From bonds to tax renewals to new revenue proposals, I would not be surprised if San Francisco voters are revolted by the sticker shock in this November’s election.
When there is a $9.6 billion budget and voters are asked to pay more taxes, it begs the question: “Is the government effectively spending your dollars?” When tax dollars are funding poorly conceived projects that are rubber-stamped with little to no public input, it raises the concern, “Who does your government serve?”
With an astronomically high cost of living and a growing equity gap, residents are asked to give more, yet somehow receive less in return. It is time to challenge this culture of government inattentiveness and apathy.
You will find a number of measures in the upcoming November election that aim to enhance transparency, accountability and balance to government in San Francisco. There is an initiative that will strengthen the department overseeing police investigations and ensure its independence from the Police Department. There is also a measure that will guarantee that tree and sidewalk maintenance (what should be a basic service) will be the responsibility of The City and not be transferred involuntarily to property owners as it has been the common practice for years.
Another measure that I authored would increase balance on the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Board of Directors, the seven-member body that oversees parking, traffic and transit citywide. The proposal would split appointments between the mayor and the Board of Supervisors, rather than a fully mayor-appointed board, which will allow for a broader diversity of perspectives.
These ballot measures being offered are sound and in the spirit of good government; yet, cynics allege that we are “meddling” with the executive branch and its powers. There is something fundamentally unsettling when reforms calling for more accountability are being smeared as a power grab. Our democracy has a system of checks and balances. For those in power, increasing public input and oversight promotes democracy and, ultimately, helps us make better decisions. If “meddling” means scrutinizing budgets to protect from public waste or challenging ill-informed decisions and establishing better protocols for the public good, then, by all means, call it meddling. But it is our job to meddle. As elected officials, it is our chartered duty to ask the hard questions, to shine a light on government when those questions go unanswered and to uphold quality service to the public.
All of us holding political titles recognize that our time is finite. These measures will have impact well beyond the time we hold elected office. Effective governance depends on accountability and trust. We must follow through on what we are asked to do to earn your trust.
I recognize there is no panacea for all the challenges we are dealing with in our city, but we have to strive to make government more accountable. There is always room for improvement, and it is our responsibility as public leaders to move us in the direction of better government. We should not be afraid to hold a mirror to ourselves and reflect the truth and transparency we claim to uphold.
I ask all individuals who are in decision-making positions to put our egos aside and elevate the voices of San Franciscans who are fed up with tired excuses. We must be open to challenge so that we can seek better solutions. Change is hard, but tolerating the consequences of the status quo will be even harder.
Norman Yee represents District 7 on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.