Exclusive to the Westside Observer
Tony Hall / Speaking Freely
There is nothing like the total lack of compassion, forgiveness, humility, or loyalty when it comes to the 100 or so supermarket Catholics that lent their names to the disgraceful appeal to Pope Francis to replace Archbishop Cordileone that was so contritely displayed in a full page ad in the Chronicle on April 16th.
Minor mistakes might have been made by a few priests under the Archbishop’s watch; however, I do not agree with the abundance of misrepresentation regarding those mistakes as depicted in the ad, or the public calls for the Archbishop’s replacement as the signers are demanding.
I am sure that many of the people who signed are well-intentioned, but for those who want a church designed around their own wishes, it would seem to me that other churches already exist that might better suit their needs.”
For example, I do not think that the distribution of information that addresses abortion, sodomy, masturbation, and sex outside of marriage are appropriate issues to present to students in grades 2 through 6. Thankfully, vigilant teachers intercepted most of the literature before being received. Likewise, the issue of altar girl servers being eliminated in that same parish is a questionable move in this day of inclusion. These two incidences occurred in only one parish out of 90-plus parishes in the entire SF Archdiocese.
As to the issue of the Archbishop’s directive to educators and staff in Catholic High Schools to adhere to a morality code suitable to a Catholic education, I think his intention was probably not only warranted, but long over-due in addressing and improving the attributes of a quality Catholic education. The ad characterizes the Archbishop’s directive as a prosecutorial and mean-spirited effort to violate individual consciences and California labor laws. What a nonsensical overstatement! I believe that after the release of his directive, there was considerable rewording, and releases issued to clarify, instruct, and minimize offending anyone. Could it be that the signers of the ad are guilty of the same insensitivity of that which they accuse the Archbishop?
There are over 400,000 Catholics and 90 parishes in the Bay Area that comprise the San Francisco Archdiocese. Just who do these signers of the ad think they are to characterize themselves as representing practicing and committed Catholics? Do they really think that they represent the silent majority and daily faithful of some 399,900 other Catholics, who believe that a person who is striving to do God’s work should be given benefit of the doubt and worked with to correct what appears to be human mistakes? The self-importance that the signers of the ad exude, in assuming that they know what’s best for all of us, is truly astonishing.
Lets face it, being an outsider appointed to shepherd the San Francisco Archdiocese is a very, very difficult assignment. The task to lead Catholics and encourage Catholic values in today’s San Francisco is indeed daunting, and there are people that want the religion to change to satisfy their own agenda. There is always the possibility that mistakes will be made by any new Archbishop, and a few priests under his responsibility, but that is no justification to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Real committed Catholics employ the virtues of patience and forgiveness, and try to work collaboratively to better a situation. They don’t single out, judge, and condemn. They are fully aware that the Church is a Theocracy, not a democracy, nor an oligarchy, and if they are believers, they try to work within that framework.
The Archbishop has accomplished much in a short period of time. He has restructured a troubled seminary. He has been the inspiration behind the rebirth of a successful pro-life movement. He is trying to make Catholicism, and especially marriage and the family, more meaningful and relevant in today’s society. His many visits to the parishes have been very well received. There are many more examples, but that is not the purpose of this article.
I personally know a good number of the people who signed their name to the ad. I commend them for their volunteerism and fundraising efforts throughout the years to support the Archdiocese. However, many of the signers would be well-advised to rethink their strategy at this time and not let their money, social status, or perceived influence deceive them into thinking that they are more important to the entire Catholic community than they really are. Money, social status, and influence go hand in hand with today’s politics, but they do not define the true person of faith, or the Catholic Church.
Christianity, and in particular the Catholic Church, as one of the last bastions of traditional family values, is very much under attack in today’s world. Ads like the one displayed in the Chronicle only serve a different agenda. I am sure that many of the people who signed are well-intentioned, but for those who want a church designed around their own wishes, it would seem to me that other churches already exist that might better suit their needs.
As a practicing Catholic, these signers do not represent me, nor do I think they represent the vast majority of Bay Area Catholics who are willing to give the Archbishop a break before they crucify him.
Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7. Articles written by Tony Hall can be accessed on the Internet at tonyhallarchives.wordpress.com
SF's War on Motorists
My last column dealt with the foolishness of some of our City “leaders” who want to narrow some of our streets and procure smaller and less equipped emergency response vehicles, all at the expense of Public Safety.
… 79% of San Francisco households who own or lease a motor vehicle have been the target of bad transportation policy for the past 15 years, as determined by the radicals who have taken over the SFMTA Board and espouse a “car-less” San Francisco…”
In this column, I want to encourage you to consider supporting the initiative Restoring Transportation Balance, (website is restorebalance14.org), which is a Declaration of Policy calling for the Mayor, Board of Supervisors, and the SFMTA Board to restore transportation balance, as opposed to their current “Transit and Bicycle Only” Policy.
The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, along with the West of Twin Peaks Central Council and various community organizations and leaders all across the City are supporting this initiative, which should be enough motivation for our poll-watching politicians to take notice, lest they prefer a mandating Charter Amendment in 2015.
The origin of the initiative is centered on the fact that 79% of San Francisco households who own or lease a motor vehicle have been the target of bad transportation policy for the past 15 years, as determined by the radicals who have taken over the SFMTA Board and espouse a “car-less” San Francisco. These holier–than-thou know-it-alls have declared war on motorists by reengineering our streets, removing traffic lanes, eliminating off street and on street parking, raising meter and garage rates and ticket fines in the naïve belief that motorists will “see the light” and stop driving (or sell their cars out of the County), and take MUNI, bike, or walk to every destination within the City.
Not only are motorists and their passengers under attack, but also the City’s War on Motorists has caused collateral damage, adversely affecting a broad cross section of San Franciscans, for example, first responders such as police, fire and medical services, whose response times have increased due to difficulty navigating the City’s re-engineered and narrowed streets. Seniors and disabled who depend upon automobile transportation are finding it increasingly difficult to get around the City and have lost hundreds of white and blue curbs and the ability to get curb to curb service because of bike lanes. Small businesses and merchants operating on a 1% to 3% profit margin are losing money because their customers can’t find nearby parking, and instead shop in Daly City or Tanforan. Families can’t drive their kids to school on a timely basis because of the City’s re-engineered streets, traffic calming obstacles, increased traffic congestion and slower commute times. Even members of the Faith Based Community have to look at their watches repeatedly rather than worship unimpeded for fear that their cars may be ticketed or towed.
A good example of this lopsided policy making, or should I say politically motivated policy making, is the fact that the SFMTA Board has approved a plan to remove all street parking on Polk Street from Market to California and install two bike lanes, and a tow-away zone from 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. on the east side of Polk between California and Broadway, so bicyclists can continue unimpeded to the unknown destinations to the north. Two years from now, bicyclists (who largely don’t patronize the stores on Polk Street in the first place but are passersby), will be able to peddle safely and quickly up and down Polk, against the backdrop of boarded up storefronts. Additionally, there is talk of a proposal on the ballot to treble the Vehicle License Fee (which means that if your car is worth $25,000, instead of paying $162.50 a year, you will be paying $500, all for the benefit of creating more bike lanes and making motorists lives all that much more difficult. Oh, and just in case I forget, there is being proposed a yet to be specified $500,000,000 transportation general obligation bond measure, which is unlikely to provide any benefit to motorists.
Motorists already pay the majority of SF’s portion of the SFMTA Budget -- 23.82% versus 22.42% for riders, with 80% of the balance paid for by the Feds, State, and Regional Government through gas taxes. The people at City Hall can’t quite determine whether they want to continue to milk motorists for very nickel and dime that they can — or to draw and quarter them by making it impossible for them to drive in the City. In either account, the War on Motorists needs to come to a screeching halt.
The Restoring Transportation Balance Initiative proposes that it be City policy to:
1)Restore free street parking on all Sundays, Holidays, and between 6:00 p.m.and 9:00 a.m. daily.
2) Freeze meter and parking rates, tickets, and fines for five years (to make up for the 40% across the board increase the SFMTA Board imposed in 2009.
3) Not impose meters and the so-called “demand-responsive pricing” ($.25 to $6.00/hr.) in neighborhoods where they don’t currently exist except upon petition of the majority of households and merchants in the neighborhood.
4) Allocate a portion of new parking/vehicle fees and new bond monies to construct and operate new parking garages in our commercial districts.
5) Assure that any reengineering of the City’s streets be based on providing greater safety and improving the flow of traffic.
6) Enforce all the traffic laws for everyone using our streets and sidewalks, and
7) Require the Mayor appoint a broad spectrum of transportation stakeholders to the SFMTA Board, which include motorists, rather than just Muni and bicyclist advocates, and create a Motorists Citizens Advisory Committee, where none exists currently.
Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7
PUBLIC SAFETY vs. "Public Safety"
Many of you have may have witnessed the latest controversial Citywide legislation as put forth by Supervisor Scott Wiener who represents District 8, regarding narrower streets and smaller fire engines and trucks in San Francisco.
As a former Supervisor, I thought I would opine on just how such legislation would affect the true public safety of all the residents of our City.
While the concept of "public safety" is no doubt an easy and popular issue for any aspiring politician to hitch his or her campaign to, there are important underlying aspects of how such changes will work in reality.
…smaller fire trucks are not able to carry all of the equipment necessary to respond to a serious fire…”
The current debate stems from the issue that Supervisor Wiener wants narrower, 20-foot streets in the Hunters Point and Candlestick Park development sites, while the San Francisco Fire Department wants the streets to measure 26 feet across. However, you can bet that any legislation relating to such will eventually have citywide repercussions, since Mr. Wiener's legislation also calls for the Board of Supervisors approval of any street width, or size of fire apparatus.
Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White, city engineers and experts in the Department of Public Works all are of the opinion that wider streets will provide better overall public safety, and specifically pedestrian safety. The wider width is also the standard recommended under both national and international fire codes. It's all about getting the fire trucks down the streets in an emergency situation. To put a ladder up safely it is necessary to extend jacks on either side of the apparatus, adding about 17 feet. Streets that are 20 feet wide simply do not allow room for other emergency vehicles or ambulances to respond. In the recent five-alarm fire in Mission Bay, the damage would have been much worse if the fire engines and trucks were not able access the fire by passing alongside other rigs, and the streets in that area are a minimum of 40 feet wide.
Wiener contends that "the fire trucks are really large, and one could argue more appropriate for a suburban setting." He is really pushing for smaller trucks citywide. The reality is that smaller fire trucks are not able to carry all of the equipment necessary to respond to a serious fire in a city where the threat of fire hazards is of such prominence as in San Francisco. Our City is constructed differently than most. One of the biggest contributors to the magnitude of destruction in 1906 was the lack of access. Even in the Oakland Hills, where the streets are wider, the damage would have been much less in the fire of 1991 had there been easier access. I would also point out that the price tag to replace our fire trucks with new smaller ones isn't an option at this time, even if appropriate ones did exist, because the cost would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With the above-mentioned new developments, we have a chance to improve public and pedestrian safety with wider streets. In my mind, this takes precedence over wider sidewalks if we can't have both.
In addition to narrower streets, Wiener is also calling for wider sidewalks with corner bulb-outs. No one is against pedestrian-friendly sidewalks of any proper design, except where such may impede the ability of emergency response vehicles to protect the safety of all residents. Bulb-outs can be attractive and useful if designed correctly, but in the narrow streets of San Francisco where many have already been constructed, some have restricted the flow of traffic and have resulted in pedestrian accidents and fatalities because the bulb-outs place pedestrians too close to the flow of traffic. San Francisco already requires that all drivers of police, fire and emergency medical apparatus, when driving in a code 3 alarm (full lights and siren), slow down or even completely stop when necessary at stop signs and red lights, only proceeding once they have taken full control of the intersection. Therefore, bulb-outs would not only be redundant given the precautions currently in place, they would significantly increase the response time in minutes by police, fire and emergency medical services by severely limiting the clearance space and maneuverability in intersections. This increase in response time could easily be the difference between life and death for residents.
San Franciscans are very tolerant of new ideas and are always eager to improve upon the landscape of our City. We also know that we live in a city where the streets are narrow and filled with wood frame buildings that provide us with a unique character. We have been very fortunate throughout our history to have one of the finest fire departments of any city in the world protecting our interests. I would advise Mr. Wiener to listen more carefully to those public servants who have demonstrated, by their life-long careers, that they too know something about PUBLIC SAFTEY.
Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7
OVERSIGHT OR MISUSE?
San Franciscans may be pleasantly surprised to learn that they currently have $5,691,278,327 sitting in the Treasurer’s pool of “Surplus Funds.” Surplus funds as defined by the Treasurer are monies resultant from bond issuances etc. that are not currently being used. The contributors to this Treasurer’s pool of funds are the revenues from the departments and agencies listed below. San Francisco ranks fourth in California for the average size of its pooled portfolio of funds at $6.2 billion.
The Contributors to San Francisco Surplus Funds Pool are as follows:
San Franciscans may not be pleased to learn that the return on these pooled funds is less than one-percent. The largest contributor to this pool of funds is the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), which contributes approximately 30 percent or $1.7 billion. You may be surprised to find out that the SFPUC pays approximately 4.5 percent to revenue bond coupon holders for its $1.7 billion invested in this pool. The high cost for this excessive liquidity is unexplainable except to conclude that the people responsible for the handling of these funds are incompetent, inexperienced, or politically motivated because proper independent oversight of the SFPUC would not allow for such disastrous results.
There does exist at the current time the Treasury Oversight Committee, which is supposed to ensure that proper investment strategies are optimized, and this is where the devilment begins. One only has to take a look at the track record of the past and present members of this Treasury Oversight Committee and recall how these same individuals worked to destroy the Revenue Bond Oversight Committee as established by you the voters in 2002.
To refresh your memory, as a Supervisor in 2002, I placed on the ballot Proposition P, which created a truly independent Revenue Bond Oversight Committee (RBOC) for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, specifically tasked with reviewing the SFPUC’s revenue bond expenditures. This RBOC also has the unique power to stop additional unnecessary bonds from being issued. You the public wisely passed this Proposition, which put a definite crimp into the politicians and money managers’ self-serving practices at that time.
The current Treasury Oversight Committee is comprised of Joe Grazioli, Ben Rosenfeld, Charles Perl and Aimee Brown. There is one vacant seat to be filled by the Chancellor of the Community College District or his/her designee.
Three of the present members of this committee Messrs Perl (SFPUC), Rosenfeld (SF Controller) and Brown (Mayor’s appointee and 5 term chair of the RBOC, and a former employee of a firm that deals with municipal bonds and securities), along with two past members, Todd Rydstrom (SFPUC Chief financial officer and Asst. General Manager), and Ed Harrington, (former SF Controller and SFPUC general manager) all conspired to nullify the very intent of your Proposition P and negate any of the independent controls mandated by the RBOC. Why did they do this? Because without any controls or outside independent review they can do with your money what they decide is best for you, while at the same satisfying the political agendas of the politicians who appointed them and their “friends” with the aforementioned 4.5%. Creating more public debt via well publicized but unnecessary bond issuances is par for the course today for politicians who know nothing about true leadership or genuine public welfare. But this is so egregious, $6B earning less than 1%, while costing us 4.5% is just too obscene to be ignored. The foxes that usurped the RBOC under guise of independent oversight are now the very caretakers of this great amount of money. Do you see how the game works? If you can eliminate any independent outside scrutiny, you can really manipulate public intent.
There are far too many instances of back room dealing involved with these individuals to list here. The failure of these past and present members of the Treasurer’s Oversight Committee to implement 2002 Proposition P alone should have been cause for permanent dismissal from public service, or at least from any positio n involving fiscal oversight. The most amazing phenomenon is that these retreads keep appearing and that the body politic, especially the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors, keep reappointing them to positions of oversight. It is better to have no oversight than the illusion of oversight from people like this.
Brian Browne was coauthor of 2002 Prop P and former member of the Revenue Bond Oversight Committee it created. Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7
Big Time Development
In a recent article by our local gossip columnists (see Matier and Ross column in the Chronicle, March 11) it was divulged that Mayor Lee along with Willie Brown, Rose Pak, Lennar Development Corporation and a representative of the Chinese investment interests all met to try and finalize a 1.7 Billion dollar deal that would allow the construction of 12,500 new homes in Hunters Point and a string of high rises on Treasure Island.
As I have mentioned to you many times before in past articles regarding Treasure Island, the pre-development costs associated with any large scale development on Treasure Island are so astronomical that virtually no local investment group, Bank or developer is willing to get involved with that project because they would never realize a return on their costs. That is precisely why no project has been undertaken to date. And so, the “Treasure Island Fantasy” continues, and you, the public, are once again expected to believe that our civic leaders are really making big things happen!
As Mr. Kopp pointed out, Yee’s hiring of Ms. Olivia Scanlon as his third aide really is astonishing, considering her background and record of attendance under former Supervisor Elsbernd’s employ, but more importantly her role as a stooge in the phony ethics charges that were leveled against me during the Newsom Administration because I exposed the truth about the Treasure Island fiasco.”
I seriously doubt that the Chinese are unaware of this underlying problem, but the prospect of controlling the Island, a strategically located former military base with existing facilities ideal for the warehousing of marketable goods, is attractive enough for them to play along with the scheme. We wish Lee and his entourage all the best in their upcoming trip to China. Oh yes, there is also the mention in the Matier and Ross article that Willie is working to bring in Chinese citizens whose investments here will earn them green cards. Somehow, I thought this was a function of the U.S. government, but maybe that is up for negotiations also!
Sunday Parking Meters
Once again another SF tradition bites the dust. Since 1947, when parking meters were first installed on our City’s streets, the meters were free on Sundays. The decision to not charge on Sundays was made then to encourage Sunday shopping, Church attendance, and the relaxed visitation of suburbanites and tourists alike.
Today, however, such lofty reasoning is cast aside because the City’s cash strapped, or should I say cash hungry, ill-managed Municipal Transportation Agency needs more money.
It is estimated that the Sunday parking meter charges, along with increased public garage rates, will bring in an additional $2 million a year. The City’s meters generate at present about 47 million per year. If I am not mistaken, that is down about 20 % from prior years because meters were not as expensive as they are now; not all downtown streets were converted to non-used yellow-striped zones; and because of costs associated with the current practice of contracting with an outside agency to handle the processing of meter violations. When I worked for the then-Municipal Court in the 90’s, The City itself handled all processing of violations, but today a special interest contractor charges an arm and a leg to do what the City could easily be doing itself.
Apparently the geniuses in charge of our parking operations have never heard of the phenomena of “diminishing returns,” whereby the more you charge, the less people use, the harder you make it for people to shop, the less they buy, the more you contract out, the less you have for yourself. As a result of all this foolishness, I might add here that there is another phenomena at work, and that is the present all time high rate of parking “scofflaws” who ignore fines for meter violations. I don’t really think our outside contractors are too interested in pursuing them for collection because there are costs associated with that effort. They would much rather just take their cut from the local residents who are easy to identify, pay the fines, and have no alternative but to drive their automobile and hope that they can get back to the meters in time to avoid another price for living in San Francisco.
Kudos to former Supervisor, State Senator and Judge Quentin Kopp for his last article in the Observer in which he eloquently laid out the excesses of “slush funds” incorporated in the City Budget. As he stated, each supervisor can now spend an extra $100,000 of taxpayer money to ingratiate himself/herself to voters, and also make use of additional funds to hire a third aide for their district.
Now Senator Kopp and I, both as former Supervisors, wish the new incumbent Norman Yee nothing but the best in his tenure as the representative for District 7. Yee, however, should heed a warning from those who have gone before him. Politics is indeed brutal enough when you are trying to do what is best for those you represent, but don’t get off to the wrong start by employing people who have a proven record of questionable and unethical self-serving behavior. In this case, as Mr. Kopp pointed out, Yee’s hiring of Ms. Olivia Scanlon as his third aide really is astonishing, considering her background and record of attendance under former Supervisor Elsbernd’s employ, but more importantly her role as a stooge in the phony ethics charges that were leveled against me during the Newsom Administration because I exposed the truth about the Treasure Island fiasco. For those of you who may not remember, she was the person who took the Fifth Amendment in order to not incriminate herself while providing the Newsom- controlled ethics commission with a falsified check stub that was the basis of its trumped up charges against me. When it became obvious that the check was both forged and altered, the specific charge against me was dismissed, but the press of course never reported that. I was never quite sure what her motivation was, other than the stupidity of not knowing how justice works in America, or possibly revenge for my not hiring her as an assistant at Treasure Island after I reviewed her education and qualification. She was successful, however, in guaranteeing her employment with Elsbernd and now Yee, so I can only assume a city pension at the taxpayers’ expense was her pay-off.
Anyway, life goes on. To Norman Yee, you represent a great district; treat the people well and be careful with whom you associate. Not everyone may have the same goals as you.
Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7
This is supposed to be a Country where lawful assembly and free expression of personal beliefs without government interference is not only guaranteed but also encouraged in a healthy democracy.
By the time you read this article, another example of our city’s leaders’ stupidity, bias, and interference regarding such lawful expression will have taken place.
On Saturday, January 26th, 2013, our so-called “leaders” not only sponsored and promoted, but also used public funds to stage a counter demonstration of pro-abortion activists to take place at the same time as the scheduled Pro-Life Walk for Life West Coast event.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of abortion, is it proper for the Board of Supervisors to support and fund only one side of the issue, put public safety at risk, and attempt to undermine the public expression of those who believe that life in all its forms is of the utmost importance?
There is no question that the Walk for Life West Coast has become a phenomenal expression of public sentiment since its inception in 2005. In spite of what the truth- deprived Chronicle has refused to report over the years, attendance at the rally and walk of pro-lifers is now estimated at between 40,000 and 50,000 people and is increasingly garnering national attention.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue of abortion, is it proper for the Board of Supervisors to support and fund only one side of the issue, put public safety at risk, and attempt to undermine the public expression of those who believe that life in all its forms is of the utmost importance?”
In contrast, the pro-abortion rally that was staged at the same time and location last year as the Walk for Life only drew about 80 people! This year the pro-abortionists again scheduled their rally and march to coincide with the pro-life Walk for Life event on Jan. 26th. In addition, The Board of Supervisors on Dec.11th granted the pro-abortion side of the issue official sponsorship and funding of two city agencies, the Department of Public Health and the Department on the Status of Women, along with permits to hang promotional 3-by-6 foot banners from city light poles from Castro Street to the Embarcadero for the entire time of Dec. 27 to Feb. 7.
Have our City “leaders” established a level playing field regarding the ability of lawful expression of these two opposing points of view? Hardly! Is there a degree of manipulation going on for whatever reason? Yes indeed! Is there a total disregard for the safety of those involved when participants of opposing sides of such an emotionally charged issue are permitted to march and demonstrate at the same time and place? You bet!
There is a history of the city elected opposing the Walk for Life event for political purposes. In 2005, poll watcher Gavin Newsom staged his own impromptu rally at Powell and Market streets at the same time as approximately 25,000 pro-lifers were gathering at Justin Herman Plaza, no doubt to draw attention to his alignment with what he believed to be the majority woman vote at that time. Today, the polls have dramatically shifted in favor of pro-lifers, so I doubt that even someone as shallow as Newsom would stage his own pro-abortion rally, yet this Board of Supervisors is doing just that. For those like our Supervisors who choose to celebrate the 40th anniversary Roe v. Wade, which actually took place on January 22nd, why did you insist upon conducting your march and rally at the same time date, time and place as the Walk for Life on Jan. 26th? Are you that starved for attention or just trying to capitalize on the success of your opposition?
Once again this year, the organizers of the Walk for Life, despite their huge turnout on the 26th, had graciously arranged to alter the location of their rally from Justin Herman Plaza to Civic Center, and the time of their march down Market Street so as not to provoke any potential threat of danger or confrontation from the miniscule but vocal pro-abortion activists supported by the Board of Supervisors. My congratulations to the cooler heads involved in this potential disaster.
To the members of the Board of Supervisors who all seem to envisage the White House in their future, try thinking about the safety of those you have sworn to protect, employing fairness in your deliberations, and above all read the tea leaves!
Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7
A Closer Look At Voter Fraud
Voter Fraud is the cancer that is eroding the very heart and soul of the American democratic system.
I am sure that there are those who choose to believe that it does not exist in our country, and they are certainly entitled to their beliefs. I am also sure that there are those who know exactly what I am writing about and they also are entitled to offer their views. However, no one has the right to engage in such an unfair and destructive process that ultimately deprives all law-abiding citizens of their freedom of expression.
To illustrate my point, I will share with you my own experience in relation to voter fraud.
In the election for San Francisco Supervisor of District 7 in 2000, I was in involved in what many now consider one of the closest and most contentious races in this city in modern history.
Armed with this inappropriate evidence, I immediately marched up to the Mayor’s office and rather loudly suggested that he might want to intervene before the press was alerted. Appearing astonished, the Mayor denied any knowledge of vote manipulation or wrong-doing. Within an hour of my return to the D.O.E. office downstairs, I was leading by 40 votes with only one vote left to count. ”
On election night of November 7, 2000, I became the projected winner of that seat by a margin of some 1,200 to 1,300 votes. Needless to say, my campaign workers and I were elated with the unofficial outcome, and looked forward to the opportunity of engaging in the City’s business. Within a week, we were informed that my election was to the subject of a recount. My opponent had secured financing for a public recount to the tune of some $80,000 from downtown business interests who felt that she would be more sympathetic to their causes if she were to be ultimately declared the winner. In the ensuing weeks that followed the election, we underwent three recounts of the entire number of votes cast. This included all of the Election Day walk-in polling place votes, the absentee votes and the provisional votes. With some 19,000 votes to be re-examined, this was indeed a daunting undertaking, considering that I was represented by only one very knowledgeable attorney, Mr. Peter Bagatelos, who was assisted by a loyal friend and campaign volunteer, Mr. Mike Kopec. The two labored daily to counter the challenges of my opponent’s legal staff of six members. During the challenged public recount process, each individual ballot is publicly displayed for only seconds before a final determination is declared by each side as to for whom that ballot was actually cast. Needless to say, an alert mind and fresh eyes are invaluable as potential protest decisions have to be momentarily adjudged on a ballot-by-ballot basis. Bear in mind that before any public recount is conducted, the Department of Elections (D.O.E.) has already counted each vote behind closed doors, and has also made their own determination regarding any questionable absentee and provisional ballots. Provisional ballots are those ballots that are not clearly marked or where the voter had changed his or her mind and had altered the face of the ballot, and thus are subject to review and determination by an employee in the D.O.E.
As the recount weeks drew on, we held our lead in the Election Day poll votes cast, even though the D.O.E. could not explain the disappearance of multiple precincts that were not counted in the initial tally. Here, you might remember the “Ballot Boxes in the Bay Scandal” that thoroughly embarrassed San Francisco in the following months! Conveniently, the precincts that were missing in my election were the ones closest to my residential neighborhood. It appeared that the outfit contracted to deliver the ballots from the precincts to the D.O.E. staging area lost their way!
It was during the recount of the absentee ballots and especially the provisional ballots where we started to lose substantial numerical ground. As our lead dwindled to less than 100 votes in my favor, I could see the writing on the wall. We were going to lose this election unless something changed the course of this charade. On the last day of the recounts, a D.O.E. employee handed me a slip of paper that clearly indicated that the end of day tallies as prepared by the City Controller did not coincide with the official recount tallies of the day! Moreover, why the Controller was even involved in production of daily tallies was a mystery no one could fathom. Armed with this inappropriate evidence, I immediately marched up to the Mayor’s office and rather loudly suggested that he might want to intervene before the press was alerted. Appearing astonished, the Mayor denied any knowledge of vote manipulation or wrong-doing. Within an hour of my return to the D.O.E. office downstairs, I was leading by 40 votes with only one vote left to count. As the last questionable provisional vote was held up in the air, I proclaimed that it be given to Mabel Teng because she certainly paid for it! We were declared the winner of the election by 39 votes.
I relate this particular story to you as just one of the many ways that voter fraud and manipulation is present in our voting process. Is it illegal? Not always, according to the legal system, as it is very hard to prove specific intent by those in position to influence. Is it unethical? Yes, always, and we should employ several “easy to improve” protections in place to eliminate obvious cheating opportunities. I offer the following observations for your consideration.
1. Voter Registration: As you may have witnessed in the last mayoral election, many people are registered to vote right on the street by campaign workers seeking to identify potential voters. No identification or proof of citizenship is required of the person who is being registered and placed in the system. If they request an absentee ballot chances are that their vote will not be scrutinized by the D.O.E. There exists very little, if any at all, cross referencing for verification of signature or citizenship because of the lack of manpower and more importantly, the lack of applicable resource lists. If they choose to vote at the polling place on Election Day, they are not even required to even show I. D. to vote. Do you see the problem here?
2. Voter Verification: With no I.D. required to vote at the polls on Election Day, anybody can vote as someone else without too much of a problem unless someone at the precinct recognizes them. During my election in 2000, there were several individuals from the rival campaign observed just before closing time in multiple polling places casting votes under other people’s names. For whatever reason, poll workers regularly post the names of people who have voted throughout the day on a list visible to the public at the polling place. These enterprising frauds would check the names listed late in the day and decipher who had not voted yet and would be unlikely to do so by closing time. A call to the residence of that potential voter as listed on their campaign lists would reveal if that person was even home. If no answer, bingo, into the poll they would waltz at the last moment to cast a vote under that person’s name.
3. Voter Rolls: Voter rolls maintained by the D.O.E. containing the lists of voters in San Francisco are almost never purged to eliminate those who have either died or have moved out of the City. With absentee voting now compromising 55 to 60% of the total votes cast, the D.O. E. automatically mails out absentee ballots to those who have requested such unless the department is notified of the voters departure. Herein lays the problem. If the status of these tens of thousands of departed voters is not duly and properly recorded in a timely fashion, then there exists a tremendous opportunity for fraudulent ballots to be recorded by those who would manipulate the system. In San Francisco there are political consultants who are paid a handsome sum because of their ability to control a significant portion of the absentee ballots in circulation. The insiders call it the “ACE” factor, and it has been instrumental in affecting the outcomes of several mayoral races, most notably in the Newsom - Gonzalez cliffhanger of 2003.
4. Voter Identification: In my opinion, there is absolutely no argument that holds up against the requirement that all voters should show some form of identification. Voting is one of the privileges that come with citizenship as guaranteed by our Constitution. The hue and cry that the requirement of I.D. in order to vote will discriminate against those who do not posses identification is pure bunk. Virtually anyone who desires a form of I.D. can easily get one in today’s society, especially those who are receiving any form of assistance. The less fortunate are the very ones who are most victimized by a no I.D. requirement because the weight and influence of their own vote is diminished in proportion to the number of false votes cast. When voter fraud exists, they become even more exploited by those who are manipulating the system, resulting in a situation where the most powerless become even more so.
In closing, may I say thank you for taking the time to read this because it is important. It is time for us to forget the Monday morning quarterbacking about why a candidate won or lost a particular race. We face the stark reality that unless we address the existence of voter fraud, we all become losers.
Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7
Politics or the Will of the Voters
Prior to 2002, all Revenue Bonds issued in San Francisco were subject to voter approval. In 2002, Supervisor Tom Ammiano sponsored and passed Proposition E, which essentially took away the voters’ right to approve revenue bonds.
In anticipation of this disaster, in November of 2002, I authored and sponsored Proposition P, which established a Revenue Bond Oversight Committee (RBOC). The measure passed overwhelmingly at the ballot box. The purpose of this committee was to provide citizen oversight of how the billions of dollars in revenue bond monies would be managed by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the City Administration.
True to form and as politics in this City would have it, when Gavin Newsom was elected Mayor in November of 2003, he immediately conspired with the Controller at that time, Ed Harrington (who eventually became the general manager of the SFPUC), and Patricia Martel, then the general manager of the SFPUC, to undermine the mission of the RBOC in order to have full control of the management and dispersion of all revenue bond monies relating to the Capitol improvement Programs of the SFPUC. What was at stake here was the billions of dollars of contracts that the City would be issuing for improvements to our water, power and sewer services. Within a year and a half of the passage of Prop P, they were successful in thwarting the will of the voters and the intent of the legislation by stacking the RBOC with staff members from the very agencies that the RBOC was supposed to be overseeing.
At present, the RBOC (Revenue Bond Oversight Committee) is not operating legally or according to its original guidelines, and therefore should be terminated, unless the Supervisors…restructure the RBOC with proper appointments and direction as intended. It is important to understand that the illusion of oversight is significantly worse than no oversight at all. ”
The strength of the Prop P legislation called for the RBOC to contract for independent audits, by outside agencies, of the management of revenue bond monies. After the RBOC committee was successfully taken over by “city family” members, a vote was cast that resulted in the RBOC signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that restricted the RBOC to only contract with the City Services Audits division of the Controllers Office!
Talk about an end run, this was a classic bit of political maneuvering that resulted in the foxes in charge of the hen house!
For those of you who are numbers oriented, let me put the severity of this problem in a different perspective. In 2002, we were looking at a cost of approximately 3.6 billion dollars for the CIP and WSIP improvements. With the delays in construction and a cost of issuance at 14% for financing, we are now looking at a cost of about $4.6 billion dollars for what we bargained for in 2002. We are also now being told that an additional 3 billion dollars will be needed for the water supply improvements program and an additional 7 billion dollars will be needed for a complete sewer overhaul. This amounts to an eventual issuance of some 15 billion dollars in revenue bonds to complete the program. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that without proper oversight, the taxpayers and voters are once again going to get the shaft by our beloved “city family.”
Prop P is slated to sunset on January 1 of 2013 because most of the monies involved in the SFPUC Capitol Improvement Program (CIP), now renamed the Water Services Improvement Program (WSIP), should have been well underway or completed by now.
With the never-ending mismanagement of municipal services, the status regarding the completion of these various projects is nowhere in sight. Now there is a call for the “illusion of oversight” to be continued by the request for an extension of the RBOC beyond 2013, so that the foxes can continue to play their games with the taxpayers money.
Let me be very clear here: The intent of the Prop P legislation that you passed in 2002 has never been implemented. There has never been any meaningful oversight of the management of revenue bond monies. The RBOC has never functioned in the way it was intended by the legislation that I authored in 2002, and for which you voted. The people who are supposed to be audited and monitored by the original RBOC are now requesting that that committee be extended, and since they have control over the committee, they can do whatever they want with your revenue bond monies without any oversight.
My statement to the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee on Oct. 18th was a recap of all the above, since it is conducting a hearing regarding the extension of the RBOC.
My conclusion is that unless the Board of Supervisors can insure the appointment of truly independent and knowledgeable citizens to the RBOC, who are allowed to contract with outside auditors, then they might as well let that committee sunset because presently it is not functioning as intended, and its existence only paves the way for more mismanagement and corruption.
The Prop P legislation provided all that is necessary for true oversight if the committee was allowed to operate as intended. At present, the RBOC is not operating legally or according to its original guidelines, and therefore should be terminated, unless the Supervisors are willing to live up to their oath of office to represent the best interest of the people of San Francisco and restructure the RBOC with proper appointments and direction as intended. It is important to understand that the illusion of oversight is significantly worse than no oversight at all. The ball is now in the Supervisors’ court to do the right thing.
District 7 Race
Many people in District 7 have asked me about the candidates running for Supervisor in our district.
I have thrown my support behind Bob Squeri for that seat because of all the candidates, he stands alone in his commitment for true independence in representing the issues that are most important to the residents of this district. His desire to place the welfare of the residents of District 7 above any personal agenda or political pressure from the establishment has been repeatedly demonstrated in the many debates, forums and positions that he has articulated throughout the campaign. As a native of the district, he knows that the unique lifestyle that all the folks West of Twin Peaks enjoy can only be maintained by someone who is not afraid to stand up for what is right. As a successful businessman with a remarkable track record of job creation and charitable accomplishments, he is willing to undergo personal sacrifice to represent us. I believe that his campaign is gaining momentum and that he is the right person for the job. Please visit his web site at www.BobSqueri.com
In addition to Bob, I believe that FX Crowley is conducting a credible campaign with a sincerity that demonstrates his desire to achieve that position. He has assured me that his strong union backing will not deter him from attending to the needs of all residents of the district, should he prevail.
Joel Engardio has articulated an understanding of the many issues affecting the residents of District 7, and also appears to not let a political agenda cloud his vision in the direction of our City.
I strongly advise all residents to take a close look at all three of these candidates in considering their selection in this rank-choice voting system.
Tony Hall served twice as Supervisor for District 7
A Few Good Men and a Self Promoting Clown
Now that the mayor’s race is over, I will continue to post periodic columns of interest to those who believe that San Francisco can do better.
Again, I want to thank those of you who backed my candidacy for mayor last year. We ran as good a race as we could, considering the limited funds and voter confusion amid so many candidates. The importance of an independent voice articulating a divergent point of view cannot be underestimated, and I am very proud of the results and degree of support that we achieved.
The issues of jobs, the economy, taxes and fee hikes, and a deteriorating quality of life seem to resonate with all except those currently or recently in office. The results came in, and now the jury is out as to how those elected will be judged. We wish them nothing but the best and can only hope that over time they will do the right thing for all the residents of our City.
The [Matt] Gonzalez examination of former Controller Ed Harrington, who now heads up the SFPUC, was nothing short of brilliant. In my opinion, Harrington has been one of the prime suspects for well over 20 years in questionable and deceitful dealings when it comes to City activity. (…Harrington’s manipulation of the independent Revenue Bond Oversight Committee that the voters passed as Prop. P in 2002, and …the Treasure Island cover-up of 2005.) Who better to get to the truth …than Gonzalez, the former president of the Board of Supervisors when the corruption took place!
One observation that I will share with you is this: Until the negative impacts of voter apathy, voter fraud, campaign financing, and biased media reporting are seriously addressed, it is unlikely we will see any real change in how we are governed.
And now on to the nexus of this column, which is to highlight the efforts of a just a few of the good men who continue their fight for the people.
Many of you might have read the article posted by the two gossip columnists in the Chronicle on 2/1/12 regarding an ongoing case in Superior Court, involving City employees that took part in a kick-back scheme. Having sat on the Board with then-Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, with whom I did not always politically agree, I thought I would witness the trial in person. Instead of writing about the proven corruption that sent a former city employee to jail, and the collusion involved in that process, the gossip columnists called into question the ethics of our Public Defender’s Office, and alleged a conflict of interest by the work that Matt Gonzalez was performing on the case.
The facts of the 10 year old case involved multiple levels of corruption and criminal conduct by various city employees in their effort to scapegoat and terminate a contract that a small business had with the City, resulting in the near demise of that business.
Gonzalez had represented the firm in private practice going back for at least eight years, and made it known to all when he accepted his current position at the Public Defender’s Office that he was obligated to at least advise and participate, should it ever reach trial. Although he was not lead attorney, he took unpaid leave from the Public Defender’s Office to fulfill his obligation to his former client to participate in an advisory capacity, the jury selection, and the examination of two witnesses. I might add that he did so while declining any compensation for the case.
Now this is where it gets interesting. The Gonzalez examination of former Controller Ed Harrington, who now heads up the SFPUC, was nothing short of brilliant. In my opinion, Harrington has been one of the prime suspects for well over 20 years in questionable and deceitful dealings when it comes to City activity. (Just two instances that come to mind are Harrington’s manipulation of the independent Revenue Bond Oversight Committee that the voters passed as Prop. P in 2002, and his involvement in the Treasure Island cover-up of 2005.) Who better to get to the truth of the matter in the above mentioned case than Gonzalez, the former president of the Board of Supervisors when the corruption took place! There is no question that Gonzalez’ skill in the courtroom scared the living daylights out of the political establishment, that up until this time has never been held accountable in a legal setting. Who next might be called to the stand, a mayor or even a former mayor? Thus, the “city political machine” calls into play their favorite lap-dogs at the Chronicle, Matier and Ross, to manufacture a “conflict of interest” charge aimed at the Public Defender’s Office in an effort to back off Gonzalez. (Have we reached the point in San Francisco where internal City department policy is determined by a couple of rank political columnists? No wonder the Chronicle is losing subscriptions daily!) To the credit of Jeff Adachi, who partly campaigned for mayor on an anti-corruption platform, he did not let them bully him because he had bona-fide legal opinions that there was no conflict, and there was no breach of office policy. Even though Gonzalez was on leave, and not acting in any official capacity as articulated by the Judge to the jurors, and Adachi was not involved in the case, they were both true to their perspective missions as Pubic Defenders by representing those who have been accused of some wrong doing, even when, as in this case, the accusers are themselves the perpetrators.
I congratulate Matt Gonzalez for his courage in defending the public’s true interest, and Jeff Adachi for standing up.
Yes, there are in San Francisco today, many individuals who live their lives in the spirit of the finest of San Francisco values. Another such person is Bob Squeri. As a life long San Franciscan, Bob grew up west of Twin Peaks, attended St. Ignatius, City College, and Cal State where he was a Standout athlete. He then went on to build a successful building services company employing over 200 local residents. He has a special appreciation for the uniqueness of our City, but his real passion has been his dedication to helping children in third world countries through the founding in 2006 of his philanthropic organization called “One Child at a Time Inc.”
Bob’s mission began on a medical trip to Tajikistan in 2005. He was traveling with the Heart To Heart International organization and the Academy of Family Physicians, groups that worked in the independent states around Soviet Russia to set up medical facilities in neglected regions. During a brief visit to an orphanage, Bob encountered a young boy who needed to have surgery to repair a deformed cleft pallet. When he realized there was no provision in the trip to pay for the surgery that would change this young boy’s life, he took it upon himself to raise the funds for the operation. That’s when it all began for Bob Squeri and One Child at a Time.
Since then, One Child at a Time Inc. has established over ten major missions in countries like Tajikistan, Haiti and Peru. Bob and his family have supervised and built outdoor kitchens in Mozambique that feed 250 children a day, a safe house in Thailand for children to escape the sex slave industry, and a school for 50 students in the mountains of Peru where Bob funds the teachers’ salaries. In Moldova, a small country that borders Romania, One Child at a Time has funded and helped supervise the construction of a vocational center that will teach the trade skills of ceramics, rug weaving, and musicianship to help children rise out of poverty while revitalizing the local economy. Bob believes it is important to not only help the children, but the economy as well, by spending money locally, hiring local contractors for projects.
Even though his missions take him around the world, Bob Squeri has always left his heart in San Francisco. As a District 7 resident, he has created a scholarship fund for low-income students at Sacred Heart Cathedral, and has plans in the works for similar funds at Riordan and St. Ignatius high schools, in addition to volunteering and partnering with many organizations to help the residents of Laguna Honda Hospital, and Project Open Hand in our City.
Like so many San Franciscans, Bob Squeri is thankful for all the good things he has received from his life in San Francisco and he is committed to giving back where he can. He knows that many residents in San Francisco are struggling with a poor local economy, increased taxes and fees, a high cost of living, and a dysfunctional social service program that has left over 10,000 people living on the streets. Bob sees the unfortunate turn in San Francisco over the last thirty years, but remains optimistic because of the amazing people he meets who share his views on what the City could be with the right leadership.
“I remember what a privilege it is to live here, and I am excited to be part of a group of San Franciscans that want to help the City become great again. I am going to do what I can, even if it’s just helping one child at a time, because I believe with that philosophy, we can all make a huge difference.”
To find out to help Bob’s mission how at www.onechildatatimeinc.org
And now a little closer.
Every parade needs a clown, and this year’s Chinese New Year’s parade certainly scored big by allowing Rose Pak to M.C. the review stand. Whatever humor that this self-promoting political puppet-turned-clown tried to impart was over-shadowed by her stupidity and crassness as she hurled insult after insult at our electeds. I am told that even our Chinatown leaders were embarrassed. Time to make changes.
Tony Hall is the former Supervisor for District 7.
Grey skies and a slight drizzle couldn't dampen the spirits of the enthusiastic crowd gathered at 99 West Portal Avenue on Thursday, February 24th to listen to and applaud Tony Hall as he opened his Mayoral campaign headquarters.
Hall, a veteran of more than 25 years in San Francisco politics, and a former District 7 Supervisor, jumped into the race for Mayor with a simple question. "When was the last time you had a city government you were proud of?" he asked the crowd of more than 60 supporters and volunteers. "I am in this campaign to provide service to the city and to lead a government where substance takes precedent over form and people take preference over politics," he continued.
In fact, that's the tag line for his campaign, People Over Politics, and it was clear from his remarks that he is counting on his knowledge of the SF political establishment, and his ability to reach out to voters to carry his message to others across the city in his quest to succeed interim Mayor Ed Lee when the votes are tallied in November.
Standing in front of his crowd of supporters with a microphone in hand, he gave the attendees a brief overview of his plans. Stating that a more detailed platform of his goals and ideas would be distributed in the coming weeks, he stressed the five areas he will focus on as Mayor. "The five tenants of my platform will be an emphasis on Job Creation, Budget Responsibility in City Government, Accountability of the City Administration, Providing Clean and Safe Streets in SF, and leading a city government that is Honest, Open and Transparent."
Hall's campaign will be focusing on his ability to "work across the aisle" to get things done to unify the city behind his agenda that serves the people of San Francisco, not just "the insiders and well-connected."
In a race that is becoming increasingly crowded with candidates, Hall thinks he has a great chance, "We have had a great response with early research and polling on my candidacy and it was more than I hoped for. I'm in it, and I'm in it to win."
Parkmerced SHAKE, RATTLE & ROLLIN
No doubt the crazy world of San Francisco politics has provided many of us with endless scenarios and theories as to what the future might bring to our great City, but as is always the case, time will reveal all. Needless to say, we are all hopeful that the new Board of Supervisors, and their selection of an interim mayor, Ed Lee, will serve the common interest of the City in an honorable fashion.
Ed Lee is a good person and I wish him the very best in the difficult year that lies ahead. As an established administrator within the city hall family, he will have plenty of advice and help from the status quo political machine that promoted his appointment. It is up to him now to demonstrate that he can represent all San Franciscans.
The main subject of this month’s column is one of growing interest especially among the residents of the Westside. It concerns the proposed development plans for Parkmerced.
As many of you already know, the Stellar Management group that purchased Parkmerced in 2005 filed a draft Environmental Impact Report with the San Francisco Planning Commission in 2009. It called for the destruction of Parkmerced’s 1538 garden apartments in phases over the next 20 to 30 years. In its place, it proposed new construction of approximately 40 multi-story buildings to join the 11 existing tower buildings that were built in the 1950’s. It also proposed the construction of some 15 “row house” buildings of undefined heights, an additional 60 low-rise structures of three to six stories each, and 310,000 square feet of retail and office space, mostly in the existing Crespi Drive area. Other changes proposed included the removal of many of the sites’ trees and lawns, the extension of the Muni streetcar tracks with transit stops at the project, and the erection of wind turbine towers and related machinery along the eastern side of Lake Merced. Also proposed was the increase of auto parking spaces from 3,500 to 11,000 to accompany a projected population increase for Park Merced from the existing 7500 to perhaps 25,000 residents.
Many of you might remember that as a Supervisor, I was partial to development projects that were carried out in a responsible fashion, in full compliance with resident and neighborhood concerns, and added to the home ownership ratio that is so lacking in San Francisco. I am hopeful that, as this Park Merced proposal moves through the planning process, my reservations will be addressed.
You might also remember that one of my campaign promises that I was able to deliver on was the restoration of Lake Merced and Harding Park, so that the entire area would be able to start the slow process of once again becoming one of the most unusual and premier recreational areas located within municipal boundaries of any city in the country. Therein lies my concerns with the Parkmerced proposal.
Historically, Parkmerced was part of the greater Lake Merced area. In 1852 Lake Merced was a tidal pool, but in that year an earthquake caused a land collapse that severed the tidal pool from the ocean resulting in the fresh body of water known today as Lake Merced. It is a geological rarity because of its close proximity to the sea.
In the early 2000’s, we had extensive studies conducted with the underground water aquifers that exist from the Golden Gate Park to the San Francisco Airport, and in particular how they affected the water levels at Lake Merced and surrounding areas. Of specific concern were how these aquifers and the land above them would react to seismic activity. We were able to develop a plan that resulted in restoring the water levels at the lake by reducing pumping of the aquifers and building water treatment plants in conjunction with Daly City, but as any geologist will tell you, there is just no way to second guess what mother nature may do in the form of seismic activity or earthquakes.
Here’s the problem. Part of the land that Parkmerced sits on has been filled-in over the aquifers, and the deadly San Andreas Fault line that runs through the entire region.
During the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake—a mild reflection of the April 18, 1906 San Francisco earthquake—Parkmerced’s 55 Chumasero Drive apartment tower experienced structural damage and possible liquefaction as reported by architect Aaron Goodman to the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods in 2010. On January 18th, 2011, at a hearing on the matter, Dr. Terrence Faulkner of the Parkmerced Residents Organization produced United States Geographic Survey maps that indicate that Park Merced is one of the most earthquake threatened sites in San Francisco.
In addition to the above concerns, we on the Westside should be taking a close look at how a project of this size will impact congestion traffic along the 19th Avenue corridor and other issues in Westside neighborhoods.
The financial stability of Stellar Management, who linked up with the Fortress Investment Group in 2010, has been brought to question in recent months. We must remember that oftentimes, once projects like this are entitled, they are then sold to other investors at a greatly marked-up price, and since the approvals go with the project, a new buyer might not be as responsive to local concerns.
I called my good friend and very capable Planning Commissioner Mike Antonini, and he assured me that he would be taking a close look and address these problems as the project moves through the process.
I know there are politicians out there circling the waters to receive donations from the developers for their next run, but this project is far too serious for that type of foolishness. The primary concern should be about the SAFETY of the residents that will inhabit the development, should it be permitted to go forth. This is a big project with a lot of ramifications on the western side of the City. I think it is imperative that the sponsors of the project do all they can to address resident and neighborhood concerns, and especially these geological and seismic issues from a safety perspective. They must understand that this is San Francisco, and building residential structures here is not the same as building over granite on the east coast.
OBSERVATIONS: In my opinion, George Gascon may have been a capable Police Chief but I don’t think he was in the job long enough to prove his ability. The outgoing Mayor was so busy congratulating himself on the Gascon Appointment as District Attorney that he probably didn’t realize it was a slap in the face to the many qualified criminal attorneys who have given many years of dedicated service to our City but were overlooked forfor the sake of his political legacy.
As for the appointment of a permanent Police Chief, there are a dozen top-notch San Francisco-raised Officers serving on the force now that I would pick over anyone in the entire country. Why not give them a break to see what they can do for their City!
It is also heartening to see that some of the mayor wannabes are now picking up on the facts that I put forth in my May 2009 column in this paper relating to parking tickets and fines being increased to raise revenues to make up for a budget deficit.
By now most of my readers have heard that I have opened an exploratory committee to consider a run for San Francisco Mayor. You can sign up for updates, read my blog and offer your opinion at my new website, www.tonyhallsf.com.
Planning Commission Hearing on Parkmerced: February 10, 2011
Room 400, City Hall, 1:30 pm (Check Agenda for item sequence.)
Remember all the old stories about the early west wherein highway robbers and bandits would way-lay your trip to rob you or force payment for some kind of passage? Well, if the present gang of ideologues at the San Francisco County Transportation Authority has its way with this dim-witted Board of Supervisors, then history is sure to repeat itself and you, my friends, will once again be the victims.
Our “leaders” at the Board of Supervisors now want to spend $60 million to $100 million dollars to set up an electronic toll system that would charge commuters and residents alike $6.00 a day to enter and exit the City of San Francisco from the south, mainly San Mateo County.
Under this proposal, drivers leaving or entering San Francisco at any of the southern borders would pay $3.00 from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and another $3.00 from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays with a daily cap of $6. Commuters would pay up to $130 per month, or $1500 per year. Tolls are to be collected electronically, via Fastrak and cameras.
Calling this plan the politically correct misnomer “congesting pricing,” they seek to justify such lunacy on the basis of needed funds for transportation and infrastructure needs and vehicle traffic reduction.
These very same people are responsible for the problems they have created, and now they are asking you and your neighbors to the south to pay for their mistakes. In brief, for years San Francisco officials have not only ignored transportation and infrastructure needs, but they have stolen the money dedicated for those purposes in varied bond issues and tax dollars that you have paid, and have diverted those monies in questionable and failed social programs to curry political favor.
I have written numerous times in prior columns about the famed Roger Boas CAO reports of the 1980’s that correctly predicted that without a dedicated and sufficient annual appropriation for roadway and infrastructure repair, we would be faced with the problems we now have today. The solution today is the same as it was back then. We need an annual street repair and infrastructure fund that is realistic and used for only that purpose.
As for reducing traffic congestion, any San Franciscan can attest to the increased traffic jams that are presently occurring throughout the City as a result of the poor planning from our traffic department. A good example for District 7 residents is the daily vehicular tie-ups that now exists along Portola Drive despite a multi- million dollar renovation of the St. Francis Wood circle at Sloat Boulevard. The corridors of 19th avenue, Market Street at Octavia, Market at 8th, Franklin Street, and Lombard Street are all impacted by the poor traffic flow patterns originating from City Hall. Even our beloved bicyclists are experiencing increased dangers because of poor planning. Coupled with unrealistically high parking meter rates and punitive enforcement, there is no question about what is going on. These designs are not just a deliberate attempt to get people out of their cars and into a public transportation system that is inadequate in its present form, but moreover a plan to raise revenue at any expense from you who live here, work here and visit our City. All of this is happening while statistics reveal that auto use in the City is declining, yet traffic flow is more restricted. This is because of poor planning. The solution is to start electing people who are responsive to the needs of those who live, work and visit our City as opposed to electing those who only know how to tax and spend.
Who will gain from this latest pipe dream? Surely not the 65% of small business owners and their employees who work in San Francisco but live in the bedroom communities. Their annual incomes are already below that of the average San Franciscan. Do the majority of San Franciscans who drive and perhaps live in the south-eastern quadrant of the City gain? I think not, as many of these individuals and families now engage in activities that necessitate multiple cross border travels throughout the day.
The deputy director of the Transportation Authority argues that tolls would decrease traffic by 20%. At what cost to our local economy? Are the hundreds of thousands of commuters to our City only sightseers who do not spend money here or contribute to our local sales taxes by visiting our local shops, restaurants and attractions? What is it outside of its people that makes San Francisco great, or are we just like London or any other city that has engaged in failed “congesting pricing” policies? Tolls are certainly not the answer. The solution lies in building a well planned and administered public transportation system that supports the local economy.
Where are our local elected who are supposed to be looking out for our welfare, especially those who represent the western ring of the City which will be most heavily impacted? We haven’t heard one word from our local State Senator, our Assemblywoman, or even our District 7 representative, we haven’t heard one word from them because instead of attending to the people’s business, they are all too busy playing political musical chairs to see where they will land next. It is time to take a good look at them before casting your next vote.
The only local elected that has had the courage, intelligence, and fortitude to weigh in on this matter has been Councilman David Canepa of Daly City. He is really proving his worth in representing his constituents, and is also doing San Franciscans a huge favor by speaking the truth. He has called this plan “absolutely nonsensical, atrocious, and egregious, and a slap in the face of San Franciscans and Peninsula residents alike, because those responsible have not made the proper decisions regarding their infrastructure or transportation needs.” Mr. Canepa is someone to watch for higher office because he has the people’s interest at heart. Having been born and raised in the City, he knows what the Johnny-come-lately types that occupy City Hall do not know: San Francisco is not an island, but a destination point at the tip of a very important peninsula.
It’s amazing how there is always some clarity that surfaces in cloudy times. All of us are just around the corner from one of the greatest and most joyous celebrations of a rough year. I will risk being politically incorrect here, and take this opportunity to wish you and your families and friends, a very merry and wonderful Christmas and a joyous and hopefully prosperous New Year! Thanks for being who you are!
Tony Hall is he former District 7 Supervisor and Director of Treasure Island.
“HEARTBREAK HOTEL”- ELVIS, 1956
According to San Francisco Visitor Industry Statistics, the City hosted 15.4 million visitors in 2009, including hotel guests, those staying with friends and relatives, those staying in accommodations outside the City but whose primary destination was San Francisco, and regional visitors driving in for the day. These visitors spent $7.8 billion in local businesses.
Clearly, tourism is our number one business. This massive injection of visitor dollars directly supports local hotels, restaurants, shops, attractions, and cultural institutions. It also indirectly bolsters practically every segment of The City’s economy and has a broad positive influence on government finances - some $426 million in tax and fee revenue flowed into the City and County of San Francisco in 2009.
There are at least 32,976 hotel rooms in 215 hotels in the City. Overnight hotel guests account for more than two of every three dollars spent locally by out-of-town visitors, despite representing only one-third of all visitors to the City.
Our Hotel Tax Rate is 14% at present. The Board of Supervisors now wants to raise the Hotel Tax Rate to 16%, which would make it the highest in the country. Let us not forget that in late 2008 the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor also passed a Tourism Improvement District Assessment (TID tax!) of up to 1.5 % on top of the 14%, so our real Hotel Occupancy Tax is 15.5% already. With the proposed increase that the Board wants, we will be at 17 to 17.5%.
The Chamber of Commerce says the tax increase would result in fewer people staying in hotels, and thus the elimination of about 2,000 (mostly union) jobs from the local hotel industry. Also, lower occupancy rates mean less money spent elsewhere in The City by visitors — an estimated loss of about $75 million a year.
Joe D’Alessandro, president of the San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau, worries that at least five organizations have said they will “reconsider” holding events here if Prop. J is enacted. D’Alessandro estimates that the lost revenue from those conventions would be $120 million.
Propositions J and K on the November ballot are both hotel tax measures. They are next to each other on the ballot, and each has similar provisions. Also, if both measures pass, the one that gets the most votes wins. How clever.
Here’s the difference. Our tax law directs hotels to collect and pay the hotel tax to The City. Search engines like Orbitz and Expedia only charge taxes on the amount hotels receive, not on the higher cost the websites charge consumers. Both ballot propositions J & K would close that loophole — and although K does not call for the 2% increase, it does in reality impose an additional burden on our hotel industry.
In my opinion, any increase in any taxes or fees will negatively affect the hospitality industry that is host to the lifeblood of our City. It is the reversal, or lowering, of these taxes that we should be doing in order to spur the local economy and create jobs.
No one in the City does a better job articulating this problem than my good friend Don Thomas, who is President and CEO-CDOA of the 2,295 member Club Donatello Owners Association, and Vice President of the Pacific Plaza Condominium Association. Don is a person who is actively involved in making San Francisco a better City for all who live here, and in many quiet and charitable ways that very few know about. I would like to conclude this column with his letter to the Board of Supervisors in July of this year, as it makes so much sense and the reasoning behind it is so important:
“The proposed tax increases for businesses and residents of San Francisco will not solve the City’s fiscal problems, and in fact will make them substantially worse, so we urge you to NOT move forward with any of these tax increase plans.
Historical and Economic realities have repeatedly confirmed in cities across our country, that tax increases on small and mid-sized business operations will simply result in higher occupancy costs, and ultimately make San Francisco a less competitively priced location for businesses and professional services.
“In our small boutique Hospitality operation at the Donatello building, 501 Post Street, for the Club Donatello Owners Association, the Pacific Plaza Condominium Association, and the Hotel Donatello, an increase in the occupancy/hotel tax will simply hurt our business, reduce potential occupancy, and thereby result in a reduction of jobs needed.
“We already have one of the highest hospitality tax rates in the country, as well as in our own state, with the majority of counties operating with tax rates that range from 8.25% - 10%, including the picturesque coastal environments of Monterey and Carmel. We actually recommend that you bring the existing occupancy/hotel tax down to 10%, so that it is more competitive with other cosmopolitan venues around the country.
“If you moved in this more positive Customer-oriented direction, we can actually increase our occupancy, and this will actually increase the actual tax revenues to the City of San Francisco through increased volume of Customer activity.Believe us after being in operation since July 1984 at this location, we know what actually works!
“An additional increase in the parking/garage tax to our Customers is a financial disaster. Local Union Square area parking activity has already dropped off with the previous tax that was imposed, and local parking rates are already equal to or higher than comparable cosmopolitan rates in New York City. This additional tax will further impact on the numbers of people coming to the City to stay overnight, park their cars, or simply come in for some retail shopping, restaurant and entertainment activity. This negative tax effect will result in a reduction of your tax revenues, not an increase as you are projecting. Your financial model is basically flawed and will not work. If your intent is to drive traffic, literally, to other neighboring cities and towns, then your proposed tax will achieve that end.
“Other locations in the San Francisco Bay Area are watching this proposed tax increase package very closely and some are already beginning to “capitalize” on it with special offers to compare their much lower Hospitality rates and lower parking rates for their cities in direct comparison to San Francisco.We will become the financial laughingstock of the Bay Area, and a potential wasteland of vacant hotel rooms, vacant buildings, fewer property owners/residents and retail venues, and your actual tax base will be eroded.......this tax increase proposal does not and will not make sense/cents. Too much of the hard-earned taxpayer funds have already been extracted, and this proposed tax increases are simply the wrong idea, the wrong direction, and you absolutely need to focus on moving in the opposite direction now.
“REDUCE TAXES NOW, REDUCE SPENDING NOW, and you will see a very positive result for the City of San Francisco and its businesses and Customer activity, and actually an increase in overall revenues to the City. That’s the TRUTH!
Don R. Thomas,
Taxpayer to the City & County of San Francisco.”
IF You’re Going To San Francisco….
I wasn’t going to write a column about homelessness because my positions and programs that I initiated as a Supervisor were so maligned and twisted by the press and politicians who exploited the issue that I hate to get into it. But you, the good taxpayer and honest citizen, deserve to know what’s going on, so here it is.
Homelessness in San Francisco is still a major issue despite all the time, energy and money that the City has expended in the past five years. Regardless of what count or survey has been conducted or manipulated, the problem still exists, and the latest census shows that there are at least as many if not more homeless people in San Francisco today than ever before. The only difference is that now we have institutionalized the industry, costing the taxpayers many, many hundreds of millions of dollars more, with questionable results. Neither the homeless, nor the people footing the bill, are being helped.
Having been involved with a number of programs dealing with homelessness for at least 11 years before I became a Supervisor, I felt that I knew enough about the problem to be able to propose real, effective, and fair solutions to this most nagging and persistent of problems facing San Francisco.
In my research and studies, I came to realize that many of the poor unfortunates classified in the “homeless” category were individuals who, for whatever reasons, need our help. I also came to realize that there was a fine line between helping and hurting them, as it was very easy to propose programs that would enslave them in a way of life that would preclude them from ever breaking the cycle of homelessness. Many people are homeless because they are addicted substance abusers - they need our help. Many are suffering from a state of mental illness or depression - they need our help. Many genuinely have fallen on bad times - they certainly need our help. Many are just people who are “gaming the system”- they do not need our help.
Identifying and treating the specific needs of each of these of these groups of people in a way that helps them on the road back to a positive and productive lifestyle is the answer. I also realize that resources to administer effective and positive treatment are limited in a City of 800,000 people, without the State taking responsibility.
Indeed, as a Supervisor, I spent more time working on this issue than I did anything else. I also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to educate and share with my colleagues on the Board my ideas, and I solicited their input because I was a strong believer that a collective effort on the part of all Board members was absolutely necessary to rectify the situation in our City. Little did I know that the political ambitions of a few of them would undermine any meaningful results and scuttle any effective programs. Once again, I was confronted by the hard realities that politics introduces into any issue, and the damage that it can do to the common good.
In January of 2002 I introduced legislation that banned the act of urinating and defecating on City streets. In the ensuing months, I was successful in getting it passed at the Board of Supervisors, albeit by a narrow vote. It set off a flurry of legislation by Board members who then realized that the subject of “Homelessness” made for good print. It certainly was the hot topic of the day, and a great way to advance one’s political career. It was also very obvious that the public was becoming increasingly uneasy about this problem.
This banning of urination and defecation was my lead piece in a comprehensive seven point homeless program that I had been working on for the prior year, and on January 14th of 2002, I presented it to the Board for their constructive input and amendments as it wound its way through the legislative process.
In brief the program was as follows:
1. An ordinance prohibiting public urination and defecation.
2. A resolution urging the Recreation and Park Department and all other City departments to open up closed rest rooms, and to expand their hours of service, and urging the City to expand its contract with the JC DeCaux Company to provide additional facilities.
3. An ordinance making it City policy to double the number shelter beds and accompanying storage facilities to accommodate 5% of the City’s population.
4. An ordinance that prohibited sleeping on the sidewalk.
5. An ordinance requiring the police Department and the District Attorney to post on website statistics relating to the enforcement of quality of life violations.
6. A resolution urging the Superior Court to create a special “quality of life” court.
7. A resolution amending the composition of the Local Homeless Coordinating Board by adding four new seats: 2 from the hospitality industry, and 2 from neighborhood or business associations.
When I introduced the above program, I reminded my colleagues that this was a “call to action.” This was a situation that had to be addressed as soon as possible, and the very fact that we could not do everything was not an excuse to do nothing. We must try to assist the many addicted and mentally handicapped people on our streets, as well as those who have fallen on tough times, but we must not fall into the trap of tolerating a situation that is unhealthy, unhappy and unfair to all concerned. We must help where we can, but the bottom line is we must establish and enforce minimal standards of civil behavior.
Well, wouldn’t you just know it? In the following months and years, homeless programs were flying all over the place by those hungry for publicity and political advancement. It was during this period of time that our present mayor decided he had better make his move or be left in the dust by those who were truly trying to do something about the homeless problem. After picking the brains of those who actually knew about the problem, he devised a questionable program with a catchy title and introduced it to the media rather than try to vet it through the legislative process of the Board of Supervisors, where it would be subject to scrutiny, analyzed, and if necessary, amended. Backed by an incredible amount of special interest money and hype, his media campaign took off, and lo and behold, here we are six years later spending 10 times as much to service the same number of homeless that we had in our City as in 2004. The multi-million dollar campaign, “Care not Cash” or PROPOSITION N as the measure was known when placed on the ballot, was one of the biggest and most expensive con jobs ever sold to the public. That program catapulted our current mayor into his present position.
When I opposed Care not Cash as a Supervisor, I was unmercifully bashed by the mainstream press, and the subject of numerous hit pieces and mailers by “campaign Newsom,” portraying me as being soft on the homeless in my own district. I knew I would be hit hard, but I was willing to stand up and at least be honest to the public. PROP N was a very misleading and complicated piece of legislation, and the true facts and the eventual costs associated with the measure were only brought out after hours and hours of tedious legislative analysis and testimony by experts. It was no wonder that the package was easily sold to the voters who were hungry for some kind of action. They don’t have the time to look into every detail, and I believe that is why we have elected representatives to do that work for them.
In July of 2003, I knew that “Care not Cash” would pass at the ballot box because the truth about the full effect of the measure and the hidden costs were not disclosed. I and a number of the other Supervisors who had the advantage of studying the details of the measure were not in a position to raise millions of dollars to fight the proposition and inform the public. As a last ditch effort to improve care not cash and fill the holes that Budget Analyst Harvey Rose so ably exposed during the hearings, I offered a legislative package at the Board of Supervisors to amend the Administrative Code called the “Homeless Accountability Act.” Instead of simply criticizing poor legislation, I set out to improve it and correct the shortcomings of “Care not Cash”. The Act had many parts, but in essence, it called for a Human Services Care Fund to be set up and monitored by the Controller to ensure that the “cash” was available before the “care” would be provided, and that any care provided would be dependent upon the cash being available. At that time the fund was to be seeded with $13.9 million dollars diverted from current services. The amendment also insured that any additional monies expended on welfare services be identified and verified, and approved by the Mayor, the majority of the Board of Supervisors, and eventually the public. Oddly enough, I was able to get the Act passed at the Board, but like so many other ordinances, mandates, and codes, it has just been totally ignored by this administration and the incumbent Controller.
In my December 2002 column in the West of Twin Peaks Observer, I wrote that PROP N would add untold millions of dollars to an already failed homeless industry. In 2002, San Francisco was spending approximately $200 million dollars per year for homeless services that were inefficient, ineffective, and unaccountable. This was more per capita than any other city in the country was spending on homelessness. Today, we are spending up to 2 billion dollars per year from our general fund on social services programs, with most of those monies going to homeless services.
As part of my opposing argument against “Care not Cash” that was so widely publicized in 2003 and 2004, I opined that it was precisely the “industry” providing services to the homeless that would flourish, consume undisclosed millions of dollars, and make San Francisco the magnet for homeless visitors. I argued that by cutting $8 to $10 million dollars in General Assistance funds from the 2700 recipients who were then required to work 32 hours a month for $320, we could not then even possibly begin to cover the costs of “care” that Prop N was proposing in the form of housing, food and medical services for the 13,000 homeless people in our City at that time.. In addition, leaving these poor people with only $20 cash per month for personal expenses was criminal, and would be enslaving many of them who are not substance abusers to the homeless industry, forcing them into panhandling just to meet daily necessities. I wasn’t against reducing general assistance for the abusers, or providing “care” for those who need it, but as an elected representative who took his fiduciary responsibility of public monies seriously, I wanted to know exactly where the money would come from in future years to pay for what PROP N was really going to cost the City. I felt that you, the public had the right to know where we, your Supervisors, were committing your hard earned tax dollars for years to come.
The entire Prop N campaign was spun to the public as a cure all for homelessness at no additional costs. What a deception, what a lie! Think of it this way, PROP N called for “cash” being replaced by “care.” The “care” that was to be provided to a homeless individual was to be in the form of housing, food, and medical services. That “care” would cost many, many, times the amount of $320 that we were required to take away in general assistance from 2700 individuals. Nowhere did the proposition address where the money would come from to pay for all of the so called “care.”
Back in 2004, the Budget Analyst for the Board of Supervisors estimated that it would cost at least 40 to 50 million dollars more per year to implement the “care” that PROP N was mandating for the 2700 individuals on general assistance. Today’s census figures place the number of homeless individuals in San Francisco at between 9000 and 13,000 individuals, the same as it was back in 2004, only now we are spending ten times as much on the issue. Is it any wonder that today the City is spending over 1 billion dollars in social services to treat the same number of homeless individuals that were here in 2004 at a cost then of 200 million? Is it any wonder that the same number of transient individuals, who came to San Francisco to avail themselves of the “care,” is still here today, still panhandling on our streets in order to acquire cash in addition to the care that we’re already providing? Is it any wonder that our total City budget is now 3 times what it was when Frank Jordan was Mayor, and with no change in the population? Is it any wonder that our budget is projected to be at least 600 million dollars in the red for next year?
What have we done outside of institutionalize and enslave homeless individuals in the ever growing world of services that the homeless industry provides as mandated under Prop N?
Why is this happening, you might ask? PROP N locked the City into baseline spending on direct homeless services in all future years after 2004, regardless of whether or not we implement more cost effective delivery of services, or if we receive state or federal funds, or if we even improve the homeless situation.. Multi-millions of your tax dollars have been squandered on this futile and deceptive approach to treating the homeless community. You, the taxpayer, and those truly in need of our help are the victims. My heart goes out to those poor unfortunates who, have fallen on hard times for whatever reason, and also to you for repeatedly being asked to pay for such political foolishness.
We must institute a System that identifies those with particular and specific needs, who truly want our help, and directs them to effective and appropriate assistance.
The System should incorporate residency and means testing, in order to give priority to our city’s less fortunate, and not be an open door policy for people from all over the country as it is today.
We should not tolerate those individuals who abuse the System, or those politicians who use the System for political gain.
The amount of money spent on the System should be “pegged” to a percentage of the city’s budget, and any change to that amount should be subject to public approval.
If we are to continue with such irresponsible social programs as “Care not Cash,” then the State and Federal government must also weigh in, as we are servicing an inordinate amount of homeless individuals from all over the country.
There should be a litmus test for non-profit service providers based upon a proven track record.
We should incorporate in the System the many wonderful programs already in existence by many of the faith- based organizations, as their outreach is based on the concepts of charity and motivation for those treated. In addition, we should streamline and expedite the real estate permitting process that these private non-profit organizations must undergo in order to provide services.
You have heard me say many times, “not one penny more for failed homeless programs.” That is my belief today as it was in 2004. With the money we are spending on the homeless situation in San Francisco today, we could easily afford to give each bona fide homeless person registered in the City at least $40,000 to $60,000 a year, and he or she would be better off than they are now standing in line to beg for services.
FANTASY ISLAND ONE MORE TIME!
This past week we all have been, once again, inundated with news releases and press conferences about the supposed hand-over of Treasure Island to the City and County of San Francisco. Here we go again!
I was interviewed at length by several news media outlets last week and thought I would share some of the points in question with you.
Having written about this Island several times before, I didn’t think I would find myself visiting it again so soon, but this mayor’s latest attempt to attract attention, by staging a “hand-over” from the Navy to the City, and then commencing to talk about how he is actually creating jobs with a false and unverified development plan is incredibly transparent and deserves a response.
The ceremonial signing over of the Island on August 18th was nothing more than a show for publicity by Newsom and Pelosi to try and make voters think that this mayor is really doing something to benefit San Francisco by creating jobs and therefore bolstering the economy. The actual signing over of the Island occurred in 1997 when the Navy turned the property over to the City as caretaker. Alert observers at the event, such as ABC’s channel 7, noted that no deed changed hands, and no details were released regarding who was paying the 105 million dollars for the land, or which bank or investor(s) were financing the so-called development project.
The reality and the facts are that Treasure Island today sits as a rotting, decaying toxic parcel of 500 acres of man-made terrain in the middle of the bay some thirteen years after the Navy turned it over to the City. The Navy is still the owner of the property, at least until they are paid 105 million dollars for it, or are pressured by the Democrats in power to turn it over for nothing. The Navy knows what so many of us now know. They have become skeptical with respect to the sincerity and the ability of the City to put forth a concrete redevelopment plan after all these years, but at this point has nothing to lose by going along with the “program” because the City and County of San Francisco is assuming the costs of maintenance of the Island as per the caretaker agreement of 1997.
Newsom’s latest fantasy plan that calls for a space-age green development with multiple 60 story residential, retail and hotel towers, new low-income neighborhoods, no on-island driving, a ferry terminal (that the State has already nixed) to accommodate the low-income resident boaters(!), and the best of all, a 40 acre organic garden! All of this is going on top of toxic bay land fill that floods year after year and sits on top of the most active earthquake fault in the bay area! I certainly don’t know what this guy is smoking but this latest fantasy surely isn’t the result of the red wine that he claimed he was addicted to.
You might recall that Darius Anderson, the politically connected democratic lobbyist and fundraiser, acquired the exclusive rights to negotiate for the development of Treasure Island as the principal of the Treasure Island Development Corporation (TIDC). Anderson, who is really a likeable fellow and a good businessman, brought in the Lennar Corporation as the heavyweight to do the build out. Both partners are now dangling the financial carrot to other investors who might fancy the elusive dream to build on the Island since the Lennar Corporation seems to have fallen on tough times.
Therein lays the problem. Hundreds of millions must be spent to shore-up, fortify, do the environmental clean-up, and stabilize the Island before anything can be built. Whatever is to be built there must “pencil” and be profitable before any developer, investor or Bank would even think about getting involved. The Navy, who would like to get their money up front, knows this, and so does Newsom and his gang. The pre-development costs, which could easily run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, are just too great to be considered by any serious investor. This is exactly why you never hear about the lender being mentioned or even quoted in any of these wonderful schemes that hit the newspapers.
Mr. Michael Cohen, the Mayor’s economic guru, has pontificated, ad-nauseum, about “mello-roos financing” and “bonding against future property tax revenue.” Forget about all that malarkey, there is a host of reasons why that will never happen, beside the fact that the property must be built out first. Interestingly enough, Mr. Cohen has just announced his resignation. Perhaps he figured that he should get out while the gettin’ is good, having been the chief architect of a half-a-dozen other flops such as the developments at Hunter Point, Candlestick Park, the retention of our famed 49ers football team just to name a few. I predicted long ago that he will now go to work lobbying for one of the Developers because he is quite good at spinning the fantasy but short on delivery.
I will remind you of a few facts that I wrote about in several prior articles, as they seem to have even more relevance today.
1. With a current City budget deficit approaching $600 million dollars, thanks to the mismanagement of this administration and this Board of Supervisors, where is the $105 million dollars going to come from to pay for the project? We are told that developers will pick up the costs, but the exact developers with the money have not been identified or confirmed.
2. Even if the true cost were only $105 million dollars, why are we now paying that amount for only 450 acres of the total 550 available, and more interesting, who benefits from the remaining 100 acres? Note, when I was Director there in 2005, the Navy was willing to give the entire 550 acres, including Buena Vista, to the City for practically nothing if we agreed to do the environmental clean-up. Also, at that time there was a much stronger and more expensive real estate market, thus the possibility of attracting bon-fide investors and/or funding, something that is lacking today.
3. The Mayor’s office claims the Navy has agreed to do the toxic clean-up. Any novice base re-use developer knows that the Navy will only comply with federal standards, not the more stringent and expensive State or local requirements. This alone will add hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to SF taxpayers, or to the yet to be disclosed “mysterious” developers.
4. Treasure Island is man-made of seismically unsafe, toxic landfill and sits on top of one of the strongest earthquake fault lines in the State. The cost to taxpayers to stabilize the perimeter of the Island and to eliminate the present rate of “sinking” will also be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, which has been documented in multiple in-depth studies commissioned by the Treasure Island Development Authority. Without the proper seismic stabilization that encompasses anchoring the entire Island 150 to 250 feet down to bed rock, and the proper soil remediation and soil compaction, and toxic clean-up, how is the Island going to support the three 60 story high rises, 6000 new homes and commercial center? Without the toxic clean-up, how is the 40 acre organic garden that this mayor is dreaming of going to work?
5. The partners mentioned in the development scheme are Wilson, Meany, Sullivan, a planning development firm that, I assume, will want to get paid for their work, and Lennar Corp. and Kenwood Investments, two corporations that are experiencing serious solvency problems of late.
6. Most importantly, there is no public or private lender that will loan money or insure a development of this nature in today’s real estate market, much less without the positive results of all phases of a properly completed Environmental Impact Report (EIR).
Why is all of this happening? What interest would the mayor’s office have in promoting this Treasure Island scheme? The answer is simple: smoke and mirrors. A quick-fix poster board attempt to polish his political image. It looks good, especially at election time. That is, before actual analysis. We can call this one “Care not Jobs!”
Here is the play to come: If Newsom can’t capitalize on the Treasure Island scheme enough to make Californians think that he actually created jobs, he will remain as Mayor after November. The Treasure Island Project will have to go through the EIR process, and go before the Board of Supervisors. Some of the Board members, in their bumbling, self-serving way, will question the validity of such a strategy, and rightfully, vote against it. At this point, the Mayor, knowing full-well that the project was a loser all along, will have the benefit of posturing as if he were “trying” to create jobs. He will have the perfect excuse to, once again, blame the Board for stopping him from creating jobs. This isn’t the first time he has pulled such a maneuver. If Newsom wins in November, it’s “sayonara baby”— let the next guy worry about it.
PREDICTION: Same as I stated in 2005, nothing will happen at Treasure Island under this administration.
SOLUTION: Considering the City’s finances at this time, the only alternative for the future of Treasure Island is to do what should have been done in the very beginning. Open the entire project up in a true and open competitive-bid process so that qualified developers, who have the experience and the ability to acquire financing, can submit bona-fide proposals that are realistic and workable given the conditions that are out there. Other than that, if the City is to try and do anything there by itself, it might as well convert the entire parcel into open space and recreational uses so that all may enjoy.
Tony Hall is a former District 7 Supervisor and Director of Treasure Island. Feedback: email@example.com
Oh The Games People Play
By now many of you have read or heard about the tremendous deficit that our City is facing this year projected for the next few years to come. How does all of this happen so rapidly, especially in a City like ours that has such a solid and far reaching tax base, that is a tourist destination for people from all over the World, is headquarters to some of the wealthiest corporations in the country, and is encompassed in a land-locked 47 square miles with only approximately 800,000 residents?
No doubt, these cash strapped days are due to the economic realities that have befallen our country and indeed the world is forcing us all to realign our priorities. But my question is, does it have to be this bad, and are we truly addressing the underlying causes of over-spending that have contributed to our current predicament.
Could it be that what we pay for our municipal services is higher on a per capita basis by some 2 to 4 times when compared to any city in America because San Franciscans just like paying more for local government in order to live up to our humanitarian image?
Could it be that people who live here are just too busy to really look into the issues that affect costs and therefore just can’t be bothered because after all, this is really a pretty good place to live?
Could it be that the issues presented to the public are deliberately obscured and complicated by politicians who curry political favor and expediency as opposed to providing basic services in the most efficient manner?
“Are we getting our monies worth from our local “municipal service providers?” If not, why not and what can we do about it. As a person who is against discrimination of any kind, I just don’t think we can continually go back and ask those who got it, to pay for those that don’t have it, because those who are supposed to deliver it don’t know how!”
I certainly don’t know all of the answers to the above questions other than to say that it could a bit of each. Before I present some facts to you so that you can make up your own mind, let me forewarn those of you, including most of the members on the Board of Supervisors, who believe that the only way to balance our budget and reduce the deficit is by additional taxes on the wealthy, this column may present some disturbing facts that undermine your theories on just whose “ox should be gored” or whose income should be redistributed.
A couple disclosure facts might be in order for those who like to cast dispersions...
1. I have never been considered wealthy in monetary terms by any standard and the pursuit money has always been secondary to me in favor of other achievements.
2. As a career civil servant for thirty years, I never made more than $80,000 in one year and that was only in my last position, although I served as an executive in seven different City departments in all three branches of government.
3. My reasons for seeking employment in the public sector in the sixties were much different than what I suspect motivates people to do so today.
4. I am not really concerned about how much money anyone makes… good for them, as long as they have not made it by exploiting others or “gaming the system” in such a way that the end result suffers. That being said, considers the following facts:
Our city work force consists of 27,852 fulltime and an additional 9,425 part time employees for a total of 37,277 serving a population of approximately 810,000 residents.
That’s a ratio of approx. 1: 22, easily the highest in the country.
More than 1 in 3 workers makes in excess of $100,000 in base salary and when overtime is factored in almost 10,000 workers make well over $100,000 per year. These figures do not reflect the additional costs to the City for health care and pensions.
There are currently over 9,587 employees earning over $100,000 annually amounting to an increased cost of $1.5 billion dollars to the City budget. This is an increase of 800 % in the number of City employees earning over $100,000 in the last decade
In fiscal year 2009 salaries accounted for 2.5 billion of the 6.6 billion dollar budget. The amount we are now spending for salaries is well over 3 times what Frank Jordan allowed for salaries when Mayor and twice that allowed by Willie Brown.
The population of the City has not changed and it would be very hard to find anyone who would attest that essential City services delivered are better now than in prior years.
In 2007, as Newsom was running for a second term, he gave a 23% pay increase to police and firefighters. In the following two years, the amount paid for salaries of City workers increased by 207.4 million dollars.
Of the 100 highest paid city employees, 71 of them are police and fire and the majority of them earn between $250,000 and $350,000 per year with overtime.
In fiscal year 2008-2009, 1,637 city positions, many of them vacant, at a salary range of less than $80,000 annually were slashed from the budget in a much ballyhooed report claiming to save $55 million. 90% the 1637 positions eliminated earned less than $60,000 per year. (So much for our low income wage earners and the dwindling blue collar sector!)
In later 2009, pay raises were given across the board to all City employees making over $80,000 per year, and ironically, just as the Mayor’s designs for higher political office started to surface, 616 new employees were hired by appointment and without civil service examination to earn over $80,000 per year. These raises and appointments are now costing the City $91.3 million more annually. (As a result, we now have a new type of mid to high level civil servant whose only qualifications appear to be his talent as a political operative. Hopefully, pension and benefit reform will discourage these new appointments from taking root in the City and they will move on to their next assignment.)
California Employment Development Department data shows that San Francisco City workers make an average of at least 20% more than their counterparts in the private sector.
Today, our budget comes in at 6.7 billion and is projected to go to 7.2 billion next year. Compare that to the 5.1 billion budget that reflected Willie Browns last budget or that of the 2.9 billion for the Frank Jordan budget.
Anyway you slice it, dice it or cut it, the question remains for you to ponder. Are we getting our monies’ worth from our local “municipal service providers?” If not, why not and what can we do about it. As a person who is against discrimination of any kind, I just don’t think we can continually go back and ask those who got it, to pay for those that don’t have it, because those who are supposed to deliver it don’t know how!
OBSERVATIONS: Patrick Monette -Shaw is a one-man marvel when it comes to fact-finding, number crunching, corruption watchdog and telling it like it is. He has paid dearly for his talent and his avocation by those who want to silence him on what is really going on at Laguna Honda Hospital. He has written at length about very important and complicated issues that affect us all, so to you Patrick, I say congratulations!
His latest observation about the muni driver’s reform petition that you are being asked to sign is interesting. He notes that not just bus drivers salaries are set by cross-jurisdictional salary surveys, but also the salaries of police and nurses are pegged to the highest paid in other jurisdictions. Of course bus drivers are the easiest to pick on because of non-salary related issues that this administration and the sponsoring supervisor are too weak to address. Nevertheless, both the mayor and the supervisor keep popping off about the 8 to 9 million in salary increases due the drivers in July while both politicians are on record as supporting the 207.4 million in raises for those other City employees already making over $100,000 per year!
Police, firefighters, nurses, and yes, bus drivers and all of our civil servants should be paid well if they are performing well. There is no question about that, and like most other San Franciscans, I am proud of them and want the best for them when they are doing their best in an environment that they do not always control. I fail to see how paying the drivers less will result in anything other than less qualified drivers when the real corrections need to be addressed to Muni’s 393 managers who are responsible for all aspects of Muni’s performance. And, oh yes, who, by the way, are all members of the $100,000 a year club as referred to in my above article.
What is really happening here is that lower income City workers are being thrown “Under the Bus” in order to insure that the high-end salary people continue to receive their raises as they have for the past 6 years.
Laguna Honda Hospital:
The Dan Noyes Ch. 7 I-Team investigation of the shenanigans going on at Laguna Honda Hospital at 6:30 pm Thursday evening May 20th was amazing. If you get a chance try to see it on the net. Dan Noyes is a real asset to San Francisco. http://iteamblog.abc7news.com/ or
Voter tip: For all of you Democrats out there who are tired of the Democratic County Central Committee being dominated by the far left activists, take a look at the candidacy of Andy Clark. He has served the interest of Democrats on the west side of town with his moderate politics and years of service as an Assistant District Attorney.
The Tail That’s Wagging the Dog!
You know folks, this little newspaper, the Westside Observer, being circulated mainly in the southwestern segment of the City, is doing much more for the welfare of our residents than any of us realize. By printing the truth while exposing the lies, spin, and corruption so embedded in our local government, and then offering workable solutions, a real service is being performed.
How is this happening you ask? Well, If one were to count the number of articles that have appeared in our two local dailies that have had their genesis spring from the subject matter of columns first printed in the Westside Observer, you would be amazed. Whether this is due to the inert laziness of the writers of the two dailies, or the fact that they are just behind the eight ball as reporters, or the fact that they are part of a dying enterprise because the publications they write for are so slanted and biased, is anybody’s guess. Anyway, there is an old saying that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and if that’s true, the Westside Observer is tops and it is great to be part of “the tail that’s wagging the dog.”
Just in the past few days, several articles have appeared in the Examiner by columnists who have rambled on about the Boathouse at Lake Merced as a result of my April 1, 2010 article in the Westside Observer, and on the topic of high-speed rail as written many times in this paper by Quentin Kopp. Neither of those columnists, and I will spare naming them so as not to have their obvious politics overshadow their integrity, took the time to do the necessary research to adequately understand the problems.
In the past few months, there have been numerous articles written in both dailies by columnists sympathetic to the current administration that have tried to offset the realities that I first exposed about Treasure Island, Harding Park, the parking meter scam, the excessive business permitting scheme, or the plight of small business. Indeed, there was even a rally held on the steps of City Hall by the mayor to highlight his concerns about developmental impact fees several weeks after I talked about such abuses in my March 2010 column. (Of course, we’ve heard nothing about reducing the fees since the event was merely for PR purposes.)
There have been feature articles in our dailies about our deteriorating infrastructure and pothole riddled streets first addressed in this paper by the talented and dedicated WSO contributor George Wooding, who also was the first to broach the subject of the MUNI operators and their salaries. As you know, a misleading version of that subject is now being circulated as a ballot initiative by one of the camp followers.
The fallacies, inconsistencies and downright misuse of public trust and monies involved in the Laguna Honda re-build project has been excellently chronicled by the persistent and courageous Patrick Monette-Shaw, who has paid dearly for speaking out in this paper for the past two years. The list goes on and on but I can assure you, you are getting your monies’ worth by patronizing the advertisers that make this publication possible. You may not always like what you read, but no one associated with this paper that I know of is trying to build a political career spinning you yarns. We are all thankful for the opportunity to be part of the initiating process that at least gets the ball rolling toward positive solutions.
As opposed to going into a great deal of detail on one subject as I usually do in my columns, and in the spirit of working with those who seek to justify the status quo, I will offer various short topics in this column as “Observations and Solutions” so as to really keep them busy.
Observation No.1 INFRASTRUCTURE and STREET REPAIR: Roger Boas correctly predicted in his ‘80s Chief Administrative Officers Infrastructure Report to the Board of Supervisors, that the City must take on a consistent and annual commitment of funds to maintain our streets and aging sub-structure. The annual cost of estimated maintenance then was about 10 to 20 million dollars per year. The City has been shirking this primary and basic responsibility for decades, choosing instead to fund questionable, expensive, and experimental social programs for political expediency, hoping that State or Federal Grants would come to the rescue. Today an infusion of $250 million per year would not even improve the City’s overall street conditions because the sub-structure is old and breaking down as predicted. It is a classic example of why long-term deferred maintenance is always a bad idea as opposed to the annual cost for necessary upkeep and repairs. We are now at a critical stage and must take real action to keep the streets from incurring serious structural damage. This administration is now proposing asking the voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase to generate up to $36 million annually. In other words, they ignore the problem for years and are now asking you for the money to let them fix the problem? The SOLUTION: Since streets and infrastructure maintenance are prime responsibilities of the City, akin to fire and safety, take the necessary money the City needs to satisfy maintenance and repair on an annual basis, as part of a well thought-out 10-year long-term plan, from the monies that have been diverted from revenue producing departments into uses that have not benefited the City. Prioritize rather than set-aside. Surely in a 6.6 billion dollar budget for a city of less than 800,000 people the money is there! Try using it wisely.
Observation No. 2; The Golden Gate Park Stables: A unique San Francisco tradition since 1875, the stables in the park were shut down on “temporary basis for repair” in September of 2001. The last of 22 public stables in San Francisco, the park stables, during its 130 years of existence, had housed many public, private and polo ponies for equestrian enjoyment and had introduced dozens of generations of school children and adults to the joys of horseback-riding. As a Supervisor and 30-year City employee, I sensed that the so-called “temporary shut down” was nothing more than an excuse for the Dept. of Recreation and Parks to shed its responsibility of the maintenance of this time-treasured institution. I called for a series of public hearings and had received the assurances and guarantees from the then-General Manager of Rec. and Park, Elizabeth Goldstein, that monies were available for the reconstruction of the stables and that construction would commence as soon as architectural drawings and permits were produced. Seeing no action, on July 23rd of the following year, I introduced two resolutions that were passed at the Board of Supervisors. The first established a working group of experienced people to work with the Department to evaluate the most efficient and effective manner to repair and improve the stables. The second resolution which I introduced and passed, is still relevant today and is part of THE SOLUTION: It is based on the voter approved 1998’s Proposition J, It urged the Recreation and Park Department to allocate existing funds to repair and improve the stables and, if necessary, repay the monies expended by soliciting funds from the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority. To date, the stables sit in abandonment due to the incompetence of city bureaucrats who have ignored the legislative mandates and no doubt misspent the monies that were once—and could again—be available.
Observation No 3: Hospice and Palliative Care at Laguna Honda: By now many of you have come to realize what is really happening at Laguna Honda Hospital. Under this administration, it is slowly and deliberately being transformed into a facility that increasingly treats people in need of homeless health care as opposed to senior health care. For 145 years, Laguna Honda Home has being doing a marvelous job treating indigent, frail, handicapped and patients with various debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer, dementia, Parkinson’s, advanced AIDS, dementia, etc., patients who require specialized round-the-clock care and who have not been fortunate enough to have a family to care for them, or the resources to live in a private nursing home. But now, the City Hall geniuses have decided the facility should house younger people with primary psychiatric conditions in their effort to try to salvage a failed homeless program. Being ignored in this process is what you voted for in 1999, instructing the City how you wished your tax dollars to be spent, and the physical welfare of the elderly vulnerable patients who are routinely and increasingly exposed to the violence being committed by younger patients and are being abandoned. The latest tragedy associated with LHH transformation is the dismantling of the nationally recognized model of “Hospice/Palliative Care” that has, for over 20 years, provided a 25 bed service for both terminally ill and progressively/incurable ill longer-term patients that emphasized quality of life. Now, the administration has deleted “Hospice” as a listed program in the hospital’s mission statement, and fired the former Hospice Chaplain, the beloved Sr. Miriam Walsh, before her passing. Now, amid the hiring of dozens of new consultants and outside specialists for different and “experimental” programs, the administration has terminated the nationally recognized Board Certified Hospice physician Dr. Derek Kerr. Dr. Kerr has been the most professional, knowledgeable, patient-centered and generous doctor associated with the entire Laguna Honda re-build. His work was legendary and essential to the survival of the Hospice program and the spiritual component, which it encompassed. THE SOLUTION: Stop getting rid of home grown and local talent that have proven worth and dedication to the welfare of San Franciscans and replacing them with appointees that only further a political agenda.
Observation No: 4: The MUNI Operators Salary Measure for the November Ballot: Those of you, who are being asked to sign this misleading measure, think back to the spin behind “care not cash” and ask yourselves what good that measure did for the City. This is the same type of effort, designed to capitalize on voters’ disenchantment with the level of service currently being provided by MUNI, but the real intention here is to hype a bland political career for future office. No doubt the Municipal Transportation Agency could provide better service, and there are ways to go about ensuring that happens. The SOLUTION is to propose incremental measures at the Board of Supervisor level that can be vetted publicly that really attack the causes of bad service such as timetables, route frequency, personnel attendance, attentiveness, attitudes, etc. If the Board fails to act on any measures, then go to the public with an initiative that will achieve positive results and correct the true causes of bad service. I fail to see how employing operators at a lesser and questionably lower salary will result in anything other than less qualified drivers. The marginal savings that the proposed measure claims to achieve will certainly not balance an MTA budget that is seriously out of whack, and will do nothing to solve the real causes of bad service.
Observation No. 5: The San Francisco Ethics Commission: The San Francisco Ethics Commission is nothing more than a body of political appointees that are used in the most despicable and “unethical” ways to witch-hunt and tarnish the reputations of any person who questions the policies of this administration. This commission is responsible for millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted on baseless and fraudulent hearings under the guise of good government. The members of the commission who are attorneys should be disbarred and publicly prosecuted for their unscrupulous behavior. The SOLUTION: eliminate the entire Ethics Commission and staff and refer all ethics matters to the State Fair Political Practices Commission for an honest and fair adjudication. This would save the City millions every year and bring new hope to aspiring candidates who otherwise are discouraged from engaging in the democratic system.
I could cite many more Observations and Solutions, but I think I have given the daily “paparazzi” enough fodder to keep them busy for the next few weeks. As for you and your concerns, they are paramount to us here at the Westside Observer. Stay sharp!
If interested my Blog is tonyhallsf.wordpress.com or twitter.com/TonyHallSF or feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Duel at the BOATHOUSE
at Lake Merced!
Today the Boathouse crumbles above the active and crucial operations that students depend on to obtain scholarships to the best colleges and universities. It also provides essential recreation and exercise for adults and seniors.
In the 1850’s Lake Merced was a popular dueling ground because of its remoteness from the rest of the City. Indeed it was the site of one of the best known duels in the Old West. The duel between U.S. Senator David Broderick and Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court David Terry capped a bitter personal feud between the two powerful politicians and ended in the Senator’s death. Today, another feud is ongoing, only this time it’s between the City’s ruling intelligentsia and the citizens they are supposed to represent.
When I first ran for office in 2000, I made a campaign promise that I would restore the water levels at Lake Merced in order to set the stage for what could eventually lead to one of the finest urban recreational areas of any City in the country.
Coach Bob Maclean of Pacific Rowing Club explains the precarious position of his community-based operation. While renovations are of paramount importance, keeping the rowing clubs operative while they occur is vital.
Foremost in my mind was that one day the Lake Merced recreational area
would again play host to urban dwellers with the wonderful advantages that
nature could provide in the form of fishing, boating, hiking, bicycling,
skeet shooting, picnicking, camping, and wildlife viewing. Up to this time,
evolving conditions of areas around the lake had taken their toll on this
once popular social hub and urban sanctuary.
Historical water levels of the lake depended upon recharging of the underground
Westside Aquifer by rainwater that was now being diverted into the ocean
because of pavement-happy development. Extensive pumping of the Aquifer
by golf courses, cemeteries and municipalities to satisfy irrigation and
drinking water needs in the post war years lowered the water level to 14
feet, thereby threatening sea-water intrusion and the destruction of this historical source of the City’s back-up and emergency fresh water supply. We were able to raise the water level to 27 feet by getting the above mentioned users to utilize secondary and tertiary sources of water for their irrigation needs, and re-channel storm water run off and excess Hetch-Hetchy water back into the lake. The negotiations to accomplish this were prolonged, complicated, and tedious. With the help of CalTrout, the Lake Merced Task Force, and the Friends of Lake Merced, we were persistent and successful and today the future for this colorful lake on the edge of San Francisco is looking much brighter.
Coach Maclean admonishes his charges to keep their heads up, eyes front—watching for the smallest detail that could cost the team a valuable second in a competition
There is a piece of this marvelous puzzle still missing and that is what the ongoing “Duel” of today is all about. This duel is over the future of the Lake Merced Boathouse. It’s a classic battle between the incompetent, indifferent and apathetic bureaucracy versus the patient, believing and optimistic residents of the community.
The Boathouse was built and paid for about 55 years ago when the community approved a special bond issue for the purpose of supporting recreational and community activities at the lake. For years it served as an actual boathouse offering anglers fishing supplies and renting rowboats and storing boats for rowers. The building was spruced up by the people who leased it and eventually it also provided restaurant and bar service at this very unique location. In 2003 the lease was not renewed by the Recreation and Park Department because “the operators were not able to maintain the business according to the Department’s liking” according to a spokesperson for Rec and Park. Bear in mind that this was the very same excuse that Rec and Park used to justify the closing of the much revered and historical Golden Gate Park stables!
The “Bridge” is scheduled for replacement “next year” according to Rec and Park.
Today, eight years later, the Boathouse stands empty and deserted at the entrance
to the world class Harding Park, which was the flagship of my redevelopment
efforts at Lake Merced, and the stables no longer exist in Golden Gate Park.
The abandoned boathouse is a disgrace to the Lake Merced area and a lost opportunity
for the community.
In 2003, I was assured that the money was set aside for the rehabilitations and that both facilities would be in operation within a year. Unfortunately I left the Board in 2004 after being coaxed to work on a much bigger and potentially profitable development for the City, that being Treasure Island. Ironically that also stands undeveloped and in ruin today.
While the City is supposedly “studying” these issues, and I suspect that they will continue to keep on studying until just the right development (aka politically connected) partner comes along, the community will continue to lose. In the case of the Boathouse, I know for a fact that there were bona fide restaurant operators available in 2003 that would have made the necessary repairs at their expense so that the facility could serve as both a community center and a full service restaurant in exchange for a standard lease from the City. If the City was not going to spend the money to rehabilitate the facility to its original purpose of a community center, then why let it sit empty and dilapidate for the next 7 to 8 years?
Administering the swaying and slippery “bridge” while hoisting heavy “shells” above their heads is excellent teamwork practice and good exercise, but should be safer.
It’s ironic that the Recreation and Park Department was able
to find $2 million to repair a rarely used pier nestled in
the tules of the Lake, only 20% of which was funded by state
grants. Whether the boathouse should be rehabilitated by private
funds or returned to its original purpose is a matter to be
decided by community priorities, but the sin here is doing
nothing for almost 9 years! Apparently the current District
7 supervisor hasn’t got the stomach for such mundane and insignificant
projects and the part-time aide that he has assigned to represent
him regarding the Boathouse isn’t from the City and wouldn’t
know the difference between a boathouse a horse-drawn caravan.
Thankfully there are still some San Franciscans around who know how to get things done that benefit the residents and especially the hundreds of young boys and girls that use the docks at the boathouse to launch their shells for their early morning workouts and competitions. Under the expert leadership of Tom O’Connell, Head Crew Coach of world championship rowing teams from St. Ignatius High School, and Joe Meets of the Pacific Rowing Club, the docks at the boathouse have been replaced at the cost of some $60,000 being raised from private donations on a loan fronted by St. Ignatius High School. Young San Franciscans from the Dolphin Boat Club, the South End Rowing Club, and the San Francisco Rowing Club as well as scores of independents and seniors also use the launching docks.
At 77, Mary Allen keeps fit doing her favorite thing, boating.
I don’t criticize without offering a solution. In this case there is no easy fix unless we insist that our elected representatives address the tasks at hand. If they lack the positive and effective leadership necessary to make things happen, then the ball is in our court.
If interested my Blog is tonyhallsf.wordpress.com or twitter.com/TonyHallSF or feedback: email@example.com.
Now comes the tricky part—as the boat is rotated into the water—this requires careful coordination and teamwork or the whole team could end up in the drink.
Tony Hall talks about the Boathouse with Coach Alex Simon of St. Ignatious Crew
The men’s team from Pacific Rowing wait for their launch turn on the new $60,000 aluminum and plastic pier provided by a loan from St. Ingatious High School.
it’s back up the “bridge” to stow the boats away. 250 boaters make this
trip twice daily.
The Art of Governance and the Economy
It seems that all we have read about these past few weeks relates to employment. One politician talks incessantly about how many jobs he has created. Another politician talks about how many jobs he has saved. A third politician talks about nothing but lies associated with the first two. There seem to be only two job categories that get any positive attention. One is the non-private
sector positions supported by taxation. The other, and flourishing, is those employed by the various media spin machines out there doing their best to convince the weary and wary taxpayer of a particular point of view. Once again you, the taxpaying voter, are left trying to figure out the truth and what should be done.
As a father, I can attest to how difficult it is for those who are interested in remaining in our City to actually find employment in their chosen field of study, let alone in a meaningful or contributory fashion. This is the sad reality that underlies the flight of our local talent, discourages families, and takes an eventual toll on our quality of life. When we address these problems and offer realistic solutions, we are immediately classified as prophets of doom, or uninformed disgruntled individuals by the ever so politically correct, pseudo-intellectual elitists that are now running the City. The fact is that no one really needs to say anything but only has to look around. Notice the recent proliferation of vacant storefronts, the lack of buyers in the open shops that beg for customers with almost unbelievable sale promotions, the restaurants and diners less than 20% full, or the drop off in attendance of the various galas, social and charitable events for which San Francisco is so well known. No one knows this better than the small businesses trying to survive here in the City.
In San Francisco, a small business is defined as having an annual payroll of less than $250,000. Approximately 80% of the 90,000 businesses registered in the City are considered small, and they employ about 50% of the roughly 700,000 workforce. Small businesses are absolutely vital to the health of our local economy. With an unemployment rate equal to or slightly above the national average, it means that San Francisco, as a non-manufacturing, service oriented, culturally diverse tourist destination is doing something wrong in its treatment of this lifeblood of the City. Small businesses employ the middle and lower income workers thereby allowing them to live here. Small businesses provide a steady stream of tax revenue that pays for the essential City services we all demand like police, fire, recreational facilities, etc. etc. What we as the voting public are doing wrong is directly related to the type of person we elect to represent our interests both at the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor’s Office. What they, our elected, are doing wrong, (I will try to be charitable here and plead ignorance on their behalf), is continuing to make life as miserable as they can for any type of small business to survive in our City by imposing excessive permits, fees and regulations. Not one member of the current Board of Supervisors comes from, nor has any experience with, what it takes to sustain a small business. It is no wonder that they have voted unanimously and consistently to impose non-productive and senseless red tape measures that have now resulted in 12 City departments requiring some 250 different types of permits and fees from our local private enterprises. Does it require the thinking of a genius to determine that the more the City wants of fees and taxes from a business, the less that very business can afford to have available for its’ payroll, for fair and adequate wages, or for growth. Sadly, I don’t believe that our current electeds’ thinking is going to turn around even with a crash course of Biz 101, so our only option is to look for different representation.
Much of what the Board of Supervisors does can be mitigated by a strong, forthright mayor who is first of all dedicated to serving the common good, as opposed to a personal career agenda. The public is not stupid, and they will instinctively support someone who they think is working on their behalf. It is amazing what leadership a chief executive can exert when he has the support of the public and is not afraid to engage the legislative branch in seeking compromises that further the common good. It is not good enough to think you are representing the peoples’ interest by limiting your involvement to catchy buzz phrases and sound bites delivered during hastily assembled press conferences.
Of course I am not stating here that the business community should be left entirely to their own whims and fancies when it comes to the guidelines of their behavior. We should not begrudge anyone from making a profit from his or her own ingenuity or entrepreneurship if such an endeavor is contributing to the local economy without exploiting or causing hardship to anyone else. It is also reasonable to expect that these small enterprises contribute to serve the common good. This is where good leaders and legislators can achieve positive results for the community. The problem here is that in recent years, the business community has been exploited, blackmailed and cajoled by those in power seeking political donations to further their own agenda, or saddled with unrealistic and expensive fees, permits, and regulations designed to satisfy some narrow special interest at the expense of the whole. The resultant negative spiral is to attempt to collect more from fewer sources. This is wrong and must stop if we are to retain any semblance of integrity in our effort to attract and promote employment.
I don’t criticize unless I have a solution to offer. Volumes could be written citing certain examples and providing specific solutions regarding the preservation and creation of jobs so that our City can remain healthy. Just a few obvious examples might be worth citing.
The Small Business Assistance Office: Once touted by the Mayor and Board as a cure all that would focus on the specific needs of small business was sold to the voters in November of 2007. It was to be a clearinghouse for permits and produce reports on how the City can improve its small business functions. Staffed by incompetent political hacks it has been a total disaster. According to an audit by Budget Analyst Harvey Rose, for whom I have great admiration for his truthfulness and integrity, that Office now two years later lacks any comprehensive strategy to provide services to its clients, or a plan to streamline small business functions, or any provision for facilitating the permitting process. To the contrary, the recent broad sweep increase in municipal business fees is a testimony to their incompetence. The solution: Staff the office with qualified people or disband it. It’s that simple.
Parking: Now that City Hall has successfully punished local drivers and hampered local businesses with exhorbitantly excessive parking and meter rates, they are rewarding the bike and motorcycle riders with 300% increases in their parking rates! As the destination of such increased revenues is never really divulged, even the transit first crowd is beginning to question. This is all done under the justification that they are increasing turnover for the merchants! My question is, what are you doing for the merchants if shoppers can only shop for an hour before running back to plug a meter with 12 to 15 more quarters, or can only transport their purchases on a bicycle rack! And seniors and the disabled, you’re just out of luck, unless of course our ruling intelligentsia comes up with a loving plan that “cares” for you by providing a municipal shopping service that you’ll be mandated to pay for! You can see how ridiculous this is. The solution: Provide reasonable multi hour parking rates that are not solely revenue based for all preferred modes of personal transport. In other words, provide transportation and parking facilities with rates that encourage patronage of local businesses rather than forcing shoppers to the suburbs, as is now the case.
Construction: We know that loans are hard to come by, but what about the hundreds of large projects and small remodeling projects that already have their financing in place and are set to go except for the aforementioned bureaucratic red-tape? Solution: get the permits out! I know how much it pains our elected intelligentsia to actually have to monitor the work of city employees in charge of such permits.
Developmental impact fees: These fees charged to developers to subsidize civic amenities and affordable housing have actually become the tail wagging the dog as the sheer cost of them has killed many projects. I would like to remind my left-minded colleagues that if the project cannot go forward, nobody gets anything. Solution: reduce or eliminate some of the fees so that at least projects can go forward.
Cutting Payroll Taxes: A step in the right direction for the larger companies but does very little for small businesses. The current proposal on the table allows the mayor to posture that he is somehow actually creating jobs that anybody in business truly knows cannot be measured or verified. Let’s be real here. How many small businesses with an annual payroll of $250,000 or less can actually afford to hire or create a new position from payroll tax savings? Virtually none! Small business would much rather forego any assumed payroll tax savings in favor of a business friendly environment. Solution: Tax credits for new hires.
Part of the art of successful governance is having the courage and ability to address very real problems in a very real and fair manner. Unless our elected are able to do that and put aside the short lived, unproductive, feel good type of ideas that only exasperate the underlying problems, our quality of life will not improve. Basically it is up to you and whom you choose to represent you.
PREDICTIONS: Former Mayor Frank Jordan, who during the holidays traveled to India and the Far East representing the economic interests of the City and Bay Area was well received as an effective “Ambassador at Large.” His unassuming dedication to honesty and integrity was much appreciated and will lead to many more such assignments.
If interested my Blog is tonyhallsf.wordpress.com or twitter.com/TonyHallSF or feedback: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Good Ship Lollipop Marooned
on Treasure Island!
I truly wish for the sake of all San Franciscans that there were a good, honest, realistic and forthright development project forthcoming for Treasure Island, but unfortunately this is not the case.
On December 16th, the mayor’s office held a much-ballyhooed press conference to announce that finally, San Francisco had reached an agreement with the Navy to purchase Treasure Island for the sum of $105 million. The City will pay this amount over an unspecified period of time according to the Chronicle, for what Mayor Newsom termed a “Grand Vision” for the Island, replete with 3 residential high-rises for 6000 new homes, a 60 story hotel, commercial complex, marina, and believe it or not, a 40 acre organic farm! Never one to miss an opportunity to spin a new idea, Newsom was most excited about the 8000 new jobs that would be created, in fact so much so that he mistakenly stated that the jobs had already been created in his latest “State of The City” address along with some 70,000 more jobs for the Bay View Hunters Point project!
Following the Dec. 16th “fantasy press release” issued by the mayor’s office, several newspapers and television stations solicited my response. As the former Executive Director for Treasure Island, I was exposed to the intricacies and complexities of any development relating to that Island. I will share a few of my concerns with you here:
1. With a current City budget deficit approaching $600 million dollars, thanks to the mismanagement of this administration and this Board of Supervisors, where is the supposed $105 million dollars going to come from to pay for the project?
2. Even if the true cost were only $105 million dollars, why are we now paying that amount for only 450 acres of the total 550 available acres? Those 550 acres we could have had for nothing five years ago when the Navy wanted to give it to us if the City did the environmental clean up, at a time when there was a much stronger and more expensive real estate market? (And surprise — who benefits from the control and development of the remaining 100 acres that the City does not buy?)
3. The Mayor’s office claims the Navy has agreed to do the toxic cleanup. Any novice base re-use developer knows that the Navy will only comply with federal standards, not more stringent and expensive State or local requirements. This alone will add hundreds of millions of dollars in costs to SF taxpayers.
4. Treasure Island is man-made of seismically unsafe toxic landfill 8 to 15 feet deep and sits on top of one of the strongest quake fault lines in the State. The cost to taxpayers to stabilize the perimeter of the Island and to eliminate the present rate of “sinking” will also be in the hundreds of millions of dollars which has been documented in multiple in-depth studies commissioned by the Treasure Island Development Authority. Without the proper seismic stabilization that encompasses anchoring the entire Island at least 150 feet down to bed rock, and the proper soil remediation and toxic clean up, how is the Island going to support the three 60 story high rises, 6000 new homes and commercial center, or the 40 acre organic garden that this mayor is dreaming of?
5. The financial partners in the development scheme are Wilson Meany Sullivan, a firm that, I assume, will want to get paid for their work, and Lennar Corp. and Kenwood Investments, two corporations that are experiencing solvency problems of late.
6. Most importantly, there is no public or private lender that will loan money or insure a development of this nature in today’s real estate market, without the positive results of all phases of a properly completed Environmental Impact Report (EIR)?
My reponses were published in the Fog City Journal on Dec. 19th, (Somalia By The Bay), the Examiner on Dec. 22nd, (Nothing But Smoke and Mirrors on T.I.) and the Chronicle on Dec.28th, in a featured article titled Treasure Island Gets a reality check, in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 9th, (Treasure Hunt in S.F. Bay), and in several other publications as well as broadcasts on local TV stations.
Responding to questions in another article (Chronicle, Jan. 15th) Shortfall Could Scale Back Treasure Island Plans, Michael Cohen, the author of this latest fantasy plan, and the mayor’s so-called economic guru, revised the story. Now the developers will pay the $105 million for the Island. This is wonderful news, except at the time of printing, the developers, namely Lennar and Kenwood would not confirm that any such financial arrangement exists. Cohen, in a last ditch effort to portray himself as a grown-up player in the real developers world, adds that “the revenue to build out the infrastructure for the project would come from taxes and fees that the project will generate.” My question to Mr. Cohen: How can we collect taxes and fees before the project is built? I’m sure his answer will involve some convoluted form of “bonding” that will inevitably be in conflict with my response #6 listed above. The Chronicle postulates that an admitted shortfall of funds could unravel the entire Treasure Island scheme and the Navy is reluctant to sign the Island over without a real deal being consummated!
Why is all of this happening? What interest would the mayor’s office have in promoting this Treasure Island scheme? The answer is simple: smoke and mirrors. A quick-fix poster board attempt to polish his image. It looks good. That is, before actual analysis.
What we have here is Newsom “exploiting” another issue that people are concerned about to boost his rapidly declining poll numbers. Lets call this one “care not jobs.”
Here is the play to come: The Treasure Island scheme will have to go before the Supervisors. Some of the board members, in their bumbling self-serving way, will question the validity of such a strategy, and rightfully, vote against it. At this point, the Mayor, knowing full-well that the project was a loser all along, designed to appear as if he were “trying” to create jobs, has the perfect platform to blame the Board for stopping him from creating jobs. This isn’t the first time he has pulled such a maneuver.
The only one that makes out under this scheme is the Navy which has nothing to lose. Mr. Mayor stop trying to fool the people you represent. If perhaps you are not willing to do that at this point in your political career, then look around and see if you have any political donors left that you can coerce into a “sweetheart deal” so that you can continue to keep the “Treasure Island Fantasy” alive until you are finally out of office.
OBSERVATIONS and PREDICTIONS:
1. Treasure Island will never be developed in any form under this administration.
2. Jobs will be central to a multitude of schemes put forth in attention grabbing press releases in upcoming months, but will they really be created?
3. San Francisco will be ready for a welcome makeover in about 6 months to a year, as the real natives are getting restless.
4. David Canepa, Daly City Councilman is the officeholder to watch in local politics. His commitment to his constituents as opposed to special interests is a rarity on this side of the City and into the peninsula, where he is being touted for higher office.
If you are interested my blog is tonyhallsf.wordpress.com and twitter.com/TonyHallSF
Hope is a word that has been tossed about rather loosely in political circles the past couple of years. Being a word that emotes great passion for constructive change, it is something that we all must embrace lest we fall victim to the perils of pessimism. Its relevance is most effective in its appeal to the majority of common folk like you and me.
As one of our tabloids recently reported, San Francisco has become a place for the richest of the rich and the poorest of the poor. Shut out are the many people who make the City great, average ordinary working people with average non-descript jobs. City Hall has had an on going war against the middle class for years. Because of high home costs and an anti-family attitude, many of these hard working people have had to choose between the City they love and their future as families and homeowners. As a result we are losing our blue-collar community and the backbone of this marvelous City is weakened.
To combat City Hall’s war against the middle class, In 2002 I introduced a legislative package to the Board of Supervisors entitled the Home Ownership Program for Everyone (HOPE). The Board declined to pass the legislation, instead responding with a barrage of controls that increased rent subsidies and new building requirements and restricted land use, thereby strengthening its political base and increasing the blight of tenant slavery. Subsequently, a citizen’s group called “Renters for Homeownership” began circulating a petition with the goal of placing HOPE, or Proposition R, on the November 2002 ballot. I would like to take this opportunity to explain to you the merits of the HOPE proposal because I believe that it has at least as much relevance today as it did in 2002.
Briefly, this is how HOPE works: If a multi unit-building owner and a pre-set percentage of tenants in that building voluntarily agree, the property owner would be allowed to sell their individual rental units to the current tenants, who would be able to buy their apartments as individually deeded properties, (aka condominiums). Tenants who did not wish to buy, or who were unable to purchase their units, would be granted leases providing them with the same protections they currently enjoy under the Rent Ordinance. HOPE is completely voluntary for landlords, as well as tenants, and both have to agree on the price.
The HOPE proposal, if in effect today, would provide a harmonious and positive solution to the age-old battle between tenants and property owners in San Francisco. It would offer tenants not only a genuine opportunity for affordable homeownership, but also an opportunity to accumulate equity and join the middle class by acquiring a “piece of the rock” so to speak. At the same time, apartment owners, who today are extremely burdened by punitive rent control laws, would get a chance to subdivide their buildings and sell a portion of those buildings as units, thereby adding value to their assets, or the opportunity to use their equity for other investments.
Under HOPE, tenants would have the option of exchanging the security of a rent-controlled apartment for the far superior security of homeownership. As such, HOPE would eventually transform the voter demographic by replacing current renters with homeowners. For obvious reasons, this would have far-reaching effects on the electoral landscape of San Francisco, (not to mention introduce reality to the far-left anti-property zealots that dominate our political establishment today).
Research has repeatedly shown that homeownership is the most important priority for tenants. This is true in San Francisco for 350,000 tenants in 220,000 households. San Francisco has a 34 percent homeownership rate, compared to 72 percent in Phoenix, 68 percent in Atlanta, 59 percent in San Diego, and 63 percent in Seattle. Nationwide, the homeownership rate is 68 percent. San Francisco has by far the lowest homeownership rate of any city in the entire country.
Immigrants, minorities, and those at the lower end of the economic scale are especially hurt by the City’s restrictive subdivision laws, which make homeownership near impossible for lower and middle income working families. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, homeownership is the main way for people to accumulate wealth. Homeowner households have an average household wealth of 34 times that of the average tenant household, and the principal source of that wealth is homeownership equity.
No evictions would be caused by HOPE subdivisions, as non-buying tenants would get legal and enforceable leases. Similar programs have been successful for many years in New York, Washington DC, and other cities. Why not in San Francisco?
HOPE is as eminently workable for tenants today as it was in 2002. They would be able to take advantage of a variety of affordable, low-down payment mortgage options that are available by various government agencies and private institutions that are being offered for first time homeowners.
Since the value of an apartment as a rental unit is so much less than its value as a condominium, the renter could buy it, under HOPE, at a greatly discounted price from its condo value, which would still be much greater than its value as a rental unit. The underlying principle is that only when the existing tenant(s), (be they one person, family or entity), is allowed to purchase the unit they are now renting, and the owner would like to sell that unit, the price will be substantially lower than the market price that the unit would sell for if it was a condo in the open market. The average price of all 5,685 rental units sold in San Francisco between January 2000 and April 2001 was just $156,000. Even if the average sale price for each HOPE unit is just $250,000, which is less than half the median price of a San Francisco condominium today, both landlord and tenants would benefit, and would have good reason to cooperate for mutual gain.
You might ask at this point why would an owner want to sell a unit to a tenant at a below market price? Prop R simply provided property owners with more flexibility for his or her investment than they now have under draconian rent-control laws. Since it is a totally voluntary proposal, he or she does not have to sell.
For the tenant, the reality is that in most cases the mortgage under HOPE would be less than the rent they are currently paying as a tenant.
As a result of HOPE, the quality of Life in San Francisco would greatly increase. Consider the following:
Safer Streets: When renters become owners, they gain a powerful incentive to keep their neighborhoods clean and their streets safe. Homelessness, litter, graffiti and drug dealing destroy neighborhoods. Homeowners have a stake in getting involved.
Better Schools: San Francisco has the lowest percentage of eligible children enrolled in its public schools of any city in California. When families buy homes and put down roots in San Francisco, they take on a powerful incentive to work for better schools for their children.
Lower Taxes: Homeowners and property owners shoulder the burden of City property taxes. Tenants don’t pay property taxes. When tenants become homeowners, they reap not only the financial benefits of property ownership, but they also share in the responsibility of paying property taxes that fund vital City services. By creating more taxpayers, the burden per homeowner is reduced. The City would get an increased tax base and much higher property tax revenue without having to increase tax rates.
San Francisco was built by working people from a diverse background. Unless we can provide housing opportunities for the next generation without new taxes or increased bureaucracy we would be ignoring a large part of our heritage that makes us what we are. Middle-income working families and other members of the aspiring middle class and service communities like teachers, firefighters, waiters, carpenters, shop owners, and indeed our own children that grew up in the City, are now forced to leave the City to find homes they can afford to own. Many of the single men and women that have chosen to make San Francisco their permanent home will spend their last years in a retirement or assisted living facility. The profit from the sale of a home in the City can mean the difference between a quality facility and a marginal one. HOPE might well be the last opportunity for those who can afford a $200,000 condo mortgage, but not $750,000 single family home.
HOPE was a win-win-win measure that is certainly worth revisiting. Tenants win a new, affordable means of homeownership, property owners with a new means of investing, and the City wins an increased quality of life resulting from having more rooted, concerned homeowners.
Now for you political aficionados who ask why the HOPE proposal did not pass in 2002 after over 24,000 signatures and some $580,000 were put forth as support for the measure. The answer is very simple and yet obscured in the political mire and deception that is so uniquely San Francisco. As the major proponent for the HOPE proposal, and on the advice of my cunningly deceptive staff aide at that time, who is a sitting Supervisor today, I mistakenly and unknowingly trusted the execution of that campaign to the very same people that were running the Care Not Cash campaign. We all know now what a colossal failure the Care not Cash program is, as it has resulted in over 2.5 billion dollars being spent annually out of our general fund to provide services for the same number of homeless people that we were providing aid to in 2004 at a cost then of only 200 million!
Unbeknownst at the time, the treasurer for both campaigns diverted the majority of the monies raised for HOPE into the Care Not Cash program. (This is the same person who incidentally filed an anonymous and bogus ethics charge against me, causing the City to waste a million dollars investigating me and then dismissing the case because their star witness committed perjury and falsified evidence!) What a Town, what an experience, and what a loss for San Francisco! Fortunately, the truth always comes out, and in the case of HOPE, it wasn’t the anti-private property poverty pimps or tenant activists that killed the measure, as the tenants could easily see that they had so much to gain. It was undermined by those who placed a competing measure on the ballot that was designed for political expediency in their quest for higher office over the common good of all the residents in San Francisco.
Now that we have had the benefit of time in reviewing and reliving our past mistakes, we must re-examine a program like HOPE. There is so much to gain by its implementation. As I said in the beginning of this article, Hope is a fascinating word. In my particular experience, trustworthiness and naiveté may have been my folly in the political arena, but hope is what keeps you alive.
Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Tony Hall is the former Dist. 7 Supervisor.
HARDING PARK: Neglected, Re-built — now Raided!
Rebuilding Harding Park into one of the finest Municipal golf courses in the country is a major achievement San Franciscans should be truly proud of, but unfortunately where opportunities to defraud the public are possible, in this fine City, they are inevitable. The financial shell game afoot at Harding will require more than the usual public scrutiny.
One of my campaign promises in 2000 was to rebuild and restore Harding to the splendor that it deserves. My goals at the outset were:
a) To ensure that residents and visitors in San Francisco have an exceptional recreational experience on a unique golf course at reasonable rates.
b) To rebuild a treasured facility that would return enough profit to the City to maintain all of the City run courses, and provide extra cash for our park needs.
c) To give our small businesses and community at large the opportunity to reap the estimated $50 to $80 million in benefits that the Tours and Tournaments would provide.
You might recall that in 1999, Mayor Willie Brown was pushing to privatize the course and that the Arnold Palmer group was set to takeover and run Harding for whatever profits could be extracted from a wonderful but dilapidated and run-down 1925 golf course. My vision and work regarding Harding was based on the belief that, because of the physical uniqueness of the golf course, it could become a recreational treasure to San Franciscans once again; a profit yielding goldmine for the City coffers and businesses, and another example of civic pride; all possible if handled properly. Mayor Brown enthusiastically signed the ensuing my legislation and it passed by unanimous vote at the Board of Supervisors on April 25th, 2002. The legislation contained the following guidelines:
• The need for Harding to be completely renovated in an environmentally sensitive fashion.
• Green fees were to be kept at a minimum thereby allowing golf to remain affordable and accessible to residents.
• The course was not to be privatized so that City coffers and local businesses would reap the benefits.
• A special “Golf fund” was to be established to capture golf course revenues that would be used to maintain all other City-run courses, with the excesses to be applied to neighborhood parks.
• A comprehensive youth golf program was to be established.
Tournaments such as the PGA TOURS and Presidents Cup should be a means and not an end, and as such should net the City at least one million dollars per tournament after all the City’s expenses and inconveniences to the local residents.
I enlisted the help of the private sector in order to add “insurance” to the revenue stream by getting the PGA to agree to make Harding Park the West Coast home of the PGA TOUR Championship. The agreement provided for course closure for a short period of time during each championship, and required payment to the City of a minimum of $1 million (including 50% of the net revenues) for each Tour Championship, which would be held every three years. The initial term of the agreement ran from Jan.1, 2006 through Jan.1, 2015 with options to renew for three additional nine-year terms. (A potential profit to the City of some $31 million, or double the cost to rebuild Harding.)
“Without even taking into consideration profits from the Tours and other ancillary charges, something is not adding up here, or someone in this administration is guilty of
“Enron style accounting”. I highly suspect the latter...”
I might add here that the first vote at the Board regarding the Harding Plan was a 10 to 1 against my legislation until I was able to convince all of my colleagues that their neighborhood parks would reap benefits from the profits of such a plan in perpetuity because of the way it was funded. Some months prior to the vote I discovered that there existed a grant to the City under the Per Capita Grant Program provided by the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Air, and Costal Protection Bond Act in the amount of $8.1 million and under the Roberti-Z’berg-Harris Block Grant Program in the amount of $5 million for a total of $13.1 million. These were State funds intended for the use of local neighborhood parks. My colleagues soon realized that when those funds were divided among the 11 supervisorial districts, a one-time infusion of approximately $1.1 million per district paled in comparison to sharing in perpetuity the profits that a well-run Harding Park and properly administered golf fund could provide. We all assumed that there would be honest and transparent administration of the Park and the resultant golf fund, and thus the $13.1 million was applied to the re-build of Harding.
Once I left office, the fun and games began. The current administration has exploited the plan to the detriment of the residents and taxpayers of San Francisco. Because of the large amounts of money involved, and the chance to use that money for purposes other than intended, nor are the guidelines of my approved legislation being adhered to.
In 2002, the annual projected revenue that a new Harding would produce was based on calculations that green fees for San Francisco residents would be set at $28 maximum, and for non-residents, $88 maximum. Using the historic yearly average of 77,650 rounds of golf played at Harding (not even taking into account the increase to be played on a newly renovated course) it would have to yield at least $2.4 million to $3 million per year in 2002 Dollars! After maintenance costs, and assuming that we would continue to employ professional golf-greens keepers, which we haven’t done, the City golf fund should have netted at least the $6.5 million over six years as predicted by Economic Research Associates in 2002, if not much more than that amount! Without even taking into consideration profits from the Tours and other ancillary charges, something is not adding up here, or someone in this administration is guilty of “Enron style accounting”. I highly suspect the latter as, in violation of the original agreement, green fees for residents have now been jacked up to $46 – $59 and for non-residents are forced to pay $135 – $155. Even simple math will show that there is just no way the course could be running at a loss!
I won’t bore you with more details to prove my point, but will comment on a few realities that San Franciscans should be aware of lest their City be sold out from underneath them.
1. Harding Park is not running at a loss as is being depicted by this administration in the local media. The Golf fund revenues are not being properly accounted for, and are being diverted into other uses that have nothing to do with course or park maintenance.
2. Cost overruns for the renovation of Harding ran the bill up to $16 million, not the $23.6 million being quoted. The overruns were due to Dept. of Rec and Park inefficiency and inclement weather conditions during the re-build. I would love to know where the other $7.6 million was supposedly spent, as it certainly wasn’t on Harding. The figure of $23.6 was never revealed during my tenure on the Board of Supervisors, it was not revealed until 2005.
3. As $13.1 million of the funding was in the form of State Grants, there is no need to make payments in the form of a loan for that amount, and the extra $2.9 million required for the overruns was to come out of the Rec and Park budget in 2002-3. There is no 25 year loan due date approaching soon unless the books have been cooked. Why?
4. Harding is being portrayed as an operating loss to the people of this City by this Mayor and the District 7 Supervisor (his rubber stamp on the Board). By so doing, they attempt to justify their efforts to “privatize” its operation. Privatization is not always bad as there are cases where a private concern can utilize efficiency that a municipality cannot in order to provide for the common good. In this case, “privatization” means turning the operation of Harding over to the Mayors special interest political donors so that they can realize the profits that the City is now making—profits that are not being honestly and truthfully disclosed.
Finally, Harding Park took a lot of work to put together, work by a lot of smart people who had the City’s interest at heart and knew how a world class City should operate. It was a wonderful gift to all the residents of San Francisco, be they golfers or non-golfers (like me). It was the first step in the plan to revitalize the entire Lake Merced area to the benefit of all City residents. As it stands now, Harding is just another one of our misused assets.
My intention is to shed a little light on what Harding Park and its re-build was for, and what it should be all about. If it were handled properly, Harding would yield untold resources and distinguish San Francisco as the City that still knows how.
Tony Hall is the former District 7 Supervisor
OBSERVATIONS AND PREDICTIONS
In the May issue of this wonderful little newspaper, I discussed the parking meter increases and escalating issuance of parking citations that our city policy makers have forced on San Franciscans who choose to use their own auto as a means of transportation. Well, needless to say, it has now become such an abuse of power that many people are reacting and searching for ways to fight back against this new form of “taxation without representation.” Once again we are being “conned” by our electeds as we have repeatedly been told that parking enforcement is all about the turnover of available parking spaces for customers of small businesses, and the encouragement of public transportation usage. Nothing could be further from the truth! Parking enforcement in San Francisco is first, foremost and last, only about the accumulation of revenue, revenue that is then poured into more useless and politically motivated programs that require more and more money to fund with no apparent end in sight or common benefit to be achieved.
Rather than repeat many of the examples and facts that I stated in my May column, I will comment on just a few of the ramifications that the more recent idiotic measures implemented by the Municipal Transportation Agency have resulted in.
Life in the western ring of the City, and especially here in District 7 is becoming increasingly more difficult because of parking control that has gotten out of control. As many of you know, the city is now issuing parking tickets for meter violations on most of our holidays. An unlucky few even received several tickets on this past Labor Day much to the embarrassment of the MTA. A disproportionate number of tickets are issued to Westside residents both as meter violations and on-street time limit violations simply because the Dept of parking and Traffic knows that generally, homeowners are a much easier target to both police and collect from. Homeowners are much more responsive to any type of fee or fine because they live here, and unlike tourists, visitors and renters, they are easy to locate should they not pay within the allotted 30 days. They are usually too busy with regular day jobs to take time from work to go downtown to protest a ticket. By and large they prefer to have as little to do with the punitive and harassment aspects of a dysfunctional local government as possible, so they pay the “tax” and put it behind them as quickly as possible.
Any retail business owner in any San Francisco neighborhood will tell you that one of the biggest impediments to the success of their business is the lack of available and adequate parking for their daytime customers. With $3.50 per hour meters and one hour time limits, (in many places just 20 minutes!) the MTA has done a masterful job in destroying small business and more and more shoppers flee to the suburbs to avoid the harassment. Now that our elected geniuses want to extend parking meter hours to 8 or 10 p.m. in a desperate effort to make up for their excessive spending that has caused the City to be a half a billion dollars in debt, they can embark on their mission to destroy movie theaters, restaurants, and all remaining forms of nighttime entertainment that our lifeblood—tourism—enjoys.
Time limits for residential street parking permits are being reduced from 4 hours to 2 hours in many neighborhoods under the guise of discouraging outsiders from parking there. The DPT is more than anxious to impose these permits because of the easy revenue generated. In many cases, residents were not even informed, surveyed or aware that their street was to be permitted, it just “happens” because “somebody” supposedly complains. Many people have come to me in the past six months to inquire as to how they can rid their streets of permit parking because they now realize that it’s not about keeping unwanted day parkers out, but an enormous source of revenue to the City. Rates are currently about $78.00 per year per car for street parking stickers but I can assure you that they will skyrocket under this administration. In Boston and Seattle, rates for permit parking on the street where you live can go as high as $5000 to $10,000 per year per car so I am sure our mayor will be looking to them to cite his beloved “best practices.”
The latest gimmick to raise dollars at the expense of drivers is the blatantly obvious speed traps that have sprung up around the Westside. Overstaffed with cops who obviously aren’t directed to do something better with their time, these strategic “entrapments” seem to be designed to snag unaware and in most cases, local or older drivers who may be outright “dangerous criminals” because they dared exceed the newly posted limits by a mile or two per hour, or failed to stop abruptly because a decoy has put a foot in a cross walk. Give us a break guys, there’s bigger fish to fry out there!
You might have read in the daily where the Oakland City Council is expected to roll back extended meter hours, increased rates and “ravenous ticketers” to avoid a revolt and recall of council members. (Chron: 9/21/09). They recently extended meter operation until 8 p.m. Their average meter cost per hour is less than $2.00 or about half the cost in S.F. Apparently the elected there are a bit more responsive to the cries of the people, who themselves seem to be a bit more concerned about how they are being ripped off. Perhaps they have discovered what the old-timers in the S.F’s municipal court knew long ago—if you raise rates too high, you reach a point of diminishing returns. The revenue collected no longer matches the effort to penalize and collect. Rather than hold the line or cut back, administration novices here tend to keep raising rates so that they can spend more, because that is all they really know how to do. Folks, Its time to make your feelings known.
OBSERVATIONS and PREDICTIONS:
1. It just came out in the news that the Obama administration does not favor turning Treasure Island over to the City for little or no cost. It is obvious that there are certain costs involved to the Navy for toxic clean up and they would like their costs to be covered. What is not revealed is that after the very embarrassing ACORN scandal, the administration does not want to be linked to giving such a valuable real estate gift to a group that controls the island’s development that is rife with corruption and the financial interests of very high ranking public figures.
2. As many of the residents of District 7 are now noticing, the potholes are starting to reappear on recently repaved streets. This was predicted as far back as the 1980’s in a report produced by then Chief Administrative Officer Roger Boas. He correctly predicted that unless the aging under surface infrastructure is dealt with properly, such street problems would reoccur at an ever-increasing rate. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted by this administration in an effort in to make things “look good” but not really fix the problem.
TELLIN’ IT LIKE IT IS
About two weeks after his re-election as Mayor, Gavin Newsom started ramping up his impressive PR machine and started blowing about the enormous deficit that is to impact our City budget. This was a very clever and necessary political move for him and granted, somewhat risky, because in reality his statements ran counter to the windfalls of the day that should have been giving our treasury a surplus.
Let me explain. During Newsom’s first term, the Assessor’s office was consistently being inundated with one real estate tax “raise,” “gain” or “windfall,” whatever you choose to call it, after another, as real estate prices soared and the resultant sales resulted in unprecedented revenue to the City. This massive change of increased property tax income amounted to at least a $2 billion dollar increase to the City coffers.
Now add this to the fact that Willie Brown left office providing annual budgetary surplus to the incoming regime in Rm. 200. That surplus was publicized to be near $65 million. For all his faults, Willie made some deals that were beneficial to the City, as did many of the Mayors before him, and that is because they took their responsibilities to the public seriously.
Newsom, the political empire builder, with little expertise in genuine government administration, and absolutely no concern for the “common good,” makes his move in order to prepare for the next higher office on his agenda. He hires hundreds of political assistants to fill newly invented administrative “middle management” positions, and thus installs his future “army of volunteers” when the run for governor comes around.
As a result, the annual City budget goes up from $4 billion to $6.6 billion as this gross overspending for personnel and, related benefits entwined with a multitude of bogus social programs, creates the small army that he needs to help in his governor’s campaign. As a result, we now end up with a budgetary deficit that exceeds $565 million dollars!
Never at a loss to exploit a current issue, concern or even people in his dedication to self promotion, (remember the homeless in care not cash, or the LGBT community in same sex marriage, etc etc. ad infinitem). He then inherits an easily supplied “blame” point to cite as the cause of the current budget deficit — the economic downturn! Never one to let an opportunity slip by, or reality and truth to get in the way, the very fact that the deficit that he created took place much earlier than the downturn is not even acknowledged or challenged, and his “PR spin machine” just keeps on rolling on!
Meanwhile, he is now cutting all the convenient scapegoat victims out of his misspent payroll scheme by laying off regular City maintenance, recreation, social service, and protective personnel while leaving his “volunteer army” untouched. Services that the public expects from local government are drastically cut in order for them to feel the “pinch” while his favored department heads and political appointments continue on with their empire building. Millions of dollars are squandered and unaccountable with meaningless social programs and development schemes that are only designed to attract media attention. Indeed, his “czar/business guru” for economic development, Mr. Michael Cohen of Hunters Point, Candlestick, Treasure Island and 49er fame, (just to mention a few), has yet to deliver on one single project for the City in eight years! It’s not about results, but the media attention that can be gained in preparation for his next political move. What he personally doesn’t cut in his budget, he then smirkingly forwards in his budget submission to a naïve and overzealous Board of Supervisors to do the rest of the dirty work.
Along with the “cutting” comes new methods of sucking more money out of an already strapped, trusting and yet apathetic public. Muni fares, parking meter rates, parking fines, recreational and licensing fees, and a whole array of new public charges soar to higher plateaus. All possible enforcement actions that could possibly produce new revenue are stepped up as our quality of life here in San Francisco deteriorates. All of this upsurge revenue activity is what one might call Newsom’s “volunteer army tax.” Police and fire services are cut, street and pavement conditions worsen and our recreational and public facilities deteriorate as bona fide civil servants and old school blue collar jobs are replaced with Gavin’s army of untouchable, make work neo-managers who run around engaged in meaningless and nonsensible mini-projects designed to attract attention. Quietly his army of political operatives posing as middle managers remain on the payroll while those who were truly dedicated to working for the public are laid off.
I am no stranger to how these City employed and funded political operatives take to the streets when a political campaign is shifted into gear, having had to fight them in several local campaigns. One only has to look at several of the recently elected Newsom lackeys and yes -men on the Board of Supervisors to understand how the least qualified and most duplicitous of characters can get elected. If you are willing to do his bidding, one can avail him or herself of unlimited campaign resources, and the sad fact is, they usually get elected. I can only imagine how “his army” will be mobilized for a statewide campaign. Thankfully these types of “volunteers” are usually just hacks doing a job for the boss and not heart-dedicated believers, so hopefully genuineness will prevail in the governor’s race.
To repeat, with the $2 billion windfall real estate tax surplus from the 2004-2007 years, and the $65 million surplus that this administration inherited from the former administration, this City today should be enjoying a fine surplus, and certainly be able to withstand the perils of the present economic downturn. Even If we just held our spending to what came in, or double that of Willie Brown’s last budget, plus the $2 billion dollar windfall, we would be in great shape. This of course would require some minor degree of integrity and moral responsibility, as opposed to political maneuvering. The $565 million deficit that we are faced with today was avoidable, is totally unnecessary, and directly attributable to Newsom’s political power needs. Hopefully, his city-funded army of political volunteers will be dismantled when his private army of wealthy backers comes to the inevitable realization that this guy cares about no one but himself.
Former Supervisor Tony Hall was elected Supervisor for District 7 in 2000.
An Island View
I am writing this column from Bere Island, a small island of two hundred people situated off the coast of Ireland, which of course is an island itself, off the coast of another island nation, off the coast of Europe! There might be some who say I am detached from reality here, but I can assure you, the bird’s eye view is indeed as astonishing as it is revealing!
I have spent several isolated long days and nights observing the local and national political scene over here and it is really something to witness. Their political dialog is a combination of sophisticated and aggressive mass confusion, the likes of which would never be fully understood or tolerated in the States, although they are becoming much more “Americanized” in their campaign tactics than they would like to admit. For the first time in more than forty years of visiting Ireland, I now see political posters being placed on public poles, glossy, truth-stretching pamphlets being distributed, and well-financed and organized campaigns being conducted by absolute novices with very little public service experience. Like home, they set out to have their particular “save the world views” imposed on a weary and somewhat distrustful public. The Irish are much more direct in expressing their displeasure, their doubts, and yes, their support along with prayers and even a few rosaries if there is just something about you that they like or can relate to. They are a wonderful trusting people and yet one gets the immediate sense that there is really nothing new in the way of political shenanigans that they haven’t seen. Their penchant for wanting to talk, preferably all at the same time, rather than listen, makes them unique and I suspect rather difficult to engage in a campaign. They do however seem to relish the sport of the political game, just like any good football match, thoroughbred horse race or greyhound dog contest. The latest versions and concepts of state-run capitalism vs. free market enterprise, or big brother socialism vs. individualism, or conservative vs. liberal, are all taken for granted, never mentioned, but yet all creatively commented on to anybody that will lend an ear. Maybe one of the big differences between Europeans and Americans is that we tend to take ourselves seriously, and care about such concepts and how they directly affect our lives.
Bank bail-outs, corporate greed, rising taxes and a growing sense that the people running our governments really don’t know what they are doing seem to be the common belief that binds most people today in countries all over the free world. If there is an international consensus, it is firstly, that nobody knows how to get us out of the dire predicament we find ourselves in, and secondly, that despite senior management fall out, the banks still seem to be driving the agenda. Indeed everything that has been done so far by the government leaders in both nations has been to prop up the banks to the virtual exclusion of everything else including the retention of jobs. At this point it doesn’t seem like the billions, or should I say trillions of dollars that the banks have been guaranteed by today’s and future generations of taxpayers are being translated into eased credit that is so vital to the business sector. The purpose of the toxic loan rescue plan by way of government money was not to deposit money in the banks; it was to ensure that the banks were in a position to continue lending to keep the economy moving. The banks, among the biggest contributors worldwide to this recession, have simply taken the money and locked it up in their vaults. Under no circumstances should they now be allowed to dictate the pace in the ongoing rescue of our economies.
Like in the States, the economy here in Ireland is at a virtual stand still because of the banking situation. This is where good government is supposed to step in. The government leaders who were supposed to be monitoring and regulating that industry are ever so quick to pass blame to anyone but him or herself. Doesn’t this sound familiar? It’s the same the world over; government leaders have encouraged us to blame anything and everyone else lest we focus too hard on their own contribution to the disaster. Some of the more misguided elected and pundits even go so far as to try to foolishly assert that greed is only synonymous with the free enterprise capitalist system and therefore the system must be changed. They apparently haven’t been made aware of how past societies that operated under a state controlled or socialist system have fallen apart because of the inherent greed of its leaders. Greed exists in all forms of governance. How the people who run the government treat greed is the telling and deciding factor. No doubt in the boom years of the past, many people benefited as well as the banks. The developers, the brokers, the home sellers and buyers, the lobbyists etc., etc., but the Government also got a huge boost in the resultant property tax revenues. Indeed it was the government itself that was encouraging the issuance of sub-prime loans and irresponsible banking policies that caused the problem. The boom years suited those in power and with largesse in hand, the so-called regulators and party hacks weren’t about to call a halt to their own acquisition of power and “political greed.” It is now glaringly clear that these so called leaders have neither ability nor conscience and it is time for the average person to invest some real thought and scrutiny before they cast their vote. I am sure that there are critics of any writer that attempts to divulge certain realities, and therefore I will attempt to offer a simple solution that even they would find it hard to disagree with. In my opinion, we have had enough of the “celebrity politician” who has no bona fide background in public service or public policy administration other than what the glossy pamphlets tell you. This type of “politician” is usually backed by self-serving donors, and has no notion or concept of serving the common good, only his ego-driven career. They are guilty of the most heinous of crimes by repeatedly deceiving the very people they are suppose to represent. Since we are now being forced to foot the bill for their incompetence and falsities, I think it is high time we start seeking out and electing people who have demonstrated in their respective fields that they possess the honesty, integrity and courage to stand up against the forces of corruption, greed and self-promotion at others expense. Now, more than ever, we need people who at least will try to do the right thing for the people they represent. Only when we start to witness our leaders serve the common good will future leaders arise that might be able to affect positive change.
Tony Hall is the former Supervisor for District 7.
ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THE PARKING!
My Good friend George Lum, a longtime City employee and Fiscal Officer for the Courts, recently paid me a visit and expressed his views about how difficult and expensive it is to try and drive and park in San Francisco. I suspect his views reflect the thoughts of many residents who live in our City. He brought up some very interesting facts that I thought were worth repeating. Like myself and many other civil servants who believe in public accountability, George is astounded at the ignorance, arrogance and audacity of today’s generation of policy makers who seem to have their heads screwed on backwards and thus subject a trusting public to the expenses of their circular reasoning.
Consider for example the following facts: In 1970, the average fine for a parking meter violation was $3. Today the fine averages $50 to $70 depending upon what part of the City you received the ticket. In 1970, the City wide meter fee was 10 cents per-hour, today it ranges from $2.50 to $3.50 per-hour. You do the math. Has our City’s population increased? Have our curbs, streets and signage been maintained, as was the original purpose for the fees? Are the most recently proposed increases remotely related to the welfare of our struggling storeowners or residents who must use their autos? Do we even really know where the proceeds of these gigantic revenues are spent? I think it is high time for the public to weigh in and stop accepting all the lame reasons that the robber barons put forth in order to increase the amount of your money that they spend while building their political empires.
The Municipal Transportation Agency, in its latest round of incompetent lunacy, has proposed a 50 cent per-hour increase in Parking meters, and the extension of the hours of operation and enforcement of those meters every day and night until 10 PM and—get this—Sundays included! I mean really, who are these people working for? They also want to limit each meter user to one hour during the day and up to four hours during the evening and increase garage rates at least $2 more per-hour. All of this money grabbing is at the expense of those who out of necessity must drive a car as opposed to those who actually use municipal transportation. (Look out residents of District 7!) One genius who works at the chamber of commerce said “these proposals are great from a business perspective because it will encourage turnover!” (I believe this was the same character who proposed building-up our movie industry revenues by empowering 3rd rate local extras as opposed to enticing top-flight movie producers from Hollywood.) Well, to be honest with you and yes, realistic, these proposals will do absolutely nothing but further erode the attractiveness of downtown and neighborhood shops and penalize the auto driver. Any amateur student of public policy can tell you that someone suffers when fines and fees are increased. I don’t know of anyone who can get anything accomplished in one hour downtown and the four-hour limit in neighborhoods will only pit residents against merchants without any new parking being made available.
Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I had the pleasure of serving with Mr. Lum. As Court administrators, we had the opportunity to analyze the impact that an increase in parking fines and fees would have on the public, as it was then under the auspices of the Municipal Court. The surprising results invariably demonstrated that any such increases resulted in more scofflaws (people who don’t pay their fines), more expensive enforcement in relation to revenue netted and certainly less “customer satisfaction”. At least, back then, we tried to justify any increase with input from all concerned parties, and then provide the public with something in return for their inconvenience.
It was during that period of time that I originated the location for the new Civic Center Courthouse on McAllister and Van Ness, paid for by an extra $1.00 being added on to each fine collected. Today such analysis and constructive projects are totally ignored as the whole issue of public parking is seen only as it relates to the bottom line.
Another observation: back then a parking meter enforcement officer was hired at approximately $68,000 including benefits and was expected to generate about 150% of his or her cost to the City per-year. Today they are hired at a much, much more expensive rate when benefits are included, and expected to produce 300% percent revenue in relation to their cost. Parking and the fees and fines associated with it have become a massive money source and local politicians have discovered they can engage in “taxation without representation” without even having to explain where the money is going.
We are told that the newly proposed increases will generate an additional $9.5 million for a municipal transportation agency that is running a deficit of $129 million per year. What we are not being told is the additional personnel costs associated with the enforcement and collection for the extended hours and the effect upon our quality of life here in San Francisco.
I know there are many people who believe in the “transit first” policy that has been in effect for the past 30 years and there is merit to that. I would be much happier if the policy had produced a mass transit system that—after so much invested time, material and money—actually works, is efficient, and pays for itself without discriminating against people who use autos. The solution is to concentrate on improving the transit system by making it self-sufficient, streamlining the routes, reviewing the hiring and work practices of personnel, and imposing modern stringent guidelines.
Now back to the automobile and how to handle its parking. The answer is certainly not to penalize or discourage its user as this only hurts the local economy. Other cities—and yes, even our sister city down south, Los Angeles—has embarked upon a policy of accommodating the auto-user with reasonable parking and rates that encourage the revitalization of the downtown sector. The conversion of property to provide safe, reasonable and convenient parking for Americans’ unique and undeniable fascination with the auto is something that we should no longer deny but embrace. As much as we like to think that we here in San Francisco always know better, there are still some things that we must face up to. Our desire to demonstrate that almost all human activity can be regulated or legislated is beginning to make us look foolish and stifle our image as a world class City. We can do better than this!
Tony Hall has worked for the city for 30 years and represented District 7 on the Board of Supervisors from 2000 – 2004
TREASURE ISLAND or FANTASY ISLAND?
Today, I just returned from Treasure Island where I was able to witness the only positive excitement to take place on that fantasyland since I left as Director there. An exciting game of Rugby followed by expert practitioners of the ancient sport of Gaelic football thrilled my heart, not only because of the athleticism involved, or the fact that the idea for the fields for such venues was spawned during my administration of the Island, but more by the fact that something real was actually happening there!
For many of you who have followed the history of Treasure Island, your head must be spinning as fast as the Newsom administration manufactures another fantasy plan to keep the public in a revolving state of hope while he and his biggest political donors milk another unknowing potential investor. With the upcoming Governor’s race getting underway, I suspect that once again “Campaign Newsom” will come up with yet the latest plan to attract attention, dutifully detailed in their “campaign rag” the Chronicle, and affectionately affirmed by the “campaign lackeys” that he has placed on the City payroll, on various commissions, and the Board of Supervisors. (Remember Care not Cash? Well that little spin is now costing you—the taxpayer—about 2 billion annually compared to the 2 million when Newsom took office!) Perhaps his latest plan for Treasure Island might involve a politically correct, ecologically advanced, astrologically ligned, and magnetically balanced center for the study of political exploitation!
You might recall that Darius Anderson, the politically connected Democratic lobbyist and fundraiser, who as the principal of the Treasure Island Development Corporation (TIDC), acquired the exclusive rights to negotiate for the development of Treasure Island by delivering multi-millions to the campaigns of Willie Brown and Newsom. Anderson, who has never built a doghouse, must now dangle his carrot to other builders who might fancy the elusive dream to build on the Island now that the Lennar Corporation seems to have fallen on tough times, and doesn’t seem willing to buy out Anderson’s position in the development scheme. At a recent sighting, the ultimate broker, Aaron Peskin, was seen holding hands with Anderson and none other than what is left of the Residential Builders Association (formerly headed by Joe O’Donahue) at the Washington Square Bar and Grill a few weeks ago at a mysterious fundraiser. See link http://www.fogcityjournal.com/wordpress/2009/03/16/the-crackberry-chronicles-luck-o-the-irish-edition/#comments
A bit of advice to my Irish brethren: C’mon now lads, haven’t ye been fleeced enough? Don’t let the likes of these scoundrels dip into your pockets!
For those readers who might want to refresh their memories about the corruption at Treasure Island, try reading some of the many articles written by Chuck Finnie 1998-1999 for the Hearst Examiner and later with the Chronicle. They really were quite accurate and well researched and can be found on the net.
Interestingly though, Finnie’s passion for exposing the truth seemed to evaporate at Newsom’s Coronation, and he was most silent during the time when I exposed the “sweetheart deal” that Newsom was trying to get me to go along with as Director of the Island in 2004-5.
It is no wonder that the Chronicle is going out of business as a newspaper that reports the facts.
I accepted the job at Treasure Island with the sincere belief that this mayor really wanted to do something with Treasure Island that was beneficial to the City. After a 30 year career of City Service involving many building projects in seven different City Departments, I believed I could initiate a development project that would, after significant seismic stabilization and a true open competitive bidding process as mandated by the City charter, result in a project that would return millions to our general fund every year thereafter. Boy, was I fooled! This mayor, as has his predecessor, only used this dream in the middle of our Bay to raise political capital and exploit those willing to donate.
In short, you might recall that I was released as Director of Treasure Island when I refused to go along with the latest round of corruption involving the Island in 2005. The Mayors Office insisted upon renewal of the contract for TICD (the Anderson group) for exclusive negotiation and developmental rights, despite the fact that that group had not met the terms of its contract, including substantial payment shortfalls for specific developmental milestones, as well as a series of discarded timetable extensions that continue till this day. Needless to say, the mayor engineered my ouster when I refused to sign the contract that would again allow his largest political donors to continue their scam by having the Island administration pick up their expenses while they publicized ever changing plans in their search for deep pockets. I refused to compromise my ideals in favor of an effort to recover integrity for the future of any true development of the Island, but to no avail. His hand-picked, seven-member board of political hacks voted to terminate my services in the midst of considering a raise for me and my staff for a very successful year and a half of management that resulted in businesses and spirit returning to the Island. To justify their actions at that time, they alleged the altering of books at Treasure Island. This false allegation came after the Controller, Mr. Ed “never let the truth get in the way” Harrington, sent an anonymous letter to the Chronicle. The only problem with their play was, that since the Treasure Island Development Authority was under the auspices of the Mayors Office, it was the Controller himself who was handling our books! Harrington is the same cat who is now in charge of the SFPUC and is most responsible for your water rates skyrocketing.
The vindictiveness of this mayor and the “lackeys” that surround him is unprecedented in San Francisco. Anyone who has ever opposed him or his programs has been the subject of a subsequent media smear, investigation by the so-called Ethics Commission, or direct mail hit campaign. Indeed, since my tenure on the Board of Supervisors, they have launched one attack and defamatory allegation after another, all because I dared question the status quo. Much to their embarrassment, their final attempt to besmirch my reputation, a phony Ethics Commission investigation cost that department almost a million dollars to conduct. Because I chose to fight rather than accept their cowardly abuse, their tactics involving perjury and falsification of evidence were exposed. Truth won out and I was exonerated.
The reality and the facts are as follows: 1. Treasure Island today sits as a rotting, decaying toxic parcel of 500 acres of man-made terrain in the middle of the bay. 2. It is still owned by the Navy, who has refused to turn it over to the City, which acts as a caretaker. 3. The Navy has a financial investment and responsibility in the future development of the Island and knows what so many of us now know. They have become skeptical with respect to the sincerity of the City and the ability of the Anderson group to put forth a concrete redevelopment plan after more than twelve years. Take for example, Newsom’s latest fantasy plan that calls for a space- age green development with several 40 to 60 story residential, retail and hotel towers, new low-income neighborhoods, no on-island driving, a ferry terminal (that the State has already nixed) to accommodate the low-income resident boaters(!), and the best of all, a 40 acre organic garden! All of this is going on top of 8 ft. of toxic bay land fill that floods year after year and sits on top of the most active earthquake fault in the bay area! I certainly don’t know what this guy is smoking but this latest fantasy surely isn’t the result of the red wine that he claimed he was addicted to.
My efforts and opinions at this time are being directed to San Franciscans who really care about our City. I am not deliberately trying to deride anyone or prevent him or her from attaining their dream of higher office, but I do draw a line at the cost to the public. In fact, with most of them, the sooner they move on to their great ‘white house in the sky’ the better for those of us who remain. My hope today is that future public servants can be encouraged to emerge who are dedicated to ensuring that San Francisco will rise above the pitfalls of corruptive influences while retaining a growth towards the world class status that our outstanding attractions deserve. My wish for all San Franciscans, is that we can re-establish standards of integrity based upon transparent political accountability that will diminish the dubious empirical exploitations of corruption that have befallen our wonderful City.
Former Supervisor Tony Hall was Director of
the Treasure Island Development Authority in 2004-5)
Truth Wins Out
By Tony Hall
At long last, my campaign committee and I have been vindicated, and found not guilty of any violations of FPPC rules and regulations. In my 30 years of public service, I have always fought against such abuse and injustice, and those of you who know me, and have helped me accomplish so much over the years, know the truth. To you and your unwavering support I am grateful. Yes, truth is the most powerful weapon against those who seek to advance their own careers by disparaging others. At long last, our efforts in pursuit of what is right and legal have won out over that which is corrupt and politically motivated.
It’s unfortunate that the most important aspect of the four-year, million-dollar investigation, some have called it a “witchunt,” conducted against us was not reported accurately by
the mainstream press. This is no coincidence, since
the purpose of this injustice was to destroy my reputation.
Mayoral sympathizers did not figure that I would fight
and that two very savvy attorneys, David Waggoner and Peter
Bagatelos, both honorable men, would donate their time and expertise.
The mainstream dailies, dutifully reported the charges against
me, then ignored the vindication of those charges or the criminal violations including perjury and tainted evidence perpetrated by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s Aide, Olivia Scanlon, the Ethics Commission’s star witness. Not one word was printed regarding the origin of the anonymous, bogus complaints alleging that we had committed some $300,000 worth of campaign violations. Not one word was printed about the “ethics” investigator Richard Mo, who led a commission of political hacks, chaired by wannabe Judge, Susan Harriman without regard for due process, on their four-year campaign of character assassination. Even when the truth was uncovered, the “press” failed to report it, and the committee continued their million dollar taxpayer funded folly regardless. As a final gasp, the committee imposed a nominaly face-saving token fine, against my election committee without support of any findings of fact or law.
When a so-called “ethics” commission is nothing more than a Kangaroo Court for those currently in power, and the only people
“investigated” are those who have been critical of the current administration, then we have corruption. When the press doesn’t report the facts, citizens are deprived of the right to know and reputations are severely damaged. I sincerely thank David and Peter for having the guts to stand with me.
How all of this come about? In 2004, after I conducted a very successful re-election campaign in District 7, Mayor Newsom repeatedly asked me to take over and develop Treasure Island. I had a successful record of developing facilities, such as Civic Center Courthouse, Hall of Justice and related court renovations, Harding Park, Lake Merced, Youth Guidance Center, and various neighborhood improvements. I realized that if Treasure Island were developed properly, it could yield tremendous revenue to the City, so I accepted the position. I knew I could accomplish more than I could in four years as the Lone Ranger on a left-leaning
Board of Supervisors with a weak Mayor. Little did I realize that the Mayor’s biggest monetary donors were in line to be gifted the exclusive right to develop the Island without public
review, engaging in the mandated process of bidding, or even being held accountable for the millions that they already owed the Project. When I questioned these sacred cows, my reputation was attacked and the Mayor orchestrated my ouster by another one
of his handpicked Boards.
Treasure Island was, and is, in reality just another “dream” that Newsom “spins” to the public while exploiting it as personal political capitol. The project remains a decaying junkyard that even the Navy has refused to go along with. On reflection, Newsom successfully maneuvered me off the Board of Supervisors, to silence the only moderate voice that scruitinized him from the other side of the political spectrum. My foolish mistake.
When I opposed “care not cash” as a supervisor, I felt Newsom was exploiting the homeless issue as a politically expedient campaign tactic. As I predicted, it would gouge the taxpayer and would not work. Today, we are spending over 2 billion dollars per year to provide the “care” that was formerly costing 200 million dollars for the exact same number of homeless individuals roaming our streets in 2004. The homeless are no better off now than they were before. Now they are imprisoned in a never-ending cycle of induced dependency for city services, without any “cash” and we still have panhandlers.
Newsom moved on to exploit the LGBT community. Same sex marriage was never an issue in San Francisco’s live-and-let live atmosphere. It became another campaign tactic for Newsom in his quest for higher office. The resultant Prop 8 now pits neighbor against neighbor in never ending court battles while Newsom searches for his next exploitation.
Our city budget is 3 times what it was 5 years ago when Newsom took office, 10 times higherthan it was 10 years ago, and is projected to be at least 600 million in the red for next year, with no change in population.
Exploitive spin for political expediency does not pay the bills. This era of political exploitation will end when we elect officials who want to serve the common good rather than their own careers. Knowing how to “fix the city” would be a bonus.
Why I Bowed Out of the Race for District Supervisor
To the many residents of District 7 who urged me to run for re-election as your Supervisor, I express my sincere thanks and gratitude. Thank you for the many wonderful accomplishments we achieved together, and gratitude for allowing me to serve you. By now you know that I will not be a candidate because the City and State retirement systems informed me that after a 30 year career in local Government, as an executive in eight different Departments, the pension benefits that my family currently depends on would be permanently halved if I returned at the level of Supervisor. I even volunteered to return for no pay but was declined via an opinion by the City Attorney.
It is important to understand why I considered running again. As your Supervisor, I kept the promises I made to you during the campaign of 2000 to resolve our district’s biggest problems. In the ensuing four years, we did just that. Now, those who place political ambition before public service threaten much of what we accomplished.
We re-built Harding Park as one of the finest municipal golf courses in the country with the understanding that it would be maintained for affordable resident use, attract lucrative PGA tournament dollars for our City coffers, and most important, that it would remain a public course, not fall into private hands (AKA highest political donors!) as is now being promoted by our local politicians.
We restored Lake Merced to all-time water level highs and set the course for its restoration as one of the most unique family recreation districts of any city in the country. That project is now being pushed off by our local representative as a Public Utilities “watershed project” thereby eliminating the responsibility of the Recreation and Park Department in the development of that park.
We passed the legislation for the re- build of Laguna Honda Home for our senior citizens in need. That mission and the bond monies that you voted for is now wrongfully distorted and misused as our local representatives push for halfway house for care-not cash recipients.
We passed the necessary legislation to build the new Youth Guidance Center complete with vocational and rehabilitative services so that our misguided youngsters could have the opportunity to become productive members of our society as opposed to runaways from city-sponsored halfway houses. Any opinion as to the rationale for San Francisco to remain a “sanctuary city” is absurd and an affront to families of the recent victims of such a ridiculous policy.
We completed the renovation of the Ocean Avenue commercial corridor so that our small businesses would be encouraged to prosper as opposed to penalizing them with ever-increasing fee hikes, as is suggested by the Board and Mayor today.
To preserve our neighborhood character such we prevented construction on Edgehill Mountain and excessive development at Stonestown. Today, unbridled developments at SF State, Park Merced, Brotherhood Way, Wawona and Sloat threaten to clog 19th Ave. with nightmarish traffic and undo the many neighborhood traffic safety precautions we installed. Sutro Tower is again gearing up for unprecedented expansion.
We passed many Quality of life and public nuisance laws and ordinances relating to public cleanliness, obstruction of justice, the monitoring of homeless encampments and increased police presence. Today these laws are not being enforced.
I initiated district Town Hall meetings and formed the District 7 Council so that your voice would be heard. Today, that Council is non-existent.
The above “State Of The District” is not meant to castigate anyone, but rather serve as a guideline to what you should be demanding of your district representative. Politics is a tough business, and we must support those who step up to the plate, but also distinguish between those whose motivation is to serve the public as opposed to satisfying ones political ambitions. Being able to stand up for what is right and do something for the common good of all the people is what is most important in the political world. You have the right to expect that from your representatives. You have my word that I will continue to fight for that principle above all else.
Supervisor Hall is retired, but promises to keep in touch with the residents of the area and will contribute to the West of Twin Peaks Observer as his time permits.
Another Family Exodus is Another San Francisco Loss
By Tony Hall
Many of us read the article that appeared in the Chronicle on June 22, “Exodus of S.F.’s middle class” with yet another sense of disappointment and sadness at the ever-escalating trend for families to leave the City. San Francisco is again at a crossroads.
Why does this unhealthy deterioration of our social fabric continue? According to the article, it is primarily due to ever-rising cost of homes and real estate that is transforming our City into a “Disneyland for yuppies.” A city in which only households of at least two high income wage earners can exists. I say it is due to much more than that.
Could it be that San Francisco is losing the very spirit that drove so many people here to start with? How many of our predecessors came here with the vision of a place where they could live in relative harmony, in a “live and let live” lifestyle, with people of diverse backgrounds and make-up, in an atmosphere of excitement and beauty, and hope that the future they would carve out for themselves and their families would be enduring, enriching, and affordable? How many of us with moderate incomes and growing families’ hope that the “Spirit of San Francisco” is alive, in spite of the constant assault on family living?
The barrage of rising fees and costs that our local government is imposing on our daily lives is almost as if our City leaders have declared war on the “Family Lifestyle.”
Consider these facts:
• San Francisco has the highest cost per capita of any City in the country for its municipal government and for questionable services at best.
• Our budget is higher than that of 20 states.
• We have one City worker for every 26 residents – the highest ratio in the country.
• Our education system is bankrupt and has gone from top ranked nationally to embarrassingly low, and still engages in reapportionment, depriving youngster’s admittance to their school of choice.
• The Department responsible for protecting our families is in constant turmoil and disarray, unable to lower one of the highest crime rates in the country, despite having our very able young men and women eager to join to protect and serve.
• Households with multiple members pay a disproportionate share of water and utility costs.
• Skyrocketing permit and other fees, not to mention parking fees and meter tickets that discourage patronage, besiege families and small businesses.
• Little league and youth sports must now compete with non-recreational activities to utilize our parks that are in dire need of repair and maintenance.
All the while, this administration has added some 24% new senior executives to manage a city workforce of almost 29,000 for a population that hasn’t increased in decades.
I have no ill will towards the politicians that are in office today. Many of them lack experience, or are in situations that are beyond their control, but they must work for us and with us if we are to see any real change in our City. My experience has shown me that the best type change occurs when people unite together in both spirit and ideas to work for the common good.
Family is important to me and that is why I chose to serve our city. As a father of seven, I know how legislation can help or hurt family living. As your Supervisor, most of the legislation I authored was geared to encourage family life. I developed Harding Park so that all parks in San Francisco would benefit from the revenue from such a marvelous facility, if managed correctly. I spearheaded the restoration of Lake Merced in hopes that it would be eventual home of the most unique piece of family recreational real estate of any city in the country. I led the rebuild of the new Youth Guidance Center, replete with new educational and vocational opportunities so that our troubled youth may have a second chance. I created the enabling legislation that would have allowed Laguna Honda to continue serving our seniors in need, but unfortunately that mission, too, is now being diverted. To our young start up families, I proposed allowing them to purchase the apartments they lived in from landlords who were willing to sell them to them so that they too may invest in a “piece of the rock.” Our re-build of Ocean Ave. was a testimony to the good that small business can provide a community. I authored and passed numerous pieces of legislation affecting quality of life, not only for taxpayers, but also the less fortunate and homeless, because they too are part of the common good.
Yes, the cost of real estate has escalated, but so has the desire of many families who wish to call San Francisco home if their needs were not neglected. This downward spiral in quality of life here in San Francisco will not be turned around by just declaring enough is enough. We must start demanding “real results” for the common good from those in elective office.
Do not lose faith, lest you lose your spirit! San Franciscans are indeed a unique, tough, wonderful and caring breed. Fortunately, things do evolve and change, but a lot of it depends upon whether you really want it to, or not. Your voice makes a difference, so let it be heard. It is through you that change will occur.
Tony Hall has worked for the city for 30 years and represented District 7 on the Board of Supervisors from 2000 – 2004