It will for the first time in history require, in conformity with 71 other Bay Area cities, competitive bidding for garbage services in San Francisco and a franchise agreement. Because of a 1932 initiative ordinance approved at a time in which 97 individual persons collected garbage in different San Francisco neighborhoods, and mergers and acquisitions the current conglomerate, which operates as a monopoly in San Francisco, has been permitted to escape a competitive bidding process required of all city contracts of such size. The garbage contract is immense, taking in over $220,000,000 per year from San Francisco ratepayers. Moreover, it’s done without any franchise contract or agreement with city government. Even the discredited Pacific Gas & Electric operates in San Francisco pursuant to a franchise fee agreement. Not our current garbage collection operation, which, in contradiction to Oakland, a city with one-half the population of San Francisco, receives a $24,000,000 franchise fee to support its general fund and, in turn, city services. Experts estimate that garbage service companies should pay approximately $40,000,000-$50,000,000 as a San Francisco franchise fee.
San Franciscans now pay more than twice as much per capita population for garbage and recycling as San Jose with its 1,100,000 population. Moreover, residential garbage rates have risen 136% in San Francisco in the last 11 years, and that’s for residences, because commercial property garbage collection rates are unregulated by City Hall. The corporate garbage monopoly boasts of its “discounts” to commercial ratepayers; in fact, it grants such “discounts” to commercial ratepayers on a regular basis if a commercial ratepayer objects to the claimed rate. That’s the reason the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and Building Owners and Managers Association oppose Proposition A. They don’t care about residents. And the Chamber of Commerce, which supported a San Francisco sales tax increase rejected by voters in November, 2011, should be exposed for its complicity in ignoring the plight of residential ratepayers. Additionally, the corporate garbage monopoly intends after the June 5, 2012 election to file a request with City Hall for yet another tremendous rate increase. It would have applied for such an increase last summer; it didn’t do so only because it hoped to prevent and impede collection of sufficient voter signatures to qualify Proposition A for the ballot. City Hall, however, gave away the monopoly’s secret intent to obtain another rate increase after the June election by advertising requests last month for services of so-called consultants to evaluate on a pro forma basis the proposed garbage rate increase.
Proposition A modifies the 1932 garbage collection ordinance by creating competitive bidding for residential collection, commercial collection, processing of waste, transportation to the landfill, and landfill operation itself. The reason for five different bids is to obtain the most value for ratepayers from each part of the contract; at most, there will be two companies collecting waste and recyclables, just like Norcal and Sunset Scavenger did a few years ago. Bidders can seek and obtain more than one of the five contracts, except that a garbage firm can’t have the processing contract so as to decide what goes to the landfill and also operate the landfill. The reason? There’s a clear conflict of interest which would threaten recycling goals of “Zero Waste.” Incidentally, Department of Environment studies in 2011 found no correlation between the rates we pay and the recycling rate of Bay Area cities or between rates we pay and franchise fees in the other Bay Area cities. Don’t believe the claim that the corporate garbage monopoly is responsible for the alleged San Francisco high recycling rate of 72% or more; like garbage collection firms in other cities, the current monopoly accounts for approximately 50% of recycling and city government claims the remainder from such deceitful acts as counting the cubic yards of sand removed from the Great Highway as “diversion” or “recycling.”
To ensure that the new system functions the way we want and expect, actual regulations governing competitive bidding will be prepared by the Director of Public Works and the universally-respected Board of Supervisors budget analyst. A five-year transition period will occur to accommodate operational changes. The current garbage corporate monopoly can, of course, bid, and if its protestations about local employment are true, the measure grants an advantage to it in the bidding process. Finally, Proposition A can be amended by the Board of Supervisors without returning to voters, so long as any amendment advances the goals of Proposition A. The only way to break the garbage monopoly is by Proposition A. I recommend it — unqualifiedly.
I also recommend voting for Proposition B. It’s a reflection of neighborhood knowledge and desires concerning Coit Tower. While not a binding ordinance, it’s a declaration of policy, which upon approval by voters should control the bureaucratic actions of the Department of Recreation and Parks, the Mayor, and the Board of Supervisors. Its declared policy will ensure money generated from tourist and visitor fees at Coit Tower will be used to preserve, maintain and even enhance the historical landmark in the future. The alternative consists of raids by the Department of Recreation and Parks of revenue from activity at Coit Tower for other activities in the Department and even in other departments of city government. Proposition B is a citizen and voter initiative. Let’s approve it.
The two State propositions involve term limits on legislative service and a proposed significant increase in the tobacco tax. I was once a supporter of the term limit concept, which qualified for the November 1990 California ballot by reason of herculean efforts on the part of my friend, then-Los Angeles County Supervisor Pete Schabarum. Supervisor Schabarum wrote the term limit state constitutional initiative as a lifetime proposition, meaning a person could serve a maximum of three two-year terms in the California Assembly and two four-year terms in the California Senate. I thought a person should be allowed to run again for either the Assembly or State Senate after a two- or four-year hiatus. Supervisor Schabarum’s Proposition 140 also removed legislators from the state retirement system and contained a therapeutic reduction of 30% in the annual legislative budget, which may not exceed $950,000 per member per fiscal year, or 80% of the money expended for legislative operating purposes in the preceding fiscal year, whichever is less. The measure was approved by voters resoundingly on November 6, 1990. Unfortunately, expectations of the sponsor and me have been thwarted. Upon election, almost every legislator begins planning for another legislative position at the end of the limited term. That’s given rise to the spectacle of a person serving in the Senate for eight years, then running for the Assembly for another six-year term, and vice versa. Term limits have degraded the quality of the legislature, its understanding of issues, its analysis of facts and desirable policies.
Proposition 28 represents an improvement. It permits a person to serve a maximum of 12 (not 14) years in the legislature in either house. One could serve three terms in the Senate or six terms in the Assembly, or serve in both houses, but only for 12 years. The proposition does not restore retirement system membership to legislators or the budget reduction in their operating expenditures. Because of common voter embracement of the underlying notion of the term limit concept, namely, throw the rascals out of office, Proposition 28 is probably the most feasible current method of trying to improve legislator quality and experience.
Proposition 29 is another matter, not withstanding my aversion to tobacco companies, cigarette smoking, and the sorrowful cancer and other diseases tobacco use creates. Proposition 29 represents yet another example of special funding budgetary balloting which causes much, if not all, of California’s current fiscal condition. The California Voter Handbook contains on Page 13 an analysis of Proposition 29 by the State Legislative Analyst. It is instructive. The first state tobacco tax was enacted by the legislature, not by voter initiative, in 1959 for general support of the state budget. For more than 100 years, that’s the manner in which state excise taxes were treated, enabling the legislature and governor to appropriate money for various purposes, including specifically those which supposedly will result from Proposition 29, if it passes. A special fund, like the State Highway Fund, results from collection of the tax from those who use the streets and highways, in the instance of the gasoline tax, built from proceeds of that specific tax.
Commencing in 1988, however, with voter enactment of a $0.25 per pack increase in the cigarette tax, the State General Fund was deprived of cigarette tax proceeds, which were instead directed to tobacco education and prevention, tobacco-related disease research programs, general healthcare services for low-income persons (not necessarily caused by cigarette smoking) and environmental protection and recreational resources. Despite linguistic contortion of the relationship between environmental protection and recreational resources, on the one hand, and cigarette smoking, on the other hand, by the special interest progenitors of 1988’s Proposition 99, obviously cigarette taxation was changed from a General Fund purpose to a special interest purpose.
The Legislature in 1993 succumbed to the special interest taxation trend by adding $0.02 per cigarette pack tax for support of breast cancer screening programs for uninsured women and breast cancer-related research. Then, in 1998, another voter initiative (Proposition 10) increased by $0.50 per pack the cigarette tax and seized the proceeds to support early childhood development programs, not California’s General Fund or even activity related to tobacco-caused cancer!
Now comes Proposition 29, which effective October 1, 2012 would add $1.00 per pack of tobacco taxation. The proceeds would, of course, be applied for special purposes. The tobacco tax increase would be deposited in a new special fund, called the California Cancer Research Life Sciences Innovation Trust Fund, allegedly dedicated to research on cancer and other tobacco-related diseases, and distributed among five newly created special funds with a new state bureaucracy and a Cancer Research Citizen’s Oversight Committee, appointed in part by the Governor, in part by the Director of the State Department of Public Health, and in part by the UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, and UC San Francisco chancellors. Supposedly, the new tax would raise about $735,000,000 per year. The new commission could spend an estimated $15,000,000 annually on staff salaries and overhead, which means more pension and healthcare state employee obligations, plus $110,000,000 annually on buildings and equipment. It exempts the chief executive officer from State hiring and salary requirements. I don’t object to raising the tobacco tax; I do object to diverting the proceeds from our State’s General Fund, which suffers a prospective deficit of over $10,000,000,000 as I write. Logically, wouldn’t taxpayers use the estimated $750,000,000 accretion from the $1.00 per pack cigarette tax increase to defray that $10,000,000,000-plus predicted deficit? The question answers itself. Therefore, I recommend a vote against Proposition 29.
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Malfeasance, Misfeasance or Nonfeasance?
As the April 2012 Westside Observer “goes to press”, the major media event locally continues to emanate from the criminal action surprisingly instituted by the District Attorney against Sherriff Ross Mirkarimi. Readers already know that Mr. Mirkarimi, in a remarkable display of generosity by the District Attorney (and the Presiding Judge at the already-commenced trial), pleaded guilty to false imprisonment while the original charges of domestic violence, endangering a child and attempting to suppress evidence were dismissed as a result of a “plea bargain.” (A recent United States Supreme Court decision by Justice Anthony Kennedy reminds us that approximately 95% of criminal cases in state courts result in plea bargains, actual trials are now the exception); Mirkarimi was then sentenced to three years of probation, a required anger management course, a $590 fine and a continuing restraint against reunion with his wife, the alleged domestic violence victim who refused to testify and has proclaimed such refusal personally and through an attorney ad nauseum during the past two months.
Exercising power under Section 15.105 of the San Francisco Charter, the Mayor then suspended Mirkarimi, as sheriff, and immediately notified Mirkarimi, the Ethics Commission and Board of Supervisors in writing on March 21, 2012 of numerous written charges against Mirkarimi. Speculation as to the outcome of such proceedings abounds, particularly in questions to this one-time Board of Supervisors member and retired Superior Court Judge, probably because of my 15 years of service on the Board of Supervisors and subsequent tenure as a Superior Court Judge.
In September 1976, after then-Mayor George R. Moscone suspended Airport Commissioner Joseph P. Mazzola for official misconduct, as President of the Board of Supervisors I presided over a five day hearing on those charges which resulted in a Board of Supervisors resolution, adopted 10-1, finding Mayor Moscone’s charges true and removing the Airport Commissioner from the office. Although such action was upheld in the San Francisco Superior Court, the California Court of Appeal reversed the Superior Court, holding that the evidence adduced at the Board of Supervisors five days of hearing contained no legal basis for a finding of official misconduct.
Although the Court of Appeal rejected the Airports Commissioner’s contention that the term “official misconduct” was unconstitutionally vague, it held that the commissioner could not be charged with official misconduct because the charges had nothing to do with his official capacity as Airports Commissioner or performance of his duties as such. The Court of Appeal pointed out that Black’s Law Dictionary defines “official misconduct” as “[any] unlawful behavior by a public officer in relation of the duties of his office, willful in its character, including any willful or corrupt failure, refusal, or neglect of an officer to perform any duty enjoined on him by law.” The court also stated that “official misconduct” includes any willful malfeasance, misfeasance or nonfeasance in office and that to warrant removal of a public official, the misconduct must have direct relation to, and be connected with, the performance of official duties, and amount either to maladministration or willful and intentional neglect and failure to discharge the duties of the office in question. The court further declared that malfeasance refers to “evil conduct or an illegal deed, the doing of that which one ought not to do, the performance of an act by an officer in his official capacity that is wholly illegal and wrongful.” Quoting a legal compendium, the Court of Appeal added that misconduct includes such acts “as amount to a breach of the good faith and right action that are impliedly required of all officers.” The Court of Appeal the ruled: “Thus, there must be a violation or omission of a proscribed act committed…while in office.”
In this instance, the false imprisonment and the dismissed allegations of domestic violence and endangering a child occurred on December 31, 2011. Other acts assertedly occurring with next-door neighbors in the form of a potential effort to suppress a video, some e-mails and other possible evidence occurred no later than January 4, 2012. But Mirkarimi didn’t become Sheriff until January 8, 2012. As far as the public and this commentator know, the acts complained of by the Mayor and City Attorney occurred while Mirkarimi was a member of the Board of Supervisors. All the foregoing is set forth to explain that a serious legal issue presents itself, even prior to Ethics Commission action much less any Board of Supervisors proceeding. Mirkarimi’s attorney understandably filed suit in San Francisco Superior Court to prohibit further proceedings against him on the ground that the Charter Section 15.105, which defines official misconduct in pertinent part as “…any wrongful behavior by a public officer in relation to the duties of his or her office, willful in its character, including any failure, refusal or neglect of an officer to perform any duty enjoined on him or her by law, or conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers…” Don’t ask me to predict the judicial result of such legal action by Mirkarimi to stop the Ethics Commission and the Board of Supervisors proceedings. I’ll leave that to the San Francisco Superior Court and eventually the California Court of Appeal. You’ll observe, however, that although Charter Section 15.105 contains much broader language than existed in the Charter in 1976, the Mirkirimi case involves acts allegedly occurring before Mirkarimi held the office of Sheriff.
In the midst of all the turmoil, one benign and sensible event occurred, namely, the appointment of Vicki Hennessy as acting Sheriff. I know Ms. Hennessy and her husband, retired San Francisco Police Officer James Hennessy. I happily vouch for her competency. She also possesses the confidence and support of the Deputy Sheriffs and other employees of the department. She now provides San Franciscans and the Sheriff’s office reliable and sound leadership and I convey to her my warm best wishes for further civic achievement and personal satisfaction in new, important responsibilities.
While all the aforementioned excitement occurred, our hard-charging Board of Supervisors was spending tax dollars again, even though in a minor way, enacting a law to provide, on a one-year test basis, attorneys to parties in civil cases. The beginning cost to us is $100,000 per year. Only two supervisors, Elsbernd and Chu, voted against this unnecessary expenditure. The United States Supreme Court has long held that an indigent defendant in a criminal case is entitled to an attorney at taxpayer expense. That principle has never been extended to civil litigants, defendants or plaintiffs. Think about the ramifications if every indigent person wanting to “sue” is furnished without charge, an attorney by the taxpayers of San Francisco. Although the United States is often referred to as a “litigious society,” you haven’t seen anything yet if legislatures like the San Francisco Board of Supervisors begin to enact laws granting every non-criminal case litigant an attorney. Anyone want to bet the $100,000 this year won’t be more next year? It’s another example of why San Francisco’s $6,600,000,000 yearly budget is higher than Philadelphia’s, a city comprised of four times or more people as San Francisco!
Retired former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp lives in District 7
Vexing, Shamefaced Votes
It’s vexing to watch local politicians lead San Franciscans into mistaken votes. Examples abound, but two from last November’s ballot must suffice for now. While even City Hall predicts a $229,000,000 budget deficit for the 2012-2013 fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012 and a $364,000,000 deficit for the fiscal year 2013-2014, the city controller admits, probably shamefacedly, that city taxpayers’ pension expenses will increase by approximately 20 percent over the next 17 months. That is, the approximate $363,000,000 pension contribution from taxpayers in this fiscal year will rise to $435,000,000 by July 1, 2013. That will occur despite the fact that Mayor Ed Lee and other City Hall self-proclaimed savants induced voters last November to enact their secretly-contrived Proposition C as alleged pension reform at the expense of Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s Proposition D, which would have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more annually. The San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System, even with about $77,000,000 in additional contribution by government employees, cannot obtain sufficient revenue from its investment in stocks and bonds to cover expanding pension costs. As Mr. Adachi observed on February 21, 2012, “…the train wreck is coming.” Want an example from a nearby city? The Wall Street Journal reported on February 25, 2012 that Stockton’s City Manager informed City Council members that without “negotiated adjustments to the city’s financial obligations, the city will be insolvent and will have no alternative than to seek bankruptcy protection.” Stockton’s population is approximately 290,000. Its City Manager, according to Bloomberg News, made clear that pension obligations are “similar to a Ponzi scheme and Stockton bears an unfunded liability of $450,000,000 for pension costs.” It can indeed happen here.
That will occur despite the fact that Mayor Ed Lee and other City Hall self-proclaimed savants induced voters last November to enact their secretly-contrived Proposition C as alleged pension reform at the expense of Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s Proposition D, which would have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars more annually.
The second example involves a policy declaration lastv November which provided that public school pupils shall be able to attend neighborhood schools instead of suffering transportation across the city. It reached the municipal ballot by reason of a citizen initiative, invigorated mostly by parents of children bused out of their neighborhoods under a complicated student assignment system, which uses a lottery for enrollment in supposedly superior schools. The school district establishment, led by the Board of Education and the teachers’ union, urged voters successfully to defeat the non-binding declaration of policy. On January 26, 2012, the San Francisco Examiner exposed the sorry situation in which two five-year old twin girls were assigned to different schools for kindergarten, one to Commodore Sloat Elementary School on Junipero Serra Boulevard and Ocean Avenue, the other to Alice Fong Yu Alternative School, about three miles away. Their mother died of cancer three years ago. Their grandfather must drive the little girls to and from two different schools, all because the school district for over 40 years has suppressed, either under the guise of racial balance or otherwise, the ability to attend neighborhood schools. That’s one reason the number of children enrolled in San Francisco public schools has declined almost by half since 1970.
The lesson? Don’t let City Hall fool voters again at the June 5, 2012 Municipal election. One measure awaiting approval by a voting majority is, for the first time in San Francisco history, competitive bidding for garbage collection and processing plus payment of a franchise fee by the successful bidder. San Francisco remains the only one of 72 Bay Area cities without competitive bidding or franchise agreements for garbage services. Except for Supervisors John Avalos and David Campos, Mayor Lee and City Hall cronies who like it that way, it’s an historical anomaly arising from conditions in 1932 at the time the modern city Charter was adopted, together with an Initiative Ordinance to regulate activity of then-existing 97 different individuals who collected garbage throughout various San Francisco neighborhoods. Thus, only residential, not commercial or apartment rates, are regulated by unaccountable City Hall bureaucrats. For example, in 2001 the monopoly garbage corporation, then Norcal Waste, Inc., now re-branded as “Recology, Inc.,” asked the Director of Public Works for a 52% rate increase. The DPW staff recommended, based upon the monopoly financial records, a 20% increase. Under the influence of then-Mayor Willie Brown, the Public Works Director, now-Mayor Ed Lee, granted a 44% rate increase. Residential rates have risen 236% in the last 11 years. San Francisco pays more than twice as much per capita resident for garbage/recycling as San Jose, with a population of 1,100,000 people compared to San Francisco’s 810,000 night-time residents. The monopoly collects over $220,000,000 a year and pays no franchise fee. Oakland, a city of about 340,000, receives a $24,000,000 franchise fee for its general fund, about 30% of the gross revenue from garbage collection for the winning bidder there. The Board of Supervisor’s budget analyst has been requested to estimate the amount of a similar franchise fee for San Francisco’s general fund.
The June initiative amends the 1932 garbage collection ordinance which created the monopoly and requires competitive bidding for residential and commercial collection, recycling and processing of waste, transportation to a landfill and the landfill itself. The five separate bids are designed to obtain the most value for the city from each part of the contract. At most, there will be two companies collecting waste and recyclables, as Norcal and Sunset Scavengers did just a few years ago, because bidders can seek and secure more than one of the five contracts. The initiative mandates a garbage company can’t, however, secure both the processing contract (deciding what goes to the landfill) and the landfill contract itself; that’s a clear conflict of interest. Recology, which bids competitively in tens of jurisdictions in California and elsewhere, could prevail in a competitive bid, particularly because the initiative specifically furnishes bidding advantage to local companies hiring local workers with high standards for workers and “zero-waste.” As noted by a progenitor of the initiative, if Recology truly is anything like the corporation portrayed in its television ads, it will win every bid it seeks!
Incidentally, studies commissioned by the Board of Supervisors last year found no correlation between our garbage rates and the recycling rate of Bay-Area cities which demand competitive bidding. Actual bidding regulations will be prepared by the Director of Public Works and the Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst, the uncorrupt able Harvey M. Rose and Associates. The initiative allows a five-year transition period to accommodate any operational changes and can be amended, as appropriate, by the Board of Supervisors without continuing voter approval, but only to advance the objective and goals of competitive bidding. As a sponsor of the measure, I expect the monopoly will flood television, radio and print media with, literally, millions of dollars to stop progress and deprive San Franciscans of savings from the American principle of competitive bidding. Already endorsed by the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and San Francisco Tomorrow, this initiative enables us to enjoy the same economies as 71 other Bay-area cities.
Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge living in District 7.
Taxation, Handwringing and Caterwauling
In the House of Commons on April 19, 1774, referring to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Edmund Burke declared: “To please universally was the object of his life, but to tax and to please more than to love and be wise is not given to men.” One thinks of that bromide in watching contemporary gyrations of local, state and federal politicians.
Nationally, we learn of U.S. multinational corporations fighting the understandable effort of members of the Congress of the United States to tax overseas profits of such corporations at the regular 35% applied to revenue of American corporations in our country. To avoid paying the 35%, such corporations isolate their foreign income in foreign countries in which the income accrued. They generously offered to transport their foreign profits if such revenue is taxed at 5.25%. Never mind that during the administration of President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, such tax reduction resulted only in larger corporate officer bonuses and repurchase of common stock owned publicly. That 2004 legislation conferred “tax amnesty” for the return of profit generated in foreign nations; it secured no discernible economic benefit for us but U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a liberal Democrat, wants to do it again.
Or, take the local legerdemain of imposing a 1.5% tax on the payrolls of San Francisco businesses with gross revenue of $250,000, applicable to the pay of every hired employee. It’s not enough that San Francisco constitutes the only city in California to levy such an illogical tax; in order to buy the loyalty of preferred businesses such as information technology companies, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor create exemptions for their favorite businesses. Thus far, those seem comprised entirely of information technology corporations.
Among the undisclosed further attempt by San Francisco city government to encumber San Francisco taxpayers lies another general obligation bond for purposes related to current expense money. The fundamental reason for asking voters to approve issuance of general obligation bonds is predicated upon improvements to city facilities by way of a new structure or replacement of an existing structure. It is a cardinal rule that government should not borrow money in order to pay current operating costs! Such costs should be (and are) paid from the general fund of the City and County. The general fund, in turn, emanates from collection of property taxes, the City and County share of sales taxation on all products and goods sold in San Francisco (note that one-half cent of such sales taxation is applied specially to transit and transportation projects in San Francisco and does not reach the general fund of the City and County) and fees such as a “transfer” tax on the sale price of real estate at a specified level or higher within San Francisco.
That customary and generally approved method of public finance, however common, carries little or no panache with San Francisco city officials, from the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on down. Basic accepted principles of taxation are disregarded. Yet another example looms. Unknown to some neighbors and me, the Park and Recreation Department and its publicized leaders, General Manager Phil Ginsberg, Commission President Mark Buell and plainly compliant other commissioners, plan a general obligation bond issue of $185,000,000. The Park and Recreation Department has engaged, directly or indirectly through a campaign committee, a polling firm to survey San Francisco voters. I received such a telephonic poll inquiry on January 12, 2012 and, based upon experience in such matters, the poll was phrased to attract affirmative responses from surveyed voters. The questions indicated the purposes for which bond proceeds, if voters are deceived into approving the measure in June 2012, would be used. Those uses include activity, which should be paid on a current basis from the general fund of our City and County. The West of Twin Peaks Improvement Council testified at the Board of Supervisors against submitting such a general obligation bond issue to voters and the unwarranted bond itself. I hope the Council will adopt a position of opposing publicly the actual bond issue as presented to voters in June.
Finally, I note the handwringing statewide over elimination of Redevelopment Agencies in the 2011-2012 State Budget Act at the instigation of Governor Edmund G. Brown, Jr. I compliment the Governor for his initiative and success in ending a practice, which legislatively was authorized in 1946 by California Health and Safety Code provisions intended to encourage demolition of slum housing and replacement with improved residences. In order to justify use of the enormous power of any redevelopment agency, California law required a city (or county) to render a finding that a neighborhood was “blighted.” Over subsequent years, the definition of “blight” was distorted. Real estate was thereby seized from one owner or more and transferred ultimately to a politically-influential developer or developers. Sometimes replacement housing was built; just as often, if not more, the seized property (think eminent domain) was given to a developer at less than market value for construction of golf courses, automobile dealership lots, and other non-housing activity, so as to satisfy those real estate developers with influence in local government, in San Francisco and elsewhere.
On December 29, 2011, the California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the statue abolishing redevelopment agencies in our state and rejected a separate measure, which would have allowed redevelopment agencies to continue to exist if certain requirements were met. The parasitic redevelopment industry lost. As a result, redevelopment agencies will no longer seize property from one owner and divert it to another owner, with the consequent effect also of depriving school districts of property tax revenue while maintaining a redevelopment bureaucracy remarkable in size and wastefulness. The existence of redevelopment agencies’ power to effectuate new land takings and projects ends this month. Cities and counties may still decide whether to create successor agencies to complete current unfinished redevelopment projects, but no new land grabs can occur. There will, to be sure, be unending caterwauling by the redevelopment agency lobby, and bureaucrats and local politicians, but an earnest post-WWII effort to eradicate slum housing, which evolved into favoring commercial land developers to the detriment of those without City Hall influence and school and community college districts with the taking of property tax revenue from the affected redevelopment areas has rightfully closed in the wake of California’s contemporary governmental fiscal condition. Reformation efforts over the past 25 years or so having legislatively failed, the redevelopment titans have no one but themselves to blame for its denouement.
Former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Kopp lives in Lakeview.
Three strikes and Holiday Hijinks
Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition, defines hooey as "nonsense" and states that its 1924 origin is unknown. I find hooey in contemporary publications in San Francisco, the daily morning newspaper and otherwise, on an almost-daily basis. The history, for example, of laws becomes obscure or muddied in an era of rapid communications and apparently little patience for historical facts. One example is the so-called "three strikes" law enacted by California voters on November 8, 1994 by an initiative, commonly then known as Proposition 184. It's not only criminal defense lawyers who condemn abhorrently such law as inflexible; it's newspaper columnists, editorial writers and academic commentators. To the contrary, by approving the "three strikes" law (California Penal Code Section 1170.2)(c)(2)(A)), California voters, as noted in a 1996 California Court of Appeals decision, determined that those defendants who have been convicted of serious or violent felonies merit greater punishment upon conviction of any new felony. Fifteen years ago the law was deemed constitutional by the United States Supreme Court after having previously been deemed constitutional by the California Supreme Court.
As criminal law practitioners, victim rights organizations, and students may know, the law arose from a sickening event on October 1, 1993 when 12-year-old Polly Klaas of Petaluma was kidnapped and murdered by a repeated felon on parole, who was then arrested on November 30, 1993. The felon, Richard Allen Davis, owned a lengthy criminal record of arrests and convictions, commencing at the age of 12 and incurred over four decades. The father of a teenaged girl previously murdered by a convicted felon in Fresno, California started an initiative, which easily qualified for the November 1994 State General Election. Prior thereto, the legislature passed its own "three strikes" statute, signed by then-governor Pete Wilson on March 8, 1994. Essentially, both the legislative and initiative versions provide that any person convicted of a second felony is subject to a mandatory state prison confinement at twice the number of years otherwise applicable to the second felony and those criminal defendants with two or more prior felony convictions and convicted of a third act constituting a felony are subject to a minimum sentence of 25 years. (Serious felonies include murder, voluntary manslaughter, rape, assault with intent to commit rape or robbery, assault with a deadly weapon or instrument on a peace officer, arson, exploding a destructive device causing great bodily injury, burglary, robbery, kidnapping, selling heroin, cocaine or any methamphetamine-related drug and grand theft involving a firearm.) The only difference in the two "three strikes" versions of the law as between the Legislature and the People of the State of California is that the statute approved by the Legislature required the third felony conviction be based upon a serious or violent crime; the initiative does not specifically so require and some repeated crimes like petty theft qualify as a "third strike" under the initiative. That has led to clamor every few years or so, and particularly now because of asserted overcrowding of state prisons, that the "three strikes" law must be revised, if not repealed. For example, in the 2004 State General Election, a revision, commonly called Proposition 66, would have explicitly required the third felony conviction to be violent or serious so as to trigger a 25 years-to-life sentence. Voters rejected it and with good reason. What the academic pontificators, the American Civil Liberties Union, critics and some politicians neglect to inform citizens is that the "three strikes" initiative expressly contains protection against the concededly questionable spectacle of a criminal defendant with two prior serious or violent felony convictions being convicted of petty theft, shoplifting, or marijuana possession and then sustaining a 25 year-to-life sentence. The 1994 initiative confers discretion upon the prosecuting attorney in any California county to move to dismiss or strike a prior felony conviction allegation in the furtherance of justice. And, if faith in prosecutorial discretion lacks respect among the aforementioned circles, the California Supreme Court in 1996 reiterated that the "three strikes" law did not give prosecuting attorneys the power to veto judicial decisions to dismiss a prior felony conviction allegation in furtherance of justice, meaning that any judge presiding over a criminal defendant's trial and eventual conviction possesses inherent power to dismiss and ignore a prior conviction of a serious or violent felony in sentencing a criminal convicted of petty theft, for example. Commonly, in sentencing a person just convicted of a third crime and possessing a record of two prior serious or violent felony convictions, the judge presiding over a petty theft trial will dismiss one of the prior felony convictions. I have done it myself in those circumstances. In other words the "three strikes" law, as interpreted by the California Supreme Court, inherently possesses provisions which prevent the type of imagined injustice critical commentators love to conjure in order to convince people unfamiliar with the criminal justice system that the "three strikes" law is abusive and subject to no commonsensical judicial restraints. In a civilized society, the law is justifiable and necessary. I doubt voters will repeal it.
On November 5, 1996, two years after the people of the State of California enacted the "three strikes" law, voters enacted the constitutional prohibition against discrimination or preferential treatment (California Constitution, Article 1, Section 31). It declares the state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in activities of public employment, public education or public contracting. It also provides that nothing in the law shall be interpreted as prohibiting bona fide qualifications based on sex which are reasonably necessary to the normal operation of public employment, public education or public contracting. The law governs any city, county, city and county, the University of California, the California State University system, Community Colleges, school districts, special districts and all other political subdivisions or governmental instrumentalities.
Notwithstanding countless efforts, including those by San Francisco city government to evade the understandable provisions of that part of our State Constitution, and consistent, continuous judicial decisions upholding the State Constitutional provision, every legislative session discloses efforts by one or more legislators to try to circumvent Article 1, Section 31. The clarion call of "affirmative action" is heard throughout the state capitol and levels of local government. As was pointed out by the National Director of the Anti-Defamation League in 1995, affirmative action, as originally conceived, was an effort to provide education and training for persons in certain categories to compete equally in a merit-based process. He declared; "Equality of opportunity was a worthy goal in the 1960's and 1970's, and it remains a worthy goal today. We still believe there is a place in our society for in-service training, apprenticeship opportunities, placement assistance and recruitment of those victimized by past discrimination." I agree. Our society needs unremitting commitment to traditional forms of affirmative action and aggressive enforcement of anti-discrimination laws, but the best solution is assistance for the economically disadvantaged, regardless of race, color, sex, ethnicity or national origin. In fact, in the United States Senate debate over the 1964 Federal Civil Rights Act, its progenitor, the late Senator (and Vice President) Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota declared the act " would prohibit preferential treatment for any particular group…" In 1973, in the House of Representatives, an amendment to the so-called Alaska Pipeline Bill provided: "The Secretary of the Interior shall take such affirmative action as he deems necessary to ensure that no person shall, on the grounds of race, creed, color, national origin or sex, be excluded from receiving, or participating in any activity conducted under any permit, right-of-way, public land order or other Federal authorizations granted or issued under this title." Senator Humphrey's fight against racial discrimination and preference was an example of public service at its finest, an object lesson for those who note deficiencies in observing State Constitutional requirements and thoughtful civil rights principles articulated by the creator of the Federal Civil Rights Act.
Finally, you can't disregard in this season of Christmas and Hanukkah fervor some of the trappings of post-election City Hall. Among the ordinances and proposals under consideration to cure our City's ills are such beauties as an effort by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and supervisors to raise money by forcing a private property owner who furnishes free parking to his or her customers on his or her private property to pay the city an annual fee of $1000 per parking space. Think about it: a business owner buys property in order to conduct business and ensures space for customers to park without charge. That means customers don't need to plug money constantly into parking meters. It's obvious the Metropolitan Transportation Authority resents such foresight and business sense. I'll be waiting to observe Board of Supervisors action on that inane proposal while it contemplates a Mirkarimi proposal to charge grocery and other types of business customers money for paper bags in which to carry their purchases home. It's not enough that City Hall wants to compel our children and us not to eat specified foodstuffs, it's not enough that such savants advise us to eschew plastic bags and it's not enough that we recycle paper bags. City Hall will generate money for its $6,800,000,000 annual budget by docking us for using a paper bag to carry our groceries and then to recycle such bag. It's a wonderful world in often clownish City Hall, but let's enjoy fun, games, parties and presents this month and trust in the New Year.
Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge. Feedback: editor@westside observer.com
Ballot Box Deliberations
On the premise that this estimable journal will be published and disseminated before the November 8th election, I supplement my October commentary and voting recommendation.
A brief reiteration appears warranted. I endorse Public Defender Jeff Adachi and City Attorney Dennis Herrera for Mayor; Bill Fazio, former Deputy District Attorney for 20 years and President of the Lakeshore Acres Improvement Club, for District Attorney; and Sheriff's Captain Paul Miyamoto, Lowell High School graduate and 15- year veteran in the Sheriff's Department, for Sheriff. (I also note that former Supervisor Tony Hall has iterated strong positions on important issues such as stopping the baleful Central Subway Project and passing the Garbage Collection Competitive Bidding Initiative next June.)
Voting against Propositions A and B, a combined $749,000,000 set of general obligation bond issues, is not only warranted, but virtually mandatory for taxpayer protection and trying to teach the City Hall "family" a lesson. Proposition A allegedly enables remodeling, repairing and renovating schools, the fourth such measure, including two parcel tax assessments, since 2000. General Obligation Bonds represent City government borrowing. The San Francisco Unified School District has wrongly managed approximately $1,000,000,000 (!) of parcel tax and bond proceeds over the past 10 years. Why reward it with another $500,006,000 (plus 60% more interest) taxpayer obligation?
In the October 6 Examiner, Ken Garcia accurately exposes Proposition B as "…no minor pothole funding request." He rightly states that it's a $248,000,000 "bond measure aimed at doing what the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor's office have consistently failed to do." That's the point. Like all other cities and counties, San Francisco receives money from state gasoline tax proceeds (18 cents per gallon) for repairing our city streets. Instead, City Hall used state gasoline tax remittances for other purposes, usually related to Mayoral and Supervisorial favorite causes like tree-planting and a ramp to the Board Of Supervisors President's chair (over $650,000 for that nicety!) Maybe they'll learn to spend our gas tax payments to repair potholes and maintain our streets.
It's no contest as between Propositions C and D, respecting reformation of the City's deficit-afflicted pension system: Proposition D is genuine reformation; Proposition C is contrived to disguise a temporary cure of ever-higher general fund taxpayer contributions to the city retirement system and increasing pension plan deficits. Proposition C, for example assumes a 7 ½ % increase in value of the stocks and real estate owned by the city retirement system, although in the last ten years it has never been higher than 5 percent. Proposition D doesn't do that. Proposition D limits any pension to no more than $140,000 annually; Proposition C allows $190,000 per year pensions. (Did you know that only about 100 city employees receive less than $50,000 in salary?)
I also urge a vote against E, F and G and a vote for Proposition H. Proposition H has suffered a viciously misleading and distorted opposition campaign, even though it's a mere declaration of policy expressing the view that public school assignments should, as a matter of policy, be based upon a child's neighborhood. One of the expensive multi-colored flyers clogging our mailbox from education establishment opponents claims: "Don't fix what isn't broken." Isn't broken? Proposition H exists because of the herculean efforts of uncompensated parents and other citizens who qualified it as an initiative. They're the parents who know what's broken, because their children are shipped miles from their neighborhood pursuant to arcane school district policies. Not broken? In the 1969-70 school year, 90,790 pupils attended our public schools; in 2011-12, there were but 52,900, with another unidentifiable number choosing charter schools. Although the Board of Education may blithfully ignore it, let's pass Proposition H and make that board then explain any refusal to follow Prop H's neighborhood school policy.
Let's turn to another subject. Several redundant debates and fiery rhetoric have captured the mainstream media's attention this summer and fall, respecting Proposition 13. Older readers will probably recall property assessment and taxation conditions in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Younger readers will not. Recitation of history thus seems appropriate. Before June 1978 and enactment of Article XIIIA of the California Constitution, if market values of residential and commercial property increased, so did the assessed values and the consequent property taxes. For a homeowner, that asset didn't produce revenue until such time as it was sold or otherwise transferred. A higher assessment and resultant property tax levy were annually imposed, however, as if it was a revenue-producing asset. Real estate values increased through the 1960's and into the 1970's. People with Social Security and retirement benefits lived on an income fixed by those respective plans. The assessor nevertheless appraised your home at market value and the Tax Collector collected the always-increasing property tax from homeowners. Homeowners finally revolted. The revolt was called "Proposition 13," the Jarvis-Gann Property Tax Reduction Amendment to the California Constitution. Proposition 13 limited an appraised value increase to 2% per year and the tax rate to 1% of cash value annually. Despite opposition from then-Governor Jerry Brown and almost every State, Federal and local public official in California, voters approved Proposition 13 by 65% to 35%. (I was almost the only elected San Francisco official as a member of the Board of Supervisors to support it openly and publicly.) Sure, there are infirmities in Proposition 13 conceptually. I've always believed commercial real estate should be separated from residential property on a so-called "split-roll" and appraised at its current cash value, not its 1978 value. (Under Proposition 13, with an exception for transfers to spouses or children, a home or other real estate is reappraised at market value only upon sale or trade.) The reason? Commercial property produces income, tangible money proceeds; residential property doesn't until it's sold. The "chatter" of the "chattering class" regularly calls for changing or repealing Proposition 13. You'll read that in your morning newspaper, you'll hear it from your aggrandizing local political candidate or from self-appointed academic experts. The truth is that repeal of Prop 13 simply won't happen.
Unknown to most San Franciscans, the independent and non-partisan California Poll by Mervyn Field, commonly known since its founding in 1947 as the "Field Poll", surveyed a representative 1001 registered California voters between September 1 and 12, 2011 in English and Spanish. The Field Poll found that Californians would today back Proposition 13 by about the same margin as they did in 1978, namely, 63% to 29%, with 8% undecided. Support was broad. Majorities of voters within each political party endorse the measure, as do homeowners and even renters, including recent homebuyers. That's right: 53% of Democrats would vote for Proposition 13 again compared to 40% who would vote against it and 7% undecided. With non-partisan voters, like me, and smaller parties, 63% would retain Proposition 13. Even 58% of surveyed renters would vote for Proposition 13 as against 32% who wouldn't and 10% undecided. Among those purchasing a home in the last ten years, 62% would vote for Proposition 13. (You didn't hear any of that from local media.)
The Field Poll also asked voters whether they would change Proposition 13 to permit business and commercial property taxation at a higher rate than residential property. Surprisingly, 50% stated they wouldn't, 41% would and 9% were undecided. That's the lowest percentage of approval of the split roll for commercial property since just after Proposition 13 was passed in 1978. At that time 54% approved a split roll. In fact, in 1980 a Field Poll demonstrated 68% approval of a split roll. Voters also reject changing Proposition 13's two-thirds legislative vote requirement to increase taxes, either by modifying it to a simple 50% +1 majority vote or even reducing the legislative vote requirement to 55%. That idea would lose by 65% to 30% with the rest undecided. The message to all politicians and academic and editorial soothsayers is plain: Stop the caterwauling about Proposition 13 because voters understand that a home is a non revenue-producing asset and shouldn't be taxed as if a "paper profit" (at least the "paper profit" in the pre-2008 days of surging real estate prices) puts cash in homeowners' pockets to pay the local tax collector. Proposition 13 will continue to sustain homeowners who live on fixed and modest incomes – fortunately.
Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge. Feedback: editor@westside observer.com
BALLOT RECOMMENDATIONS: NOVEMBER 8TH
Finley Peter Dunn, who died in 1936, was one of America's most conspicuous political commentators and cartoonists. Utilizing "Mr. Dooley's Opinions" as his device, Dunn rendered Mr. Dooley, a mythical Irish immigrant expressing his observations on New York City and State politics but also on humankind in general. Among "Mr. Dooley's Opinions," bowdlerized for this column, was, "A man that'd expect to train lobsters to fly in a year is called a 'loonetic' but a man who thinks men can be turned into angels by an election is called a reformer and remains at large."
It seems apt to provide for the first time in over a decade a public recitation of my views and recommendations concerning the November 8, 2011 Municipal Election, which features concentrated competition for Mayor, District Attorney and Sheriff, plus eight ballot measures. Two of the measures involve general obligation bonds in the total amount of $779,000,000, three constitute Charter amendments, two constitute ordinances, and one represents a declaration of policy.
The campaign for mayor features an incumbent, whose narrow selection by the Board of Supervisors in the first week of January was conditioned upon him not seeking election to the office on November 8th. The appointment resulted from an inside City Hall scheme by former Mayor Willie Brown and Chinese Chamber of Commerce Executive Director and chief intimidator Rose Pak, who thereafter organized an ersatz citizen supplication for the servile appointee to seek election to San Francisco's most significant public office in the face of prior promises not to run. In some part, because of the assumption that the election would not feature an incumbent Mayor, fifteen other San Franciscans effected in early August their candidacies. After reviewing the history, qualifications and utterances of 11 of such candidates, I've decided carefully to endorse two, based primarily on their city government experience, their intellectual and financial honesty, and their statements of intent respecting policies.
Due to ranked choice voting, I'm able to, and do, strongly recommend for your consideration Public Defender Jeff Adachi and City Attorney Dennis Herrera for Mayor.
Dennis Herrera possesses almost a generation of experience in city government and the myriad of issues that confront a San Francisco mayor. He has served as a Deputy City Attorney and thereafter, with an interval of legal private practice, as the elected City Attorney for nearly 10 years. He knows right from wrong; he knows, for example, the Central Subway project is one of he most disreputable wastes of taxpayer monies, local, state and federal, in recent history and he has so stated with clarity and vigor, even in the face of mob opprobrium contrived by the afore-said Pak and her associates. Moreover, in June 2012, San Francisco voters will finally be given the opportunity to abolish the monopoly in garbage collection, transportation and recycling with a qualified citizen initiative, of which I am a part, to require competitive bidding for such now-monopolized service, plus a first time ever payment of an annual franchise fee to San Francisco's general fund. While prevented by the San Francisco Charter from publicly supporting or opposing any ballot measure, City Attorney Herrera states publicly he will vote for that initiative next June. (Incidentally, candidates Adachi, John Avalos, Tony Hall, Joanne Rees and Phil Ting have stated publicly their support of such initiative, while candidates David Chiu, Bevan Dufty and appointed Mayor Lee have publicly declared opposition to competitive bidding. It was Lee, in his 2001 role as Director of Public Works, who granted the monopoly NorCal Waste a 44% rate increase after his own staff had recommended a maximum 20% rate increase. It's estimated such action has cost San Francisco ratepayers approximately $850,000,000 or $85,000,000 annually over the past 10 years! Herrera's public policy positions tell me he is a man of rectitude, not weakness or vainness, like our last mayor.
So is Jeff Adachi. He possesses a generation in city service, first as a Deputy Public Defender with a reputation for consummate preparedness, then for almost this past decade as the elected Public Defender. Both last year and this year he has led the struggle to qualify an initiative Charter Amendment to reform the city employee retirement system, which drains our general fund because of imprudent changes during the stock market and real estate glory days of 2000-2008. As with the nonsensical Central Subway project, the San Francisco Grand Jury first alerted taxpayers in a June 2010 report entitled "Pension Tsunami." This fiscal year, July 1, 2011-June 30, 2012, taxpayers will contribute approximately $422,000,000 to the pension fund, increasing by fiscal year 2014-15 to nearly $800,000,000, which constitutes about 31% of the City's payroll costs! Pension payments to city employees vary from a few hundred dollars per month to as much as $22,600 a month ($271,200 annually) and over 600 retired city employees receive more than $108,000 per year in pension payment as of July 2010. Jeff Adachi's last initiative received 43% approval from voters in 2010, despite expenditure of more than $3,000,000 by its opponents. His current pension reform plan is another voter-initiative (Proposition D). Even the City Controller, part of the City Hall "family" (don't you love that repulsive phrase, which really means your pockets are about to be picked) concluded in a June 19, 2011 report that Jeff Adachi's Proposition D will save as much as $1,600,000,000 over the next 10 years. Adachi also declares unreservedly his support for ending the garbage conglomerate's monopoly and introducing competitive bidding for such $250,000,000 per year contract. (San Francisco is the only jurisdiction of 79 in California surveyed for the Department of Environment which does not require competitive bidding for garbage collection, or a franchise fee by the successful bidder.) Adachi is principled, brave and extraordinarily well-informed. That's why he earns my vote.
Six aspirants have filed for the District Attorney's office, including another unqualified appointed incumbent, who was only admitted to practice law in California two years ago and has never tried an actual case, civil or criminal, in a courtroom. The appointed incumbent wouldn't know a municipal corruption case if his life depended on it. I recommend unequivocally your vote for Bill Fazio, who is past-President of the Lakeshore Acres Improvement Club, and served for 15 years as a Deputy District Attorney trying the most serious and violent felonies in San Francisco Superior Court. He has practiced trial criminal defense law for the past 10 years. He is the only candidate with actual trial experience of such magnitude. There are two others with some trial experience, including one who may have violated the California Election Code by promising not to run if the incumbent appointed her his Chief Deputy District Attorney. (The complicit former District Attorney and now Attorney General Kamala Harris unsurprisingly refuses to act.) Bill Fazio possesses the experience to advise trial deputies in their trial problems and formulate trial strategy with them. He possesses also the requisite experience to establish training and teaching of new and inexperienced deputies in the District Attorney's office. The appointed incumbent can't do that; he's never tried a case and wouldn't know what to do. In my strong opinion, there is only one person to vote for as District Attorney and that is our neighbor, Bill Fazio.
I also recommend Paul Miyamoto for Sheriff. Why? Because he, of all candidates, is the only person with demonstrable experience in the responsibilities of the Sheriff's office. A Richmond District native, graduate of Lowell High School and the University of California at Davis, Paul has served in the Sheriff's Department for 20 years, promoted by Sheriff Mike Hennessey presently to Captain of the Department, supervising the City Jail, probably the most demanding position in the entire department. For what it is worth, he is the endorsed candidate of the Deputy Sheriffs Association, composed of men and women who have observed his performance through 20 years of development from a rookie Deputy Sheriff to Department Captain.
I urge a vote against Propositions A and B. Proposition A is a $531,000,000 General Obligation bond issue. With interest payments to the bondholders, it will exceed $1,000,000,000 in eventual taxpayer costs. It includes paying $1,500,000 for "Outreach and Communication" with citizens "affected by the work to be performed in this issue." That means $1,500,000 to fancy public relations hacks of the sort that "took" the California High-Speed Rail Authority for $3,000,000 in slightly more than one year. School district projects invariably exceed cost representations to the public. That's happened three times in the last several years. Why reward misrepresentations again. Vote No on A.
Proposition B was brilliantly dissected in this journal last month by George Wooding, immediate ex-President of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council. It's a $248,000,000 General Obligation bond issue, not for new structures, but for repaving streets and eliminating potholes. Money for those purposes is transmitted to San Francisco every year from the proceeds of our gasoline taxes in the State Highway fund. Instead of using such gas tax revenue for maintenance and repair, our City Hall wastrels have spent it on items such as over $500,000 for a ramp in the Board of Supervisors chambers, planting trees, graffiti abatement and other non-road purposes. If the Mayor and Board of Supervisors had practiced fiscal responsibility, our remittances from the State Highway Fund would have been used for everyday maintenance. General Obligation bonds represent borrowing. Proper governmental administration means borrowing only for capital improvements, not for everyday expenses. It is intellectually dishonest to borrow money in the amount of $248,000,000, plus another $200,000,000 or more in interest payments, to perform everyday maintenance tasks. Vote against Proposition B.
I have already explained why we should vote for Proposition D, and inferentially against Proposition C. Proposition C, promulgated by city employee labor unions, including the police and firefighter unions, with the appointed mayor and supervisors, misleads voters into believing the city's pension system will be righted from potential insolvency by its approval. Vote for D; Vote against C.
Vote against Proposition E, a deceitful measure by the Board of Supervisors to enable the board, by majority vote, to amend or substantially repeal initiatives formulated and approved by voters. Proposition E very simply enables the voters' will to be undone by the Board of Supervisors. Can you imagine? An example of that can be adduced from Proposition F, a Board of Supervisors attempt to change the campaign consultant ordinance. I'm voting against Proposition F and I'm also voting against Proposition G, which effectually raises by ½ cent the sales tax in San Francisco, only because the Governor and Legislature, in enacting the Budget Act of 2011-2012, authorized local governments, if they so desire, to ask voters to replace sales tax revenue eliminated in the State Budget Act.
Finally, I do intend to vote yes on Proposition H, which declares the San Francisco Unified School District should follow once again a policy of assigning children to our public schools based upon their neighborhood residency. From over 92,000 students in San Francisco public schools in June 1970, the school district has but 51,000 pupils, a decline attributable initially and principally to forcing children to attend schools, by busing and other means, outside their neighborhood. Board of Education and school district bureaucrats never learn. Thus, Proposition H furnishes the means again to reiterate the virtue of neighborhood schools.
Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge. Feedback: editor@westside observer.com
Chinatown's Subway and the Garbage Kerfluffle
The August 23, 2011 Wall Street Journal put it best: "Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but the politicians who contrived the city's Chinatown subway project must have left their brains somewhere else. The subway is a case study in government incompetence and wasted taxpayer money." That editorial, of course, will be recognized by discerning readers as a characterization of the so-called Central Subway project, which was also the subject of an exhaustive 55-page June 2011 report by the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury, entitled" Too Much Money for Too Little Benefit." The Grand Jury investigation was laborious, involving seven months of painstaking, penetrating collection.
The amount of information. Its report deserves more respect than the disdain shown by City officials, from the Mayor down.
The project cost is currently estimated as $1,578,300,000 cost. It is for a subway of 1.7 miles, starting from an above ground station at Fourth and Brannan Streets and travelling underground with stops at Moscone Center, Union Square and Chinatown. As the Grand Jury notes, in 1989 San Francisco voters were importuned to enact a ½ cent sales tax for just 20 years to generate an estimated $200,000,000 for transit and transportation improvements along (1) the Bayshore corridor, also referred to as Third Street in the Hunter's Point / Bayview neighborhood, (2) the Van Ness corridor, (3) the Geary corridor and (4) the North Beach corridor. Voters were assured the ½ cent sales tax would expire in 2010.
The first project was the T-Third (Street) light rail system. It eventually cost approximately $648,000,000, substantially exceeding the $200,000,000 estimate for improving all four of the above-mentioned corridors. Thereafter, the "T-Third" was deemed the first phase of a two-phase project called the Bayshore/North Beach corridor project. The second phase was renamed the Central Subway. THe sales tax money having been spent in 2009, San Francisco voters were induced to retain such ½ cent sales tax for transportation, and pay it this time until 2033.
The T-Third's first phase, authorized by voters in 1989, was not completed until 2007, 18 months late and vastly "over budget." The Central Subway phase, planned to complete the Northern extension, was scheduled to open this year, 2011. Its earliest completion date is now advertised as 2019. In 2003 the Central Subway was estimated to cost $648,000,000; by 2004 the estimate was raised to $763,000,000; in 2006 the cost estimate rose to $994,000,000; and, as stated, the 2011 estimate is $1,578,300,000. (Want to bet it will break $2,000,000,000 by 2019—if ever built?
The Grand Jury noted that the T-Third budget in its final design was approximately $567,000,000; including a contingency $35,600,000 for inaccurate cost estimates. The cost "overrun" amounted to $81,000,000, about 22 percent of the final design estimated cost. By extension, the Central Subway project by 2019 could cost over $1,610,000,000 if the cost "overrun" is approximately 20 percent of the originally planned cost, the general expectation on large construction projects in the United States. Thus, at an approximate $1,600,000,000 cost, the Central Subway will mean an expenditure of almost $100,000,000 for each tenth of the 1.7 mile project.
The project's progenitors are one Rose Pak, executive chieftain and leading political intimidator of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, Willie Brown, onetime mayor in whose administration this irresponsible project was nurtured, and that sycophantic entity known as SPUR ("San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal") whose hectoring about San Francisco has disguised an empty headed superiority complex for much too long. For those who may think it is too late to stop this reckless, venal project because of construction-like inconveniences around Union Square, be advised that's precisely the despair the aforementioned villains desire from the relocation of utilities underway in that sector. (To be sure, over 130,000,000 of taxpayer money has been lavished on such "busy work," but hundreds of millions more taxpayer levies will, without nugatory civic indignation and action befor this December, be wasted bit by bit.) Almost $1,000,000,000 of federally-imposed taxes will be approved or not approved by Congress in November.
That's because Central Subway adherents represent that about 92 percent of the needed money will emanate from Federal and State governmental funds. That involves $966,000,000 (61% of the total) and $488,000,000 from the U.S. Treasury and the State of California, respectively, and about $124,000,000 (8% of the total) from proceeds of the local ¹/2 percent transportation sales tax. But, if the Central Subway project costs more than now claimed, neither Federal nor State funds will be available for cost increases, which means that San Franciscans will underwrite all cost "overruns." That's why the Grand Jury recommended that the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency )"MTA"), the project sponsor, should hire an independent entity to investigate whether the current budget represents a "realistic estimate."
There's more. Project sponsors claim the Central Subway will serve Chinatown residents and shoppers. The Grand Jury concluded that "…to say that the Central Subway will alleviate this problem (overcrowded conditions on the 33-Stockton bus) is disingenuous." The Central Subway would miss connections with 25 of the 30 light rail and bus lines that it crosses. No direct connection exists to BART—or to Bay ferryboats. Riders will need to walk 1000 feet to transfer between the Union Square / Market St./Powell Street stations. Direct connection from the T-Third line to the MUNI Metro will be eliminated. And, the Central Subway ignores service to the Financial District. A 2006 review of the Central Subway design by an independent engineering firm, commissioned by MTA, concluded that the project "promises to combine high capital costs with higher operating costs, and …does not, apparently, effectively meet the market needs in the corridor it is intended to serve."
Moreover, MUNI cannot provide an assurance of its ridership predictions. Those have fluctuated from a high of 61,000 to a current estimate of a mere 35,110 riders on the Central Subway. The MUNI is known for unreliable ridership claims and the trip times on the Central Subway will actually be longer than currently exists on surface buses. The Sierra Club, changing its prior support position, concludes that the project should now be abandoned and the local and state funds be applied to meritorious MUNI and other transit projects in our city.
Talk about misuse of taxpayer money, this project possesses the highest capital costs per mile of all 14 light rail projects in the Federal Transit Administration's so-called "New Start Program" nationally has the highest capital cost on a "new rider basis" of those 14 projects, and the lowest percentage of "new riders" of all such Federally-funded projects. Meanwhile, taxpayer dollars will be drained so as to undermine MUNI maintenance and exacerbate the overburdened MUNI vehicle control systems, which must be a MUNI priority. The MUNI currently incurs an operating deficit of about $150,000,000 per year and needs a new signal system at Forest Hill Station and elsewhere; using our sales tax levies for the Central Project will cheat us of a new MUNI communications system. To City Hall: Heed the 2011 Civil Grand Jury report or continue to savage taxpayers and MUNI riders. End the Central Subway Project.
During the Westside Observer's summer vacation, it should be noted that the celebrated voter and ratepayer initiative to modify an antiquated 1932 ordinance governing garbage collection, transportation and disposal, which resulted in a monopoly never contemplated by San Franciscans in 1932, was certified for the June 2012 municipal election despite physical and financial efforts by its monopolistic opponent to prevent voters from signing the necessary petitions. The initiative also provides for the first time in history that the bid-winning garbage collector will pay San Francisco a franchise fee. Remarkably, San Francisco is the only jurisdiction in California which does not charge a franchise fee to a private garbage collection or transportation company. By comparison, Oakland, with less than one-half of San Francisco's residents, receives $30,000,000 per year as a garbage collector's franchise fee. San Francisco is the only such jurisdiction which does not require competitive bidding for garbage collection, transportation or recycling. With a mayoral campaign involving some 11 or more worthies, voters now possess the opportunity to ascertain the support or opposition of each mayoral candidate respecting such June 2012 initiative. Already, candidates John Avalos, Tony Hall, Jeff Adachi, Phil Ting and Joanne Rees have declared their public support for next June's ballot measure and candidate Dennis Herrera, prohibited as City Attorney by our charter from proclaiming a public position, has informed this writer he will vote for the proposition next June. The incumbent mayor, who as then-Director of the Department of Public Works over ten years ago, granted Nor-Cal Waste, now called Recology (a fancy "brand" name), a 44 percent rate increase in the face of a staff recommendation of a 20 percent increase, Supervisor David Chiu and candidate Bevan Dufty have refuse to support abolition of the monopoly in favor of competitive bidding. That should be instructive to all voters this November 8th.
Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge.
Incurring Civic Debt Without Taxpayer Approval
In last month's Westside Observer, the illustrious George Wooding, 2010-2011 President of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council, wrote an acutely informed exposition and analysis of City Hall reliance upon "an expensive form of debt called Certificates of Participation "COP"…to pay San Francisco's bills, …." Mr. Wooding sharply exposed a political practice of the Board of Supervisors and Mayor over the past 10 years of incurring civic debt with multiple year costs to taxpayers but without the taxpayer approval required for other long-term public debt, most usually, general obligation bonds. His revelation of such iniquitous city government practice in this modest monthly neighborhood journal raises the question of the absence of such reportorial disposition by our daily newspapers, which, sadly, no longer possess an investigative reporter like the Chronicle's long-time writer Lance Williams.
George Wooding's column reminded me of another wasteful, inefficient practice of San Francisco government arising from misuse of the city's share of state gasoline tax payments to San Francisco. While most local taxes such as property, sales, parcel and real estate transfer taxes bear little logical relationship to ownership of property or purchase of products in terms of governmental cost, the state (and federal) tax on gasoline purchases does bear an unmistakable relationship to the charge. Gasoline tax is collected directly from the beneficiaries of the avowed use of such tax revenue. That is, gasoline tax proceeds are intended to pay the cost of building, maintaining and repairing streets and highways, and nothing else. The gasoline tax historically (and correctly) has been called a "user fee." Those persons, residents and non-residents alike, who use California's streets and highways, pay the cost of building, maintaining and repairing the same. In the same vein, bridge tolls are also user fees, utilized for creation, maintenance and repair of the bridges used by toll payers. California's state gasoline tax of 18 cents per gallon began in 1922 (at two cents per gallon) after state legislators and governors had thrice presented general obligation bonds for approval by state voters in the years between 1904 and 1919. Our California forebearers finally realized that borrowing money by general obligation bonds caused additional interest costs for taxpayers, amounting to 50 to 75 percent additional interest expense on top of repayment (over 30 years usually) of the general obligation bonds themselves. Charging actual users of the structures needed for motor vehicular transportation was plainly a more rational and considerably less expensive method than long-term borrowing.
The difference between financing of structures from proceeds of a general obligation bond and financing streets and highways from a built-in user fee isn't widely understood, even by elected officials, who prefer expediency rather than sound fiscal practice. For example, after my election in 1986 to the California State Senate and my appointment in 1987 as Senate Transportation Committee chairman, the then-governor, trying to avoid a gasoline tax increase necessary to accommodate a continually increasing California population and motor vehicle registration, persuaded two-thirds of each house of the legislature (but not me) to authorize submission to voters of a multi-million dollar state general obligation bond issue for state highways and local streets. California voters recognized the illogic of borrowing money, which would be repaid from the state general fund and not by highway users, and rejected the measure. During his gubernatorial tenure, however, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who knew less about fundamental governmental principles and generally accepted governmental fiscal practices than any governor in my lifetime, persuaded a pliable term-limited group of legislators to repeat that misadventure, this time with success from an unwitting electorate. City Hall, and particularly the temporary mayor, wants San Franciscans to borrow $248,000,000, and incur increasing interest rates simply to cure potholes and repair streets, not to create new structures on a one-time basis.
That means City Hall has effectually squandered state gasoline tax remittances by not spending it exclusively for current street maintenance. A Department of Public Works publication demonstrates that fact. The state remitted $12, 234,224 to the City in fiscal year 2010-11, July 1, 2010 – June 30, 2011. The estimate for the current fiscal year is $12,304,224. Additionally, San Francisco receives for street maintenance and repair proceeds of the state sales tax upon gasoline, (also a user fee) amounting to $12,596,000 in the last fiscal year and forecasted as $13,938,000 in this fiscal year. There's more: a small portion of the sales tax paid by users of gasoline, designated as the Road Fund, was also received in the amount of $3,783,557 last year and will be the same for this fiscal year. Finally, the so-called Metropolitan Transportation Authority county share, obtained from federal gas/excise tax charges on gasoline users was $3,178,017 last year and is fixed at the same sum this fiscal year. Total gasoline tax and Road Fund revenue for San Francisco's maintenance and repair of streets was $31,791,798 last year and will be about $33,233,298 from now until June 30, 2012.
How did San Francisco use such money last fiscal year? How will it use it in the current fiscal year? For street repair, including pothole and patch paving, only $2,537,979 of gasoline user payments was used last fiscal year and only $ 2,570,602 will be used in the current fiscal year. For street paving, a proper use of gasoline user fees, $ 12,596,000 was devoted last year and about $13,938,000 will be devoted in the current year. All the federal gas and excise tax subvention money ($3,178,017) was employed for traffic sign and signal maintenance last year and this year, but $8,225.554 of gasoline user fees were diverted last fiscal year to street cleaning, both mechanical and manual, sidewalk and plaza cleaning, graffiti abatement and remedying illegal dumping. This fiscal year's appropriation for such purposes purportedly to decline to $5,876,822, but the $2,620,174 spent last fiscal year for "Urban Forestry Maintenance" will be increased to $5,279,582. Approximately $2,634,000 was spent last year not for repair or maintenance, much less construction of streets, but for "debt service" on a $48,000,000 Certificate of Participation the Board of Supervisors and then-Mayor Gavin Newsom authorized in 2010, notwithstanding the negative recommendation of the Board's Budget and Legislative Analyst, Harvey M. Rose who warned that various street projects and disability access improvements to the Board of Supervisors legislative chamber were "routine and ongoing" and "would be most appropriately financed on a pay-as-you-go basis without the issuance of long-term debt such as COPs." He reminded supervisors and Newsom that long-term debt, such as general obligation bonds and COPs "is typically issued to finance large one-time capital improvement projects…" They ignored their Budget Analyst, so now our general taxes are squandered on $2,360,775 in interest to the "Goldman Sachs" of the world.
In short, San Francisco has misused its share of state and federal gasoline taxes and the excise and sales taxes thereon. Instead of practicing historically fundamental governmental financial wisdom of applying user fee proceeds from gasoline taxation for routine work, city government has been "cute", applying it to planting and maintaining street trees and a loan to lower the President of the Board of Supervisors' podium so that it is 12 inches above the floor, installing a ramp to such podium and improving the audio/visual wiring which runs underneath each podium. Furthermore, in October 2010 the Department of Public Works informed the Budget and Legislative Analyst some $38,964,935 of a $48,000,000 Certificate of Participation is allocated to repaving, maintaining and repairing streets because the department considered all those projects "Capital Improvement Projects", and not routine maintenance. That's how our city government operates, ignoring elemental principles, misspending gasoline user taxes and incurring debt indebtedness which will be repaid, not by motor vehicle drivers, but by property, parcel, sales, real estate transfer and other taxpayers from the City's General Fund.
There's more: as revealed by the Examiner's Melissa Griffin on May 31, 2011, city government spent $29,000 for a poll on whether voters will approve the $248,000,000 general obligation bond for street repairs and potholes. One poll question was premised on "tens of millions of taxpayers' dollars" dedicated from proceeds of such bonds to a remodeling project on Jefferson Street for the America's Cup, more money for that one project than all other city-wide uses of the money. The implication is that more bond proceeds would benefit billionaire Larry Ellison and the America's Cup extravaganza than San Francisco residents. The ultimate taxpayer expense of such bond, including interest, will approach a half a billion dollars. One doubts such bond folly will receive a hospitable audience if voters truly understand the financial sins of their city government.
A remarkable story was published in late May concerning one of the candidates for San Francisco District Attorney and the appointed "paratrooper" D.A, George Gascon. It appears that Sharmin Bock, a one-time Alameda Country Deputy DA, met with Gascon last spring demanding he appoint her Chief Deputy District Attorney or she would probably run against him. Her alleged theory was that Gascon needed a capable person to manage the DA's office while he campaigned. Gascon claims Bock declared that if he didn't hire her for such position she would probably enter the race. According to the journalistic jackals in the Chronicle, Bock didn't deny the conversation. California Elections Code section 18205 states that a person shall not directly elicit or receive any "valuable consideration…in order to induce a person not to become or to withdraw as a candidate for public office." Violation of that law constitutes a felony. If Bock solicited Gascon for such a benefit or received such a benefit, namely, appointment as Chief Deputy District Attorney for not running against him would that violate section 18205? Perhaps. The act, if true, is serious. One would expect a genuine prosecutor to proceed. Apparently, however, for this D.A., municipal corruption isn't a favored subject, even for referral to the state Attorney General.
Finally, let's consider one of city government's newer bureaucracies, the Department of Environment. Like almost all city bureaucracies, its growth has been voracious. The annual salary ordinance for fiscal year 2010-11 shows a total of approximately 85 full-time positions and an expenditure budget of $13,537,260. Who pays for that? Almost 57 percent of that department's budget emanates from the "Solid Waste Impound Account Fees" paid to Recology by we, the ratepayers; it's yet another reason for enormous residential garbage rates, and explains the symbiotic relationship between the Department of Environment director and staff, on the one hand, and Recology executives, on the other. Let's see if the circulating initiative to require competitive bidding for garbage removal bestows a voter choice in November. Meanwhile, be of good summertime cheer.
Nettlesome Gap Between Probable Revenue and Desired Expenditures
One of the most nettlesome aspects of City Hall folly is Board of Supervisors and mayoral treatment of the iniquitous "payroll tax." To remind longtime San Franciscans and inform all readers, the payroll tax was imposed by the Board of Supervisors and then-Mayor Joseph L. Alioto in 1970, the year before I was elected to the Board of Supervisors. The tax rate was then 1% of any business payroll totaling $250,000 or more annually. (It is now 1.5%) At the same time, the Board of Supervisors and Mayor enacted a gross receipts tax, based on a business' gross revenue. Whichever yielded more money would be owed by the affected business. In 1970 the Board of Supervisors and Mayor Alioto preferred to impose a city income tax, primarily to levy upon commuters but which also would apply to residents. They couldn't do so, because in 1963 the California Legislature and then-Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown enacted California Revenue and Taxation Code Section 17041.5, barring any city, county or local district from imposing an income tax. Mayor Alioto's theory, and that of his tax supporters on the Board of Supervisors, was understandable: commuters used public services such as police, fire, street sweeping, public works, but allegedly didn't pay a "proper" share of the cost of San Francisco services.
Interestingly, the City of Los Angeles emulated San Francisco. Los Angeles' payroll tax was, however, challenged in court for unequally and unconstitutionally treating businesses. Los Angeles settled the case by repealing its payroll tax and changing its gross receipts tax to collect revenue it lost from abolition of the payroll tax. There was no such challenge in San Francisco, but in 1982, I introduced a proposed ordinance eliminating the payroll tax. The incumbent mayor (I think her name was Feinstein) strongly opposed my ordinance, having advocated the payroll tax in 1970 as a supervisor. Ultimately, my ordinance was rejected by a Board of Supervisors committee. Consequently, San Francisco for 41 years has enacted an illogical tax on businesses. It remains the only city in California to do so! For every business with a payroll amounting to $250,000 or more that hires a new employee, a payroll tax on that job is collected. Instead of simply repealing the foolish payroll tax, which handicaps San Francisco competitively, and modifying the gross receipts tax to secure the lost tax revenue, the Mayor and Board of Supervisors take "baby steps" with the concomitant effect of treating businesses unequally by favoring a few new businesses and creating "winners and losers." First, under threat from highly successful Twitter to relocate from San Francisco to Brisbane and not consummate a lease of considerable space in the one-time Furniture Mart at Market and 10th Streets, the Mayor and Board passed an ordinance exempting from the payroll tax Twitter and other businesses, not throughout the city, but solely in that specified "zone" generally characterized as the mid-Market Street area.
Thus, only Twitter and any other business with an annual payroll of $1,000,000 or more which moves into such "zone" will not pay a payroll tax on new employees. Its present payroll tax will remain unchanged for the next six years. If, however, you've been a business owner of long-standing elsewhere in San Francisco, paying all your taxes, including the tax on your payroll, you receive no such exemption. Is that just or sensible? I think not.
The plot thickens. For purposes of the payroll tax, compensation includes any profit from stock options exercised by a business' employees. The tax break to Twitter exempts any stock option compensation. Now, another San Francisco business, Zynga, a new and successful corporation (Zynga and Twitter have been valued in excess of $7,000,000,000 each) has asked. "What about us? Why shouldn't we be exempted from a payroll tax on money bestowed upon our employees from stock options?" Well, with the nearly $100,000 per year geniuses at the Board, who qualify for the insolvent city pension plan after only eight years, that's easy: Supervisor Mark Farrell introduces an ordinance to exempt stock option profit from the payroll tax. (Twitter supposedly claims it would pay $50,000,000 per annum in payroll tax just for stock option compensation and in the City's 2010-11 budget, approximately $350,000,000 emanated from the total payroll tax.) Amidst the implication that Supervisor Farrell's private finance business benefits from stock options, another supervisor's ordinance was enacted to remove stock option profit from the definition of compensation for payroll tax purposes for six years to satisfy the clamor of fashionable internet corporations possessing over 100 employees which are privately (not publically) traded corporations. But City Hall isn't through.
In April, with a prospective budget deficit of $306,000,000, City Hall announced a doubling of its subsidy to businesses which hire people on welfare. The initial subsidy was $2,500 per new employee. Asserting that few businesses have used the program, city government will now subsidize a business at $5,000 per employee if it hires a San Franciscan on welfare. The Federal government originally furnished the money. Congress, however, stopped the funding in September 2010. City Hall, nevertheless, used approximately $2,100,000 from the city's General Fund to perpetuate it. Claiming not enough employers used the money, the new Mayor raises the subsidy and you wonder why the City faces a huge gap between probable revenue and desired expenditures for fiscal year 2011-12?
Finally, to complete the tale, in early May, Senate President pro-tem Darryl Steinberg of Sacramento introduces a measure to repeal the 1963 ban on local income taxes and allow counties and school districts (San Francisco is both a city and a county) to impose a local income tax with voter approval. Hold onto your wallets.
Next month, readers will know which of two competing proposed Charter Amendments to cure the indicated $650,000,000 or more unfunded pension liabilities of San Francisco taxpayers should be supported in November, and whether San Francisco law should be amended to require competitive bidding and payment of a franchise fee to San Franciscans for the multi-million-dollar privilege of collecting local garbage will grace the ballot. It's noteworthy that at the May 2011 meeting of the West of Twin Peaks Central Council attendees learned from Supervisor John Avalos that, as a candidate for Mayor, he supports such an initiative ordinance amendment and openly proclaims his backing, unlike other mayoral candidates who practice evasion.
Quentin Kopp is former San Francisco Supervisor, State Senator and Judge.
Garbage and Other Political Shenanigans
San Francisco was manifestly a different city in 1932. On November 8 of that year, San Francisco voters adopted a new Charter, intended to reform a runaway and often corrupt government. Among other things, the Charter established the office of Chief Administrative Officer, responsible for the administration of the Department of Public Works, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Real Estate, the Bureau of Electricity and the Purchaser.
To stop political shenanigans at City Hall, the Board of Supervisors, the Mayor, individual Supervisors and Board of Supervisor committees were enjoined from dictating, suggesting for interfering with appointments, promotions, compensation, disciplinary action, contracts, requisitions for purchases or other administrative actions of the Chief Administrative Officer or of department heads under the Chief Administrative Officer, or under the respective boards and commissions appointed by the Mayor. Any dictation, suggestion or interference by any supervisor constituted official misconduct. On appointment by the Mayor and confirmation by two-thirds of the members of the Board of Supervisors, the Chief Administrative Officer served for life. In the 1970s, a ten year term was imposed by voters.
For over five decades, city government was largely free from municipal corruption. Then, came the deluge. First, a “progressive” supervisor successfully sponsored an amendment to remove the Department of Public Health from Chief Administration Officer purview by creating a Health Commission. Then, the Office of Chief Administrative Officer was abolished in favor of an insignificant City Administrator, yet another civil servant. That was eventually followed by an ill-advised rewriting of the entire Charter in 1995, instigated by a now-forgotten supervisor and purveyed to voters as a simplification of city government. It instead weakened protections against undue influence, even corruption. It certainly weakened the integrity of city hall decision making. By the beginning of this century, supervisors obligated to the good and welfare of the entire city were replaced by “district election” of such luminaries, giving way to ward bossism and, with ranked voting, a peculiar election system in which a candidate finishes first but loses because of second and third choices by voters. Supervisors now interfere in all manner of administrative actions and the annual budget exceeds that of Philadelphia, a city with approximately four times as many residents as San Francisco. Over 26,000 city employees populate the rolls and their unions hold sway at city hall, a taxpayer-supported sumptuary. City government has not been simplified.
On November 8, 1932, San Francisco voters also adopted an initiative, known as the Refuse Collection And Disposal Ordinance. It provided rules for the collection and disposition of refuse. It created a Rate Board, consisting of the Chief Administrative Office as Chairman, the Comptroller and the Manager of Utilities. There were approximately 100 persons collecting and disposing of refuse at the time. The ordinance required every such person to obtain a permit. It established a schedule of rates for residential collection only; collection of refuse from commercial locations was unregulated as to rates or charges, subject only to contract between the producer of the refuse and a duly licensed refuse collector. It required no franchise fee for any collector. It did not regulate disposition charges or the cost of transferring the refuse to any disposition site. It did not assess a franchise fee for any refuse collector, unlike other utilities such as gas or electric companies operating privately within San Francisco.
In the ensuing years, the individual refuse collectors combined their separate operations. Sunset Scavenger Company evolved from residential refuse collectors; Golden Gate Disposal Company evolved from commercial building refuse collectors. Most of the respective companies’ members or shareholders lived in San Francisco. Local residential rates, under regulation by the rate board, were less than neighboring localities. In the 1990s, that changed. Sunset Scavenger and Golden Gate Disposal Co. were consolidated under the rubric of NorCal Waste Co., Inc. An employee stock ownership plan was devised and approved by the then-Chief Administrative Officer under the premise that the cost of such team (attorneys, accountants, consultants) would not be included in the basic operating cost upon which residential rates were predicated. NorCal Waste Co., Inc. grew, absorbing lesser local operations throughout California and the United States. That is no longer true.
NorCal Waste Co., Inc. is now “Recology.” It has used corporate buyouts and city hall lobbyists to build and maintain a $200,000,000 plus monopoly by its exclusive residential refuse collection contract, which effectually guarantees record profits. In the Bay area, 37 of 38 cities utilize competition for refuse collection, residential and otherwise. In such cities, the low bidding refuse collector pays a franchise fee. Experts in the industry estimate a San Francisco franchise fee would provide $50,000,000 - $80,000,000 to the city’s general fund. Although the 1932 ordinance does not grant exclusivity for transfer of the collected refuse to a disposal facility or the refuse disposition itself (typically to a landfill), much less a monopoly or recycling refuse or waste, Recology also profits from a January2, 1987 “Facilitation Agreement” which mysteriously constitutes a non-compete, sole-source contract for Recology. Industry experts estimate that contract is worth $200,000,000 - $400,000,000 for transfer, transportation and materials processing. For the same services, San Mateo County in 2010 performed a national search for qualified bidders and found seven such groups to compete. San Francisco refuse is transported to a landfill in Alameda County (Altamont). Landfill operator is Waste Management of Alameda County, Inc., a subsidiary of another national garbage corporation. Its’ contract with the city expires December 31, 2025 or until 5,000,000 tons of solid waste have been deposited. Nevertheless, the Department of Environment, recommends to the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor a new landfill disposal contract, claiming the Altamont landfill disposal capacity is exhausted and supporting Recology’s effort to assume that responsibility at a Recology0owned location in Yuba County, approximately 150 miles Northeast of San Francisco. The Yuba County Board of Supervisors opposes such use. A further hearing by the Board of Supervisors Budget and Fiscal Review Committee, chaired by Supervisor Carmen Chu, friend of Recology, was continued late last month “to the call of the chair.” Opposition to such proposed contract is fierce, based upon such actual contentions of availability to the city of eleven landfills, not just two as the Department of Environment solicited, of which eight are accessible by rail and barge, not simply by motor vehicles pounding northward on state highways.
One notes the Department of Environment budget has swollen to almost $14,000,000 per year, almost half of which is paid by Recology from garbage fees. The Department contains over 100 employees. It is yet a fluffy city department financed not only taxpayers but by residential ratepayers. Recology fears competition in any aspect of garbage. Two of our Board of Supervisor’s heroes, Messer’s. Campos and Avalos, advocate a repeal of the 1932 ordinance, which has been turned into a monopoly. One mayoral candidate, Board President David Chiu, states at the West of Twin Peaks Central Council meeting on April 25, 2011 that he opposes the garbage monopoly “in the abstract” but placing a repeal initiative ordinance on the November 2011 ballot would render the city a raging inferno of disputatiousness, which made me as a member of the audience think of Misrata, Libya or Kabul, Afghanistan. When I asked Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, in a telephone conversation last month if he supported abolition of the garbage monopoly, he turned the conversation to his advocacy of changing the PG&E franchise fee, which apparently been increased since 1941. Meanwhile, ratepayer residents of San Francisco, including West of Twin Peaks Central Council members, plan a voter-sponsored initiative to abolish the monopoly in November. I am part of that noble civic endeavor. Don’t count on Supervisor-Mayoral candidate Chiu or Supervisor Mirkarimi, who inescapably want the subject to disappear. Chiu declared to the West of Twin Peaks Central Council: “I’ve not made a decision on whether or not we should put this on the ballot.” That, of course, refers to the Board of Supervisors, or any four members thereof. Instead, Messer’s. Chiu, Mirkarimi, Mar force ratepayers to expend effort, time and money to do so, although Chiu declares that he serves in an elected office “to give back.” (Give back to what?)
In 1993 a trio of young men in the business of recycling offered commercial buildings and establishments trash removal at lower prices than NorCal, which it then sorted into recyclables and waste. NorCal sued to stop the operations of Waste Resource Technologies. It consequently sponsored a ballot initiative, which qualified for the November election. If passed it would have allowed recyclers to charge fees, opened competition for commercial recycling and mandated a competitive bidding process for residential recycling and refuse-hauling in San Francisco, During the process of collecting initiative signature, it was reported that people in NorCal trucks searched for signature-gatherers, then radioed their location to headquarters, after which NorCal employees would arrive, crowd the signature-gathering citizens and tell people not to sign. The San Francisco Superior Court issued a restraining order against such harassment of voters. The proposed repeal of the 1932 ordinance eventually was defeated after NorCal spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to do so. The three sponsoring young businessmen couldn’t match such expenditures. Since NorCal’s campaign manager has ever since been on its’ Board of Directors and directs political strategy, citizens can expect similar behavior this summer and fall. The time for nullifying the garbage monopoly has, however, arrived so put on your citizen shoes, secure some voter signatures this month and next and create some free enterprise, competitive rates and a general fund injection come November.
The time has also arrived for a new sheriff in town. The incumbent has announced his retirement and we are blessed with a bonifide in-town, Lowell High School and University of California-Davis graduate who lives in the Richmond District and is a Captain in the Sheriff’s Department and a non-politician. (Can you imagine?) His name is Paul Miyamoto, born and raised in San Francisco, with over 15 years of actual experience, who merits undying support over a career politician, who cannot figure out what to do about a monopoly. I’ll give you more data on Paul Miyamoto next month.
Remarkably, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and the Bay Guardian (of which I am now a special correspondent – whatever that means) all advocate competitive bidding for refuse collection, transfer and disposition.
Quentin Kopp is former San Francisco Supervisor, State Senator and Judge.
Abject Fecklessness Rules
As all branches of government confront the discouraging spectacle of predicted budget deficits, it dismays and saddens any tax-paying San Francisco citizen and voter to observe the unending human quality of greed and secretive favoritism. On March 8 the Board of Supervisors met in a session closed to the public, purportedly to consider the City's position on pension and healthcare benefit changes for city employees. As author of the San Francisco Charter provision on Open Meetings and the 1994 revision of the Brown Act governing all meetings of California local districts, I wonder whether that secret session was legally justified. The City Attorney's office will argue that the secret session was devoted to compensation emoluments and, therefore, legally permissible under state and Charter law. No matter, wouldn't it be wonderful just once to permit taxpayer access to the status report and recommendations of the Mayor's so-called negotiators. (Wouldn't it also be useful if the secret meetings between wealthy businessman Warren Hellman, the apparent self-anointed expert on city employee pension costs and solution thereof, union representatives and unidentified others were available for public scrutiny?) Hellman, who abandoned Public Defender Jeff Adachi's Proposition B effort last fall to accomplish city employee benefit changes and his cohort won't allow Mr. Adachi (much less the public) to participate in those secret meetings. It's been reported that Hellman believes the City must save $300,000,000 – 400,000,000 annually in pension costs. That's the reason Mr. Adachi continues pro bono publico to spend time and effort promulgating an appropriate Charter amendment for the next local election, whether June or November.
Meanwhile, elected Board of Education members want an increase in their citizen compensation from a $500 per month maximum (based upon the number of meetings attended) to $25,000 per year, which they claim is approximately one-half the salary of a beginning teacher in San Francisco schools. The salary of a first-year teacher is approximately $44,000 annually. Here's a school district in which enrollment has declined from about 92,000 pupils in 1969-70 (before busing) to an estimated 55,000 students in 2010-11, and the wise governors of the diminished system, who supposedly serve as idealistic citizens and not professional politicians, think their compensation should relate to teaching salaries. But maybe they're impressed by the gift handed to Leslie Katz, a one-time, one–term Supervisor who was hired by the shifty Port of San Francisco (of which she is now a commissioner) for a short period of time at a $94,063 per year salary as a "Senior Administrative Analyst" to enable her to secure five years of "city employment" and thereby qualify after five years for the City's retirement system on a "buy-in" basis. The Katz episode followed the heretofore-undisclosed similar act by, of all people, former City Controller Edward Harrington, to provide ex-Supervisor, Assemblyman and State Secretary of State Kevin Shelley with a similar opportunity to secure state pension payments. (No Harry Ross, Nat Cooper or John Farrell is Mr. Harrington, and if you're not familiar with Messrs. Ross, Cooper and Farrell, I can only recommend you read San Francisco City government history from 1933 until 1995 to understand the historical probity of San Francisco Controllers.)
Readers may recall my comments last month about the wisdom of Governor Jerry Brown's proposed statewide abolition of redevelopment agencies and enterprise zone tax breaks. In early March, State Controller John Chaing released results of a five-week review of 18 typical redevelopment agencies in the state. Mr. Chiang's review was limited in scope, since there exists 425 (!) redevelopment agencies (RDA) in California. He first found that the RDA's practice no consensus in defining a "blighted area", which supposedly is the only reason for establishing a redevelopment area. As a naïve college student in the late 1940's, I though "blight" meant abandoned, dilapidated buildings with obvious need of replacement. The City of Coronado, however, for example, adopted a redevelopment area for every privately owned parcel in Coronado, including multi-million dollar beachfront homes. In Palm Desert, redevelopment money was used to renovate greens and bunkers at a 4.5 star golf resort. Pittsburg's RDA loaned $16,600,000 last year without interest to the city for specified projects, but the city failed to spend $15,400,000 and earned interest on those funds. Calexico's RDA loaned $1,750,000 to the city in 1993 at 6% interest, but in 2004, the city council, acting as the RDA governing board, reduced the interest rate to 1.42%. Despite an obligation to repay the loan, Calexico still owes $1,100,000 to the redevelopment fund. If redevelopment agencies are abolished, the state could rightfully secure $1,700,000,000 in tax money from these vestiges of "urban renewal", the newspeak of the 1950's and 1960's, which seized private property and resold it to politically connected, wealthy developers and continued to do so under the guise of "blight" and public benefit. That is equally true in San Francisco, which has turned over Treasure Island lock, stock and barrel to one of Willie Brown's buddies (one Darius Anderson) for development.
Amidst the unfavorable events afflicting the San Francisco Police Department and the newly-appointed District Attorney, who has been compelled by law enforcement's disregard of drug laboratory and search and seizure rules to dismiss tens of criminal cases against guilty defendants, the City's new prosecutor claims that, notwithstanding no supporting data, "Hate crimes have increased." In mid-March, three men were arrested for an alleged assault on two Mexican nationals in the Tenderloin District. The hate crime aspect originates from an allegation that the suspects were heard yelling "White Power." The alleged attack occurred outside the Nitecap Bar about midnight, November 10, 2010. Counsel for one defendant characterized it, not as a "hate crime, but as a barroom fight." As in other contemporary activity, hate crimes became a political fad during the time I was a State Senator. Instead of convicting hoodlums of assault or robbery, or murder, ethnic groups demanded legislators (federal and state) to define conduct based on "hate" as special so as to prosecute accordingly. As the Examiner pointed out on March 18, 2011, however, "Hate Crime" charges boomeranged in San Francisco. Last November, a jury acquitted a homeless man accused of a racially motivated assault. A woman charged with a "hate-crime" graffiti spree was acquitted of the hate crime allegations but convicted of plain and simple vandalism. The notion of hate crimes is a superfluous contrivance of muddle-headed thinking, which distorts the innate misconduct of vandalism or criminal threats and the brutality of murder, robbery, assault and other violent crimes. It costs taxpayers more money in prosecution, trial and consequential expenses, although it surely furnishes a novice District Attorney with a method to attract newspaper publicity on ethnicity alone.
Finally, I note the Board of Supervisors couldn't muster interest in repealing its iniquitous payroll tax in favor of a simple-to-calculate gross receipts tax by conferring on Twitter, a government-favored business, an exemption from the payroll tax. I note also the Mayor's Director of another unneeded City bureaucracy, (Office of Economic Development) rejected an understandable request by other San Francisco businesses for a similar exemption. Abject fecklessness rules at City Hall. Twitter also rules, but unfavored employers obviously do not.
Quentin Kopp is former Supervisor and State Senator.
So Far, So Good
It doesn't surprise me that friends and even strangers who recognize me from past service on the Board of Supervisors or State Senate ask my opinion on Governor Jerry Brown's performance thus far. I find it reassuring. Having known the Governor since he was a much younger man (he's now a vigorous seventy-two) and having been the only San Francisco Supervisor who endorsed him before the Gubernatorial primary of June 1974 at a time in which I was a registered Democrat, and having watched him struggle through eight years as Governor (1975-1983), a failed United States Senate campaign, two unsuccessful presidential attempts, resuscitation as Oakland's Mayor and then California's Attorney General, I find his performance measured, purposeful and happily replete with vintage Jerry Brown actions such as removing cell telephones from state employees, reducing his own salary, driving a modest state automobile without his predecessor's Hollywood-scale entourage and flying economy class on Southwest Airlines. The money saved will not by itself cure the state's budgetary gap between revenue and expenditures, but such savings represent the very highest standard of taxpayer respect, no matter those critics that disdain such relevant symbols of fiscal discipline.
I note his salutary promise to eliminate the unnecessary office of Secretary of Education, which was created in 1997 by then-Governor Pete Wilson without statutory or constitutional authority, and whose budget has increased over the past decade to $1,800,000! (We elect a Superintendent of Instruction and have a Board of Education.)
I especially appreciate his stated intent to eliminate redevelopment agencies throughout California. It's about time. These post-World War II multiplying agencies, which exceed 400 in our state, were formulated under the rubric of "urban renewal" primarily to supply new, clean, safe and affordable housing. Wielding freely the fearsome power of eminent domain, redevelopment agencies throughout California have disingenuously characterized various neighborhoods as "blighted," as required by the California Health and Safety Code to establish a redevelopment area, expended taxpayer money to seize private properties at market value prices by agreement or condemnation litigation and, frequently, turned such properties over to developers for golf courses, "automobile rows," theatres, athletic facilities and fancy high-rise condominium buildings and hotels. Redevelopment has been a developer and government bureaucratic paradise. Because of statutory limitations, California courts have been unable to interfere with arbitrary redevelopment agency findings of "blight" regarding even new areas, which an unwitting person would never consider so dilapidated as to require redevelopment. The objections of those comprising the governmental/real estate complex are subjecting Governor Brown to extraordinary pressure, but I am satisfied he will surmount that pressure with aid from sympathetic legislators like Assemblyman Chris Norby of Orange County.
I am also satisfied that once budgetary vicissitudes have been conquered, Governor Brown will concentrate on the devastating problems of government employee pensions and statutory "entitlements" to certain taxpayer-funded services. Meanwhile, I intend to support at a statewide special election the maintenance of current levels of taxation, indispensable to achieving a genuinely balanced budget between predictable state revenue and authorized expenditures. Unless circumstances change wildly, I'll urge all readers to do the same. If, as forecasted, Governor Brown and the legislature agree on a special election on June 7, 2011, one can expect a plethora of local ballot measures. A special election presents opportunities for our busy City Hall denizens. One set of proposals will emanate from the Municipal Railway, aka Municipal Transportation Agency, including a potential charge of $150 annually to register vehicles, a tax of perhaps $200 per parcel and even a "transportation utility" tax of maybe $180 every year for each San Francisco household. (The registration fee is dubbed "Vehicle Mitigation Impact" fee. Don't you just love bureaucratic "newspeak"?) Each of the aforementioned taxes, however, requires a super-majority approval by two thirds of those voting. I doubt that most voters, especially motorists, will rush to raise taxes for a government which openly proclaims the need to issue more parking tickets and elevate parking meter charges for more revenue, but eternal hope manifestly controls City Hall bureaucrats so batten down the hatches.
One proposal which genuinely could generate voter enthusiasm emanates from a magnificent analysis by Budget Analyst Harvey M. Rose and may reach submission to San Francisco voters at any such special election. I predict San Franciscans will jump at it. Arising from a proposed resolution to authorize the Department of the Environment (DOE) to execute a new Landfill Disposal Agreement with the renamed NorCal Waste, now known as "Recology San Francisco "(Recology) for ten years, using Recology property in Yuba County as the City's landfill site, Mr. Rose's report to the Board of Supervisors strikes a blow for garbage rate payers in San Francisco who for nearly two decades have been subjected to ever-rising collection fees. There was a time when San Francisco boasted the lowest garbage fees in the state, governed by the Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance of 1932, as approved by San Francisco voters. Now, our garbage rates are among the highest. That ordinance created 97 permanent garbage collections permits. Eventually all permits were acquired for residential collection by Sunset Scavenger, while Golden Gate Disposal handled commercial property collection. Those two firms were merged into NorCal Waste, Inc., and garbage rates began to soar without competitive bidding. Now, DOE forecasts that capacity of the city's current landfill site in Livermore will be exhausted by 2015. The existing agreement with Waste Management Co. will then expire. Garbage disposal, unlike collection, can be let for competitive bidding. DOE, thus, proposes to award the disposal contract to Recology and allow Recology to include an additional rail transport fee all the way to Yolo County in future residential rate charges. That means higher garbage collection fees to San Franciscans. Mr. Rose's report discloses that DOE's operating expenditures are also incorporated into rates paid by residents and businesses for refuse collection. The annual average amount appropriated for such bureaucratic operating costs is approximately $7,000,000.
Instead of simply reporting to the Board of Supervisors on the elements of the refuse disposal bids by Recology and Waste Management Co., Inc., Mr. Rose forthrightly also recommended to the Board submission of a proposition to voters to repeal the monopolistic Refuse Collection and Disposal Ordinance of 1932 so that collection and transport of refuse would be subject to the competitive bidding process. Legislation to accomplish such repeal has been introduced. If approved by a majority of the Supervisors, and then voters, at least one other garbage collection firm besides the monopolistic Recology and the questionable Waste Management will bid. In fact one garbage industry expert predicted at least five bidders and as many as seven. I look forward to it. So should every San Franciscan.
Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor and State Senator.
Dignity and Decorum
As January City Hall events over the selection of a new Mayor and new District Attorney unfolded, I was reminded of a cardinal concept instilled in me in my early days as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in January 1972, following my successful initial effort for elective public office in November 1971. The principle of dignity and decorum was inculcated by other supervisors with whom I'd met individually as soon as I could, especially then-Supervisor Bob Mendelsohn. The concept was not only preached; it was practiced in the main. Dignity included not only proper dress, but proper language, as well as standing to argue points of support or opposition concerning legislation and procedural and similar motions. The President of the Board of Supervisors appropriately sat at a higher level than the other ten members who were distributed equally on each side of a horseshoe-drawn circumference. Social niceties were constantly observed.
I was surprised to observe, however, after the mayoral selection by the Board of Supervisors to, via the city's television station, a peculiar rotunda proceeding which included a prancing master of ceremonies and former Mayor, together with the new Mayor's immediate predecessor and various city governmental officials, and a Chinese Chamber of Commerce official who apparently engineered the new Mayor's access to Room 200, City Hall. Whatever the rationale of the post-selection rotunda proceeding, noticeably absent were two living past mayors, to with the Honorable Frank Jordan and the Honorable Arthur C. Agnos. (Former Mayor Dianne Feinstein understandably was occupied with Congressional obligations in Washington, D.C., although her husband was present). Ex-Mayor Jordan informs me he was not invited until the "last minute" and was, thus, unable to attend; Ex-Mayor Agnos failed to return a telephone call to ascertain whether an invitation was conferred upon him, although Mayor Jordan doubted it was because of past unfavorable public comments uttered by Agnos about the recently-departed Mayor. The rotunda proceeding was obviously planned in advance. Decorum dictates that all living ex-mayors be invited as early as possible.
At least one pleasing example of dignity was displayed by a new Supervisor, Scott Wiener, who resolutely stood on the occasion of his first remarks at the Board of Supervisors January 8, 2011 meeting after his installation. Other supervisors also stood in the aftermath of Supervisor Wiener's performance at the beginning, but soon lapsed into the previously observable practice of speaking to the President of the Board and other members (as well as the gallery) while seated. The dress of all supervisors was at least sober and fitting and gives some hope that slovenly practices of the Chris Daly-era will end.
One of the new supervisors, Mark Farrell, declared subsequently he would retain his private firm association, which was refreshing and might serve as an example for his ten other colleagues who pursue no private means of sustenance and treat their legislative service on the Board of Supervisors as a full-time responsibility, which as readers of the column know, it is not, despite the "full-time" amount of compensation bestowed upon these worthies. It's not merely surprising, but even ominous that all other supervisors eschew private enterprise in favor of a cocooned existence dependent entirely upon taxpayers and not the experience of "real-life" problems and issues. (Certainly, supervisors historically observed Charter Conflict of Interest provisions and avoided participation in matters creating any economic conflict between their interest and the public interest.) Incidentally, the afore-mentioned Supervisor Farrell's election, based on the vagaries of "ranked choice voting" (Janet Reilly won first place by 198 votes over Supervisor Farrell) is the subject of an unpublicized complaint to the California Fair Political Practices Commission and San Francisco Ethics Commission concerning alleged violation of law by former Supervisor Michaela Alioto-Pier and a committee which raised and expended funds to oppose candidate Reilly in District 2 in the amount of approximately $221,000, including a $140,000 contribution from real estate operator Tom Coates and $50,000 from arch philanthropist and socialite Dede Wilsey. California law bars a public office holder or candidate from controlling a so-called "independent expenditure" committee like the one in the issue. The major complaint by a Sacramento law firm alleges that public officeholder Alioto-Pier controlled the "independent expenditure" committee. Numerous other violations of state and local law are asserted, with the request that a maximum permissible fine be imposed against Alioto-Pier. The complaining law firm asks the Fair Political Practices Commission to file a civil lawsuit against her and other responsible parties by the end of March pursuant to relevant state law.
Speaking of legal proceedings, I've always proclaimed the integrity and objectivity of judges, Federal and State. There are few exceptions and California possesses legal authority through the Commission on Judicial Performance to administer discipline, including dismissal from judicial office of any California judge breaching the Code of Judicial Conduct. Federal law is more attenuated; the United States Constitution authorizes impeachment for lack of "good behavior" of trial and appellate Federal court judges (impeachment by the House of Representatives and trial by the Senate). That rarely occurs because of the laborious process. Unlike California judges, Federal judges are not subject to even one peremptory disqualification. Only proof of cause compels disqualification of a Federal judge, and the Federal system generally allows each judge to decide that challenge himself/herself. (Where else does an accused decide whether disqualification should occur.) Thus, it was saddening, and disquieting, to observe U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt refuse to disqualify himself from a three judge Federal appellate court panel (supposedly chosen by the clerk of the court on a random basis) to consider the appeal by sponsors of California's Proposition 8 (the ban on same-sex marriage). Judge Reinhardt's wife is Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU). The ACLU filed a brief in 2010 urging U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker to declare Proposition 8 unconstitutional. According to the State Bar of California's monthly magazine, Judge Reinhardt's wife was consulted in advance of the suit to overturn Proposition 8 by a lawyer for the suing parties. After Judge Walker unsurprisingly ruled for the plaintiffs in the trial court, sponsors of Proposition 8 filed an appeal, because the then-Governor and then-Attorney General simply decided not to exercise their state constitutional responsibility to do so. A motion to disqualify Judge Reinhardt was rejected by him (not by the other two members of the appellate panel). The Federal standard for a judicial disqualification is whether a reasonable person might question impartiality of the judge or if a judge or spouse possesses an interest in the case result. Would a reasonable person question Judge Reinhardt's impartiality in view of his wife's pre-trial assistance to the plaintiffs and her organization's filing a legal brief in support of the plaintiffs? I think so. Yet Judge Reinhardt believes he's impervious to that standard, thus shaking confidence in the objectivity of the eventual appellate ruling, and the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Invited to participate in the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the transportation planning and Federal fund-allocating agency for the nine Bay-Area counties, I secured data on the financial effectiveness of the 28 operating transit agencies in our nine counties, including the Municipal Railway. The state measures financial effectiveness by the revenue obtained from fares compared to operational costs, also known as the "fare box recovery ratio." The state standard is 33and 1/3 percent. MTCs most recent data (fiscal year 2008-09) demonstrates that BART pays 62 percent of its operating costs from collected fares, meaning that taxpayers subsidize 38 percent of operational expenses, while the Municipal Railway obtains but 23 percent of its costs from fares. (The Bay area average is 23.78 percent); BART's service to San Francisco International Airport generates a 93 percent fare box recovery ratio, the highest in California. So, 17 years after supporters of ensuring BART service into SFO defeated opponents at the polls vindication of the righteousness of that cause seems manifest.
We're in a new year and it must be inevitable that a new year brings more incursions on languages. Maybe that's the reason for dismay after reading a December 16, 2010 comment from a National Weather Service Forecaster regarding prediction of heavy rain, i.e., "..it's going to be a significant weather event." That weatherman couldn't just forecast a heavy rain; let's wish for 2011 that "a significant weather event" doesn't become a normal spoken form of English and that rain remains rain. Meanwhile, be of good cheer and note the increasing success of the USF basketball team and their brilliant new mentor, Coach Rex Walters, from Santa Clara County, University of Kansas and the San Antonio Spurs. Join me on the Hilltop and watch the Dons show you a pace I never could have maintained in my salad days.
Quentin Kopp is a former Supervisor and State Senator.
Quentin Archive May 2009 - Dec 2010
Quentin Archive March 2008-March 2009