San Francisco’s November election: Here’s what’s made the ballot so far
San Francisco voters will decide this fall if they want to move the city’s mayoral elections to presidential election years starting in 2024.
The Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 on Tuesday to put the measure on the Nov. 8 ballot despite opposition from Mayor London Breed, whose current term would be extended by one year if the proposed City Charter amendment passes.
The measure is one of several the supervisors have put on the ballot or are poised to do so soon. If approved by a majority of voters in November, the proposal would move the scheduled 2023 races for mayor, sheriff, district attorney, city attorney and treasurer to 2024 and every four years thereafter.
Supervisor Dean Preston introduced the measure as a way to boost turnout in local elections for mayor and other offices that are currently decided in odd-numbered years. He emphasized the point Tuesday by propping up a large chart that compared voter participation in some recent local elections, showing an average 80% turnout in even years and 43% in odd ones.
“This is a basic civil rights issue, it’s a voting rights issue and I believe very strongly that our city should be encouraging voter participation, not limiting it,” Preston said.
Other cities, including Los Angeles and San Jose, have already made similar changes to their election schedules.
Breed said in a letter opposing the measure that she thought San Francisco should collect more public input about how to improve turnout before going to the ballot with such a major change. She has said that Los Angeles and San Jose each gathered feedback from local commissions before changing their election schedules.
The mayor went even further in comments to KCBS Radio, telling the station last week that the election schedule measure was being pushed by Preston and “a group of democratic socialists” who want to “have more control and power of being able to get more of their people elected.”
“I don’t think that’s the right way to do things,” Breed said. “No members of the public have had any say in how we shape this policy and what it all means.”
Preston and his allies believe that public opinion is already apparent, pointing to a recent poll that found 74% support for the idea of even-year mayoral elections.
Supervisors Matt Dorsey, Rafael Mandelman, Gordon Mar and Shamann Walton voted against putting the measure on the ballot. They voiced reservations about reducing the number of elections and the specific timing of Preston’s proposal.
Mandelman questioned whether the mayoral elections should occur at the same time as presidential ones or if it might make more sense to sync them with gubernatorial election years.
“I am uncomfortable with getting rid of the election next year,” he said. “Reluctantly, I am not gonna vote for this today, although I think this idea of getting rid of the odd year election is probably right and we should probably do it at some point.”
These are the other measures the supervisors are aiming for the Nov. 8 ballot:
Homeless department oversight: In the wake of a Chronicle investigation that documented squalid conditions in the aging single-room occupancy hotels that San Francisco has long relied on to house homeless people, Supervisor Ahsha Safaí proposed a ballot measure that would create an oversight commission for the city homeless department. With an annual budget of about $700 million, the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing is the largest city agency that doesn’t have an oversight body. That would change if voters approve the measure that Safaí and his colleagues unanimously sent to the ballot.
Affordable housing: Supervisor Connie Chan has proposed a ballot measure that aims to speed up the permit approval process for certain affordable housing projects. Her measure would compete with a similar measure backed by Breed that is already expected to appear on the ballot after supporters gathered thousands of signatures. Supervisors haven’t decided to send the item to the ballot, but they held a hearing on it Tuesday and are expected to vote next week. Chan already has five of her colleagues on board, giving the proposal the support it will need to appear before voters.
The two measures differ in a few ways, including the kinds of projects that would qualify for the faster timeline and whether supervisors retain control over approving city funds for each project. Chan says she wants to make sure that projects produced because of her measure are truly affordable, and she wants to preserve accountability for how public dollars are spent. But some supporters of Breed’s measure say Chan’s measure would still allow needless delays in new housing construction.
Street-cleaning department reversal: Two years ago, San Francisco voters approved Proposition B, which directed the city to split its Public Works department in two and create a new department focused on street-cleaning. But supervisors have grown increasingly concerned about the cost of fully implementing the measure and have questioned whether it would actually result in visibly cleaner streets.
So Supervisor Aaron Peskin proposed a new measure that would roll back much of Prop. B and eliminate the nascent Sanitation and Streets department, which is expected to launch in October. The measure would preserve both of the oversight commissions created by Prop. B, with one of them having the power to set Public Works policy related to street cleaning.
Peskin supported Prop. B. While he had concerns about the costs it would create, he said he also “desperately wanted that oversight” of the city’s street cleaning and public works operations. Now he’s decided that the costs and government redundancies associated with putting the measure in place warrant going back to voters.
“It is rare that an elected official gets up and admits they made a mistake, but this is one of those instances,” Peskin said Tuesday.
The board voted 8-3 in favor of sending Peskin’s measure to the ballot. President Shamann Walton was opposed, as were Supervisors Mar and Safaí.
Assembly member Matt Haney, who championed Prop. B when he was a supervisor, tweeted that Peskin’s new measure was “disrespectful to voters & the residents who continue to experience filthy streets.”
“We’ll see you at the ballot,” he said.
Library preservation fund: This measure would renew a fund that supports city library operations and services for 25 years. Money for the fund comes from an annual property tax set-aside of 2.5 cents per $100. Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to place the measure on the ballot.
Retirement benefit changes: Introduced by Safaí, this measure would adjust the supplemental cost-of-living benefits for city employees who retired before Nov. 6, 1996. Specifically, it would eliminate a requirement that the San Francisco Employees’ Retirement System has to be fully funded based on the prior year’s market value of the system’s assets. SFERS would adjust the retirees’ base allowance to account for the supplemental payments they didn’t receive in five different years because of the full-funding requirement. Monthly supplemental payments would be capped at $200 for eligible retirees whose gross allowance exceeds $4,167 per month. Safaí secured unanimous agreement from his colleagues to get the measure on the ballot.
Sales tax for transportation: Supervisor Mandelman successfully introduced a measure to extend the city’s 0.5% sales tax that helps fund transportation projects for 30 years. The city Transportation Authority would be allowed to issue up to $1.19 billion in bonds to be repaid with proceeds from the tax. The board unanimously decided to send the measure to voters in November.
Supervisors are also considering proposed ballot measures to set aside more money for public schools and expand rent control, but those have not been voted on yet — they were continued until next week’s meeting.
Voters will also likely get to weigh in on a parcel tax meant to help City College of San Francisco end its financial free fall after supporters delivered enough signatures to the Department of Elections to place the measure on the November ballot. Measures on reopening JFK Drive, a gross receipts tax to fund guaranteed income and a vacancy tax on residential units are also expected to go before voters.