Recology offers refunds for high prices / Costs for tent 'villages' called into question

It's Thursday, March 4th.

Good evening, San Francisco. 

Last night, on Clubhouse, local non-profit Grow SF hosted a talk on how to run a successful political campaign remotely. It was one of the first in a series of conversations (conveniently called Grow SF Clubhouse series) that the group plans to put on each week on Wednesdays at 5 pm. Upcoming talk titles include  “How to reduce anti-Asian violence in SF” and “How To Solve The Opioid Epidemic.” 

Bilal Mahmood, head of product at the analytics company Amplitude and co-host of the Grow SF talks, told me on Thursday part of the inspiration for the project is to teach people how government works. He also wants to help build transparency and empathy towards the work being done on the ground by civil service and elected officials. 

Mahmood partnered with Grow SF, he said, because he felt their principles “aligned on the idea that you’re going to make progress in the city by having more open conversations and bridging different perspectives.” 

Part of it is common negotiating tactics, he said. “A lot of the challenges in any kind of community or situation is just not understanding where other people are coming from,” Mahmood said. “If you just understand another person, you can often find that there's a common solution to what everyone wants.” 

Let’s hope so! I’m looking forward to these upcoming talks and hope they can indeed be a good resource for learning more about how local government works. 

In terms of transparency, well, let’s get into some of the news for the day: 

Recology has overcharged San Francisco residents $94.5 million to pick up their trash since 2017, and now, after a settlement agreement with the City Attorney’s Office on Thursday, the company will have to pay it all back. The bombshell discovery resulted from an ongoing investigation by the City Attorney and Controller following the January 2020 federal arrest of former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru on corruption charges. 

So how did this happen? Well, as Public Works Director, Nuru was in charge of recommending garbage rates to the city. But, at the time, he was allegedly accepting bribes from Recology. So when the trash company said they needed to raise its rates in 2017 by a whopping 14%, that’s the rate Nuru recommended. Apparently, in 2018, Recology told Public Works it should have only raised rates by 7%, but no action was taken at the time. 

Some 160,000 San Franciscans have been overcharged annually and, on average, those who have paid Recology since July 2017 stand get $190 back. Repayments to current customers will come before September 1st, the company said. Starting April 1st, garbage rates will decrease by 6.8% across the city. 

"The ramifications of our work with the City Attorney on this investigation are not abstract — there are real financial consequences for San Franciscans,” City Controller Ben Rosenfield said in a statement. 

Chronicle reporter Trisha Thadani did the math on the city’s sanctioned homeless encampments and the numbers don’t look good. For each of the 262 tents in its “safe sleeping villages,” the city stands to spend $61,000 a year, or 2.5x the median annual rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco. 

The $16.1 million yearly cost of the encampments, which were erected at the start of the pandemic, does include access to on-site bathrooms, three meals a day, and 24/7 security. And it is less expensive than the city’s homeless hotel program. But, as Thadani points out, the hotel program is eligible for federal reimbursement whereas the “safe sleeping villages” are not. 

“I’m not ideologically wedded to safe sleeping sites if we can come up with something better,” Supervisor Rafael Mandelman told the Chronicle. “But I haven't found that yet.”

Quick bits: 

  • 💉 Over 2,600 San Francisco teachers and school staff received priority access codes on Wednesday that allow them to unlock vaccination appointments reserved for educators. (Examiner

  • 🍿 The future of the Mission’s Alamo Draft House is in limbo after its parent company filed bankruptcy on Wednesday and announced closures for three of its locations, including its flagship theater in Austin. (SFGate

  • 💸 Chris Larsen, the co-founder of the crypto company Ripple, recently donated $1.7 million to San Francisco’s small business associations. “If they can just hang on a little longer, we’re almost out of this thing,” he said. (Chronicle)

  • 😑 Local TV reporter Don Ford was filming an interview about car theft near Twin Peaks on Wednesday when three people got out of a white sedan, held him at gunpoint, and took his camera equipment. (KPIX)

  • 📚 There’s been a lot of talk about remote learning and school reopenings from “adults,” but hearing from three local high school students on the topic in this recent episode of the Civic podcast was really powerful. “I just feel like we're just gonna continue doing this distance learning and it's just like, it just makes me feel like I'm unmotivated for the future when it comes to academics,” one of the students said. (San Francisco Public Press

And finally… There’s an effort right now to recall three of the San Francisco school board members, including its president, Gabriela López. Here’s an interview by HereSay Media with the parents behind that effort. 

That’s all for today! And apologies for the late send here. I aim to get these out around 5 pm, but today got a bit away from me. Must write faster! 😅

See you tomorrow. - Nick B.

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