Thursday, October 29, 2015

San Francisco Ballot Measures, November 3, 2015

San Francisco/McManus Lab photo
It's election time in San Francisco.  This time we only have to sort through 11 Local Ballot Measures with 200 pages of explanation and arguments. 

The theme is housing.

San Francisco is booming. Hi-Tech companies are setting up shop in the city.  There is lots of construction in Mid-Town and South of Mission. Tech companies are running cushy bus services to Silcon Valley from San Francisco. It causes jealousies and puts pressure on San Francisco's limited housing stock. 

Check out this cool graphic of the growth of tech companies worth more than 1 billion over the last 20 years at the Economist. The Economist is breathless: 
SAN Francisco, Silicon Valley and the strip of land that runs along the shore of the Bay between them have had a tremendous decade as the hub of the global technology industry. The area’s biggest companies have soared to heights once unimaginable, coming to represent all that the world finds most exciting about American capitalism. The Valley has revolutionised nearly every aspect of the global economy, transforming how firms make decisions, people make friends and protesters make a fuss.
Today, San Francisco and the The Valley are intimately linked. Young techies want to live in vibrant San Francisco, and companies are accommodating them by building in the city and by running plush, Wi-Fi enabled bus services that pick up 14,000 workers (2012) early in the city and drop them off late. It causes social friction.  

We live in the upper two stories of a two unit house in Cole Valley. A new family just moved in downstairs. They arrived from Paris. He works at Genentech, she works at Stanford, and their daughter goes to the French school nearby. They paid $1.6 million for a two bedroom apartment (1,200 sq. ft). We understand Genentech helped out with this purchase in some manner. It makes it hard for school teachers to compete.

Hi Tech bus routes; line thickness reflects volume
The ballot measures next week reflect some of the pressures and fears caused by all this growth and change.  Five of the eleven measures address the need for affordable housing, preserving housing stock, and preserving "legacy businesses." [See Prop A, F, I, J, and K, below] 

Proposition D, relates to approving height variances for a major new project (Mission Rock) across from the Giants ballpark. It's a good project and should be approved. 

There are two measures relating to renewable energy. [Props G & H] 

The remaining three measures deal with parental leave for city employees (Prop B), disclosure requirements for lobbying activity (Prop C), and making public meetings open to participation through the internet (Prop E). 

It's great to live in San Francisco, but it's work at election time!

Here is a closer look at the issues that San Franciscans will be voting for, and a brief explanation for how I will be voting.  

Prop A.  Affordable Housing BondYes.  

What it does:  it authorizes the city to issue $310 million in general obligation bonds (paid from property tax revenue) in order to fund construction, improvement, acquisition, rehabilitation, preservation, and repair of affordable housing.  

Rationale: San Francisco lacks affordable housing stock for low and middle income earners. The program invests in construction and acquisitions to increase this housing stock. It provides work for the building trades and increases affordable housing.  It was approved 9-0 by the Board of Supervisors.  I’m voting “Yes.” 

Prop B.  City Charter Amendment to Permit Two City Employees (new parents) parental leave for 12 weeks each for the birth, adoption, or foster parenting of the same child.  No.

What it does: the city charter currently provides City employees with 12 weeks of paid parental leave to care for a child after becoming a new parent.  A City employee may receive an additional four weeks of paid leave if they are temporarily disabled by pregnancy.  If both parents are city employees, they both may take leave, but the total benefits can’t exceed the benefits available for one. The expanded program for paid leave would cost the city $570,000 to $1.1 million as estimated by Controller. 

Rationale:  Most private employers don’t provide 3-4 months of paid leave for a new baby. 3-4 months of available paid parental leave for one parent adequately protects the family unit, is generous, and exceeds what the private market-place offers. If two City employees want to both stay at home with a new baby, that is a nice thing to do. I don’t think I want to pay for it with my tax dollars. The second employee is free to take unpaid family leave to do it. The family unit works pretty well with the traditional model of one person staying home with the baby and the other working. I’m voting “No.” 
Prop C. Requirement for expenditure lobbyists to register with Ethics Commission, pay $500 fee, and report on lobbying activity monthly.  Yes. 

What it does: Any person or business who pays more than $2,500 in a calendar month to solicit, request, or urge others to directly lobby City officers must register with Ethics Commission, pay the fee, and submit reports.  

Rationale: $2,500/month is a significant threshold that will exempt normal citizen lobbying activity.  It will apply to businesses lobbying for a particular issue and making a push, or non-profits who pool money from members.  All the ramifications and burdens this will create are not transparently obvious. However, it will enhance transparency in who is lobbying the City. It is consistent with similar provisions in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and the state legislature. The only opposition is from Terence Franklin, who makes a disingenuous diversionary argument (vote against it because it exempts employees of non-profits). If he thinks this law is a waste of time, granting an exemption for non-profits should not bother him.  The SF Human Services Network is concerned that they will have to register as lobbyists, placing in jeopardy their federal non-profit status.  Without more, that does not sound plausible. I’m voting “Yes.” 

Prop D. Approve height limits on 10/28 acres, up to 240 feet in some places, to allow the Mission Rock Project (across from Giant’s ballpark) to proceed as planned.  Yes.

Rationale: The Mission Rock projet provides for 8 acres of park, and 40% affordable housing. It is supported by Mayor Lee, former Mayor Art Agnos, Nancy Pelosi, the SF Parks Alliance, and the Chamber of Commerce. Sierra Club is opposed, saying it will approve 11 high-rise towers.  But this seems like a well-vetted sound development that will provide many benefits to the City, including new affordable housing.  I’m voting “Yes.” 

Prop E. Broadcast all City Meetings on the Internet and accommodate remote questions and comments over the internet.   No. 

What it does: It requires transmission of all city hearings over the internet and to make provision to accept remote questions, and playing of pre-recorded statements. Would allow organization 50+ to request that particular issue be heard in specific time slot. Cost would be $750,000 plus, annually. 

Rationale: This is a signature drive proposition. It is supported by an SF State political science instructor. It is an expensive change, and a big step. The City, I assume is free to make progress to improve public access to witness hearings even without this measure. Mandating the technology, and mandating to make remote access available, without any assurance this will be possible to operate smoothly is not a good idea in my mind.  I’m voting “No.” 

Prop F. Limiting short term rental of housing units to 75 Days/Year. No

The Way it is now:  In order to prevent conversion of housing stock to tourist use, SF currently regulates short term rentals of residential housing (“short term rental” is defined as less than 30 days). These regulations were recently enacted and amended just this year.  Only permanent residents may offer short term rental (“permanent” meaning you’ve lived there for at least 60 consecutive days). Before offering a unit, permanent residents must register with the city’s short term-rental agency. Units may not be rented more than 90 days/year if resident does not live there (“unhosted rentals”). [There is no limit on hosted rentals, e.g. renting a back bedroom in your house] Hosting platforms (like Airbnb) must notify users of the rules. Short-term rentals are subject to the City’s 14% hotel tax. It is misdemeanor to unlawfully rent short term rentals. Other residents of building may sue to enjoin violations. 

What F would do: This proposition further reduces short term rentals to 75 days/year regardless if it’s hosted or unhosted. There would be no more unlimited rentals of back bedrooms in your house. It imposes tougher restrictions on hosting platforms. Hosting platform must stop listing a unit after the 75 day limit is reached. The measure makes it a misdemeanor for a hosting platform (e.g. Airbnb) to unlawfully list a unit. The City would have to notify neighbors and post a notice on the unit, and it would mandate owners to file quarterly reports from. It would also empower interested parties to sue. Finally, the regulations could only be changed with another ballot measure. 

There are 10,000 units listed on various hosting sites (like Airbnb), per Tom Ammiano. But as of July 2015, fewer than 600 units were legally registered, he says. There were 16.9 million visitors to San Francisco in 2013, including hotel guests, those staying with friends and relatives, those staying in accommodations outside the city but whose primary destination was San Francisco, and regional visitors driving in for the day. The city has  34,000 hotel rooms (2012) in 215 hotels. Most of these hotel rooms (20,000) are downtown.   Short term rentals remove 2,000 housing units of housing stock per the Harvey Milk Democratic Club, and the Castro area is particularly affected, they say.  

San Francisco needs lots of new housing. Mayor Lee pledges 30,000 new units by 2020.  Tying up 2,000 units in the short term rental programs, therefore, is not the end of the world.  The San Francisco Planning and Urban Renewal Association (SPUR) recommends a “No.”  I think we should wait to see how the recently enacted regulations work out, and lobby the Bd. of Supervisors to amend them some more if necessary.  I don’t see a compelling need for piling on with additional regulations and restrictions, especially in a way that will make it hard to make changes. I’m voting “No.” 

Prop G. Definition of “Clean Power”—Withdrawn  No.

Prop H. Alternate Definition of Clean Power—Moot.  No.

This was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors as a poison pill for proposition G, which has been withdrawn.  This is no longer necessary.  I’m voting “No.” 

Prop I. Housing moratorium in the Mission. No.

Proposal: This would direct the City to suspend issuing building permits for market rate housing and commercial building in the Mission for at least 18 months. Calls for Mission Neighborhood Stabilization Plan to be developed by January 1, 2017, with a goal of requiring at least 50% of all new housing to be “affordable.”  

The comptroller estimates there are ~24 projects (1,200 units) at various stages of development that might be affected by the ban. Building fewer places to live will not help with a shortage of affordable housing.  I’m voting “No.” 

Proposition J. No.

Proposal: San Francisco is in the process of creating a registry of “legacy businesses”—businesses with 30 years of operation in city and founded in City, or headquartered in city now, that have contributed to a neighborhood’s history or identity, and are committed to maintaining the physical features or traditions that define the business or nonprofit. A Legacy Business must be nominated by member of Bd of Supervisors, or mayor.  

Proposal:  This would provide grants to Legacy Businesses of $500/employee, and grants of  $4.50/square foot to landlords who rent to Legacy Businesses.  The Comptroller estimates this program would cost up to $94 million annually.  This sounds like a program rife for political corruption.  I’m voting “No.” 

Proposition K. Expansion of “affordable housing” definition from less than 60% of median income up to 120% of median income for disposition of surplus housing.  Yes. 

Proposal:  This allows the city to use surplus property to build a mix of low income housing designed for very low income people, up to 120% of median income.  Currently the surplus housing disposition program permits construction of affordable housing defined as 60% of median income.   Additionally, for larger projects (greater than 200 units) this measure would allow a mix of housing, including market rate housing. This also expands the process for identifying surplus housing. It prohibits the city from selling surplus property without having the Bd of Supervisors consider first whether it should be developed for low income housing. 

Prop K locks in a priority for using surplus housing for affordable housing.  It makes the program more flexible and workable by allowing for a greater mix and some flexibility, especially in larger projects. SPUR judges that “this measure … is appropriate for what is one of the long-standing and highest priorities for the city.” I’m voting “yes.”  

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