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Teenage Voting, Transfer, Parcel, and Sales Taxes on Ballot

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Proposition G Would Grant 16- and 17-Year-Olds Right to Vote

Proposition G would allow those aged 16 and 17 to vote on local candidate races and ballot measures, with passage requiring 50 percent plus one. 

“The amendment could be expected to increase the number of registered voters for municipal elections by up to approximately 1.5 percent. The Department of Elections would have some additional costs to produce voter materials,” said City Controller Ben Rosenfield. 

Businessman Richie Greenberg opposes Proposition G because legally 16- and 17-year-olds are children.  “They still need permission slips to go on a field trip. Many if not most of our City teens do not drive, don’t work, and have not participated in owning or managing a business. The worldly experiences of being an adult hasn’t yet come to them,” said Greenberg. 

According to John Dennis, San Francisco Republican Party chairman, minors are prohibited from serving on a jury, renting a vehicle, or purchasing handguns, alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana. “Why should an exception be carved out from existing laws to allow minors to vote?” he asked. 

“We make a lot of decisions for transitional-aged youth. They deserve to participate in our democratic process,” said District 10 Supervisor Walton, who supports the measure. 

District 1 Youth Commissioner Sarah Cheung, 17, favors Proposition G, believing that youth input is especially important during the public health crises and Black Lives Matter movement. “The pandemic has revealed inequalities in technology, housing, and transportation. As our generation continues to remain residents of the City, we should get a say in how we want the recovery to look,” said Cheung.

The San Francisco Youth Commission is composed of 17 members between the ages of 12 and 23 who advise the Mayor and Board of Supervisors about youth issues.

According to Cheung, an Outer Richmond resident, living conditions and ethnic demographics are different from the Southside. “Yet in District 1, 16- and 17-year-olds also take on a lot of responsibility. Many teens translate for and assist their parents…substantially help their parents communicate with schools and…businessowners,” she said. 

Crystal Chan, 18, District 7 Youth Commissioner, supports the measure because she believes 16 is a better age than 18 to build voting habits.  “18 is often a challenging time to establish the habit of voting because you’re in a state of transition. If you’re going away to school, you’ve moved and are starting a whole new life. You may not know the deadline and requirements for registration for your new place of residence. You may not be familiar with the issues there as well,” said Chan.

Nonprofits advocating for Proposition G support youth voting measures elsewhere, including Measure QQ, which’d allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in Oakland Unified School District school board elections, and Proposition 18, a state measure that’d enable 17-year-olds to vote in primary and special elections if they turn 18 by the subsequent general election. 

“Our organizers in Oakland and San Francisco for youth voting measures are part of a broad alliance regarding empowering youth,” said Luis Sánchez, executive director of Power California, a statewide organization that works with young voters of color. “Together, we’ve worked on putting together a narrative that encourages voters to give youth a voice and increase civic engagement. This election year, young people are highly engaged in social movements. Overall and for young voters, we expect a much higher turnout for the presidential election than four years ago.” 

“Teenagers in the southeastern neighborhoods are helping with childcare, making dinner, and budgeting for the family,” said San Francisco District 10 Youth Commissioner Rome Jones, 21. “I encourage individuals…saying that young people are not mature to go spend some time with the beautiful and brilliant minds of young people, especially within District 10. When you talk to young people and see what they are going through, you’ll understand why they think they could be decision-makers.” 

In 2016, 52 percent of City voters declined to support Proposition F, which would’ve similarly enabled those aged 16 and older to participate in local elections. 

Proposition I Would Double the Real Estate Transfer Tax Rate

Under Proposition I the City’s real estate transfer tax would increase from 2.75 percent to 5.5 percent for properties sold for between $10 million and $24.99 million; and from three percent to six percent for properties vended for $25 million or more. The tax, which’d potentially generate tens of millions of dollars of revenue annually, requires 50 percent plus one votes to pass. 

“COVID-19 has thrown San Francisco into our deepest economic downturn in over 20 years,” said Gwen Kaplan, founder of Ace Mailing. “Mom and pop businesses are already fighting for their survival. At a time when many are desperately trying to sell, break, or renegotiate their leases, this tax will increase their rents and threaten their safety nets when they can least afford it. Our economy cannot take one additional tax that goes into effect immediately.” 

According to Laurie Thomas, Golden Gate Restaurant Association executive director, Proposition I would create substantial new costs that’ll be passed on to restaurants and other businesses, “usually through the NNN clauses commonly found in commercial leases… additional financial burdens on businesses trying not to permanently close.”

Jay Cheng, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce director of public policy, said some Chamber members supported a transfer tax increase in 2016, under Proposition W. “There’s a role for these types of taxes. Right now isn’t the right time. Small businesses are struggling and trying to renegotiate their leases,” said Cheng.

David Campos, San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee chair, said the measure’s benefits outweigh its negatives. “Every bit of tax revenue will help the City recover,” said Campos. 

“We want as much funding as possible to provide affordable housing for San Franciscans,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. “We have instituted eviction moratoriums and are doing everything we can to protect residents and small businesses.”

According to Fernando Martí, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organization, Proposition I would help reduce wealth concentration. “After the Great Recession, in 2009 and 2010, investors bought out multifamily buildings and commercial properties. With people losing their jobs and small businesses experiencing financial difficulty…this could happen all over again,” said Martí. 

“I understand that the City needs revenue in an unprecedented time,” said Mark Geisreiter, executive managing director of Newmark Knight Frank, a commercial real estate advisory firm. “Yet, the transfer tax could actually reduce revenues to the City. A six percent transfer tax would result in fewer sales as many owners would be unwilling to sell. They will hold their property, which means the City will not receive any transfer tax. No matter what happens with Prop. I, everything revolves around a health solution with COVID-19.” 

Proposition J Would Impose a Parcel Tax Benefitting the San Francisco Unified School District 

Proposition J would institute a $288 parcel tax, the proceeds of which would be directed to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), increasing by the consumer price index annually over 30-years. A similar measure, Proposition G, was approved by 61 percent of voters in 2018 but is subject to a legal dispute over use of a simple-majority threshold to validate it. Proposition J is expected to generate roughly $48 million in revenues a year, starting in 2021. It must receive a two-thirds vote to take effect.

Mayor London Breed is Proposition J’s primary proponent. Supporters include the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s chief executive officer, and the San Francisco Labor Council, which is affiliated with more than 150 local unions, among others. 

The San Francisco Taxpayers Association, an organization opposed to taxes, and the San Francisco Republican Party oppose the measure. 

Passage of Proposition J would serve to release more than $100 million being collected under Proposition G. These funds have been held in escrow because of a lawsuit filed by San Francisco resident Wayne Nowak, who asserts that a supermajority was required to approve the tax. In May, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman ruled that only a simple majority vote was needed. Nowak is appealing the decision; the funds cannot be spent while the case is being litigated. 

According to Anabel Ibanez, United Educators of San Francisco political chair, Proposition J would address the extant legal issue.  “It would ensure funding for teachers and classrooms is not taken away during this pandemic. Prop. J will bring much needed resources for teachers to provide a quality education,” including salary increases, said Ibanez. 

David Campos, San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee chair, said supporting schools “should be a big priority for the City. The school system is going to be facing very deep cuts because of the financial crisis. Public education is a great equalizer. We need to invest so families remain in the City.”  

District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton said Proposition J is needed because teachers have been underpaid for decades. “A challenge came to 2018’s Prop. G, but voters had already approved funding to schools. This proposition will make sure teachers and classrooms get what they deserve,” said Walton. 

Retired judge Quentin Kopp said one of his main concerns about the proposition is that the same amount is levied on a single-family home as on a large commercial property. “That is a grossly unfair method of taxation. The parcel tax is a regressive tax,” said Kopp. 

Measure RR Would Impose a 1/8 Cent Sales Tax to Benefit Caltrain

Measure RR would institute a 30-year 1/8 cent sales tax to fund Caltrain, along with additional oversight and audit requirements, including review by an independent citizens’ oversight committee. The measure needs a two-thirds vote to pass in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. 

If approved, it’ll raise an estimated $100 million annually. The funds would be used to preserve Caltrain service, increase train frequency and capacity, and enable discounts for low-income riders, among other things. Tax collection would start in April 2021. 

Measure RR is supported by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, Mayor London Breed, the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and the Potrero Hill Democratic Club. It’s opposed by the San Francisco Republican Party, among others. 

“Caltrain has never had a dedicated stream of revenue,” said District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton. “Measure RR would provide Caltrain with a dedicated funding source. Historically, the three counties that use Caltrain have funded it consistent with their number of riders. If Measure RR passes, Caltrain would also eliminate contributions from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. These resources could be used for Muni.” 

According to Walton, the City presently funds Caltrain by shifting monies from SFMTA. If Measure RR is approved, these assets would be retained by SFMTA. 

“Public transit can’t be allowed to fail because of a pandemic,” Cat Carter, spokesperson for San Francisco Transit Riders, a nonprofit organization that advocates for public transportation, said.  Without Caltrain “…more people will get stuck in gridlock and people without resources will be left further behind. We will not be able to address climate change, the impacts of which are getting more dire every fire season.”

“Proponents of this tax say 1/8 cent is hardly any money but right now, every penny counts for people. In addition, sales tax is the most regressive type of tax. It hits lower middle class and poor people the hardest,” said Eric Garris, a San Franciscan who opposes Measure RR. Garris is also concerned that San Francisco residents are required to pay as much as San Mateo and Santa Clara county residents.

In 2019, 22 percent of Caltrain riders lived in San Francisco, 28 in San Mateo County, and 43 percent in Santa Clara County. 

“Perhaps the tax would be more equitable if more of it was paid by residents of the counties that use Caltrain more often,” said Garris. 

“We understand the importance of Caltrain to our community,” said J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president. “While sales taxes are regressive, we find ourselves in an emergency. Pollution from increased auto trips and slowed electrification are also a regressive tax on the southeast part of the City. I am glad that this ballot measure was coupled with governance reforms that will help address equity issues along the corridor.”  

Caltrain’s ridership declined by roughly 95 percent since February, from 65,000 to 3,200 riders daily. Last spring and summer, Caltrain relied on approximately $65 million from The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act. To lower operating costs the railroad reduced its weekday schedule from 92 to 42 trains per day and shifted staff to deferred maintenance and capital improvements projects. 

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