San Francisco Ballot Measures — An Early Look

Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Most people probably have a clearer sense right now of whether they’re going to vote for (or against) Barack Obama or Mitt Romney than what they’re going to do way-down ballot on local measures.

But if you’re the type who’s actually taking time out between picnics and Summer Olympics-watching to formulate your position on, say, the proposed City College of San Francisco parcel tax … hey, knock yourself out, we’re with you.

Early-bird election watchers will note the final ballot is starting to take shape. The deadline to submit Charter amendments and bond measures is June 27– today — at 5 p.m., though the system has built into it the potential to certify a sort of “bonus measure” beyond that. “The Board of Supervisors may submit and the Director of Elections has the discretion to accept [an additional] Charter amendment or bond measure by August 3,” says Evan Kirk of the city’s Department of Elections.

Ordinances, charter amendments, bond measures, and declarations of policy can all be put on the ballot. Charter amendments need the votes of at least six members of the Board of Supervisors or the signatures of 10 percent of the number of registered voters at the time of a “Notice of Intent to Circulate Petition,” says Kirk. An ordinance can be put on the ballot by four or more members of the board, or unilaterally by the mayor. Same thing for declarations of policy, those non-binding statements about national or world affairs the government of San Francisco is so fond of making.

Ordinances and policy declaration can also go the popular route, qualifying through the submission of the signatures of five percent of the total number of people who voted in the last mayor’s race. That tally is currently just 194,046 people, which computes out to 9,702 required signatures, reports Kirk. Referenda must meet a 10 percent threshold. 

Finally, local government entities like community college districts can also place measures on the ballot.

This will all become increasingly academic as upcoming August deadlines pass. Two proposed increases in the real estate transfer taxes have been withdrawn in the last couple of days, and proposed changes to the city’s ranked-choice voting system were also tabled recently by the Board of Supervisors.

As for signature-based proposals, “Currently the Department is counting signatures on a referendum on the [condo development project] at 8 Washington,” reports Kirk. “There are no other local initiatives being processed at this time.” (The 8 Washington referendum would ask voters whether they want to repeal “height increases along The Embarcadero,” according to The Examiner. The project won Board of Supervisors’ approval last month.)

A look at some of the measures that have made it, by hook or by crook, to the ballot to date:

City College Parcel Tax

City College of San Francisco is in the midst of a crisis — the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges has put the school on notice that it must rectify 14 management and fiscal problems or be decertified. In light of that, will the public be more or less inclined to pass a $79 parcel tax, placed on the ballot by the school’s board of trustees?

Housing Trust Fund Charter Amendment

This measure would create a San Francisco Housing Trust Fund by setting aside general fund revenues for the next 30 years to “create, acquire, and rehabilitate affordable housing and promote affordable home ownership programs in the City.” It would also authorize development of 30,000 units of “affordable rental units” in the city. The Examiner reports: “The fund will begin at $20 million and grow by $2.8 million annually until reaching $50.8 million. The measure also encourages private housing development by reducing government costs, including a 20 percent reduction in The City’s onsite affordable housing requirements.”

“We don’t have a lot of land, we are a densely populated city, we have a lot of people that want to live here and that’s great for our economy,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, a supporter. “But then that puts a lot of pressure on people who are low income or moderate income in terms of being able to stay here.”

Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu were the only two supervisors to vote against the measure. “Elsbernd says the long-term funding commitment could dry up resources for other needs,” reported Keith Menconi for KQED.

Business Tax Overhaul

John Avalos, David Campos, Ed Lee, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the SEIU all on the same page? The Chronicle reports:

Mayor Ed Lee joined…with two of his rivals from last fall’s election to announce a grand compromise for overhauling San Francisco’s business tax that will result in a single measure going before voters in November. The ballot measure would change how the city levies its oft-criticized business tax, which brought in $410 million last year and is the second-biggest source of money [after property taxes] for the general spending account…

Restaurants, tech companies and manufacturers are positioned to see their business tax reduced by 5 to 20 percent under the proposal, city economist Ted Egan said, while financial services firms, commercial real estate and others will see their taxes rise.

If the measure passes, the city would levy taxes on businesses based on gross receipts rather than on the amount of their payrolls, as is currently the case.  You can read a recent report here on San Francisco business tax reform from the city’s Office of Economic Analysis. And Tte left-leaning BeyondChron web site offered a history and analysis of the issue in May.

Draining Hetch Hetchy

Say what?

From the San Jose Mercury News:

The group Restore Hetch Hetchy, three former Yosemite superintendents and other supporters say voters should have a chance to bring Hetch Hetchy Valley — a scenic area on par with Yosemite Valley that was submerged 90 years ago — back to life. If their measure passes in November, they plan to place another measure on the 2016 San Francisco ballot to mandate draining the reservoir and developing new water sources by 2035. The reservoir in Yosemite National Park and the Tuolumne River that flows into it are the main water source for 2.5 million Bay Area residents who live in San Francisco or on the Peninsula, as well as in parts of San Jose and Alameda County..

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee… not so much on board: “Their initiative is insane and attempts to fool voters into wasting millions to restudy local water sustainability projects that are already being implemented in San Francisco,” he diplomatically commented.

Resolution Against Corporate Personhood

Read it here. The San Francisco supes are taking a stand against the infamous, in their view, Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which removed limits on campaign spending by corporations and unions. Here’s an extract:

It is the position of the People of the City and County of San Francisco that corporations should not receive the same rights as natural persons because the expenditure of corporate money is not a form of constitutionally protected speech, and limits on spending will promote the goals of the First Amendment, by ensuring that all citizens, regardless of wealth, have an opportunity to have their political views heard.

The People of the City and County of San Francisco instruct our Representatives and Senators in Congress to pass a constitutional amendment to limit campaign contributions and spending and end artificial corporate rights, reversing the decision of the Citizens United case. The People of the City and County of San Francisco call on other communities and jurisdictions to join this action by passing similar Resolutions.

Said Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner: “We’ll get right on that.”

Not really.