Sneaky San Francisco supervisors undermine open-government claims 

The next time you hear cries about transparency in government in San Francisco, you may want to see if the shouts are coming from behind opaque glass.

A city known for its laborious political process — where any decisions are subject to myriad public hearings, debates and community courting — this week became the home of the backdoor stunt, whereby three major policy initiatives were snuck onto the November ballot by our most left-leaning supervisors without any discussion.

The reason is simple. If they had been properly vetted, the public outrage over their existence would have been considerable. But since the backers of the initiatives are often the loudest voices about fair and open government, let’s just say it’s quite an exhibition of hypocrisy.

The most controversial measure is one that would undo the basic tenets of Care Not Cash, a policy overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2002 and one that by any baseline standard, has proven to be a raging success.

The program, which provides housing and health services to homeless people instead of handing out cash, has taken thousands of people off the street and reduced the welfare rolls by 85 percent. It’s one of the primary reasons former Mayor Gavin Newsom, who authored it, was elected twice, and certainly will increase the drumbeat for Mayor Ed Lee to run for election, since city residents generally prefer having an adult as chief executive.

Lee denounced the behind-the-scenes maneuver by supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Jane Kim, Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi, noting that the move would “undermine the success of a nationally recognized, award-winning program.” Yet as it turned out, the board members were just getting warmed up.

Just a scant few weeks after a majority of the board approved a plan to remake the Parkmerced apartment complex and add thousands of units of new housing, the same five supervisors who were on the losing end of that vote quietly threw another measure on the ballot to prohibit the demolition of residential buildings containing 50 or more housing units — in essence an attempt to undo what the board already did.

I don’t know about you, but I think most people consider it poor sportsmanship to call for the replay of a game you clearly already lost. The ballot is not supposed to be a repository of recent do-overs, especially by a group that allegedly supports new housing in San Francisco.

Still, in between breaths, a minority of the board’s members had enough left to find yet another solution in search of a problem.

That would be the measure that would bar the Recreation and Park Department from charging any new admission fees or leasing any additional recreation centers or clubhouses — a move that proponents say is intended to stop “privatization.”

The supervisors (with Kim sitting this one out) may not have bothered to look, but this year is the first year the recreation department has not had to include more layoffs or close more centers because of annual budget holes. That’s in large part because the department has had to increase fees to make up for the decreases in its general fund budget.

The only new admission fee is at the arboretum, but it’s only for people from outside The City. Personally, I think it’s a dumb idea to charge anyone to go look at trees and plants in a park that is full of them, but the supervisors have beaten the idea about the head and shoulders for the better part of two years.

Except this time they didn’t even bother to tell park General Manager Phil Ginsburg that they were going to try and block his creative attempts to squeeze money out of grass. If you can’t lease unused clubhouses to people more than happy to pay for them, what exactly do you have?

That’s right — empty clubhouses.

People who have spent a little time in San Francisco will see that these ballot ruses are designed to get so-called “progressives” out to vote during an election year in which their only mayoral candidate — Avalos — is considered a near shoo-in to lose.

But if the board needs the ballot to undo its own decisions, maybe we need the ballot to remake the board.

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Ken Garcia

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