Fiscal Year 2008-2009 Budget Process

Ask any of the religious leaders who comprise Religious Witness with Homeless People, and they’ll tell you that the San Francisco City Budget is a moral document. Ask any member of the People’s Budget Collaborative, and they’ll tell you that the Budget is the City’s most important annual policy statement. But for the average San Franciscan, the actual budgeting process is abstruse and perhaps a little… comment dit-on… gross?

Meetings? Meh. Spreadsheets? Blah. Appropriations and add-backs and funding sources and a whole lexicon of fancy words for horse-trading? Feh, fye, and fooey! San Franciscans may be forgiven for being a little put off by the Byzantia of our municipality’s fiscal workings. However, there is a very important bottom line for the whole budget process: people.

In this issue, we’re going to try to cut through the swathe of numbers to the life-altering impacts that this budget may have on tens of thousands of San Franciscans. But a basic overview of the budget process is key to understanding the threats to community services, and how one can help make a positive difference.

Step 1: Mayor’s Budget Proposal

June 1

In most recent years, there has been a projected deficit, making cuts a necessity. These cuts are made not because programs fail, but because the Mayor perceives there is not enough funding to keep them going. He gives instructions to the Departments early in the year, and they hand him back a commission-approved list of cuts.

Step 2: Budget Hearings

June 16-26

Throughout June, the Board of Supervsiors’ Budget and Finance Committee analyzes the budgets of the various City departments. It seeks counter-cuts to refund important programs the Mayor’s budget defunds. The hearing process culminates with public comment.

Step 3: Full Board Finalizes Budget

July 1-31

The full Board has the month of July to work out any further changes, and until July 31 to pass the budget. Most probably, the the Board will pass a very close approximation of what it is provided by the Budget and Finance Committee.

The People’s Budget

Politicians do not hold a monopoly on the budget process. For the past several years, a group of organizations representing low-income or otherwise marginalized San Franciscans has been working on ensuring that poor people’s interests and vital services be protected. Because people dependent on social services are frequently less politically influential than those better off, social services provided by the Department of Public Health and the Human Services Administration are generally among the areas hardest hit by cuts, when cost-saving measures seem necessary.

Every year, the People’s Budget organizes its constituencies to meet with politicians throughout the budget process, and holds rallies and protests to bring broader attention to the potential effects of cuts to important—often life-saving—services.

In 2008, the People’s Budget began meeting in February—a fortunate thing, as Mayor Gavin Newsom hit social services hard well before the beginning of the budget process through tens of millions of dollars in mid-year 2007-2008 budget cuts.

The Collaborative includes dozens of organizations, among which are the Grey Panthers, Coleman Advocates for Youth’s Family Budget Coalition, Chinatown Community Development Corporation, the Coalition on Homelessness, Central City SRO Collaborative, St. Anthony’s Foundation, the Senior Action Network, and Central City Hospitality House.

Other concerned organizations also have an important hand in shaping the budget. This year, Coalition on Homelesnness, SEIU 1021, Religious Witness with Homeless People, the San Francisco Human Services Network, and the San Francisco Living Wage Coalition all had important roles in supporting more vulnerable San Franciscan’s interests in the budget process.

Through the Budget and Finance Committee of the Board of Supervisors, as well as through Mayoral add-backs, these organizations were able to see significant restorations ot the 2008-2009 municipal budget.


Through the Board of Supervisors’ Budget and Finance Committee, members of the People’s Budget, as well as many other concerned citizens, community members, and conscientious politicians, were able to see the following add-backs on June 26 (other programs were also restored, but the following are the most relevant to homeless and marginally housed people):

Item Supervisors Mayor
Family Rental Subsidies $335,000
TL Health Drop-In $397,446 $400,000
HIV Prevention Needle Exchange $75,000
Residential Treatment $1,948,989
Methadone Treatment $1,102,204
Out-patient treatment $8,575,420
Shelter Monitoring Committee Staff $70,000
Hygiene for Shelters $200,000
Medically-Supported Detox $1,200,000
Caduceus Outreach Services $150,000 $200,000
SRO Families United Collaborative $200,000
SRO Collaboratives $133,000
DEAP $511,000
STOP $200,000

We thank to the members of the Budget and Finance Committee for restoring to the community programs which are saving people’s lives, and we’re grateful to our fellow community members for helping to make this happen.

However, two major priorities remain unfunded:

  1. 24-hour drop-in at Tenderloin Health to replace the losses from the McMillan Drop-In Center and Buster’s Place, and
  2. the funding necessary to keep in the shelter system the 100 slots currently allocated to Ella Hill Hutch.

While the full Board of Supervisors will most likely pass a budget that differs very little from the recommendations made by the Budget and Finance Committee, these recommendations are not set in stone: There’s still a significant chance to help see these priorities realized in the budget.

The full Board will review and vote on the budget on July 15 and 22. The process will be open for public comment. Please come to support programs you believe in: In the budget process, it’s survival of the loudest.

If you can’t make it, still be sure to let your supervisor know what’s important to you through a phone call. If you don’t know who your supervisor is, you can find out through the “Find Your District” utility at

Stay informed about further developments in the budget by reading the Street Sheet blog and signing up for Action Alerts.