San Francisco is considering the creation of an elected public advocate position to oversee investigations of police misconduct and labor violations and to go to bat for everyday citizens.
The Public Advocate, a role defined in a charter amendment introduced by Supervisor David Campos on Tuesday, would directly appoint the director of the Office of Citizen Complaints, the department that investigates police misconduct, and the Office of Labor Standards and Enforcement, which investigates violations of minimum wage laws. The directors of both departments are currently appointed by the mayor.
The measure was one of a number of proposed charter amendments introduced Tuesday, the deadline for the November ballot, that would scale back the mayor’s executive powers. Other measures introduced would set aside specific amounts of funding annually for different needs, from seniors to low-income transit riders.
Former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who hasn’t ruled out the Public Advocate post for himself, helped draft the measure.
“We hope to emulate the success that the other cities have had,” Ammiano said during an interview with the San Francisco Examiner prior to the board meeting. “It polls very well.”
Ammiano, along with Supervisor David Campos, who introduced the measure and also hasn’t ruled out running for the post, and co-sponsors supervisors John Avalos and Eric Mar, stressed the need for an independent office at City Hall.
Campos said the position will, for example, scrutinize city contracts to realize savings and better address residents’ concerns. “Now more than ever, the public is yearning for accountability and transparency here in government, whether it’s around police accountability, homelessness, housing — you name the issue,” Campos said when he introduced the measure.
Supervisor Jane Kim also supports the measure. It takes six votes to place a proposed charter amendment on the November ballot.
New York, Portland and Seattle are among the municipalities with a public advocate. The position comes with a salary north of $150,000, included in a total annual budget of about $2.7 million.
From one perspective, the proposal seems like a power grab from the more left-leaning faction of the board. “It’s more of a good government move,” Ammiano said.
Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced a separate charter amendment to establish a commission to oversee the functions of three government bodies that operate under the mayor’s authority: the Mayor’s Office of Housing, the Office of Workforce and Economic Development, and the Real Estate Departments. The commission would have split appointments — two from the mayor, two from the Board of Supervisors and one from the City Controller — with the ability to hire and fire the directors.
Peskin said these departments, which taken together spend more than $100 million annually, have operated with “little to no oversight.”
Peskin’s proposal may also head off efforts by the Realtors Association, which is heading to the ballot with efforts to broaden the qualifying incomes for below-market-rate housing and to redefine the bidding process for affordable housing projects.
Supervisor Norman Yee introduced a charter amendment to split up appointment power on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors. Currently, the mayor appoints the seven directors, but under the proposal the Board of Supervisors would appoint three of the seven. The Board of Supervisors currently needs seven votes to reject the SFMTA’s budget, but the measure would lower that requirement to six votes.
On the budget front, Supervisor Malia Cohen introduced a measure to create what she calls a “dignity fund” to secure funding for seniors and disabled residents by setting aside a percentage of property taxes, about $30 million annually.
Supervisor John Avalos introduced a charter amendment to establish a homeless fund and a transportation fund, in which The City would allocate revenues — $47.75 million and $95.5 million, respectively — to pay for specific needs, such as efforts to prevent homelessness and house homeless residents, pedestrian safety and increased transit service for low-income areas.
Avalos also introduced a previously announced charter amendment that would require The City to take care of all street trees.
Supervisor Cohen introduced another charter amendment that would rename the Office of Citizen Complaints to the Independent Police Oversight Department or “IPOD” and grant the agency more powers to conduct reviews of how the Police Commission and Police Department handle misconduct claims.
The board has until July 26 to decide which measures will make the Nov. 7 ballot.