One assumes that the city’s real estate powers — Blackstone, Shorenstein and roughly 50 others — hate all measures that hike taxes on commercial real estate.
After all, their No on Props C and D PAC — innocuously named the Committee for an Affordable SF — has over $1 million to stop either measure from succeeding.
But only one of the measures is actually feeling the heat of the well-funded opposition — the measure that raises taxes more, and is also easier to pass.
That would be Measure C. It raises the commercial real estate tax from .3 percent to 3.5 percent and puts most of the money into early childhood programs. Placed on the ballot by a signature-gathering drive, C only needs a simple majority to pass.
In contrast, Measure D would raise the tax to 1.5 percent for homeless programs and affordable housing. It needs a two-thirds majority because it was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors.
From whichever angle you look at it, D is less of a threat to big business. It could even be their strongest hope to scuttle C’s large tax transfer. Jim Ross, a political consultant for Jane Kim and Measure C, believes that was its goal all along.
“Proposition D has no chance of getting a two-thirds plurality. It never did,” said Ross, adding that passing tax increases is “the toughest thing to do in politics.”
Ross noted that Supervisor Ahsha Safai proposed it in early 2018, when Proposition C was well into its signature gathering initiative.
“But it will cost C votes. That, and running a multimillion dollar advertising campaign, has been the strategy to defeat Prop C,” he said.
Others agreed. The No Committee, a political source said, struck a deal with D to leave it alone.
And, they’ve stuck to that deal. The No Committee has spent $815,000 on TV and digital ads that have exclusively pummeled Measure C. Some of their mailers have reportedly voiced opposition to both C and D, but their most visible efforts have focused on defeating C.
“Proposition C requires only a 50 percent vote, and therefore is harder to defeat than Proposition D, which requires a two-thirds vote. So, most of the campaign resources have been spent on defeating Proposition C,” said John Whitehurst, whose firm is running the No Committee’s campaign. The campaign denies that any deal was made to go light on D. Ahsha Safai’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
As two measures proposing a tax on commercial real estate, only one can win on June 5.
When Safai, from District 11, proposed D in early 2018 it was a direct challenge to Supervisor Norman Yee’s Measure C, backed by mayoral candidate Jane Kim.
London Breed has enthusiastically backed Measure D, making the measures prominent in the mayoral race.
“It’s unfortunate that politics in this city have been reduced to a zero-sum game. There should have been a compromise,” said consultant David Latterman.
Ross says Yee and Kim would have compromised, but “it was clear that the sponsors were moving forward with D to try to be a counter to Prop C.”
In the meantime, the Affordable Housing for All, Yes on D PAC — which has amassed as much as the No Committee — has spent $40,747 to promote London Breed for Mayor — from TV ads starring Breed, to glossy mailers that prominently feature her photograph.
Measure D promises that over one-third of its revenue will go toward building affordable housing, so, yes, a lot of the donors to the Yes on D PAC are people who build affordable housing.
Nonprofit and for-profit development organizations that specialize in affordable housing have contributed a combined $135,000, and building contractors have given $168,500. Investment and development firms and individuals with strong connections to real estate are the among the other big backers.
Progress San Francisco, an independent committee that is supported by the San Francisco Association of Realtors and the San Francisco Apartment Association, gave $140,000, and the San Francisco Police Officers Association gave $10,000.
“The people who are sponsoring D are closer to the business community. That’s no mystery,” said Latterman.
Meanwhile, Measure C has raised a mere $250,000. But, while polls might show C trailing D, C may end up winning because its ballot strategy was simply smarter.