Alix’s Voter Guide – SF Ballot, November 2018

All we hear about in the news is the House and Senate races nationwide. Here in San Francisco, our House and Senate races are foregone conclusions, but that doesn’t mean that the election isn’t very important.

In SF, the elephant in the room is homelessness and housing. And Prop C is the most controversial measure on the ballot, promising to double the city’s spending on homelessness solutions. The candidates for Supervisor are battling over where housing should be built, and who has the best solutions to the problem. Homelessness is even an issue in the race for BART Board! It’s everywhere in this election.

An exciting school board race also underway. With 18 candidates to choose from, voters have their work cut out for them. And four Supervisor races are neck-and-neck! Election night is going to be very exciting this year.

Before we begin, I should clarify that the opinions I express in this voter guide are my own, and should not be attributed to my employer, my baby girl, or any of the many Democratic clubs I belong to. Please send all hate mail to me at info (at) votealix.com.

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a single mom, a liberal Democrat attorney and a government nerd, whose passions include arts and culture, getting more women elected to public office, and protecting our environment for future generations. I’ve worked on more political campaigns than I can count, including my own, and I also like long walks on the beach.

My guide to the California measures and races can be found here.

US House (CA-12) – Nancy Pelosi
US House (CA-14) – Jackie Speier
Assembly, District 17 – David Chiu
Assembly, District 19 – Phil Ting
Assessor Recorder – Carmen Chu
Public Defender – Jeff Adachi
Supervisor, District 2 – Catherine Stefani
Supervisor, District 4 –Trevor McNeil
Supervisor, District 6 – (1) Matt Haney (2) Christine Johnson
Supervisor, District 8 – Rafael Mandelman
Supervisor, District 10 – Shamann Walton
BART Board, District 8 – Melanie Nutter
Community College Board – Thea Selby, John Rizzo, Victor Olivieri
Board of Education – Michelle Parker, Faauuga Moliga, Phil Kim
Proposition A – Seawall Earthquake Safety – YES
Proposition B – City Privacy Guidelines – NO
Proposition C – Tax on big business to fund homeless services – No
Proposition D – Cannabis Businesses Tax – NO
Proposition E – Arts and Cultural Allocation – Yes

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 4.43.03 PM.pngUS House (CA-12) – Nancy Pelosi

Pelosi received 69% of the vote in June, and her next opponent, Lisa Remmer (R) got 9%. Pelosi’s re-election is a lock, and so she’s spending all of her time making the Blue Wave a reality. Her “Red to Blue HQ” is rallying volunteers to phone bank for Democrats in swing districts. You may think it’s time for new leadership, and I respect that, but before you judge her too harshly, let’s see how well she does at winning back the House for Team Blue.

US House (CA-14) – Jackie Speier

Speier got 79% of the vote in June. She’s also a lock, and so she’s spending her time amplifying women’s voices and combating sexual violence on college campuses.

Assembly, District 17 – David Chiu

Chiu is running virtually unopposed, and he’s doing a fine job, so I won’t waste your time (or mine) with a lengthy analysis of his fine qualities.

Assembly, District 19 – Phil Ting

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Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu

Ting is running virtually unopposed.

Assessor Recorder – Carmen Chu

Chu is running virtually unopposed.

Public Defender – Jeff Adachi

Adachi is running unopposed.

Supervisor, District 2 – Catherine Stefani

Supervisor Catherine Stefani faces BART Director Nick Josefowitz and political newcomer Schuyler Hudak. In this district, which encompasses wealthy neighborhoods including Pacific Heights and the Marina, the top issues are homelessness and property crime. Stefani was appointed to the seat when her former boss, D2 Supervisor Mark Farrell, was appointed acting Mayor in the wake of Mayor Ed Lee’s sudden passing last year.

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Supervisor Stefani with Moms Demand Action

Stefani has by far the most experience in the district and in government, having served as a legislative aide for the previous two D2 Supervisors, and most recently as County Clerk. She’s the leader of the San Francisco chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which was founded after the Sandy Hook massacre. She has recently called for an audit of the millions of tax dollars that are distributed to nonprofits serving the homeless, make sure our tax dollars are being well spent. I am supporting her because she has worked in the district for more than a decade, she knows its issues and its constituents, and she’s a fierce advocate for families and against gun violence.

Hudak is the founder of a documentary video startup who is campaigning as an outsider ready to bring change. I find her to be smart and well meaning, but her lack of experience in government disqualifies her, IMO.

Before running for BART Board, Josefowitz founded and ran a solar-energy company, and now he’s using his personal wealth to fund his campaign.  Josefowitz earned the Chronicle endorsement because he has demonstrated a commitment to taking on the housing crisis while he has been on the BART Board, pushing for higher density development along transit corridors. I supported Nick for BART Board, and I think he has some good ideas, but I’m supporting Stefani because of her leadership on gun violence and her vast experience in City Hall.

Supervisor, District 4 –Trevor McNeil

The three main candidates for D4 are community activist Gordon Mar, public school teacher Trevor McNeil and Jessica Ho, legislative aide to D4 Supervisor Katy Tang. In this district, which encompasses the Sunset, voters mostly care about public safety and preserving neighborhood character (which means opposing large scale development).

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Trevor McNeil and his family

Gordon Mar is the brother of former Supervisor Eric Mar, and is favored by the more progressive politicians in City Hall and democratic clubs. He’s a community organizer, and the co-founder and Executive Director of Jobs with Justice, a labor organization. The so-called moderates are divided between Trevor McNeil and Jessica Ho. Jessica has only lived in SF since March, when she moved here from LA to take the job in Supervisor Tang’s office. While Jessica Ho has more experience in city government than either McNeil or Mar, she’s only been in City Hall for 7 months.*

All three candidates want to build more housing, support homeless services, and increase the quality and reliability of the public transit system. In fact, their positions on the issues are pretty close to indistinguishable. However, McNeil is the only one who said he would support a homeless navigation center in the district if it were necessary. I worked with McNeil in Democratic Party leadership several years ago, and I can tell you he works harder than anyone I know. He has three kids under 4, has a full time teaching job, AND works relentlessly for liberal candidates and causes in his free time. Vote for Trevor.

*Edit: She also spent a year interning for the previous D4 Supervisor, but it doesn’t make her much more qualified, IMO.

Supervisor, District 6 – (1) Matt Haney (2) Christine Johnson

District 6 includes SoMa, the Tenderloin and Mission Bay — neighborhoods hit particularly hard by homelessness and rapid development. The person elected to this seat will need to be able to straddle the vastly different worlds of new money and relentless poverty.

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Matt Haney (photo: San Francisco Magazine)

Matt Haney, former President of the school board, is the real deal. He lives in the Tenderloin, he walks the walk, and he has spent the last several years getting to know the woes and triumphs of this multi-faceted district. When Matt was first elected to the Board of Education, he visited every public school so that he could meet the students, teachers and administrators. He has also co-founded #cut50 with Van Jones. Together they have worked to reform the criminal justice system.

Christine Johnson is an engineer, a former Planning Commissioner and a policy nerd with 14 years of experience in public finance. I have heard her speak a few times and I have been impressed with how much she understands about real estate development and the San Francisco budgeting process. She brings ideas to the campaign that are both bold and specific, down to the municipal code sections she would like to see amended.

Trauss is a housing activist who built YIMBY — “Yes in My Backyard” — into a national pro-housing development movement. I have respect for the bold work she has done to increase public awareness around the causes of the San Francisco housing crisis. However, she is a bomb thrower and I find her style to be abrasive and unproductive.

Supervisor, District 8  – Rafael Mandelman

Rafi is running virtually unopposed. He just won the seat in June.

Supervisor, District 10 – Shamann Walton

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Shamann Walton (photo: SF Chronicle)

District 10 includes Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, the Bayview, and Hunters Point. The latter two are some of the city’s poorest and most isolated neighborhoods. The district is seeing some of the city’s most rapid growth along the Third Street corridor and at the former site of Candlestick Park, though some of this development is plagued by a cleanup scandal at the Hunters Point Shipyard. The next D10 supervisor has a very big job ahead of them.

The main candidates in D10 are Shamann Walton, a school board member and the Executive Director for Young Community Developers, a workforce training nonprofit; Theo Ellington, former President of the Bayview Opera House board and former Director of Public Affairs for the Golden State Warriors; and Tony Kelly, theater director and Potrero Hill Democratic Club leader. All three are focused on making sure that new development includes enough benefits for the local community.

I like Theo Ellington, whom I met when he was working for the Golden State Warriors on their arena project. He’s smart and knows a lot about politics and real estate development. However, his youthful enthusiasm doesn’t make up for his relative inexperience in government.

This is Tony Kelly’s third run for Supervisor, and he doesn’t seem to have much traction in this campaign. To his credit, he has some bold ideas around housing, including vacancy control which penalizes owners of vacant residences. He also wants to increase MUNI funding while decreasing fare enforcement, seems contradictory to me.

Having served on the school board for several years, Shamann Walton has the most experience in pulling the levers of government to benefit the community. He has also worked in the Bayview neighborhood for decades, building workforce programs for young people in D10. Shamann has earned the endorsement of every member of the school board, 8 of 11 members of the Board of Supervisors, including folks on both sides of the (progressive SF) aisle. This is a testament to his ability to work with everybody and get things done. Vote for Shamann.

BART Board (District 8) – Melanie Nutter

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Melanie Nutter

Melanie Nutter is a lifelong environmental advocate, and she is laser-focused on reliability and cleanliness of BART. She wants to enlist BART in taking an active role in getting homeless people out of BART stations and into city services.  And as the former Director of the city’s Department of the Environment, she is also eager to move BART closer to environmental sustainability. Melanie has the endorsements of the SF Chronicle, Mayor London Breed, Senator Scott Wiener, David Chiu, League of Conservation Voters, many democratic clubs, among others.

Jonathan Lyens is a super nice guy, who I’ve known through his work on the FDR Democratic Club. Blind since childhood, Jonathan has overcome tremendous obstacles and taken on tough fights his entire life. He is very well meaning, but doesn’t have much transit-related experience. He’s been endorsed by the San Francisco Democratic Party, many labor unions, and Supervisors Peskin, Fewer, Yee, Mandelman, and Ronen.

Janice Li has transportation policy credentials, having worked as a policy advocate and community organizer for the SF Bike Coalition. She has earned many progressive endorsements, including Supervisors Peskin, Fewer and Kim, and Assemblymember Phil Ting.

I am voting for Nutter because her many years of working in City Hall will make her a far more effective leader than Lyens or Li. Where her opponents are focused on discrete aspects of BART’s operations, Nutter has a much bigger picture perspective, demonstrated by her understanding of BART’s impact on the Bay Area’s housing crunch and the regional environment. Vote for Melanie.

Community College Board – Thea Selby, John Rizzo, Victor Olivieri

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Thea Selby

Three seats are up on the College Board, and the three incumbents holding those seats are running for re-election: Thea Selby, Brigitte Davila and John Rizzo. They have worked closely together to save City College from the myriad of problems it’s had in recent years, including the accreditation crisis.

John Rizzo, former President of the local Sierra Club chapter, has served the longest on the college board, and his institutional knowledge is critical because there is much more work to do to keep City College on track.  Thea Selby is passionate about public education. She is sharp as a tack, and she served as President of the Board when City College was re-accredited, which was no small feat. She’s also a mother of two, and she advocates for small businesses and public transit in her spare time. I honestly don’t know where she gets all her energy!

Brigitte Davila has been on the College Board for the last 4 years and currently serves as its President. Though she has some high profile endorsements, my sense is that her heart’s not in this campaign. Her website is outdated, and doesn’t say what she wants to do with the next four years if she wins. She’s endorsed by the SF Chronicle; the SF Democratic Party; the Labor Council; and Supervisors Fewer, Peskin, Kim, Yee, Mandelman, Ronen and Cohen.

One challenger has emerged – Victor Olivieri – and he has earned a surprising number of powerful endorsements including people who don’t normally endorse in such a down-ballot race: Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, State Controller Betty Yee, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson among many others. Olivieri is young and ambitious. He has a detailed plan for City College, and his website is slick – which tells me that he may be using this race as a stepping stone for higher office. In any case, he has impressed me so far, and he is the one to watch in this race.

Board of Education – Michelle Parker, Faauuga Moliga, Phil Kim

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Michelle Parker

Three of the seven seats on the school board are up for election, with one incumbent (very recently appointed by the mayor) on the ballot. 18 candidates are vying for the positions, and I’m impressed with the quality of the candidates this year! There are parents, teachers, school counselors, and youth advocates, and they all have unique perspectives on how to make the public schools better.  I’m not going to analyze every single one of their candidacies – there are so many of them! – but I’ll tell you about the ones getting the most ink. I’m endorsing Michelle Parker, Faauuga Moliga and Phil Kim for the reasons below.

The main issues this year are (1) the elimination of algebra classes in 8th grade, (2) the always-controversial school assignment (lottery) system, and (3) how to manage the district’s $890 million budget, which is strapped by skyrocketing pension costs.

Michelle Parker is one of the most qualified candidates ever to run for school board. She is a parent of three public school students with a long track record of leadership as a parent advocate. She has worked with thousands of parents over the past ten years – as District PTA president, in facilitating community meetings, and in leading efforts to organize parents as a co-founder of Parent PAC. She has served on an array of education advisory committees at the state and local level. I have found her to be knowledgeable and level headed — and prepared to hit the ground running if she is elected. Parker is focused on individualizing student’s educations – bringing back 8th grade algebra and gifted & talented programs; and attracting and retaining educators. Her top endorsers are Mayor London Breed; SF Chronicle; Senator Scott Wiener;  Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting; and Supervisors Stefani, Tang, Brown, and Safai.

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 7.56.50 PM.pngFaauuga Moliga is a school social worker and parent. Mayor Breed appointed him to the school board in October to fill the seat of Hydra Mendoza, who moved away. Moliga is the first Pacific Islander member of the school board, representing a community impacted by high poverty and incarceration rates, and low college readiness. His campaign focuses on the opportunity gap for students of all demographics, as well as supporting the well-being of students and families through mental health services. His main endorsers are the SF Teachers Union; organized labor; Mayor London Breed; Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen; Supervisors Mandelman, Fewer, Ronen, Safai, Peskin and Yee.

Phil Kim is a science teacher and has served on several statewide committees that examine and promote STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs in California. He has a Masters Degree in Education Policy and Administration, and a passion for social justice curricula that are developed in partnership with parents and families. I met him at a cocktail party a few weeks ago, and I was impressed with how well he answered my barrage of questions about how to improve the public schools in San Francisco.

Although he works at a charter school (KIPP Academy), he tells me he opposes the proliferation of charter schools in San Francisco.  He advocates for more accountability and oversight of charter schools, and he distances himself from the politics of Marshall Tuck, Betsy DeVos and others who think that charter schools should replace public schools. He thinks that charter schools can play an important but niche role in a public school system, but that the public schools should always remain primary. I agree with him on these points, and I think that his unique perspective would be valuable on the school board. Phil’s major endorsers are  SF Chronicle, State Senator Scott Wiener, City College Trustee Alex Randolph.

Li Miao Lovett is legit. She’s an academic counselor, and has worked in public education for 20 years. Her focus is on making sure immigrant families and poor families have access to resources, ensuring the social-emotional development of all children, and programs that support children of working parents and those with special needs. She is endorsed by the progressive side of town, including the teachers union; Democratic Party; organized labor; progressive elected officials including Assemblymember Phil Ting, Supervisors Fewer, Peskin, Yee, Mandelman, Ronen; School Board member Matt Haney.

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Alida Fisher and her family

Alida Fisher is a public school parent and education consultant.  She has a unique perspective because of her experiences as a foster parent and (white) adoptive mother of African-American children. To say she is an involved parent is an understatement. Fisher is a parent mentor with Support for Families of Children with Disabilities, a member of several advisory committees to the Board of Education, and Chair of the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education. She is endorsed by the SF Chronicle.

John Trasviña is the former dean of USF law school, and he also served as Assistant Secretary of Housing & Urban Development under Obama. He went to public school in San Francisco when he was a kid, but doesn’t otherwise have much of a connection to the public school system. Given his decades of political involvement, it seems pretty clear to me that this office would be a stepping stone for him… though that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a good school board member. He has a lot of powerful endorsements because of his work in immigrant rights and housing over the years, including a mix of both progressives and moderates: Dianne Feinstein, Nancy Pelosi,  SF Democratic Party Chair David Campos, Assembly Members David Chiu and Phil Ting, Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma, DA George Gascon, Supervisor Katy Tang.

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Monica Chinchilla

Monica Chinchilla is a parent and a community organizer. In 2016 she was the campaign manager for the Proposition V (Soda Tax) campaign in San Francisco, which won despite overwhelming opposition from Big Soda. Her community organizing work has centered around fighting for resources and policy changes that positively impact the Latino and and African-American communities in San Francisco. Chinchilla’s main endorsers are Mayor London Breed; Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen; School Board members Shamann Walton and Mark Sanchez; Former Mayor Art Agnos; several labor unions.

Gabriela Lopez is a fourth grade teacher who has worked in public schools for 10 years. She has a master’s degree in education and has spent much of her career designing arts-based professional development for educators. Her priorities are improving the classroom environment with smaller class sizes and access to arts programming, supporting students’ different learning needs and expanding special education, and supporting teachers through higher salaries and access to housing. She has been endorsed by the SF Examiner, San Francisco Berniecrats; Supervisors Fewer, Kim, and Ronen; School board members Mark Sanchez and Matt Haney.

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Mia Satya: Badass

Mia Satya has an inspirational personal story. As a young trans woman growing up in rural Texas, she was relentlessly bullied. After moving to California, she struggled with homelessness, discrimination and violence but made a career of working with youth, at an afterschool program and various programs for homeless youth. She’s been a community organizer advocating for racial, economic, and gender justice, and is an effective advocate for youth facing multiple barriers to success. She has been endorsed by the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club; Supervisors Mandelman and Kim; School Board Member Matt Haney, and City College Trustees Thea Selby, Shanell Williams, Tom Temprano, and Ivy Lee

Alison Collins is a mother of twins and a community organizer. She has a master’s degree in education, and worked for the Oakland school district in the past as an administrator. She has initiated campaigns to improve park safety and playground facilities. Her website says she “speaks out on parent rights and holding district leaders accountable,” however, I have also heard from a few sources that her style of advocacy is abrasive and unproductive. She must be doing something right, though, because she has an impressive list of endorsers (from the progressive side of town): San Francisco Democratic Party; the teachers union; the San Francisco Labor Council; the SF Examiner; Supervisors Cohen, Fewer, Peskin, Brown, Kim, Yee, Mandelman and Ronen.

PROPOSITION A – SEAWALL EARTHQUAKE SAFETY – YES

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 8.01.50 PM.pngIf you’ve taken a walk or bike ride along the Embarcadero, you have seen the crumbling concrete and dilapidated piers along San Francisco’s waterfront. Frankly, it’s embarrassing, and it’s also a threat to public safety.  Ponder this: scientists predict that the sea level will rise three feet in the next 30 years, and that the Bay Area will see another earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or larger sometime in the same 30-year span. You can see why the repair of San Francisco seawall is more urgent than ever.

Proposition A is a $425 million bond that will pay for repairs to the Embarcadero seawall, which protects $100 billion in property and infrastructure that are currently at risk.  Earthquakes and sea level rise are no joke, and as climate change brings more severe weather, high tides and flooding will put more strain on the wall. Repairing the seawall is also critical for the SF economy; San Francisco’s waterfront draws 24 million tourists every year.

The Proposition requires a two-thirds majority to pass, and pretty much everyone has endorsed it. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Who supports it: SF Chronicle, SF Examiner, Mayor London Breed and every member of the Board of Supervisors, Lt Governor Gavin Newsom, US Senator Dianne Feinstein, State Senator Scott Wiener, Assembly Member David Chiu, Assembly Member Phil Ting, building and construction trades, every member of the Port Commission (duh!) San Francisco Democratic Party, environmental groups including the Sierra Club and League of Conservation Voters

Who opposes it: Libertarian Party of San Francisco

PROPOSITION B – CITY PRIVACY GUIDELINES – NO

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 8.03.53 PM.pngData privacy is the hottest topic in government this year after data breaches at Facebook and other companies revealed how tech companies use consumer information. Proposition B is a non-binding resolution asking the city to set privacy standards for companies who do business in San Francisco. The idea is an appealing one, because everyone agrees that consumers should have more control over their data, and if SF – the capitol of tech – sets a high bar, the rest of the nation might follow.

Specifically, the authors of Proposition B want to give you more control over how your personal information – including your sexual orientation, race, national origin, or religious affiliation – is used and shared. They want to regulate how your information is being handed over to law enforcement, third party advertisers, or other private special interests. And they want you to have more control over the use of your location data. These are all appealing goals, and I don’t disagree with any of them. However, I think that a San Francisco privacy law is unnecessary because it’s duplicative of a new California law, and from the perspective of the businesses, a patchwork of city-by-city privacy laws is a nightmare to comply with.

In 2016 the European Union enacted GDPR, a landmark law that grants European consumers far more control over the use of their data. And in June of this year California also enacted its own privacy law mirroring many of the GDPR’s provisions. The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) will give consumers the right to know all data collected by a business on you; the right to say no to the sale of your information; the right to delete your data; and the right to know the business or commercial purpose of collecting your information, as well as the categories of third parties with whom your data is shared.*

Opponents of Prop B are focused on a tacked-on provision that would allow changes to City Hall’s transparency laws. It would give lawmakers more control over what the public can now access about meetings and public records, and this makes journalists, voting rights groups and good government groups very nervous. I agree with them that maintaining public access to government information is critical to keep public officials accountable for their actions.

* Note: I lead the compliance team at a tech company, and I’m working to get our CCPA compliance plan together before it goes into effect in 2020.

Who supports it: Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen; Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Jane Kim, Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin (sponsor of the measure), Hillary Ronen, Norman Yee

Who opposes it: SF Chronicle, SF Examiner

PROPOSITION C – TAX ON BIG BUSINESS TO FUND HOMELESS SERVICES – NO

This was a tough one for me, and there are smart and thoughtful people on both sides of this measure. I’ll do my best to summarize the pros and cons, so that you can make your own decision.

Prop C will authorize the city to fund housing and homelessness services by enacting a new tax on medium-to-large businesses in San Francisco at the following rates:

  • 0.175 percent to 0.69 percent on gross receipts (revenues) for businesses with over $50 million in annual revenue, or
  • 5 percent of payroll expense for certain businesses with over $1 billion in annual revenues and administrative offices in San Francisco.

If passed, Prop C will establish the Our City, Our Home Fund, which will go toward permanent housing (50%), mental health services for homeless individuals (25%), homelessness prevention (15%), and short-term shelters (10%). The San Francisco Controller’s office says that the new tax would generate new tax revenue of approximately $250 million to $300 million annually beginning in 2019. In the interest of full disclosure, I work for one of the 400 companies that will be subject to the tax if Prop C passes.

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Photo: San Francisco Business Times

Prop C is the hottest topic on the San Francisco ballot. Progressives and homelessness organizations are rallying for it, framing it as a matter of social justice. Centrist politicians and business groups contend it is potentially a job-killer, it’s way more money than the city needs, and what’s needed are more creative solutions along with a better accounting of money already being spent. My objections to it are technical, namely, that a ballot measure is not the right way to solve this problem, because it locks in the spending requirements in perpetuity, which is a terrible way to run a government program.

Arguments in favor of Prop C:

  1. It’s about damn time! Homelessness is by far the city’s biggest problem, and it’s getting worse. Thousands of people sleep on the streets every night, and thousands more are at risk of becoming homeless. It’s inhumane and appalling that we are letting human beings continue to live in such horrific conditions. Plus, it’s hurting tourism and retail sales. SF is seeing fewer visitors because of the shocking number of people on the streets.
  2. San Francisco is the city of love, and it should live up to its nickname. The big companies that are based here were attracted here in part because of the compassion and progressive ethics San Francisco is known for. Getting people off the streets will make San Francisco a better place to live for everyone.
  3. The city spends $300 million per year on homeless services and it’s clearly not enough. Doubling this amount will make a huge dent in the homeless problem. Prop C funds will pay for housing for at least 5,000 people, 1,000 new emergency shelter beds and mental health programs for hundreds of people in dire straits. For years now, our elected leaders have tried to solve the issue, but have yet to commit the resources necessary to adequately address this complex problem.
  4. Big companies can afford it. SF is an incredibly rich city with some very successful businesses, and they can afford to make San Francisco better in exchange for their success here. Moreover, the companies that created all the jobs in San Francisco are actually contributing to the homeless problem, by causing the insane housing demand in the city, driving housing prices up. They should pay to solve the problem.

Arguments against Prop C:

  1. Homelessness shouldn’t be solved by ballot measure! You’ve heard me say it before: a ballot measure can only be amended or repealed by another ballot measure, and that’s a terrible way to make government decisions. Prop C will lock in existing funding levels and direct new spending, making the city’s homelessness spending nearly impossible to change. The city’s intractable homeless problem requires a multi-faceted, nuanced approach that HAS TO be able to iterate over time. Let’s find a better way to secure more funding for homeless programs, and make sure that the money is spent appropriately. To me, this is a very strong case against Prop C.
  2. Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 8.12.23 PM.pngIt’s too much money for homelessness relative to other spending. Prop C secures $682 million for the Department of Homelessness. For comparison, that’s 3x the budget of Rec and Park ($231 million), 7x the budget of the Department of Emergency Management ($95 million), 4x the budget of Libraries ($160 million), and nearly 3x the budget of the Sheriff’s Department, which includes the jails ($249 million). Moreover, if Prop 2 (2018) on the California ballot passes, SF is poised to receive another $100 million per year for homelessness programs. Senator Scott Wiener also recently secured $30 million from the state budget for homeless youth programs. Does SF need $812 million per year for the homeless?! No.
  3. It’s more money than SF needs. San Francisco is actually doing a lot right now to solve the homeless problem, as evidenced by: (1) the growing numbers of navigation centers around the city; (2) the planned opening of a city-sponsored drug injection center; (3) new conservatorship rules to allow the city to help the homeless mentally ill; (4) Mayor Breed’s initiative to build 1000 new shelter beds; and (5) the securing of $30 million for homeless youth programs from the state budget this year. While still bad, the problem has actually gotten much better this year because the city is willing to take risks, and find more efficient ways to use its existing budget.
  4. Prop C doesn’t contain a sunset provision. Meaning, it goes on forever! This is just unreasonable and shortsighted. I can understand the argument that we need to spend a lot of money up front to solve the intractable homeless problem. But once we’ve solved it, and everyone has housing, these programs won’t cost as much, year-over-year, right?
  5. Money is not the cure-all to end homelessness. While our city’s homelessness spending has more than tripled over nearly two decades, the number of people experiencing homelessness on our streets has remained the same at about 7,000. This shows that money alone won’t solve the problem. There is nothing in Prop. C about enforcing laws against street tents, aggressive panhandling, or compelling treatment on people with grave mental illness. (On the other hand, there is nothing in Prop C that prevents city government from separately enacting and enforcing these laws.)
  6. Big companies will leave San Francisco, and the local economy will suffer. I work for one of the companies that will be subject to this new tax, and I don’t buy the argument that companies will leave. Every time a new tax is threatened against big business, the Chamber of Commerce cries wolf, and then companies never actually move away. San Francisco is still San Francisco, and it’s a lot easier to recruit top talent when you’re based here. In fact, solving the homelessness crisis will make SF even more appealing for companies and workers to move here. A report by the city’s economist found that Proposition C’s “impacts are small in the context of the city’s job market and economy, equal to a 0.1% difference, on average, over 20 years.”
  7. SF will lose jobs if Prop C passes. Because Prop C includes a payroll-based tax, it penalizes companies for the salaries they pay here in San Francisco, so it does incentivize them to move some jobs elsewhere – jobs like customer support, engineering, communications, finance and other functions that can be done remotely. While it’s unlikely that entire companies will move away, I do think that companies will stop hiring for certain kinds of positions here if the tax is imposed. (Given the insane demand for housing, maybe SF can afford to lose a few jobs?)
  8. The tax is convoluted, leading to unfair results like smaller companies paying way more than huge companies. This article in the Chronicle does a good job of explaining why some smaller companies will bear an unfair tax burden, and why the structure of the tax can lead to higher prices for everything in SF. It includes an illustration as to how a single transaction could be taxed three times under Prop C. Companies that have big revenues but small (or non-existent) profits like Lyft and Uber will be especially F’ed under Prop C because a gross receipts tax is charged on their total revenue, not on their margins.
  9. Increasing our spending on homelessness will draw more homeless people to San Francisco. The data just don’t bear this argument out. Most homeless San Franciscans became homeless IN San Francisco, and generally speaking, poor people stay where their support network is located. In any case, the way housing is allocated by the city is by giving long term residents priority, so the Prop C money won’t go to people who relocate here.
  10. Prop C is a blank check, and the city is going to waste the money. San Francisco has been working to make its existing investment in homeless services more efficient and effective. But a huge infusion of Prop. C money would relieve pressure on city bureaucracy to identify and eliminate spending that isn’t working. The measure doesn’t include any mechanism for tracking spending, and it doesn’t include any performance requirements. There will be no way to know whether the agencies who receive the funds are using them wisely. Having worked in city government, I have seen the waste and inefficiency first hand, so this argument is very persuasive to me.
  11. Prop C is an abuse of the initiative process. When the authors of Prop C were writing it, they didn’t include the Mayor, the Board of Supervisors, or the companies who will be impacted, and that will lead to bad law THAT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE TO MODIFY WITHOUT ANOTHER BALLOT MEASURE. In the words of state senator Scott Weiner, “Prop C is… a massive tax increase – the largest tax increase in San Francisco history – yet the people who drafted Prop C did not engage a broad set of stakeholders. They didn’t even work with our Mayor. Prop C isn’t how government should work. A tax increase of this magnitude should engage a broad array of stakeholders in crafting the tax’s size, sources, and uses. That didn’t happen here. The voters should reject Prop C and allow for a true stakeholder process to determine the best approach to addressing our needs around homelessness.” I totally agree. Prop C is a blunt instrument, and what we need is a more holistic, nuanced approach to solving the problem.

After researching the $!@# out of this measure, I am voting against it. But it was a tough call because I recognize that more needs to be done to solve this problem. If Prop C passes, I hope that the companies that would have been subject to the tax will make big donations to homeless programs with proven track records, and come to the table to help the city solve this problem for good.

Who supports it: SF Examiner; Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi; Congresswoman Jackie Speier; Assemblymember Phil Ting; Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Aaron Peskin, Vallie Brown, Jane Kim, Norman Yee, Rafael Mandelman, and Hillary Ronen; Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff; Comedian Chris Rock (huh?); San Francisco Democratic Party; Affordable Housing Alliance; Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods; GLIDE church; St. Anthony’s; SF teachers union; Mental Health Association of San Francisco; SPUR; San Francisco Tenants Union; San Francisco Board of Education; Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club; Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club

Who opposes it: SF Chronicle; Mayor London Breed; Lt Governor Gavin Newsom; State Senator Scott Weiner; Assemblymember David Chiu; police and firefighters unions; Chamber of Commerce; small business community, Supervisors Katy Tang and Catherin Stefani; Laborers union; Hotel Council; Edwin M. Lee Democratic Club; Chinese American Democratic Club; City Democratic Club.

PROPOSITION D – CANNABIS BUSINESS TAX – NO

Prop D would place a new tax on cannabis businesses based on their gross receipts (revenues). It would exempt their first $500K in revenue, and any revenue generated up to $1M would be taxed at an additional 2.5%. Revenue greater than $1M would be taxed at an additional 5%.

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 8.14.41 PM.pngBeginning in 2021, the money collected from the tax would go into the general fund, so the city can spend it however it wishes. The city controller predicts proceeds of $2 million to $4 million at first, growing to as much as $16 million in three years.

The main argument against Prop D is that taxing marijuana products will – surprise! – make them more expensive to buy. And that will drive more consumers to buying it on the black market. The illegal market doesn’t pay taxes, and they also don’t have to test their products for quality or safety. They can also mistreat workers and damage the environment with impunity. All these things together make their products much cheaper.

By contrast, legal cannabis operators abide by the laws imposed on other businesses in California. They have to get permits; pay banks transaction fees; pay the business income tax, excise tax, and sales taxes; hire accountants and attorneys and an HR department; obtain workers comp insurance; require sexual harassment training for employees; yada yada yada. You can see how it adds up.

On the other hand, the proponents of Prop D, however, say that the new tax will help the city put illegal operators out of business, with increased building inspections, permit processing and legal action against non-compliant companies. They claim it will also go toward education of the citizenry about cannabis dispensaries, since there is still a lot of opposition to placing new dispensaries in most neighborhoods.  However, since the revenues of Prop D will go into the General Fund, there is no requirement that they will be spent on these things. I’d be more persuaded to support Prop D if the money was required to be spent on enforcement and education.

As a person whose job title includes the word “compliance,” I am generally supportive of companies who make an effort to obey the law, and I think that we ought to give the legitimate cannabis companies a break. I can’t imagine the stress of running a marijuana business out in the open these days, given that it is still illegal under federal law, and that the Jeff Sessions Department of Justice is just dying to make an example of California.

Who supports it: SF Bay Guardian; Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen; Supervisors Norman Yee, Katy Tang, Catherine Stefani and Vallie Brown

Who opposes it: SF Chronicle, SF Examiner; SF Chamber of Commerce; Supervisors Hillary Ronen, and Jane Kim; State Senator Scott Wiener; Board of Equalization member (and soon-to-be State Treasurer) Fiona Ma

Proposition E – Arts and Cultural Allocation – Yes

Screen Shot 2018-11-01 at 8.49.18 PM.pngSan Francisco charges a 14% bed tax on hotels, B&Bs, and Airbnb hosts, and it brings in about in $370 million per year.  Prop E would take an 8% slice of this tax revenue and dedicate it to arts and cultural organizations and projects in the city, boosting the city’s arts budget from $22 million per year (2018) to $35 million by 2022. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass.

Prop E is about to make me a hypocrite. I like this measure because I support the arts and want to see them flourish in the city. I hate this measure because it’s a set-aside, and budgeting by ballot box is no way to run a government.  Sigh.

The arguments in favor of Prop E:

  • Yay for the arts!
  • Prop E won’t increase any taxes, it merely redistributes the existing tax that is mostly paid by tourists.
  • The proposition will benefit a diverse and dynamic part of the city’s economy and personality.
  • Prop E reflects the original intent of the city’s hotel tax, which was created with a portion dedicated to the arts and culture because they help drive tourism. Prop E merely restores the original set-aside.
  • “The housing crisis and the affordability challenges that we face here in San Francisco mean that we are losing the lifeblood of cultural bearers and artists that make San Francisco the community we love.” – Rachel Lastimosa, arts and culture administrator of the city’s Filipino cultural district.

The one really good argument against Prop E:

  • Prop E IS A G&^%*#* SET-ASIDE. It would reduce budget flexibility by locking in the arts funding by way of ballot measure, which – say it with me – can’t be repealed or amended, except by another ballot measure, blah blah blah, and is a terrible way to run a government. When the city faces a downturn, and needs those Prop E funds for, say, recovery from a catastrophic earthquake/tsunami, or building its own militia to defend its water supply from invaders… it will be nearly impossible to do so.

I will close with a quotation that explains why I am voting yes on Prop E.

“The arts are what makes life worth living. You’ve got food, you’ve got shelter, yeah. But the things that make you laugh, make you cry, make you connect – make you love are communicated through the arts. They aren’t extras.”

— President Barack Obama

Who supports it: SF Chronicle; Mayor London Breed; Supervisors Katy Tang and Aaron Peskin; Tom Decaigny, director of cultural affairs, San Francisco Arts Commission; Hotel Council of San Francisco; United Educators of San Francisco; San Francisco Arts Education Project; San Franciscans for the Arts

Who opposes it: SF Examiner; Libertarian Party of San Francisco

Thanks for reading! If you found my voter guide useful, please share it on social media and consider donating here to support my writing habit. Thank you!  My guide to the California measures and races can be found here.

 

Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2015

There’s a theme to this year’s election: this CITY’S INSANE HOUSING MARKET! Yes, I’m shouting, it’s that serious. Friends of mine and yours are losing their homes. Others are stuck in rent-controlled apartments they can’t afford to leave. And just TRY moving here from somewhere else, if you don’t work for some hot new tech company that pays you well. And then…there’s this guy.

Yikes!

Yikes! Really?

There’s lots of finger pointing… at greedy landlords, Airbnb, Mayor Ed Lee, the Board of Supervisors, too much rent control, not enough rent control, tech companies, the Ellis Act, Google buses, the $725 cocktail. This November’s ballot attempts to place the blame on some of the folks on this list.

Three out of 11 measures (A, D, and K) hope to enable building more housing, most of which is affordable, two (I and J) are aimed at slowing the rate of gentrification, and one (Prop F) hopes to further restrict short term rentals in the city. Some are good, some are very very bad. I put a lot of thought into these endorsements, and if you know me, you may be surprised by a few.

Without further ado, I submit to you my Big Ol’ Voter Guide. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a progressive attorney with a background in municipal law who currently works for a few mobile app companies (one small, one very small), 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 Second Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, and I also like long walks on the beach.

Mayor: Ed Lee
City Attorney: Dennis Herrera
Treasurer: Jose Cisneros
District Attorney: George Gascon
Sheriff: Vicki Hennessey
Community College Board: Alex Randolph
District 3 Supervisor: Julie Christensen
Prop A: Affordable Housing Bond – YES!
Prop B: Paid Parental Leave for City Employees – YES!
Prop C: Expand Lobbyist Ordinance – NO
Prop D: Mission Rock – YES!
Prop E: Remote Testimony in Public Meetings –NOOOOO!
Prop F: Restricting Short Term Rentals – F-NO!
Props G/H: Clean Energy – NO on G, YES on H
Prop I: Mission Housing Moratorium – YES!
Prop J: Legacy Businesses – Yes
Prop K: Affordable Housing on City’s Surplus Property – YES!

Mayor: Ed Lee

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.11.17 AMBroke-Ass Stuart is a friend of mine, and I’ve donated to his mayoral campaign. His candidacy is a performance art piece that gives voice to widespread frustration with the direction the city has headed in recent years. The city’s ever-widening economic divide and the scary housing market are making it impossible for young folks and the middle class to survive here. BUT: (1) calling attention to this doesn’t mean Stuart has the know-how to run a city with a $9 billion budget (Sorry, Stuart!); and (2) the city’s economic trajectory is not Ed Lee’s fault. Just as the mustachioed mayor can’t legitimately take credit for the dramatic increase in property tax revenues and record low unemployment, he also can’t be blamed for the housing crunch or for $4 toast. The mayor is, frankly, not powerful enough to control the economy in either direction. The rent is too damn high because too many damn people want to live here. And it takes a lot longer to build a hundred new housing units than it does for a tech company to create a hundred new jobs.

And hey, Lee is doing a fine job with the meager amount of power he does wield. He is working to alleviate the affordable housing crisis (see: Prop A – his affordable housing bond, and Prop K – his effort to build affordable housing on city-owned property) and he is showing leadership on keeping families and the middle class in SF (see: universal pre-school and improving economic opportunities for women). He has 26 years of experience in city government, he is not afraid to roll up his sleeves, and he has appointed women to the most important jobs in city government (which I just love, of course). Personally, I think the folks who actively oppose him need someone to blame for the outrageous cost of…well, everything.

City Attorney: Dennis Herrera
Treasurer: Jose Cisneros
District Attorney: George Gascon

I’m not going to waste your time on these races, because all three of these folks are unopposed. And each of them is doing a decent job. Let’s reflect on that for a minute: In San Francisco, where every public figure, movement, real estate development, legislation and stop sign placement has opposition, these three candidates don’t. To me, that’s saying something.

Sheriff: Vicki Hennessey

This was a hard one for me. Ross Mirkarimi has been a friend of mine for many years, and by most measures, he’s been a solid Sheriff. He is a strong advocate for progressive prison reform: from health care rights for prisoners, to improving recidivism rates through education, to stopping the gouging of inmates for the cost of personal phone calls (which has garnered national attention). But his successes have been overshadowed by the accusations that he engaged in domestic abuse against his wife Eliana early in his term. Eliana has always denied those charges and she has fought hard to defend him. However, Ross did plead guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment for his actions, and earlier this year, he had his driver license suspended for failing to report an auto accident to the DMV. He has also taken heat for Sheriff deputies who were promoting fights among prisoners, and the accidental patient death at SF General that his deputies might have been able to prevent. Even just last week, it was reported that a deputy challenged Mirkarimi’s ability to take a firearms exam given his misdemeanor conviction. These distractions, I think, are preventing him from getting more done and they have affected morale in the department.

Vicki Hennessey is a former Chief Deputy Sheriff with several decades of experience. She ran the department while Mirkarimi was fighting domestic violence charges, and has avoided involvement in any scandal. I have worked with her since 2001 when I was on the Elections Commission and she did a good job at designing a ballot custody system. She has the support of lots of folks, and I sincerely hope that she will use the Sheriff’s office to continue the kinds of progressive reforms that her two predecessors have worked so hard to achieve.

Community College Board: Alex Randolph

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.12.38 AMAlex Randolph was appointed in April to fill an open seat on the College Board, and he is running to defend the appointment against two challengers: Tom Temprano and Wendy Aragon. All three have credited community college with giving them a leg up, although Randolph is the candidate with the most experience and insight to solve CCSF’s accreditation and enrollment problems. He wants CCSF to staff up the class registration process, which would help with the dramatic decline in enrollment, and he has also identified several places where CCSF could upgrade the technology it uses, to start solving its problems on a larger scale.

I met Alex Randolph when he was the campaign manager for my opponent in my ill-fated Supervisor race nine years ago. Back then, he was young and scrappy, and I was impressed by his willingness to work hard, even though it was against me. He has an impressive list of endorsements, including a majority of both the Board of Supervisors and the Board of Education.

District 3 Supervisor: Julie Christensen

Christensen is smart and competent, and she is working hard on stopping evictions, promoting neighborhood safety and improving transit. Her opponent is a former ally of mine, but we’ve parted ways politically for several reasons. For those reasons and more, see my endorsement in a separate blog post.

It's safe to say this housing is not affordable.

It’s safe to say this housing is not affordable.

Prop A: Affordable Housing Bond – YES!

If this bond is approved, $350 million will go toward building low- and middle-income units, and to rehab the city’s public housing. It also includes down payment assistance for teachers and middle-income folks. There is no reason not to vote for this measure! Housing prices are ridiculously high, and it costs a lot of money to build new units in the city. The entire city family has coalesced behind this bond measure.

Prop B: Paid Parental Leave for City Employees – YES!

Prop B would allow every city employee who becomes a parent to have the time to bond with their newborn. I’m not sure why this needs to be a ballot measure – perhaps the proponents want to make sure it’s hard to repeal? But it’s a no brainer to me – city government is the largest employer in San Francisco, it should absolutely serve as a model for family-friendly policies.

Prop C: Expand Lobbyist Ordinance – NO

Some pieces of legislation are better for the ballot, and some are better for the legislative process at the Board of Supervisors. Laws approved by ballot measure can only be amended by another ballot measure, making it nearly impossible to change it – it basically sets a law in stone. Laws that go through the Board, by contrast, can be improved by the public input of many stakeholders, and can be able to be amended over time, as time passes and circumstances change. Prop C should have been brought to the Board, and that is why I am opposing it.

Prop C is well meaning. It promises to daylight the activities of anyone engaged in direct or indirect lobbying, public outreach, research, reports on city activities, advertising, etc., requiring them to register and pay a $500 fee and submit monthly reports on their activities. It casts a wide net that catches all kinds of nonprofits and community organizations whose activities don’t warrant this kind of scrutiny. This law should be presented to the Board and subjected to public input, so that the Board can determine exactly which kinds of organizations should be registering, and which ones shouldn’t.

Prop D: Mission Rock – YES!

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.14.37 AM“Mission Rock” is code for “Giants Parking Lot A.” The Giants have been planning a mixed-use development on their parking lot for years, but it is currently zoned for open space. And after Prop B was passed in 2013, any waterfront development that seeks to increase height limits has to go to the voters. So – if the Giants want to build anything taller than a maintenance shed, they have to ask the City’s voters to give their consent. To the Giants’ credit, they did a good job of soliciting input from lots of stakeholders: neighbors, planners, community groups… and what has resulted is a great project. It includes 1500 new housing units (33% of which would be in the price range of low- and middle-income residents), 8 acres of parks and open space, and a retail center with shops and restaurants. Almost everyone supports it – even the staunchest of opponents to waterfront development. I’m looking forward to seeing it built.

Prop E: Remote Testimony in Public Meetings – NOOOOOO!

If approved, Proposition E would require that public meetings, testimony and comments all be made accessible through electronic and pre-recorded means. It also requires that any pre-recorded public testimony and live, remote public commentary be played at the meeting. Sounds great, right? Who doesn’t love public participation in the democratic process?

Rush Limbaugh wants you to vote for Prop E

Rush Limbaugh wants you to vote for Prop E

If you’ve been to a commission or board meeting at City Hall, you know that this measure would be a complete disaster. In my opinion, it would allow interest groups to jam up meetings that are already jammed up by folks who show up by the dozens to read the SAME. TALKING. POINTS. FROM A SCRIPT. OVER AND OVER. FOR HOURS. Don’t get me wrong – public comment is extremely important, and can often be persuasive to legislators who are on the fence. But to require that every video and email that gets sent to the City be played in its entirety would open the process up for abuse. And would be a catastrophic waste of time.

Moreover, this law would require that public testimony – from ANYWHERE in the world – be played live at the meeting. This means that every time Rush Limbaugh disagrees with legislation at the Board of Supervisors, he can tell his listeners to send thousands of emails, voice recordings and videos to City Hall. And City Hall will be required to play them. In their entirety. And because this is a ballot measure, the law will be very difficult to repeal, it might take a year or more to do it. ICK. Please vote NO.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.19.10 PMProp F: Restricting Short Term Rentals – F-NO!

The main reason I oppose this measure is the same reason I oppose Prop C (above): Laws approved by ballot measure are nearly impossible to change. And this is exactly the kind of law that needs to iterate over time. The products and services created by technology companies like Airbnb are constantly evolving – and the laws that regulate them need to be just as nimble. If Prop F passes, it sets these restrictions in stone, and the Board of Supervisors won’t be able to amend them. Any revision – no matter how small – will require another election cycle and another contentious and expensive battle for votes. For a detailed explanation of the merits and flaws of this complicated legislation, see my separate blog post about Prop F.

Prop G/H: Clean Energy – NO on G, YES on H

Here’s the inside scoop on these two measures that you probably won’t hear from anyone else. The City has created a program called CleanPowerSF that will give city residents and businesses the option to buy power from renewable sources, such as wind or solar power. This program will be taking customers away from PG&E, and so the company (or rather, the electrical workers union) put Prop G on the ballot in order to make it harder for the city to market this new program. The measure would prevent the city from calling large portions of the energy produced by CleanPowerSF as “clean” or “renewable.” Yep, it is kinda evil.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.17.07 AMAfter Prop G qualified for the ballot, Supervisor London Breed sprang into action, crafting Prop H as a compromise measure, using the same definitions of “clean energy” and “renewable energy” as those used by state law. CleanPowerSF is happy because the new law will allow the city to call more of the energy it produces, “clean.” Consumers win because the city is forced to be accurate in its marketing of the program, in describing the percentage of types of renewable energy to be supplied.

In fact, Prop H was so well crafted (good work, Supervisor!) that PG&E (oops, I mean the electrical workers union) has withdrawn its support for its own measure, and has agreed to throw its weight behind Prop H. That’s why – you may have noticed – there is no “Yes on G” campaign, and everyone in town has endorsed H. Vote NO on G and YES on H. And then go to www.cleanpowersf.org to sign up for the program.

Prop I: Mission Housing Moratorium – YES!

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 11.37.56 PM

Boundaries of the Proposed Mission Moratorium

If approved, Prop I would establish a temporary, 18-month prohibition on the construction of any housing project larger than five units in the Mission neighborhood, roughly bounded to the west by Guerrero Street, to the south by Cesar Chavez Street, to the east by Potrero Avenue, and to the north by U.S. Route 101. Projects that include only 100% affordable units are exempt from the moratorium.

Yes, it’s true: the law of supply and demand tells us that stopping the building of housing is not the way to alleviate the housing crunch. However, this moratorium is not about solving the housing crisis. It’s about saving the Mission from losing its essential character, and about slowing the pace of change so that the neighborhood isn’t swallowed by the city’s insatiable appetite for development.

There are lots of good reasons to support this moratorium. The Mission has suffered the most profound effects of the housing crisis because every new tech worker moving to the city wants to live there. The speed of development there is especially intense, and has led to an unprecedented number of evictions and displacement. Walk down Valencia Street, and you will have to agree that the neighborhood looks nothing like it did even a few years ago. Moreover, when buildings are demolished, and new market-rate condos are built, the change is irreversible; the new buildings are designed to last for 50-100 years. Slowing this process down by 18 months – so that the city can be more deliberate in planning what the neighborhood should look like in 10, 20, 50 years – is a very good idea. It is a brief little window of time in the big picture. And finally, the amount of real estate we’re talking about is a small portion of the city. There are other places in the city where market-rate housing can be developed in the next few years.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.31.51 AMMy only hesitation about Prop I is that it would have the consequence of delaying the Armory’s plans to turn its Drill Court space, recently fitted with a new floor and sound-proofing, into a full-time concert and event venue. The city needs more event venues of this size! But under Prop I, new permits of all kinds, including changes of use like the Armory’s, would be halted for 18 months. It’s a shame the Armory’s plans are caught up in this measure – but it would only be until mid-2017, so on balance, it’s a temporary sacrifice worth making.

It won’t surprise you to learn that landlords, developers, realtors, and construction trade unions oppose Prop I, along with the more moderate elected officials in town. Prop I supporters include an interesting combination of folks who don’t always agree, such as tenant groups; black, Asian and Latino groups; labor unions; teachers; environmental organizations; neighborhood political clubs from all over the city; and women’s organizations. I’m a homeowner and a real estate attorney, and I generally like development. And yet I side with the “yes” folks. Let’s give the Mission a breather.

Prop J: Legacy Businesses – Yes

As I have mentioned several times before, the city is changing very very rapidly. Neighborhood businesses give the city its character, and the ones that have been around the longest are disappearing quickly due to rising rents and the pressure from gentrification. Prop J, if approved, will establish small grants for these “legacy businesses” that have existed for more than 30 years and can show significant contribution to San Francisco’s identity and character. Eligible businesses will receive $500 for each of their full-time employees, and property owners leasing to these legacy businesses will be given a small grant ($4.50 per square foot) if they provide the business with a 10-year lease. (Aw! Isn’t that nice.)

The City Controller says this measure will cost the city about $3.7 million in the current fiscal year if fully funded. And the cost to the city could increase every year, reaching somewhere between $51 million and $94 million annually within 25 years. (Yikes! That’s a lot of money.) However – and this is critical – the actual costs of this proposition will depend on the number of businesses added to the “legacy list” and the budget approved each year by the Mayor and Board of Supervisors. Prop J would not legally require any amount of the annual budget to go towards the fund.

So…it’s really a symbolic gesture. But it could be a useful tool that city leaders can use to give a hand to neighborhood businesses that are contributors to the essential character of this fine city. Since it doesn’t actually commit the funds, I say, why not? Let’s give it a shot and let the Board and the Mayor duke it out later over how much money they are willing to put into it.

Prop K: Affordable Housing on City’s Surplus Property – YES!

By now you are sick of hearing about the city’s housing crisis. But hey! This is the last measure on the ballot, and it’s about housing. And it’s a good one.

Yep.

Don’t click on this image so that you can see the detail. Don’t do it.

 

One of the main reasons why it’s so hard to build affordable housing in the city is because the underlying land costs are so high that these projects just don’t pencil out for private developers. So! Enter Prop K, which attacks the shortage of affordable housing in the city by encouraging the development of below-market-rate units on surplus property already owned by the city. That’s right, it doesn’t matter how much the underlying property is worth, because the city already owns it and can do whatever it wants with it, like handing it over to affordable housing developers to build units that non-millionaires can afford.

Specifically, Prop K prioritizes the use of all surplus property to build housing for a range of households from those who are homeless or who make less than $51,000 per year (55% of area median income), to those with incomes up to $112,000 per year (120% of area median income). For projects of more than 200 units, some housing would be available for households earning up to $140,000 per year (150% of area median income). Everyone agrees that the city needs more housing for regular people and working class folks. And I do mean everyone, including both the Examiner and the Chronicle. The only people who oppose this measure are Chicken John and the people who hate taxes generally. Yes on K!