San Francisco’s Action-Packed November Ballot

by Randy Shaw on April 14, 2014

Competing minimum wage hike measures, the Warriors arena, and a limit on tourist rentals of apartments are three of the many high-profile policy issues San Francisco voters will likely decide in November. Equally significant is a major policy issue that will not be on the ballot.

With Governor Jerry Brown a lock for re-election, California faces a lower than normal voter turnout in November. But not in San Francisco, where the hotly contested Campos-Chiu Assembly race will be joined by a series of ballot measures backed by big bucks and/or effective grassroots campaigns.

Minimum Wage

While activists in other cities struggle to increase their city’s minimum wage, San Franciscans will decide how much to raise it, what businesses should be covered, and how fast should it take effect. A coalition of labor and community groups is moving forward on a measure requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to raise wages to $15 an hour in 2016. Smaller businesses would have until 2017 to pay $15, with all businesses having raise the minimum to $13 an hour by January 2015, and to $14 by 2016.

Based on the negative response to the proposal from popular small businesses like Books, Inc. and Cole Hardware, the mayor’s measure is likely to be more acceptable to such companies. Some worry that two measures could lead both to defeat, but there is no reason for proponents of either measure to encourage no votes for the other. That’s because the initiative with the most yes votes will prevail (so opponents of one can simply not vote on it).

Regardless of which prevails, San Francisco’s lowest paid workers are likely to get an over $2.00 per hour wage hike next January. And that’s great news.

The Warriors Arena

This will be the most high-profile November ballot measure, with all kinds of money and volunteers coming in on both sides. There are so many still moving pieces to this project—including how the Warriors do in the upcoming playoffs—that predictions are premature.

What I can predict is a far greater voter turnout in November 2014 than last November, which is why the defeat of 8 Washington has no relevance to the Warriors outcome. The low-income voters of color who voted in small numbers in November 2013 will be out in force for to the minimum wage hike and other measures, and this could help pass the arena. The arena is also backed by some of the unions likely to back the SEIU-led minimum wage measure, and increased labor turnout will also help the Warriors.

Restricting Residential Tourist Rentals

Longtime housing activist Calvin Welch has joined with SF Public Library hero Dale Carlson and former Planning Commissioner Doug Engmann on drafting a ballot measure to place the short-term rental issue on the November ballot. The initiative will require all short term rental to pay the Transient Occupancy Tax (which Airbnb recently agreed to pay) and register their unit with the City along with a certification that they have full insurance and that they meet all planning and housing codes.

People in the city’s hotel industry are privately unhappy with what they see as a double standard for tourist rentals of housing. They note that they must meet all code requirements—such as sprinklers in units— and maintain high levels of insurance while their residential competitors do not.

Should the measure qualify for the ballot, it would create unusual coalitions on the issue. Residential landlords would likely join the hotel industry in supporting it, while tenants who want to make extra money from renting their units out would likely oppose it.

Soda Tax

San Francisco voters will be asked to impose a 2 cents per ounce tax on sugary drinks sold in the city, raising an estimated $30 million for recreation and nutrition programs. The American Beverage Association will spend millions to defeat the measure, hoping to replicate its success in defeating a soda tax in Richmond in November 2012.

But San Francisco has a very different electorate, and social media plays a far larger role in counteracting the mass mailings and television relied upon by soda tax opponents. One aspect to this initiative worth focusing on is the number of political and/or “Democratic” groups whose slate cards will be funded by the Beverage industry. This initiative is ripe for such chicanery.

The challenge here is winning 66.6% of the vote. That’s because the tax specifically directs the new funds. Berkeley is looking at a soda tax for the general fund, requiring only a majority.

Housing Balance

Supervisor Jane Kim introduced a measure last week to require a 70-30 balance in District 6 between market rate and affordable housing development. According to Kim’s office, “the Mayor recently reaffirmed the City’s commitment to developing a minimum of 30% affordable housing, and Supervisor Kim’s Housing Balance legislation seeks to support that baseline.”

Five Supervisors (Avalos, Campos, Kim, Mar, Yee) are co-sponsoring the measure, which numerous sources have told me will go the ballot if vetoed by the mayor. It’s more likely that Kim’s goals will be incorporated into long overdue changes into the city’s inclusionary housing law. These changes are currently being discussed in the mayor’s Housing Working Group, and should go before the Board by July.

Beach Chalet Soccer Fields

As we described last week, opponents of the beach chalet soccer fields in Golden Gate Park are now proceeding with a ballot measure to halt the project. Every political body that has considered the issue has voted overwhelmingly in favor of the fields. The voters will do the same.

Campos-Chiu Dynamics Shift

When I wrote about this race last September, I said it would spice up an otherwise uneventful local election. But the many hot button ballot measures has made November a very eventful local election, one of the many factors changing the dynamics of this race to Campos’ benefit.

Campos needs the largest possible voter turnout to win, and now he may get it. Add this to the electorate’s heightened focus on tenant protections (a Campos strength) and some errors on Chiu’s part (he has been criticized by the SF Bike Coalition over Polk Street bike lanes and by nonprofits for legislation since revised that would turn them into lobbyists), and this race has moved from likely Chiu to a tossup.

If Chiu does not finish first in the very low turnout June election, the momentum completely shifts and this seat goes to Campos in November.

“Twitter Tax” Not on Ballot

With city employee unions holding yet another protest at Twitter on April 15, one must ask: if they think the payroll tax break for Mid-Market/Tenderloin is so unpopular, why not ask the voters to repeal it in November? The obvious answer, as I described on April 3, “Tech Bashers Eager for Tech-Created Dollars,” is that the unions know that absent the tech-generated city dollars their contract demands would be sharply scaled down.

SEIU Local 1021 has gone full speed ahead on a $15 minimum wage because it sees voters backing the initiative. And it will continue to publicly protest at Twitter over the tax breaks that revived Mid-Market investment but not take the issue to the ballot out of the same political calculation: they know that voters would overwhelmingly reject the measure.

Randy Shaw is editor of Beyond Chron. He discusses the “Five rules for successful ballot initiatives” in his new book, The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century

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