Progressives challenge mayor's abuse of authority

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EDITORIAL Mayor Ed Lee has repeatedly overstepped his authority on behalf of the entrenched political and economic interests who put him into office, and we're happy to see Sup. John Avalos and his progressive allies on the Board of Supervisors starting to push back and restore a more honest and equitable balance of power at City Hall.

There was no excuse for Lee and his political appointees on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to sabotage a decade of work creating the CleanPowerSF program, the only mechanism the city has for creating the renewable energy projects we need to meet our climate change goals.

This was a program created by a veto-proof majority on the Board of Supervisors, the body that the City Charter gives the authority to create such programs on behalf of the people who elect them, then the SFPUC used a vote that should have been a procedural formality to block it (see "Power struggle," 9/17/13).

Lee refused to work with the supervisors to address his stated concerns — most of which have already been addressed by now anyway, from the program's cost to the involvement of Shell Energy North America, which is now out — draining the CleanPowerSF funding and providing more evidence that this ruse was really all about protecting PG&E from competition.

So Avalos and other progressives of the Budget & Finance Committee last week rejected the SFPUC budget, forcing Lee and allies to now bargain in good faith. That's the kind of realpolitik in service of progressive values that we've been missing at City Hall in recent years, the willingness to get tough with the grinning mayor who disingenuously talks about civility while his operatives stab their opponents in the back.

Avalos is also sponsoring a fall ballot measure that would let voters fill vacancies on the Board of Supervisors, rather than letting the mayor, who heads the executive branch, stack the legislative branch of government in his favor. We should have done that a decade ago after Gavin Newsom executed his infamous "triple play" to gain another ally on the board, and it's especially relevant now that two supervisors are running against either other for the Assembly.

Avalos isn't stressing the balance of powers argument for his Let's Elect our Elected Officials Act of 2014, which would call a special election to fill vacancies in all the locally elected positions if the next election was more than year away (both the Board of Education and City College Board of Trustees would appoint interim members). It even gives up the supervisors' power to appoint a new mayor (with the board president serving the interim, as is now the law). San Francisco isn't a dictatorship, as much as that might please Lee's business community allies. The people and our district-elected supervisors need to have a stronger voice in how this city is being run, so we at the Bay Guardian are happy to see a few new green shoots of democracy springing up at City Hall.