Griffin: Must make suckers pay 

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor John Avalos proposed a 5-cent tax on boozy beverages sold in San Francisco. The money collected would pay for alcohol-related services and expenses borne by The City. This would be in addition to state taxes of $3.30 per gallon on spirits and 20 cents per gallon on wine and beer.

I called my mom on my cell phone — which emits 1.51 watts of radiation per kilogram of body tissue — and told her the news. She advised me to stock up because wine, like a nanny, gets better with age. I decided to try a Walgreens and looked for one without a pharmacy so I could buy cigarettes and pay 20 cents extra because the Department of Public Works thinks I litter, but I settled for one with a pharmacy where I could get tequila and ephedrine but not cigarettes because we have to protect the children.

Not seeing any decent wine, I reached for a Diet Coke, momentarily forgetting that Mistermayor has declared this a soda-free summer and soft drinks are about to be assessed a fat fee.

I left the drugstore empty-handed and instead stopped by my local supermarket, where the wine selection is better, but as I walked in the door, I realized that I had forgotten to bring a reusable shopping bag. Without it, paper bags are the only choice and, while they can — and must — be composted, they don’t hold wine very well.

I gave up. I grabbed a bag of Skittles and headed home. As I walked down Van Ness Avenue, I saw City Hall in the distance and suddenly it all made sense. If cigarettes, alcohol and soda suck up city resources, why shouldn’t we make the suckers pay?

According to Rob Reiter, the City Hall building manager, last week’s five-hour debate about whether the Board of Supervisors should condemn Israel for raiding a flotilla outside the Gaza Strip cost The City about $7,000 for security, custodians, clerks and building staff.

The supervisors who put it on the agenda — Avalos and Sophie Maxwell — can send their checks to the Controller’s Office. See, we’re all suckers sometimes.

Legislation to watch for in November

July 6 is the deadline to submit signatures to get initiatives on the November ballot. The number of valid signatures required varies depending on whether the proposal is an ordinance or a City Charter amendment. There are three signature-led ballot measures in circulation:

  • “Why Tuesday?” is an ordinance that would add a day of polling on Saturday for the November 2011 election. The extra day would be privately funded — though publicly administered — and hopefully go on to be a model for other places, ultimately leading away from (dumb) Tuesday voting. The initiative is the brainchild of Alex Tourk, whose last idea — Project Homeless Connect — was just hailed by President Barack Obama as a model for the new national Opening Doors program. Tourk tells me that they have more than enough signatures and are hopeful that the Department of Elections will approve it for the ballot. 
  • “Fix Muni Now” is the charter amendment that would end the guaranteed pay and benefits that Muni operators enjoy. In light of the operators’ recent refusal to make labor concessions, people are signing the petition for this with flourish, in big letters, and in red ink — the same color as the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s bloody financial statements. Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who is collecting the signatures, said, “We remain optimistic and hope to qualify, assuming we have a strong volunteer weekend.” 
  • “SMART Pension Reform” is the charter amendment backed by Public Defender Jeff Adachi that would substantially reduce The City’s current and future pension obligations. Needless to say, this has lots of union members and supporters up in arms. Recently filed financial statements show two large contributions of $75,000 each from novelist Harriet Heyman and investment banker Michael Moritz, a married couple who each contributed to Matt Gonzales for Mayor in 2003. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Signature drives are still in full swing for all three initiatives, so if you want to sign, do it soon!

Stop the petty pouting and deal with budget

For the next few weeks at that glorious golden dome surrounded by panhandlers that we call City Hall, it’s all about the budget. The Budget and Finance Committee is made up of supervisors John Avalos, the chairman, Ross Mirkarimi, Sean Elsbernd, Sophie Maxwell and David Campos. The committee has been meeting nearly every day for the past week and has twice taken up the issue of the Mistermayor’s press office.

Like a freshman congressman demanding an Air Force One jet, Campos keeps complaining that Mistermayor has a public relations staff and the supervisors don’t. (Hint: He’s the mayor and you’re not.) Thursday and again Wednesday, Campos, Avalos and Mirkarimi spent an eternity grilling Greg Wagner, the mayor’s budget director, about the mayor’s four-person communications staff, which costs The City $480,000.

The show is boring and petty. They should get on with cuts or no cuts. But when looking at a $6.5 billion budget, they haggle endlessly over these four employees. All I hear them saying is, “I’m angry that I have no hope of ever being mayor.”

Tech department suffers from depression

In the course of discussing its budget at the Board of Supervisors, the Department of Technology is getting a much-needed smack on the nose with a rolled-up stack of studies showing that it’s a bad, bad department.

Last week, in an interrogation led by board President David Chiu, the following depressing statistics came out about The City’s technology:

  • It hosts seven e-mail platforms.
  • No one knows how many servers they use.
  • There are 25 data centers.
  • There are more than 30 technology departments.

In a demonstration that extortion is not always a bad thing, Chiu has proposed an ordinance that will centralize technology services. It’s set to be considered right around the same time as the department’s budget.

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Melissa Griffin

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