Commentary – Quentin Kopp

Burdens of Bloated Bureaucracy

By Quentin Kopp

Upon his Aug. 19, 1977 death, commentators recalled comedian Groucho Marx’s alleged observation: “Politics is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies.” Local taxpayers experience the dysfunction of 11 supervisors (each paid more than $140,000 per year) and one mayor (paid nearly $336,000 annually) unable to enact an ordinance “reforming” an allegedly ineffective mental healthcare system. Instead, each wants to force voters to enact an ordinance by two competing ballot measures next March. A charter amendment requires voter approval by a ballot measure; an ordinance does not. Instead, SF Supervisors Matt Haney and Hillary Ronen eschew an ordinance in favor of passing the buck to voters. So does Mayor London Breed. What do we pay them to do?

Additionally, city government already contains 122 boards and commissions. I don’t just mean the Planning Commission, Fire Commission, Police Commission, Public Utilities Commission, Recreation and Park Commission and Civil Service Commission of the 1932 Freeholders Charter revision. I mean continuing establishment of costly commissions. Last month, SF Supervisor Shamann Walton proposed a March 2020 charter amendment to create a sheriff’s commission. The same Supervisor Haney plus supervisors Walton, Hillary Ronen, Gordon Mar and Aaron Peskin espouse a “Commission on Homelessness and Supportive Housing!” Why? Maybe because it makes them feel better to add bureaucracy.

As I write, local election results are unknown, including the sickening process of replacing the former district attorney who resigned last month to take his prosecutorial ignorance to Los Angeles County to oust a two-term incumbent, Jackie Lacey, who’s actually tried and convicted hundreds of criminals in her stellar career. We do know more public funding has been given to San Francisco politicians. Public campaign financing, which columnist Dan Walters noted three years ago, is the “holy grail for Common Cause and other political reform advocates.” No study has ever shown public financing reduces private campaign contributions or those understandably bewailed “independent expenditure” committees whose identities mystify voters. 

In 1988, two other California legislators and I successfully sponsored Proposition 73, banning taxpayer money for state and local elected office candidates. The California Supreme Court later ruled that charter cities like San Francisco are exempt from such prohibition. (Six California charter cities have adopted public financing.) In 2016, legislators passed a bill to allow non-charter cities and the state itself to adopt public financing despite a legislative counsel opinion that doing so “would require voter approval in order to become effective.” The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and I thereafter sued to invalidate that legislation. We won. I’m confident the California Court of Appeal will affirm that Sacramento County Superior Court decision. Instead of litigating and trying to undermine the initiative system, why doesn’t Common Cause and its allies present a ballot measure to voters next year and demonstrate belief in the rule of law?

That’s a rule repeatedly ignored by the legislature. Last month, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved Senate Bill 225 by Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, D.-Los Angeles, which astonishingly makes illegal aliens in California 18 years of age or older eligible for appointments to state boards and commissions. Consider that such persons can’t vote (yet!) and dodge federal immigration officers in this “sanctuary” state, but can now implement laws enacted by the legislature and governor. 

Simultaneously, a police sergeant in Fresno exclaimed that it’s useless to issue a citation or arrest a person who would undoubtedly be released immediately from county jail (that’s certainly true in San Francisco). Bear in mind stealing anything less than $950 is now a misdemeanor, not a felony, usually resulting in no punishment. On the other hand, the political sophisticates and “progressives” who advocate death of the bail system illuminated this past summer their hypocrisy and ignorance after a San Francisco Superior Court judge released from jail without bail a man accused of battery, attempted robbery and false imprisonment by attacking a woman entering her apartment building on Beale Street. Such hypocrites ignore the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, which grants the accused criminal the right to a speedy, public trial and the Eighth Amendment, which declares that excessive bail “shall not be required …,” and the California Constitution, which establishes in Article I, Section 12 the right to release on bail which must not be excessive and in an amount considering the seriousness of the accusation, defendant’s previous criminal record and defendant’s probability of appearing at trial or any pre-trial hearing. When the stupidity of such no-bail release was revealed regarding this defendant, who has no local address, the mayor and several supervisors condemned Superior Court Judge Christine Van Aken. 

The most “progressive” district attorney candidate last month characterized the money bail system as morally, fiscally and intellectually bankrupt, implying “… wealth determined criminal justice outcomes ….” Contrary to that deputy public defender, the wealthy defendant doesn’t buy his/her “way out of jail regardless of how dangerous they (sic) are.” Every judge I know conducts a hearing regarding a defendant’s constitutional entitlement to release with or without bail. As Earl Newsom noted in 1963, however: “Today’s public opinion, though it may appear as light as air, may be tomorrow’s legislation – for better or for worse.”

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

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