Monday, June 22, 2015

The "real story" of how the city works


In yesterday's Chronicle, we learn from Matier & Ross and Willie Brown (below in italics Brown brags about it)---in side-by-side columns in the Bay Area section---how city government works: you have to pay to play. Is anyone really surprised?

Matier Ross write about how "private donors" win City Hall's affections by donating money to pay for the America's Cup, the mayors' conference, the gaudy light system on City Hall, repainting City Hall, etc. No problem, according to the mayor's press secretary: "People have been working hard to raise funds and make sure that city taxpayers weren't left on the hook." Only grouchy old Aaron Peskin questions the practice.

On the same page, Heather Knight writes about how city residents are upset about conditions in the city (Lapses in public services tax San Franciscans’ patience): homelessness, potholes, Muni, poorly maintained parks, etc.

Two weeks ago, we asked City Insider readers what they think of the fact that San Francisco’s budget hit a whopping $9 billion a year — more than the budgets of at least 10 states. Now that more taxes are pouring into city coffers than ever before, do residents think they’re getting their money’s worth? We were surprised by the deluge of e-mails, which continue to roll in, and the very vehement responses. Every single person who wrote had valid complaints, and not one thought city services were up to snuff for one of the richest cities in the world.

City taxes mostly go to support a growing bureaucracy of 35,771 city workers, one city worker for every 23 city residents!

Willie Brown on big projects, like the Bay Bridge, the Central Subway, and high-speed rail: Dig a hole and fill it with money!

With City Hall turning 100, it’s time to tell the real story of how we got the gold leaf onto its magnificent dome.

It was a few years after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. Part of my agenda when I became mayor was bringing a sense of luster back to San Francisco, and making City Hall once again a true “people’s palace” was at the top of my list.

We got the building seismically upgraded. We got the dingy offices returned to their wood-paneled glory, and the North and South light courts were made into some of the best event rooms in the city. But I could not use a dime of federal earthquake-recovery money to bring real gold back to the dome.

One day, one of the city’s biggest architects, Jeffrey Heller, comes to me and says, “I’m mad as all hell at your planning department for trying to force me to include some kind of public art in this building I’m designing. It just doesn’t fit. Can’t I just give the city some money for art somewhere else?”

Click! The light bulb turned on.

“Where is your building?” I asked.

“Just down the street.”

“Can you see the dome of City Hall from it?” I asked.


“OK, how about instead of putting this required art piece in a building that only some people will see, we put it on top of City Hall as part of an artwork that everyone can see? And that ‘art’ will be the gold leaf on top of the dome.”

And that’s what we did.

It wasn’t long before every developer with a pending project realized that the quickest path to the front of the approval line was to come in with some gold leaf for City Hall and a paintbrush.

Labels: , , ,