Will Ballot Initiatives Boost Breed?

by on October 23, 2023

Mayor Seeks to Define Re-Election Race

San Francisco needs to stop sponsoring addicts and drug dealers”—October 18 tweet from Dodge Place Tenderloin SF

San Francisco Mayor London Breed placed three measures on the March 2024 ballot. They address public safety, city subsidies for drug tourism, and office to housing conversions. Breed’s campaign clearly hope these measures boost her re-election chances.

Is that likely to occur? Let’s break each down.

Public Safety

Breed faces deep voter concern over public safety. Her ballot measure changes several police procedures so that officers spend more time doing police work rather than filling out forms.

Assume police are called in response to a mass retail theft. The officers see people running and detain a few. After talking to store employees the officers learn that some of those detained are innocent. They then let them go.

Under current rules any detainment requires officers to typically spend two hours on paperwork. That only makes sense if San Francisco voters fear that not requiring paperwork for all detentions will lead to a mass violation of constitutional rights. I don’t think most voters view the SFPD that way (though the architects of this policy clearly do).

This is the type of change to police practices the ballot measure includes.

The Police Commission

Breed blames the Police Commission for the city’s public safety crisis. Her press release states that “the majority of the Police Commission governs by ideology, rather than putting the interests of public safety or policing best practices first. They micromanage the Department and are adversarial to policy solutions supported by community safety leaders.”

Breed’s effort to blame the Police Commission comes with risks. Daniel Lurie, one of her opponents, responded to Breed’s measure by noting that the mayor appointed the majority of the Police Commission. While Lurie’s argument led Breed backers to accuse him of being anti-police, the electorate may have a harder time absolving Breed from creating a commission she finds problematic.

Many voters may agree with Breed’s critique of the current commission but not conclude that it plays such an oversized role in running the department that she suggests. After all, Chief Scott’s failed leadership is widely viewed by rank and file officers as a huge obstacle to SFPD’s success (if you doubt this, talk off the record to officers).

Breed’s police measure should pass easily.

Treatment Initiative

Mayor Breed’s treatment initiative requires single adults receiving welfare benefits (the County Adult Assistance Program or CAAP) to undergo screening for substance use disorder and participate in a substance use disorder treatment program when the screening reveals that they have a dependency on illegal drugs, such as Fentanyl and other opioids.

Contrary to what some believe, the initiative does not require drug testing. Nor does it automatically kick people off welfare for having substance abuse problems.

Instead, this measure further moves the mayor toward prioritizing recovery in place of the city subsidizing addicts who have no interest in turning their lives around. Breed backers describe the current system as the city “paying drug users with no accountability.”

Care Not Cash, Gavin Newsom’s 2002 measure to impose greater accountability of city welfare funds, got 59% of the vote. Public concern over rising drug tourism in San Francisco should give this measure  that level of support if not more.

I see Breed getting greater political benefit from this measure than the public safety one. The question is how many voters care enough about a welfare treatment reform to base their vote for mayor on the issue. Care Not Cash had a great name and framing; the treatment initiative could be too esoteric to strike a popular chord.

The public safety and treatment measures force Breed’s opponents to take a stand. Breed’s team wants to make support for both measures a litmus test for the mayor’s race as a candidate’s stance on the school board and Chesa Boudin recalls became decisive for many voters.

A key difference, however, is that recall backers claimed that the buck stopped with the school board and the District Attorney. Breed needs voters to conclude that despite being mayor she is not primarily to blame for the city’s public safety and drug problems.

Office to Housing Conversions

Breed’s third measure waives real estate transfer tax fees for the first sale after an office to housing conversion. This appeals to the pro-housing advocates already in Breed’s camp and sends a message that the mayor is moving forward on plans to revitalize downtown.

I’ve heard opposition to this ballot measure on two grounds.

First, some oppose giving up any potential city revenue sources when the mayor herself has announced mid-year budget cuts due to a slowing economy. This argument doesn’t work for me because without the tax waiver the conversions are unlikely to happen—so there would be no revenue to lose.

Potentially more concerning to voters is that the tax waiver is not conditioned on developers’ providing any affordable housing. That can be a tough sell in San Francisco.

I get that mandating a level of affordability reduces the potential economic benefits of the waiver. But the lack of an affordability mandate gives opponents a chance to label the measure a subsidy for luxury housing.

The question is whether anyone cares enough about defeating the measure to spend real money against it. It’s also going to be seen as less a housing measure and more a strategy for revitalizing downtown.  The measure should succeed.

I don’t see many office to housing conversions happening anytime soon even with a transfer tax waiver. Why would a developer pay the steep cost of converting offices to housing when there are vacant housing units in the same general area? I can see some conversions targeted for a very upscale market but that group already has ample housing options.

The mayor has given us a lot to talk about for March. And supervisors can still put their own measures on the ballot. Add the rival slates for the San Francisco Democratic Party and a vigorous campaign season is already underway.

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

More Posts

Filed under: San Francisco News