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.


Anonymous said...

"The Mayor's proposed budget ... is a bloated $6.1 billion for 750,000 people, the highest per capita spending [$8,133] of any city and county in the United States. By contrast, New York City has a budget of [$1,059 per capita]. On top of this, the various departments are always crying poverty ... What these billions of dollars are actually being used for are something of a mystery."


SF Mike, you're beginning to sound like One Of Us. We are pleased to welcome you. It won't hurt a bit...

Signed, A *gasp* Conservative Republican

P.S. Kidding aside, yes, I really am a righty, and I do enjoy your blog. To understand my thought process, take the mixture of disgust and disbelief you just blogged about, and now imagine feeling it all the time. ;-)

Anonymous said...

ahhh, what a ball, what a city!!!
Vive le corrupcion!!!!

Civic Center said...

Dear Anonymous Conservative Republican: Your phrase reminds me of the refrain in the old horror movie, "Freaks," which is "Make Her One of Us."

In truth, corruption, waste and featherbedding are neither left-wing nor right-wing attributes. What with Bush and Cheney throwing literally billions of dollars to their cronies through the Iraq Invasion, and Gavin Newsom's handlers funneling millions of dollars to their cronies, it doesn't really seem to matter what the ideology is. Supervisor Daly, for instance, portrayed as a wild commie firebrand, is actually something of a fiscal conservative but you'd never know that from reading the "Chronicle," for instance.

I do thank you for the nice words, though, and I'm really glad you enjoy "Civic Center.

Civic Center said...

I just received the following "Haiku for Dawn" from an anonymous City Hall insider that is too stylistically perfect to keep to myself:

Sprout of demon seed
Fed from the morning flushes

Anonymous said...

We accept you, SF Mike, we accept you... ;-)

SFMike: "corruption, waste and featherbedding are neither left-wing nor right-wing attributes."

I agree.

To many lefties, the right probably looks like one big, undifferentiated blob of fascism, but one of the distinct subspecies of conservative thought has long been the Small Government movement.

If govt is small, these folks say, it is less able to waste money, less prone to corruption, more likely to do its few tasks well, and less likely to interfere in your life. That sits well with libertarian impulses coming from folks as varied as drag queens and gun nuts (both praiseworthy).

Fondly I remember the days of Reagan ("Government is not the solution, government is the problem"), guided by the great San Franciscan Milton Friedman, slashing budgets and taxes. Now, those days are gone, and GWB has abandoned small-govt conservatism in favor of -- well, big-govt conservatism, which is prone to many of the same ills as big-govt liberalism. Feeling his betrayal, small-guv cons have begun pushing back, though, as the stinging defeat of the immigration bill demonstrates.

I do thank you for the nice words, though, and I'm really glad you enjoy Civic Center.

You're welcome. You and I may be opposed on many issues (though aligned on more than either one of us might expect), but that shouldn't stop me from appreciating a unique and well-done local resource. Keep up the good work.

Signed, More Conservative than Republican

KWillets said...

NYC budget is actually $59B, or $7195.12 per person. SF's budget is 13% higher per person, which is still significant.

Civic Center said...

Dear kwillets: Thanks for the correction. I thought that figure was more than a bit inflated. But you're right, the essential "what-the-f---" reaction remains valid.

Matthew Hubbard said...

Dear Mr. Anonymous,

Your misty, water-colored memories of the Reagan Administration have very little to do with The Way We Actually Were. Reagan held the record for deficit spending. Conservatives like to blame the Democratic Congress for this, and give credit to Reagan for holding the deficit down. Some also like to give credit to Gingrich and his gang for the fact that deficits went down under Clinton. But with Bush in the White House and the GOP holding power in Congress, we saw what happened.

The only people paying less attention to the real world than Log Cabin Republicans are small government Republicans. If you read a blog like this, you might wake up to the fact that you are being played for a sap and become One Of Us, read adults.

zebu111 said...

well, whatta we gonna do about this mess??