A packed San Francisco City Hall, a supervisor hurling expletives, and a giant cardboard cutout hand-delivered to the mayor's office were part of an effort Tuesday to push through a contentious alcohol fee intended to recover the city's costs of helping chronic inebriants.
The Board of Supervisors ended up approving the fee -- which supporters say would only raise the cost of a drink in the city between three and five cents -- but Mayor Gavin Newsom's office said the mayor will veto it.
Bar and restaurant owners had complained the fee, though it would be applied to alcohol wholesalers, would be passed on to retailers and would hurt business.
A 35-cent fee would be assessed for every gallon of beer sold by wholesalers in the city. For wine the fee would be $1 per gallon, and for hard alcohol, $3.20 per gallon.
Supervisor John Avalos, who introduced the ordinance and also chairs the board's budget committee, argued that the fee would help combat the annual budget "tug of war" by adding nearly $17 million to the City's alcohol-related health care and ambulance costs, and prevention and treatment programs.
Avalos said alcohol purveyors "should have a responsibility for paying some of the impacts of alcohol in San Francisco." He added that opponents being helped by "big-alcohol funded lobby firms" were engaging in "hyperbole" and "exaggeration."
The impact to city businesses would be "minimal," Avalos said.
But Avalos was upstaged, at least in volume, by Supervisor Chris Daly, who pledged -- despite verbal warnings from the president of the board -- to speak his mind in the remaining few months of his term.
Daly, who said he supports the fee even though he is considering investing in a bar of his own when he leaves office next year, targeted "some" of the restaurateurs he said were complaining about the fee and also regularly complain about homeless drunks on the street outside their restaurants.
"It's a bunch of f---ing whining," he yelled. He ignored attempts by Board President David Chiu to silence his colorful language.
"If you're going to be doing business in San Francisco, you need a business model that's socially responsible," Daly said.
Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, who opposed the fee, argued that there were other ways to fund the city's alcohol-related services. He suggested cutting costs in other areas of city government.
"It's not just about revenue," Elsbernd said. "We have to come to grips with the skyrocketing expenses."
After a lengthy debate, the board approved the fee by a 7-3 margin.
Supervisors Elsbernd, Carmen Chu and Bevan Dufty voted against it, and Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier asked to be recused, saying she and her husband owned a wine business and would be subject to the fee.
The conclusion of the vote was accompanied by other theatrics, as supporters of the fee marched across City Hall to Newsom's office, intending to present him with a large cardboard cutout of a bottle and a message not to veto the measure.
Newsom's office was locked, however, and a sheriff's deputy informed the group that the cardboard display was not permitted in City Hall and confiscated it.
Newsom spokesman Tony Winnicker called the measure "job killing" and "likely illegal." Elsbernd had also argued the city would lose a likely court battle over the fee.
"In this economic environment, we simply don't need a new fee that will affect thousands of San Francisco businesses and jobs, and put San Francisco at a competitive disadvantage with every other county in California," Winnicker said.
Not even a last-minute amendment to the measure, added by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi in an attempt to help small businesses, would sway Newsom, Winnicker said.
The amendment excludes manufacturers and distributors from having to pay the first $1,000 in fees each quarter.
The board will take a second vote on the ordinance next week. A minimum of eight supervisors are needed to overturn a mayoral veto.