Monday, October 12, 2015

Election endorsements: San Francisco 2015

A Republican and a Democrat
Americans don't take elections seriously enough. Only 57.5% of Americans voted in the tight 2012 Presidential election. In 2014, with the whole state cabinet up for election, only 42% of Californians voted. It's worst among young people: only 8.2% of Californians aged 18-24 voted.

And you wonder why I think more people should do endorsements on social media.

Election endorsements are a tradition at The Gray Report. We don't talk enough -- talk, not shout -- about political issues in this country. Moreover, the local mainstream media has let us down.

The best endorsement work here for decades was done by the very liberal Bay Guardian weekly. Whatever you thought of its politics, the Guardian interviewed all the candidates and laid out all the issues. But it ceased publication last year. In making these endorsements, I really missed it.

The San Francisco Chronicle never took endorsements seriously when it had a larger staff. Now that it has downsized and is trying to reinvent itself, its owners have decided that endorsements are a product, not a service. You can't read the Chronicle's endorsements if you're not a subscriber. I know Hearst needs to make money, but this seems foolish, as it intentionally limits the paper's influence.

And this is an election where we could use the oversight of professional journalists.


The 2015 ballot is all about housing, and ballot measures can have unintended consequences. I've done my best, reading endorsements from the Sierra Club and the excellent links provided by Ballotpedia. But I wish I had devoted a single day to considering each proposition on the ballot, instead of generally about an hour.

This is purely a San Francisco election, so for my readers outside the city, this post might seem a little arcane. What it will tell you is how interested we are in housing issues. No wonder, with 1-bedroom apartments renting for $3800 (in my building!), an increasing number of units being taken up by people who don't work here, and lifelong residents being priced out of the city.

With few real races for office this year, the propositions are what matter, especially Proposition F. Without further ado.

Mayor: Stuart Schuffman

This is a protest vote. Ed Lee, the incumbent, is going to win because he has no serious opposition. It's odd, that in a time of prosperity in a politically minded city, absolutely no real politicians are running against Lee. It's not like Lee, a former city manager who pledged not to run for a full term when he was appointed in 2011, thus breaking his first promise, has been especially good (to be fair, he hasn't been incompetent or investigated by the FBI, like Willie Brown). Nor is he especially popular: the Chronicle's endorsement of him is reportedly lukewarm. The Sierra Club refused to endorse anyone.
It's a little surprising that State Senator Mark Leno, who will be term-limited out next year, didn't make a run. I like Leno and wonder what his next move will be: trying to throw a monkey wrench into Gavin Newsom's and Kamala Harris' plans for running for governor and U.S. Senator next year? Might be too late for that, and it's a long wait to be mayor before Lee is term-limited out in 2019, but perhaps Leno thought he couldn't win.
Anyway, I'm going to squander my vote on "Broke-Ass Stuart," a professional writer who says things I like to hear about representing the non-wealthy, which is not Lee's constituency. Protest votes are tricky: I'm not sure Schuffman wouldn't be a joke as mayor. But the whole point of these endorsements is to get people talking about how they're going to vote. If I were an editorial director at a paper, I'd advocate for "no endorsement." Schuffman is actually going to get my vote.

Sheriff: Vicki Hennessy

Ross Mirkarimi has been a sideshow as sheriff, facing domestic violence charges. In April, deputies overwhelmingly approved Hennessy as their preferred candidate. She worked in the Sheriff's Office for 36 years and was acting Sheriff while Mirkarimi was facing charges.

City Attorney, District Attorney, Treasurer: Doesn't matter

All three incumbents are unopposed, making this a classic Soviet-style election. Somebody once asked me whether they should bother to mark the ballot or not in elections like these. I usually do only if I like the candidate. In this case, I kind of like City Attorney Dennis J. Herrera, and might leave the other two blank. Or not. Doesn't matter.

Member, Community College Board: Alex Randolph

While I praised the Guardian endorsements in general, they did usually choose the most liberal candidate, and that's a big reason why our community college lost its accreditation and is such a mess. For offices like the mayor or board of supervisors, people paid attention and the Guardian didn't have enough sway to win an office. But the Chronicle has never paid attention to the community college board, and neither did most voters, so the Guardian "clean slate" could usually win a plurality. This led to a bickering board full of idealogues who couldn't manage money or disappoint any constituency. Tim Redmond, former Guardian editor, now blogs at a site called 48 Hills. In April he excitedly posted that Randolph, appointed to the community college board by Lee, was being opposed by two ultra-liberals of just the type that got the school in such straits. That's enough to convince me to vote for Randolph. That board needs grownups.

Proposition A: Yes

Prop A would see the city issue bonds to try to build more affordable housing. This is like issuing free tissues to rom-com moviegoers: it might make people feel better, but the bill isn't big enough to make a significant impact, and the Green Party warns that there isn't enough oversight on the cash. If you really want to make an impact on alleviating the housing crunch, vote yes on F. My "yes" vote here is just to send the message that the city still supports affordable housing.

Proposition B: No

San Francisco city employees frequently go to the voters to get benefits, and usually succeed. This bill would allow both parents of a newborn to take 12 weeks of paid parental leave if both are city employees. Currently, only one parent gets the 12 weeks. I have seen this bill rationalized by the theory that it will encourage private companies to offer such benefits. Bullshit. City employees get very generous pensions, and private companies have just about eliminated those. I'm sure this will pass, but I see no evidence that city employees deserve it.

Proposition C: No

San Francisco's regulation of lobbyists at city hall lapsed in 2009. This bill would restore it, which seems like a good idea. In fact, this is perhaps the most difficult decision on the ballot. Non-profit organizations are not exempt from this bill, as they were previously, and some non-profits have complained that the bill will have a chilling effect on their activities, in effect putting them at risk of violating the law for such work as researching potential public policy initiatives. But others have pointed out that big corporations often hide their lobbying behind non-profits specifically created for one issue.
The bill made it on the ballot without sufficient debate on this issue. I would support a lobbyist registration bill, but have decided this one is a sledgehammer when we might need something more precise. For more, read this.

Proposition D: No

Last year, San Francisco voters gave ourselves oversight over waterfront development. So now whenever a developer wants to build something higher than the current zoning allows, it goes to the ballot like this.
Height-limit zoning is there for a reason. The Sierra Club points out that this proposed Mission Rock project is not just one over-the-height-limit tower, but 11. Eleven! Hell no.

Proposition E: No

This bill would make the city put its government meetings online, live, which I support. But it doesn't stop there: it would also require the city to allow people to participate remotely. This may sound like a great idea, but it's not. Government work would slow down immensely, especially on anything controversial. Plus it opens the city to a potential raft of lawsuits on access issues if the board of supes tries to get anything done while the wifi is down.
Gadflies currently have to actually go to the meetings. If you've ever been to city meetings, you know that maybe 1/5 of gadflies do useful public oversight and the rest just cost taxpayers money. If San Francisco had a gadfly shortage, we would need this bill. But we don't, and increasing the gadfly population by lowering the barrier to entry would make that percentage of useful ones much, much lower.

Proposition F: Hell Yes!

This proposal restricting short-term rentals is the most important bill on the ballot and is the reason you should get off your ass and vote.
San Francisco's housing crunch stems from the fact that this is small piece of land where a lot of people want to visit, and others want to live. This is why we have regulations that classify residences as homes, apartments and hotels: to maintain a balance.
Airbnb destroys that balance. By turning rental apartments into hotels, it takes them off the market for people who actually have jobs in the city, and drives up the prices of the remaining apartments.
At farmers' markets I have overheard more than one property owner talk about how they are never going to rent out their apartments to residents again, as they can make more money from Airbnb even if they only rent it a few times a month, plus they don't have to worry about tenants' rights, rent control, etc.
Perhaps you have a positive opinion of Airbnb because you rented some sweet flat in Milan or Buenos Aires or Tokyo, and the owner made you muffins and her dog was nice. That's great. Tokyo is 845 square miles and tourism is a tiny fraction of its business. San Francisco is 49 square miles and, despite high-tech and what used to be a creative population, tourism is our number one industry.
Airbnb is destroying San Francisco as a place to live and turning it into a place to visit. Airbnb is doing more to turn this city into one big Fisherman's Wharf than any other company, entity or person.
If you care about San Francisco being a place to live and work, as opposed to a place to visit for 4 days, you must vote Yes on Proposition F. If I knew stronger words for this recommendation I would use them.

Proposition G: No

This is a scam: an attempt by PG&E to block rooftop solar and other clean power intitiatives. Don't fall for it. Read more.

Proposition H: Yes

This was created in response to proposition G, and defines "clean energy" in the way that you or I would, as opposed to PG&E's self-serving definition in Prop G. You know who's for it? Just about every politician who has spoken on the issue. You know who's against it? PG&E.

Proposition I: Yes

This moratorium on market-rate housing in my neighborhood, the Mission District, might be too late to prevent the takeover by Google software engineers of what was first a Latino area and later an artsy place. But it's worth a shot. The luxury apartments going up in this area right now aren't helping the housing crisis; they're just allowing more people to live here while taking their company bus to Mountain View, and pushing up everyone else's rent with the breathtaking prices they fetch. It's only an 18-month moratorium, so even if it's a bad idea it will expire in 2017.

Proposition J: Yes

This would set up a city fund to try to save "legacy businesses" which have been here more than 30 years, or 20 if they're in immediate risk of being displaced. The city controller estimates it will cost $3.7 million in the first year.
In 2013, the city waived $4.2 million in revenue to attract Twitter.
And this year, the city lost $34 million in taxes because of a tax break designed to entice Twitter.
The money might not be enough to save the taquerias and dive bars that have given the city identity, and essential businesses like Lost Weekend -- only 18 years old -- might not qualify.
But we gave those overpaid mayflies at Twitter more money than this, and that isn't doing anything for the rest of the city but raising our rent.

Proposition K: Yes

This measure placed on the ballot by the board of supervisors would make the city prioritize affordable housing or open space when it sells land. It has had less media attention than all the other housing measures on the ballot. But the Sierra Club is in favor of it, and that's comforting.

District 3 Supervisor: How liberal are you?

I'm in a different district, so I don't have to decide in this interesting board of supervisors race between incumbent Julie Christensen and former supervisor Aaron Peskin. This has had the most media attention of anything on the ballot -- more even than Proposition F -- and yet it's a really easy decision. They're both Democrats. If you're a Clinton/Obama Democrat, vote for Christensen. If you're to the left of that, vote for Peskin. And if you're to the right of that, bide your time: San Francisco was Republican in the early 1960s, and if housing prices continue to escalate, those days will return soon enough.

I'm just back from South Africa and will return to blogging about wine, food, sake, etc. soon. 
Had to get this in first because early voting has started.
Follow me on Twitter: @wblakegray and like The Gray Report on Facebook.

2 comments:

Miquel said...

If you were interested, I wrote up a longer piece on my personal site about the Airbnb problem. It's aimed at Barcelona but applies to SF as well. They've recently placed a moratorium on new hotels in the city and if you do rent with Airbnb, you need to be fully legit or get fined back to the Stone Age. Will be interesting to see how this one plays out in SF as so many of the residents of the 5- years don't really give a shit about the town.

W. Blake Gray said...

I enjoyed your post, Miquel. I'm an ex-expat and longtime traveler too, and some of my best experiences have been spontaneously being offered and accepting somebody's hospitality. But I don't think you can make that happen with a website. These days I'm a big fan of booking.com; all the hotels and B&Bs are legal, and by reading the reviews I can choose smaller, more personal places. Hotels and B&Bs are an important part of the economy and plenty of them are lived in by the owner. They are not a problem; they are not the enemy.