Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Endorsements for the 2013 San Francisco election

One of the USA's biggest problems is that we don't talk enough about political issues. We talk politics like we argue about sports. Democrats-Republicans is like Giants-Dodgers: you pick a side and root blindly for it, even when your guys are jerks and the other side is right.

I am committed to offering election endorsements on this blog for each election. I wish all bloggers would do so. More information and more opinions make for a more informed voter.

This is especially necessary in a city where the local daily newspaper, my former employer the San Francisco Chronicle, is so lax about the traditional journalistic responsibility of covering elections. This year, you can find online a Chronicle editorial offering endorsements in the four races where a candidate runs unopposed, but its editorials on the complex, controversial Propositions B & C -- the most important items on the ballot -- are available only to print subscribers. Thanks a lot, Chronicle, some citizen you are. Joseph Pulitzer should come back as a zombie to bitch-slap and then feast on whoever is responsible for that decision.

I got much of my information for these endorsements from the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which is significantly to my left politically, but even after ownership changes has admirably put in the most work on the election, as always. I also drew on the new and promising site Ballotpedia, and grazed on a few other things I saw online.

Politically, I am an independent thinker and a Florida Democrat. That's where I first registered a party affiliation, and that's still a good description. I tend to vote most liberally on national elections, less so on state elections, and San Francisco elections usually find me standing on the right. But not this year. So without further ado:

San Francisco 2013 election endorsements

Proposition A: Retiree Health Care Fund
Vote YES

Practically everybody who's anybody in San Francisco politics wants to see this measure passed: both the Democratic and Republican parties, every major publication, the mayor and the board of supervisors. Yet my first inclination was to vote No.

The bill is intended to supplement a proposition that passed 5 years ago to make the city's retiree health-care fund solvent by 2045, restricting access to the funds in the meantime. Retiree commitments are what have driven some cities to bankruptcy, and San Francisco has long been overly generous with benefits to city employees, so it's an important issue.

The Libertarian Party of San Francisco makes a good argument against Prop A, saying it might make funding retiree benefits more important than providing city services.

What swayed me to the Yes side was the fact that the SEIU, which just paralyzed the Bay Area with the BART strike because they want to hold onto antiquated work rules, opposes it with this official logic: "The overall sense is that we don't want to deal with the question of benefits with the wider public. We want to be able to bargain over them."

Fuck that. Vote Yes on A.

Proposition B: 8 Washington Special Use District
Vote NO

Nothing gets San Franciscans more riled up than land-use issues. Prop B is the only thing on this year's ballot that people are talking about at all. On a short walk today I saw people handing out fliers, people wearing sandwich boards, placards in windows.

Yet the truth is, while important, this issue is non-sexy on an even more boring ballot. It will be decided by a tiny portion of the electorate. I'm not sure which side that bodes well for: the left hates it, the money's behind it.

Worth noting is that while the mayor and several supervisors support it, the list of opponents is more impressive, and includes the Democratic Party (the Republican Party takes no position.)

The issue is a proposed development on the Embarcadero waterfront stretching from Washington St. to Broadway. The planning commission and board of supervisors approved building a luxury condo building taller than the normal height restriction. But opponents kept fighting it, so the developer paid to get this item on the ballot.

That's why I oppose it. The official ballot description says, "This measure would also create a new 'administrative clearance' process that would limit the Planning Director's time and discretion to review a proposed plan for the Site."

I'm not going to get into the specifics of the development; you can read that elsewhere. I simply dislike giving a developer this kind of power. What if the developer wants to make a design change that worsens public access or sight lines? Could it be stopped? Could the developer then sue the city? Let's not find out. Vote no.

Proposition C: 8 Washington Referendum
Vote NO

If you like the 8 Washington development, go ahead and vote Yes on this. If both of these measures pass, the one with more Yes votes rules, and this is by far the better proposition.

Prop C is essentially an effort by opponents of the development to redefine the issue over building height. Instead of looking at the whole development, as Prop B does, it merely asks if the city should be allowed to increase its height limit for the project, as planners have already done.

Development opponents are hoping that voters, reading the issue that way, will vote No on this, which they hope would nullify Prop B and invalidate the project as currently planned.

Supporters and opponents of Prop B & C are exactly the same. Basically, if you like the project, you're Yes on both. If not, you're No on both.

I'm No on both, but for different albeit concurring reasons. You read my logic on B. On C, I basically agree with the opponents. San Francisco has height limits for a reason. This is a human-scale city and we shouldn't lightly mess with that. An extra-tall building standing along the waterfront would look like it was giving the finger to Oakland (granted, 49ers fans think of that at times, but permanently?)

If you tell me we need to build this thing for health or safety or something like that, fine. Or for the economy: I can see an argument for a mixed-use building that would bring more jobs. But for luxury condos? No thanks.

Proposition D: Prescription Drug Purchasing
Vote YES

Prop D is one of those feel-good non-binding measures that San Francisco specializes in. That said, unlike props to oppose the Iraq war or the Patriot Act or being mean to people, this national issue is both local and responsible.

It asks if the city should use all available opportunities to reduce its cost of prescription drugs. Keep in mind that San Francisco is a fairly major health-care provider with a pre-Obamacare health care plan available for all residents who can afford it, not to mention the millions of dollars of free health care we give to all the homeless people who show up here from throughout the nation.

All responsible politicos who have taken a position on this are for it. And so am I.

City officials up for re-election: Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Treasurer/Tax Collector Jose Cisneros, District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang

They're all unopposed, it's not like you have a choice. See you next year.

Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

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