Belying his repeated claims to being part of the progressive movement, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu has ousted his progressive colleagues from key leadership positions on board committees, placing fiscal conservatives into the chairs and majorities on the three most important committees and giving downtown interests more control over city legislation and projects than they've had in a decade.
Most notably, the chair of the Budget & Finance Committee was taken away from Sup. John Avalos – who challenged Chiu for the board presidency on Saturday – and given to Sup. Carmen Chu. While Chu did work on budget issues as a staffer in the Mayor's Office before being appointed supervisor, which Chiu cited in support of his decision, she has consistently voted with the three-member minority of fiscal conservatives throughout her tenure as supervisor, opposing even the most widely accepted revenue proposals and progressive initiatives.
Chiu also placed himself in the swing vote role on that committee, naming Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Jane Kim as the permanent committee members and Scott Wiener and himself as the temporary members who serve on the committee from March 1 through budget season. Asked if that was intentional, Chiu told us, “Sure was.” With the city facing a budget deficit of almost $400 million after seven years of budget deficits that were closed almost entirely through service cuts and fee increases – rather than general revenue increases targeted at the city's richest individuals and corporations – the committee will be a key battleground between progressives and fiscal conservatives this year.
“The makeup of the committee reflects a real need for collaboration at this time of transition,” Chiu said of the Budget Committee. But Sup. David Campos was among the many progressives calling the committee assignments a major political realignment, telling us, “I don't see how you can look at the committee assignments and not see some kind of realignment. The progressives are no longer in control of the key committees." Avalos called it, “the price of moderates voting for Chiu.”
Also disappointing to progressives were Chiu's choices for the Rules and Land Use committees. On the Rules Committee, which confirms mayoral appointments, approves the placement of charter amendments on the ballot, and will play a big role this year in approving the redrawing of supervisorial districts in the wake of the 2010 Census, Chiu named Kim and Sups. Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell, the latter two childhood buddies who represent the city's two most conservative districts.
The committee takes the lead role in proposing the board's three appointees to a task force that will draw the new legislative lines, as well as reviewing the other six appointees (three each from the Mayor's Office and Elections Commission) and approving the plan that the task force produces. Downtown groups are expected to use the opportunity to negate the gains progressives have made in electing supervisors, probably in collaboration with Elsbernd and Farrell, a venture capitalist new to politics.
“Sean and Mark understand that if they push things through Rules that are outside the mainstream of who the board is, I expect that the full board will stop them,” Chiu told us. He also emphasized that Kim is chairing the committee, a role that can influence what items the committee considers: “On Rules, Sup. Kim will set the agenda there.”
Chiu sounded a similar rationale in defending a makeup on the Land Use & Economic Development Committee, to which he named new Sups. Scott Wiener and Malia Cohen – who were backed by development interests and opposed by tenant groups in last year's election – along with Sup. Eric Mar as chair.
“With Eric at the helm, he will do a very good job at fighting for neighborhoods, tenants, and other interests,” Chiu said. But Avalos noted that Mar will have his hands full trying to manage a high-stakes, high-profile agenda with little help from his colleagues. “There's a lot on Eric Mar's shoulders. It's his coming of age moment and he'll have to step up big time to run that committee,” Avalos said.
Avalos said he was disappointed to be removed from the Budget Committee after working on it for eight of the last 10 years, first as Sup. Chris Daly's legislative aide and then as a supervisor. “But I'm going to work behind the scene on the budget to make sure the communities are well-spoken for,” he said.
Chiu said he has gotten assurances from both Chu and Mayor Ed Lee “about the need for an open, transparent, and community-based budget process.” Carmen Chu echoed the point, telling us, “My hope is that this year the budget is going to be a very collaborative and open process.”
But on the need for need for revenue solutions, which Avalos has said are vital, David Chiu only went this far: “I am open to considering revenues as part of the overall set of solutions to close the budget deficit.” And Carmen Chu wouldn't even go that far.
“At the end of the day, we need to take into account the context of the state budget, in terms of new cuts and taxes, because anything we do will be on top of the state level,” she told us, adding this about the revenue measures that she opposed last year, “We need to ask who do these measures really impact.”
For progressives, the only bright spots in the committee appointments were Avalos chairing the City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committees, with Mar and Elsbernd also serving; and Sup. Ross Mirkarimi chairing the Public Safety Committee, with Cohen and Campos on it as well.
“I told people I was going to be fair in committee assignments and I have been,” Chiu said.
Sarah Phelan and Tim Redmond contributed to this report.