View Election Recommendations

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With 25 local measures, 17 state initiatives, and many, many candidates, voters need a decision framework, or guiding philosophy, to render thoughtful ballot decisions.  One approach is to group measures into like categories, and apply a consistent thought process throughout, deviating only when there’s compelling reasons to do so.  Here’s ours, limited to local measures and the State Senate race.

Local Measures

Spend!  In Equality and Efficiency, the Big Tradeoff, Robert Okun described unavoidable government inefficiency as a leaking pail.  “The money must be carried from the rich to the poor in a leaky bucket,” he wrote. “Some of it will simply disappear in transit, so the poor will not receive all the money that is taken from the rich.” Some amount of taxpayer funds will be sloshed out of the bucket, in the form of unproductive civil servants, misdirected contract funds, and programs that’re no longer needed or ineffective.  However, the City and County of San Francisco, which spends upwards of $10 billion annually, more than Costa Rica’s or Iceland’s national budgets, appears to have a bottomless bucket.  There’s no indication that the Mayor or Board of Supervisors invests much time identifying programs or bureaucrats that’re no longer needed or not working well.  As a result, no one knows whether new services could be paid for by downsized unnecessary existing ones.  From this perspective, though the View has a soft spot for children, we’re cautious about endorsing any additional taxes or expenditures, and strongly prefer that new taxes be offset by eliminating current ones.

Proposition A, $744.25 million school bond: The San Francisco Unified School District has a mixed record when it comes to supporting Southside schools.  In response to a spirited effort by Potrero Hill parents, SFUSD agreed to keep Daniel Webster Elementary School open, and recently completed renovations to it, and Starr King’s, campuses.  However, the District has so far refused to develop a kindergarten through eighth grade school in the area, and is dragging its feet on endorsing a new Mission Bay primary school.  Still, we can’t say “no” to the children.  YES.

Proposition B, $99 parcel tax, the proceeds of which would be directed to City College of San Francisco: CCSF is an essential rung in the educational ladder, offering programs for students not yet ready for or not provided by state colleges.  However, management of CCSF is a legendary mess, one that doesn’t appear to be a fully cleaned up, as evidenced by the continuing existence of multiple campuses that’re expensive to maintain.  Securing a two-year CCSF degree costs less than $14,000, with assistance available to low income students, a not unaffordable amount even if payments rise modestly.  Of the 36,000 students who took credit course at CCSF last year almost half qualified for a fee waiver.  NO.

Proposition K, .75 percent sales tax:  Does the City need more money?  The View doesn’t know, and neither does the Mayor or Board of Supervisors.  Do San Franciscans, particularly low income families, who are forced to spend their entire paycheck on essential goods, like food and rent, need an increase in their cost of living?  NO.

Proposition V, tax on distributing sugar-sweetened beverages: Soda is a calorie wasteland, the overconsumption of which can lead to nasty health consequences, such as diabetes.  However, since this is a tax on distribution, there’s no reason to believe it’ll be passed on to consumers in the form of higher beverage prices; more likely it’ll be spread across multiple products, like any other business expense, slightly raising our already high cost-of-living.  Still, while adding a tax without subtracting a tax violates the View’s election philosophy, sugar’s harm is too big to ignore.  YES.

Proposition W, real estate transfer tax on properties over $5 million:  This is a solid tax idea, the very definition of bucketing money from the rich to the poor, which would raise upwards of $45 million.  Unfortunately, there’s too much slosh in the City’s bucket; just because government can take money from taxpayers doesn’t mean it should.  We hope that in the next election a more roundly respectful and balanced set of public finance measures are presented, including this one.  NO.

Proposition RR, BART safety, reliability, and traffic relief: Would raise $3.5 billion, paid for by a $2.02 per $100,000 of assessed value ad volorem tax.  For example, a home assessed – not necessarily valued, the difference being Proposition 13 caps – at $1 million would pay $20.20 a year.  There are indications that BART suffers from the same size leaks in its bucket as CCSF, including excessive overtime and overpaid managers.  But BART is a critical transportation artery, and a key element in addressing housing affordability, by enabling San Francisco workers to live in the East Bay.  Though we hope BART’s directors will take the necessary steps to improve efficiencies – or be voted out of office – in this case the View is willing to tolerate a significant amount of slop.  YES.

Ballot Box Budgeting:  State and local budgets are increasingly hogtied by laws that force expenditures to be made on specific programs:  schools, health care, highways, parks, and the like.  This kind of budgeting vastly reduces elected officials’ ability to shift expenditures to match new priorities, and plays to voters’ susceptibility to single-issue lobbies with an attractive cause, without much consideration of whether the amount of dedicated money is really needed.  The View gets that it’s hard to trust politicians with our hard-earned tax dollars.  But the proper way to deal with that is to elect trustworthy politicians, capable of making good compromises to support valuable programs.

Proposition E, street tree maintenance:  This bad boy would set aside $18 million to take care of San Francisco’s trees, the responsibility for many of which has been placed on property owners.  Of course the City should take care of its trees, an expense that ought to be reflected in the Mayor’s budget and approved by the Board of Supervisors.  Why are voters involved in this?  NO.

Proposition I, funding for seniors and adults with disabilities:  A $38 million and growing budget set-aside for a specific, albeit sympathetic, demographic.  NO.

Proposition S, allocation of hotel tax funds:  The measure would dedicate a portion of the City’s hotel tax revenue, currently available for any public purpose, to services that support the arts and homeless families.  Two great causes, no doubt, but readers know how the View feels about ballot box budgeting.  NO.

Power Play!  Lots of political jockeying is reflected in the ballot, principally between and within executive and legislative power.  These types of measures mostly have to be evaluated on their own merits, under the general rubric of, if it’s broke, fix it.  Otherwise, go get a beverage at one of Dogpatch’s homegrown wineries or breweries. 

Proposition D, special election for vacant supervisor seats:  The View is sympathetic to this measure, which’d require that an exceptional election be held for a supervisor to replace one who left office before their term’s end.  The current mayor hasn’t been successful at his replacement picks; neither of them won the seat once it was put to a vote.  And the board is supposed to balance executive power, particular as elected at the district level.  Still, it doesn’t seem worth the money for what at best might be a three-year stretch on the board.  NO.

Proposition F, give 16 and 17 year-olds the right to vote: OMG!  Have the proponents of this measure actually spent time with a Snapchatting, Instagramming teenager, who has to be reminded to make their own bed?  Apparently not; otherwise they’d know that most of them aren’t ready to engage in elections, no matter how spirited some might be.  Scientific evidence suggests that brains don’t fully mature until individuals reach 25 years, an argument to maintain an elderly eye over any significant activities until then. NO.

Proposition G, police oversight:  The measure would create a Department of Police Accountability, which would regularly audit how the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) handles claims of officer misconduct and use of force.  There’s plenty of evidence that the police need policing.  YES.

Proposition H, public advocate:  Does the City need another elected officer, whose responsibility would be to help ensure that the government runs smoothly?  Isn’t that the job of the Mayor and Board of Supervisors, not to mention the Public Defender and District Attorney?  It’s true that municipal governance seems to be at a low point, as evidenced by an out of control budget, wobbly criminal justice system, intractable homeless problem, and thoughtless land use policies, but it’d be much better if the existing political superstructure figured its way out of current conundrums, with the help of voters.  NO.

Proposition L, lower the vote required to reject the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s budget to six supervisors:  A majority vote on this challenging agency’s budget is quite reasonable.  YES.

Proposition N, non-citizen voting in school board elections:  On the one hand, it seems reasonable for parents with children educated by the San Francisco Unified School District to have a say in their school’s governance.  On the other hand, voting is a fundamental right of citizens; who gets to be a citizen is a federal matter.  On balance, the View tilts towards respecting citizens’ rights, though we could probably be convinced to go the other way.  NO.

Proposition R, neighborhood crime unit:  This proposed ordinance would require SFPD to assign no less than three percent of its sworn officers to a new Neighborhood Crime Unit, which would, um, specialize in addressing wrongdoings committed in neighborhoods.  Aside from City Hall and financial corruption, which mostly fall to the Federal Bureau of Investigation or Security Exchange Commission, aren’t most of San Francisco’s crimes committed in its neighborhoods?  This initiative smells like a kind of ballot box budgeting; better would be to hire an effective police chief and let them have at it.  NO.

Proposition T, restricting gifts and campaign contributions from lobbyists:  This proposal would require lobbyists to identify agencies they intend to influence before they contact them, and prohibit lobbyists from making gifts, including for travel, to City officers or their family members. Nonprofits would be allowed to provide gifts of food or refreshment up to $25 for attendees at a public event.  Lobbyists would be prohibited from making any contribution to a City elective officer, candidate, or candidate-controlled committee if the lobbyist was registered to lobby the agency for which the candidate is seeking election.  Pretty much speaks for itself.  YES.

Proposition X, preserving space for neighborhood arts, small businesses, and community services:  This measure would require projects that want to convert or demolish space in the Mission and South-of-Market that’s presently being used by production, distribution, repair (PDR), or for institutional community purposes obtain a conditional use authorization from the Planning Commission prior to constructing new office space or housing on those sites. The projects would also have to provide new space to replace the PDR or community space that’s converted or demolished.  It’s an attempt to tilt land use power towards PDR and nonprofit space, as opposed to housing and office uses. The View can see both sides of this measure, and doesn’t have a compelling rationale on which to make a decision.  Our guess is that our readers have a gut reaction on how they’d like to pencil their ballot.  VOTE.

Housing:  The most significant issue facing San Francisco may be housing.  Housing costs are so high that no one other than a one percenter, those already secure in a rent-controlled apartment, or lucky enough to have purchased property before the end of the last recession can afford to live in the City.  This, in turn, threatens the future viability of schools, exacerbates already terrible commuter traffic and public transportation strains, seals-in the homeless crises, and portends San Francisco becoming a moated Disneyland for the rich.  Will any ballot initiatives help address these cascading sets of problems?  The answer is unfortunately “no.”  Rather than ad hoc solutions, or untethered mayoral promises about creating 10,000 new affordable units, San Francisco needs a comprehensive housing plan with measurable milestones and elected officials who are accountable to achieving these targets.

Proposition C, $35 million a year affordable housing bond:  This measure would enable existing bond funds, which in this case are repaid by private sector borrowers, to be directed to purchasing and improving affordable housing.  It won’t trigger much in the way of additional costs, with the loans directed towards a worthwhile cause.  YES.

Proposition J, tens of millions of dollars for the homeless and transportation:  Yes, Mr. Mayor, who put this on the ballot, we want to take care of the homeless, and transportation is a priority.  So deal with it in your budget by making the necessary accommodations with other spending priorities, and defend the results before the Board of Supervisors.  NO.

Proposition M, housing and development commission: This measure would diminish the mayor’s power over affordable housing policies, and shift it to an appointed commission.  While the View appreciates the need for greater transparency, frustration over the lack of which spawned this measure, the initiative is another example of a reaction rather than a comprehensive approach.  It would also tilt authority away from an elected official to a body less susceptible to the will of the voters, and make government even more cumbersome.  And it’s remarkable that San Francisco needs a charter amendment to require departments to create five year strategic and annual work plans. NO.

Proposition O, office development in Candlestick and Hunters Points:  This measure isn’t about housing, but it’d impact land use, and doesn’t fit into any other category.  So far it appears that many of Bayview residents’ fears about development at the Hunters Point Shipyard are coming true:  growth is divorced from the ever-struggling Third Street commercial corridor, and few economic benefits will redound to the community’s African-American population.  From this perspective the View isn’t in the mood to do the developer, Lennar, any favors.  In fact, we can hear Darth Vader music being played even as we say the word, “Lennar,” out loud.  Go ahead, you try it.  Still, this initiative is about making room for commercial development on the Points without crowding it out elsewhere in the City, which is reasonable.  YES.

Proposition P, competitive bidding for affordable housing:  Under this measure the City could only proceed with an affordable housing project on municipally-owned property if the Housing Office receives at least three proposals. It’d also make the current selection criteria part of City law.  It’s an unnecessary and, by slowing or stopping the development of affordable housing, potentially pernicious proposal. Voters shouldn’t be involved in this level of administrative decision-making. NO.

Proposition Q, prohibiting tents on public sidewalks: No one likes the status quo, in which tent encampments, large and small, pop-up like mushrooms throughout the City, with municipal authorities irregularly responding by scattering their occupants, the process only to repeat itself.  Camp, evict, repeat.  Unfortunately, Proposition Q will just add to the problem.  Under its most notable element a 24-hour notice would have to be given before removing a camp, along with a list of places to access housing and shelters, with no guarantees anything suitable will be available to the freshly dislocated.  The View prefers that a tent ban be accompanied with clear, compassionate, and effective pathways for homeless inhabitants to garner appropriate housing, and associated services, elsewhere.  This measure does nothing to advance the latter; it’s unclear whether it’s even needed to pursue the former.  NO.

Proposition U, affordable housing requirements for market-rate development:  This measure would retroactively change affordability requirements on all below-market rate units citywide.  It’d increase the already overwhelming demand for those units, and give property owners an incentive to evict or decline to rent to poorer residents in favor of those with higher incomes.  NO.


State Senate, District 11:  Both candidates have assets, but the View prefers Scott Weiner for his accessibility, consistency, and follow-through.

U.S. President: Hillary Clinton!