At the town hall budget meeting between Mayor Ed Lee and District 9 last month: chants of “Sí, se puede!” and coffee and lemonade out in the hallway.

At the town hall budget meeting between Mayor Ed Lee and District 8 last week: tough crowd.

Some aspects of the meeting were the same — department heads talked about their respective budgets – like Rec and Park’s Phil Ginsburg (“We’re expanding our summer camps”), DPW’s Ed Reiskin (“We have no sustainable source of income for resurfacing streets”), police chief Jeff Godown (“We need more money to train more officers, but we also need those social service and after-school programs”) and District Attorney George Gascon (“We’re looking for ways to lower incarceration and create neighborhood courts as a way to handle low-level offenses”).

Mayor Ed Lee.

Other aspects were strikingly different. Lee approached District 9 almost tenderly, telling the assembled crowd of social service nonprofits working with poor immigrants and gang youth to begin planning their budgets five years — rather than one year — into the future, much to their evident delight. He made no such statements to the crowd gathered in the Mission High auditorium to discuss District 8.

This may have had something to do with the crowd, which was large and verbose. It’s also possible that it was due to the speakers’ choice to bring up matters of policy rather than budget. Lee, a skilled city bureaucrat, certainly knows policy, but didn’t have much to say. He wound up deferring almost every question to Supervisor Scott Wiener.

Among the policy-not-budget-related discussions:

Example #1: The Q.U.E.E.N. (Queer Economic Equality Now) activists in the front row. They booed bitterly and often. Whenever someone on stage began to discuss their departmental budget shortfall, they shouted things like “Tax the rich!” over and over again.

Example #2: The throng of earnest teenagers who came to plead, very nervously and almost unintelligibly, on behalf of the revival of San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary city.

One of the teens asking for San Francisco’s reinstatement as a sanctuary city.

“I’m with you on that,” said Wiener. “When you speak into the mic, stand a little bit away from it.”

Example #3: The coyote people. “I am president of Diamond Heights in Christopher Park,” said one man during comment time. “I encountered eight coyotes there!”

“We do have coyotes in San Francisco,” said Wiener, who explained that the animals are part of our city, should not be fed, and finally, “If we call in Fish and Wildlife, they often just shoot them. If anyone sees a full pack, let my office know.”

“Not to get into the dog issue,” said Phil Ginsburg. “But in Glen Canyon, it is important to keep your dog on a leash.”

The next speaker stepped up to the microphone. “What are you going to do about the coyotes!” she said. “I can’t walk across the street anymore! I can’t go to the Safeway! They have become brazen! They have eaten away all the raccoons and the rabbits and the skunks! They are trying to get on my balcony!”

Example #4: The delegation from Q.U.E.E.N. that approached the microphone during the public comment period and had a strangely coded back and forth with Ginsburg. The word “access” was tossed around a lot. “Queer youth need access to queer services and opportunities to learn a healthy lifestyle,” said one person who identified himself as an intern at LYRIC. “Why is the Eureka Valley Rec Center closed to queer youth?”

“I wasn’t aware that we were restricting access,” said Ginsburg. “We do not support unstructured, unsupervised use of the space.” The Q.U.E.E.N. group began mutter amongst itself in an agitated fashion. “If queer youth want to participate in activities,” Ginsburg continued smoothly, “we have karate, hip-hop dance, spoken word, Latin dance.” He paused. “Zumbatomics.”

“Great,” said the speaker sarcastically. “Looking forward to those programs.”

It wasn’t until the next speaker from Q.U.E.E.N. that the coded language became clearer. “We will not stop,” shouted Adele Carpenter, another queer youth outreach worker. “Not until we are sure that the Eureka Valley Recreation Center is accessible to every queer homeless youth! Without keys! Without having to reappear at certain times of the day!”

“Answer her!” shouted the crowd from Q.U.E.E.N.

“Thank you,” said Wiener.

A long line of people waited to ask budget questions that turned out to be policy questions.

Then there was the group upset about PG&E utility boxes, and the condo conversion group. “The Board of Supervisors banned condo conversion four years ago for buildings that have had an Ellis Act eviction,” said Wiener.

Some statements were phrased in budgetary terms. “If San Francisco is in a budget deficit,” one woman asked, “why say no to Target? Why is there no Trader Joe’s?”

“Target actually is coming,” said Wiener.” To the Metreon. Which does not need to be approved by the Board of Supervisors, because that’s Redevelopment Agency land. “And,” he said, firmly, “Target did some bad things. It contributed to homophobic politicians.”

Wiener was disappointed that Trader Joe’s did not move into the old Tower Records location on Market, he added. “In the end they walked away. There was a lot of concern about parking and traffic, based on the situation with the store on Masonic.”

Lee leapt in. “We definitely need to develop a more positive business climate. Especially with the tech companies — that move we did recently with welcoming Twitter to mid-Market….”

“Boooooooooo,” shouted the contingent from Q.U.E.E.N.

“I have skepticism myself,” said Lee. “But part of building jobs is building hope. Now every other business is interested….”

“BOOOOOOOOOO,” shouted the contingent from Q.U.E.E.N.

Even seemingly good news didn’t go over well. The announcement that this year the Department of Education had enough money for summer school was greeted with a full-throated shout of “We need a progressive supervisor for District 8!”

“Thank you ma’am,” said Wiener, briskly. “Next!”

When the crowd finally cleared out, everyone had been there for over two hours. The Mission High School auditorium is easily the most beautiful performance space remaining in the Mission, but hardly anyone lingered.

Except for one man, who glided toward the stage as though in a dream. “Let’s see,” he said, to no one in particular. “If I can shake the mayor’s hand.”

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Heather Smith covers a beat that spans health, food, and the environment, as well as shootings, stabbings, various small fires, and shouting matches at public meetings. She is a 2007 Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism and a contributor to the book Infinite City.

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  1. To clarify the EVRC access issue: The Eureka Valley Rec Center was renovated in 2006 after 10 years of fundraising by youth and adovcates to have an LGBT youth space with a separate entrance for drop-in based programming. Since that time, Rec and Park has twice dismantled that programming, most recently in August while the programming was highly attended and sustained in part through community-initiated fundraising efforts and volunteer labor from youth outreach workers as back-up staff. The dept. closed the youth space’s 3x/week programming and meal times without community input and has been very slow to respond to a year’s worth of advocacy. The apparent word from the dept. is that “safe and structured” programming has been restored. Their website shows otherwise, indicating that fee-based adult-integrated programming is occurring at the center and that no programs are currently scheduled for youth 13-24. The dept. has also not participated in any meaningul efforts to see that the new registration policies and scholarship application processes are accessible to youth who were using the space. Youth and allies also want a safe and structured space, which is why community input about staffing levels, disciplinary policies, registration and fee policies, and program priorities should be co-generated. This space never should have been taken away from young people in the first place.

    1. So it’s OK for you to go into a meeting and try to dominate a public discussion through bullying? We all have issues that we don’t agree with. We are all “victims” of some policy decisions or others, but it does not justify the type of behavior that was exhibited at this meeting, and such behavior will harm, rather than benefit your cause… “whether you like it or not.”

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