SF braces for even deeper cuts

June 16, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The three largest Bay Area cities are all grappling with budget concerns. Oakland and San Jose both face significant deficits of more than $80 million. But the situation in San Francisco is even worse.

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San Francisco has a staggering $438 million deficit. So, how San Francisco spends its money has profound ramifications and that's putting advocates for the poor against public safety agencies.

There were several protests going on at the steps of City Hall, but the one that stood out was the fuss about the interim budget that keeps government operating when the fiscal year begins in July.

It's a temporary budget approved by the mayor, then taken apart by some supervisors.

"We're making a statement that we need to make sure we share the pain of this budget equitably across all city departments," said San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos.

Avalos is chair of the Budget Committee, which made the unprecedented decision to take more than $80 million away from the police and fire departments and give the money to health, recreation and human services -- agencies the mayor had slated for deep cuts.

"There would be cuts to permanent supportive housing, daytime closure of shelters, drop in centers would be closed down, people currently on the streets would have no place to go," said Ken Reggio from the Episcopal Community Services.

On Tuesday, families at one of the organization's supportive housing complexes received free mattresses from the McRoskey Company.

Private donations like that help, but any reduction in city funding will devastate their nearby homeless shelter.

On the other hand, firefighters say slashing their budget could devastate public safety. They've launched a campaign, warning of a public safety disaster. The fire chief says that's not a scare tactic.

"It is about protecting the most vulnerable -- that's why we show up and do every day and to take 50 less officers off the street is irresponsible," said San Francisco Fire Department Chief Joanne Hayes-White.

The mayor is blasting the supervisors, but is hoping to come up with a compromise. If not, he is considering vetoing the budget, which could bring city spending to a grinding halt.

"We're analyzing our legal choices. There may be a way to reserve the money until the new budget and avoid a veto so we can still pay our bills," said San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom.

This is not the final budget, so it signals what could be a bruising battle ahead.

Tuesday night, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval to the budget plan. A final vote is next month.

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