Holdup affects business 

‘I would prefer not to cut positions and library hours. I would prefer to go after redundancies in business regulation,” San Francisco Supervisor David Chiu said at a Land Use Committee hearing April 6.

Proposition I, passed in November 2007, created the Small Business Assistance Center and required the Office of Small Business to issue a report that “makes recommendations regarding the streamlining and consolidation of [regulatory] departmental functions under the Office of Small Business.” That report should have been completed by April 2008.

In January 2009, Chiu — who helped write Prop. I — requested a hearing on the status of the streamlining efforts at the Office of Small Business. That hearing took place in April. The office’s executive director, Regina Dick-Endrizzi, gave the main testimony and claimed that the report (at that point already a year late) would be forthcoming in mid-August.

Chiu told me he never received that report. Efforts to reach Dick-Endrizzi were unsuccessful. To be fair, the Office of Small Business is understaffed and it’s no surprise that dire budget cuts in store for city government mean department heads are not cooperating with Dick-Endrizzi’s efforts, as they are both distracted and unwilling to give up an inch of bureaucratic territory.

But the Office of Small Business and department heads report to Mistermayor, who needs to make it clear that this is a priority. Prop. I is an obvious and decent voter mandate for The City to find more efficient ways of delivering services to small businesses. With no end to our budget woes in sight, everyone should be on board with stimulating our local economy while finding ways to do more with less.

Small-business owners do it every day.

Legislation leaves several odd fees in

Last year, I wrote a column poking fun at the vaudevillian fees on The City’s books for rodeos, funeral escorts and kite advertising, among many others. At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, board President David Chiu announced that he’s proposing legislation that would eliminate a number of those fees.

According to Chiu, the specific fees slated to be eliminated are rarely, if ever, necessary. That led me to wonder: Are the ones that will remain on the books popular? If so, I think it somewhat disturbing that establishing “encounter studios,” masked balls and public bathhouses will still require a fee. If Chiu’s bill passes (and I can’t imagine it won’t), we can wave goodbye to special fees for endeavors like amusement parks, “driverless auto rentals,” fortunetellers and pawnbrokers.

Oh, and one other item of particular interest to folks at City Hall: elimination of the fee to conduct a circus.

Body armor lesson: What makes laws ‘vague’?

In 1994, San Francisco police Officer James Guelff was shot and killed by a carjacker who was wearing body armor. In response to that incident and several other shootings involving gunmen wearing bulletproof gear, the state adopted a law in 1998 prohibiting people with violent felony convictions from possessing body armor.

In 2007, Etham Saleem, who was on parole for a voluntary manslaughter conviction, was stopped by Los Angeles police and found to be wearing a “10-pound, camouflage-patterned vest.” One officer recognized it as the kind worn by Marines in Iraq. Saleem was convicted of a felony for wearing the vest and sent back to prison for eight years.

Since then, Saleem’s lawyers have been arguing that the law against felons having body armor is too vague to be enforced. In December, a California appeals court agreed with them.

A quick legal primer: The reason courts sometimes eliminate a law for being “too vague” is because, regardless of what’s in the muddled minds of politicians who create laws, regular folks have to be able to know whether they are committing a crime. Thus, they have a right to laws that are clear. For example, a law against “pet humiliation” is too vague, but a ban on dog shoes is fine — and hopefully in the works.

In the Saleem case, the court found that the definition of body armor is too technical (involving “ballistic resistance,” for example) for a layman like Saleem to understand whether what he was wearing was unlawful.

That there was a body armor label on the inside of Saleem’s vest was apparently not enough to put him on notice.

One judge dissented from the court’s ruling, pointing to a previous case in which a (rather imaginative and optimistic) man argued that laws against driving while drunk are too vague because regular people don’t know what their exact blood-alcohol content is at a given time. In that case, the court ruled that once the person is aware of the general behavior that’s prohibited, there’s nothing wrong with applying some technical standards on the back end. According to the dissenting judge, the appeals court should have ruled the same way in the Saleem case. 

State Attorney General Jerry Brown says he will appeal the case to the state Supreme Court, and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering a resolution encouraging the high court to agree to review the case.

Regardless of what happens with the court battle, already there are murmurs that the state Legislature may change the law to make it more understandable.

Perhaps a law that defines body armor to include “military-issued garments that say ‘body armor’ on them” would do the trick. Perhaps it should be written in crayon.

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Melissa Griffin

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