[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-cover”]Vote yes on A, No on K! Those ads, billboards and crazy propositions are back. Some want to help the poor, some want to help the rich. Others represent political infighting and really don’t want to help anyone. Despite some improvements this year (many have summaries now), the ballot measures will vex many ordinary voters. Residents will bewildered by the poorly scanned PDF documents that have complicated language and aren’t text searchable. Even the format, where the existing verbose ordinance is overlaid with the proposition’s amendments, makes finding and understanding the specific new rules arduous and overwhelming. We braved the deep convoluted waters of the ballot measures to bring our own critical eye and make sense of the madness.
A – Affordable Housing Bond
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-a”]With median home prices entering stratospheric heights soaring past a million dollars and one bedroom rents breaking the $3,500 price barrier, common sense begs an appropriate question. How did San Francisco find itself as leader of the highest rents in the nation? The basic laws of supply and demand dictate that when demand outpaces supply, prices will rise. In the case of San Francisco, the demand is being fueled by tech companies migrating to the city’s SoMa district, a tsunami of foreign investment, and a national trend sending youth to the culturally diverse and opportunity-rich cities from the less vivacious suburbs. Compounding the situation, market rate supply has been restricted by historically low housing development, strict building height limits, density controls, sunlight ordinances, significant anti-development sentiment, and a city Below Market Rate (BMR) Program which takes units out of the market rate pool. The high rents threaten to upset the demographic balance of the city as immigrants and service workers flee to find affordable living elsewhere.
Backers of Ballot Measure A aim to fix the problem by investing $310 million in the city’s affordable and public housing. The broad sweeping measure may allocate funds to preserve, build, and reclaim properties to be governed and controlled by the Below Market Rate Program, a system whereby the city rents or sells a property at a discounted rate to qualified residents that meet income requirements. Additionally, funds may be directed to rebuild public housing, help teachers buy their first homes, assist middle income residents with renting or owning homes, and focus funds specifically on the preservation of affordable homes in the Mission District. The $310 million will come from raising property taxes, adding an average of $80 a year for 25 years (if your home is valued at $1,000,000).
The measure does not mention specifics on which properties will be built or preserved, how the funds will be proportioned to each of the proposals, and which income brackets the BMR units will target. Are we allocating 30% of the funds to public housing? If I make $100,000 a year, will I qualify for one of the BMRs under this measure? A more fundamental question is whether targeting affordability through expanding the BMR program is the best method to combat high rents and home prices. Complaints about long waits, a cumbersome application process, tight restrictions on resale values, decreased property tax revenue, and the general growth of government controlled housing program are significant concerns for a program that will do little to abate the irrepressible surge in market rate prices. The program may even contribute to market rate price increases if a significant amount of market rate units are converted to BMRs and empty properties are used solely for BMR housing construction. The many residents (including myself) currently making a shy too much to qualify for a BMR unit but too little to not feel the pressures of the city’s high rents will be increasingly burdened under such conditions.
B – Paid Parental Leave for City Employees
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-b”]Our country’s future rests upon our children and the future success of our children significantly depends upon their solid upbringing and good parenting. Social programs and daycare centers can never match the affection, nurturing, and care that a loving mother and father can provide, which is crucial for the proper development of a child especially at early stages. Currently, in San Francisco if both parents are city workers, only one parent is offered three months of paid leave when they have a newborn child. Proposition B allows both parents to take paid leave and also permits them to retain their hours of sick leave that would have been otherwise exhausted under the current law. The city controller estimates the added benefits will cost the city between $570,000 and $1.1 million. Not a bad deal considering both parents can spend time with their children. However, why should only city workers enjoy such benefits when many privately employed parents are also struggling to raise their newborns.
C – Expenditure Lobbyists
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-c”]A lobbyist is a person or group that attempts to influence decisions of government officials. Washington D.C. has them and they are in most major cities, including our own beloved San Francisco. A city Ethics Commission was setup in 1993 to regulate these guys and monitor their activities by recording who they are lobbying, what economic considerations (aka gifts) did they provide to city officials, and when did such activities take place. Well, it turns out, the lobbyists get lobbied as well and the backers of Proposition C wants them tracked by having them also register with the Ethics Commission. That’s all well and good but what’s going to make these lobbyists of lobbyists, also referred to as Expenditure Lobbyists, acquiesce to the new rule and identify themselves. Additionally, since the extra money garnered from the $500 registration fee should cover any additional work handling the extra lobbyists, specifics and transparency on why the city needs another $560,000 to add these new lobbyists is lacking.
D – Mission Rock
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-d”]Advocates of Proposition D need your help. They want to redevelop Mission Rock, an expansive 28 acre Mission Bay site just south of AT&T Park along the bay waterfront. Gone will be the existing massive parking lot, replaced with approximately nine buildings rising to various heights with the tallest breaching the sky at 240 feet. The midrise towers will house a maximum of 1,950 homes, a multitude of retail stores, and space for light manufacturing. There’s only one problem. The project, with buildings soaring to 240 feet, won’t quite fit inside the pesky 40 foot height limits that currently drape over the Mission Rock site.
Last year San Francisco voters passed Proposition B, a measure requiring voter approval for any ambitiously tall buildings that want to exceed waterfront properties’ current height limits. Proposition D asks for your blessing to go beyond Mission Rock’s current height limits. To sweeten the deal, developers are more than doubling the minimum BMR units to 33%, laying out eight acres of parks, and redeveloping the waterfront and Pier 48. Car haters might not like the included 3,100 parking spaces but the site is currently a big parking lot anyway. The Muni T line may become over stressed by the additional thousands of people planned for the area, which gives another reason to push more of the Muni system underground using faster more efficient tunnels.
Despite all the new redevelopment, the Mission Bay District lacks street life, energy, and attraction. The low slung bulky buildings reduce open space, limit people density, and have yet to lure significant amount of retail shops and restaurants. If the Mission Rock plans are fully realized, the new development would give a needed jolt to a new neighborhood still trying to find an identity.
E – Requirements For Public Meetings
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-e”]You’re a motorist and you feel increasingly unwelcomed on the streets of San Francisco as your lanes disappear to make way for dedicated bicycle and public transportation lanes. You’re a long time resident and see new tall residential towers bringing young rude techies into the city that beep their car horns and rarely seem as good natured as locals. You’re a latino resident of The Mission and you’re witnessing fellow brothers and sisters being evicted from their homes to make way for upscale condominiums. And you want to voice your opinions, attend city meetings that beget many of these changes, and strive to influence decisions of policy makers.
So aren’t the city’s commissions, policy bodies, and other decision making groups currently open about their rulings? Proponents of Ballot Measure E don’t think so and they have a beef with the way things are currently getting decided in San Francisco. To better understand their issue let’s go back to 1999 where voters passed the Sunshine Ordinance to ensure the city must “[reach] its decisions in full view of the public”. Since most of city policy meetings were held during business hours, working residents had to take time off from work to attend these sessions. Yes, meetings were publicly held but attendance was not feasible for many people. At that time their was no other option to make things better. Fast forward to today’s “Internet of things” which makes possible remote work, virtual meetings, and video conferencing.
Proposition E wants current technology to “open” the public meetings to everyone through live streaming video on the government websites. It also wants organizers to post their meeting’s itinerary three days in advance and translate voice testimonies from residents who don’t speak English. It’s a good start but the measure doesn’t go far enough. Missing from the proposition is the ability to watch these meetings offline since most of us can’t watch live streaming city meetings at work. Also, the city controller’s nearly $2 million estimate to make all this “fancy” technology work seems a bit stiff considering video equipment is inexpensive these days.
F – Short-Term Residential Rentals
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-f”]There is no doubt Airbnb is a disruptor in the lodging sector. The home sharing company unlocks a city’s housing potential by renting rooms or homes that would otherwise go vacant. Visitors receive a more personalized and economical service when compared to traditional hotels, and residents earn extra income that can supplement their existing rent expense. In San Francisco, where hotel prices are third highest in the country and home rents are the highest in all major US cities, Airbnb can provide monetary relief to budget minded tourists and economically struggling residents.
A new way of unleashing the city’s limited housing supply should excite and encourage San Francisco’s officials, right? Not exactly. A recent city sponsor study showed that Airbnb rentals “take away already scarce housing from long-term rentals, may encourage tenant evictions . . . , violates local zoning . . . , and negatively affects the quality of life in residential areas.” Having passed earlier this year, a law is already on city books that limits Airbnb yearly usage to only 90 days for residents and criminalizes offenders with fines and incarceration. The current law was deemed to be not adequately enforceable, so officials have put more Orwellian rules in Proposition F that forces Airbnb to disclose their rental data, reduces the allowable rental days from 90 to 75, requires the city to notify nearby neighbors of newly registered Airbnb homes, encourages locals to report violators, and allows the city to sue Airbnb and hold them criminally liable.
Placing aside the questionable constitutionality of requiring Airbnb to hand over renter’s information, the heavy handed law will more than likely force more residents to oblige by the new rules and limit the amount of Airbnb rental availability in a city with average hotel rates of $255. In addition, the proposition does not make clear how these rules will effectively increase the pool of homes available for long term renters and ignores more obvious solutions to the housing crisis such as raising height and density limits on new residential building constructions. Since the city’s own documents state that Airbnb rentals represent less than 1% of homes in San Francisco, a more pragmatic and less severe approach would be to better understand the effects of home sharing concept by allowing the burgeoning industry more time to mature. In many cases where new companies disrupt industries, such as the taxi service’s nemeses Uber and Lyft, an industrial shakeup can ultimately give consumers more choices and ways to earn additional income.
G – Disclosures Regarding Renewable Energy
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-g”]Voters are being dragged into the fight over CleanPowerSF, a city energy program intended to purge PG&E’s monopoly over San Francisco and offer local residents a 100% renewable energy alternative. The program incubating for decades, is finally set to launch this spring and automatically switches residents to a “green” energy plan powered by a mix of non-renewable and renewable resources. Wait, did I say non-renewable? Keeping the prices same as PG&E while also making the service completely renewable didn’t quite pan out. But how can the city still call their service “green”? PG&E and their unions, who never warmed up to the CleanPowerSF initiative, have the same question and put Proposition G on the ballot to force the city not to use “green”, “clean” or similar terms to describe CleanPowerSF services. After all, some of PG&E’s own service partially uses energy from renewable sources and they don’t call their service “green”.
But it doesn’t stop there. The proposition also wants to send three mass mailings to city residents advertising the actual ratios of renewable vs nonrenewable energy used by CleanPowerSF. There is another clause stating that any “renewable, greenhouse gas-free” energy advertised by CleanPowerSF must abide by hard-to-read California Codes which the Sierra club claims will “block [the program] from including rooftop solar in [their] renewable energy package”.
Is the city misleading customers by stating their service is green when most of it isn’t? Probably. But the bigger question is why are voters getting tangled in the politics between PG&E, unions and the city with propositions questioning the technical terms labeled on energy plans? The purpose of our paid elected officials is under question if they can’t work with local organizations, companies, and other groups to materialize solutions to such issues and enact legislation that avoids direct involvement from voters.
H – Defining Clean, Green, and Renewable Energy
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-h”]So city officials didn’t like Proposition G and they worked out their issues with PG&E and the unions, but due to some unstoppable government inertia the proposition could not be removed from the ballot. Hence the need for Proposition H, which represents a compromised solution that addresses some of the issues PG&E and the unions had with CleanPowerSF. Who needs Cirque du Soleil when we have our own circus playing out in city government?
Proposition H uses softer language against the CleanPowerSF program, urging rather than mandating the program inform residents of its renewable vs nonrenewable ratios. “Green”, “clean” and other terminology used to describe an energy’s source is clarified via state law, but there is no specific clause disallowing the city program from using “green” to describe their partially renewable energy plan. Finally, the use of local, rather than out-of-state energy facilities, is encouraged when buying Renewable Energy Credits (RNC). Unfortunately, many voters will undoubtedly be vexed by the terms used in Proposition H and G, and neither of them belong on the ballot.
I – Suspension of Market-Rate Development in the Mission District
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-i”]Name the district where the streets are as colorful as the people. A place representing a cultural amalgamation echoed in its melange of businesses, restaurants, and festivals that cater to all, be it rich, poor, and everything in between. I’ll give you a hint. It has a strong Latino community and you’ve probably been there on more than one occasion for dinner. Yes, that’s correct. The Mission! So what’s wrong with this area that we need a Proposition stopping all construction?
Accelerated by a strong local economy and surge of young professionals moving into the city, Latinos and their mom and pop stores are being kicked out in favor of million dollar condos and upscale restaurants. The new mandatory affordable BMR homes that do get added, go to a lottery of folks that usually have no connection to the Mission. From 2000 to 2013, the Mission’s Latino community shrunk by 8,000 and current trends give every indication the contraction will continue and may even accelerate. San Francisco is loosing their Latino rich neighborhood and these trends go against a city that prides itself on accommodating all people including the poor, immigrants, and disabled.
How do we solve this problem? Thank God for our city politicians! They came up with a solution with Proposition I. The solution is putting a halt on all new construction in the Mission, until they come up with a solution. Never mind that the gentrification and loss of the Latino population has been gestating for more than a decade, they say they need 18 more months. There are other details in the 12 page proposition, but it amounts to a development halt. A no solution solution.
An obvious solution, not remotely mentioned in the proposition, is to do something with the Mission’s vertically challenged zoning. A 40 foot building height limit currently suffocates much of the Mission and is making the current residents fight over a meager space between the street and the sky. Increase these heights and mandate the developers to retain all local residents and businesses that would have otherwise been displaced by the new buildings. If the developers get to build more market rate units with taller buildings, they will be more willing to oblige. The Mission streets may get a little shadier and homes perched on Bernal Heights may loose some of their downtown views, but it’s a small price to pay to keep our city a city for all. Doing nothing is not an answer, doing something is.
J – Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-j”]Change is a fact of life. The young grow old and eventually get replaced with a new set of young. Businesses follow the same course and eventually close down to make way for new companies with new ideas and new ways to make money. For the last several years in San Francisco an influx of young professionals, new investment, and real estate transactions has accelerated the circle of (business) life and killed off many local companies including venerable city icons. Empress of China, Lombardi Sports, Marcus Books, and Esta Noche are all gone in the name of progress and change. Some (All Star Donuts) were forced to close by higher rents imposed by their landlords. Others (Lombardi Sports) sold their properties, lured by the millions buyers are willing to hand out.
City officials think these historic businesses, many of which helped shape San Francisco’s life and culture, need to be saved. Proposition J was added to the ballot to incentivize these businesses to stay open through a grant package that annually awards “Legacy” businesses $500 (maximum of $50,000) for each full time employee. Landlords also receive some city cash, getting $4.50 a rentable square foot for 10 year lease pacts they make with legacy businesses. So what exactly is a legacy business? Well, that’s changing too. They can be younger, going from 30 to 20 years or older, and are nominated by the Board of Supervisors or Mayor for their “historic” value. A maximum of 300 legacy businesses can be nominated per year.
The city controller thinks this proposition and the flood of new businesses that potentially could be “Legacy” will cost the city as much as $93 million after 25 years. No limit to the number of legacy businesses the city can have and possibility of business favoritism on part of the Board of Supervisors and Mayor give reason for many to be concerned. Should an upscale legacy business, such as Top of The Mark in ritzy Nob Hill, also get entitlements? Another more fundamental question is whether some of these businesses are deserving of city money, especially if the original owners have left.
K – Surplus Public Lands
[maxgallery name=”ballot-measures-2015-vote-proposition-k”]Many city agencies, commissions, and departments are holding on to land they don’t regularly utilize or use for unrelated purposes. An ordinance is already in place to assemble a list of these “underutilized” or “surplus” properties and determine whether they can be used for housing for the homeless and those making 60% of local AMI. Proposition K seeks to modify the ordinance by relaxing the house income requirement to 120% AMI, increasing the Board of Supervisors oversight, laying out a more comprehensive land identification process, delaying the sale of these properties by 120 days, and requiring sites that sell to private developers to go 33% affordable.
Basically the desire is to give priority to building 100% affordable residential complexes on these surplus lands to a larger pool of lower income people. It’s a noble idea but there is no mention on how the city intends to finance such developments, since private developers would be removed from the equation. The city would be better off selling to private developers and using the cash to construct new affordable units. 1400 Mission is a perfect example on how the luxurious Lumina complex paid for the 100% affordable 190 unit residential complex in SoMa.