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Politics & Policy

Supervisors preview: Tourism taxes, Laguna Honda and tough questions

The Westin St. Francis hotel seen along Powell Street in San Francisco. | Getty Images | Source: Jessica Christian/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

This week’s Board of Supervisors docket seems deceptively light: While there are a measly 26 items on the agenda (wonks click here for the full kit and caboodle), a couple items stand out as potentially quite heavy. 

Those include an update on the troubled Laguna Honda Hospital and an assessment hearing for the city’s newly expanded Tourism Improvement District. Plus: Mayor London Breed fields questions on transit and street conditions. 

Question Time

Mayor London Breed speaks at a press conference in San Francisco City Hall on Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. The Mayor spoke in support of The City of San Francisco’s lawsuits over forced Laguna Honda Hospital’s threatened closure. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

At her monthly appearance before the board, Breed will take questions from District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman. Preston’s question will focus on public transit, while Mandelman’s will focus on homelessness and street conditions. 

Preston has been at loggerheads with Mayor Breed and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Director Jeffery Tumlin since the agency drastically cut back transit service in March 2020 in response to Covid lockdowns. 

As SFMTA restored service incrementally, amid talk of using the period to redesign routes for better efficiency post-epidemic, Preston has repeatedly called for restoration of the legacy routes his constituents are accustomed to. He garnered some victories in this area, including the restoration of the 21 Hayes back in July. 

Meanwhile, Mandleman has been juggling a hot plate laden with issues around homelessness and its effects on public safety and quality of life in his district. These include a call for a dramatic increase in shelter space to get more people experiencing homelessness off the streets more quickly and more robust implementation of state conservatorship laws

He’s also a co-sponsor, with District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, of District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey’s resolution in support of an initiative called “San Francisco Recovers,” a to-be-determined citywide plan for more aggressively vectoring the city’s drug abusers into rehabilitation. 

Hotel Taxes

Carl Skillern, Jo Robinson, front row, Melissa Cormack, 16, Becca Cormack, 18 and mother Therese Cormack on SF Love Tour on Sunday, June 12, 2022 in San Francisco. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

Last June, the board voted to renew and expand the city’s Tourism Improvement District, which was first established in 2008 to tax hotels for funds to upgrade Moscone Center and provide an operations funding stream for the Convention and Visitors Bureau (now known as the San Francisco Travel Association or SFTravel). 

The assessment hearing in support of that decision happens at this week’s meeting. It will also involve counting votes, as every hotel in the city is entitled to a weighted vote, based on their revenue, on the matter.

Assuming all goes well with the balloting of district stakeholders, supervisors will then pass a resolution extending the life of the district for another 15 years, with some changes: 

    The move comes amid a mild recovery in the tourism industry, which faced a serious downturn last spring but has since ticked up modestly with a 67% increase in hotel occupancy over last year, according to SFTravel. 

    Recovery to pre-Covid levels is not expected until 2025, however. Prior to the pandemic, Moscone Center hosted dozens of large events annually and accounted for more than 20% of the city’s tourism industry. 

    Laguna Honda Update

    The exterior of Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco on Thursday, July 21, 2022. | Juliana Yamada/The Standard

    The board will also hear an update on efforts to restore operations at Laguna Honda Hospital. 

    A longtime home for the city’s most vulnerable residents, Laguna Honda was forced to start transferring their 700-plus patients to other hospitals after the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services dropped them from their program, alleging issues with patient monitoring, record-keeping, and other concerns. 

    Last June, supervisors heard about the “kafkaesque” catch-22 the hospital was put in by having to close down in order to requalify for Medicare and Medicaid services, which account for two-thirds of the facility’s budget.

    Subsequent patient transfers have led to deaths, and in early August the city sued the federal government to keep the hospital open. Later that month, regulators granted a two-month extension for the facility.