March 2020 San Francisco Election Guide

March 2020 San Francisco Election Guide
NEW: Looking for my latest San Francisco Voting Guide by Steven Buss? Check out the Tech Worker Voter Guide, which I helped create!

Here’s how I’m voting in the March, 2020 San Francisco election.

San Francisco

DCCC AD17

Vote for all:

  • Austin Hunter
  • Bivett Brackett
  • Kristen Asato-Webb
  • Mick Del Rosario
  • Mike Chen
  • Nima Rahimi
  • Shaun Haines
  • Steven Buss
  • Tami Bryant
  • Tyra Fennell

DCCC AD19

Vote for all:

  • Cyn Wang
  • Jane Natoli
  • Kat Anderson
  • Mary Jung
  • Mawuli Tugbenyoh
  • Nadia Rahman
  • Seeyew Mo

Prop A: Yes

Prop B: Yes

Prop C: Yes

Prop D: No

Prop E: No

California

State Assembly AD 17: David Chiu

State Assembly AD 19: Phil Ting

State Senate: Scott Wiener

Prop 13: Yes

What is the DCCC?

San Francisco is having elections for “party central committees” this election, which are in charge of growing the party and endorsing candidates for election (among other things). It’s the most important election you’ve never heard of, and I’m running!

I’m part of a slate of first-time candidates, the grassroots progressive slate. We are a group of activists that care about fixing the problems facing San Francisco. I can vouch for every candidate running.

Learn more about my positions on my website: https://buss2020.org, and check out the other candidates at https://grassroots4dccc.com.

Propositions

Prop A

City College Bond to fund facilities construction & renovation

Vote YES

Bonds are among the best ways to finance public infrastructure because they let the public build infrastructure now and pay for it with inflated dollars later.

This satisfies principle #1 from my voting framework.

What is it?

This $845MM bond will be used by City College in the following ways:

  • Seismic retrofit and other earthquake saftey
  • Improved outdated electrical and plumbing infrastructure
  • Repair buildings which leak or flood during heavy rain
  • Replace failing infrastructure systems
  • “Better prepare students for well-paid local science, technology and arts related jobs”
  • Improve accessibility for students with disabilities

City College’s facilities are in bad shape. 70% of the buildings at City College’s Ocean Campus have been rated “poor” or “very poor” for seismic safety. Buildings flood, electrical and plumbing systems are old and crumbling. In short, the condition of City College is shamefully bad.

This bond will give City College the capital it needs to fund these repairs and renovations, ensuring the next several generations of students have access to high-quality education in high-quality facilities.

This needs a 55% majority to pass.

View the full text, and the legal text.

Why is it on the ballot?

California Government Code section 53506 and Article XVI of the California Constitution mandated that general obligation bonds of this size be put to a vote.

Because this is for a school district, Propisition 39 (2000) allows this to pass with 55% instead of the normal 2/3rds.

Prop B

A new bond for earthquake safety

Vote YES

Bonds are among the best ways to finance public infrastructure because they let the public build infrastructure now and pay for it with inflated dollars later. We need to ensure that San Francisco can manage the next large earthquake, and this bond helps us prepare.

This satisfies principle #10 from my voting framework.

What is it?

This is a $628.5MM bond to fund construction, acquisition, improvement, renovation, and seismic retrofitting of:

  • Emergency Firefighting Water System
  • Firefighting facilities
  • Police facilities
  • 911 Call Center facilities
  • Other disaster response facilities and infrastructure

This bond is funded by a new property tax, at an estimated rate of 1.5 cents per $100 in assessed property value. This replaces an expiring bond, so property taxes shouldn’t actually change on net. The projected average annual revenue of this tax is $40MM.

Landlords will be allowed to pass through 50% of the new property tax to their rent-controlled tenants.

View the legal text, and the legislative digest.

Why is it on the ballot?

California Government Code section 53506 and Article XVI of the California Constitution mandated that general obligation bonds of this size be put to a vote.

This requires a 2/3 majority to pass.California Government Code section 53506 and Article XVI of the California Constitution mandated that general obligation bonds of this size be put to a vote.

This requires a 2/3 majority to pass.California Government Code section 53506 and Article XVI of the California Constitution mandated that general obligation bonds of this size be put to a vote.

This requires a 2/3 majority to pass.

Prop C

Provides retirement benefits for some City employees.

Vote YES

The Mayor and the Board of Supervisors are all in agreement that this should pass.

It changes the dates of employment that qualifies employees of the Housing Authority for retirement benefits.

What is it?

This is the least interesting thing on the ballot. It is a minor administrative change to set new dates for retirement benefit eligibility.

View the legal text

Why is it on the ballot?

This is on the ballot because it is an amendment to the city charter. All charter amendments must go to a vote of registered San Franciscan voters and needs 50% + 1 votes to pass. That’s reasonable for what is effectively a constitutional amendment, but it’s ridiculous for what this ballot prop actually is.

This ballot prop highlights one of the truly inane things about the way San Francisco is run.

San Francisco made the mistake of putting the qualifying dates for retirement benefits in the charter, and we gave an end date rather than a tenure requirement. We’re making the same mistake again.

Obviously, we would prefer that San Francisco fix the underlying dysfunction that led to this situation, but we won’t deny retirement benefits in the meantime.

Prop D

A new tax on vacant commercial property

Vote NO

This tax on vacant commercial properties is supposed to help solve our retail vacancy problem. However, this tax won’t address the reason there are so many vacant storefronts: a highly restrictive planning code, burdensome fees, and already high taxes.

Property owners like money. Nobody is intentionally refusing to rent a retail space because they think they’ll make more money by holding it off the market. The loss an owner takes from just a single month of missed rent could take years to recoup. A new tax is unlikely to change these economics.

At best, this will incentivize a few owners to lease their property at a lower rent rather than pay the tax. But we should make it easier to open new businesses instead of punishing people who are already overburdened by bad city rules.

This satisfies principle #5 from my voting framework.

What is it?

San Francisco has a lot of vacant storefronts. This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in such a strong economy, but nevertheless it’s true. In some neighborhoods, such as Castro and North Beach, the percentage of vacant storefronts is in the double digits, threatening the vitality of the remaining small businesses and the neighborhood as a whole. This ballot prop seeks to address the problem by imposing a tax on vacant storefronts. The tax starts at $250/year per foot of street frontage in the first year of vacancy, rising to $500 in year 2, and $1000 in years 3 and beyond.

The type of vacancy this tax is intended to address is the case of landlords intentionally holding storefronts vacant. This does happen on occasion, because Prop 13 freezes property tax assessments to the last sale price. This means that a lot of property owners are paying tax bills from decades ago, as far back as 1975, which makes it rather cheap to hold out for a super high-paying tenant.

While this tax could help for some cases of bad-actor landlords, its impact will be limited, because landlord greed is not the main reason for vacant storefronts. Most landlords, it turns out, like money. The main factor driving commercial vacancy is the City. Many of the most struggling commercial corridors impose hyper-restrictive controls on the types of businesses that are allowed to open, requiring restaurants and bars to go through the arduous, risky, and expensive conditional use process. And once the business gets open, the city forces them through a ringer of taxes, fees, and mandates. There’s a reason Arizona State University ranked San Francisco as the worst American city for doing business.

There’s more than a tinge of irony in this ballot prop coming from District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin. Nobody in San Francisco has done more work to promote commercial vacancy than Aaron Peskin. Aaron Peskin thinks Kafka wrote how-to guides. When he first entered office in 2000, the Planning Code was lean and coherent. Now it’s such a sprawling mess the former Zoning Administrator called it insane and quit. In his home neighborhood of North Beach, he thought that a good approach to reducing commercial vacancies is to ban restaurants in nearly 80% of vacant storefronts. In early 2019 he attempted to shut down the Planning Department by requiring extensive review for routine home remodels. He designed the chain store ban, intended to restrict big box retailers, to cover small businesses with as few as 11 locations. Every time you read about another small business horror story, there’s a good chance it’s a product of the laws and processes Aaron Peskin has worked so hard to enact and preserve.

In fact, this measure itself contains a good amount of what one might term Peskinism. First, if there’s a tenant, it holds the tenant responsible for paying the tax, which certainly is a poor way to go after landlords! And while the text says that businesses are exempt from the tax during the building permit application period, earlier in the measure, “building permit application period” is defined to be no more than a year. One year is not enough time to make it through the glacially slow Peskin permitting process. In this Small Business Commission hearing, legislation author Lee Hepner suggested using the revenue from the tax to compensate small business owners forced to pay the tax due to the city’s dilly-dallying. Why not just not charge small businesses in the first place?

Overall, on balance, while this tax will help around the edges with a few recalcitrant landlords, its impact will be muted by City Hall’s hostility towards small business, and in the worst cases, will force small businesses to pay a tax through no fault of their own, but rather of the city.

Read the legal text and the City Economist’s Economic Impact Report.

Why is it on the ballot?

Prop 13 mandates that all new taxes be subjected to a vote of the public and achieve a 2/3 majority.

Prop E

Imposes a cap on new office development

Vote NO

Prop E will prevent new office development in the city, driving up the cost of office space and driving out startups. On the surface it looks like it will help build low income housing, but in reality it will cause both housing and office development to stop.

Kim-Mai Cutler does a great job explaining why this is a terrible prop:

View the legal text.

What is it?

Prop E is a complicated proposal related to office space development. The way it works is that San Francisco has an annual cap on how much new office space is allowed to be built. We also have goals from the state for how much subsidized affordable housing we should build for low-income households (we never make it). Prop E would limit the office space proportionally based how how much we fail to meet our housing goals. If we only meet 20% of our affordable housing goal, the office space cap will be 20% of the standard cap. Current projects in the pipeline, however, related to the Central Soma Plan, are exempted from the cap altogether. The reason is to prevent those developers from funding an opposition campaign.

Prop E sounds kinda nice on the surface. We do need a lot more affordable housing! However, it does absolutely nothing to build any affordable housing. It does not raise any money, which is the binding constraint on how much affordable housing we can build. In fact, over time it will lose us money, because office building pay a lot of taxes, provided they exist. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development has estimated that over 20 years, the measure would reduce affordable housing funding by $600-$900 million. That’s 2–3000 units.

Prop E represents yet another battlefront in San Francisco’s self-defeating war on tech. The logic goes as follows: tech companies rent offices. If we make it really hard to build office space, then the tech companies will go away and San Francisco will go back to being like it used to be.

The past 40 years of San Francisco history have proven this idea false. San Francisco is growing because a lot of people and companies want to be here. If we fail to accommodate that growth, people don’t stop wanting to live in SF–instead what happens is that the people (and firms) with more resources push out those with less. That is what has happened in our housing market, and that is what will happen to the business environment if this ballot prop passes. Big tech companies won’t be much dissuaded by high rents, but nonprofits, small businesses, and early stage startups will.

In summary, this measure would harm affordable housing production while hollowing out the middle of SF’s business community. There are no benefits. Please vote no.

Why is it on the ballot?

Prop E was put directly onto the ballot by signatures gathered from SF voters. Regardless of its origin, it also requires a vote because it modifies Prop M from 1986, which was the first ballot prop to limit office space construction in San Francisco.

Nonprofit landlord Todco has spent $407,000 so far to collect the signatures and run the campaign. Todco is using taxpayer dollars to fund political opposition to new housing and office construction.

“It’s shocking — they are stealing taxpayers’ money that should be going into affordable housing and rent subsidies, (and) not for politics,” said Sonja Trauss, founder of the development-friendly SF Bay Area Renters Federation.

It’s technically legal but morally abhorrent to use money intended for low-income residents to stop new construction. They’ve been doing this for decades.

Prop 13

Authorizes $15B general obligation bond for school and college facilities.

Vote YES

Bonds are an excellent way to fund infrastructure improvements requiring massive capital. Bonds let us get improvements today and pay for them with future, inflated money. We also have the benefit of having very low interest rates.

Funding educational facilities is a great use of public money. We all benefit when our populace is well educated in good facilities.

This satisfies principle #10 from my voting framework.

What is it?

This year’s Prop 13 (not to be confused with the disastrous 1978 Prop 13) authorizes the state to issue a new general obligation bond for $15B which will be used in the following ways:

  • $2.8B for new schools (k-12)
  • $5.2B to upgrade & modernize existing school facilities (k-12)
  • $500MM for charter school facilities
  • $500MM for career technical education facilities (aka job training)
  • $2B to California State University for capital outlay financing needs
  • $2B to UC Hastings College of Law for capital outlay financing needs
  • $2B for capital outlay financing needs for community colleges statewide

Why is it on the ballot?

Article XVI of the California Constitution requires any general obligation bonds in excess of $300,000 be put to a vote. The bond must also be approved by a 2/3 majority of the state Senate and state Assembly.

This bond has already achieved a 2/3 majority vote in both houses. The final step is a simple majority vote of the public. Read more at Ballotpedia


Written on February 6, 2020 by Steven Buss.

Originally published on Medium