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User Friendly Ballot Guide Part Two: Local Edition
Scott Lucas | Photo: Bettina Neuefeind | October 29, 2012
From reservoirs in Hetch Hetchy to City College of San Francisco, the local ballot measures this November are a fascinating, if sometimes confusing bunch. Issues before the voters of the City this year include the business tax code, park funding, and affordable housing, with a cameo from a Libertarian party member named Starchild.
Building off our easy-to-use guide to the state propositions (modernluxury.com/san-francisco/story/ballot-propositions-dummies-voter-friendly-political-cheat-sheet), we now present our cheat sheet for the San Francisco-only measures on this November’s ballot. Don’t forget, election day is Tuesday, November 6th.
Upshot: Would levy a $79 parcel tax to fund the beleaguered City College of San Francisco.
Background: The City College system relies in large part on funds from the state of California, which has been decreasing its spending in many areas, including higher education. For instance, in 2011, the Legislature cut that funding by $17 million, and deeper cuts are projected in future years. This measure would raise approximately $16 annually. This money would be used, in part, to offer academic classes, keep libraries and student support services open, and update technology.
Pro: CCSF serves more than 90,000 students annually, offering two-year degrees and workforce training. Supporters argue that this proposition is needed to offset the state cuts. Endorsements include most of the city’s political establishment.
Con: Opponents, including San Francisco’ Libertarian Party, point to the initial report of the Accreditation Commission, which stated that CCSF suffers from fiscal mismanagement. They argue that CCSF should cut non-essential spending like retiree benefits.
Crystal Ball: Higher education funding is usually a political winner, especially when the money goes directly to a local institution. However, this proposition needs to clear a 2/3-majority threshold, which is difficult even without its ongoing accreditation issues.
Upshot: Would allow the city to issue $195 million in bonds to go to neighborhood parks and waterfront open spaces.
Background: This money would go to seismic upgrades of park facilities, replacing unsafe playground equipment, and improving disabled accessibility. It isn’t a tax increase, but rather, it allows the city to borrow the money to fund these efforts. The Recreation and Parks Department has drawn flak lately for what critics call a policy of privatization.
Pro: Like Prop. A, most of the city’s political establishment is also supporting this one. They argue that some park facilities are out of date and need upgrades. It's not often that the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and the San Francisco Labor Council line up on the same side of an issue.
Con: Some progressive and neighborhood groups oppose the measure. Aaron Peskin, former President of the Board of Supervisors, claims that the Recreation and Parks Department is “bent on squeezing out maximum possible revenue from our parks,” and should be reformed before any bond money is allocated.
Crystal Ball: A two-thirds majority might be a tough climb given the opposition of various neighborhood groups.
Upshot: Would allow the city to create an affordable housing fund to support low- and moderate-income housing. This measure resulted from a compromise between housing activists and the real estate industry.
Background: Although the city currently spends funds to support affordable housing, this proposition would streamline these efforts and make up some of the slack after the state shuttered its redevelopment agencies, which used to carry out similar housing programs. The fund would start at $20 million and gradually grow to $50 million.
Pro: Supporters include Mayor Lee, most of the Board of Supes, housing activists, and the real estate industry. They argue that Prop. C will both create jobs and provide housing.
Con: Opponents include Starchild, a perennial Libertarian candidate and self-described “erotic service provider.” Their argument is that the redevelopment agencies left a legacy of waste and racism, and that this proposal would not actually make housing more affordable.
Crystal Ball: As much as we love Starchild, the 50 percent threshold for Prop. C makes it a likely winner.
Upshot: Currently, the mayor, sheriff, and the district attorney are elected in one election cycle, but the city attorney and treasurer in another, two years later. This proposition would put all of those offices onto the same November ballot.
Background: The mayor, sheriff, and district attorney will all be up for election in November, 2015. The city attorney and treasurer, on the other hand, will be up in November, 2013. If passed, this proposition would consolidate those elections onto the same year, staring in 2015.
Pro: Because the city attorney and treasurer are currently elected in off-year elections, voter turnout in those races tends to be lower. Having staggered elections costs the city an extra $1 million per year over the costs of having a consolidated election.
Con: Opponents argue that more frequent elections are good for democracy. Some of them quote the ancient Greek democrats on that point (which is why we love to live in San Francisco).
Crystal Ball: Pericles, Thucydides, and Solon notwithstanding, this one probably passes.
Upshot: Changes the way the business taxes are calculated from a payroll system to a gross receipts basis. Would probably lower taxes on small businesses and raise them on large ones.
Background: Currently, businesses pay taxes to the city based on how many people they employ. This tax is a flat 1.5 percent of payroll costs for all firms, except those with under $250,00 of payroll. Under the new proposal, the city would institute a progressive tax on businesses, calculated according to gross receipts (i.e. how much cash they take in). Receipts under $1 million per year would be exempt, and those over the threshold would be subject to an increasing tax rate. The city controller has determined that the two system would generate equivalent returns to the city.
Pro: Mayor Lee, all of the current supes, tech VC Ron Conway’s sf.citi, and even the San Francisco Republican Party are all in favor. The basic argument is that the new system would be more fair, help small businesses, and improve the city’s business climate.
Con: The San Francisco Libertarian Party is opposed because they believe it would reduce employment and that the new tax would generate more for the City than the current system.
Crystal Ball: Democrats. Republicans. The Council of Community Housing Organizations. SF Citi. Cats and dogs living together! It’s hard to see how a proposal with this wide of support could fail.
Upshot: Requires the city to prepare a plan for draining the Hetch Hetchy resevoir and restoring the land to the National Park Service.
Background: Where does our water come from? In 1923, San Francisco built a dam across the Tuolumne River and created an enormous reservoir out of the Hetch Hetchy Valley near Yosemite National Park. Our water has come directly from there ever since. If passed, this proposition would require a study of how to transform San Francisco’s water supply. After developed, that plan would go before the voters for approval.
Pro: Naturalist John Muir himself called the Hetch Hetchy Valley “Yosemite’s twin” and San Francisco is the only city in the country that owns a dam in the middle of a National Park. Proponents, including many environmentalists, argue that San Francisco should shift toward a less environmentally-damaging water source.
Con: Mayor Lee called this idea “stupid” and “insane,” a view shared by most of the City’s heavy-hitters (if not in quite that blunt of language). Even Senator Dianne Feinstein has weighed in with her opposition, saying that the proposal would jeopardize San Francisco’s water supply.
Crystal Ball: Forget it Jake, it’s Chinatown.
Upshot: A non-binding resolution that would set city policy to be that corporations should not have the same political rights as people.
Background: In 2010, a closely-divided Supreme Court ruled that corporations were entitled to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. One of the bases for this ruling was a legal doctrine known as “corporate personhood,” which holds that businesses have an equivalent standing to human beings. Republican candidate Mitt Romney famously endorsed this idea from the campaign trail, when he remarked that, “Corporations are people too, my friend.”
Pro: People opposed to corporate personhood point to the corrupting nature of money in the political system, as well as the inherent absuridity of the doctrine.
Con: One common argument in favor of corporate personhood is that people acting in a group, which in some sense is what a corporation represents, shouldn't lose the rights that they enjoy individually.
Crystal Ball: Don’t be surprised if San Francisco decides to stick it to the Man on this one.
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