Money for Jackson Park, a New Street Cleaning Department, Non-Citizen Commission Eligibility on Ballot

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Measure A, the “2020 Health and Recovery General Obligation Bond”, would dedicate $487.5 million of borrowed money to provide health care services to those without homes, renovate parks, and improve streets.  

According to the San Francisco Department of Elections, $207 million would be invested “…in facilities that provide treatment and permanent supportive housing for people experiencing mental health challenges, substance use disorder, and/or homelessness”.  Two hundred and thirty-nine million dollars would be used to “build and improve safe and accessible parks, recreation facilities, and open spaces throughout the City with shovel-ready projects and programs”.  Forty-one and a half million dollars would be spent on “…shovel-ready public infrastructure projects including street resurfacing and the construction and maintenance of curb ramps, street structures, and the pedestrian right of way.”

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors (BoS) unanimously supports Measure A, as does Mayor London Breed.

According to District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton the measure would address urgent needs. “We have so many issues and concerns in these areas. Putting it all into one bond allows us to make an impact.  For one, with this bond we can connect our unhoused populations to services, as well as create jobs and put people to work.” said Walton.

“Measure A is broad ranging to address many ongoing crisis issues that have been further exacerbated by COVID-19,” said Katherine Doumani, president of the Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, which endorses Measure A  “A will also infuse money into the local weakened economy and create jobs.  It will also increase property taxes.”

Measure A critic Starchild, San Francisco Libertarian Party chair, said that Measure A is too costly.  “It’s a tremendously inefficient way to spend money.” said Starchild.  “When you combine the costs of servicing the bonds, the interest paid to investors who buy them, and all the costs of administering the program it ends up being about double the original cost.” 

According to the San Francisco Office of the Controller, the bond’s total cost would be $960 million. To finance that amount property taxes would be $10.66 per $100,000 of assessed valuation greater from 2021 to 2053.  “The highest estimated annual property tax cost for these bonds for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $600,000 would be approximately $83.13” said Controller Ben Rosenfield.  

“Government spending is recognized as being highly wasteful and inefficient.  There isn’t a lot of accountability.  This leads to a blank check to politicians because of corruption.” said Starchild.  

“There is always financial accountability,” Supervisor Walton responded. “That’s why there is a Controller.  Their job is to make sure that we use resources to what they’re intended for, and that’s the job of the BoS too. You will be able to see the work happening, and the outcomes from what the bond does.  There will be road repair, beautification, connections to services to get people off streets. There are so many ways to hold us accountable.”  

Under the measure, $29 million would be used to expand and improve open space at 900 Innes Avenue, located between India Basin Open Space and India Basin Shoreline Park, south of Heron’s Head Park. According to Measure A promotional materials, by linking the two parks with an improved 900 Innes Avenue “the India Basin project will create a 20-acre network of new and/or improved open space. The new park will feature pedestrian and bicycle shoreline access, passive open space, fishing areas, tidal marshes, plazas and event spaces, concession stands, picnic areas, site furnishings and historical and educational displays.”

Measure A would dedicate $10 million to Jackson Park renovations.  “Measure A will turn Jackson Park into the world class park Potrero Hill has been fighting for.” said Walton.  

“Always, but especially during this unprecedented time of the current global pandemic, parks provide a space for people to gather and be with community,” Jude Deckenbach, Friends of Jackson Park executive director. “Our parks and green spaces are essential for our physical fitness and mental health. Completion of the Jackson Park renovation project is contingent upon receiving the $10 million allocated to us in the Health and Recovery bond.   We hope everyone joins us in supporting Measure A on the Nov. 2020 ballot.”  

“Approving Measure A is necessary to ensure that District 10 residents receive the new and improved parks and open spaces needed to support our growing population.” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president.

According to Measure A proponents, $90 million would be used to “stabilize, acquire, construct, expand and/or improve Permanent Supportive Housing units and shelters.” The City currently provides temporary shelter to roughly 3,400 individuals nightly.  One hundred and seven million dollars would be spent to “repair, rebuild, acquire, construct, stabilize and improve public facilities that deliver services, treatment and/or residential care for people requiring mental health and substance use services.” The San Francisco Department of Public Health offers health services to about 30,000 individuals annually, including treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.

Under Measure B resources would be shifted from the Department of Public Works (DPW) to a new Department of Sanitation and Streets (DSS).  The measure’s lead proponent is District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney, who represents the Tenderloin, South-of-Market, Treasure Island, and Civic Center.  

“Anybody who steps on our streets, particularly in Downtown San Francisco or the Tenderloin, can see that DPW isn’t doing its job.” said Haney. “Nearly all other major American cities have a DSS and do a much better job of keeping their streets clean.  A city as wealthy as San Francisco should not be the laughing-stock of major cities because of the condition of our streets.” 

Measure B proponents promise a data-driven cleaning model, sanitary and safe public toilets, more public trash cans, and in the wake of the former head of DPW Mohammed Nuru’s corruption scandal, accountability and oversight.

“Measure B creates a department head that is accountable, a commission that sets baseline standards for cleanliness and services, and a responsibility to root out corruption and waste.  Measure B creates oversight, tracks data, and would approve contracts publicly.  None of that is happening now.” said Haney. “Ninety percent of DPW functions are not related to street cleaning. The director is responsible for infrastructure, zoning, and planning, and the current head of DPW doesn’t have any experience with street cleaning.  The DSS would hire a director with a background in street cleaning and sanitation.” 

“The City Charter has a very clean and simple allocation of responsibilities to the DPW and it provides a kind of isolation from the politics of the BoS,” countered Republican Party Central Committee member Larry Marso. “Measure B removes authority from the City Administrator, converts DPW and DSS into a whole different type of government with new commissions, and more importantly gives the BoS more power over the spending than they do today. This is a blank check that grants the BoS power to take money previously allocated to DPW to any other city department.  Look at the paid endorsements.  Every union imaginable endorses Measure B, and this allows the BOS to agency shop and offer raises to unions in a year when many of the supervisors are up for re-election.” 

Marso has filed a complaint with the Department of Elections, claiming that Haney has made false claims related to the measure.  “That Matt Haney says DSS will set new clean street standards is misleading.  He is making representations that are not in Measure B.  It does not have a data driven cleaning model, or clean and safe public toilets written into the City Charter.” said Marso.  

“The responsibilities of a commission are already outlined in our City Charter,” responded Haney. “They include approving contracts, an overseeing director, and setting policies. The commission that oversees the department will be required to set baseline standards.  This is more explicit than our City has ever been. If I could legislate every sidewalk to be spotless, I would.  Instead, we create the most responsible and accountable structure of government we can.  I don’t think I believe Larry Marso believes in government at all.  In addition, amendments to the charter will include public restrooms, as well as the cleaning of public sidewalks.  Currently, when DPW is confronted about our dirty sidewalks, they say ‘it’s not our responsibility.’ That needs to end”.   

Marso believes the underlying problem lies with District Attorney Chesa Boudin, who he claims refuses to enforce quality of life laws, related to littering, public urination/defecation, vagrancy, and vandalism.  

“Chesa spins it as laws that criminalize homelessness, but there is widespread criticism from across the political spectrum about the non-enforcement of crimes that are contributing to the poor conditions on the streets in San Francisco.  Boudin is deciding not to enforce San Francisco law.” said Marso.

Marso drafted legislation to address homelessness in San Francisco but was unable to gather enough signatures to put it on the ballot.   “Homeless policy is not simple.  I have myself authored a specific plan to reform and fix our broken navigation center system.  I am not someone who says putting homeless in county jail is a solution.” said Marso. “When there are open air drug markets in the Tenderloin, the homeless are the victims of this kind of street crime.  When someone experiencing homelessness can’t walk down the street without stepping on broken glass, that’s a quality of life issue for the homeless.” 

“Our streets were filthy before Chesa Boudin got into office.” said Haney.  “I think they were worse a year ago more than they are today.  I don’t think Boudin is the cause of our filthy streets, and I don’t think we can incarcerate our way to clean streets.  The way to get clean streets is to have a plan, be accountable, have public oversight, and be strategic.  Plenty of our other cities are able to maintain streets and sidewalks without having to arrest people for not throwing away their candy wrappers.”

Controller Ben Rosenfield estimates that beginning in fiscal year 2022 the measure would prompt a $2.5 to $6 million increase in government spending.  Proposition B would move 835 of 1,711 full-time equivalent DPW employees to the Sanitation and Streets Department.  “The amendment would also create two new five-member commissions: one to oversee the existing Department of Public Works and one to oversee the new Sanitation and Streets Department. Costs would include commission secretary, commissioner compensation, and costs such as preparing public materials.” said Rosenfield.  

Haney claims these costs pale in comparison to the money San Francisco loses each year from missed revenue from conventions and tourists that skip the City because of street conditions.  

Measure C, authored by Supervisor Walton and unanimously supported by the BoS, would allow any San Franciscan to serve on local government boards, commissions, and advisory bodies regardless of citizenship status.  The measure would change the City Charter to drop citizenship and voting requirements for these positions and only mandate that individuals be San Francisco residents of legal voting age.  

“It’s highly inequitable that we have folks that live in our City that can’t serve on commissions or committees.” said Walton.  “They help drive our economies, work, pay rent and mortgages, have children in schools, are an important part of the diversity of our city, and the law now is inequitable, alienating, and just wrong.  This is a commonsense opportunity to let people who are part of our democracy to participate in government.  Folks should be able to represent the communities they serve, come from, work, and live in.”

The measure is opposed by John Dennis, San Francisco Republican Party chair.  Dennis didn’t respond to an interview request. His paid argument against Measure C stated, “We would not be submitting this argument to oppose the measure if the authors had simply crafted the proposition to include both citizens and other legal residents. Instead, this measure also includes non-legal residents.  We still believe the best way for immigrants to take advantage of the full benefits of our nation is to acquire U.S. citizenship.” 

Controller Rosenfield found that the measure would have a minimal cost impact.

Measure C is endorsed by the San Francisco Libertarian Party, San Francisco Democratic Party, United Educators of San Francisco, San Francisco Latino Democratic Club, San Francisco Women Leaders, and Dogpatch Neighborhood Association, among others.