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Politics & Policy

Supervisors to tackle sanctuary rules, sex work and … socialism?

Supervisor Hillay Ronen (center) and other City Supervisors during a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Supervisors return from their holiday Tuesday to consider what has up until now been just talk—some meaningful, some merely idle and all controversial. Top of the list: policy statements on the city’s sanctuary ordinance, a call to legalize sex work, and the fate of remote public comment. 

As usual, the wonks can see all the kit and caboodle in this week’s agenda.

Talk Radio at the Board Likely to Stay—For Now

NAACP Coastal Area Director Dan Daniels Sr. makes a public comment during a City Hall meeting in 2019. | Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images

Supervisors are set to decide the future of remote public comment at board and committee meetings Tuesday.

On Monday, the board’s Rules Committee decided to send, with no recommendation, a motion to end most remote public comment to be heard by the full board. A “no recommendation” vote typically portends failure at the full board.

Like many government bodies, the board suspended rules to allow for members of the public to call in their comments during the pandemic. 

On one hand, supervisors got to hear from many more everyday people who may not have the time to show up at City Hall in person, notably newly minted citizen activists drawn to issues like housing or pedestrian safety. 

On the other hand, the added volume of sometimes weaponized public testimony made for exhausting marathon meetings, as evidenced during last year’s redistricting controversy that left members of a task force shellshocked. 

Made by Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, the motion was first heard by the committee on Feb. 6, where it generated over two hours of hostile public comment, much of it phoned in. 

“We have to recognize that to continue unlimited remote public comment, including by callers who may have no relationship to San Francisco, comes at a cost, both in terms of resources, and our ability to conduct business effectively,” Mandelman on Sep. 13 before making the motion, which has had mixed reaction from board colleagues.

Apart from that issue, public comment at the Board of Supervisors has always had a reputation for often devolving into something resembling a circus, or perhaps a parade of sometimes-amusing Dutch uncles and aunts.

But pre-Covid public comment took place during business hours, and speakers were often limited to closely interested parties, lobbyists and gadflies—and the motion to remove remote dial-in options ended up garnering another round of boos at Monday’s meeting of the Rules Committee. 

The committee then heard a presentation from Deputy City Administrator Jennifer Johnston with guidelines adopted by Mayor London Breed’s office for other boards and commissions. Those guidelines recommend that remote public comment continue, but potentially be time-limited for those who don’t request accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Committee Chair Matt Dorsey attempted to amend the motion “to reflect the status quo” until proper amendments to board rules could be hashed out, but these were rejected by committee members Ahsha Safai and Shamann Walton.

Sanctuary Signaling

Tuesday’s agenda also showcases another of the more ridicule-prone aspects of board business: resolutions that have no concrete impact, but serve as a statement of values. 

Supervisors often use resolutions to pass important budget items or jump-start serious policy. Nevertheless, the board has gained a reputation for passing “resos” best described as … aspirational. 

The most consequential such item at Tuesday’s meeting is from District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who wants to urge the federal government to “reject the recent attack on San Francisco’s long-standing Sanctuary Ordinance.”

Ronen’s resolution comes in response to a request from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for declared exceptions to the city’s sanctuary law, which shields criminal suspects from immigration authorities. The exemptions would apply to two suspects who allegedly fled the country to avoid standing trial in a murder case and a child rape case.

SF District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is seeking exemptions to San Francisco's sanctuary city policy. | Han Li/The Standard

Mayor London Breed introduced ordinances to provide those exceptions on behalf of District Attorney Brooke Jenkins earlier this month; Ronen has decried the move as giving in to “unnecessary and dangerous political gamesmanship” by DHS. 

Ronen supports extraditing the suspects but believes the mayor’s ordinances are unnecessary and possibly impugn the sanctuary law.  

The issue coincides with another bill related to the sanctuary law introduced by District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, which would remove fentanyl dealers from its protections

Dorsey proposed the bill in response to the open-air fentanyl dealing plaguing the city’s Civic Center and Tenderloin neighborhoods, and the ongoing controversy over whether dealers, many of whom are undocumented immigrants, should be protected from deportation. 

Ronen’s resolution, which is cosponsored by Supervisors Shamann Walton, Dean Preston, Myrna Melgar and Connie Chan, is an attempt to circle the wagons against what is seen as an attack on the sanctuary law, which was passed in 1989.

Sex Work Legalization, at Some Future Date?

Ronen has another controversial resolution on tap this week, calling on the city’s legislative delegation in Sacramento to legalize sex work. 

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, you’ve certainly seen the deluge of national press on this one. Ronen complains it has misconstrued the bill, aimed at blunting the nuisance posed by street sex work on Capp Street

But like a lot of ”aspirational” resos, the valence of Ronen’s sex work resolution could be called into question. 

“I have not heard from Supervisor Ronen,” said Assemblymember Matt Haney, who represents the 17th Assembly District, which includes the supervisor’s troubled neighborhood.

“The bill introduction deadline was two weeks ago and no bill that I’m aware of that would create legalized prostitution [or] red light districts was introduced,” Haney wrote in a text message. “It’s not a concept I am working on nor support based on what I’ve heard.”

In response, Ronen said that she was “sorry to hear that Assemblymember Haney is not open to discussing or supporting legislative options to address these issues.”

“My resolution is meant to start a conversation about long term solutions to preventing sex worker tracks in residential neighborhoods and protecting sex workers from violence and trafficking,” Ronen said.

Red Diaper Changing Station

We have a final resolution to consider—this time, in response to yet another resolution with little practical impact. 

Supervisor Dean Preston is asking the board to formally denounce a resolution passed by Congress earlier this month that condemns “the horrors of socialism,” and then details a number of historical crimes committed by communist regimes.

Consulting any number of political science textbooks will reveal a historical differentiation of communist regimes from socialist ones, much as how mercantilism has been differentiated from capitalism. The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Maria Salazar (R-Florida), fails to do that. 

Nevertheless, the bill passed easily not only with support of red-baiting Republicans but also many Democrats, including Silicon Valley Progressive Ro Khanna and San Francisco’s own Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi, who received a fulsome commendation from the supervisors on the day Preston introduced his resolution. 

But Preston, a card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America, also muddies the distinction in his resolution by defining “red-baiting” as “persecuting someone on account of sympathies for communist, socialist, or similar left-aligned ideologies,” ensuring that any reaction to the resolution will continue a particularly meaningless cycle of rhetorical churn.

It’s enough to make one wonder how stuck in the mud of rhetorical muddle our board is.