Supes must fix botched jobs program

One way to understand more about a piece of legislation is to know who its friends or enemies are. For Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi’s Workforce Development Accountability legislation, which is being voted on today by the Board of Supervisors, the backers include a rare convergence of the Chamber of Commerce, the San Francisco Labor Council and the City College chancellor. Even the 11 municipal departments and 59 nonprofit agencies that would have their funding more tightly controlled are not objecting loudly.

Mirkarimi’s legislation puts responsibility for repairing The City’s flawed $60 million job-finding effort onto Rhonda Simmons, director of the mayor’s year-old Office of Economic and Workforce Development. It would require tracking of all money San Francisco distributes for work-force programs, and it mandates inclusion of performance and outcome measurements in a comprehensive annual spending plan that would have to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Bizarrely, until now nobody knew exactly how much money was being spent to help obtain jobs for city residents facing employment barriers. During fiscal 2006-07, the cost was $29.1 million directly from general fund and upward of $30 million more from state and federal funding plus other social service expenses for job-seekers.

But the number of San Franciscans who actually have obtained employment as a result of this well-intentioned public expenditure is an embarrassing 4,300, which cost taxpayers at least $6,767 per hire. Job-placement ratios for the various city-funded programs ranged from approximately 4 percent to 21 percent. And there is no reliable overall evidence — especially from the nonprofits — on how many of those jobs were supposedly permanent and self-sustaining.

The Examiner has been following this epic of bureaucratic wheel-spinning and wasted taxes since August, when San Francisco Budget Analyst Harvey Rose exposed it in one of his independent office’s most stinging audits ever. The report blamed a duplicative,inefficient system that is “fragmented, with inconsistent planning and coordination of resources and inadequate monitoring of programs.”

Almost immediately after Rose’s evaluation became public, Mirkarimi introduced his legislation. It received a predominantly encouraging reaction in committee hearings last month and is expected to win approval from the board today. Interestingly, Mayor Gavin Newsom has been uncharacteristically silent about work-force development reform lately, even though one of his appointees would be in charge.

In August, the mayor acknowledged to The Examiner that the jobs program needs improvement and claimed he had already had a draft of a “new approach” prepared by city officials. But since nothing was ever heard from Newsom again on the subject, it has become vital for the supervisors to pass Mirkarimi’s legislation today. Otherwise, San Francisco taxpayers as well as thousands of residents who need genuine help in joining the labor force will continue being cheated by an uncontrolled and ineffectual system.

And if The City cannot deliver solid evidence of success in a year or two, the entire jobs program should be scratched and its millions redirected to a truly worthwhile use.

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