Publisher's Note
Getting street thugs to move along with Prop. L; District 2 supervisor race comes down to Prop. B


Bruce Brugmann, editor and publisher of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, is a pioneer in the community newspaper business, paving the way for a new generation of independent publishers like me, and I respect and admire him for it. But when I picked up the 44th anniversary edition of the Guardian this week, I thought Brugmann had either lost his mind or he isn’t paying attention to what goes on the cover of his publication.

The headline screams, “The war on kids,” and the subtitle reads, “San Francisco’s becoming increasingly harsh and unfriendly to young, creative people.” The photo depicts a healthy-looking, smirking young woman holding a sign that says she’s “homesick and hungry” – she’s also holding a cigarette, has a tattoo, and sports a tousle of dyed blond hair, so she obviously has enough money for those expenditures. At her feet is a pit bull mix (the preferred dog of street kids) with testicles – which is illegal. That’s right: in the City of San Francisco, all pit bulls and pit bull mixes must be neutered or spayed by the age of 6 months. This is yet another example of how these street “kids” think our laws don’t apply to them, and exactly why we need to take back the streets with a yes vote for Civil Sidewalks (Proposition L). It’s also important to vote no on Proposition M, a ridiculous measure that not only takes authority for foot patrols away from the chief of police and hands it to the Board of Supervisors, but also includes a “poison pill” buried deep within the fine print that kills Proposition L should Proposition M get more votes – even if Proposition L passes.

I’m outraged that Proposition M was written by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who represents the Haight – the neighborhood with the highest percentage of aggressive thugs blocking storefronts and scaring away tourists. Having lived one block from Haight Street for over a decade, I’ve seen first-hand how violent these squatters have become (I wrote a Publisher’s Note in the January 2010 issue of Northside San Francisco, “The thugs who run Haight Street”). I don’t think Mirkarimi is ‘out of touch’ with his constituents, I just don’t think he cares; he’s more intent, like most of the liberal Board of Supervisors, on pushing his personal agenda. Sixty U.S. cities currently have sit/lie laws on the books – including the crunchy-granola capitol of the world, Berkeley. It simply gives police officers the power to tell troublemakers to move on – and brings some sense of control back to the small business owners and residents now forced to deal with a dirty, violent, rundown street (thanks, in large part, to a lack of support from Proposition M author and District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, and a lack of interest in keeping criminals in jail from absentee District Attorney Kamala Harris). The police are fed up with street thugs, and so are we – it’s time to send a message to City Hall and the thugs by voting yes on Proposition L for Civil Sidewalks.

While we’re at it, I recommend redefining the term “homeless.” There’s a big difference between a mentally ill Vietnam veteran who isn’t getting the assistance needed to get off the street, and the chubby girl from Tennessee I recently heard whining about how increasing the price of a McDonald’s cheeseburger fifty cents was going to make it “harder to get full.” She looked plenty full; she was also holding a pack of cigarettes in her hand – that’s roughly four cheeseburgers right there. And the last time I checked, the McDonald’s on Haight Street was hiring, so that’s a win-win – she can get a job and eat all the cheeseburgers she wants. She also complained that she might have to “go home to her parents.” I have a message for the well-fed cheeseburger girl clogging the entrance to McDonald’s and aggressively hassling customers for change: Please do – I’ll happily buy you a one-way ticket to Tennessee.

As for the story in the Bay Guardian, the first paragraph reads, “I’ve been hanging out with the Haight Street kids. Over the course of a week or so, I smoked weed, drank malt liquor, witnessed nasty run-ins with police officers – all events that anyone who has walked down that legendary street would expect.” I don’t think the tourists I’ve seen running in fear were “expecting” it, nor were folks like me who moved to the Haight during a kinder, mellower time. And are these the “young, creative people” mentioned on the cover? Obviously, there is nothing creative about these “kids” – many are felons, most are committing at least petty crimes on a daily basis (smoking pot, public drunkenness, defecating and urinating on the street, having unaltered pit bulls) – and I’ve yet to encounter one who was even slightly interested in looking for a job or doing something “creative” like volunteering for a nonprofit.

The race for District 2 supervisor

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the three frontrunners in the race for Michela Alioto-Pier’s District 2 seat on the Board of Supervisors – Mark Farrell, Janet Reilly and Kat Anderson. All three were poised, personable, and seemed genuinely concerned about representing their district, which includes the Marina.

The candidates

Farrell is a political newcomer. Born and raised in the Marina, he is an attorney who detoured into the world of investment banking before joining Quest Hospitality, a venture capital firm that invests in companies within the travel and hospitality industries. Farrell isn’t interested in using the District 2 seat to move further into politics – in fact, he decided to run because he was tired of seeing “career politicians” do just that once elected to the Board of Supervisors. With his strong financial background, conservative fiscal stance, desire to protect the rights of small property owners, and keen interest in making sure District 2’s many shopping corridors and small businesses thrive, Farrell is well suited to represent the neighborhoods. He also brings many of the qualities former District 2 representatives Gavin Newsom and Michela Alioto-Pier did – like a sane, moderate voice in a room that has notoriously been filled with “kookalunas” and far-lefties like Chris Daly, Ross Mirkarimi and Aaron Peskin. His lack of political experience is a breath of fresh air, as is his lack of further political ambition.

Reilly, an appointed member of the Golden Gate Bridge Board, is not a political newbie: she made an unsuccessful bid for state Assembly in 2006. Since then, her progressive platform has tilted to a more conservative stance (and more in line with most District 2 residents). She is well aware that the budget – and the Board of Supervisors – have run amuck, wasting time enacting voluntary “meatless Mondays” and taking toys out of McDonald’s Happy Meals instead of tackling tough issues like our financial future. Reilly is knowledgeable on the issues, extremely articulate and tough enough to stand up for her constituents; but critics worry that her many endorsements from the left, including Aaron Peskin and the Bay Guardian, make her a liberal in a moderate’s clothing. At the District 2 candidate forum held Sept. 30 at the Golden Gate Yacht Club, Reilly was booed for not answering a question about who should be interim mayor if Gavin Newsom becomes lieutenant governor. While the other candidates named names, Reilly said she would make a “very thoughtful choice.” A number of audience members asked her to promise that she would not endorse her endorser, ex-Supervisor Aaron Peskin. The day after the debate, Reilly took a stand, saying that she would not vote for “any current or former member of the Board of Supervisors.” Reilly is a smart, strong, savvy woman who definitely realizes that representing the concerns and wishes of District 2 residents is the name of the game (especially if she wants to serve a second term).

Anderson, a Marina resident and attorney with a long record of public service and volunteer work, gained an interest in politics while growing up in Arkansas. As a teenager, she babysat a child named Chelsea – for her neighbors, Bill and Hillary Clinton. She volunteered on Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial campaign while in high school and later on his presidential campaigns. Serving as mentors, the Clintons inspired Anderson to move to the Bay Area in 1984, where she put herself through Stanford University, graduating with a degree in political science and a minor in economics, and later Hastings College of the Law at U.C. Berkeley. As an attorney, Anderson’s 19 years of experience resolving labor and employment disputes gives her the necessary tools to negotiate both with her fellow supervisors and San Francisco’s strong unions. Having spent 30 years volunteering for local, state and federal lawmakers, Anderson has invaluable insight to the day-to-day workings of government. She’s also the toughest candidate when it comes to reigning in the careless spending at City Hall – even if it means making some difficult choices.

Where they stand on the local propositions

Farrell, Reilly and Anderson agree more than they disagree on local ballot measures.
All three support Proposition G (Muni reform). I don’t think anyone in District 2 disagrees that Muni needs fixing – in particular, getting rid of the preposterous city charter that says San Francisco Muni drivers must be the second highest paid in the country (Boston currently ranks number one).

The candidates all plan to cast no votes for Proposition J, the hotel tax increase initiative, brought to the ballot by a coalition of labor unions, which would raise San Francisco’s hotel taxes and fees to 17.5 percent – the highest in the nation among comparable destinations (in New York City, for example, you will pay 16.5 percent) – which could make travelers think twice when booking that family vacation or business conference.

They’re also in agreement on the above-mentioned Proposition L, the sensible Civil Sidewalks measure that would give police the power to tell troublemakers to move it along.

Where they split is on Proposition B, which would require city employees to make additional contributions to fund their pensions and medical costs – both Farrell and Reilly are against it, while Anderson is a strong yes.

Farrell opposes Proposition B mainly because he doesn’t believe sending pension reform to the ballot box is the right approach, even though he admits City Hall has done “a horrific job” of negotiating with the unions in the past. He fears that union employment terms will forever be dictated by voters rather than allowing the unions to sit down with City Hall – but as Farrell correctly points out, that hasn’t worked.

In fact, over the last decade while the economic good times rolled, the City stopped contributing to the pension plan, saying it was fully funded based on the value of the assets. Money not contributed to pensions morphed into pay raises and hiring sprees. But the economic good times aren’t rolling anymore, and as anyone invested in the stock market knows, those assets aren’t worth what they used to be. Salaries, benefits and pension fund contributions will cost San Francisco nearly $3 billion this year.

Under Proposition B, police and fire departments would contribute up to 10 percent of their compensation – a 2.5 percent raise from their current level. Other San Francisco employees would contribute 9 percent – just 1.5 percent more than they pay now. For medical plans, the City would pay an amount average to the costs of 10 surrounding counties, and for dependents they would pay no more than 50 percent of the lowest cost.

Reilly opposes Proposition B because it’s “too sudden” and would cause a strain on public employees and their families – she favors a ‘gradual’ implementation. But most city employees earn more than the private citizens who are paying for their benefits – on top of trying to pay for their own. In fact, the average salary for a San Francisco public employee is nearly $90,000 per year. And they continue to profit hugely upon retirement.

A Sept. 4 story on www.baycitizen.org (a nonprofit, nonpartisan news group that provides local coverage for The New York Times) takes a look at Morris Tabak, assistant chief of police in San Francisco and, according to the report, one of the highest-paid employees in city history: Tabak earned over $425,000 in 2009. He retired in September after 32 years, and his annual payment from San Francisco’s pension fund will be around a quarter-of-a-million bucks  – when combined with health care benefits, Tabak’s package is worth seven figures. The Bay Citizen report also points out that Tabak is a resident of San Mateo County. That means his property taxes and other expenditures will benefit another city (along with the majority of San Francisco’s highest paid employees and three-quarters of its police force who also live elsewhere).

As a private citizen and San Francisco resident who is also self-employed, I pay thousands of dollars each year for a health care package that doesn’t even cover an annual physical exam with the doctor of my choice (that’s about a thousand bucks extra), and I sure didn’t get any warning or gradual implementation when my insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross, decided to raise my rates nearly 20 percent this summer. Frankly, I am angry that I will be paying for Tabak’s generous retirement package with my tax dollars while he spends his tax dollars (and other dollars) elsewhere.

While Anderson doesn’t disagree that Proposition B will be ‘tough’ on some workers, she also believes that it’s time for public employees to pay their fair share, and that it’s a necessity in this economic downturn with a city budget spiraling out of control. Anderson also believes that even tougher choices will have to be made, like cutting redundant and unnecessary positions from the City’s bloated pre-dot-com-bomb payroll. Anderson points out that the City of San Jose, with a population in excess of 1 million, employees 6,600 people (and is still considering a 10 percent reduction) while San Francisco, with a population of approximately 809,000, employees 27,000 people (35,000 if you include county workers).

I have to agree with Anderson on this one: Proposition B may not be pretty, but it’s time for a City Hall reality check like the one we’ve had in the private sector – you can’t have Champagne taste on a beer budget (and kick us while we’re down buying your Champagne in San Mateo).

E-mail: publisher@marinatimes.com