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Politics & Policy

Cleaning up other people’s messes: Supes roundup

Sup. Catherine Stefani takes notes during a Board of Supervisor’s meeting at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, May 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen

Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting extended long into the night as members grappled with some significant quandaries ranging from two bitter labor disputes to the continuing opprobrium over Mayor London Breed’s office requiring some commission appointees to sign preemptive resignation letters. 

Update on Police Reform

An update from the San Francisco Police Department on the reform partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice was the first of three hearings Tuesday.

SFPD Chief Bill Scott and staff reported only incremental progress in achieving reform goals since this past spring, including analysis, revised policies and training to remove implicit bias from policing. This prompted some skeptical questioning from Supervisor Dean Preston and others. 

Asked by Preston why “progress on reforms were not meaningfully changing existing disparities” in enforcement, Scott noted that new traffic enforcement policies, including the abolition of “pretext stops,” which he described as a main driver of disparities, should be finalized and adopted by year's end. 

Scott also cited technology issues as a factor in the reform process, stressing the need for a new record-keeping system and dashboards to track officer conduct. 

Asked by board President Shamann Walton when remaining DOJ recommendations would be met, Scott replied that the process should be completed in four years, with many recommendations completed in two. The hearing was continued to February.

Worker Struggles at Kaiser, SFO

Food service employees employed at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) protest with their Union Unite Here Local 2 for better wages on August 18th, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. | Katie Rodriguez for The Standard

The supervisors also held hearings on strikes at health provider Kaiser Permanente and the San Francisco International Airport

Mental health clinicians at Kaiser are striking over the provider’s alleged failure to provide timely care as provided under state law. The California Department of Managed Health Care has also investigated Kaiser over the issue, which, according to testimony, has existed for several years. 

Kaiser serves over 55% of San Francisco’s city employees, and while some of those testifying noted otherwise good medical care, they reported serious deficits in mental health care, with patients’ conditions exacerbated by long wait times. Many do not have the financial or emotional resources to follow through on out-of-network or delayed care. 

Emotional testimony from clinicians and patients characterized Kaiser’s operations as increasingly under the influence of its more profit-oriented allied medical groups, failing to address increasing caseloads, and treating fines levied by state agencies for previous violations as the cost of doing business. 

Supervisor Gordon Mar relayed a horror story of his own, where his daughter had to wait two months for an appointment, and another two months for a follow-up appointment, causing her to give up and seek treatment elsewhere. 

One significant outcome of the meeting is that Supervisor Hillary Ronen will call for the early standing up of an Office of Private Health Care Insurance Accountability, which is part of the Mental Health SF policy framework she drove and got approved in 2019. She also called for Gov. Gavin Newsom to intervene in the crisis. 

Later in the session, the board held a hearing on labor issues at SFO, where food and beverage concession workers have not had a raise in over four years, and concessions are increasingly using non-union workers. 

At issue along with the years-long freeze in pay has been some concessions not honoring or being aware of the labor peace agreements which come with their leases, which mandate allowing workers to organize. 

An issue on the other side has been that SFO administrators have apparently not updated their street pricing policy, which limits the ability of concessions to raise their prices to no more than 10% over those of city restaurants. Other airports in the state have allowed raises up to 18% over town prices. 

“The city has us in a vise grip,” said a representative of the Multi-Employer Group representing concessionaires, who also offered, along with SFO staff, to better educate new concessionaires about their labor contract obligations. 

This came after Supervisors Rafael Mandelman and Aaron Peskin cited legislation approved by the board during the pandemic that gave concessions significant rent breaks. Peskin noted that more than half of concession leases were coming up for renewal soon. 

“We will, as a matter of policy, deny lease after lease until this matter has been favorably resolved,” Peskin asserted, reading off the names of thirty concessionaires, including nationwide company Host International

Commission Messes

Lobbyists and aides occupy the same space at City Hall on Sept. 3, 2019. | Mike Ege

Supervisors also dealt with prickly issues around commission appointments, not the least of which is the matter now christened #Resignationgate: the fracas over Mayor London Breed’s administration requiring at least some commission appointees to submit preemptive resignation letters. There were, however, other problematic issues. 

During an item regarding appointments to an advisory body dealing with affordable housing policy, Supervisor Myrna Melgar attempted to have the appointment of one person—former head of the Coalition of Community Housing Organizations Peter Cohen—sent back to committee. 

In discussion, Melgar asserted that she found Cohen “to have really problematic interactions with women,” including “bullying and talking over people.” Although supported by Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Matt Dorsey, and Ahsha Safai, the attempt failed in a 4-7 vote. You can read more on this story here

Meanwhile, the resignation letters controversy prompted an attempt by Peskin, Preston and Ronen to continue the appointments of two planning commissioners, Rachael Tanner and Derek Braun, along with three members of the Public Utilities Commission, including former Supervisor Sophie Maxwell. Recent disclosures from the Mayor’s Office revealed Braun to be among those who submitted undated resignation letters. 

Other Supervisors were less enthusiastic about the idea. The motion to continue failed 4-7.

“We can beat ‘Resignation Letter-Gate’ to death at another meeting,” Stefani said during discussion. “This is not our mess, but we clean up a lot of other people’s messes, and we need a functioning Planning Commission.” She further derided the move as “political theater.”

The issue nevertheless came up again, as expected, during Roll Call, when Preston asserted that the affair “eroded confidence in our commissions.” 

He announced letters of inquiry to the mayor and to all commissions and commissioners to find out how widespread the practice of requiring undated resignation letters from appointees was, as well as an “emergency special hearing” to investigate the practice further. 

This will be followed up by legislation banning any appointing authority from engaging in the practice, and voiding existing letters.  

“I look forward to working with all of you to ensure transparency and accountability regarding these practices,” Preston said, “and to restore confidence in the important work of our commissions.”

Correction: A previous version of this article mischaracterized Supervisor Myrna Melgar’s remarks regarding the behavior of commission applicant Peter Cohen.