Monthly Archives: May 2010

Oh The Games People Play

By now many of you have read or heard about the tremendous deficit that our City is facing this year and projected for the next few years to come. How does all of this happen so rapidly, especially in a City like ours that has such a solid and far reaching tax base, that is a tourist destination for people from all over the World, is headquarters to some of the wealthiest corporations in the country, and is encompassed in a land-locked 47 square miles with only approximately 800,000 residents?

No doubt, these cash strapped days are due to the economic realities that have befallen our country and indeed the world is forcing us all to realign our priorities. But my question is, does it have to be this bad, and are we truly addressing the underlying causes of over-spending that have contributed to our current predicament.

Could it be that what we pay for our municipal services is higher on a per capita basis by some 2 to 4 times when compared to any city in America because San Franciscans just like paying more for local government in order to live up to our humanitarian image?

Could it be that people who live here are just too busy to really look into the issues that affect costs and therefore just can’t be bothered because after all, this is really a pretty good place to live?

Could it be that the issues presented to the public are deliberately obscured and complicated by politicians who curry political favor and expediency as opposed to providing basic services in the most efficient manner?

I certainly don’t know all of the answers to the above questions other than to say that it could a bit of each. Before I present some facts to you so that you can make up your own mind, let me forewarn those of you, including most of the members on the Board of Supervisors, who believe that the only way to balance our budget and reduce the deficit is by additional taxes on the wealthy, this column may present some disturbing facts that undermine your theories on just whose “ox should be gored” or whose income should be redistributed.

A couple disclosure facts might be in order for those who like to cast dispersions…
1. I have never been considered wealthy in monetary terms by any standard and the pursuit money has always been secondary to me in favor of other achievements. 2. As a career civil servant for thirty years, I never made more than $80,000 in one year and that was only in my last position, although I served as an executive in seven different City departments in all three branches of government. 3. My reasons for seeking employment in the public sector in the sixties were much different than what I suspect motivates people to do so today. 4. I am not really concerned about how much money anyone makes…. good for them, as long as they have not made it by exploiting others or “gaming the system” in such a way that the end result suffers. That being said, considers the following facts:

Our city work force consists of 27,852 fulltime and an additional 9,425 part time employees for a total of 37,277 serving a population of approximately 810,000 residents. That’s a ratio of approx. 1: 22, easily the highest in the country.

More than 1 in 3 workers makes in excess of $100,000 in base salary and when overtime is factored in almost 10,000 workers make well over $100,000 per year. These figures do not reflect the additional costs to the City for health care and pensions.

There is currently over 9,587 employees earning over $100,000 annually amounting to an increased cost of $1.5 Billion dollars to the City budget. This is an increase of 800 % in the number of City employees earning over $100,000 in the last decade

In fiscal year 2009 salaries accounted for 2.5 billion of the 6.6 billion dollar budget. The amount we are now spending for salaries is well over 3 times what Frank Jordan allowed for salaries when Mayor and twice that allowed by Willie Brown.

The population of the City has not changed and it would be very hard to find anyone who would attest that essential City services delivered are better now than in prior years.

In 2007, as Newsom was running for a second term, he gave a 23% pay increase to police and firefighters. In the following two years, the amount paid for salaries of City workers increased by 207.4 million dollars.

Of the 100 highest paid city employees, 71 of them are police and fire and the majority of them earn between $250,000 and $350,000 per year with overtime.

In fiscal year 2008-2009, 1,637 city positions, many of them vacant, at a salary range of less than $80,000 annually were slashed from the budget in a much ballyhooed report claiming to save $55 million. 90% the 1637 positions eliminated earned less than $60,000 per year. (So much for our low income wage earners and the dwindling blue collar sector!)

In later 2009, pay raises were given across the board to all City employees making over $80,000 per year, and ironically, just as the Mayor’s designs for higher political office started to surface, 616 new employees were hired by appointment and without civil service examination to earn over $80,000 per year. These raises and appointments are now costing the City $91.3 million more annually. (As a result, we now have a new type of mid to high level civil servant whose only qualifications appear to be his talent as a political operative. Hopefully, pension and benefit reform will discourage these new appointments from taking root in the City and they will move on to their next assignment.)

California Employment Development Department data shows that San Francisco City workers make an average of at least 20% more than their counterparts in the private sector.

Today, our budget comes in at 6.7 billion and is projected to go to 7.2 billion next year. Compare that to the 5.1 billion budget that reflected Willie Browns last budget or that of the 2.9 billion for the Frank Jordan budget.

Anyway you slice it, dice it or cut it, the question remains for you to ponder. Are we getting our monies worth from our local “municipal service providers?” If not, why not and what can we do about it. As a person who is against discrimination of any kind, I just don’t think we can continually go back and ask those who got it, to pay for those that don’t have it, because those who are supposed to deliver it don’t know how!

OBSERVATIONS:
Patrick Monett -Shaw is a one man marvel when it comes to fact-finding, number crunching, corruption watchdog and telling it like it is. He has paid dearly for his talent and his avocation by those who want to silence him on what is really going on at Laguna Honda Hospital. He has written at length about very important and complicated issues that affect us all, so to you Patrick, I say congratulations!

His latest observation about the muni driver’s reform petition that you are being asked to sign is interesting. He notes that not just bus drivers salaries are set by cross-jurisdictional salary surveys, but also the salaries of police and nurses are pegged to the highest paid in other jurisdictions. Of course bus drivers are the easiest to pick on because of non-salary related issues that this administration and the sponsoring supervisor are too weak to address. Nevertheless both the mayor and the supervisor keep popping off about the 8 to 9 million in salary increases due the drivers in July while both politicians are on record as supporting the 207.4 million in raises for those other City employees already making over $100,000 per year!

Policemen, Firemen, Nurses and yes bus drivers and all of our civil servants should be paid well if they are performing well. There is no question about that, and like most other San Franciscans, I am proud of them and want the best for them when they are doing their best in an environment that they do not always control. I fail to see how paying the drivers less will result in anything other than less qualified drivers when the real corrections need to be addressed at the Muni’s 393 managers who are responsible for all aspects of the Muni’s performance. And oh yes, who by the way are all members of the $100,000 a year club as referred to in my above article.

What is really happening here is that lower income City workers are being thrown “Under the Bus” in order to insure that the high-end salary people continue to receive their raises as they have for the past 6 years.

Laguna Honda Hospital:
The Dan Noyes chi. 7 I-Team investigation of the shenanigans going on at Laguna Honda Hospital at 6:30 pm Thursday evening may 20th was amazing. If you get a chance try to see it on the net. Dan Noyes is a real asset to San Francisco.
http://iteamblog.abc7news.com/ or
http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/channel?section=news/iteam&id=7104859

Voter tip:

For all of you Democrats out there who are tired of the Democratic County Central Committee being dominated by the far left activists, take a look at the candidacy of Andy Clark. He has served the interest of democrats on the west side of town with his moderate politics and years of service as an Assistant District Attorney.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Notes from Tony, SF News

The Tail That’s Wagging The Dog

You know folks, this little newspaper, the Westside Observer, being circulated mainly in the southwestern segment of the City, is doing much more for the welfare of our residents than any of us realize. By printing the truth while exposing the lies, spin, and corruption so embedded in our local government, and then offering workable solutions, a real service is being performed.
How is this happening you ask? Well, If one were to count the number of articles that have appeared in our two local dailies that have had their genesis spring from the subject matter of columns first printed in the Westside Observer, you would be amazed. Whether this is due to the inert laziness of the writers of the two dailies, or the fact that they are just behind the eight ball as reporters, or the fact that they are part of a dying enterprise because the publications they write for are so slanted and biased, is anybody’s guess. Anyway, there is an old saying that imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and if that’s true, the Westside Observer is tops and it is great to be part of “the tail that’s wagging the dog.”

Just in the past few days, several articles have appeared in the Examiner by columnists who have rambled on about the Boathouse at Lake Merced as a result of my April 1, 2010 article in the Westside Observer, and on the topic of high-speed rail as written many times in this paper by Quentin Kopp. Neither of those columnists, and I will spare naming them so as not to have their obvious politics overshadow their integrity, took the time to do the necessary research to adequately understand the problems.

In the past few months, there have been numerous articles written in both dailies by columnists sympathetic to the current administration that have tried to offset the realities that I first exposed about Treasure Island, Harding Park, the parking meter scam, the excessive business permitting scheme, or the plight of small business. Indeed, there was even a rally held on the steps of City Hall by the mayor to highlight his concerns about developmental impact fees several weeks after I talked about such abuses in my March 2010 column. (Of course, we’ve heard nothing about reducing the fees since the event was merely for PR purposes.)

There have been feature articles in our dailies about our deteriorating infrastructure and pothole riddled streets first addressed in this paper by the talented and dedicated WSO contributor George Wooding, who also was the first to broach the subject of the MUNI operators and their salaries. As you know, a misleading version of that subject is now being circulated as a ballot initiative by one of the camp followers.

The fallacies, inconsistencies and downright misuse of public trust and monies involved in the Laguna Honda re-build project has been excellently chronicled by the persistent and courageous Patrick Monette-Shaw, who has paid dearly for speaking out in this paper for the past two years. The list goes on and on but I can assure you, you are getting your monies’ worth by patronizing the advertisers that make this publication possible. You may not always like what you read, but no one associated with this paper that I know of is trying to build a political career spinning you yarns. We are all thankful for the opportunity to be part of the initiating process that at least gets the ball rolling toward positive solutions.

As opposed to going into a great deal of detail on one subject as I usually do in my columns, and in the spirit of working with those who seek to justify the status quo, I will offer various short topics in this column as “Observations and Solutions” so as to really keep them busy.

Observation No.1 INFRASTRUCTURE and STREET REPAIR: Roger Boas correctly predicted in his ‘80s Chief Administrative Officers Infrastructure Report to the Board of Supervisors, that the City must take on a consistent and annual commitment of funds to maintain our streets and aging sub-structure. The annual cost of estimated maintenance then was about 10 to 20 million dollars per year. The City has been shirking this primary and basic responsibility for decades, choosing instead to fund questionable, expensive, and experimental social programs for political expediency, hoping that State or Federal Grants would come to the rescue. Today an infusion of $250 million per year would not even improve the City’s overall street conditions because the sub-structure is old and breaking down as predicted. It is a classic example of why long-term deferred maintenance is always a bad idea as opposed to the annual cost for necessary upkeep and repairs. We are now at a critical stage and must take real action to keep the streets from incurring serious structural damage. This administration is now proposing asking the voters to approve a quarter-cent sales tax increase to generate up to $36 million annually. In other words, they ignore the problem for years and are now asking you for the money to let them fix the problem? The SOLUTION: Since streets and infrastructure maintenance are prime responsibilities of the City, akin to fire and safety, take the necessary money the City needs to satisfy maintenance and repair on an annual basis, as part of a well thought-out 10-year long-term plan, from the monies that have been diverted from revenue producing departments into uses that have not benefited the City. Prioritize rather than set-aside. Surely in a 6.6 billion dollar budget for a city of less than 800,000 people the money is there! Try using it wisely.

Observation No. 2; The Golden Gate Park Stables: A unique San Francisco tradition since 1875, the stables in the park were shut down on “temporary basis for repair” in September of 2001. The last of 22 public stables in San Francisco, the park stables, during its 130 years of existence, had housed many public, private and polo ponies for equestrian enjoyment and had introduced dozens of generations of school children and adults to the joys of horseback-riding. As a Supervisor and 30-year City employee, I sensed that the so-called “temporary shut down” was nothing more than an excuse for the Dept. of Recreation and Parks to shed its responsibility of the maintenance of this time-treasured institution. I called for a series of public hearings and had received the assurances and guarantees from the then-General Manager of Rec. and Park, Elizabeth Goldstein, that monies were available for the reconstruction of the stables and that construction would commence as soon as architectural drawings and permits were produced. Seeing no action, on July 23rd of the following year, I introduced two resolutions that were passed at the Board of Supervisors. The first established a working group of experienced people to work with the Department to evaluate the most efficient and effective manner to repair and improve the stables. The second resolution which I introduced and passed, is still relevant today and is part of THE SOLUTION: It is based on the voter approved 1998’s Proposition J, It urged the Recreation and Park Department to allocate existing funds to repair and improve the stables and, if necessary, repay the monies expended by soliciting funds from the Golden Gate Park Concourse Authority. To date, the stables sit in abandonment due to the incompetence of city bureaucrats who have ignored the legislative mandates and no doubt misspent the monies that were once—and could again—be available.

Observation No 3: Hospice and Palliative Care at Laguna Honda: By now many of you have come to realize what is really happening at Laguna Honda Hospital. Under this administration, it is slowly and deliberately being transformed into a facility that increasingly treats people in need of homeless health care as opposed to senior health care. For 145 years, Laguna Honda Home has being doing a marvelous job treating indigent, frail, handicapped and patients with various debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer, dementia, Parkinson’s, advanced AIDS, dementia, etc., patients who require specialized round-the-clock care and who have not been fortunate enough to have a family to care for them, or the resources to live in a private nursing home. But now, the City Hall geniuses have decided the facility should house younger people with primary psychiatric conditions in their effort to try to salvage a failed homeless program. Being ignored in this process is what you voted for in 1999, instructing the City how you wished your tax dollars to be spent, and the physical welfare of the elderly vulnerable patients who are routinely and increasingly exposed to the violence being committed by younger patients and are being abandoned. The latest tragedy associated with LHH transformation is the dismantling of the nationally recognized model of “Hospice/Palliative Care” that has, for over 20 years, provided a 25 bed service for both terminally ill and progressively/incurable ill longer-term patients that emphasized quality of life. Now, the administration has deleted “Hospice” as a listed program in the hospital’s mission statement, and fired the former Hospice Chaplain, the beloved Sr. Miriam Walsh, before her passing. Now, amid the hiring of dozens of new consultants and outside specialists for different and “experimental” programs, the administration has terminated the nationally recognized Board Certified Hospice physician Dr. Derek Kerr. Dr. Kerr has been the most professional, knowledgeable, patient-centered and generous doctor associated with the entire Laguna Honda re-build. His work was legendary and essential to the survival of the Hospice program and the spiritual component, which it encompassed. THE SOLUTION: Stop getting rid of home grown and local talent that have proven worth and dedication to the welfare of San Franciscans and replacing them with appointees that only further a political agenda.

Observation No: 4: The MUNI Operators Salary Measure for the November Ballot: Those of you, who are being asked to sign this misleading measure, think back to the spin behind “care not cash” and ask yourselves what good that measure did for the City. This is the same type of effort, designed to capitalize on voters’ disenchantment with the level of service currently being provided by MUNI, but the real intention here is to hype a bland political career for future office. No doubt the Municipal Transportation Agency could provide better service, and there are ways to go about ensuring that happens. The SOLUTION is to propose incremental measures at the Board of Supervisor level that can be vetted publicly that really attack the causes of bad service such as timetables, route frequency, personnel attendance, attentiveness, attitudes, etc. If the Board fails to act on any measures, then go to the public with an initiative that will achieve positive results and correct the true causes of bad service. I fail to see how employing operators at a lesser and questionably lower salary will result in anything other than less qualified drivers. The marginal savings that the proposed measure claims to achieve will certainly not balance an MTA budget that is seriously out of whack, and will do nothing to solve the real causes of bad service.

Observation No. 5: The San Francisco Ethics Commission: The San Francisco Ethics Commission is nothing more than a body of political appointees that are used in the most despicable and “unethical” ways to witch-hunt and tarnish the reputations of any person who questions the policies of this administration. This commission is responsible for millions of taxpayer dollars being wasted on baseless and fraudulent hearings under the guise of good government. The members of the commission who are attorneys should be disbarred and publicly prosecuted for their unscrupulous behavior. The SOLUTION: eliminate the entire Ethics Commission and staff and refer all ethics matters to the State Fair Political Practices Commission for an honest and fair adjudication. This would save the City millions every year and bring new hope to aspiring candidates who otherwise are discouraged from engaging in the democratic system.

I could cite many more Observations and Solutions, but I think I have given the daily “paparazzi” enough fodder to keep them busy for the next few weeks. As for you and your concerns, they are paramount to us here at the Westside Observer. Stay sharp!

Leave a comment

Filed under Notes from Tony, SF News