A Return to the Ballot

June’s local election was expected to be a quiet one — but then the mayor died, the YIMBY party drafted a ballot measure, SFPD pushed for tasers, and an eviction law was introduced that could change the future for every renter in the city.

San Franciscans had an election-free autumn this year — a somewhat welcome break from local responsibility, as the nation continues to reel from the results of November 2016. And aside from some inevitable ballot proposals and a District 8 supervisor election with only two candidates, June 2018’s local election was expected to be relatively chill. But with Mayor Ed Lee’s sudden passing, the role of chief executive is open, albeit with a tight deadline: Candidates have only until Jan. 9 to file for the position.

The mayoral race will no doubt keep the city’s residents and media enthralled as the contest unfolds. Throw in several particularly feisty ballot measures that have begun gathering signatures, and what’s become a serious Castro rivalry between two supervisorial candidates, and suddenly June might not be so boring after all.

With only a couple weeks left to file for mayor and the Feb. 3 signature deadline looming for ballot measures, our hilly city is officially in election season. Here’s a quick guide to some of what’s coming.

Mark Leno, Photo by Yesica Prado/2016 Special to S.F. Examiner 


This election wasn’t supposed to happen. Ed Lee’s mayoral term runs through January 2020, but a special election will be held on June 5, and candidates have been coming out of the woodwork.

Leading the pack is Mark Leno, who had already announced his intention to run in 2019. He was the first to file for the June election, too, and he’s raised nearly half a million dollars already. Leno has a long history in politics, holding positions such as District 8 supervisor, assemblymember, and state senator.

His campaign is built around support for the marginalized: “At this time of great change, we must preserve a fair living standard for San Francisco’s middle and working classes while protecting social and economic justice,” Leno says on his website. He pledges to fight for “regular San Franciscans — the immigrants, tenants, homeowners, and small businesses.” If elected, he will be the city’s first openly gay mayor.

Currently, the other candidate of note is Sup. Jane Kim. As one of the progressives on the Board of Supervisors, Kim offers a stark contrast to Sup. London Breed — should the latter decide to run. Although she’s got less political experience than Leno, as a current supervisor and candidate for the state Senate in 2016, Kim arguably has more city name recognition. A former attorney at the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights and a former organizer at the Chinatown Community Development Center, she also has sway in the city’s sizeable Asian population. Prior to becoming supervisor, Kim served as president of the San Francisco Board of Education.

As of publication, other candidates who are rumored to have pulled papers for the run include Acting Mayor Breed, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, and Assemblymember David Chiu. Former candidate Amy Farah Weiss has also filed for the position.

District 8 Supervisor

This is another special election, with incumbent Jeff Sheehy in the running after Mayor Ed Lee appointed him to the position after Scott Wiener became a state senator. Sheehy, the first openly HIV-positive supervisor in city history, has been rolling out legislation like crazy over the past few months. In less than a year, he’s introduced plans to make any antibiotic use in meat transparent for consumers, regulate marijuana dispensaries, and — most controversially — further criminalize homeless people by having the Department of Public Works crack down on bicycle chop shops. While his work may not always be well-received on the board, he has proven he can get things done.

Sheehy’s main opponent in June is Rafael Mandelman, whose politics are considered more progressive. An urban-development attorney and a member of City College’s board of trustees, Mandelman’s campaign focuses on building affordable housing, finding homes for people experiencing homelessness, supporting public schools, and saving small businesses.

(Gabriele Lurie)

No Eviction Without Representation Initiative

You know how anyone accused of a crime has a right to an attorney? This is like that, but for people facing eviction. Proposed by former District 5 supervisor candidate and Tenants Together lawyer Dean Preston, this is pretty much a no-brainer. The city would fully fund legal representation for anyone who receives an eviction notice, regardless of their age, income level, or type of housing.

That might seem expensive, but with 12 percent of the city’s 7,000 homeless people saying they ended up on the streets due to eviction, this may actually save the city money in the long term.

The only people expected to oppose to this measure are — surprise! — landlords. As fewer than 20 percent of tenants facing eviction secure a lawyer, the power has always been in the landlords’ hands, and this would change that. Whole courts would have to be developed to manage these disputes.

But let’s face it, it’s pretty backward that you can shoplift a lipstick from CVS and get an attorney, but if you’ve lived in a building for 20 years and are served an eviction for paying rent a day late a few times, you’re on your own. More information can be found at sfrighttocounsel.com

Muni Department Split

Supes. Aaron Peskin and Ahsha Safai are behind this measure, which would split the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency into two separate agencies. One side would handle Muni, and the other would oversee San Francisco’s parking and streets. Added on would be the ability for supervisors to appoint the Board of Directors, a right that the mayor currently holds.

SFMTA Director of Transportation Ed Reiskin calls this a “big step backward,” referencing the 1990s when Muni was governed by the Public Transportation Commission, and the Department of Parking and Traffic was managed separately. Passing this will be a tough battle; a similar proposal, Prop. L in 2016, failed.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at San Francisco’s City Hall asking lawmakers for a moratorium on evictions and luxury-priced housing development in the Mission District. (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

YIMBY Automatic City Housing Approval

The YIMBY — Yes in My Backyard — party launched its own ballot measure this year, cheerfully titled the “Affordable and Teacher Housing Now Initiative.” The plan is a charter amendment which would change the city’s housing approval process. Any development where two-thirds of the building is housing, that adheres to zoning laws, with units designated for low or moderate-income households, or projects owned and operated by the San Francisco Unified School District specifically for their employees, will be sped through the city’s Planning Department.

In a city where years elapse between purchasing a lot and breaking ground, this would speed up construction of housing, but with a few important caveats: Projects would be approved without review by the Planning Commission, Board of Appeals, Board of Supervisors, or Arts Commission, and they would not require an environmental impact study. This means that neighbors who oppose the design, height, or number of parking spots in a new building would have no say, and with “moderate-income” housing slipped in there, that takes a hefty amount of power away from the Planning Commission, granting it all to developers. More information is at prop.yimbyaction.org.

Flavored Tobacco Repeal

Sup. Malia Cohen spearheaded a ban on flavored tobacco products earlier this year, citing statistics that 80 percent of Black smokers consume menthol cigarettes. Flavored tobacco, she argues, hooks users at a young age, and marketing targets communities of color. The ban passed the Board of Supervisors, but Big Tobacco is fighting back. The “Let’s Be Real San Francisco” campaign has already garnered 20,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, and as of July 31, the committee to overturn the ban had collected $600,000 in cash contributions — more than Mark Leno’s mayoral campaign. Get ready for those billboards, because — as we’ve seen with Big Soda — corporations tend to go all out during election season.

Supervisor Term Limits

Fun fact: When city supervisors are termed out after eight years, they’re allowed to run again after another four. Sup. Aaron Peskin used this to his advantage when he was re-elected to his former position in November 2015, and now a term-limit ballot measure has been proposed to eliminate others from following his lead. This is not a new idea — it’s been floated before — but it comes at a timely moment, when former supervisors Bevan Dufty, John Avalos, and Michela Alioto-Pier may be considering a return to the board.

San Francisco Arts and Family Funding

A revival of 2016’s failed Proposition S, this ballot measure would retain part of the city’s hotel tax to fund the arts — particularly the Cultural Equity Endowment, granted to artists and organizations that cater to underserved populations. The measure would come with a new neighborhood arts program, cultural districts stabilization fund, and an ending family homelessness fund that would grant $50 million over four years to assist homeless families.

Passage seems likely: Prop. S got 64 percent of the public’s vote, failing under an old rule that mandates funding initiatives receive a two-thirds majority. Reorganized, this new plan would need only a simple majority to be approved.

A rendering for the Warriors Arena. (Steelblue)

Relocation of Professional Sports Teams Initiative

When news broke that the Golden State Warriors would be abandoning the 51-year-old Oracle Arena and moving to a new space in San Francisco, many East Bay residents mourned the loss of their home basketball team — and San Franciscans bemoaned the inevitable traffic gridlock that will be Mission Bay. Now, community group The Good Neighbor Coalition gathered 14,766 votes for a ballot measure that seeks to make sure such things don’t happen again. Committed to promoting “greater respect for communities and loyal fans by professional sports team owners and local governments,” this measure would give San Franciscans a voice for future relocation of professional sports teams. More information can be found at goodneighborcoaltion.org.

SFPD and Tasers

Last but not least is this controversial measure, which would bring the San Francisco Police Department’s desire for Tasers to the voters. Police believe Tasers provide officers with a weapon less lethal than a gun, one that if used correctly can reduce injury and death. But opponents argue that Tasers are often deadly and give police one more serious weapon in their arsenal, which are disproportionately used against minorities, the homeless, and the mentally ill. The Police Commission has already approved Tasers, but this ballot measure appears to target the Board of Supervisors, who would have to approve $8 million to outfit San Francisco’s police force with the weapons. With the voter’s backing, this would be an easier bill to sell — but it’s touch and go as to whether the city’s residents will approve such a plan.

Read more of this week’s feature on the political earthquakes we can expect in 2018:

Sister District Is Doing It For Itself
With Democrats representing nearly the entire Bay Area at the state and federal levels, one nonprofit channels surplus enthusiasm to elect progressives elsewhere.

The Future Is Female
Shocked into action by the presidential election, woman’s strength as a political force will grow in 2018.

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