The City gets high marks on consumer rights

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The San Francisco Examiner

San Francisco leads the nation in the protection of citizen rights against corporate control, according to the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. The City scored an A-, the highest grade in a national study that included Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.

“Industry groups have graded cities on how friendly they are to businesses but we never grade corporations on how friendly they are to society,” Jamie Court, executive director of the Santa Monica-based FTCR and author of Corporateering, said at a press conference Monday.

Turning the tables on big business, the FTCR assessed the “corporateering quotient” of each city by analyzing nine factors including privacy rights, commercialization of schools, media independence and environmental degradation.

According to Court, San Francisco excels in many areas because of its ability to limit corporate dominance. The City got high marks for its strict privacy laws that prevent companies from selling personal information without permission, its conflict-of-interest laws that regulate politicians’ ability to accept gifts, and for keeping commercialization out of schools.

The formula for success lies in The City’s unique progressive nature, according to Court, who dubbed San Francisco a “laboratory of America.” The political homogeneity, voter power of ballot initiatives, and high average income create a confluence of forces that help catalyze reform, he said.

P.J. Johnston, spokesman for Mayor Willie Brown, was not surprised by the FTCR’s findings.

“San Francisco is well regarded when it comes to consumer rights. This is a very public and consumer-oriented city and it’s a very much activist city in its politics and its population’s relationship to the business community,” Johnston said.

Despite the praises and the high grade, Court reminds The City, that the A- is still a long shot from a perfect score.

“It has put up appropriate barriers but it could do a lot better,” Court said.

Among The City’s challenges, Court warns that the Brown administration is not sensitive enough to the issues of corporate branding, when companies privatize public space, legal rights of consumers, and to environmental concerns.

The City received a B- grade for its limitation of corporate impact on environmental health. Even though The City leads the nation in recycling, its use of renewable energy and its emphasis on precautionary measures, extensive pollution still plagues The City, according to Evan Paul, Field Director for Environment California.

“The Bay Area is one of the most polluted waterways, and the reason why is because we let a lot of corporations off the hook for too long,” Paul said.

However, according to Johnston, to pin the Bay Area’s pollution problem solely on The City is unfair because “the Bay is home to nine counties and scores of cities — it is a responsibility shared with millions.”

If The City hopes to improve its rating, it must take an aggressive stance to resist temptations to sell out to corporate interests, according to Paul. Extra vigilance will be needed because of the weak economy, which will put added pressure on the government to cut costs, he said.

While the mayor’s office supports the push against privatization and The City’s protection of consumer rights, Johnston said that there is also a danger in “letting the pendulum slide too far” and being stamped as anti-business.

“For the most part it’s good,” Johnston said. “The danger is particularly in weak economic times, in becoming so vigilant in fighting on behalf of consumers vs. corporate interests: You don’t want to end up suppressing legitimate business opportunities.”

The six survey cities were picked for the diverse aspects each represented and because the FTCR felt that they were the few major cities to actually seriously think and address the issue of corporateering, Court said.
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