San Francisco & California Nov 8th 2016 General Election Guide

California has become a giant experiment in direct democracy, and we’ve reached new levels of absurdity this year with 25 propositions in San Francisco and 17 statewide. Following up from my primary endorsements post, here are my recommendations for the 2016 General Election, with an emphasis on housing and transportation issues. If you have questions, please reach out on Twitter.

Because this ballot is so large, and because of the slow-motion trainwreck happening on the national stage, you should expect very long lines at polling stations on election day. I highly recommend applying to vote by mail so you can fill out your ballot in your own time. You have the option to mail in your completed ballot (postage required) or drop it off. Voting early is also a great way to stop those annoying election-related phone calls! The deadline for applying for a vote-by-mail ballot in California is November 1st, and election day is November 8th.

City/County Propositions

  • Prop A (School Bonds): San Francisco’s public school students deserve a state-of-the-art education, and this measure will provide funds for desperately needed repairs and upgrades. Vote YES on Proposition A.
  • Prop B (City College): San Francisco’s public community college helps tens of thousands of students learn skills needed to succeed in the workforce. This proposal provides additional funding for the college to help ensure that quality higher and continuing education is available to everyone. Vote YES on Proposition B.
  • Props D, H, L & M: These four propositions are a packaged attempt from anti-housing members of the SF Board of Supervisors to move authority away from the Mayor and preserve their ability to block new housing construction. You can learn more about these undemocratic, costly and unnecessary propositions at SFBARF and SPUR. Vote NO on Propositions D, H, L, and M.
  • Props J & K (Homelessness & Transportation): San Francisco’s public transportation system (Muni) is falling apart, and the city’s housing shortage has pushed more and more vulnerable people onto the streets. These two propositions (which need to be approved together) will address both challenges by funding transportation improvements and services for the homeless. Vote YES on Propositions J and K.
  • Prop C (Small Sites): Provides funding for acquiring and rehabilitating at-risk apartment buildings so they can be converted into permanently affordable housing. Vote YES on Proposition C.
  • Prop E (Street Trees): Today, property owners are responsible for maintaining street trees and fixing damage to sidewalks caused by tree roots — regardless of if they have the resources to do so. This proposal transfers all responsibility for maintaining trees and sidewalks to the city, where it belongs. Vote YES on Proposition E.
  • Prop F (Voting Age): One reason why many young Americans don’t vote is that they reach voting age during a period of transition when they are leaving home to start college or a new career. This proposition would lower the minimum voting age for local elections only, from age 18 to age 16, a more stable time for teenagers to form a long-term habit. Local elections often have ballot measures and candidate races related to public education that impact young people, and SF’s public schools have committed to implementing curriculum that will teach high school students about voting if this proposition passes. Vote YES on Proposition F.
  • Prop G (Police Oversight): Effective citizen oversight over police is a crucial step towards ending police violence and restoring community trust in law enforcement. Today, the police department has budgetary control over the department tasked with keeping police officers accountable. This is untenable, and Prop G fixes this situation by providing the accountability department with their own budget. Vote YES on Proposition G.
  • Prop I (Dignity Fund): San Francisco already allocated $32M from the general fund to services for seniors, veterans, and adults with disabilities for the 2016–17 fiscal year. This measure would require the city to set aside $38M (a $6M increase) for these programs into a “Dignity Fund”, ensuring that the funds could not be reallocated in the future. Supporters say that this will provide stability and dignity for vulnerable people who rely on these programs, while opponents say the current system is working fine and that the city’s budget should be allocated year by year based on needs with as few set-asides as possible. I generally prefer that our elected officials make these decisions rather than voters, but a majority vote by the Board of Supervisors is the reason this is on the ballot in the first place. This measure has broad political and community support, so I’m inclined to support it. Vote YES on Proposition I.
  • Prop N (Non-Citizen School Board Voting): Immigrants living in San Francisco pay the same taxes as citizens but have no representation in the political process. This proposition would grant non-citizen parents who have children enrolled in the public school system the right to vote in school board elections. Non-citizen residents should be allowed to vote in all local elections, and this is an exciting first step. Vote YES on Proposition N.
  • Prop O (Candlestick Offices): Despite San Francisco’s reputation as a high-tech hub, the city limits the amount of new office space that can be constructed every year. Yes, really. This anti-job policy is long overdue for reform, but unfortunately that’s not on the table right now. This measure would exempt a specific voter-approved office and housing development project in Candlestick/Hunters Point from this annual limit, creating crucial economic opportunities in a long-neglected area of the city. Vote YES on Proposition O.
  • Prop P (Affordable Housing Bids): This measure is yet another attempt at slowing down construction of much-needed affordable housing by requiring a minimum of three bids before any project can proceed. San Francisco already requires competitive bidding for public housing projects and doesn’t need even more process to get in the way of building new housing units. Vote NO on Proposition P.
  • Prop Q (Tent Encampments) Homelessness is a very visible problem in San Francisco, but “out of sight, out of mind” is not a real solution. Prop Q would further criminalize homelessness by authorizing city workers and police to harass and clear people who are camped out on public sidewalks, without providing them with anywhere to go. There is an 800-person wait list for existing shelters, and this measure provides no additional facilities or funding. Tent encampments have a lot of problems, but any proposals to address this crisis must include more housing and not just shuffle vulnerable people from one block to the next. Vote NO on Proposition Q.
  • Prop R (Neighborhood Crime): This measure would create a new “Neighborhood Crime” police unit to address a perceived increase in property crime over recent years. Crime is a problem, but micromanaging the police department is not the solution. Prop R does not increase the total number of officers on the force, and instead reallocates officers from existing patrols. Decisions about how officers are allocated should be made by the Mayor and Chief of Police, not by voters. There is also very vague language in Prop R’s legal text that should be cause for concern. The responsibilities of this new unit includes addressing “quality of life” issues, a phrase which often indicates well-off homeowners working to keep anyone who doesn’t look like them out of their neighborhoods. Further, the proposition suggests that this new unit accomplish their goal through “neighborhood foot patrols, among other tactics”, which could mean anything. Vote NO on Proposition R.
  • Prop S (Hotel Tax): This is yet another set-aside that would reallocate a portion of the existing hotel tax from the general fund into the arts as well as services for people experiencing homelessness. Once again, I would prefer these decisions to be made year-by-year by our elected officials, but like Prop I this measure also has broad support. Vote YES on Proposition S.
  • Prop T (Lobbyists): Under current laws, lobbyists are able to indirectly raise thousands of dollars for political candidates by throwing lavish parties and strongly encouraging guests to donate to their favored candidate. This process, known as “bundling”, would no longer be allowed if this proposition passes. Proposition T also bans all gifts to city officials, even those worth less than $25. This seems a bit extreme, but overall the proposition is a step in the right direction. Vote YES on Proposition T.
  • Prop U (Affordable Housing Eligibility): This proposition would expand who is eligible for low-income housing from households earning 55% of the area median income to households earning 110%. Supporters claim this will help families who make too much to qualify for low-income housing, but not enough to afford market-rate housing. While some middle-class families may be helped by this proposition, it’s at the expense of low income residents who would now have much more competition for the same limited housing supply. The best way to help more people afford to live in San Francisco is to build more housing, and this proposal doesn’t do that. Vote NO on Proposition U.
  • Prop V (Soda Tax): There is increasing consensus in the medical science community that sugar is very bad for you. This proposal creates a 1¢ tax on sugary drinks like soda that contribute to obesity and diabetes. As with tobacco, increasing taxes has a positive impact on public health by reducing consumption of dangerous products, and a similar sugar tax measure in Berkeley has been very successful. Vote YES on Proposition V.
  • Prop W (Transfer Tax): San Francisco already has one of the highest transfer taxes in the region, and this measure would increase the tax for high-priced properties. Supporters say that this would only impact “luxury” homes, but there’s no exemption for multi-unit or rent-controlled buildings. Taxing people who are doing very well makes sense, but this poorly written proposition may have unintended consequences. Similar taxes in other regions have resulted in a significant drop in property sales, so claims about new tax revenue are likely overstated. Vote NO on Proposition W.
  • Prop X (Manufacturing Space): Building new housing in San Francisco is already too difficult, and this proposition would add yet another expensive hurdle to the process by requiring “light-industrial” space in some new developments. Supporters claim that this space is needed by artists and nonprofits, but the city’s largest manufacturing association opposes the measure, saying it creates the wrong type of spaces. At a recent panel discussion about this proposition, member of the Board of Supervisors and Prop X supporter Jane Kim spoke about the need to preserve “auto-repair shops” (a terrible use of space in a city trying to discourage car ownership) and “manufacturing jobs” (echoing rhetoric from out-of-touch national politics). Vote NO on Proposition X.

District Measures

  • Measure RR (BART): It’s hard to imagine the Bay Area without BART, yet the system is falling apart. Trains are frequently overcrowded and delayed due to aging tracks, tunnels, and electronics. Measure RR will provide urgently needed funds to keep BART running for the hundreds of thousands of people who depend on it every day. Vote YES on Measure RR.

Still with me? Great! You owe yourself a break. Enjoy this adorable video of a kitty and puppy who are best friends:

Okay, where were we…

State Propositions

  • Prop 51 (School Bonds): Provides funding for modernization of public school and community college facilities without raising taxes. Vote YES on Proposition 51
  • Prop 52 (Medi-Cal): Extends an existing program that generates important funding for Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program and prevents the Legislature from redirecting those funds. Vote YES on Proposition 52.
  • Prop 53 (Revenue Bonds): If you think there couldn’t possibly be a bigger ballot than this one, think again. Prop 53 would require a statewide vote for certain local projects. This would strip away the ability for local governments to do their job and give people hundreds of miles away the ability to block important projects that don’t impact them. Vote NO on Proposition 53.
  • Prop 54 (Legislature): This proposition improves government transparency by requiring the State Legislature to post bills online at least 72 hours before voting and make video recordings available online for all public meetings. Vote YES on Proposition 54.
  • Prop 55 (High Income Tax): Extends an existing income tax for people earning over $250K/year for another 12 years and allocates those funds to education and healthcare. Vote YES on Proposition 55.
  • Prop 56 (Cigarettes): If you’re reading this in order, I mentioned earlier that increasing taxes has been successful at reducing smoking. Prop 56 closes the “vaping loophole” by creating a new tax on e-cigarettes and increases the existing tax on traditional cigarettes. California has one of the lowest tobacco taxes nationwide, and these changes will discourage smoking. Vote YES on Prop 56.
  • Prop 57 (Parole): Thanks to a voter-approved “tough on crime” proposition in 2000, juveniles can be transferred to adult court without a hearing in front of a judge. This is a big problem, because it’s a prosecutor’s job to put people in jail. Prop 57 rolls back this decision and also brings sensible reforms for nonviolent adult felons seeking parole. Vote YES on Proposition 57.
  • Prop 58 (Multilingual Education): A racist, xenophobic law passed in 1998 limited public school programs to English only. It’s essential that teachers are empowered with the tools needed to create the best possible classroom environment, regardless of their students’ backgrounds and needs. Prop 58 removes this absurd restriction on bilingual programs without changing the requirement that public schools ensure students become proficient in English. Vote YES on Proposition 58.
  • Prop 59 (Citizens United): A purely symbolic advisory vote asking our elected officials to pretty-please do something about Citizens United, the terrible 2010 Supreme Court decision that opened the door for unlimited corporate money in politics. Why not, vote YES on Proposition 59.
  • Prop 60 (Condoms): This proposition falsely claims to improve safety in the adult film industry. Do not fall for this attempt from an anti-pornography group to legalize harassment of performers. This is a sneak attempt to stop the production of legal, adult films in California. Vote NO on Proposition 60.
  • Prop 61 (Drug Prices): Supporters claim that Prop 61 will reduce prescription drug prices across the state. That sounds sensible, but doesn’t reflect what this proposal would actually do. Prop 61 limits how much the state can pay for prescription drugs to match the VA’s rates. Unfortunately, it doesn’t require the drug companies to sell drugs at those ‘matched’ rates. It’s unlikely that drug companies will voluntarily lower their prices, so this could result in fewer options for vulnerable people. I’d gladly support reasonable Rx price controls, but this proposal regulates the wrong side of the transaction. Vote NO on Proposition 61.
  • Prop 62 & 66 (Death Penalty): Capital punishment has no place in a modern society. Proposition 62 repeals the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without parole, and would retroactively apply to the 734 inmates currently on death row. Prop 66 would not only nullify the repeal, but expedite the execution of people on death row, requiring the state to kill over 700 people within five years (more than Texas). That’s absolutely awful. Vote YES on Proposition 62 and NO on Proposition 66.
  • Prop 63 (Gun Control): Most of the common-sense firearm and ammunition restrictions contained in this measure have already been passed by the state legislature. Prop 63 is mostly a fine-tuning of existing gun control laws, and also makes those laws more difficult to repeal. Vote YES on Proposition 63.
  • Prop 64 (Marijuana): 20 years ago, California became the first state to legalize medical cannabis. Since then, four other states have smoked California in the race to legalize adult recreational use, and without any problems. It’s high time we caught up. Proposition 64 has the joint support of community groups, unions, elected officials, major newspapers, and the ACLU. Ending cannabis prohibition will especially help communities of color who have long been disproportionately prosecuted and imprisoned for minor cannabis-related infractions. The nonpartisan State Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates new tax revenue “could eventually range from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually”. Yes, billion. Vote YES on Proposition 64.
  • Props 65 & 67 (Bag Fees): “Big Plastic” wasn’t happy about a statewide ban passed by the Legislature in 2014, and put two confusing propositions on the ballot in a desperate attempt to overturn the law. Disposable plastic bags are a wasteful use of resources and harmful to the environment.Vote NO on Proposition 65 and YES on Proposition 67.

Federal Offices

  • President of the United States: Hillary Clinton, obvs.
  • US Senate: Kamala Harris
  • US Representative: Nancy Pelosi

State Offices

  • State Senator District 11: Scott Wiener
  • State Assembly District 17: David Chiu
  • Superior Court Office 7: Paul Henderson

District Offices

  • BART Director District 7: Lateefah Simon
  • BART Director District 9: Gwyneth Boren

SF City Offices

  • Board of Supervisors District 1: Marjan Philhour
  • Board of Supervisors District 5: London Breed
  • Board of Supervisors District 9: Josh Arce
  • Board of Supervisors District 11: Ahsha Safai

Voting guides from SPUR, SFBARF, SFYIMBY, the SF League of Pissed of Voters, SF Chronicle, and the LA Times helped influence these decisions. Huge thanks to all my friends who discussed and debated these issues with me, helped out with editing, and encouraged me to finish this post.

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