City Budget Watchdog: Covering San Francisco’s Half-Billion-Dollar Hole

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The Public Press will cover the dismantling of San Francisco city government as a regular beat for the three months leading up to the implementation of half a billion dollars in cutbacks to city services.

San Francisco has embarked on an unprecedented process of cost cutting and layoffs in just about every corner of city government, and based on the distribution of the proposed cuts, the poor and infirm stand to be the most directly affected. 

The reason is clear: taxes have plummeted as the recession, fueled by the depressed housing market, has fallen through the floor. The city is required to balance its budget, and finds it politically and logistically cumbersome to raise more revenue quickly. 

As a result, city departments have been asked cut their own budgets by 25 percent, at a time when the network of city services in public health, poverty alleviation and affordable public transit are needed most to help vulnerable populations weather economic hard times.

How will it help?

With the few journalists still employed by newspapers and broadcast outlets distracted by celebrities and sensational crime stories, the fate of an entire metropolis’ citizens has gone virtually undocumented. Whole city departments in San Francisco are being eliminated and hundreds of city employees laid off. What coverage there is tends to trivialize the drama being played out within City Hall and outside in the streets. 

Our coverage will hold our city leaders accountable. At the same time it will examine the rationale behind the political decisions on cutting services and raising taxes -- and what the implications might be for a new crop of city supervisors and Mayor Gavin Newsom as he prepares a bid for higher office. 

It will seek out stories and perspectives of those least able to advocate for themselves and who are dependent on some or another form of public assistance through homeless services, employment training and medical care.

The funds will be used exclusively to pay reporters to work this beat part time. The reporters will work as a team to interview politicians, civil servants and citizens, examine and compare obscure and little-noticed documents and make sense of this unprecedented reduction in local government’s ability to care for its residents. All efforts will be coordinated through the Public-Press.

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