In the past decade, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors has tried to establish itself as sort of an international oversight panel, weighing in on sweatshop sanctions, human-rights abuses and military juntas in countries far away.
That makes it all the more curious why the board doesn’t acknowledge the coup taking place right here at home.
Last week, supervisors introduced three proposed charter amendments that would upset the balance of power that has guided The City for more than 50 years. The move to take power over commission appointments away from the Mayor’s Office and give it to the board should spur talk about a measure to abolish district elections, the one act that has transformed The City from a strong mayoral form of government into 11 tiny fiefdoms.
Perhaps the worst part of the plan to take away mayoral appointments to three separate city commissions is that none of the panels warrants such dramatic change — it’s purely about politics.
The supervisors pushing the proposal say it’s to improve the “relationship” between the executive and legislative branches. Really? Then why were there no hearings or discussions prior to the May surprise? The remarks from supervisors as to the reasons for their actions were so disingenuous as to be laughable. The simple truth is that it’s a way for district supervisors to seize power over city commissions, just another step to acquire more influence in the “progressives’” assault on San Francisco’s time-honored hierarchy.
The proposed amendments would split appointments between the mayor and the board for the Recreation and Park Commission, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and the Rent Board in similar fashion to earlier ballot eruptions that gave the board more say at the Planning, Police and Public Utilities commissions. Did those appointment changes result in better oversight at any of those panels? No, but they did result in politicizing those commissions sometimes to the point of paralysis.
The Police Commission has been a relatively dysfunctional mess; its backlog for hearing misconduct cases is so long that it recently just heard one that had been pending for six years. The only real way for the commission to begin to deal with the delays is to start throwing some of the cases out — hardly the outcome predicted when supervisors called for the panel’s reform. (It did, however, spawn the political career of Supervisor David Campos, he of sanctuary policy fame.)
The Planning Commission is now split ideologically among individuals appointed by the mayor and those of the left-leaning board, resulting in a series of 4-3 votes on most controversial projects, such as the condo tower at 555 Washington St. that the board, acting as The City’s top planners, ultimately rejected.
That move points out another reason why there’s no need to change the appointment process for other city commissions. The supervisors already have the ability to reject any of the mayor’s appointments. All the members of the SFMTA board of directors currently under fire from supervisors were approved by them.
“They’re trying to gut The City’s charter,” Newsom said. “You just shouldn’t do things at this level.”
Adding more tenant activists to the Rent Board would be pure overkill. Any person who believes that renters in San Francisco don’t have enough rights or protections would have to be a card-carrying member of the Tenants Union.
Yet, the call to seize appointments to the Rec and Park Commission may be even more outlandish, because that panel has reacted remarkably well to handling a critical city service at a time when it has lost millions of dollars to budget cuts. The department’s general manager, Phil Ginsburg, has come up with creative solutions to the budget hole, bringing in new revenue by expanding concerts and public outreach for recreation services. Next month, it will provide giant screens in the Civic Center so the public will be able to watch World Cup soccer games.
It’s worth noting that if this board had its way, our city parks would now be paved with metallic parking meters. It insists on raising taxes and fees. Today, we pay far more for less.
But the board can’t seem to cut, only add, and that extends to its pursuit of power.