SF YIMBY Party Endorsements

City and State Ballot Measures
November 2016

This year’s slew of Ballot Propositions is an overwhelming mess. Many of these initiatives are deliberately crafted to slow down our government's ability to function. Most have been placed on ballot for political reasons rather than to achieve worthy policy goals. All of them add up to a monstrous ballot.

In an ideal world, most of these issues would be dealt with by the legislators we elect to the Board of Supervisors. Under the current system, the bar to add propositions to the ballot is WAY too low. Unfortunately, it would likely take a ballot initiative to fix that.

Here is our attempt to identify those that will result in slightly better urban policy. We understand that some will want to rebel against this entire process and vote no on everything. However, we take the position that until we fix the underlying cause, we have to deal with current crop of propositions rather than simply closing our ears and humming. 

We break the propositions into 7 general categories: “Housing,” “Funding Public Services,” “Structure of Government,” “Expanding the Electorate,” “Public Health & Social Welfare,” “Criminal Justice.”





While Housing remains San Francisco’s number one priority, this year’s ballot initiatives generally skirt any real solutions to our chronic housing shortage. There’s a lot of talk about Affordable Housing, but we all know that the subsidized affordable housing represent only a small fraction of the overall housing market. While subsidized affordable housing is critical, to solve the housing shortage we will need far more than relying on subsidized housing can offer.

2016 marks another missed opportunity for serious change.

If you want to see something more serious on the ballot, join us. Get organized. Prove that there is a vocal pro-housing movement. We need to prove we have an active ground game and that people will vote on this issue. So get involved. We need you.


Prop C: Yes!

Loans to Affordable Housing
Authorizes bonds to finance acquisition, improvement and rehabbing of at-risk multiunit buildings and to convert them into permanent subsidized affordable housing. Will result in more units of housing being built or brought back into use.

Prop M: No!

Another Housing Commission
Creates a new unelected “Housing and Development Commission” to oversee two more new departments, the Department of Economic and Workforce Development and Department of Housing and Community Development. It moves responsibilities from the Mayors Office on Housing to an unelected commission. This additional bureaucracy will further slow the production of new housing, especially new affordable housing. The new Commission would add more places for special interest groups to block housing. More hearings, more red tape, more cost, less housing. (In addition, Prop M contains a poison pill for Prop P, which we endorse below).

Prop O: Yes

Office and Housing Development in Candlestick Point
Makes an exception to the office square footage cap for a housing and office project in Candlestick Point and Hunters Point. Would allow more office space by exempting this project from the annual limit on new office space. Not great for our job-to-housing ratio, but does add more units of badly needed housing. We know the solution to our housing shortage is not to restrict the creation of jobs. This project won’t pencil out without the office space. We’re not huge fans, but generally think it’s a fine project.

Prop P: Yes!

Competitive Bidding for Affordable Housing Projects
Due to our current structure for contracting with subsidized affordable housing construction companies, the City often only receives ONE bid. By opening up the process to allow more competition, especially from state-wide affordable housing construction companies, we could bring down the cost to government of building subsidized housing, giving us the ability to build more units.



Prop Q: NO! 

Prohibiting Tents on Sidewalks
Currently tents on sidewalks can be asked to move along at any time. This legislation would require the City to issue 24-hour notices, offer some form of shelter and require the City to store residents property for about 3 months. Some view this as an improvement on the status quo. Others think it’s not enough support to tent residents and we can do better. Ultimately, Prop Q does not increase the amount of housing availability or shelters for the homeless. This is not going to improve anyone’s housing situation. Yes, it is very slightly better than the status quo. However, we know this is not the ideal policy, and the possibility of passing far superior legislation properly via the Board of Supervisors is relatively high. If this passes as a ballot initiative, it will be extremely difficult to change as problems arise. 

Prop U: No

Subsidized Affordable Housing for Middle Income
In June, we bumped the subsidized low-income affordable housing requirements on new housing projects to 25%. That was a seriously bad idea and has sent shock-waves through the pipeline. Applications for new projects have dropped by half since this time last year

This prop would take the housing currently targeted to people making 55% of the Area Median Income (AMI), and give it to people making up to 110% of the AMI. The argument for Prop U is that it will bring some housing projects back from having been killed by the June percent change.

There are two arguments against Prop U, however. We decided to vote to against it because it would take away subsidized units for low and and very-low income households, and because we are generally against the idea of subsidizing housing for middle income people.

Middle income people should be able to afford housing in San Francisco without subsidies. We cannot subsidize our way out of this housing crisis. We need a housing market that functions for middle class people.

Prop X: No!

Keeping Production, Distribution, Repair Zoning
Prop X would reduce housing production. It requires projects that convert or demolish existing production, distribution, or repair (PDR) space a.k.a. urban manufacturing in the Mission & SoMa to get a Conditional Use authorization before building housing on those sites. These projects would also be required to provide a new space to replace the PDR or community space that is converted or demolished, making housing projects more expensive and further limiting space available for housing. 

SFMade, the City’s largest trade group for manufacturers, does not support this measure, in part because the measure’s requirements seem arbitrary (not based in data or analysis), and in part because replacing industrial space building by building often results in the wrong types of industrial spaces being developed.

Anyone who has sat through a Conditional Use hearing knows how tedious and unnecessary they can be. YIMBY believes it should be perfectly legal to tear down under-utilized manufacturing to build in-demand housing.



STRUCTURE Of Government


It only takes 4 (out of 11) members of the Board of Supervisors to put a proposition on the ballot. If you can’t get something passed by the Board, but you’ve got a small minority of supervisors, you can jam up the ballot with all kinds of nonsense. 

Obstructionists love this. And they want to create more places where a small group can stop progress for hyper-local interests. Most of the following ballot propositions can be lumped under the title Bad Governance. They are deliberate attempts to create more places where small groups can gum up the workings of government, when no one is paying attention. Obscure hearings, unelected officials, and more bureaucracy are the tools of anti-housing activists.

Propositions DHLM taken together transfer power from the Mayor’s office to the Board of Supervisors. The Mayor is more pro-building than the Board, because of the nature of the positions. The Mayor’s office must appeal to the city as a whole, while any given Supervisor is elected by his or her district. While city-wide office holders think about the impact of policy on voters throughout the city, Supervisors are generally concerned with their local interest groups. The larger the jurisdiction of the office, the more likely they are to make inclusive land use plans. This is why hyper-local control throughout the Bay Area has resulted in such disastrous policy-making.

One of our planks generally is regionalization of land use authority. We favor moving land use authority from lower levels of government to a higher levels. In this case, the attempt is to go in the opposite direction, making more decisions by lower-level decision makers. 

Prop D: No!

Restrictions on Vacancy Appointments
This is an attempt to curtail the Mayor’s power by turning his appointees into lame ducks. Currently, the mayor is responsible for filling vacancies on the Board of Supervisors. Prop D would require the Department of Elections to hold an (expensive, low-turnout) special election within 180 days of the vacancy. The mayor would be able to appoint an interim supervisor, but that person would be unable to run in the special election. Qualified candidates wouldn’t want to be appointed because it would kill their future political prospects. This measure is being put forward specifically to undermine mayoral authority and not because it will actually improve governance.

Prop H: No!

Public Advocate
The measure would create an elected Public Advocate position. It’s an unnecessary role and almost certainly a self-serving attempt by one termed-out Supervisor to retain influencing power in city politics. There is little to suggest that the Public Advocate position would be able to advance important goals related to our most pressing issues such as housing, transit, and affordability. More likely, it will wind up serving as a tool for obstructionism. The position would have a massive, bloated staff and the power to subpoena basically anyone. Prop H advocates note that New York has a similar Public Advocate position, while failing to note NYC has about 10 times the population of SF. When we’re dense enough (and incorporate Oakland, Marin, and everything down to Palo Alto) then we’ll be happy to add a Public Advocate.

Prop L: No!

MTA Appointments & Budget
Currently the Board of Directors for SFMTA is appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Board of Supervisors. Checks and balances. This measure would take 4 of those Directors and make them appointed by the BOS alone, approved by no one. No check, no balance. This would likely have the effect of making the SFMTA a more politicized appointment. No other major public transportation system in the US does this. 

It would also lower the bar for when the Board of Supervisors can reject the SFMTA’s budget. The last time the Board of Supervisors had this kind of budgetary oversight, Muni fell into deep disrepair and was forced to cannibalize their own resources to maintain basic services. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember this as the “Muni Meltdown.” This is a terrible idea.

Prop M: No!

See “Housing” Section

Prop T: No Endorsement

Restricting Gifts and Campaign Contributions from Lobbyists

The YIMBY Party vote was too close for us to make a Yes or No endorsement.

The Yes argument is pretty self-evident, that gifts are corrupting. Here is the No argument made at our meeting:

This creates new restrictions on lobbyists, including expenditure lobbyists. Anyone who spends $2500 in a month encouraging residents to contact officials to express an opinion automatically becomes an expenditure lobbyist. The $2500 is not tied to an automatic CPI increase, so in 10 or 15 years, the real number will be much lower.

Regular citizens should feel free to encourage (organize) their friends to contact decision makers to support or oppose legislation without worrying that they will be caught up in reporting requirements. At the local level, you are the special interest.

For a stronger Yes argument, check out the San Francisco Chronicle.

For a stronger No argument, check out the SPUR voter guide.


Prop 54: No

3 Day Posting of Proposed Legislation
This sounds like a commendable change -- an increase in the transparency of our law-making process -- but will end up creating delays for legislators. Any time a change in a bill is made, no matter how small, legislators will be forced to wait three days to vote on it. This gives special interest groups time to launch campaigns and potentially mislead the public. We need to let our legislators legislate. It's difficult enough to get anything passed within our current system. When it comes to housing, transit, and infrastructure, there is significant potential to address needs at the state level and Prop 54 would add to the procedural challenges of passing good legislation. 

From this article in California Today:

“Every once in a while they have to do the sausage making behind closed doors,” Mr. Maviglio said. “Because on certain tougher bills if they did it out in the open all the lobbyists would realize their oxes are being gored and they come unglued. They just come out of the woodwork to stop something from happening.”

Prop 59: Yes

Non-Binding Overturning of Citizens United
Asks whether California’s elected officials should use their authority to propose and ratify an amendment to the federal Constitution overturning the United States Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Citizens United ruled that laws placing certain limits on political spending by corporations and unions are unconstitutional. This prop is non-binding, making it effectively a feel-good measure, but we feel good about it. 




Let’s start by saying these measures are almost entirely on the ballot because of Proposition 13, which eviscerated California’s tax revenue by regressively curtailing property taxes. We don’t have the money we need to do the basic funding of government. So we get a slew of band-aid propositions to fund vital public services or redistribute the limited tax revenue we get. We need Prop 13 reform now.

We also have a habit in San Francisco of using the ballot to designate funds, rather than working the budget out at the Board of Supervisors. Rather than figuring out how to hash things out legislatively, these funding allocations get slapped onto the ballot. Interest groups create momentum to get their very nice, wholesome-sounding pet issue put on the ballot. So the entire city ends up voting on things that really should be hashed out in a comprehensive city budget by our elected representatives. 

But, in many cases, elected officials suck at doing the right thing. Often basic services get used as a piggy bank for new pet projects. So, designating funds has become part of the political process in San Francisco. We have endorsed those that seem to be proper use of general funds.

For instance: Propositions J and K. Proposition J allocates funding to homeless services and transportation. Proposition K is a sales tax to raise those funds. Almost everyone is going to vote Yes to allocate funding, because that sounds so nice. But Proposition K, the actual funds for those services, is in serious risk of failing. Many people are going to vote “yes” on K and “no” on J, not realizing they’ve eliminated the funding for the very services they are voting to support. GAH.

San Francisco Votes on More Stuff Than Anyone. It's a Disaster and We Love It and Won't Stop.

Prop A: Yes

School Bond
Basic, necessary funding for public school facilities.

Prop B: Yes

Parcel Tax for City College
A renewal of a parcel tax to fund the basic operation of City College.

Prop C: Yes

See “Housing” Section

Prop E: Yes

City Responsible for Street Trees
Currently property owners are supposed to maintain the tree and sidewalk in front of their home. It’s public property and should be cared for by the public government. 

Prop I: Yes

Funding for Seniors and Disabled
Designates funding from the General Fund for seniors and adults with disabilities.

Prop J: Yes!

Funding for Homelessness and Transportation
Designates funding from the General Fund to go to homeless services, including Navigation Centers, and public transportation. Will only go into effect if proposition K passes.

Prop K: Yes!

Sales Tax to fund Proposition J
Increases the Sales tax by 0.75% for a total sales tax rate of 9.25%. Proceeds would go into the General Fund. The funding in Prop J relies on Prop K passing.

Prop S: Yes

Allocation of Hotel Tax
Designating that funds from the Hotel Tax should be spent on the arts and homeless services. Assigning a specific source of funding to the arts and homeless services means this funding can’t be cut, as it has in the past. 


Real Estate Transfer Tax
Prop W would raise the tax on properties over $5 million when they are sold. We couldn't decide whether this would raise the cost of multifamily housing and ultimately increase rental and housing prices by discouraging land transfers, or not. We debated this one quite a bit.

For more information, check out the San Francisco Chronicle.

For a stronger "No" argument, check out the SPUR voter guide.

Prop RR: Yes!

Bart Bond
Issuing bonds to fund and improve BART. We love BART!

Prop 51: Yes

School Bonds
Issuing bonds to fund basic maintenance and improvements of community colleges and other public schools.

Prop 52: Yes

State Fees on Hospitals
Prop 52 extends Medi-Cal at no extra expense to taxpayers. It ensures that California continues to receive matching federal funds. Endorsed by both the Democratic and Republican Party.

Prop 53: No!

Voter Approval for Revenue Bonds
Requires voter approval for projects that cost more than $2 billion funded by revenue bonds. Just because a project is high in cost doesn't mean it should require voter approval. We have elected officials, legislators, and decision-makers - let them do their jobs. We need big infrastructure improvements, transit, drought mitigation, etc., to support our growing population. Ballots are already too long, and creating an unnecessary, expensive approval processes on voters puts infrastructure at greater risk.

Prop 55: Yes

Tax Extension to Fund Education and Healthcare
Extends the temporary personal income tax increases enacted in 2012 on earnings over $250,000, with revenues allocated to K-12 schools, California Community Colleges, and, in certain years, healthcare.

Prop 56: Yes

Cigarette Tax
Increases the cigarette tax to $2 per pack. Proven to bring down youth smoking and provides more money for vital public services.

Prop 65: No

Redirecting Plastic Bag Fee
Redirects money collected by grocery and certain other retail stores through mandated sale of carryout plastic bags into a special fund to support specified environmental projects. This appears to be a misleading measure by the plastic bag industry, and most environmental groups oppose it. The better move is to uphold a state ban altogether. 




This year we have two measures to increase voter opportunities for those otherwise shut out of the political process. SF YIMBY supports increased involvement in local politics, especially by young people, who will be around to see the long-term ramifications of their decisions. We considers both of these propositions to be positive steps toward increasing electoral participation. 

Prop F: Yes

Youth Voting in Local Elections
Allows 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections. Increasing inclusivity and broadening the electorate is a good thing. We want more people, especially young people, to have a say in the future of our city. 

Prop N: Yes

Non-Citizen Voting in School Board Elections
Authorizes San Francisco residents who are not United States citizens, but are the parents, legal guardians, or caregivers of children residing in SF to vote in elections for the Board of Education. Parents and guardians of students are important stakeholders and should have a say in how their children are educated. 



A number of initiatives related to improving public health and general social welfare are being put up this year. These are largely progressive and positive acts of reform that we believe will enhance both the public health and general welfare. However some may edge into “nanny-state.” As with almost everything on the ballot, these should be dealt with legislatively. Since we can’t seem to do that, we’re dealing with it here.

Prop V: Yes

Tax on Distributing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages
Enacts a one cent ($.01) per fluid ounce of a bottled sweetened beverage, to be deposited into the General Fund. Sugar-sweetened drinks, namely soda, are a leading cause of obesity and this tax would reduce their consumption. Revenues will go toward improving access to drinking water, expanding school nutrition programs, and improving children’s health. Opponents argue this is a regressive tax, falling more heavily on low income people. We argue the costs of the negative health effects of soda also fall more heavily on low income people. We believe this falls into a “healthy city” ideal.

Prop 52: Yes

State Fees on Hospitals, Medi-Cal Matching
Extends the Medi-Cal hospital fee program and ensures California continues to receive its fair share of matching federal funds. This essentially continues the Medi-Cal program we have and makes sure state officials can’t divert Medi-Cal funding for other purposes. Thirteen million Californians depend on Medi-Cal coverage; we should maintain their funding support.

Prop 58: Yes

Repeals CA’s Ban on Bilingual Education
Cities are multicultural, diverse places where everyone should have access to every opportunity, including education. Currently California mandates that all classes be taught in English. This measure will ensure that students don’t fall behind in other subjects while they’re learning English.

Prop 60: No Endorsement

Adult Films, Condom Health Requirement
Requires the use of condom in all pornographic films featuring sexual intercourse in California. The goals of the measure are to reduce the risk of sexually transmitted diseases for adult performers, and to normalize and promote condom use. However, it would also create the opportunity for numerous lawsuits against adult film performers and businesses, and may require those performers to disclose their home address. It is unclear to us if the potential benefits of this will outweigh the negative consequences. And it’s also outside of our lane.

For an expert opinion, here's Dan Savage's take on Prop 60.

Prop 61: No Endorsement

State Prescription Drug Purchases, Pricing Standards
Prop 61 would prevent Medicaid from paying more than the VA for pharmaceuticals. Big Pharm is against it, but so is the VA, CalPERs, several other unions, and everyone who hates the Aids Healthcare Foundation. The author and promoter of Prop 61 is Michael Weinstein, the president of AHF, an organization that brought in more than $1 billion last year selling prescription drugs and operating HMOs. He exempted his organization’s HMO from having to comply with his own measure. AHF is also behind Prop 60, and the Neighborhood Integrity Initiative in LA. We feel we don’t know enough about the impacts of this legislation (drug pricing is notoriously complicated) to take a position for or against it. 

Also, read this.

Prop 63: Yes

Firearms, Ammunition Sales
This is Gavin Newsom’s proposed gun control measure, which would prohibit possession of large capacity ammunition magazines and would require individuals to pass a background check and receive DOJ authorization in order to purchase ammunition. This is a solid start to gun control reform.   

Prop 64: Yes

Marijuana Legalization
Legalizes marijuana and hemp under state law and enacts certain sale and cultivation taxes. There are concerns about the possibility of monopolization or small businesses suffering as a result. However, the economic benefits of legalizing marijuana have already been seen in other states (e.g. Colorado, to the tune of $135 million). Passage of this measure would bring meaningful new tax revenue to our state as well. Blahblah, you stopped reading at “Legalizes marijuana.”

Prop 67: Yes

Referendum to Overturn Ban on Single-Use Plastic Bags
This is the actual title of this prop, and it is an absurdly confusing one. A YES vote in fact keeps the ban, by ratifying Senate Bill 270, and a NO vote rejects ratification, thereby allowing plastic bags. Why did this overt assault on reason happen? Plastic bag companies want to get rid of the state ban on plastic bags, and are trying to mislead voters into helping them. We know plastic bags are awful for the environment - they end up in rivers, lakes, and the ocean; harm ocean wildlife; and cost us tens of millions of dollars in clean up. So, although it hurts your brain, vote Yes.

For more, read this.




Several propositions related to law enforcement, prison reform, and the death penalty are on the ballot this year, including Jerry Brown’s Prop 57. We are largely in favor of the initiatives that ensure better citizen oversight of the police and make prison sentencing more just.

A just city is a healthy city. Safety and Justice must be two sides of the same coin, and our policing must reflect that. We want a city that enables access to opportunity for everyone, which will require serious reforms to the criminal justice system. We look forward to many more reforms in the pursuit of racial and economic justice for all.

Prop G: Yes

Police Oversight Board
Will rename the Office of Citizen Complaints as the Department of Police Accountability (“DPA”) and gives the new DPA direct control over the department’s budget as well as requiring a performance audit every two years. We’ve had too much poor conduct by our police department without accountability. This measure represents an attempt at fixing that. It’s a step in the right direction.

Prop R: No Endorsement

Neighborhood Crime Unit
Supervisor Scott Wiener’s proposal to create a Neighborhood Crime Unit within the Police Department. This is a good-intentioned measure to address growing concerns about property crime, consolidating 311 and 911 response and shifting some power from the Police Department to City Hall. However, a number of concerns have risen in response to the creation of such a unit. Namely, transferring decision-making power away from local police stations is perhaps not the right approach to community law enforcement. While we support the aims of this measure, we have reservations about the effectiveness of the approach it lays out.

For a stronger No argument, check out the SPUR voter guide.

Prop 57: Yes

Parole for Non-Violent Criminals & Juvenile Court Trial Requirements
Prop 57 addresses issues of prison overcrowding and overspending. This is a progressive, much-needed reform to our justice system that will reduce our overburdened prison systems and encourage rehabilitation. Prop 57 still keeps the most dangerous offenders in prison, but loosens parole considerations for people with non-violent convictions as their first offense. Fiscally, this is expected to reduce prison costs by the millions of dollars annually. 

Prop 62: Yes

Repeal Death Penalty
We support the repeal of the death penalty. This argument from the SF Examiner sums it up best: "...government must function to value and preserve life whenever possible, even among those who have acted unforgivably to the contrary. Beyond arguments of cost savings and critiques of a biased justice system, a civilized society must stand against institutionalized brutality and murder." Although we would support this even if it increased spending, it’s worth noting the Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates annual savings of $150 million in saved state and county court costs. 

Prop 66: No

Keep Death Penalty and Speed up Appeals
Supporting the death penalty largely comes down to a question of personal ethics. However, with the current lack of justice in our most basic law enforcement, the death penalty should be put under extreme scrutiny. This proposes to both keep the death penalty and reduce the quality of the appeals process, increasing the risk of executing an innocent person.


JK, there’s no Prop WTF.
But you made it all the way through. You’re a champ!