Ten things San Francisco should fund -- and 10 things it shouldn't -- to create a fair, equitable, and forward-thinking city budget
Promoting tourism San Francisco takes in almost $300 million per year on its transient occupancy tax, then it turns around and spends a significant portion of that promoting tourism by funding the San Francisco Travel Association (including its high-paid President Joe D'Alessandro), the Moscone Convention Center and its current expansion plans, and a variety of other tourism outreach efforts. The private sector that receives the biggest benefits from tourism (tourists spend $25 million a day in the city, according to the SFTA) should be funding more of the city's tourist promotion and the hotel taxes should be treated as a general revenue source to improve Muni, roads, and other services that tourists also use.
Subsidies for automobiles Even in this transit-first city, where the SFMTA claims to be trying to reduce the percentage of total trips taken by car from about 60 percent now down to 50 percent, city policies subsidize automobiles (as well as the Google buses and other private shuttles). Drivers get free parking on public streets throughout the city, particularly on the west side. Most housing development projects are still required to provide on-site parking, which increases the cost of housing even for residents who don't drive, despite some early progressive reforms that try to de-link parking from housing. And motorists contribute far more than other residents to wear-and-tear on our roads, adding to the Department of Public Works budget — with the very worst offender being those massive Google buses, whose impacts on the city budget are far more than the $1 per stop they're now paying. There are tricky legal restrictions around making drivers pay for their impacts, but there are ways of doing so if the political will is there.
Hiring bad construction contractors According to an audit published by the City Controller's Office, San Francisco has budgeted more than $25 billion for its capital improvement plan in the next 10 years — but doesn't bother to check whether a contractor has done a good job in the past before passing out lucrative contracts. "City departments do not adequately assess contractor performance and do not consider past performance in the construction contract award process," the audit found. "Although 70 percent of surveyed city construction staff have at least occasionally encountered city contractors that they considered poor performers, the City's Administrative Code does not require departments to assess the performance of construction contractors, and past performance is not considered." The result? "Project delays, substandard work, and higher likelihood of claims and litigation." Oh, and that great flushing sound as tax dollars are whooshed away.
Subsidizing events for the wealthy Can anyone fathom why San Francisco used taxpayer dollars to fund Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's super-rich boy America's Cup last year? Ellison pulled in a $96.2 million salary in 2012, and is worth billions. Yet Mayor Lee put up general fund money to the tune of $20 million for the billionaire's yacht race, according to a report by the city's Budget and Legislative Analyst. What was the city supposed to get out of it? A major tax revenue windfall, for starters, but that turned out to be a myth. San Francisco lost $6 million in general funds, and Larry Ellison won the cup, and our money. City taxpayers also subsidize the symphony, the opera, blue-blood gatherings in City Hall, and other events their wealthy attendees should be paying for themselves.