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Politics & Policy

November ballot grows as supervisors send sanitation, election plans to voters

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Dean Preston, right, and Connie Chang, left, listens at a meeting at City Hall on May 2, 2022 in San Francisco, Calif. | Camille Cohen

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a number of possible city charter amendments, sending contentious questions about the sanitation department and oversight of homelessness programs to voters for the November 8 election.

The moves help set the stage for what promises to be a fall power struggle over numerous ballot measures between the board’s progressive majority and the more moderate Mayor London Breed and her allies. The Board of Supervisors and the mayor can both propose amendments to the charter—which governs numerous aspects of how the city operates and can only be changed by voters—and any citizen or interest group can also get charter amendments on the ballot by gathering enough signatures.

The Board approved five proposed charter amendments on Tuesday, and may approve additional measures next week. That could include a controversial affordable housing measure introduced by Supervisor Connie Chan, which was designed to compete with a Breed-backed housing proposal that would spur market-rate development along with affordable housing.

Here’s a quick rundown on what was approved Tuesday.

U-Turn on Sanitation

Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan want to abolish the brand-new Department of Sanitation and Streets on the grounds that it’s a waste of money.

Approved by an 8-3 vote, the amendment would reverse a ballot proposition passed just two years ago and return street cleaning tasks to the Department of Public Works.

The unusual effort to overturn Proposition B, the 2020 measure that spun off part of Public Works’ operations into a new sanitation department, is being spearheaded by Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who argues it won’t help keep the streets clean. Public Works said last year that creation of the new Sanitation department would cost $7.5 million the first year along with $6 million in the following two years, largely in administrative costs.

“Occasionally when we get something wrong on the ballot, we have to go back to the ballot,” Peskin said.

Former supervisor and current Assemblymember Matt Haney, the champion of Prop B, was not happy about the idea of undoing his work.

Consolidating Elections

The board voted 7-4 to approve a charter amendment that would consolidate city elections for mayor, sheriff, district attorney, city attorney and treasurer to coincide with presidential elections.

Proponents of the measure, which was introduced by Supervisor Dean Preston, say that it will increase voter turnout in local elections, a view shared by state government officials and by researchers.

But Mayor London Breed is not on board. She criticized the measure during a CBS interview, saying that the plan was crafted without adequate public input. The whisper around City Hall, though, is that Breed’s opposition has more to do with how the measure might interfere with any future plans to run for higher office.

A 2015 state law in fact requires California cities to align municipal elections with statewide elections if there are large disparities in voter turnout, but an appeals court judge ruled that charter cities like San Francisco are exempt from the law. Regardless, proponents say this measure is done in the spirit of the law.

“In high turnout presidential cycles we see more low-income communities, more communities of color, younger folks participating,” said Kyle Smeallie, a legislative aide for Preston.

Homelessness Oversight

A proposed ballot measure to create a Homelessness Oversight Commission, intended to help oversee the city’s homeless services, passed unanimously. Sponsored by Supervisor Ahsha Safai, the initiative follows findings by a Civil Grand Jury, which determined that the homelessness department lacked reliable oversight despite being the eighth-largest city department.

Supervisors had sparred over details of the commission, which is comprised of seven seats, but ultimately voted to split the seats between the mayor and supervisors. The Board of Supervisors will appoint three commission seats, while the mayor will appoint four seats with board confirmation. The measure will also centralize oversight of homelessness: Existing homelessness-related commissions, which include the Shelter Monitoring Committee, the Local Homeless Coordinating Board and the Our City Our Home Oversight Committee, are required to advise the new commission. The new commission will also appoint members of the Local Homelessness Coordinating Board.

But There’s More…

Some relatively uncontroversial proposals also sailed through with unanimous board support: One was a charter amendment that would allow local government employees who retired before 1996 to receive cost-of-living adjustments for their pensions—at an estimated cost of $15 million annually for five years—even if the retirement system is not fully funded. Another was a charter amendment that extends an existing property tax levy to fund local public libraries for the next 25 years.

Others were met with more hesitancy: In a unanimous vote, the supervisors delayed voting on an affordable housing measure that’s been met with sharp pushback from pro-housing groups. If approved, Chan’s amendment would directly compete with Mayor London Breed-backed Affordable Homes Now.

Another proposed charter amendment, which would strip pension benefits for city employees found to have committed certain crimes such as embezzlement, was continued. Peskin, who co-sponsored the proposal, said at a July 11 committee meeting that it had stalled in negotiations with the city’s employee unions and that the ballot measure “either will or won’t come together.”

The supervisors also delayed voting on a proposal by Peskin to add rent control to certain new housing developments, along with another to establish a “student success fund.” Both will be heard again at next week’s meeting on July 26.

Other local measures that will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot include a proposal to tax empty apartment units, the result of a signature-gathering effort led by a group of democratic socialists. Also on deck are three competing proposals related to car access on Golden Gate Park’s JFK Drive: One from Breed, another by a group of supervisors and a third from a socialite tied to the de Young Museum. Supervisors in even-numbered districts are also up for re-election.