SF budget committee discusses city cuts

June 18, 2009 10:31:51 PM PDT
Budget cuts were the topic of discussion Wednesday and today at meetings of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee.

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The meetings in the board chambers at San Francisco City Hall are being held to consider the budget proposed by Mayor Gavin Newsom that must contend with a $575.6 million budget shortfall.

Today's budget committee focused on San Francisco's criminal justice and public safety agencies, and was preceded by protests outside City Hall.

Dozens of people gathered earlier this morning to protest proposed budget cuts to the city's public defender's office as well as jail health services, City Hall security and sheriff's department cadets.

Newsom has proposed a $1.9 million cut to the public defender's office, according to Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Many speakers at the rally criticized the cuts as unfairly affecting minorities and poor people.

"What really irks me ... is that this budget does not share this economic crisis equally," Anamaria Loya, executive director of La Raza Centro Legal, said.

According to the National Council on Crime and Delinquency, black people are 4.7 times as likely to have a public defender and Hispanics are 2.1 times as likely compared to Caucasians.

Adachi said at the rally that "there's no doubt in my mind that we're going to win this battle."

Inside the budget meeting, Nani Coloretti, the mayor's budget director, said the proposed cuts were designed to balance the effects of the reductions between the city's district attorney's office and public defender's office.

Adachi said the cuts would cause the layoffs of 17 attorneys in his office, and estimated that the office would have to withdraw from as many as 3,000 pending cases that would then be handled by private defense lawyers who would be paid by the city.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, one of five supervisors in the budget committee, said that proposal sounded counterintuitive and that he'd "work toward the restoration of the public defender's funds."

Discussions with police and fire officials were scheduled to take place at the hearings later in the evening.

The budget committee ignited a political firestorm last week by proposing $82.9 million in cuts this year to the city's police, fire and sheriff's departments under the city's interim budget.

Additional departmental hearings will be held on Monday and Wednesday, as well as June 25 and June 29. The public safety agencies will be meeting with the budget committee again during the June 25 meeting.

The Board of Supervisors must approve the Interim Annual Appropriation Ordinance by June 30, and the board must adopt the final budget by the last working day of July.

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