Exploding signature gathering costs threaten SF homeless, housing ballot measures

Okay folks, this is weird: Too much local democracy is threatening local democracy.

Let me explain.

A surge in local Bay Area ballot measures is driving up the price for paid signature gatherers (the gig-economy workers who are paid by the signature), and those price hikes are now causing activists to put the kibosh on San Francisco ballot measures.

That price hike was one among a few reasons our local Berniecrats decided to press pause on their Community Housing Act, they told me, and now may also threaten a ballot measure aimed at housing thousands of San Franciscans who are homeless.

That November ballot measure, the Homelessness Gross Receipts Tax Ordinance, would tax San Francisco businesses grossing over $50 million to pay for the “Our City, Our Home” fund, which would house at least 4,000 homeless people and expand shelter beds by 1,000, fund legal assistance and rent subsidies to help renters, and fund “intensive mental health and substance abuse services” to help get impaired individuals off the streets.

Yet the “Our City, Our Home” ballot measure is in trouble.

Signature gatherers usually can expect to make two dollars per signature, to start, to as much as $10 a signature on some efforts in The City. Yet an effort to repeal Mountain View’s rent control right now is paying as much as $40 per signature. Other efforts in the East Bay are paying through the roof too. So now, signature gathers are flocking out of The City to those higher-paying gigs.

Let me be clear — that pay is absolutely bonkers.

“It’s definitely been a struggle,” said Sam Lew, an organizer with the Coalition on Homelessness, a proponent of the measure, especially “on a grassroots budget.”

Tyler Endsley, owner of state signature gathering group Direct Democracy Unlimited, said the problem is even more complicated than it seems on the surface.

When there are multiple local ballot measures like 2016’s alphabet-soup of initiatives, signature-gatherers can “stack” signature efforts to make more money, he said. Because “Our City, Our Home” is one of the few measures awaiting signatures on San Francisco’s November ballot, its signature gatherers are facing a less lucrative proposition.

Endsley emphasized his company believes in democracy, but ultimately the contractors make their own decisions to earn a living. “I think a lot of us were surprised” by the ballot initiative climate, Endsley said. The Mountain View ballot measure in particular, he added, is “the highest paying petition on a municipal issue I’ve ever heard of.”

So what can people do to help?

Luckily, the local Democratic Socialists of America group has stepped up to volunteer for gathering signatures. But they, and the Coalition on Homelessness, need more boots on the ground. Reach out to the DSA at dsasf.org to help, and to the Coalition at ourcityourhomesf.org/volunteer to hit the pavement with them. A big, final push for signatures will take place Saturday, Lew told me — and they’re only 2,000 John Hancocks shy of their goal.

If the initiative passes, more than 1,000 of San Francisco’s homeless could be housed in the first year alone, Lew noted.

“It is all hands on deck,” she said. “With people power on our side, we can fight, and still win.”

Samantha Lew, left, with the Coalition on Homelessness gives a quick lesson on signature gathering to volunteer Amy Dundon at the SF Democratic Socialists of America headquarters on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

* * *

Easy come, easy go, in the Sunset at least. Li Lovett, a City College of San Francisco academic counselor, has bowed out of the November race to represent the Sunset District on the Board of Supervisors. “There were some personal reasons,” she said, but also added she is politically aligned with Gordon Mar, the Jobs with Justice head with deep labor roots who has entered the race. Lovett also wanted to make more time for her ten-year-old son and her husband, she said.

“We are aligned with bringing the Sunset to City Hall, and responding to the needs of long-time residents,” Lovett told me Tuesday. She noted that the energy from Supervisor Jane Kim’s mayoral run has made its way to Mar’s campaign, a rare chance for a progressive-friendly candidate to win a District 4 seat, which could change the political makeup of the Board of Supervisors.

“I really feel like wow, there’s so much energy,” she said. “This is our movement.”

* * *

Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we? Y’all remember when Patriot Prayer came to town, and one segment of San Francisco said “Give them a chance!” while another segment of San Francisco protesters chased them all the way to Pacifica?

Yeah, I’m going to say the protesters had it right. Patriot Prayer just made an appearance on Alex Jones’ completely insane conspiracy-theory laden internet show, Info Wars. That alone is reason enough to roll your eyes at Joey Gibson, head of Patriot Prayer — and to give him far less credit the next time he’s in good ol’ Ess Eff.

The 40 minute show is difficult to watch, and replete with Gibson’s accusations that antifa protesters attack families and celebrate communism as a way to erode American values, the usual wacky-tobaccy stuff. “They seem to really hate the message of God,” Gibson told Jones.

Jones for his part continued to push his absolutely nutty “prediction” that “antifa and Globalists” would launch an attack on the 4th of July.

(At this point I’d like to invite you, reader presumably living in liberal San Francisco, to look out your window and tell me if there was a progressive-antifa-uber-liberal attack bombing the pavement outside. No? Really? OK — Jones is still nuts.)

“Behind the scenes, I can’t get to it on air, they have launched attacks on me and my family it’s like the Twilight zone,” Jones told Gibson. “It’s the Democratic party and Soros.”

Hoo boy. There are real, honest-to-goodness conservatives with varied views on taxes, healthcare and more that are worthy of respect by Democratic-leaning opponents. Hell, I’ve met wonderfully stand-up folks in our own local Republican party. But these guys? Watch it with popcorn and play kooky-conservative Bingo.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez
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