There is a way to weigh in on toy ban 

The Board of Supervisors will vote today to override Mistermayor’s veto of Supervisor Eric Mar’s ban on toys in kids’ meals. Mistermayor’s message accompanying the veto read in part: “We must continue pursuing real strategies against childhood obesity, but parents, not politicians, should decide what their children eat, especially when it comes to spending their own money.”

Members of the public, whose letters continue to pour in to the Board of Supervisors, have not been so diplomatic. As one Potrero resident wrote, “Just when the Giants got us all this good publicity you and your colleagues have to drive off the deep end one more time.”

Another feisty resident lashed out, “I am an elderly lady who eats happy meals, and saves the toys for my grandchildren who love getting them, and now you tell me I can’t. I DONT THINK SO! You are commies!”

If people are really as fired up as their letters reflect, allow me to point out an option.  There’s this funky little provision in the City Charter that allows residents to protest any law that comes out of City Hall. The process is called a legislative referendum, and here is how it works:

A group of citizens can submit a petition protesting the passage of any law as long as the petition is received before the effective date of the law. In this case, the toy ban goes into effect on Dec. 1, 2011. The petition needs to have about 14,300 signatures, which is the amount equal to 10 percent of the total votes cast in the last mayoral election.

Once the petition is submitted along with the right number of signatures, the ordinance cannot go into effect. The board then has to reconsider the ordinance. If the board does not entirely repeal it, the law goes on the ballot for referendum at the next local election — remaining suspended until the voters approve it.

Just something for you to think about while you’re driving to Oakland for a Happy Meal, hitting potholes along the way.

When politicians work with unions, not much gets done


‘It seems to me that politicians and unions working together is how we got into this problem in the first place,” said an audience member at one of the public debates between public Defender Jeff Adachi and Tim Paulson, Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council. At issue was Proposition B, which was recently defeated in the Nov. 2 election. Prop. B would have increased and mandated contributions from city workers to their own retirement, and it would have increased the amount workers pay for dependent health care coverage.

The audience member quoted above was addressing a common refrain among opponents of Prop. B: that pension reform should be a collaborative process, that unions and politicians should work together to solve it.

Yeah, right. Like that is going to happen.

Remember Proposition D on the June 2010 ballot? It required future city employees to have their pensions calculated by averaging the last two years of salary instead of just using the last year of salary. This was intended to prevent “spiking” — the practice of inflating a person’s last year salary amount to bump up the amount they are entitled to in pension benefits. Prop. D passed and we can look forward to this very minor change to kick in some 25 years from now. This is what happens when politicians work with unions.

See, Prop. D did not start out so weak and useless. Currently about half of city employees pay nothing for pensions — The City pays for their contribution. The initial draft of Prop. D — which was proposed by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd — would have stopped the practice of paying for employee contributions. It also would have increased the contribution rate for employees from the current rate of 7.5 percent to 9 percent for future employees.

Finally, it would have required final pension amounts to be determined by an averaging of the final three years of salary.

After months of negotiations between the Board of Supervisors and the unions, what we were given to vote on was nothing but a two-year average when determining final salary rates for future employees. A savings of $250 million in 25 years. Barely a drop in our leaky bucket of billion-dollar obligations.

So no, I am not hopeful that the problem of runaway pension costs will be solved with a conversation between politicians and unions, both of whom appear to be on the same side, deliriously skipping around declaring a “great compromise” every time they agree to a few furlough days.

Prop. B might have failed in the recent election, but I suspect some version of it will be back, perhaps this time without the health care component. Because the real reform that is needed will not come from City Hall.

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Melissa Griffin

Melissa Griffin

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