In the final two days of the City’s budget process, I spent too much time at City Hall to not do some type of wrap-up of my thoughts and what came out of this year’s budget campaigns. While the budget process is a bit over my head, here are some of the pros and cons for me looking back on it.
1. So many good things from the asks made by Our City Our Home and Service Providers!
The Board of Supervisors was able to fix most of the discrepancies between what we wanted and what Mayor London Breed had originally proposed, meaning that this year’s budget has a lot more housing for a lot more people than usual, thanks in large part to November 2018’s Proposition C.
2. We got money for CART!
There are still some concerns with how this played out, and we didn’t get the full $6 million we requested to fund the Compassionate Alternative Response Team, but this is a great start and I honestly wasn’t confident that we’d get anything at all. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but big momentum too.
3. Ten 24-hour Bathrooms and 10 additional Pit Stops
Mayor Breed initially proposed a budget that cut funding for public bathrooms – a move I still find disgusting – but we ended up with expanded bathroom access after all. In my opinion, Breed probably withheld the funding to have a bargaining chip against Haney, but good on him for coming out of it with more bathrooms than before!
4. Rent Relief
At the last minute, we finally got clarity on Prop I funds, and there will indeed be rent relief! Hopefully this will help reduce the eviction cliff I’ve been dreading for the last year.
1. SFPD and the Sheriff came out basically unscathed.
After a year of everyone and their mother talking big about police and sheriff budget cuts, what we ended up with is pretty pathetic. In retrospect, I think I was a bit naive about what we’d get done here. When I arrived at City Hall the day before the budget passed, there was a lot of hope in the air that some big cuts would happen, and after sitting through weeks of budget hearings with supervisors pressuring SFPD and the Sheriff’s department and identifying potential areas to make cuts to, I believed it. On that first night of add-backs, a majority of supervisors we spoke to said they were willing to go after the police budget, and Supervisor Preston’s office had put together a list of potential cuts to SFPD and the Sheriff’s Department that amounted to more than $80 million. Supervisor Walton’s office was proposing a $30 million list of cuts that seemed at the time to be more achievable. However, between supervisors getting cold feet and their willingness to make concessions to the mayor, a lot of the supervisors who had agreed to support efforts to defund turned against us real quick, and by the time the budget passed that “achievable” compromise felt like a pipe dream. After a night of bouncing from office to office, hearing false promises of what each supervisor was willing to cut, I learned that most of them aren’t nearly as supportive of defunding the police as they had pretended to be, and the cuts they did actually support were low enough priority to them that they didn’t mind bargaining them away to appease the mayor. Supervisors Dean Preston and Shamann Walton were pushing the hardest for defunding – at least, from what I saw – but it just wasn’t enough.
2. CART funding isn’t secure.
Somewhere in the last day before the budget passed, the line item for CART changed from $0 to $3 million, but the name of the item also changed to “Alternative Responses Unappropriated Reserve.” I see two main problems with this: First being that the money no longer specifically naming CART makes me very nervous that it will get spent on some other alternative response team like the Street Crisis or Street Wellness response teams or whatever else. Secondly, we’ve had $2 million in reserve for this program before, and the mayor was somehow able to take it away. So while it’s great that there’s funding there, we still need to get the Board of Supervisors to take action to allocate the reserve specifically to CART, and then get the ball rolling and money spent without the mayor diverting the funding.
3. Inadequate funds for City College
City College was basically left on the brink for another year. They asked for $40 million and got $1 million, which is apparently just enough to get them through the year and beg for funding again next June. It’s unfortunate that City College, an essential institution for low-income San Fraciscans pursuing higher education, has to continually fight just to stay funded, especially given how small their budget is compared to the ever-increasing police budget. After the budget was passed, while walking through the halls of city hall, supervisor Ronen declared that she regretted not being able to secure funding for City College this year, but committed to doing so next year. A year is a long time for more organizing and advocacy to happen, but only time will tell if the leaders of this city will be convinced to fight, in actions not words, to save this essential institution.
There were a lot of good things funded this year, so we should celebrate a bit, but I can’t help but be irritated with some of the concessions made. I also want to note that this process is complicated and not nearly accessible or accountable enough to most of the people it affects. There’s so much going on behind closed doors that we are cut off, and what info we do get can be really hard to understand. I hope what I originally wrote as a Twitter thread helps simplify it a bit for those of y’all like me who aren’t experts on this stuff.