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-RECORDER – Carmen Chu

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.

PROP. A — RETIREE HEALTH CARE TRUST FUND

YES

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!

PROPS B & C — 8 WASHINGTON SPECIAL USE DISTRICT

OH HELL NO!

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.

PROP. D — PRESCRIPTION DRUG PURCHASING

YES

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.

2 thoughts on “Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2013

  1. Alix – thanks for putting this together. I have recently dealt with Carmen Chu in her new role as assessor and she hasn’t been at all helpful – she does not seem to take the view that the assessor’s office should be serving the residents of San Francisco.

  2. Thoughtful, informed analysis. Thanks. I’ll disagree with you on one point, though, and will be voting yes on C (but no on B). It’s a good project, and the height issue is irrelevant for all save the few people who will be getting their views blocked from their apartments. Zoning regulations evolve, and we need to start building higher.

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