Just a small sampling of the ads I received.

Jeremy’s 2015 Voting Guide to San Francisco Propositions

It’s that time of the year again. Time to vote on propositions in San Francisco. The Voting Guide is about 200 pages too long, so I can’t imagine too many people are reading it. I’ve read the whole thing and summarized my take here. Reminder: Voting is Tuesday, November 3rd.

This is the Year of Voting on the Housing Problem in San Francisco. There are a few different approaches, but generally it is clear to people that there is a massive issue with housing in San Francisco, but a wide range of opinions on how to resolve it.

My overall opinion is that San Francisco needs significantly more housing supply, and so creating new homes and construction is a good thing for the city. I’d recommend the book Triumph of the City for a more longitudinal view of this issue. I think the key note is that housing affordability is not a new issue, and generally it arises when lots of people want to move to a city and there isn’t new housing built.

Here’s my summary and then the details below.


Prop X: Summary Title — My Vote [Confidence Level]

Prop A: Affordable Housing Bond — Yes [8/10] #housing
Prop B: Paid Parental Leave for City Employees — Yes [8/10]
Prop C: Expenditure Lobbyists — Yes [6/10]
Prop D: Mission Rock — Yes [9/10] #housing
Prop E: Requirements for Public Meetings — No [8/10]
Prop F: Short-Term Residential Rentals — No [7/10] #housing
Prop G: Disclosures Regarding Renewable Energy — No [9/10]
Prop H: Defining Clean, Green, and Renewable Energy — Yes [5/10]
Prop I: Suspension of Market-Rate Development in the Mission District — No [8/10] #housing
Prop J: Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund — Yes [6/10]
Prop K: Surplus Public Lands — Yes [7/10] #housing

Prop A: Affordable Housing Bond — Yes

Confidence: 8/10

Question: To finance the construction, development, acquisition, and preservation of housing affordable to low- and middle-income households through programs that will prioritize vulnerable populations such as San Francisco’s working families, veterans, seniors, disabled persons; to assist in the acquisition, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable rental apartment buildings to prevent the eviction of long-term residents; to repair and reconstruct dilapidated public housing; to fund a middle-income rental program; and to provide for homeownership down payment assistance opportunities for educators and middle-income households; shall the City and County of San Francisco issue $310 million in general obligation bonds, subject to independent citizen oversight and regular audits?

So this is a bond to help build affordable housing for low- and middle-income households in San Francisco. In the Voter Guide it has broad support and seems to make sense. I think building more housing is the right idea, though this probably isn’t enough. It seems there is a possible passthrough of a property tax raise to tenants (since property tax pays for the bonds), but that doesn’t seem to be very significant.

I think it’s a strong yes vote. And while the opposing arguments are not very convincing, there is one good point:

It costs around $700,000 to build one housing unit. $310,000,000 builds only 443 units. Estimated cost of debt service for those few units reaches $26,700,000 by 2021.

I think the startling fact here is that this $310 million bond only builds 443 units. I don’t know how many people are in a unit, but say it is 4 people, that is about 1800 people, which doesn’t seem like nearly enough. I would say the city in general probably needs to build even more housing.

A few facts from the legal text:

Section 1. Findings.

A. The City has the highest median rent in the country with a one-bedroom asking rent of $3,460, according to rental listing site Zumper.
B. The City continues to be one of the highest-priced ownership markets in the country with a median home sales price of $1.1 million, a 19.4% increase from the previous year, according to the real estate website Trulia.

Yeah… probably more housing is needed.

Prop B — Paid Parental Leave for City Employees — Yes

Confidence: 8/10

Shall the City amend the Charter to allow parents who are both City employees to each take the maximum amount of paid parental leave for which they qualify for the birth, adoption or foster parenting of the same child, if both parents are City employees; and to provide each parent the opportunity to keep up to 40 hours of sick leave at the end of paid parental leave?

This is a ballot measure to extend parental leave for parents who are both government employees. It’s a very specific change, and a bit surprising that everyone needs to vote on it. It seems like a good change, and a strong yes vote. I would expect this to be able to be decided without having the whole city vote on it.

From the controller, there will be an “increase in the cost of government of between $570,000 and $1.1 million annually.” The budget for this year seems to be about $9 billion for this year. It probably costs this much just to vote on the change. Increasing paid parental leave is a good thing. Yes.

Prop C —Expenditure Lobbyists — Yes

Confidence: 6/10

Shall the City regulate expenditure lobbyists by requiring them to register with the Ethics Commission, pay a $500 registration fee, and file monthly disclosures regarding their lobbying activities?

The guy who writes the rebuttals for some of these ballot measures is a real riot. Dr.Terence Faulkner, J.D. seems like it could be an Onion author.

This proposition says that expenditure lobbyists need to register with the city and then disclose their lobbying activities. An “expenditure lobbyist” is basically indirect lobbying — meaning an organization pays to urge others to contact city officials. It seems that this mostly is about companies conducting PR campaigns to do lobbying. To qualify for reporting, they need to spend $2,500 or more per month to urge others to do lobbying.

I’m not sure exactly what this is a reaction to, but it also seems this was a rule that was previously in place and now matches LA, Sacramento and San Jose.

I think this is a yes vote, though my hesitation on confidence is that it seems like a slippery slope. It seems hard to define indirect lobbying, though the intention is that the spending amount will really mean this is about people doing larger indirect lobbying efforts. As a transparency law it seems to make sense and the text is generally an extension of normal lobbying requirements.

Prop D —Mission Rock — Yes

Confidence: 9/10

Shall the City increase the height limit for 10 of the 28 acres of the Mission Rock site from one story to height limits ranging from 40 to 240 feet and make it City policy to encourage the development on the Mission Rock site provided that it includes eight acres of parks and open space and housing of which at least 33% is affordable for low- and middle- income households?

So I believe this is the parking lot that we are talking about for the Mission rock project. Google Maps link here: https://goo.gl/maps/L1bUH7A1N1A2. At a high level the goal is to develop this parking lot and create parks, housing, jobs and more.

The parking lot

It’s not exactly clear from the voter guide, but this is the San Francisco Giants development project. It has a lot of support and seems like a Good Thing.

This proposition is needed to comply with Proposition B from last year, which required voter approval of any proposed zoning height increases along the San Francisco waterfront.

Highlights from this one are that it creates eight acres of parks, approximately 1,000–1,950 residential units, at least 1/3 for low- and middle-income housing. Over the lifetime of the project it should generate $1 billion in revenue for the city.

Also everyone supporting this wants you to know this has been the culmination of 8 years of community effort and planning.

Here is the site for the project: http://missionrock.org/. San Francisco needs more developments like this. It seems to me this is something that probably should be able to be built without a full citywide vote, but alas, that is the system now. I think this vote is a bit emblematic of San Francisco housing woes. People want to build this new development, it has support across the board, but it is stuck because of a zoning law about height limit on the waterfront.

The future of the parking lot

Prop E — Requirements for Public Meetings — No

Confidence: 8/10

Shall the City broadcast all City meetings live on the Internet; allow members of the public to submit electronically during the meeting live, written, video, or audio comments from any location and require those comments be played; require pre-recorded video testimony to be played during a meeting; and allow the public or board, commission, or committee members to request that discussion of a particular agenda item begin at a specific time?

This one seems a little weird, and pretty hard to do. I think there is an innovative idea in there somewhere, but I think it is a pretty confident no vote. The idea of live-streaming government meetings to let people participate seems interesting, but certain requirements seem pretty impossible for the government to actually do. Like part o) and p)

(o) Developing a procedure by which members of the public or the policy body can request that discussion on a certain item begin at a pre-determined time during the meeting will increase participation by people who wish to watch deliberations and/or comment on a particular agenda item.

(p) Requiring video and live remote testimony to be translated and presented to policy bodies in English will give a voice in the process to limited English speaking persons.

My hunch is that the government has technical difficulties as it is, so this seems tough to implement, though maybe in the future all government meetings should be broadcast. Like in The Circle.

Prop F —Short-Term Residential Rentals — No

(The AirBnb One)

Confidence: 7/10

Shall the City limit short-term rentals of a housing unit to 75 days per year regardless of whether the rental is hosted or unhosted; require owners to provide proof that they authorize the unit as a short-term rental; require residents who offer short-term rentals to submit quarterly reports on the number of days they live in the unit and the number of days the unit is rented; prohibit short-term rentals of in-law units; allow interested parties to sue hosting platforms; and make it a misdemeanor for a hosting platform to unlawfully list a unit as a short-term rental?

This is the “AirBnb One” or the Big Kahuna of the propositions in this voting cycle. It’s the one that has certainly gotten the most media attention and led to the most flyers to my apartment. It is a polarizing issue, and highlights the central theme of this voting cycle which is affordable housing, and what the right way is to handle the problem.

I think this is a no vote. Mainly, AirBnB is the wrong target for the housing affordability issue.

This is the proposition that is targeting AirBnB and AirBnB hosts as factors exacerbating the housing issue, and instituting new laws to regulate and minimize hosting on AirBnB. This is an issue where both sides have reasonable arguments, however I think the method here is pretty far off.

The problem with this is evident in the initial question and description: “allow interested parties to sue permanent residents and hosting platforms.” The proposition is too litigious by default in a problematic way.

I think part of the issue is AirBnB is not going away, is generally a good thing and providing a service in San Francisco and around the world, and this proposition is introducing targeted regulation towards introducing additional overhead for people using AirBnB.

Too many parts of the law are stuck in the weeds and too silly, like this one: “require residents who offer short-term rentals to submit quarterly reports on the number of days they live in the unit and the number of days the unit is rented.”

The core arguments from each side are this: On the yes side, the argument is that AirBnB is taking rooms off the market, leading to illegal hotel rooms, closing loopholes in the current law, and getting neighbors more involved. On the no side, the argument is that this approaches the problem in the wrong, has baked in neighborhood litigation into the law, and has over the top reporting requirements.

Here is an issue: “Neighbors will be able to sue each other over perceived violations, even if the city found no issue.” That doesn’t seem to make sense as a law.

Here is a valid point: “Proposition F mistakenly asks San Franciscans to ballot-box legislate a complicated issue that city officials are already working to solve.” Now, I’m not saying city officials are just going to go and solve it, but this debate highlights the shortcomings of this proposition voting method. It also can only be amended through another ballot measure, which doesn’t make sense for something so new like AirBnB.

However, I think the overriding factor is that AirBnB is not a major cause of housing affordability issues, even though they are a very good scapegoat.

“In 2014 (the most recent year with available data) there were about 387,000 housing units in SF. About 38% were owner-occupied, and the remaining 62% or 240,000 were rental units.” It seems AirBnB has 5,000–10,000 units in San Francisco, and has affected housing prices by about 1%. However, housing prices have doubled in the last 5 years, and that is due mostly to the supply side of housing and not to AirBnB. [1]

AirBnB is innovative and not the cause or major factor in affordable housing issue. AirBnB is in a lot of other cities but the problem does not seem to be as pronounced because the housing issue in other cities is not as bad.

Having, said that, AirBnB has clearly screwed up and stands to gain a lot here. They had some very passive aggressive and tasteless ads like the one below.

Very bad ads.

Prop G —Disclosures Regarding Renewable Energy — No

Confidence: 9/10

Shall the City define “renewable, greenhouse-gas free electricity” to mean electricity derived exclusively from certain renewable resources located within or adjacent to the California border or electricity derived from Hetch Hetchy, except for electricity from other types of resources such as rooftop solar and other large hydroelectric facilities; require CleanPowerSF to inform customers and potential customers of the planned percentage of “renewable, greenhouse-gas free electricity” to be provided; and prohibit CleanPowerSF from marketing, advertising or making any public statement that its electricity is “clean” or “green” unless the electricity is “renewable, greenhouse gas-free electricity” as defined in this measure?

There were no arguments in favor of this. This seems to be a weird proposition from PG&E and a clear no vote.

Prop H —Defining Clean, Green, and Renewable Energy — Yes

Confidence: 5/10

Shall the City use the State definition of “eligible renewable energy resources” when referring to terms such as “clean energy,” “green energy,” and “renewable Greenhouse Gas-free Energy”; and shall CleanPowerSF be urged to inform customers and potential customers of the planned percentage of types of renewable energy to be supplied in each communication; and shall it be City policy for CleanPowerSF to use electricity generated within California and San Francisco when possible?

G & H go together and conflict. It seems support has been withdrawn from G. They both involve definitions of clean energy, which seems an odd thing to go on the ballot (like most of them), but this will take the current state definition which seems reasonable. I think this is a yes vote.

Prop I —Suspension of Market-Rate Development in the Mission District — No

Confidence: 8/10

Shall the City suspend the issuance of permits on certain types of housing and business development projects in the Mission District for at least 18 months; and develop a Neighborhood Stabilization Plan for the Mission District by January 31, 2017?

This is another ballot vote about the affordable housing issue. This will stop housing developments in the Mission with the goal of creating more affordable housing. However, this one, like Prop F, which has a good goal and the right problem, doesn’t actually help. The problem is a supply-side problem — there isn’t enough housing. Stopping housing development actually hurts the Mission.

Here is a good argument from the guide:

Prop I will mean less affordable housing. That is a simple fact. It immediately stops funding for
nearly 200 affordable homes. Prop I will mean more displacement.
The math is clear, if we stop building homes for the new workers coming into San Francisco it doesn’t mean these new workers will stop coming here.They will still come, and simply bid up the price of existing homes and apartments creating more displacements.

The chief economist of San Francisco estimated 100,000 new units are needed to make a change in prices. This indicates what is needed is more development, not less. This measure seems it would have the opposite of its intended effect — it would further causes prices to go up.

Prop J — Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund — Yes

Confidence: 6/10

Shall the City establish a Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund, which would give grants to Legacy Businesses and to building owners who lease space to those businesses for terms of at least 10 years; and expand the definition of a Legacy Business to include those that have operated in San Francisco for more than 20 years, are at risk of displacement and meet the other requirements of the Registry?

This measure is to help preserve businesses that have been in San Francisco for over 20 years, though employee subsidies and rent subsidies. It is a bit pricey, but seems to make sense to help keep businesses that have been in San Francisco for a while.

Prop K —Surplus Public Lands — Yes

Confidence: 7/10

Shall the City expand the allowable uses of surplus property to include building affordable housing for a range of households from those who are homeless or those with very low income to those with incomes up to 120% of the area median income; and, for projects of more than 200 units, make some housing available for households earning up to 150% or more of the area median income?

Proposition K allows surplus property to be used for affordable housing. This is another housing measure to be voted on, but this one should encourage housing development, which is what is needed. This seems like a yes vote.