Below is a guide to the key propositions on this fall’s ballot. For additional propositions not covered here, see the links at the end of this article.
PROPOSITION A: AFFORDABLE HOUSING BOND
Requires two-thirds voter approval to become law.
What it says: “To finance the construction, development, acquisition, and preservation of housing affordable to low- and middle-income households through programs that will prioritize vulnerable populations such as San Francisco’s working families, veterans, seniors, disabled persons; to assist in the acquisition, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable rental apartment buildings to prevent the eviction of long-term residents; to repair and reconstruct dilapidated public housing; to fund a middle-income rental program; and to provide for homeownership down payment assistance opportunities for educators and middle-income households; shall the City and County of San Francisco issue $310 million in general obligation bonds, subject to independent citizen oversight and regular audits?”
Why supporters like it: Supporters from the San Francisco Labor Council to Mayor Lee support it as a way to finance the development (new or preservation) of rental housing that would be affordable to households believed to be getting pushed out of the city (or being forced to pay inappropriately high percentages of their incomes each month to stay).
It is also a sign of the city dealing with the affordability crisis.
Why opponents don’t like it: It is more debt, adding about $56 per year to the annual property tax for a home valued at $500,000.
What it means to you: The per-annum property tax increase won’t shock many people; and $310 million sounds like a lot of money, but it is extremely expensive to develop housing in San Francisco, so skeptics have cause to wonder just how much good it will actually do. This bond is a bandage, not a cure for the housing crisis.
Voting against Prop A won’t significantly hurt the city’s affordable housing plans, and voting for it won’t significantly help them.
PROPOSITION D: MISSION ROCK
Requires 50-percent-plus-1 approval to become law.
What it says: “Shall the City increase the height limit for 10 of the 28 acres of the Mission Rock site from one story to height limits ranging from 40 to 240 feet and make it City policy to encourage the development on the Mission Rock site provided that it includes eight acres of parks and open space and housing of which at least 33 percent is affordable for low- and middle-income households?”
Why supporters like it: The San Francisco Giants are the marquee name attached to this project, which is also backed by the South Beach Mission Bay Business Association and the San Francisco Labor Council.
Basically, in return for relief in terms of height limits, the developer is agreeing to include one-third of the 1,500 units as housing affordable to low- and middle-income residents. It will also mandate specific park space.
Why opponents don’t like it: The Sierra Club opposes Prop D. Various opponents have criticized the project because they believe it will negatively impact the view of the bay from the ballpark, they would prefer the land be used as a park, or they fear the loss of parking space, which is how the land is currently used.
What it means to you: Unless you live right in or near this project, how on Earth would it affect you at all?
This ballot measure is the product of voter approval of Proposition B a little while back, which required voter intervention whenever a developer wanted to build above established height limits on Port property. Expect more of these in the future.
PROPOSITION F: SHORT-TERM RESIDENTIAL RENTALS
Requires 50-percent-plus-1 ap-proval to become law.
What it says: “Shall the City limit short-term rentals of a housing unit to 75 days per year regardless of whether the rental is hosted or unhosted; require owners to provide proof that they authorize the unit as a short-term rental; require residents who offer short-term rentals to submit quarterly reports on the number of days they live in the unit and the number of days the unit is rented; prohibit short-term rentals of in-law units; allow interested parties to sue hosting platforms; and make it a misdemeanor for a hosting platform to unlawfully list a unit as a short-term rental?”
Why supporters like it: Supporters believe it would address the diversion of rental housing into the short-term rental or hoteling business. They hope this law would help prevent evictions or abuses of the system that have forced long-time residents out of their homes.
Criticism of the current system has also centered on a feared loss of tax revenue and an insufficient capability by the city to enforce the law.
Why opponents don’t like it: Opponents, too, have several issues. They claim that 75 days per year allows for too few rental opportunities for the hosts, many of whom use that money to be able to afford to stay in their units. They also say that ballot proponents exaggerate the number of short-term rental units that abuse the law or that are being used exclusively as short-term rentals. In addition, they worry that this proposition would set up a neighbor-against-neighbor legal nightmare by allowing an inappropriately broad “interested parties” to sue.
What it means to you: How you vote on this referendum will help define where you stand on many of the major questions about how San Francisco is changing today. It involves housing affordability, attitudes toward the tech industry and the so-called shared economy, and it involves worries about the changing culture and population of the city.
And that’s before one even gets to the merits or demerits of this proposition. Though the city has worked to set up an office of enforcement, some fear that its six-person staff is too small to handle the thousands of cases of potential abuse. Opponents of this proposition should demand that San Francisco’s elected leaders come up with a more robust enforcement agency, one that can credibly regulate what is a new and rambunctious industry that also has some very real negatives.
Proponents of this prop need to deal with the fact that if people flout the law now, they will flout this new law, too, and few fights get as nasty as aggrieved neighbors against each other.
PROPOSITION I: SUSPENSION OF MARKET-RATE DEVELOPMENT IN THE MISSION DISTRICT
Requires 50-percent-plus-1 ap-proval to become law.
What it says: “Shall the City suspend the issuance of permits on certain types of housing and business development projects in the Mission District for at least 18 months; and develop a Neighborhood Stabilization Plan for the Mission District by January 31, 2017?”
Why supporters like it: They worry that long-time residents are being forced out of their neighborhood by rising costs driven by an influx of well-heeled buyers and developers. They have also declared that the Mission needs to retain its current ethnic culture.
Supporters have said that this isn’t intended as a cure, but as a chance to take a pause and come up with a plan to ensure affordability and cultural retention.
Why opponents don’t like it: As the city’s economist has pointed out (see page 32), this proposed moratorium would not solve the problem and could exacerbate it. Some opponents, such as Supervisor Scott Wiener, argue for much more housing development at all levels of affordability as the only way to really attack the affordability and housing availability problems in a serious way. Others argue that this moratorium is grandstanding by anti-development activists that would stop development at the very time when the city needs it the most.
What it means to you: Any time you try to legislate with the intent of preserving one racial or ethnic group’s hold on a neighborhood, people worry. But the fears of people losing their apartments that they can no longer afford are real. Does this moratorium address that?
In the end, this moratorium would not solve the housing affordability problem, it would not even ensure the development of a single new affordable unit, but it would set an ominous precedent that would likely be repeated in other parts of town.
PROPOSITION J: LEGACY BUSINESS HISTORIC PRESERVATION FUND
Requires 50-percent-plus-1 approval to become law.
What it says: “Shall the City establish a Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund, which would give grants to Legacy Businesses and to building owners who lease space to those businesses for terms of at least 10 years; and expand the definition of a Legacy Business to include those that have operated in San Francisco for more than 20 years, are at risk of displacement and meet the other requirements of the Registry?”
Why supporters like it: They want to give city aid to recognize businesses that they believe make San Francisco the city that it is. Eligible businesses would receive $500 for every full-time employee (reaching potentially thousands of dollars a year for some of the businesses), and landlords of those businesses would also benefit with a gift for providing 10-year leases.
Why opponents don’t like it: There are many reasons. By giving public money to private companies, it makes competing businesses help fund their competition. It also makes people who would never use a business nonetheless contribute to it.
Other reasons center on the “moral hazard” economic argument. A gift of public money lessons the economic pressures on a business that might otherwise have nudged it to make the necessary changes that would have ensured it continued to meet its customers’ changing needs. By trying to preserve the businesses, in other words, it acts as a disincentive to preserve the businesses.
Another economic argument centers on the landlord gift of money. The expectation of greater revenue from the legacy tenants could put upward pressure on rents for nonlegacy tenants.
What it means to you: The plan would begin small, a few million dollars a year at first, but Ben Rosenfield, the San Francisco controller, has stated that taxpayers could be on the hook for “between $51 million and $94 million annually once all qualifying legacy businesses are enrolled in approximately 25 years.”
The ordinance would also include a giveaway to landlords, giving them $4.50 per square foot for each qualifying lease — again a cost that would snowball to tens of millions annually, according to the controller.
If you are a legacy business owner, then you might profit from this, though you should look for strings to be attached. If you are a competitor to a legacy business, this is nothing but bad for you.
And if you are neither a legacy business nor a competitor to one, this presents you with a values choice. Is this the best way to support legacy businesses? Just because something is classified by city leaders as a legacy business, does that mean it’s actually worth preserving? And if you don’t like a legacy business, why should you support it with public money?
If you want to support a business, shop there.
If you want more information on these measures and others on the ballot this year, go to sfgov2.org/index.aspx?page=2969
or visit the Ballotpedia — the so-called “encyclopedia of American politics” — at