A couple of appalling local government stories were run in this weekend’s Sunday San Francisco Chronicle:
1) The City of San Francisco has a program dedicated to dumping responsibility for its street trees onto property owners, with predictably spotty maintenance results and a collapse of constituent goodwill in the neighborhoods arbitrarily afflicted with these new private responsibilities for public property. A subscription is required to access this premium content because news business, so I’ll have to summarize it based on my reading of the article last night, and briefly note the need to fuck the Chron. A few years ago, the City employed eighteen arborists; now it employs only eleven to maintain over a hundred thousand trees. I’ve worked a bit with trees and extensively with grapevines, and I can attest that there’s no way in hell these eleven arborists are able to keep up with their workload, no matter how quick, thorough, and competent they are. They wouldn’t be able to properly maintain a hundred thousand trees if they were all on the same ranch. Their actual territory, of course, is a congested city of almost 47 square miles (not 49, because geography) with countless streets that should never have been built in the first place for basic civil engineering reasons. The north end of Divisadero, near where Nancy Pelosi lives, goes down a fucking cliff; it’s fun, but it sure ain’t safe. If there are street trees along a street designed for mountain goats, San Francisco’s city arborists have to maintain them.
This bullshit is happening in a city notorious for its bloated government. City officials are too hapless or broke or, realistically, intent on diverting money to more politically powerful slushfunding interests, to replace the seven missing arborists. Eighteen wouldn’t be able to keep up with so fucking many trees, either, but they’d run less far behind than eleven. Any city government needs to have priorities; in San Francisco, it seems that these priorities do not include minimizing the risk that a passerby will be crushed under a two-foot-thick live oak branch. If individual property owners are solvent, diligent, and sensible enough to arrange competent tree maintenance work that the City of San Francisco is too head-in-the-ass to do itself, I’m the chief elder of the mahoots, and why, yes, you can trust me not to get you killed by this bull elephant, because my elephant-whispering transcends all musth.
What the City is doing here is like a dipshit grown child asking his parents to take care of his dog for a while because it’s a pain in the ass to pick up the pooch’s shit with a little baggie and, besides, he can’t afford kibble because he needs the money for tickets to see Coldplay this weekend.
2) Again, the damned paywall, because #content, but I remember enough from reading the hard copy last night to summarize the second unconscionable embarrassment, as Chronicled (teehee) by Matier and Ross: “Alameda County negotiating with Oakland to pay off Coliseum debt.” The deal here is that the City of Oakland has nearly $100 million in outstanding public debt for the reconstruction of the Coliseum two decades ago in the interest of, shall we say, raiding the Raiders. As a brief aside, the Oakland Coliseum, a trashy but respectable name evoking the venerable worst of old-timey Rome, is now known as o.co, because our public aesthetics have been taken over by horrific assholes. It’s no cheaper by that name, of course; it’s still the same white elephant serving the same wrongheaded, trashy, borderline constitutionally violent fan base (although Niners Nation knows how to dish it out as hard as it takes it, which is why further Transbay Bowls are not on the agenda, and you’ll have to watch the archived footage of the fan brawls if you’re that sick a puppy).
The kicker of a backstory, of course, is that the City of Oakland was recently too broke and derelict to make payroll for its cops at a time of enduringly high violent crime. People got assaulted, raped, and killed because no one in city government had the moral clarity and force of will to compel adequate police funding. The Oakland Police Department is a chronically troubled agency, so there were certainly some bad cops that got temporarily cut off, but the funding cuts were willy-nilly dysfunction that left the best, most honorable, most diligent, most competent beat cops and detectives equally hamstrung.
What’s hilarious, if you can transcend the outrageous immorality of it all, is that the City of Oakland wants Alameda County to take over its back debts on the Coliseum reconstruction project because the County has a better credit rating. This is like our dog-abandoning friend from above asking his dad to cosign on a loan so that he can build a man cave in his basement, complete with a regulation fighting ring, but, no, Dad, of course I’m not gonna do anything about the hoodlums who are serially murdering street people and home health aides in my front yard, that would be yucky, just gimme the money already.
These shitheaded stunts aren’t being done by ne’er-do-well grown children, of course. They’re being done by elected municipal governments at the great expense, not only financial but also human, of their constituents. In this case, as disreputable as it may be, I must second John Stossel’s motion to gimme a break. This is hellishly bad government.
The proper thing for Alameda County officials to do in these circumstances is to offer every sheriff’s deputy and detective they can spare for ongoing mutual aid within Oakland’s city limits, to refuse all requests from Oakland’s municipal government for financial assistance, and to tell Oakland’s elected officials and police brass that, given its troubled history and appalling external management, they will consider filing amicus briefs in support of any petition to dissolve the Oakland Police Department and reassign primary jurisdiction to some combination of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the California Highway Patrol. Oakland has played enough moneyball; someone has to start playing hardball with its officials and demanding concrete reforms. (I’ll give YOU a concrete reform, Mr. Hoffa! Sorry. Okay, not sorry. Y’all know to expect that kind of thing around here by now.) The gross incompetence of the Camden Police Department justified the reassignment of primary jurisdiction to the New Jersey State Police, and the Oakland Police Department is not objectively much better than the Camden PD was when the State of New Jersey imposed emergency restrictions on its charter and sent in the troopers. The most obvious difference between these two situations is that the California Highway Patrol is a much less troubled, better disciplined agency than the NJSP, and one with a much less stark history of frank racial bigotry in its ranks.
At some point, local self-government becomes an unattainable ideal. Oakland has been at that point for decades by now. During the big midcentury push for civil rights, its police commanders aggressively recruited white cops from Mississippi, for exactly the malign reasons you probably fear. By some accounts, that bigotry has festered on the force ever since. More generally, Oakland’s city government is a dumpster fire. No ordinary constituent can reliably count on it for jack shit in the way of basic government services, in part because it is too busy misappropriating public funds for corrupt big business interests. Now they want to risk Alameda County’s credit rating in the hope of being hooked up with the good stuff on the cheap, but not in a way that infringes on their city’s suite of municipal charter rights. This is beyond parody.
The equitable solution is obviously for bondholders to take the haircut. They’re the ones who invested in white elephant municipal debt whose servicing ended up getting people murdered on account of grossly underfunded and deficient basic public services. Legally, it may not be possible to soak the bondholders for reasons of contractual legerdemain, because, as Ken White first put it, the law is majestic. But IANAL, so bug Ken about it, not me.
No, actually, bug Scott Greenfield.
Mercy. I just suborned blawgoshpere bum fights. I should probably go to confession now.
That shit’s above my qualification. If I go to law school, it can all be mine, too, but seriously, I’m much more inclined to take arborist training, for purposes of being a contendah in a field that has a relatively small pool of literal climbers instead of one that is swamped by social climbers. Not that I’ll be taking that show on the road to the San Francisco civil service commission, because if they really want my help, they’re free to find other staff to clear the maintenance backlog first. My application to the San Diego Police Department was enough engagement with an understaffed, overworked California city agency for the time being. I was young and foolish then. Now I’m balding and wise, or at least balding. Anyway, my layman’s understanding is that you can basically put anything into a contract that doesn’t involving a direct party signing away its legal rights, and the citizens who got killed or injured due to the negligence of the Oakland Police Department while their city’s government diddled around with sweetheart deals with out-of-town sports magnates were not direct parties to the bond deal that Oakland is now trying to dump into Alameda County’s debt portfolio, but that’s just a rough guess. Regan? Your thoughts?
The broader civic aspects of this mess are much more straightforward. Even if Oakland had not indentured itself and its taxpayers unto the third generation for the purpose of luring back a white trash lodestone of a football team, the Coliseum bond still would have been civically unconscionable. The people who actually call the shots at major league sports teams manifestly do not care about the welfare of their host cities. By the way, that’s host as in that which feeds a parasite. As a rule of thumb, these teams are parasites. If they weren’t, their owners wouldn’t play city off against city with extortionate demands for public funds. This is aggressively parasitic behavior.
Of course, it’s dressed up as civic pride. A lot of people, especially bourgeois voters, fall for this whopper, but it’s total bullshit. I’m about as loyal and proud a Californian as you’ll ever find. I’m one step away from going out and buying bear flag republic swag. I voted for Moonbeam v. 2.1 and v. 2.2, and I’m pretty happy with the results on the whole. I treasure my California residency as much as I treasure my US citizenship, and, no, I am not being cheeky about that. Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way (you’re welcome), let me say this:
As a Californian, I find it deeply offensive when obscenely wealthy global elites with absolutely no loyalty to California or any place within it use their political muscle to extort California’s municipal governments, and I know that I am far from the only Californian who feels this way. I don’t give a shit how popular or successful a particular team is when it extorts my state’s governments for public money. This is an all but criminal abuse of my country’s federal system and of the extensive local control delegated by most of its states to their municipalities, and no government official should submit to such extortion in the slightest, ever. Officials submit, of course, sometimes because they’re desperate or craven, sometimes because they’re part of this country’s public corruption problem, but it is never honorable behavior, and voters should not stand for it. How exactly can voters stand against it? Hell if I know. There are a lot of moving parts in any election, and usually there are conflicting reasons to vote for some crooked motherfucker who is scheming to vote away the public treasury to oligarchs, but if nothing else, recall petitions remain at our disposal. (Am I right, Mr. Davis?)
The stance of these teams when they extend their hands for public alms is always fuck you, if you don’t give us our money we can always be the Las Vegas Raiders! The Omaha Raiders! If I were trying to start a small business of my own, I wouldn’t walk into some city licensing department and tell the clerk that unless I immediately get an agreement for a $20,000 loan I’ll go to some other city for the loan instead and also arrange to smear the government that just spurned me in PR copy in every newspaper from Flagstaff to Roanoke. Sports magnates shouldn’t do this, either, and they certainly shouldn’t be catered to when they try.
Meanwhile, there have been news reports that the San Francisco Police Department, formerly a fairly well-disciplined one, is regressing into racially tinged gangland murder. All is not quiet on the western front.