Politicos smell cash — hide city’s wallet! 

click to enlarge Sensible spending: The City’s $172.4 million surplus should be used for necessities such as road repairs. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Sensible spending: The City’s $172.4 million surplus should be used for necessities such as road repairs.

Hooray! The City Controller’s Office has released its nine-month budget status report and it shows there is $43.3 million more in The City’s general fund than we thought we’d have. Just three months ago, in the cleverly titled six-month budget status report, the general fund was supposed to have a surplus of $129.1 million at the end of fiscal year 2011-12, which ends June 30. Now it appears there will be a $172.4 million “available balance.”

The newly discovered millions came from the property-transfer tax and the payroll tax. You can bet the mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors (especially those up for re-election) will be lining up to inhale the excess cash in 3, 2 …

See, that’s what they tend to do, and it’s why we’re always scraping by, raiding our reserves and doing the municipal equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck despite having an enormous budget.

Don’t believe me? In February, The City issued $327 million in infrastructure bonds that were given an AA rating by Standard & Poor’s with a “negative” outlook because of “persistent budget challenges” even while The City is cutting costs and increasing revenue. Of course, that’s why we needed the bonds in the first place.

Indeed, $70 million of those bonds are the result of a proposition the voters passed in November because our former mayor and Board of Supervisors underfunded road maintenance for at least five years while blowing millions on things such as ghastly technology contracts, “eco-chic” managerial positions and a disappointing Small Business Assistance Center. A May 8 report by the City Controller’s Office comparing San Francisco’s roads to those of cities such as Chicago, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, confirmed that ours are in embarrassingly bad condition and therefore now cost more to fix.

Using the available balance to bolster The City’s reserves and overall financial health isn’t sexy, but it’s good for the long run. Keep that in mind when you read about politicians holding news conferences launching this or that initiative in the coming months. Spending every dollar that comes in puts us on a road … well, back to paying bond interest for things such as roads.

Effort to spur competition started garbage monopoly mess competition

Proposition A on the June 5 ballot would change The City’s current system of garbage and recycling collection and transport — dividing the jobs into five contracts and forcing companies to compete for those contracts. Right now, Recology is the sole vendor for those services and doesn’t have to compete for it.

The history of garbage collection in our fair city is one of the things that makes this proposal interesting. The earliest account of our garbage collection system is a description of a Board of Education meeting in 1907. Months before the meeting, the board had decided its “scavenger” — a man named “F. Figone” — was doing a poor job of collecting refuse from the local schools because he was “removing the garbage whenever he pleased.”

Figone had a contract in which he was paid $160 a month. But after three years on the job, he evidently had begun slacking off. The board gave Figone notice that they were terminating his contract and sent out 50 invitations to other scavengers asking for new bids.

On the day when new proposals were to be revealed, the board called its meeting to order and opened the floor for people to come forward. Only one hand shot up — that of Figone — who now generously offered to do the work for $350 per month.

The school board members were beside themselves, but such was the system of the “scavenger trust,” whose members obeyed the cardinal rule to never, ever steal each other’s customers. By agreeing to eliminate competition, the trust’s members could deliver shoddy service at high prices.

For years, this was the state of affairs because the trust was able to deliver a good many votes to local politicians.

But by 1927, San Franciscans had had enough and passed a proposition to “break the garbage monopoly.” It set a schedule of maximum rates and divided The City into 97 districts, forcing scavengers to get a permit to service a tract and allowing a revocation of that permit if enough residents demanded it. In 1932, voters tweaked that ordinance and it has remained on the books ever since.

According to a 2011 legislative analyst’s report, “Over time mergers, acquisitions and consolidations of the various ‘scavenger’ companies have resulted in the transfer of those 97 permits to Recology, which is now the sole provider of these services in San Francisco.”

Is Recology just another “scavenger trust”? Or is it the natural fit for a town that doesn’t have a history of bidding for garbage services?

Quotes of the Week

“It is not possible to please everybody. This is, after all, San Francisco.”

— Simon Snellgrove of Pacific Waterfront Partners, defending the 8 Washington Street development project Tuesday during the seven-hour hearing on the project.

“I can’t say for sure, but I believe this is a first: A DCCC campaign event drawing protesters.”

— Democratic County Central Committee candidate Matt Dorsey, on the demonstration at his campaign fundraiser. The anti-circumcision activists showed up to decry state Sen. Mark Leno, who was in attendance, and to heckle Dorsey, who as spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office publicized its condemnation of the circumcision ban as a violation of religious freedom.

“This is rich. Two of the votes Ross will need held a Mother’s Day press conference to raise awareness about domestic violence.”

— A friend of mine commenting on a May 10 event at City Hall to keep violence-prevention funding intact. The rally was organized by supervisors David Campos and John Avalos — both of whom will be voting on whether to remove suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi for falsely imprisoning his wife. For the first time, the news release pointed out this was an annual event.

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Melissa Griffin

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