Commentary – Quentin Kopp

slide1The late James Byrnes, a United States senator from South Carolina and later secretary of state under President Harry S. Truman, observed in the 1940s: “The nearest approach to immortality on earth is a government bureau.”

In 1931, San Francisco voters approved a new charter which reduced Board of Supervisors membership from 16 to 11, elected citywide, and paid $2,400 per year, without membership in the retirement system, but with membership in the publicly-funded health system. 

The charter also barred supervisors from interfering in administrative matters or trying to influence votes of city boards and commissions. Only the voters could increase supervisors’ salary. Voters did so by doubling it to $4,800 in the 1950s and then $9,600 in 1964. All supervisors but one in my 15 years of service from 1972 until 1986 worked in a business or profession because it was a part-time responsibility and because the mayor and chief administrative officer were devoted full-time to managing San Francisco. After failed supervisorial efforts to remove voters/taxpayers from setting their salaries, the second time I was president of the Board of Supervisors in 1982, I asked Budget Analyst Harvey M. Rose to advise me what cost of living increases since 1964 would amount to in 1982 dollars. His answer was $23,924 per year. I introduced a charter amendment to increase the salary accordingly. Voters easily approved it that November. 

In the 1990s, after I left the board, a should-be-forgotten supervisor trumpeted a charter “revision,” including removal of voter approval of supervisor salaries. The Civil Service Commission would supposedly survey comparable entities in the Bay Area to ascertain a “prevailing” salary. Unfortunately, voters were induced to approve such nostrums. Since that time, voters unwisely created district election of supervisors. Instead of answering to approximately 850,000 San Franciscans, our heroes presently represent about 77,000 people and are term-limited. 

Nevertheless, they’re now members of the retirement system, and last month the Civil Service Commission ignored staff recommendations and granted supervisors a 12 percent salary increase to $140,000 annually, plus a yearly cost of living increase the next four years thereafter. Marvelous! Try to reach any of them or their three aides on a Friday afternoon.

Cow Palace Land Grab

For those interested in the “land grab” legislation proposed by State Sen. Scott Wiener (Senate Bill 281), be advised the bill was not heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee, and, therefore, cannot be considered until next January, at which time it would need approval by both that committee and the whole state senate to reach the assembly. A similar “land grab” was attempted 10 years ago by the ignominious Leland Yee and Daly City, which obtained an appraisal of the market value of Agricultural District 1-A’s 68 acres. Over 11 years ago, it was already $149 million. As amended, Wiener’s measure would require payment of current market value to the state, which owns the property, by San Mateo, Daly City, and San Francisco taxpayers. Daly City, whose Historical Society fiercely opposes the bill, is reputedly near insolvency. 

Simultaneously, Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, which would override local zoning to encourage high-rise apartment buildings in single-family housing neighborhoods, was “parked” in the Senate Appropriations Committee for 2019. A non-profit Los Angeles group investigation showed that in his 2016 campaign for the state senate, Wiener received $574,276 from almost 700 politico donations by developers, real estate attorneys, brokers, architects, lobbyists and other real estate insiders. Should he ever be elected to the U.S. Congress, I’d expect Wiener to foster legislation granting the United States government control over local zoning and planning processes!

Green Benefit District 

A beleaguered Dolores Heights taxpayer invites attention to a City Hall effort to establish a “Green Benefit District,” as a so-called “community benefit district,” levying an assessment on neighborhood property owners to fund cleaner sidewalks, streets, common areas, plus improved public safety. 

The 2019-2020 prospective San Francisco budget exceeds $11.5 billion. The assessment would raise $1 million, of which 33 percent would be spent on overhead. A Green Benefit District was formed covering Dogpatch. The executive director, appointed by ex-Mayor Ed Lee to a Board of Supervisors vacancy covering Telegraph Hill and North Beach, Julie Christensen, then promptly defeated for election by Aaron Peskin, receives $120,000 per year as the Dogpatch District executive director. Don’t Dolores Heights residents, who can’t deduct from their income taxes the proposed “assessment,” unlike business owners, already pay taxes for services respecting sidewalks, streets, common areas like parks and police and fire departments?

Let’s hope the City Hall “family” doesn’t attempt to organize a “Green Benefit District” in the Richmond, Sunset or West of Twin Peaks neighborhoods.

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

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