They have issues: Members of the new Board speak


Board President David Chiu touched off a broad political discussion in recent weeks with his statement that officials were elected “not to take positions, but to get things done.” Delivered just before his reelection as Board President with the solid backing of the board’s moderate faction, Chiu’s comment has been viewed in light of City Hall’s shifting political dynamic, a subject the Guardian explores in a Jan. 19 cover story. Politics aside, Chiu’s statement also begs the question: Just what do members of the board hope to get done, and how do they propose to accomplish the items on their agenda?
Last week, Guardian reporters tracked down every member of the board to find out. We asked, what are your top priorities? And how do you plan to achieve them? Some spoke with us for 25 minutes, and others spoke for just 5 minutes, but the result offers some insight into what’s on their radar. Not surprisingly, getting the budget right was mentioned by virtually everyone as a top priority, but there are sharp differences in opinion in terms of how to do that. Several supervisors, particularly those in the moderate wing, mentioned ballooning pension and healthcare costs. Aiding small business also emerged as a priority shared by multiple board members.

Sup. Eric Mar
District 1

*Assisting small businesses
*Programs and services for seniors
*Food Security
*Issues surrounding Golden Gate Park

Elected in 2008 to represent D1, Sup. Eric Mar has been named chair of the powerful Land Use & Economic Development Committee and vice chair of the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee.

Asked to name his top priorities, Mar said, “A humane budget that protects the safety net and services to the must vulnerable people in San Francisco is kind of the critical, top priority.”

It’s bound to be difficult, he added. “That’s why I wish it could have been a progressive that was chairing the budget process. Now, we have to work with Carmen Chu to ensure that it’s a fair, transparent process.”

A second issue hovering near the top of Mar’s agenda is lending a helping hand to the small businesses of the Richmond District. “There’s a lot of anxiety about the economic climate for small business. We’re trying to work closely with some of the merchant associations and come up with ideas on how the city government can be more supportive,” he said. Mar also spoke about the need to respond to the threat of big box stores, such as PetCo, that could move in and harm neighborhood merchants. “I’m worried about too many of the big box stores trying to come in with an urban strategy and saying that they’re different -- but they sure have an unfair advantage,” he noted.

Programs and services for the senior population ranked high on his list. Mar noted that he’d been working with senior groups on how to respond to a budget analyst’s report showing a ballooning need for housing – especially affordable housing – for seniors. “It’s moving from the Baby Boom generation to the Senior Boomers, and I think the population, if I’m not mistaken, by 2020 it’s going up 50 percent," he said. "It’s a huge booming population that I don’t think we’re ready to address.”

Addressing food security issues through the Food Security Task Force also ranked high on Mar's list, and he noted that he’s been working with a coalition that includes UCSF and the Department of Public Health to study the problem. “We’ve had a number of strategy meetings already, but we’re trying to launch different efforts to create healthier food access in many of our lowest income neighborhoods,” Mar said.

Finally, Mar talked about issues relating to the park. “I do represent the district that has Golden Gate Park, so I’m often busy with efforts to preserve the park, prevent privatization, and ensure enjoyment for the many residents not just in the Richmond but throughout the city that enjoy the park.” Although it’s not technically in his district, Mar noted that he is very supportive of HANC Recycling Center – and plans to advocate on their behalf to Mayor Lee.

Sup. Mark Farrell
District 2
*Pension reform
*Long-term economic plan for city
*Job creation
*Quality-of-life issues

Elected to replace termed-out D2 Sup. Michela Alioto-Pier, Farrell has been named vice-chair of the Government Audits & Oversight Committee and a member of the Rules Committee. A native of D2, Farrell told the Guardian he believes his roots in the city and background as a venture capitalist would be an asset to the city’s legislative body. “I know at the last board, Carmen [Chu] was the only one who had any finance background,” he said. “To have someone come from the private sector with a business / finance background, I really do believe … adds to the dialogue and the discussion here at City Hall.”

Along those lines, Farrell said one of his top priorities is the budget. “I’m not on the budget and finance committee this time around, but given my background, I am going to play a role in that,” he said.

So what’s his plan for closing the budget deficit? In response, he alluded to slashing services. “In the past, there have been views that we as a city don’t provide enough services and we need to raise revenues to provide more, or the perspective that we first need to live within our means and then provide more services. Everyone’s going to disagree, but I’m in the latter camp,” he said. “I do believe we need to make some tough choices right now – whether it be head count, or whether it be looking at …pension reform. I do believe pension reform needs to be part of the dialogue. Unfortunately, it’s unsustainable.”

He also said he wanted to be part of “trying to create and focus on a framework for a long-term financial plan here in San Francisco.”

Secondly, Farrell discussed wanting to put together a “jobs bill.”

“Jobs is a big deal,” he said. “It’s something I want to focus on. There are only so many levers we can pull as a city. I think the biotech tax credits have spurred a lot of business down in Mission Bay.”

Next on Farrell’s agenda was quality-of-life issues, but rather than talk about enforcing San Francisco’s sit/lie ordinance – supported by political forces who organized under the banner of maintaining ‘quality-of-life’ – Farrell revealed that he is incensed about parking meter fines. “It is so strikingly unjust when you are 1 minute late to your parking meter and you have a $65 parking fine,” he said.

Farrell also mentioned development projects that would surely require time and attention. “CPMC is going to be a major dominant issue,” he said. He also mentioned Doyle Drive, and transitional age youth housing projects proposed in D2 – but as far as the housing project planned for the King Edward II Inn, which has generated some controversy among neighborhood groups, he didn’t take a strong position either way, saying he wanted to listen to all the stakeholders first.

Board President David Chiu
District 3
*Preserving neighborhood character
*Immigrant rights
*Preserving economic diversity

Elected for a second two-year term as President of the Board, D3 Sup. David Chiu is rumored to be running in the mayor’s race, after he turned down former Mayor Gavin Newsom’s offer to appoint him as District Attorney. That offer was made after Kamala Harris won the state Attorney General’s race this fall. And when Chiu turned it down, former Mayor Gavin Newsom shocked just about everybody by appointing San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon, who is not opposed to the death penalty and was a longtime Republican before he recently registered as a Democrat, instead.

A temporary member of the Board’s Budget acommittee, Chiu is also a permanent member of the Board’s Government Audits & Oversight Committee.

Asked about his top priorities, Chiu spoke first and foremost about  “ensuring that we have a budget that works for all San Franciscans, particularly the most vulnerable.” He also said he wanted to see a different kind of budget process: “It is my hope that we do not engage in the typical, Kabuki-style budget process of years past under the last couple of mayors, where the mayor keeps under wraps for many months exactly what the thinking is on the budget, gives us something on June 1 for which we have only a couple of weeks to analyze, and then engage in the tired back-and-forth of debates in the past.” Chiu also spoke about tackling “looming pension and health care costs.”

Another priority, he said, was “Ensuring that our neighborhoods continue to remain the distinctive urban villages that they are, and protecting neighborhood character,” a goal that relates to “development, … historic preservation, [and] what we do around vacant commercial corridors.”

*Immigrant rights also made his top-five list. “I was very sad that last November we didn’t prevail in allowing all parents to have a right and a voice in school board elections,” he said, referencing ballot measure Proposition D which appeared on the November 2010 ballot. “I think we are going to reengage in discussion around Sanctuary City, another topic I have discussed twice already with Mayor Lee.”

Another issue for Chiu was  “ensuring again that hopefully San Francisco continues to remain an economically diverse city, and not just a city for the very wealthy.” He spoke about reforming city contracts: “In particular, dealing with the fact that in many areas, 70 to 80 percent of city contracts are awarded to non-San Francisco businesses. … I think there is more significant reform that needs to happen in our city contracting process.” Another economic-diversity measure, he said, was tax policy, “particularly around ensuring that our business tax is incenting the type of economic growth that we want.”

Finally, Chiu spoke about “Creating a transit-first city. This is not just about making sure MUNI is more reliable and has stable funding, but ensuring that we’re taking steps to reach a 2020 goal of 20 percent cycling in the city. Earlier this week I called for our transit agencies to look at pedestrian safety, because we are spending close to $300 million a year to deal with pedestrian deaths and injuries.”

Sup. Carmen Chu
District 4
*Core Services

Chiu has just named Sup. Carmen Chu as chair of the powerful Board and Finance Committee. And Chu, who worked as a budget analyst for Newsom’s administration, says the budget, core services, employment and the economy are her top priorities.

“My hope is that this year the budget is going to be a very collaborative and open process,” Chu said.

Chu believes workers benefits will 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.

Chu noted that the budget debate will have to take the state budget into account.
“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.

“We need to ask who do these measures really impact,” she added, noting that there were attempts to put revenue measures on the ballot last year.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi
District 5
* Local Hire / First Source / Reentry programs
* Budget / generating revenue
* Infrastructure improvements
*Reversing MTA service cuts

With only two years left to serve on the Board, D5 Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has been named chair of the Board’s Public Safety Committee and vice-chair of the Budget and Finance Committee.

“One of my top priorities is building on and strengthening the work that I’ve already done and that Avalos is doing on mandatory local hire and First Source programs,” Mirkarimi said. He also spoke about “strengthening reentry programs for those coming out of the criminal justice system, because we still have an enormously high recidivism rate.”

The budget also ranked high on Mirkarimi’s list, and he stressed the need for “doing surgical operations on our budget to make sure that services for the vulnerable are retained, and looking for other ways to generate revenue beyond the debate of what’s going on the ballot.

“For instance, I helped lead the charge for the America’s Cup, and while the pay-off from that won’t be realized for years, the deal still needs to be massaged. What we have now is an embryonic deal that still needs to be watched.”

Mirkarimi mentioned safeguarding the city against privatization, saying one of his priorities was “retooling our budget priorities to stop the escalating practice of privatizing city services.”

 He spoke about “ongoing work citywide to make mixed-use commercial and residential infrastructure improvements, which coincide with bicycle and pedestrian improvements.”

Finally, Mirkarimi said he wanted to focus on transportation issues. “As Chair of the Transportation Authority, if I even continue to be chair, to take the lead on signature transit projects and work with the M.T.A. to reverse service cuts.”

Sup. Jane Kim
District 6
*Economic Development
*Small Business
*Pedestrian Safety
*Legislation to control bedbug infestations

Elected to replace termed-out D6 Sup. Chris Daly, Kim has been named chair of the Rules Committee and a member of the Budget & Finance committee.

Kim believes that she will prove her progressive values through her work and she’s trying to take the current debate about her allegiances on the Board in her stride.

“The one thing I learned from serving on the School Board was to be really patient,” Kim told me, when our conversation turned to the issue of “progressive values.”

“I didn’t want to be President of the School Board for the first few years, because I loved pushing the envelope,” Kim added, noting that as Board President David Chiu is in the often-unenviable position of chief negotiator between the Board and the Mayor.

But with Ed Lee’s appointment as interim mayor, Kim is excited about the coming year.
“There are a lot of new opportunities, a different set of players, and it’s going to be very interesting to learn how to traverse this particular scene.”

Kim is kicking off her first term on the Board with two pieces of legislation. The first seeks to address bedbug infestations. “Particularly around enforcement, including private landlords,” Kim said, noting that there have also been bedbug problems in Housing Authority properties.

Her second immediate goal is to look at pedestrian safety, a big deal in D6, which is traversed by freeways with off-ramps leading into residential zones.
“Pedestrian safety is a unifying issue for my district, particularly for all the seniors,” Kim said, citing traffic calming, speed limit enforcement and increased pedestrian traffic, as possible approaches.

Beyond those immediate goals, Kim plans to focus on jobs, economic development and small businesses in the coming year. “What can we do to create jobs and help small businesses? That is my focus, not from a tax reduction point of view, but how can we consolidate the permitting and fees process, because small businesses are a source of local jobs.”

Kim plans to help the Mayor’s Office implement Sup. John Avalos’ local hire legislation, which interim Mayor Ed Lee supports, unlike his predecessor Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“Everyone has always liked the idea of local hire, but without any teeth, it can’t be enforced,” Kim observed. “It’s heartbreaking that young people graduate out of San Francisco Unified School District and there’s been not much more than retail jobs available.”

She noted that jobs, land use and the budget are the three overarching items on this year’s agenda. “I’m a big believer in revenue generation, but government has to come half-way by being able to articulate how it will benefit people and being able to show that it’s more than just altruistic. I think we have to figure out that balance in promoting new measures. That’s why it’s important to be strong on neighborhood and community issues, so that folks feel like government is listening and helping them. I don’t think it’s a huge ask to be responsive to that.”

Kim said she hoped the new mayor would put out a new revenue measure, enforce local hire, and implement Sup. David Campos’ legislation to ensure due process for immigrant youth.

“I think Ed can take a lot of the goodwill and unanimous support,” Kim said. “We’ve never had a mayor without an election, campaigns, and a track record. Usually mayors come in with a group of dissenters. But he is in a very unique position to do three things that are very challenging to do. I hope raising revenues is one of those three. As a big supporter of local hire, I think it helps having a mayor that is committed to implement it. And I’m hoping that Ed will implement due process for youth. For me, it’s a no brainer and Ed’s background as a former attorney  for Asian Law Caucus is a good match. Many members of my family came to the U.S. as undocumented youth, so this is very personal. Kids get picked up for no reason and misidentified. People confuse Campos and Avalos, so imagine what happens to immigrant youth.”

Sup. Sean Elsbernd
District 7
*Enforcing Prop G
*Pension & healthcare costs

With two years left to serve on the Board, D7 Sup. Sean Elsbernd has been named vice-chair of the Rules Committee and a member of the City Operations & Neighborhood Services Committee. He was congratulated by Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak immediately after the Board voted 11-0 to nominated former City Administrator Ed Lee as interim mayor, and during Lee’s swearing-in, former Mayor Willie Brown praised Elsbernd for nominating Lee for the job.

And at the Board’s Jan. 11 meeting before the supervisors voted for Lee, Elsbernd signaled that city workers’ retirement and health benefits will be at the center of the fight to balance the budget in the coming year.

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 afterparty that followed Lee’s swearing in, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, who caused a furor last fall when he launched Measure B, which sought to reform workers’ benefits packages, told the Guardian 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.”

As for priorities, Elsbernd broke it down into district, city, and regional issues. In D7, “Hands-down, without question the biggest issue … is Parkmerced,” he said, starting with understanding and managing the environmental approval process. If it gets approved, he said his top concerns was that "the tenant issue. And the overriding concern of if they sell, which I think we all think is going to happen in the near-term – do those guarantees go along with the land?”

Also related to Parkmerced was planning for the traffic conditions that the development could potentially create, which Elsbernd dubbed a “huge 19th Avenue issue.”

Citywide, Elsbernd’s top priorities included enforcing Proposition G – the voter-approved measure that requires MUNI drivers to engage in collective bargaining – and tackling pension and healthcare costs. He spoke about “making sure that MTA budget that comes to us this summer is responsive” to Prop G.

As for pension and healthcare, Elsbernd said, “I’ve already spent a good deal of time with labor talking about it, and will continue to do that.” But he declined to give further details. Asked if a revenue-generating measure could be part of the solution to that problem, Elsbernd said, “I’m not saying no to anything right now.”

On a regional level, Elsbernd’s priority was to help CalTrain deal with its crippling financial problem. He’s served on that board for the last four years. “The financial situation at CalTrain – it is without question the forgotten stepchild of Bay Area transit, and the budget is going to be hugely challenging,” he said. “I think they’ll survive, but I think they’re going to see massive reductions in services.”

Sup. Scott Wiener
District 8
*Reasonable regulation of nightlife & entertainment industry
*Pension reform

Elected in November 2010 to replace termed-out D8 Sup. Bevan, Wiener has been named a temporary member of the Board’s Budget and Finance Committee and a permanent member of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee.

“Transportation is a top priority,” Wiener said. ‘That includes working with the M.T.A. to get more cabs on the street, and making sure that the M.T.A. collectively bargains effectively with its new powers, under Prop. G.”

“I’m also going to be focusing on public safety, including work around graffiti enforcement, though I’m not prepared to go public yet about what I’ll be thinking," he said.

“Regulating nightlife and entertainment is another top priority," Wiener continued. "I want to make sure that what we do is very thoughtful in terms of understanding the economic impacts, in terms of jobs and tax  revenues, that this segment has. With some of the unfortunate incidents that have happened, it’s really important before we jump to conclusions that we figure out what happened and why. Was it something the club did inappropriately, or was it just a fluke? That way, we can avoid making drastic changes across the board. I think we have been very reactive to some nightclub issues. I want us to be more thoughtful in taking all the factors into consideration.”

“Even if we put a revenue measure on the June or November ballot, we’d need a two-thirds majority, so realistically, it’s hard to envision successfully securing significant revenue measure before November 2012," Wiener added. "And once you adopt a revenue measure, it takes time to implement it and revenue to come in, so it’s hard to see where we’ll get revenue that will impact the 2012 fiscal year. In the short term, for fiscal year 2011/2012, the horse is out of the barn”

“As for pension stuff, I’m going to be very engaged in that process and hopefully we will move to further rein in pension and retirement healthcare costs.”

Sup. David Campos
District 9
*Good government
*Community policing
*Protecting immigrant youth
*Workers’ rights and healthcare

Elected in 2008, D9 Sup. David Campos has been named chair of the Board’s Government Audit & Oversight Committee and a member of the Public Safety Committee. And, ever since he declared that the progressive majority on the Board no longer exists, in the wake of the Board’s 11-0 vote for Mayor Ed Lee, Campos has found his words being used by the mainstream media as alleged evidence that the entire progressive movement is dead in San Francisco.

“They are trying to twist my words and make me into the bogey man,” Campos said, noting that his words were not a statement of defeat but a wake-up call.

“The progressive movement is very much alive,” Campos said. “The key here is that if you speak your truth, they’ll go after you, even if you do it in a respectful way. I didn’t lose my temper or go after anybody, but they are trying to make me into the next Chris Daly.”

Campos said his overarching goal this year is to keep advancing a good government agenda.

“This means not just making sure that good public policy is being pursued, but also that we do so with as much openness and transparency as possible,” he said.

As a member of the Board’s Public Safety Committee, Campos says he will focus on making sure that we have “as much community policing as possible.

He plans to focus on improving public transportation, noting that a lot of folks in his district use public transit.

And he’d like to see interim mayor Ed Lee implement the due process legislation that Campos sponsored and the former Board passed with a veto-proof majority in 2009, but Mayor Gavin Newsom refused to implement. Campos' legislation sought to ensure that immigrant youth get their day in court before being referred to the federal immigration authorities for possible deportation, and Newsom's refusal to implement it, left hundreds of youth at risk of being deported, without first having the opportunity to establish their innocence in a juvenile court.
‘We met with Mayor Lee today,” Campos told the Guardian Jan. 18. “And we asked him to move this forward as quickly as possible. He committed to do that and said he wants to get more informed, but I’m confident he will move this forward.”

Campos also said he’ll be focusing on issues around workers’ rights and health care.
“I want to make sure we keep making progress on those fronts,” Campos said.

“It’s been a rough couple of days,” Campos continued, circling back to the beating the press gave him for his "progressive" remarks.“But I got to keep moving, doing my work, calling it as a I see it, doing what’s right, and doing it in a respectful way. The truth is that if you talk about the progressive movement and what we have achieved, which includes universal healthcare and local hire in the last few years, you are likely to become a target.”

Sup. Malia Cohen
District 10
*Public safety
*Preserving open space
*Creating Community Benefit Districts
*Ending illegal dumping
Elected to replace termed-out D10 Sup. Sophie Maxwell, Cohen has been named chair of the City & School District committee, vice chair of the Land Use and Economic Development Committee and vice chair of the Public Safety Committee.

Cohen says her top priorities are public safety, jobs, open space, which she campaigned on, as well as creating community benefits districts and putting an end to illegal dumping.

“I feel good about the votes I cast for Ed Lee as interim mayor and David Chiu as Board President. We need to partner on the implementation of local hire, and those alliances can help folks in my district, including Visitation Valley.”

“I was touched by Sup. David Campos words about the progressive majority on the Board,” she added. “I thought they were thoughtful.”

Much like Kim, Cohen believes her legislative actions will show where her values lie.
“I’d like to see a community benefits district on San Bruno and Third Street because those are two separate corridors that could use help,” Cohen said. 

She pointed to legislation that former D10 Sup. Sophie Maxwell introduced in November 2010, authorizing the Department of Public Works to expend a $350,000 grant from the Solid Waste Disposal Clean-Up Site trust fund to clean up 25 chronic illegal dumping sites.
“All the sites are on public property and are located in the southeast part of the city, in my district,” Cohen said, noting that the city receives over 16,000 reports of illegal dumping a year and spends over $2 million in cleaning them up.

Sup. John Avalos
District 11
*Implementing Local Hire
*Improving MUNI / Balboa Park BART
*Affordable housing
*Improving city and neighborhood services

Sup. John Avalos, who chaired the Budget committee last year and has just been named Chair of the Board’s City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee, said his top priorities were implementing local hire, improving Muni and Balboa Park BART station, building affordable housing at Balboa, and improving city and neighborhood services.

“And despite not being budget chair, I’ll make sure we have the best budget we can,” Avalos added, noting that he plans to talk to labor and community based organizations about ways to increase city revenues. “But it’s hard, given that we need a two-thirds majority to pass stuff on the ballot,” he said.

Last year, Avalos helped put two measures on the ballot to increase revenues. Prop. J 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. Prop. N, the real property transfer tax, h slightly increased the tax charged by the city on the sale of property worth more than $5 million.

Prop. J secured only 45.5 percent of the vote, thereby failing to win the necessary two-thirds majority. But it fared better than Prop. K, the competing hotel tax that Newsom put on the ballot at the behest of large hotel corporations and that only won 38.5 percent of the vote. Prop. K also sought to close loopholes in the hotel tax, but didn’t include a tax increase, meaning it would have contributed millions less than Prop. J.

But Prop. N did pass. “And that should raise $45 million,” Avalos said. “So, I’ve always had my sights set on raising revenue, but making cuts is inevitable.”

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