SF's new political era - Page 6

What Mayor Lee and a new board mean for the city

Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal

Mar said progressive activism on the budget process is needed now more than ever. "The Budget Justice Coalition from last year I think has to be reenergized so that so many groups are not competing for their own piece of the pie, but that it's more of a for-all, share-the-pain budget with as many people communicating from outside as possible, putting the pressure on the mayor and the board to make sure that the critical safety net's protected."



But major cuts — and the issue of city employees pay and benefits — will also be center stage.

At the board's Jan. 11 meeting, before the supervisors voted unanimously to nominate Lee as interim mayor, Sup. Elsbernd signaled that city workers' retirement and health benefits will once again be at the center of the fight to balance the budget.

Elsbernd noted that in past years he was accused of exaggerating the negative impacts that city employees' benefits have on the city's budget. "But rather than being inflated, they were deflated," Elsbernd said, noting that benefits will soon consume 18.14 percent of payroll and will account for 26 percent in three years.

"Does the budget deficit include this amount?" he asked.

And at the after-party that followed Lee's swearing-in, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who caused a furor last fall when he launched the ill-considered Measure B, which sought to reform workers' benefits packages, told us he is not one to give up lightly.

"We learned a lot from that," Adachi said. "This is still the huge elephant in City Hall. The city's pension liability just went up another 1 percent, which is another $30 million"

Chu agreed that worker benefits would be a central part of the budget-balancing debate. "Any conversation about the long-term future of San Francisco's budget has to look at the reality of where the bulk of our spending is," she said.

Avalos noted that he plans to talk to labor and community based organizations about ways to increase city revenue. "I'm going to work behind the scene on the budget to make sure the communities are well-spoken for," Avalos said, later adding, "But it's hard, given that we need a two-thirds majority to pass stuff on the ballot."

Last year, Avalos helped put two measures on the ballot to increase revenue: Prop. J, which sought to close loopholes in the city's current hotel tax and asked visitors to pay a slightly higher hotel tax (about $3 a night) for three years, and Prop. N, the real property transfer tax that slightly increased the tax charged by the city on the sale of property worth more than $5 million.

Prop. N should raise $45 million, Avalos said. "I've always had my sights set on raising revenue, but making cuts is inevitable."



Newsom and his allies loved to use "ideology" as a term of disparagement, a way to paint progressives as crazies driven by some sort of Commie-plot secret agenda. But there's nothing wrong with ideology; Newsom's fiscal conservative stance and his vow not to raise taxes were ideologies, too. The moderate positions some of the more centrist board members take stem from a basic ideology. Wiener, for example, told us that he thinks that in tough economic times, local government should do less but do it better. That's a clear, consistent ideology.

For much of the past decade, the defining characteristic of the progressives on the board has been a loosely shared urban ideology supported by tenants, immigrant-rights groups, queer and labor activists, environmentalists, preservationists, supporters of public power and sunshine and foes of big corporate consolidation and economic power. Diversity and inclusiveness was part of that ideology, but it went beyond any one political interest or identity group.

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