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Politics & Policy

San Francisco supervisors sure do expense some weird stuff

The Standard did a deep dive into expense reports for San Francisco supervisors, and the findings reveal some eccentric purchases. | Source: Illustration by Lu Chen/The Standard

San Francisco supervisors make more than $156,000 a year in total pay, which is probably less than what some of them would make in the private sector but $23,000 more than the median salary of city employees. But there’s an added perk: Each of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors also has access to two expense accounts worth up to $10,000 a year. 

Eligible expenses include office supplies, tech gadgets, furniture, travel and other items. The Standard recently obtained public records going back to the 2019-2020 fiscal year to see how supervisors have been billing their expenses to taxpayers. 

“There’s no slush fund,” said Angela Calvillo, the clerk of the Board of Supervisors who oversees some of these charges. “It’s important that the public can count on us and that we’re not mismanaging their money.”

Compared with the city’s $14.6 billion budget, the cost of supervisor expenses essentially amounts to an ugly penny in a sea of couch cushions. While there doesn’t appear to be any bombshells in The Standard’s findings, the reports do reveal more than a few eccentricities.

District 10: Shamann Walton, $29,411.87 since 2019

Life as a supervisor can be exhausting, from attending a steady stream of public meetings and award banquets to dealing with reporters who have nothing better to do than look into why you missed a reparations hearing because your flight got canceled after you were partying at a Colombian Hooters.

Sometimes, you just want to tune it all out.

Supervisor Shamann Walton, left, puts his $49 pair of ceremonial scissors to work during a business’ grand opening on Nov. 17, 2022. | Source: Camille Cohen/The Standard

Supervisor Shamann Walton can relate, because in early 2020, he expensed an $89 white noise machine to the Transportation Authority. (If only there were a joke for this.) Other fun purchases by the Bayview supervisor—whose staff did not respond to a request for comment—include a $49 pair of “ceremonial scissors,” a $14 desk calculator for when the abacus goes down and a $391 storage hutch, perhaps to hold the acrylic lacquer and paint the supervisor also purchased late last year. 

Walton’s total expenses were the highest of all supervisors, in part because city officials included charges he made for the final half of 2019, including a $3,120 parking spot on Goodlett Place next to City Hall. Those spaces, which can be shared with up to three staff members, eat up almost half of most supervisors’ annual $8,000 legislative account with the clerk of the board.

District 9: Hillary Ronen, $26,331 since 2020

Supervisor Hillary Ronen may be a bit checked out due to the exhausting nature of local politics, but no one on the Board of Supervisors over the last three years made more purchases to stay connected. Between June 2021 and May 2022, Ronen expensed 22 separate purchases to the Transportation Authority for portable chargers, solar chargers, battery chargers, car chargers, device cables and adapters, and wireless earphones.

Asked if she’d be open to discussing her expense reports, Ronen quickly replied by text: “The chargers etc are for all 5 of us in office - 4 aides and me.” The timing of these purchases came right at the end of the fiscal year, suggesting they might have been of the “use-it-or-lose-it” variety, which is common in government budgeting.

A side profile of a woman in a light sweater sitting in front of a dais with an open laptop.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen looks out into the Board of Supervisors chambers, perhaps wondering whether she packed enough chargers, cables and devices. | Source: Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Charges to Ronen’s legislative account mostly included office supplies and refreshments for events like Latin and Italian heritage month celebrations. In January, the supervisor also used her legislative account to pay her California Bar dues ($475).

District 7: Myrna Melgar: $25,085 since 2021

Supervisor Myrna Melgar’s biggest expense since 2021 was a $3,734 trip to Paris this spring to attend the Global Mobility Executive Forum. An avid cyclist and vice chair of the Transportation Authority, Melgar joined agency Executive Director Tilly Chang to accept an award at the forum after San Francisco registered the highest score in the world on the urban mobility index. It’s unclear if the judges considered the debauchery occurring in robotaxis.

While the Paris trip required a special exemption to the Transportation Authority, which normally caps annual expenses at $2,000, other charges Melgar billed to the city included tech equipment, a $487 office chair and a $412 top freezer refrigerator.

Supervisor Myrna Melgar enjoyed a wonderful trip to Paris during the spring, where she accepted an award on San Francisco's behalf. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Also worth noting, Melgar is one of only two supervisors—Dean Preston being the other—who forgoes the privilege of a premier parking space at City Hall. 

“I ride my bike to work, and Dean rides Muni,” Melgar said of the parking spots. “I think it’s a total waste of money.”

District 11: Ahsha Safaí, $24,862 since 2020

Ahsha Safaí is running for mayor, but he could be looking for a job outside of City Hall when he terms out at the end of next year. In the meantime, Safaí has invested in making sure his office is more comfortable. Charges expensed to the Transportation Authority since February include a sofa ($423), two side chairs ($400) and two end tables ($98). Interestingly, he also was the only supervisor to buy a shredder ($389) since 2020.

Ahsha Safaí was the only San Francisco supervisor to expense a shredder since 2020. | Source: Brian Feulner for The Standard

Safaí, who did not respond to a request for comment for this story, kept up subscriptions this year to the New York Times and the San Francisco Business Times, but he hasn’t expensed a San Francisco Chronicle subscription since 2020. Last July, the Excelsior supervisor and a staffer took a $464 trip to Ontario to attend an organized retail theft conference put on by the California Retailers Association. 

District 3: Aaron Peskin, $24,363.46 since 2020

After filing zero expense reports with the Transportation Authority for the first two-plus years of the pandemic, Aaron Peskin, president of the Board of Supervisors, decided to splurge on some office chairs ($700), a dining chair set ($357) and an Apple tablet ($361). 

As the supervisor whose district includes Chinatown, Peskin also has dedicated part of his annual legislative budget in past years to placing ads for Chinese New Year in papers like Sing Tao Daily and World Journal.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, places ads—and expenses them—in publications read by many of his constituents, including Sing Tao Daily and World Journal. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Peskin declined to comment on his expenses, saying via text the reports speak for themselves. He added, “I hereby request all of the SF Standard employees expense records.”

Gulp.

District 8: Rafael Mandelman, $23,886 since 2020

Rafael Mandelman has registered just six expenses with the Transportation Authority since 2021, but the charges to this agency had the highest average cost of any supervisor. Much of that can be attributed to a $2,173 trip to Anaheim to attend a conference for the California State Association of Counties.

“It was right next to Disneyland, but I did not go to Disneyland,” Mandelman said.

He noted that he is the city’s delegate to the state association, and attendance gives San Francisco a voice on key issues in California. “It means we’re part of statewide conversations about CARE Court, conservatorships and transportation and housing,” Mandelman said. 

Supervisor Rafael Mandelman takes a call, possibly about the status of his two-door mini fridge. | Source: Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Other expenses the Castro District supervisor reported include tech equipment, an adjustable desk ($467) and a two-door mini fridge ($196).

“It’s two doors, but it’s tiny,” Mandelman assured. “It goes up to your waist.”

District 1: Connie Chan, $23,005 since 2021

Since winning a 2020 election by a mere 123 votes, Supervisor Connie Chan has taken advantage of the parking privilege at City Hall, which makes sense considering she is coming all the way from the Richmond District. 

Supervisor Connie Chan during the Board of Supervisors meeting within the Board of Supervisors Chambers at City Hall in San Francisco, Calif. on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2023.
Supervisor Connie Chan listens during a Board of Supervisors meeting and perhaps ponders whether she should get the same fridge she noticed in colleague Myrna Melgar’s office. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard

Most of Chan’s $3,481 expenses to the Transportation Authority since 2021 went toward computer equipment, an office chair ($367) and a top freezer refrigerator ($432). Chan didn’t respond to a request for comment for this story, but Supervisor Myrna Melgar noted that she got her own fridge so staff could bring food for late-night meetings. Chan apparently felt a bit envious.

“She got the same one I did because she liked it so much,” Melgar said.

District 2: Catherine Stefani, $22,370 since 2020

Catherine Stefani is a Marina supervisor and an Apple woman, this much is sure. Since early 2020, she has purchased two iPhones and a Macbook, and in June of this year, she made 10 separate Apple purchases, from a digital pencil and mouse to a keyboard, cables and adapters. 

Supervisor Catherine Stefani is surrounded by Apple devices at a Board of Supervisors meeting at City Hall. | Source: Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Stefani, who did not respond to a request for comment, also appears to stay well-read with recent subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Economist. (Bonus: The Standard is still free.)

District 5: Dean Preston, $21,763 since 2020

Dean Preston deserves credit for saving taxpayer money and reducing his carbon footprint by eschewing a parking space, which costs almost $4,000 a year. But it appears the Haight and Tenderloin supervisor is also leaving a good chunk of money on the table while splurging on some unusual expenses.

Near the end of this past fiscal year ending June 30, Preston spent more than $4,000 with Intergraphics on “interpretation” services, according to a report filed with the board clerk. The report notes that at least part of this money went toward a June 15 town hall event, but The Standard couldn’t find any record of that event being promoted on Preston’s social media accounts or newsletters posted to his website.

A man in a light gray suit, blue tie and glasses glances to his left.
Supervisor Dean Preston, like many of his colleagues, expensed tech gadgets, which are ubiquitous in the Board of Supervisors chambers. | Source: Justin Katigbak for The Standard

On top of using half of his annual account expense account just on these interpretation services, Preston appears to have left more than $1,700 on the table. The prior fiscal year, Preston had $2,400 in remaining funds, despite dropping almost $1,100 on a TV from a vendor called Beta Nineties. Beyond the largesse of these purchases, most supervisors had hundreds of dollars or less remaining in their expense accounts at year-end.

Preston and his office did not respond to a request for comment for this story, but it’s possible the supervisor didn’t hear the message over the $760 Bose Bluetooth speaker system he purchased while sitting at a $477 dining table, both of which were charged to the Transportation Authority along with other tech gadgets and office furniture.

District 6: Matt Dorsey, $10,243 since 2022

A few months after Mayor London Breed appointed him supervisor, Matt Dorsey went out and bought a flag. And then another. And then another. And then one more, just so everyone knows Dorsey is not f#@$%!& around. Altogether, the old stars and stripes, a California flag, a Pride flag and a San Francisco flag set the city back a modest $64 total. 

“It’s funny,” Dorsey said about all the flags in his office, “because that jumped out at me, too.”

More expensive was a batch of 1,000 business cards with gold foil and the city seal. An expense report to the clerk of the board notes the cards cost $882, making them almost a dollar per card.

Supervisor Matt Dorsey appreciates a good flag, or four.
| Source: Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Dorsey, a former police communications director and unsurprisingly an avid reader, expensed subscriptions to the San Francisco Business Times, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. However, accountants with the Transportation Authority pushed back when Dorsey purchased a $684 subscription to the Chronicle. An agency spokesperson told The Standard that Dorsey was advised he didn’t need a print copy to smudge his fingers every day, and the supervisor agreed to drop the subscription down to a $207 package.

District 4: Joel Engardio, $5,546 since 2023

Joe Engardio has a long history of running up taxpayers’ tab thanks to the city’s public matching funds program for supervisor candidates. However, the fourth time proved to be a charm for Engardio, who in 2022 became the first person to defeat an incumbent supervisor in San Francisco since the city reenacted district elections a couple decades ago.

The Sunset supervisor’s legislative account included a parking space at City Hall, new business cards and a name placard, but it appears Engardio’s weakness is comfortable chairs. In late June, he spent more than $552 on a mesh-back chair in oberon black from Ask Ergo Works. Four days later, he expensed an additional $895 on an ergonomic chair to the Transportation Authority.

Supervisor Joel Engardio listens during a City Hall meeting on July 11, 2023
District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio has a real appreciation for a comfortable chair. | Isaac Ceja/The Standard | Source: Isaac Ceja/The Standard

Engardio told The Standard he was advised to use his budget allotment before the fiscal year ended, so he bought the chairs for his staff.

“If you see my office, we have a lot of wood chairs from back in the day,” Engardio said. “I still have one of the original chairs.”

Josh Koehn can be reached at josh@sfstandard.com