The real dope on San Francisco Drug Users Union 

When the San Francisco Drug Users Union was created early last year, no one knew exactly what to expect. Would it collect dues? Picket drug-free zones? Field a softball team to play against the Erotic Service Providers Union?

In the past few months, some of our questions have been answered, as the union has launched a website and is making its presence known throughout The City.

While the union does not explicitly limit its focus to users of illegal drugs, its mission statement is clearly not aimed at people who properly take cholesterol medication. Among other things, the group wants “to create a safe environment where people can use and enjoy drugs as well as receive services.”

Before you shake your head and proclaim there’s nothing more we can possibly do to make San Francisco more enjoyable for drug users, let me remind you that former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s Hepatitis C task force just recommended, among other things, that The City create a designated “supervised injection facility” where people can safely shoot up. (According to the union’s website, on a District 6 supervisorial candidate questionnaire, it asked, “Would you support a Safe Injection Site in San Francisco?” Current District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim said “yes.”)

Other goals of the union are to “promote a positive image of drug users” and “work towards access to better quality and safer drugs.” Go ahead and re-read that. I certainly did.

At 11 a.m. Wednesday at a meeting of the Tenderloin Futures Collaborative group, the union is scheduled to give a presentation on its plans to free San Francisco drug users from the tyranny and stigma of drug law enforcement.

The presentation will take place in the community room of the Tenderloin Police Station.

Time to face the music on pension reform

In the run-up to November’s election, we heard plenty of piffle about how we need pension reform, but it must be the result of politicians and unions working together. Too cowardly to talk about public pensions directly, many candidates for office objected to Proposition B, a pension-reform measure on the ballot, on the grounds that Public Defender Jeff Adachi should not have gone directly to the voters. Implicitly and incredibly, letting the foxes decide how to run the henhouse (which is how we got into this mess in the first place) was supposed to be the superior method.

When Prop. B failed, the foxes convened a commission to decide how to protect the hens. We have recently been treated to a glimpse of their efforts in the form of several vague and depressingly familiar proposals — eliminate overtime and other premium pay (for “canine duty,” for example) from pension calculations, fix leaky cost-of-living increases and base payouts on the average earnings over several years before an employee’s retirement would reverse perks that unions have fought to create and keep. Some of these have a chance at being endorsed by the commission, but war will be waged over the real reforms, and there is zero reason to believe those reforms will be achieved anywhere but the ballot box.

Let us roll the $4 billion boulder of retiree health care aside and just focus on pensions for a moment, about which there are two issues: the near-term peak and the long-term structural problems.

As for the first, The City’s pension obligation is projected to grow from $423 million in fiscal year 2011-12 to $600 million in fiscal year 2014-15, and that’s not even the most negative investment scenario. A patchwork quilt of tweaks to the pensions of future employees will not cover us when the cold bell signaling contribution time rings in a few years.

Increasing pension contributions of current employees would help stave off the immediate crisis. One idea is to tie current employee contributions to the taxpayer contributions. This way, when times are good and investment returns are high, both groups pay less. And when there are fund losses, both employees and government pitch in more. Of course, even if union leadership agreed to such a proposal, employees themselves would have to vote to increase their own contributions. You know how that story ends.

As for a long-term fix, ideas to fundamentally shift the risk of investment losses away from taxpayers to employees by, for example, moving away from the current defined benefit plan (whereby we promise retirees a certain amount and taxpayers have to make up any shortfalls) and toward a defined contribution plan (whereby the employer only promises to contribute a certain amount to a fund, such as a 401(k)) elicit a primal scream from public unions. As one insider put it, “for the unions, ‘defined contribution’ is a four-letter word.” And while a defined-contribution plan (which most of us have if we’re lucky) is not the only answer, it isn’t likely to even merit a discussion among the foxes.

All of which brings me back to the initial proposition: There will have to be another proposition. No hiding behind the “give peace a chance” argument this time.

What’s with all the Big Brother laws from Ma?

State Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, has been on quite the crusade in recent months. Since December, she has introduced legislation to:

  • Require “body art” practitioners to register annually with local agencies;
  • Make it a criminal offense to hold a “public event at night that includes prerecorded music and lasts more than 3½ hours” (the anti-rave law);
  • And prevent the sale of alcoholic beverages using a self-service checkout system.

It does not bode well for the current state of affairs in Sacramento when the San Francisco delegate is the one proposing to rein in excesses. I suspect Ma is either padding her credentials in preparation to run for higher office or taking her political advice from my mother.

If it is the former, she’s likely eyeing state Sen. Leland Yee’s seat if he becomes mayor. If it is the latter, expect a bill to prohibit slouching and “bangs that cover your eyes” any day now.

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Melissa Griffin

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