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News + PoliticsElectionsReform measures move forward as supes talk about the real 'power grab'

Reform measures move forward as supes talk about the real ‘power grab’

The power of the mayor (and developers) and the failures of the news media are the issues as the Rules Committee considers Charter amendments for the June ballot.


Several SF ballot measures moved forward this week and one died in a long, action-filled meeting of the Rules Committee that focused on the balance of power between the mayor and the supes.

Sups. Connie Chan and Aaron Peskin are pushing for measures that would reform the recall process—and the process of filling vacancies that occur if an official is recalled—and change the way commission members are appointed.

The Peskin measure would limit the window of opportunity for recalls, slightly. And under an amended version, when an official is recalled, the mayor could appoint a replacement— but only until the next election, and that person would be ineligible to run.

The power of the mayor (and developers) and the failures of the news media is the issue as the Rules Committee considers  Charter amendments for the June ballot.
Sup. Connie Chan is pushing a reform agenda.

During the hearing, Peskin asked for an amendment that would apply the same standard to the mayor; if a mayor were recalled, the supes could appoint only a caretaker replacement.

The Chan measure would split appointments to pretty much every commission in the city between the mayor and the supes and would change the role of the city administrator.

During the course of the discussion, Peskin made an interesting point (something I didn’t know about SF history):

If you look at the other 57 counties in the state of California, the Board of Supervisors has an executive that is under their direct authority. That county administrator is the one who is charged with oversight of all of the departments and San Francisco, interestingly enough, started with a Board of Supervisors and without a mayor.

Now, of course, we have one of the most powerful mayors in the country.

The mayor has made a big deal about attacking the supes, and saying they are trying to make a “power grab.” There are ads on the Internet about this.

But the mayor also has a ballot measure that would pretty dramatically change the School Board—and it was crafted, some supes said, with no input at all from any of the long list of active groups that work with children, youth, and the public schools.

Her original measure would have created a new department to oversee all children and youth issues, but seeing little support, she scaled that back to a measure that essentially ties city funding for the schools to a new set of job descriptions for School Board members and the superintendent that are far beyond anything any other elected board in the city (and probably the state) has to deal with.

Read the language here; it’s pretty extraordinary.

In essence, Breed is saying that if the board members don’t do what she wants, she can withhold millions of dollars in city funding for education.

Sup. Hillary Ronen, who has a kid in the public schools and has been very involved in education issues, put it this way:

It is no secret that I too have been extremely frustrated with the School Board and District Administration throughout this pandemic. As an SFUSD parent and policy maker watching the District closely, the constant drama over the past two years has hurt kids significantly and has damaged the health of our school system for years to come.

However, as leaders we must look at what has happened at SFUSD over the last 2 years in context. It just so happened that we simultaneously had a confluence of events – a world wide pandemic, school board commissioners that did not have the leadership qualities that the moment required, and a Superintendent with one foot out the door. Those conditions had not happened before the pandemic and they are changing and about to change in the next few months. It is possible three commissioners will be recalled. We are in the search for a new Superintendent that will be in place for the next academic year. And the pandemic ebbs and flows, but is not as disastrous now that we have a population of people in San Francisco that are mostly vaccinated. So why are we changing our City Charter to punish and demean an institution that just survived a once in a lifetime set of circumstances that school districts across the country also struggled with? This is not good policy making. This is an insult to the dozens of incredible School Board Commissioners we’ve had in the past and may well prevent excellent candidates from running in the future.

The entire section of this Charter Amendment that lays out a detailed job description of the superintendent of schools and School Board members sets an extremely dangerous precedent and is an insulting overreach of power over an independently run district and elected body in our city.

I have confirmed with the city attorney that nowhere else in the Charter, is the detailed job description of any public service position delineated. The mayor’s charter amendment literally dictates who Board Members are allowed to talk to, what training they should receive, how they should run meetings and conduct themselves, and how the district should spend its money on professional development for School Board members. It’s ridiculous and sets a dangerous precedent. If I think the mayor is doing a poor job and don’t like how she treats people, is my next move to ask voters to enshrine her job description as I think it should look in our city’s Constitution? Should I dictate who she can talk to, what training she should receive, and how she should comport herself in public?


It is true that the independent system and its current leadership have not been easy to partner with over the last two years. We have already blasted the institution in the press, sued it, protested it, and asked for a commissioner to step down. Many of us have supported the recall of some commissioners. We have made our point. We want different leadership. Now that we are likely to get that new leadership, it is time to set down the swords and begin to rebuild trust, relationships, and respectful collaboration between the city and School District. This Charter Amendment does the exact opposite.

Peskin added the political point:

This is a contempt shown to the broad community of stakeholders who care about this city’s kids. Writing an amendment for nine months in the office of a political lobbyist is not the way to do this.

In the narrative or the competing narratives, it is very disconcerting that the mainstream media, while they want to focus on board of supervisors power grabs, and while political entities have every right to participate in public political discussions are bombarding us with other items on this agenda that we’ll talk about, there has nary been a word in the media about this power grab, and even more shocking, and I say this because it is true, and we all experienced it, the author of this Charter amendment has not appeared before this legislative branch of government that as Charter law is charged with putting this or not putting this on the ballot.

Anyhow, if you are one of the members of the mainstream media, and you seem interested in writing articles about videos that somebody posted on the internet that have yet to even be considered by this committee that have yet to be proven how mayors appoint to vacancies and that have been part of the political discussions for decades, you might want to cover this issue, too, because there are two narratives.

The outpouring of opposition from every local organization that works with kids and schools, from Coleman Advocates to Margaret Brodkin, former director of the Department of Children Youth and Families, was stunning. Nobody outside of the Mayor’s Office seems to like this idea.


The mayor didn’t send anyone to talk about this amendment, which was kind of shocking. I’ve never seen that before. And then, the second thing I’ve never seen before is 100 percentvof public comment. And this wasn’t just members of the public who don’t work in this area, this was a broad cross section of groups, unions, education advocates, former School District board members, former supervisors, former directors of DCYF. I mean, I’ve never seen a unanimous opposition of a charter amendment like this before in my, you know, ten years in this building working at the board of supervisors.fIt’s pretty extraordinary, and it is pretty extraordinary of the silence from the press that’s sitting out there this day.

That one was continued until Monday/31, but I suspect it won’t make it out of committee.

A Charter amendment by Sup. Ahsha Safai that would have made it easier for developers to build housing had, some committee members said, the same problem. There’s a huge nexus of organizations that work on affordable housing, and the measure was crafted with no input from any of them.

Safai’s measure would give developers the freedom to built, without much of any review, any project of more than 25 units that had some units available to people who make up to 140 percent of the area median income, which would mean $149,000 for a two people.

That would allow developers to charge $3,700 a month for what is supposed to be an “affordable” unit.

Peskin also noted that the last time the supes pushed for a Charter amendment that set the acceptable levels of affordable housing a developer had to provide, it was a disaster, and they had to go back to the ballot to fix it. Affordable housing ought to be flexible and not set in the city’s Constitution, he said.

Peskin told Safai that after hearing public comment from all of the stakeholder, this measure “is folly.”

He told him to convene the stakeholders and “come back with something that people are going to say this and that about and are going to support and oppose, but not like this.”

Here’s what we just heard from my colleagues and from the chair: It’s that this thing is about to die … you can ask us to amend it and then kill it, or we can kill it and you can bring it back when you’ve got it right. Pick your poison.

Peskin and Chan vote to table. Sup. Rafael Mandelman dissented. So this one is gone for now.

The two political-reform measures also moved forward, or at least to the next meeting Monday/31.

As Chan noted:

Political cronyism and lack of transparency has fEstered a long
time in City Hall. This is not something we have long suspected.
Federal investigations and our own controller’s audits have confirmed this.

What we’re proposing with this ballot measure is not a silver bullet to problem solve everything, but I do believe this is a critical piece of legislation that we can improve accountability and strengthen our system. It’s the reason why we introduced this charter amendment and I’m calling it the good and clean government act.

What some want to say as a power grab … I firmly believe that it is because those who think that is because they want to maintain a status quo.

Which is pretty seriously corrupt.

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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