Four new ideas from the Board of Supervisors

To clear up some unfinished business, here are brief thoughts on a few of the ideas San Francisco’s legislators brought forth at the Board of Supervisors’ role call for introductions:

Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval of District 11 said he wanted to introduce legislation to stop the San Francisco Police Department from seizing on the spot the vehicles of people found to be driving without a license. It’s wrong to take people’s cars without reasonable cause, he suggested, particularly if the only thing they’ve done wrong is to fail to have a license. He also said he would seek an opinion from the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office regarding whether state law requires the city to take cars under these circumstances, or allows local governments to enact their own rules.

At least Sandoval thought to seek a legal opinion instead of charging ahead with legislation that might be made moot by California law. But if the law requires drivers to have a license (and, moreover, to carry it with them when driving), and if it comes to the attention of the police that a person is driving without a license, the commission of a crime is self-evident. It’s not like the old and properly discredited Oakland practice of seizing the cars that people happened to be driving while allegedly committing other crimes such as soliciting prostitution; the evidence of the crime is obvious and it is directly related to the operation of a vehicle.

It seems pretty clear that the cops can exercise sufficient judgment to either let someone whom the owner permits drive the car away, or take the car and store it until such time as the owner can get a licensed driver to the impound yard to take it away. Police can’t be expected to just let an unlicensed driver continue to operate a vehicle, or to park the vehicle in a free and convenient place. Furthermore, a very high percentage of people driving sans license are probably also driving sans insurance. Do you suppose that someone willing to do that will be willing or able to pay for the medical care of someone he or she injures in an accident? No. That cost will either fall to the victim or to the public. Sandoval shouldn’t even bother to draft this legislation — it’s a stinker.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick of District 1 had two interesting ideas. One, to create an interagency task force on the installation of new conduit (such as for fiber-optic cable), I’ll leave until I see the language. The other idea was to require that half the members of all San Francisco chartered boards and commissions be women. While I’m not comfortable with the idea that people should be accepted or rejected for voluntary public service on the basis of their gender or gender identity, I think McGoldrick’s idea makes a good goal or benchmark for the members of these bodies when viewed in the aggregate. But it’s hard enough to get qualified, reasonable people to serve on city boards and commissions, as evidenced by some members of the Planning Commission. McGoldrick should be wary of the potential for his proposal to throw a monkey wrench into the already balky machinery of city government by either slowing down the appointment process (and potentially preventing commissions from meeting due to lack of a quorum) or pushing through candidates with less than ideal qualifications just because of what side of their shirts the buttons are on.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi of District 5 continues to be fascinating. He proposed legislation to allow people to register their rooftop photovoltaic or passive solar equipment with the city, and to protect registered equipment from being shaded by future development.

Now, as a practical matter it’s likely that the Planning Commission and members of the Planning Department staff would follow these regulations very loosely. But suppose that the rules were strictly enforced. Don’t like the rumors that your neighbor plans to add another story? If it would shade your roof, quick, put up a panel and register it — much faster and maybe cheaper than hiring a land-use attorney to block the addition. Mirkarimi’s proposal could have interesting implications for much future development all over the city, from residential pop-ups to commercial structures and apartment buildings. It also makes me wonder where in District 5 such solar equipment is in place, and who it belongs to.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier of District 2 suggested a requirement that all city-owned TVs in public places display closed-captioning. As long as there are no technical problems or costs I don’t know about, this seems like a good and simple idea. Not only would it give the hearing-impaired equitable access to whatever is being displayed on TV, but it also would help people with normal hearing whenever there is too much ambient noise to hear the television. A good one from Alioto-Pier.

Supervisors expressed the intention to introduce other legislation as well, some of it potentially important, but these are the ones that I found interesting and within my ability to comment.

Finally, turning our attention away from legislation, our word for the week (give yourself a gold star for good listening if you know why I chose this word): artesian. “Artesian” is an adjective used to describe a well in which the water rises to the surface under the pressure of its underground source. The Wikipedia entry even has a nifty little drawing showing how such a pressure system works.

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