Editorial: B.A.R. recommendations for SF props

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday February 14, 2024
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San Francisco voters will decide on a number of important local ballot measures.
San Francisco voters will decide on a number of important local ballot measures.

San Francisco voters will determine a number of important issues on the March 5 ballot. These include an affordable housing bond, public safety measures, encouraging conversion of office space to housing, and changes to local ethics laws. Below are our recommendations.

Proposition A: Affordable Housing Bonds. YES. With the city's ongoing housing crisis, this is a no-brainer. This was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors and is supported by Mayor London Breed. It would allow the city to borrow up to $300 million by issuing general obligation bonds. The city would use up to $240 million to construct, develop, acquire, or rehabilitate new rental housing, including senior housing and workforce housing, for extremely low-income, very-low income, and lower-income households. Another $30 million would be spent for moderate-income housing, and $30 million for housing for those experiencing street violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, or other trauma relating to homelessness.

Mercy Housing is one of the supporters of Prop A. It's been involved with the construction of affordable senior housing for seniors, including LGBTQ seniors, through its relationship with Openhouse, the LGBTQ senior agency. Other housing-focused nonprofits are also on board because they realize that the need is great for affordable housing in San Francisco.

According to the ballot simplification committee's analysis, city policy is to issue new bonds only as old ones are paid off. Proponents stated in the ballot guide that Prop A will not increase property taxes.

Prop A requires 66.66% affirmative votes to pass.

Vote YES on Prop A.

Proposition B would mandate staffing levels for the San Francisco Police Department, but no funding is included. Photo: John Ferrannini  

Proposition B: Police Officer Staffing Levels Conditioned on Amending Existing or Future Tax Funding. NO. Gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey originally conceived of this charter amendment as a five-year plan to fully staff the San Francisco Police Department. However, he pulled his support after the plan was drastically changed by District 11 Supervisor and mayoral candidate Ahsha Safaí, who added what Dorsey called a "poison pill" that renders it ineffective. So even if voters approve Prop B, it's meaningless without the necessary funding to actually hire more police officers.

Voters should not be fooled into thinking that if Prop B passes the city will be able to recruit more officers, because the funding to pay them is not included.

The San Francisco Police Department is understaffed to the tune of about 400 officers. Dorsey's original plan would have called for $30 million in the city's budget to be set aside for officer recruitment. But Safaí's amendment got rid of that and instead makes the funding reliant on new or modified taxes, which are not part of Prop B.

In his ballot argument against Prop B, Dorsey stated, "San Francisco is a $14.6 billion enterprise. We can afford a fully staffed police department." He maintains a fully staffed SFPD should be a baseline for residents with the taxes they already pay, not an add-on with a new or modified tax.

Prop B requires 50%+1 affirmative votes to pass.

Vote NO on Prop B.

Proposition C: Real Estate Transfer Tax Exemption and Office Space Allocation. YES. Under this ordinance, the first time a property is transferred after being converted from commercial to residential use, it would be exempt from the transfer tax as long as the property owner receives permission to convert the property before January 1, 2030. Currently, the city collects a real estate transfer tax (a 6% tax rate on transactions over $25 million) on most sales and the money goes into the general fund.

Mayor Breed is the main proponent of Prop C and stated in the voter guide that the exemption would remove a barrier to converting commercial space into residential housing. This process is already cumbersome and expensive; the mayor argues that revitalization of downtown San Francisco in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic is beginning to take off. Prop C is an important next step in the city's multi-prong approach, she explained.

The increase in housing stock through such conversions would also help with the city's housing crisis and go toward the state-mandated requirement to build thousands of units in the next several years.

Prop C requires 50%+1 affirmative votes to pass.

Vote YES on Prop C.

Proposition D: Changes to Local Ethics Laws. YES.This ordinance would tighten city ethics laws, which is sorely needed following the 2020 City Hall corruption scandal that is still seeing people punished for taking bribes and other wrongdoing. Prop D was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the ethics commission in response to the scandals. According to the proponents' statement in the voter guide, it would clarify existing rules that prohibit city officials from accepting gifts from those attempting to influence them and those doing business with city departments. It would provide standardized rules for all city officials prohibiting outside activities that conflict with their city duties. It would allow a city official to be penalized for failing to disclose, as required by law, any personal, business, or professional relationships they have with anyone who is subject to a government decision being made by the official.

Prop D would also safeguard ethics laws by amending chapters of the Campaign and Government Conduct Code to require future legislative amendments be approved by supermajorities of both the ethics commission and the Board of Supervisors. (The power of voters to amend these chapters would not be affected, the voter guide states.)

This measure is overdue in the wake of the ongoing scandal.

Prop D requires 50%+1 affirmative votes to pass.

Vote YES on Prop D.

Proposition E: Police Department Policies and Procedures. NO. Mayor Breed and Safer San Francisco are championing this ordinance. But as we wrote last fall when Breed proposed it, there are major problems with Prop E, particularly around the desire to change rules regarding police pursuits. The San Francisco Police Department last revised its pursuit policy in 2013 and the goal was to prevent injuries or fatalities while engaged in high-speed chases. The department's policy is to "safely apprehend a fleeing violator without unnecessarily endangering the public and/or officers." As the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California wrote in the voter guide, Prop E endangers pedestrians and others by authorizing high-speed vehicle chases for low-level crimes in one of the densest cities in the country.

Also problematic is the part in Prop E about the police commission. Prop E supporters say that it would prevent the commission from "micromanaging" the police chief, but the commission's role is oversight of the department, including the chief. "To be clear, the police commission with civilian appointees dates back to 1878," we wrote last fall. "Its mission is to set policy for the police department and to conduct disciplinary hearings on charges of police misconduct filed by the chief of police or director of the Department of Police Accountability, impose discipline in such cases as warranted, and hear police officers' appeals from discipline imposed by the chief of police. By and large, we believe the body does a good job even in these challenging times. Passing a ballot measure is micromanaging, in our opinion, and not in the best interest of the city or SFPD."

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is also against Prop E. It states that the measure would roll back crucial oversight of police use of surveillance technology. It would allow police to deploy any surveillance technology for a full year without accountability or transparency and without examining impacts on civil rights. It would erode the city's 2019 Surveillance Technology Ordinance, which requires city agencies, including SFPD, to seek approval from the Board of Supervisors before acquiring or deploying new surveillance technology. That's an important layer of oversight.

Prop E requires 50%+1 affirmative votes to pass.

Vote NO on Prop E.

Proposition F: Illegal Substance Dependence Screening and Treatment for Recipients of City Public Assistance. NO. This ordinance backed by Mayor Breed and Supervisor Dorsey would be ineffective and is just mean-spirited. It states that in order to receive assistance through the County Adult Assistance Program, or CAAP, single adults aged 65 and under with no dependent children must be screened for substance use disorder if the city reasonably suspects the person to be dependent on illegal drugs. CAAP recipients could stop receiving benefits if they refuse to participate in a required screening. Prop F does state such individuals would continue to receive housing assistance for at least 30 days.

As Roma Guy, a lesbian and former city health commissioner, and her partner, retired registered nurse Diane Jones, write in the ballot statement opposing Prop F, the measure would do nothing to help with the homelessness problems because it would take away the basic services and support systems that keep those in greatest need off the streets.

Crucially, Prop F goes against accepted best practices for treating substance use disorder and addressing homelessness. It will take away vital assistance and employment services from those who most need them — low-income San Franciscans, they added.

Developing stable and safe housing programs for those with substance use disorder should be the priority of city officials; Guy and Jones note that the city isn't even following its own 2022 Overdose Prevention Plan.

Dorsey, who's a recovering addict himself, should realize that requiring people to be screened for drug use in order to receive city assistance is not a winning policy. It is more likely to prevent people from seeking treatment and increase homelessness. San Francisco is a compassionate city; it's shameful that Prop F is even on the ballot.

Prop F requires 50%+1 affirmative votes to pass.

Vote NO on Prop F.

Proposition G would recommend that the San Francisco Unified School District offer Algebra I to eighth graders.  

Proposition G: Offering Algebra I to Eighth Graders. YES. As a declaration of policy placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, it isn't binding on the San Francisco Unified School District. We weren't going to support Prop G because, in general, we don't think the supervisors should be telling the elected school board what to do. But then the school district offered its own options for allowing eighth graders to take Algebra I, and we were not impressed. Those include offering it along with eighth-grade math, allowing it as an elective before or during school, or taking it during the summer. (The latter two would incur significant costs in staff, which the district can ill afford.) The school district should just offer Algebra I to eighth graders during regular school hours, period.

Gay District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio is the main proponent behind Prop G. In the voter guide, Engardio noted that the school district moved Algebra I to high school in the hope of making math outcomes more equitable. But this has not happened. "It held the kids back who love math without providing additional help to the kids who were falling behind," he wrote.

It's hard enough to get most kids to study math; those who like it should have all avenues open to them so that they can succeed.

Prop G requires 50%+1 affirmative votes to pass.

Vote YES on Prop G.

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