Sheriff Oversight, Police Staffing, Business Taxes, and Commercial Districts on Ballot

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Proposition D, Sheriff Department Oversight and Inspector General 

Proposition D would amend the City Charter to create an independent Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board (SDOB), with an Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG would investigate complaints against the Sheriff’s Department and in-custody deaths and recommend new policies. The SDOB would hire the Inspector General, evaluate the OIC’s work, and advocate for needed operational changes. The Board of Supervisors would appoint four of the seven-member SDOB, including a labor representative. The Mayor would select three members.

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton authored the measure, with unanimous Board of Supervisors’ support. 

Currently, the Sheriff’s Department’s Internal Affairs Investigative Unit examines administrative complaints. The District Attorney’s office scrutinizes criminal charges and would continue to do so if Proposition D passes. 

“With all the issues concerning law enforcement that have been going on for decades, but now are really being highlighted, everyone wanted to be sure we had a process for independent investigation in the Sheriff Department,” Walton said. “Between lawsuits, allegations of assaults, and deaths in custody, we want to make sure we have someone in charge beside the Sheriff.”

Internal investigations lack transparency, Walton said. In 2015, charges against three sheriff’s deputies accused of staging an inmate fight club where bets were taken in San Francisco jails were dismissed after defense attorneys demonstrated that the Sheriff’s Department had mishandled the investigation.  

Lawsuits against the Sheriff’s Department have resulted in costly settlements by the City. In 2018, former inmate Juan Ortiz was paid $125,000 to settle allegations that he was attacked by a deputy in a holding cell after he threw a T-shirt at him.  Patrick Buelna, Ortiz’s attorney, said that deputies failed to document the use of force, and accused the department of staging a cover-up, in which portions of security footage were deleted, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

“This is a time in our history, not only in San Francisco but across the country, when we need to make sure law enforcement doesn’t harm people and especially people of color,” Walton said. “Sometimes the District Attorney doesn’t get all the information. Law enforcement has been getting away with a lot of assault allegations. No department should have that authority to investigate themselves.” 

Walton said the amendment would expedite data transfers. “That’s important because if the Sheriff’s inhouse investigative team holds on to information, that time lapse affects a lot of the investigation’s conclusions.” 

According to San Francisco Controller Ben Rosenfield, the SDOB would cost $400,000 annually. OIG, including the IG, 13 staffers, office space and overhead would require $2 million to $2.5 million a year.

San Francisco Sheriff Paul Miyamoto committed to working with the City’s Department of Police Accountability (DPA) to address a number of Proposition D elements, such as use of force that causes injury, sexual misconduct, pattern or practice of retaliation, harassment, or bias, and reckless disregard for safety or health. DPA uses a hybrid model of civilian oversight to conduct independent investigations into citizen complaints involving San Francisco police officers. 

Sheriff Miyamoto opposes the measure “because it would cost more money and there’s no reason to create more bureaucracy when you’ve already got the DPA to do it,” said media representative Nancy Crowley. 

The San Francisco Republican County Central Committee and San Francisco Taxpayers Association similarly oppose the measure. The Potrero Hill Democratic Club strongly supports it, as does the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, United Democratic Club, San Francisco Women’s Political Committee, and the San Francisco Labor Council. 

Walton acknowledged that voters ultimately have oversight over the Sheriff, who is elected. He added the Sheriff wouldn’t have to follow Oversight Board advice. “If they make recommendations on what the punishment should be for an infraction, the Sheriff can ignore it, but then the Sheriff will have to answer to the people. The Sheriff will not be able to say, ‘I made the decision based on what I thought was appropriate.’ He’s going to have to explain why he’s going against those recommendations.”

Proposition E, Police Department Staffing Levels 

In 1994, voters approved a City Charter amendment that requires a minimum of 1,971 full-duty San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) officers, a level only fleetingly reached over the past quarter-century.  Proposition E would remove police employment obligations from the Charter and direct SFPD to submit staffing recommendations to the Police Commission every two years. 

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee put the measure on the ballot with unanimous support. It’s the culmination of a five-year effort by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policy Services, and Office of the City Controller, among other agencies, to identify best practices to establish police staffing levels and deployment. Matrix Consulting Group, which specializes in law enforcement employment, to developed supporting analyses.  Matrix recommended SFPD retain 2,176 sworn officers, 205 more than the mandated minimum, significantly higher than that 1,911 constables on staff earlier this year.

“It’s really important to know that over the last 25 years, the City has only achieved that minimum staffing for a period of a few weeks. It’s functioned more as a target than as a true minimum,” said Caitlin Vejby, a legislative aide for Yee. 

The Charter presently requires the City to maintain the number of officers dedicated to neighborhood policing and patrol at least at the level it was in fiscal year 1993-1994.  Proposition E would eliminate this mandate, replacing it with a directive for the Police Commission to hold a public hearing on SFPD’s proposed staffing report.  

“It’s important to put this in the context of public safety as opposed to the context of law enforcement,” Vejby said. The existing minimum “isn’t tied to any information about the needs for our City.” 

The measure would enable police resources to be allocated to other public safety staff, such as professionals equipped to provide an unhoused person with services. If passed it “would shape an ongoing conversation about staffing levels being tied to data,” said Vejby.

The City Controller’s Office doesn’t foresee notable public sector costs associated with the measure.

The San Francisco Police Officers Association (POA) didn’t respond to requests for comment. Tony Montoya, POA president, issued a statement in May calling the proposed charter amendment “reckless.”  The San Francisco Republican Party and Taxpayers Association oppose it. 

Proposition supporters include Police Commission members Petra DeJesus, John Hamasaki, Cindy Elias, DionJay Brookter, and Damali Taylor, and the Potrero Hill Democratic Club, among others. 

Proposition F, Business Tax Overhaul

Proposition F carries the weight of the City’s proposed $13.7 billion 2020-2021 budget on its shoulders. “(I)f Proposition F… fails, it blows an immediate…hole in the budget…” reported Mission Local. “The City has already appropriated money from a reserve fund stocked with money the City assumes will become available upon passage of Prop F.” 

Proposition F, which consists of 125 pages of dense legal text impossible for most voters to understand, would repeal San Francisco’s payroll tax, effective in 2021, reduce business registration fees, and increase the exemption from the gross receipts tax to $2 million. Companies making more than $2 million annually would pay 100 percent of their taxes based on gross receipts after payroll taxes are repealed starting in 2022. 

Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee put the City Charter amendment and ordinance on the ballot with unanimous support from the Supervisors and Mayor London Breed. According to Yee, the measure would benefit sectors most impacted by COVID-19, such as retail, hotels, restaurants, and manufacturing. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on our small businesses and deepened the disparities in our City, which is why now is exactly the right time for Prop F. Small businesses are permanently shutting down and need relief right away,” Yee said. “Prop F updates San Francisco’s system of business taxes and makes it more fair by providing relief to small businesses and requiring larger businesses to pay their fair share.”

“The Chamber is opposed to it because it does raise taxes for businesses making more than $2 million per year, but we recognize it does do a few things to help small businesses,” said Jay Cheng, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce spokesperson. “I would say if you are in tech, banking or accounting, an attorney, or professional services, you’re going to see the largest tax increases. If you’re running a restaurant, bar, night club, hotel, you’re probably going to see a tax break sometime next year.”

A provision in the proposition would enable the City to spend tax revenue collected as a result of Proposition C, a 2018 ballot initiative to fund childcare and early education that’s been held in escrow because of a legal challenge that it didn’t secure a two-thirds plus one majority vote. Proposition F would release these monies by creating a “backstop” tax that’d go into effect if the City loses the litigation on the original measure. Though it’s unclear, it appears that Proposition F would have this affect because associated revenues would be directed to the general fund, rather than any specific programs, though municipal leadership would apparently direct released funds to childcare and early education. That same provision would’ve permitted similar one-time spending of $492 million for homeless and housing services that was being held until the California Supreme Court declined to hear a similar legal challenge to it last month, liberating the funds.  

“The court decision is great news for the City and efforts to address housing and homelessness, but we still face a number of challenges as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Yee said. “We need to pass Prop F to provide immediate relief to struggling small businesses and to release the voter-approved funds for early childcare and education.”

In addition to releasing Proposition C funds, the City Controller’s Office estimates that the measure would generate an additional $97 million in general fund revenues annually once it’s fully implemented in 2024.

“I’m definitely excited about Prop F, so we can envision what we want to have happen with the budget,” Supervisor Walton told The View

“Proposition F increases small business exemptions from the gross receipts tax and eliminates remaining payroll taxation with a new gross receipts tax on technology and financial services,” stated retired Judge Quentin Kopp in Westside Observer. “I’ll vote ‘Yes.’” 

Proposition F is supported by the Children’s Council of San Francisco, Christin Evans, owner of Booksmith and Haight Ashbury Merchants Association president, Balboa Theater owner Adam Bergeron, and Council of District Merchants Associations president emeritus Henry Karnilowicz, among others. 

“If we raise the taxes on some of our most successful businesses, at a certain point it makes sense for them to just leave,” said Sharky Laguana, owner of Bandago and San Francisco Small Business Commission president. “They don’t have to go far. My colleagues at business associations are looking at it and I think it’s fair to say they’re not supportive. But the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor listened to suggestions from many business leaders including the Chamber of Commerce. It’s a tough time to be raising taxes and it makes me nervous, but I’m always happy to see consensus and collaboration in City Hall.” 

The Libertarian Party of San Francisco opposes Proposition F.

Proposition H, Neighborhood Commercial Districts and City Permitting

There were vacant storefronts throughout San Francisco before shelter-in-place directives to contain COVID-19 went into effect in March. Since then, hundreds of the City’s restaurants and other businesses have permanently closed, adding to vacancies. The Golden Gate Restaurant Association forecasts that half of San Francisco’s eateries — more than 2,000 — will shutter by the end of the year. Businesses that have stayed open have pivoted to new ways of operating. 

Proposition H, sponsored by Mayor London Breed, would streamline the system for permitting small businesses along the City’s commercial corridors, reducing the amount of time to obtain approval from approximately a year to 30 days. City inspections would be consolidated. If a proposed use of a commercial space is already acceptable, neighborhood noticing requirements would be removed. 

The intent is to fill vacant storefronts with arts activities and nonprofits on ground floors, professional services on upper floors, enabling them to secure a permit without having to go to the Planning Commission, according to a fact sheet supplied by Nadia Rahman, campaign manager for Yes on Prop H, Save Our Small Businesses.

Attempts to streamline the permitting process have been attempted in the past, but were blocked by the Board of Supervisors, Rahman said. “When you think about the heart and soul of San Francisco, these small businesses really are what San Francisco is,” Rahman said. She added that many of the City’s mom and pop enterprises are black-, women-, LGBTQ-, or immigrant-owned. 

“Small businesses are inherent to the fabric of the City and a big part of San Francisco culture. The pandemic is the biggest test to the survival of these businesses they’ve ever faced,” Rahman said. “If we drag our feet, it could mean permanent loss.”

“From concept to launch it takes a long time to get a business off the ground,” Small Business Commission president Sharky Laguana told The View. Posting public notice “gives neighbors, including neighborhood associations, notice that they can file a discretionary review with the Planning Commission,” which delays approval. If the measure passes, “People can still file a discretionary review, even though Prop H allows new business owners to skip the public notification process.” 

Small Business Commission vice-president Miriam Zouzounis and commissioner Manny Yekutiel, along with Ben Bleiman, San Francisco Entertainment Commission president and San Francisco Bar Owners Alliance founder, among others, support the measure.  

The Potrero Hill Democratic Club didn’t take a position on the proposition after considerable discourse. “Potrero residents are very smart about voting. Anything with land use, there’s going to be disagreement,” PHDC president Bill Barnes told The View.

The League of Pissed Off Voters, a progressive group, is opposed to Proposition H.

The City Controller’s Office believes Proposition H could moderately increase the City’s costs to review, approve, and inspect the small business uses covered under the ordinance.

A simple 50 percent plus one majority is required for passage of Propositions D, E, F and H.