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The Super-Last Minute, Short-Attention-Span Guide to San Francisco’s Ballot Props

Haven't voted yet? If you only spend 10 minutes on this thing, this is your guide.


San Francisco’s ballot is so long this year that, if it were a test, there’s not a high-schooler around who could fit the answers on one hand. We’ve given up hope making this a truly quick-and-dirty cheat sheet, but here’s the next best thing: ballot triage. We’ve divided up the state and local measures by the level of attention required to vote on them. At the top (“vote your conscience”), the stuff that really matters. Next is “buyer beware”—things that sound OK but may not be as straightforward as they seem, and so your gut reaction might lead you astray. Last, “set it and forget it,” for the measures that are simple or inconsequential enough that you can just turn off your brain and go with your voter guide of choice.


G: Police oversight

Vote yes if: You want the Office of Citizen Complaints, the civilian body that oversees the San Francisco Police Department, to get toothier.

Reconsider if: you think SFPD can oversee itself. (Hey, is that a POA button on your bag?)

J: Homeless services and transportation funds

Vote yes if: you want to throw lots of money at two pernicious problems—homelessness and transportation—for the next two decades-plus. The more than $150 million a year in new spending would be funded with a three-quarter-cent sales tax (aka Prop. K).

Reconsider if: you just want to be contrary? (In that case, keep reading—this ballot’s got plenty of fodder for a real spite vote.)

K: Sales tax increase

Vote yes if: see above

T: Restricting gifts from lobbyists

Vote yes if: you want to ban lobbyists from giving gifts to city officials, either directly or through a third party. 

Reconsider if: you’re a lobbyist.

V: Soda tax

Vote yes if: you want to curb soda consumption by making it slightly more expensive (and add about $15 million a year to the General Fund).

Reconsider if: you don’t like regressive taxes—and maybe also feel weird singling out soda for the public-health consequences of too much sugar in everything.

Reconsider your reconsideration if: those smarmy “grocery tax” fliers make you want to stick it to Big Soda.

RR: BART bond

Vote yes if: you want to shore up aging, flailing BART with a $3.5 billion bond.

Reconsider if: you’re holding out for the Hyperloop (but you’re hereby banned from complaining about BART ever again).


51: $9 billion school bond

Vote yes if: you want to replenish the emptied fund for building and renovating schools.

Reconsider if: you don’t think the bond program does enough to prioritize the neediest schools, and if it bothers you that developers and construction companies crafted it.

57: Early parole for nonviolent offenders

Vote yes if: you want to alleviate crowding in California’s prisons—and reverse some of the damage of Three Strikes.

Reconsider if: you’re a prosecutor.

62: Death penalty repeal

Vote yes if: you think that the state shouldn’t be executing people or if you just want to safeguard against executing the wrong people.

Reconsider if: We honestly can’t think of anything to put here.

63: Background checks for ammunition purchasers

Vote yes if: you want to extend gun control to ammunition by banning large-capacity magazines and requiring background checks for people buying ammunition. Similar to laws already passed this year but tighter.

Reconsider if: you’re OK with the current law and wary of ballot-box legislating.

64: Legalizing marijuana

Vote yes if: you want pot sales to be legal—and taxable. And in all likelihood cheaper.

Reconsider if: you’re a high-powered grower (and, let’s be honest, kind of a hypocrite).

66: Speeding up the death penalty 

Vote yes if: you’re pro–death penalty and want the appeals process to take less time. 

Warning for “yes on 62 voters”: You’ll want to vote no on 66, because if it passes, it supersedes the death penalty repeal.

 LOCAL ***

A: 20-year, $744-million school bond

Vote yes if: you want to fund seismic and tech upgrades to schools, and put $100 million toward a new Civic Center arts hub for the school district.

Reconsider if: you question the district’s spending decisions.

D: Vacancy appointments

Vote yes if: you want mayor-appointed officials to serve for less time and be ineligible to run in the next election.

Reconsider if: you find it bizarre that a mayor-appointed supervisor wouldn’t be accountable to voters.

H: Public advocate

Vote yes if: you want a check on Mayor Lee’s power in the form of likely electee David Campos. 

Reconsider if: you remember that a new mayor will be elected in 2018, but we’ll still have this permanently funded position—with support staff!—to the tune of cost of $600,000 to $800,000 per year.

I: $38 million annual funding requirement serving seniors and disabled adults

Vote yes if: you want to guarantee funding that will support the city’s growing senior population.

Reconsider if: you trust the city to budget for these needs as they arise without locking in a specific level of funding a decade in advance.

L: Muni appointments

Vote yes if: you want the Board of Supervisors to wrest away some of the mayor’s power to appoint members to the Municipal Transportation Agency.

Reconsider if: you’re wary of changing the way government runs based on who’s in power right this second.

M: Housing and development commission

Vote yes if: you want to take housing and development out from under the Mayor’s Office and put them under the authority of a new commission, to be appointed by the mayor, the Board of Supervisors, and the controller. 

Reconsider if: you’re wary of voting on a change whose consequences are really hard to understand from here.

P: Bids for affordable housing projects

Vote yes if: you want the city to require three bids from affordable housing developers proposing to build on city land.

Reconsider if: you’re struggling to name more than three affordable housing developers that regularly bid on projects in San Francisco.

Q: Homeless tent ban

Vote yes if: you want to make street camping explicitly illegal, and make it easier for cops and city workers to demolish encampments.

Reconsider if: you think it’s cruel to keep shuffling people around without actually giving them a permanent place to go. 

R: Neighborhood crime units

Vote yes if: you want to require the SFPD to commit a certain number of officers to policing neighborhood crime.

Reconsider if: you’re wondering what on earth voters know about police staffing strategy.

S: Hotel tax redistribution

Vote yes if: you want San Francisco’s roughly $380 million per year in hotel tax funds to be dedicated to the arts and some homeless services.

Reconsider if: you’re fine with keeping the money in the General Fund and letting lawmakers do their jobs when they create the budget.

U: Qualifications for affordable housing

Vote yes if: you want to make middle-income people eligible for affordable housing.

Vote no if: you’re wary of pitting the have-nots and have-some-but-not-a-lots against each other.

W: Real estate transfer tax

Vote yes if: you want to raise taxes on properties that sell for more than $5 million. (This measure is tacitly tied to Supervisor Jane Kim’s Free City College plan.)

Reconsider if: you thought this was a “mansion tax” (it applies to commercial buildings, which are far more numerous than mansions).

X: Preserving space for neighborhood arts and small businesses

Vote yes if: you liked last year’s failed Mission Moratorium and want the part addressing commercial space to stand.

Reconsider if: you recall that six supervisors put this on the ballot, meaning six supervisors can make it law without sending it to voters. 


52: Hospital fees

Vote yes if: you want to guarantee the maximum annual funding for Medi-Cal by levying a $5 billion annual fee on hospitals (which triggers a federal contribution of about $4 billlion).

Reconsider if: you’re fine to let the legislature extend legislation that does the same thing (though it’s possible they could divert some of the money in lean years).

53: Voter approval for revenue bonds above $2 billion

Vote yes if: you want to make it harder to build big infrastructure projects, like the state's high-speed rail effort (that's what this is really about).

Reconsider if: you're OK with entrusting major spending decisions to a higher authority (isn't that why we have government?)

60: Condoms in porn

Vote yes if: you’re worried about the sexual health of porn performers.

Reconsider if: you’re skeptical of regulating this by ballot vote. (Psst, lawmakers! Where you at?)

61: Prescription drug prices

Vote yes if: you want to tie the prices California pays for prescription drugs to the prices the Department of Veterans Affairs pays.

Reconsider if: you’re worried about this backfiring in any number of ways, or even wondering if it’ll work. The state Legislative Analyst’s Office finds “potential” for cost savings but also points to “major uncertainties” about how the policy would be carried out—and whether Big Pharma would cooperate.


Made it this far? Congrats! Just coast with your favorite voter guide from here on out. 


Prop. B: City College parcel tax

Prop. C: Loans to finance buying and fixing affordable housing

Prop. E: $19 million annual funding requirement for the maintenance of street trees

Prop. F: Lowering the local voting age to 16

Prop. N: Noncitizen voting in school-board elections

Prop. O: Exception to the office-development cap for Hunter’s Point


54: 72-hour wait before voting on bills

55: Extension of income tax increase

56: $2 cigarette tax

58: Repeal of Prop. 227 (English-only education)

59: Encouraging elected officials to fight Citizens United

65: Plastic bag fee

67: Plastic bag ban referendum


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