San Francisco Propositions, Local Races

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Downtown San Francisco (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Below is an edited transcript.

HOST CY MUSIKER: Over the next few weeks, we will be talking about local elections, including races in Oakland and Berkeley, plus partial taxes and school bonds around the Bay. Today we are looking at the most critical races in San Francisco and we are talking to Corey Cook. He directs the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. And Corey, let’s start with a couple of propositions on the ballot, the highest profile involves the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite Park and no pun intended because it’s around 4,000 feet. Measure F requires the city to study how to drain Hetch Hetchy and replace it as a source of hydropower and water for more than two million people living in San Francisco, the Peninsula and the East Bay.

COREY COOK: Right. In sum, it is a fairly small initiative and it all it does is fund a $8 million study and on one hand, it is really a small scale. On the other hand, the plan is then put on the ballot in San Francisco, an initiative that would ultimately drain Hetch Hetchy, which as you know, it would affect 2.5 million people, it would be enormously costly and as a result you really see this. Every member of the Board of Supervisors and the mayor united in opposition to this measure.

MUSIKER: Mayor Ed Lee and others are backing a Measure E. That is the next measure we are going to talk about. That would convert the city’s chief business tax from one taxing payroll size to one taxing business receipts. And that’s getting a rare consensus again of everybody on the supervisors but also labor and business, progressives and conservatives, why is that?

COOK: Well, in this case, yes, everybody is basically on the “yes” side and for three reasons. One is that the existing payroll tax has been called a job killer because, effectively, it taxes hiring. It taxes payroll. So as the tax on payroll, it’s been unpopular for business, it’s been unpopular for supervisors and with the Mayor certainly for a long time. But it is revenue positive and so certainly, labor is in favor and some of the more progressive voices in the city are happy because it de-rate $28.5 million annually, and it exempts small businesses. So it serves something for everybody. This is this grand compromise that did unite these different fractions in San Francisco.

MUSIKER: One more proposition to cover is Proposition C that would create a housing trust fund.

COOK: C came about because when the redevelopment agencies were taken apart in California, San Francisco, the city-county of San Francisco, lost about half of its fund for affordable housing, immediately, sort of over night. And so the question was how do you then go about funding affordable hosing in absence of redevelopment money. And the housing trust fund was a solution again, a consensus measure that was agreed upon, that would create a housing trust fund to support affordable housing, both for low-income houses and for moderate housing and the idea being to try to replace some of what was lost to redevelopment.

MUSIKER: So this sounds like something other cities might want to adopt because they also have lost their redevelopment funds.

COOK: Yes, potentially. I think there are different ways of doing this. I think they will certainly study San Francisco to see if it is the right model for their cities, but a lot of cities in California are hurting with the lost of redevelopment.

MUSIKER: A few supervisorial races now starting with District 5. That’s where Christina Olague is defending her seat and she is a mayoral appointee but she’s alienated Mayor Lee and others by voting to keep her predecessor, Ross Mirkarimi, on as Sheriff. But Olague’s chief rival, Julian Davis, is not accused of sexual harassment and he’s lost literally all of his endorsement in the progressive community. So, what do you make of this fight?

COOK: Christina Olague has been embattled as supervisor. I think she’s had some difficulty gaining her footing and sort of presenting herself as a confident member of the Board of Supervisors and so I think she has had some difficulty both with the allies of the mayor before the Mirkarimi vote and also with progressives in the district. So what submerged in this race is a candidate named London Breed who is a community activist, born and raised in the district, who I think is an interesting challenger. As well as Julian Davis, another, sort on the progressive left, who have argued that Supervisor Olague isn’t progressive enough. So I think this is turning into a fascinating race for District 5.

MUSIKER: And one more race, one we talked about last week on our air, Supervisor Eric Mar attracted national attention with his effort to ban Happy Meals in the city and he has been challenged by David Lee, a long time activist for voting rights for Chinese-Americans. What’s this race really about?

COOK: So this is the million dollar race in the city and both literally and figuratively. There is a lot of money going into this race, a lot of money from downtown interests. David Lee has been the beneficiary of a quarter million dollar so far, an independent expenditure from the Realtors Association in San Francisco. Obviously, this is a lot about downtown and development issues. Both candidates take out similar grounds on housing, in particular on tenants’ right but at the same time, the amount of money falling in suggests that there might be more at stake here that would suggest.

MUSIKER: And how might the election change the balance on the board of supervisors between those who support Mayor Lee and the so-called progressives who sometimes oppose him.

COOK: It might change the fulcrum of the board but I think more significantly it will change the composition of the board. I think, you know Sean Elsbernd, who has been the most local, moderate on the board is being termed out. Potentially, the change if Eric Mar doesn’t hold his seat or if Christina Olague doesn’t retain her seat, you may have different types of people elected and so it’s not just if the districts might shift a little bit right but more significantly, I think the composition of the board is going to change, the tone and tenor of the politics of city hall will change accordingly.

MUSIKER: Thanks so much for talking to us.

COOK: Thank you.

MUSIKER: Cory Cook directs the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco.