The Board of Supervisors meeting yesterday started off with the mayor showing up for Question Time and asking for unity on the city budget – which means he wanted the supes to approve his budget, support his plans, and back off from anything he doesn’t like.
The meeting then quickly degenerated into some remarkable political battles, with Board President London Breed, taking the mayor’s side, at one point refusing to recognize Sup. John Avalos, denying him the right to make a motion and conceding only when the clerk of the board told her that she wasn’t following the rules.
It was bizarre, unlike anything I’ve seen in quite a while.
There was so much on the agenda. One of the issues was police oversight; Sup. Malia Cohen had a plan to improve police oversight by turning the Office of Citizen Complaints into a Department of Police Oversight. Avalos wanted to delay a vote on the measure; he wanted her changes to be part of the discussion over the creation of a public advocate. Cohen wanted her measure to be taken on its own.
But Cohen had totally undermined the efforts of Sup. David Campos to move forward the public advocate measure, and the progressives weren’t about to do her any favors in response.
Cohen’s measure would have guaranteed more funding for the OCC, which is badly needed.
But there’s still a big issue around police accountability: The OCC director reports to the mayor and the Police Commission, and as long as that’s the case, the agency will lack independence. There hasn’t been an OCC director since the late Mary Dunlap who was willing to stand up to the mayor and demand effective discipline. That’s one of the reasons the agency is lacking in effectiveness.
Yes, the OCC needs more money. It also, progressives argue, needs to be taken out of the Mayor’s Office and the Commission.
The Campos public-advocate measure would allow an independently elected official, not the mayor, to hire the OCC director. Cohen used the parliamentary games she could play with a conservative committee to try to keep that discussion from coming before the full board.
But with six votes, Campos was able to pull the measure and hold a vote, which will happen next week.
When the Cohen measure came up, Avalos asked if it could be delayed until later in the meeting and discussed in the context of the public advocate. Cohen issued a blistering response, saying she wanted it addressed on its own. Sup. Scott Wiener went on about how the progressive majority was blocking measures proposed by members of the minority (as if the conservative committee majorities weren’t blocking measures proposed by the progressives). There was much hyperbole about politics – politics – playing a role at the Board of Supes.
Breed asked the clerk of the board to call the roll on Cohen’s measure. Avalos objected, saying that he had moved to delay the item. Breed insisted that he hadn’t actually made a motion, and refused to recognize him. “Madam clerk, please call the roll,” she said.
Avalos tried to speak, but she shut him down. “Madam clerk, please call the roll,” she said.
The clerk, Angela Cavillo, tried to say that Avalos had made a motion that had to be addressed. “Madam clerk, please call the roll,” she said. Cavillo pointed out that Avalos had, indeed, made a motion, and that the motion was in order, and had to be addressed.
Breed eventually agreed that Avalos had to get a vote on the delay, and Avalos won it, 6-5.
Then just a few minutes later, long before the public advocate measure came up, Breed demanded that the item be called again. It lost, 6-5.
That spurred Breed to post on Facebook that the “progressives killed police reform,” which isn’t true at all; they preserved Cohen’s measure. They just amended it into the public advocate measure.
Cohen went on a strange tangent to try to protect her suggestion that existing members of the Board of Supes be banned for four years from running for public advocate. That, of course, was a direct attack on Campos. She suggested that her idea was similar to preventing existing public officials from lobbying on behalf of private parties.
Members of the board can run for mayor, for sheriff, for assessor, for treasurer, for state Legislature.
“We are rightly precluded for a year from lobbying the city, but that doesn’t include someone from running for office,” Campos said. “This is about voters having that choice.”
As Yee noted, some other department heads are elected, and there’s no rule saying that a member of the board can’t run for those jobs.
Then Cohen suggested that maybe anyone who might possibly want to run for the new office be forced to recuse themselves from the vote. The city attorney said that was not an issue.
Wiener noted that the measure, and along with other measures, would “dismantle the office of the mayor.” Not really; the mayor would still have tremendous power. But the measures would, in fact, cut some of the power of what it right now a very strong mayor.
But the Campos plan passed 6-5.
Avalos moved to merge the Cohen legislation into the public advocate legislation. That also passed 6-5.
Breed at the last minute asked that the vote on the Cohen legislation be rescinded, in essence asking for reconsideration. The board agreed, so there will be a final vote next week on both measures. At this point, it appears Campos has six votes.
In one of the other key votes, Avalos tried to put a small amount of the Police Department budget — $30 million out of a $570 million budget, on reserve. That would have meant that the cops would have to come to the board every few months to demonstrate that they are making reforms before that money is released.
Not a radical idea; it’s fairly common for the board to put department money on reserve until some goals are met. But the acting police chief, Toney Chaplin, told the board that even that minor change to the budget would create terrible problems – Police Academy classes cancelled, officers furloughed, public safety jeopardized.
Sup. Aaron Peskin called that “poppycock,” and the board’s budget analyst, Harvey Rose, agreed.
Chaplin said that the department was taking every step that the board wanted and was going through all the necessary reforms, and some supes asked that he be given the chance. But Campos noted that while Chaplin was chief, one of the officers who shot Luis Gongora was allowed to serve on a unit tasked with reforming the use of force policies. “You are saying to ‘trust us,’ but this happened on your watch,” Campos said. “What do you think that says to the Gongora family? It wasn’t until the Examiner reported on this that you changed it.”
And yet, only five supes went along with the idea; Sup. Norman Yee sided with the conservatives.
There was a moment when it looked as if the entire budget might get blown up. Breed, who seemed to be rushing through the agenda at her own speed, called out of order the proposal to increase by .75 percent the city’s sales tax to fund new homeless and transportation initiatives. And the vote, without discussion, was 6-5 no.
That was a reflection not only of the split on the board but of the ongoing battle over the cynical and nasty attempt by Sups. Wiener and Mark Farrell to create a November wedge issue by attacking homeless people. Some of the progressive supes had threatened to kill the Wiener-Farrell tax plan if that measure stayed on the ballot.
Outside the board chamber, I asked Mayor Lee about the anti-homeless measure, which frankly is kind of silly. Wiener and Farrell want to give the police the ability to shut down tent cities, which they already have. The mayor wouldn’t answer – all he said was that he didn’t want anyone to play politics with the budget (which is, by the way, a political document). We chased the mayor down the hall and tried to get him to say whether he thought the measure was a good policy idea and the best way to address homelessness. He ducked, and ducked again.
Let’s be serious here: the person the mayor has appointed to run the Department of Homelessness isn’t a big fan of the anti-homeless ballot measure. And yet, it’s going to be on the ballot.
Beyond all the drama, one of the most important measures of the day, something that could dramatically change city politics, passed with a 6-5 vote. Avalos managed to get on the ballot a plan to ensure that vacancies on the Board of Supervisors are filled by special elections, not by a mayoral appointment.
Under his measure, which will be on the ballot, a vacancy on the board would be filled temporarily by an interim mayoral appointment – but that person couldn’t run for the job. Instead, within 180 days, a new supe would be chosen by the voters.
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of this: Among other things, it would change the calculus of this November’s election. If Sup. Jane Kim wins the state Senate seat, a mayoral appointment of a moderate could change the balance of power on the board – but if the Avalos measure passes, her successor would be elected.
The 6-5 split has never been more dramatic or apparent as it was tonight. Sup. London Breed, who in the past few months has moved toward the progressive camp as she faces an election against tenant lawyer (and progressive) Dean Preston. But in this case, she voted on the mayor’s party line every single time.
She opposed the plan to elect instead of appointing supervisors. She opposed public advocate. She opposed the idea of giving the board some appointments to the board that oversees Muni. She opposed setting some of the police budget on reserve to force reform.
She’s defined herself in the key issues as part of the mayor’s camp – and that will make the District Five campaign even more interesting.