By the time you read this, it will most likely be November 3, 2015, which just so happens to mark San Francisco’s 2015 city election. If you’re a SF resident and registered voter, you should most definitely vote! There are many reasons why, but here are a couple of the most important reasons to vote:
- Exercise your right as an American! It sounds cliché but this civic duty is too often taken for granted and underutilized
- Local elections impact your every day lives the most, more so than some of the larger elections that may take years for changes to happen
Too often I hear folks complaining about the less attractive aspects of living in San Francisco. People shouldn’t be entitled to complain about the state of San Francisco if they don’t go out and do something about it. Voting is that first step, and even then it’s just the beginning.
So enough soapboxing for now. I compiled a quick guide to the local measures on the San Francisco ballot this year. If you’ve already decided on who or what to vote for, it’s not my goal to change your mind. It’s my hope that this guide will provide a starting point to getting informed about the different propositions and encourage more folks to vote who otherwise wouldn’t have.
Don’t take my advice as expert opinion – I’m a regular guy who lives in San Francisco and cares about the state of the city. In compiling this mini guide I referred to the Voter Information Pamphlet and several voter guides from San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR) and San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters.
I’m a big fan of SPUR because they emphasize focusing on outcomes, not ideology. Their content is well researched, fairly presented, and thoughtfully compiled. I’d say they are slightly left of center. I referred to San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters as the far-left litmus test, written in an easy-to-understand, brash, and funny manner. I’d highly recommend reading through the actual guides, as well as the Voter Information Pamphlet, if you have the time!
Prop A – Affordable Housing Bond
What Is It?
- Authorizes city to issue $310 million in bonds for affordable housing
- Builds low-income and moderate-income housing; repairs old public housing
- Creates middle-income rental housing program
- Renews existing program that helps teachers with their first home purchase
- Doesn’t negatively impact other planned capital projects or increase the tax rate
This one was pretty easy for me to decide on. With affordable housing (and housing in general) a huge issue for the city in recent years, this bond will be a small step in the right direction. It’s also a compromise bond that’s backed by most of the groups and politicians in the city. As you’ll see with some of the other props, housing is a huge issue in this year’s election. This was a pretty effortless Yes.
Prop B – Paid Parental Leave for City Employees
What Is It?
- Today, city employees get 12 weeks of paid parental leave if they have a new child, but if both parents are city employees they have to split the paid leave between them
- Allows both city employees in this case to get 12 weeks each of paid parental leave (would affect ~8 couples currently)
- New parents would also be able to retain accrued sick leave that would’ve otherwise been wiped out when taking paid parental leave
From a logical perspective, 1+1 = 2, so why is it that when both parents work for the city they’re penalized for it? From a tax perspective, this would add to the local tax burden, but not by much since it affects a minority of city employees (unless suddenly every couple started applying to city jobs). I think this sets a solid example for strong parental leave policies that others can follow and is consistent with San Francisco’s progressive history. A Yes for this one as well.
Prop C – Expenditure Lobbyists
What Is It?
- Imposes registration and reporting requirements for expenditure lobbyists (organizations or businesses that spend money to get people to contact city officials)
- Only goes into effect for groups that spend $2,500 or more a month
- These groups would pay an annual registration fee and file monthly reports with the Ethics Commission
I’m a proponent for transparent and accountable lobbying, and I think this prop would help move lobbying in the right direction. While direct lobbying is regulated, indirect lobbying (expenditure lobbying) is not. As a result, you have instances where a company such as PG&E spent $5,000 in direct lobbying and $65,792 in expenditure lobbying. The potential downside is that this would also affect non-profits, but their registration fee is waived. I’d go with Yes because the positives outweigh the negatives.
Prop D – Mission Rock
What Is It?
- Approves a change in building height limits to build a new mixed-use development south of AT&T Park
- Includes up to 1,950 residential units, most of which would be rentals and at least 40% would be affordable housing
- Also includes 8 acres of parks and open spaces, the preservation of Pier 48, space for restaurants and small businesses, and 3,100 parking spaces
Another easy decision. With housing in short supply, and affordable housing in even shorter supply, Mission Rock would be a huge win. And the best part is that it adds more housing in an underutilized area of the city while creating 13,500 construction jobs and 11,000 permanent jobs. Did I mention the 40% affordable housing commitment and $25 million per year in revenue Mission Rock would generate for the city? A resounding Yes.
Prop E – Requirements for Public Meetings
What Is It?
- A university professor developed this prop with his class
- Requires all policy bodies in the City and County of SF to stream all meetings live online
- Allows the public to remotely or virtually comment during meetings
- Creates an online petition process for creating certain agenda items
It’s commendable to make government more accessible, but with a really small timeframe and no funding source, this prop can’t be realistically implemented. Add in the significant costs this would incur over time and the fact that trolls could easily hijack the comments thread, it’s clear to many folks that this is a No.
Prop F – Short-Term Residential Rentals
What Is It?
- Revises existing city regulations on short-term residential rentals (aka Airbnb & VRBO)
- Reduces total days an SF resident could rent space in a home on a short-term basis
- Prohibits accessory dwelling units from being used as short-term rentals
- Requires hosting platforms to enforce registration on listings
- Gives neighbors and organizations the ability to sue residents for hosting short-term rentals even if not against the law
This is perhaps one of the hottest issues of this year’s election, and I’ve spent a considerable amount of time looking at the details. Here’s the bottom line – there are already regulations in place, the first from 2014 and the most recent from July of this year. It’s only been a few months since the most recent one, which I think is a fair set of regulations that prohibit renting out Ellis Act-units, require notifications & reporting, and cap maximum host-not-present rentals. The new set of regulations seem unreasonably restrictive in my view. I’m going with No.
Prop G – Disclosures Requiring Renewable Energy
What Is It?
- A union representing PG&E workers targeted a city competitor, CleanPowerSF, by adding restrictions that only affect CleanPowerSF
- The union pulled their support and now support Prop H
- This was a waste of time
The original supporters of this prop no longer support it, and along with many others support Prop H instead. So this prop is all but dead and an easy No.
Prop H – Defining Clean, Green, and Renewable Energy
What Is It?
- Removes any unfair restrictions on CleanPowerSF and standardizes clean energy terms that can be used to describe energy mixes
- Allows customers to fairly compare energy mixes offered by PG&E and CleanPowerSF
- Will cancel out Prop G if it receives more votes
An easy Yes that even the original opponent now supports. It’s fair and no longer shady. It allows healthy competition and benefits consumers with more choice.
Prop I – Suspension of Market-Rate Development in the Mission District
What Is It?
- Institutes an 18-month suspension of development in the Mission District except for projects that are 100% affordable housing
- Requires city departments to develop a Neighborhood Stabilization Plan that includes an affordable housing development strategy and protection of small businesses
Another hot-button issue, housing in the Mission has reached the boiling point as gentrification continues to rapidly transform the district. I understand why many people are pushing for a complete halt to any development in the area, but I think it will actually hurt more than it would help. At best this would delay market-rate development and at worst this would halt current market-rate development that include affordable housing. This prop would also undo a decade’s work put into the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which the city and local community put together.
Prop J – Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund
What Is It?
- Provides public subsidy to long-standing businesses and to landlords that extend 10-year leases for these businesses
- Protects legacy businesses in San Francisco that may have otherwise gone out of business or been forced to move to less expensive places
- Eligible businesses must have been operating 20-30 years and significantly contributed to the history and identity of a neighborhood or community
At first glance this prop seemed very promising, but after reading SPUR’s take I was convinced otherwise. Similar subsidies in the past caused landlords to raise rents since they knew exactly how much in subsidies a business was receiving. In addition, a local politician has to nominate a business in order for it to be considered for the subsidy, which could lead to political abuse. And while there is a cap on annual entries at 300, there is no cap on total program expenditures. More and more businesses would receive the subsidies every year. Add in inflation and costs could rise indefinitely. I agree with the spirit of the prop, but I’m going with No because of the more practical reasons I mentioned above.
Prop K – Surplus Public Lands
What Is It?
- Increases priority to build affordable housing on publicly-owned land
- Expands annual process for identifying surplus property with reporting dates and public hearings
- Also expands affordable housing to include housing for moderate-income households in addition to low-income households and the homeless
This is another creative way to fund affordable housing by making use of space that otherwise wasn’t being utilized. And while affordable housing would become the priority for surplus public land, there’s also some flexibility built in that allows city officials to make exceptions on certain projects if they have a public purpose (e.g. health care, child care, education, transit, etc.). This is a Yes that helps address the housing issue in the city.