Online Extras: Political Notes: Queer youth, coyotes and a now-legendary Muni ride dominate D8 town hall
by Matthew S. Bajko
The evening began with a joke from interim Mayor Ed Lee, a resident of gay Supervisor Scott Wiener's District 8, who said he has "always looked up to him."
Lee was making fun of the two political leaders' height difference – Wiener at 6 feet 7 inches towers over the diminutive mayor. But the town hall the two leaders held last week soon turned serious as they faced questions from the audience of several hundred people inside Mission High School's auditorium.
The April 14 public forum was the first one the two leaders have held in the Castro district since being sworn into their respective offices in January. And while billed as a meeting to hear residents' concerns on how to resolve the city's budget deficit, other issues dominated the evening.
Chief among them were reports of a pack of coyotes roaming Glen Canyon and Diamond Heights; Wiener's handling of a Muni incident in which a train he was riding left the station with a door open; and the status of a queer youth space at the Castro's recreation center.
Rather than Wiener and Lee being in the hot seat during the two-hour forum, it was Recreation and Park Department General Manager Phil Ginsburg who found himself repeatedly pressed about his handling of a number of issues, from programs for queer youth and city pool hours to off-leash dog areas and upkeep of the city's outdoor spaces.
The issue that caused the most uproar among the crowd – including two women whom police escorted out of the balcony area for trying to unfurl a banner – was the status of the drop-in space for homeless queer youth at the Eureka Valley Recreation Center. According to the activist group QUEEN – which stands for Queers for Economic Equality Now – the space has been closed since last August.
In a flier the group handed out at the town hall, they claim that Ginsburg's department "says that drop-in, cost-free, and transitional age youth programming does not fit in with its new staffing model or fee-based programming structure."
A number of speakers pressed Ginsburg about why the youth space was no longer available and demanded that it be re-opened.
"It is unacceptable any of these funds be cut," said Beck, a transgender queer youth who goes by one name and is the youth programs coordinator at the LGBT Community Center, speaking generally about the city targeting services for queer youth in order to balance its budget. "I would love to make referrals to services at EVRC."
According to a schedule provided to the Bay Area Reporter by rec and park staff, the EVRC youth space is open for 18- to 24-year-olds Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Fridays from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The schedule is good through May 21.
Ginsburg said he supports the space and suggested that a new community advisory panel was being formed to help program activities at EVRC. He also pointed out that there are also queer-youth specific offerings at the center alongside Collingwood Park, such as a cooking class (Thursdays from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.) and a breakfast/brunch pantry (Saturdays).
"We are firmly committed to a queer youth space at EVRC. We want it to be safe and supervised," said Ginsburg. "We are absolutely, positively committed to working with queer youth on what they want to do with that space."
Two speakers expressed concerns that the city wasn't doing anything to address a reported coyote pack seen roaming through Glen Canyon and near the Safeway atop the open space area in Diamond Heights. One woman said she was so afraid from seeing the animals she couldn't get out of her car.
Ginsburg advised dog owners to keep their pets on-leash while in the area, and Wiener asked anyone who sees the pack to immediately contact both his office and the city's animal control.
"It is illegal in California to relocate them. And the state Fish and Game's solution is often to shoot them," said Wiener. "If you see them let us know right away."
As for off-leash dog areas, Ginsburg said he was hopeful that national parks officials would not ban dogs from popular sites such as Ocean Beach, Crissy Field and Fort Funston.
"Dog use issues are very tricky. If the Golden Gate National Recreation Area restricts dogs, it is going to put pressure on our neighborhood parks," said Ginsburg. "They have agreed to talk to us and listen to us. Communication is ongoing."
One man suggested Wiener was responsible for "gross negligence" due to his not stopping a Muni train that left Van Ness station with a door open. A video that showed Wiener and other passengers seemingly nonchalant about the incident went viral this month.
Wiener defended his response, stating he suggested those nearest the door move away from it and that the driver had announced he was aware of the problem. Having defended the city in court as a former deputy city attorney from lawsuits filed by Muni riders injured when a train's emergency brake had been pulled, he said he ruled out doing that as an option.
"It would have made it worse and potentially thrown people out of the door," said Wiener, whom the mayor appointed last week to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, where he will serve alongside his gay colleague District 9 Supervisor David Campos.
As for the budget, the city is facing a $306 million deficit in its general fund. The mayor has asked all departments to cut their budgets – or find revenues – equaling 10 percent. He also has asked for an additional 10 percent in contingency cuts.
While various cuts being proposed would impact LGBT programs at numerous agencies, there was some glimmer of good budget news to come out of the town hall. As of now the city does not intend to make cuts to HIV and AIDS services.
However, that could change if $4 million in funding under the federal Ryan White CARE Act set to be cut is not restored to the city by Congress and President Barack Obama.
"There will be none to HIV/AIDS health care because we may be facing reduced Ryan White act funding," said Gregg Sass, the Department of Public Health's chief financial officer. "The situation in Washington is unclear and fluid. We know the president has included that $4 million in his budget."
Sass said the city wouldn't know for certain if the federal funding will come through until the fall. In years past, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) has been able to restore the funds.
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