San Francisco is facing the worst budget crisis in modern history. More than 1,000 employees, mostly front-line workers in the Department of Public Health, have been laid off, and the red ink continues. Yet the only measure on the November ballot that would raise any money for the city is Sup. Bevan Dufty's plan to sell off naming rights for Candlestick Park.
That's pathetic. During the summer budget discussions, Mayor Newsom vowed to work with business, labor, and the supervisors to come up with a reasonable plan to bring in some new cash for the city. But that collapsed largely because state law would have made it hard to raise taxes this fall without a unanimous vote of the supervisors. And while eight members were willing to put a revenue measure on the ballot, the three supervisors closest to the mayor Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, and Michela Alioto-Pier, all Newsom appointees refused to go along. And the mayor made only a weak effort to change their minds.
So while Democrats everywhere decry Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's insistence on a cuts-only budget, the Democratic mayor of San Francisco has forced essentially the same approach on this city. The only revenue increases we're seeing are fees, like Muni fare hikes, that amount to taxes on the poor.
That's the state of San Francisco as we head into what will almost certainly be a low-turnout election. Only two elected officials are on the ballot, and both are unopposed. Five ballot measures several fairly significant round out the local ballot. And with no big-name races at the top, they will win or lose on the votes of a small majority.
That's too bad, because the issues matter. Vote Nov. 3 and let's hope next year's ballot actually includes some new, progressive taxes.
San Francisco hasn't always had a good track record with city attorneys. George Agnost, who ran the office in the 1970s and 1980s, was a dour, secretive, conservative lawyer who let downtown call all the shots. Louise Renne, who took over from Agnost, ran the office in the 1990s as if it was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Herrera, who took over in 2001, has been a major improvement. He's turned the office into a modern operation, professionalized the administration, and taken on an activist role on consumer, environmental, and public-interest issues. He's been a big supporter of marriage equality and of the city's landmark health-care legislation. On his own initiative, he sued to end gender rating in health insurance and crack down on predatory payday lenders. He also moved to enforce health codes in housing and has been out front going after corrupt landlords like Skyline Realty.
We have some concerns about Herrera. Although he's been far more sunshine-friendly than his predecessors, open-government activists are still sometimes forced to sue the city to get access to records. He won't use his power as city attorney to enforce the Raker Act and bring public power to San Francisco. And during the current budget crisis, he cut the number of city attorney hours the supervisors can use to draft legislation.
And if, as rumored, he wants to run for mayor, Herrera needs to start taking public stands on major issues like the unfairness of the local tax code and the need for new revenue.
But we're happy to endorse him for another term.
The incumbent treasurer is running unopposed, and we see no reason not to endorse him. He's done some very positive things: Cisneros worked to get the big downtown law firms and other partnerships to pay their fair share of city taxes.