Partying for Laguna Honda

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By G.W. Schulz
Perhaps the most obscure and complex of the four local measures that appeared on Tuesday’s ballot was Proposition D, a land-use initiative designed to prevent San Francisco County health officials from allowing the spill-over of patients diagnosed with psychiatric or behavior problems from Potrero Hill’s San Francisco General Hospital to Laguna Honda Hospital in the western section of the city. Prop. D’s opponents defeated the measure by around 45,000 votes. Curiously, however, of all Tuesday’s races, the No on Prop. D election party seemed to be the most star-studded.

Held at the swanky Mission bar Medjool’s, Mayor Newsom and a small entourage lounged on expensive, modern furniture with board supervisors Bevan Dufty, Ross Mirkarimi, Sean Elsbernd and president Aaron Peskin, who told us he’d managed to avoid much of the last-minute election madness by vacationing in Utah with his wife for eight days. Milling around with drinks were well-dressed hipsters, legislative aides and general City Hall insiders.
“I was the only one there without a suit on,” joked Service Employees International Union organizer Robert Haaland, who helped beat back the Yes on D camp.
Tuesday in general reflected some of the best, or worst, San Francisco politics had to offer. Prop. D was a “land grab,” according to its opponents. Chris Daly’s Prop. C, which would have required the mayor to personally attend Transbay Joint Powers Authority meetings, was a “power grab,” according to its detractors.
But the No on Prop. D effort in particular brought out some of the city’s most formidable political forces. Newsom and Sup. Tom Ammiano supported Public Health Director Mitch Katz’s claim that Prop. D would force as many as 300 elderly patients to be discharged from Laguna Honda, because due to a drafting error, according to campaign literature, patients suffering from AIDS-related dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease could no longer remain at Laguna Honda if Prop. D passed.
The measure’s supporters have continually argued that latter claim is a “hysterical assertion,” insisting only outside patients with real behavior and psychiatric problems that posed a safety risk to Laguna Honda’s primarily geriatric patients would be barred from entry. Prop. D opponents even circulated flyers depicting an old woman with a black eye, with backing from the politically astute Joe O’Donoghue and the Residential Builders Association.
The measure became so controversial that the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods pulled its endorsement of Prop. D at the last minute. What seems to have turned off voters, at least in part, was the proposition’s support from O’Donoghue and the RBA, which put well over $10,000 into supporting Prop. D. Critics insisted RBA’s real motive was hammering through a segment of the measure that would have allowed the construction of private health-care facilities on property zoned “public.” O’Donoghue has maintained throughout the campaign that he simply wanted to save old people.
No on Prop. D was also a big win for labor, including the powerful SEIU and the local chapter of the American Nurses Association.
“I have to admit, I was terrified,” Haaland said Wednesday. “There was so much deception. I was terrified people wouldn’t see through it. Some people predicted we would win … Maybe I was too nervous.”

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