Watch CBS News

Supe proposes charter amendment to reform San Francisco city governance

PIX Now - Morning Edition 11/1/23
PIX Now - Morning Edition 11/1/23 10:05

SAN FRANCISCO – San Francisco may be heading for changes in the way it governs itself.

On Tuesday, Supervisor Rafael Mandelman presented a draft charter amendment to the Board of Supervisors proposing what he said would be more effective governance of the city.

"The concern that our city government is deeply broken is, of course, not new," said Mandelman.

He noted that 15 years ago, local journalist Joe Eskenazi labeled San Francisco "the worst run big city in the United States," but said the hunger for better governance is palpable and broadly felt.

Mandelman's charter reform package is still under development. If the final package is approved by the board in the spring, it will go to voters on the November 2024 ballot.

He outlined the draft's six components.

First is a repeal of a prohibition on deputy mayors, which would give the mayor the ability to appoint deputy executives to oversee specific policy goals like housing or public safety.

The second measure would give the mayor authority to fire directors of executive departments overseen by commissions. Under the existing system, department heads can only be fired if the commission also votes on it.  This change would provide the mayor sole authority to fire department heads, with the exception of those under the city administrator.

"The charter's check on the mayor's authority to unilaterally hire department heads is intended to deter nepotism and cronyism," Mandelman said. "However, providing the mayor with the ability to get rid of directors of departments within the executive branch would clarify the chain of command."

The third possible change would allow the mayor to veto appointments to commissions split between the mayor and the board. The board can currently block mayoral appointments to boards and mayoral commissions, he said, but the mayor has no such reciprocal power.

Another change would limit the authority of the mayor and Board of Supervisors to place initiatives on the ballot. Currently, the mayor can unilaterally decide to place an amendment on the ballot, and the board can do it in two ways—they can get four co-sponsors or pass legislation with six votes. The new proposal would eliminate both the mayor's option and board's co-sponsor option.

Citizen-led signature initiatives would remain. The board could still get a charter amendment on the ballot by passing legislation with six votes.

"I think we should do our job of legislating inside City Hall," Mandelman said. "There's still the power of a voter initiative, but I think it would behoove us and increase collegiality and reduce gamesmanship inside this building to have the board pass legislation."

The fifth component streamlines commissions and oversight committees. Mandelman commented that having too many of these may not effectively curb corruption.

"I don't think it necessarily leads to more transparency or better decision making," he said of excessive oversight committees. "Often it is wasteful, inefficient and duplicative."

Of course, this would happen by forming a commission to streamline commissions.

The last potential change involves expanding local emergency powers. He has asked the city attorney to help redefine a local emergency in a way that allows some of the benefits seen during the COVID-19 crisis, like reduced bureaucracy in housing and health care, to extend to current needs.

"It would allow us to address some of our challenges around homelessness, street conditions, drug overdoses and other things that may not necessarily be new but may exceed our current capacity to respond," said Mandelman.

The supervisor concluded by acknowledging that movements for government reform during an election year might land on the back burner.

"It may be that we're just setting the table for a measure in 2026," he said.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.