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Monday, January 30, 2023

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News + PoliticsThe next supes president, the future of safe-consumption sites, PG&E's failure ...

The next supes president, the future of safe-consumption sites, PG&E’s failure …

... and what the School Board leadership debate is really about. That's The Agenda for Jan. 9-16

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When Mayor London Breed held her pre-second-storm press conference to tell us all was going to be fine last week, I raised a question:

PG&E isn’t here; is the city confident that the utility can handle and restore any power outages?

Mary Ellen Carroll, the director of emergency services, said the city was in constant touch with PG&E and there shouldn’t be any problems.

Mary Ellen Carroll talks about PG&E’s preparations for the storm.

Except that three days after the storm, parts of the city still were without power, and PG&E had no explanation:

(Sup. Hillary) Ronen said that, like her constituents, she got little information from PG&E throughout the day Thursday, though the company said restoring power to the neighborhood was a priority. She found that hard to believe since crews were not sent out until this morning.

“It’s disgusting. It’s actually disgusting,” she said. “Once again San Francisco residents’ safety is in danger and there is no urgency at all. Those residents increasingly pay higher and higher fees for no improvement in service.”

The city wasn’t prepared for the deluge, but once local crews from the Department of Public Works and the San Francisco Municipal Utilities Commission got activated, they did a far better job of cleaning up the mess than PG&E.

It continues to boggle my mind: Why isn’t the city moving to seize PG&E’s system and create a municipal grid, that might actually work for the people who live here and pay for it?

The supes will start the year Monday/9, and the first and only real item on the agenda is the selection of a new board president. By all accounts, Sup. Shamann Walton wants another term (although he diplomatically told me: “that’s up to my colleagues.”) But this board doesn’t have six automatic progressive votes, not since Joel Engardio ousted Gordon Mar in D4 and Matt Dorsey won in D6.

I think it’s safe to say the mayor would prefer someone other than Walton.

Sup. Rafael Mandelman is a candidate, and he presents himself as the person at the center of the board, able to work with all sides. But he doesn’t have a clear path to six votes either.

Sup. Connie Chan could also be a contender, and there’s a scenario that brings here six.

All of this is up in flux as I write this Sunday night, and it could all change tomorrow morning.

The board will take public comment before the vote.

Walton will be asking the mayor during Question Time about the city’s emergency preparations when the Board of Supes comes back to work Tuesday/10. Breed initially blamed the National Weather Service for failing to warn her team about the expected rainfall, but the folks at NWS say she had plenty of advance notice.

The Budget and Finance Committee holds a hearing Wednesday/11 to challenge the Mayor’s Office on why the Department of Public Health

stopped any plans towards opening wellness hubs with the Gubbio Project and SF AIDS Foundation, and how DPH plans to implement its own Overdose Prevention Plan, address open-air drug use, and improve conditions on the street without the wellness hubs.

A strong majority on the board supports the idea of supervised consumption sites, which the mayor in the past has supported. But since Gov. Gavin Newsom, deciding his political future was more important than saving lives, vetoed a bill that would legalize the sites, and Breed has backed away from the idea, arguing that there are “legal issues.”

There were “legal issues” to needle exchange in the 1980s; it saved lives. There were “legal issues” when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom decided to allow same-sex marriage licenses in San Francisco; that’s now the law of the land.

But Breed, along with City Attorney David Chiu, refuses to take any risks here—and those risks are largely theoretical. There’s no way the Biden Administration, or the Newsom Administration, is going to push criminal charges against anyone in San Francisco who participates in creating safe-consumption sites, and two nonprofits are ready to take any such risks and get started.

It’s political, not legal. Breed would rather focus on criminalizing drug use than on a proven program that works all over the world.

The supes are prepared to allocated money for a contract with Gubbio and the AIDS Foundation to open wellness centers. This will be a major issue and point of contention with Breed and the board in the spring, and it starts Wednesday.

There’s a good bit of fuss over the School Board’s vote Tuesday/10 on electing a president, but it all kind of misses the point. The school board president (unlike the Board of Supers president) is mostly a symbolic role, without any real significant power. What’s at stake as a new progressive majority takes over after a recall that gave Mayor Breed control of the board is, among other things, the future of Lowell High School—and that discussion and vote will happen no matter who is president.

The board is also going to have to deal with the payroll crisis, a budget crisis, a teacher shortage, a racial achievement gap, and a whole lot more, and all of those things are far more important that who gets elected president.

But a victory for a progressive as board president would signal that the 4-3 majority is ready to tackle some of the problems the mayor would rather let slide, particularly the racial gap at Lowell.

Until the pandemic, admission at Lowell, which has the reputation as one of the top public high schools in the country and is seen by a lot of parents as a feeder school to the supposedly top colleges in the country, was determined by what some call “merit” but was in reality a standardized test. (I don’t buy into the idea that you have to go to Lowell to get into a good college and succeed. Lots of kids I know went to SF public schools that weren’t Lowell and got into great colleges. I also don’t think you need an Ivy League education to find and do well in a career; the Ivies are overrated. My person opinion.)

During the pandemic, the district was unable to pack hundreds of applicants into a big room for tests, so the rules changed, and admission to Lowell became lottery-based, just like all the other high schools. Black and Latino admissions went up; those students also succeeded.

The previous board wanted to keep the lottery, and that’s a big reason the recall was organized.

This board may decide to move back in that direction. It won’t matter who the president is if there are four votes.

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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