At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, there were almost five hours of public comment on the resolution condemning Israel for raiding a flotilla headed for Gaza. The speakers seemed about evenly split between the pro-Palestine and pro-Israel factions. Aside from a few outbursts (one from Supervisor Chris Daly) and some errant clapping, the meeting was remarkably civil. Did I mention it was a billion hours long? It was.
Ultimately, the resolution was “referred to committee” by Supervisor Bevan Dufty. If board President David Chiu refers the resolution to the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee (on which Dufty sits), it will probably disappear forever. Anyone with even a rudimentary understanding of board rules (read: all the supervisors) knew this was going to happen.
And so, when the meeting ended at 12:03 a.m., what had the resolution’s sponsors — supervisors John Avalos and Sophie Maxwell — really accomplished by throwing this grenade into the middle of budget season? Nothing.
That’s not entirely true. They did manage to make enemies out of other supervisors. I imagine that, after slogging home after midnight, several supervisors poured some brown liquor and went to work on Avalos and Maxwell voodoo dolls. Feeling a sharp pain in your side today, Avalos? Now you know why.
The other thing they managed to accomplish was to push me and everyone I know over the brink with this nonsense. Enough is enough. We did not elect these people to the International Court of Justice. This is the Board of Supervisors. Fix the potholes.
The activists who push for these resolutions are simply using City Hall to act out their frustrations. Like punching a pillow instead of confronting an adversary, it’s not only futile, but dangerously creates an illusion of accomplishment where there is none. Run for Congress. Jump onto a plane. Send money to a worthy organization. But don’t pat yourselves on the back for a job well done for getting a resolution passed at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. No one cares what six supervisors in San Francisco think about foreign policy — not other governments, not the U.S. government and especially not those of us who live here.
‘In a psychotic episode, I chewed off my own little finger to prove I needed help,” said a woman (rather matter-of-factly) during public comment on cuts to the Department of Public Health.
I didn’t hear anything she said after that. When a jaw hits the ground during a Board of Supervisors meeting, does it make a sound? Yes, apparently it does because one of the supervisors turned around and gave me a surprised look and later confirmed that the lady was telling the truth (“I could see her hands!”).
This spectacle went on for more than three hours as people lined up to tell stories of big victories and little miracles achieved by programs at the Department of Public Health that will be cut in Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget.
Aside from the finger-eating thing, this was all familiar to City Hall watchers. It’s a dance every year where Mistermayor proposes deep cuts to services for the poor and the Board of Supervisors scrambles to add the money back. Since the mayor’s budget was announced, supervisors have been deluged with representatives from nonprofit organizations trying to keep their funding. Some of it will be restored, probably from the $30 million the budget has set aside to steel against state budget cuts. In exchange, the board usually endorses the rest of the budget.
To recap: In exchange for adding back $12.5 million (give or take), the mayor’s $6.4 billion budget gets passed. The first part of the dance has started.
One criticism I frequently hear about the Board of Supervisors is that it meets during the day when regular folks can’t attend. This results in very specific constituents having considerable sway at the board. And while I’m not suggesting votes are determined by the Applause-O-Meter, everyone knows a good turnout can help persuade supervisors who are on the fence about a particular vote.
Sharp Park Golf Course is one fine example of this. I don’t think supervisors knew what they were getting into when taking up the issue of a golf course beloved by retirees. See, retired people have the time during the day to go to meetings — and you bet they do, too! As do others without jobs, or whose job it is to show up to meetings.
But what about the rest of us? Board of Supervisors meetings are held at 2 p.m. Tuesdays. Who can go to that? Certainly not single parents.
Committee meetings are just as poorly scheduled. In addition, there’s usually no set time at any meeting for people to comment. Assuming you can attend, you can be there for one hour or four hours, depending on a variety of factors.
The recent cell phone labeling ordinance (you’re welcome, Fox News) and the sit-lie law debates featured this issue: How are small-business owners supposed to make their voices heard when they are busy literally minding the store? Children’s advocates dominated the cell phone labeling hearing. Homeless and civil-rights activists came out in full force for sit-lie hearings. Listening to each of them gave the impression of a community united in its cause and convictions. But that’s far from the truth.
Of course, there are other ways of making one’s voice heard. E-mail and the Small Business Commission (which meets in the evenings) are such options. But as other groups who show up en masse understand, there’s something helpful about being able to attend and show solidarity, debate a prior speaker’s point and, most importantly, to look your elected official in the eye and tell your story.
Perhaps it’s time for the board to consider a schedule change. They work for us, right?