Tag Archives: San Francisco Usual Suspects

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.

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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!

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HARDING PARK: Neglected, Re-built — now Raided!

Rebuilding Harding Park into one of the finest Municipal golf courses in the country is a major achievement San Franciscans should be truly proud of, but unfortunately where opportunities to defraud the public are possible, in this fine City, they are inevitable. The financial shell game afoot at Harding will require more than the usual public scrutiny.

One of my campaign promises in 2000 was to rebuild and restore Harding to the splendor that it deserves. My goals at the outset were:

a) To ensure that residents and visitors in San Francisco have an exceptional recreational experience on a unique golf course at reasonable rates.

b) To rebuild a treasured facility that would return enough profit to the City to maintain all of the City run courses, and provide extra cash for our park needs.

c) To give our small businesses and community at large the opportunity to reap the estimated $50 to $80 million in benefits that the Tours and Tournaments would provide.

You might recall that in 1999, Mayor Willie Brown was pushing to privatize the course and that the Arnold Palmer group was set to takeover and run Harding for whatever profits could be extracted from a wonderful but dilapidated and run-down 1925 golf course. My vision and work regarding Harding was based on the belief that, because of the physical uniqueness of the golf course, it could become a recreational treasure to San Franciscans once again; a profit yielding goldmine for the City coffers and businesses, and another example of civic pride; all possible if handled properly. Mayor Brown enthusiastically signed the ensuing my legislation and it passed by unanimous vote at the Board of Supervisors on April 25th, 2002. The legislation contained the following guidelines:

• The need for Harding to be completely renovated in an environmentally sensitive fashion.

• Green fees were to be kept at a minimum thereby allowing golf to remain affordable and accessible to residents.

• The course was not to be privatized so that City coffers and local businesses would reap the benefits.

• A special “Golf fund” was to be established to capture golf course revenues that would be used to maintain all other City-run courses, with the excesses to be applied to neighborhood parks.

• A comprehensive youth golf program was to be established.

Tournaments such as the PGA TOURS and Presidents Cup should be a means and not an end, and as such should net the City at least one million dollars per tournament after all the City’s expenses and inconveniences to the local residents.

I enlisted the help of the private sector in order to add “insurance” to the revenue stream by getting the PGA to agree to make Harding Park the West Coast home of the PGA TOUR Championship. The agreement provided for course closure for a short period of time during each championship, and required payment to the City of a minimum of $1 million (including 50% of the net revenues) for each Tour Championship, which would be held every three years. The initial term of the agreement ran from Jan.1, 2006 through Jan.1, 2015 with options to renew for three additional nine-year terms. (A potential profit to the City of some $31 million, or double the cost to rebuild Harding.)

“Without even taking into consideration profits from the Tours and other ancillary charges, something is not adding up here, or someone in this administration is guilty of
“Enron style accounting”. I highly suspect the latter…”

I might add here that the first vote at the Board regarding the Harding Plan was a 10 to 1 against my legislation until I was able to convince all of my colleagues that their neighborhood parks would reap benefits from the profits of such a plan in perpetuity because of the way it was funded. Some months prior to the vote I discovered that there existed a grant to the City under the Per Capita Grant Program provided by the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Air, and Costal Protection Bond Act in the amount of $8.1 million and under the Roberti-Z’berg-Harris Block Grant Program in the amount of $5 million for a total of $13.1 million. These were State funds intended for the use of local neighborhood parks. My colleagues soon realized that when those funds were divided among the 11 supervisorial districts, a one-time infusion of approximately $1.1 million per district paled in comparison to sharing in perpetuity the profits that a well-run Harding Park and properly administered golf fund could provide. We all assumed that there would be honest and transparent administration of the Park and the resultant golf fund, and thus the $13.1 million was applied to the re-build of Harding.

Once I left office, the fun and games began. The current administration has exploited the plan to the detriment of the residents and taxpayers of San Francisco. Because of the large amounts of money involved, and the chance to use that money for purposes other than intended, nor are the guidelines of my approved legislation being adhered to.

In 2002, the annual projected revenue that a new Harding would produce was based on calculations that green fees for San Francisco residents would be set at $28 maximum, and for non-residents, $88 maximum. Using the historic yearly average of 77,650 rounds of golf played at Harding (not even taking into account the increase to be played on a newly renovated course) it would have to yield at least $2.4 million to $3 million per year in 2002 Dollars! After maintenance costs, and assuming that we would continue to employ professional golf-greens keepers, which we haven’t done, the City golf fund should have netted at least the $6.5 million over six years as predicted by Economic Research Associates in 2002, if not much more than that amount! Without even taking into consideration profits from the Tours and other ancillary charges, something is not adding up here, or someone in this administration is guilty of “Enron style accounting”. I highly suspect the latter as, in violation of the original agreement, green fees for residents have now been jacked up to $46 – $59 and for non-residents are forced to pay $135 – $155. Even simple math will show that there is just no way the course could be running at a loss!

I won’t bore you with more details to prove my point, but will comment on a few realities that San Franciscans should be aware of lest their City be sold out from underneath them.

1. Harding Park is not running at a loss as is being depicted by this administration in the local media. The Golf fund revenues are not being properly accounted for, and are being diverted into other uses that have nothing to do with course or park maintenance.

2. Cost overruns for the renovation of Harding ran the bill up to $16 million, not the $23.6 million being quoted. The overruns were due to Dept. of Rec and Park inefficiency and inclement weather conditions during the re-build. I would love to know where the other $7.6 million was supposedly spent, as it certainly wasn’t on Harding. The figure of $23.6 was never revealed during my tenure on the Board of Supervisors, it was not revealed until 2005.

3. As $13.1 million of the funding was in the form of State Grants, there is no need to make payments in the form of a loan for that amount, and the extra $2.9 million required for the overruns was to come out of the Rec and Park budget in 2002-3. There is no 25 year loan due date approaching soon unless the books have been cooked. Why?

4. Harding is being portrayed as an operating loss to the people of this City by this Mayor and the District 7 Supervisor (his rubber stamp on the Board). By so doing, they attempt to justify their efforts to “privatize” its operation. Privatization is not always bad as there are cases where a private concern can utilize efficiency that a municipality cannot in order to provide for the common good. In this case, “privatization” means turning the operation of Harding over to the Mayors special interest political donors so that they can realize the profits that the City is now making—profits that are not being honestly and truthfully disclosed.

Finally, Harding Park took a lot of work to put together, work by a lot of smart people who had the City’s interest at heart and knew how a world class City should operate. It was a wonderful gift to all the residents of San Francisco, be they golfers or non-golfers (like me). It was the first step in the plan to revitalize the entire Lake Merced area to the benefit of all City residents. As it stands now, Harding is just another one of our misused assets.

My intention is to shed a little light on what Harding Park and its re-build was for, and what it should be all about. If it were handled properly, Harding would yield untold resources and distinguish San Francisco as the City that still knows how.

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Brown, Hall, Pritikin Bedazzle Guests During Mural Unveiling

Thanks to Luke Thomas for the nice write up of this momentous event in San Francisco 🙂

Article here in the Fog City Journal

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OBSERVATIONS and PREDICTIONS:

In the May issue of The Westside Observer newspaper, I discussed the parking meter increases and escalating issuance of parking citations that our city policy makers have forced on San Franciscans who choose to use their own auto as a means of transportation. Well, needless to say, it has now become such an abuse of power that many people are reacting and searching for ways to fight back against this new form of “taxation without representation.” Once again we are being “conned” by our electeds as we have repeatedly been told that parking enforcement is all about the turnover of available parking spaces for customers of small businesses, and the encouragement of public transportation usage. Nothing could be further from the truth! Parking enforcement in San Francisco is first, foremost and last, only about the accumulation of revenue, revenue that is then poured into more useless and politically motivated programs that require more and more money to fund with no apparent end in sight or common benefit to be achieved.

Rather than repeat many of the examples and facts that I stated in my May column, I will comment on just a few of the ramifications that the more recent idiotic measures implemented by the Municipal Transportation Agency have resulted in.

Life in the western ring of the City, and especially here in District 7 is becoming increasingly more difficult because of parking control that has gotten out of control. As many of you know, the city is now issuing parking tickets for meter violations on most of our holidays. An unlucky few even received several tickets on this past Labor Day much to the embarrassment of the MTA. A disproportionate number of tickets are issued to Westside residents both as meter violations and on-street time limit violations simply because the Dept of parking and Traffic knows that generally, homeowners are a much easier target to both police and collect from. Homeowners are much more responsive to any type of fee or fine because they live here, and unlike tourists, visitors and renters, they are easy to locate should they not pay within the allotted 30 days. They are usually too busy with regular day jobs to take time from work to go downtown to protest a ticket. By and large they prefer to have as little to do with the punitive and harassment aspects of a dysfunctional local government as possible, so they pay the “tax” and put it behind them as quickly as possible.

Any retail business owner in any San Francisco neighborhood will tell you that one of the biggest impediments to the success of their business is the lack of available and adequate parking for their daytime customers. With $3.50 per hour meters and one hour time limits, (in many places just 20 minutes!) the MTA has done a masterful job in destroying small business and more and more shoppers flee to the suburbs to avoid the harassment. Now that our elected geniuses want to extend parking meter hours to 8 or 10 p.m. in a desperate effort to make up for their excessive spending that has caused the City to be a half a billion dollars in debt, they can embark on their mission to destroy movie theaters, restaurants, and all remaining forms of nighttime entertainment that our lifeblood—tourism—enjoys.

Time limits for residential street parking permits are being reduced from 4 hours to 2 hours in many neighborhoods under the guise of discouraging outsiders from parking there. The DPT is more than anxious to impose these permits because of the easy revenue generated. In many cases, residents were not even informed, surveyed or aware that their street was to be permitted, it just “happens” because “somebody” supposedly complains. Many people have come to me in the past six months to inquire as to how they can rid their streets of permit parking because they now realize that it’s not about keeping unwanted day parkers out, but an enormous source of revenue to the City. Rates are currently about $78.00 per year per car for street parking stickers but I can assure you that they will skyrocket under this administration. In Boston and Seattle, rates for permit parking on the street where you live can go as high as $5000 to $10,000 per year per car so I am sure our mayor will be looking to them to cite his beloved “best practices.”

The latest gimmick to raise dollars at the expense of drivers is the blatantly obvious speed traps that have sprung up around the Westside. Overstaffed with cops who obviously aren’t directed to do something better with their time, these strategic “entrapments” seem to be designed to snag unaware and in most cases, local or older drivers who may be outright “dangerous criminals” because they dared exceed the newly posted limits by a mile or two per hour, or failed to stop abruptly because a decoy has put a foot in a cross walk. Give us a break guys, there’s bigger fish to fry out there!

You might have read in the daily where the Oakland City Council is expected to roll back extended meter hours, increased rates and “ravenous ticketers” to avoid a revolt and recall of council members. (Chron: 9/21/09). They recently extended meter operation until 8 p.m. Their average meter cost per hour is less than $2.00 or about half the cost in S.F. Apparently the elected there are a bit more responsive to the cries of the people, who themselves seem to be a bit more concerned about how they are being ripped off. Perhaps they have discovered what the old-timers in the S.F’s municipal court knew long ago—if you raise rates too high, you reach a point of diminishing returns. The revenue collected no longer matches the effort to penalize and collect. Rather than hold the line or cut back, administration novices here tend to keep raising rates so that they can spend more, because that is all they really know how to do. Folks, Its time to make your feelings known.

OBSERVATIONS and PREDICTIONS:

1. It just came out in the news that the Obama administration does not favor turning Treasure Island over to the City for little or no cost. It is obvious that there are certain costs involved to the Navy for toxic clean up and they would like their costs to be covered. What is not revealed is that after the very embarrassing ACORN scandal, the administration does not want to be linked to giving such a valuable real estate gift to a group that controls the island’s development that is rife with corruption and the financial interests of very high ranking public figures.

2. As many of the residents of District 7 are now noticing, the potholes are starting to reappear on recently repaved streets. This was predicted as far back as the 1980’s in a report produced by then Chief Administrative Officer Roger Boas. He correctly predicted that unless the aging under surface infrastructure is dealt with properly, such street problems would reoccur at an ever-increasing rate. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been wasted by this administration in an effort in to make things “look good” but not really fix the problem.

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An Island View

I am writing this column from Bere Island, a small island of two hundred people situated off the coast of Ireland, which of course is an island itself, off the coast of another island nation, off the coast of Europe! There might be some who say I am detached from reality here, but I can assure you, the bird’s eye view is indeed as astonishing as it is revealing!

I have spent several isolated long days and nights observing the local and national political scene over here and it is really something to witness. Their political dialog is a combination of sophisticated and aggressive mass confusion, the likes of which would never be fully understood or tolerated in the States, although they are becoming much more “Americanized” in their campaign tactics than they would like to admit. For the first time in more than forty years of visiting Ireland, I now see political posters being placed on public poles, glossy, truth-stretching pamphlets being distributed, and well-financed and organized campaigns being conducted by absolute novices with very little public service experience. Like home, they set out to have their particular “save the world views” imposed on a weary and somewhat distrustful public. The Irish are much more direct in expressing their displeasure, their doubts, and yes, their support along with prayers and even a few rosaries if there is just something about you that they like or can relate to. They are a wonderful trusting people and yet one gets the immediate sense that there is really nothing new in the way of political shenanigans that they haven’t seen. Their penchant for wanting to talk, preferably all at the same time, rather than listen, makes them unique and I suspect rather difficult to engage in a campaign. They do however seem to relish the sport of the political game, just like any good football match, thoroughbred horse race or greyhound dog contest. The latest versions and concepts of state-run capitalism vs. free market enterprise, or big brother socialism vs. individualism, or conservative vs. liberal, are all taken for granted, never mentioned, but yet all creatively commented on to anybody that will lend an ear. Maybe one of the big differences between Europeans and Americans is that we tend to take ourselves seriously, and care about such concepts and how they directly affect our lives.

Bank bail-outs, corporate greed, rising taxes and a growing sense that the people running our governments really don’t know what they are doing seem to be the common belief that binds most people today in countries all over the free world. If there is an international consensus, it is firstly, that nobody knows how to get us out of the dire predicament we find ourselves in, and secondly, that despite senior management fall out, the banks still seem to be driving the agenda. Indeed everything that has been done so far by the government leaders in both nations has been to prop up the banks to the virtual exclusion of everything else including the retention of jobs. At this point it doesn’t seem like the billions, or should I say trillions of dollars that the banks have been guaranteed by today’s and future generations of taxpayers are being translated into eased credit that is so vital to the business sector. The purpose of the toxic loan rescue plan by way of government money was not to deposit money in the banks; it was to ensure that the banks were in a position to continue lending to keep the economy moving. The banks, among the biggest contributors worldwide to this recession, have simply taken the money and locked it up in their vaults. Under no circumstances should they now be allowed to dictate the pace in the ongoing rescue of our economies.

Like in the States, the economy here in Ireland is at a virtual stand still because of the banking situation. This is where good government is supposed to step in. The government leaders who were supposed to be monitoring and regulating that industry are ever so quick to pass blame to anyone but him or herself. Doesn’t this sound familiar? It’s the same the world over; government leaders have encouraged us to blame anything and everyone else lest we focus too hard on their own contribution to the disaster. Some of the more misguided elected and pundits even go so far as to try to foolishly assert that greed is only synonymous with the free enterprise capitalist system and therefore the system must be changed. They apparently haven’t been made aware of how past societies that operated under a state controlled or socialist system have fallen apart because of the inherent greed of its leaders. Greed exists in all forms of governance. How the people who run the government treat greed is the telling and deciding factor. No doubt in the boom years of the past, many people benefited as well as the banks. The developers, the brokers, the home sellers and buyers, the lobbyists etc., etc., but the Government also got a huge boost in the resultant property tax revenues. Indeed it was the government itself that was encouraging the issuance of sub-prime loans and irresponsible banking policies that caused the problem. The boom years suited those in power and with largesse in hand, the so-called regulators and party hacks weren’t about to call a halt to their own acquisition of power and “political greed.” It is now glaringly clear that these so called leaders have neither ability nor conscience and it is time for the average person to invest some real thought and scrutiny before they cast their vote. I am sure that there are critics of any writer that attempts to divulge certain realities, and therefore I will attempt to offer a simple solution that even they would find it hard to disagree with. In my opinion, we have had enough of the “celebrity politician” who has no bona fide background in public service or public policy administration other than what the glossy pamphlets tell you. This type of “politician” is usually backed by self-serving donors, and has no notion or concept of serving the common good, only his ego-driven career. They are guilty of the most heinous of crimes by repeatedly deceiving the very people they are suppose to represent. Since we are now being forced to foot the bill for their incompetence and falsities, I think it is high time we start seeking out and electing people who have demonstrated in their respective fields that they possess the honesty, integrity and courage to stand up against the forces of corruption, greed and self-promotion at others expense. Now, more than ever, we need people who at least will try to do the right thing for the people they represent. Only when we start to witness our leaders serve the common good will future leaders arise that might be able to affect positive change

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ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THE PARKING!

My Good friend George Lum, a longtime City employee and Fiscal Officer for the Courts, recently paid me a visit and expressed his views about how difficult and expensive it is to try and drive and park in San Francisco. I suspect his views reflect the thoughts of many residents who live in our City. He brought up some very interesting facts that I thought were worth repeating. Like myself and many other civil servants who believe in public accountability, George is astounded at the ignorance, arrogance and audacity of today’s generation of policy makers who seem to have their heads screwed on backwards and thus subject a trusting public to the expenses of their circular reasoning.

Consider for example the following facts: In 1970, the average fine for a parking meter violation was $3. Today the fine averages $50 to $70 depending upon what part of the City you received the ticket. In 1970, the City wide meter fee was 10 cents per-hour, today it ranges from $2.50 to $3.50 per-hour. You do the math. Has our City’s population increased? Have our curbs, streets and signage been maintained, as was the original purpose for the fees? Are the most recently proposed increases remotely related to the welfare of our struggling storeowners or residents who must use their autos? Do we even really know where the proceeds of these gigantic revenues are spent? I think it is high time for the public to weigh in and stop accepting all the lame reasons that the robber barons put forth in order to increase the amount of your money that they spend while building their political empires.

The Municipal Transportation Agency, in its latest round of incompetent lunacy, has proposed a 50 cent per-hour increase in Parking meters, and the extension of the hours of operation and enforcement of those meters every day and night until 10 PM and—get this—Sundays included! I mean really, who are these people working for? They also want to limit each meter user to one hour during the day and up to four hours during the evening and increase garage rates at least $2 more per-hour. All of this money grabbing is at the expense of those who out of necessity must drive a car as opposed to those who actually use municipal transportation. (Look out residents of District 7!) One genius who works at the chamber of commerce said “these proposals are great from a business perspective because it will encourage turnover!” (I believe this was the same character who proposed building-up our movie industry revenues by empowering 3rd rate local extras as opposed to enticing top-flight movie producers from Hollywood.) Well, to be honest with you and yes, realistic, these proposals will do absolutely nothing but further erode the attractiveness of downtown and neighborhood shops and penalize the auto driver. Any amateur student of public policy can tell you that someone suffers when fines and fees are increased. I don’t know of anyone who can get anything accomplished in one hour downtown and the four-hour limit in neighborhoods will only pit residents against merchants without any new parking being made available.

Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I had the pleasure of serving with Mr. Lum. As Court administrators, we had the opportunity to analyze the impact that an increase in parking fines and fees would have on the public, as it was then under the auspices of the Municipal Court. The surprising results invariably demonstrated that any such increases resulted in more scofflaws (people who don’t pay their fines), more expensive enforcement in relation to revenue netted and certainly less “customer satisfaction”. At least, back then, we tried to justify any increase with input from all concerned parties, and then provide the public with something in return for their inconvenience.

It was during that period of time that I originated the location for the new Civic Center Courthouse on McAllister and Van Ness, paid for by an extra $1.00 being added on to each fine collected. Today such analysis and constructive projects are totally ignored as the whole issue of public parking is seen only as it relates to the bottom line.

Another observation: back then a parking meter enforcement officer was hired at approximately $68,000 including benefits and was expected to generate about 150% of his or her cost to the City per-year. Today they are hired at a much, much more expensive rate when benefits are included, and expected to produce 300% percent revenue in relation to their cost. Parking and the fees and fines associated with it have become a massive money source and local politicians have discovered they can engage in “taxation without representation” without even having to explain where the money is going.

We are told that the newly proposed increases will generate an additional $9.5 million for a municipal transportation agency that is running a deficit of $129 million per year. What we are not being told is the additional personnel costs associated with the enforcement and collection for the extended hours and the effect upon our quality of life here in San Francisco.

I know there are many people who believe in the “transit first” policy that has been in effect for the past 30 years and there is merit to that. I would be much happier if the policy had produced a mass transit system that—after so much invested time, material and money—actually works, is efficient, and pays for itself without discriminating against people who use autos. The solution is to concentrate on improving the transit system by making it self-sufficient, streamlining the routes, reviewing the hiring and work practices of personnel, and imposing modern stringent guidelines.

Now back to the automobile and how to handle its parking. The answer is certainly not to penalize or discourage its user as this only hurts the local economy. Other cities—and yes, even our sister city down south, Los Angeles—has embarked upon a policy of accommodating the auto-user with reasonable parking and rates that encourage the revitalization of the downtown sector. The conversion of property to provide safe, reasonable and convenient parking for Americans’ unique and undeniable fascination with the auto is something that we should no longer deny but embrace. As much as we like to think that we here in San Francisco always know better, there are still some things that we must face up to. Our desire to demonstrate that almost all human activity can be regulated or legislated is beginning to make us look foolish and stifle our image as a world class City. We can do better than this!

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