Laws of the Land: Digging deep into the mayoral candidates’ legislative histories

San Francisco, it’s time to do some homework on this year’s mayoral race.

Toss those flimflam-filled political mailers. Ignore the TV ads. This is the real deal: the mayoral candidates by the numbers.

Herein, you’ll find a rundown of the city laws principally authored by supervisors Jane Kim and London Breed and former Supervisor Mark Leno.

Because each of the leading mayoral candidates either is or was a city lawmaker, this is one crucial metric of their performance: In their time in local office, how many laws did they author, what problems did they address and how much impact did they have? While the last question is a bit elusive, my hope is to spell out their legislative records so you can make up your own mind.

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“Campaign rhetoric is designed and published by campaign specialists and has a particular objective of glorifying their candidate and diminishing their opponent,” former Mayor Art Agnos told me. “You have to take it with a grain of salt.”

Instead, Agnos said, while certainly not the sole metric of success, a look at the candidates’ legislative records “offers an insight into their interests and commitment to those issues.”

The City’s online legislative database, Legistar, offers spreadsheets of each supervisor’s lawmaking history. To start, here are the raw numbers: In four years as a member of the Board of Supervisors, Leno authored 90 ordinances (city parlance for legislation enacting a law); in eight years, Kim authored 96; and in six years, Breed authored 50. Though Leno and Kim authored a similar number of ordinances, Leno did so in half the time.

Supervisors also author “resolutions,” some of which are policy statements (like condemning the Iraq War, for instance) or commendations, while others serve to ratify contract agreements. Leno, known for offering wide praise to businesses and constituents, authored a whopping 588 resolutions in his time on the board, more than 240 of which were commendations. Kim authored 248 resolutions, and Breed authored 112.

When I relayed Leno’s number of commendations to former Mayor Willie Brown, a Breed supporter, he laughed — hard.

“You know what that costs The City?” he asked, still laughing. “Apparently, someone’s goal is to have their personal photograph on everybody’s wall.”

Agnos, who has endorsed Leno, said the progressive served The City well.

“He was twice as productive in every job he’s ever had,” Agnos said of Leno. Breed’s lower number of laws passed, he said, was striking considering she is “the most powerful member of the Board of Supervisors. … She had enough votes to pass anything she wanted.”

Kim, by contrast, passed more laws despite being in the minority progressive faction, where winning a crucial swing vote from an opponent was far tougher, according to Agnos.

IN MY BACKYARD
By a wide margin, Breed’s focus as a lawmaker has been on the neighborhoods she represents — principally, the Fillmore but also the Haight.

While Kim authored a comparable number of ordinances chiefly targeting the neighborhoods she represents (around 28 to Breed’s 18), including the Tenderloin and South of Market, the proportion of neighborhood-focused legislation was smaller, since Kim authored more laws period.

Breed’s and Kim’s neighborhood-focused laws offer many parallels: Breed, for instance, authored an ordinance allowing pinball arcades to flourish prompted by an arcade in the Haight, while Kim authored an ordinance allowing bowling alleys in part of the South of Market neighborhood.

Leno’s legislative career began under a voting system in which supervisors were elected citywide, not by district voters. Subsequently, he concerned himself with big ideas, authoring laws extending the rights of domestic partnerships — the primary legal relationship status gay couples could attain at the time — and an ordinance creating the Small Business Commission to help mom-and-pop shops across The City.

After Leno’s first year on the board, however, a new law creating district elections kicked in, and he was elected to represent District 8. Leno started on a string of laws focusing on the Castro and Noe Valley, creating “special use” districts to bring more resources to neighborhood businesses and modifying commercial zoning to spur new businesses. The special use district designation encourages specific types of businesses, like the Calle 24 Latino Cultural Corridor in The Mission, or architectural designs, as seen in Japantown.

Breed and Kim both also authored special use zoning designations throughout their districts.

The candidates have also crafted laws with citywide impact.

SEE RELATED: YIMBY-backed Breed intervened to remove bikeshare station on her own block

In addition to his domestic partnership laws, Leno also authored legislation creating San Francisco’s first medical marijuana identification cards and increased transparency and reporting requirements at the Planning Commission, which gave San Franciscans more say in nearby developments.

In 2001, Leno crafted The City’s first inclusionary housing law, requiring developers constructing more than 10 dwelling units to include a certain percentage of affordable housing for low-income earners.

Right after her election in 2010, Kim authored an ordinance to consider transferring some San Francisco Police Department functions to the Sheriff’s Department. In 2012, Kim authored legislation restricting police from sharing some citizen intelligence with the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force in a bid to protect San Franciscans from racial profiling by the federal government. Three years ago, she authored a suite of tenant protections, called “Tenant Protections 2.0,” to stop landlords from evicting tenants for “nuisances,” like simply for hanging laundry outside their windows.

Two years ago, amid Kim’s state Senate campaign, she authored resolutions to secure funding for her Free City proposal in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office, providing free community college for all San Franciscans.

Breed’s citywide legislation includes her 2016 law banning the sale of Styrofoam in San Francisco and a recent push this month to transfer conservatorships of the mentally ill, who are often homeless, to the City Attorney’s Office.

Kim’s and Breed’s farthest-reaching housing legislation, perhaps, were their competing efforts in 2017 to change the mix of affordable housing in San Francisco: Breed wanted some affordable housing set aside for those with lower incomes to go to those with moderate incomes; Kim wanted to increase the amount of affordable housing required to be built by developers. The board eventually reached a compromise that incorporated elements of both proposals.

Leno and Kim authored three and five ballot initiatives, respectively, to change the City Charter. In 2014, Kim sought creation of a rainy-day fund specifically for schools and to make permanent a multimillion-dollar Public Education Enrichment Fund. Leno expanded city domestic partner benefits, aiding the LGBT community. In her supervisorial career, Breed has yet to author any charter amendments.

Agnos was critical of Breed’s lack of citywide legislation.

“Being mayor is not a district supervisor kind of job, it’s a citywide job,” he said. “One would suspect the board president, which has a citywide function, would recognize some of those citywide issues in order to address them. But she didn’t.”

Brown critiqued Leno and Kim for doing too much.

In his time in office, Brown said, “I didn’t even think we needed local government. … I don’t understand why we need all those laws.”

Brown thought Breed was correct to primarily author laws serving her district.

“Willie Brown represented the 17th [Assembly] District, [so] Willie Brown did the 17th district’s bidding,” he said, speaking of himself in the third person. “That’s what a representative does.”

Neighborhoods & Retail includes landmark designation, parks and open space creation, zoning modifications and planning code adjustments for bars and clubs, among others. Miscellaneous includes health care, environment, education, workers rights and social justice issues.
Methodologically, the laws were categorized based on the actions the laws enacted, not the department or code they concerned. Crafting a law to address noise complaints in clubs, for instance, is not a safety issue because it changed the police code, but a neighborhood issue because it addresses noise annoying residents. Additionally, some legislative actions required multiple ordinances to enact a goal. The Free City effort passed by Kim, for instance, required multiple resolutions to support it. Duplicative ordinances were counted in the tally due to the amount of work required to enact multi-part laws.

ON THE ISSUES
Apart from their neighborhood focus, Breed and Kim tended to write legislation concerning safety, from firefighters to criminal justice efforts.

In 2014, Breed authored an ordinance to ban convicted graffiti offenders from bringing their tools of the trade on Muni vehicles or in parks. In 2016, she created a fund to assist fire victims and another to reward people who report information leading to homicide arrests. Earlier this year, Breed also authored legislation to abolish fees associated with criminal probation, restitution, booking and other court-costs.

Kim authored “ban the box” legislation in 2013 to allow former offenders to redeem themselves, removing a check box requesting criminal histories in employment and tenancy decisions. In 2015, she also created a sexual assault task force to “reduce sexual assault at educational institutions.”

Leno’s safety legislation was more targeted, funding the purchase of fire department uniforms to the tune of $1.2 million and creating new guidelines for the granting of certain business permits in police code. In one 1999 law, he corrected a police code reference to the “date of manufacture of one type of ‘Saturday Night Special,’ a kind of revolver.”

Few laws boosting transportation were authored by the three candidates and most targeted specific neighborhoods.

Leno authored a law that ensured paid parking equipment worked correctly and appropriated funding for road improvements for Octavia Boulevard, a busy freeway entrance.

Breed authored ordinances last year to allow more parking for shared mopeds like Scoot and to “include more parking than is principally permitted” in some blocks near Van Ness Avenue. She also authored a resolution, though not an ordinance, to spur the installation of cellular networks in Muni tunnels.

Kim widened some sidewalks in her district and wrote an ordinance allowing the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency to issue contracts in a unique way for the Van Ness Improvement Project.

The candidates also authored scant legislation directly addressing citywide homelessness, instead focusing on funding specific limited efforts.

Kim appropriated about $400,000 for Public Works to maintain portable restrooms from 2014 to 2016.

Leno wrote an ordinance to direct $250,000 to a queer youth homeless shelter from 2000 to 2001. He also authored an ordinance to appropriate $1.2 million in funding for medical services to “indigent persons.”

Breed’s effort this month to address homeless conservatorships is the second ordinance she has authored in her supervisorial career to address homelessness, following one authored last year to increase the membership on the homeless reentry council to 24 members, from 23.

More broadly, Breed authored last month an ordinance to develop a three-year pilot project to provide coordinated care for people who are “frequent users” of social services.

SEE RELATED: LGBT PAC’s endorsement of Leno threatens campaign promise

Other pieces of legislation did not fit these categories but bear mentioning as well.

Leno authored laws to expand the responsibilities of the Department of Animal Care and Control and numerous laws to bolster legalized medical cannabis, including a 2002 ordinance modifying The City’s smoking ban to allow cannabis to be puffed in medical marijuana “buyers clubs.” He also authored an ordinance in 2002 to require single-room bathrooms in San Francisco to bear signage indicating they are for “either sex,” and enabled anyone authorized to perform marriages to also perform domestic partnership ceremonies in 1999, far before gay marriage became law of the land.

In 2012, Kim drafted an ordinance requiring the Department of Public Health to disperse information to property owners and tenants on treating bed bug infestations and to disclose bed bug history for two years prior. She also sought to protect restaurant and hotel workers by requiring that new owners in the hospitality industry keep those workers on hand for 90 days.

Breed sought to strengthen government whistleblower protections. In 2017, she authored an ordinance to boost the Solar Energy Incentive Program as part of The City’s clean power efforts.

CANDIDATES DEFEND THEIR RECORDS
Leno wrote in a statement, through spokesperson Zoë Kleinfeld, that he “loves” the legislative process and his accomplishments were due to dedicated staff and city coalitions.

When asked to comment on his high number of resolutions and commendations, Leno said it was “important” to make sure “the work being done by the community was also recognized, as it often goes unnoticed. Giving proclamations and resolutions as a way of honoring that work was something I was proud to do.”

Tara Moriarty, a spokesperson for Breed’s campaign, took issue with measuring Breed’s success by the laws she passed.

“Some of the large efforts upon which President Breed has taken the lead don’t require legislation,” Moriarty wrote in a statement.

Moriarty pointed to Breed asking Mayor Ed Lee for $2 million, which he granted, to restore public housing for 179 homeless families. She also cited Breed’s trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby the federal department of Housing and Urban Development to reverse its halt of her neighborhood preference legislation to allow priority in affordable housing for neighborhood residents.

Notably, Breed’s push to open safe-injection sites for drug users was spurred by a non-binding policy resolution urging the Department of Public Health to pursue them. The resolution carried no legal weight, but politically pushed DPH to act.

Kim’s campaign spokesperson Julie Edwards said Kim puts forward “cutting-edge legislation” and pointed to her leadership in passing The City’s minimum wage law and her push to implement Vision Zero traffic safety changes, neither of which were the result of legislation Kim primarily authored. Addressing Kim’s lack of legislation to combat homelessness, Edwards said Kim’s non-legislative efforts on homelessness include negotiating for housing for the formerly homeless throughout Kim’s district, as well as securing $6.6 million to build a medical respite shelter in 2015.

“Legislation is not a perfect measuring criteria when it comes to impact,” Edwards wrote.

Certainly, these candidates have shown leadership in ways other than writing legislation. But I attest to you, San Franciscans, that it is one vital part of their job.

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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