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Three Bat Friday, The Supervisor Edition: Walton focuses on standup comedy career; Safaí poison pills police funding; Ronen's mini mansions; Peskin hot mic 'horse's ass'
Walton gets laughs on "We didn't defund the police." Safaí decreases chance of becoming mayor from 6% to 3%. Ronen spending $100K per homeless cabin. Peskin loves F-bombs but hates fair criticism.
Isn't it rich? Isn't it queer? Losing my timing this late In my career? And where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns. Don't bother - they're here. —— "Send In the Clowns" by Stephen Sondheim, from the 1973 musical A Little Night Music
After a couple of weeks battling a nasty bug, I’m back with a brand-new edition of Three Bat Friday. In today’s edition, we’ll focus on Cirque de City Hall, where the only thing missing is a tiny car for the clowns. Shamann Walton got a laugh but not for his standup comedy routine; Ahsha Safaí poisoned his barely alive mayoral run by poison pilling police refunding; Hillary Ronen is building some temporary tiny mansions at the former site of the “Monster in the Mission,” and Aaron Peskin was back to his old bullying ways, caught on a hot mic calling a well-dressed, well-spoken constituent a “horse’s ass.”
With three lame duck years left, District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton has already embarked on his next career: standup comedian. If you haven’t checked out Walton’s Instagram, you should. From slickly produced videos of Walton with his friends and fans, to custom swag like a purple ball cap with his name and “D10” emblazoned on it (hopefully paid for with proceeds from those comedy shows and not by taxpayers), it’s hilarious, albeit unintentionally.
In one clearly canned reel, an off-camera interviewer asks the city official about an upcoming gig, to which Walton responds, “I’m still the same ole broke supervisor. Ain’t no contract been signed. I’m focused on the next three years, but we most certainly gonna make sure people have a good time while we in office.” Unfortunately for Walton, his performance this week at City Hall was no laughing matter.
At an Oct. 30 hearing of the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee regarding bringing the San Francisco Police Department to full staffing, District 11 supervisor, and mayoral candidate, Ahsha Safaí along with Walton and labor organizers whined about $300 million over five years, suggesting “a tax” should pay for it. Safai’s amendments would make the staffing mandate contingent on that “future tax,” leading to the best line of the night from District 6 supervisor Matt Dorsey. “This is making San Francisco into the Spirit Airlines of municipal governments. I think it would be funny if it weren't so harmful.” said Dorsey, who earlier compromised by reducing the minimum staffing level from 2,182 to 2,074. Dorsey also reminded his colleagues that a fully staffed police force “is part of the baseline obligation of what a well-functioning city government should do.”
Dorsey seeks to add around 100 officers per year while offering $75,000 hiring bonuses for new officers, something already happening in other cities. Dorsey called Safaí’s amendments “hostile” and a “poison pill.” Critics accuse Safaí of pandering to labor unions to gain their support for his 2024 mayoral bid. I always find it amusing when a supervisor who has accomplished nothing believes the next rung on the career ladder is mayor. Then again, Gavin Newsom went from supervisor to mayor to lieutenant governor to governor without ever finishing a single full term (and it’s no secret he’d skip out on the governor gig to be president). Safaí, however, doesn’t have Newsom’s charisma or his big money backing, and was already seen as a long shot due to his floppy-floppy, wishy-washy voting record. His poison pill amendment maybe reduced his odds of becoming mayor from 6% to 3% …
On his Instagram feed, Shamann Walton comes off as an arrogant, conceited wannabe comedian, and this week at City Hall he was the mirror image of that, minus the wannabe comedian part. In an X post by resident Alan Burradell, who spoke at the hearing, Walton calls Burradell’s comments “political rhetoric,” and says defiantly, “We never defunded the police department” — but that’s a lie. In a Feb. 25, 2021, press release, Mayor London Breed and Walton announced the creation of The Dream Keeper Initiative, a citywide plan for “reinvesting” $120 million in San Francisco’s African American community over the next two years. The release claims the Dream Keeper Initiative (DKI) followed “months of community engagement and outreach led by the Human Rights Commission,” and an “extensive community and stakeholder engagement process” to become part of “Mayor Breed’s roadmap for reforming public safety and addressing structural inequities in San Francisco.”
And where is that $120 million coming from? The press release addresses that, too: “In June 2020, following the killing of George Floyd, Mayor Breed and Supervisor Walton announced a plan to prioritize the redirection of resources from law enforcement to support the African American community … As part of the budget process, Mayor Breed redirected $120 million from law enforcement for investments in the African American community for Fiscal Years 2020-21 and 2021-22.” In other words, Breed and Walton set up a sort of pre-reparations fund from which their nonprofit cronies are already getting huge payouts. An updated website with an interactive funding tool shows that between 2021 and 2023 DKI spent $107.24 million of the “redirected” law enforcement dollars on 165 awards, including over 30 new city and county hires (despite Breed asking departments to cut back as she desperately tries to stretch her $15 billion budget). A quick glance at the beneficiaries brings up numerous “nonprofits” with ties to Breed and Walton, including organizations involved with the SFPUC Community Benefits pay-to-play scheme.
For example, the infamous Young Community Developers (YCD) got nearly $4 million. Remember, longtime City Family member Dwayne Jones, who was recently arrested on fraud charges, was YCD’s executive director from 1998 to 2003. His mentee Walton held the six-figure position from 2010 until he joined the Board of Supervisors in January 2019 — handpicked, of course, by disgraced former SFPUC head Harlan Kelly, recently convicted on 8 of 10 fraud charges, to head up District 10, where all those Community Benefits supposedly go (but not according to most residents). I recently wrote about YCD’s $5 million grant from the San Francisco Human Services Agency Department of Benefits and Family Support to oversee the street violence prevention program called “Interrupt, Predict, and Organize,” or IPO. Recently two DPW workers hired through IPO were involved in a high-speed police chase and crash that resulted in the driver’s death and the passenger’s hospitalization and eventual arrest. Both were part of a car burglary and armed robbery crew.
Other familiar beneficiaries include Booker T. Washington Community Center ($250,000), where Breed’s friend and political funder Farah Makras — wife of real estate agent and convicted bank fraudster, Victor Makras — serves as vice president, and where Breed tried to bring close friend Brenda Wright on board as a high-paid consultant; controversial harm reduction purveyors HealthRIGHT 360 ($1,250,000), infamous for turning the $22 million Tenderloin Linkage Center into a drug den, fudging failed figures, and spending $500,000 on a self-serving study; the shadowy SF Black Wall Street, which filed a 990EZ in 2021 with just over $115,000 in revenue and little to show for it (except a connection to Breed and Walton), yet they received nearly seven times that ($735,112) from DKI; and perennial “friend with community benefits” the Bayview Opera House ($1,400,000). The Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development has received the lion’s share ($20,770,000), and of course the Human Rights Commission which, according to the press release, “designed and lead the community engagement process,” was handsomely rewarded with a $8,103,440 grant …
When I visited Community First Village (CFV) near Austin, Texas, in 2019, founder Alan Graham told me not a single official or homeless advocate from San Francisco had ever called to inquire or asked to visit. It’s grown since then, but at the time CFV was a 51-acre master planned development about 30 minutes outside of Austin proper providing housing and support for people who have struggled with chronic homelessness. The successful program was already a model for the nation. I was so inspired by what I saw that I wrote a series of articles about CFV, encouraging San Francisco leaders to look into the tiny home model. They haven’t exactly embraced it yet, but they did build a tiny cabin complex at 33 Gough St., paid for largely through philanthropy, with a per cabin cost of around $15,000.
I asked Graham if it’s possible to build housing in an expensive place like the Bay Area without spending six figures per unit. “This model comes delivered for $36K,” he says. “Fully furnished, it’ll rent for $430 plus electric and propane. A 320-square-foot RV is $410. You’ve got to be creative.” We cruised through the micro home area, known as Tiny Town, where each unit is connected to single occupancy showers and restrooms as well as outdoor kitchens with barbecues. Homes rent for $225 to $375 per month (air conditioning is an additional $35).
One of the many things that sets CFV apart from the traditional homeless shelter model is residents can stay as long as they want, but they must pay rent, which in 2019 covered roughly 40% of the $6 million budget. “If our neighbors miss rent, they’re asked to leave, but it doesn’t happen very often,” Graham explained. While he doesn’t like to throw numbers around, Community First has a retention rate of around 86%. CFV is 100% privately financed, allowing Graham to cut the nonprofit homeless industry grifters and construction padding out.
Clearly District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen needs to give Graham a call.
After Mission activists killed a plan to build market rate housing they called “Monster in the Mission” on a site that has since remained vacant for a decade, San Francisco’s Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is gearing up to open 60 cabins serving up to 68 guests at 1979 Mission St., where affordable housing is slated to break ground in two years. Unlike the Gough site and CFV, however, the city and Ronen have their fingerprints all over this, with construction costs ballooning to $100,000 for each tiny home (sounds more like mini mansions to me). Again, this is for just two years of use, bringing the total cost to around $6 million (not including upkeep and services). That’s $3,676 per person per month, not including other expenses like security, sanitation, utilities, or a full-time staffer to be on-call for “community complaints.”
Ronen, who is termed out and keeps a countdown clock on her phone detailing the hours until she can move to Spain for a year with her family, swears up and down that staffer will keep the site “pristine,” so it won’t turn into a dump like the Navigation Center on South Van Ness Ave., which has been plagued by loitering, graffiti, drug dealing, drug using, tents, and garbage.
Needless to say, residents have zero faith in Ronen. So, what can they do? Nothing, because the project received “ministerial approval” — a Mayoral Executive Directive — for Ronen’s tiny mansions, meaning no public notification and no discretionary reviews. The tiny mansion project was approved through an accelerated permit approval process of AB-004. using a state emergency pathway.
Some critics, however, say something is amiss in the Mission because the permit wrongly states no change is taking place (group housing is a change of use) and no impact is expected to the area (insert “eye roll” emoji). One real estate expert I spoke to said they want the permit appealed to ensure the facility is in zoning compliance (a K-5 school is sharing a fence and the block with the site), and that the design takes concerns of the school and neighboring residences into account (for example, modifying the plans as needed to address rules such as not allowing drug use at or near the site).
Back at CFV, which takes no money from city, state, or federal governments, Graham told me that politicians are not equipped to solve the homeless crisis. “For them it’s all financial, but it needs to go from the transactional to the relational. Profound, catastrophic loss of family is the number-one cause of homelessness … everything else is a result of those past traumas, and the loneliness and desperation that settles in. The money is there in San Francisco times a billion compared to Austin, but not the vision or the passion or the focus.” I couldn’t agree more …
When Aaron Peskin ran for his old seat on the Board of Supervisors in 2015, we met for what turned out to be a nearly two-hour coffee date. As I had done with his opponent, mayoral appointee Julie Christensen, I let him know that I would ask a series of questions, record our interview, transcribe it, and let the candidate’s own words speak for themselves. Before we got into the nitty gritty, though, I told Peskin that I had a bone to pick (no pun intended). I had supported a Pet Food Express moving into a long empty corner space on Lombard Street. Peskin, not in office at the time but consulting with smaller pet shops in the area, did not support it.
Then executive director of San Francisco Animal Care and Control Rebecca Katz also supported Pet Food Express, with good reason: on a tight city budget, she was struggling to feed all the animals in the shelter’s care, and Pet Food Express had generously worked with their suppliers to close the gap. One morning, Katz got a nasty call from Peskin threatening her job if she didn’t back down. That same day, I got a voicemail from then S.F. Weekly reporter Joe Eskenazi with that sardonic “your humble narrator” tone he takes when he gleefully intends to do a hit piece on his subject. I didn’t need to call Eskenazi back because he basically gave me his entire article in the voice mail: he planned to accuse me of supporting Pet Food Express because of ads they ran in the newspaper I co-owned, the Marina Times. He didn’t care, of course, that the ads were at cost to buy space for local rescues to showcase adoptable animals. Why? Because Eskenazi got his marching orders, I suspected, from his pal Pekin.
So as we sipped coffee at a café on Russian Hill, I asked Peskin if he put his lackey Eskenazi up to it, and to my surprise he admitted that he did. “Sorry about that,” Peskin said. “That was Aaron 1.0 — the mean Aaron everyone remembers. I’m Aaron 2.0 now and I wouldn’t do that.” Personal issues aside, I ran the interviews side by side, and Peskin was clearly the better candidate. He won the election and that evening he texted me. “Thank you for getting every word right, for being fair, and for giving me a chance.”
During the first term of his second tour of duty on the board, Peskin did a fine job and so, as the city came out of COVID, I endorsed him for a second term, which foreshadowed a record 16 years as a supervisor. And that’s when Aaron 2.0 reverted back to Aaron 1.0, showing up drunk on Zoom meetings and leaving drunken voice mails like the one he left for me late one Friday night. “You deserve a Pulitzer Prize for your corruption stories,” he slurred into the phone. “But damn you, now the FBI wants to talk to me about a goddamned bridge in Chinatown cuz Mo Nuru helped me with it.”
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, during a private phone meeting regarding the city’s gross receipts tax in June of 2020, Peskin used “profane language while arguing with another staff member on the call.” Sources told the Chronicle that Peskin said, “This will have to be one of those times where I take my d— out, and the mayor takes her d— out, and let’s see whose is bigger.” The Chronicle viewed a screenshot of text messages sent between two meeting attendees afterward. One person who attended the meeting wrote, “The comments tonight were really offensive. I hope we can all agree that talking about sucking d—, cursing, and being clearly drunk on a call is not appropriate.” In June of 2021, Peskin entered alcohol treatment.
In January of 2023, when colleagues refused to reelect Walton as president (after he called a young Black sheriff cadet the N-word while telling him that he’d “whoop his ass,” and admitted to owning a primary residence in Vallejo “to build wealth for his family”), Peskin grabbed the gavel and slithered back into the seat he held during his first ride with the board from 2004-08. But if you thought a sober President Peskin would mean the end of Aaron 1.0, think again.
At an Oct. 24 Board of Supervisors meeting, JConr B. Ortega, a co-president of a community group called Iconic D3, made a polite if critical public comment that called out progressive supervisors. “I don’t want crime, drug dealers, tents, and more in Telegraph Hill, Supervisor Peskin, I don’t want these issues in Bernal Heights, Supervisor Ronen, or even in the city of Vallejo, Supervisor Walton,” the District 3 resident said, sporting his trademark sharp suit and perfectly groomed mustache. As Ortega walked away from the podium, Peskin is heard on a hot mic saying, “That guy’s a horse’s ass.”
Peskin, who is widely rumored to be running for mayor in a growing 2024 field, didn’t surprise anyone with his quip, which was more Snidely Whiplash than Ortega’s mustache, but something else did. Another commenter, Jordan Davis, shows up at nearly every meeting to spew expletives — and Peskin has never uttered a word. Davis, a trans activist who has bragged during public comment about having male-to-female sex change surgery through a city-funded program after moving to San Francisco from the east coast, regularly flips the bird while yielding her time with an F-bomb. At a recent hearing, she screamed, “every supervisor except Preston and Melgar can lick my c—t and choke on it.” Besides violated the board’s own rules against obscenity, Davis’s words were broadcast over public airwaves. One resident wrote to tell me that he was listening to the hearing while driving his 8-year-old daughter to school, prompting her to ask him what it meant. Furious, the father wrote Peskin an email. “As much as I like the First Amendment, I strongly object to having my daughter in the car as I listen to a BoS meeting only to have a frequent flyer state ‘Lick my c—t. Fuck You. I yield my time’ … Mr. Peskin, I implore you to control your meetings.”
Peskin responded, “Believe me I would if I could but the City Attorney says I can’t.”
The father corrected him with legal precedent. “Sir, these meetings are broadcast. The Federal Communications Commission has control over broadcasts. And I reject the City Attorney’s advice. Limits on the First Amendment are commonplace. The Supreme Court has been clear that obscenity has little to no First Amendment protection. Those comments fail even a casual application of the Miller test. And as this obscenity is reaching minors, it has virtually no protection under the DOJ’s guidance.”
Tag, President Peskin, you’re it (I yield my time) …