Short Cuts

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Serpentine Subject to Shakedown

Recently, Serpentine, in Dogpatch, got an email from a person calling herself a “PR manager” with the subject line “Reputation.”  The sender, who said her name was “Natasha Nixon,” claimed she’d been hired by one of Serpentine’s competitors to share negative information, such as “awful photos of the food containing hair and insects. I don’t want to hurt your restaurant reputation therefore I offer you to have a deal,” the email reads. “I’ll refuse to fulfill this order if you compensate me the amount that I’ll lose in case of failure to fulfill order.” The letter went on to say that if Serpentine chef Tom Halvorson paid the requested amount she’d name the competitor “so you can report him to the police.” Halvorson, who was given two days to respond, notified law enforcement.  District Attorney George Gascón followed-up by issuing a public warning about an email extortion operation directed at San Francisco restaurants. Several local chefs have said perpetrators threatened to spread undesirable data about their eateries unless they’re paid money.

Smuin Dances in Potrero Hill

Smuin Ballet now owns a De Haro Street warehouse, built in 1949, which once was home to the Metronome Ballroom.  The dance company, named for its founder, Michael Smuin, who died 11 years ago, bought the two-story building for $4.7 million in an all cash offer, $1 million over asking. The troupe needs another $2 million to build out the space, with fundraising efforts linked to Smuin’s 25th anniversary season, which starts this month.  Possible structural upgrades, to be completed by this spring, include locker rooms with showers for the 16 company dancers, and separate rooms for physical therapy, wardrobe and administrative meetings.

San Francisco General Hospital Less Social

Last Spring, San Francisco General Hospital abruptly laid off up to nine social workers from its Medical Surgical unit, a roughly 33 percent reduction in those positions. “It came out of nowhere,” recalled Dr. Scott Goldberg, a resident physician. “There was no announcement.”

The temporary social workers, who had been contracted through an independent staffing agency in early 2017, were given 10-day notices. The fund through which they and other provisional workers were being paid had been depleted, all contracted employees were let go, according to Dr. Todd May, SFGH’s chief medical officer.  Roughly 21 remaining permanent social workers are responsible for the inpatient medicine unit; social workers have gone from handling 10 to 19 patients a day to sometimes seeing more than 40. With fewer social workers, Goldberg believes the pace of discharges has slowed; according to the hospital there’s no correlation between the loss of social workers and release delays.  In response to employee complaints, last summer SFGH administrators announced that they’d hire five more permanent social workers, a process that could take until the end of the year to complete.

Buena Vista Horace Mann School to House the Homeless

Starting this November, Buena Vista Horace Mann School’s gym, on 23rd Street, will be transformed into a nocturnal shelter for 20 of the school’s homeless kindergarten through eighth grade students and their families, up to 60 people at a time.  The $700,000 program, funded by the City and County of San Francisco, may be the first of its kind in the country. According to Clauda DeLarios Morán, Horace Mann’s principal, the administration was moved to create lodging because of the number of students who asked staff to spend the night at the school, where they felt safe. “It’s like we have a huge mansion in the middle of the Mission District. It’s empty, dry, safe.” The shelter will operate from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. during the week; until 10 a.m. on weekends. Families will be given breakfast and dinner, as well as assistance to connect them with long-term housing. There are purportedly 60 Buena Vista students who are homeless; an estimated 2,100 homeless pupils citywide.  Seems like a good idea to look at schools as possible development sites for affordable housing for teachers and students.

Taxes on the Ballot this November

The much talked about “midterm” elections will soon be upon us, with dozens of local and state ballot initiatives to consider, a few of which call for additional taxes, the resulting revenues dedicated to good causes.  But, does the City and County of San Francisco need more tax revenues; it already spends more than $11 billion a year, about as much as Azerbaijan’s annual national expenditures, with a population ten times greater than San Francisco’s.  Certainly, budget savings could be found somewhere, to pay for expansion of needed programs.  Yet neither the Mayor nor Board of Supervisors seems to pay much attention to how well the underlying bureaucracy over which they preside performs, save for occasional railings over Muni’s performance.  But that’s not what’s on the ballot. What is:

Proposition A, the Embarcadero Seawall Earthquake Safety Bond, would issue $425 million in bond debt to pay for repairs and upgrades to the battered Embarcadero seawall. The seawall protects an estimated $100 billion in property and infrastructure that’d be at risk in a major earthquake, and which is likely to come under greater stress as the climate changes.  While it’s not an excellent time to launch a multi-million-dollar construction project, given high cement and steel prices, the work needs to be done.  There might be better ways to finance it, however, including developing “hazard districts” through the City, where taxpayers pay for the risk mitigation needed for their specific area, whether sea walls, improved rainwater runoff schemes, air quality improvements, or earthquake protections.  If A is approved, hopefully the City will time the resulting bond issuance and project expenditures to coincide with the next economic downturn. 

Proposition B, Privacy First Policy, sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, stipulates a number of personal-data-protection protocols with which businesses would have to abide to get a permit from the City or do business with it, including allowing individuals to access personal information about them the companies collect.  A good idea, but is this issue best handled at the local, state, or federal levels..?

Proposition C, Our City, Our Home, would levy an average of about 0.5 percent in gross receipts tax on corporate revenues above $50 million. The $280 to $300 million raised would pay for almost a doubling in funding for housing and homeless services. A quarter of the monies would be dedicated to mental health services; around 15 percent to help prevent homelessness, 10 percent to create 1,000 extra shelter beds, with the remainder routed to build, rehabilitate and preserve some 4,000 housing units.  Past View reporting suggests that the City does a poor job with the hundreds of millions of dollars it already spends combatting homelessness, and dedicated taxes, while easier to pass at the ballot, straitjackets future budget choices.  Still, perhaps a sea of taxpayer cash will raise all homeless boats… 

Proposition D, sponsored by Supervisor Malia Cohen, would place a gross receipts tax on cannabis businesses starting in 2021, the proceeds of which would flow into the general fund. For retail cannabis shops, the tax would be 2.5 percent on the first $1 million in revenue, 5 percent on revenues above $1 million. Non-retail cannabis enterprises would be taxed 1 percent on revenues up to $1 million; 1.5 percent on gross receipts above $1 million.  Is there any basis for these percentages, or levying additional taxes on weed at all?  How does this new duty fit into the City’s overall tax and spend scheme?  Oddly, given that Cohen is running to be on a tax-focused agency, the State Board of Equalization, nobody knows…

Proposition E, sponsored by Supervisor Katy Tang, would reallocate about $32 million generated by the existing 14 percent hotel tax to arts, cultural organizations and projects rather than going to the general fund.  Ballot box budgeting is generally a bad idea; the Board of Supervisors and Mayor are elected, in part, to decide how best City revenues should be spent.

We Have Met the Enemy…

Much has been made of Russian meddling in the election that brought us the Trump Administration, in all its glory, with continuing shenanigans this political season.  With the whiff of treason in the air, it’s worth remembering that the U.S. government itself is notorious for inserting itself into overseas votes, in such places as various “Banana Republics,” Chile, Italy, and Serbia.  Russia considers itself tampered with by America, ejecting a U.S. “aid” mission six years ago over misgivings about American-funded “pro-democracy” groups. Right or wrong, it’s quite likely that Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin views whatever election-related interventions his surrogates engaged in as tit-for-tat. Doesn’t make it kosher, and certainly not a defense for any coordination by Trump campaign officials. It just is what it is, global politics-style.