Commentary – Quentin Kopp

Witness to History

By Quentin Kopp

H. G. Wells in “The Outline of History” in 1921 observed: “Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” Last November, a flurry of articles about the sorrowful assassinations of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk 40 years ago encouraged various theories and alleged facts. Some were educational; others were revisionist. Concurrently, another book on that subject was published. Its author, Daniel J. Flynn, a senior editor of The American Spectator, wrote “Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco,” but couldn’t secure a book review from any San Francisco newspaper. (Maybe the content wasn’t politically correct for liberal San Francisco.)

   It’s time to record genuine history rather than historical debasement books like “Season of the Witch.” San Francisco’s first experiment with district election of supervisors was voter-enacted in November 1976, resulting in election of Harvey Milk in the so-called Castro Street area (he had run unsuccessfully citywide) and Dan White in the Portola in 1977. Previously, custom and practice, although not law, resulted in the highest citywide vote-getter being unanimously elected board president for two years. With district supervisorial elections, that practice was abandoned. I secured the highest number of votes in our district, unopposed. Dianne Feinstein of Pacific Heights received about half my 20,000 total votes. Based upon my closest political friend, retiring supervisor John Barbagelata’s suggestion, I agreed to allow her to be elected president in return for endorsing me in 1978 for mayor. (She never did.) She induced new district supervisors to provide her a majority. For White’s vote, she agreed to support his opposition to a zoning change in Roman Catholic Archdiocese property on University Mound to convert a home for unwed prospective mothers into a facility for delinquent boys. Most residents of that district objected to that and appealed the SF Planning Commission rezoning to the Board of Supervisors.

   I publicly opposed the rezoning. White told me Milk would oppose the rezoning. Knowing Milk’s predilections, I expressed skepticism to White. The following week, the neighborhood appeal failed, Milk voting against it, White, Supervisor Lee Dolson, Feinstein, and I voting for the appealing neighbors. White then ruefully admitted to me I was correct in predicting Milk’s vote.

   Later, White voted against a Milk-sponsored ordinance banning discrimination in employment of homosexuals. I supported it. It passed.

   Subsequently in 1978, White, a former fireman, was inveighed by the Pier 39 developer to open a potato skin food business on Pier 39. It proved difficult for his wife and him to operate the business successfully while he was a supervisor. In November, before Thanksgiving Day, White delivered his resignation to Mayor Moscone. Downtown businesses and public employee unions persuaded White to change his mind. (Additionally, state law required resignation of a county supervisor to be filed with the Board of Supervisors clerk, not the mayor.) Milk urged Mayor Moscone not to allow White’s return. White learned of such effort. As Flynn notes in a November 26, 2018 magazine column, White’s assassinations weren’t based on Milk’s homosexuality; they occurred because of his desired reappointment. Those are facts, not political revision.

   Unnoticed in San Francisco and California, last summer a Pennsylvania township with surplus from increased property tax collection disgorged itself for taxpayers’ benefit. Middletown Township conveyed 14,361 checks for $68 each to all owners of improved property. It resulted from controlling expenditures and delinquent tax collections. Hallelujah. Now, abolition of taxpayer business subsidies and use of taxpayer money to settle sexual misconduct cases by state and national legislators and public officials could correct injustice to taxpayers. The Independent Institute notes that California legislators, public universities, and state agencies “secretly settled sexual misconduct claims using taxpayer money – about $11.3 million over the past three fiscal years.” Settlements ranged from $500 to $10 million; seven exceeded $500,000. Over the last 25 years, the Legislature has paid more than  $2.8 million in 2017 taxpayer dollars.

   Meanwhile, taxpayers continue to subsidize electric vehicle buyers. The federal government gives buyers a $7,500 subsidy. That began under President Obama in 2009. The Pacific Research Institute discovered from 2014 Internal Revenue Service records that 79 percent of federal electric car tax credits were obtained by households with adjusted gross income exceeding $100,000. California bestows $15,000 per electric vehicle on purchasers in state income tax credits. Moreover, last month the Wall Street Journal noted total carbon dioxide emissions from electric vehicles can exceed conventional vehicle emissions. Why should private corporations use taxpayer money to increase their customers, like the local property tax exemptions granted wealthy technology companies for Market Street office buildings? I think commercial property-owning businesses on Taraval Street and Geary Boulevard would like similar treatment. Maybe that’s why Lord Bryce in London in 1921 declared: “A political career brings out the basest qualities in human nature.”

  Quentin Kopp is a former San Franciscxo supervisor and state senator, retired judge and current member of the SF Ethics Committee.

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