The League of Millennial Voters

2015 Voter Guide

When I moved to SF over a year ago, I know I was excited to learn about local politics, but I was daunted by the task of understanding SF voter propositions. I was introduced to another recent transplant (Moses whaddup) and we hosted a voter education party to share research and discuss. Last Sunday our motley group met for the second time for the upcoming 2015 election. We (somewhat surprisingly) came to consensus, and what follows is our understanding of the issues, and how we plan to vote.

Feedback wanted!

As you read, if you disagree with our conclusions, or think there’s something we’re missing, please respond to this post and let us know! We’re all pretty interested in understanding these issues better.

TL;DR

  • Prop A, Affordable Housing Bond: YES
  • Prop B, Paid Parental Leave for City Employees: YES
  • Prop C, Require Political Spending Reporting: YES
  • Prop D, Mission Rock Height Restrictions: YES
  • Prop E, Live-Stream Public Meetings: NO
  • Prop F, Regulations on Short-Term Residential Rentals: NO
  • Prop G, Disclosures Regarding Renewable Energy: NO
  • Prop H, Defining Clean, Green, and Renewable Energy: WE GUESS SO
  • Prop I, Market-Rate Housing Moratorium in the Mission: NO
  • Prop J, Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund: NO
  • Prop K, Surplus Public Lands: YES
  • Sheriff: Vicky Hennesy

In addition to the ballot materials put out by the Department of Elections, we relied heavily on SPUR’s voter guide. SPUR is an urban planning nonprofit that does research and makes policy recommendations on a host of San Francisco issues, particularly around transit and housing, and their voter guides are incredibly detailed and wonky.

We also consulted guides from the League of Pissed Off Voters, the League of Women Voters, and the SF Democratic Party. Also, the internet.

Prop A, Affordable Housing Bond: YES

This one was a no-brainer. Housing is hella expensive, and low- and middle-income families are being squeazed out of the city. This allocates a $310 million bond for developing more affordable housing. The biggest con of this measure according to SPUR is that it’s not enough.

Prop B, Paid Parental Leave for City Employees: YES

Also a no-brainer, this will expand paid parental leave for city employees, which was limited to 12 weeks between both parents (instead of for each parent) and forced the use of sick leave before it could be used.

We felt that this in theory should not be a thing that needs ballot approval, and instead should be a simple decision of some administrator. But the first paid parental leave ordinance was apparently passed by ballot measure, so only a new ballot measure can amend it. In other news, ballot measures are not always the best governance tool.

Prop C, Require Political Spending Reporting: YES

This is the only SPUR endorsement we ultimately disagreed with, and it would require any type of political spending by organizations exceeding $2,500 to be registered with the city and pay an annual fee of $500. This would add some budget burden, but would also increase transparency of spending by companies like Airbnb and Uber, which deploy millions of dollars on their grassroots organizing efforts but don’t have to report it like more traditional lobbying. SPUR notes that it adds overheads and costs, especially for nonprofits and unions (which would also be subject to the measure), but we think the transparency it brings is worth the cost. And unlike other initiatives, Prop C allows for further amendment through the Ethic Committee and the Board of Supervisors.

Prop D, Mission Rock Height Restrictions: YES

This is a rather narrow question of whether one waterfront area near AT&T Park can increase the building height limit for mixed-use development (including affordable housing). Between a city housing crisis and the underutilized space of SOMA, this is an obvious yes. Why in the world would this even need ballot approval, you ask? Because in June last year voters passed a measure requiring all height limit changes on waterfront property to be approved by ballot initiative. The San Francisco Giants put up this measure, and, honestly, it’s NIMBY bullshit.

Prop E, Live-Stream Public Meetings: NO

This is an awesome idea. Right now there are literally thousands of city government meetings by various committees every year that are open to the public and affect public policy, but are poorly attended outside a buncha retired folks with nothing else to do. This proposition—introduced by an American government class at SFSU—would mandate that these meetings to be live-streamed, that there be an online platform for submitting comments, and that the meetings make time to address these online comments.

We generally want more civic engagement and are excited about technology’s ability to facilitate this, but this is not the way. The measure is expensive at $1.7 million upfront costs and $750,000 a year ongoing, estimated by the Controller. And something like this deserves city experimentation and iteration, not the forced, hard-to-modify adoption of a ballot initiative. Vote no.

Prop F, Regulations on Short-Term Residential Rentals: NO

This was a tough one! Prop F makes a number of changes to how the city regulates short-term rentals (i.e., Airbnbs), including limiting them to 75 days/year (down from 90/year when the host is absent and unlimited when the host is present), requiring platforms to unlist a rental if it exceeded its number of days, mandating quarterly reports from hosts and platforms (up from annual reports just for hosts), lowering the barriers for neighbors to sue hosts who break the rules, outlawing the use of in-law units, and requiring building approval before a host can list on Airbnb. The SPUR guide has a helpful table of all the changes, as compared to the initial 2014 regulation of Airbnbs and more recent reforms, and it’s worth taking a look specifically.

Prop F is possibly the most controversial measure on the ballot, and we came in with a wide variety of views on the matter. Its purpose is an admirable one in the midst of a housing crisis: to prevent potential long-term dwellings from being canibalized by short-term Airbnbs for tourists. We agree with this goal, and a lot of the regulations it introduces are good: the onus should be on the platform to enforce the city’s regulations by removing listings that have been on too long or aren’t registered, and the city should have robust enforcement mechanisms for hosts that break the rules. This post by a Prop F proponent describes many of the intents and upsides of this measure.

We were concerned about some of the regulations, which seem overly harsh. Removing the distinction between hosted and unhosted stays doesn’t make sense, as they have a very different impact on the rest of the housing market, and outlawing the use of in-law units seems like an overly restrictive way to encourage renting those units longer term, since there are plenty of reasons why homeowners would do the former but not the latter.

But more than any of these specific objections, we were swayed by SPUR and The San Francisco Chronicle’s argument that this regulatory package should not be a ballot initiative. Remember: ballot initiatives can only be amended by further ballot initiatives. This means that the center of responsibility for nuanced regulation shifts from City Hall, for whom it’s their job to do research and and craft legislation, to voters, who only vote on things that that special interests support enough to bring to the ballot (that link is about California propositions but the same phenomenon applies at the city level). We should absolutely give the existing Airbnb regulations more teeth, but we should not forever rob the city of the chance to gather data and craft careful policies. Vote no.

Prop G, Disclosures Regarding Renewable Energy: NO

In the realm of stupid ballot initiatives, this is up there: the proposers of Prop G, an electrical workers’ union, negotiated their position with the city and have since rescinded support. It’s only on the ballot because it was too late to take it off before they concluded negotiations. Vote no.

Prop H, Defining Clean, Green, and Renewable Energy: WE GUESS SO

Prop H is designed to nullify Prop G, so in that sense it’s good. But it’s literally no change from what the city is already planning to do regarding defining clean energy for the CleanPowerSF program. So like vote for it, or don’t ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Prop I, Market-Rate Housing Moratorium in the Mission: NO

This was another a tough one, as it is fundamentally a grassroots effort by a community that has seen unprecedented gentrification and displacement to put the breaks on and retain some control over their housing. This measure came up in the Board of Supervisors earlier this year and it prompted seven hours of public comment from the community in support.

Prop I would prevent the construction of any new housing units in the Mission unless it were 100 percent affordable, and would mandate the city develop a “Neighborhood Stabilization Plan” by the beginning of 2017.

We felt it was hard to see the upside for this measure, beyond expressing (totally valid) community frustration. One of the reasons housing prices in San Francisco are so high to begin with is because development here is very expensive, and the housing supply has been correspondingly inelastic; restricting development further does not help the supply to continue to meet the growing demand. If it were 18 months and done this might not be a terrible issue, but SPUR and Supervisor Scott Wiener express concern that such a moratorium would be extended and adopted by other neighborhoods if passed.

What’s more, because San Francisco mandates that developers build affordable housing or pay into an affordable housing fund with any market-rate construction, a moratorium would actually prevent future affordable housing, between 97–131 units as estimated by SPUR.

The Mission has been on the low end of housing production in SF, as Sup. Weiner points out, while being a huge subject of demand. We need more development—which will drive affordable housing—not less.

Prop J, Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund: NO

Prop J would create a city fund to support “legacy” businesses deemed historically important to San Francisco. The fund would pay $500 per employee to business that qualify, and $4.50 per square foot to landlords that sign 10-year leases with such businesses.

The idea of supporting key cultural institutions in this way was very appealing to us, but SPUR made a number of technical points that ultimately dissuaded us. Because businesses must be nominated by a politician, it’s ripe for political abuse by officials who may have a special relationship with certain businesses. Although there’s a $50,000 cap per business per year, there’s no cap for the fund, so the expense could rise unbounded (and is forced to track inflation). And most damningly, it actually provides a perverse incentive for landlords to raise rent on these businesses, since they will know which are receiving extra public funds.

For all these reasons, and especially since there’s no reason the Board of Supervisors cannot craft their own legislation to handle this need, vote no.

Prop K, Surplus Public Lands: YES

SF already has a policy of using unused, city-owned land for affordable housing. This measure makes a number of pretty technical adjustments to that policy, including expanding the affordable housing definition from 60 percent of median income to 120 percent, giving the city the first chance to buy land from other local agencies (e.g., school districts) before they sell it, and requiring any land that the city does sell be allocated for one-third affordable housing.

This measure is susceptible to the same criticism of many others, that it takes a complex legislative issue and locks it in under a ballot initiative. And it certainly could have passed the Board of Supervisors, who voted unanimously to put it on the ballot. But we agree with SPUR that affordable housing is enough of a priority for the foreseeable future to warrant the stronger guarantees a ballot initiative affords. Vote yes.

Mayor: Ed Lee

The incumbent sheriff, Ross Mirkarimi, seems like a good guy on paper. He’s a progressive who’s into police oversight and transparency, paths to employment for the formerly incarcerated, and adequate mental health treatment as opposed to jail. He had a fair number of endorsements, largely not from law enforcement, bolstering his claim to not be in the pocket of police unions.

That said, he had his license suspended since February for failing to report a crash he was in. Moreover, he spent a large chunk of his last term out of office due to an ongoing ethics investigation after he was charged with domestic abuse of his wife. He ultimately plead out to false imprisonment charges, and my friend was actually talked up by Mirkarimi’s wife to vote for him, but suffice it to say none of us were entirely comfortable with the situation.

Vicki Hennesy on the other hand had similar experience in law enforcement, was endorsed by most of the actual city politicians, and is not (as far as we know) a domestic abuser. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

General conclusions

As you can see, we ultimately opposed a bunch of propositions where the intentions of the measure are something we theoretically support. Particularly on incredibly complicated issues like housing, but even on seemingly straightforward ones like live-streaming government meetings, the devil is in the details. And when those details can only be undone by another ballot prop, we should be very cautious in what we support at the polls. Ballot measures are fun for participatory democracy, but they make for blunt instruments to effect public policy.

Who we are

Dan Getelman, Etan Zapinsky, Hilary Udow, Jacob Andreas, Kyle Hardgrave, Moses Nakamura, Nick Meyer, and Sidharth Shanker.