Prop. I lawsuit a matter of principle

Despite the many disagreements about public policy that San Francisco business organizations have had with local elected officials over the years, it is exceedingly rare that they see fit to sue The City over alleged violations of law. But that is what happened last month, when the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the Committee on Jobs, with the support of other prominent business groups, sued over City Hall’s failure to implement a law that was passed by voters in November 2004. The rare nature of the lawsuit bespeaks the importance of the principal San Francisco businesses are fighting for.

Proposition I created an Office of Economic Analysis in City Hall and mandated that the office analyze the likely impact of any proposed legislation on San Francisco’s ability to attract and retain businesses and its ability to create and retain jobs for local residents. The fact that it took a ballot measure to place emphasis on these areas, which are the backbone of any healthy economy and the foundation of the tax base that funds nearly all city services, is an indication that City Hall has historically been seen as remiss in weighing economic impacts when passing new laws.

That perception was emphatically underscored by the brick wall the voter-mandated law ran into after it was passed. The Office of Economic Analysis was finally created in March — a full 18 months after the voters ordered it be done — and since then only three economic analyses have been conducted. Meanwhile, many important pieces of legislation with wide-ranging economic impacts have been introduced, debated and in some cases voted on without an economic analysis being done, in what business groups say is a violation of the law.

Supervisors also passed a rule allowing the board president to waive the economic-impact report for many types of legislation. The pattern of behavior suggests the Board of Supervisors has conducted a stealthy protest of a voter-approved law it doesn’t like, by ignoring some parts of it and chipping away at others.

Opponents of Prop. I charge the law is intended as a roadblock to what they see as socially beneficial legislation. In addition to being beside the point — Prop. I is the law, whether the supervisors like it or not — that attitude suggests that any infusion of facts provided by a trained, neutral economist is unwelcome because it muddies the utopian ideals of some of our elected officials, who don’t like to let facts get in the way of ideology.

The Prop. I lawsuit, which is being heard today in a San Francisco courtroom, simply asks that City Hall respect the will of the voters and start taking economic impacts into account when debating legislation that carries such impacts. Those laws affect every San Franciscan who believes their elected officials owe citizens a careful deliberation of public policy that weighs all factors, and not just the ones that serve the politicians’ self interests or particular ideological bent.

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