Political Notebook: Advocates want SF City Hall to rethink lifting of travel ban policy

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday April 12, 2023
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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is likely to repeal the ban on publicly funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws. Photo: Steven Underhill<br>
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is likely to repeal the ban on publicly funded travel to states with anti-LGBTQ laws. Photo: Steven Underhill

As lawmakers in other states continue to pass anti-LGBTQ bills, advocates in San Francisco are calling on city leaders to rethink their push to repeal the ban on using taxpayer money to travel to those states and doing business with companies headquartered in them. But their pleas are likely to fall on deaf ears.

Mayor London Breed already signed into law on March 28 an ordinance sponsored by District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí that lifted the ban on city agencies and departments from entering into construction contracts with firms based in the 30 states covered by the city policy known as 12X. The Board of Supervisors had passed the change on a 7-4 vote earlier in the month.

Subsequently, gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in March also introduced an ordinance to repeal the entirety of 12X. Along with Safaí, Supervisors Hillary Ronen of District 9, Catherine Stefani of District 2, and Board President Aaron Peskin of District 3 have signed on as co-sponsors.

The supervisors' rules committee is expected to hear the full repeal of 12X at its meeting Monday, April 17, which begins at 10 a.m. It is expected to pass, as Safaí serves on the panel along with chair gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who has told the Bay Area Reporter he supports doing away with the travel ban policy in its entirety.

The other committee member, District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton, spoke up last month in support of 12X and voted against Safaí's ordinance covering its restrictions on construction contracts. Walton hadn't responded to a request for comment by the B.A.R.'s press deadline Wednesday but is likely to also vote against Mandelman's 12X repeal ordinance.

First enacted in 2016 to cover those states that passed discriminatory LGBTQ laws, the 12X policy was expanded in 2019 to include states that restricted abortion, and again in 2021 to include those with voter suppression laws. But with nearly two-thirds of the country now on San Francisco's banned list, critics have argued it has done nothing to promote liberal causes in other states.

Instead, they contend it has merely hit the city's bottom line by driving up the costs for various contracts because companies that could do the work less expensively are not bidding on them in the first place if they are located in a banned state. Repeal proponents have also complained it is hampering city officials' ability to promote the city's values because they can't travel to various conferences and other events in the 30 states.

California also has a law banning most taxpayer-funded travel to states that have enacted anti-LGBTQ laws over the last eight years but does not ban contracts with companies in those states. Last month, lesbian state Senate President pro Tempore Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) introduced a bill to repeal the state travel ban with the support of several LGBTQ leaders, though the author of the bill that created the "no-fly list," gay Assemblymember Evan Low (D-Cupertino), has spoken out against doing so.

Victor Ruiz-Cornejo, a gay man who is Breed's adviser on LGBTQ issues, reiterated to the B.A.R. this week her position that it is time for the city to scrap its 12X policy. Particularly in light of the city now projecting a $291 million deficit in its 2023-2024 fiscal year budget that begins July 1, the policy no longer makes fiscal sense to the mayor, he added.

"Mayor Breed honors the spirit of what 12X was attempting to do legislatively to protect and expand the rights of LGBTQ people and ensure San Francisco values were reflected in the organizations we do business with," said Ruiz-Cornejo. "However, after a few years of seeing it not have the impact of what supporters were hoping for, we are supportive of Supervisor Mandelman's effort to repeal the legislation, which will help cut bureaucracy in San Francisco. Especially in a tough budget year here, we need to find money to support the services we do value in San Francisco."

But longtime LGBTQ advocate Brian Basinger, a gay man who has long lobbied city officials regarding fiscal matters and other issues, told the B.A.R. that he and others in the community are calling on the supervisors and Breed to rethink their position on 12X. At the very least, he said, they will be asking the members of the supervisors' committee next week to postpone taking a vote on Mandelman's ordinance in order for there to be more public discussion about the issue.

"People are ambivalent and need more information on why they are repealing the effort instead of fixing it, or replacing it with something more effective," he told the B.A.R. Tuesday, having discussed the issue with various stakeholders in recent days.

He also posted to his Facebook page that morning a public call for city officials to alter their approach regarding the 12X policy. Basinger called on both the mayor's office and supervisors to hit "pause" on their move to repeal it without engaging more fully with the community.

"This is not the time for San Francisco to throw in the towel on its boycott of states that discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, have anti-abortion statutes, and practice voter suppression. It sends the wrong message to our siblings in other states who are under attack," wrote Basinger. "San Francisco must remain a beacon of hope for those who are taking the gut punch of state-imposed discrimination and just plain mean-spiritedness. The message needs to remain 'San Francisco's got your back.' Not 'We give up.'"

Basinger had planned to meet with Ruiz-Cornejo along with several other advocates Wednesday morning regarding the issue, but they postponed the meeting for the time being. One idea that had been floated with Mandelman was creating an LGBTQ stabilization fund using the savings from the city reopening its bidding process to protect LGBTQ programs and services from being targeted with budget cuts.

According to a city review of 12X, even though its exact cost "is difficult to quantify," the Budget and Legislative Analyst had estimated it likely increased the city's contracting costs "by 10%-20% annually." Thus, the 10% to 20% in savings from doing away with it could be targeted toward LGBTQ budgetary needs, Basinger had suggested, but the idea has been shelved for now due to a lack of support for it.

While Mandelman had told the B.A.R. the suggestion was "interesting," he nonetheless said it would be difficult to figure out an exact dollar amount in contract savings and such a fiscal carve out wouldn't be in place in time to affect this year's budget talks. He also noted the 12X policy no longer covers just LGBTQ issues but also reproductive rights and minority voters being disenfranchised.

"Different claims can be made on the savings," said Mandelman, "and we are not really going to know how much we are saving."

Nonetheless, Mandelman said he shares the budgetary concerns LGBTQ leaders like Basinger and several executive directors of local LGBTQ nonprofits have raised with him in recent weeks. He pledged to be advocating for the needs of the LGBTQ community as the mayor and supervisors work to produce a balanced budget by their deadline to do so this summer.

"I think there will be a lot of queer populations we are going to be needing to be very attentive to in an environment of scarcity," said Mandelman, who is serving this year on the board's two budget committees. "With last week's budget forecast, it's getting darker and darker. People are seeing the writing on the wall and are seeing what they need to do to protect their people."

Meanwhile, Basinger is arguing that more conversations are needed in order to find some consensus on how to either fix the city's boycott policy or replace it with something more effective.

As he wrote in his Facebook post, "What we do not need is to throw in the towel right now without a meaningful plan to achieve the goal of countering these anti-gay, anti-women, and anti-people of color attacks."

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) hitting the LGBTQ gala circuit this spring amid speculation she will be retiring from the House next year.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

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