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San Francisco sheriff breaking out of budget jail

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Beloved Sheriff Mike Hennessey certainly picked a good time to get out of the lawman business. After almost 32 years of service, Hennessey will not seek re-election in November. Instead, six men have officially declared their intention to run for the office of sheriff, including Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi and 13-year veteran of the Sheriff’s Department, Matthew Haskell.

Whoever wins that race will certainly have to do some heavy lifting, thanks to a statewide initiative called “realignment.” A laughable misnomer, “realignment” actually refers to a program by which the state will (among other things) dump on local prisons the responsibility for jailing certain offenders. Unlike other locality-crushing budget proposals, realignment has already been passed and was signed into law on April 4.

According to Hennessey, usually county jails only house criminals for one year or less, but under realignment persons convicted of nonviolent, nonsexual, nonserious (read: drug-related) crimes will stay in county jails for their entire sentence, which could be up to seven years. In this county, that means hanging on to about 260 prisoners instead of sending them off to state prison.

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In real terms, the Sheriff’s Office estimates that realignment will mean $9.2 million in additional costs next year to house prisoners, or to place them in alternatives like house arrest or residential treatment. Of course, that number will continue to climb as the local prison population accumulates, what with folks staying for more than one year at a time.

In an adorable and not-legally binding gesture, Gov. Jerry Brown has promised to reimburse the county $25,000 per prisoner per year, which amounts to about half what it costs the county to house them. And since this is the same governor who promised a June election and a budget in 60 days, this could once again be Brown’s intentions writing a check that political reality can’t cash.

At the end of the depressing presentation, Supervisor Scott Wiener thanked Hennessey for his decades dedicated to The City.

“I believe this is your last budget,” said Wiener.

Replied Hennessey, “I hope so.” 

 

A possible line on making city some money

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Board President David Chiu announced two intriguing revenue ideas: leasing space on The City’s fiber-optic network and also leasing space on city-owned communications facilities. And, while neither promises to head off the painful cuts and compromises that our strapped status requires, I’m heartened to see Chiu getting creative.

Blame it on the recent focus on the Department of Technology’s budget and failures to consolidate. Or blame it on the recent hearing on AT&T’s proposal to build out boxes for better wireless data. (Note: the proposal was continued for one month.) But suddenly the idea that we already own some attractive technological infrastructure has taken the stage.

Did you know that The City owns more than 100 miles of underground fiber-optic cable? It is used to connect police stations, MTA facilities and the like. If you picture the cable as a bundle of stands, each cable has approximately 300 strands and we’re only using about eight. Chiu’s proposal directs the Department of Technology to come back in about a month with information on how we can lease that cable to businesses and homes in San Francisco, taking into account security concerns and the like.

According to Chiu, “Initial research shows there’s a very real demand and market for dark fiber paid for by the private sector — particularly industries that require high bandwidth, such as biotech, digital media, health care or education.”

The second proposal is related to the two radio towers and some 50 siren poles that The City uses for emergency communication. Companies would not be allowed to jump on to The City’s emergency network, but rather they would pay to strap their own wireless transmission equipment to these structures.

It goes without saying that someone should have thought of this before, but for now let us not look this gift source in the mouth.

 

Lee’s path back to previous job wending its way to supervisors

Bless his heart, Ed Lee only had one request when he was asked to be interim mayor: that he be allowed to return to his position as city administrator when the stint was up. After all, being mayor meant a $7,000 pay cut for Lee.

As city law prohibits the mayor or any member of the Board of Supervisors from being employed by the city for one year after their last day of service, granting Lee’s request requires some maneuvering in one of two ways. The first is by a four-fifths vote of the Ethics Commission plus a two-thirds vote by the Board of Supervisors. The other is by voter initiative, which was briefly considered when there was a vacancy at the commission.

Now that there is a full complement of people on the commission, it met on April 11 to consider the requisite changes in the law to allow Lee to resume his position as an anonymous bureaucrat without having to wait for one year. The measure passed unanimously, but not without a little caveat: Lee cannot make more when he returns to his position as a city administrator than he did when he left the position.

The measure will now be considered by the Board of Supervisors and will invariably pass in the next few weeks.

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His future as city administrator intact, I doubt Lee will complain about the salary restriction.



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