SF officials avoid battle unworthy of War Memorial Veterans Building 

In November 2002, voters were presented with a plan to issue $123 million in general obligation bonds to improve and seismically retrofit the War Memorial Veterans Building. Although backed by all members of the Board of Supervisors and heavy hitters such as Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, only 55 percent of voters approved the bonds, which was short of the 66.7 percent required by law.

Fast forward to June 14, when Board of Supervisors President David Chiu (with Mayor Ed Lee’s support) proposed issuing $170 million in “certificates of participation” to “finance the seismic upgrade of and certain improvements to the War Memorial Veterans Building.” Only this time, pesky voters can’t stand in the way because it only takes a majority vote by supervisors to issue certificates of participation.

In this scenario, we’ll turn over the building to a trustee who will hang onto the deed while people and institutions loan us millions in the form of certificates of participation. Then we’ll lease the building and that money will pay back the people who hold those certificates, so (ideally) we’ll get the deed back someday. Think of it as a mortgage.

Because this is not voter-approved debt,  the interest rate we’ll pay to the folks who buy certificates will be higher than what we pay for general obligation bonds. “Loanshark rates” is how one political analyst described the scheme for certificates. Remember that in February the state dropped its plans for a similar scheme to sell property and lease it back. At the time, Gov. Jerry Brown said, “The sale of buildings didn’t really make much sense” and called it “the ultimate in kicking the can down the road.”

In the case of the War Memorial Veterans Building, if the building is in need of repair (and I don’t doubt that it is) why not go to the voters? Probably because the ballot this November will already contain a street-repair bond and perhaps an education bond — neither of which are exactly popular. Issuing the certificates means avoiding the placement of another bond measure before voters.

To recap: Chiu and Lee are proposing that we skirt the democratic process of issuing huge bonds in the name of the War Memorial Veterans Building. Insulting to voters and expensive (not to mention ironic), this plan is not worthy of the building it proposes to restore.


Cynical San Francisco makes exception for Lee

Mayor Ed Lee makes San Franciscans draw hearts and doodle his name in the margins of our homework.

That’s (sort of) one of the findings of a study just released by the University of San Francisco’s Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good. The survey, entitled “Public Attitudes about the Economy, Government and Public Policy,” focused on the topic of “Trust in Government and Institutions: San Francisco and the Bay Area.” Researchers at the university, including professor Corey Cook, oversaw a poll of 400 San Franciscans and a total of 800 people from seven surrounding counties — Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Sonoma.

The survey shows that San Franciscans are generally more cynical than our neighbors. We are more likely to say local government is run by a few big interests (45 percent to 39 percent regionally), and 28 percent of San Franciscans dislike our Board of Supervisors compared to only 22 percent of our neighbors. But Mayor Lee is the singular bright spot. Only about 30 percent of our neighbors have positive views of their mayors, but in San Francisco more than 37 percent of us “have confidence” in Lee.  

Recently, some have questioned the authenticity of the “Run Ed Run” effort to get Lee to run for re-election. However, according to Cook, “it seems to me that there is more behind the movement to draft Ed Lee than an Astroturf group, and these findings appear to support that contention.”

Here are some of the other findings:

  • While 28 percent of people in San Francisco and the Bay Area in general have negative views of public employee unions, San Franciscans have a slightly more negative view of our Chamber of Commerce — 25 percent versus 17 percent in other counties.
  • The least popular entity both in San Francisco and around the Bay Area? Political parties. Almost 40 percent of San Franciscans and 43 percent of nearby residents have negative views of those institutions.
  • The most popular groups should come as no surprise: Police, fire and school teachers. With approval ratings of about 60 percent in San Francisco and 60-70 percent in the remainder of the Bay Area, no wonder every political ad features at least one member of those professions.


Despite polls, mayoral race is anybody’s game

Last week, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu’s mayoral campaign released a poll indicating that he is a strong candidate among Chinese voters and part of the small group emerging as top-tier contenders for Room 200. I checked out the poll results and there does seem to be a natural split among the candidates, with Chiu, Leland Yee, Dennis Herrera, Michela Alioto-Pier and Bevan Dufty within 5 percentage points of each other among voters who strongly support one candidate and the other hopefuls in a group close behind. As a 5-point race with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent, it is still anybody’s game. No poll, published or unpublished, has shown a real front-runner.

Of course, all that could change if a real rock star were to jump into the race. I’m thinking Sen. Mark Leno, Mayor Ed Lee or a certain as-yet-unnamed millionaire who won’t take campaign financing. The deadline to file to run for mayor is not until August, and a lot can happen between now and then.

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Melissa Griffin

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