Citizens of Bernal Heights! It’s time to vote!
The day after Great Britain’s sad Brexit vote, a New York Times reporter joked on Twitter that “the State of California should go around the world doing a scared-straight talk on governing by referendum.” So true. The same can be said for the City of San Francisco. There are so many local propositions on this ballot that we almost ran out of letters in the alphabet, and only four of them got there thanks to citizen signature drives. Most of the rest came from members of the Board of Supervisors. Pity us, and pity your USPS letter carrier.
Per usual, voters are advised to be wary of any initiative that ends up on our ballot. Yet there’s a lot at stake for Bernal Heights in this election — including a new representative on the Board of Supervisors — so here is Bernalwood’s superhyperlocal guide to navigating your unwieldy San Francisco ballot.
(NOTE: For the TL; DR, A handy clip n’ save/copy n’ paste version of Bernalwood’s slate card appears at the end of this post.)
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS – DISTRICT 9
Bernal Heights rarely gets the opportunity to choose a new representative to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, but Supervisor David Campos is termed-out, and it’s time for a change. A real change.
At first blush, the two leading candidates for the D9 Supe seem pretty similar. Joshua Arce and Hillary Ronen are both progressive. Both are parents to young children. Both speak Spanish fluently. Both are lawyers with deep experience fighting for social justice. And both are renters (though Ronen only moved to D9 late last year).
The big difference between them is that Hillary Ronen is running as the chosen heir to David Campos, our current Supervisor. For the last six years, Ronen has been an insider working for Campos in City Hall as his legislative aide, and she’s running to continue many of his current policies for another four+ years. That’s unfortunate, because Supervisor Campos has become an increasingly divisive and mean-spirited figure who presided over a worsening affordability crisis in D9, with no new affordable housing developments built here during his tenure. Meanwhile, increased property crime has been a persistent woe, along with indifference to quality-of -life concerns and transit improvements. Campos has also dogmatically opposed building more housing (at least until lobbyists pay proper homage).
Sure, it sucks to have an embarrassing boss, but as Campos’s self-described “chief of staff,” Ronen bears some responsibility for failures that include many pieces of legislation that were thrown out by the courts, others which backfired, and an exasperating pattern of ignoring constituent calls and emails. (Really, it’s difficult to overstate how frequently Bernalwood hears about this from frustrated Bernal residents who have gotten zero response from Campos’s office in general, and sometimes, from Ronen in particular.)
This pattern of sloppiness seems set to continue, as the centerpiece of Ronen’s campaign is a pledge to create 5000 new units of subsidized-affordable housing in the next 10 years. It’s a swell slogan, and a nice round number, but here in the realm of reality, subsidized-affordable housing costs around $600,000 per unit to build. So Ronen’s 5000 units would cost a staggering $3 billion, and her plan is so poorly thought-out that when asked at a recent debate how she would make it happen, she pulled a Rick Perry and forgot her own answer.
Enough. As D9 Supervisor, Josh Arce would be a more effective progressive to represent Bernal Heights. With a background in environmental justice and affordable housing development, Arce is a patient community-builder and a careful policymaker, and in recent years he’s used those skills to help shut down dirty power plants and create new employment opportunities for local construction workers. Here in Bernal, neighbors have praised his work on projects such as the Esmeralda Slide Re-Renovation and the installation of the (previously stalled) new Coleridge Mini-Park lighting. The reports Bernalwood has received highlight his persistence, his ability to get results from City bureaucracy, his engagement, and his attention to detail.
Arce’s proposal to pay for a new BART station on Mission at 30th Street by building 1600 new units of housing on City-identified sites and parking lots is a compelling long-term vision for the future of our Mission Street corridor. And though Arce is the first to admit it will be challenging to realize, a new BART station would also cost at least $2.5 billion dollars less than Ronen’s far-fetched housing scheme. In the face of the ongoing affordability crisis, we need a Supervisor who will work for all D9 residents without creating spiteful divisions based based on when people moved here and where they go to work. Josh Arce is the best candidate to represent Bernal Heights on the Board of Supervisors.
There’s an open State Senate seat, and two current members of the Board of Supervisors — Jane Kim and Scott Wiener — both want the job. Both have done good work on the Board of Supes, but Wiener has been more steady supporter of creating more new housing of all types and improving our transit system. As an added bonus, Wiener also enjoys a strong reputation for providing timely responses to his constituents’ concerns, and he’s a data geek. Jane Kim is charismatic, but Scott Wiener’s overall approach to policymaking has been more more rigorous and more consistent. So he gets the nod.
D9 – Gwyneth J. Borden
PROP A: School Bonds – YES
Proposition A would authorize the San Francisco Board of Education to issue $744 million in general obligation bonds to upgrade San Francisco public schools. Most of the money will be used for seismic upgrades and modernization of existing schools, but the bond would also enable construction of two new elementary schools and a new school for the arts, a well as some dedicated housing for teachers.
PROP B: City College Parcel Tax – YES
City College of San Francisco is a public community college that provides crucial (and affordable) educational opportunities for residents who need them most. Prop B would impose a parcel tax $99 per property per year for 15 years to provide dedicated funding for CCSF. Sadly, CCSF has struggled in recent years, after its accreditation was almost revoked in 2013 because of poor financial management. The struggle continues, but Prop B would help but City College on a more stable footing — assuming the Board of Supervisors resists the temptation to meddle in the school’s affairs.
Prop C: Loans to Finance Acquisition and Rehabilitation of Affordable Housing – YES
Prop C would make it possible to use about $261 million in leftover funds from a previous seismic retrofit bond to acquire and rehabilitate apartments for conversion to permanently affordable housing within the framework of the City’s Small Site Acquisition and Rehabilitation Program. The City would use the funds to offer low-interest loans so “private parties” (mostly nonprofit housing agencies) can acquire buildings that might otherwise be converted into single-family homes or condos.
D: Vacancy Appointments – NO
Prop D would change the system used to fill vacancies when elected officials — such as members of the Board of Supervisors — give up their seats. Under the current system, the mayor appoints people to fill vacancies until the next citywide election, when the appointed office-holder must stand for election like any other candidate. Prop D would change that, by requiring a special election to be held within 180 days of a vacancy occurring. But Prop D’s special elections would be expensive and cumbersome to administer, with low voter turnout likely, so the special elections would be ripe for manipulation by special interests and political factions. Any effort to change existing election rules should be viewed with a skepticism, and Prop D is a classic case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. No on D.
Prop E: Responsibility for Maintaining Street Trees and Surrounding Sidewalks – YES
In 2014, San Francisco effectively walked away from it’s longstanding commitment to maintain the trees that line City streets, and arbitrarily shifted the cost of street tree maintenance to private homeowners. For some unlucky residents, like Bernal neighbor Laura Gold, this has resulted in massive tree pruning bills levied under threat of legal penalty. Prop E reverses this by establishing a relatively modest (but apparently adequate) budgetary set-aside that will allow the City to once again assume responsibility for street tree maintenance. Street trees grow in public space, and all San Franciscans benefit from them. This is the kind of public infrastructure that taxes are supposed to pay for.
Prop F: Youth Voting in Local Elections – NO
Prop F would allow 16 or 17 year-olds to vote in local elections, but as argued elsewhere here, any effort to change our electoral rules should be approached with caution. Voting is a privilege, and elections have real consequences. So if you’re intimidated by the task of wading through all 24 (!!!!) of the San Francisco propositions placed on this ballot, there’s little reason to think that 16 year olds have any more o the judgement, experience, or patience required to make informed decisions on taxes, bonds, charter amendments, civic administration, resource allocation, and land use policy. Yet.
Prop G: Police Oversight – YES
Prop G would give more teeth to the Office of Citizen Complaints (OCC), the body that currently investigates allegations brought by members of the public regarding wrongdoing by San Francisco Police Department. Prop G would reconstitute the OCC as a new Department of Police Accountability, while separating its budged from that of the Police Commission — and thus, hopefully, giving it more independence as well. The last few years have provided plenty of evidence that we need stronger oversight of the SFPD, and Prop G is a step in the right direction.
H: Public Advocate – NO, NO, NO
Do you think we need a new a new bureaucracy to administer City programs, conduct public hearings, and introduce legislation to the Board of Supervisors? In other words, do you think we need yet another politician to perform the same tasks that the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors already perform right now? Prop H would do just this, creating a new elected official and a parallel set of new City Hall staff positions, with taxpayers footing the bill for all this the tune of about $4 million a year. That’s a lot to pay to get more redundancy and red tape. There are plenty of dubious ideas on this ballot, but Prop H is one of the silliest — unless you happen to enjoy bloated bureaucracy and pointless political gridlock. Vote no.
Prop I: Funding for Seniors and Adults with Disabilities – NO
Prop I would require the City to spend $38 million from the general fund to pay for support services for seniors and adults with disabilities, with the size of the fund increasing by about $3 million a year until 2026-2027. This is a worthy cause, of course, but budgetary mandates are bad policy because they restrict the City’s ability to prioritize spending when times are lean. Say no to clumsy budget set-asides. No on Prop I.
J: Funding for Homelessness and Transportation – NO
Prop J would mandate that a portion of the new tax revenue created by Prop K would be allocated for use to fund homeless services and transportation improvements. As with Prop I, however, this is another case of worthy causes tied to yet another misguided “set-aside” funding requirement. Say no to gimmicky budget set-asides. No on Prop J.
Prop K: General Sales Tax – NO
Prop K would increase the sales tax by 0.75% for a total sales tax rate of 9.25%. It’s intended to work in tandem with Prop J, which would set-aside this new revenue for transit improvements and care for the homeless. (The two propositions appear separately as part of a ballot box hack that allows each measure to pass with just a simple majority, rather than two-thirds requirement that applies to new taxes allocated for specific purposes.) We need more transit funding, and we need to do more to help the homeless, but regressive sales taxes, rigid budget set-asides, and ballot-box games are the wrong way to get there.
Prop L: MTA Appointments and Budget – NO
Transit riders in the Mission and Bernal say Muni has generally been performing much better lately. Now the Board of Supervisors wants to screw it up again. Prop L would alter how appointments are made to the SFMTA Board of Directors by creating split appointments between the Board of Supervisors and the mayor. It also allows the Board of Supervisors to overrule the SFMTA’s budget by a simple majority vote. Both of these proposals would reverse the (largely effective) Muni governance reforms San Francisco voters approved in 1999. Muni still has a long way to go, but exposing it to more political interference by Supervisors would be a great leap backward. The San Francisco Transit Riders Union agrees — they’re opposing Prop L too.
M: Housing and Development Commission – NO
San Francisco’s stifling bureaucracy and byzantine permitting process has been a major cause of our current housing affordability crisis. Anyone who lives here knows this intuitively, and an overwhelming majority of economists say that existing barriers to home construction make our affordability and inequality problems even worse . Prop M would add even more bureaucracy and even more opportunities for political meddling with San Francisco’s planning process. That would likely make our housing affordability problem worse.
N: Non-Citizen Voting in School Board Elections – NO
Prop N would allow non-citizens to vote in San Francisco School Board elections. While non-citizen parents with kids in City schools certainly have a stake in our civic institutions, the notion that citizenship is a basic voting requirement remains a foundational idea of our democracy — and Prop N may be run contrary to California’s state constitution. San Francisco voters have already rejected this idea twice, in 2004 and 2010.
O: Office Development in Candlestick Point and Hunters Point – YES
Prop I would allow office development in Candlestick Point and the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard to proceed without counting toward the annual citywide cap on allowable office development in San Francisco. This is what happens when one generation of San Franciscans uses the ballot to make future city planning a ballot issue. First, we passed Prop M in 1986, which capped the amount of office space that can be built each year. Then we passed Prop G in 2008, to approve major development in Bayview/Hunters Point. But the development approved by Prop G busted the Prop M cap for office development (none of the office construction has even begun yet, 8 years later). So now we’re trapped in a foolish cycle of passing repeated ballot measures to get around the Prop M straightjacket when planning priorities change, We should leave the planning process to our elected officials, rather than slavishly binding ourselves to the anxieties of 30 years ago.
Prop P: Competitive Bidding for Affordable Housing Projects on City-Owned Property – YES
Prop P would require the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development (MOHCD) to publish proposed affordable housing projects to the public for open bidding and submission of proposals. At least three bids or proposals must be received, and the City would be required to accept the proposal that’s the “best value” (but not necessarily the cheapest). MOHCD already uses a competitive bidding process to select developers for affordable housing opportunities on city-owned property, and in the past 17 years, most projects have had at least two bids. Yet a clubby atmosphere exists among many of San Francisco affordable housing developers, which often partner with one another both to secure public development contracts and oppose market-rate housing construction. In other words — Surprise! — affordable housing developers can be just as political and self-interested as any other real estate developer. Prop P would help keep those tendencies in check, and at a time when it costs $600,000 to build a single unit of affordable housing in San Francisco, taxpayers need to make every dollar go as far as we can.
Q: Prohibiting Tents on Public Sidewalks – NO ENDORSEMENT
San Francisco’s homeless problem is both a tragedy for those who are homeless and an unfair burden placed upon City residents who live near homeless encampments. This initiative won’t eliminate tents on public sidewalks, but at a time when San Francisco is already spending almost $250 million a year on homeless services, it should come as no surprise that many San Francisco residents will use this flawed proposal to send a message that allowing people to live in tents on City sidewalks is simply not acceptable.
R: Neighborhood Crime Unit – NO
Prop R would require the San Francisco Police Department t establish a Neighborhood Crime Unit and staff it with a minimum of 3 percent of all sworn personnel. Yes, absolutely, local property crime is a huge issue in San Francisco — and here in Bernal. But locking-in police staffing ratios by way of a ballot measure is the wrong way to solve the problem.
Prop S: Allocation of Hotel Tax Funds – NO
This would set-aside a portion of our hotel tax revenue to support the arts and homeless families. ( San Francisco has some of the highest hotel taxes in the nation.) As we’ve said elsewhere here, the arts and homelessness are important priorities, but set-asides established at the ballot box are a terrible way to establish policy. We elect the Mayor and our Supervisors to set budget priorities and make hard choices, and we should hold them accountable. Say it like a mantra: Budget by ballot is a bad idea.
Prop T: Restricting Gifts and Campaign Contributions from Lobbyists – YES
Prop T imposes stricter registration requirements for lobbyists and restricts gifts and campaign contributions from lobbyists to city officials. It would require lobbyists to identify which city agencies they intend to influence. It would also prohibit lobbyists from making any contribution to city elected officials or candidates, as well as from gathering contributions from others (known as “bundling”). SF already requires lobbyists to register, to disclose who they lobby, and to disclose any contributions. (And this is how we know about D9 candidate Hillary Ronen’s cozy and complex relationship with the developers building 2000 Bryant Street, for example.) There’s nothing wrong with lobbying per se, but the more openness and transparency that surrounds it, the better.
Prop U: Affordable Housing Requirements for Market-Rate Development Projects – YES
Amid the clamor to create more subsidized-affordable housing in San Francisco, many residents are stuck in a Twilight Zone: They’re not wealthy enough to buy a market-rate home, but they earn too much to qualify for subsidized housing. Prop U would make subsidized housing available to those who earn 110% of Area Median Income (AMI), up from 55% AMI today. (For reference, 110% of AMI is $118,450 for a household of four.) The downside is that opening up subsidized affordable housing to moderate-income buyers may increase competition for subsidized units among lower-income people. Tough call here, because this proposal basically pits the poor against people like public school teachers, and it doesn’t provide any new affordable housing. But on balance we’d prefer to make subsidized housing available to more San Franciscans.
Prop V: Tax on Distributing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages — Meh
Sugary drinks are shitty products, but they’re not the same as cigarettes. That’s to say, the harms caused by sugary drinks don’t justify a regressive tax on soda intended to discourage people from buying it. (And the tax probably doesn’t work anyway.) However, the scope and slippery scale of the effort launched by soda companies to oppose Prop V has done them no favors. Forced to choose between Big Soda and a patronizing nanny-state intervention, we throw up our hands in fizzy disgust.
Prop W: Real Estate Transfer Tax on Properties Over $5 Million – NO
Prop W would increate the size of the tax charged when real estate with a value of more than $5 million is sold. This has been pitched as a way to stick it to the rich, but the tax doesn’t only apply to single-family residences. Any property that sells for more than $5 million would be subject to the new tax, including multi-unit dwellings, tenancies-in-common, and office buildings. San Francisco already has higher transfer taxes than most other municipalities in the region, and Prop W is poorly tailored. Truth is, $5 million isn’t all that much in our City’s ridiculously expensive real estate market, and there’s no compelling reason to make it even more expensive for people who want to invest in the future of our City.
X: Preserving Space for Production, Distribution, and Repair Spaces in Certain Neighborhoods – NO, NO, NO
San Francisco faces a housing shortage in no small part because we enact so many land use restrictions. That’s counterproductive, if your goal is to prevent displacement. If we want to make housing more affordable and more plentiful, we must make it easier to build more housing in parts of the City where it’s needed most. Prop X makes home construction harder, by requiring that we set aside more space for warehouse and manufacturing use. Even SFMade, a trade group representing 650 San Francisco-based “makers,” says Prop X is a bad idea. Put housing first, with no exceptions. No on X.
Prop RR: BART Safety, Reliability and Traffic Relief YES, YES, YES
This is the proper way to pay for the public transit improvements we so desperately need. Prop RR authorizes BART to issue $3.5 billion in bonds to fund system renewal projects, backed by a tax on property within the three-county BART District (which includes San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties). To pay for the bond, property taxes of the typical SF homeowner would rise by approximately $2 per $100k of assessed value in the first year, up to $17 per $100k of assessed value per year by 2035. (The average tax increase over the life of the bonds is about $9 per $100k of assessed value per year). BART is 40 years old. It desperately needs more maintenance and repair. Prop RR is a no-brainer, and frankly, we only wish the bond issue was bigger, to make BART even bigger, and even better.
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Bernalwood’s November 2016 Election Endorsements
- Board of Supervisors, District 9: Joshua Arce
- State Senate: Scott Wiener
- Judge: Paul Henderson
- School Board: Stevon Cook, Matt Haney, Trevor McNeil, Rachel Norton
- BART Board: Gwyneth J. Borden
- City College: Amy Bacharach, Rafael Mandelman, Alex Randolph, Shanell Williams
Prop A: YES
Prop B: YES
Prop C: YES
Prop D: NO
Prop E: YES
Prop F: NO
Prop G: YES
Prop H: NO, NO, NO
Prop I: NO
Prop J: NO
Prop K: NO
Prop L: NO
Prop M: NO
Prop N: NO
Prop O: YES
Prop P: YES
Prop Q: NO ENDORSEMENT
Prop R: NO
Prop S: NO
Prop T: YES
Prop U: YES
Prop V: MEH
Prop W: NO
Prop X: NO!
Prop RR: YES
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