P & U Housing Solutions

The affordable housing crisis has been the topic of conversation and focus of headlines for years – with implications that stretch far beyond rental rates and home prices. The affordability crisis threatens our City's work force, cultural diversity, and school system, to name just a few.

As Budget Chair, I've overseen record-setting investment in expanding our affordable housing supply to help tackle this crisis. But to make the most of this investment, we must have common-sense policies in place that guide our efforts.

That's why I'm supporting Propositions U and P this November. Both measures will help give more San Franciscans access to affordable housing options, and will be vital steps in preserving the City's spirit and vitality.

Proposition U addresses the housing needs of working and middle-income residents, who are currently struggling to afford the sky-rocketing housing prices but also do not currently qualify for affordable units. While San Francisco has spent millions to build new affordable housing over the past decade, only 8% of our below-market-rate rental units are available to middle-income residents. This has led to a drastic decline in the City's middle-income population. Teachers, nurses, artists, construction workers, food service workers, and first responders are forced to move out of San Francisco because they simply can't afford it.

Proposition U will expand the income requirements for individuals and families who can qualify for below-market-rate units, allowing households who make up to 110% of the Bay Area median income to qualify for certain affordable housing units. This will allow two person households making up to $94,750 and four person families making up to $106,650 annually to enter the lottery for designated below-market-rate units, while ensuring that any household that secures a unit will pay no more than 30% of their income on rent. In other words, this measure gives working and middle-income families a fighting chance to stay in San Francisco.

While Proposition U allows more San Franciscans to access affordable housing, Proposition P promises to make the process by which the City builds affordable units more efficient and transparent. Today, the cost to build an affordable housing unit in San Francisco often exceeds the cost to build a luxury condo because market-rate developments undergo a competitive bid process while our affordable units are built without the same regard for price.

Under the current system, the Mayor's Office of Housing invites developers to submit competing proposals for affordable housing projects; however, most projects get only one bid, and as a result, there is insufficient competition, which leads to more expensive construction. In fact, the vast majority of projects in the past five years have been rewarded to the same handful of developers that know how to work the system.

Proposition P will change this. It will require the City to consider at least three competing bids before awarding a contract for an affordable housing project, taking into account each bid's proposed community-design process, the sustainability and durability of the project, and the community-oriented services included, in addition to the cost. This will ensure that we get the best-quality construction for the best price.

There is no easy solution to the affordability crisis, but it is our responsibility as San Franciscans to do everything we can to address its complex causes. By ensuring that our taxpayer dollars are being put to work effectively to build more units, and by taking steps to expand housing options for working and middle income residents, we can make important strides in this uphill battle.

Mark Farrel is the District 2 (Richmond) Supervisor.

October 2016

Don't Be Fooled – P & U are Bad for Affordable Housing

In the midst of the worst housing crisis in our City's history, a coalition of nonprofit housing advocates and public policy leaders are developing innovative and significant ways to expand affordable housing options for low- and middle-income San Franciscans. Unfortunately, at the same time, voters are now faced with two misguided and poorly crafted measures by the San Francisco Realtors that threaten to reverse our hard-fought progress: Propositions P and U on the November ballot.

One claims it will "lower the costs" of building affordable housing. The other says it will create more affordable housing for "middle-class families."

But don't be fooled. These propositions by the Realtors don't create a single new unit of affordable housing. They will, however, take affordable housing options away from the City's families who are most at risk, stall the creation of new housing, and lower the quality of projects that are built. They are developer and real estate give-aways, plain and simple, that will hurt everyday San Franciscans.

Prop P – Less Affordable Housing, More Shoddy Housing

The Realtors' Proposition P claims to lower the cost of building affordable housing by requiring the City's housing department to collect three proposals for any affordable housing project before being able to move forward. In reality, Prop P is a "solution" looking for a problem that doesn't exist and will in reality only hamstring the City at a time when not a day can afford to be wasted from building urgently needed affordable housing. In fact, the City already has a proven competitive bidding process that takes several criteria into account, including cost, experience with similar projects, quality of design, and the extent to which the proposal fits community needs. The result has been thousands of high quality homes and the creation and enhancement of vibrant, healthy neighborhoods.

Under Proposition P, the City will be forced to go the low road, taking any proposals regardless of their quality and potentially ending up with shoddy "affordable" housing. It could even pave the way for big out of town and private developers to build our City's "affordable" housing. We already have plenty of experience with "low-cost" housing – concrete blocks of low-quality housing built on the cheap in past decades. San Francisco doesn't need more shoddy housing that we have to fix later, especially when our existing process results in high quality, well-constructed homes. This is a dangerous step backwards for affordable housing.

This San Francisco Realtors' measure also has the potential to stop some affordable homes from being built in the first place. In their analysis of the measure, the Mayor's Office of Housing said Proposition P could "indefinitely stall a development opportunity or delay much-needed affordable housing."

Prop P is dangerous ballot-box planning that removes the City's ability to continue making thoughtful and timely decisions, and will end up with less affordable housing for San Francisco.

Prop U – Developer Give-Away that Divides San Franciscans

Last June, voters overwhelmingly supported Proposition C, the increase to the City's affordable housing requirement on private developers. San Franciscans understand that developers, in this strong market, can and should do more to create "inclusionary" housing in their new projects. They also voted to dedicate, for the first time, affordable housing for middle-income as well as low-income San Franciscans. Sixty-eight percent of San Francisco voters supported Prop C in the June 2016 election.

The Realtors' Proposition U un-does what voters just approved in June while giving developers and realtors huge windfall profits. It does this in a crafty way by eliminating the City's longstanding requirement that developers make the inclusionary housing in their buildings affordable to low-income families. Instead, it allows them to market the "affordable" units at double the current rent levels.

In place of the current mixed-income system that serves both low- and middle-income families, Prop U creates a one-tier system that forces those families to compete against each other for the same limited supply of housing.

And in what is perhaps the most devious aspect of the Realtors' measure, Proposition U would apply retroactively to more than 800 existing affordable housing units, setting the stage for increases in evictions and allowing landlords to double the rents on vacated units.

San Francisco has worked long and hard to create a fair process for inclusionary housing – one that sets aside units in private market development for both low- and middle-income families. In the name of developer and realtor profits, Prop P takes away low-income housing, creates incentives for eviction, and doesn't add a single unit of new affordable housing. And it will divide San Franciscans, pitting middle-income families against low-income families.

Propositions P and U, put on the ballot by the San Francisco Realtors, are bad for San Francisco families and will turn back the progress we are making to keep the City affordable and fight real estate speculation. That's why a broad coalition of affordable housing, business, and neighborhood leaders, including the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and the San Francisco Neighborhood Network, urge you to oppose P and U on November 8th.

Fernando Martí is co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations (CCHO), a coalition of 23 affordable housing and community economic development advocates in San Francisco. He is a licensed architect, writer and exhibiting artist. He was a founder of the SF Community Land Trust and UrbanIDEA

October 2016

Meeting A
Longstanding Need:

A Housing & Development Commission

City officials and residents alike have been talking about a Housing & Development Commission for years. No matter which side of the city on which you live, chances are you have been directly impacted by the gross lack of oversight and accountability of two key city offices: the Mayor's Office of Housing & Community Development (MOHCD) and the Office of Economic & Workforce Development (OEWD). Taxpayers fund both departments with hundreds of millions of dollars from the City's General Fund, with MOHCD tasked with administering an additional $2 billion in public monies to build and rehabilitate affordable housing citywide.

Unfortunately, there is not actually a strategic plan that comprehensively lays out how that $2 billion is to be allocated by MOHCD, or according to what community priorities. The Planning Department is required to adhere to the City's General Plan (at least in theory) which lays out Planning requirements for every neighborhood. Additionally, the newly-created Department of Homelessness & Supportive Housing has been tasked with devising a strategic plan within its first 90 days as to how it will address the homeless crisis on our streets – so why in the midst of a raging affordability crisis, do we not have a Housing Plan with a road map for all levels of housing with commensurate neighborhood infrastructure? Why are communities not empowered to help construct the solutions to the issues plaguing their neighborhoods?

Some of MOHCD's funds were approved by voters as far back as 1996 and still haven't been allocated, while other funds are "self-appropriated" without Board of Supervisors oversight, and have been allocated haphazardly to put out the political fires of the moment. There have even been instances where funds have disappeared, like the 2015 scandal where $1.3 million for housing and public infrastructure improvements overseen by MOHCD was stolen out of the SoMa Community Stabilization Fund by an ABAG official, and no one noticed for months.

Then there are the ongoing concerns with how our city's Below Market Rate (BMR) program is being managed. Supervisors Cohen and Breed have been vocal at the Board on MOHCD's lack of outreach and cultural competency in the application process. Public noticing of BMR availability is not well monitored or enforced, with many communities cut out of the process all together. BMR units are a critical part of our city's permanent affordable housing stock, and they are assets to be managed responsibly on behalf of the public. After returning to elected office, I was shocked to find out that some of the city's early BMRs were not actually even listed or tracked in the MOHCD database. Then there are the multiple units that MOHCD was aware were in the early stages of possible foreclosure; even after being prodded by my office, the MOHCD allowed these permanently affordable housing units (on separate occasions) to be foreclosed, and lost forever.

For its part, OEWD manages millions of dollars in "community investment" grants that are doled out in a private process without community oversight or transparency to various pet projects. OEWD has effectively used this grant program to build a patronage army in neighborhoods across the city, often with a flagrant disregard for the real needs of neighborhood residents and small businesses. In fact, it often pits neighborhood groups and residents against each other, with some pet projects routinely funded as a reward or an attempt at pacification. Millions of dollars go to flower baskets and block parties, while the concerns around street cleanliness and homelessness that I hear from residents every day go unanswered.

OEWD also represents the City in major development negotiations, operating largely out of view of the public. By the time development agreements actually come to the Board for a final vote it is often too late to ensure a meaningful win for the community; the details and commitments have already been settled behind closed doors, like the community benefits agreement that was negotiated to ensure luxury condos were built on the waterfront at 8 Washington, or the America's Cup booster deal that flopped. And those are development agreements that actually come before the Board – there are countless more deals that are cut behind closed doors in the name of "economic benefit" to the City that have been miserable failures.

The Super Bowl is only the most recent example, with residents and small businesses from the Excelsior to the SoMa to Chinatown and the Castro all loudly demanding that the City prioritize San Franciscans over the NFL and its 13-day-long corporate party. Traffic congestion reached "CARmageddon" proportions downtown, crime and homeless encampments peaked in outlying neighborhoods, and restaurants and small businesses saw record low returns as tourist dollars were instead directed largely to out-of-town vendors from within Super Bowl City. MUNI ended up $2.5 million in the red, while public employees were asked to "volunteer" to prepare for the event, and then during the non-stop party itself. The City reallocated $1.4 million of taxpayer money to public projects intended to augment the "Super Bowl 50 experience" including boosting the wi-fi capacity on Market Street, and fixing up the Old Mint for the VIP party people. And that doesn't even include accelerated round-the-clock work on the Transbay Center that totaled over half a million dollars – right before the project asked the City to bail them out of an eye-popping quarter of a billion dollars of cost overruns. And through it all, the press and the public asked: "Who is actually negotiating on behalf of the City and cutting this deal?!" The silence in response was deafening.

Had there been some oversight like is being proposed with Proposition M, perhaps San Francisco might have succeeded in getting cost reimbursement from the Host Committee, as did Santa Clara. Instead, now they want to bring the Super Bowl back for a second round. Hopefully, we'll have an actual Commission that is beholden to the voters, neighbors, neighborhoods, and small businesses by then.

One need only see the carefully-orchestrated turnout in opposition to this common sense legislative proposal to understand why having a Commission over these governmental functions is so necessary. Grant recipients from both MOHCD and OEWD received personal phone calls from top level city staffers stressing the need to testify in opposition. These kind of strong-arm tactics make it painfully clear that there needs to be reform at the very highest levels of these offices. After all, what do they have to hide? It's time.

If you think the public should have input into the strategic housing & development vision for its own neighborhoods, and have a say in the next Olympics booster bid, America's Cup fiasco, or Super Bowl handshake deal… you should vote for an idea whose time has come. Yes on M for accountability, oversight, transparency and neighborhood voice.

Don't Play Politics with Affordable Housing and Small Business Assistance

The proposed ballot measure to create a Housing & Development Commission would dismantle two important city departments – the Mayor's Office of Housing & Community Development (MOHCD) and the Office of Economic & Workforce Development (OEWD) – and then recreate them with new names. The new departments would then be controlled by a 7-member Commission that is answerable to nobody.

Currently, MOHCD provides funding to non-profit housing developers to build critically needed affordable housing every year and makes sure that housing goes to the neediest San Franciscans.

And OEWD helps San Franciscans get trained and connected to jobs, helps small businesses, improves our neighborhoods, and negotiates with large developers to force them to provide affordable housing at no cost to the city.

The activities and decisions of these two departments are already reviewed by the Board of Supervisors, several City commissions, and dozens of community groups. Why do we need another layer of government to slow down our City's production of affordable housing? Why should we slow down our assistance to small businesses and bundle economic development grant approvals with affordable housing matters? And why do we need to consolidate two different departments under one Commission?

Affordable Housing

The cost to build affordable housing in San Francisco is astronomical. The City also produces on average only one or two 100% affordable housing projects each year. Why does it cost so much? And why the snail's pace for production? Transparency and oversight requirements.

We all want transparency for city processes. But this comes at a price. To build an affordable housing project in San Francisco, MOHCD must seek public input, review and approvals by the Board of Supervisors, review by a Citywide Affordable Housing Loan Committee, a Citizens Committee on Community Development, the Planning Commission, Housing Authority, Port Commission, and more. This begs the question for the proposed new Commission: Who is this "transparency" really for? The 7 appointed Commissioners?

The proposed Commission creates a duplicative review body with no clear public benefit. The additional reviews and approval steps proposed would instead slow down the City's ability to produce affordable housing at a faster rate.

Small Business Support

We need to do more to support our City's small businesses. OEWD's Invest in Neighborhoods program has provided on-the-ground support, grant funding, and facilitation of city and private services to small businesses since its inception. It makes no sense to bundle this program with affordable housing review under the proposed Commission.

It is no secret that it is difficult to start or continue operating a small business in San Francisco. There are layers of requirements and challenges that a small business owner must go through. OEWD staff assist small business owners with navigating the City's laws, and the office is constantly finding ways to streamline and cut down on the bureaucratic processes that take place across many City departments. Why would we instead spend time adding another layer to delay providing assistance to our small businesses? In fact, no Commissioner who would be appointed to serve would be required to have expertise on small business needs, neighborhood development, or job training. This is unacceptable.

Transparency for who?

Calling for additional transparency sounds good, but the reality is that the proposal will only increase transparency for the 7-member appointed Commission and cause unnecessary delays for critical projects and programs in our City. Furthermore, three of the appointed Commissioners would not be subjected to any qualification requirements in order to serve on the Commission.

Members of the public and members of the Board of Supervisors currently have at their disposal several different commissions and review procedures for both affordable housing and economic development projects and programs. Perhaps members of the Board of Supervisors should start paying more attention to the matters that come before them rather than insisting that adding a new Commission will solve all problems.

Don't be fooled by the call for additional "transparency," and don't play politics with affordable housing and small business assistance.

pro & con graphic

Privatizing Our Parks

Keep Off the Grass

RPD Not Convincing

I am responding to Mr. Buell and Mr. Ginsburg directly, since they have signed and distributed an article questioning my facts and credibility regarding the privatization of the RPD. I am also requesting that the RPD's proposed November 2011 Parcel Tax be voted down, unless services to the public are restored.

I respect Commission President Buell for his service to the community. Mr. Buell is a wealthy developer who was appointed president of the Recreation and Park Commission (RPC) to be … a developer. You can't fault a guy for being good at what he was asked to do. Mr. Buell and the other six Recreation and Park Commissioners were all appointed with the understanding that they would have to make the RPD self-supportive.

This Newsom-appointed RPC supports park privatization issues 100% of the time and votes unanimously approximately 95% of the time. The RPC is the poster child for why the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor's office should have split commission appointments. The current RPC acts as a rubber stamp for park privatization.

Mr. Ginsburg was appointed to his job because he is a good friend of Gavin Newsom. He had no prior Recreation and Park experience, no development experience, and no real experience managing a City department. Newsom told him to privatize the parks and Ginsburg he's doing that.

Ginsburg states, "Regrettably Mr. Wooding makes too many ill-informed accusations about our budget to respond to all of them here," and then he doesn't respond to any of the accusations because — regrettably — they're all true. Let's list the accusations Mr. Ginsburg forgot to mention, deny, or clarify:

• 99.9% of parkusers had no idea that the RPD was about to fire the Rec and Park directors in 2010. True.

• The park needs of SF's citizens are now secondary to the attempt to generate more revenue from the parks. True.

• Being broke is no excuse for poor judgment, management, public notification, or poor prioritization of resources. True.

• According to Nicole Avril, RPD's Director of Partnerships and Development, higher-paid RPD management employees were not fired because of an informal RPD salary multiplier program that asks higher-paid employees to generate revenue of 5 to 10 times their paid salary. RPD's management has become a sales force. True.

• The RPD budget decreased children's services $13.4% ($1.5 M) and increased the planning, development and privatization budget 633.3% ($1.9 M). Absolutely true.

• Ginsburg and Katie Petrucione misled/lied, stating that the $3.3 M in lump sum parking fees from renting Civic Center parking spaces to the PUC would reduce layoffs. All fees went to the General Fund and not to the RPD. True.

Ginsburg and Buell are upset because no one wants to pay parcel taxes for operational services that we are not receiving. We paid for Directors, but they were all fired in 2010. Meanwhile, Ginsburg hired 13 new employees making over $100,000 in pay and increased the payroll by $1.4 M (benefit packages averaged an additional 33%). Also True.

What services do these people provide the public besides fundraising and public relations? Do they mow a lawn or coach a kid? If we are not paying the RPD directly for recreational services, we are alternatively being asked to pay for services from private, for-profit businesses who lease park facilities. Some people can no longer afford to use their own parks. The RPD insists that their privatization of park assets will make them self-sustaining as City General Funds dry up. None of this is true, as the RPD's money is constantly being sent to the City's General Fund.

These are some of the other RPD funds that went to the City's General Fund in 2010: $3.3 M in PUC garage funds, $1.6 M in AIDS Memorial Grove and turf management funds, $0.4 M in Marina Harbor Yacht funds, $0.1 M in RPD bequest funds, $1.2 M in RPD "savings incentive" resources, and $1.6 M in Open Space Funds, among others. Just the funds above account for a combined $8.2 M — but there's more.

My favorite is the $1.1 M "Downtown Park Fund" (a.k.a., the "mid-Embarcadero Fund"), which money was donated by citizens and businesses to develop a specific open space parcel on the Embarcadero on which to place the 1915 Pan American Exposition's pipe organ. Once the City located the "donated" $61,000 bocce ball courts on this parcel, it freed up the $1.1M to be given to the City's General Fund; the pipe organ stays in mothballs. That takes us up to at least $9.3 M quietly returned to the General Fund, with Ginsburg's and Buell's tacit permission.

San Francisco and the RPD can't have it both ways. Don't charge the public for services that we no longer receive. Don't make the public pay twice for services for which we've already paid. Don't send RPD employees with a combined salary of over $500,000 to a meeting at J.P. Murphy Park — which was just renovated for $3.9 M in public bond money — and tell us that the RPD has no money and that the brand new park clubhouse needs to be rented to a private, for-profit business for $1,500 per month. Don't prioritize the six-figure salaries of professional bureaucrats who have no Rec and Park experience, over children's services.

The next disaster on the RPD budget horizon: San Francisco's Capital Planning Committee (CPC) suddenly announced in mid-March that they are moving the $150 M, 2014 Neighborhoods Parks and Open Space Bond to the November 2012 election. The CPC is also adding $35 M to RPD's proposed new General Obligation Bond, "to incorporate critical open space needs to the Harbor," bringing the total to $185 M. Sure … let's pay off a $35 M dollar bond debt with $15 M in interest for the America's Cup over the next 30 years. Ginsburg is a member of the CPC and Buell is Chair of the City America's Cup Committee. They haven't even presented this information to the Recreation and Park Commission yet — there's probably no need to, since the RPC rubber-stamps every RPD proposal.

The CPC's report states, "The Port will participate with the RPD in a proposed General Obligation Bond—subject to completing review required pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)." But the RPD won't be ready. The RPD also needs to spend the remainder of the prior "2008 Clean and Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond" money, but it is doubtful that they will.

The new RPD bond for 2012 is so rushed and confused that the City's Capital Planing Committee states, "The allocation between [RPD] programs and specific sites has not been determined, and the substantial renewal and enhancement needs of the RPD are not met by the project funding." In bureaucratic language, this means that Ginsburg doesn't seem to know what he is doing. I expect that a wafer-thin master plan will be hastily developed to support RPD's ill-conceived 2012 bond.

Finally, Ginsburg states, "Sorry George, your math just doesn't add up." Well, Phil, if my math doesn't add up, it's because I'm using RPD's own budget numbers, and other public records.

Feedback: wooding@westsideobserver.com

April 2010

RPD Sets the Record Straight

In its February newsletter, the Westside Observer featured George Wooding's ill-informed attack on the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department's efforts to navigate one of the most serious fiscal crises it has ever faced. We are all frustrated by the budget cuts our parks have incurred, but hostile finger pointing won't keep parks clean or clubhouses open.

Government is broke. Last week I attended the 2011 National Recreation and Parks Association Legislative Forum in Washington, DC, where park directors from all over the country descended on the Nation's Capital to lobby for greater federal investment in state and local park agencies. Every park agency director I met is scrambling to offset cuts by raising revenue through concessions, special events, new partnerships, sponsorships and philanthropy. Budget cuts will force the City of Houston to close half of its recreation centers this year. The Los Angeles Parks Department expects hundreds of layoffs and significant park maintenance reductions. Detroit closed 77 parks last year. Seattle and Colorado Springs have non-profits running their rec centers. Denver will be generating revenue from more admission-based events in its parks. Miami is entering into public private partnerships to restore recreation, swimming, arts programs and park maintenance tasks.

Sound familiar?

Here in San Francisco, where we are blessed with over 220 parks and 80 recreational facilities, if we want to keep our parks and programs thriving, we must creatively find new sources of revenue to fund them. All told, we manage nearly 15% of the City's real estate yet we receive just 2.3% of its General Fund. We operate with a barebones staff -- we are short 200 gardeners, 80 custodians, 60 structural maintenance workers and 30 park patrol officers -- and have more than $1.7 billion in deferred maintenance projects assessed in our system. Over the past seven years, the Recreation and Park Department has been asked to reduce its general fund subsidy by $43 million. No single year may have been as daunting as last year's general fund budget reduction of $12.4 million. To put the size of last year's cut in perspective, it equaled 60% of our entire gardening staff.

Balancing last year's budget was agonizing, but frankly, service impacts on the public could have been much worse. We solved nearly two thirds of our deficit by raising new revenue instead of cutting services, and by managing our Department more efficiently. On the revenue side of the ledger, we renegotiated expired leases, added exciting programs, events and amenities, and found new sources of grants and philanthropic support. On the expense side of the ledger, we cut workers compensation expenses, shrank overtime costs, consolidated functions, eliminated a senior management position, and reduced administrative expenses.

Despite our budget woes, we have not closed a single recreation center or swimming pool, we have not laid-off a single gardener or custodian, and our budget included no new fee increases for existing permits or recreation programs. While we have fewer recreation staff we are on pace to add over 20,000 hours of new recreation programs over last year. Take a look at our Spring Activities Guide. We are proudly re-establishing ourselves as the recreation provider of choice in San Francisco. To ensure no one is turned away, we have created our largest scholarship fund ever – now in excess of $250,000 and growing. (Visit our website (www.sfrecpark.org) for more details.)

Without adequate staff to keep all of our clubhouses open ourselves, we are asking community partners to program our clubhouses. One community partner now provides free exercise and wellness classes for seniors at a clubhouse in Portsmouth Square. Another operates a highly touted, free after-school enrichment and sports program for youth in clubhouses in Visitation Valley. Others are operating pre-schools for tiny tots. With community partners, we are successfully keeping most of our clubhouses open and vibrant, a strategy supported by 94% of respondents to a recent poll conducted by the Neighborhood Parks Council.

The Recreation and Parks Department is not privatizing parks. We are building public-private partnerships to keep our parks and programs thriving when budget cuts mean we can no longer do it alone. We are working with neighborhoods, non-profits, labor, business, labor and the philanthropic community to keep our parks and rec centers clean, safe and fun.

A hundred years ago Golden Gate Park visitors were charged to ride the carousel and could patron a private casino and bar near the Conservatory of Flowers. Today the casino is gone, but the carousel remains – and it still costs money to ride. Modern day Golden Gate Park now hosts music festivals like the Outside Lands concert and offers food and beverage options, bike and boat rentals, and, yes, even Segways. Enjoyable park amenities provide financial support for our operations and actually increase, not decrease, access to our underfunded neighborhood parks and programs. Over 85% of the Neighborhood Parks Council's survey respondents agree with our approach to raising revenue to avoid service cuts. And, in instances where we do charge for programming and permits, 73% of survey respondents find our fees affordable.

Our revenue strategies are actually working. Although we've been asked to cut another $4.5 million from our budget next fiscal year, we think we can meet this challenge without additional layoffs, fee increases or service cuts because of the smart decisions we're making. At four recent community budget meetings the public let us know what services were important to protect, and offered creative ways to raise additional revenue for the Department. We are following your feedback.

Regrettably, Mr. Wooding makes too many ill-informed accusations about our budget to respond to all of them here, but a couple of points are worth correcting. First, Wooding argues that Rec and Park doesn't keep the money it earns. We do. In fact, we are using over $800,000 of revenue earned over budget this year to help us balance next year's deficit. Second, our budget process is certainly not secret. Last year we participated in over 40 budget-related meetings with our staff, in the community, and at City Hall. Our new recreation model was developed in partnership with the Neighborhood Parks Council and our recreation directors' union, which courageously supported our plan despite the harsh reality of layoffs.

Mr. Wooding says Rec and Park should hire more staff and increase programming and services. We'd love to. But, he also stridently demands no fee increases, no new revenue initiatives and no new taxes. Sorry George, your math just doesn't add up.

Community support and stewardship are critical to our parks' survival. We do not expect agreement from every neighborhood advocate on every park issue. Scarce resources create tension, and our financial challenges are far from over. But, we all love our parks and we all agree our parks are worth fighting for. Let us unite in support of them. Our parks deserve it.

Connie Chan: connie.chan@sfgov.org

April 2010





pro & con graphic

Community Choice Aggregation (CCAs)

Coming To A Socket Near You

Is Dirty Energy Good Enough For You?

Did you know that the electricity that PG&E is delivering to residents and businesses in San Francisco is only 15% renewable and won't meet the state's 2010 goals for clean, renewable energy? Let me reiterate that point. It's 2010 and the energy to power our homes and businesses is only 15% renewable.

CleanPowerSF is a simple solution to our dirty energy problem. CleanPowerSF's goals are to deliver San Franciscans cleaner, more renewable energy that meets our state's requirements. The program will rely on more renewable resources like solar and wind energy and aims to be 51% renewable by 2017.

Today, most energy customers must get their energy from PG&E; there is no choice in the matter. PG&E generates your electricity from nuclear, coal, natural gas, hydroelectric and other energy sources. PG&E then transmits and distributes this energy directly to San Francisco homes and businesses.

CleanPowerSF will change only the "generation" part of this equation by providing customers with energy from resources like solar and wind energy. And that's it. PG&E will continue to transmit and distribute electricity directly to residences and businesses and provide billing services. If you have an electrical outage, customers will still call PG&E and they will still be responsible. The only difference will be the type of energy you are receiving; it's going to be much cleaner.

With CleanPowerSF, energy customers finally get a choice. Instead of one energy supplier, residents and businesses will have a choice between two energy supplies and mixtures

"Participation in CleanPowerSF is also easy and completely voluntary. Do nothing and you will receive cleaner energy; it's that simple. Energy customers who wish to remain with PG&E's energy supply may opt-out of CleanPowerSF at any time. At the beginning of the program, CleanPowerSF will send out a total of four opt-out notices both before energy service begins and after the energy changeover."

(CleanPowerSF's clean energy or PG&E's energy). Ultimately, the choice is yours; consumers benefit by finally having a real and meaningful choice in their electric energy supply. CleanPowerSF will put you in the driver's seat of your energy needs. We hope you will consider choosing the energy provider that offers the most stable rates and the cleanest, most renewable energy.

Participation in CleanPowerSF is also easy and completely voluntary. Do nothing and you will receive cleaner energy; it's that simple. Energy customers who wish to remain with PG&E's energy supply may opt-out of CleanPowerSF at any time. At the beginning of the program, CleanPowerSF will send out a total of four opt-out notices both before energy service begins and after the energy changeover.

Contrary to claims by opponents, CleanPowerSF will not cost the City taxpayers anything. CleanPowerSF will be funded entirely by participating ratepayers. In fact, with more renewable energy pouring into San Francisco's electrical grid, energy prices will be much more stable over the long-term and less subject to the wild price fluctuations of fossil-fuel energy sources. CleanPowerSF's goal is to have rates that are competitive with PG&E, while significantly increasing the amount of green energy supplied to the San Francisco electrical grid.

Right now, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has certified the CleanPowerSF implementation plan. The SFPUC will also shortly sign a service agreement with PG&E in order to facilitate smooth program operations. Finally, once the SFPUC completes a draft contract with the energy service provider (the entity that provides the City with the cleaner energy) the SFPUC will present it for full public consideration by your elected officials. As is the City's standard practice, your elected officials will seek the advice of both the City's Budget Analyst's Office and City Controller. The Board of Supervisors, the Rate Fairness Board, the SFPUC Commission and the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo) have held numerous hearings on the program already and will also hold public hearings on the contract. Once the legislative approval and transparent public review process concludes, shortly thereafter the City will begin finalizing the contract.

When CleanPowerSF begins serving energy customers, San Franciscans will see no change when they flip on a light switch or plug in their appliances. PG&E will continue to own and operate the electrical grid in the city and provide billing services for customers. However, CleanPowerSF will provide consumers with two things that PG&E currently lacks —long-term rate stability and a cleaner energy portfolio. CleanPowerSF is the best opportunity for our City to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make San Francisco a greener, cleaner place to live and work.

Michael Campbell is the CleanPowerSF Director

June 2010

Is CleanPowerSF For You?

From the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission homeowners have received a mailer promoting CleanPowerSF: "I Choose Clean Energy." The mailer promises that if the homeowner does nothing then he or she will receive energy that is "much cleaner than the energy currently provided by PG&E."

Sound too good to be true? What is really going on here?

CleanPowerSF is San Francisco's knife to stick into the back of PG&E. Elements within the City despise PG&E. Those who have ever read the Bay Guardian have probably seen it rant against PG&E and for public power. Also, "progressive" Supervisors love to hate PG&E.

In 2002, in the aftermath of the energy crisis, a state law passed allowing local agencies to form entities competing with the current electric lutilities such as PG&E. The price of electricity had spiked after companies like Enron had gamed the deregulation system of the mid-Nineties. California found power scarce, and prices multiplied. PG&E went into bankruptcy. To legislators it looked like backup was needed. The 2002 law resulted.

Then the crisis abated.

Still, among those who despise PG&E and had long called for "public power" the 2002 enabling law was tempting. It allows "community choice aggregators" to organize, and to sell electric power in competition with the utility that had long had a monopoly (for good reasons widely accepted across the country). As environmentalists advocated for more renewable power generation, two forces combined: environmentalists and those who want public power. The result in SF is CleanPowerSF. Marin, too, has moved to create a competing public provider of electric power.

"San Francisco is scampering to beat the deadline by organizing and registering its competing company before June 8. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the city department providing water, sewer, and power for public places, is carrying the ball."

As San Francisco and Marin marshaled forces and support, PG&E decided to fight back to protect its turf–with Prop 16 on the June 8 ballot. Faced with the Prop 16 threat, which would require a two-thirds vote to spend public funds to create a competing public power provider, San Francisco is scampering to beat the deadline by organizing and registering its competing company before June 8. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the city department providing water, sewer, and power for public places, is carrying the ball.

Lately the Commission authorized its general manager to enter into a contract necessary accomplish a competing electric power provider by June 8. Usually the Commission accepts contracts – with all terms and conditions written. But, given the urgency it was willing to perhaps play fast and loose with the law, and certainly with custom.

You the customer must act to reject CleanPowerSF, or otherwise you will be deemed to have accepted it as your new provider of electricity. If this strikes you as cheeky, well, you are beginning to get an education about how theses lefties work. The notice to you announcing your "choice" of CleanPowerSF as service provider unless you reject it has not gone out yet; that comes in the future. The recent mailer is just "outreach". (Of course sent at ratepayer expense.)

You the consumer of electric power might ask a few questions (but don't hold your breath awaiting answers).

Question one: will CleanPowerSF cost me more? Ah, that is one matter that is touched on only very lightly in the "outreach" mailer. "Your rates will be comparable," the mailer says. What is "comparable"? The dictionary defines it as "worthy of comparison." Is ten percent higher than PG&E rates worthy of comparison? Twenty percent? Fifty percent? No one knows.

Question two: much cleaner? CleanPowerSF promises to deliver electricity "that is much cleaner than the energy currently provided by PG&E." Really? Does it have any track record? (No.) Does it have contracts with significant providers of solar power? (None known or mentioned.) With wind power providers? (Same.) With "other" renewable sources? (None mentioned; and what would they be?)

Question three: reliability. CleanPowerSF promises that "It's Reliable;" there will be no difference in reliability. Really? Suppose you provide a service to a set of customers and they banded together to dump on you and deprive you of business; would your service continue to be as reliable? If so, you must be a saint.

When something looks too good to be true.... The City is spending public funds to stick a knife into PG&E. This will gratify PG&E haters. Greens will take some pleasure: Because of competition, PG&E will be less likely to meet renewable mandates, and then greens will then be able to beat up PG&E. Feels good. Meanwhile, the City will pay to organize a competing electricity provider, will send "outreach" and employ bureaucracy, and will engage in political theater. Well, what else is new?

Steve Lawrence is a PUC citizen activist.

June 2010