San Francisco propositions

Quick thoughts on SF ballot measures, in the hopes of sparking outrage and discussion:

[A] – local school bond. i don’t have kids in the public schools, so i don’t have a good handle on what the need is, AND in general bonds are the right way to pay for renovation and construction, so I’m voting yes.

[B] – parcel tax increase (of $20/year) and extension (of 11 years) for CCSF. CCSF is in crisis (it’s accreditation was almost revoked) and desperately needs the money. I don’t like temporary taxes because I think they’re a scam, AND the case for this tax is compelling even so. I’m voting yes.

[C] – redirects $261 million in unspent money from a $350 million 1992 bond issue to allow it to be used to acquire and rehabilitate affordable housing. The city desperately needs more affordable housing, so this is a really good redirection, and I’m voting yes. (That said: how the hell did 2/3 of a seismic retrofit bond not get spent? Is anyone investigating that?)

[D] – sets a deadline on when a replacement local official must be appointed if one resigns or dies (good), requires an election at the earliest reasonable opportunity (good), and prohibits the person appointed from running in that election (bad). It’s bad because it guarantees that whoever is in the job will be a short-term caretaker with no incentive to be accountable to the public. I’m voting no.

[E] – transfers responsibility for maintaining trees on sidewalks from property owners to the city. This is totally the right thing to do. If it’s on the sidewalk, it should be the city’s responsibility. I’m voting yes.

[F] – allows 16 and 17 year olds to vote in city elections. I’m fine with 16 year olds voting, but I’m really concerned about the logistics of implementing two different voter rolls (one for city elections and one for state elections). I’m voting no.

[G] – changes the name of the office of citizen complaints, requires that certain records be made available to it, and gives it a seperate budget outside the SFPD. I could give a shit about the name, but the other two provisions are good. I’m voting yes.

[H] – creates the elected office of public advocate (with a staff of 25), whose job seems to be to handle public complaints (including whistleblower complaints) and review the administration of city programs. I’m confused by this one and don’t know how I’m voting; it seems like it’s a huge office and I don’t understand the problem it’s trying to solve, AND it seems like in theory it might improve accountability. I don’t know where I fall.

[I] – sets aside $38 million a year for programs and services to assist seniors and adults with disabilities. It’s a good cause, AND in general I oppose ballot measures which require general fund money to be spent in particular ways (as distinct from taxes that are directed at specific purposes, like measure B); doing so restricts the ability of the legislature to do its job and makes budgeting, and political negotiation in general, more difficult. I am voting no.

[J] – sets aside $50 million a year for homelessness and $101 million a year for transportation. I’m having a hard time with this; homelessness and housing are THE BIGGEST PROBLEM facing the city, and money to help deal with homelessness is critical. And at the same time, this restricts the choices of the legislature in a way that strikes me as being structurally wrong. Plus: the legislature voted 8-3 to put this before us; why couldn’t they just vote to spend the money this way? I am probably voting no, but I’m more open to voting yes than I was with I.

[K] – increases the city’s sales tax by .5% (plus extending .25% which is about to expire) to the maximum allowed by the state. I HATE sales taxes because they’re regressive, AND they’re basically the only way the city is allowed to increase its revenue due to fucked-up state law. I’m voting yes.

[L] – changes the rules for appointing the muni board so that half of the board is approved by the board rather than the mayor, and makes it easier for the board to reject muni’s budget. I don’t have a strong feeling on this one way or the other AND I don’t know why the voters are getting asked to take sides in a fight between the mayor and the board. I’m tempted to abstain.

[M] – replaces the office of economic and workforce development and the office of housing and community development with two new departments with the same name, and places them under the control of a newly created Housing and Development Commission. Again, I’m not sure why I should take sides in a power struggle between the mayor and the board. Plus, the argument in favor seems to be about how it will make development more responsive to community input and add additional review of major development projects, which is a recipe for smaller projects that take longer to get off the ground – eg, slower construction of fewer new units. Since supply is the biggest problem with housing in the entire bay area and this seems certain to make increasing supply harder, I’m voting no.

[N] – allows non-citizen permanent residents to vote in school board elections, but only if they have kids in the schools. I get the point; parental involvement in school governance is important, and anyone with kids in the schools really has more right to be involved than I do. AND at the same time, I have the same issue with maintaining two voter rolls that I did with measure F, but this one is even way more complicated administratively. (Example: a noncitizen permanent resident has a kid in the public schools and is voting, but the kid graduates. What’s the process for then revoking their voting rights?) As a logistical matter I see this as a massive headache; I’m voting no.

[O] – exempt candlestick park from a limit on new office space construction. the project involves 5.15 million square feet of office space and 10,500 homes. I want the 10,500 homes; if the office space is the price to be paid for that, so be it. I’m voting yes.

[P] – prohibits the city from proceding with affordable housing projects on city-owned property unless at least three bids were received when the city put the project out to bid. the idea is that right now developers are getting sweetheart deals because only one bid is being submitted. this doesn’t provide any path to getting more bids; it just ties the city’s hands if the bids don’t come in — which is terrible if you want more affordable housing to be built. I’m voting no.

[Q]- makes it illegal to place tents on public sidewalks without permits, and allows the city to remove them if (a) there is 24-hour notice , (b) there is shelter provided for the people being evicted, and (c) stores their property for 90 days.

This requires more than just a short thought, because it’s a tough issue.

On the one hand, the tent encampments are a blight on the city, particularly because there’s no real place for people living in them to go to the bathroom, and some of them feel actively unsafe for me (a healthy and reasonably-in-shape 40 year old man) to walk through — so they’re carving out parts of the city and making them unsafe for the public, which is terrible.

On the other hand, the opponents of the measure are right: the measure as written would allow tents to be removed and the ‘offer of shelter’ to be for one night only, and there isn’t sufficient shelter space for long-term occupancy.

I HATE THIS, and in the end I have to come down as a ‘No’ vote. Unless it’s accompanied by a program to build space for the homeless to live long-term, it’s a theatrical band-aid designed to make it easier to hide the city’s problems and not fix them; it makes it look like homelessness is less of a problem … at the cost of the homeless people who are already suffering.

[R] – requires the police department, whenever it has at least the charter-required minimum number of police officers, to assign no less than 3% of those officers to a ‘neighborhood crime unit’ which will use foot patrols and other tactics to focus on quality of life and neighborhood safety crimes. This is probably being driven by the recent upswing in burglaries and auto smash-and-grabs.

I’m torn on this. There’s a real public safety issue in certain neighborhoods (there are signs telling tourists not to leave stuff in their cars in residential neighborhoods), and overall SF feels substantially less safe than NYC did to me. At the same time, I don’t think the voters should be micromanaging police department policy. I’m inclined to vote No on those grounds.

[S] – directs that money from the hotel tax be spent on moscone center, on arts programs, and on homeless services. This is like measures I and J: it redirects money from the general fund to specific programs, which I’m generally against. It also spends half of the money on Moscone Center, which seems like it’s a terrible use of city resources. I’m voting no.

[T] – prohibits lobbyists from making campaign contributions to city officials that they lobby. Seems like this is just basic common sense. I’m voting yes.

[U] – changes the rules for affordable housing eligibility. currently you qualify for ‘affordable housing’ if you make 55% of the median income; this would change the rules so that you qualify for ‘affordable housing’ if you make 110% of median income.

That’s a great plan for people that get added, it’s a terrible plan for the people who already qualify – it means way more competition for the limited affordable housing stock, making it that much more a luck-of-the-draw lottery ticket if you manage to get it.

I’m voting no.

[V] – 1 cent per ounce tax on distribution of sugar-sweetened beverages and the powders and syrups used in compounding them. This is a libertarian paternalism (instead of banning it, just tax it to encourage people to do what we want while leaving them the freedom to choose otherwise) aimed at remedying an externality; it’s also hellishly regressive (both because it’s a flat tax and because demographic/cultural shifts mean that poorer people are way more likely to be buying the things covered by it).

It’s been relentlessly portrayed as a grocery tax by the mountain of junk mail I’ve received on it, which pisses me the fuck off because it’s NOT A GENERAL TAX ON GROCERIES. The campaign against it makes me want to vote ‘yes’ out of spite; but it’s a seriously regressive tax, so I’m voting no.

[W] – increases the transfer tax on properties over $5 million, and directs the money to the general fund. I’m not convinced the threshold isn’t too low, and i’m worried that sales are patchy so it will create an inconsistent income stream, AND it feels on some level like a windfall protifs tax. I’m voting yes.

[X] – requires developers in the mission and soma to build replacement space if they remove production/distribution/repair facilities, institutional community facilities, or arts activities facilities. In other words: makes it harder to build in the mission and soma. I’m voting no.


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