San Francisco Proposition Voting Guide 2014

Oct 18, 2014

As a non-permanent resident I can’t vote in San Francisco. I have lived here for three years though so have some opinions on the upcoming ballot. Last week I wrote about the California State propositions, this post is about the local City ones. Ballotpedia has a full list and text of the propositions for your reference, and I also found SPUR’s analysis to be useful even though they are partisan.

The short of it is No on H and L, Yes on everything else.

Prop A: Transit Improvement Bond

Allows the city to issue $500 million in bonded debt and raise property taxes to pay for transit reliability, speed, and safety improvements. These improvements have been outlined in a larger Transit Effectiveness Project by the SFMTA. This is what I want my government to do: infrastructure projects with a long term vision.

Interestingly, the Green Party oppose this measure. First, they claim bonds are an unfair financing mechanism that funnel money to the already wealthy. Taxes paid by primarily lower-class residents are redistributed to upper-class bond owners as interest. Second, the Green Party has governance concerns that the money could be reappropriated for non-transit projects, as apparently happened in 2007.

I am not sure how to weight these two negative arguments. How urgent is the need for this money? Does that justify issuing bonds to raise it? What alternative funding sources have been considered?

I don’t have enough experience or knowledge to have a confident opinion. I’m slightly leaning towards yes on the grounds that I believe improved transportation infrastructure is critical for the city.

Vote: Yes.

Prop B: Adjust Transport Funding

Unlike the previous proposition which adds a new funding source, this one changes the rules by which the SFMTA is funded from existing revenue. Currently a fixed base amount is set aside. Under this proposal, that amount could be increased proportional to population.

More people need more transit, so this seems like a sane model assuming the SMFTA is relatively efficient with its funds.

Vote: Yes.

Prop C: Continue the Children’s Fund

Since 1991 a portion of property taxes have been set aside in a fund for youth education, healthcare, and social services. It was extended in 2000, and this proposition would further extend it and related funds for another 25 years.

C is a popular proposition, particularly with the State cutting funding in this area. From Ballotpedia:

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and all eleven city supervisors have expressed approval of this measure. […] As of July 11, 2014, no organized opposition to the measure had come forward.

Of course, the Libertarian party disagrees. I don’t.

Vote: Yes.

Prop D: City Employee Retiree Health Benefits

Due to technical issues a handful of employees of the former Redevelopment Agency who are now employeed elsewhere in local government do not get recognition for their continuous years of service. This proposition fixes that.

City Controller Ben Rosenfold claimed it would have a “significant impact on the cost of government”, at about $75,000 per eligible employee over multiple years, partially funded by fees generated by projects in the office in which those employees work. Since the proposition applies to at most 50 long-term employees of the city, this does not seem “significant” to me.

Opponents argue that the Redevelopment Agency was a bad idea in the place. That may be true, but doesn’t seem relevant enough to support a no vote on this particular ballot.

This is a vote for consistency in an already implemented benefit.

Vote: Yes.

Prop E: Sugary Drink Tax

I wrote a separate post in support of this proposition. Strongly in favour.

Vote: Yes.

Prop F: Increase Height Limit at Pier 70

A proposed redevelopment at Pier 70 would add nearly 2000 new housing units—30% of them “affordable”—and nine acres of new parks.

San Francisco is a real city now. Real cities have tall buildings.

Vote: Yes.

Prop G: Transfer Tax on Residential Property

This proposition intends to reduce the financial incentive for Ellis Act evictions by applying a 14-24% tax to certain classes of building sold after less than five years of ownership. There is some concern that this proposition would unfairly burden legitimate sales, such as a family having to move for a job, but these seem well covered by the long list of exemptions.

My philosophical position is that if you have large amounts of money to spend on profit-seeking with little appreciable social benefit (compared to say, building new housing), a tax is probably appropriate.

Vote: Yes.

Prop H: Keep Grass Athletic Fields

This is absurd. I grew up playing a variety of sports (mostly hockey), and I’ll take artificial turf every time. Grass sucks. Synthetic gives more opportunities for play with lower maintence costs in both money and water use.

Multiple appeals against the Golden Gate Park redevelopment have already been heard and rejected. As a lonely point in favour, SPUR charitably lists:

Prop. H provides voters with an opportunity to weigh in directly on a controversial issue.

I’m not so accomodating. This proposition should not even be on the ballot.

Vote: No.

Prop I: Allow Field Renovation To Continue

A counter-proposition to H! If this proposition receives more votes than H, the redevelopment will continue. Further, it amends the San Francisco Park Code to prevent this kind of obstruction in the future.

The New York Times published an entertaining article about this debacle. You should be concerned that a national news media is laughing at us.

Vote: Yes.

Prop J: Minimum Wage Increase

San Francisco’s minimum wage is currently $10.74 per hour, and increases each year with inflation. That is about $1,800 per month, which I invite you to compare to your current rent.

This proposal would increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour by July 2018. That is a fairly significant hike, though in a city as expensive as San Francisco it seems justified.

I am not convinced by arguments that this would be bad for small businesses. They may be accurate, but paying people an insufficient wage is not a sustainable way to operate.

Vote: Yes.

Prop K: Affordable Housing Policy

A modest proposal. This is only a vote to make it a “City policy to help construct or rehabilitate at least 30,000 homes by 2020 and secure sufficient funding to achieve that goal.” It doesn’t define how that will be done, or repercussions if it doesn’t happen.

As a long term vision for a city in a housing crisis, this seems an obvious decision. Not really sure why it’s on the ballot at all though.

Vote: Yes.

Prop L:

In favour of this proposition, supporters claim that the City’s current Trasit First policy:

[H]as produced a city in which it is very hard to drive an automobile [and] has morphed into one that favors only public transportation and bicycles to the exclusion of any other mode of transportation.

Good.

Vote: No.