Cohen’s Shift to Budget Committee Seen as Positioning for Higher Office

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In January 2019, District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen will be termed out of office. She was first elected in 2010 to represent a large swath of San Francisco’s Southside neighborhoods, including Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, Bayview-Hunters Point and Visitacion Valley. This year has brought a shift in focus to the Board of Supervisors, with a new Administration in the White House that’s challenged San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city, one that doesn’t use its resources to enforce federal immigration laws, among other tests.

The new year has also brought change to Cohen’s role on the Board. Most notably, she’s now chairs the Budget and Finance Committee, leaving behind her former post as chair of the Land Use Committee. Budget and Finance had been led by District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, who has taken over Cohen’s role on the Land Use Committee.

“The Chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee is a heavy task for any Supervisor, and should keep her busy between now and July,” said Jim Lazarus, senior vice president of public policy, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. “There’s a projected budget deficit for the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year, so she will have her hands full. She looks after District 10 and as chair the District can look forward to some positive outcomes.”

Don Clark, Missouri Street resident, pointed to a number of issues facing the neighborhood that he hoped Cohen would tackle, including property crime and unreliable public transit. However, Clark believes that the City’s “run-away budget” should be her highest priority. “When one considers the magnitude of the San Francisco budget, it seems like all the aforementioned problems should have been solved,” he commented. “The City increases spending by astonishing amounts each year, with no visible improvements in public service. This budget growth has to be severely detrimental to cost of living for everyone.”

With many largescale developments in the planning pipeline for the eastern neighborhoods and southern Bayfront, including The Shipyard in Bayview-Hunters Point, Mission Rock, Pier 70, and Golden State Warriors arena, Southside residents were surprised by Cohen’s departure from the Land Use Committee. Land Use Committee members Farrell, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang have a more limited stake in the ongoing dramatic transformation of development and demographics in District 10.

The View was unable to secure an interview with Cohen to ask her why she made the shift. The supervisor has generally declined to speak with the paper throughout her time in office.

“I think she’s going to get more involved in land use because of all the projects that are happening on this side of the City and along the waterfront,” offered De Haro Street resident Ron Miguel. “With UCSF’s development and student housing, neighbors are concerned about expansions out of the Mission Bay campus and into the neighborhood.”

“The one consolation is that she’s accepted the chairmanship of the most powerful position on the Board of Supervisors,” said Art Agnos, former Mayor and Connecticut Street resident. “Every City department pays attention to the Budget chair. If you’re going to give up chairmanship of the Land Use Committee, the only one you’d want to give it up for is the Budget chair.”

Dogpatch and Potrero Hill residents have expressed concerns about the University of California, San Francisco’s acquisition of neighborhood properties outside Mission Bay, citing poor building designs that depart from the existing neighborhood character and noting that as a state agency the University is exempt from paying impact fees and property taxes. According to Tony Kelly, Potrero Hill Democratic Club president, Cohen’s office has been supportive of neighbors during protests and negotiations with UCSF, by attending meetings and commissioning a study by the Board’s Budget and Legislative Analyst that analyzed impact fee and property tax revenue losses when the University develops private property.

“That study showed that, in effect, our neighborhoods and the City are subsidizing UC’s development on three sites in Dogpatch by more than $100 million over the next 30 years,” Kelly stated. “It’s an important point in our negotiations; we won’t get all of that value back from UC, but we may get a stronger array of benefits than they expected to give.  We could not have done that kind of research without the support of the Supervisor’s Office.”

Alison Heath, Mississippi Street resident and leader with Grow Potrero Responsibly, encouraged Cohen to focus on ensuring that the community benefits promised in the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan are delivered, and to spearhead new transit routes and public open space areas. “The City has overbuilt market-rate housing in our neighborhoods, and the pace of infrastructure development is lagging,” Heath commented. “Unfortunately, the impact fees paid by developers to fund improvements were set artificially low. New means of financing should be identified, and I’d like to see the Supervisor prioritize that effort.”

On March 3, the San Francisco Examiner suggested that Cohen’s move to the Budget and Finance Committee could aid her aspirations to run for a spot on the California State Board of Equalization. Fiona Ma currently holds the seat.  Rich Gordon, who served in California’s State Assembly from 2010 to 2016, representing the 24th District, plans to vie for the position. According to Secretary of State records, Cohen filed to run for a State Board of Equalization seat in February.

“She’s a viable and worthy candidate for the State Board of Equalizations, just as she was a worthy candidate for two elections to the Board of Supervisors,” remarked Agnos.

Susan Eslick, Tennessee Street resident and GBD board member, thinks that national politics have diverted attention away from local issues. Eslick hopes that the City’s mental health crisis will be prioritized by the Board of Supervisors, and that Cohen will be mindful about issues that may arise in Dogpatch from the Navigation Center, a newly opened homeless shelter.  “She needs to be a liaison for us,” Eslick said. “Dogpatch was generous in accepting the Center, so she has to support us. She’s been at the table for our community, so I’m sure she will continue.”

The Examiner reported that the Supervisor delayed the City’s application for homeland security grants associated with Urban Shield, an anti-terrorism force, amidst civil rights concerns. Urban Shield is a SWAT training program that some say creates a militarized police force, with increased concern prompted amidst the Trump Administration’s targeting of undocumented immigrants.

Last month, the Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance, co-sponsored by Cohen and Mayor Ed Lee, prohibiting local officials from communicating information about the religion or ethnicity of San Franciscans to federal authorities. The law is a proactive measure against the possibility of cooperating with President Trump’s proposed and controversial Muslim registry.

“The influence of national politics is that it can bring people together,” said Lazarus. “San Francisco politicians are mostly Democrats, and if San Francisco is targeted by the White House, then it helps maintain a level of collegiality. The major issues coming out of Washington make local disagreements seems somewhat trite by comparison.”