written by
Charley Goss

The November 3 ballot is chock-full of measures and candidates to consider. Read on for SFAA’s take and recommendations.

2020 has been one hell of a year. Between a global pandemic, massive civil unrest, a renewed focus on racial injustice, and some of the largest fires in U.S. history, our country and our state have seen so much tumult and uncertainty this year that 2019 feels like a fond but distant memory. 

With our world turned upside-down over the last seven months, it’s hard to believe that we are just around the corner from another election. But elections are an opportunity to make change, choose new leaders, and support new ideas—and, like always, San Francisco voters will be asked to consider a ballot chock-full of measures and candidates at the local and state levels.

Local Ballot Measures
The San Francisco ballot will feature 13 propositions, with a focus primarily on oversight of city departments as well as newly proposed taxes or revisions to our existing tax structure. Proposition A is a $487.5 million general obligation bond, which has been called the “Health and Homelessness, Parks and Streets Bond.” The measure arrives on the ballot with the unanimous support of the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed. Money raised by the general obligation bond will fund a range of services, focusing on acquiring facilities to house and provide services to the homeless, in addition to park, open space, recreational facility, and street improvements. The measure also authorizes landlords to pass through 50% of the resulting property tax increase to residential tenants. Proposition A needs 66% to pass and has widespread support across the city. The SFAA Political Action Committee is recommending a NO vote on Prop. A.

In a time of fiscal uncertainty, when most businesses and governments are looking at contracting, Proposition B proposes to expand our local government by creating a new city department. The Department of Sanitation and Streets will be created if voters approve Prop. B, and it will be tasked with succeeding certain duties that are currently handled by the Department of Public Works (DPW). The measure would also create a new Public Works Commission to oversee DPW, as well as a Sanitation and Streets Commission to oversee the newly created Department of Sanitation and Streets. Responsibilities for cleaning and maintaining the streets and public right of way would be transferred from DPW to the newly created department. Although it’s tempting to look at the condition and cleanliness of our streets and want to vote YES on this measure, San Francisco does not need to expand its government and create new departments and oversight commissions at this time, especially because cleaning and maintaining the streets is currently in the purview of an already-existing department, the Department of Public Works. Vote NO on Prop. B.

Proposition C will remove citizenship requirements for members of city bodies like boards, commissions, and advisory bodies. Under existing law, members of policy bodies must be at least 18 years old, U.S. citizens, and must live in and be registered to vote in San Francisco. Proposition C would allow non-citizens to serve on city bodies but would maintain the age and residency requirements with a few exceptions. SFAA’s PAC is recommending a NO vote on Prop. C.

If approved by voters, Proposition D will create an oversight board for the Sheriff’s Department. The measure will also create a Sheriff’s Department Office of the Inspector General, which would be tasked with investigating non-criminal misconduct by employees and contractors of the Sheriff’s Department, as well as investigating in-custody deaths. San Francisco just voted a new Sheriff into office less than one year ago, and this expansion of an oversight body is not needed at this time, especially because it is duplicative of other programs in place in the Sheriff’s Department. Vote No on Prop. D.

More than 25 years ago, the San Francisco Charter was amended to require that the San Francisco Police Department maintain 1,971 sworn Police Officers dedicated to neighborhood policing and patrols. Proposition E would remove the requirement to maintain 1,971 Police Officers and would instead require the Chief of Police to submit a report to the Police Commission describing current and recommended staffing levels. The measure would require the Police Commission to adopt a policy at least once every two years setting the methodologies for the Chief of Police to set staffing levels. SFAA recommends a NO vote on Prop. E.

Proposition F, also known as the “Small Business and Economic Recovery Act,” is an overhaul of the business tax system in San Francisco. Proposition F is the result of a long-term plan to revise the way San Francisco taxes businesses, and after the pandemic hit was amended to offer tax relief particularly toward small businesses. The measure arrives on the ballot with unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors, as well as Mayor London Breed. It would reduce the business registration fee for businesses with gross receipts of less than $1 million by about 50%. The measure would also repeal the payroll expense tax beginning in the tax year 2021, and it would incrementally increase the gross receipts tax for certain types of businesses until 2024 or 2025. Although the 50% exemption for rent-controlled properties will still apply, this measure will increase the gross receipts tax rate incrementally over the next four years. SFAA is recommending a NO vote on Prop. F.

Proposition G would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in municipal elections. This measure also appeared on the November 2016 ballot, but was unsuccessful. The SFAA PAC recommends a NO vote on Prop. G.

Proposition H would simplify restrictions for businesses in neighborhood commercial districts and the permitting processes for certain types of businesses. The measure, known as the “Save Our Small Business initiative,” will also amend our planning and tax code to allow for greater flexibility for small businesses during this difficult time. The measure would coordinate and streamline inspection and review processes for principally permitted businesses; allow eating and drinking uses in neighborhood commercial districts to offer workspaces; expand principally and conditionally permitted uses in neighborhood commercial districts; remove some neighborhood notification requirements for these businesses; allow for more flexibility around temporary and “pop-up” businesses in vacant spaces; allow more outdoor activities; allow temporary uses in bars and entertainment venues; and other process and fee changes. Giving small businesses a lifeline and some flexibility to operate is needed at this time, while at the same time enlivening and engaging our neighborhoods. SFAA is recommending a YES vote on Prop. H.

Proposition I is a measure that would double the transfer tax rate, and would apply to properties over $10 million. The measure was placed on the ballot by Dean Preston and would increase the tax rate from 2.75% to 5.5% on properties between $10 million and $25 million, while increasing the rate on the sale of properties over $25 million from 3% to 6%. The transfer tax rate would remain unchanged for sales of properties under $10 million. While the measure is being billed as only applying to the city’s largest and most luxurious buildings, it would also apply to the sale of most of the buildable land left in San Francisco. 

Dramatically increasing the transfer tax rate will make it much more expensive to build new affordable and market-rate housing, resulting in higher housing prices for future generations of renters. In addition, doubling the tax rate while businesses are closing, unemployment rates are skyrocketing, and our city heads into an economic recession is just plain irresponsible. The priority of our city officials should be to stabilize the economy, work to retain jobs, and support small businesses through these uncertain times—not raise taxes. The SFAA PAC recommends a No vote on Prop. I.

Proposition J is a parcel tax for SFUSD, and comes after a recently passed parcel tax for teacher salaries. As part of a “No New Taxes” campaign, SFAA is recommending a NO vote on taxing our residents and citizens during an economic and public health crisis.

Proposition K would authorize the city to own, develop, construct, rehabilitate or acquire up to 10,000 housing units for affordable housing, but provides no mechanism for doing so. SFAA recommends a NO vote on Prop. K.

Proposition L is another tax, this time on a CEO’s salary if the salary is greater than 100 times larger than that of the company’s lowest paid employee. While the tax sounds like a well-intended measure to address income inequality, the reality of it is that it represents yet another tax on businesses during an economic downturn. Additionally, taxes like these encourage businesses to move just across the city border, or to elsewhere in the Bay Area. SFAA PAC recommends a NO vote on Prop. L.

As an exception to its “No New Taxes” slate, the SFAA political action committee is recommending a YES vote on Measure RR. Measure RR is a regional measure, which appears on the ballot after being approved by the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties. The measure would authorize a sales tax of one percent (0.125%) with funding dedicated to operating and capital purposes of the Caltrain rail service. Even before COVID-19, Caltrain was facing structural budget shortfalls, and its ability to continue operating while keeping its rails and fleet of trains in safe condition was in question, despite Caltrain retaining the nation’s best farebox recovery rate of 70%. The sales tax will last thirty years, and funds from the tax will allow Caltrain to maintain and expand service levels from San Francisco to Gilroy; to support infrastructure and capital projects to meet rush-hour demand; to develop and implement plans to expand service; and to leverage local, regional, and federal investments to advance capital projects necessary to implement Caltrain’s 2040 Service Vision. To keep this vital piece of public transportation and Bay Area infrastructure afloat, which allows for hundreds of thousands of Bay Area residents to commute to San Francisco for work or play each day, the SFAA PAC is recommending a YES vote on Measure RR.

Proposition 21
While I don’t have enough words in this magazine to cover the full statewide ballot (and the California Apartment Association endorses statewide measures, anyway), I’d be remiss if we did not mention Proposition 21 in this article. In 2018, all hands were on deck to defeat Proposition 10, and the industry went on to raise almost $70 million and to beat back the measure by almost 20 percentage points. As 2019 crept along, the campaign prepared itself as it watched Michael Weinstein draft text for a similar measure, and then take the steps to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot. And then the pandemic hit. Throughout almost the entirety of 2020, the focus of most of our members has been on things like rent reductions and vacant apartments and eviction moratoriums and rent increase moratoriums and emergency orders and shelter-in-place—it’s been hard to remember that Prop. 21 poses as big a threat to the rental housing industry as Prop. 10 did in 2018. The measure, which essentially repeals Costa Hawkins and allows cities to impose vacancy control, comes just one year after the California legislature passed sweeping rent control protections statewide. It will shut down the production of new housing, while eliminating protections for single-family homeowners. Vacancy control will drive many small property owners out of business permanently. SFAA recommends a NO vote on Prop. 21, and is asking all of its members to contribute $100 per apartment unit to the campaign.

Charley Goss is the SFAA director of government affairs.