San Francisco Voting Guide – Propositions and Supervisors

I think this is useful and the ballot's complicated so I wanted to share how I'm voting this year. I used several sources to compile this guide:

  • The SF Chronicle's endorsements - they follow these issues every day.

  • The ballot book mailed to every voter, especially the text of the law and the main pro/con arguments.

I highly recommend voting by mail. You can feel too rushed or disorganized in the ballot booth, especially in this election, when there are so many things to vote on.

San Francisco Ballot Initiatives

The #1 issue for me in this election is housing. People make a fundamental mistake when analyzing the SF housing market; they see lots of increased demand (maybe 10%) and little increased supply (maybe 1%), and conclude "We're building housing but prices are still rising; the new housing must be causing the price increases." In reality if demand is outpacing supply you'd expect to see prices rise and supply rise, and the new housing stock is preventing the price from rising even faster than it currently is!

I also see a lot of hypocrisy. SF is full of liberals, and social mobility is a traditional liberal plank. In one of the hottest economies in the country, high rents are preventing poor people from moving here and establishing a foothold. Lowering the price of housing in our fastest growing economies is a moral imperative.

San Francisco added 5000 new units this year, and SF condos are 8% cheaper this year than last year. The market rate of rent also slowed from its normal double-digit increase. We need to build on this progress.

I want there to be more housing in San Francisco, of all shapes and sizes. In this election, anything that makes housing more complicated to build is a No; anything that makes housing easier is a Yes. Affordable housing is admirable but isn't a full answer, and gets more expensive as market rent rises. The easiest path to more affordable housing is to lower market rent.

I'll say two other things; in general I am opposed to deciding things by ballot initiative that could be resolved by the Board of Supervisors or the State Senate, since election votes tend to tie the hands of our elected officials, and can require supermajorities to unwind. So all other things being equal I am more likely to vote No on any given ballot measure.

I am also generally opposed to measures that set aside percentages of the budget, or specific dollar amounts, for any cause, no matter how noble. They reduce the flexibility of our elected officials to balance a budget, which is why we elect them in the first place. The percentage of the city budget each interest group would like to reserve for itself would well exceed 100%.

Measure A (School Bond): Yes

Measure B ($99 Parcel Tax for City College): Yes

Measure C (Repurpose Earthquake Bonds for Housing): Yes

The City is sitting on $261 million in unspent earthquake safety bonds and would like to redirect it to housing. This will increase the supply of housing.

Measure D (Short Term Appointment Rules): No

Some replacement public officials are named by the mayor to replace someone else who left their term. This measure would prevent them from running for a full term. I see no reason why appointees should not be allowed to run for a full term. The SF Chronicle opposes this measure.

Measure E (Trees Fund): No

$19 million per year for trees. In the words of the SF Chronicle, "San Francisco is running a near $10 billion budget. The civic bill for tree care is pegged at $20 million. There should be room for this expense without carving out a program that can't be changed."

Measure F (Youth Vote): No

This would let 16 and 17 year olds vote in local elections.

Measure G (Police Oversight): Yes

This would grant additional powers to a citizen review board. I think police organizations have trouble regulating themselves and this is a good step in the right direction.

Measure H (Public Advocate): No

This creates a new elected position with no power to do anything. "It's posturing minus responsibility, a dream job in the political world," according to the Chronicle.

Measure I (Senior Citizen Fund): No

This measure would set aside $38 million a year for programs for senior citizens and adults with disabilities. I support programs for senior citizens, but would rather our elected officials make decisions about the budget, instead of voters.

Measure J (Homeless Housing and Services): No Position

Measure K (Sales Tax Increase): Yes

In general I'd like to see more parcel tax increases and fewer sales tax increases, since the former hit property owners, who have been granted great gifts by Prop 13. They are also politically unpalatable.

Measure L (Muni Board): No

This would let the Board of Supervisors appoint three of the seven members of the Muni Agency. I don't see why the mayor shouldn't appoint members of the Muni Agency.

Measure M (New Housing Committee): No

This would add another layer of approval in the housing approval process, which would make it more difficult to add housing. I am against measures that would make it more difficult to add housing.

Measure N (Noncitizen Resident Voting): No

I'm sympathetic but this would likely be subject to a legal challenge.

Measure O (Office Exemptions): Yes

The city limits new office construction to 950,000 square feet. This is a silly rule, which makes it hard for startups, among others, to rent in San Francisco. This would exempt Candlestick Point development from that square footage rule.

I would like to see similar rules applied to speed housing growth, but there you go.

Measure P (Competitive Bidding for Affordable Housing): No

This makes it more difficult to build housing by discouraging projects that can't get at least three bids. From the Chronicle:

Prop. P obliges the city to seek three bids when offering city land to affordable housing builders. But City Hall already beats the bushes for multiple contenders. By one count, the last 10 projects had at least two bidders. Locking in a three-bid minimum could kill projects which don’t attract that threshold number of entrants. The measure has the potential to stop promising deals, the last thing San Francisco needs.

Measure Q (Prohibit Tent Placement): No

This wouldn't have much practical effect, and won't really help much to address the shortage of beds.

Measure R (Neighborhood Crime Unit): No

This would allocate 3% of the police force for neighborhood crime. Even if this is an issue that could be addressed by this allocation, I don't think the right answer is for the voters to make allocation decisions for the police department.

Measure S (Hotel Money Allocation): No

This would allocate the 8% hotel tax for the arts and for the homeless. In general I'm against allocating revenue for specific purposes; this isn't an exception. I doubt this will matter; the Chronicle has no position and there are no arguments against the measure in the ballot book.

Measure T (Lobbying Rules): Yes

This would add tighter restrictions on what lobbyists are allowed to do and spend to influence votes.

Measure U (Median Income): No

This would help middle income families qualify for affordable housing at the expense of lower income families. Per [the Chronicle][measure-u], "The guidelines for competitive bidding and income qualifications are better left to a process of legislative hearings, study and political compromise that balances the competing goals and concerns. These are not issues to be settled at the ballot box."

The solution here is more housing of all stripes, and hopefully market rate housing that is affordable to middle income families. This wouldn't help.

Measure V (Soda Tax): Yes

Charging a higher price for something is a good way to discourage people from getting it. This strategy has been used very successfully with cigarettes, which cause cancer in others via secondhand smoke; raising the price of cigarettes makes it an expensive habit. The fact that this raises money for the City is an ancillary benefit. The goal of this bill is to make sugary drinks more expensive and non-sugary drinks cheaper by comparison.

I'm also dismayed by the efforts of bill opponents, who have sent volumes of mail and mislead when they call this a "grocery tax." It's a 1 cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks.

Measure W (Higher City Transfer Taxes): No Opinion

The arguments for this measure all seem to say "this will help make City College free", which is very odd since it seems the tax money will go into the General Fund.

The arguments against point out that this also applies to rent controlled buildings and large buildings.

Measure X (Arts Use in New Buildings): No

This would add restrictions if you want to build housing in an area that was formerly used for the arts or certain types of small businesses. We shouldn't be voting on this, and it makes it more difficult to build housing, maybe more so than any other measure on the ballot.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors

District 1: Marjan Philhour

Marjan wants to build more housing of all shapes and sizes to address the area's housing crisis. She's also been endorsed by the Chronicle.

District 3: No Recommendation

Aaron Peskin is the incumbent who is going to win going away. Peskin has held up new housing on several occasions. He's also supported symbolic efforts to oppose Governor Brown's by right legislation, which would have done more for housing growth than any other proposal in a long time. Peskin also believes that you should only be allowed to exceed existing density limits if you build 100% affordable housing, which is a great way to grandstand for affordable housing while ensuring no new housing gets built.

He is being opposed by Tim Donnelly, who supports "respecting building limits", increasing parking, expanding rent control, and "giving residents a voice" because changes have been made "despite overwhelming opposition from the local community." It does not sound like Mr Donnelly is in favor of more housing.

District 5: No Recommendation

London Breed voted against Governor Brown's by right legislation, which would have helped increase the market-rate and affordable housing stock in San Francisco by letting developers build any project that followed local zoning rules and had 20% affordable housing. She also supports affordability requirements that make it difficult to build more housing.

She is being opposed by Dean Preston, who is running against "rent gouging", and supports an "anti-demolition" ordinance for "historic" buildings. Mr. Preston would not make it easier to build more housing in San Francisco.

District 7: Joel Engardio

Engardio is running against Norman Yee, who supports CEQA, a law that is frequently abused to oppose housing. Engardio supports building more housing. "I also know that building more housing will help middle income residents become homeowners -- and we want to keep families from leaving San Francisco. Restricting supply only drives prices higher," he writes.

District 9: No Endorsement

Hillary Ronen pledges to "fight for an affordable San Francisco" and wants to build 5000 units of affordable housing in 10 years. There was a very easy way to have accomplished 5000 units of affordable housing - support Governor Brown's by right housing legislation, which would have guaranteed that 20% of every new building in San Francisco would have been affordable. Her boss, David Campos, voted against it. She also wants to leverage state and federal funds to build affordable housing. Her boss's vote against by right legislation helped remove $400 million for affordable housing from the state budget.

District 11: No Endorsement

None of the candidates in either of these districts seem to agree that building more housing of any shape and size is the best way to alleviate our affordability crisis for everyone. Notably bad is District 11's Kim Alvarenga, running on a platform of "more parking" and "100% affordable housing", which is very difficult to build.

Coming Soon!

California State Propositions, BART director, judicial elections, State Senate and US Senate.

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