Born: Sacramento, CA, 1959
Current Gig: San Francisco Public Defender
Why should we vote for you?
I am the only candidate who has a track record of fighting for fiscal accountability in order to preserve basic services and jobs while standing up for this City's progressive values and the people of this City. I've taken on tough issues like police misconduct and pension reformissues that no other elected official would touch. I believe in merit-based decision-making, and would not be influenced by special interests or power brokers. I have run one of the most effective and efficient public law offices in the country. The public defender's office received the American Bar Association's top award for the best public law office in the country. I've also received the City's top managerial excellence award and have the experience to manage city departments. I have founded several organizations that are model collaboratives. Most importantly, I have an inclusionary style of leadership that would provide greater citizen participation in civic affairs and would bring honest and ethical government to SF.
List a few of your most significant endorsements.
I have received endorsements from the right and left of the political spectrum, from former Senator Quentin Kopp, who supports my fiscal reforms, to former Board President Matt Gonzalez, who supports me for my progressive values. I have been endorsed by a wide range of organizations, including the Chinese American Democratic Club, the Richmond Reform Democratic Club, Tenants Association Coalition, Tenant Rights Association and the Lower Fillmore Neighborhood Association.
Which one do you feel best exemplifies the reasons why you are running for mayor?
I am proud of them all, but the most important reason is that I will bring open, ethical, honest and transparent government to City Hall and decision making. I will be a Mayor that will stand up for San Franciscans.
What's your favorite place in San Francisco?
I love spending time at Golden Gate Park, riding my bike with my daughter when the streets are closed to traffic.
What is the single biggest issue facing San Francisco right now?
Retirement salaries are one of the greatest escalating costs facing our City. Our pension system is not sustainable. Every year, our pension costs are going up by over $100 million. Last year, a police officer earned $516,000 right before retiring. This retired officer is now entitled to receive a pension package of $240,000 each year for the rest of this officer’s life. This real-life case exemplifies the single biggest issue facing San Francisco right now: the City’s fiscal crisis, and ensuring that the pension system doesn’t bankrupt our City.
Pension reform will realign the City’s budget to prioritize our future: keeping schools open and restoring summer school, investing in job-creating micro-enterprise to get food on the table, reducing the licensing burdens on small business owners and restructuring the tax laws to make them fair. Without pension reform, the City faces near certain bankruptcy and I am the candidate who is not afraid to bring to light the backroom deals that compromise the future of this great City.
This is not to say that pension reform is the only problem. I believe on a federal level, the income tax laws must be reformed to ensure that the rich and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. I would also reform the business tax law in SF and move towards a gross receipts tax instead of a payroll tax, which discourages job growth and hiring. I would also identify and eliminate waste in government.
Whether and how we address pension reform is of crucial importance in this election. Since 2005, retirement costs have skyrocketed from $125 to $400 million a year. These costs will increase to $800 million annually in just the next four years without reform.
My reinvestment plan instead creates 28,000 new jobs and $4 billion dollars of new economic activity. Now is the appropriate time for San Franciscans to invest in the future.
Would you continue with the Central Subway construction project as planned or would you re-evaluate?
I strongly believe that the questions that have been raised by the Civil Grand Jury must be answered and addressed before the City moves forward. As Mayor, I would investigate the recommendations made by the SF Civil Grand Jury, which concluded that the Central Subway needs to reevaluated in light of the huge cost increases that are now coming to light for the first time. Originally projected in 2003 to cost approximately $650 million, the price tag has now escalated to a projected $1.6 billion, with the City on the hook for any potential cost overruns.
Furthermore, the addition of a new subway line will add to an existing operating deficit which will stretch the SFMTA’s existing maintenance environment to the breaking point. The project does not link the new line to existing Metro and BART lines, it ignores service to the Financial District, and ignores current 2011 transportation trends which virtually guarantee that it will be outdated by the time it opens several years from now.
As mayor, I would call for a hearing on the Central Subway project in order to review the issues identified in the grand jury report. This review should include potential redesigns of the project, or, if it’s the right thing to do, scrap the project altogether in favor of using existing SFMTA infrastructure to improve transit along the Chinatown-Financial District corridor. I will not have ordinary taxpayers pay for the special interests that would profit from this project and will move it forward only if the plan’s benefits to traffic flow in the City outweigh the budgetary burden and long-term maintenance and infrastructure costs of maintaining the Central Subway.
Do you support either of the two pension reform measures on the
I am the proponent, along with Civil Grand Jury former person Craig Weber, of Prop D, the measure that was placed on the ballot by 50,000 voters. The Civil Grand Jury spent two years studying pension reform and issued two reports: Beyond Our Ability to Pay (2009) and Pension Tsunami (2010). See sfpensionreform.com.
One of the greatest problems this City faces is its escalating pension and benefit costs for City employees. Currently, the City has a $4.3 billion unfunded liability for health care costs and a $4 billion unfunded liability in pension costs, that is driving the City’s contribution to the pension costs from $175 million five years ago to a projected $800 million in the next four years.
San Francisco needs its next Mayor to be firmly committed to solving this problem. Regardless of which measure is approved by the voters, additional reforms would be needed. As Mayor, I would be committed to solving this problem through a series of reforms that would include a separate health care reform measure.
In 2009, the civil grand jury issued a report showing that pension spiking was a problem in the police and fire departments, costing taxpayers $120 million. Additionally, in 2011, the Retirement Fund granted $170 million in “bonus” cost of living increases to pensioners, even though the City faced a $300 million deficit and the pension fund had lost money.
In 2010, I met with members of the civil grand jury who felt that their calls to reform the pension system had been ignored by elected officials. After I too urged Mayor Gavin Newsom and Board of Supervisors to take on this issue, I and others gathered signatures to place a pension and health care reform measure on the ballot in November 2010, when it garnered 116,000 YES votes, but failed to pass.
Taking what I learned from that experience, I retained former City Attorney Louise Renne’s law firm to help draft Proposition D for the November 2011 ballot. Proposition D improves on the earlier proposal by exempting workers who earn less than $50,000 from any increases in retirement contributions and sets a graduated contribution rate so that more highly paid employees will contribute to their retirement at a higher rate than lower paid employees. It also provides a fairer, more sustainable retirement reform system for new hires and prohibits pension spiking.
Proposition D, if approved, will be the largest fiscal austerity measure in the history of the City, saving taxpayers $1.7 billion over the next decade. It will enable the City to utilize some of the savings to prevent further cuts and even restore important City services.
When Mayor Ed Lee was appointed mayor, he pledged to address the City’s growing pension crisis. I supported his original measure, but his plan and the resulting cost savings were significantly weakened through the process of “meet and conferring” sessions with the unions, even though no negotiation was necessary because, since pension benefits are not subject to the requirement of collective bargaining. Lee’s plan also assumes a 7.75% rate of return, which all investors, including Warren Buffet, say is unrealistic. The pension has never realized more than an average of 5% over the past 10 years. Because Proposition D’s contribution rates are greater, it provides greater flexibility in the event that the pension fund earnings fall below the expected projections.
While Proposition C purports to address the pension crisis facing our City, it saves much less, and does much less in terms of pension spiking. It also fails to cap pensions and still allows some employees to receive 90% of the income they received while working. In short, it does not result in long-term, sustainable pension reform.
The proponents of Proposition C claim that Proposition D would more likely be subject to a legal challenge. Both C and D raise contribution rates, and it is likely that both will be challenged. Retirees have already said they would challenge Prop C.
Prop C addresses the $4.3 billion unfunded liability by requiring city employees to contribute .25% towards their health care costs beginning in 2016. I believe this is insufficient and would work to decrease the City’s health care costs while requiring a greater contribution, based on income.
Proposition C is 250 pages while Proposition D is 12 pages in length. Because these competing pension reform measures may be confusing to the voters, I have proposed a series of debates to assist voters in understanding the relative merits of the two pension reform measures. Unfortunately, Mayor Lee has declined this opportunity to inform voters so that the electorate can make an informed decision between the two pension reform measures. I hope Mayor Lee will reconsider his decision to have a full discussion of the two measures.
As rents in San Francisco continue to rise, there are fears that SF is becoming a luxury bedroom community for Silicon Valley, with working-class families being pushed out of the market. Would counteracting this transition be a priory in your administration?
As Mayor, I would slow certain housing in favor of adding affordable housing units and artist loft to counteract the trend of working-class families leaving San Francisco.
I will do more to make San Francisco affordable for the middle class and those of lesser means by continuing to disallow landlord to furnish good cause for eviction. Instead of developing luxury units at the current rate of 120% I would offer incentives to developers to slow this in favor of injection more affordable units onto the market; suitable for families and the working class. Development of artist lofts makes life more affordable for artists who could consolidate their work and home into a single space and I would specifically incentivize development to make housing affordable for the artists of San Francisco. Last but not least, I would have the communities involved in the planning process so that current residents can voice their concerns before development begins. Ideally the new development comes in a pricepoint within reach for the existing community. I also favor public-private partnerships and would bring in developers and community-based organizations committed to providing affordable housing to San Franciscans.
How well do you think BART has handled the recent string of protests? If SFPD were faced with a similar situation, which parts of what BART leadership and the BART police depart has done would you use as a model for what you would do and which parts would you avoid?
BART correctly acted to ensure the safety of riders, but I would not have shut down cell phone service. I thought that was irresponsible. The recent BART protest involved the state’s largest mass transit network; creating chaos throughout the Bay Area. Cutting off communication only compounded the chaos and impeded the riders’ right to communicate with loved ones. It is difficult to imagine a scenario where cutting off cell service would be warranted by the SFPD.
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