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Politics & Policy

SF’s November ballot takes shape with 15 local propositions

Illustration by Lu Chen

UPDATE: Proposition K, the "Amazon Tax" measure, was removed from the ballot by court order on Sept. 2.

Having voted on 11 propositions this year, including two fiercely contested recalls, voters face a gauntlet of 15 more this November. This Nov. 8 is what you might call the boss-level election in a year already dominated by them. 

Fifteen may sound like a lot, but it’s par for the course in San Francisco: There were 12 local propositions on the ballot in November 2020, and 25 in November 2016. San Franciscans have voted on 111 local propositions over the last decade, while Los Angeles voted on 33, according to Ballotpedia. 

Some are simple housekeeping issues, but several deal with seemingly intractable issues in the city’s politics including housing and homelessness. And then there’s JFK Drive, which by itself accounts for a whopping three ballot measures. Voters will also decide on races for district attorney, Board of Supervisors, Board of Education and others. 

Here’s a look at some of the key local propositions in November, and who’s behind them.

Housing Showdown

Mayor London Breed speaks at the Affordable Homes Now Rally in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco on Thursday, June 16, 2022. | Eloïse Kelsey for The Standard

There are three housing-related ballot measures coming up in November, including two streamlining proposals and one tax. 

Proposition D, or the “Affordable Homes Now” measure, expedites affordable housing projects. That includes some market-rate projects with more than the required minimum of subsidized units and housing for teachers.  Put on the ballot by a coalition of pro-housing groups like YIMBY Action and the Housing Action Coalition, it’s also supported by Mayor London Breed

Prop D also comes out the gate well-funded, with almost $1.1 million in contributions from wealthy tech and venture capital donors, like Twilio founder John Wolthius, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman and Spectrum Equity partner Ben Spero. 

It’s directly in competition with Proposition E, also known as the Affordable Housing Production Act, which was brought to life by members of the Board of Supervisors, including sponsor Supervisor Connie Chan. Prop E aims to do many things that Prop D does, but adds many more restrictions. Its opponents claim that it makes projects financially infeasible. 

The fate of Proposition E may be decided in court: The Housing Action Coalition has sued the city to block the measure, dubbing it a “poison pill” designed to derail passage of Prop D rather than build housing. 

Prop E’s campaign committee, Homes for Families and Workers, is sponsored by the San Francisco Labor Council, an umbrella group of the city’s unions. The committee has yet to report contributions, but Prop E will surely benefit from the Labor Council’s extensive campaign infrastructure. 

Last on the housing docket is Proposition M, which would impose a tax on some apartments that have been vacant for more than six months. The measure’s campaign committee, Activate Housing, has reported over $140,000 in contributions, including $20,000 from principal supporter Supervisor Dean Preston.

JFK Drive, Continued 

Bikers ride through John F. Kennedy Drive in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2021. | Ekevara Kitpowsong for The Standard

If you thought the controversy over banning cars from the Great Highway and JFK Drive was over, think again. This November, voters will be confronted with three proposals dealing with the stretch of road in Golden Gate Park. 

Proposition I would return full-time traffic to the Great Highway and move its management from the Recreation and Parks Department to the Department of Public Works. It would also repeal the ordinance establishing car-free portions of JFK Drive near the Music Concourse and museums. 

Prop I’s committee, Access for All, includes the Fine Arts Museums, who see the current situation as an existential threat. They’ve reported more than $250,000 in contributions, including $200,000 from former Fine Arts Museums chair Dede Wilsey. At the other end of things, the Labor Council is also supporting the measure. 

Predictably, there’s also a committee against Prop I. Save JFK Promenade is chaired by Housing Action Coalition honcho Todd David, reporting $50,000 in contributions so far, mostly from Zak Rosen, co-founder of Pantheon Systems. 

Also on the ballot are Proposition J, which would repeal and reauthorize car-free JFK as passed by the Board of Supervisors, and Proposition N from Mayor Breed, which revises the governance of the underground garage in the park, allowing for it to be converted to public parking. 

Homelessness and Streets

Jesse Beasley (left) talks to her neighbors and visitors to her tent encampment outside the San Francisco Ferry Building on the morning of Friday, June 3, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Proposition C would create a Homelessness Oversight Commission, appointed by a combination of the mayor and Board of Supervisors, that oversees the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. Its committee, Homelessness Accountability Now, has yet to report any contributions. 

Proposition B is a do-over, or perhaps an “undo:” it would reverse another measure passed in 2020, also called Prop B, that created the Department of Sanitation and Streets. It would roll back the new department into the Department of Public Works. Supervisor Aaron Peskin, sponsor of the new Prop B, noted “buyers’ remorse” over the new agency when board hearings revealed high startup costs. The old Prop B’s sponsor, former supervisor and now Assemblymember Matt Haney, predictably opposes the rollback of his idea.

Taxes, Taxes, Taxes

There are also new and renewed taxes on the ballot. The most controversial of those taxes is now in a limbo of sorts: Supporters suspended their campaign, but it'll still appear on the ballot.

That proposal is Proposition K, dubbed the “Amazon Tax.” As described in campaign literature, it would tax most e-commerce within the city, with most revenue funding basic income programs. 

But opponents of Proposition K, including Small Business Commission President Sharky Laguana, spoke up early and questioned whether the “Amazon Tax” is a case of false advertising. Laguana wrote that the tax may not even apply to Amazon, and that it would affect hundreds of small businesses. He and Entertainment Commission President Ben Bleiman circulated a petition asking TODCO to withdraw the measure. 

As a result, TODCO announced that it will suspend the campaign for Proposition K, due to the concerns raised in Laguana and Bleiman’s petition. That said, it remains on the ballot unless there is a court order to remove it, according to the Department of Elections. 

Other tax measures include Proposition O, an additional parcel tax to fund City College, and renewal of the existing transportation projects tax, Proposition L.