City fights for Transbay Terminal 

Proposition G on the June 8 ballot is a policy statement saying: “Dear Quentin Kopp, the San Francisco stop on the high-speed rail line is going to be that Transbay Terminal spot on Mission and First streets that we’ve had our heart set on for years. Seriously, stop mucking this up.”

You know that filthy and frightening bus station in the South of Market area? The one where you could film “Depressing Sights in Post-Communist Eastern Europe, Part Five”? That’s where we are going to build the Grand Central Station of the West. The project has been in the works since the days of disco and it’s called the Transbay Terminal. The terminal is supposed to be the place where buses and trains, and unicorns and Muni, converge.

In November 1999, 70 percent of voters elected to make it city policy to extend the Caltrain station from Fourth and King streets up to the Transbay Terminal location on Mission and First streets. Then in 2003, voters agreed to assess ourselves a half-cent sales tax for 30 years to pay for lots of transportation-related stuff, including moving Caltrain up the street to the Transbay Terminal. Finally, almost 80 percent of San Franciscans endorsed Proposition 1A in 2008. That proposition called for the sale of bonds to fund “the construction of a high-speed train system that connects the San Francisco Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station.”

Apparently, there was still some confusion because within days of the 2008 election, Quentin Kopp, our delegate to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said he had no intention of using high-speed rail money to move the Caltrain station. According to Kopp, if San Franciscans wanted to pay $2 billion to move the train station 1.4 miles north, we could go right ahead using our own money. What if other cities get jealous and demand the same treatment? Christmases are ruined this way all the time.

Luckily, the Caltrain station is barely able to handle Caltrain-related needs, so building that Grand Central of the West at King and Fourth was not an option. Next, Kopp proposed building a new terminal at Beale and Mission streets: the TransBeale proposal. That alternative was recently killed in a meeting of the state rail authority.

In an effort to again end the debate once and for all, Supervisor Chris Daly and some other supes put Prop. G on the ballot so we can renew our vows to the Transbay Terminal.

Healthy SF case stalled by nominee


Those of you concerned with the fate of Healthy San Francisco — The City’s universal health care plan — ought to be paying close attention to the replacement of United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who will retire this summer.

By way of background, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association has challenged the mandate that employers pay a certain amount per employee, per hour to the program. According to the association, the employer contribution part conflicts with federal law, and since federal law always wins, the requirement that employers pay into the system is unlawful. The city attorney has argued that there is no such conflict. The Supreme Court has yet to decide whether it will take up the case.

In October, the U.S. Supreme Court asked U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan to weigh in on whether this case is important enough for the court to decide. It seems that Kagan is a busy gal these days, what with being on the short list to replace retiring Stevens, and has yet to issue an opinion. (There’s no deadline, but these things are usually done within three to four months.)

I can’t say that I blame her for not wanting to touch this issue while the nomination process is lingering. On the one hand, the Obama administration has recently made it clear that it supports “Progressive Federalism” — basically letting local governments experiment with solutions to various problems. On the other hand, business groups are concerned with the expense and burden of complying with the requirements of little Healthy San Franciscos around the nation. They are calling on Republicans to push for a more expansive view of federal jurisdiction.

You can bet that whoever is nominated to replace Stevens will have to answer questions about the scope of federal law, and Healthy San Francisco will be the example at the center of the controversy. Until then, don’t expect Kagan’s office to jump into the debate.

Retirement contribution levels for police, firefighters attacked


Remember the good old days when The City’s retirement plans had a surplus? Back in 2002 when our investments were making so much money that we didn’t have to pay into The City’s retirement system at all in order to keep it funded, voters passed Proposition H. That ballot measure increased the starting amount that police and firefighters can collect in pensions from 2 percent to 2.4 percent of their final salary for each year of service. It capped that amount at 3 percent, up from 2.7 percent.

The city controller at the time, Ed Harrington, wrote of our surplus, “The City should not be required to make employer contributions to the retirement system for at least the next ten years.” (Take a moment for a sad laugh here.)

According to Harrington’s adorable assessment of Prop. H, on the altogether remote chance that we ever had to pay into the retirement system, “The City will negotiate a cost sharing agreement with the police officers and firefighters to cover all or part of the cost of providing the additional retirement benefits through employee contributions.”

Now that we are most certainly paying into the retirement system to the tune of millions of dollars, has there been a negotiated additional contribution from the police and fire? According to one concerned citizen who has been dogging this issue, Christopher Keane, there has been no effort to comply with Prop. H. Keane recently wrote to state Attorney General Jerry Brown’s office to demand an investigation. Stay tuned!

CORRECTION

Last week on this page, I made a reference to a candidate for District 2 supervisor, Janet Reilly. I misspelled it Riley. I sincerely apologize for the mistake.

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Melissa Griffin

Melissa Griffin

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