SF Ballot Initiative Summaries
There are twenty-five ballot local propositions on the ballot this November 8. They are not terribly easy to read, and the campaigns for or against them tend to misrepresent them if only by oversimplifying. However, for those with the patience, they tell a story of the struggle between the two factions of the local Democratic Party political machine.
For those who need a little background: in San Francisco, Republicans form an isolated sect with no traction in local politics whatsoever. Thus, the local Democrats control everything and can roughly be divided into two factions. The “moderates”, so called by the San Francisco Chronicle include Mayor Ed Lee and the minority on the Board of Supervisors led by Scott Wiener. This “moderate” faction follows the tradition, if not the leadership, of former Mayor Willie Brown and the coterie of developers, real estate brokers, and bankers that have always been his base. On the other hand, “progressives”—thus self-dubbed but supported by the Chronicle in calling themselves thusly—form the majority of the Board of Supervisors, and include Supervisors Jane Kim—also running for State Senate this election—and Aaron Peskin. This faction traces its history back through former State Assembly Member and Supervisor Tom Ammiano to former Mayor Art Agnos and tends to have a symbiotic relationship with non-profit service providers.
In addition to the usual bond measures, generally agreed upon by both factions, which we see as attempts by the government to extort money to pay for needed services that they have failed to fund due to corruption and mismanagement of the City’s $10bn budget, and which we will have plenty to say about later in this article, the November ballot includes a number of propositions clearly proposed by one faction or the other. Ironically, the “moderate” faction contributes the more reactionary measures, such as the anti-homeless Proposition Q, which should be rejected so thoroughly that it makes Supervisor Wiener’s head spin. This is probably part of a strategy to get the progressives to tie up resources in fighting his measures rather than advancing their own. Meanwhile, the “progressive” faction tries to take power from the “moderates” with minimal to moderate democratic reforms—like Proposition D—accompanied with a battery of budget set-asides that will probably foster corruption through a guaranteed funding sources in much the same way that stagnant water encourages the mosquito population.
We do, however, want to point out that there are two democratic reforms on the ballot that we deem incredibly worthy of support. The first is Proposition F, which lowers the voting age in local elections to 16, and the second is Proposition N, which grants non-citizens the right to vote in school board elections. We would give full political rights to all non-citizens, as well as all convicted felons, and we would lower the voting age to 14, but both measures would be hugely positive steps towards improving the responsiveness of local government.
In any case, what follows in this document are short summaries of the ballot measures followed by brief elaborations of our positions. We welcome all comment, and we are eager to discuss our positions further with any and all interested parties.
A. School Bonds—No: In order to repair, update, and build the facilities necessary for the needs of students, faculty, staff, and the community, the San Francisco Unified School District wishes to, with the public’s approval, issue bonds in an amount not to exceed $744, 250, 000 to cover these improvement costs. It allows the City to raise property taxes in order to pay the interest on this money if necessary and allows landlords to raise rents to cover up to 50% of their increased property tax bill. The City, for its part, is confident it can manage its borrowing in such a way to prevent any increases in property taxes.
As for us, we are against even the possibility of raising the rents of workers and poor people to pay for education for other workers and poor people. This is a matter of class principle for us: we simply do not support measures that set the interests of one section of the working class against another. We can also point out that the City has a large number of obscenely profitable businesses in it, including tech firms, for sure, but also financial institutions and real estate concerns that could afford to pay a higher rate of taxes to fund education for workers and their children, and that is who the City should tax.
Furthermore, bond measures actually increase the City’s dependence upon big banks by increasing the municipal debt load and giving these banks additional leverage against the City taking measures to develop the infrastructure it needs on its own. We say let’s take a small step towards financial independence with the larger goal of developing a publically owned Bank of San Francisco to manage its own money for the interests of those who need it most.
We are also against this perennial strategy of the Democratic Party Political Machine—to let a desperately needed resource decay almost to nothing and then demand that workers pay for it. If it isn’t the Laguna Honda Hospital and Rehabilitation Center and its services for seniors, then it’s MUNI, or City College, or San Francisco General Hospital being held for ransom. This time it’s SFUSD being held hostage. We reject the political machine’s bullying and blackmail in the most strident terms by voting “No!” on A.
B. City College Parcel Tax—No: In order to renew a soon-to-expire parcel tax of $99 per parcel that bolsters its budget, the City College of San Francisco urges the public to vote in favor of Proposition B, which would help prevent further cuts to staff, faculty, programs, and departments at the school.
We in the Left Party feel much the same way about parcel taxes as we do about bonds: they are regressive tax measures used to get around closing the gaping wounds through which the ruling class siphons funds from workers to enrich itself at everyone else’s expense. Once again, we say look to the big real estate, financial, and technological concerns doing business in San Francisco and making huge profits due to their access to infrastructure maintained at the public’s expense for funds for CCSF. The increased real estate transfer tax proposed in Proposition W gives us an idea for how to do this legislatively. In reality, our goal of guaranteeing everyone a free, high quality, education from pre-school through university and beyond will require the permanent mobilization of workers and the oppressed through their own organizations and under their own leadership to take political and economic power. For now, the correct defensive measure is to vote “No!” on Proposition B.
C. Loans to Finance Acquisition and Rehabilitation of Affordable Housing—No: This proposition re-directs unused bond funds from 1992’s Seismic Bonds Measure to provide loans to help renovate, improve, and then convert “at-risk” multi-unit residential buildings into permanent affordable housing.
In addition to the regressive taxation aspects mentioned above, this one also uses an old bond measure to raise housing costs for some San Franciscans—many of them working- and middle-class homeowners—in order to lower housing costs for other San Franciscans. This is the way that bond measures are used to make workers and poor people financially responsible for the failure of the capitalist housing market to provide people with affordable homes. Of course, we say “No!” to this one as well.
D. Vacancy Appointments—Yes: Ballot question D will amend the San Francisco charter to make it mandatory for a special election to be held to fill any vacancy in the Board of Supervisors—if a regularly scheduled election does not occur within 180 days of the creation of the vacancy.
In other words, it takes away the Mayor’s power to pack the Board of Supervisors with supporters—a power that has been used to such bad effect on the City as a whole since 1995, when Willie Brown, Jr. became the mayor. In fact, this is the first of a package of mild reforms that appear on this ballot that are designed to remove some of these powers that were shifted to the Mayor in the mid-1990s as Brown became mayor. This is the one that we can say that we support unreservedly. Vote “Yes!” on Proposition D.
E. Responsibility for Maintaining Street Trees and Surrounding Sidewalks—No position: This charter amendment would transfer the responsibility for the planting, care, and maintenance of all trees planted along the streets and public schools in the City of San Francisco. This endeavor would require the City to set aside $19 million annually from the budget to pay for this program.
The part of this measure that restores to the City the responsibility for maintaining the street trees that it transferred to property owners in the last period—a transfer that resulted in all kinds of abuse and poor maintenance of the urban forest—is exactly what should happen. The part of the measure that requires the set-aside is a recognition that the City is not committed to guarantee essential services as well as an invitation to the Department of Urban Forestry to be as corrupt as it wants to be since its funding is guaranteed no matter what happens. Because it is half good and half terrible, we take no position on Proposition E.
F. Youth Voting in Local Elections—Yes: This proposal, if approved by the voters, would allow 16 and 17 year-old San Francisco residents to vote in municipal elections.
Like the voting rights for non-citizens contained in Proposition N, this measure is a refreshingly positive democratic reform. It is both an invitation to civic engagement to an oppressed population—youth—and a demand to local officials that they be held accountable to a population directly affected by the City government’s irresponsible actions. Vote “Yes!” on Proposition F!
G. Police Oversight—No position: If approved, this initiative would rename The Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC) to the much more serious sounding Department of Police Accountability (DPA). That being said, this proposal would also give the civilian-staffed DPA greater control over their own budget and subject them to a performance review every two years.
To be clear: our position is that the police department and sheriff’s department are institutions tasked with the violent repression of workers and the oppressed and are impervious to reform. In solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives, we demand that they be de-militarized, defunded, disarmed, and disbanded. Therefore, on the basis that this measure may promote confidence in the notion that the police can be reformed, we are inclined to reject it. However, we also recognize that this measure may bring about some small increase in police accountability for their murders and other abuses of authority. Therefore, we take no position on it.
H. Public Advocate—Yes: This initiative would create an elected Office of Public Advocate. Their duties will entail receiving and relaying information with the public, investigations, resolving complaints, and working with whistle blowers.
This measure was conceived in part as a more radical solution to the problem of police accountability as well as a more general—and completely accurate—sense that City Departments are not adequately responsive to the constituents they are supposed to serve. The two measures have been brought into harmony with one another, and we support this one. Vote “Yes!” on Proposition H.
I. Funding for Seniors and Adults with Disabilities—No position: This initiative would set aside $38m establish a “Dignity Fund” that would increase by $71m over the next ten years to be administered by an unelected commission, ostensibly to help support disabled adults and senior San Francisco citizens. The measure strongly implies that this will be accomplished by distributing money amongst public non-profits, which it holds to be the City’s “most valuable asset” for supporting seniors.
This is the second in the cascade of set-aside proposals that we should read as a failure of the City to provide necessary services and the same invitation to corruption that any perennial guarantee of funding offers, with the special modification that the non-profit service providers are the key beneficiaries of this funding stream. But again, although the set-aside is bad, the funding and services are necessary, so we take no position.
J. Funding for Homelessness and Transportation—No position: This initiative proposes to set-aside a Homeless Housing and Services Fund of $12.5 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year followed by funding of $50 million annually for the next 24 years. This measure claims it will provide services to prevent homelessness, and move the homeless to “more stable situations.”
Here again is another set-aside, this time to benefit the homeless. As with the others, we think the money and services are necessary, but the way that it locks the funding into place is a blueprint for abuse. Like the other set-asides measures, we can in good conscience neither support nor reject them.
K. General Sales Tax—No: This initiative would impose sales and use taxes of 0.75% for a period of 25 years in order to fund the abovementioned initiative “J.”
Sales taxes are among the most regressive tax measures the state can take, and we oppose this one as with all of them. The promise to fund needed services is what makes it come across as electoral extortion to us. Vote “No” on Proposition K.
L. MTA Appointments and Budget—No Position: This initiative would split the power to make appointments to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) between the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors. This would also lower the vote threshold from seven to six when it comes to rejecting a SFMTA budget proposal.
The re-distribution of the appointments to give parity to the Board of Supervisors is what marks this as one of the measures from the so-called “progressive” majority on the Board of Supervisors designed to take power away from the Mayor’s office and give it to itself. It seems to be a little more democratic than the way things are done now, but it is in reality a representation of the struggle between the two factions of the Democratic Party that are working together against us all of the time. If it were to make the MUNI commission an elected commission, as Proposition D makes the filling of vacancies on the Board of Supervisors, we would be completely behind it. As it is, we take no position.
M. Housing and Development Commission—No Position: In order to review and make recommendations regarding proposed development agreements involving certain surplus City properties, this initiative would create the Housing and Development Commission to oversee the Department of Economic and Workforce Development and the Department of Housing and Community Development. Importantly, the Board of Supervisors is to have parity with the Mayor in appointing this new commission, which will oversee the other two commissions that apparently will continue to be appointed by the Mayor.
In other words, this is the third in the series of initiatives designed to strengthen the Board of Supervisors at the expense of the Mayor’s office, as is the case with Propositions D and L. This one is more like Proposition L than Proposition D in that it creates yet another undemocratic unelected commission as another battlefield for the Democratic Party to act out its factional drama. We support neither faction over the other, and therefore take no position on Proposition M.
N. Non-Citizen Voting in School Board Elections—Yes: This proposition would allow San Francisco residents who are not US citizens, but are who are the parents, legal guardians, or caregivers of a child residing in San Francisco, the right to vote in all Board of Education elections.
This one appears on the ballot every now and then, usually because we had something to do with putting it there. It departs from the premise—based in fact—that because non-citizens have children in San Francisco schools, they should have right to elect representatives to the school board. We strongly support this measure as a step along the path towards granting full democratic rights to all non-citizens, including the right to vote in all elections and the right to receive government services—such as education and healthcare. We would also like to see voting rights extended to convicted felons, reversing the disfranchisement that affects African-Americans and Latinos much more strongly than white people. Vote “Yes!” on Proposition N!
O. Office Development in Candlestick Point and Hunters Point—No: Proposition M from 1986 limits the construction of new office space in the City to 950,000 square feet. Proposition O would amend the planning code to exempt the redevelopment of Candlestick Point and Hunters Point from this voter-imposed limit.
This measure is a little bit of old-school machine politics. Now that the gentrification of Bayview-Hunters Point is picking up speed, the machine wants to further accelerate it by relaxing development requirements, supposedly in order to develop the neighborhood and anchor residents by providing housing and jobs for them. The implied argument is that if one is against this measure, one is against development for Bayview-Hunters Point, and therefore in favor of gentrification. More specifically, if one does not vote to open up the floodgates of gentrification, then one is in favor of people being driven out of the neighborhood. It’s the same argument they have used to pass every stupid ballpark measure that only helped the developers. Meanwhile, the fact is that the City has never reached the limit enacted in the 1986 law. Vote “No!” on Proposition O.
P. Competitive Bidding for Affordable Housing Projects on City-Owned Property—No: When awarding a contract for affordable housing construction on City property, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development may select a developer for an affordable housing project even if it receives fewer than three proposals. This proposition would compel the MOHCD to invite the public to submit bids, receive at least three bids for every project, and use “best value” as criteria for awarding contracts.
What seems like a common sense measure is in fact an additional layer of red tape designed to give colluding for-profit developers veto powers over new affordable housing projects. If they don’t like a project, all they have to do is make sure that they don’t bid on it. And if the City gets one or two reasonable bids, it is prevented by this measure from moving forward on the project. Meanwhile, the City already has a competitive bidding in place that barely allows affordable housing to get built. Vote “No” on Prop P.
Q. Prohibiting Tents on Public Sidewalks—No: This proposition is attempting to cure homelessness through the seizure of personal property and the degradation of human dignity. This not only will make tents on the streets officially illegal, but it also gives police carte blanche to seize a homeless person’s personal property and impound it “for no fewer than 90 days.”
In a way, one almost has to respect the tenacity with which these reactionaries continue to advocate these completely failed policies that criminalize poverty and try to hide its visible effects by having the cops chase people out of town, put them in jail, or kill them. But mostly the people who propose measures like these—Supervisors Scott Wiener and Mark Farrell of the Board of Supervisors’ minority “moderate” faction—seem like they suffer from a sociopathic lack of empathy and failure of compassion, and one either feels sorry for them or disgusted by them. In any case, we need to fight this measure and make sure it fails. Vote “No!” on Proposition Q!
R. Neighborhood Crime Unit—No: If passed, this proposition would establish a “neighborhood crime unit” whose task will be to quell “neighborhood crime.” This seems to be an attempt to shift from general policing to a “beat cop” approach. These neighborhood crime units would only be activated once police staffing is at normal levels.
In other words, in the face of outcry against police abuse and murder of unarmed civilians, the machine is proposing to crack down on quality of life crimes, like car break-ins and so on, the precise kind of police intervention that tends to lead to civilian deaths at the hands of police, especially for blacks and Latinos. We see this measure as a particularly epic feat of tone-deafness on the part of the “moderate” faction of the machine. Vote “No!” on Proposition R.
S. Allocation of Hotel Tax Funds—Yes: The City currently levies an 8% base tax and an additional 6% tax surcharge on the rental of hotel rooms. Proposition S would guarantee where this money is spent. This measure would force the Board of Supervisors to use this tax revenue to pay the: Arts Commission 2.9%, War Memorial 5.8%, Grants for the Arts 7.5% (by 2010), Cultural Equity Endowment Fund 7.5% (by 2010), and Moscone Center 50%.
We are completely in favor of creating progressive taxation-funded revenue streams for the arts. Of course, these arts programs are extremely conservative, and we can’t help noticing that half of the money—the largest portion set aside for any of the programs—goes to the Moscone Center, which directly benefits all of the downtown hotels located right around it, meaning this measure arguably restores the money to the hotels it takes it from. We would much prefer this money be given to an elected arts commission with representation from every district and every affected community, artists in particular. However, we cannot quite bring ourselves to oppose this measure in principle. Vote “Yes” on Proposition S.
T. Restricting Gifts and Campaign Contributions from Lobbyists—Yes: Submitted by the Ethics Commission, this proposition would better define “gift” and force San Francisco government officials to report these “gifts” in a new codified manner. If this proposition were successful, any gift/contribution report would now include the name of contributor, contribution amount, date of gift, contributor’s occupation/employer, and to which committee this contribution was made.
This is a minimal additional regulation to the extremely corrupt relationship between lobbyists and elected officials. Still, if the Ethics Commission thinks it will help, it probably will a little bit. Vote “Yes” on Proposition T.
U. Affordable Housing Requirements for Market-Rate Development Projects—No position: This proposition would essentially raise the maximum allowable income requirement, thereby making Below Market Housing (BMR) available to higher paid workers and members of the middle class.
In particular, proponents of the measure single out essential workers like schoolteachers, who generally cannot afford to live in the City on the minuscule salaries paid by SFUSD. This, of course, is but a small part of the population this measure will support, which will also include low- and mid-level management types at marketing firms and ad agencies at the expense of those truly vulnerable to losing their housing and being expelled from the City. The “progressives” will argue that this measure will increase the competition for a limited number of BMR units with a large number of people more fit for the competition, which is true. Meanwhile, as the “moderates” argue, it will make affordable housing available to people who presently cannot afford housing in San Francisco. It is our policy to house everyone in San Francisco, so we take No Position on Proposition U.
V. Tax on Distributing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages—No: As opposed to similar measures that tax the consumer directly for the purchase of sugar-sweetened beverage, this proposition is intended to discourage the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in San Francisco by taxing their distribution. Although distributors will be taxed ($0.01) per fluid ounce, there are no guarantees that retailers will not pass this added cost on to consumers, presumably by distributing the cost of the tax over all goods available in stores that sell sodas, hence the characterization of this measure by its opposition—presumably distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages—as a “grocery tax.”
Leaving aside the question of whether or not people should drink soda, the fact is that this is a textbook example of a regressive tax measure, with everyone sharing its cost equally regardless of their ability to pay. If the State were serious about taking on the soda industry, it would do so by going after their profits directly rather than giving them the opportunity to pass on the cost to everyone. Vote “No” on Proposition V.
W. Real Estate Transfer Tax on Properties Over $5 Million—Yes: This proposition is an amendment to the Business and Tax Regulations Code that, if successful, will increase the Real Property Transfer Tax from 2% to 2.5% for properties valued from $5,000,000 to $10,000,000, from 2.5% to 2.75% for properties valued from $10,000,000 to $25,000,000, and 2.5% to 3% for properties valued at or above $25,000,000. The money raised will go to provide badly needed funds to keep City College of San Francisco open and affordable to working class people.
There is, of course, no way on Earth we would oppose this progressive taxation measure, in this case proposed by State Senate candidate Jane Kim, of the “progressive” faction as a bone to AFT 2121, the CCSF Teachers’ Union. We would also like to point out that luxury property transactions are not the most reliable funding source and insist that a tax on real estate profits targeting big brokers, banks, and landlords makes more sense. Vote “Yes!” on Proposition W.
X. Preserving Space for Neighborhood Arts, Small Businesses and Community Services in Certain Neighborhoods—Yes: This proposition would require that property developers working on projects in parts of the Mission and South of Market neighborhoods build replacement spaces for displaced facilities that specialize in: automotive, storage and wholesale and small business uses (furniture makers, recording studios, plumbing supply stores, art studios, lumberyards, child care and community facilities, space for performance, exhibition, rehearsal and production of visual, performance and sound arts, as well as art studios and art schools.
This anti-gentrification measure is probably “too little, too late” for the Mission and SOMA. We also doubt this measure will daunt the big real estate developers who seem to own both factions of the local Democratic Party, who will be charged with defining the enforcement provisions of this measure. Still, it’s a tiny step in the right direction. Vote “Yes” on Proposition X.
RR. BART Safety, Reliability and Traffic Relief—No: This proposal would allow the BART Transit District to sell $3.50 billion in General Obligation Bonds to pay for the repairing and replacement of critical infrastructure, prevention of accidents, breakdowns and delays, relieving overcrowding, reducing traffic congestion and pollution, improving earthquake safety and expanding safe access into BART stations, including for seniors and persons with disability.
Anyone who has ridden BART lately has experienced the way in which it is falling apart and becoming a more and more unpleasant experience for riders. The reconfiguration of the seats to increase capacity accompanied with the horrific screams as the trains speed over poorly maintained rails make travel across the Bay more like a slaughterhouse experience all the time. So, like any capitalist government agency, they look to the poorest among us as the key source of revenue to fund needed services, rather than to find and close the holes into which its budget—a budget of more than $1.5 billion dollars, in this case—disappears. Meanwhile, the big construction firms that build the new stations and the downtown businesses in Oakland to whom BART delivers its workforce every morning reap huge profits. As with any bond measure, we say “No” to Proposition RR.