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The San Francisco budget: a user's guide

The Public Press
 — Jun 8 2009 - 4:35pm

Welcome to San Francisco’s lean and mean 2009 budget season. It’s going to be a brawl.

As Mayor Gavin Newsom seeks to eliminate a $438 million deficit, mainly through cuts to city staff and services, the board of supervisors and numerous opposition groups will be haggling over the brutal details through July 1.

While much of the current debate centers on how to spread the pain, some groups and supervisors are calling for new revenue measures to avoid decimating city services.

There is also a running debate about whether the budget disproportionately hurts the poor while increasing funds for fire and police services. In the coming months the Public Press will be keeping a close eye on the impact of the budget's fine print -- and promoting dialogue and inquiry into how we got into this mess. We'll also be examining new policy approaches that might help us out of it.

Below you’ll find our quick-and-dirty user's guide to the budget process, including snapshots of the pivotal budget players, a look at some of the leading budget opposition groups and interactive charts comparing this year's proposed budget allocations with those of previous years. We invite your tips and feedback. Send comments to citybudgetwatchdog [AT]

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Meet the Key Players

As the budget passes from Newsom's staff to the supervisors, let's pause a moment to meet some of the key players in the budget setting process.

Nani Coloretti: Budget Director

Newsom's lead budget official, Coloretti told the Chronicle that trimming the budget is "like trying to lose that last 15 pounds of weight. We're gaining weight right now, and getting farther from our goal." Before her current role, Coloretti served as Newsom's deputy policy director, then policy director, after first serving as director of budget & policy for the city's Department of Children, Youth and Families. Prior to her city work, she was employed as an economics consultant, public policy practice group coordinator at Law and Economics Consulting Group. At the mayor's budget presentation last week, Newsom enthused, "If anyone deserves a round of applause, it's Nani Coloretti," according to SF Appeal.

Coloretti’s cast of budget helpers includes:
Gigi Whitley, Deputy Budget Director
Greg Wagner, Deputy Budget Director
Kate Howard, Senior Fiscal and Policy Analyst
Rebekah Krell, Senior Fiscal and Policy Analyst
Meghan Wallace, Fiscal and Policy Analyst
Manish Goyal, Fiscal and Policy Analyst
Jonathan Lyens, Fiscal and Policy Assistant


The budget proposal is online. The Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee will be doing the heavy lifting to steer the board's budget revisions to the mayor. Below are snapshots of the key players:

John Avalos, the committee chair, represents District 11, which includes Excelsior, Ingleside, Visitacion Valley and other neighborhoods. While strongly opposing cuts to social services, Avalos has been pushing for revenue measures to help stem the budget bleeding.

Avalos told the Fog City Journal he'd like employees on the high end of the salary scale to "give back more" than those on the lower end of the salary scale. "If you're making over $150,000 a year, that's a great salary to have, even in San Francisco."

At a February press conference Avalos proposed a special election to enact a gross receipts tax, saying, "If these corporations pay their fair share, we can generate millions that will go towards keeping health clinics, youth and senior services, and jobs safe for San Franciscans. In these tough fiscal times, we need to give ourselves as many tools and options to craft a balanced budget that maintains the public safety net and protects San Francisco seniors and families."
(415) 554-6975 Voice
(415) 554-6979 - Fax

Ross Mirkarimi, the Green Party’s top local official, represents District 5, including the Haight, Panhandle and other neighborhoods. He has been a persistent critic of the mayor, and has pressed for alternative approaches to spread the budget-cutting pain.

In an interview with the Fog City Journal about prioritizing wage cuts over staffing cuts, Mirkarimi said, "It's a wise idea. It asserts a level of compassion and collaboration that I don't think exists now. But in desperate times, more than ever, this would be an excellent time for leadership, particularly in Room 200, the mayor, to help amass this level of consciousness and what it means to alleviate our significant problem."

(415) 554-7630 - Voice
(415) 554-7634 - Fax

Carmen Chu was appointed as the District 4 supervisor in September 2007 by Newsom and represents the Sunset/Parkside area. Prior to joining the Board, Chu spent three years as a Newsom protégé in the Mayor’s Office of Public Policy and Finance. Before that she was a private sector consultant with Public Financial Management, Inc., a firm that assists municipalities manage debt and finance public-works projects.

Chu has consistently opposed tax-based revenue enhancement and hews to the idea that the city should tighten its belt first. In January, long before the mayor issued his proposed cuts, she told ABC Channel 7, "We need to take a look at any efficiency we can gain, if there are any areas we can cut."

(415) 554-7460 - Voice
(415) 554-7432 - Fax

David Campos represents District 9, the Mission, Bernal Heights and Portola neighborhoods.

Campos has stressed the need to ameliorate budget cut pain, speaking out against Muni cuts and fare hikes. He also hopes that city workers will support givebacks rather than staff reductions, telling Fog City Journal, "A lot of people would rather see their salary cut to avoid a co-worker being laid off."

At the same time he is not afraid of antagonizing some of the city unions, telling the Fog City Journal, "there are some people in bargaining units (unions) that are overpaid. I think that you have to have some equity in how that's allocated."

(415) 554-5144 - Voice

(415) 554-6255 - Fax


Moderate Supervisor Bevan Dufty represents the Castro and surrounding neighborhoods. He has been a fairly reliable pro-Newsom vote, but has made some surprisingly prickly comments about the budget process.

When asked about across-the-board wage cuts, Dufty was quoted saying, "It's the mayor that has to negotiate certain things. It's clear that Mayor Brown would have taken the bull by the horns, so to speak, and sat people down and at the table and personally cut an agreement."

Dufty also told the Fog City Journal the budget process has "been challenging. Certainly a relationship is a two way street and I think the mayor and SEIU have not had a good relationship for some time, that it's been my intent to have a good relationship with SEIU and I have worked at it, but I don't have the responsibility that the mayor does in terms of negotiating."

(415) 554-6968 - Voice
(415) 554-6909 - Fax


Meet the Opposition:

The details of Newsom's proposed $6.6 billion budget are being reviewed by the Board of Supervisors, and the city's unions, community groups, department heads and others are all reeling from the $438.1 million in cuts. But those cuts are not final. The final budget is due July 1, and even then the supervisors can add back funding to different organizations. The next month and a half will see a lot of scratching and clawing at City Hall as organizations struggle to preserve funding. Below are snapshots of a few key members of the budget opposition.

Photo from

Jennifer Friedenbach is the director of the Coalition on Homelessness and has a history of tangling with Newsom. When he cut funding to homeless groups last year, she held a rally of 50 outside of his home. Newsom had her removed from his June 1 budget press conference for not being a credentialed member of the press (she was reporting for Street Sheet, according to Beyond Chron). Expect more of the same this year, as Newsom’s budget slices $13.5 million from substance abuse services and another $9.3 from organizations serving the mentally ill.

Friedenbach will be organizing and protesting this summer in a fight for add-back funds. She has organized a June 10 march from Hallidie Plaza to City Hall called "Real Deal or No Deal." The event is at 3 p.m. and will include other activists fighting for mental health, substance abuse and homeless advocacy.

468 Turk St (Calendar of events
Web site:
Blog of events:
Event PDF:

Also organizing "Real Deal or No Deal," is Jackie Jenks, executive director of Central City Hospitality House, an organization that provides counseling and housing services to San Francisco's poor community. The 23-year-old Tenderloin Self Help Center received a cut of $651,991 in Newsom's budget and will close Aug. 1. Jenks told The Public Press, “We are very concerned that there doesn't seem to be a plan for what will happen when all the services that are proposed to be cut are actually cut."

Web site:

The powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021 covers more than 11,000 city workers, including janitors, security guards and health care workers. Under pressure from Newsom, who threatened to lay off 1,000 employees, on June 4 the union voted overwhelmingly (86.4 percent) to accept wage concessions that will save $16 million in the city's general fund.

But the union has been a vocal opponent of Newsom's cuts. At a protest this March, Damita Davis-Howard (pictured above) said the cuts are counter to "What this city ought to be -- a caring city, caring for the people who live in this city and caring for people who serve this city. People are losing their houses, people are losing their savings, their retirement, and it's the services in San Francisco that help those people in crisis." (calendar of events). (Web site)
Photo courtesy of SF360

Public Defender Jeff Adachi has been extremely public in his fight to preserve his office's budget. In January, he issued a feisty letter to the mayor and Board of Supervisors requesting $50,000 for two part-time paralegals. He said that without extra staff, his office could not handle every homicide and major felony case in need of a public defender, and he would begin hiring out private lawyers for $120 an hour (costing the city $1 million a year).

His request was denied. Adachi also printed 5,000 postcards addressed to the mayor’s office, saying "even in these difficult economic times, San Francisco cannot afford to place equal access to justice on the financial chopping block." Adachi's efforts, so far, have been to no avail: His office is facing a proposed cut of $1.9 million, or about 10 lawyers.