S.F. Examiner endorsements for November ballot measures

San Francisco voters have a multitude of issues to consider on the November 2020 ballot. (Shutterstock photo)

Here are our recommendations on issues from taxes to policing to sanitation

  • Oct. 14, 2020 7:30 p.m. (SFExaminer.com)
  • OPINION

Proposition A: Health and Homelessness, Parks and Streets Bond

YES

Prop. A is a bond measure that will generate $487.5 million to help pay for mental health and homelessness services, parks and open space projects and street repairs.

This bond is widely supported by nearly every elected city official and is designed, like other city bonds, not to increase the overall tax burden paid by property owners, who can pass on 50 percent of the cost to tenants. We support this measure as a way to finance some of The City’s most urgently needed projects and services.

Proposition B: Department of Sanitation and Streets, Sanitation and Streets Commission, and Public Works Commission

YES

This measure, introduced by Supervisor Matt Haney, is intended to increase accountability and transparency for the Department of Public Works and clean up city streets.

It would create a new Department of Sanitation and Streets to take over street cleaning services currently overseen by Public Works, and also create new oversight commissions for both departments.

The measure would cost The City an additional $2.5-$6 million in annual spending beginning in fiscal year 2022-23.

While we initially hesitated over the price tag and the creation of yet another city department and commission, the reality is that the current setup is not working. San Francisco’s filthy streets are a national joke; creating a department that will actually focus on the problem may be what’s needed to solve it.

The recent corruption scandal involving former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru has also highlighted the need for greater oversight for an oversized department that has long done largely as it pleases. We think Prop. B is a solution worth trying.

Proposition C: Removing Citizenship Requirements for Members of City Bodies

YES

This charter amendment, introduced by Supervisor Shamann Walton, would remove a voter registration requirement that currently bars anyone without U.S. citizenship from acting on city commissions and government advisory bodies.

At least one-third of San Francisco’s residents are people born in another country and a recent estimates suggest more than 30,000 residents are undocumented. In addition, as proponents have noted, the number of people of color serving on The City’s advisory bodies has declined steadily since 2015.

This measure is an important step toward ensuring our government advisory bodies reflect the diversity of our city and represent all residents.

Proposition D: Sheriff Oversight

YES

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which is run by an independent elected official, receives less scrutiny than the Police Department, which is overseen by the Police Commission.

Spurred by allegations of abuse in County Jail, Proposition D aims to change that.

The measure, introduced by Supervisor Shamann Walton, would create an Office of Inspector General to independently investigate complaints against deputies as well as in-custody deaths — incidents which are currently investigated by the sheriff’s own Internal Affairs department.

The office would make policy recommendations and report publicly to a seven-member sheriff’s Oversight Board, although the elected sheriff will still retain the authority to make final decisions on discipline under California law.

Sheriff Paul Miyamoto has made laudable steps toward reform, including an agreement to have the Department of Police Accountability investigate complaints against his deputies and create an advisory board. But Prop. D would create an independent body and agency and enshrine them both in city law to ensure those reforms are maintained by future sheriffs.

For this reason, we are recommending a yes vote.

Proposition E: Police Staffing

YES

This measure, introduced by Supervisor Norman Yee, would eliminate the mandate in the City Charter that the Police Department have at least 1,971 sworn officers. The measure would instead create a data-driven process for San Francisco to determine how many cops are needed on the streets with input from the Police Commission.

Voters placed the 1,971 minimum staffing level figure in the charter in 1994, but San Francisco has rarely ever met it. The figure was not based on need at the time, but on the number of positions authorized through local and federal funding.

It is time to remove this arbitrary number from the City Charter — as well as the absurd requirement for voters to approve changes to it — and allow city officials to set staffing numbers based on real data and policy decisions.

Proposition F: Business Tax Overhaul

YES

Prop. F would adjust the gross receipts tax rates on business and eliminate what remains of the payroll tax, which The City has been working to phase out for some time. It would also help smaller businesses by reducing registration fees for those with less than $1 million in gross receipts and exempting businesses with less than $2 million in gross receipts from the gross receipts tax.

While complicated, Prop. F — a consensus measure with broad support from elected officials and the business community — would generate new revenue for The City in the coming years while still giving a break to smaller businesses and shifting more of the tax burden on to larger businesses.

Proposition G: Youth Voting in Local Elections

YES

Prop. G, introduced by Supervisor Norman Yee, would give 16- and 17-year-olds a vote in future municipal elections. A similar proposal lost by a slight margin in 2016.

Opponents argue that youth may be susceptible to bias and don’t have enough “worldly experiences” to vote. But you could apply those same arguments to a lot of adult voters.

Many 16- and 17-year-olds are civically educated and engaged, leading social movements, working and even paying taxes. They should be allowed to vote on the issues that will inevitably impact them.

In addition, a charter amendment allowing youth to vote may foster better voting patterns, and increase turnout among younger voters.

Proposition H: Neighborhood Commercial Districts and City Permitting

YES

San Francisco had a retail vacancy problem even before our current pandemic, and many small business proponents have argued that The City’s lengthy, costly permitting process is a key factor. Placed on the ballot by Mayor London Breed, Prop. H is intended to greatly streamline and reduce the time it takes for a small business to get permits, requiring city departments to coordinate and complete all necessary reviews within 30 days in most cases.

If it stopped there, Prop. H. would probably not be controversial, but it does much more than that.

The measure would also allow restaurants and cafes to offer workspace in back rooms, expand the types of businesses allowed to occupy retail spaces, permit more temporary and “pop-up” uses, allow restaurants to use parklets for food service and expand the definitions of certain types of businesses, among other changes. In short, it grants an unprecedented amount of flexibility to businesses and in some cases upends years of neighborhood zoning and regulations.

We approached this measure with some trepidation. A complicated piece of legislation with many moving parts, it’s difficult to predict all of its impacts.

But the reality is that many of The City’s retailers and restaurants are in dire straits and desperate for help. In the same spirit as the Shared Spaces program, which allows merchants and restaurants to use city parking spaces and sidewalks during the pandemic, Prop. H promises flexibility and room for innovation to businesses struggling to survive.

It also includes a provision allowing it to be struck down or amended in three years by a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors. While we expect there may be revisions and unexpected consequences that will require mitigation, overall this is an experiment we are willing to try.

Proposition I: Real Estate Transfer Tax

YES

Prop. I, introduced by Supervisor Dean Preston, would raise the transfer tax on sales of property worth $10 million or more. A controller’s report found that if it had been applied to property sales from recent years it would have generated anywhere from $13 million to $346 million, averaging around $196 million annually.

The money generated will go into the general fund, but the Board of Supervisors has already approved a resolution calling for the funds to be used toward emergency rent relief and permanent affordable housing — critical needs in a pricey city like San Francisco.

This measure is unlikely to have a negative impact on anyone other than a small group of business and real estate interests engaged in buying and selling large properties— which is why those groups are pouring money into a campaign against it.

The help for renters and housing is badly needed; we recommend a yes vote.

Proposition J: Parcel Tax for San Francisco Unified School District

YES

In 2018, San Francisco voters approved a tax measure intended to fund teacher salary increases in the San Francisco Unified School District in order to help address ongoing problems with teacher hiring and retention. The City has been collecting this money but is unable to release it because the measure itself is tied up in a court fight over whether it can legally be approved with only a simple majority.

Prop. J, a $288 annual parcel tax, would replace the contested 2018 measure and bring in an estimated $50 million annually to fund the previously approved teacher pay hikes. Unlike the first measure, it requires a two-thirds majority to pass and should not be vulnerable to legal challenge.

SFUSD faces heavy economic challenges in the near future, including the need to finance additional COVID-19 safety precautions when in-person teaching resumes. This measure, which creates a stable funding source to help support teachers and staff, could help the district weather the crisis.

Proposition K: Affordable Housing Authorization

YES

Article 34 in the California state constitution, approved by voters in 1950, requires voter approval before publicly-owned housing can be built in a community.

While there are efforts underway to repeal Article 34, Proposition K meets its requirements by asking voters to approve the construction, acquisition or rehabilitation of up to 10,000 units of permanently affordable housing in San Francisco. Introduced by Supervisor Dean Preston, the measure would also specifically allow the creation of municipal social housing, a European model for public housing that accommodates a range of income levels.

Prop. K does not include any funding or specific projects, but it frees city officials to develop a range of plans for urgently needed affordable housing without running afoul of current state law.

Proposition L: Business Tax Based on Comparison of Top Executives Pay to Employees’ Pay

YES

Introduced by Supervisor Matt Haney, Prop. L would impose a small surcharge on the business tax bill of companies that pay their executives more than 100 times more than their average worker. The exact amount of the tax varies depending on the type of company, but a controller’s report found it could generate anywhere from $60 to $140 million annually.

The biggest concern raised by opponents is that the tax will discourage companies from basing operations in San Francisco. However the amounts involved seem far too small, given the size of most of the companies involved, to have much of an impact. The benefit to city coffers could be significant from this tax, which aims to deal with growing, rampant income inquality.

Measure RR: Caltrain Sales Tax

YES

Measure RR would impose a tax of one-eighth of 1 percent, or 0.125 percent, on retail sales in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to generate a stable source of dedicated funding for Caltrain, which is operated by a joint powers board including representatives from all three counties. It requires a two-thirds majority in each county to pass.

Messy political power struggles between San Francisco and San Mateo counties nearly prevented this urgently needed measure from making it to the ballot, but that should not deter anyone from voting for it. Caltrain provides a vital link between San Francisco and Silicon Valley and helps keep vehicle traffic off the Highway 101 and 280 corridors. Like every transit agency, it has suffered a catastrophic drop in ridership that has sent revenues plummeting; unlike other agencies, however, Caltrain does not have another guaranteed source of funding. It receives 70 percent of its revenue from the farebox and relies for the rest on contributions from its member counties, which have not always been immediately forthcoming.

While concerns have been raised about the use of a regressive sales tax, the amount is small and the need is great. Measure RR will provide Caltrain with some financial stability, help maintain service levels during the pandemic and hopefully also help build them up again as the economy returns.

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