San Francisco's City Hall provided lots of goofs, gaffes and gotchas this year


The year started out with a giddy Board of Supervisors, whose members believed they had found the perfect temporary mayor. Yes, unassuming bureaucrat Edwin Lee seemed like the perfect replacement for that other guy who lives in Marin now. Unfortunately, they were too busy patting themselves on the back to realize they were readying the area to be stabbed when Mayor Mustache decided to stay in the job.


Supervisor David Chiu’s legislation that would prohibit handbills where there are “no handbills” signs died a quiet death after folks complained that it violated the constitutional rights of litterbugs to leave unwanted nonsense at our doorsteps. Granted, proposing this in an election year when half of The City is employed in the business of creating glossy things for us to recycle was probably not the savviest move. But that’s precisely why I liked it.


Living up to its slogan of “taking care of business” (its own business, that is), Office Depot overcharged The City $5.75 million between 2005 and 2009. In early March, The City settled the debt with a check and some store credit. Speaking of math, supervisors passed a measure to allow the Board of Education to pay each of its members half the salary of a teacher, plus annual increases. It would have gone before voters in November’s election. In June, the board did the political math and wisely voted to remove the measure from the ballot. Also: March 7-11 was National Sleep Awareness Week.


On the subject of sleep, bringing the mayor before the board to answer questions was the subject of three ballot measures in four years. The exhibition was finally a reality in April. But with scripted questions and answers, it reminds me of my fifth-grade square-dancing class: Everyone is awkwardly going through the motions, annoyed at having to deal with each other, and they learn nothing of practical use. Also, April 24 was Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day.


It makes me wonder what’s going on the other 11 months, but May was Building Safety Month. Chiu’s attempt at banning unwanted handbills failed, but he was undaunted and did manage to push through a law to only allow delivery of Yellow Pages to people who actually use them.


The board shot down Supervisor Scott Wiener’s resolution telling the Metropolitan Transportation Commission that taxi service must improve before any fare hikes take effect. Linking pay to performance would obviously be a new and frightening precedent in City Hall.


Having found a way to issue $170 million in bonds to fix the War Memorial Building despite the fact that voters had previously rejected a similar proposal, supervisors must have been feeling very empowered. They also asked the Food and Drug Administration to ban menthol cigarettes. And demanded a pony. Sadly, only one of those statements is false.


Because a $6.8 billion budget is clearly not enough, the board endorsed the mayor’s idea to put a half-cent sales tax on the November ballot. This move fell somewhere between cute and delusional. The grown-ups came home and set the kids straight in November when voters soundly rejected the tax.


The Drug Abuse and City-Wide Alcoholism Advisory boards were dissolved because they each had stopped having meetings. This opened my eyes to a whole new strategy: Instead of trying to eliminate extraneous “bodies” at City Hall to stop them from meeting, we need to stop them from meeting so they will be eliminated! I’m forming a committee to figure out a strategy, which also may involve drugs and alcohol.


Having been told in no uncertain terms that our system of campaign financing with public money is unconstitutional, the board still rejected a minor proposal by supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell that would have brought us in line with the law. Unsatisfied with just leaving a law on the books that is unconstitutional, the board also affirmatively passed a law that is probably unconstitutional. Supervisor Malia Cohen’s ordinance requiring certain disclosures by “pregnancy centers” that do not offer abortion services would be constitutional if there was proof that pregnancy centers were currently misleading people. At the hearings on the law, such evidence was sparse. To recap: We now have a financing problem with no solution and a reproductive solution with no problem.


Wiener’s law limiting the rights of naked people to gross us all out finally passed just in time for the winter. On Election Day, Elsbernd and Farrell introduced a bill to end ranked-choice voting. When Supervisor John Avalos offered a histrionic response in defense of RCV, Elsbernd basically said, “You’re going to look pretty silly if you’re the one who comes in second place and gets robbed of a runoff.” And that’s what happened.


In the clearest evidence to date that she will probably run for Fiona Ma’s state Assembly seat, Supervisor Carmen Chu defended a sketchy request for millions of dollars from Recology. It’s just not her style to speak (at all, really) and certainly not in favor of a $6 million expenditure where the purpose of the money was unclear until the night before the board meeting when it was passed. Making powerful friends, perhaps?

Speaking of friends, I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season! I’ll be here to write about how this year’s moves play out in 2012!

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