Story: City Budget Watchdog: Reporting on San Francisco's half-billion-dollar hole


This summer the city of San Francisco is engulfed in a severe budget crisis. The city's deficit stands at $438.1 million, forcing the Newsom administration to ask each city department to cut its bottom line by at least 25 percent. In June and July, city administrators slashed their budgets and, in some instances, completely eliminated public health and social welfare programs, in an economic climate in which San Franciscans need them the most.

The Public Press partnered with the journalism micro-funding project to cover this deepening crisis on a day-to-day basis. We aimed to be a primary source for in-depth reporting on who is making the cuts and how the "budget blues" are being felt by all of city's communities.

See The Public Press' Project Page (includes budget timeline)

Video series: Supes on: The Budget - a series of interviews with San Francsico's supervisors.

From the minutiae to the big picture, several San Francisco supervisors discuss aspects of the city's budget crisis in their own words. 

KALW roundtable

Public Press/KALW budget roundtable examines city's fiscal crisis

The Public Press and KALW (91.7 FM) teamed up for a budget roundtable that aired Aug. 17 on the Crosscurrents news program. A panel of local experts offered a lively and informative on-the-air discussion about San Francisco’s budget crisis and its impacts on residents and communities.  

San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos is crafting a proposal that would place a fee on alcohol sold in the city, potentially raising $25 million to $35 million annually to help pay for alcohol-related public health and criminal justice costs.

As the city shrinks its payroll, sending layoff notices to certified nursing assistants and clerical staff, it is touching off accusations from organized labor that officials are discriminating against women and minority workers.

The city has budgeted for laying off 340 employees and downgrading job classifications for another 290, as indicated last July in a memo from Controller Ben Rosenfield.

Picture 1 by you.


Already reeling from a deep recession and massive cuts to staff and services in this year’s budget, San Francisco is being hammered by a new tidal wave of state cuts — estimated at $26.5 million — which could put low-income seniors and others on the brink of homelessness and hunger, many advocates say.

Photos by Public Press staff

Amid intense lobbying to restore social-service funding to this year’s budget, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors earmarked $1 million for specific organizations, flouting the city charter.

The law, however, requires budget and “add-back” funds be directed to city departments, which can then disburse monies to nonprofit contractors.

ADDBACK-graphic_v9-1 by you.


The center, which provides psychiatric care and case management to mostly low-income older adults from the Mission, Bayview Hunter's Point, Bernal Heights and other neighborhoods, is one of several social service programs in San Francisco shuffled by budgetary restructuring and cuts. In the case of Southeast Mission Geriatric, the health department says consolidating office space will preserve funding for services.

Picture 2 by you.


The San Francisco Fire Department is the only major city division whose overtime pay has grown in the last year -– straining the budget in a season when nearly every department has had to make painful sacrifices to help bridge a $438 million deficit.

Fire Pay by you.



Supes on the Budget by you.


David Campos on the Budget by you.


After a month of political jockeying, protests and two days of marathon budget negotiations, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget Committee approved a framework budget for the coming fiscal year.

Yet it was a tentative victory for the progressive caucus, as there will doubtless be millions of dollars shifted around for weeks as officials horse-trade before the final budget is passed later in July. And this budget plan leaves looming questions about how state budget cuts will affect the city's fortunes, as well as the possibility of conflicts with the mayor months hence, when it comes time for him to spend the money.

San Francisco’s budget fight has swung into high gear, with two heavy weights – public safety and health – sparring over money and launching intensive campaigns to sway public and supervisorial opinion any way they can.

While lobbying is typically connoted with big business using money and power to influence legislation – think tobacco, auto and pharmaceutical industries – this season’s coalitions of interest groups include police officers, healthcare workers, firefighters and city attorneys, and all are hitting the streets and City Hall corridors hard to get their message out.

Chris Daly on the Budget by you.


Hundreds of San Francisco's most vulnerable people -- the mentally ill, homeless, and seniors among them -- will be pushed out of the social services safety net and even further into the margins if proposed cuts to the Department of Public Health go through.

Behaviroial Health by you.


In a day of protest inside and outside City Hall, the Board of Supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee shoved a wrench in Mayor Gavin Newsom's interim budget Wednesday, while nearly 1,000 rallied outside for more equitable cuts to save health services.

The committee approved shifting $82 million from the mayor's interim public safety budget to the San Francisco Department of Public Health and other city departments getting cut by Newsom's budget ax.

"I truly do not believe this budget reflects the priorities of this city," Board President David Chiu said.

Protest the Budget in SF by you.


Until last summer, the recession was something that happened somewhere else. The credit crunch was slow in reaching San Francisco because it was insulated from the subprime crisis unfolding across the country.

But now the recession has hammered the city’s budget and led to the largest shortfall in more than two decades. With a $438 million deficit, the city is scrambling to make up the difference -- slashing 1,600 jobs, auctioning taxi medallions, slapping smokers with taxes to clean up cigarette butts.


Meet the key players and the opposition.

Caduceus Outreach Services could close its doors as early as July 1 due to the crippling budget deficit facing the San Francisco of Department of Public Health.

Caduceus, a 13-year-old SOMA-based nonprofit organization, could lose two-thirds of its budget as a result of the Health Department’s efforts to cope with an unprecedented $163 million deficit. Caduceus, which provides psychiatric counseling to about 100 homeless people, is just one of 104 city-based community program agencies facing the budget ax this summer, as the city tries to deal with a total deficit of $438.1 million.

Video on Homeless Shelter being Shut Down by you.


On April 21, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu introduced legislation to reject Muni's $765.6 million budget, saying the agency had not adequately vetted these bills from city departments for such services as traffic control, the 311 information center and hospitals visits stemming from Muni accidents. Nine days later, the MTA board approved Muni's budget, but Chiu hasn't been swayed.

"To raise fares and to cut services while millions of dollars from the MTA are still be used to fund other departments is just a really bitter pill to swallow," he said in an interview this week. "For San Franciscans to get charged more for less service at the same time that the MTA is not spending its dollars on core transit service is just not acceptable."

Supervising Editor: Christopher D. Cook
Series Contributors: Patricia Decker, Hank Drew, Monica Jensen, Michael Pistorio, Mary Catherine Plunkett, Kristina Shevory, Lizzy Tomei and Kevin Stark.

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