The Quick and Dirty – November 2014 Elections of California and San Francisco

David ChiuI’m still writing my Big Ol’ Voter Guide for the November 2014 election (it’s a long one!), with detailed explanations of each of my recommendations. But in the meantime, here are the candidates and positions I’m supporting, in the order they appear on the ballot. More soon.

California Statewide Offices

Jerry Brown for Governor
Gavin Newsom for Lieutenant Governor
Alex Padilla for Secretary of State
Betty Yee for Controller
John Chiang for Treasurer
Kamala Harris for Attorney General
Dave Jones for Insurance Commissioner
Fiona Ma for Board of Equalization, District 2

Federal Offices

Nancy Pelosi for U.S. House of Representatives, District 12
Jackie Speier for U.S. House of Representatives, District 14

State Assembly

David Chiu, District 17 (East Side of SF)
Phil Ting, District 19 (West Side of SF)


Approve all of the Supreme Court Justices and Justices of the Court of Appeal
Carol Kingsley for Superior Court, Office 20

Superintendent of Public Instruction 

Tom Torlakson

San Francisco Board of Education

Trevor McNeil, Emily Murase, Shamann Walton
If I had a fourth vote: Hydra Mendoza. Stevon Cook and Mark Murphy are pretty great too. Too many good choices here!

Community College Board

Four-year terms: Thea Selby, Brigitte Davila, John Rizzo
Two-year term: Amy Bacharach

SF Citywide Offices

Carmen Chu for Assessor/Recorder
Jeff Adachi for Public Defender

Nicholas Josefowitz for BART Board of Directors, D8

State Measures

Yes on Prop 1, Water Bonds
Yes on Prop 2, Rainy Day Fund
Yes on Prop 45, Health Insurance Rate Regulation
NO NO NO on Prop 46, Random Drug Testing of All Doctors, Increasing Malpractice Damages Cap
YES YES YES on Prop 47, Misdemeanor Offense Classification
Yes on Prop 48, Off-Reservation Indian Gaming Compacts

Local Measures

Yes on Prop A, Transportation Bond
Yes on Prop B, Adjusting Transportation Funding for Population Growth
Yes on Prop C, Children’s Fund
Yes on Prop D, Retiree Benefits for Former Redevelopment Agency Employees
YES YES YES on Prop E, Soda Tax – cut obesity in SF!
Yes on Prop F, Pier 70 development, nobody opposes this one
Yes on Prop G, Anti-Speculation Tax – make it harder to kick out entire apartment buildings full of people
No on Prop H – Hating on Artificial Turf in Golden Gate Park
Yes on Prop I – Supporting New Artificial Turf Soccer Fields in Golden Gate Park
Yes on Prop J, Minimum Wage Increase to $15/hr by July 2018
Yes on Prop K Additional Affordable Housing Policy, even though it’s just a weak-ass policy statement
NO NO NO on Prop L, Transportation Priorities Policy Statement, which will make congestion insanely worse in SF

San Francisco Board of Supervisors

Mark Farrell for District 2 Supervisor
Katy Tang for District 4 Supervisor
Jane Kim for District 6 Supervisor
Scott Wiener for District 8 Supervisor
Malia Cohen for District 10 Supervisor

Big Ol’ Voter Guide – June 2014

The June ballot looks really long, but don’t be fooled, San Francisco. This is an easy one. Out of the four ballot measures in question, only one of them is controversial. And in the candidate races, many of them are incumbents who are virtually unopposed. Why? Because they are all pretty effective and they have each avoided sleeping with their interns. As far as we know.

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An interesting factor in this election: California has adopted the “top two” open primary system of electing our state officers and legislators, which means that: (1) voters can choose among candidates of any party, not just the party they are registered in; and (2) the top two candidates, regardless of party, advance to the general election in November. So the candidates in this election are really just running to get first or second place. And if the race only has two viable candidates, then June is merely a dress rehearsal for November.

Without further ado, I submit to you my Big Ol’ Voter Guide for the San Francisco/California June 2014 election. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a progressive attorney with a background in real estate and land use, whose passions include protecting and promoting San Francisco’s nightlife and culture, getting more women elected to public office, and bringing more public art to cities around the world. I’m a Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, and I also like long walks on the beach.

Click here for more information on your voter registration and what your ballot looks like.

Governor: Jerry Brown!
Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom
Secretary of State: Alex Padilla
Controller: Betty Yee
Treasurer: John Chiang
Attorney General: Kamala Harris
Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones
Superintendent of Schools: Tom Torlakson
Board of Equalization: Fiona Ma
Assembly, District 17: David Chiu
Assembly, District 19: Phil Ting
CA Proposition 41: Yes
CA Proposition 42: Yes
SF Measure A: Yes
SF Measure B: No
SF Superior Court Judge: Kimberly Toney Williams
US Congress, District 12: Nancy Pelosi
US Congress, District 13: Barbara Lee
US Congress, District 14: Jackie Speier

Governor: Jerry Brown!

Remember when Jerry Brown ran for Governor four years ago, when the economy was in the tank and nobody else wanted the job? Think about how far we’ve come. Governor Brown can’t take ALL the credit for the vastly improved economy, but he can take credit for having turned around some of the state’s structural budget deficits. Today he has a 60% approval rating, and California has a projected budget surplus of $4.6 billion this year, in no small part due to the tax measure that he pushed for in 2012.

His two opponents are Republicans with marginal support. Assembly member and Tea Party conspiracy theorist Tim Donnelly is the same guy who attempted to board an airplane in 2012 with a loaded Colt handgun. He later pled guilty to carrying a loaded gun without a concealed weapons permit. Neel Kashkari is a former banker and an Assistant Secretary of the Treasury responsible for overseeing the TARP bailout program. Polls last month showed Kashkari trailing a convicted sex offender.

Lieutenant Governor: Gavin Newsom

I kind of feel bad for Gavin Newsom. The Lieutenant Governor doesn’t have much to do other than fill in when the Governor is absent or incapacitated. He sits on the State Lands Commission and the UC Board of Regents, and these can be powerful (but boring) places to be. Newsom has been able to use his office to draw attention to important issues like drug policy reform. He has called for ending the war on drugs, calling it “nothing more than a war on communities of color and on the poor.” (Tell it, brother!) I don’t like his stance opposing high-speed rail in California. But! He threw a good party at this year’s California Democratic Party convention, he married well, and he’s virtually unopposed. (None of these are good reasons to vote for him, but I just thought I’d give him props. For once.)

Secretary of State: Alex Padilla

padillaSecretary of State is normally a low profile race, but this year it’s shaping up to be the most interesting and important statewide race for the June election. After State Senator Leland Yee dropped out of the race after being charged with taking bribes for gun running and murder-for-hire (!!!), this race became even more interesting. Leland’s arrest was a defining moment, as the remaining candidates have become more focused on campaign finance and ethics reform. Everyone’s trying to distance themselves from the ethics scandals that have plagued the state legislature this year, and they are promising to use the office of Secretary of State to push for more transparency and less corruption in government.

I like State Senator Alex Padilla because he has been a prolific legislator in the State Senate, authoring bills on a wide range of issues including local prosecution of military sexual assault, criminalizing the mislabeling of seafood, and improving campaign communication disclosures. Remarkably, he is also an MIT-trained engineer who is both charismatic and charming (!). If elected, he promises to modernize the technology used by the Secretary of State’s office (‘bout time!) to make it easier to open a business and to register to vote.

I also like Democrat Derek Cressman, a longtime good government advocate with Common Cause. He’s the guy who blew the whistle on the Koch brothers and their efforts to evade campaign finance rules in California through secret PAC contributions. But (ironically?) he hasn’t raised enough money to be competitive, the polls show he’s not gaining much traction and I don’t think he can beat Republican Pete Peterson in the fall.

Peterson, an academic at Pepperdine University, is leading the polls, and it is likely that Peterson and Padilla will advance to the November election under the top two primary system. The pundits are calling Peterson a Republican breakout star this year, and I must admit that he has some interesting ideas. He has suggested that politicians’ salaries be based on the number of campaign promises they are able to keep. (Ha! Yeah. Right.) He has proposed a ban on all fundraising activities by state legislators and statewide officeholders while the legislature in is session, thus leveling the playing field for candidates who are running against incumbents. Hmm.

Dan Schnur got the Chronicle’s endorsement, and he is a wild card in this race. He’s a longtime Republican strategist, having worked for John McCain and many other big name candidates, but he’s running as an independent. (Probably because he knows that the California Republican Party is on life support). His motto is “politics is too important to be left to the politicians,” which rings hollow to me since Schnur is a lifelong political operator.

Oh! And Leland Yee didn’t drop out of the race in time to remove his name from the ballot. So if you like politicians who are willing to take bribes for murder and guns, you know who to vote for.

Controller: Betty Yee

319850_4242416383172_1371294887_nI can’t say enough good things about Betty Yee…she is genuine and smart, tough and effective, and of all the candidates, she has the most financial experience. She is a lifelong public servant, having worked in financial-related offices in state government before running for the Board of Equalization, on which she now serves. On the BoE, she has used her position to fight for tax equity for same-sex couples, she has advocated for the legalization of recreational marijuana (think of the tax revenues!), and she has adhered to the highest of ethical standards (for example, she rejected campaign contributions from the tobacco industry). The Controller’s primary responsibility is to track and control the disbursement of the state of California’s money, and so having an unimpeachable ethical record is important.

Betty’s main Democratic competition is former Assembly Speaker John Perez, who is an impressive political leader and was the first LGBT Assembly Speaker in California history. I’m almost afraid to write anything negative about him here, because in my experience, Perez is very hard on his detractors. One might even call him a bully. More importantly, credible sources have questioned his ethical standards. A report by the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed Perez raised money from special interest groups for charities his lover favored, a lover who played a key role in a racketeering and fraud scandal. Perez may not have acted illegally, but I think his actions showed poor judgment.

Republican Ashley Swearingen is the mayor of Fresno, and is widely considered to be a rising star in her party. Her only relevant experience is turning Fresno’s financial ship around, and she did so by cutting city jobs and forcing public employees to pay more of their pension contributions. (If you know me, you know these things make me wince). It’s a giant leap to go from Fresno to statewide office, and I don’t think she’s ready for prime time.

Treasurer: John Chiang

The Treasurer is the state’s banker, the officer who is responsible for managing the state’s investments, including state employee pension funds. Who better to serve as our next Treasurer than the person who has done a great job as the state’s Controller for the last 8 years? As Controller, John Chiang made a name for himself by enforcing a constitutional requirement holding that legislators would not be paid if they failed to pass a balanced budget by June 15, 2011. During the Great Recession, as California teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, Chiang helped to keep the state functioning and paying its bills. He also helped balance the budget by identifying $6 billion in waste that was made available for more productive purposes. Also: he was a high school mathlete (I <3 nerds!), and he is virtually unopposed.

Attorney General: Kamala Harris

1013468_10152229059737923_797841473_nIncumbent Kamala Harris is also virtually unopposed, so I’ll keep it brief: Kamala is a rockstar. She has been a powerful advocate for consumers and privacy protections, prisoner anti-recidivism programs, victims of mortgage fraud, and same sex marriage in California. She also brings a fresh perspective to the office, as she is the first African American, the first Indian American, and the first woman to serve as the state’s top cop. I am proud that she comes from San Francisco, and I hope she runs for Governor in four years.

Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones

Dave Jones is earnest and hard working, and he’s done some great things with his first four years as Insurance Commissioner. He has required health insurance companies to use no more than 20 percent of premiums on profits and administrative costs, and he has secured strict regulations on life insurance companies to prevent them from withholding benefits improperly. Recently, Jones held hearings on the insurance practices of ride-sharing companies to make sure that they are adequately insured to protect both their drivers and the general public. Jones’ Republican opponent, State Senator Ted Gaines, actually wants to decrease oversight of the insurance industry. Um, no. And no.

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson

Incumbent Tom Torlakson and his main opponent, Marshall Tuck, have very different visions of how to improve public schools in California. A former teacher himself, Torlakson champions teachers and their unions, dislikes the nation’s growing reliance on standardized tests, and advocates for more funding.

An investment banker by trade, Tuck is an advocate for charter schools and for changing the seniority rules for teachers. Personally, I think privatization will serve to drain the public school system of its high achieving students, leaving underperforming students in the dust. (See this great article by my friend Paul Buchheit on the subject.)

On the other hand, it’s clear that the current regime isn’t working for our kids, and I’m sensitive to the argument that the teacher tenure system is broken. But! If you ask me, the major problem facing the school system is the lack of funding; California ranks 48th in the United States in school spending! Ridiculous! And sad. It’s clear that Torlakson will be a more effective advocate for more funding, and is a better choice for this reason alone.

Board of Equalization: Fiona Ma

FionaFiona Ma represented the west side of San Francisco on the Board of Supervisors and in the State Assembly for many years. She and I have disagreed on some policy issues, including an ill-advised bill she wrote in 2010 that would have banned large-scale electronic music events in California. She did write some great legislation in the Assembly, including a bill that would have required more employers to provide paid sick leave and one that banned toxic chemicals in plastics and children’s toys.  She is a good fit for the Board of Equalization, which is the state’s main taxing body. She is a certified public accountant, and would bring her financial experience to that role. She is virtually unopposed.

Assembly, District 17: David Chiu

This is a funny race. The two leading candidates are both named David, they both went to Harvard, they both serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. They have an almost identical voting record. They both also serve on the board of the San Francisco Democratic Party with me, and so I know them both well, and consider them both friends.

Both Davids would be progressive leaders in the state legislature. But I believe that Chiu will be a more effective advocate for legislation that reflects our San Francisco values. As the President of the Board of Supervisors, Chiu has proven to be more adept at shepherding legislation and forging compromise, which skills are especially necessary in a state legislature populated with folks from all over this strange state. (For example, there’s THIS GUY. Yeah. Whoah.)

Campos is openly gay, like the two men who most recently held this seat, Tom Ammiano and Mark Leno. Campos and his supporters claim that the seat should be held by someone who identifies as LGBT. I disagree – no seat in the legislature should be a “gay seat” or an “Asian seat” or “rich white girl in yoga pants” seat. The candidate who can best represent all of the district’s constituencies should win. Period.

If you know me, you know that I have always been an advocate for getting more women (and especially mothers!) in public office. Women are generally underrepresented in leadership positions, and it’s important to include women’s voices in the decisions that affect all of us. But to propose that a specific seat is a “woman’s seat” would be ludicrous. There certainly aren’t enough LGBT folks in the state legislature (there are 8 including Ammiano, which is 7% of the total members), however, we have made considerable progress on this front in recent years. The current Assembly Speaker is an out lesbian and the previous Speaker was a gay man, who is now running for state Controller and has a good chance of winning.

David ChiuI do think it’s really gross that some well-funded haters have been sending out mail trying to connect Campos with Ross Mirkarimi’s domestic violence issues. Specifically, they claim that Campos’ vote against removing Ross from office makes him unqualified to serve in the Assembly. Regardless of your feelings about Mirkarimi, this argument is just silly. I don’t think that a person’s entire 6-year voting record should or can be boiled down to a single vote.

The other funny thing about this race: it’s really just a practice run for November. Because California has an open primary, the two candidates who get the most votes – regardless of party affiliation – will advance to the November election. And since the third David in this race doesn’t have a chance (he’s a Republican), the Democrat Davids will face each other again in November. So regardless of what happens on Tuesday, you haven’t heard the last of these guys.

Assembly, District 19: Phil Ting

I really like Phil Ting. Suuuuuper nice guy, and also good at what he does. Ting represents the west side of San Francisco, which is considerably more conservative than the side I live in. And yet he’s been a consistent vote for legislation supported by San Franciscans citywide. He has pushed for closing the Prop 13 loophole that allows corporations to avoid paying their fair share of property taxes; he has promoted the building of separated bike lanes statewide, making biking safer and easier; and he has pushed for BART to reform its safety procedures. He is also virtually unopposed.

CA Proposition 41 (Housing homeless vets): Yes

Over a decade ago, Californians voted to use hundreds of millions of bond funds to create the CalVet Home and Farm Loan Program to help veterans purchase housing. Prop 41 further refines this program to dedicate $600 million of those funds – which would otherwise go unused – toward building affordable multifamily rental housing for low-income veterans and their families. This one is a no-brainer, because it will help house some of California’s 15,000 homeless vets. It will save taxpayer dollars in healthcare and public safety by getting veterans off the streets and into safe, affordable housing. And because it uses previously approved (but unsold) bond funds, Prop 41 doesn’t create new taxes or incur any new debt.

The measure has garnered the support of both the California Republican Party and the California Democratic Party, as well as the League of California Cities, and many other folks from both sides of the political aisle.

CA Proposition 42 (Government transparency laws): Yes

This is an important one, and it also has support from both sides of the aisle. If this measure passes, it will help guarantee public access to government documents and decisions.

The California Public Records Act and the Ralph M. Brown Act require government agencies to conduct their business in a transparent way. As a former public servant I can tell you: these laws work. The PRA has completely changed the level of access that the public has to government documents by granting every person the right to inspect any public record, with a few exceptions. The Brown Act enables the public to participate in government decisions in meaningful ways, by prohibiting commissions and city councils from making decisions unless they are on a publicly-posted agenda, and requiring that the public be given an opportunity to comment on every such decision before it is made.

Last year, Governor Brown tried to gut these laws by making it optional for local governments to comply with many of their requirements. State law requires the state to reimburse local agencies for the costs of compliance, and Brown was looking for ways to cut costs. The state has consistently failed to reimburse local agencies for these costs, and the local bodies have used this as an excuse not to comply.

Prop 42 will eliminate any future attempts to gut these bills by expressly requiring local government agencies to comply with all aspects of the PRA and the Brown Act. It also eliminates the state’s responsibility to reimburse local agencies for cost compliance, thus removing this excuse for non-compliance.

The measure is supported by the California Democratic Party, the California Republican Party, most labor unions, Common Cause, League of Women Voters and professional journalists. Every major newspaper in California has endorsed it. The only real opposition comes from the Green Party of California, which objects to the additional costs that local governments may incur.

SF Measure A (Emergency infrastructure bond measure): Yes!

There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that California is due for another major earthquake. And many of the facilities that house the City’s emergency infrastructure are not seismically sound. This is a recipe for disaster. Literally.

Prop. A is a $400 million general obligation bond measure that would fund seismic retrofits and improvements to this infrastructure, including upgrades to the city’s Emergency Firefighting Water System, neighborhood police and fire stations, and new structures to house the police crime lab and motorcycle unit. All eleven members of the Board of Supervisors voted to place Prop. A on the ballot, and no one of note opposes it. A two-thirds majority is needed for it to pass, and I really really really hope that it does. For all of our sakes.

SF Measure B (Waterfront development): No!!

Prop B will require voter approval for any future construction projects on the San Francisco waterfront that exceed existing height limits. The measure would immediately delay the construction of every development along the Bay until voters have a chance to approve each one separately.

Let me start by saying that I have been a real estate attorney for 14 years, including eight years as a Deputy City Attorney for the City of Oakland and General Counsel for the Oakland Army Base development on the Oakland waterfront. I served on the boards of two community organizations in San Francisco that are generally skeptical of development, and I actively opposed 8 Washington, the waterfront condo project that was soundly defeated by ballot measure in the November 2013 election. Earlier this year, I worked for the Golden State Warriors on the development of their San Francisco arena project, which was originally sited at Piers 30-32 just south of the Bay Bridge, and has since moved to Mission Bay. Having worked on both sides of the issue, I have put a lot of thought into the subject of waterfront development. And Prop B…is a disaster. Let me tell you why.

The proponents of Prop B include the local chapter of the Sierra Club, California Democratic Party Chair John Burton, former Mayor Art Agnos, and the Affordable Housing Alliance. They argue that Prop B “takes away the blank check given to developers to develop luxury condos and high-rise hotels without regard to traffic, the neighborhoods, or the long-term health of the waterfront development.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

Every major development in San Francisco undergoes a years-long planning process that involves extensive neighborhood input and community meetings, environmental review, and approval by the City’s Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. In addition to this, any development on the waterfront is also subject to approvals by the State Lands Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bay Conservation and Development Commission, and sometimes also requires state legislation permitting the project to take place on property subject to the state’s complicated tidelands trust laws.

The project that is ultimately approved is the result of many years of negotiation with the City, other public agencies, and with the neighbors, and rightly so. Our waterfront is a precious resource, and we should carefully consider what goes there. However, this ballot measure guts that entire process by giving power to people (the voters from all over the city – not just the neighborhood) who barely understand the project’s complex details, or the tradeoffs and concessions that have been made over the years.

If this measure passes, the ballot questions it mandates will be very simple – developers will have to state the amount that the project is proposing to raise the height limits. But they won’t provide the context of a height increase – like, for example, what the building heights are adjacent to the project, the sales tax revenues the project will generate, the jobs it will create, the amenities it offers. It is a vast oversimplification of a project – often reducing it to a simple tagline – and one that usually makes the project look bad because it is increasing the building heights allowed on the waterfront.

I opposed the 8 Washington project (No Wall on the Waterfront!), and I was happy that it lost last year. That project had gone through the entire planning process including approval by the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors. But it was a bad project, and so the opponents put it on the ballot and we were able to defeat it. But not all projects are 8 Washington, and so not all projects should automatically go to the voters in perpetuity. Some projects are not controversial at all, and shouldn’t be delayed or sidelined by politicizing them.

SPUR, San Francisco League of Conservation Voters, San Francisco Democratic Party, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Parks Alliance, the San Francisco Labor Council, San Francisco Young Democrats and the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club all oppose Prop B. And I hope you will too.

SF Superior Court Judge: Kimberly Toney Williams

1801320_537387049704436_5677438617197010097_oThis was a tough decision for me. The San Francisco Democratic Party interviewed each of the candidates at our endorsement meeting in March, and I was impressed with all three. They each would bring very different qualities to the bench.

Carol Kingsley is an attorney of 25 years who’s specialized as a mediator, skilled at sifting through disputes and convincing parties to cooperate. She is a crusader for stricter gun laws, since her husband and eight others were slain in the 1993 killing spree at 101 California. And while anti-gun advocacy would normally be a plus for me, impartiality is an important quality in a judge, and her background might concern litigants in cases involving guns.

Daniel Flores is a defense and civil rights lawyer with 13 years of experience and an impressive list of endorsers from all over the San Francisco political spectrum. He is a courtroom litigator with experience in big firms and his own practice, representing clients ranging from businesses to tenants fighting against their landlords. In the Democratic Party endorsement process, he was not afraid to declare his views on a wide range of political subjects, which made me wonder about both his judgment and his ability to be impartial.

Kimberly Williams is a Deputy District Attorney with 18 years of courtroom experience. She has handled both criminal and civil cases, and she has spearheaded the efforts to implement community justice courts to help those who commit low-level crimes find a path towards stability and self-sufficiency. In the Democratic Party endorsement interview, she was cagey about her political views, as she clearly understands the level of neutrality that will be expected of her if she is elected. She was also the only candidate who struck me as having the demeanor of a judge – she seemed thoughtful, smart, self-effacing and kind. Even though she’s a prosecutor, she understands that it is important to work to remove defendants from the cycle of incarceration and recidivism. And personally, I love that she would bring the perspective of a black single mother to the bench.

Note: A candidate can win outright with a majority of the votes in the June 3 election. But if no one exceeds 50 percent, the top two will compete in a November runoff.

US Congress, District 12: Nancy Pelosi

Remember: Nancy represents one of the most progressive districts in the country, and conservatives nationwide are constantly vilifying her based on her “San Francisco values.” And yet, not only has Pelosi refused to be marginalized, but she has earned the support of enough of her colleagues to become the most powerful woman in Congress. A remarkable feat indeed.

Her accomplishments In 21 years in the House of Representatives are far too many to list here. She has stood up for reproductive rights, immigrants, women, and the poor. She fought hard to protect the social safety net when the Republicans in Congress proposed their dramatic spending cuts in 2013 and eventually shut down the government. She helped shepherd Obamacare through the House, which was an incredible achievement in itself. If the Democratic Party takes Congress back in November, Pelosi will be Speaker again. And wouldn’t that be sweet.

US Congress, District 13: Barbara Lee

Barbara Lee speaks for me. She has been a consistent voice for progressive values in Congress since her election in 1998, and has taken many stands that were not politically popular nationwide, but that represented her district’s leftward leanings.

She earned my respect in 2001, when she was the sole member of Congress to vote against the authorization for George Bush’s “War on Terror” in the face of fierce post-9/11 nationalism. At the time, she was widely condemned for her vote, but history has proven her right. IMO, the military overreach that resulted from that Congressional authorization has been vast and damaging beyond measure.

In 2013, she also voted against CISPA, the bill that allowed federal intelligence agencies to share cyber-security intelligence and information with private entities and utilities. (Go girl!) You can trust her to vote to protect reproductive rights and civil rights, to more strictly regulate Wall Street, and to support public education. She is virtually unopposed.

US Congress, District 14: Jackie Speier

jackie-speierI love Jackie Speier. She is fearless, thoughtful and smart, and she also has a remarkable personal story. In 1978 she was left for dead on a tarmac in Guyana with her boss Congressman Leo Ryan during the airstrip shootings that triggered the massacre at Jonestown. In her extraordinary career in public service, she has championed consumer protections, banking reform, and increasing federal funding to public transit in the Bay Area, particularly to Muni and for the electrification of Caltrain, an important component of the California High-Speed Rail Project. She has been tough on PG&E after the San Bruno explosion, and recently she has taken on the epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and in the military. I can’t say enough great things about Jackie! Also: she has no credible opposition.

Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2013

Remember how crazy the last few elections were?  The wacky District 5 Supervisor race and the bitter Mayor’s race? And so many propositions! On last year’s ballot, San Franciscans were asked to make 41 separate decisions. It was a loooong ballot filled with angst and bitterness.

THIS election, by contrast, is a breath of fresh air. Savor it while you can, because it’s never this quiet around election time in San Francisco. And it won’t be again for a long while. There are only a small number of things on the ballot, and only one of them is controversial.  Three citywide officers are running – all unopposed. Out of four ballot measures, only two are disputed, and they are about the same development project.

Part of the reason the candidates for Assessor, Treasurer and City Attorney are unopposed is because they are each only running for a two-year term.  Last year, voters approved Prop D, which realigned the election cycle for each of these races so that all citywide officers would be on the same ballot in a few years. This meant that the three officers running this year have to run again in 2015 along with the Mayor, Sherriff, DA and Public Defender. If there are challengers out there, they are probably waiting until 2015 to run.

Because there are so few campaigns this cycle, it also means that it will be among the lowest turnout elections in San Francisco history. So your vote will count more than ever. Be sure to get out there and exercise your franchise! And savor the quiet while you can.

And so, I submit to you my Big Ol’ Voter Guide for the San Francisco November 2013 election. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a lawyer and a San Francisco progressive, whose passions include protecting and promoting San Francisco’s nightlife and culture, getting more women elected to public office, and bringing more public art to cities around the world.  I’m a Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, and I also like long walks on the beach.

Click here for more information on your voter registration and what your ballot looks like.


Assessor Carmen Chu served as District 4 Supervisor for many years before she was appointed Assessor by Mayor Lee in February. Carmen is solidly on the Mayor’s team, and was a consistent vote for the fiscal conservative forces in town. I disagree with many decisions she made as Supervisor, but she is a good fit for Assessor, where there are fewer political decisions to be made. She has come up with many good ideas to make the office more efficient and customer friendly. She deserves your vote.

CITY ATTORNEY – Dennis Herrera

A City Attorney normally defends a municipality against lawsuits and negotiates contracts for his or her client. Having served as a Deputy City Attorney in Oakland, I know that it can often be a thankless job. Dennis Herrera has done an extraordinary thing: he has dramatically expanded the role of City Attorney in San Francisco to an activist role, aggressively litigating consumer and environmental protection cases, civil rights issues, and cases that address wage theft and tenant protection.

He stood up to the Bush administration when it was seeking abortion records from San Francisco hospitals, he went after Nevada hospitals that were illegally dumping mental patients in San Francisco, and he has played a key leadership role in the legal fight for marriage equality for same-sex couples in California. I’m enthusiastically supporting Herrera for re-election, and I hope he sticks around for longer than this upcoming term.

TREASURER – Jose Cisneros

Jose is running for his third term as Treasurer. He’s unopposed mostly because he’s unbeatable and he’s doing a great job. He has taken a very boring office and found some interesting, progressive policies to enact that actually improve people’s lives. For example, he launched a program to help low-income families secure the federal Earned Income Tax Credit as well as a local match to the credit. He also pioneered a financial empowerment project called Bank on San Francisco to provide low-income families with financial literacy education and free checking accounts to help them begin to achieve financial security. The program has become a national model. Vote for Jose.

SUPERVISOR (District 4) (Sunset District) – Katy Tang

Supervisor Tang was a longtime City Hall staffer and District 4 aide before she was appointed to fill the seat of her boss, Carmen Chu, who was appointed to Assessor to fill the seat of Phil Ting, who was elected to the Assembly. Catch all that? Yes, it’s musical chairs.

Tang is solidly on the Mayor’s team, having been appointed by him and sharing his political perspective. Remember, she votes with the more conservative forces in City Hall because she represents one of the more conservative districts in town. But! She knows the neighborhood very well, having been raised there, and having served as an aide in that district for years. She is focused the neighborhood’s needs, such as transit and public safety. She is a smart, level head in City Hall. She should be elected to a full term.



Government pensions and health care obligations are a serious problem in city government. Our number of retirees is expanding, particularly as the baby boomers age.  The city’s long-term retiree health care obligations are projected to cost $4.4 billion over the next 30 years!  The city has failed to plan for these retirements, and what’s even worse is that politicians like to play political football with employee pensions and health care, which (speaking as a former public employee) is terrifying to those workers and their families.

Prop A is a consensus-based solution that will safeguard the city’s Retiree Health Care Trust Fund and help solve this vexing problem.  Prop. A ensures that the Fund will be there to fund the city’s long-term retiree health care obligations. There are provisions that would allow the city to tap the fund in extreme situations, and only with the approval of the Mayor, Controller, the Trust Board, and two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors, a very high bar. No more jerking public employees around.

The measure has the support of politicians and groups from both sides of the (San Francisco) aisle, including the San Francisco Democratic Party, the entire Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Labor Council. Vote yes!



Here it is… the only thing controversial on the ballot on Tuesday. I’m diving deep into this one.

The proposed 8 Washington Project is a 12-story condo development on the waterfront at Washington Street.  Each of the 134 condos will sell for an average of $5 million dollars (!!!), and the project will exceed the city’s height limit at the site by 62 percent.

Visually, it would be more appealing than what’s there now, which is mostly just a parking lot and an ugly green fence.  The project includes a small (private) park, and will contribute $11 million to the City’s affordable-housing fund and $4.8 million in transit impact payments, which the city desperately needs.

8 Washington was approved by both the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors after contentious hearings. The project’s opponents challenged its approval by filing a referendum (Prop C) to overturn the Supervisors’ decision to allow an exception to the area’s standard 84-foot height limit (the project’s tallest building is 136 feet).

The developer then qualified Prop B for the ballot, in order to ratify the height exception, but also to tie the Planning Department’s hands, making any future approval by the city ministerial! Yikes! Bad idea. In large development deals like this, ongoing review by the Planning Department is key to make sure the developer keeps his promises until construction is complete.

I urge you to vote NO on both measures.

A yes vote on Prop B will create a new special district for this project, approving the height limit exception and exempting the project from ongoing review by the Planning Department. A no vote on Prop B will mean the special district is not created, and the developer will be subject to ongoing review by the city (as is normal for developments like this).

A yes vote on Prop C ratifies the decisions of the Supervisors and Planning and allows the project to go forward. A no vote on Prop C rejects the decisions of the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission, requiring the developer to go back to city government to get their approval (and presumably make the development more palatable, probably with a lower height limit).

I am voting no on both measures because (1) a project that only builds condos for rich people doesn’t justify increasing the height limit on the waterfront; and (2) ballot box regulation of complex development deals is usually a bad idea. The city planning process allows for a project to be scrutinized in detail by planning professionals and the community, which is good because developments like this will be around for decades (centuries?). Collaboration, iteration, vetting and fine-tuning are essential to making sure that major developments are done right. Especially when the development in question is on the waterfront, perhaps our city’s most precious resource.

The developer will have you believe that the project is about open space, claiming they are building a new park as a part of the development. But apparently this new “park” will only be open to the dues-paying members of the private club associated with the project.

A large coalition has come together to oppose Propositions B and C including the SF Democratic Party, Sierra Club, Coalition for SF Neighborhoods, Affordable Housing Alliance, Tenants Union, Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, and hundreds of city leaders and civic groups. The Bay Gardian and the Examiner also endorsed the no position.

The propositions are supported by Mayor Ed Lee, former Mayor Gavin Newsom, the more conservative members of the Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Chronicle.

I urge you to vote no on both. Let’s reject ballot box planning and be very careful with how we develop our beautiful waterfront.



Prescription drugs are expensive, getting more so every year. If you’re diagnosed with HIV, your medication will cost you between $2000 and $5000 per month!  Unless you live in Canada, where you’ll pay half that because the government has placed limits on what the drug companies can charge. Crazy, right?

Prop. D doesn’t solve the pricing problem directly – it’s a non-binding “policy statement” that instructs our elected representatives to start to negotiate for better pharmaceutical prices.  I usually smirk in the direction of non-binding policy statements, because they are unenforceable and often a waste of the voters’ time.

But it’s hard to argue with Prop D. It has started an important conversation around drug pricing, and if San Francisco stands up to Big Pharma, maybe the rest of the country will follow. It’s not single payer health care, but it’s a start. Vote YES on D.

Congratulations to the Class of 2013

I was proud and honored to be asked to give the commencement address at my high school, the Vivian Webb School in Southern California. I was introduced by Student Body President Chloe Soltis, who told the audience of about 500 people about my academic, political and professional successes. I chose to focus on my failures. Here’s what I told them…

Thank you, Chloe.  Greetings to the Class of 2013!

And greetings to your parents and loved ones, and to my own parents, who are sitting in the front row.  Congratulations to all of you for making it to this moment. To the graduates, for surviving four years of a rigorous Vivian Webb education, and for surviving Half Dome. To the parents and grandparents, you’ve been working toward this day for 18 years or so, getting your daughter to the point where she is ready to spread her wings. This is a big deal, and I’m honored to be here to help you celebrate.

I’d also like to acknowledge that that despite my spellbinding oratory abilities, the graduates probably aren’t hearing a single word I’m saying. At MY graduation, I just wanted to get to the parties later. So to the graduates, if you want to tune me out, that’s cool, I’m posting my speech on Facebook right… now. [pauses to focus on laptop]

Chloe’s introduction made me sound like quite an accomplished person. And now that you’ve heard about the successes in my life, I’d like to focus on my failures. That’s right. You’re going to hear about the bad decisions I’ve made and some of the things that just didn’t work out.

Right about now, Mr. Stockdale is wishing he had reviewed my speech before I got up here.

My political career began here on my first day at Vivian Webb, when I decided I would run for freshman class president.  I learned the very basics of running for office when I was here: getting to know the voters – my classmates – and the issues that matter to them, and doing everything I could to convince my class that I was the best person for the job.

Last year I gave a talk to both Vivian Webb and Webb titled “What It Takes to Run for Political Office.” I’m sure the graduating class remembers every word of my presentation… but for the benefit of the families in the audience, I’ll summarize it now.

Here’s everything you need to do to get elected:

Get involved in your community for several years
Pick an office to run for
Learn the issues that matter in your race
Study the competition closely
Take a personal inventory of your own assets and flaws
File the legal paperwork to get on the ballot
Open a campaign bank account
Call every single person you’ve ever met in your life and ask them for money
Announce your candidacy
Put up a website, a blog, a Twitter account and a Facebook page
Find and hire really good staff
Attend every community meeting and give speeches at every opportunity
Hold fundraisers and house parties
Make promises that you THINK you can keep
Get the endorsements of newspapers, organizations and elected officials
Convince all of your friends and family to volunteer for your campaign
Debate your opponent
Put up lawn signs and send mailers
Respond quickly when you get attacked
Shake every hand and kiss every baby you can get your hands on
And do it all better – and faster – than your opponent.

That’s all. Nothing more. Easy, right?

Well I didn’t know all of this when I first decided to run for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, which is the equivalent of the City Council. In 2006, I had lived in San Francisco for only 7 years, and I decided to run against a very popular and well-funded incumbent.  I had won almost every race I had ever run when I was in school… how hard could it be?  Haha… How hard could it be.

Running against an incumbent is an uphill battle – political experts will tell you that if you do it: (1) you’d better start your campaign two years before the election, (2) your opponent should have some kind of weakness or scandal you can capitalize on, and (3) you need to have name recognition and a LOT of money.  Of course, I didn’t have any of these things. I started my campaign only 6 months before the election. My opponent was well liked and scandal-free. I didn’t have any money or fundraising experience. And while I had previously chaired the City’s Elections Commission, I was a virtual unknown.

Before I got in the race, my opponent had the endorsement of every single elected official in town, and a huge war chest.  He was close to Mayor Gavin Newsom and former Mayor Willie Brown.  He knew the district inside and out, and he seemed to know everyone he saw on the street by name. He knew which potholes needed to be filled, which playground was getting an upgrade, which bus line was overcrowded. I didn’t know any of this.

And to top it all off, the District included the Castro, which is perhaps the biggest gay and lesbian neighborhood… in America. No straight person had ever been elected to represent this District since Harvey Milk was elected in 1977. My opponent was gay and I am straight. And I was toast.

You can see where I’m going with this.

I was called stupid, naïve, arrogant, overly ambitious. The newspapers dug around in my past and found things they could exploit. Really REALLY bad pictures of me were posted on the internet. One journalist wrote that because I had been to Burning Man several times, that must mean that I have done a lot of drugs and I wasn’t a serious person.  The President of the Board of Supervisors bet me that I would not even get 30% of the vote.

In that race, I said the wrong things to reporters. I yelled at my staff for things that were not their fault.  I spent more money than I had raised. I stopped exercising, and didn’t take care of myself physically or mentally. I gained so much weight in that campaign that I had to buy a whole new wardrobe.  Politician costumes… are expensive.

But I also worked harder than I ever have. I met thousands of voters.  I raised enough money to be a serious contender. I had a hundred volunteers making calls, stuffing envelopes and knocking on doors. I earned the support of some key organizations in town, and got SOME good press.  I KILLED IT in the debates. …And I lost really badly. How badly? I got 29% of the vote. That’s right, I not only lost the race, I lost the bet.

BUT!  I learned. An immense. Amount.  About running a campaign, about how to talk to the media, about how NOT to run a campaign, how NOT to talk to the media.  Just as important, I learned a lot about myself – my own strengths and weaknesses as a candidate, as a leader.

I introduced myself in a BIG way to the political world in San Francisco.  I got 9,109 votes, thankyouverymuch, which was more than several other WINNING candidates got in other Supervisor races that year because their districts were smaller. The next time I ran, I would have name recognition and a fundraising base. The next time I ran for office, I won.

After the election, the same people who called me stupid, naïve and arrogant called me up to congratulate me on a race well run. Kamala Harris (who is now California Attorney General) had supported my opponent, but she called me the day after the election to tell me that I did better than anyone expected.  Political organizations asked me to join their Boards of Directors after the race was over.  News outlets started calling me for comment when an issue came up that I had campaigned on.

Sure, I lost. But it was also the best thing I ever did.  I worked really hard, showed them what I was made of, beat everyone’s expectations – even my own, and I kept my chin up. And because I did, doors opened for me.

Some of the world’s greatest innovators and leaders also started as failures.

- Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he “lacked imagination” and had “no original ideas.”

- Abraham Lincoln had two businesses that failed, and he was defeated in 8 elections.

- Vera Wang failed to make the U.S. Olympic figure-skating team. Then she became an editor at Vogue and was passed over for the editor-in-chief position.

- Steven Spielberg was rejected from film school three times before becoming one of the world’s most acclaimed directors.

- Oprah Winfrey had a number of career setbacks including being fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for tv.”

They took big risks, and sometimes they failed. But the secret to their success was learning from these life experiences. Mistakes are the way we learn, they are how we grow. Failure is a valuable tool – IF – you give it your best, learn as much as you can, and move on quickly. If you do these things, opportunities will open for you that you didn’t even know existed.

And here’s what NOT to do, by the way. Don’t dwell on your mistake as if it’s some kind of judgment on your character. Don’t blame others for decisions that you were responsible for. Go deep, and be honest with yourself about why you missed the mark this time.

In my campaign for Supervisor, I learned to handle losing with grace. I learned that I was terrible at raising money, and so I volunteered to fundraise for other local candidates so that I could practice making calls.  I got involved in powerful local organizations, so that I could understand their issues better the next time I ran. And I learned not to refer to myself as a “freak” when talking to reporters. (Yes, I really did that. They titled the article “Alix Rosenthal is a freak of a candidate” – and 7 years later, it’s still one of the top hits when you google me – yeah, horrible.)

But enough about me. What does this all mean for the Class of 2013?

- It means that you shouldn’t be afraid to sit in the front row of class and raise your hand.

- That question that you worry might sound stupid? Ask it. What is there to lose? You’re smart. So if you don’t know the answer, some of your classmates don’t either.

- Take that class that is outside of your major, even if you’re not sure you’ll get a good grade. Try a new sport, or a new activity. Unless that activity is binge drinking at fraternity parties. That is NOT a pathway to success. Trust me on that one.

- Go after a leadership position. It will prepare you for all kinds of career opportunities in the future.

- And if you fall, ask yourself, “What did I learn from the experience? What have I accomplished while trying?” Dust yourself off and ask, “What’s next?”

[And by the way, this has nothing to do with my speech, but hey – if you’re going to send someone risqué pictures of yourself, use Snapchat, not email, OK? You know what I’m talking about. Your 40-year-old self will thank you.  Parents, we’ll explain it to you later]

My point is this: the sweetest victory is the one that’s the most difficult to achieve; the one where you took the most risk; the one that required you to work the hardest, without knowing, until it’s over, if all your hard work will pay off.

And hey – life is messy. You WILL screw up. The real beauty is in how you handle your mistakes… hopefully you will handle them with grace, introspection, creativity and resolve.

And so this is my wish for you, graduates. Fail big. Fail often. Push yourself. Be fearless. Your future successes depend on it.


Big Ol Voter Guide – November 2012

Election Day is mere days away! I know. It’s hard to believe, because the presidential election has been going on for years. Years! We Californians might be sick of the election already, but just think of how miserable it must be to live in a swing state right now. In states like Virginia, Ohio and Missouri, the presidential campaigns are pouring millions of dollars into negative advertising. Now THOSE states can’t wait for the election to be over.

And so, I humbly submit to you, for your edification and enjoyment, my Big Ol’ Voter Guide for the November 2012 election. It includes federal races, state propositions, the races for state legislature seats in San Francisco, as well as the SF city races and measures.

Click here for more information on your voter registration and what your ballot looks like.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a political attorney and a San Francisco progressive, whose passions include protecting and promoting nightlife and culture, getting more women elected to public office, and bringing more public art to cities around the world. I’m a Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, and I like long walks on the beach.

Go here for my guide to the San Francisco ballot.

Go here for my guide to the California ballot.

Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2012 (San Francisco)

Friends! Following is my Big Ol’ Voter Guide for the San Francisco ballot in the November 2012 election. It includes the Congressional and state legislature seats that represent our fair city, as well as the local races and measures.

There are some seriously crazy campaigns happening in San Francisco, particularly the District 5 Supervisor race and the school board race. The ballot measures reflect the financial dire straits of the City – four of them want to raise new revenues  for various worthy causes. None of the measures are too contentious – most of them are the result of legislative compromises that took place BEFORE they were placed on the ballot. Fascinating! Is it a new era of good feelings in City Hall? Maybe! I sure hope so.

My guide for the statewide California ballot is here.

Comments? Disagreements? Bring it!


Congressional District 8: Nancy Pelosi
Congressional District 12: Jackie Speier

State Senator, Dist. 11: Mark Leno (SF)
Assembly, Dist. 17: Tom Ammiano (East Side of SF)
Assembly, Dist. 19: Phil Ting (West Side of SF)

SF Board of Education:
Matt Haney, Sandra Lee Fewer, Rachel Norton, Sam Rodriguez
SF Community College Board:
Amy Bacharach, Steve Ngo, Rafael Mandelman, Chris Jackson
BART Board, District 9: Tom Radulovich

District 1 Supervisor: Eric Mar
District 3 Supervisor: David Chiu
District 5 Supervisor: London Breed, John Rizzo, Thea Selby
District 7 Supervisor: FX Crowley, Norman Yee
District 9 Supervisor: David Campos
District 11 Supervisor: John Avalos

Measure A: YES (City College Parcel Tax)
Measure B: YES  (Parks Bond)
Measure C: YES (Affordable Housing Trust Fund)
Measure D: YES (Consolidated Elections)
Measure E: YES  (Gross Receipts Tax)
Measure F: NO! (Hetch Hetchy)
Measure G: YES (Corporate Personhood) 


Congressional District 8: Nancy Pelosi (Most of SF)

First female Speaker of the House.  She is a fighter and a grandmother. She helped President Obama shepherd his health care reform legislation through the House. I am proud that she comes from my district.

Congressional District 12 : Jackie Speier (West side of SF, Peninsula)

Jackie is a hero of mine, she’s fearless. She has stood for banking reform, women’s health, and government accountability. Jackie rocks. And she will win re-election easily.


Senator, Dist. 11: Mark Leno (SF)

Mark is a tireless advocate for his district, and in particular for the LGBT community, single-payer health care, drug policy reform, and for nightlife interests. I wonder how much he’s going to beat his Republican opponent by. 65 percentage points? 70?

Assembly, Dist. 17: Tom Ammiano (East Side of SF)

Tom is a hero of mine, a public servant for over three decades, a friend of Harvey Milk’s, and a champion of civil rights, public education, health care and marijuana policy reform.  His legislative accomplishments are too many to list here! I am proud to support him, and he has no opposition.

Assembly, Dist. 19: Phil Ting (West Side of SF)

Phil is a great Assessor, and has stood up to powerful interests in that capacity. His big issue is tax reform, and he’s stuck his neck out on reforming Prop. 13, which has enabled owners of commercial property to avoid paying their share. He also might be the nicest person in San Francisco politics, and a genuine, hard working guy. Phil’s opponent Michael Breyer (is very dorky and) hasn’t had much community support, because he hasn’t shown much interest in politics until he decided to run. Breyer has written himself huge checks to make up for it. (Meg Whitman, anyone?) C’mon, let’s make sure Phil beats this guy.


Board of Education:

Matt Haney, Sandra Lee Fewer, Rachel Norton, Sam Rodriguez

The school board race has been a wild one… in large part because the teacher’s union is out for blood. Earlier this year, the school board was asked to vote on a controversial question: whether to skip seniority of certain teachers (and defy the union), or preserve the jobs of 70 lower-seniority teachers in a handful of underperforming schools.  All of the incumbents running for re-election this year voted to skip seniority (Wynns, Norton, Fewer). And so the union has sworn to defeat these incumbents, and they have asked the city’s leadership to stand with them. They have endorsed four newcomers, some of whom, I think, aren’t quite ready.

I agree that seniority of teachers is very important. Without the principle of seniority (i.e., tenure), teachers could lose their jobs for political reasons and other arbitrary factors. But I also believe that throwing out all of the incumbents is short-sighted. Experience and institutional memory are essential on the school board, particularly when the public schools have made so many gains in the last few years.  There are four seats up this November: I have endorsed two of the incumbents, and two of the challengers.

Rachel Norton is one of those incumbents. She is thoughtful, level-headed and knowledgeable. She has two kids in public school, one with special needs, and so she’s highly motivated to find workable solutions for students and parents. And she works very hard; she is particularly good at communicating what she’s doing, by way of newsletters and blogs. She has the support of the Democratic Party, the Chronicle, the Examiner AND the Bay Guardian as well as a myriad of others.

Sandy Fewer is a progressive stalwart on the school board. She was first elected four years ago, and since then she’s been focused on civil rights aspects of public education, including LGBT issues (including sensitivity training regarding transgender kids – which I think is awesome), adding ethnic studies to the high school curriculum, and advocating for students of color. Like Rachel, she has the endorsements of the Democratic Party, the Chronicle, the Examiner AND the Bay Guardian. That’s quite a coalition.

Matt Haney is the candidate I care the most about – he is one of the smartest people in local politics, and cares more about education policy than anyone I know. He has a joint JD-MA degree from Stanford in law and education, and his day job is Executive Director of the UC Students Association. He’s garnered the endorsements of just about everybody – the Teachers Union, the Bay Guardian, the Examiner, the Democratic Party, the Labor Council, and almost every elected official in town. He is the consensus candidate – everybody loves Matt. And so do I! Please vote for him.

Sam Rodriguez has deep roots in statewide politics, and also with the SF Parent Teachers Association, where he is the legislative director, and has worked closely with the School Board and other City officials in that capacity. He is also very very smart, and well versed in the issues the school district faces. He is focused on closing the gaps in academic performance between white students and students of color, and between high- and low-income students. Here are his endorsements.

Community College Board:

Amy Bacharach, Steve Ngo, Rafael Mandelman, Chris Jackson

San Francisco Community College is totally screwed up. And it has been for years. It is near bankruptcy, they are on the brink of losing their accreditation, and in 2011 the former Chancellor and the former Chief Administrative Officer both pled guilty to felony misuse of public funds! For decades, the College Board enabled bad administrators, made horrible decisions about money, and ignored obvious problems. What’s worse, it feels like every election, the voters are asked to approve a new bond measure or parcel tax to “SAVE CITY COLLEGE!!!”… including in this very election. (See Measure A, below).

There are some serious, difficult changes that need to be made to save City College. Currently, CCSF functions as a traditional junior college, it teaches English as a second language to new immigrants, it serves as a job training center for tech and health-related industries, and it provides interesting noncredit courses in many fields.  But everyone agrees that CCSF can no longer fulfill all these roles. It needs to cut non-essential programs (no more basket-weaving classes for retirees), lay off teachers (I know, I know), reduce the number of campuses, and get back to the very basic purpose of a community college – to prepare students to transfer to four-year institutions.

This is why I am endorsing the four people who I think are smart, relatively new, and have fresh ideas to bring to the board. And I’m not supporting the one incumbent who has been on the board for decades, and who, IMO, has been part of the problem. This is one office where institutional memory is worthless.

Chris Jackson and Steve Ngo are incumbents, but they’ve each only served one term and I think we ought to give them a shot to turn the thing around. They have both been strong voices for reform. Jackson has argued for cutting administrators over teachers – and I agree with him. Ngo is a civil rights lawyer who has been particularly hard on CCSF administration for lack of accountability and transparency.

Rafael Mandelman and Amy Bacharach are the most qualified newcomers. Mandelman is an attorney, a really smart guy, and a progressive leader on the Democratic County Central Committee, on which I also serve. I consider Rafi an ally, and I trust him to make the hard decisions that need to be made. Bacharach understands the value of community college, because it enabled her to get her college degree, and ultimately her PhD. She is smart, progressive, and willing to make the tough calls, particularly in centralizing decision-making in CCSF’s administration.

BART Board, District 9: Tom Radulovich

I adore Tom. He is a long-serving member of the BART Board, a passionate transit advocate, and Executive Director of Livable City, on whose board I used to serve. Livable City advocates for housing and transportation policies that discourage the use of cars and encourage the use of transit, as well as the walkability and bikeability of city streets. Tom is one of the smartest people I know; BART is lucky to have him.

District 1 Supervisor: Eric Mar

Supervisor Mar is a level head on the Board of Supervisors, and his thoughtful demeanor is an important asset on the Board.  He has worked hard for the Richmond District, including revitalizing local small business corridors, and championing pedestrian safety efforts. He’s been a solid advocate for tenants and seniors. And I should also mention that he is a regular Burning Man participant and nightlife issues are important to him.  Eric is in a tough re-election fight, against an opponent with substantial corporate resources behind him. Please vote for Mar!

District 3 Supervisor:  David Chiu
(North Beach, FiDi, Russian Hill, Union Square, Tenderloin)

Board President David Chiu was my first choice for Mayor last year. Why? He is a smart, effective leader for both District 3 and San Francisco. Government transparency is very important to him, and he’s the only member of the Board who is car-free. He’s been at the forefront of urban farming issues, as well as environmental legislation (banning the dumping of Yellow Pages on your doorstep! Yes!!). He has little serious opposition. Vote for David.

District 5 Supervisor: London Breed, John Rizzo, Thea Selby
(Haight, Cole Valley, Western Addition, Hayes Valley)

This race is an especially tough one for me, I have many friends and allies running for this seat. And in the last few weeks, this has become an INSANELY UNPREDICTABLE RACE. Julian Davis, formerly the consensus choice of many progressives, has lost all of his major endorsements after allegations surfaced that he behaved badly with several women and later threatened those women if they were to come forward. Incumbent Christina Olague wasn’t gaining traction in this über-progressive district because of her ties to (moderate) Mayor Ed Lee and Chinatown powerbroker Rose Pak. But then she bucked the Mayor by voting to reinstate Ross Mirkarimi as Sheriff, and she scored points from progressive leadership, who now seem to be flocking to her side. Read what the Bay Guardian says about it here, fascinating stuff!

London Breed is the most compelling candidate in this race. She comes from the projects in District 5, where she watched her friends and classmates go to prison or die on the streets. And she’s a great success story – her day job is Director of the African American Art and Culture Complex, and she also serves as a Fire Commissioner. She is smart, fierce, and has been around City Hall long enough to know how to get things done. Which is why I’ve endorsed her. But she has not been as progressive as most of her potential constituents, and she has the support of many conservatives in town (like the Realtors Association and the Police Officers Assn.). District 5 is perhaps the most progressive district in SF, and so it’s important that the Supervisor representing it be a champion of the left.

In the past, London’s political patron was former Mayor Willie Brown, who fought bitterly with the progressive Board of Supervisors during his tenure. But Breed and Brown have had a very public falling out, and Brown has been actively working against her, shaming her contributors and convincing big supporters to reverse their endorsements. London is truly an independent candidate, and I am confident that she will remain so if she’s elected.

John Rizzo is also a good choice. John is a longtime environmental and progressive leader, having served as President of the local Sierra Club chapter and a reformer at the Community College Board. I am concerned that his campaign isn’t gaining much traction, the consensus among insiders being that John lacks a certain je ne sais quoi. He was also on the College Board for the last 6 years, during which time Community College has fallen apart. And while John has been a strong advocate for reform, six years is a long time to make little progress. But you can trust John to be a solid progressive vote for his district if he’s elected. He has the #1 endorsement of the Bay Guardian, perhaps the most influential endorsement in D5.

I am also supporting Thea Selby, a parent and small business owner from the Lower Haight. Thea is running a strong grassroots campaign, and despite her relative inexperience in local politics, has gained a lot of ground in the last few months, and has picked up a lot of great endorsements, like the Bay Guardian and the Examiner. Her politics are more progressive than London’s, and she has more money in the bank than John, so expect a last-minute surge from her.

District 7 Supervisor:  FX Crowley, Norman Yee
(Lake Merced, St. Francis Wood, Twin Peaks, West Portal)

Let’s face it – D7 is not a progressive district.  Historically, it has elected some of the most conservative politicians in San Francisco history. (This is relative, of course, since we’re all Democrats here in SF).  That said, two of the candidates in this race are reasonable guys (and yes, it’s all guys).

FX Crowley is a union leader and smart fellow who has lived his entire life on the West side of town. He served on the Public Utilities Commission, where he showed that he is a skeptic of public power and clean energy (Bad! Bad!). And he knows nothing about the issues I care about – supporting the nightlife economy and increasing the female presence in positions of real power in government. But I think he’ll be a thoughtful vote on budget issues, given his strong labor background.

Norman Yee is president of the school board and executive director of Wu Yee Children’s Services. He is soft spoken, circumspect, and has eight years of experience in city government. His campaign’s focus is improving the schools in D7, fiscal responsibility  (read: cutting the budget, which is outpacing revenue growth), and improving neighborhood resources like paved roads, street lighting, etc.. Not sure how he will spend more money on roads and lighting and parks when is cutting the budget, but whatever. Nice guy. Vote for Norman.

District 9 Supervisor:  David Campos
(Mission, Bernal Heights)

Supervisor Campos is unopposed, in large part because he is doing a great job for the Mission and progressive citywide efforts. I serve with him on the Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC), the governing body of the SF Democratic Party, and in that capacity, he’s helped maintain our progressive conscience.  He is shrewd, reliable, and a prolific legislator.

David will probably be running for Tom Ammiano’s Assembly seat in a few years against Scott Weiner, District 8 Supervisor. People are already taking sides in this race, and so David needs to do really well in his (unopposed) re-election bid to demonstrate his support in the district. Vote for David!

District 11 Supervisor:  John Avalos
(Outer Mission, Ingleside, Excelsior)

Supervisor Avalos is also unopposed, because he is doing a good job and he is unbeatable.  John first ran for Supervisor after working for Chris Daly for many years. He had a reputation for being understated and trustworthy, but not the most fierce of progressive leaders. In the last few years, though, he has come into his own as a forceful leader of the progressive movement, and came close to winning the Mayor’s race in 2011.

Avalos has written some groundbreaking laws, including the local hire legislation, which would have required City’s construction contractors to hire at least 25 percent local residents for city jobs. Nightlife businesses didn’t like his alcohol tax idea – which would have imposed a fee of about 5 cents to a standard cocktail – and would have generated more than $15 million in revenue per year to go towards medical services for alcohol-related accidents and diseases. His bill was vetoed by (bar and winery owner) Mayor Gavin Newsom.  While I don’t like taxing nightlife businesses, I do like that John is thinking creatively about generating new revenues for our cash-strapped city.


Measure A: YES

City College Parcel Tax

“SAVE CITY COLLEGE!” – How many times have we heard that line?  It seems like we’re asked to approve a new City College bond measure or parcel tax in every election. And every year, City College is in direr and direr straits. (Is “direr” even a word?)  Prop A, if approved, will add $79 to everyone’s property taxes (regardless of property value).

See my endorsements for College Board above for more background on how f’ed up City College is. But here’s the thing – City College is an important asset. It would be tragic for its 90,000 (!!!) students if it disappeared. And the biggest problem CCSF faces is its lack of resources. Prop A would generate $16 million per year in new revenue for CCSF… which won’t prevent all the cuts they need to make, but it will slow the bleeding. Vote yes!

p.s. Only property owners pay this tax – if you’re a tenant, there’s really no reason to vote against it unless you oppose taxes generally.

Measure B: YES

Parks Bond

Who doesn’t love parks? And who doesn’t agree that the parks in San Francisco have fallen into disrepair? If you own a dog or have kids – or enjoy renegade dance parties (wink, wink) – you know what I’m talking about. It’s bad.

To be fair, it’s not the city’s fault that the parks are such a mess. Massive budget deficits and loss of funding from the state have forced city officials to make some tough choices. And when faced with the decision of keeping the jobs of teachers and firefighters, versus maintaining the city’s parks and roadways, they have generally chosen the former. And so, here we are: with facilities that are crumbling and even unsafe in some cases.

Some people see Prop B as a referendum on Rec & Park’s recent decisions to increase revenue by renting out portions of our open spaces and charging new fees.  There are passionate folks on both sides of that issue whom I respect very much. But that’s not what this is about.

Prop B is a general obligation bond that will allow the city to borrow $195 million for park, open space and recreation facilities mostly in underserved neighborhoods.  It needs a 2/3 majority to pass. And just about everyone supports it: the Mayor, every member of the Board of Supervisors, the Chronicle AND the Bay Guardian. Please vote yes. Do it for the children. And the renegades.

Measure C: YES

Affordable Housing Trust Fund

Everyone agrees that it is nearly impossible to find affordable housing in San Francisco. And Prop C attacks this problem from several different directions. It will create a new trust fund to: (1) create, acquire and rehabilitate modestly priced housing in San Francisco; and (2) promote affordable home ownership programs in the city. It will also authorize the development of 30,000 new affordable housing units.

Affordable housing advocates were at the table when this measure was written, as were real estate developers, and they ended up compromising on a few things. For example, it includes a provision that will codify (and lower) the amount of “affordable” housing a private developer is required to build when constructing private market-rate residences. Developers say that they need this certainty in order to make their projects pencil out.

Note that Prop C includes no new taxes, which means that the fund will come entirely from the City’s general fund (which is what pays for all other city services). This is a risky move, since the trust fund hopes to spend $1.5 billion over the next 30 years, without raising any new taxes to cover it. Yikes.

But $1.5 billion is a heck of a lot of money! I’m happy city leaders are finally ready to dedicate significant resources to solving the housing problem. But to do so, they need your vote. Vote yes.

Measure D: YES

Consolidated Elections 

This measure is simple: it will change the election cycle so that the City Attorney and Treasurer will be elected on the same ballot as the Mayor, Sheriff, Assessor and District Attorney, beginning in 2015. Currently, City Attorney and Treasurer are on a ballot all by themselves, with the next election to be held in November 2013. If Prop D passes, the City Attorney and Treasurer will serve a 2-year term, and then those seats will be up again in November 2015.

There will be political ramifications to this measure. It will mean that anyone holding one of these offices would have to give up their seat in order to run for another one. For example, City Attorney Dennis Herrera ran for Mayor last year, and he lost – but because his position is elected on a different cycle, he kept his job as City Attorney. Once Measure D passes, Herrera would have to give up his job as City Attorney to run for Mayor, since you can’t run for two offices in the same election.

As a potential future candidate for one of these offices (ahem), I do worry that some of these races will get lost in the shuffle if they are all on the same ballot. It’s hard enough for the Sheriff and DA candidates to get voters’ attention during the Mayor’s race. It will be even harder when two more offices are added to the mix.

But the arguments in favor of the measure are compelling. Consolidating the ballots will be more economical for the City. Off-year elections have lower turnout, so putting them on the same ballot will mean that more voters participate in the selection of these officers.  (Political junkies know that increasing turnout for these races will affect the outcomes, since higher-turnout elections tend to lead to more progressive results). The Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Chronicle, the Bay Guardian, and the entire Board of Supervisors support Measure D. Vote yes.

Measure E: YES

Gross Receipt Tax

This measure will change the way San Francisco taxes businesses. I’m about to throw out a bunch of numbers, so bear with me.

Currently, the city taxes companies with more than $250,000 in annual payroll; these businesses (about 10% of SF companies) pay the city 1.5% of their entire payroll expense. Measure E will phase out the city’s current payroll tax and replace it with a gross receipts tax that will apply only to businesses with more than $1 million in annual gross receipts. (As a small business owner, this is a big relief to me!)  Generally, businesses with higher gross receipts would pay higher rates; the rates would range from 0.075% to 0.650%. It is estimated that this will result in $28.5 million more a year in revenue to the city.

The city really, really needs this new revenue. And guess what? Everyone from the Chamber of Commerce, to the Labor Council, to the high tech industry, to the super-lefty Supervisors like this measure. It’s a compromise that is a long time in coming, since a GRT seems more fair, and payroll taxes tend to punish job creation. Vote yes on E.

Measure F: NO!

Future of Hetch Hetchy

F-No! Get it? Hee hee. Makes me giggle every time.

The official title of this measure is “Water Sustainability & Environmental Restoration Planning Act of 2012.” It’s a silly and misleading title. It should be called the “Obliteration of San Francisco’s Water Supply Act of 2012.”

The proponents of this measure want San Francisco to spend $8 million to study what it will take to drain the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to restore it to its natural state. “But wait!” you say. “I love Hetch Hetchy water! It is delicious and clean!” Yes. And 2.6 million residents and businesses in the Bay Area rely on it.  It is preposterous to propose that we drain the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir given California’s struggles with water supply and the millions (billions?) of dollars in investment that SF has made into the infrastructure it takes to deliver it.  And oh yeah, the dam generates 1.7 billion kilowatt hours of clean, hydroelectric energy each year. Thus reducing the city’s reliance on dirty energy sources.

And where is that $8 million for the study going to come from? Is the city going to close a clinic or lay off a few dozen firefighters? F-No! This is ridiculous idea. Vote no on F.

Measure G: YES

Corporate Personhood

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed a firestorm with its Citizens United decision, which held that the First Amendment prohibited the government from restricting independent political expenditures by corporations and unions. It reaffirmed the notion of “corporate personhood” – the idea that corporations have the same rights as people.

Since then, cities and counties all over the country have passed resolutions opposing this decision, and urging Congress to overturn Citizens United. I find it totally outrageous that the Court rested its decision on the First Amendment, the very amendment where the most essential of human rights are affirmed.

Prop G is a non-binding policy declaration. I think most non-binding resolutions are silly and a waste of time. But the one in Prop G is important – in fact, I wrote a similar resolution for the SF Democratic Party that was approved unanimously. San Francisco should join the hundreds of other cities and counties (and political parties) in sending the message that money is not speech, corporations are not people, and it’s time for the citizenry to stand up to the overwhelming influence that big money interests have over elections at every level. Vote yes on G.