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Politics & Policy

Prop. B, sanitation and streets do-over, is a winner

Block by Block Employee power-washes the sidewalk in front of La Cocina Marketplace on July 10, 2021.

Voters said yes to a measure that will abolish a new city department they had approved just two years before. Proposition B, a measure that repeals the earlier Proposition B, appears to have 74% of the vote in the Department of Election’s first count of the evening. 

The election result will abolish the newly formed Department of Sanitation and Streets, sending the responsibility to keep the city’s streets clean back to the Department of Public Works. And in a wide-ranging general election that offered voters choices on housing, parks and a range of other issues, this one was more a literal do-over. 

“Sounds like voters are listening to the experts who warned us about the costs of duplicative services,” Supervisor Aaron Peskin, primary sponsor of Prop. B, told The Standard. “I’m glad they made the right choice.”

Cooked up in the wake of the city’s corruption probe, the 2020 Prop. B promised to create an oversight commission for the Public Works Department while spinning off much of its street-cleaning responsibilities into a new Department of Sanitation and Streets, which would also have its own oversight commission. Both agencies would also be subjected to yearly audits. 

Championed by then-Supervisor Matt Haney amid an unfolding scandal around former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, the earlier Prop. B was passed by voters in 2020 with a whopping 61% of the vote. 

Mohammed Nuru, former director of SF Public Works, after his sentencing in Federal court on Aug. 25, 2022, in San Francisco. | Paul Kuroda for The Standard

But just two years later, much of City Hall coalesced behind Peskin, who amplified calls from interim Public Works management to throttle the process back. 

At an April 27 Board of Supervisors hearing, members heard a litany of concerns around the creation of a new sanitation department, not least an extra $6 million per year in administrative costs that, according to agency staff, “would not result in cleaner streets.”  

Peskin wasted no time in writing a new measure to undo the old one: “Occasionally when we get something wrong on the ballot, we have to go back,” Peskin said as supervisors voted 8-3 in July to send the do-over to voters.

The Laborers led a campaign, joined by some other labor groups, to save the sanitation department and raised a war chest of not quite $165,000. 

Meanwhile the campaign in favor of Prop. B garnered over $172,000 of campaign donations, almost exclusively from developers. 

The new measure rolls the stillborn Department of Sanitation and Streets back into Public Works, but promises to keep both oversight commissions. 

But Theresa Foglio, a business agent for Laborers Local 261—which represents frontline workers at Public Works—told The Standard there’s a catch. 

“The Sanitation and Streets Commission is gutted,” Foglio said. “No authority anymore [...] Then the big one that really gets to us is the removal of the audit.”