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Politics & Policy

Voters could remake San Francisco City Hall in 2024. Here’s how

A man wearing sunglasses prepares to insert his ballot into a drop box on a sunny San Francisco street.
Earnest Sanders deposits his ballot at an official ballot drop box outside City College of San Francisco’s Chinatown-North Beach Campus on June 7, 2022. | Camille Cohen/The Standard

Next year will be a critical election cycle—not only for the nation, but also for San Francisco. 

In 2024, voters will have a chance to weigh in on some of the city’s most contentious issues, such as the role of police and strategies to combat drug misuse. San Franciscans could also elect a new mayor and tilt the balance of power at City Hall, decisions that could have long-lasting consequences for the city.  

Voters will be filling out ballots in both March and November. The March ballot will feature the national presidential primary, one state ballot initiative and a host of local ballot initiatives, as well as races for local political party committees and San Francisco Superior Court judgeships. In November, voters will choose a president and many state offices, as well as a mayor and new members of the Board of Supervisors. 

March Ballot Measures: A Referendum on Breed?

San Francisco Mayor London Breed, with a serious expression, looks towards the sky at an event at United Nations Plaza on Wednesday, November 8, 2023. Breed is the sponsor of multiple ballot measures for the March 2024 election.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed is the sponsor of multiple ballot measures for the March 2024 election. | Source: Justin Katigbak/The Standard

At least two of the seven local ballot measures in the March election, if passed, could be viewed as a mandate for Mayor London Breed’s approach to the drug crisis and public safety.  

Proposition E would give police a freer hand in using surveillance technology, pursuits of suspects and other areas. It would also compel the Police Commission to seek more public input when making new police rules. Proposition F would tie cash welfare benefits to drug screening—and, if necessary, treatment—for some recipients. 

Both measures are a reflection of Breed’s oppositional relationship with the city’s left-leaning progressives, who have nominal control over the Board of Supervisors and the Police Commission. They also give Breed, who faces a steep road to reelection in November, a chance to align herself with public opinion. A recent poll of 500 likely voters by EMC Research showed 66% support for the drug-screening policy, which was condemned outright by supervisors when Breed presented the plan in September.

Proposition G is a nonbinding statement urging the San Francisco Unified School District to return algebra classes to middle school. The measure could help bring out education-minded voters who drove the recalls of three members of the Board of Education in 2022. That could have repercussions up and down the ballot. 

A Battle for Control of the Local Democratic Party

A group of moderate Democrats, holding signs, smile against a brick wall at a launch party for a moderate slate.
Nancy Tung and entrepreneur Michael Lai, pictured in the foreground at a campaign event, are running for Democratic County Central Committee as part of the Democrats for Change slate. | Source: Mike Ege for The Standard

Another body that condemned Breed’s drug screening plan was the Democratic County Central Committee, which governs the local Democratic Party. 

The committee, which is currently dominated by progressive-leaning members, is no stranger to election power struggles. But in 2024, candidates from opposing slates will run high-profile outreach campaigns to get otherwise disinterested Democratic voters to notice the down-ballot, inside-baseball contest. Twenty-four candidates are running on a moderate “reform” slate; progressives have also fielded a slate of 24 candidates.

The goal is to secure a majority of committee seats.  The committee’s most sought-after power is the ability to make endorsements that carry the official San Francisco Democratic Party stamp of approval. 

Political insiders believe the official Democratic Party endorsement can swing races. So with the Mayor’s Office and six Board of Supervisors seats up for grabs in November, it’s no wonder the DCCC race is getting extra attention.  

Stirrings of change have also captured San Francisco’s usually sleepy Republican party, where a reform slate is also in the running

November Elections: The Balance of Power at City Hall

Supervisors Connie Chan and Dean Preston listen during a hearing at City Hall in San Francisco.
Progessive Supervisors Connie Chan, left, and Dean Preston, right, face reelection next November. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy/ The Standard

In November, San Francisco’s elections for mayor, district attorney, sheriff, city attorney and treasurer will coincide with a presidential election, ensuring a high turnout in these local contests. That’s by design, as voters chose to consolidate those elections last year. The November election will also include contests for the odd-numbered seats on the Board of Supervisors.

Breed is at risk of losing her reelection bid, with multiple polls showing low approval of the mayor’s performance. But the Board of Supervisors also has poor numbers. Recent polls show support for the tough-on-crime policies Breed endorses, but the big question is whether the public believes she can effectively implement them. 

Her two main opponents—Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and philanthropist Daniel Lurie— have lower name recognition, but others could still enter the race. Board President Aaron Peskin said supporters have urged him to run, and there’s also a movement to draft former supervisor and interim Mayor Mark Farrell.  

Six of 11 seats on the Board of Supervisors are also up for grabs in November. Supervisors Peskin, Safaí and Hillary Ronen are termed out, so their seats are open. 

Supervisor Connie Chan, a progressive and frequent foe of Breed’s, is facing a challenge from Marjan Philhour. With concerns over crime running high, Chan is viewed as vulnerable; last year’s redistricting may have brought more moderate voters into her district as well.

Supervisor Dean Preston, who’s arguably the leading voice of board progressives, is also up for reelection and a prime target of moderate political groups like GrowSF. The movement to unseat Preston, a Democratic Socialist, has even gained the notice of Elon Musk.  But that kind of attention may only serve to galvanize Preston’s base. 

Last year’s elections gave moderates like Supervisors Joel Engardio and Matt Dorsey a larger foothold on the board. If more moderates win in November, the foothold could become a majority. And if Breed survives her reelection battle, it could mean less gridlock at City Hall.

“In a word, the 2024 elections will be consequential. The voters are frustrated by the lack of progress by the Board of Supervisors in solving the City’s most pressing problems,” Todd David, director of the centrist advocacy group Abundant SF which is supporting the moderate DCCC slate in March, told The Standard in a text. “The Board of Supervisors have been obstructionists for far too long and I believe we are going to experience a sea change in the 2024 elections.”

Progressives appear equally sanguine about their prospects. 

“Personally I’m looking forward to the cage match between billionaire-funded hyperbole versus grassroots door-to-door campaigning. My money is on the good guys,” Jen Snyder, a former aide to Preston and co-founder of Red Bridge Strategies, which is managing supervisorial campaigns for Preston and Jackie Fielder, told The Standard.  

Jim Ross of Telegraph PR, who manages progressive campaigns throughout the region, added “Everything old will be new again,” noting some moderate supervisor candidates like Philhour and Danny Sauter are making repeat runs. “They’ll be forced to try and define Mayor Breed’s conservative agenda as a change.”

November Ballot Measures: How To Run The City

Steam rises from the bottom of the photo with San Francisco's City Hall in the background
Several measures that might appear on November's ballot could change how San Francisco City Hall is run. | Source: RJ Mickelson/The Standard

At least three ballot measures in the works for the November election could shake up how San Francisco is run by altering city governance structures. 

The most controversial of these may be the measure sponsored by former state Sen. and Judge Quentin Kopp. That measure would open voting for supervisors to all voters, regardless of their district. Currently, only voters who reside in a particular district can vote for their district supervisor. 

The measure reflects dissatisfaction in some quarters, especially among moderates, with the political consequences of district elections. 
Other measures could hand more decision-making authority to the Mayor’s Office. One, from Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, would give the mayor more control over hiring and firing agency heads and set up a plan for trimming the bewildering number of commissions at City Hall. The moderate group TogetherSF also announced ballot measures with some of the same goals. One dealing with commissions went back to the drawing board Dec. 18 after its language was determined to be flawed. The group plans to resubmit the measure.