Avalos suffers attack of fiscal prudence 

click to enlarge Supervisor John Avalos - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Supervisor John Avalos

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor John Avalos derailed a final vote on a tax break for small businesses, claiming it is unfunded and unnecessary. And Avalos is an expert on unfunded and unnecessary legislation.

In March 2011, months before the budget was finalized in July, Avalos proposed moving $1.3 million from The City’s emergency savings account to the public campaign finance fund. It was a ridiculous move even then, as the political fund was already $5 million rich and the Ethics Commission had estimated only $4.7 million would be needed for the 2011 election cycle. (It was a prescient estimate, as the final amount spent was $4,696,390.)

Still, Avalos didn’t want to wait for the budget process or see how many people were actually going to run for office (including himself), arguing, “I think this is something San Franciscans would want and welcome.” Five other supervisors agreed with him, and so the raid on the rainy day fund passed.

That brings me back to Tuesday’s board meeting, in which Supervisor Mark Farrell’s proposal to give a payroll-tax break to small businesses was being considered for the final time. Several supervisors pointed out that the board has granted tax breaks to large businesses, so we should help out the little guy.

But Avalos demanded that the board postpone the final vote until after the November election, in which his own tax proposal will be on the ballot. He cited the fact that the board hasn’t finalized this year’s budget, and said “to approve this measure would create a deficit in the budget of — according to the controller — I have heard $1.5 to $2 million the next fiscal year.”

Well, well, well.

Seems like Avalos isn’t willing to prematurely commit to spending when it’s Farrell’s legislation — legislation that threatens to suck wind out of Avalos’ own proposal.

“I don’t think anyone has a premium on being the champion of jobs here in San Francisco,” said Avalos, who is suddenly clamoring for the title now that he’s running for re-election in November. (At the past three board meetings, Avalos has railed against the impact of The City’s fees on small businesses, though he hasn’t voted against a single one since he took office in 2009.)

All 10 other supes were supportive of Farrell’s legislation, but because Supervisor Jane Kim did not understand that it would cost money in the current fiscal year, the board agreed to postpone the final vote for three weeks so the budget committee could be sure to find the funding. Despite wide support, the proposal is not a sure bet. As Supervisor David Campos said, “This commitment is not real until there is a final vote.”

Last year, when pushing to force-feed the public financing fund from which he eventually would receive $461,479 for his failed mayoral bid, Avalos claimed the way we vote “says something about what we value.”

And he was right.

Elsbernd doubts pitchfork-ready urban farm jobs

Just minutes after the board voted to delay consideration of the temporary payroll tax break, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced his legislation to “establish an urban agriculture program.” This program would consolidate the efforts of seven city departments that are separately facilitating community gardens. It would require the creation of a one-stop shop for resources related to the gardens and require that one person be hired to coordinate all of this.

Oh, but wait just a minute. I thought we weren’t passing any new laws that require funding that isn’t in the budget?

Sure enough, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd jumped right up and said, “I’d like to move that we continue this item to July 10. Just simply based on the precedent of a half-hour ago, I think it would be borderline hypocritical for us to vote for an ordinance when we know it is unfunded. That was the lesson I learned a half-hour ago. Hopefully we’ve all learned that. So I’d like to continue this item to July 10.

We’ll see if the budget committee actually funds all these priorities, and then we can vote on it.”

Chiu laughed a little and seconded the motion to postpone, but asked if Elsbernd would work with Chiu’s staff on the urban agriculture legislation.

“No,” Elsbernd flatly replied. “For me, creating jobs in San Francisco is a much higher budget priority than creating urban farms. So, first I want to create jobs, then if there is money left over in the budget, yes I’ll work with you to create some urban farms. But first and foremost, I want to create jobs.”

Chiu replied lamely that urban farms employ people who sell their food at commercial markets. And Supervisor John Avalos said, “Calling people out for inconsistency or hypocrisy at the Board of Supervisors is probably as common as calling people out for running stop signs in the Excelsior district.”  

But still, Avalos had to support the continuance, which passed.

Added Supervisor Scott Wiener, “To Supervisor Elsbernd, I’m gonna miss you come January.”

Quotes of the week

“It is not good for the sheriff’s case, but that does not mean it is inadmissible.”
— Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith arguing to retain evidence that Eliana Lopez believed husband Ross Mirkarimi’s statements about using his “power” in a divorce battle meant his official “political power.” The evidence was admitted to the ethics hearing.

“It is pure character evidence, which should not be allowed.”
— Mirkarimi’s attorney Shepard Kopp arguing to exclude evidence that Lopez said “verbal abuse took place frequently” and that the “Dec. 31 incident wasn’t the first instance of physical abuse perpetrated on her by Ross.” The evidence was excluded.

“I was disappointed by the contents of the declaration. I think a first-year lawyer can recognize that much of it is inadmissible and should not be presented to us.”

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Melissa Griffin

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