Last week, the group that decides which candidates and ballot propositions will get the stamp of approval from the Democratic Party in San Francisco — the Democratic County Central Committee — held its endorsement meeting.
The committee gave the first-place endorsement in the mayoral race to Supervisor John Avalos and second-place endorsement to City Attorney Dennis Herrera. And third place went to ... nobody. That’s right — an entire room of Democrats and even they couldn’t come up with a viable third choice. Not David Chiu, whom they are still probably annoyed with for his support of controversial legislation such as the Twitter tax break and the Parkmerced development. Not even labor union darling Leland Yee. And mind you, both of them happen to be on the committee. And they were in attendance (well, David was ... Leland was probably scouting casino locations). Yes, the committee rejected two of its own members. Awkward.
Mayor Ed Lee also got snubbed bigtime, but as most members of this cabal of insiders swore an allegiance to a particular mayoral candidate months ago, the group was more incensed than the rest of us when Lee jumped into the race. Bill Clinton himself could have come to the meeting riding a donkey and sporting a mustache in support of Ed Lee and there was still no way a Lee endorsement was going to happen. Other events at Wednesday’s meeting were far more interesting.
The show of sisterhood for Sharmin Bock was one such occurrence. There are 15 women on the committee and eight of them voted for Bock as their first-choice endorsement for district attorney. The support was almost enough for a win, but David Onek ultimately received the first-place endorsement. When it came time to vote for the second-place endorsement, almost all of the Onek supporters gave their vote to Bock, securing her a spot on the slate card. Onek and Bock have clearly joined forces in an “anyone but Gascón” effort, so don’t be surprised if a number of progressive clubs list both candidates.
Finally, though Mayor Lee was shut out of the mayoral endorsements, his “City Plan” pension reform ballot measure got unanimous support by the committee. Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s pension measure only got one “yes” vote. Who was the lone supporter? Arlo Hale Smith, whose brother Ace Smith is the fancy political consultant running Lee’s campaign for mayor.
‘Oh, we got thefts, and nutcases beating each other on the corner. I’ve worked in this area for 45 years and never seen it like this,” one hotel employee told me when I called to ask about street crime in San Francisco.
She confirmed what I had already heard from Joe D’Alessandro of the San Francisco Travel Association: Complaints by visitors and convention attendees are up this summer. Way up. While the association doesn’t keep statistics, “The horror stories about street crime and aggressive panhandling are coming in at a rate that I haven’t seen before,” D’Alessandro told me.
Jon Handlery, owner of the Handlery Hotel, agrees. “I’ve operated this hotel over 30 years and what I’m seeing are a lot more panhandlers who are very aggressive. These tourists have never been followed and yelled at before. They don’t know what to do,” he says. And it’s not just tourists. Handlery hears horror stories from his staff as well.
Handlery’s hotel is in a business-improvement district, which means businesses there tax themselves to pay for Community Service Ambassadors and cleanup crews.
Donna Ficarrotta, Deputy Director of the Union Square Business Improvement District, explained that it’s not unusual for panhandling to increase during the summer months when there are more tourists, but based on reports by the district’s Ambassadors, there have been more incidents this summer than last summer. Ficarrotta speculates that the closing of the Transbay Terminal and enforcement of sit-lie laws in the Haight have swept people toward the Union Square area. In addition to the Ambassadors, the improvement district employs one police officer, but as Handlery points out, “How does one man cover a 27-block area?” My hotel employee contact agreed, saying, “The police aren’t gonna come unless there is imminent danger of someone being killed. If someone gets hit or has their purse snatched, the cops just say, ‘File a report.’”
Tourism brings in about half a billion dollars in tax revenue each year. We will be voting on a local 0.5 percent sales tax increase (to replace a statewide sales tax that has expired) this November. Revenue measures like this only work if our fair city is a place where people want to come and spend money. What is anyone at City Hall doing to make sure that people’s experiences here — for residents and tourists — justify that extra tax?
According to Ficarrotta, “We’ve met with a number of [city] agencies to discuss how we can work together to address these issues.”
“I’m sure The City is doing everything it can,” Handlery told me.
I am not.