Supervisor Matt Haney has secured the six votes needed to ask voters this November to split up Public Works and create a new department focused on street cleanliness.
The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee voted 2-to-1 Monday to send the measure to the full board for a vote to place it on the Nov. 3 ballot, after a number of amendments and four public hearings.
Haney’s measure splits up Public Works, taking out of it the street cleaning functions, to create a Department of Sanitation and Streets. Two five-member city commissions would be established to oversee each department.
Critics of Haney’s proposal have objected to its cost and to the creation of more bureaucracy. But Haney has argued that in order to really address the issue, a change in government organization is required.
“I do not believe continuing to spend more and more in the structure that we have is going to get the outcomes and the results that we need,” Haney said.
His measure had the backing of Supervisors Shamann Walton, Dean Preston, Hillary Ronen and Gordon Mar. And last week, Haney picked up the sixth vote when Supervisor Ahsha Safai joined in on the support. It takes six votes to place a measure on the ballot.
“We need more oversight and focus on Public Works and we need a pathway for a department to focus solely on the cleanliness of our streets,” Safai said in a text message to the San Francisco Examiner. “San Franciscans deserve better.”
Among the amendments was to postpone any costs associated with the measure for two years as The City faces a budget deficit amid a pandemic-induced recession and to share some of the administrative functions from other departments like the City Administrator’s Office and Public Works.
A new City Controller’s analysis found that the measure would “have a significant impact on the cost of government beginning in fiscal year 2022-23, ranging from $2.5 million to $6 million annually.” The previous analysis had estimated the measure could cost up to $10 million a year.
“This estimate does not include changes to current service levels,” the analysis said.
The measure will shift about 835 of 1,711 full-time equivalent employees currently working for Public Works to the new Sanitation and Streets Department, and there are costs to create new positions related to a new department like a department head and managers.
Haney had conceived of the measure before former Public Works head Mohammed Nuru was criminally charged by the U.S. Attorney in a widening public corruption scandal, which he said only underscores the need for the measure that he said would bring “better oversight, accountability and transparency.”
“This is a miniscule cost, two years from now, for a much better structure.”
Despite the changes, Supervisor Catherine Stefani voted against the measure in committee on Monday. Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Gordon Mar supported it.
“For me a second department and a second commission I don’t believe will make our streets any cleaner and that’s where we differ,” Stefani said. “For me investing in new bureaucracy will not be the best use of our resources for the foreseeable future.”
Acting Public Works head Alaric Degrafinried also opposes the measure, telling the committee last week that The City should instead use the money for homelessness or workforce programs.
He also said splitting up the functions could come at the cost of efficiency, noting that the maintenance of the streets would no longer be housed in the same department with the divisions that design and build them.
“We are a big department, but we work well together. The coordination between our operation departments and our engineering departments is classic,” Degrafinried said. “You’re going to lose that if you have two separate departments and that really concerns me.”
Another measure aimed at public corruption also advanced to the full board Monday.
“We are all aware that the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney and the FBI into widespread corruption in city government continues,” Mar said, noting that the probe has widened from Public Works to include the Department of Building Inspection, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.
“The need for the office of the public advocate is clear,” Mar said. “We need structural reform to address the culture of casual corruption and ‘pay-to play’ politics.”
Mar’s measure is supported by five supervisors, Mar along with Ronen, Haney, Preston and Walton, and would need one more vote to make the ballot.
Under the measure, voters would elect a Public Advocate at the November 2022 election for a shortened two-year term and then four-year terms moving forward starting in 2024.
The Public Advocate would “ensure the existence of an office in City government dedicated to investigating, uncovering, and eliminating public corruption, the fraudulent use of taxpayer money, and the abuse of the public trust,” the proposal says.
The measure mandates a minimum staffing requirement of four positions, which would cost between $725,000 and $925,000, the City Controller’s Office analysis said.
Stefani also voted against this measure, while Mar and Ronen voted for it.
“I struggle to understand how creating another elected office to introduce legislation, hold hearings and issue subpoenas would be anything but duplicative of our own oversight, legislative and investigative powers,” Stefani said.
She also noted that The City has a City Controller’s Office, a Budget Analyst Office, an Ethics Commission, the City Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office whose duties include rooting out fraud and corruption.
“In all my years working for The City, I have never heard anyone seriously suggest that the answer to San Francisco’s problems is more politicians,” Stefani said.
Mar responded that what the FBI corruption probe has revealed so far “really shows that our existing systems of investigating and rooting out this corruption are not working.”
The full board is expected to vote on whether to place these measures on the ballot on July 21.