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Ballot props address SF taxes, Tasers, tobacco

by Alex Madison

Supervisor Jeff Sheehy is a Prop D proponent. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Supervisor Jeff Sheehy is a Prop D proponent. Photo: Rick Gerharter  

San Francisco voters have a lot to contemplate June 5 at the ballot box when it comes to their tax money. Dueling tax initiatives to fund either affordable housing and homeless services or subsidized child care, increased bridge tolls, and a parcel tax for the San Francisco Unified School District are among the proposed tax measures.

A policy on the use of Tasers by police and a ban on flavored tobacco products are also on the ballot, which includes six public initiatives, two charter amendments, and one regional proposition and a measure submitted by city supervisors.

Although not as full of a load as previous years, the measures are not short of controversy and political differences.

Perhaps the most contentious of the measures are Proposition D, the "Housing for All" initiative, and Proposition C, "Universal Childcare for San Francisco Families Initiative." Both depend on money from raising the gross receipts tax, meaning only one can take effect if both pass.

Each measure would tax commercial landlords, those with more than $1 million in gross receipts. Currently, commercial landlords generally pay a rate between 0.285 percent and 0.3 percent of gross receipts. Each ballot measure tax is in addition to the existing gross receipts tax.

Prop D would implement a 1.7 percent tax on commercial landlords, generating approximately $70 million annually to fund low and middle-income housing and homeless services.

The 10-year funding plan would dedicate $450 million specifically for resources to lessen homelessness, including navigation centers, transitional housing, supplemental housing, and programs and wrap-around services for mental illness and substance abuse.

Another $350 million is dedicated to middle-income housing, mainly subsidized housing.

The remaining $200 million will fund low-income senior housing and more single-room-occupancy housing.

Proponents of the initiative are the more moderate wing of the Board of Supervisors, including author Ahsha Safai, Katy Tang, Malia Cohen, and Jeff Sheehy.

Sheehy, the board's lone out member who is facing his own election in June against gay City College trustee Rafael Mandelman, said the city is "going in the wrong direction" and that housing and homelessness is a "crisis."

"We need specific funding for homeless," Sheehy said in an editorial board meeting with the Bay Area Reporter. "Only 7 percent of funding is dedicated to homelessness, although 20 percent of the population is homeless."

Mandelman supports both C and D, but thinks its ridiculous they're both on the ballot.
Sheehy also noted the importance of creating housing for all income levels because of the rapid rise in middle-income people leaving San Francisco.

"We have a crisis retaining and recruiting middle-income workers," Sheehy said. "We need to create housing so the workforce can live in the city."

Other supporters of the measure include Mayor Mark Farrell and board President and mayoral candidate London Breed.

Randy Quezada, communications and community relations manager at the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, which would receive Prop D money if it passes, said funding for permanent housing is the biggest need. People utilizing mental health and substance abuse programs or those who stay in temporary shelters will still need permanent housing, Quezada said.

"The thing about more supportive permanent housing is that it's permanent," Quezada said. "After some stabilization and people get better, there is still an ongoing need for affordable housing."

Brian Basinger, executive director for the Q Foundation, which provides housing for people living with HIV/AIDS, does not support Prop D. He said the measure is not effective because it does not dedicate enough funding to homelessness specifically.

"The amount is insufficient to make an impact and the type of impact that voters need," Basinger, a gay man, said.

Basinger said homelessness disproportionally affects the African-American, Latino, and LGBT communities and resources should reflect that. Instead, Basinger is advocating for a measure voters might see on the November ballot that would generate about $340 million annually for homeless services and supportive housing.

The Coalition on Homelessness is behind the measure, which would tax any San Francisco-based company that earns more than $50 million a half a percent.

District 6 Supervisor and mayoral candidate Jane Kim also supports the November initiative to fund homelessness over Prop D. Kim and Supervisor Norman Yee gathered signatures to put Prop C, "Universal Childcare for San Francisco Families Initiative," on the June ballot.

The measure would implement a 3.5 percent tax on commercial landlords generating about $146 million annually to fund child care and education subsidies for children up to 5 years old and increase wages for early educators and other child care workers.

Parents whose income is less than 85 percent of the state median income would be eligible for subsidized child care and education for children five and younger. While parents whose income is less than 200 percent of area median income would be eligible for subsidized child care and education for children three and younger.

The remaining funds would be used to raise the wages of child care workers.

In an editorial board meeting with the B.A.R., Kim touted the importance of early childhood education, expanding the city's quality improvement system for early educators, and increasing wages for child care workers, an industry that is predominately comprised of women of color, immigrants and other minorities.

"This is the first time we have ever provided subsidies to middle-class families who are also struggling in San Francisco," she said. "It is investing in the positivity of our workforce and it's appropriate for employers to invest in their workforce."

The findings in the measure claim, "Three out of four families in San Francisco with children under the age of six have both parents working outside the home," and "early education and childcare can cost a staggering $20,000."

"It's a huge need for parents," Kim said. "It allows people to go back to work and support their families, it also supports our economy."

Currently, the city has more than 2,400 low-income and homeless children on a waitlist for subsidized child care. Kim said with the passage of Prop C, those families would be accommodated.

Other supporters of the bill include former supervisor and mayoral candidate Angela Alioto, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin, and the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee.

When asked why it was important to support Prop D over Prop C, Sheehy replied, "Child care is something to address but housing and homelessness is a crisis."

Other tax propositions include Proposition G, a parcel tax to fund the San Francisco Unified School District. The $298 per parcel tax increase could be used to increase teacher salaries, staffing, technological advances, and fund charter schools.

Supervisor Hillary Ronen is a strong proponent of the measure, saying, "It's time for a living wage for educators and Prop G will get us closer to that goal."

Other supporters include Supervisors Kim, Breed, and former state senator and mayoral candidate Mark Leno.

Supervisor and mayoral candidate Jane Kim worked to get Prop C on the ballot. Photo: Kelly Sullivan  

A public safety measure is on the ballot - Proposition H, a policy for the use of Tasers by San Francisco Police Department officers. Although the San Francisco Police Commission approved the department's use of Tasers last November - and the department is supposed to have them by the end of the year - it did not adopt a policy for their use until last month, after the ballot measure was submitted.

Prop H was developed by the San Francisco Police Officers Association, and has been criticized by Police Chief William Scott. In a letter to the Department of Elections, Scott called the measure "the antithesis of the spirit" of the reforms recommended by the United States Department of Justice after its investigation of the SFPD following several controversial killings by the police.

Scott also criticized how Prop H undermines the commission's control to make amendments or other changes. If passed, any changes to Prop H would need to be approved by voters or by an ordinance adopted by four-fifths vote of the Board of Supervisors.

Breed said she does not support Prop H in an editorial board meeting with the B.A.R.

"I don't support H, but I do support Tasers," she said. "What I am taking issue with is bringing a policy matter that may need changes to the ballot box."

Other opponents include Brothers Against Guns, Cohen, and Leno, who said he agrees with Scott. "It usurps the power and purpose of the power of our police commission. That's not how we should be making decisions at the ballot," said Leno.

Farrell formerly supported the measure, but has since pulled the plug on his endorsement saying, "I have always said that I would support a [Taser] policy that works best for the community and for our officers, and the plan approved by the Police Commission does exactly that."

Prop E would prohibit retailers from selling flavored tobacco products. Photo: Wikipedia  

A new fight against tobacco is Proposition E, a referendum put on the ballot by tobacco companies after legislation by Cohen was approved that bans the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes.

A yes vote on Prop E would uphold local law while a no on Prop E would rescind it.

Cohen said the purpose of her legislation is to "restrict sales to reduce consumption." She said big tobacco companies intentionally target vulnerable communities who are more susceptible to addiction, particularly youth, LGBTs, and African-Americans.

"They intentionally mask tobacco products as gum and candy to foster a lifelong addiction," she said.

Opponents include R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, the owner of the popular menthol cigarette brand Newport. It claims the ban is harmful to small business owners who sell tobacco products and calls it prohibition.

The company has spent more than $700,000 to repeal the ban, efforts led by a group called Let's Be Real San Francisco, which is backed by the Arab American Grocers Association and the American Vaping Association.

"We support San Francisco's long-standing spirit of not restricting choices or telling responsible adults what they can and cannot do," said Let's Be Real San Francisco in a news release.

Miriam Zouzounis, a board member with the Arab American Grocers Association and a member of the San Francisco Small Business Commission, called the ban "draconian," and said it would "gut small business" and "create an underground economy for these products" that would increase sales to minors.

Cohen said the argument that the ban harms small businesses is "ridiculous."

Next week the B.A.R. will look at the other propositions on the San Francisco ballot.


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