From recall reform and reigning in Recology to extended sick leave, San Francisco voters will be asked to weigh in on seven ballot measures along with a crowded list of candidates for the June 7 primary election. The election continues the city’s long affair with initiatives, but it also represents a paring down of last year’s longer list, reflecting policy struggles between Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors.
In 2021, six charter amendments were up for consideration. Deliberations since then eliminated a number from consideration. This included a plan to reorganize commissioner appointments and remove some other administrative powers from the mayor from Supervisor Connie Chan. It also included items supported by Mayor Breed, such a measure to expedite development of affordable housing, and another to leverage better governance over the Board of Education. By mid-February, two measures were left: one sponsored primarily by Supervisor Aaron Peskin addressing recalls, and another from Supervisor Myrna Melgar reforming the Building Inspection Commission.
Peskin’s measure targets progressive concerns with local recalls—namely that the mayor appoints any replacement for recalled positions, such as will happen with three School Board members recalled in February. It reduces the mayor’s appointee to a caretaker, preventing them from running in a subsequent election. It also prevents anyone from filing a petition unless the subject has been in office for over a year and the regular election for that office is more than a year away.
Originally, the measure would have given replacement power to the Board of Supervisors, but this was changed as a result of negotiations with the Breed administration. Even with changes, not all supervisors were supportive. Supervisors Myrna Melgar, Ahsha Safai, Rafael Mandelman and Catherine Stefani all opposed the measure.
Melgar’s measure would reorganize appointments for Department of Building Inspection commissioners by eliminating industry-designated seats, which critics allege has led to regulatory capture of the commission by permit expediters. The commission has come under increasing scrutiny since former president and expediter Rodrigo Santos was indicted on federal bank fraud charges in 2020.
Initiative ordinances, as opposed to charter amendments, only require four supervisors’ support to go on the ballot. Four ideas eventually made it, including more measures addressing recent scandals. One fight avoided for now is over police surveillance policy, as both Mayor Breed and the board have withdrawn competing measures.
One measure sponsored by Mayor Breed and the supervisors targets the permitting process for refuse collection, transferring oversight from the Department of Public Works to the Controller’s Office.
At the March 1 supervisors meeting, Peskin noted that the measure, if passed, would represent “the first major change to the ordinance in exactly 90 years.” The idea was floated in the wake of trash contractor Recology’s recent over-billing scandal, which exposed the rate-setting process as “fundamentally broken.” Peskin also expressed confidence that public awareness of the scandal would prevent this measure, unlike a number of attempts to reform refuse contracting put on the ballot in past years, from being “buried by Recology money.”
A more aggressive option sponsored by Peskin and some other supervisors to open up the process to competitive bidding was tabled later in the session.
Also dealing with the Recology and DPW scandals is yet another measure that would ban the solicitation of donations made to nonprofits at the behest of an elected or appointed official. It expands the ban to contractors lobbying supervisors and requires amendments to be approved by the Ethics Commission and a supermajority of supervisors.
One of the first ordinances announced for the June ballot was Supervisor Stefani’s measure to establish an Office of Victim and Witnesses’ Rights, which would coordinate support services to crime victims. In a recent fundraising email for the measure, Stefani notes that victims currently have to negotiate with several departments to get help. She described the process as “complicated and taxing”' and “especially concerning in cases of domestic violence when cases are not filed against abusers.” This measure will likely be caught up in the politics of another policy question on the June ballot above and beyond these measures: whether to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
The last ordinance—sponsored by Supervisor Gordon Mar—creates a benefit of two weeks paid leave for workers who become ill, have to quarantine, or care for a family member due to a declared public health or air quality emergency. Originally enacted as an emergency law during the Covid pandemic, it requires a public vote to make the ordinance permanent. Nonprofits and businesses with fewer than 100 employees would be exempt.
Also approved by supervisors is a general obligation bond issue to fund Muni equipment repairs and upgrades, improve transit access, modernize the subway control system, and fund street safety initiatives such as speed reduction and traffic calming. The bond also would help redesign streets and sidewalks, and upgrade traffic signals. This measure will require ⅔ approval from voters.
Mike Ege can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org