Today marked the Board of Supervisors’ final opportunity to submit charter amendments for the November ballot, and in came a rush of proposals, including one to eliminate off-year elections and another to strip city employees of their pensions for ethics violations.
In all, the supes put forward nine charter amendments, and those approved by a majority of the board will be on the November ballot.
It’s a dizzying array of proposals. Let’s dive in.
(And, once you’ve taken a look, let us know which amendments you would like to see on the ballot: Amendments poll.)
The Voter Participation Act
Put forward by Supervisor Dean Preston, this amendment would move all odd-year elections to even years. Officials anticipate that moving the elections to years with major federal and state races would improve voter turnout.
“This will help empower voters to be able to have a genuine say in who represents them locally,” said Melissa Hernandez, legislative aide to Preston.
Off-year elections in San Francisco have typically seen lower turnout than elections held during even years. In November, 2019, for example, only 41 percent of registered voters cast ballots, compared to 86 percent in November, 2020. And, according to Preston, voters are generally older, whiter and more affluent in low-turnout races.
Hernandez pointed out that a similar 2015 amendment in Los Angeles led to a quadrupling of voter turnout by 2020.
In its current form, the amendment would have elections for the mayor, the sheriff, the district attorney, the city attorney, and treasurer move from 2023 to 2024, meaning incumbents would get an extra year in office. Elections would then take place every subsequent four years.
Some 55 percent of the voters rejected a similar measure in 2008. Opponents of that measure argued that putting too many people on one ballot would confuse voters.
City pensions stripped for ethics violations
Supervisor Aaron Peskin proposed a measure to strip city employees of their pensions if they are found to have “committed acts of moral turpitude short of a criminal conviction.”
He added that this would necessarily include strong due process and a “high evidentiary standard” to prove wrongdoing, but did not elaborate on what ethical breaches might be considered “moral turpitude.”
Change to oversight of street sanitation
Peskin proposed a change to 2020’s Proposition B, which created a new Department of Sanitation and Streets, separate from Public Works.
His amendment would “maintain commission oversight over Public Works and keep a focus on streets and sanitation, but do so without the inefficiencies and additional costs to the agency by having two commissions over one department.”
Library Preservation Fund renewal
In conjunction with Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí put forward this measure to finance the “Library Preservation Fund” for another 25 years. Initially set up in 1994, the fund pays for library services and materials across the city.
Safaí said that the fund would go towards the refurbishment of the Mission branch, Chinatown branch and others across San Francisco.
When the measure first came before the electorate 28 years ago, it passed with 70 percent of the vote.
Increased access to retirement benefits
This measure, also put forward by Safaí, would increase access to the Supplemental Cost of Living Adjustment, a payment that helps city retirees keep up with rising inflation.
“These retirees actually had this benefit for 15 years,” said Safaí, “and it was taken away from them in charter reform in 2011.”
The increased payment is expected to cost around $5.9 million every year for the next ten years. Payments will be greater for retirees earning under $50,000, and will be capped at $200 per month for anyone earning more.
Oversight on mayor’s housing department
Preston wants more oversight of the Housing and Community Development Department, which will assume the duties of the current Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development, by creating a seven-member commission to hold it accountable.
“This will bring sunshine on affordable housing,” Preston said during today’s meeting.
He said the department had “no plan” on how to address a $1.3 billion affordable housing budget shortfall, and condemned Mayor London Breed for declining to use $74 million earmarked for social housing and rehabilitation programs like Small Sites in spite of voters’ wishes. It is unclear what authority the commission would have.
Supervisors Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen, and Peskin are supporting the measure.
Peskin introduced an amendment that would impose rent control on new construction that uses the local density bonus program and any new project that has been “rezoned.”
The supervisor told the Chronicle that, if passed, it would cause a sweep of rent control the city hasn’t seen since the likes of the Carter Administration, when rent control was imposed on all units constructed before 1979.
The state-wide Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act prohibits rent control on buildings constructed after February, 1995. However, a loophole in the act exempts units that receive “density exceptions.”
In addition, the city is mandated to plan for more than 82,000 units of housing over the next eight years thanks to state law. That means a wide swath of land parcels on the city’s west side will likely be “rezoned” to allow for more unit capacity and production per parcel. Peskin’s proposal would coincide with that or any other specific types of new construction.
Affordable housing streamlining
In case you missed it, Supervisor Connie Chan, backed by three other supes, announced a measure that offers a quicker permitting process for projects that produce more affordable housing.
It competes with another measure favored by Mayor London Breed and pro-density housing groups, but Chan’s, notably, requires a much higher proportion of affordable housing to be added to qualify for streamlining, and “skilled and trained” labor to build it. Critics of the measure say these recommendations will stymie mixed-income development because few, if any, developers will find that financially feasible.
Back on track
Ronen announced the “Student Success” charter amendment, which promises $70 million per year in grants to the San Francisco Unified School District in an effort to better serve students’ academic and mental well-being. It’s supported by supervisors Preston, Myrna Melgar, Walton, Safai and Gordon Mar, meaning the measure will assuredly land before voters on the November ballot if the supervisors vote the same way.
Each school will get to choose how to spend a flexible $1 million grant, which may include bolstering after-school programs, hiring specialists to better assist the students or developing more rigorous curriculums.
The money would come from extra Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund dollars, but the amendment allows the source to change in the future. The funds would be overseen and administered by the city’s Department of Children, Youth and their Families. Unspent dollars will be put back into a specific “Student Success” fund.
The road to the ballot
All these amendments have a few hurdles to clear before they end up in front of voters. After today, they will need to be considered for 30 days, take in tweaks and changes, and then secure approval from a majority of the board (six votes).
Let us know which amendments you would like to see on the ballot: Amendments poll.