Friday, June 29, 2007
The $6.1 Billion San Francisco Budget Fiasco
There was a day-long Finance Committee meeting in City Hall's Board of Supervisors Chambers on Thursday which you probably won't read about in "The San Francisco Chronicle" or its website, SFGate, because they are too busy featuring writer Andrew Ross and his fellow neoconservatives calling the Board a pack of "fruits and nuts" and posing the evenhanded question for reader comments, "Are the Supervisors irrelevant as well as dysfunctional?"
The Mayor's proposed budget, which the Finance Committee has been going through department by department along with the City's Budget Analysts, is a bloated $6.1 billion for 750,000 people, the highest per capita spending of any city and county in the United States. By contrast, New York City has a budget of a little over $59 billion for 8.5 million people, 13% less per capita.
On top of this, the various departments are always crying poverty, with the police saying they don't have enough money to hire policemen and the rec and parks department saying they don't have enough money for gardeners and the department of public works saying they don't have enough money to keep the streets clean or repair potholes. What these billions of dollars are actually being used for are something of a mystery.
Part of the problem, I believe, can be laid at the feet of Willie Brown, Jr., the openly corrupt previous mayor who after decades in the California State Assembly had a lot of favors to pay off, so he hired literally thousands of people with six-figure salaries who were loyal to him. This was during the dot-com boom when there were millions of dollars flooding into the city treasury. However, the boom is long over, and most of these people are still in those positions where they will be collecting fat pensions even though they haven't improved the quality of life in San Francisco for anyone.
So every group with an issue has to come to the Board and plead with them for funds, such as Mark Grunberg above, the taxi driver activist who has had to deal with an outrageously dysfunctional commission and corrupt industry for decades.
Supervisor Chris Daly was thrown off of the committee last week after attacking Mayor Newsom in a speech about the mayor's personal hypocrisy in defunding drug abuse programs. This was done by Board President Aaron Peskin, seen above making a not-so-secret deal with the Nigerian Yomi Agunbiade who is charge of the criminally mismanaged Recreation and Parks Department.
Getting rid of Daly didn't bring universal hearts, flowers and civility to the process as Supervisor Elsbernd at one point attacked Supervisor Mirkarimi when the latter started to question some of the numbers from the Department of Telecommunicatoins and Information Services that seemed to be wildly inflated. Elsbernd said to Mirkarimi, "Give me some actual facts, not your opinion, the department spokesman is giving me a fact, and you're not." Peskin called for a reexamination of the numbers and in truth Mirkarimi was correct. They were wildly inflated, but this didn't seem to prompt any apology from Supervisor Elsbernd or the department's mendacious representative.
The only issue that Elsbernd seems to care about is giving away the Harding, Fleming and Lincoln municipal golf courses away to private entities, which from the tone of the egregious Dawn Kamalanathan from the Rec and Park Department is essentially a done deal. This is because the six municipal golf courses are a huge multi-million dollar drain on the city's treasury, not because most of them are losing money, but because the makeover of Harding Park in Elsbernd's district for a PGA tournament a few years ago was a $25 million money pit that is being absorbed by ALL the courses.
Hence, there's no way for any of them to break even, particularly since all the gardeners and resources have been directed to Elsbernd's home course, leaving the rest of the courses to rot away. Do Supervisor Elsbernd or Mr. Agunbiade show any remorse for what's happened and the lies that were told so that $20 million could be lifted from the Open Space Fund for the Harding makeover?
Of course not. Thankfully, Supervisor McGoldrick gave an impassioned speech about this giveaway of public treasures, and though he was too longwinded as usual he was also unusually eloquent.
"What the Recreation and Parks Department is essentially saying," he stated, "is that we don't know how to run golf courses so let's just throw up our hands and do nothing while we give away historic, public treasures. This is a disgrace."
And it is.