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Free City College measure back on track for November

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(Ekevara Kitpowsong/ 2016 Special to S.F. Examiner)

After nearly hitting a roadblock last week, Supervisor Jane Kim’s proposed ballot measure funding the Free City program advanced on Monday to the Board of Supervisors for a vote.

However Kim herself may no longer be in office to vote to place it on the ballot as she had initially hoped.

If the proposal ultimately ends up on the November ballot, voters will decide whether to require The City to subsidize the cost of tuition at City College of San Francisco as well as stipends for expenses like books and transportation for enrolled students.

The program is currently a pilot that is set to expire next year.

Kim’s proposed city charter amendment would ensure subsidized tuition at City College continues for at least a decade, at a cost of $15 million in the first year.

While the deadline to place the measure on the ballot isn’t until next year, Kim, who led the Free City College effort, wanted the board to vote to place it on the ballot before she leaves office.

The Board of Supervisors Rules Committee had voted last week to block the measure, only to hours later reverse its decision and vote to hold a hearing on it Monday. At Monday’s hearing, the committee voted to send it to the full board.

The measure is expected to undergo amendments at the full board Tuesday, but since it’s a charter amendment it has to sit for one week after such changes. That means the board could not vote to place it on the ballot at its last scheduled meeting of the year on Dec. 11 — Kim’s last board meeting before being termed out of office.

Kim is asking for a special board meeting on Dec. 18, but Board of Supervisors President Malia Cohen told the San Francisco Examiner Monday she does not intend to schedule one. The board president or six board members can schedule the meeting.

“The next board will have the privilege” of voting to place it on the ballot, Cohen said.

Like Kim, Cohen is termed out of office. Their successors will join the board on Jan. 8, after prevailing in last month’s election.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai, who initially voted against the measure last week, said Monday that “I know there was a little bit of controversy.”

“I’ve had some good conversations with folks from the Free City College coalition,” Safai said.

Safai later told the Examiner he would support holding the special meeting.

Safai had expressed concerns about the amount of the set-aside last week when he first voted against the measure, but walked back those concerns on Monday.

He noted that Free City College was “absolutely associated” with Proposition W, a tax on the sale of properties of $5 million or more that Kim placed on the ballot in 2016 to fund Free City College. The City has a policy to use money from that tax for street trees and the Free City College program, but it is not a voter mandate.

The City Controller’s Office said Prop. W brought in $30.3 million in revenue last fiscal year.

Kim’s ballot measure would cost $15 million starting in fiscal year 2020-2021 and, according to analysis by the City Controller’s Office, it assumes 10,200 students would enroll in the program for both the fall and spring semesters.

Tuition fees in each of those semesters would total $2.1 million while stipends — $500 for full time students and $250 for part-time students — would total $3.7 million.

The summer semester cost estimate assumes a student enrollment of 4,080 with tuition fees totalling $800,000 and stipends $1.5 million

Some board members on Monday remained undecided about placing the measure on the ballot.

“I do have some questions around the set-asides and some of the funding,” Supervisor Catherine Stefani said. “I have unanswered questions.”

There also remains a debate about how long the set-aside should last. Kim initially proposed a 10-year term, but Supervisor Norman Yee later amended the proposal to make it last 20 years.

Conny Ford, vice president of the San Francisco Labor Council, who supports the charter amendment, said that the set-aside “is the third smallest in the city and the length of our set-aside of 10 years is the shortest in the city.”

“We would like to continue those discussions about the length of this charter amendment for the next 24 hours and hopefully come to an agreement to expand it,” Ford said.

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