Under pressure from the mayor, the SF Board of Supervisors on Tuesday declined to approve a ballot measure that would have asked voters if they believe there should be a commission overseeing the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing.
Though the measure would have likely failed if directly put to a vote, Supervisors did not vote it down but instead chose to punt it to the March ballot, for now. As the Examiner reports, that decision by several supervisors appeared to be motivated by questions around commission appointments, and sharp disapproval from the mayor, who suggested the added layer of bureaucracy would simply slow down solutions to the homeless crisis.
As discussed last week, District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney proposed putting a charter amendment on the November ballot that would have created a commission — akin to the Planning Commission and Police Commission — that would provide oversight for the city's still relatively new department that handles homelessness issues. The commission was to have seven members — three appointed by the Board, three by the mayor, and one by the city controller.
As Haney wrote in an op-ed last week, "This commission will provide accountability and transparency in budgeting and spending, conduct performance reviews, and investigate delays in contracting and service delivery. The current lack of accountability and transparency in the Department hurts people experiencing homelessness, hurts people living in supportive housing, and hurts all San Franciscans who desperately want to see better results in getting people off the street and into shelter, services, and housing."
Homelessness czar Jeff Kositsky said he felt the commission was unnecessary, and Mayor Breed issued multiple statements saying it would "slow down help for those on our streets."
But many including Haney have pointed out that Breed seems to be contradicting herself, having said in discussing her opposition to Prop C last year that "The City needs to audit the $300+ million we are already spending on homelessness" and "San Franciscans deserve accountability for the money they are already paying."
Several supervisors found themselves caught in the middle, and this is where the insider politicking got interesting. Five on the more progressive flank — Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen, Gordon Mar and Shamann Walton, along with Haney — had already indicated their support for the commission. While, as the Chronicle reports, Supervisors Rafael Mandelman, Norman Yee and Catherine Stefani had some tactical concerns about putting such a thing on the ballot. And Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Vallie Brown and Ahsha Safaí remained undecided — with Brown being a mayoral appointee up for election in November who might not want to be on the record voting down a commission on homelessness.
Sup. Ronen, who co-sponsored the measure, tried appealing to her colleagues at Tuesday's meeting, to no avail. As the Examiner reports, Ronen said she was constantly being asked by her constituents in the Mission how the homelessness department's money was being spent. "Things are getting much worse,” Ronen said. "We have no oversight or accountability for this department and it has got to change."
But Mandelman suggested that he thought giving the city controller appointment power was a "profoundly bad idea," saying that it would give that traditionally neutral office significant power in shaping homeless policy if there were a lot of 3-3 votes (mayor's appointees vs. board appointees) that the controller had to break. For now, he said, the board at least knows to hold Kositsky responsible for the department's choices, but with a commission, responsibility becomes more blurry.
It remains to be seen if a Homelessness Commission will get revived for the March ballot, or if this will be its quiet death.
Says Haney to the Examiner, "We’ve got a crisis on our streets, and a crisis of accountability at City Hall. This commission is a real solution, and I believe the voters will support it when it makes it to the ballot."