Friday, October 14, 2016

Endorsements for San Francisco, California election of November 2016

Marijuana legalization is one of this election's most important propositions
I always make electoral endorsements because we should talk more, and with more civility, about our political choices, particularly local ones. This is the worst election I've ever done this for but that has nothing to do with the easy choice at the top of the ballot. We have an unwieldy 17 state ballot propositions and 24 city proposals.

I'll get right to the endorsements after long-awaited praise for the San Francisco Chronicle, my former employer. I've been complaining for years about the Chronicle's effort level on endorsements but this year, finally, it did a great job, interviewing all the top candidates and using its resources to investigate all the propositions. I don't agree with all of its choices, but the Chronicle put in the work and its recommendations are here.

As always, I am grateful to the very liberal San Francisco Bay Guardian, which now rises from the dead only to do its always well-researched endorsements. They are here.

Now on to my endorsements, which are brief at the top on the obvious ones. You can read more about those elsewhere.

US President

Hillary Clinton

US Senate

Kamala Harris

US House of Representatives, District 12

Nancy Pelosi

Jane Kim
California State Senate District 11

Jane Kim

Her opponent Scott Wiener is better financed, and not a terrible choice, but he takes a lot of wrong-headed positions and has run a relentlessly negative campaign. Kim is more representative of San Francisco values.

California State Assembly District 17

David Chiu 

I don't love him but he's just better qualified than the opposition.

San Francisco County Superior Court Judge, Office 7

Victor Hwang

Hwang has worked as both a prosecutor for 7 years in San Francisco and, before that, as a public defender for 4 years in Los Angeles. He is the better qualified candidate and has the great majority of endorsements, including a large number of endorsements from judges.

San Francisco Community College Board

Amy Bacharach, Rafael Mandelman, Alex Randolph, Shanell Williams

I hate voting for this board.

SFCC has been a disaster and an embarrassment for years, losing its accreditation and now fighting to get it back. The board was the problem, as it tried to please every small, loud constituency and never made tough financial decisions.
The board is trying to clean up its act and get its accreditation out of jeopardy. Now there are five candidates, including three incumbents, for four seats. I've tried sorting the endorsements and it seems like some politicians have endorsed all five. Most of the time that's a good sign. On this board, I fear it means they're not paying attention, as usual.
The Chronicle editorial board met with the candidates and picked the four above: the three incumbents, and recently graduated SFCC student Shanell Williams over bar owner Tom Temprano. Williams represented SFCC as a student trustee; she's a reasonable choice. I wrung my hands for 30 minutes about whether Temprano would be better than one of the incumbents and decided I don't have enough evidence that he is that good or one of the incumbents is that bad.

Board of Education, San Francisco

Ian Kalin, Rachel Norton, Jill Wynns, Stevon Cook

This board has sometimes been as screwed up as the community college board, but no national body exists that can remove the accreditation from San Francisco's public schools.
One-term board President Matt Haney decided his electoral issue is going to be renaming George Washington High School after Maya Angelou because, he tweeted, "No schools named after slave owners." Pretty harsh considering one of the many great precedents Washington set was freeing all his slaves upon his death, which was very unusual at the time. More to the point, this kind of politically correct distraction is exactly what can go wrong with this school board. We're not talking about Jefferson Davis or Stonewall Jackson. Me, I support history, and I will not support this opportunistic lightweight, though if people vote for him because of this position, we will have the school board we deserve.
I will support incumbent Jill Wynns, who has spent 24 years on the board and stands for fiscal responsibility. I like incumbent Rachel Norton because she's thoughtful and accessible. Those two have the Chronicle's endorsement. I like Ian Kalin, who is chief data officer of the U.S. Department of Commerce. He would be a great hire to have available, but if we elect him we get him practically for free!
Those are my top three picks, but you have to pick four. I'm torn for my last pick between educational activist Stevon Cook, who the Chronicle likes, and seventh-grade teachers Phil Kim and Trevor McNeil. I guess I'll defer to the Chronicle and go with Cook.

BART board, district 9

Bevan Dufty

Dufty was a moderate on the Board of Supervisors, which gives him much more governmental experience than his opponents. Such experience is important in the tangled web of regulations of the multi-county BART system. And the Guardian is endorsing him. You have to pay attention whenever the Guardian picks somebody who doesn't fit its ideology.

California ballot propositions

Prop 51: School bonds


Schools need it. No good reason not to vote for it.

Prop 52: Hospital fee


Private hospitals would pay a fee to help cover the uninsured and Medi-Cal patients, most of which they reject. Federal matching funds make this a no-brainer.

Prop 53: Requires a vote for bonds


This is a terrible example of a single wealthy person, in this case Stockton-area farmer Dean Cortopassi, trying to change the laws of the state for his own benefit. Gov. Brown wants high-speed trains and a water-diversion tunnel for the delta. This bill would prevent the state from raising funds for these projects. This isn't the way democracy should work. Please don't give Cortopassi veto power over the state's transportation and environmental policies.

Prop 54: Open government


This requires bills to be posted online for 72 hours before being passed. It should help prevent lawmakers from tagging needed legislation with unrelated amendments. It also requires that legislative sessions be streamed live on the Internet. Not as exciting as Orange is the New Black, but a good idea.

Prop 55: Tax extension on the wealthy


Many Americans live in a mythical world where no taxes are necessary, yet we still have a military, public schools, police, fire departments, etc. Taxation is a zero-sum game. Cut taxes on the rich and somebody else will pay. In 2009, in a budget crisis, California passed an emergency additional tax on people with incomes of $250,000 or more. That tax will expire in 2018 if we don't renew it. If you make over $250,000 a year, sure, go ahead, vote for your own wallet. If not, vote Yes.

Prop 56: Cigarette tax


California's cigarette tax is 87 cents per pack. This will raise it by $2. If that has the benefit of reducing smoking, especially among young people considering trying it, that's great.

Prop 57: Behavior-based parole


In 2011, California's overcrowded penal system had to release 30,000 prisoners because of a federal court order. California must have made some good choices of who to let out because our crime rate actually went down afterward. This bill would allow non-violent prisoners to get out earlier if they complete rehabilitation programs, whereas now, there is no such reward for good behavior, just "good time" for not committing more crimes while in prison. It's sensible, and it's not like California has plenty of prison space available to keep its model non-violent prisoners behind bars.

Prop 58: English immersion education reform


I'm in favor of English-language immersion education for non-English speakers in our schools. But the system that requires it was put in place by a 1996 ballot proposition with some flaws, notably that the law makes it difficult for schools to offer bilingual education. This bill fixes some of those flaws while still requiring public school students to become proficient in English.

Prop 59: Overturning Citizens United


It's one of those feel-good non-binding resolutions that doesn't actually accomplish anything. But I'm against the Citizens United decision, and this doesn't cost anything, so Yes.

Prop 60: Condoms in porn films


Voting to require porn actors to wear condoms will not mean that most porn actors will start wearing condoms. What will happen is that the porn industry will move out of the state of California to a place where porn producers can not only film bareback sex, but can also pay performers less. In California, porn actors and actresses are tested for HIV and STDs every 14 days. Wherever the industry would move to, that kind of protective law would have to be written from scratch. And it's just about impossible to make porn with underage actresses in California, but that may not be true wherever the industry decides to relocate. If you're considering voting for this because you're against porn, think again. You can't stop porn with this bill; that's not within the state's power. All you can do is make porn more exploitative and dangerous.

Prop 61: Prescription drug prices


This bill would mandate that the state pay no more for prescription drugs than the Veterans Administration, which is able to use its buying power to keep prices low. The Chronicle argues that a better bill for holding drug prices in check may come along. Maybe. But that could be years, and in the interim seniors and others dependent on prescription drugs are paying their life savings to Big Pharma. Big Pharma is spending millions of dollars to try to defeat this bill. Instead, those companies can simply take less profits from our most vulnerable citizens.

Prop 62: Death penalty abolishment


I'm pro death penalty. I have no pity for premeditated killers and I don't respect the cottage industry of lawyers that has sprung up to defend our absolute worst citizens by delaying justice in any way possible. I don't want to spend a lot of time on this emotional issue. If you're anti-death penalty, here's your chance.

Prop 63: Ammunition sales


This would require background checks to buy ammunition. President Obama failed to take all the guns away, and President Clinton probably will too. Not a very effective take-all-the-guns-away conspiracy, is it? This won't take all the bullets away either. It's just background checks. Vote for it.

Prop 64: Legalizing marijuana


Colorado and Washington have legalized it and things have only gone well for them: tourism is up, and there is no higher rate of crime or driving under the influence. Everybody benefits from legal marijuana: the state gets more tax money, sales of delivery pizzas skyrocket, and law enforcement can pay attention to crime that matters. And think about when the rest of the country starts to legalize it: California farmers can dominate the industry as we do with wine.

Prop 65: Paper bag fee


This is a sham bill put up by the plastics industry. It would require a 10-cent fee for paper bags, with the money going to environmental causes. Problem is, environmental groups don't want the bill. It's meant to confuse voters about the issues in Prop 67. Don't fall for it.

Prop 66: Faster death penalty


I'd like to read an editorial on this proposition written by a paper that isn't in favor of repealing the death penalty. The proposal would shorten time limits for appeals and put some appeals in superior courts, rather than the Supreme Court. California is not Illinois. We do not have a proven problem with executing innocent people. But we do have a proven problem with convicted murderers spending decades on death row. Maybe this would help fix that.

Prop 67: Single-use plastic bag ban


I like plastic bags. I like getting them for free at the store and I like reusing them. I will miss them a great deal when they're banned. But this is the right thing to do for the environment.

Bay Area prop RR: BART bonds


The system needs safety and maintenance upgrades. We don't really have a choice.

San Francisco ballot measures

Prop A: School bonds


This 20-year, $744 million bill, which includes a $300 million arts high school (with $200 million from state and private sources that have not been lined up), is based on the idea that the surging economy means more kids will be going to public school here. I'm sorry but I'm skeptical that the tech elite in this gentrifying city will be putting their kids in public schools. We do need to raise more money for education, but I'm also skeptical that the requirements of this huge bill are the best way to spend it. If it doesn't pass, perhaps the next election will bring us a bond measure more targeted at less privileged children.

Prop B: City college parcel tax

Yes, I guess, reluctantly

The city college system has been a squabbling, money-squandering mess for years. It lost its accreditation and 40% of its enrollment. I think this tax -- $99 per parcel for 15 years -- is throwing more money into the ocean. But unlike with prop A above, the city college system might not survive through another election cycle without a yes vote. That may not be the worst thing, but there have been some signs of improvement, and a good community college system, if we could get one, would be worth having.

Prop C: Affordable housing loans


We have the money! In 1992, voters approved $350 million in bonds for seismic retrofit loans, but the money wasn't used up. There's still $200 million left. This bill would use it to fix rundown public housing, which seems as appropriate as anything.

Prop D: Interim supervisors


This interesting proposal divides the Guardian, which is for it, from the Chronicle. When someone leaves San Francisco's Board of Supervisors before the end of their term, the mayor can appoint a replacement and that person can run as an incumbent. This proposition would forbid that replacement from running for a full term and require a special election for a replacement. The Board has had an ongoing pattern of doing this, giving friends of whoever's in the mayor's office a leg up on a board seat. I like everything about the idea but the requirement for a special election, which costs a lot of money (an estimated $340,000) and for which turnout would be minimal. I'd vote for this if the replacement could be decided in San Francisco's next regularly scheduled election.

Prop E: Street trees


Did you know San Francisco doesn't take care of the trees in our sidewalks? A few years ago, to save money, the city dumped this responsibility on the nearest property owner. This just isn't right. Trees aren't being trimmed, and property owners can decide to cut them down. San Francisco's trees are an underappreciated treasure. Because of our mild climate, we can accommodate trees from around the world, and because of some enlightened arborists in previous generations, we have them. Take a close look at the trees the next time you take a walk. If they're in the sidewalk, they don't belong to the person in the nearest house. They belong to all of us, and that means we need to pay for their upkeep.

Prop F: Voting rights for 16 year olds


Why should 16-year-olds vote in local elections? When I was 16 I would have been all for this, but I also remember how little perspective on politics I had. I believe the drinking age should be lowered to 18, but if we don't think someone is old enough to be trusted with a beer, I don't see why we would let them elect their own school board.

Prop G: Department of Police Accountability


This would rename and give a little more power to the Office of Citizen Complaints that oversees the police use of force. World and local events show that it's necessary.

Prop H: Public Advocate


This proposal would create a new office that's like the mayor but not the mayor, with the power to survey issues but not to actually do anything about them. It's a feel-good media-friendly public job that we don't need, as we already have an elected Board of Supervisors that is, for all its faults, reasonably good about responding to citizen complaints and concerns.

Prop I: Set-asides for seniors and disabled people


Budget set-asides are always a bad idea. We elect representatives to hash out a budget. If we tie their hands by saying, "You must spend $38 million on seniors and disabled people," as this bill does, that money has to come from somewhere: perhaps from spending on kids or parks or police or education or who knows what.

Prop J: Set-aside for homeless services and transit upgrades


Prop K: Sales tax to fund Prop J


Again, budget set-asides are always a bad idea. These paired props would set up a special sales tax for 25 years that can only be used for homeless services and specified transit upgrades, regardless of what the needs of the city are 20 years from now. We need more money for these things, but sales taxes are the most regressive way possible of funding anything, as the poor pay more proportionally than on a parcel tax (or income tax, which is state-based). It's typical of the smug side of San Francisco to ask the poor to pay more for the homeless. Reject these ideas and better-chosen funding will come along, hopefully from the general fund as it should be.

Prop L: Muni oversight committee


There is a 7-member "independent" committee that oversees Muni -- it can regulate fares, route changes, etc. -- but all seven members are appointed by the mayor, which begs the question of why a committee exists. This would allow the Board of Supervisors to appoint three of the seven members. If we don't approve it, we might as well just have a single mayoral appointee with that power. Ah, but that would be unconstitutional. Instead we pay 7! I'd vote for eliminating this committee altogether, as the mayor's decision is still going to rule 4-3 in anything he really wants, but let's bring some democracy into that committee with people who might have diverse opinions on where Muni should run buses.

Prop M: Housing and development commission


Ironically, this bill would set up a 7-member housing and development commission exactly like the one above, with four members appointed by the mayor and three by the Board of Supervisors. It's just another layer of government, and the mayor is still going to get whatever he wants by a 4-3 margin if he can get it past the Planning Commission and Proposition B. If we don't vote for government waste like this, we have more general fund money that we can use on the homeless and transit and seniors and disabled people (see prior props), rather than new city administrative jobs.

Prop N: Non-citizen voting


This idea has already failed at the ballot box twice and even if it were to get enough votes, it contradicts the state constitution, so it could never be implemented. It's a waste of time and money. Voting is a right and privilege of citizenship. If San Francisco residents want to vote, they can become US citizens.

Prop O: Waiving office-space development limit


San Francisco has a law limiting the amount of office space that can be built in a year. This bill would allow a single developer, Lennar, to add unlimited office space in Hunter's Point that doesn't count against that limit. While Hunter's Point can use development, there's a very good and very simple reason for the office-space limit: the city is only 7 miles by 7 miles and isn't getting any bigger. If we had an employment crisis in the city, that might be a good argument, but we don't. This bill would exacerbate population pressures on every aspect of city life: traffic, parking, housing, water and utility use, you name it.

Prop P: Three bidders for affordable housing


This would require the city to have at least three bidders for affordable housing projects before it could green-light anything. It's stupid. The city already requires competitive bidding. The last 10 projects had at least two bidders. Does that mean a good affordable housing project would not be built if the city couldn't scrape up a third bidder somewhere? Yes it does, so vote no.

Prop Q: No tents on the sidewalk


This proposal would give homeless people in tents on the sidewalk 24 hours notice to pack up and move to a shelter. If there's no shelter bed available, they don't have to move. This means it likely won't be enforced often, but I don't see why we can't give police the power to use it when appropriate. I felt a lot more sympathetic to people in these homeless tents before 1) one of them sprayed pepper spray on my wife and other bicyclists as she rode by on Duboce, and 2) I noticed the ongoing chop shop for stolen bicycles run out of these tents in the Mission.

Prop R: Neighborhood crime force set-aside


This stupid proposal would require 3% of all officers to be assigned to a new Neighborhood Crime Unit. Budgeting by ballot initiative is a bad idea; trying to run police assignments by ballot initiative is an even worse idea. Why not say 4% have to work homicide, 2.5% have to work on traffic, 6.1% have to work as security at Bruce Springsteen concerts?

Prop S: Hotel tax set-aside


This would set aside money from the hotel tax for an arts fund and a homelessness fund. Set-asides are never a good idea. What if we need the money for something else? Put the money in the general fund where it belongs.

Prop T: Lobbyist contribution restrictions


This looks like a case where voters rejected a poorly conceived version of a good idea, and now we have a better version. Yay! The proposal would bar lobbyists from making campaign contributions to any politician they have contacted on behalf of a client in the past 90 days. The Guardian and Chronicle both worry about its effect on nonprofits, which was the issue with the previous proposal that was voted down, but they're both in favor of this one, which was placed on the ballot by the city's Ethics Commission.

Prop U: Weakening affordable housing requirements


This would raise the amount that people can make while applying for affordable housing to 110% of the median income. It bastardizes the concept of affordable housing and allows developers, who want it, to satisfy affordable housing requirements with more expensive units that actual working-class people can't afford.

Prop V: Soda tax


I can't believe the Chronicle is for this! Bully for the Chronicle. I have gotten more deceptive mailers about this proposition than everything else on the ballot combined, and that includes the fact that somehow I got on Donald Trump's mailing list. It's not a "grocery tax." It's a soda tax. Mexico passed such a law and it cut down on consumption of sugary drinks, which is good for public health. Nobody is saying you can't enjoy a Coca-Cola. You'd just have to pay 1 cent per ounce more for it: that's just 12 cents more for a 12-ounce bottle. Stand up to Big Sugar and its diabetes-creating industry.

Prop W: High-end home tax


This would increase the transfer tax on sale of properties of $5 million or more. Taxation is a zero-sum game. If we don't tax this, we'll have to get the money from people who would be arrested for standing on the lawn of a $5 million home.

Prop X: Arts and industrial space retention


This is all about my neighborhood, the Mission, which is rapidly turning into a neighborhood of tech bros and new high-priced condos. If a developer wants to replace small businesses or arts spaces with housing in the Mission or Soma, it would require a replacement space for the displaced. I don't expect it will pass citywide, but I'm watching my neighborhood turn into monoculture a lot faster than I believed possible. I'm voting Yes for this and I hope you'll join me. Please.

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Douglas Trapasso said...

I don't live in CA, but I enjoy reading through your endorsements every election cycle. You obviously put a great deal of thought into every issue, and I learn about issues that may hit other states in the future.

One question: The performers in pornography movies often engage in ACTUAL SEX? It's not all faked with the help of CGI?

W. Blake Gray said...

Thanks, Douglas!

Re porn: CGI's not cheap. Porn actors are cheaper. I suppose the anti-porn crowd could say that performers could wear condoms and they could be removed by CGI, but I don't think most porn movies have that kind of budget.

Not that the porn industry is a big specialty of mine, but I'm not sure the money these days is in feature-length films anyway. There's a porn-production facility a few blocks from my house called, and I believe their specialties are things like live cams on which CGI isn't an option. has been a terrific neighbor. Like many area residents I was skeptical, but they bought a scary old abandoned building, cleaned it up and maintain good security. Other parts of the building that they renovated show theater events, have VFW meetings, and fulfill other community uses. I walk by it all the time and you'd never know it's a porn palace, but you can't help but notice the area is safer.