Friday, October 31, 2014

$86M Fire Dept to Soon Air Meetings on SFGovTV?
By Todd Swindell and Michael Petrelis

The fire department eats up a robust portion of the city's budget pie, yet its commission doesn't broadcast their meetings on SFGovTV, but that may be changing in the very near future.

At the October 23rd fire commission meeting during one of our times at the mic for public comment, we pushed for immediately moving these meetings to a camera-equipped room at City Hall, which is also much more accessible via public transit for taxpayers than schlepping down to SF Fire Department headquarters at 2nd and Townsend Streets.

If the commission chose not to take advantage of City Hall for better engagement with taxpayers, we suggested the department install cameras in the auditorium at headquarters and to begin at least live streaming the meetings. In short, we are buying any excuses for the abysmal lack of transparency.

According to the Fiscal Year 2014 budget (, the department's total allocation was $86.5 million and the line item allocation for communications was $2.3 million. Them's a lotta bucks!

To our delight, and surprise, one of the commissioners, openly gay Ken Cleaveland, said he had not arranged in advance for Petrelis to show up at the meeting and advocate for his pet issue of putting the meetings on SFGovTV. We cheered him on.

The July 10th minutes (, reveal extremely lame and unacceptable excuses from the Chief about why the public is being kept in the dark:

"Commissioner Cleaveland asked why the Commission meetings aren’t televised. Chief Hayes-White stated that there were a couple of reasons. One, there is an expense to it as well as logistics. It was determined that it was more practical to have the Command Staff at Head Quarters as opposed to City Hall where SFGOV TV is set up. [...]

"Commissioner Cleaveland expressed his desire to have HQ assessed for whether or not it can be linked to the city’s feed for public access and mentioned that the recent Grand Jury Report on Commissions addressed the terms of access to the public and getting the information out. [...]

"President Nakajo informed Commissioner Cleaveland that his point was well taken and that we’re all supportive of public access of information and he added that’s what our minutes are for and it being published on the website so the public can review those."

With an $86.5 million dollar allocation of our taxes, the Chief citing expense is bogus as is putting her staff's needs of above full transparency to taxpayers. Command staff can drive their taxpayer-funded vehicles the short distance to City Hall. Reading minutes is not meeting the gamut of ways the public needs to keep tabs on the fire department. Between the Chief and the commission president, we see a department's leadership ignoring providing appropriate government sunshine to the public by 2014 standards.

By the way, in August 2012 we asked then-commissioner London Breed, now a member of the Board of Supervisors, to push for moving commission meetings to City Hall and broadcasting them ( Breed wrote:

"I am supportive of exploring the option to move fire commission meetings to City Hall and placing them on public access television."

While she didn't lift a finger two years ago, she's been leading a pitchfork brigade against the Chief and hasn't brought up the subject of getting the fire department to become fully transparent. We ask her to look into this issue again.

Finally, we must point out that back in March we persuaded Department of Public Health director Barbara Garcia to finally begin airing health commission meetings on SFGovTV and we offered her profuse public praise (

If you agree that it's a good development for taxpayers to have health commission meetings on SFGovTV and that we need the same from the fire commission, and think our advocacy on these important government transparency matters is of benefit to the public good, and you're pissed off that the fire department is dragging its heels, then #VotePetrelis!

 Two members of the ambulance force were at the commission hearing. Written minutes alone do not give the public a full picture of the diversity of who works for the SFFD or shows up at meetings.

 One of the commanders parked his vehicle where it blocked a fire hydrant.

Ken Cleaveland listening to the Chief's report.
War Memorial Air Rights Up for Sale; City Hall Next? 
By Todd Swindell and Michael Petrelis

Thanks to information from John Updike who is head of the San Francisco Department of Real Estate, we've received a great lesson in potential development of the space above City property. We asked him to explain if City Hall is cataloging and evaluating such space over fire, health, police, etc, departmental property. Updike said:

"Some departments have opportunities to facilitate development above their lower level public use (such as a fire station in the financial district, for instance) through the sale and development of 'air rights', which usually require a redevelopment of the lower level public use in concert with the new vertical development."

"Other departments have an opportunity to offer something called Transferable Development Rights (TDR). TDR is available on city-owned historic properties that are under-utilized, and in such cases, if there is market demand, TDR can be sold to a developer of property of a small footprint but with allowances for great height under existing zoning (mostly in the Financial District or Civic Center Center areas)."

In January, Supervisors David Chiu and Scott Wiener introduced a resolution (, outlining the current state of TDRs, as part of a plan to sell the air rights over the Veterans Building at 401 Van Ness Avenue:

"On July 1, 2013, the City began renovation of the War Memorial Veterans Building, including seismic upgrades, accessibility, life safety and building code improvements, and replacement or improvements to building systems, at a current projected budget of $154.3 million. [...]

"Net proceeds from the sale of up to 1,100,000 TDRs would be used for the War Memorial renovation project, which is currently projected to have a $14.5 million funding shortfall. [...]

"In the mid-1980s, the City established the Transfer of Development Rights program to allow the sale of unused development potential from preservation properties. The goal was to generate income for the maintenance and preservation of historic buildings while allowing the developments to build higher. [...]

"Based on a recent study, the City has certified approximately 5.3 million square feet of TDR originating from 112 buildings downtown. [...]

"Mr. Updike also notes that the market conditions are very favorable now given the current real estate market. [...]

"Such additional TDRs are potentially available from City Hall, Asian Art Museum, Bill Graham Auditorium and 101 Grove Street (Public Health Building)."

The Chiu and Wiener resolution was unanimously passed by the board in late January (

What all this means is that we could see new developments built over City real estate in the coming years, the process for doing so is quite complex and involves many stakeholders, and the only current project slated for sale of air rights is the Veterans Building.

Still, we're nervous about City Hall leaders, who are too friendly in our opinion with the developers and tech firms looking for more construction projects, considering selling precious air rights over our iconic public buildings.

We need to keep our eyes on the TDRs and how they will impact San Francisco's landscape, along with the changes that will trickle down to ordinary citizens and potentially negatively impact low and moderate income renters.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Glen Park Area Outreach & Posters on Display
By Todd Swindell and Michael Petrelis

Our terrific volunteers went out to the Glen Park area of District 8 and taped up a few dozen of our campaign signs. They energetically engaged with voters,distributed our union-made buttons and handed out campaign cards.

We're hoping the voters who expressed dissatisfaction with the incumbent Supervisor check out our Facebook page, as they promised to do. Of course, we'd love to have them also mark their first choice on the ballot for Petrelis!

It's great to see our posters have gone up in Noe Valley, the Castro business district, the Mission, around Dolores Park, along the Church Street business corridor and near Duboce Triangle Park.

Many thanks to the volunteers and contributors who've made this outreach and poster display possible. If you're pissed off, #VotePetrelis!

Closed-Door Job Evaluation of SF Fire Chief Protested
By Michael Petrelis

The San Francisco Fire Commission met yesterday afternoon for a regularly scheduled meeting and I was there for a few reasons, starting with verbally protesting how Chief Joanne Hayes-White's performance would be discussed out of public view.

As you may know, she's been under withering criticism from Supervisor London Breed, a former member of the fire commission, members of the firefighters union and its bosses, and ambulance workers and their parent companies over issues such as long response time for EMT vehicles.

However, Mayor Ed Lee has stood by Hayes-White and has given no indication that he's unsatisfied with her leadership and several women in leadership positions at City Hall have come to her defense.

During public comment about Hayes-White's report to the commission, I protested the closed-door evaluation that would happen at the end of the meeting and stated it was a huge disservice to the taxpayers, the general public and the safety of citizens to conduct the evaluation out of public view.

I mentioned that she's faced a pitchfork brigade and a trial by fire, no pun intended, in the media, and that I wanted facts unfiltered about her leadership protecting the public from fires and solving the ambulance response time crisis.

Even though the job evaluation would be behind closed-doors, I still requested a summary be issued to the public about what transpired in the session. I also distributed my #VotePetrelis campaign cards to folks.

How the heck are we taxpayers supposed to fairly judge Hayes-White's performance if we don't have access to the information and details presented to and debated by the fire commission? Yes, I understand privacy protections for public employees, but when that employee is responsible for a vast portion of public safety a way must be found to provide some degree of transparency to the public.

The fire commission owes everyone additional data about the job performance and evaluation of the chief.

Chief Hayes-White giving her report.

 Two ambulance workers. Minutes do not reflect the diversity of attendees at commission meetings.

Yours truly at the podium before the meeting began.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

'Petrelis Requested Records' Page Created at City Attorney's Site
By Michael Petrelis

Sure wish I knew what brought a complete turnaround from City Attorney Dennis Herrera and his staff regarding my May request for his right-hand's emails, which are created with taxpayer infrastructure and public documents. I'd like to repeat the achievement here with other elected officials.

Herrera's City-funded site now includes a Resources page entitled "Michael Petrelis Requested Records" (, and reads:

"[Here] are records responsive to Michael Petrelis' request for emails to and from Tara Collins between March 1 and May 28, 2014. Because the large file sizes -- which together exceed 68 MB -- may be unwieldy for some email systems, these have been uploaded to this web page for the requester's convenience."

A huge leap forward for San Francisco government transparency has been accomplished with these emails now on the web and just a few clicks away.

First, the City Attorney ended months of ignoring my request. Second, the office profusely apologized for the tardiness and neglect in responding. Third, they agreed to produce the public records.

Now, the fourth and biggest sunshine accomplishment here is the City Attorney has previously unreleased public records, a total of six (6) volumes, available for anyone to read.

This development begs the question of why can't we have Herrera and every City department sharing every public records request made to them and the responsive documents posted on their department's web sites? Doing this on a monthly basis would greatly expand San Francisco's City Hall transparency and make our elected officials more accountable to taxpayers.

Monday, October 27, 2014

African-American Dem Club Endorses #VotePetrelis
By Todd Swindell and Michael Petrelis

We've received our first and only endorsement from a local political group. Word came earlier this week from the African-American Democratic Club that they've given us their third choice endorsement and we're pleased to have this stamp of approval.

Honestly, we were surprised when the email from club president Jo Elias-Jackson, arrived informing of us this endorsement because we hadn't received a questionnaire from the club but we're surely delighted they found reason to like our DIY Democracy effort.

The African-American Democratic Club's endorsement is the second backing from a San Francisco based organization, as we previously received the support of the Anti Eviction Mapping Project, which doesn't endorse candidates but their members felt strongly enough about our candidacy to throw some love our way.

Thank you, Jo Elias-Jackson, pictured, and fellow leaders of the African-American Democratic Club for your endorsement.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

City Attorney Apologizes for 'Tardiness and Neglect'
By Todd Swindell and Michael Petrelis

Never underestimate the amount of bull fecal matter that can flow from an elected official in San Francisco when having to adhere to open governmentsunshine laws, especially City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office.

He's supposed to be the chief enforcer of such laws and yet his office has ignored my public records request filed on May 30, for copies of the emails from Herrera's top assistant Tara Collins.

As our #VotePetrelis team noted on October 17, the City Attorney sought a continuance regarding our impending hearing at the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force regarding the failure to produce the public records, and Herrera cited no reason for the continuance which we emphatically opposed.

A few days ago, Herrera's staff publicist Matt Dorsey, who was copied on my original records request and subsequent emails to the City Attorney's Office, sent this remarkable note:

It came to my attention earlier this week that our office had never responded to your request for emails to and from Tara Collins between March 1 and May 28, 2014, and I write to apologize to you on behalf of the City Attorney's Office for our tardiness and neglect.

I also want to apologize to you personally, because my team is ultimately responsible for processing Sunshine requests, and it is clear that I was less diligent in my oversight than I should have been in making sure your request was being handled appropriately.

A number of people pitched-in over the last few days to go through the material you requested as expeditiously as possible, in order to make the necessary redactions, and I now have six PDFs of responsive records to send to you. [...]

Again, my apologies for this. I look forward to hearing from you.

Yes, it's good to see the City Attorney acknowledge this outrageous tardiness and neglect, which is sadly standard operating procedure for Herrera's staff and we look forward to poring over the responsive records, however, we intend to pursue our SOTF complaint in order to once and for all put an end to the delays and obfuscations of Herrera's office.

We must point out Dorsey is a member of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and once told the New York Times the SOTF was a "rogue, lawless jury" and its meetings "tedious kangaroo court (, to bolster our case that he is a professional and loyal functionary of the permanent ruling class at City Hall and within the Democratic Party.

Don't like this sort of underhandedness from a public servant, at the City Attorney's Office where the incumbent District 8 Supervisor was a deputy before being elected to the Board of Supervisors? Want to send a message to Herrera, Dorsey, City Hall and Democratic loyalists carving up San Francisco for the rich and powerful?

If you're pissed off, #VotePetrelis!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Guardian Staff-Deleted Public Comments Scrubbed 
By Todd Swindell and Michael Petrelis

Crucial progressive San Francisco history has been scrubbed from the defunct Bay Guardian's still-functioning web site (,and the culprits for the massive deletion aren't the corporate owners but the former staffers.

Back in August, the editorial staffers were so fed up with public comments on the paper's site that they discontinued commenting for a number of reasons:

"We’ve decided to indefinitely suspend comments on [...] But the anonymity that Guardian commenters enjoy on our current website has poisoned the well and rendered this forum a poor place for respectful public debate. [...] But the daily free-for-all is over, at least for now. Trolls and spammers begone." (Source:

Not only were the trolls and spammers gone, but so were years of comments (some positive, other negative, along with responses from Guardian staff, etc.) were scrubbed and few raised a complaint. We took to Twitter and said Stalin would approve of the scrubbing.

It's one thing to end commenting when you can't afford a moderator, but it's a whole other ball of wax for the Guardian staff to also scrub important criticism and praise and debate because they don't approve of what was written or who wrote the words.

Yesterday, the longtime editor who resigned last year over staff cuts, Tim Redmond, at his new site 48 Hills, was remarkably unconcerned (ignorant perhaps?) of the missing comments:

"The owners of the Bay Guardian, who shut the paper down Monday, have at least gotten one message: It’s not okay to take offline the website and digital archive of the paper. After going down for two days, was live late this afternoon. So the years and years of back stories can once again be found." (

If only the owners, the former staff and Redmond all got the message that it's wrong to scrub the Guardian's site of historical commentary, including from their own remarks to the critics. The #VotePetrelis team wants the comments restored to the paper's site and hope all progressives agree with us that such history must be preserved.

Friday, October 24, 2014

City Attorney Seeks Delay on Emails Complaint
By Todd Swindell and Michael Petrelis

San Francisco's enforcer of all applicable open government and transparency laws is supposed to be City Attorney Dennis Herrera, yet he and his office staff are widely recognized as hindrances in terms of enforcement and compliance.

Earlier this year, the #VotePetrelis team filed public records requests for emails related to Jo Becker's gay marriage book "Forcing the Spring", and we showed that the City Attorney had practically turned his office into a boutique PR firm for the author and her book tour stop in San Francisco.

Since Herrera follows Willie Brown's dictum of never writing anything down and leaving a paper or email trail, he does not receive or send any emails from his official city addy.

However, his deputy assistant Tara Collins serves as his email gatekeeper and we filed a request in May for her emails and work calender for a few months, but we never received any responsive public records so a complaint was lodged with the Sunshine Ordinance Task Force.

Last week, we were informed that our complaint would be heard next week but we knew this didn't mean we'd finally have the matter adjudicated by the SOTF because we expected a delay or obfuscation attempt by the City Attorney. Lo, that's what happened.

Here's the SOTF note explaining the delay request:

"The Respondent (Office of the City Attorney) in the above mentioned matters has requested a continuance on the hearing of the complaint scheduled for October 28, 2014, to the next regularly scheduled meeting.

"The Sunshine Ordinance Task Force's complaint procedure states in Section B.8..b: If a respondent submits a request for continuance at least three business days in advance, upon agreement of the complainant the continuance shall be granted. If the complainant does not agree to the continuance, the request for continuance is not made within three business days, or the respondent is requesting a subsequent continuance, such continuance shall be granted by a simple majority vote of the members present.

"Please let me know if you agree or disagree with the request for continuance.

"File No. 14066: Complaint filed by Michael Petrelis against Tara Collins, City Attorney’s Office, for allegedly violating Sunshine Ordinance Section 67.25 for failure to respond to a request for public documents in a timely manner dated May 30, 2014."

Yes, we've responded to the SOTF disagreeing with the delay request and we now wait to hear from the task force regarding next steps.

The City Attorney has never acknowledged receiving our request and failed to comply with responsive public records created with taxpayer funds, and for unstated reasons want to push back when the SOTF would delve into the matter.

Standard operating b.s. for San Francisco's top sunshine enforcer and Dennis Herrera should be widely criticized for blocking access to public records from his office.

In this photo from a recent Sundance Film Festival, Herrera is on the right next to former Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solomnese. Thanks to a public records request, we learned that Herrera billed San Francisco taxpayer for his junket and promotion of a film in which he appeared.

Silent Epic Classic 'Eliso' at PFA, Score Performed Live

You have two opportunities to experience a rare cinematic treat over in Berkeley this weekend. The Pacific Film Archive presents two screenings of the silent classic "Eliso" as part of their extensive retrospective of Georgian cinema, and as added bonus a new score will be performed live by the Trio Kavkasia.

Here's an excerpt from the program notes to whet your celluloid appetite about "Eliso":

This historical epic evokes the tragic fate of a nation pacified in 1864 by the Tsarist Russian Empire. When authorities begin to appropriate arable lands, the peasants are forced to evacuate under terrible conditions. In the village of Verdi, we find Eliso, whose love for Vazho is encumbered by differences of class and religion. Yet the most overwhelming passion in this cherished classic is the depiction of Georgia’s majestic landscape and the deep-rooted traditions of its people.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of discovering the visually astonishing and criminally over-looked Georgian masterpiece "Molba" at the PFA with a full and appreciative audience. "Molba" was so thrilling and just a small taste of this nation's rich cinematic history, I wished the PFA were closer so I could catch more of this series.

If you have any interest in silent films or classics from Eastern Europe, don't miss this exclusive chance to view "Eliso" on the big screen and experience the score, commissioned by the PFA, filling your ears as it's played and sung live by the Trio Kavkasia musicians.

A note to San Francisco cineastes and adventuresome budding film-lovers, who maybe not be familiar with the location of the PFA. It's situated on the University of California at Berkeley campus and short walk from the downtown Berkeley BART station, and well worth traveling to for "Eliso".

"Eliso" plays on Saturday, October 25, at 6:30 pm and again on Sunday, October 26, at 4:00 pm. I'm catching the screening and performance. Click here for more info and details about purchasing advance tickets.