Needed: a campaign against privatization - Page 2

It's time to declare war

Traffic problems, neighborhood problems — and a stiff bill to the city's taxpayers, who have to subsidize private businesses that operate in a federal enclave without paying local taxes.

And if Newsom has his way, the pattern will continue: the mayor's signature project this past year, for example, has been an attempt to let a private company control the city's broadband communications infrastructure. Tens of millions in city contracts go every year to private nonprofits that fight like hell to avoid sunshine and accountability.

Enough is enough — San Franciscans of every political stripe need to organize to fight back. This city needs a new political coalition, a campaign against privatization.

There are all sorts of specific policies and legislation that ought to be on the agenda. For starters, privatization expert Elliott Sclar, a Columbia University economist, argues that any private business that takes city money to provide public services ought to be required to abide by open-government laws. That means every scrap of information related to that contract — including financial projections, executive salaries, profit and loss statements, and operating overhead figures — would be public record. All meetings of boards, panels, or other policy-making entities involved in managing the contract would be open to the public. If a private business doesn't want to abide by those rules, fine; it can stick to private-sector work and stop bidding on government contracts.

Beyond that, the city needs to set up a task force to look at every private contract San Francisco hands out and determine why the city isn't doing the work itself. If selling electricity is so profitable (and it clearly is, or PG&E wouldn't be fighting so hard to keep its illegal monopoly), why can't the city take over the job and bring in some revenue? If there's money to be made building bus shelters and selling ads on them — and clearly there is, since Clear Channel Communications, a giant private company, went out of its way to get a contract with the city to do so — why can't San Francisco make that money for the General Fund? If a private company can make money running the golf courses, why can't the city?

Sure, there are times when it makes sense to bring in an outside contractor. We'd argue, for example, that the Board of Supervisors needs an independent budget analyst, not tied to City Hall, to monitor budgets and spending. But there are millions of dollars going out City Hall's door every year to private outfits that aren't accountable to the public. And there are millions of dollars that ought to be available for badly needed public services that the city is losing because some private operator is making a profit on public resources.

Organized labor has every reason to oppose privatization and ought to play a lead role in creating a new coalition. So should the public-power coalition and the folks who have been demanding sunshine for the nonprofits. But everyone who uses public services and pays taxes in San Francisco is affected when city money gets stolen, wasted, or diverted. It ought to be a broad-based coalition.

There's an opportunity to turn things around here and make San Francisco the model city that it ought to be. There's no time to waste.