Have conservatives hijacked the Small Business Commission?

The hearing Luke O'Brien called to second-guess the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan is featured on his advocacy group's website.

Is the Small Business Commission really advocating for small businesses, or has the commission been hijacked by bankers and real estate developers aggressively pushing a right-wing agenda of unchecked growth and cuts to government regulation, programs, and fees? And why has the Mayor's Office stacked the commission with these ideologues and worked behind-the-scenes to keep them in leadership roles?

Those are just a couple of the questions that have been raised by Mayor Ed Lee's recent effort to amend the charter to give this commission broad authority over the city's legislative agenda, which was dropped in the face of widespread opposition, and by his office's alleged calls to their appointees urging them to vote for developer Luke O'Brien as vice president and banker Stephen Adams as president (simply reversing the roles they had played last year).

Traditionally, sources say the commission has sought to balance leadership between the mayor's four appointees and the three appointed by the Board of Supervisors. But these days, the Mayor's Office (mostly Chief of Staff Steve Kawa, we're told) and its appointees (which include two bankers and one developer), at the urging of pro-development groups Coalition for Responsible Growth (CRG) and Plan C, seems to want to consolidate their control and push their agenda.

Neither Kawa nor Press Secretary Christine Falvey would address our direct question about the Mayor's Office interfering with the internal working of supposedly independent commissions, but the Examiner today had a story about the Mayor's Office doing the same thing on the Planning Commission with its leadership vote this week.

“If the Mayor's Office feels the need to interfere in commission votes, it interferes with internal commission matters and the spirit of the commission,” Board President David Chiu, who has been following the Small Business Commission dynamics, told the Guardian.

Outgoing commission member Janet Clyde, who runs the legendary Vesuvio bar in North Beach, said she has long been bothered by the changing tone and dynamics on the commission: “There is definitely an agenda that is driven by the Mayor's Office, a more conservative view...There is a big business agenda in small business clothes.”

And she said that change has been pushed by Plan C, CRG, and other fiscally conservative groups that backed Lee's mayoral campaign. “They really saw an opportunity to use the Small Business Commission to push their agendas.”

The CRG board includes three members of Murphy O'Brien Real Estate Investments, including O'Brien and Mel Murphy, who is a mayoral appointee to the Building Inspection Commission, where he also regularly advocates for real estate interests. CRG, which did not return our calls for comment, testifies regularly at City Hall in favor of development and against regulation. Clyde and current commission member Kathleen Dooley say O'Brien has been especially aggressive in pushing his ideological agenda.

O'Brien ignored repeated Guardian requests for comment, and when we finally reached him by phone, he said, “I have no interest in talking to you.”

In December, in his role as president, O'Brien called a special hearing to discuss the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, the massive land use plan passed a few years ago after dozens of public hearings to work out its myriad complicated details and balance the preservation of light industrial properties with housing development, providing city services, and other considerations.

“This thing really needs to be thought out a little bit more,” O'Brien said at the hearing in a video clip that is prominently displayed on the CRG website.

Commission Executive Director Regina Dick-Endrizzi defended that hearing and others that have ventured into planning, regulation, and land uses issues that seem to be the purview of other city commissions. “Every business we talk to that wants to be in a brick-and-mortar space, it's all about land use,” she said, noting that at the commission's last annual retreat, “they decided to take a look at impact fees and their implications.”

She also noted that the city defines small businesses as having fewer than 100 employees, and that both developers and bankers are legitimate small business advocates, noting how important loans and other capital sources are to small business survival. Mayoral spokesperson Christine Falvey also defended the appointments and their focus: “The Commission has a diverse group of individuals to represent small business. The agenda is not controlled by any one group. There is a diverse group of voices and all deserve to be heard.”

Falvey also said it's important to have bankers like Adams, a branch manager of Sterling Bank & Trust, on the commission: “The Mayor understands the important link between conventional banks and micro lenders. While there are moderate improvements in the lending environment, understanding the current status of access to capital is critical information for the Commission in its role to advise and make recommendations to the Mayor and Board of Supervisors on policy matters and City regulations that affect either the ease or difficulty in doing business in San Francisco.”

But progressive members of the Board of Supervisors – including Sup. Christina Olague, a mayoral appointee, in her recent interview with the Guardian – have regularly derided the narrow focus and ideological agenda of the commission, particularly its mayoral appointees. Some privately call it the “Small-Minded Business Commission.”

“We need some diversity on this commission. It can't be all white men with a particular point of view,” Dooley said.

That could begin to happen on Tuesday when the Board of Supervisors is slated to replace two of its outgoing appointees, Michael O'Connor and Janet Clyde, with two that have been recommended by the Rules Committee: Monette White, who runs Food for Soul, “an upscale restaurant and holding company,” and William Ortiz-Cartagena, CEO of Gentle Parking, which managing parking lots in the city.

But that won't go very far in changing a commission that seems focused on using the “small business” fig leaf to push a more broad and ideological pro-business agenda. Even Chiu, who is strongly pro-business, told us, “The Small Business Commission needs to be focused on the plight and issues of small businesses.”


Why does Dooley play a race card? Why would a black female have a different view of what's good for business? Isn't that stereotype itself racist?

SF has a peculiar disconnect when it comes to business. Small businesses are somehow "good" while larger businesses are somehow "bad". Apparently the transition from "good" to "bad" happens when a business becomes successful, and goes from 100 employees to 101. Failing businesses never get bigger and so are soemhow "better", at least if you're a lefty.

Essentially you are complaining that a business lobby group is pro-business and not, say, crammed with activists, unionists and non-profit reps.

Yeah, why not ruin it for good?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 5:25 pm

Breaking News" Apparently, O'Brien was the one who put the mark on Eliana Lopez"

Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 5:59 pm

Stephen Harper, Rob Nicholson, John Baird and Vic Toews, along with the rest of the Conservatives are liars, cheats and thieves. They are fascists and would turn our country into an Orwellian nightmare! Canada needs to rise up and occupy the parliament, remove the Conservatives from power, followed by some good old fashion tarring and feathering, finish with banishing from Canada! Finally Canadians need some laws that allow us to force referendums on the government and punish corrupt politicians who think they can screw with their people, their employers, you and me!

People shouldn't fear the government, the government should fear the people!

Posted by TheLaughingMan on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 6:37 pm


Posted by Guest on Feb. 24, 2012 @ 10:47 pm

bingo - with Plan C controlling the exec positions - that is much less likely to happen

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 7:35 am

I seem to recall there was a ballot initiative creating this turkey. I didn't think it was a good idea then, and don't think it's a good idea now. Because this is exactly how I knew it would turn out.

Let's take a page out of the conservatives' own playbook and get rid of this needless government bureaucracy, in the name of, um... smaller government, you know.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 9:33 am

Has been a lifeline for many small business people- and has raised awareness in city government about the needs of small business people at the grass roots level.
But when the BOS refuses to fund the Mayors revolving loan fund - despite 500,000. from Wells Fargo- at the same time looking for dedicated low income housing fees (before looking at dedicated funding for the public health dept) or the Mayors office refuses to tax cpmmercial vacancies that blight commercial districts or consider a graduated tax on commercial rents-well - true small business folk- go to the back of the line.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 10:06 am

OK - so just like a panel of men can decide womens reproductive health issues because they understand women- ethnic minorities are supposed to rely on the same understanding, in lieu of actual representation, when it comes to their business issues.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 10:09 am

That itself is a racist position to take.

Artifically imposed racial quota's would be much worse than picking the most experienced people.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 10:34 am

people of color that the mayor would appoint-
I dont believe that-from the Mayors side (newsom at least) these seats are political payoffs-gifts for donors and fundraisers- really the Mayors Office (newsom)appointed the wife of the mayors political consultant-a highly paid lobbiest -I expect better from Lee- we'll see

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 10:59 am

I simply said that we should pick the most qualified people regardless of race.

If that means that the board is all black women, then so be it.

Race is irrelevant.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 11:22 am

Awe, shucks, huge. crocodile tears because the Small Business Commission has pro business commissioners on board. It's about bloody time we got rid of special interest commissioners who were influenced by the minority who have opposed what is beneficial for the community such as jobs and quality of life. I am really thrilled that we are getting some sanity on our boards!

Posted by Voice of reason on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

not completely filled with anti-business liberal activists. By that argument, SFBG should hire a Tea Party member as editor. Don't hold your breath.

Steven has a very odd view of the world.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

in modern high tech / big bio SF / even small business has to be big to be considered a sucess/ wasn't it just three years ago the mayors office was promoting victory gardens? Banks are expanding and the post offices are closing- your ability to move your money without outrageous fees is ending (NY Times today) and BTW did you put enough away for retirement and kids college fund before the captains of finance stole a good chunk of it. Think your money is any safer today? I love the builders- they pay their workers well with full health benefits and retirement plans- just ask them how many 'good' jobs they have created!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

packing anti-business people into a pro-business entity. Why would anyone think that is a good idea. Not only has the idea of quota's been discredited and rejected by SCOTUS, but it has no place in a merit-based selection process.

But I'll make a deal with you. Put a conservative on the board of the Green Party and I'll put a union guy in a business lobbying group.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

tried to stack the SB commission with cronies and thankfully the BOS seleced 2 QUALIFIED small business people. Personally I believe small business owners should be represented on Planning, Health, Police and other commissions and I look forward to the board considering some of the very well qualified applicants to the SBC for those commissions.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 4:25 pm

For all the talk, this commission really doesn't do much to help Actual Small Businesses. it's just a lot of hot air, money for consultants and special projects and festivals, and in the end is totally useless to anyone trying to run a real business. go ask the ice cream parlor folks in cole valley how useful the SBC is. Time to cut the cord, cut the budget and eliminate another useless commission.

Posted by useless commission on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 6:16 pm


The progressobots are all worked up that some of these hair brained laws will have to go through commissions that are not made of life's losers at the commission on commissions.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 25, 2012 @ 8:06 pm

thank goodness it is more conservative

Posted by Guest on Feb. 26, 2012 @ 4:24 pm