Friday, November 21, 2014

Which SF Sup. Had the Most Meetings With Uber Lobbyists in 2014?

In addition to following the money, good watchdogging also demands paying close attention to the professional lobbyists hired by corporations to influence politicians and legislation at San Francisco's City Hall.

(Click the images to enlarge.)

Public records at the Ethics Commission reveal that Supervisor Scott Wiener and his aide Andres Power received the most visits from Uber's lobbyists this year. There were five meetings with Boe Hayward, who began his lobbying career about five minutes after he stopped working for Sup. Bevan Dufty in 2011, and one meeting with Patty-Jo Rutland.

All five of Hayward's meetings with Wiener's aide were about opposing rideshare regulations.

Uber paid the Goodyear Peter Hayward and Associates firm $30,000 so far this year, and Rutland and her consulting company received $32,500, bringing Uber's total lobbying fees for City Hall purposes to $62,000.

Sure would be great to know what was discussed at all of these meetings Uber held with our elected officials.
City Hall Workgroup Looking at Selling SF Municipal Air Rights

When I attended the October 23 fire commission meeting I learned that the City is evaluating selling air rights over municipal buildings, which was news to me. I received information from John Updike, the head of the Department of Real Estate, that more than a million square feet of air rights above the Veterans Building are in the process of being sold.

Thanks to a public records request, I've received transcripts from that meeting which provide greater transparency about where the City is in terms of potentially selling off air rights over public properties. If the Board of Supervisors would pressure the fire department, whose current budget is $86 million, to air the commission meetings on SF GovTV, it wouldn't take public records requests to fully learn all that is discussed at the meetings.

First, let me explain that fire commission member Ken Cleaveland is the vice president of the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco and their primary purpose is "advancing the commercial real estate industry through advocacy, professional development and information exchange."

It's no surprise that Cleaveland is urging movement on selling air rights, after all, it would be a financial boon to his association and its members. At the July 10 commission meeting, he made an initial inquiry:

Commissioner Cleaveland asked if the Department has ever looked at the value of any air rights they may have above fire stations and suggested deputizing someone to look into this possibility. Chief Hayes-White thought that would be a good idea and explained air right proposals were looked at in 2008, specifically to Station 13 on Sansome Street.

(Click to enlarge. Page 1 of excerpted transcripts.)

Here are excerpts of the October 23 transcripts that were provided to me by the commission's secretary:

COMMISSIONER CLEVELAND: And know what the status is of all of our -- of all of our properties, if you will. And the other thing was had we made any progress on determining if we have any transferable developmental rights, air rights above any of our fire stations? Have we done anything to determine or quantify or monetize that value? We might be able to sell. It's a very hot real estate market in order to get more money for the department.

(Page 2.)

MARK CORSO, Chief Financial Officer for SFFD, bolding added: Specifically we looked at it when it was first brought up with the Commission a few months ago, I believe. That comes up every now and then, and we discussed it with the Department of Real Estate and we are not the only department to discuss it with them. So there is a workgroup city wide looking at that. They've hired some consultants with regard utilities pricing and inventory. I believe there is a demand for, or there's actually a large want amongst many city departments to sell it so there is an issue of over saturating the market with those real estate options. And so that's one of the things with regards to timing that the Department of Real Estate is looking at. So they are working on it in conjunction with capital planning, the city's capital planning department.

(Page 3.)

COMMISSIONER COVINGTON: Thank you, Mr. President. Every time my fellow Commissioner Cleveland talks about air rights I want to bring up the fact that I would like to have us to continue to investigate the ability to build workforce housing for firefighters, police officers, and teachers.

Since developers are running out of land to build on and they can't very well construct new properties in the San Francisco Bay, it makes sense that they would look to purchase air rights for future projects. At the same time, can you blame the City for considering how to sell those air rights and produce more revenue for municipal coffers?

Now is a good time for historic building preservationists, affordable housing advocates, progressive social and urban planners, to demand more transparency from the City's workgroup looking air rights.

Since there's a workgroup and consultants have been hired, selling air rights is far enough in development to demand greater public scrutiny.
Vid: Reporters Chase German Politician into Men's Room Stall

As far as I know, German prosecutors have not brought privacy violation charges against the various journalists and persons wielding cameras who videotaped and snapped photos of a politician in a men's room while attempting to flee their questions.

Should we call those with cameras pee-parazzi? (Sorry, I couldn't resist some humor.)

Here's the story from The Local, a German news site in English, explaining what led to the bathroom incident which has been dubbed Toiletgate:

The Left (Die Linke) party chief Gregor Gysi took refuge in a toilet after two activist journalists chased him down alleging that he called them anti-Semitic.The incident was recorded and posted onto YouTube on Tuesday. 

"When I have a hit on my life, are you going to take responsibility for that?" asks Canadian-Israeli activist David Sheen as he follows Gysi down the corridor housing the Left party's parliamentary offices on the video. "Are you going to take responsibility for the threats on my life?" 

Gysi then locks himself into the bathroom, yelling "Out! Get out of here!", as Sheen continues to shout after him. The confrontation stemmed from a talk that Sheen was supposed to give with American author Max Blumenthal, a sharp critic of the Israeli state's conduct in the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, at Berlin's Volksb├╝hne on the anniversary of Kristallnacht, November 9. 

Gysi had also sought to prevent the pair from speaking to MPs in the Linke conference room at the parliament.

Let's be grateful the German prosecutors aren't like San Francisco's vindictive Supervisor Scott Wiener. He abused the power of his office to have Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, the police department and District Attorney George Gascon investigate and prosecute me, to the tune of $26,000 in taxpayer dollars, for an impromptu photo I snapped of Wiener at a sink in a men's room at City Hall in October 2012.

I'd like to think Gysi is one politician who does not go charge-shopping against political adversaries.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

HIV Panel to Post Agendas in 2015, Minutes Require FOIL 

(Public domain photo.)

The New York State Department of Health's AIDS Advisory Council is a ludicrous mess from top to bottom. I complained yesterday about the lack of agendas on the web in advance of their November 20 meeting and that no minutes are posted on their site.

However, my chief concern was the removal of corrupt AIDS bureaucrat Gail Barouh for her misspending $179,000 in government funds as documented by a New York State Comptroller's audit. All of this was outlined in an email to the council.

My friends back East reminded me that the chair of the council is Marjorie Hill, pictured, a former executive director of the Gay Men's Health Crisis who was fired in September 2013 for numerous failures. For a refresher check out this Gay City News article about what led the GMHC board to can her.

This council isn't fully transparent and contains two members who've abused their powers as executive directors of HIV services agencies, showing just how bad things are in the Empire State in terms of AIDS accountability.

It pleases me to know my concerns have been heard and will be included in the council's minutes, but those are small potatoes compared to the large problems of corrupt bureaucrats Hill and Barouh and their ilk who run too many AIDS Inc groups and advisory panels.

This is the note Hill sent me this afternoon:

Your email was shared with me as Chair of the NYS AIDS Advisory Council. Thank you for your comments. 

Beginning in 2015, the Council’s meeting agendas will be posted on the NYS Department of Health website as an attachment to the meeting notice. I have attached the agenda for the November 20, 2014 meeting to this email. 

Meeting minutes from previous meetings are available for public inspection upon written request to the NYS Department of Health Records Access Office in accordance with Freedom of Information Law (FOIL). 

Please note that the Council does not have the authority to appoint or remove members. Members of the Council are appointed as indicated by Public Health Law Article 27-E, Section 2778. 

I have [included] the link to the statutory authority which explains this process. Your comments will be included in the public record for the November 20, 2014 meeting.
When Did SF Last Audit Local AIDS Groups?

During my DIY Democracy campaign for District 8 Supervisor, a key plank in my platform called for audits of all nonprofits receiving City dollars especially HIV groups and the AIDS programs of the Department of Public Health.

According to a story by Seth Hemmelgarn in the Bay Area Reporter, the City appropriated about $12 million for HIV services for the current fiscal year.

I asked the Controller's Office for info about when they last conducted audits of HIV programs and the last round of them for City-funded agencies was in 2007, and for groups receiving federal AIDS dollars it was back in 2008.

Six years is a long time to go without looking at the books of HIV nonprofits and there must be a push to have the Controller audit these groups again in 2015. Here's the reply from the Controller with links to the audits performed in the aughts:

"In response to your email inquiry, the Controller’s City Services Auditor (CSA) has completed the following reports related to HIV/AIDS nonprofit organizations and DPH grantees: Fiscal and Compliance Audits of DPH Contractors/Grantees:

"Review of Single Audit Reports of Nonprofit Organizations Receiving Pass-Through, Federal Funds from DPH:

SFPD Update on Investigation of Feather Lynn's Death

Just over three months ago, a member of the Radical Faerie tribe named Feather Lynn, nee Bryan Higgins, pictured, was involved in an altercation early on August 10 on Church Street near Duboce. He passed away from injuries on August 13 and the San Francisco Police Department opened an investigation into the matter.

This is the statement the SFPD released to me today:

"The individual whose image has been released in both a short video and still photographs has not been identified. The distortion present in both forms of  [video and screengrab] media has made this task challenging. No arrests have been made in the death of Mr. Higgins. This is still an open and ongoing investigation. The San Francisco Police Department has received multiple leads and is actively investigating them. The SFPD strongly encourages anyone who may have any information into the death of Mr. Higgins to come forward."

The department has still not explained why they took more than a week to release an image of the suspect, while the case and leads grew cold. What they released today is generic and really provides no specifics, but at least the cops know there is continuing interest in this case.

Seth Hemmelgarn of the Bay Area Reporter has provided extensive coverage about Feather Lynn's demise and spoke with a witness a few after the altercation took place.

Supervisor Scott Wiener, in whose district the incident occurred and in which Feather lived, was quick to seize upon the episode to show his law-and-order agenda:

"[W]e need to stay the course in growing our depleted and under-staffed police department back to full staffing. [...] In 2011, in my first year in office, we worked to fund the first academy class in years, and we are now funding 3 classes every year. [...] But, until we re-grow the department, we need to make do with what we have, and that means smart use of resources to nip in the bud criminal behavior before it escalates like this."

As Hemmelgarn reported, friends of Feather including his neighbor Brian Busta said Feather had serious mental health problems that weren't being addressed leading many in the gay and Castro community to say this was not an episode showing a need for expanding the police department, but more resources were required for mental health programs.

Brian Busta and I spoke on the phone today and he asked that I mention he and other friends of Feather are still grieving over his death. They are hoping the police soon provide answers about altercation, apprehend and question a suspect, and solve this crime.
Ponti's 'Human Voice' Opens SF's New Italian Cinema Series

(San Francisco Film Society courtesy photo.)

It's always a highlight of my cinematic year catching up with the latest films from Italy, thanks to the programmers at the San Francisco Film Society.

This year's edition of New Italian Cinema opens with two shorts by Edoardo Ponti. The first is a new interpretation of "The Human Voice", a play by Jean Cocteau previously filmed by Roberto Rossellini featuring Anna Magnani. Ponti's version stars his mother beautiful mother, the legendary Sophia Loren, pictured.

The second Ponti featurette is the "The Nightshift Belongs to the Stars" and Natassja Kinski. Ponti will be present tonight for a Q and A with the audience. Only rush tickets are available for this program tonight, so get to the Vogue Theatre early if you hope to get a ticket this show. Let's hope both shorts play again soon in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Film Society reports the following filmmakers are expected to appear at the mini-festival: Rossella De Venuto, director of  "Controra - House of Shadows", Paolo Genovese, director "Blame Freud", and co-writer of "Remember Me", Alessandro Lunardelli, director of  "Up to the World", and Antonio Morabito, director of "The Medicine Seller".

A total of twelve films round out the rest of the series and it continues to November 23. Click here for program notes on each of them, along with information about showtimes and to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Corrupt AIDS Executive Must Be Removed from State Panel

A tipster alerted me to the fact that the corrupt and wildly excessively-compensated Gail Barouh, pictured, whom I blogged about last week, is a member of an important oversight and advisory panel for the Empire State. With her sitting on the panel, it's impossible to believe it can provide a decent amount of necessary oversight.

The following letter was sent today to various elected officials, friends who are poz and negative, reporters across the state and healthcare watchdogs. It's my hope that others will also call for the removal of Barouh from this panel and quickly too.

Tomica Collado-Robinson
New York State Department of Health
AIDS Advisory Council
Secretary of the Council

Dear Ms. Collada-Robinson,

There are several crucial HIV-related matters I wish to bring to your attention and request that they be immediately addressed, in order to adequately allow the general public to fully engage with the department in crafting beneficial policies.

First, I see that the AIDS Advisory Council will be meeting on November 20 and must protest the lack of a published agenda on the AAC's web site.
Why is there no agenda available? An agenda is necessary to assist the public and HIV activists and persons living with AIDS decide if they should attend Thursday's meeting from 10:30 am to 1 pm. 

Furthermore, I cannot locate minutes from any previous AAC meetings. Where on the department's site are minutes available for public inspection?

Second, I wish to know what steps, if any, will be taken at the November 20 meeting to potentially remove AAC member Ms. Gail Barouh, the executive director of the Long Island Association for AIDS Care. 

As you know, on September 30, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a damning audit of LIAAC and found that Ms. Barouh was responsible for questionable spending totaling $179,000 from state government HIV contracts. 

Third, since the AAC takes many positions on state government spending impacting health services for HIV poz persons and those at-risk of contracting the virus, and provides oversight of that spending, it is unethical to retain Ms. Barouh on the AAC in any capacity.

Since I am unable to attend the November 20 meeting, I request that you enter this letter into the public record and provide a copy to the person taking minutes.

Please confirm by 12 noon on November 19 that you have received this letter and will present a copy at the AAC meeting and make sure the minutes include my concerns.

Michael Petrelis
CDC's NAPWA Audit Released; Ex-ED's New Job at the NMA

(Frank Oldham. Courtesy photo.)

Long before the National Association of People With AIDS declared bankruptcy in February 2013 and ceased to exist, it lost its focus on individuals living with HIV/AIDS and was in no way a genuine community-based organization.

The CDC, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request I made shortly after the group's collapse, has released a 500-plus page audit of NAPWA and it's not a pretty picture. I've posted the audit here for all to read.

By the way, the last NAPWA executive director, Frank Oldham, now works at the National Medical Association in Silver Spring, MD. The nonprofit is dedicated to the health needs of African-Americans. I reached him on the phone last week to get his thoughts about the audit and he promised he'd get back to me by the end of the week, after speaking with his lawyer. Unfortunately, Oldham didn't call or email me.

Reporter Duncan Osborne is a longtime watchdog of AIDS nonprofits for Gay City News and friend who I asked to review the audit and here are his observations:

Osborne: See page 131, pictured, for the minutes of an April 20, 2009 meeting of the executive committee of the board. They approved a cut in the NAPWA budget of at least $300,000 so the agency was already in trouble then. 

Go to pages 304 to 308 to see documentation on the lack of progress for this capacity building contract. They appear to be falling short on many substantive measures due to lack of staffing among other reasons. 

On 309, they're late reporting results by about two months. On 317, they are promising to correct flaws in their earlier reporting.

Osborne: See page 433, pictured. Half of NAPWA's cash was coming from the feds in 2008. That is up from 43 percent in 2007. This reliance on federal dollars means the minute the feds cut you, you're in trouble. Fed contracts were down to 42 percent in 2009. And down to 41 percent in 2010. These percentages weren't declining because NAPWA was replacing that money with private cash. They were declining because the feds were cutting the contracts and the agency WASN'T replacing those dollars. 

MP: These lines are evidence of how the group was not first and foremost committed to representing people with AIDS: "NAPWA is a nonprofit organization, dedicated to halting the spread of HIV through serving people impacted by the disease and the community-based organizations which assist them. NAPWA provides a wide-range of HIV/AIDS services which include development of effective and far-reaching HIV prevention education messages."

What the hell NAPWA doing making prevention its number one priority when the PWA part of its name were already infected with HIV? The answer is keeping the CDC prevention dollars flowing and in the final years of its existence receiving grants from the Ora-Sure to promote HIV testing. Their constituency was supposed to be poz folks, not negative people in need of prevention of services.

Osborne: See page 479, pictured, as well. NAPWA refinanced its bank debt in 2010. They were losing money and borrowing on their line of credit, I presume, to pay expenses and payroll. Page 479 has a discussion of their "sustainability plan." Page 481 suggests they were having trouble paying payroll taxes. The last 20 pages or so suggest was NAPWA being monitored, but had not done anything sneaky. It looks like they weren't paying their bills and I suspect that includes payroll taxes. You should check for state and fed tax liens. This looks like a classic mistake -- too much reliance on government dollars leading to failure when those government bucks get cut.

MP: I am waiting to hear back from the Silver Spring and Maryland state attorneys general offices about their investigation into the demise of NAPWA. Stay tuned for updates.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Hope for Cinema: Roxie's Sold-Out French Noir Series

This may sound strange to folks who aren't cineastes, but I'm glad there wasn't a ticket I could purchase for Friday night's Henri-Georges Clouzot's flicks at the Roxie as the theatre began a French noir festival.

Actually, I couldn't buy a ticket for any of the screenings on Saturday either because the Roxie was sold-out. I'd like to believe other cineastes understand why I'm fine about not being able to see the majority of these film noir classics from the country that gave us the term.

Check out my video from November 14 and see the beautiful long line of luck ticket-holders, as dozens of disappointed folks are turned away from the box office or looking for their friends who have tickets.

Knowing that so many film fans were showing up for this series pleases me no end because it shows more hope for cinema and the communal viewing of movies on a big screen.

I've played it very safe for tonight's last two films in the series and bought an advance ticket, and have printed it out. Who knew the Roxie finally joined an online ticket service?

Just a reminder that the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley earlier this year saw a similar crowd when their Satyajit Ray retrospective opened and was sold-out on the first night. My video show the line of folks hoping there are cancellations for reserved seats and a young movie buff loudly announcing he wants a ticket.

Cinema is alive and well in the Bay Area!