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With h brown

Photo(s) by Luke Thomas

Court Jester reviews Rules Committee hearing


By h. brown


March 16, 2007

"OK. We'll find out later what this is really about."

(Ammiano prefaces vote for Peskin ordinance)

The whole crowd laughed because they were all thinking the same thing: Board prez Aaron Peskin shimmied through another ordinance yesterday that more than doubles the power of the Assessment Appeals Board 2, and extend jurisdiction into Chris Daly's district.

District 6 Supervisor Chris Daly

Ominously, it was Item 13.

Oh, Tom voted for it, but he was suspicious, as was everyone in the audience (I actually attended) who has watched Peskin of late.

A suspicious Supervisor Tom Ammiano, Rules Committee Chair

That was at Rules Committee today.

The new ordinance will allow anyone who owns property in that portion of Daly's district downtown or SOMA and wants to appeal a tax assessment on a property either: worth up to 50 million dollars, or: having 4 units or less, to be considered before AAB2. Aaron laid it off as "balancing the work load" but I couldn't help wondering who this change might benefit. And, who's on Board Two? For that matter, who's on Board One? Or, even more importantly, who's on third?

Marcia Rosen looked fab

Normally I don't flirt with married women. OK, that's not true but it's the right thing to say.

I always sneak a wink at Rosen when I'm in the Board's den and she's there presenting some matter or other for the Redevelopment Authority she heads. She always smiles and chuckles.

Redevelopment Executive Director Marcia Rosen

Don't believe I've ever exchanged a word with the lady and that's kind of cool. I mean, I've always pretty much despised everything connected with Redevelopment, so it's nice to see at least one lovely rose sprouting in that minefield.

Who is Linda Cheu?

Next Tuesday the Board will confirm her as the newest member of the Redevelopment Authority's ruling body. I watched her sail through the committee and then I went home to google her name and see if she came up working for Warren Hellman.

Darn, I'm good. Seems she works as a Senior Associate of some sort for the 'Economics Research Associates'. Founded by? Why, it's Warren Hellman.

Recall the time a couple of years back when this body pushed Hellman's buddy, Tom Wiesel's bid to have San Francisco cover the cost of his SF Grand Prix bike race? Anyway, Economics Research Associates predicted Wiesel's event would not only pay for itself, but bring in millions. Course, it lost money and you picked up the bill.

So, anyway, that's where Ms. Cheu worked and now she's going to bring that good judgment to Redevelopment where billions are doled out to people like Wiesel. But, I'm sure she'll be impartial and that Hellman will have no influence over her whatever.

$5.43 million for vulnerable voting machines

My buddy, John Arntz was there to "capture" 5.43 million in federal HAVA funds (Help America Vote Act). HAVA was set up by Republicans, as best I can figure, to automate election fraud.

Yeah, it's hard to fill out all those absentee ballots. Anyway, the kernel here is that these machines can be programmed to throw an election, erase their fix and no one will know.

That's because they aren't 'open source' programs which would allow them to be checked for accuracy. They have labeled how they count your votes as being none of your business (proprietary).

Arntz assured the committee that he wasn't going to use the money to order the shaky technology. Not just yet.

The main attraction

The coolest people came to see the hearing exploring the needs of the sorely understaffed, Ethics Commision. Executive Director John St. Croix was a man tip-toing over a razor sharp picket fence.

Ethics' Executive Director John St. Croix

Hey, his department is sorely understaffed. However, it is intentionally understaffed so's it can't do what the voters wanted it to do when they passed Prop K that created it. You'd think St. Croix would want a full staff.

On the other hand, the man is an 'at will' employee and that means the commission can fire him at anytime. And the commission (appointees of Mayor, Board, Public Defender, D.A. and Assessor) is dominated by a Downtown thinking majority that doesn't want a stronger commission.

Oddly, the Mayor, as a supervisor, supported making the Ethics boss independent and free of influence from Room 200. Now, as Mayor, Gavin's changed his mind.

So, you get the Civil Grand Jury Foreperson (Mary McCallister) that studied Ethics and suggested full staffing and other changes to properly implement Prop K. And, Joe Lynn, Ethics guru (spent most of the last decade working at Ethics, first as staff, then as a commissioner), describing best practices at similar agencies around the state.

Civil Grand Jury Foreperson Mary McAllister

Ethics guru Joe Lynn, dutiful defender of ethics in governement

And, Bob Planthold from the Sunshine Task Force (formely, Chair of the Ethics Commission). And, Rick Knee who is also with the Sunshine Task Force. And, a number of City employees with anecdotal evidence of the inadequacy of Ethics.

Transparency in government defender Bob Planthold

First Amendment defender Richard Knee

You get all of these people calling for full staffing (they've been at 50% for 4 years because first, Willie Brown, then Newsom, refused to budget staff for them). And, you get St. Croix saying that he simply "wouldn't know what to do with them" if the Board voted full staffing.

It was sad. St. Croix seems like a nice enough guy but he came all the way from Boston and, let's face it, he's got one of those mythological swords hanging over his neck 24/7. Ammiano finally got him to say that perhaps he might be able to absorb another half dozen or so of the sorely needed infusion of workers as long as only two of them were investigators.

Lynn said that the best first step should be to put meetings of the commission on SFGTV. For 32k, they'd have another couple of thousand sets of eyes watching (and, re-watching) every hearing and analyzing same.

So, I'm guessing that a half dozen new hires and TV coverage is the best the City is going to get in the way of Ethics reform this year. We're gonna see.

Hob knobbing

Daveed, from Peskin's office was friendly enough. I asked him if he'd found out how much the breakwater in the Marina was going to cost and he said it would be cheap. I asked if he'd seen tape of the last hearing the Board had on the issue 5 years or so back in which experts predicted a disaster if the City built the same breakwater. He hadn't.

Peskin glared at me. He's pissed at me for suggesting that he's hen pecked. I apologize, Aaron, and will leave family members out of future columns until one becomes a candidate.

A glaring Board Prez Aaron Peskin

Elsbernd was friendly. He was surprised that I had bathed and was wearing a tie. So was I. Ammiano was in a good mood and that's a good thing. He'll be much better than Leno in the Assembly but I ain't backing Campos to replace him.

A friendly and widely respected Supervisor Sean Elsbernd (left)

Michael Strickland was snapping pics for his civiccenterblog.com (something like that) and was also in a great mood. What a gorgeous day again.

Master of digital capture Michael Strickland

Even Barbara Meskunas was all aglow. This lady is one of the quickest wits in the City and Ed Jew has wisely brought her in to da Hall as a legislative aide (she's a past prez of the umbrella group, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods. I think that was Howard Epstein she was talking to in the hall. Maybe a twin. All those silver fox Republican guys look alike to me.

Boris Delepine nodded gravely as he passed. Hell of a guy. John Avalos sat in the back row with me for a few minutes.

I ran into Michael Cohen on the stairs as I was leaving (you gotta cut back on the smoking, dude) and made my usual bad (big kernel of truth) jokes about him being the head of the Dome's 'Billionaire Boys Club'.

Cheaper than a movie

Even if you don't know anyone, a couple of hours at City Hall is fantastic entertainment. It's such an amazing building. I just wander looking at the ever-changing art exhibits on the Ground floor, all the way to the hearing rooms on 4. The light courts (thanks for saving them, Willie) make you proud to be a resident, and don't even get me started about the Board Chambers and the rotunda.

Sweet Spring...

h. brown is a 62 year-old keeper of sfbulldog.com, an eclectic site featuring a half dozen City Hall denizens. h is a former sailor, firefighter, teacher, nightclub owner, and a hard-living satirical muckraker. Email h at h@ludd.net.


Editor's Note: Views expressed by columnists published on FogCityJournal.com are not necessarily the views or beliefs of Fog City Journal. Fog City Journal supports free speech in all its varied forms and provides a forum for a complete spectrum of viewpoints.



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