Solo budgeting

Gavin Newsom attacks social services and other supervisorial spending priorities with unilateral cuts

Mayor Gavin Newsom is giving his department heads until Feb. 21 to draw up a list of services and positions to be reduced and eliminated, but Board of Supervisors president Aaron Peskin notes this isn't how city government is supposed to work.

"Technically, things aren't being cut," Peskin told the Guardian. "Instead, the mayor is signaling that he is refusing to spend the money that has been appropriated by the board in the budget that was voted on and signed last year."

Last summer the Board of Supervisors used the add-back process to appropriate funds the mayor hadn't sought, thus funding services such as the Workers Compensation Clinic at San Francisco General Hospital and Buster's Place, the city's only 24-hour homeless shelter, until the end of fiscal year 2007–08.

But now these same services are being targeted midyear. The mayor announced last November, shortly after he was reelected, that the city faces a projected $229 million budget, so he was demanding an immediate hiring freeze and across-the-board cuts.

As mayoral spokesperson Nathan Ballard reportedly told the San Francisco Chronicle last fall, "Although he wants to trim the fat, the mayor made it abundantly clear he doesn't want to see a reduction in people sweeping streets or police officers walking beats."

But while city department heads spent the past few months trying to tighten belts, the mayor apparently expanded his, according to budget analyst Harvey Rose's Feb. 13 report, which details the monetary impact of changes to Newsom's staff — changes the mayor first announced Jan. 4.

"Don't think that the irony of the revelations that have been made over the past few weeks has been lost on anyone," Peskin told us, referring to how Newsom added two entirely new positions, increased the pay of senior staff and newly appointed department heads in the Mayor's Office, and raided the budgets of other agencies to pay for it all.

According to Rose's report, the budgetary impact of Newsom's staff changes amounted to an increase of $553,716, with other city departments funding about $1.34 million in annual salaries and benefits for 10 positions assigned to the Mayor's Office.

These include two newly created jobs — namely, the mayor's climate change director, Wade Crowfoot, and the mayor's homelessness policy director, Dariush Kayhan.

Peskin admits that the spending Rose identified is a relative drop in the bucket, compared to the city's $229 million deficit. "Yes, it's not enough to significantly close the gap or save a significant number of services, but it's symbolic," Peskin said, noting that even as homeless shelters are being fingered for elimination, the Human Services Agency is paying $169,624 annually for the mayor's new homelessness policy director.

"And when voters approved more money for Muni, the mayor used it to hire people to pound out messages about climate change, when the best way to reduce greenhouse gases is to get people out of their cars," Peskin said, referring to Newsom's new climate change director, hired at an annual cost of $130,112, using the Municipal Transportation Authority's Safety and Training funds.

"It's very frustrating and unfortunate," Peskin said, further noting that the $401,392 to terminate Susan Leal without cause as general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will come from the city's water fees.

"This is indicative of the misplaced priorities of the mayor," said Peskin, who doesn't deny that spending control is required in the face of a looming deficit but resents how the mayor has been trying to do it unilaterally and not in cooperation with the board.

"The budget, by design, is a two-way street," Peskin observed.