San Francisco Recreation and Park complainer swings and misses 

My Nonsense File has been pretty empty since the kids’ meal toy ban, so I have been wondering what the militantly hypersensitive types have been up to. Something came across my desk that is so perfect in its absurdity that I cannot believe it is true. I am both sad and giddy to report this is real.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you an excerpt from an actual (anonymous) note to the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department complaining about the agency’s logo, which features the silhouette of a child on a tree swing:

“I must ask: In your professional opinion, when has hanging rope swings from tree limbs in our parks become a safe or acceptable practice? Certainly it presents a danger for any patron who may choose to participate in such a form of ‘recreation’, as well as for any other patron who may be nearby should the supporting limb break or fall.

"And even should the limb hold for some time, certainly such ‘home-made’ swings present a threat of falling, and even strangulation, should they prove improperly made, hung, or balanced. On top of this: What of the integrity of our beautiful trees?”

Just take a minute with that.

I called the department’s executive director, Phil Ginsburg, for a comment. He said, “I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that most people love our logo. We hope we can swing our anonymous detractor into seeing that it is fresh, whimsical and representative of what our agency does, and that’s to encourage people to get out and play.”

 

Retirement fund doles out a surprise

In case you have not heard, there is excess money in The City’s retirement fund and we have to dispose of it. All retired city employees just received an extra bump in their benefits retroactive to July 1, 2010. The increases range from 1.47 to 3.5 percent at a cost of $170 million.

So how is it that the retirement fund has $170 million to give away? Actually, it does not. In reality, the retirement fund is beyond broke with $1.5 billion in unfunded liabilities. About $755 million of that is due to losses on investments during the past five years.

And yet the Retirement Board said there is an investment surplus. This is because the market was apparently less horrible in fiscal year 2009-10 than the board had anticipated. Instead of making only $1.22 billion on investments, it made $1.65 billion, leaving a big pot of $430 million to play with. From that $430 million, $170 million will go to current retirees who, mind you, were not even expecting the bonus.

See, the City Charter says whenever the retirement fund investment earnings exceed what was projected, current retirees receive a “supplemental increase” not to exceed 3.5 percent. Of course none of this takes into account the overall financial health of the fund.

How did such a stupid provision make its way into the City Charter? Proposition B was passed in 2008 in an effort to have public employees contribute to their own retiree health care. In order to gain the support of public employee unions, all sorts of givebacks were worked into the legislation and the mandatory surplus spending was one of them.

The most recent projections show taxpayers will be required to contribute about $450 million to the retirement fund in fiscal year 2011-12. By fiscal year 2014-15, that amount is projected to be $604 million.

Public Defender Jeff Adachi spearheaded the pension reform on last November’s ballot that would have required public employees to pay more for their own pension and health benefits. (The measure failed, but there might be another one in the works.) I asked him about the recent payout.

“The City is going broke,” Adachi said. “We’re seeing increased parking tickets and cuts to school bus service while we are legally required to pay hundreds of millions to the retirement fund this year. And they are spending $170 million in bonuses? I think it’s crazy.”

 

Win for Lee might be loss for Yee

 

In all the machinations that just went down at City Hall, everyone seems to agree that Ed Lee’s appointment as interim mayor is a win for moderates, Willie Brown, David Chiu, Gavin Newsom and Rose Pak. And Lee’s appointment is a loss for some people, including interim mayoral candidate Sheriff Michael Hennessey, people who hate mustaches and most especially progressive state Sen. Leland Yee.

Yee has made no secret of his mayoral aspirations, but there are plenty of people in San Francisco who do not want to see him in Room 200. Among them is political powerhouse Pak, who has proclaimed her platform as “anyone but Yee.” With Lee as interim mayor, Yee cannot use the “first Chinese mayor” slogan to encourage people to elect him this year.

Also, since Chiu is regarded by many as the Asian candidate who can beat Yee (apologies to Phil Ting), putting Chiu in the race creates a serious threat to Yee’s chances. (Officially, Chiu is still mulling the idea of running, but I can see the glint in his eyes.)

Of course, none of this is a reason to count out Yee. He is an excellent fundraiser who is highly regarded among west-side constituents. I mean, if everyone is running scared of him, he must be doing something right.

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Melissa Griffin

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