E-Cigarettes, Mental Health, and Housing: What Might be on S.F.’s November 2019 Ballot

The measures won't be made final until early August — but here’s a sneak peek.

Two voters take a selfie at City Hall during the November 2018 election. Photo by Kevin N. Hume

Most of the nation is laser-focused on November 2020 and the potential dethroning of President Donald Trump, but we have quite a few chances to flex our democratic muscles before then. San Francisco’s next election is Nov. 5, 2019, and while there are a couple hot races — the contests for District 5 Supervisor and District Attorney will be particularly interesting — chances are, things won’t be as nail-biting as either last year’s race for mayor or the battle over Proposition C.

That said, there are a number of big measures that could be on your ballot in November. The deadline is still a few weeks away, but here’s a sneak peek at what politicians, corporations, and our mayor might ask you to make a decision on in a mere four months.

Mental Health SF and the Disproportionate CEO Salary Tax
The mental health of San Franciscans — particularly those who are homeless or marginally housed, and those who use drugs — has been a hot topic in City Hall this year. Arguments about how coercive we should be about treatment, if our treatment plans are even working, have tied up hearings for months along with debates over what areas need more funding. It’s all long overdue, and ideas for solutions are suddenly rolling in, fast. One such plan is a ballot measure drafted by Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Matt Haney called Mental Health SF, which would create a universal right to both mental health and substance-use care for anyone in the city — regardless of immigration or insurance status.

An early poll by David Binder shows 81 percent of voters were in support … but its sister measure is more controversial. To fund Mental Health SF, Ronen and Haney want to tax any company whose CEO makes 100 times more than the average pay of their employees by 0.1 percent, 0.2 percent if it’s 200 times — and so on, up to 0.6 percent.

“I’m tired of trying to explain to my constituents why one of the richest cities in the United States can’t take care of the sickest individuals among us,” Haney says about the measure. “We need big, bold, systemic change if we are to make a demonstrable difference on our streets.”

E-Cigarettes
It was a bizarre clashing of headlines when Juul announced it had purchased a 28-story tower Downtown for its new headquarters the very same week that city supervisors banned the sale of e-cigarettes in S.F., pending an FDA review of their safety. Shortly afterward, news broke that the Juul-funded Coalition for Reasonable Vaping Regulation would draft a ballot measure to overturn the ban. A representative from the coalition told the Examiner that 20,000 signatures had already been collected by July 1, more than double the 9,000 needed for it to qualify for the ballot.

IPO Tax
Supervisor Gordon Mar isn’t the loudest member of the Board of Supervisors during their weekly meetings, but he’s certainly one of the most ambitious when it comes to policy changes. This November he’s leading the charge on a number of measures, one of which seeks to balance the scales in the wake of several large companies — including Lyft, Pinterest, Uber, Slack, Airbnb, Postmates — going public this year. Voters could approve a 1.12 percent payroll tax on stock-based compensation, boosting the total payroll tax to 1.5 percent — restoring it to what it was before cuts in 2012.

“We have seen the aftermath when major start-ups go public before,” Mar says. “Over the last decade, we have seen an incredible amount of wealth flood this city, wealth concentrated in the hands of too few, as our middle class shrinks and wealth gap grows.”

Traffic-Congestion Mitigation TaxLyft and Uber have run fairly unchecked in San Francisco over the past seven years, despite some efforts by city government. But a compromise appears to have materialized in the form of a 3.25-percent surcharge on individual rides and a 1.5-percent surcharge on shared rides. Supervisor Aaron Peskin and Mayor London Breed are pushing this for November’s ballot, with the hope that two-thirds of voters will support it. If it passes, it could bring in up to $32 million a year for public transportation and street improvements. Both Uber and Lyft have agreed not to campaign against the tax.

Vacant Properties Tax
You’d be hard-pressed to find a commercial corridor in San Francisco that doesn’t have at least a couple long-shuttered or otherwise blighted spaces on it. The reasons for this are varied. Sometimes, landlords are waiting for a tenant willing to pay a higher rent, other times they don’t want to invest in an ADA bathroom or seismic retrofit. The same motivations can keep residential landlords from leasing out units. Under this measure — also put forth by Peskin — landlords who own residential properties with three or more units that are vacant for six consecutive months would pay $250 per unit each day until they are leased.The same fee would apply to landlords who own spaces in areas zoned as Neighborhood Commercial Districts, such as Upper Haight.

“This is not designed to be a revenue generator for San Francisco,” Peskin says. “This is designed to be a behavior changer for certain problematic landlords. If we can add several hundred units back to the rental stock, this will have been worth it.”

Accelerating Affordable Housing and Affordable Teacher Housing Program
This could be one of those annoying ballots where two competing but similarly titled measures compete for voters’ approval. Breed wants to rezone public lands for affordable housing and units that cater specifically to the city’s population of teachers, who are fleeing to more affordable areas. That sounds good, but in removing the bureaucracy that often ties up developments, this charter measure would also take away people’s right to challenge designs, density, and locations for new housing. Oddly, she’s failed to secure the support of the exact population she’s trying to help: teachers. Neither the United Educators of San Francisco or the American Federation of Teachers 2121 has signed on, and instead may support…

Affordable Homes for Educators and Families NOW Act
…This competing measure. Drafted by Supervisors Haney, Peskin, Sandra Lee Fewer, and Shamann Walton, it’s larger in scale. If passed, it would rezone any lot over 10,000 square feet for 100-percent affordable and teacher housing — more than 3,000 parcels of land. It would also still allow for community input.

The Board is pushing this forward as a plan that “takes the good  aspects of the Mayor’s Charter Amendment and amplifies its impact … without tying the hands of policy makers or locking anything into the City Charter.” 

“This is one of the most sweeping, comprehensive affordable housing initiatives ever proposed in San Francisco,” Haney says. “It will lead to more affordable housing being built in more parts of our city, and quicker, especially for our city’s hardworking educators.”

Prohibiting Certain Campaign Contributions; Disclaimer and Disclosure Requirements
Last year’s supervisor race was the costliest in city history, with hundreds of thousands being poured into campaigns. Much of that money is disguised in political action committees (PACs), but Mar has a plan to shine a light on that dark money. This measure would require campaigns to list the names of their top five donors and how much they’ve contributed prominently on their ads, so voters know exactly who’s being funded by whom.

Measures for the ballot should be finalized by Aug. 9. In other words, you have five weeks before your mailboxes start overflowing with glossy campaign ads.

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