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News + PoliticsThe Agenda, July 11-17: Why bad committee appointments matter...

The Agenda, July 11-17: Why bad committee appointments matter …

... and the crazy period of budget approvals and deciding what goes on the November ballot

Pretty much everyone agrees that elected officials should be judged on their records in office, and typically that means legislation introduced, votes on difficult issues, and success in setting a political agenda and making it happen.

But there’s more to it than that. The record should also include things like endorsements – who are you helping, promoting, empowering? – and decisions on appointments.

For the president of the Board of Supervisors, that includes appointments to board committees.

Sup. London Breed has given conservatives control over key committees, as we say this week
Sup. London Breed has given conservatives control over key committees, as we say this week

Most of the time this is insider stuff – do you really care who is vice chair of the Rules Committee? – but it matters. Sometimes, it matters a lot.

Take, for example, the rather disturbing spectacle of the Rules Committee meeting last week, when Sup. David Campos tried to get a measure through that would ask the voters to create a public advocate for San Francisco.

The Office of the Public Advocate is a big deal in New York, where it’s not only considered an effective tool for government accountability, it’s a key elected office. Bill DeBlasio was the public advocate before he became mayor.

The way these things usually go, the sponsor brings a proposal to the relevant committee, which hears it, listens to public testimony, then forwards it to the full board, sometimes with amendments.

When the sponsor doesn’t like the amendments, he or she often asks that the file be duplicated – that is, two versions of the measure are sent forward, one with the original language and one with the amendments. That way the full board can choose which one to approve (or make further amendments to either).

The Rules Committee, like most of the most important board committees, is stacked with conservatives who supported Sup. London Breed for president. The progressives are almost always in the minority.

Look at Budget and Finance, chaired by Sup. Mark Farrell, one of the most consistently conservative members of the board. The members include Sup. Katie Tang, another of the most conservative supes, and Sup. Scott Wiener, who is known for his battles with progressives. Sups. Jane Kim and Norman Yee are in the minority.

Land Use and Transportation, another key committee; Chaired by Sup. Malia Cohen (who often appears as if she doesn’t want to be there and seems to want public hearings just to end quickly), with Wiener joining her to outvote Sup. Aaron Peskin.

The Rules Committee is Tang, Sup. Eric Mar, and Cohen.

You see the pattern: The allies of the mayor, the people who have supported the Ron Conway agenda, are in control.

Yes, the final vote is at the full board, where right now progressives have a narrow majority. But so much can happen in committee.

Before the Rules Committee meeting last week, Campos told me he spoke to Tang, and asked her if she would allow his measure to go through to the full board without any games. “She told me no games,” he said. (Tang didn’t respond to my request for comment.)

But at the meeting, Cohen introduced four amendments that pretty much gutted the measure, including a bizarre (and to all appearances, personal) proposal that would prevent any current supervisor from running for the office for four years. That, of course, would prevent Campos from seeking the job.

There is nothing in the City Charter that is even remotely close to that for elected officials. Does Cohen want to bar supes from running for mayor? How about for Assessor, or Sheriff, or Treasurer, or state Legislature?

She also sought to strip the office of most of its power.

Okay, so that happens. Campos was unhappy, and said that Cohen was doing the bidding of the mayor (whose allies hate this office, since it would cut into the power of a chief executive who they control). But amendments happen, and they full board can deal with them later.

But not this time. Mar asked to duplicate the file and send both the original and the amended version to the full board. In all of my years covering City Hall, I have never seen a committee deny that request.

Until now: Cohen and Tang amended the duplicated file, so both versions have the same poison pills.

So Campos will have to get six votes to call a Committee of the Whole, which he will seek Tuesday/12, and hold a new hearing next week, and then the measure will have to be heard the following week, and if it makes the ballot, it will be as a last-minute late measure.

Sup. London Breed’s record includes creating these conservative committees.


It’s going to be a crazy two weeks, as the supes both finalize the budget and figure out what’s going on the November ballot.

The calculus: Everyone who wants more money or a bond act or something that requires support from the progressive voters wants to get it on this ballot, since the presidential election should drive high turnout. And high turnout, as we saw in June, favors progressives.

So BART is going to put on a bond, the School District is going to put on a bond, the Community College Board, despite the opposition of its own union, is apparently going to put on a parcel-tax renewal, and all sorts of other revenue measures are in the offing.

Then there are ordinances and charter amendments that could make the ballot letters go past Z to AA and beyond.

And all of this, plus the budget, have to be decided in the next couple of weeks.

All of the budget resolutions come to the supes Tuesday/12, but they are all going to be continued. The real battle starts Tuesday/19, when among other things Sup. John Avalos will ask the board to put a part of the Police Department budget on reserve pending quarterly reports showing progress on use of force and discipline.

Also on the board agenda:

A measure to increase the transfer tax on properties sold for more than $5 million, which would raise enough money to make City College free for San Francisco residents. Jane Kim, the sponsor, has six votes, so this will be headed for the ballot.

A measure by Sup. John Avalos that would require that vacancies on the Board of Supes be filled by a special election. This could be one of the most significant changes in the City Charter in years: It would end the ability of a mayor to change the makeup of the board by appointing members to vacancies. Willie Brown used this to great advantage, finding jobs for incumbent supes then appointing their replacements until at one point a majority of the members were not elected but owed their positions to him.

If the “Elect our Elected Officials” measure passes, the drama of who will replace Jane Kim if she wins the state Senate seat will become less relevant – the person the mayor appoints to her seat would serve only until an election could be held, and that person would be ineligible to run.

Still missing: A provision to apply the same principle to the mayor’s office.

A pair of dueling measures to deal with the problem of street trees.

This seems like a minor thing, but in some neighborhoods, it’s a huge deal. The city has decided over the past couple of years to transfer responsibility for street trees from the Department of Public Works to property owners. It’s pissed a lot of people off, and everyone on the board agrees that it was a bad idea.

(Among other things, if you tell homeowners that they are going to have to pay a few hundred bucks every year to maintain a tree and fix the sidewalk when the roots damage it, they’ll just cut the tree down. Which isn’t the right approach.)

Wiener wants to pass a parcel tax to pay for the city to take over the trees. Avalos and Mar want the city to just absorb this cost (maybe $15 million a year); there used to be money in the budget for it, and it’s not clear why that vanished.

A measure to change how the board that runs Muni is appointed. Sups. Yee, Kim, Peskin, and Campos want to split the appointments to the Municipal Transportation Agency Board between the supes and the mayor.

A set-aside for homeless services and transportation.

The mayor and Wiener and Farrell want to set aside money from the General Fund for homeless services and transportation, and allow the city to borrow money that would be paid back by that fund.

Then on Wednesday/13, the Budget and Finance Committee will consider a plan by the same three – the mayor, Wiener, and Farrell – to increase the sales tax by a total of 1.25 percent to pay for those services.

That’s already cooked into the budget – if the supes don’t approve the sales tax increase (which is by and large a regressive way to raise money) the whole budget for the mayor’s new Department of Homelessness falls apart.

At that same meeting, Avalos will present a carbon-tax measure that would ask voters to approve a tax on greenhouse-gas emitting fuels. That would infuriate PG&E, because the city’s CleanPowerSF would be exempt, while PG&E bills would rise.

In the next week or two, there will be a vote on a soda tax, on the public advocate, and on a budget that needs the six progressive votes. And if the mayor and Farrell don’t want to negotiate and work with the progressives, things could get really interesting.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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