Jewish World Review May 14, 2003 / 12 Iyar, 5763
Debra J. Saunders
SAN FRANCISCO is doomed.
While leaders of New York and other big cities have
demonstrated the resolve to do something about their
homeless population -- San Francisco pols have
decided it's better to look as if you care about the
homeless than to do something about the homeless.
Woe to the civic figure who goes for results.
In 1994, then-San Francisco Mayor Frank Jordan
sponsored an initiative to require homeless recipients
of General Assistance to accept housing vouchers
and smaller cash grants instead of a cash stipend
San Francisco voters approved the measure, but the
supes never implemented it. City voters never made
the supes pay for their betrayal; to the contrary, city
voters chose not to re-elect Jordan.
In 2002, Supervisor Gavin Newsom introduced a
similar measure to replace most of General
Assistance cash grants with city-supplied food,
shelter and treatment. Voters approved the measure
by 60 percent.
On this go-round, the supes didn't get a chance to
gut the homeless reform. Superior Court Judge
Ronald Quidachay beat them to it. Quidachay issued
a ruling May 8 that overturned the measure on the
grounds that voters aren't allowed to determine
homeless policies; only the supes can do that.
Yes, this is America. Yet, this judge felt free to rule
that voters should be powerless with their own
government. I guess only judges have power.
Newsom's opponents in the city's mayoral race have
been quick to jump on him for not having foreseen the
glaring legal flaw that virtually invited the Quidachay
decision. Attorney Angela Alioto, for example,
dismissed her opponent Newsom as incompetent. "It
couldn't be clearer that the welfare code clearly
states that it is up to the legislative branch of
government," she noted.
Funny, if Quidachay's ruling was so easily foreseen,
you'd think someone would have mentioned that
shortcoming in the five pages of arguments against
Proposition N printed in the city ballot. Also, if
Quidachay's ruling was so predictable, why did
Supervisor Tom Ammiano push a rival measure when
that, too, would have had voters choosing the city's
City Attorney Dennis Herrera is right to appeal the
judge's ruling. As spokesman Matt Dorsey put it,
"The voters' right to self-governance is guaranteed in
the constitution of the state" and the city charter.
as the San Francisco Daily Journal reported in 2001,
Quidachay has a high reversal rate. The appeal court
overturned nine out of 11 of his rulings over two
Golden Gate Law School Dean Peter Keane, who
personally opposed Prop. N, figures there's a 60
percent chance the decision will be reversed. When
authority is in doubt, Keane explained, "the default is
always with the people. "
In San Francisco, the default is almost always with
Critics now suggest that Newsom compromise with
the very city pols who want to grind any substance
from Proposition N.
Newsom (three cheers) says no. Imagine if there are
amendments and compromises, Newsom argues,
"and we magnanimously don't go along with the will
of the voters so we (the supes) can all get along" --
and then the courts uphold Prop. N. If the board
cares what voters think, Newsom argued, it should
save the city anguish and legal bills by voting to
approve Proposition N as is.
When Frank Jordan lost re-election, the rap was that
he couldn't get things done. I hope Newsom has
learned this much (and I think he has): In San
Francisco, when you try to work with people who
don't want change, they sabotage you, then dismiss
you as the guy who can't get anything done.
They're Olympians at inertia, but you're the fall guy,
the bumbler. And city voters will forgive deliberate
inertia, but oddly, they don't tolerate failure.
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© 2000, Creators Syndicate