The record shows that the Chamber of Commerce and the big corporations it lobbies for are firmly in control of City Hall right now. For each of the last three years, the Chamber of Commerce's annual legislative scorecard has given the members of the Board of Supervisors a rating of more than 80 percent on its compliance with the demands of big business groups.
The Chamber of Commerce's wish list included: demolishing hundreds of units of affordable rent-controlled apartments, passing massive tax breaks for corporations and tax exemptions for stock options, and approving 8 Washington St. and other sweetheart deals for developers such as the America's Cup fiscal fiasco that was supposed to make more than a billion dollars for The City but ended up costing taxpayers millions.
The chamber got all of that and more, with Mayor Ed Lee's administration backing its agenda across the board. In September, the chamber issued its midyear scorecard, giving supervisors an 84 percent rating, stating in a press release that “the Chamber's scorecard demonstrates a high level of success in all areas.”
That's why it was so surprising to read a San Francisco Examiner op-ed this month by the Chamber of Commerce CEO complaining about supposedly being shut out of decision-making at City Hall. The CEO's op-ed, “Let the sun shine on supervisors,” criticized the Board of Supervisors for failing to comply with the chamber's desire to gut the groundbreaking Retail Workers Bill of Rights ordinance. This long-overdue measure protects the rights of service workers at large chain stores by prohibiting discrimination against employees who have commitments such as caregiving or school and requiring that existing part-time employees get priority for extra hours before new employees are hired.
While the Chamber of Commerce is certainly free to express its distaste for the rare City Hall decision it doesn't like, it loses credibility when it couches its complaints with a high-minded call for transparency and sunshine since this is the very same Chamber of Commerce that opposed strengthening the Sunshine Ordinance when it went to voters in November 1999.
In the November 1999 voter information pamphlet, the Chamber of Commerce paid for a ballot argument vehemently opposing Proposition G, the Sunshine Ordinance Initiative, arguing: “Prop G is an ill-conceived, poorly written 41-page document that is far too complicated and impractical to ever be effectively enforced,' says G. Rhea Serpan, Chamber president & CEO … Prop G places an inordinate financial and administrative burden on the city. Massive increases in paperwork, recordings and archiving will bring city departments — and critical services — to a grinding halt.”
Voters overwhelmingly approved the Sunshine Ordinance Initiative anyway and more transparency and disclosure has undoubtedly helped, rather than hurt, the health of local government and the delivery of city services to the public in a more effective manner. In fact, technological developments have made clear the need for updates to the Sunshine Ordinance since hundreds of private texts and emails doing public business are flying around City Hall all the time now but kept out of public view.
City commissioners are receiving marching orders from the Mayor's Office and private lobbyists all the time on personal cellphones and tablets, which have been considered largely exempt from public disclosure and review under the existing public-records laws.
I would more than welcome a statement of support from the Chamber of Commerce for new amendments to the Sunshine Ordinance that would expand public-disclosure laws to apply to all personal devices used for public business to comply with the way city government actually functions in 2014. We need to close the loopholes that allow big-business interests and a litany of lobbyists to effectively run City Hall under cover of darkness while they purport to favor transparency and inclusivity in government as a way to criticize decisions they disagree with.
Perhaps tenants, homeowners, environmentalists, artists, neighborhood groups, small businesses, nonprofits and working people who don't have an army of lobbyists on their payroll might actually be able to get City Hall to work for them for a change if we really do let the sun shine in on every decision.
Jon Golinger is an environmental attorney who lives in North Beach.