Pensions miss target, deal blow to budget 

click to enlarge Melissa Griffin
  • Melissa Griffin

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors passed a two-year budget that assumed a 7.5 percent return on investment for its public-pension fund in the 2013-14 fiscal year. But even before it passed, it was already off by millions of dollars.

As state and local pension funds began reporting their rates of return for the fiscal year that ended June 30, the bad news kept on coming. The California State Teachers’ Retirement System posted a return rate of 1.8 percent, and California Public Employees’ Retirement System posted just a 1 percent return.

And according to the deputy director’s Investments Report for the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System on July 11, our own public-retiree fund grew only 1.64 percent. That number is the “unaudited” number, which could change slightly after certain actuarial adjustments. Once they pay out fees to venture funds, the number will be more like 1.4 percent in September or October. (And lest you think that events in Europe don’t affect us here in San Francisco, most of the drag on SFERS last year was due to a 14 percent loss in international equity markets.)

Since all three pension funds assumed a 7.5 percent return on investment, these are serious actuarial losses. And the disparity between the fund’s actual performance and the rosy numbers plugged into the new budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year will have a serious impact on San Francisco’s finances.

We don’t have to sell naming rights to City Hall just yet, but “Twitter Hall” wouldn’t even be inaccurate.

Soccer turf foes sling mud at board meeting

The Beach Chalet soccer fields project will cover approximately 7 of the 1,017 acres of Golden Gate Park in synthetic turf so that the fields can be used year-round with fewer injuries to children. The same synthetic turf has been used in parks in the Bayview, Excelsior and Mission, yet using that material on less than 1 percent of Golden Gate Park has resulted in a costly and personal war.

Before the decision on adding turf and lights to the field, Supervisor Eric Mar pushed for a full environmental impact report, which cost the Recreation and Park Department more than $1 million and delayed the project by about 18 months. But that was not the end of the saga.

More than 250 individual comments were submitted in response to the report. To put that in perspective, fewer than 10 people commented on the report for the Transbay Transit Center.

The Planning Commission certified the report that allowed the project to go forward. Opponents of the project appealed that decision to the Board of Supervisors. The hearing on that appeal was last Tuesday, and some opponents of the project were, to put it delicately, emotionally charged. Calling Rec and Park employees “crooks” and “crazy,” they warned against the “death of animals, birds and the night sky” if the fields are lit. Said one commentator, “I don’t live in this part of The City, but this light pollution will cause the residents of the area physical, emotional and psychological harm.”

I counted two recitations of, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot,” and one man, who said he was channeling the Lorax, quipped, “I speak for the trees.” In the “Hyperbolic Chamber,” you could hear people pleading to stop the “desecration” of the park because it’s “sacred ground.”

Apparently, the conversion of a nearby abandoned water treatment plant in the park into a garbage dump is a less interesting cause than saving sacred soccer fields from being turned into … soccer fields.

At the end of the seven-hour hearing, Supervisor Scott Wiener had some choice words for the most vitriolic folks.

“It completely degrades the public process,” he said. “It’s not an argument on the merits anymore, it’s personal attacks and it doesn’t help your cause; it’s not persuasive.”

The board voted 10-1 to deny the appeal, basically green-lighting the project.

Two days later, Wiener received an email stating, “I wish to inform you that I have you in my sights and plan to spend a great deal of energy exposing your role and bias in this extra-legal activity of the Board of Supervisors.

What a waste of a Harvard education! You may not realize that San Francisco voters are smarter and have longer memories than voters elsewhere. But you are going to find out! It is my sincere wish that you return to New Jersey, where you obviously belong.”

I guess two years and $1 million to study a tiny corner of the park can’t buy sportsmanship.

More aides or S.F. aid? Board rules

When the Board of Supervisors passed the budget for fiscal year 2012-13, Supervisor Carmen Chu proudly announced that this was the largest budget ever passed. Included were many goodies, including $1.5 million so each member of the board could hire another staff member.

Thank goodness Supervisor Sean Elsbernd had this to say, “Over the last 12 years, I have attended hundreds of meetings and I cannot think of one time that a resident of District 7 said to me, ‘Sean, I wish that you had more staff.’”

Elsbernd went on to place the $107,000 cost of one board aide into the general fund for District 7, to be used for things his district actually needs.

“We do not need a third aide,” Elsbernd said. “We need pedestrian safety, we need capital improvements, we need 19th Avenue work, we need improvements at Laguna Honda. There are a million more priorities than a third aide.”

The supervisor promised not to offer the same amendment for each of the other districts, telling the other supes he wouldn’t, “Stand here and make everyone run through the motion of rejecting one motion after another, making you demonstrate to the voters your priority is a third aide instead of, say, free youth Muni, reducing the arboretum fee, increasing rental subsidies for low-income tenants, City College and public education.”

Supervisor Carmen Chu also reallocated her legislative aide money for improvements in her district.

As for the other supervisors, their priorities were clearly demonstrated.

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Melissa Griffin

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