Forget the Board of Supervisors and its endless imitation of student government on steroids. These days, the real action is at the meetings of the Recreation and Park Commission. The commission meets on the first and third Thursday of each month at 4 p.m. in City Hall. Mark your calendars.
At last Thursday’s meeting, commission President Mark Buell began by welcoming the newest member, Paige Arata, with this comment: “I hope this meeting won’t be indicative of all the meetings you attend.” Like an NC-17 rating on a movie, I took this as a sign that I should not change the channel.
Not 10 minutes later, during general public comment, a woman named Linda walked up to the podium and carefully placed a large reindeer made of balloons on the ledge beside her left shoulder. Did I mention she was dressed as a clown? She was. First speaking in rhyming couplets, then in word cloud, Linda explained that she has traveled the world as a street performer and was upset that recently she was prevented from plying her tumescent trade in Union Square. (Linda seemed to be operating under the misapprehension that Union Square is managed by the Recreation and Park Department. It is not.)
A short while after Linda spoke, the show continued with a parade of people angry at plans to shut down a recycling center run by the Haight-Ashbury Neighborhood Council. The center is in Golden Gate Park near Kezar Stadium. Because some entrepreneurial locals make money turning in recyclables there, a cadre of advocates is madder than Mel Gibson on brown liquor at the prospect of the center being replaced by a community garden and tool rental facility. The commission voted to remove the cash machine for bottle-divers from the park, but at least the impassioned opposition will soon have a place to rent pitchforks and torches.
Finally, the commission came to the issue of plans to fix up the decrepit Stow Lake boathouse. The new tenant has promised to create an adorable cafe, invest $400,000 to fix the ailing infrastructure, hire locally and floss twice a day. Or something like that. As usual, regulars at the boathouse would rather put up a sign that says, “It Ain’t Pretty, But It’s Home” and continue life as usual.
Did I mention that all city departments, including Rec and Park, have been directed to cut 10 percent of their budgets for the next fiscal year? They have.
Decrying the “Starbucks-ization” of the boathouse, a number of people spoke against turning it into something that might turn a profit for The City. Some spoke in favor of the plans. However, having waited five hours to address the commission, everyone was understandably cranky.
But then, a woman with a bird puppet on her right hand approached the podium. In a style that I can only describe as rapping, she explained that the bird refused to speak because “this whole process has been a mess.” She then solemnly took off her hat and spent the rest of her allotted time in silent meditation to encourage “peace in our hearts, peace in the parks.”
I, for one, was grateful to the rapping lady whose bird puppet was on strike. The meeting needed a moment of sanity.
In one of many glamorous afternoons spent in the Hastings Law Library, I came across a book written by Francis V. Keeling called “San Francisco Charter of 1931.” Keeling was apparently on the drafting committee of the charter and wrote his own account of the drafting process and San Francisco local politics at the turn of the century.
There are so many gems in this short work that I can’t possibly fit them into one column, but here are my top three:
1. Why we have 11 members of the Board of Supervisors: “A smaller number would have been provided had it not been for the imminence of consolidation with San Mateo County and proportional requirements.” Of course, the merger never happened, and we still have 11 supes. Honolulu, Hawaii, also is a city and county with about 900,000 residents and only has nine council members.
2. Initially, there were provisions to prevent the practice of inflating one’s final year of salary before retirement, known as pension “spiking.” The 1931 charter mandated that retirement for police officers and firefighters be calculated based on the person’s rank and salary three years before retirement. Earlier this year, the unions wouldn’t agree to use an average of the employee’s final three years of salary to determine pension benefits.
3. Our strong executive branch and centralized local government were designed that way to keep on policy and remove administration of those policies from political influence. For example, before the charter of 1931, “Authority for issuance of permits was distributed and political influence in the operations of the many city departments resulted in inattention, indifference, and poor service.” I’m certainly glad we got that one straightened out.
Next November’s ballot may be all about public education. While the Board of Supervisors is contemplating a measure for voters that would make serving on the Board of Education a full-time, salaried position, another education measure was just certified for the ballot: the Students First initiative. The result of a group of motivated parents out gathering signatures, Students First is a policy statement that school assignments should be based on neighborhoods where children live.
The Board of Education is trying out a new assignment system this year that is supposed to give more weight to a child’s proximity to an assigned school, but the Students First policy statement is more precise, essentially mandating that students be guaranteed placement in a school close to home. Fancy specialty schools and diverse schools across town would be optional.
So attention, San Francisco Unified School District: There will be a test.