Housing-related questions abound on this fall’s general election ballot. San Francisco and regional voters will face a number of measures regarding property taxes, housing policy, and affordable housing — votes that could affect the lives and pocketbooks of many residents, homeowners, and tenants alike.
Housing policy has been on the front burner for years, but it has mostly concerned soaring prices and lack of enough housing at all income levels. This year’s overloaded ballot widens the scope of concerns somewhat, and it’s the result of some long-term trends in the state. Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University and an expert on California government, recently pointed to Santa Clara County, where voters are being asked to get behind a $959 million housing bond, which would require a two-thirds vote to pass. “I think it would be very difficult to pass, very simply because there are so many tax issues on the ballot this time around, voters are going to pick and choose, and right or wrong, guess who’s going to be left for last?
“I think people will see the various tax items [on the ballot] — parcel taxes, school taxes, sales taxes — and some of them are not going to make the cut.”
Santa Clara’s bond has been pitched as a way to alleviate homelessness, but some business groups opposed it because it did not include enough help for workforce housing, noted Mercury News editorial page editor Barbara Marshman.
“We used to have redevelopment agencies,” she said. “Redevelopment agencies in San Jose did make good use of the 20 percent housing set aside, and often it was up to 25, 30, and even 35 percent of the money [going] into affordable housing — low and moderate subsidized housing.” That stream of funding not only helped development of such housing, but it was more persistent than relying completely on the market. “Through recessions, back when there was redevelopment, the only housing that continued to be built was affordable housing, because it was through the redevelopment agencies and you could keep the financing going. Well, that’s gone, and what we’re seeing now is almost no production of that housing in an area where the rich or those of us who owned our homes for 20-some years can afford housing, and even middle-income people have trouble renting an apartment.”
Redevelopment agencies were also blamed for taking away money that would have gone for education, “so when Jerry Brown became governor, he said we can’t afford that kind of thing anymore,” said Gerston.
Voters will have further say on statewide education funding on this ballot, but there’s still plenty on the local scene for San Francisco voters to decide about real estate.
Some of the measures highlight the left-wing/moderate split on the city’s Board of Supervisors. Mayor Ed Lee teamed up with moderate supervisors Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener for Proposition J, Funding for Homelessness and Transportation, which needs 50 percent plus one to pass. Proposition J would create a Homeless Housing and Services Fund, starting with $12.5 million in 2016-17 and increasing to $50 million for each of the next 24 years. The funds would be used for homeless services, including programs to help people exit homelessness.
Progressive supervisors Jane Kim, Eric Mar, and Aaron Peskin have backed Proposition M, Housing and Development Commission, which also requires 50 percent plus one. Proposition M would create a new commission to oversee city housing work, reviewing what is being done and making recommendations on proposed developments as well as the conveyance of some surplus city property. The commission’s focus would be heavily on inclusionary housing, affordable housing funds and development, and city dealings with developers. It would also strip away from the mayor the ability to appoint the heads of the Department of Economic and Workforce Development and the Department of Housing and Community Development. According to Ben Rosenfield, controller for the City and County of San Francisco, the measure would have minimal financial impact on the city — an estimated $210,000 annually.
Kim, Mar, and Peskin are joined by David Campos and Norman Yee in support of Proposition W, Real Estate Transfer Tax on Properties Over $5 million, which is another 50 percent plus one measure. Proposition W is one of the most clearly titled measures to be put before voters; it would, as advertised, increase from 2 percent to 2.25 percent the property transfer tax on properties valued between $5 million to $10 million; rates for properties between $10 million and $25 million would be boosted from 2.5 percent to 2.75 percent; and properties valued at more than $25 million would see a jump from 2.5 percent to 3 percent. Rosenfield reports that if the new rates had been in effect during the most recent economic cycle, additional revenue would have ranged from $10 million to $73 million. But, as they say in the stock market, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.
Supervisors Cohen, Farrell, Tang, and Wiener support Proposition Q, Prohibiting Tents on Public Sidewalks; it needs just 50 percent plus one to pass. It would require the city to offer housing or shelter, or paid transportation to reunite them with family or friends in another locale, to remove people from a tent encampment. San Francisco would have to give 24-hour written notice and would have to store the relocated individuals’ personal property for at least 90 days.
One measure that has not gotten much attention but that affects property owners would establish the Street Tree Maintenance Fund and transfer the responsibility of maintaining street trees from private property owners to the city. This would be at an estimated annual cost to the city of about $19 million. Currently, certain property owners need to maintain nearby street trees, along with the sidewalk and sidewalk areas adjacent to the trees. The property owner is also liable for any injury suffered as a result of failure to maintain the foliage. This proposition needs only 50 percent plus one to become law.
Ballot measures can require the most time consuming self-education by voters, especially when there are competing measures (such as the two death penalty propositions among the statewide referendums on this ballot).
Check your state-provided voter guide for descriptions of the measures, along with official statements from supporters and opponents of each measure. You can also find descriptions of the measures along with official writeups, the controller’s analysis, and more at sfgov.org/elections/local-ballot-measure-status.