In my earlier submission
, I predicted that the budget battle between the Mayor and the Public Defenderís office would end badly. What I didnít predict is what actually happened.
Hereís the quick summary:
Jeff Adachi has been battling the Mayorís office for months, arguing that cutting his staff would cost the city more than it would save. Although Adachi undertook a grassroots campaign -- including a justice summit, a City Hall rally and a grassroots campaign to mail in thousands of postcards -- Newsom nonetheless chopped $1.9 million from Adachiís $23 million dollar budget. When a City Controllerís report was issued supporting Adachiís arguments, and the usually conservative Chronicle issued a strong endorsement
of Adachiís position, the Board of Supervisorsí budget committee responded by voting 4-1 to redirect $600,000 from the Superior Courtís budget to help cover the Newsomís cut to the Public Defenderís budget.
Hereís the kicker:
After a closed door meeting with the Mayorís folks, Board President David Chiu and Budget Committee Chair John Avalos agreed to transfer $300,000 from Adachiís budget and award it to the District Attorney. Thatís the equivalent of fleecing someone and giving it to his or her adversary.
While itís unclear what motivated Chiu and Avalos to reverse the Budget Committeeís 4-1 vote, what is clear is that they delivered Adachi a big slap in the face. While they could have simply reduced his allocation, what they did instead was to take $300,000 from his budget and give it to the District Attorney. Ironically, the money that they unceremoniously handed over to the DA originally came from the Superior Courtís fund to provide attorneys for poor people. (The committee had voted to take $1.2 million from this fund, giving half of it to Adachi, and directing the other half to its spending pot.)
Chiu and Avalosí move was not revealed until the list of budget items restored to the cityís budget ---known as ďaddbacksĒ --- were released at around 6:00pm last Wednesday. According to the web blog SF Appealís coverage of the night, Adachi was not happy with the outcome.
After each of the Supervisors on the budget committee gave their ďthis is a great budgetĒ speech, vice-chair Ross Mirkarimi moved to amend the budget to add an additional $450,000 to the Public Defenderís office, noting that the add backs failed to address the shortfall in the officeís budget. Although Supervisors Campos and Dufty voiced their support of the amendment, Avalos balked, saying that he didnít feel comfortable with the decision and wanted to think about it. President David Chiu, who isnít on the committee but was seated at the hearing, chimed in and said that any money given to the Public Defender had to be split with the District Attorney. Chiuís statement was curious, given the fact that the offices have very different budgets (the DAís budget is almost twice that of the Public Defenderís budget) and very different functions (the DA charges crimes while the Public Defenderís office has clients who they are required to defend).
Avalosí refusal to support Mirkarimiís amendment effectively froze the effort to add funds to Adachiís budget. However, because Supervisor Dufty felt that Avalos should have time to consider the amendment, the decision was put over until July 14, when the full board will vote on the cityís budget.
That David Chiu, who is a former SF Deputy District Attorney and a political climber, used this opportunity to gain favor with climber Kamala Harris is not surprising. Chiu probably figured that by transferring $300,000 into Harrisí budget, he would earn a few political chits with Harris, who has her sights on the stateís Attorney Generalís office. But itís rather odd that Avalos, who was a social worker and union organizer before serving as Chris Dalyís chief aide, would deliver Adachi such a humiliating blow. According to Avalosí campaign site, Adachi was one of the few elected officials and department heads to endorse Avalosí bid for office (a decision Iím sure Adachi now regrets).
City hall insiders say that Avalos, as the chair of the Budget Committee, had a $75 million list of programs and services he wanted to have added back, but only $22 million available to spend from the committeeís review of department budgets. When Chiu and Avalos met with the Mayorís folks behind closed doors, the Mayor magically came up with another $25 plus million for Avalos to spend. But there was a price to pay for the money: save the Mayorís pet programs, such as the Community Justice Center, and help us screw Jeff Adachi.
Avalos had staunchly opposed the Community Justice Center as a waste of public resources and recommended defunding it. He had also voted, along with three other committee members, to restore $600,000 to the Public Defenderís budget. Why the about face? It all comes down to money, honey. So Adachiís budget loss was just a by-product of a mayoral deal Avalos and Chiu couldnít refuse.
What remains now is that Adachi will have to do what he had hoped to avoid: lay-off public defenders and begin to outsource cases to private attorneys. He will finally have the chance to prove that firing public defenders will cost taxpayers $1 million more a year than what it would save by cutting his staff. But perhaps the moral of this twisted story is that San Francisco corruption isnĎt in the graft or the exchange of envelopes which ensnared former Supervisor Ed Jew. Itís in the way that political business is done in this town by officials such as Newsom, Chiu and Avalos who make decisions based on political expediency, not on what is right.
It will be interesting to see what the Board of Supervisorsí does on July 14th when the matter of restoring the Public Defenderís budget will be considered again. This time, Adachi will need six, not three votes, and he may not be able to count on Avalos or Chiu to get there.