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Thursday, April 14, 2011

D10 Budget Town Hall with Mayor Lee & Supervisor Cohen

Last night's D10 Budget Town Hall with Supervisor Cohen was not quite what I expected, and ended up being rather farcical.  First, questions were solicited from the audience on confusing, color-coded cards meant to identify the theme of each question.  Those cards were then submitted to handlers, who presumably sorted them and picked questions to be asked later.  The problems that ensued stemmed from organizers then asking the questioner to go up to a microphone to ask their question.  What happened was that people were suddenly given a forum to prattle-on at length (no time limits!!), not actually ask a question, and often not offer suggestions to the city's department heads and the mayor, which was supposedly why we were there.  The meeting devolved into diatribes by visibly angry people and our supervisor shouting at a resident to try to get him to end his outburst.  His outburst, by the way, was about trying to get a straight answer from Supervisor Cohen about whether she supported the city's local-hire law or not.  Her response left us all wondering if maybe she didn't, saying, "As a legislator, it is my duty to uphold the laws of the city, and this is one of those laws that I will uphold."  She never said that she supported the law, only that she would uphold it.  The audience member immediately caught this, and tried to press her on it.  The mayor took over from that point to assure the resident that the city is behind the law.

My suggestion to the organizers of the seven remaining budget town hall meetings: in a 10-minute segment, have the mayor explain what the city departments are already doing to reduce their budgets, and then have the moderator, presumably the supervisor for the district, READ the questions and suggestions that have been submitted by the audience and online.  DO NOT allow attendees to use the mic!!    Let the audience know that all their questions and comments will be compiled into a single document at the end of the forums and posted online for all to see.

The evening started with heads from various departments there to give a summary of what they're doing to help bridge the city's $306M budget deficit. At the table were: Supervisor Malia Cohen, Mayor Ed Lee, Greg Wagner (Mayors budget office), Maria Su (DCYF), Barbara Garcia (Dept Public Health), Jim Buick (Human Services Agency), Fred Blackwell (Redevelopment Agency), Chief Jeff Godown (SFPD), Sonali Bose (MTA), and Phil Ginsburg (Parks & Rec)

The outlook is slightly better than when Lee took office, down from a deficit of $380M to $306M. Still, without cuts and reorganization, the deficit would balloon to $480M next year and $642M the year after that. As such, departments have been told to come up with 20% in cuts to their budgets. But since these will only amount to a $180M reduction in expenditures, there are going to have to be more cuts, as the budget that is submitted MUST be balanced according to city bylaws. We were told that pension costs will increase $100M in the next year, and it looks like this may be a place that the mayor will be focusing a lot of his attention as a way to fix the problem.

The ONLY useful part of the evening was when three people spoke about the results of meetings that were designed to come up with suggestions for what the city needs to prioritize.

Shimon Walton spoke on the results of the Dept Children Youth and Families meeting, at which it was determined that the city needs to: preserve after school programs; preserve youth employment opportunities (Now there are a few hundreds of slots where there were 10000 years ago); improve prevention services and preserve family services

Jacob Moody BVHP Foundation spoke on the results of the Public Health meeting, at which is was determined that the city needs to: move communities to health; support coordination between departments; work on social capital development; promote prevention, better food, exercise, personal habits; key health issues were trauma, stress, post traumatic stress, post-slavery stress, violence as public health issue, chronic disease, environmental; have a collective vision and we need to know who's leading on this

Ms Davis spoke about the HSA meeting on the aged where it was determined that several cuts had already happened, and that not all depts give their 10%, meaning that we need to ensure fairness in govt agencies.  they discussed other ways to get money to aging services through philanthropy.

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