Proposition B, if it passes in November, will negate part of the voter-approved Proposition B that passed two years ago creating a new city department responsible only for cleaning streets and sidewalks. And labor unions representing sanitation workers are pissed about this.
It's one of those curious political stories that most of us aren't privy to the inner workings of, and yet we're being asked to vote on something again without really knowing why we need to vote on it.
But a press release arrived in our inbox today from local PR man Sam Singer, announcing that the city's sanitation workers are rallying today at 4 p.m. on the steps of City Hall to push for voting No on Prop B.
"Two years ago, a bribery and corruption scandal led to federal criminal charges against Mohammed Nuru, the then head of the DPW [who was] just sentenced to seven years in prison," the release says. "Voters overwhelmingly approved reforms to a hopelessly corrupt DPW and create a separate Department of Sanitation and Streets, along with strong oversight and strict requirements for department leaders. Yet, unbelievably the Board of Supervisors this year has placed Measure B on the Nov. 8 ballot that would overturn the will of the people by eviscerating almost every aspect of those reforms."
So, what gives with all this? It's likely that the unions see the creation of a Department of Sanitation and Streets as a windfall of some kind, and it likely comes with the creation of new jobs for their members.
When the Board of Supervisors was proposing and debating this proposition back in July, the sense they had was that the Department of Public Works had been dragging their feet in setting up this separate sanitation department — as Supervisor Hillary Ronen said, "their heart’s not in it." But why capitulate to a department that the supes so vehemently wanted to reform just two year ago?
Supervisor Aaron Peskin referred to it as a case of "buyer's remorse," and that implies something about the price tag of creating a new department. In the November voters' pamphlet, the supes and the Office of the Budget Analyst say that the new department will cost $6 million extra per year, and perhaps $10 million annually in future years — with some of that going to create redundant administrative positions from those extant in DPW.
"Why spend money on more middle-managers, clerks and accountants instead of the people who power wash and sweep our sidewalks, paint out graffiti and pick up illegal dumping?" they say in their proponents' argument.
The earlier Prop B from 2020 also created two new commissions — one to oversee DPW and the other to oversee the new sanitation department. Curiously, the new Prop B leaves both commissions in place, but the sanitation commission wouldn't have a separate department to oversee if this new prop passes.
For their part, DPW said in July that they were still "full speed ahead" on setting up the new department and seating both commissions, even though almost two years had passed with nothing up and running.
Supervisor Matt Haney, who sponsored the original Prop B and still thinks a new department is needed, said in today's release about the rally, "We fought for and won important changes to increase street sweeping, clean neighborhoods, and fight corruption at City Hall. San Francisco deserves clean streets and clean government."
It may be that Haney is just courting the unions for their future political support, but he continues to be the main political voice against this new Prop B. And in his opponent's argument in the voter pamphlet, he says, "Don't be fooled into thinking this is about saving money… we're the second wealthiest city in America, and the Department will cost a minuscule fraction of our $14 billion budget. There's no reason we shouldn't have a Department of Sanitation like nearly every other major city in the country."
His argument also says that this is somehow about the supervisors or DPW retaining power "to decide which streets get cleaned and which are left covered in trash."
The No on B coalition includes LIUNA Local 261 which represents the city's street sweepers as well as DPW staff, IBEW Local 6, Operating Engineers Local 3, SF Building and Construction Trades Council, Firefighter Local 798, San Francisco Young Democrats, and the SF Labor Council.
And now you'll know why if you see a bunch of street-sweeper trucks parked on Polk Street outside City Hall later today.
Photo via SF Department of Public Works