Mayor Ed Lee right to question school district’s hoarding 

click to enlarge The district has failed to take action on its surplus school property. - JOSEPH SCHELL/SPECIAL TO THE SF EXAMINER
  • Joseph Schell/Special to The SF Examiner
  • The district has failed to take action on its surplus school property.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the psychological disorder of “hoarding” is “the excessive collection of items, along with the inability to discard them.”

I thought about the disorder when I began researching the issue of abandoned property owned by the San Francisco Unified School District. According to the school district’s own 10-year capital plan, “The District currently maintains a property and building portfolio that has a student capacity for over 90,000 students. Current enrollments are considerably less [about 56,000], resulting in significant amounts of surplus property.”

The district is a state entity, so we can’t force the sale or lease of surplus property, but as we are about to give a $6 million dollar check to the district, Mayor Ed Lee took the opportunity to urge the district to look into capitalizing on the valuable property that it has lying around. (Incidentally, according to a 2009 report, $6 million is about the amount of property taxes the city would get annually if the properties were sold.)

Historically, the district’s excuses for hoarding excess acres have ranged from an adorable hope that enrollment is about to go up (really!) to blaming the down real estate market (not helped by the district’s own vacancies all over town) to bureaucratic gobbledygook like, “the District already engages in an ongoing process to evaluate and assess the use of its properties.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, “People who hoard often don't see it as a problem, making treatment challenging.” Kudos to Mayor Lee for his willingness to push the district to see this as a problem. In a city where real estate is gold, it’s getting and harder and harder to stomach bond measures for an entity that admits it is sitting on “significant amounts of surplus property.”  

Hoarding, a timeline

August 2005: Board of Education passed a resolution directing staff to “take all necessary steps to … explore the feasibility of selling, leasing, subleasing or developing surplus property that is owned by the district.”

May 2006: Board established Advisory Committee on Surplus Property.

May 2007: Board adopted findings of the committee and designated at least 11.2 acres of property as surplus.

May 2008: Board retained CB Richard Ellis Consulting to evaluate the surplus real estate for sale or lease.

January 2009: Consulting report indicates that the board could sell surplus property for $134 million dollars and developed into 871 residential units that, if built, would fetch $435 million to $697 million.

June 2009: Civil Grand Jury releases a report entitled “Use It or Lose It: A Report on the Surplus Real Property Owned by the San Francisco Unified School District.” In a harsh but futile gesture, the report recommends that the city stop giving money to the district until the extra properties are sold.

November 2009: Board of Supervisors passed resolution asking district to “bring its surplus property disposition plan(s) before the Joint City and School District Select Committee in a timely manner for review and consideration.” No such plan was ever presented.

Guilt may keep sheriff out of jail(s)

Ever the victim of the criminal justice system he is paid $200,000 a year to represent, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi now claims that big legal bills and a desire to reunite with his family are “considerable factors” behind his agreement to plead guilty to false imprisonment of his wife. In exchange, the District Attorney will drop the charges of domestic violence, child endangerment and witness intimidation stemming from an alleged assault on Mirkarimi’s wife, Elaina Lopez, on New Year’s Eve.

I hope one of the six lawyers he hired is explaining to him that if he keeps publicly implying innocence, on Monday at the sentencing hearing the judge can refuse to accept his guilty plea and send this whole mess to trial.

Note that a three-week trial with a not-guilty verdict would have him home with his family a lot quicker than this plea deal in which he’ll have to complete several domestic violence classes before a judge will amend the restraining order — likely sometime in May.

But at some point, Mirkarimi is going to have to take responsibility for his actions. As part of the plea deal, he has to complete a year of domestic violence classes and three years of probation. All adult probation orientation packets say, “If you fail to take responsibly for your act of violence for which you are on probation, you will not be accepted in the domestic violence program.”

Once in the program, abusers must be fully accountable for their crimes at all times. Publicly insinuating that he is innocent thus undermines Mirkarimi’s obligation to the court — a probation violation.

As one person in the probation office put it, “If he doesn’t take accountability, he can just sit in jail.”

Remember that Mayor Ed Lee is looking at whether to remove Mirkarimi from his position as sheriff. One way or another, admitting guilt may keep Mirkarimi out of San Francisco’s jails.

Prepare for a boom in ‘duck liver’

According to a state law passed in 2004, as of January 1, 2012, “A product may not be sold in California if it is the result of force feeding a bird for the purpose of enlarging the bird’s liver beyond normal size.” This “foie gras ban” was the subject of conversation at my friend’s restaurant last week.

“I hear you can serve the remaining amount of foie gras you have in stock on January 1, but no more after that,” I said. “Are you ready?”

He rolled his eyes. “It’ll never work. Check out what they did in Chicago.”

Sure enough, Chicago had a foie gras ban from 2006 to 2008. The city council repealed the ban, at least in part, because restaurateurs were offering items such as an expensive salad with the note, “and the foie gras torchon is on us.” In other words, selling it is illegal, giving it away is not.

Other places simply sold foie gras as “duck liver” challenging the authorities to test whether it was the result of force-feeding.

California’s ban contains the same loopholes as the Chicago ban. In Chicago, without the resources to police these “duckeasies,” the city simply repealed the ban. Californians do not have such an aversion to flaccid legislation so don’t look for that to happen here even when people can still get the dish without going too foie.

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Melissa Griffin

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