Ammiano's experience is one example of repeated communication breakdowns between Newsom and the board, which have severely hindered policy discussions and the cause of "good government" to which Newsom so frequently pledges his fealty. As a result, Newsom has often ended up vetoing legislation only to reveal in his veto letter that all the legislation needed was a few minor tweaks — changes he might have just asked for had he been more engaged.
Consider how a year ago, Newsom vetoed legislation designed to limit how much parking could be included along with the 10,000 units of housing that were to be built in downtown San Francisco. The legislation was proposed by Newsom's planning director, Dean Macris, and supported by every member of the Planning Commission but one.
When Newsom caught heat from downtown developers over the measure (see "Joining the Battle," 2/8/06), he sent surrogates to muddy the waters and make his position unclear until after it was approved by the board. Newsom vetoed the measure, then proposed a couple prodeveloper amendments that hadn't been brought to the board discussions.
"I'm trying to get the political leaders to come to an agreement because the city needs this," a frustrated Macris told the Guardian at the time.
A few months later the board was similarly blindsided when it tried to approve legislation that would have created a six-month trial closure on Saturdays of some roads in Golden Gate Park. Newsom's board liaison, Wade Crowfoot, worked closely with bicycle advocates and sponsor Sup. Jake McGoldrick to modify the legislation into something the mayor might be able to support.
Everyone involved thought they had a deal. Then, for reasons that still aren't entirely clear, Newsom vetoed the measure. One of the reasons he cited was the fact that voters had rejected Saturday closure back in the 1990s, before the construction of an underground parking garage that still never fills up.
"For what it's worth, what really sells it for me on this issue of the will of the voters was the shit I went through after Care Not Cash, when the voters supported it and [my critics] did everything to put up roadblocks. And I was making a lot of these same arguments, you know, so this hits close to home," Newsom told the Guardian a few days after he vetoed Healthy Saturdays.
His words seem ironic: he loves the will of the voters when it suits his interest but not when it requires him to act like a real mayor.
This isn't the first time Newsom's been selective in honoring what the voters want: he also refused to hold up the Candlestick Park naming deal with Monster Cable, even though voters rejected it through Proposition H in 2004.
Last October, Newsom's veto of Mirkarimi's wildly popular foot patrol legislation led to a humiliating 9–2 override in November, but not before he'd dragged San Francisco Police Department chief Heather Fong with him through the political mud and created an unpleasant rift between himself and his formerly loyal ally Sup. Bevan Dufty.
Newsom has tried to spin his refusal to engage in question time as something other than defiance of voters by proposing the upcoming series of town hall meetings.
"Bringing these conversations to the neighborhoods — during nonwork hours — will allow residents to participate and will ensure transparent dialogue, while avoiding the politicized, counterproductive arguing that too often takes place in the confines of City Hall," Newsom wrote in his Dec. 5 letter.