Commentary: Quentin L. Kopp

Lawsuits and Recalls

Will Rogers observed: “If we got one-tenth of what was promised to us in the State of the Union speeches, there wouldn’t be any inducement to go to heaven.”

In San Francisco, we’re hardly able to qualify the School District for heaven with an elected Board of Education which hates American institutions and practices history revisionism. 

The Board’s violation of the Brown Act at its Jan. 26 meeting demonstrates its stultifying deception of constituents and taxpayers. The meeting agenda notice referred to discussion of an advisory committee’s report on 44 school renaming recommendations. That’s what citizens would have expected at the public meeting. Instead, the Board adopted, 6-1, a resolution instantly requiring obliteration of the names Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Lowell, among others, from taxpayer-supported public schools.  

Initiated by Paul Scott, a North Beach attorney with two public school pupils, the George Washington Alumni High School Association, Lincoln High School Alumni Association, Lowell Parent-Teachers Association, San Francisco Taxpayers Association, Lope Yap and John L. Burton, former congressman, state senator, assemblyman, State Democratic Party Chairman and Lincoln alumnus, sued the School District and Board for violating the 1953 Brown Act, which controls all public entities. The San Francisco Superior Court swiftly acknowledged the suit’s validity, issuing an alternative writ of mandate ordering the Board to repeal the illegal resolution or show cause on April 29 why it hadn’t done so. 

The suit also discloses incorrect history was cited by the advisory committee and utilized by the Board in adopting its Jan. 26 resolution. The plaintiffs are entitled under California law to recover their attorney fees and court costs once a writ of mandate is ordered by the Superior Court this month. Concomitantly, a group of San Francisco voters began last month the recall of three of seven Board members, President Gabriela Lopez, Vice President Alison Collins and Faauuga Moliga, which, if successful, should send a message to the other four.  

A lawyer representing George Washington High School Alumni Association notified the Board Feb. 17 that it had violated the California Environmental Quality Act in abolishing 44 school names, adding that federal historic review may also be required, plus consideration of the affected schools’ eligibility for the California Register of Historical Resources and National Register of Historic Places “…. due to alteration of physical features as well as removal of associations with historical persons.”  Susan Brandt-Hawley, the lawyer, reminded the Board: “Criticism of the process and import of renaming has already spread throughout California, our nation, and internationally.”  On April 8, Brandt-Hawley will appear in Superior Court to obtain a court order stopping “destructive actions,” meaning removal of a mural (“Life of Washington”) from Washington High School.

Such capriciousness by the School Board invites recapitulation of events leading to the 1971 San Francisco Charter amendment changing mayoral appointment of seven members to electing citywide all members. I plead guilty. 

In 1970, the Board unilaterally decided San Francisco elementary schools were racially segregated, despite no law or resolution supporting such ideologue reasoning, and instituted citywide busing for elementary school pupils. I was personally involved because my two sons, who attended Lafayette School two blocks from their home, were bused. Despite litigation to stop such illogic, the Board ignored all opponents, including Chinese American parents of Commodore Stockton School and Jean Parker School students who regularly and faithfully attended Chinese language schools in Chinatown after school. As readers should know, Chinese American children had, under the California Education Code, been the objects of “insidious racial discrimination” in the 19th century and weren’t allowed to attend any but one nearby public school. (Japanese, American Indians, and “other children of Mongolian ancestry” had to attend the same school.)  Such  law wasn’t repealed until 1907. Thus, Chinese-American children had been the object of racial discrimination and segregation and had a constitutional right to attend “desegregated” schools. They didn’t want to. I represented them, unsuccessfully, in U.S. District Court litigation to stop the School Board from assigning them to grade schools outside Chinatown.

Then-Supervisor John Barbagelata and I led an initiative to amend the 1932 Charter by electing School Board members. Supported by Mayor Joseph Alioto and public school parents, we secured signatures for inclusion on the November, 1971 local ballot. Voters readily approved it.  

The first election was November 1972. Unfortunately, only three of the seven elected to the Board voted to halt busing, which has cost taxpayers hundreds of million of dollars since then and contributed mightily to public school enrollment decline from 92,000 in 1972 to 52,000 currently. The present Board defies a selection system I helped create 50 years ago. I prefer Mayor London Breed’s judgment to Board members whose election appears attributable to the Teachers’ Union and Democratic County Central Committee, the two most interested entities in deciding School District governance. 

Although counting gubernatorial recall signatures isn’t complete, it appears that approximately 2.1 million signers ensures a recall election in 2021. Under the Charter (Section 14.103), such a recall election permits consolidation of a recall commenced last month to remove District Attorney Chesa Boudin for dereliction of duties, waste of taxpayer money of nearly $400,000 in annual compensation, distorting criminal justice data, causing crime increases in neighborhoods, and malfeasance. To qualify, the recall sponsors need 51,000 ballot signers by Aug. 11. Thirty proponents include Democrats, Independents and remaining San Francisco Republicans. Boudin answers by claiming he was elected to “reform a legal system that criminalizes poverty …” and “ignored root causes of crime ….”  He claims this is a “Republican-initiated effort that will cost taxpayers millions of dollars.”  Of course, there aren’t many registered Republicans in San Francisco, so that’s a “dead horse,” and such a recall can be combined with Board of Education and the gubernatorial recalls in late 2021. The recall committee email is The telephone number is (415) 349-0106.  Let’s hope it’s successful.  

Ronald Reagan declared more than 30 years ago: “We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, that society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.  It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Boudin appears more invested in the interest of criminals than their victims.

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

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