Booze fee could be the final straw 

‘I heard that Avalos is trying to start taxing my consumption of alcohol. Is that true?” one of my civilian friends asked.

I call him a civilian because he’s not generally interested in local politics. He’s a fancy lawyer whose e-mails usually relate to our shared love of offensive cartoons. However, Supervisor John Avalos’ proposed alcohol tax, er, “fee” has made even the most disinterested San Franciscan sit up and take notice of the Board of ­Supervisors.

The proposed fee, plus administrative costs, will amount to about $1 per drink, according to a recent calculation by the San Francisco Brewers Guild. Technically, the fee is levied against the manufacturers and wholesalers of alcohol sold in The City, but even Avalos admits the cost will be passed on to consumers.

The proceeds from the fee are supposed to cover the $18 million per year The City spends on alcohol treatment facilities and transportation to said facilities. The full board is set to vote on the proposal Sept. 7, and the stakes are higher than just adding a buck to your beer bill. 

Proposition 26 on November’s ballot is a statewide initiative that would severely limit the ability of local governments to impose fees to pay for heath, environmental or social issues. If Prop. 26 passes, fees like the one proposed by Avalos would have to be submitted to voters for approval, not just passed by a simple majority of a city’s leaders.

The prospect of Prop. 26 passing is, I suspect, one reason Avalos is pushing to enact his alcohol fee before the election. However, should this fee become San Francisco law (assuming Mayor Gavin Newsom doesn’t veto it, which he has hinted he might do), you can bet proponents of Prop. 26 will make it the poster child for why we need to rein in the ability of local governments to impose fees without voter approval — “Vote for Prop. 26! Don’t pay a fee on your Chablis!”  

That’s just the kind of political ad that would appeal to civilians throughout California. According to one friend at City Hall, “If Prop. 26 passes, county and local budgets will be devastated forever ... thanks to Avalos.”


Candidates hamstrung by legal dispute

District 2 candidate Janet Reilly has filed court papers opposing Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier’s effort to run for re-election.
Actually, to be more accurate, Reilly has filed a motion asking to support City Attorney Dennis Herrera’s attempt to overrule a Superior Court ruling that Alioto-Pier can run for re-election.

At issue is Alioto-Pier’s appointment to fill Mayor Gavin Newsom’s seat after he was elected mayor in 2003. The board constitutes a four-year term for purposes of term limits. There were three years left on Newsom’s term when he left to become mayor. Alioto-Pier served as an appointee for one year, then won an election to serve the remaining two years of Newsom’s term. She went on to be elected to a regular four-year term. That term ends this year.

No supervisor can serve more than two four-year terms. The City Charter says anyone “appointed” to serve more than two years is counted as having served one full, four-year term. In this case, however, Alioto-Pier was not appointed for more than two years.

But the city attorney has taken the position that our term-limits law prohibits anyone from serving more than eight years, period. (If re-elected, Alioto-Pier would end up serving 11.) On July 22, Superior Court Judge Peter Busch severely disagreed with Herrera and ruled that Alioto-Pier is not termed out. Thus, she’s officially a candidate for District 2. However, the city attorney appealed the decision. The parties expect a ruling by Aug. 18.

That brings us to this most interesting new development: On Tuesday, Reilly submitted a 31-page brief in support of Herrera’s position that the lower court should be overruled.

Much of Reilly’s documents repeat the same arguments made by the city attorney. However, one new section argues that allowing Alioto-Pier to run will “interfere with the [District 2] election.” In it, Reilly argues that other candidates can’t really raise money or ask for endorsements anymore since no one knows what the field looks like. In other words, Alioto-Pier shouldn’t be able to run because her decision to wait until June of this year to announce her candidacy has messed up the whole race.

I don’t think Reilly’s brief will affect the case, but I can’t say that I blame her or any other District 2 candidate for being upset at campaigning and fundraising for months only to find out who the candidates are right before the ballots go to print. As much as ­Alioto-­Pier might have declared her intent to run for re-election prior to June (though she was running for state insurance commissioner until the end of January when she dropped out due to illness), that our well-intentioned city attorney continues to pursue this loser of a case through the courts adds to the infuriating uncertainty about the District 2 ballot.

BP boosting debit-card bill’s chances

San Francisco Assemblywoman Fiona Ma is supporting a bill that would prohibit retailers from charging a fee for the use of debit cards.

Retailers already are forbidden from charging fees for credit card purchases and this legislation — Senate Bill 933 — would extend that prohibition to debit cards.

Opponents of the law, which include British Petroleum, have engaged the services of Woodward and McDowell, a public relations firm that also manages the “Yes on Proposition 23” campaign. Prop. 23 would repeal a 2006 law aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions levels.

SB 933 has already passed in the state Senate, with the backing of San Francisco state Sen. Mark Leno. With enemies such as BP waging war against SB 933 through Woodward and McDowell, the bill will surely pass, showcasing the unpopularity of the oppositions’ ­bedfellows.

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