firefighterslede.jpgAre all of your electrical outlets in good working order, is your chimney clean and free of obstruction and are all open flames away from flammable material? If not, now would be a good time to fireproof your own home, as several hundred firefighters (off-duty, of course) have taken a page from the SEIU’s book and packed City Hall to protest last week’s move by the Board of Supervisors to trim their payroll in the Mayor’s Interim Budget.

This is already a packed hearing, with representatives from public health organizations lining up outside the door to Board of Supervisors’ chamber for entry well before the 2 p.m. drop of the gavel; the Firefighters’ Local 798 were next in line, as they held a 1 p.m. rally outside on the City Hall steps and paraded in afterwards.

The scene before the meeting began was notably raucous — firefighters and their families aimed shouts at their least favorite Supervisors and bellowed, “Let us in!”; some of said Supervisors tried to play hall monitor and direct the firefighters to the end of the line; much shouting, screaming and repeated chanting.

We will now take bets on the length of public comment; over-under in the press box currently stands at three hours.

But now we’re inside and we’re discussing the MOUs — the memorandum of understandings, the agreements between the City and County of San Francisco and its various service-providing unions — which is the cause of all this fuss. We’re on the Police Officers’ Association MOU right now, and we’ll post back with updates.

As always, you can watch the civic carnage for yourself on SFGTV.

Update, 2:49 p.m.
So, very little unexpected and/or controversial has transpired thus far. All of the modified MOUs — i.e. the union givebacks — were approved on first reading; Supervisor Eric Mar’s “I don’t like torture, Save the San Francisco 8/Fuck Tha Police” (depending on how you look at it) measure was continued to July 7; and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and his wife are now proud parents! The latter did not happen on the floor of the chamber, we assure you.

Update, 2:54 p.m. Of course, we forget that the really big hearing today is the 3 p.m. special order in which the Board will consider the DPH’s updated budget.

It’s called a Beilenson Hearing — now, what is a Beilenson Hearing, you may ask? Do you care? It’s a special magic hearing with unicorns, rainbows and roads paved with gumdrops. And a special hearing required under the law whenever cuts over a certain amount to public health/safety programs are proposed. Or something.

Update, 3:00 p.m. It’s become remarkable quiet outside in the hallway — or at least much quieter than it was about an hour ago. We’re going to peek outside and see what’s up — sources are telling us, “They’re all gone,” but what kind of demi-reporter would we be if we didn’t follow up on that?

Update, 3:10 p.m. So, yes, the fighters of fire have absconded — they’re not upstairs, they’re not downstairs, they are departed. No public comment from firefighters today; public health workers, it’s all up to you!

Update, 3:12 p.m. Mayor Gavin Newsom was invited to the hearing, we’re told courtesy of Supervisor Chris Daly. But… yeah, you guessed it. Snubbed.

In all honesty and fairness to the Mayor, this might have been the one time an appearance before the Board would have done him could. He is a spectacular orator, a charismatic dude and has at times been comfortable amongst residents of SROs (for a full-fledged Mayoral blumpkin, click here) could have done himself, his budget and his buddies on the Board a favor by showing up to ‘splain himself.

3:25 p.m. We’d like to think that the Quote of the Budget Season thus far goes to Local 798 head John Hanley, who told the Chronicle the following:

“When tourists get off the plane at SFO, should we hand them a sheet of paper that says, ‘Danger! Staying in San Francisco could cause serious death or injury to you and your family’? It’s [the Supes’ move to reduce fire, police and sheriff’s budgets by $81 million] crazy.”

Though Daly had a good one just now in an impassioned speech.

“When we cut public health services to this extent, we are threatening public safety,” he said. And the firefighters and EMTs — who spend most of their working hours dealing with health emergencies, not fighting fires — know that.

3:33 p.m. Hey, maybe the cuts aren’t as bad as everyone thought: Dr. Mitch Katz, head of the Department of Public Health, has just pointed out that the department — which has a giant budget of well over $1 billion — is only getting hit with $67 million worth of cuts (that’s after it dug up $107 million worth of new revenue). And of that, only $12.3 million worth of services will be reduced. As an example — while $3.3 million worth of mental health services have been slashed, a budget for mental health services of $239 million remains.

3:39 p.m. That was a mighty quick hearing. Now we’re onto public comment, or as they call it in the press box, “get a sandwich time.”

3:52 p.m. We’ve just been handed a copy of the DPH’s budget, line by line! Sweet.

Anyone else curious what will actually happen today? Well, in all honesty, probably not much — the Board has to listen to everyone here who’s lined up for comment, but the vote on the actual, for-real, fiscal year 2009-2010 budget comes later. Interim budget — the placeholder that bridges the gap between the two yearlong budgets — could be voted on before, oh, say nine p.m.

5:26 p.m. We’re still here, as is the gang of 11. And we’re still on public comment. We think we might sign off the live blog for now, but we’ll keep listening in and we’ll post if anything major happens. See you tomorrow for Budget and Finance.

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