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City HallThe AgendaTough budget times in a city full of rich people who don't...

Tough budget times in a city full of rich people who don’t pay even remotely fair taxes ….

... plus AI and local elections, the crisis in the jails, and can the zoo really handle pandas? That's The Agenda for May 12-19

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Four of the richest 20 people in California live in San Francisco, according to a recently released Forbes list. The poorest of them is Mark Benioff, who is worth $10.6 billion. (That puts him only number 203 on the Forbes 400).

This is not just insane. It’s disgusting.

And if the big business folks have their way, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

The California Business Roundtable, and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association (yeah, the folks who brought us Prop. 13) are pushing a ballot measure that would not only make it harder to pass local and statewide taxes on the rich—it would repeal taxes that local governments have already approved. By a vote of the people.

If this clears the Supreme Court, and goes on the ballot, expect at least $100 million in spending to get it passed. And where will the money come to stop it?

Mayor London Breed pushed for more arrests in the Tenderloin; now the jails are in crisis. She’s also pushing major cuts when the city’s richest are just getting richer.

Gov. Gavin Newsom so far says he’s against the measure. He’s also running for president. Will he use his clout to raise $50 million or more to allow higher taxes in his home state? I wouldn’t count on it.

The only very modest steps that cities in California have taken to address the radical income inequality that threatens the future of society has come with taxes approved by more than half the voters. Now the very rich are trying to stop even that.

Let us put this in some context.

The most recent report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the percentage of the nation’s income going to line workers is continuing a long, long decline. Meanwhile, CEO pay has continued to soar.

But it’s much more than this.

Since 1980, when Reagan was elected and neoliberalism became the policy of the country, productivity has increased pretty dramatically. Any economist of any political perspective will tell you that the way societies get richer is through productivity increases—that it, the amount each worker can produce in a period of time.

Between World War II and about 1980, wages rose along with productivity; that created the middle class. Since Reagan, all the gains of increased productivity (which has soared in the digital era) have gone to the top ten percent.

That’s not sustainable. It’s the reason we have a housing and homeless crisis. It’s the reason young people can’t afford to go to college. It’s the heart of all of the social crises we face today.

And I have not heard one of the billionaires who live in SF or who want to create their own techtopia even mention that this is a problem.

Meanwhile, while the rich keep most of their money, the Budget and Appropriations Committee begins what will be a long series of hearings on the mayor’s proposed budget Wednesday/15. The departments that will be presenting:

The Airport Commission, Board of Appeals, Department of Building Inspection, Child Support Services, Department of the Environment, Law Library, Municipal Transportation Agency, Port, Public Library, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the Residential Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, and Retirement System.

Over the next few weeks, the committee will hear from every city agency, and try to figure out how to keep essential services funded while facing a deep deficit. In a city will more than 60 billionaires.

That meeting starts at 11:30.

This November will mark the first major election since the advent of freely available advanced AI tools. If you’re not worried about that, you aren’t paying attention.

San Francisco is the center of the AI revolution—and also the center of a move by billionaire tech folks to take over local politics. Deepfakes, phony robocalls, misleading content that appears to be news … it’s a scary world we’re facing, and nobody is sure how to deal with it.

Sup. Dean Preston has called a hearing at the Rules Committee Monday/13 to “focus on proposals to address concerns about false and misleading AI-generated election material and how the city can adopt new policies to address AI’s role in San Francisco elections.”

John Arntz, the director of elections, will be there, as will Michael Canning, policy director at the Ethics Commission. David Harris, who teaches at UC Berkeley and is an advisor to California Common Cause, is also slated to make a presentation.

That meeting starts at 10:30am.

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee holds a hearing on pandas Thursday/16.

It’s not directly about the endangered Chinese bears (yes, Pandas are a type of bear); it’s about the city law that limits the ability of city officials to solicit contributions on behalf of nonprofits, so-called “behested payments.” From the agenda:

Resolution authorizing the Office of the Mayor, Recreation and Park Department, Office of Economic and Workforce Development, San Francisco International Airport, Office of the City Administrator, and the Chief of Protocol to solicit donations from various private entities and organizations to support San Francisco in hosting Panda Bears from the People’s Republic of China, notwithstanding the Behested Payment Ordinance.

The money would wind up going to the private SF Zoological Society, which runs the zoo—badly, some folks say.

So the larger question here is not whether the mayor should be allowed to ask her billionaire friends to give money for a new panda enclosure; it’s whether the San Francisco zoo is in any condition to host the sensitive and valuable creatures.

That, at this point in time, seems at the very least an open question.

The meeting starts at 10am.

I was fascinated by this story in MissionLocal about an inmate in SF County Jail who wants to be transferred to state prison. I’ve been to the county jail in San Bruno, and I’ve been to other jails, and in past years, SF had about the most chill lockup I’ve ever seen. Not without its problems, but nothing like state prison.

But things have changed, a lot, in the past year, and one reason is the policy of the mayor and the district attorney to arrest and lock up people who have serious addiction and mental-health issues, as a way to “clean up” the streets.

The jail is now overcrowded, and badly understaffed, and the deputies who try to keep order are not mental-health professionals.

Locking up people to address issues on the streets that are better handled with supportive housing, mental-health services, and treatment on demand—which the city can’t provide at the level of the need—just moves the problem from one place to another. In this case, to the county jail.

The full Board of Supes will sit as a Committee of the Whole Tuesday/14 to hear from the Sheriff’s Office, deputies and the sheriff’s inspector general on

responses from management to Deputy Sheriffs’ complaints about overcrowding and understaffing in the jails and the impact of jail lockdowns in San Francisco County Jails resulting from overcrowding and understaffing, including but not limited to: impacts to the public health, wellness and personal safety of both inmates and Deputy Sheriffs, as well as impacts to incarcerated individuals’ rights to family visits or in-jail programs.

I hope some of the supes ask: Is this the result of the new policies of the mayor and the DA?

That hearing is set for 3pm.

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
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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