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October 2008

Just Say ‘No’ to Prop. A
by Patrick Monette-Shaw

Home owners, property owners, and renters beware! Your property taxes and rents are about to increase.

Hoping to secure passage of November’s $887.4 million bond measure to fund replacement of San Francisco General Hospital, City officials have glibly promised not to increase property taxes above the 2006 rate. But on September 10, 2008, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance increasing the Fiscal Year 2008-2009 combined tax rate by 4% over the rate for the previous fiscal year. The ordinance increases tax bills by $179.50 for each $400,000 in assessed value: $179.50 if your property is assessed at $400,000; $359 if your property is assessed at $800,000; and $538.50 if your property is assessed at $1,200,000. The math goes up from there.

Despite City Hall’s new spin control to gain Proposition A’s passage, who of us have ever seen tax bills go down, once they’ve already gone up?

Renters should be doubly concerned: Not only are landlord’s permitted to pass through 50% of increased taxes to their tenants if Proposition A passes, an additional battle has just surfaced to permit landlords to also pass through 50% of sewage rate increases.

In exchange, neither landlords nor renters will gain increased accountability or transparency improvements recommended by San Francisco’s 2007-2008 Civil Grand Jury. Over half of the Grand Jury’s recommendations were roundly rejected during the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee’s September 22 hearing.

Collectively, seven City departments were required to respond to 14 Grand Jury recommendations; of 25 required responses, the seven departments disagreed with half, submitting 12 disagreeing responses. Additionally, the Board’s Government Oversight Committee also disagreed with three, nearly half, of the seven responses it had to respond to the Grand Jury.

Two of the Grand Jury’s most important recommendations were scuttled: First, the Jury’s recommendation to have the Citizen’s General Obligation Bond Oversight Committee (CGOBOC) review bond measures before they are placed on the ballot to evaluate project escalation factors and sufficiency of funds to complete construction, among other issues, was rejected by the Mayor, the Board’s Government Audit Committee, and the CGOBOC itself, each offering specious rationales.

Second, the Jury’s recommendation to conduct post-election independent analyses to test veracity of historical voter guide statements the City Controller had been required to place, received expected disagreement from Mayor Newsom and City Controller Ben Rosenfield. However, the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Analyst agreed to perform such post-election retrospective analyses, if directed to do so by the Board.

While the Government Audit Committee agreed to continue discussion on this Jury recommendation to a future meeting, it’s doubtful the Budget Analyst will ever issue a finding that the Controller’s statements may be misleading - in part because the Budget Analyst is hardly an independent auditor and in part because he may be prohibited from shaking voter confidence in Controller statements previously issued. Obviously, the City wants to avoid any lawsuits that might arise if an audit revealed the Controller’s voter guide statements had misled voters.

For his part, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who sits on the Board’s Government Audit Committee, chastised the Grand Jury’s forewoman, suggesting that the City’s Capital Planning Committee had all but been ignored by the Grand Jury. Elsbernd claims the Capital Planning Committee can resolve concerns raised by the Grand Jury without the CGOBOC’s assistance.

Elsbernd was attempting to punt increasing citizen-based, independent oversight of bond-funded projects over to the very City department heads in charge of the hen house. The 11 members of the Capital Planning Committee include Edwin Lee, City Administrator; the eventual replacement for Yomi Agunbiade, former General Manager Recreation and Park; Nani Coloretti, Budget Director, Mayor’s Office of Public Policy & Finance; Nathaniel Ford, Executive Director, Municipal Transportation Agency; Edwin Harrington, General Manager, Public Utilities Commission; John Martin, Airport Director, Airport Commission; Monique Moyer, Executive Director, Port of San Francisco; Aaron Peskin, Board President, Board of Supervisors; John Rahaim, Director, Planning Department; Edward Reiskin, Director, Department of Public Works; and Ben Rosenfield, the City Controller.

These eleven Departmental managers report to, and serve at, the Mayor’s pleasure, not the pleasure or will of voters seeking greater accountability and transparency from our government officials.

The Grand Jury highlighted the need for greater transparency in City processes. Voters can’t vote wisely when full project details are withheld.

The sheer size of the Prop A $887.4 million bond begs for increased oversight, but scuttling the Grand Jury’s recommendations has killed chances to obtain greater accountability the Jury had recommended.

Put the City on notice that we expect reform and change. No more “iffy” bond measures. Until the City adequately adopts the Grand Jury’s recommendations, Just Vote No on Proposition A.

Patrick Monette-Shaw
Accountability Advocate

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