Commentary: Quentin L. Kopp

An anonymous wit once declared in the 1950s: “We don’t seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize it and then tax it out of business.” 

As the days dwindle down to the June 7 primary, maybe the public defender who became district attorney based upon approximately 35% of votes cast might invoke such doctrine to preserve his thin status. A “yes” vote is necessary to recall the charlatan DA by Proposition H. 

Be sure to vote against Proposition A, and its $400 million borrowing for non-binding projects which will cost taxpayers an additional $605 million over the next 30 years. 

Stop the Board of Supervisors’ effort to prevent future recalls of elected officials by voting “no” on Proposition C. 

No sooner had voters recalled three board of education members last February, than did Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduce legislation forcing the City and County to spend millions for the School District’s current operating expenses. The City and County constitutes an agency separate from the San Francisco Unified School District, particularly since 1972 when voters amended local law to allow voter choice for Board of Education commissioners and removed appointment control from the mayor. 

Meanwhile, the school district budget includes $27.8 million in 2021 for busing pupils to non-neighborhood schools, of which $22.5 million is spent for special education transportation. The School District continues to lose students, as are most California public school districts. As a public-school product, I intend to vote for Marco Amaral for California superintendent of public instruction. He’s the son of working-class immigrants and president of the South Bay Union School District, a registered Independent, teacher and Doctoral student in Education. Incidentally, Ronen’s proposal needs 55% voter approval in November. 

Speaking of supervisors, did you know that, although these district-elected legislators represent only about 75,000 residents, each is provided by taxpayers with four legislative assistants. Under the Annual Salary Ordinance for 2022-23, each assistant is paid annually $102,398 to $151,250, depending on the number of years of service, together with lush health and pension benefits. Prior to 1982, supervisors were allowed only two assistants while representing all of San Francisco. 

Unlike the other 57 California counties, San Francisco supervisors don’t exercise executive responsibilities, which are the mayor’s duties. Thus, supervisors logically are part-time legislators who have private employment or wealth. The current budget appropriates $148,118 for Board salaries, plus the aforementioned benefits. Many citizens have suggested restoration of at-large supervisorial elections. We restored them in 1980 after the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, but state law has changed. 

In 2002, the California Voting Rights Act was passed, specifically targeting at-large election systems by prohibiting such systems from “imposition” by impairing “the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.” If a city or county with at-large legislators tries to defend such system and loses in a non-jury trial (no jury is allowed), it will incur attorney fees of six or seven figures, regardless of the result. 

Sunset District resident Robert Guichard, who led the effort successfully in 1980 to restore at-large supervisorial selection, has ascertained that Santa Monica has spent about $8 million as of 2021 defending its at-large city council elections, Palmdale expended $4.5 million, Modesto spent $3 million, and Anaheim and Whittier lost more than $1 million each. 

The League of California Cities concludes that California judges have been more liberal in striking down at-large elections than even federal judges. Small cities on the Peninsula – like Millbrae, San Bruno, South San Francisco, Redwood City and Foster City – have now changed to district elections because of threats from lawyers specializing in the California Voting Rights Act. 

Last month’s disputes over changes in San Francisco’s 11 supervisorial district boundaries caused even the Chronicle and Examiner to criticize inferentially district elections and suggest returning to at-large supervisors; unfortunately, it seems legally impossible to this observer. We are stuck paying for these minor-league City Hall wonders and their ineffective 44 aides! 

While the mayor recommends a 2022-23 San Francisco budget of more than $14 billion (it was $13.7 billion this fiscal year and City Hall is still San Francisco’s largest employer, with UCSF, no private enterprise, second), California and Gov. Gavin Newsom are drowning in taxpayer funds. At the present time, California posseses a surplus of $97.5 billion. 

Gasoline prices, among others, break records, but something as simple as a $400 per car owner gasoline tax rebate by the governor generated objections from Democratic legislative leaders. 

George Skelton of the L.A. Times reminded readers on May 16, Newsom’s proposal is the first state budget to exceed $300 billion in history. In 1963, he recalled, it was the first $3 billion state budget, 100 times smaller than what Newsom wants! At $3.2 billion, that 1963 budget signed by Democratic Gov. Pat Brown would be about $31 billion in 2022 dollars. California’s population was 17.5 million in 1963; today it’s population is 56% higher. The population, unlike the state budget, did not increase 300%! 

In plainer words, state government spends but doesn’t know how to return surplus to taxpayers. Maybe it’s because we had “part-time” legislators in 1963, unlike 2022, and California wasn’t a one-party state. In 2010, Californians were paying 25-30 cents more in gasoline taxes than the national average. Now they pay about 70 cents per gallon in state and local gasoline sales taxes compared to approximately 20 cents in Arizona and Texas. Newsom’s proposed gas tax rebate might result in electric vehicle owners even securing a check. It probably won’t happen. 

Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation as a U.S. Supreme Court justice reminds me of President Joe Biden’s comments during U.S. Senate confirmation hearings to recommend confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas’s appointment 30 years ago. Biden pronounced the racial insult that if Clarence Thomas wasn’t black, he wouldn’t have been appointed by then President George Bush. How is that different from his pre-election promise that his first Supreme Court appointee would be a black female? It’s the epitome of hypocrisy and Justice Thomas is now the court’s longest-serving justice. May Justice Jackson emulate such service. 

As we enter the summer season, I’m reminded that President Herbert Hoover was the first president to give his salary back to the government. Nowadays, the government would like everybody to do it.

If you haven’t already voted for state candidates, I recommend David Hillberg for lieutenant governor (he’s an Independent); State Senator Steve Glazer of Contra Costa County for controller (he’s a Democrat); Jack Guerrero, a former mayor, council member and still a certified public accountant, for treasurer; Ann Marie Schubert, who has been a district attorney for 30 years and is Sacramento County’s DA, and an Independent, for attorney general; and Sally Lieber, a Democrat, for yet another governmental body which shouldn’t exist anymore, the Board of Equalization. 

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Commission and retired judge. Find an archive of his columns at

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