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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

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News + PoliticsCity HallSupes demand big changes in Breed's budget

Supes demand big changes in Breed’s budget

Plus: A key vote on Lowell admissions—and what the final numbers on the Boudin recall show. That's The Agenda for June 19-26

The last budget cycle in San Francisco wasn’t terribly contentious; the mayor presented a reasonable budget, and after the usual exhaustive hearings and some changes, the board approved it.

Not this time.

Sup. Hillary Ronen is not ready to sign off on the mayor’s budget.

Mayor London Breed has submitted a budget that, among other things, includes an increase in the police budget, and, according to Budget and Appropriations Chair Hillary Ronen, is missing a whole lot of other things.

On June 15, in a committee hearing aimed at department heads, Ronen made it clear that the plan as proposed is a non-starter, that she has a list of $1.3 billion worth of “add backs”—things that the supes want in the budget but the mayor didn’t fund:

There is lot left out of this budget. I have combed through the list [of add-backs] time and time again and there is very little fluff in it. It mostly consists of requests for the basics, like food.

I drove past a Latino resource hub on my way to work today. This is the day that the hub distributes foods. There was already a line of people with their carts, their little push carts, going for at least eight blocks. I couldn’t even see where the line ended, wrapped around buildings and blocks.

The distribution of food at that site doesn’t start for another two hours and this was already the line.

Then I drove down Van Ness and on both sides of the street there was a whole new line of tents that I have never seen at this site before.

Is this because of the depressing hearings that we held last night for hours on end at the board of supervisors, where our most important providers of the mentally disabled, Baker Places, is on the brink of closure? The basic needs of the poor community are not being met.

Also missing from this budget is support for homeless women and their children, survivors of domestic violence, the health and resource hubs that I just talked about that have been instrumental in our fight against Covid-19.

There is no cost of increase for the non-profit service providers in the time of high inflation.

For all of those reasons, I have instructed the Budget and Legislative analyst to be aggressive this year, so that we can cut as much as inefficiency and sometimes waste out of the budget as use that money to meet the basic needs of the people of San Francisco.

I have asked the BLA to place specific emphasis on vacant positions that haven’t been filled for a while despite being funded and I’m looking to save every single penny that we can to redirect those resources to people suffering in poverty and other critical priorities, like the environment and quality education for our kids. I want to implore all the department heads to work with the Budget and Legislative Analyst, who will propose cuts to your budget, because I promise you that they will be easier to work with than this committee …

The B.L.A. Is looking at your budget through a lens of good government and efficiencies.

We will be looking at your line items and will be thinking about those hungry seniors trapped in their buildings because they don’t have elevators. We will think of the children who are standing next to their mother buying stolen meats because she can’t afford the food in the grocery store. I’m not exaggerating. I’m not doing this to get a response. These are the real stories that my colleagues and I are hearing every single day.

And like me, a lot of us are having a really hard time sleeping. Do everything you can to reach an agreement with the BLA.

If you do not next week, we will be considering your budget last in line and we will scrutinize every detail, even more closely than we already are.

So now the Mayor’s Office and the departments are going to have to go back and work with the supes, and the BLA will have some preliminary suggestions for the budget meetings this week.

There is, as Ronen noted, a huge amount at stake here; a budget is a set of priorities, and as the mayor moves to appoint a new DA, take a tough-on-crime approach, lock more people up, and leave basic social needs out of the budget, the supes are going to fight back.

The folks who pushed the DA recall are talking about the city “doing the basics,” but that means the basics for people who aren’t poor and hungry and desperate.

The committee meets Wednesday/22, Thursday/23, and Friday/24, and every department will be present and presenting. Friday will be devoted to public comment. All the meetings start at 10am.

Breed’s new appointees to the School Board are going to have to decide Wednesday/22 if they want to reject the recommendation of Superintendent Vince Matthews and restore Lowell High School admissions to grades and standardized tests.

In terms of politics, it’s an immensely difficult issue, and one of the main reasons that three School Board members were recalled this spring.

In terms of actual data, it’s a lot more clear: For decades, the test-in system has systemically excluded Black and Latino students, and when Lowell went to a lottery system, like all of the other SF high schools, Black and Latino admissions increased.

Matthews has a more simple case: It’s going to be complicated and expensive as we are still grappling with a global pandemic to switch back to a situation where hundreds of eight-graders sit in a big room and take a standardized test that will determine whether they can attend the most prestigious public high school in the city.

The data on standardized tests, collected over more than 40 years, is also immensely clear: They are racist and classist. More than 1,000 colleges and universities now eschew the SAT and the ACT, or at least make it optional, in admissions decisions.

The board will first consider a resolution to create a new task force to look at overall high school programs and admissions decisions. Everyone likes that idea.

Then they will decide whether to reject the superintendent’s suggestion that Lowell admissions continue as a lottery for at least one more year.

Four members of the current board were elected by the voters. Three of of the four—Mark Sanchez, Matt Alexander, and Kevine Boggess—want to maintain the lottery.

One, Jenny Lam, hasn’t taken a position.

But it’s likely that the three members appointed by the mayor will be the swing votes here. The three, Ann Hsu, Lainie Motamedi, and Lisa Weissman-Ward, all voted to make Lam the board president.

Which means it will be Breed’s decision.

That meeting starts at 5pm.

A final note: Turnout in the June 7 election was much higher than many, including me, had predicted, and a lot more votes were cast or ballots dropped off on Election Day.

The results show that Chesa Boudin was indeed recalled—but by a much lower margin that it first appeared. The tally was about 55 yes and 45 no, a difference of 22,000 votes.

Before the media draws any more sweeping conclusions, let us note: The supporters of the recall spent about $54 a vote. That’s astounding. The news media coverage was wretched.

After all of that, 100,138 people voted not to recall the DA. That’s hardly a statement against criminal-justice reform. And it suggests that the person the mayor appoints may be vulnerable to a challenge in the fall.

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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