How Prop. 26 undermines San Francisco values

On this year's voter information guide, the effects of Proposition 26 were succinctly summarized as “Requires that certain state and local fees be approved by two-thirds vote.”

That description could have read “Bankrupts methods to enforce values San Franciscans hold dear and outlaws bizarre legislation of the sort San Francisco has become infamous for.” In this political climate, that might have worked, too.

Prop. 26 was heavily bankrolled by petroleum, tobacco, and booze lobbies — and California voters, having approved it, are now waking up with an oily, smoky electoral hangover. The measure essentially redefines the definition of the word “tax” to include a metric shitload of fees, which will now require a two-thirds vote for approval. While 70 percent of locals spurned Prop. 26, it was easy for statewide voters to recall San Francisco's proposal to add to the cost of every drink sold in town to provide services for the city's habitual drunks, and sprint to the ballot box to toast their displeasure. But did they really want to keep polluters from paying oil-spill mitigation fees or hazardous waste cleanup fees? Did they realize California's anti-greenhouse-gas law, assailed via unsuccessful Prop. 23, could be rendered inoperable without a bevy of regulatory fees that are now legally questionable? Doesn't matter — that's what we did.

“The commercials said this is a taxpayer protection act. It's quite the opposite — it's a polluter protection act,” grumbled state Senator Mark Leno. “It shifts the cost of cleaning up corporate messes to the taxpayer.”

But it doesn't stop there. A glance at the city programs that could be hamstrung almost seems to be purloined from city progressives' Christmas list. A legal memo prepared by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission notes that reduced rates for low-income residents; solar energy incentives; renewable energy sales; and even Community Choice Aggregation — progressives' public power backup plan — are all now in legal peril. Also in limbo are any traffic, parking, or noise abatement fees; air quality, water, child care, or affordable housing impact fees; or discount Muni passes for kids, seniors, or the poor. You can likely kiss congestion pricing goodbye, and don't even think of any grocery bag fees, booze fees, or new cigarette fees.

A City Attorney's memo on Prop. 26 released last week conceded that what the city now can and cannot do is likely to be determined in a court of law. “San Francisco should proceed cautiously when considering adopting new fees or increasing or extending existing fees,” it read. Those hoping for more guidance were advised to “stay tuned.”

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