Posts Tagged 'Newsom'

Meeting: Civil Liberties in the Time of Obama

“Civil Liberties in the Time of Obama”
Tuesday, March 16, 1 PM
Fireside Room, Unitarian Center
1187 Franklin St (betw. O’Farrell, Geary), SF
Free, Wheelchair OK
A SF Gray Panther Program, Public Invited

As with war, Obama has been disappointing on civil liberties issues, such as the extension of the Patriot Act, extraordinary renditions, military tribunals, detentions without charges, not charging the architects of torture, not closing Guantanamo, and failure to intervene in the cases of Mumia and Lynne Stewart.

Similarly, Obama has been disappointing on immigration issues, such as family separations, widespread ICE raids, mass firings, police checkpoints, continued immigrant detention and deportations, and a network of secret detention facilities violating basic rights and needs. Meanwhile an immigration reform bill is being introduced that promises to arouse more controversy.

Angela Chan, a lawyer from San Francisco’s Asian Law Caucus, a leading advocate for civil liberties, will describe the impact of some of these trends, especially for San Francisco’s Sanctuary City policy.

Ms. Chan has been active in fighting the deportation of immigrant youths arrested for felonies without any investigation of whether the arrests were based on facts or simply racial profiling by the police. Many of these charges were later dropped, but the youth are already deported to countries where they often have no family support.  In response to community outrage, Supervisors passed an ordinance that bars turning over juvenile immigrant arrestees to ICE unless subsequent hearings establish the arrestee was actually guilty, but Mayor Gavin Newsom has refused to implement this law.

Read more: http://tinyurl.com/y9c8t8w

short link to this page:  http://wp.me/p3xLR-nH

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How Healthy is Healthy San Francisco?

SF Bay Guardian, Wednesday, July 22, 2009

How healthy is Healthy SF?

The program is a pioneering effort — but will budget cuts damage it?

BY WENDI JONASSEN

San Francisco is getting national attention for its attempt at universal health care. President Obama even applauded the city’s efforts in a speech: “Instead of just talking about health care, [San Francisco has been] ensuring that those in need receive it.”

But Healthy San Francisco — a pioneering effort to do at the municipal level what the federal and state governments won’t — is running into some troubling problems, made worse by Mayor Gavin Newsom’s budget cuts.

The program was initiated by Tom Ammiano, now a state assembly member, with backing from organized labor. Ammiano’s goal was to provide easy access to affordable health care for all of S.F.’s 60,000 uninsured. A local version of a single-payer program, he argued, could provide accessible primary and preventative care, alleviating the need for indigent patients to use the overcrowded and expensive San Francisco General Hospital emergency room as their primary medical provider.

Healthy San Francisco was launched on July 2, 2007, at two Chinatown clinics. It has grown dramatically, and now provides services to more than 34,000 residents at 27 clinics.

Although Newsom sat on the sidelines while Ammiano pushed the legislation, the mayor has now unashamedly claimed the program as his own to promote his gubernatorial campaign. On his Web site he boldly declares that “he’s created the only universal health care program in the country” — with no mention of Ammiano.

The $200 million-a-year program is partially funded by an employer-mandate requiring businesses with more than 20 employees either to provide health insurance or pay a fee to the city. The fees are broken down according to the size of the business; as of January 2009, employers pay between $1.23–$1.85 for every hour an employee works.

Like any traditional health insurance program, Healthy SF has annual fees and point-of-service charges paid by participants. The remainder of the program is funded through state grants.

Opposition to HSF surfaced immediately. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association sued the city even before the program started, alleging that the employer-spending mandate is a violation of federal law.

Kevin Westlye, the association’s executive director, claims his beef is not with the health care system, just with the employer mandate. He suggested that the city raise its sales tax to pay for the program — or that the financial burden should fall on the backs of the billionaires that run privatized health care and pharmaceutical companies.

But the city has only a limited ability to raise taxes, and any tax hike would require voter approval. The employer mandates and fees were much more politically feasible.

Deputy City Attorney Vince Chhabria, who is representing the city on the case, argues, “It is difficult to imagine, in these budget times, that San Francisco could provide universal coverage without employer health care spending requirements.”

Federal courts sided with the GGRA initially, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the employer-spending mandate was legal. The GGRA appealed to the United States Supreme Court; the court will announce Oct. 5 whether it will hear the case.

That’s not the only litigation facing HSF. A group of low-income residents are suing the city, saying that the system’s annual fees and co-pays are too high. The program’s fees are scaled to the federal poverty level, which is currently set at an annual income of $10,830. A single person making between 101 percent and 200 percent of the federal poverty level — that is, between about $11,000 and $20,000 a year — pays $180 a year for HSF membership. People earning between $40,000 and $50,000 pay $1,350 a year.

There are also co-pays of $10 for medical visits and $5 to $25 for prescriptions — again, typical of health insurance plans.

Bay Area Legal Aid and the Western Center on Law and Poverty are representing three San Francisco residents who say those fees violate federal and state mandates, which stipulate that the city must provide free health care to those who can’t afford to pay. Healthy San Francisco is only one element of the lawsuit; it also claims that San Francisco General Hospital charges low-income people too much and that the city’s medical bills and collection practices aren’t fair.

One of the plaintiffs is Robyn Paige, a San Francisco resident with spine, foot, and hip injuries. Paige contends that she can’t afford the co-payments on her multiple medications each month and must either go without pain medication or borrow money. Lisa Qare, 21-year-old resident with MS, had to wait three weeks for medication for an eye condition that developed as a result of her condition.

A $10 co-pay may not seem like much, but when a patient needs several doctor visits a month and must pay $5 to $25 each for multiple prescriptions, it adds up. “As a result,” Michael Keys, a Bay Area Legal Aid lawyer, told us, “those who can’t afford the charges are falling into medical debt or skipping services or medication.”

And, not surprisingly, the cash-strapped city is having trouble finding enough staff and facilities to meet all the needs. Nancy Keiler, a Mission District resident and HSF participant, complains that clinic visits are too short, and that “the doctor is too hurried and has too many patients.” (That’s a common complaint about private health plans, as well.) After waiting three hours, another HSF participant had to leave without her prescription to get back to work on time.

The long lines and waits will only get worse in the face of budget cuts. Pink slips were already handed out to several hundred San Francisco health care workers and 1,000 more may be laid off this fall.

Robert Haaland, who works with the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, told us the staffing cuts will make the situation much worse. Martha Hawthorne, a public-health nurse, said she thinks that there won’t be enough providers to provide good care — and that many health care workers losing their jobs will have to enroll in HSF themselves, putting even more strain on the system.

Ammiano, the author of the plan, is concerned too. “I’m very worried about it,” he said. “It seems to me now that if there’s this budget pain, there will be impacts to San Francisco.”

Nathan Ballard, the mayor’s press secretary, tersely denied that HSF will feel any budget pain. Asked about critics’ allegations, he said, “They’re wrong. We are going to expand Healthy SF this year.”

Earlier this month, insurance giant Kaiser Permanente joined HSF — meaning that the health care giant will now participate as a provider in the program. Haaland voiced concern about that move, calling it “privatizing through the back door.”

Mitch Katz, the city’s public health director, agrees there are flaws to the system, but defends its success. “It is by no means a perfect program,” he said, “but we’ve made a big impact.” With national health care costs rising three times faster than wages (some believe that health care costs are rising five times faster than wages) the nation is starting to seriously talk about overhauling the entire system. San Francisco is being considered as a model for national health care reform.

Labor leaders have lauded the basic formula of HSF and pushed for the federal reforms to use it as a model. As San Francisco Labor Council executive director Tim Paulson said in a prepared statement, “In San Francisco we demonstrated that legislation providing public health access and corporate participation creates a real path to universal health care coverage.”

Research assistance by Gabrielle Poccia

NY Times Shows Dismantling of Sanctuary City in San Francisco

New York Times, June 13, 2009

San Francisco at Crossroads Over Immigration

SAN FRANCISCO — In the debate over illegal immigration, San Francisco has proudly played the role of liberal enclave, a so-called sanctuary city where local officials have refused to cooperate with enforcement of federal immigration law and undocumented residents have mostly lived without fear of consequence.

But over the last year, buffeted by several high-profile crimes by illegal immigrants and revelations of mismanagement of the city’s sanctuary policy, San Francisco has become less like its self-image and more like many other cities in the United States: deeply conflicted over how to cope with the fallout of illegal immigration.

At the center of the turnaround is a new law enforcement policy focused on under-age offenders who are in this country illegally. Under the policy, minors brought to juvenile hall on felony charges are questioned about their immigration status. And if they are suspected of being here illegally, they are reported to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency for deportation, regardless of whether they are eventually convicted of a crime.

“We went from being one of the more progressive counties in the country to probably one of the least, and the most draconian,” said Abigail Trillin, the managing attorney with Legal Services for Children, a nonprofit legal group. “It’s been a total turnaround.”

Mayor Gavin Newsom, who ordered the new policy, disputes that characterization and ticks off a list of policies that remain immigrant friendly: the issuing of identification cards to residents regardless of legal status, the promotion of low-cost banking and the city’s longstanding opposition to immigration raids.

“I’m balancing safety and rights,” Mr. Newsom said. “And I’m taking the arrows.”

The policy was put in place last summer amid a series of embarrassing revelations about the city’s handling of illegal minors and even as reports arose of several serious crimes committed by illegal residents. The policy has led not only to dozens of juveniles in deportation proceedings, but also to criticism from the city’s public defender and members of its Board of Supervisors, which is threatening to relax it next month.

“I think the point of sanctuary is that you protect people and treat people the same unless they engage in some felony crime,” said David Campos, a county supervisor who came illegally to the United States from his native Guatemala when he was 14.

The new approach has pitted a growing coalition of immigrants rights groups against Mr. Newsom, who is running for governor in a state where immigrants, particularly Latinos, can be vital to being elected.

Mr. Newsom defends the policy as an effort to bring the city’s juvenile protocol in line with that for adult illegal immigrants, who have always been reported to federal authorities if they are accused of a felony.

But immigration advocates say the policy has too often swept up juveniles who are in this country illegally but who are innocent or held on minor charges, a list that includes young men like Roberto, 14, who has lived in the United States since he was 2.

Roberto, whose last name is being withheld at the request of his parents who are also in the country illegally, was handed over to immigration authorities last fall after he took a BB gun to school to show off to friends. He spent Christmas at a juvenile facility in Washington State and is now facing deportation to Mexico, where he was born.

The experience left Roberto shaken. “I was feeling really scared,” he said in an interview here.

Supporters of the new crackdown say that Roberto’s case is unrepresentative and that the majority of youths turned over to the immigration authorities have engaged in serious crimes, including those associated with the practice by Honduran drug gangs in San Francisco of using minors as dealers.

“A lot of them have histories; a lot of them are second, third chances,” Mr. Newsom said. “This is not as touchy feely as some people may want to make it.”

Mr. Newsom says he still supports the sanctuary ordinance, which grew out of worries in the 1980s about the deportation of Central Americans to war-torn regions. Made city law in 1989, the policy forbids city agencies to use resources to assist in the enforcement of federal immigration law or information gathering.

While proponents say such policies help the police by making immigrant communities — often suspicious of the authorities — more comfortable with reporting crimes, critics say San Francisco’s policy had been stretched to extremes, including the practice of occasionally flying some offenders back to their home countries rather than cooperating with immigration authorities.

Mr. Newsom says he discovered and stopped that practice in May 2008, and quickly ordered a review. Juvenile referrals began shortly thereafter and were formalized as policy in August.

In the interim, however, The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a group of teenage Honduran crack dealers who had been sent to a group home simply walked away from confinement.

A second event was more serious, when a father and two sons driving home from a picnic were killed in a case of mistaken identity in June 2008. The police later charged Edwin Ramos, an illegal immigrant from El Salvador and suspected gang member who had had run-ins with the San Francisco police as a juvenile but had not been turned over to the immigration authorities.

At the same time, San Francisco found itself under criminal investigation by the United States attorney for the Northern District of California, and city officials were eager to show that their city was not a lawless haven for illegal-immigrant criminals.

“If we start harboring criminals as a sanctuary city, this entire system is in peril,” Mr. Newsom said.

For their part, immigration advocates say they are not asking the city to shelter felonious youths from deportation. The problem, they say, is the point of contact: at arrest, rather than after any sort of legal adjudication.

“Even if you’re undocumented, you have the right to due process,” said Jeff Adachi, the city’s public defender.

The federal authorities, meanwhile, have been pleasantly surprised that the new policy has resulted in more than 100 referrals.

“We are now getting routine referrals,” said Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the immigration agency.

The most serious challenge to the policy is likely to come in July, when the Board of Supervisors is expected to take up a proposal that would apply the policy only to illegal juveniles found in court to have committed a felony. The measure’s sponsor, Mr. Campos, said he expected it to pass.

Such an ordinance would not help Roberto, who is still waiting to plead his case to an immigration judge. He said he had already learned a valuable lesson.

“I will never bring anything to school again,” he said.

Budget Justice Rally Rocks SF City Hall

Budget Justice Rally Rocks SF City Hall

“Mayor Newsom said ‘We have a near-perfect budget.'”
Hell no! .. We have a budget with a lot of blood on the floor.”
” It’s your blood it’s our blood and all of our blood!”

Supervisor John Avalos

Hundreds marched from Hallidie Plaza to San Francisco City Hall yesterday afternoon to protest Mayor Gavin Newsom’s proposed city budget, which contains deep cuts to address a looming $438 million general fund deficit.

Organized by a coalition called Budget Justice, which includes Coleman Advocates, the Coalition on Homelessness, SEIU and others, the rally and march brought out a wide cross-section of people whose lives would be directly affected by cuts to the city’s health and human services programs. Homeless people, veterans, the elderly, AIDS patients, organizations that aid victims of violence and sexual abuse, people in need of mental-health therapy or programs for recovery from substance abuse, and single room occupancy residents were all represented. ( SF Bay Guardian Blog, June 11, 2009)

See Guardian editorial “Dismantling the Newsom Budget” below.
See video by  Bill Carpenter.
Thanks to Patricia Jackson for the photos.
See the leaflet for the event (pdf).

Dismantling the Newsom budget

The mayor’s cheery line may sound good when he’s out of town running for governor,
but it’s not going to play so well on the streets of San Francisco.

Guardian Editorial

EDITORIAL Mayor Gavin Newsom was upbeat when he delivered his budget proposal last week. It won’t be that bad, he told everyone — “At the end of the day, it’s a math problem.”

Well, actually, it’s not. At the end of the day, it’s job losses, major cuts to city services, and hidden taxes — most of them, despite the mayor’s rhetoric, falling on the backs of the poor.

You can’t cut $70 million from the Department of Public Health — which is already operating at bare-bones levels after years of previous cuts — without significant impacts on health care for San Franciscans. You can’t cut $19 million out of the Human Services Agency without badly hurting homeless and needy people. You can’t raise Muni fares to $2 without taking cash out of the pockets of working-class people. The mayor’s cheery line may sound good when he’s out of town running for governor, but it’s not going to play so well on the streets of San Francisco.

Just for the record, here are a few of the proposed cuts:

A 21-bed acute psychiatric unit would be shut and replaced with an 18-bed unit for milder cases. Where would the seriously mentally ill go?

The number of home-healthcare workers, the folks who take care of the very sick who need skilled clinical services in the home, would be cut by 30 percent. Those clients would either suffer, go to (expensive) hospitals, or die.

Ongoing outpatient mental health services would be limited to the most severe cases. People who are, for now, only moderately mentally ill would lose access to care (until, without care, they become severely mentally ill).

The emergency food-bag program for seniors will lose $50,000, so hungry senior citizens won’t get to eat.

Almost $3 million will be cut from community-based organizations that provide direct, frontline services to the homeless.

Almost half of the city’s recreation directors — people who provide direct services and mentoring to at-risk youth — will be laid off.

The Tenderloin Housing Clinic Eviction Defense Center, the only place that offers free legal defense for Ellis Act evictions, will lose funding, leaving hundreds of tenants at risk of losing their homes.

Drop-in centers will close. Programs for homeless youth will shut down. More homeless people with increasingly more serious mental illness will be wandering the streets with nowhere to go for help.

Mayor Newsom brags in his campaign ads about creating private-sector jobs — but the budget will mean layoffs not just for city employees but for perhaps 1,000 nonprofit workers. That dwarfs the job creation he’s claiming — and defies the Obama administration’s call for government and private business to try to preserve and create jobs.

This isn’t a math problem. It’s a political problem, and the supervisors need to make it very clear that the mayor’s budget isn’t going to fly.

The supervisors need to take the budget apart, piece by piece, and reset its priorities. Newsom increases funding for police investigators by $7 million, while cutting the Public Defender’s Office by $2 million. He’s preserving his own bloated political operation (a big press office, highly paid special assistants and programs like 311 that are part of his gubernatorial campaign) while eliminating big parts of the social safety net. He’s raising bus fares, but not taxes on downtown.

“The mayor has presented his vision,” Sup. John Avalos, who chairs the Budget Committee, explained. “Now our priorities have to be presented.”

This can’t be a modest, typical budget negotiation with the supervisors tweaking a few items here and there. This is a battle for San Francisco, for its future and its soul, and the supervisors need to start talking, today, about how they’re going to fight back. *

See the June 11, 2009 BeyondChron article “Supes Push for a More Equitable Budget,” describing the SF Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee’s passing an amendment cutting $82 million out of the Police, Fire and Sheriff Departments – so that the City can more adequately fund the Public Health Department and Human Services Agency, and more evenly “spread the pain” of the financial crisis among various agencies.

Shrinking Government: Newsom’s budget cuts public health and city employees — includes no new taxes.

SF Bay Guardian, June 3, 2009

Shrinking government

Newsom’s budget cuts public health and city employees — and includes no new taxes

By Steven T. Jones

Mayor Gavin Newsom released his proposed 2009-10 city budget June 1, proclaiming it far better than doomsayers predicted and emphasizing how he minimized cuts to health and human services that he once said could be as deep as 25 percent in order to bridge a $438 million budget deficit.

“It doesn’t come close to balancing on the backs of our health and human services agencies, as some had feared,” Newsom told the department heads, elected supervisors, and journalists who were tightly packed into his office for the announcement event.

But there’s still plenty of pain in a city budget where the General Fund — the portion of the budget local officials can control — would be reduced by more than 11 percent, its only reduction in recent memory. And at a time when every reasonable Democrat in Sacramento has been nearly begging for tax hikes to prevent budget blood, San Francisco’s Democratic mayor proudly proclaimed that there are no new taxes in the budget.

“We didn’t raise taxes, and we didn’t borrow,” he said. You can almost hear that line being repeated in the ads he’ll be running as he campaigns for governor.

Newsom proposes slashing the city’s public health budget by $128.4 million, or 8 percent (a total of 400 employees), while the human services budget would take a $15.9 million hit, or 2 percent. “That’s a lot, but by no means is it devastating,” Newsom said, noting that he restored some of the deepest cuts that were the subject of alarming public hearings. “I listened to the public comments at the Board of Supervisors… Things got a lot better than the headlines and the hearings.”

The proposed budget includes 1,603 full-time-equivalent layoffs, or a 5.8 reduction in the city’s workforce, trimming more than $75.5 million from the general fund budget. In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services is cutting back its workweek to 37.5 hours to further trim costs.

“The smoke hasn’t cleared yet and there’s a lot of devastation in this budget that isn’t being talked about,” Sup. John Avalos, who chairs the Board of Supervisors Budget Committee, said at the event. Newsom’s budget will be analyzed and then face its first committee hearing June 17, with approval by the full board required by July 31.

“The mayor told us a lot about what’s in the budget, but not a lot about what’s not in the budget, so we’ll spend a few days figuring that out,” board President David Chiu told the Guardian.

The budget was aided greatly by more than $80 million in federal stimulus funds and other one-time revenue sources (such as $10 million from the sale of city-owned energy turbines) that were used to plug this year’s gap and offset cuts by the state and depressed tax revenue.

Although Newsom doesn’t want to raise taxes, licenses and fees would go up 41 percent, increasing revenue by $64 million to $220 million. Some of those proposed fee hikes range from the cost of parking in city-owned garages to admission fees for city-owned facilities such as the Strybing Arboretum. Muni riders will also see fares hiked to $2.

There will also be deep cuts to some key city functions. The Department of Emergency Management would take a 24 percent cut under the mayor’s plan, while the Department of Building Inspection faces a 20 percent cut to expenditures and a 29 percent reduction in staff.

The Planning Department would also take a hit of about 7 percent, with most of that focused on the department’s long-range planning functions, which were slashed by 19 percent to $4.7 million.

But it’s not an entirely austere budget. The police and fire departments have status quo budgets with no layoffs. Travel expenses would increase 13.5 percent to $2.9 million and the cost of food purchased by the city would rise 127 percent to $7 million.

The Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development — which often uses public funds to subsidize private sector projects — would get a 32 percent increase, to $24.7 million.

It’s unclear how much the Mayor’s Office has shared the budget pain. During the presentation, Newsom said his office’s budget has been cut by 28 percent, but he later clarified that was spread over the five years he has been mayor. Yet even that is tough to account for given that some functions have been shuffled to other departments.

The document shows a proposed 60 percent increase in the Mayor’s Office budget, although the lion’s share of that comes from the Mayor’s Office of Housing’s one-time financial support for some long-awaited projects, including rebuilding the Hunters View housing and support services project for low-income people connected to the Central YMCA, and an apartment project on 29th Avenue for people with disabilities.

Avalos has said he will look to find money by cutting some of the highly paid policy czars and communications specialists added to the Mayor’s Office in recent years, as well as Newsom’s cherished 311 call center and the Community Justice Court he created. Supervisors are also expected to resist Newsom’s penchant for privatization. Newsom proposed to privatize seven city functions, from jail health services and security guards and city-owned facilities, and to consolidate another 14 functions between various city departments.

Newsom pledged to work with supervisors who want to change the budget, continuing the rhetoric of cooperation that he opened the budget season with in January, which supervisors say hasn’t been matched by his actions or the secretive nature of this budget. “This budget is by no means done,” Newsom said. “It’s an ongoing process.”

In fact, Newsom warned that the budget news could be even worse than his budget outlines. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is talking about new cuts that could total $175 million or more for San Francisco only, although Newsom only included $25 million of that in his budget because it went to the printer on May 22 and the total hit is still unclear. “So,” Newsom said, “we’re by no means out of the woods.”

Newsom Budget Figures Don’t Add Up

BeyondChron, June 2, 2009

Newsom Budget Figures Don’t Add Up
by Paul Hogarth

Mayor Gavin Newsom must assume that when releasing a budget everyone expects to have cuts, the press will just take a few pictures, jot down some snappy quotes, and – maybe – read his one-page press release. Beyond Chron, however, bothered to review the whole proposal, and the numbers contradict what Newsom said in his speech – where he assured us Public Health cuts would be less severe than feared. The budget has over $100 million in cuts for that Department, not $43 million as he claimed. Newsom also said the Mayor’s Office would get a 28% cut, but the figures show only 9% of his staff are being laid off – and the division that runs his media operation would actually get bigger. And in a strange twist, Newsom said he really didn’t like some cuts that he proposed – and would “count on” the Supervisors to restore them during the add-back process, but left unsaid where to find the money. As San Francisco faces its worst fiscal crisis since the Great Depression, Newsom bragged that Police and Fire are getting no layoffs – while the rich and Downtown businesses will not be paying more taxes. He also warned more budget cuts are coming from the state, echoing the threats of Governor Schwarzenegger.  (Article continues below.)

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Please join the June 10th march “REAL DEAL OR NO DEAL” to save vital services for San Francisco’s most vulnerable elderly, disabled, minority, and low-wage working people.

Wedneday, June 10, 3 PM.  Meet at Hallidie Plaza (Market St betw. 4th & 5th Sts)
We will march to, and around City Hall.

We demand: (1) Supervisors, resist the devastating cuts in the Mayor’s budget, which will be announced by then, (2) Make cuts instead to a growing list of unnecessary, less necessary services, or services for those better able to pay for them, (3) approve fair revenue measures to assure stable funding for our working population, and (4) stop making budget decisions in secret.   Download a poster for this event

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June 1st is when the Mayor has to submit a budget, and over the next month the Board of Supervisors’ Budget Committee will scrutinize his proposal, and offer some amendments before final passage in July. Newsom took the unilateral step of making $71 million in mid-year cuts earlier this year without approval of the legislative branch, and the question now is how the Board will handle another onslaught of painful decisions – in a way that most fairly “shares the pain” to protect the most vulnerable. But first, Gavin needed his orchestrated press event.

I’ve attended my share of press conferences in Room 200 – but yesterday’s one appeared calculated to keep most local media at bay. Rather than have Mayor Newsom speak in the reception area, we were ushered into a back room. Then, we were told we could not go inside – but could watch from behind a doorway, as elected officials and department heads crowded in to take their seats. Before the event started, the staff asked homeless rights advocate Jennifer Friedenbach to leave because she was not “credentialed press” – although she was there to cover the event for Street Sheet. Later on, the only courtesy that Newsom’s staff gave us was for each reporter to briefly step into the room (one at a time) to take photos of the Mayor giving his speech.

Newsom spoke for about an hour, outlining his budget proposal and how he “looked forward” to working with the Supervisors over the next month. Despite the City facing a half-a-billion dollar deficit, Newsom said he had a “balanced budget with no taxes and no borrowing” which “doesn’t come close” to balancing it on the backs of Public Health (DPH) or Human Services (HSA). The Mayor had asked all Department Heads to make 12.5% in cuts, but these agencies that serve the poorest were spared from such an extent – adding, he said, that HSA only had $27 million in cuts, and DPH only about $43 million.

It wasn’t until reading the 430-page document that I learned this was at best misleading, and at worst a lie. You can probably get $43 million in Public Health by just counting the cuts to various contract services like substance abuse, mental health, Health At Home, community health, ambulatory care and emergency services. But that still doesn’t count the $100 million in net budget cuts to S.F. General Hospital and Laguna Honda. Newsom also claimed the City will be getting $80 million in federal stimulus funds to help with Medi-Cal reimbursements. Turns out the actual figure is $37 million.

Newsom acknowledged that “layoffs are in the budget,” and 1,603 positions would have to be eliminated. The Mayor added that he cut 28% out of his own budget, which he used to point out that everyone was asked to tighten their belts. But the budget proposal shows that the Mayor’s Office would get a 60% increase, although much of that includes various funds and services. Just looking at what percentage of staff would be laid off in that department, it’s only 9% – or less than the 12% target Newsom gave to all other agencies. The Mayor’s Office of Public Policy & Finance (which includes his bloated media relations division) will actually get 29% more than this year under his proposal.

In a bizarre (almost Orwellian) moment, Newsom lamented some of his cuts – and said he hoped the Board of Supervisors would reverse them. Specifically, he mentioned the mental health and substance abuse cuts in the Health Department budget. “I’m counting on [the Board] to add back the things I don’t want cut,” he said. But the Mayor’s budget proposal is supposed to be just that – his proposal – and the political fight then happens as the Supervisors debate his funding priorities, and vote to make any changes.

I asked Newsom why propose these cuts in the first place if he wants them reversed, and he replied “because I have to submit a balanced budget.” I pointed out the Supervisors also must pass a balanced budget, and he replied they could use the “add-back” process. But “add-backs” are only possible if there’s money, which is no guarantee in this year’s fiscal crisis. Newsom said that the Board’s Budget Analyst Harvey Rose would figure it out later, like he does “every year” – even though this is no ordinary year.

One group the Mayor bragged won’t see layoffs is the Police, despite the controversy about them taking millions from Muni in “work orders” to patrol buses. Now, a Channel 7 investigative report shows the cops aren’t doing what they’re getting paid for in that program. The Supervisors may have pried $5 million from Police to give back to the MTA, but the Mayor’s Police budget still has a $14 million line item for work orders. Newsom adds the Fire Department won’t have cuts, while the Firefighters Union pays his consultant – Eric Jaye – to run the campaign against “rolling brownouts” that would save money.

The Mayor concluded his remarks by discussing what could make our budget worse: the unresolved fiscal crisis in Sacramento. Governor Schwarzenegger’s May revise proposed borrowing money from city and county governments to help the state’s financial situation, which could blow another $175 million hole in the City’s deficit. Newsom called it a “done deal” in his speech, but I got him to acknowledge (after the speech) that two-thirds of the state legislature must still approve it – before Arnold has carte blanche to raid California’s broke localities.

Newsom also addressed the state’s recent special election, and said the “message was clear – the people want us to find $6 billion in more cuts.” That’s a disturbing analysis, as polling evidence shows that the voters did not vote “for cuts” when they rejected a fatally flawed budget package that was the product of political extortion. The state budget can also be balanced with deeply popular revenue measures – such as an oil severance tax, or restoring upper-income tax brackets to what Republican Governors Pete Wilson and Ronald Reagan agreed to during hard times. We need to fight for this.

Gavin Newsom wants to be Governor, but his analysis of the state budget mess is the last thing progressives need right now – and calls into question whether he’s ready for prime time. As Schwarzenegger pushes for an “all-cuts” budget, we need Democrats in Sacramento who fight back – and help build momentum and public outrage against the two-thirds rule. Newsom supports lowering the threshold to pass a state budget, but he has not shown the willingness to lead on this issue. For now, progressives should be looking elsewhere …

SF Supervisors: Don’t make Sleeping While Homeless a crime in 2008!

Coalition On Homelessness, December 20, 2007

SF Supervisors: Don’t make Sleeping While Homeless a crime in 2008!

(See article below by Newsom’s mouthpiece, C. W. Nevius, explaining the issue through his twisted lens.)

Monday, January 7, 10 AM
Meet on City Hall Steps to lobby Supervisors

We are starting a new year folks and on January 8, 2008 is a critical issue that will give us the opportunity to halt the criminalization of  poor folks whose only crime is being too poor to pay the rent!

The Full Board will be voting as to whether to amend the camping and  sleeping code to make it easier to cite people for sleeping.

Supervisor Ammiano has a counter amendment that says they have to offer  housing before they can cite folks (Yes we like this idea!).   This would codify what the Mayor says he is already doing.

The Mayor doesn’t like it, and is pushing through Supervisor Dufty a  counter amendment that would give people the ticket, then have them  prove they were offered services, and if they get any other tickets,  the tickets would stand!

No, no, no, we don’t like that.

Folks are going to jail for trying to some sleep in Frisco.   This is  not the Middle Ages.    Let us stop the madness!

We need you to get on the phone and call,  call,  call, and have your friends  call the following supervisors:

SUP SANDOVAL 554-6975
SUP MAXWELL 554-7670
SUP MCGOLDRICK 554-7410

Tell them to reject the Newsom/Dufty amendments and approve the Ammiano  amendment.

Jennifer Friedenbach
Executive Director
Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 346-3740 x 306
fax:  775-5639

To learn more about our work, and to get the latest scoop on the
politics of poverty in SF, go to the Street Sheet blog:
http://www.cohsf.org/streetsheet/

SF Chronicle, November 27, 2007

 Supes tinkering with Newsom’s park camping ordinance

C.W.   Nevius

Nothing is ever simple in San Francisco politics.   Last week, an ordinance introduced by Mayor Gavin Newsom to close loopholes inhibiting enforcement of laws against camping in Golden Gate Park came up for a vote before the full Board of Supervisors.   Passage seemed a slam dunk.

Not so fast, Mr.   Mayor.

Advocates for homeless people got the ear of certain members of the board and attempted to turn this into a case of “criminalizing the homeless.” The next thing you know, the very real possibility has been raised that the ordinance may be changed and wind up doing more harm than good.

“Their long-standing strategy is that enforcing laws that are targeted at a single group due to their poverty is wrong,” said Trent Rhorer, executive director of San Francisco’s Human Services Agency.   “I would agree with that.   But we are not targeting the homeless per se.   We are targeting behavior that is harmful to people who use the park.   What we don’t want is to get to a place where we are weakening the current law.”

Anything leading to less enforcement would be counterproductive.   Chronic homelessness, encampments, drug use and vagrancy in the park are hot topics, and nearly everyone – on all sides of the homelessness issue – agrees that no one should be living in the park.   But even so, the mayor’s park measure got bogged down and nearly killed by amendments.

His original ordinance sounded like common sense.   It said that homeless campers couldn’t build an encampment, couldn’t bring in “any device that could be used for cooking,” and extended the no-sleeping-in-the-park hours from 8 p.m.   to 8 a.m.

What’s wrong with that?

“All of us share a common goal,” Rhorer said.   “We want to get them out of the park and into shelter.”

Or, as Supervisor Bevan Dufty put it, “Our city is failing if the park is the housing of last resort.”

Well said.   So, because nearly everyone seemed to be in agreement, it seemed it would just be a matter of talking through a few points, refining a detail or two, and then voting the ordinance in and accepting the thanks of a grateful public.

That’s not how things went.

In just a hint of how difficult it can be to make progress in the face of committed, well-organized opposition, the Homeless Coalition (whose director did not return calls for comment) began to muddy the waters.   Speaking for the advocates, Supervisor Tom Ammiano proposed an amendment.

“I saw it more as tweaking,” Ammiano said Monday.   “I think a lot of it is timing.   Some of the things can be fixed.”

Right.   But the concern is that this will be “fixed” to death.

At one point the proposal stated that before a homeless camper could be cited for a violation, it had to be shown that he or she had been offered services and permanent housing at least five days earlier.

Oh sure, that wouldn’t be hard to enforce.   How, exactly are city workers supposed to verify that they had contacted each homeless person? Maybe they could carry a camera and take a photo of them offering services?

“It would be like someone being pulled over for speeding,” says Rhorer, “and then having to ask them if they’d taken a driver training class in the previous five days.”

In an attempt to save the measure, Dufty introduced another idea.   In his amendment, homeless campers would be cited for violating the rules, but then would be allowed to make the citation go away by accepting a homeless program.   Of course, that wouldn’t mean that a violator couldn’t say he was going to accept services and then drop out after a day or two.

“Right,” said Rhorer, “but that’s what the D.A.   does now.   The person says, ‘I am willing to go into treatment,’ and the district attorney says, ‘Fine, charges are dismissed.’ All this is doing is codifying what is already being done.”

Dufty, a reasonable fellow, says he had some very real concerns about the way the ordinance would work.   For example, he says – and Homeless Outreach Team director Rajesh Parekh agrees – that with the closure the homeless shelter on Otis Street in the Inner Mission there may be a minor shortage of beds and slots in drug and alcohol treatment programs.   Ammiano says his concern is that people may be offered services but then find that they are not available.

He says that was why he started proposing amendments and was just trying to clear up a few things.

“There’s some kinda gray areas,” he said.   “Believe me, the last thing anybody wants is a knock-down, drag-out fight on this.”

So, instead, the ordinance was sent back to committee for more hearings.   Ammiano insisted it is just temporary, and that “it is definitely worth a look see.   It’ll come back to the board.   It is too important not to.”

Sure, but when it does, expect more smoke and mirrors.   Dufty, who wants this to work, knows the drill.

“The discussion got sidetracked because we couldn’t agree on whose responsibility it was to offer them housing before we cite them,” he said.   “A better idea would be for everyone to understand that the parks are for use during the day.”

Now there’s an idea, simple, clear and direct.

So it probably doesn’t have a chance.


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