Endorsements 2010: San Francisco ballot measures

PROP. AA

VEHICLE REGISTRATION FEE

YES

Proposition AA would add $10 to the existing annual fee for vehicles registered in San Francisco, which would bring in about $5 million a year in desperately needed funds for public transit and other environmentally friendly modes of transportation. Proceeds would help to fund new bike infrastructure, pedestrian crosswalks, and transit reliability projects. Some would also be spent on street repairs — with top priority given to streets with bikeways and public transit routes. Unless Muni and bike infrastructure improves, it’s hard to persuade drivers to leave their cars at home and choose greener ways of getting around. Prop. AA is in line with the city’s transit-first goals, and it will be a step toward reducing traffic congestion and helping public transit. Vote yes.

 

PROP. A

EARTHQUAKE RETROFIT BOND

YES

This $46.15 million general obligation bond to support seismic upgrades for wood-framed buildings is an important means of protecting San Franciscans in an earthquake and preserving affordable housing. A 2009 report by the Department of Building Inspection found that 151 buildings that received government affordable housing support — 8,247 units in all — could be destroyed in the next big earthquake.

Unfortunately, most of these buildings are break-even ventures for their owners, who have no incentive to put the money into needed seismic upgrades. This measure would fund those improvements with grants and deferred loans, which would accrue interest but would only need to be paid back if the owner makes a profit or tries to convert the building to another use, providing further guarantees that the housing will remain affordable even after an owner’s obligation to the state or federal governments ends. Vote yes on Prop. A.

 

PROP. B

CITY RETIREMENT AND HEALTH PLANS

NO, NO, NO

Back when the great national health care reform debate was raging, the Guardian advocated for a single-payer system, which would have cut out health insurance companies altogether. What we got instead was a bill that requires everyone to buy health insurance. Now endlessly rising health insurance costs pose a problem for the city — in years of financial stress, it must make ever-larger payments to cover public employees’ health benefits. The blame for this dysfunctional system should be pinned on health insurance companies, not public employees. After all, the industry spent millions lobbying federal lawmakers to preserve a system in which they are solidly guaranteed to make millions off the backs of taxpayers.

But Prop. B, introduced by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, asks public employees to bear the brunt of these ballooning costs. It would also require them to contribute up to 10 percent of their pay to fund retirement benefits. One of the most compelling arguments against Prop. B was articulated by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano in a recent Guardian editorial: “A single mother will be forced to pay up to $5,600 per year for her child’s health care — in addition to the $8,154 she already pays.” That cost would be the same whether the employee earns $40,000 or $100,000 annually — and that’s just unfair. Prop. B would deal the greatest blow to the people who have the least. But there’s a broader consequence, too — take this kind of money out of the pockets of working people and you’ve done just the opposite of stimulating the economy.

Adachi wrote and circulated his measure without negotiating with city employee unions or seeking a solution that would be less harsh and regressive. We’re all for reviewing the city’s pension and health care costs. But making the lowest-paid city workers take the same hit as the overpaid managers is no answer. Vote no on B.

 

PROP. C

MAYOR APPEARANCES AT BOARD

YES

If you feel like you’ve seen this measure before, that’s because you have — an advisory measure asking the mayor to show up once a month and answer questions at the Board of Supervisors passed overwhelmingly in 2006. But Mayor Gavin Newsom ignored it, and a tougher measure failed the next year after Newsom raised $250,000 to defeat it.

Now the problem is worse than ever. In a year in which back room negotiations and underhanded political tactics marred the city budget approval process and other legislative initiatives, progressive supervisors are again trying to get Newsom and future mayors to engage in a political dialogue, in public, to determine what’s best for the city. This is precisely how the people’s business should be done, in an open and transparent way that respects the role that these two branches of government are supposed to play in running the city. Besides, won’t it be fun to watch? Vote yes.

 

PROP. D

NONCITIZEN VOTING IN SCHOOL BOARD ELECTIONS

YES

Sponsored by Board President David Chiu and Sups. David Campos, Eric Mar, John Avalos, Ross Mirkarimi, Sophie Maxwell, Chris Daly, and Bevan Dufty, this charter amendment would extend the right to vote in local school board elections to San Francisco residents who are parents, guardians, and caregivers of children who attend school in San Francisco, regardless of whether these residents are U.S. citizens.

One-third of San Francisco residents are foreign-born. Parental involvement has been determined as a critical factor in children’s education — and this measure only applies to elections for the Board of Education. Vote yes.

 

PROP. E

ELECTION DAY VOTER REGISTRATION

YES

In an era of growing political apathy and cynicism, anything that draws more people into the electoral process is a good thing. So this common sense measure by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi to remove one more barrier to participation in elections is a positive step.

Current state law requires eligible voters to register at least 15 days before an election. Prop. E would allow any city resident to simply show up at a polling place on Election Day, register to vote, and participate in a municipal election. Eight other states currently offer same-day voter registration. Vote yes.

 

PROP. F

HEALTH SERVICE BOARD ELECTIONS

NO

Sup. Sean Elsbernd, who sponsored this measure, says it will save the city money be consolidating elections for the board that oversees the city employee health care fund. But it won’t save much — $30,000 a year, at most — and the unions that represent the people who are served by this board say risks turning board elections into more expensive and complex political contests. Vote no.

 

PROP. G

TRANSIT OPERATOR WAGES

NO

We understand the motivations behind this measure — Muni drivers are the only city employees who don’t have to engage in collective bargaining for wages and work rules. Instead, the City Charter guarantees them the second-highest salary level of all comparable transit systems in the nation. Although that’s not an unreasonable salary level given that Muni is perhaps the country’s most challenging transit system and San Francisco has one of the highest cost of living price tags in the country, no city workers should have their salaries set this way.

We also agree that many of Muni’s work rules need to be changed and that removal of the salary guarantees would give the city more leverage to make those changes. We even agree that Transport Workers Union Local 250 hasn’t done itself any favors and should have been a better partner in this year’s difficult city budget process.

But we oppose Prop. G, which inappropriately seeks to blame Muni’s problems on its drivers and would set a new standard for collective bargaining that could hurt workers and perhaps make Muni more dangerous to pedestrians and others.

Like all city employees, Muni drivers are banned from going on strike. In exchange, the city agrees to binding arbitration if contract talks reach an impasse. But this measure adds a factor that exists in no other city union contract: the arbitrator would have to consider whether a proposed contract could negatively affect service.

While that might seem benign or even appropriate, the reality is that everything from driver rest breaks to assisting those with disabilities to the expectations of how fast drivers can complete a route all potentially affect service, forcing the arbitrator into positions of agreeing with city officials who have been choosing the politically expedient path of trying to squeeze more out of Muni without trying to give it the resources it needs to operate safely, efficiently, and reliably.

Earlier this year, progressive supervisors tried to craft an omnibus Muni reform measure that removed driver pay guarantees from the charter while also trying to get it more money and make critical changes in how the system is governed, an effort the TWU supported but that the supervisors ultimately abandoned. That’s the kind of balanced approach the system needs and it ought to be revived. In the meantime, vote no on G.

 

PROP. H

LOCAL ELECTED OFFICIALS ON POLITICAL PARTY COMMITTEES

NO

This one’s a pure political vengeance act by Mayor Newsom, who is unhappy that the local Democratic Party is controlled by progressives who oppose his initiatives. The measure would bar elected officials in San Francisco from serving on the Democratic or Republican County Central Committee. It’s almost certainly unconstitutional — the parties get to decide their own membership rules — and has no rationale at all except the mayor’s personal sour grapes. Vote no.

 

PROP. I

SATURDAY VOTING

YES

Okay, we’re suspicious of Prop I. The sponsor is Alex Tourke, a political consultant whose client list isn’t exactly a roster of progressive San Francisco. And it’s a little funky — it calls for an experiment in opening the polls the Saturday before the next mayoral election, with the costs covered by private donations. And the idea of private interests paying for an election strikes us as bad policy.

But at its base, the idea is sound. Tuesday voting is a very old idea that makes no sense in the modern age. We’d much rather see Election Day held at a time when most people aren’t working. In fact, we’d rather see the polls open for a week, not just one day. And this is a one-time test to see if weekend voting might increase turnout. Vote yes.

PROP. J

HOTEL TAX CLARIFICATION AND TEMPORARY INCREASE

YES

There are two competing hotel taxes on the November ballot: Prop. J and Prop K. Prop. K contains a poison pill: if both measures pass, whichever gets the most votes take effect. Both J and K try to address legal insufficiencies in San Francisco’s existing hotel tax, but Prop. J also asks visitors to pay a slightly higher tax — about $3 a night (the cost of a latte) — for the next three years.

Currently the way hotel taxes are assessed allows some online customers to avoid part of the tax. When a customer books a hotel room through an online booking service like Expedia or Orbitz, the hotel tax is only assessed on the amount that a hotel receives, not the amount that the website charges the customer. In other words, if a website sells a room to an online customer for $150 a night, but only $120 of that goes to the hotel, the customer is charged hotel tax on the lower amount. If Prop. J passes, the customer will have to pay a hotel tax on the full amount paid to the online booking service. The measure would also eliminate a loophole that allows airlines to book rooms for flight crews without paying any tax. Those changes are expected to generate at least $12 million a year. The $3 increase in the hotel tax will generate another $26 million.

The Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau say the measure could hurt tourism — but it’s hard to imagine how somebody will decide not to visit San Francisco because of a $3 a night fee. Vote yes.

 

PROP. K

HOTEL TAX CLARIFICATION

NO

Put on the ballot by Mayor Newson at the behest of large hotel corporations, Prop. K also seeks to close loopholes in the hotel tax. But Prop. K doesn’t include a tax increase, meaning that it will contribute millions less to the city’s General Fund at a time when San Francisco is having trouble balancing its budget, leading to ongoing cuts in city staff and services.

Prop. K’s a direct attempt to undermine Prop. J. Vote no.

 

PROP. L

SITTING OR LYING ON SIDEWALKS

NO, NO, NO

What kind of a city is San Francisco? If proponents of Prop. L, the Civil Sidewalks Ordinance, were to be believed, it’s a city where nothing is done when uncivil people harass pedestrians, drink on the sidewalk, or pee in public. Even though Prop. L purports to address this kind of behavior, all it really does is outlaw sitting or lying on public sidewalks.

We think San Francisco is the kind of city that is smart enough to reject this dumb idea. The Prop. L proponents like to say it’s about public safety, but there is nothing inherently unsafe about sitting or lying down on the sidewalk. Street poets sit at their typewriters to sell sonnets to tourists. The tamale lady sometimes sits while selling her tasty Mexican treats. Day laborers sit when they get tired of standing around waiting for work. Many people who live on the streets lie down to sleep beside their shopping carts. If Prop. L passes, there is nothing to guarantee that buskers, day laborers, homeless people, partygoers, people with bad knees, or anyone else would not be harassed by police for the simple act of sitting.

But even if there are people squatting on the sidewalk harassing passersby, how is this law going to change that? All they have to do is stand up — which would still be legal. If they persist, and the police arrest them, the city will be on the hook for millions of dollars in costs for prosecution, defense, and incarceration.

The notion that the ordinance would only be used against troublemakers is problematic too, since a law that is selectively enforced could open the door to legal headaches. Prop. L is misguided, draconian, unnecessary, and the wrong direction for San Francisco. Vote no.

 

PROP. M

COMMUNITY POLICING AND FOOT PATROLS

YES

Prop. M offers an enlightened alternative to Prop. L. Introduced by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, it would require the chief of police to establish a comprehensive beat patrol program, with cops on the beat, to deal with the safety and civility issues Prop. L seeks to address. It would also direct the Police Commission to adopt a written community policing policy, involving police interactions with the community, focusing police resources on high crime areas, and encouraging citizen involvement in combating crime. Prop. M also has a poison pill: if the voters adopt both M and L and M gets more votes, then the law against sitting or lying down on the sidewalk would not take effect. So a yes vote for Prop. M is kind of like another no vote against Prop. L. Vote yes.

 

PROP. N

REAL PROPERTY TRANSFER TAX

YES

With the city facing a massive structural budget deficit, it’s hard to argue against a measure that would bring in an average of $36 million without hurting anyone except the buyers and sellers of very high-end property — that is, big corporations and exceptionally wealthy individuals. Prop. N would slightly increase the tax charged by the city on the sale of property worth more than $5 million. Vote yes.

 

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