You always suspected San Francisco was too good to be true.
As a kid, when your mom gave you $10 dollars and sent you to the mall, you knew you had a choice. You could buy the five pack of comics, the baseball starter pack, or the prodigious bag of candy. You couldn’t buy them all. Then you saw that kid everybody called San Francisco. The kid who, time and time again, left the store with all three.
Life is unique in San Francisco. We cater to yuppies and hipsters, art snobs and sports nuts, white males and the disenfranchised alike. But our diverse way of life comes at a steep price. One of the reasons our deficits continue to soar is that it is difficult to cut costs in San Francisco. Voter mandates make it so that money allocated to certain program or department cannot be touched at subsequent budget committees. This is our toughest obstacle, since San Francisco taxpayers have come to expect a certain degree of services–parks, libraries, youth programs, tenant advocacy, environmental initiatives. The list goes on.
Take a look at some examples of San Francisco’s unique spending habits: police and fire departments that have voter minimum staffing levels; a $250,000 sex worker clinic; a $215,000 pediatric clinic to help gay, lesbian, and transgendered youth. We are the only other city besides LA to spend local dollars on supportive housing. But where LA spends 17 cents per capita, San Francisco spends $43.
This comes at a time when one of the city’s biggest contributors is taking a recession sized hit. The city’s hotel industry accounts for 7 percent of the city’s annual budget, the highest contributor from the private sector. Room rates are falling–$134 from $162 of the last year. And analysts estimate that by 2009-2010, the revenue generated will fall an additional $30 million dollars.
Now San Francisco must make a tough decision. Do we raise our already egregious taxes, or do we cut services to the city? And if we decide to cut services, how do we determine who gets the ax?