Ballot Question Sinks Prop G

by on November 5, 2014

Labor Leader Mike Casey, joined by Planning Commission President Cindy Wu, CCDC's Rev. Norman Fong, and tenants

San Francisco’s Prop G, which discouraged speculator evictions by increasing taxes on short-term property flips, was defeated last night by a 54%-46% margin. As many tenant activists feared, a confusing ballot question that said nothing about real estate speculation or evictions encouraged “No” votes.

Real estate speculators from across the nation poured in millions to defeat G, but that money could have been overcome had it been clear from the ballot question that the measure solely targeted short-term rather than all property owners. But the confusing ballot question allowed opponents to falsely claim it impacted all property owners,  leading to Prop G’s defeat.

I will have more to say about Prop G on Thursday. But I think the big takeaway from Prop G is that tenants may need to rethink putting measures on the ballot through four supervisors rather than collecting signatures.

Had the anti-speculation tax gone the signature route, activists would have recognized when the Title and Summary for the initiative petitions was prepared that the very popular idea of “stopping the flip” did not translate well into a ballot measure. At that point a decision could have been made to alter it in some way as to either guarantee that the words “eviction” or “speculator” were included in the ballot question, or to seek to broaden the support base before going forward.

Even if the initiative had stayed the course, the months spent talking to voters during the petition gathering process would have educated thousands about the issue. It would have insulated these voters from the big money attacks that created, and sought to provoke, confusion about what Prop G meant.

Big Real Estate Only Says No

Prop G’s loss follows the Assembly’s defeat of Ellis Act reform. The real estate industry has no solution to the housing crisis. And as Dean Preston of Tenants Together pointed out during a debate on Prop G on KQED-Forum, realtors do not even view skyrocketing housing costs and speculator evictions as a “crisis.”

Big Real Estate loves the status quo. That’s why it spends lavishly to preserve it. The days when landlord lobbying groups offered alternative strategies are long gone; now, like the Republican Party, they find strength and unity in just saying no.

The challenge is for tenants, affordable housing advocates and their allies to pass measures that won’t be thrown out by the anti-rent control judges that dominate the bench. The anti-speculation tax clearly would have passed legal muster, but its dependency on a ballot question most voters did not understand may have doomed it from the start.

The Mayor has the tenant buyout legislation before him this week. This is now the perfect time for him to sign it.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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