Just when nothing cynical and disingenuous had besotted San Francisco politics lately, David Lee exploits children to advance a political agenda.
In July, a “group of students” from San Francisco State University had collected signatures for Proposition E on the November ballot. The “Sunshine and Open Government Act” purports to enhance participation in hearings of local boards and commissions by requiring that all hearings be livestreamed, that video testimony could be submitted in advance that would be translated if necessary, providing for live remote testimony, and time certain agenda items.
According to sponsors, hearings happen at times that are inconvenient for youth or important busy people who can’t be bothered to wait through hours of public comment and messy democracy but nevertheless want to participate. What kind of crypto-fascist could be against civic participation?
Except that it’s crap.
San Franciscans have many justified complaints about our government, but insufficient talking is not one of them. Clearly the sponsors of Prop E have never endured an eight-hour CEQA appeal. No one has ever said, “I yearn to watch hearings on my phone. Also, I long to deliver my two minutes of incoherent testimony to Planning Commissioners playing Sudoku about how a condo in Corona Heights imperils migratory birds.”
Prop E is a solution in search of a problem. Hearings are already streamable on sfgovtv.org. Voters can email comments to the relevant policy body via its posted email address. Voters could confront policymakers in the notorious back room of back-room deal fame or on Facebook.
By sheer coincidence, San Francisco State University instructor David Lee who “supported” students in his online class to craft this initiative also runs the Chinese American Voter Education Committee, an organization that generously donated $45,000 to the students’ volunteerism. Why would CAVEC spend that money? Perhaps because David Lee is running for Supervisor in District 1.
Because of campaign finance limits on candidates, politicians use ballot measures as totally legal money laundering to advance their candidacy. They put themselves on the mailers for the measure and act as the spokesperson and whatnot. Gavin Newsom did it with Care Not Cash. Jeff Adachi did it attacking pensions. Ed Lee had Sean Parker pay for pro-minimum wage mailers that were more about Ed Lee than minimum wage.
David Lee lost against Supervisor Eric Mar in District 1 in 2012, but is the presumptive candidate of the 1 percent next year. Prop E’s Ethics filings list Jim Sutton as its lawyer and Jim Davis as its political consultant, aka corporate San Francisco. Prop E lets David Lee raise unlimited money and stump without the pesky restrictions on candidates. San Francisco State University allowed a professor to use students as volunteers on a ballot measure that would advance his personal electoral fortunes.
It is implausible that a downtown candidate, lawyer, and consultant would use $45,000 solely to help students attend hearings. Perhaps there’s another objective.
Maybe the plutocrats are sick of listening to the impertinent notion that the City can be home to anyone not already rich and want to nip that in the bud.
David Lee’s measure requires live remote comment, and specifically prohibits collecting information about commenters. So speakers needs not be residents or in any way connected to San Francisco to get two minutes of public attention. Instead of the uniquely San Francisco fiasco our hearings are today, every hearing would resemble the SFGate comments section, wherein a tepid fluff piece about cutlery pivots to virulent racism within three comments. Any Trump-loving maniac with Wi-fi could troll every single hearing. Or Ron Conway could assign a call center in Idaho to filibuster a hearing with live remote comment to prevent actual indignant residents from speaking.
There are less stupid ways to increase civic participation, like having the mayor’s race on presidential years. Instead, rather than expanding democracy, Prop E helps Candidate Lee abet the conservative trolling of San Francisco.
Nato Green is a San Francisco-based comedian and whatnot. Send arguments and grievances to @natogreen on Twitter