Mayor’s allies push through divisive budget plan

With none of the progressives around, a narrow quorum of the Budget Committee passed a budget on the eve of Pride Weekend, capping a week of increasingly nasty negotiations

The San Francisco budget blew up this week as moderate allies of Mayor Ed Lee pushed through a plan without progressive support.

Late this afternoon, as all of the progressive supes were out of the office and many City Hall staffers had left for the Trans March and the beginning of Pride Weekend, the Budget and Finance Committee, with a bare quorum, passed a budget that the progressives haven’t even seen.

The mayor refused even to meet with Sup. Peskin to discuss compromises
The mayor refused even to meet with Sup. Peskin to discuss compromises

That sets up a potential battle at the full board and the prospect that the mayor’s allies will ram it through without progressive votes.

For the past ten years, every city budget has passed with little or no dissent.

Sup. Malia Cohen, who chairs the Budget Committee, said the budget is something that “takes care of our most vulnerable.” Sup. Katy Tang said the budget was something all 11 supervisors should be proud of.

But that’s not what’s happening: I am told there is no consensus, no deal, and at this point it appears there may be five votes against the plan.

That would be highly unusual – by the end of the process, when the budget goes to the full board, it typically gets overwhelming support.

“Out of respect for Pride, I asked not to do budget negotiations today,” Sup. Hillary Ronen told me. “But apparently they didn’t want to wait for their colleagues. I haven’t seen what they voted on.”

Ronen said she had heard the committee found more money, and she said she’d be happy to get back to work Monday and try to reach consensus. But the deal that Cohen and the Mayor cut this afternoon did not involve any progessives supes.

Cohen initially tried to bring together aides from all 11 board offices to try to reach some sort of compromise on how to cut from the mayor’s proposal and fund other priorities.

The staffers have been meeting almost around the clock for the past few days, and some of the supes have joined in.

By Thursday, the progressives were getting mostly nowhere. Efforts by Sup. Aaron Peskin to cut what he saw as bloated spending in several areas (including an expensive expansion of the police command staff and expected salary savings) to shift money to more social services were shot down by the majority on the Budget and Finance Committee.

Then late Thursday evening, with some of the progressives saying they can’t support a budget that doesn’t devote more money to human needs, particularly housing and homeless services, Cohen invited Peskin to join her in the Mayor’s Office to try to reach a compromise with Mayor Lee.

But Peskin told me when he got there, the mayor’s staff wouldn’t let him in. “It’s pretty unprecedented, the way this mayor is doing things,” Peskin said.

The mayor’s spokesperson, Dierdre Hussey, told the Examiner’s Josh Sabatini, who has been doing great reporting on this, that the mayor only meets with the chair of the Budget Committee, although in past years that hasn’t been the practice.

This afternoon, the committee was supposed to meet at 12:30, which was postponed to 3:30, and finally began work at a little after 4.

At the time, none of the progressive supes were around or participating. Peskin had taken himself off the Budget Committee (which, with Sup. Norman Yee out of town, had to meet with only three members, a bare quorum).

There was no reason this had to happen today, on the eve of Pride, with a rush-job final budget that many of the supes involved in the negotiations had never seen.

The whole situation – in a year when the city has plenty of money – is a reflection of an unpopular lame-duck mayor with a new chief of staff, a Budget Committee dominated by the mayor’s allies and a board majority that seems to have little interest in taking on the mayor in the name of compromise.

Sup. London Breed showed up to say the she was “disappointed” that the two other members of the panel weren’t there. But Norman Yee had a prior engagement and Peskin decided that there was no point in continuing.

There are millions of dollars for vulnerable populations at stake, but considering the amounts we’re taking about, it’s hard to believe that the mayor wasn’t willing to give a little.

Instead, seven years into an administration that was supposed to usher in a spirit of compromise, he has further divided the city.


  1. It’s hard to define unambiguously what ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ mean, as philosophies—people have tried. For now, I am just looking at politicians, not the public at large, and how their actions align. In SF, politicians tend to align in two camps: what I call conservative politicians act in sympathy with developers, in sympathy with PG&E, in sympathy with the police, promote legal sanctions on the homeless (e.g. sit/lie, car camping), and are leery of increased business/income taxes. What I call liberal politicians are distrustful of developers’ motives, skeptical of the police, push away from PG&E, support social work approaches to homelessness, and are open to increased business taxes or allowing cities to levy income taxes.

    These alignments have existed in SF politics for a long time, and they match the sort of alignments we see nationally under the labels ‘conservative’/’liberal’. This is separate from any value judgments (“liberals are wasteful elitists”, “conservatives are heartless and corrupt”, take your pick). Of course, on some nationally divided issues (gay rights, solar power, guns) San Francisco politicians are unified on the liberal side. But where there are divisions in SF City Hall, they are much the same as on Capitol Hill.

  2. Neither do I – in many instances. Nor do I think ‘conservative’ is bad. Not saying I’ aligning myself with so many who use that phrase, but the literal meaning of it has value.

    So, if a “L” were to say “lets throw money at the homeless problem”, and a “C” said “lets see what the results are”, then I think I’d prefer the later. If a “C” said “lets larder up the Police command staff” and a “L” said, “lets put that money toward more cops on the beat, or traffic enforcement”, I’d also go with the later.

    Maybe we can agree on some things after all!

  3. Absolutely!

    And the “progressives” are not progressive!

    Kim and Yee and Peskin are huge sellouts!

  4. So what are the terrible parts of the budget Tim? I’m all for calling it terrible, but please give us some more details.

  5. Like when Ronen shakes down anyone trying to build in the mission, and forced them to give a million dollars to an unaccountable NGO that has lobbied on her behalf (calle 24 if your head has been under a rock).

  6. if we’re gonna call the ‘Moderates’ “conservatives”, maybe we should call the Progs “liberals”.
    Fine by me. It’s equally honest. I don’t think ‘liberal’ is a bad word.

  7. You can’t say both that Peskin took himself off the committee, and that “and with none of theProgressives around”.

    They were outvoted so they just didn’t show up. Fine. But don’t then whine about it.

    BTW, if we’re gonna call the ‘Moderates’ “conservatives”, maybe we should call the Progs “liberals’. (Some might argue the moniker ‘con’ should go to many of the Progs, but I’ll leave that til later.) But then there’s the whole issue of calling people by the terms they define themselves; guess Progs are agin that, eh?

  8. Nice try. Pesky and Ronen are also quite fond of the same semi-corrupt behavior.

    Did you look at Ronen’s requests? It’s just a bunch of handouts to political pals in D9. And if the budget was so important to her, maybe she should have showed up for the meeting, instead of skipping the meeting and closing her office for the day.

  9. Tim, can we please retire the word ‘moderate’ when referring to SF conservatives? I know they are not like ‘conservatives’ in DC, just as those are not like ‘conservatives’ in Tehran. Using the word ‘moderate’ suggests virtue, as if the rest of us are immoderate or something. They can hide behind the term if they wish, but we shouldn’t help them.

    Otherwise, an excellent column, as always.

Comments are closed.