COH sends in "hostage negotiators" during budget talks (VIDEO)


Members of the Board of Supervisors, their legislative aides, and other City Hall regulars were all looking a bit sleep-deprived as they darted from office to office at City Hall July 1 after ongoing budget negotiations kept everyone up late the night before. Just as an agreement on the city budget seemed within reach on June 30, Mayor Gavin Newsom and his chief of staff, Steve Kawa, had expressed strong opposition to several initiatives that progressive members of the Board of Supervisors sought to place on the November ballot.

The mayor's last-minute move was described by some as a quid pro quo that withheld support for an amended budget -- which included about $40 million in restorations to community programs that are high priorities for members of the board -- unless four different proposals were struck from the ballot. Three were proposed charter amendments dealing with commission appointments that would distribute power more evenly between the board and the mayor, and the fourth was a proposal put forth by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi that would have required the San Francisco Police Department to adopt a community-policing model and engage in neighborhood foot patrols, initially cast as an enlightened alternative to Newsom's proposed law banning sitting or lying down on the sidewalk. 

"In so many words, he had expressed clear dissent, and that was made relative to our budget proceedings," Mirkarimi said, noting that the mayor didn't phrase it in a way that would have run afoul of a law prohibiting that kind of bargaining over legislation. Newsom Press Secretary Tony Winnicker dodged repeated Guardian questions about whether Newsom was demanding conditions unrelated to the budget, coming closest to a direct answer when he said, "Before discussions of vetoing would even come up there would have to be something at the full Board to consider or veto, and there's not, so NO."

Technically legal or not, Newsom's move was enough to prompt members of the Coalition on Homelessness, an advocacy group, to decry it as "a hostage situation." As if negotiators ping-ponging back and forth across City Hall weren't jarred enough already, the Coalition on Homelessness and Budget Justice Coalition members opted to underscore their point by blasting heavy metal music outside the mayor's office windows in order to "push the standoff to a close, and release the needed funds to safety."

"The package of add-backs and cuts would have preserved the essential services San Francisco families rely on to survive the recession," the Coalition wrote in a press statement that was released as budget negotiations wore on. "In order to leverage political gain on unrelated issues, the Mayor chose to hold hostage the package of restorations to vital senior health services, youth violence prevention programs, mental health treatment and cuts to waste."

The heavy metal stunt only lasted about two minutes before deputy sherriffs put the kibosh on it, but "hostage negotiators" Patrick Flanagan (shown in the video wearing sunglasses), James Chionsini, Que Newbill, Lorraine Deguzman, Bob Offer-Westort, and Jennifer Friedenbach managed to make their way into the reception area of the mayor's office. Mike Farrah, director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services, was sent out for a bargaining session with the pizza-bearing crew. We caught the whole tense situation on film, and here's how it went:

The "hostage negotiations" session took place around 4 p.m. Around the same time, various members of the board were going in to meet with the mayor on what several described as "parallel conversations" regarding the charter amendments, and the roster of programs that supervisors wanted to see restored after Newsom proposed slashing them in his June 1 budget proposal.

As the Budget & Finance Committee prepared to meet around 6:30 p.m., the worst fears of the Budget Justice Coalition did not seem to be realized. City Controller Ben Rosenfield arrived to the board chambers with freshly printed copies of an add-back list that included most of the programs that were high priorities for progressive supervisors and community advocates. However, Newsom had not given that list his stamp of approval, so a final budget agreement between both parties remained elusive. Winnicker cast those add-backs as contrary to Newsom's wishes: "Don't for a second even try to suggest that it's improper to raise concerns about the fiscal impact of a new $40 million setaside in the context of a discussion of the budget."

As for the discussion about the charter amenments, Mirkarimi characterized it as "ongoing." Avalos called the preliminary amended budget "a work in progress," but members of the Budget & Finance Committee still voiced a round of thank-yous to one another and all of the community groups who were there to assist with the process.

The Budget & Finance Committee forwarded the budget, including the restoration package, to the full board. Using a variety of sources, supervisors were able to restore $32,941,541 in funding for programs ranging from homeless services, to mental health care programs, to programs that aid and assist impoverished single-room-occupancy hotel residents, and others. An additional $7.4 million meant to cover a variety of youth and senior programs will depend on a supplemental appropriation that won the committee's preliminary approval. Sup. Sean Elsbernd dissented on both counts, but still made a point of thanking the other committee members for their work.



Wow, great work!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 03, 2010 @ 4:26 am

So Rebecca,

You support strongarm and intimidation tactcis as long as you believe the underlying cause?

The end justifies the emans?

Is that your, er, point?

Posted by Folly on Jul. 03, 2010 @ 11:09 pm

I fail to see where you are going with this, Folly. Where in my news article does it say anything about what I support or don't support, or what I personally believe? "Strong-arm tactics" refers to threatening the use of violence or physical force to get one's way. Where does it say anything in this article about anyone doing that? If that had been the objective of the "hostage negotiators" in the video, you wouldn't see Mike Farrah laughing it off in a good-natured way, accepting a pizza to take back to the mayor. Are you seriously suggesting that the mayor was intimidated into ... not signing off on the budget?? Over a pizza?

Posted by Rebeccab on Jul. 04, 2010 @ 12:52 pm

Intimidation tactics? Comedic political theatre counts as intimidation tactics?

Posted by Ronnie James Dio on Jul. 04, 2010 @ 11:49 am

If the mayor/lieutenant goobernetorial candidate and his real estate mogul minions want to hold poor peoples' money hostage while not even addressing overpaid (as in $200,000 per year, there are plenty of them) bureaucrats and toadies, then they should expect a little resistance, comedic or otherwise.

Am I strongarm if I can bench press $5 million with my eyes closed and fund services for homeless children at the same time?

Posted by Pinche Wonchini on Jul. 04, 2010 @ 12:10 pm

Huh? That money is composed of tax dollars, poor people have no more claim to it than anyone else.

That comment, perhaps more than any other one I've ever seen on this site, encapsulates everything wrong with the Progressive/Non-Profit Inc. mindset. The entitlement to money taken from taxpayers, the claim on other people's money as "poor people's money" belonging to the loudest and most intimidating demographic, is disgusting.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jul. 04, 2010 @ 10:05 pm

No Mayors were harmed in the making of this film.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 04, 2010 @ 1:49 pm

Even Rebecca admits that Sheriff's were called in to remove the interlopers.

And there was definitely an undertone of intimidation in the air, based on that video. If I had been that member of the Mayor's staff, I would have felt uncomfortable, even if I managed a smile for the camera (which itself adds to the intimidation).

And then of course, as soon as he was off-camera, he called in the cops.

There is a public forum for debating such issues. And a democratic process for electing the decision-makers. But physically going into an official's office to harangue them is not cool, effective or ethical.

Picket peacefully outside if you must. But workplaces have to be safe for those who have to make difficult decisions. just ask anyone working in schoiols, law offices, banks or welfare offices.

Posted by Folly on Jul. 04, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

One last clarification for our reader: When the article refers to sheriff deputies, it is referring to those who appeared on the scene OUTSIDE city hall, when COH members were blasting loud music outside the office windows, to tell them to turn it off. Those who entered the reception area of the mayor's office left on their own; no one was forcibly removed.

Posted by Rebecca Bowe on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 9:43 am

Either way, their behavior was immature.

Playing loud music outside a place of work where serious decisions are being made is juvenile.

While using a pizza to create a pretext for harassing a mayoral aide is no more mature.

If the COH arguements had any intrinsic merit, those arguments could be persuasively made through the normal channels. But by adopting 7th grade tactics they actually made their case look worse.

Frankly, if I'd have been in the Mayor's shoes that night, I would have docked another million off the COH budget just because.

Any chance that political debate can be had in an adult and mature way?

Posted by Folly on Jul. 06, 2010 @ 11:39 am

The COH doesn't get any money from the City, & has a budget of *way* under $1 million. Check the 990.

Posted by Ronnie James Dio on Jul. 07, 2010 @ 4:02 pm

nary a "hey hey ho ho" to be had---good job people. keep it up!

Posted by Guest on Jul. 07, 2010 @ 8:00 am