The Agenda, Dec. 12-18: Will the supes fold on free City College?

Plus: Building over a shaky PG&E gas main, a new police commissioner, and goodby to three really excellent supervisors: We look at the week ahead

First, let us take a moment to say: We are losing three great supervisors. John Avalos, David Campos, and Eric Mar have been the reliable left flank of the board for the past eight years. They have lead the way on a long list of issues, have passed important legislation, and have helped other young progressives get elected to office.

Term limits are a complicated issue, and part of the tradeoff to get us back to district elections was a provision limiting everyone to two consecutive terms. The board that takes office in January will not have six progressive votes. Mar and Campos are well succeeded; Hillary Ronen in D9 and Sandra Lee Fewer in D1 will be worthy heirs to the legacy of Campos and Mar. No so much in D11, where real-estate guy Ahsha Safai narrowly defeated Kimberly Alvarenga.

The voters backed Sup. Jane Kim's campaign for free city college; will the mayor try to undo it?
The voters backed Sup. Jane Kim’s campaign for free city college; will the mayor try to undo it?

We will have plenty to talk about and work on in the spring; for now, though, let’s just say a collective thanks to the three who have been with us on so much, and through so much. They aren’t going anywhere, and all three will no doubt be active in politics for a long, long time to come. But this chapter of their political careers is coming to an end and they deserve all the recognition they will get. You did good, guys.


Back to the present: The Board of Supes will get a chance Tuesday/13 to send a clear message to the mayor that the voters wanted money from the Mansion Tax to go to make City College free. Mayor Lee and his advisors are talking about seizing that money, approved by the voters in November, and the money set aside for street trees, to fill an unexpected budget gap.

The hole in the budget is largely due to the fact that the mayor assumed his sales tax would pass, dropped the ball on making that happen, and instead directed his top folks to spend their time defeating four modest reforms that would have limited a little bit the mayor’s power.

So now City College has to pay the price?

The supes will vote – in the last meeting for the progressive majority – on an appropriation to send the first $9 million of the projected Mansion Tax money to City College in the spring. There are six co-sponsors of the bill, which means it will pass …. But the mayor has shown he is happy to veto progressive measures as this board winds down, knowing that the next group will be more to his liking. So it will take eight votes to send the clear message that the voters overwhelmingly wanted to make City College free.

Members of the City College teachers’ union, AFT Local 2121, will be visiting the supes offices before the meeting to sing holiday carols and remind them that they made a promise. Meet at the South Light Court at 12:45 if you want to join them.


Next on the agenda for the board: A proposal by Sups. Avalos, Campos, Mar, and Malia Cohen to create a memorial to Alex Nieto in Bernal Heights Park. The cops are way, way against this, since it suggests that the shooting of Nieto was wrong and the young man didn’t need to die. Six votes create the memorial. I dare the mayor to veto that.


And on to another Bernal Heights issue: the supes will hear the appeal of a Planning Commission decision denying environmental review for a project on the south side of the hill that would be built on top of the only PG&E gas main that isn’t protected under a street.

Folsom Street has a 26-inch main, the same sort that exploded in San Bruno, and it’s from the same era and has the same sort of potential maintenance problems, according to a couple of engineers who have weighed in on the issue.

Folsom dead-ends on the south side of Bernal Hill, and the pipe goes under the odd, shifting sedimentary rock that makes up the hill, then rejoins Folsom when the street continues on the north slope.

Robert Bea, a professor emeritus with the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley, calls the site of the pipe “highly variable topography” and warns that PG&E has no available records on the maintenance or status of the aging line. The problems, he said, are “identical to the list of concerns that summarized causation” of the San Bruno blast.

A developer wants to build two large houses on the site. (Full disclosure: I go jogging near that site pretty regularly. I don’t think the new houses will damage my running experience, such as it is, but I would hate to get blown to bits.)

The site, which is now a community garden, can accommodate six houses, and it’s pretty unlikely that the developer will stop at two. Under the California Environmental Quality Act, a project with more than three houses automatically requires and environmental impact report; in this case, since only two are currently planned, and the Planning Department doesn’t seem to consider a massive gas explosion to be an issue, the project was determined to be exempt from environmental review.

Rune Storesund, a licensed geotechnical engineer also affiliated with the Cal Catastrophic Risk Management department, notes that the developer will have to do a lot of excavation, and that there has been “no explicit discussion about induced vibrations during rock excavation and associated potential degradation of the PG&E transmission line integrity.” Yeah: You can’t dig all that stuff up, build a new road extension, carve out foundations for two big houses, and do all the associated utility work without shaking things up underground.

Which is a bit alarming for people who live nearby.

Storesund suggests that “strong consideration” should be given to replacing the pipeline before construction. Given its age and condition, that’s a good idea anyway.

The politics are tricky: Sup. David Campos owns a home within 150 yards of the construction site, so by law he can’t vote on the project. Which means D9, where this is happening, is without representation.

If the appeal were delayed just one meeting, then Hillary Ronen, the new D9 supe, would be able to vote. But no: It comes up this week.

And with Campos recused, it may be hard to get six votes to overturn the Planning Department decision. Which is a bit crazy: The neighbors who are appealing aren’t against building housing on the site (although it means the loss of a community garden). They just worry about the pipeline. And they seem to have a point.


The Folsom Street project that raises serious issues about the Eastern Neighborhoods plan is back on the agenda, after being continued.


And there’s a key open seat on the Police Commission that needs to be filled.


It won’t be a quiet day for the last meeting of the progressive Board of Supes.