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San Francisco Examiner’s 2015 Endorsements

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A municipal election is a time of optimism. The benefit of these annual pilgrimages to the ballot box is that not only do we end up with elected officials to run our cities, our schools and our state and federal governments, but it also means we get to exchange ideas about what kind of place we want to live in and the kind of rules we want to impose on ourselves and our neighbors. It means we have the opportunity to make sure those seeking power to govern us are held accountable to their words. Election time is an empowering time to be a citizen, or ideally it should be. But this election season is also a tense, uncertain and, for some, disempowering time to be a San Franciscan.

At the San Francisco Examiner, we have spent the past few weeks talking with candidates and advocates for various ballot measures about the direction they feel The City should be headed. We agree with some and respectfully disagree with others, but we are truly grateful for the time of everyone who came to meet with us. Their participation is a testament that our city is worth fighting for and is a place strengthened by vigorous civic engagement.

The true sour note to all this involves the San Francisco’s mayor’s race. Mayor Ed Lee is expected to coast to reelection. He is opposed by five declared challengers, none of whom have the political or financial backing to seriously challenge the incumbent. The fact no one from The City’s progressive left, such as former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano or even Sen. Mark Leno, chose to challenge the centrist Lee in this election for The City’s top executive is a shame. As a consequence, we lost the opportunity to have a civic argument about how Lee has led this city. Without a well-financed, forceful opponent, Lee has been able to largely ignore his critics and resist calls for dialogue.

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One of the most discouraging moments leading up to these endorsements was Lee’s refusal to meet with the Examiner’s editorial board. His campaign declined our request to have Lee talk with us alongside his challengers, noting the mayor was scheduled to debate the others in an Oct. 8 forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. “That forum will be convened by an impartial organization and will be open to the public — we prefer that format,” his campaign manager offered.

When we then invited the mayor to meet with us about the race alone, without the discomfort of his opponents, we received no response. His refusal to meet with one of his city’s newspapers during this reelection campaign is disappointing to say the least. As Mayor Lee enters his second term in a city increasingly fractured and unequal, we would have hoped for a leader who welcomes the exchange of ideas and approaches his job with a less imperious attitude.

Without Lee in attendance, the Examiner hosted a lively discussion about the direction and future of San Francisco with his opponents: Francisco Herrera, Reed Martin, Amy Farah Weiss and Stuart Schuffman (also known as Broke-Ass Stuart and a columnist for this newspaper.) A fifth candidate, Kent Graham, couldn’t make it.

The discussion focused on The City’s housing crisis, homelessness, civic pride and access to the political process, among many topics, and was, at turns, discouraging, thoughtful, provocative and inspiring. Each candidate remarked on the essential wrongness of allowing Lee to walk into his second term unchallenged, and each felt they offered a voice systematically being shut out of City Hall. It left us wondering if a city government made up of their visions and drive would result in a city that better cared for its citizens and charted a better course for the future. It would certainly be a different city, for better or worse, than the one we have now.

If we at the Examiner are not the favored San Francisco newspaper of the mayor, we can live with that. But it seems a shame that a sitting mayor can get away with being aloof and disengaged with the civic process this election season. Mayor Lee might not have to break a sweat winning reelection, but it’s hard not to feel that without a competitive mayor’s race, without a greater civic dialogue about where we are going and how we intend to get there, The City loses.

We hope Lee’s second term is one of greater inclusiveness. We hope he chooses to use the next four years expanding services to those in The City who need them most, rather than setting policies that makes San Francisco a harder place for them to get by.

Mayor
Our no endorsement in this race is a vote of no confidence in the current holder of the office.
Endorsement: None

District 3 Supervisor
Appointed Supervisor Julie Christensen, who replaced David Chiu after he left to serve in the State Assembly last year, has spent the past nine months learning on the job and has done well for her district. As a concerned community activist, she says she tried to recruit others to take on the role but stepped up herself when Mayor Lee asked her to fill the seat.

One of the consequences of not having a robust race for mayor at this crucial time for The City, when development, city coffers and business is growing but the number of income brackets that can afford to live here is shrinking is that this race, between a mayor-appointed supervisor and a former president of the board who famously led the polarizing “Progressive Revolution of 2000,” has been cast as a proxy referendum on the mayor. This framing paints the race as between someone who will do the mayor’s bidding against someone who will work to block him at every turn. That’s not fair to either candidate.

While we admire the work that Christensen has done in her short time on the board, we support the return of Aaron Peskin to the board to lead District 3. He is a savvy and experienced community leader who has pledged to fight to make The City more affordable and fairer for those who have been left on the margins of this selective economic boom. Peskin will be a needed counterweight against the mayor and will give balance to a board now leaning too much toward the mayor and his allies.

Peskin is also the best representative for his neighborhoods, with a track record of fighting for the rights of tenants and local business owners, for health coverage, transit and a sustainable city. His experience and sharp political instincts, honed during more knock-down drag-out fights than his opponents in City Hall may care to remember, position him as a powerful advocate for those who may not feel they are heard in the current political winds of The City. He says he has matured since he was last in office, and that may be so, but we trust the lessons he took away from that time do not include holding his tongue or backing down from fighting the city he believes San Francisco should be. We need that Aaron Peskin back.
Endorsement: Aaron Peskin

Sheriff
The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has become one of the most innovative in the state under the leadership of Ross Mirkarimi. He has focused on expanding rehabilitation programs, establishing humane care for mentally ill inmates and inmates with special needs, like nursing mothers. He has moved to strengthen family connections for prisoners, grow job training programs and expand training for deputies, including certifying them for patrol to augment the police department, and has pushed to equip deputies with body cameras in county jail. He has started the process of housing transgender inmates with their preferred gender, making San Francisco the first county jail in the nation to do so, and he marched with the Black Lives Matter movement during protests.

Mirkarimi has been a polarizing figure. Many deputies bristle under his leadership and support his challenger, Vicki Hennessy, who served in the department for three decades, including as interim sheriff in 2012. Hennessy also has the support of eight current supervisors and the mayor. Hennessy has an impressive resume and solid experience for running the jails. Her leadership would undoubtedly be less controversial than Mirkarimi’s, but also likely less innovative and creative.

Mirkarimi has his liabilities. Political opponents have used Mirkarimi’s past charges of domestic violence against his progressive allies, branding them as apologists for such behavior. Mirkarimi acknowledges that he has made mistakes, both in his personal life and during his tenure as sheriff. He says his stumbles have made him more humble and a better leader of a department that has set its sights on rehabilitation, improving public safety and reforming the bail system.

Accusations of deputies staging gladiator-style fights among prisoners have led to calls questioning his management. He also came under fire for the release of Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez from custody under The City’s Sanctuary City law before he allegedly shot and killed Kathryn Steinle in July, rather than choosing to hand him over to immigration. Mirkarimi insists releasing Lopez-Sanchez was the right thing to do under city law and that it is an issue of due process.

We are encouraged by Mirkarimi’s reformist zeal, seeking to make the jail system in The City one that responds to the damage that both crime and incarceration do to our communities. His approach to criminal justice with a drive for social justice is the right fit for The City. He deserves another term.
Endorsement: Ross Mirkarimi

Community College Board
The Community College Board faces a flood of challenges.

Preserving City College of San Francisco’s accreditation, which was recently in jeopardy, remains the top priority — and the school must make a concerted effort to reach its accreditation requirements by January 2017.

As if that weren’t enough, CCSF is plagued by a student enrollment decline of nearly 40 percent, full-time faculty wages that rank among the lowest regionally and struggles to retain administrators. The new member of the board is going to have to be a top-rate political juggler who can navigate treacherous waters and make tough decisions, while providing a fresh perspective to problems.

Tom Temprano, a CCSF alum, stated a willingness to take a hard look at school budgets and divert funds to areas where they are most needed, particularly student recruitment. He’s also strongly opposed to frittering away precious dollars on needless consultants and bloated middle management salaries.

As a former president of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, Temprano has the political acumen and local connections to galvanize diverse forces to achieve the common goal of saving CCSF.

Alex Randolph, the incumbent appointed to the board by Mayor Lee, has great enthusiasm for serving CCSF’s students and his desire to meet the needs of an ethnically diverse student population is laudable.

Randolph suggested the need for a discussion to arm campus police in light of recent shootings at community colleges. While Randolph said he’s open to talking about that issue, his competitors Temprano and Wendy Aragon were strongly opposed to such an idea. Jason Zeng, also a candidate, was unable to attend.

Aragon, who has experience serving in student government and working with the Save City College Coalition, also provided good ideas, especially in recognizing the crucial work that teachers do to create strong educational institutions. However we question the degree to which she would be able to separate herself from her union backers when it comes time to make the tough boardroom decisions.

Despite Randolph’s and Aragon’s many positives, we feel Temprano would be the best choice to provide the fresh fiscal perspective and independence that will be needed in order to move CCSF in the right direction.
Endorsement: Tom Temprano

Unopposed offices
We endorse the reelection of District Attorney George Gascon, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Treasurer Jose Cisneros, all of whom are running unopposed.

MEASURES

Proposition A
Proposition A, unanimously supported by the Board of Supervisors, authorizes a $310 million housing bond to construct and preserve desperately needed low- and middle-income homes in The City. The bond includes $80 million to repair and reconstruct public housing and $100 million to develop and preserve housing for low-income residents. The bond will also go toward funding a middle-income rental program, as well as homeownership down payment assistance opportunities for educators and middle-income households, and will not raise property taxes. It is an encouraging step towards addressing the housing crisis in The City.
Endorsement: Yes on A

Proposition B
Proposition B, Paid Parental Leave For City Employees, would allow each parent of a new child to use up to 12 weeks of parental leave, and they could each keep up to 40 hours of sick time following the parental leave. The cost of this measure, between $570,000 and $1.1 million annually to fill the positions with other workers during both the parental leave absence and for the 40 hours of sick time is a worthwhile expense to help attract top talent to city positions and to ensure those workers with infants can better care for their families.
Endorsement: Yes on B

Proposition C
Proposition C would require anyone — individuals, businesses or organizations — who spends more than $2,500 in one month for the purpose of political influence to register with the San Francisco Ethics Commission as an “expenditure lobbyist.” The designation requires a $500 fee and monthly reports on lobbying expenses.

The Ethics Commission, which placed the item on the ballot, estimates the new regulations would cost The City $560,000 in the first 10 years, an amount that accounts for new software to track lobbyist reports and necessary staffing.

Proponents of Prop. C argue the measure would increase transparency and keep San Francisco politics honest. Opponents of Prop. C say forcing smaller nonprofits to register as lobbyists would have a “chilling effect” that would discourage advocacy groups from participating in policy debates.

Money in politics is such a serious issue in San Francisco that we believe all matters of political influence are deserving of scrutiny. We recognize that some may be more burdened — financially or otherwise — than others when it comes to the requirements of Prop. C. However, those hardships do not exceed the need for transparency and the public’s right to know about money changing hands in the political realm.
Endorsement: Yes on C

Proposition D
This measure would allow the planning process to go forward to develop Mission Rock, now a flat-surface parking lot adjacent to the Giants’ AT&T Park, into a mixed-use development on 28 acres of waterfront property with 1,500 new rental apartments, 40 percent of which will be offered at below market rate.

The Mission Rock development, proposed by the Giants, must go before voters because of Proposition B, an initiative passed in June 2014 that calls for voter approval of waterfront height-limit increases. This election’s Prop. D would increase the height limits to 90 to 190 feet for office and retail uses, and 120 to 240 feet for rental housing on up to 10 acres of the space.

The project also includes eight acres of open space and rehabbing historic Pier 48 to become the expanded home for Anchor Brewing Company, and parking structures with more spaces than currently exist on the surface lot.

A victory for Prop. D at the ballot will only give it the permission to raise the parcel’s height limits, not approve the proposal. The project must still make its way through city boards before becoming reality. It presents an exciting possibility for this nascent neighborhood.
Endorsement: Yes on D

Proposition E
Proposition E would require increased access and participation in public meetings through electronic means. It would also allow governing bodies and members of the public to make binding requests about the timing and discussion length of certain meeting agenda items.

Under Prop. E, remote persons unable to attend public meetings would be allowed to submit live audio, video or email comments during the meeting or submit prerecorded video to be played during the meeting.

The cost of Prop. E includes $1.7 million to purchase and install live-stream technology and an additional $750,000 per year for staff and operating costs, according to estimates from the City Controller.

Proponents of Prop. E say it will increase public participation and provide access to residents who are unable to engage in San Francisco’s policy decisions. Opponents say that, in addition to the large cost of the measure, Prop. E would disrupt meetings and allow outside interests to influence our city’s government.

Increasing civic engagement by way of technology is a natural next step in San Francisco politics. Those who wish to participate in policy discussions but are unable to do so deserve alternative means to let their voices be heard. We, however, believe this should be tested through a pilot program that would allow the process to grow over time.

Additionally, we believe being physically present at a meeting, when possible, is integral to the democratic process. Showing up shows that someone truly cares about a particular issue and took the necessary steps to ensure his or her voice was heard. Providing people, especially those who live outside of San Francisco, with the ability to influence and impact The City’s political discussions remotely makes the measure unworkable and unrealistic.
Endorsement: No on E

Proposition F
Proposition F, which seeks to impose stricter laws on short-term rentals, is needed to help stem the loss of rental units in this city, where the issue of affordability is displacing an increasing number of residents. This was a tough call for the Examiner because while we agree with this effort’s proponents that the short-term rental industry is having a negative impact on evictions and The City’s housing stock, we also recognize that in today’s market, short-term rentals are allowing some homeowners to survive here and make ends meet. Limiting rentals to 75 nights a year, as the measure would do, would hinder that ability.

San Francisco legalized short-term rentals in February, and created the Office of Short-Term Rental Administration and Enforcement in June. The staffing is inadequate to stop the abusers — those who convert entire buildings into hotels, or who rent out an apartment where they don’t live or those who fail to register and pay taxes — since the office is admittedly complaint-driven and not equipped to investigate the thousands of listings in The City. A remedy such as Prop. F is sorely needed since this administration and this current Board of Supervisors seems unable to recognize that giving private companies like Airbnb dominion over such an essential and scarce resource as The City’s rental units is bad policy.

The fact is that services such as Airbnb are facilitating the drain of rental units from the housing market — some say hundreds and some say thousands, depending on which side of the debate you listen to.

The threat of lawsuits that the industry has used to scare voters into opposing this measure seems overstated. It should even reduce the potential for legal action since the new limits might just provide enough teeth to compel property owners to register with The City and offer short-term rentals in compliance with the law.
Endorsement: Yes on F

Propositions G and H
Proposition H would ensure that CleanPowerSF has a strong future, and Proposition G seeks to kill that future. Prop. H would mandate that both the Community Choice Aggregation program and PG&E follow the same state reporting rules for renewable energy, giving the city-run energy program a fair chance to compete against the energy giant.

Prop. G, now abandoned by the PG&E union that proposed it after reaching a compromise with the other side, would define green energy as only that with which is entirely greenhouse-gas free. The move would block CleanPowerSF from advertising rooftop solar as part of its green platform and limit its ability to compete in the marketplace. If both measures pass, the one with the most votes becomes law.
Endorsement: No on G, Yes on H

Proposition I
Taking a pause from the break-neck luxury development in the Mission is a good idea for the neighborhood and for The City as a whole. The more measured and thoughtful we can be about the shifting makeup of our neighborhoods, the better. This is especially true for the Mission, which is shifting quicker than most. Proposition I arose from frustration that City Hall refused to take action to ease The City’s housing crisis in the neighborhood.

Prop. I would impose an 18-month moratorium — which the Board of Supervisors could extend for another 12 months — on projects in the Mission that demolish, convert or build at least five units, excluding projects of 100 percent below-market-rate housing.

There is no doubt that the new wave of market-rate developments are changing the feel and the face of the Mission, long the center of The City’s Latino population.

According to Planning Department data, more than 900 low- and moderate-income families have left the Mission in the past five years, through evictions and displacement. Two dozen projects with about 1,220 units of housing are currently planned in the Mission, and as many as 85 new units could be delayed up to 18 months if Prop. I passes.

Endorsement: Yes on I

Proposition J
If San Francisco is losing some of its soul and charm in this economic boom, Proposition J offers a tool to city leaders to extend a hand to the established local shops and groups that have contributed to the character of their neighborhoods. This measure would create a grant program to fund the Legacy Business Registry, established by the Board of Supervisors in March, open to small businesses and nonprofits that have been around for more than 30 years. We hope this will be a useful tool to help preserve the historic fabric of San Francisco.
Endorsement: Yes on J

Proposition K
Proposition K is another measure on the ballot this year addressing the housing crunch, looking at city-owned parcels to determine if any can be sold for below-market-rate development. It would increase the number of potential building sites by requiring city agencies and departments to report all of their land one-fourth acre or larger, rather than only submitting land they deem surplus, which is the current practice, and expands search to underutilized land.
Endorsement: Yes on K

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