Decision 2010: City voters face measures on pension benefits, school-funding tax on June ballot 

Voters will have a say this June on seven local measures, making decisions on issues like whether or not to spend more than $400 million in property tax revenue on public safety buildings and a reduction of The City’s pension benefit costs for its employees.

Two measures affect property owners’ taxes to pay for building upgrades. One would renew a San Francisco Unified School District property tax to generate about $7 million annually and the other would generate $412 million for police and fire buildings.

Another measure would reduce The City’s pension costs by about $450 million in the coming years by reducing pension benefits for new hires. San Francisco faces a second consecutive year of having to close a deficit of more than $500 million, and projects skyrocketing costs for employee benefits.

One of the most politically charged debates will be in the voters hands: a measure that would require the Police Department to specify in its annual budget the amount it plans to spend on providing security for the mayor and other officials.

Tenants who lose their job will not have their rent raised if one measure is approved, while another puts The City on record that it wants the northern end of the planned California high-speed rail line to be located at the Transbay Transit Center at First and Mission streets.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

 

Hot-button California initiatives to stir debate

The primaries for California governor may be the main attraction in the upcoming June election, but there is also a menu of hot-button measures on the state ballot that are certain to spice things up, analysts say.

If you pay electric bills or drive a car in California, you are among those who will be affected by results of the June ballot, which include four measures that will certainly affect the majority of state residents.

“We don’t have any of those water cooler initiatives, the kind of things people will get worked up over, like Prop. 8,” said Kim Alexander, president of the nonpartisan California Voter Foundation. “But I do think they are meaty issues that voters are going to want to dive into.”

The most fiercely debated measures include Proposition 17, which would allow insurance companies to base their prices on a driver’s history of insurance coverage, and Proposition 16, a Pacific Gas & Electric Co.-backed measure that would make it harder for local governments to form their own electric utilities.

A third measure, Proposition 13, would deliver a tax break for property owners for seismic retrofits, and the final two measures, Proposition 14 and Proposition 15, would change the primary elections process and launch a pilot campaign-funding process for secretary of state, respectively.

Aside from Prop. 13, every other measure has been the subject of intense debate recently. It may be a lot to handle for voters, but there is more information available online than ever before, said Alexander, driving the debate over hot-button races and issues in 2010.

— Mike Aldax

 

Local measures for the June Ballot

 

DISTRICT MEASURE

Measure A

School Facilities Special Tax

Description: Would renew for another 20 years a special property tax previously approved by voters in June 1990 that placed a $32.20 per year tax on nonresidential parcels and $16.10 per dwelling unit on multifamily residential parcels. The funds must be used by the San Francisco Unified School District for capital improvements, including seismic work, fire and life safety improvements and other maintenance.

Official proponent: San Francisco Unified School District

Official opponent: Terence Faulkner, member of the San Francisco Republican Party County Central Committee

 

BOND

Measure B

Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond

Description: Would authorize the sale of $412.3 million in bonds funded by property taxes to pay for the repair and upgrade of the aging firefighting water system, seismic upgrades to neighborhood fire stations and a seismically sound police command center. The highest annual property tax cost for the owner of a home with an assessed value of $400,000 would be approximately $70.74.

Official proponent:  Supervisor David Chiu

Official opponent: Supervisor Chris Daly

 

CHARTER AMENDMENT

Measure C

Film Commission

Description: Would amend the City Charter to require San Francisco to have a Film Commission consisting of five members appointed by the Board of Supervisors and six members appointed by the mayor. Currently, the mayor appoints all 11.

Official proponent: Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier

Official opponent: Terence Faulkner, member of the San Francisco Republican Party County Central Committee

 

CHARTER AMENDMENT

Measure D

Retirement Benefit Costs 

Description: Would calculate retirement benefits for new city employees using average monthly compensation over two years instead of over one year. Increase the retirement employee contribution for new employees. Require the savings from reduced employer contributions to be deposited in the Retiree Health Care Trust Fund. The measure would save The City between $300 million and $500 million during the next 25 years.

Official proponent: Supervisors Sean Elsbernd, David Campos and Eric Mar

Official opponent: None

 

ORDINANCE

Measure E

Budget Line Item for Police Department Security

Description: Would require that the Police Department’s annual budget include a line item for the cost of security provided to city officials and visiting dignitaries.

Official proponent: Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi

Official opponent: Supervisor Sean Elsbernd

 

ORDINANCE

Measure F

Renters’ Financial Hardship Applications

Description: Would amend The City’s Residential Rent Ordinance to add provisions for tenants to apply to the Rent Board to postpone most rent increases if they become unemployed, their wages decrease by 20 percent or more, or they do not receive cost-of-living increases in their government benefits and those benefits are their sole income.

Official proponent: Supervisor Chris Daly

Official opponent: Supervisor Sean Elsbernd

 

POLICY DECLARATION 

Measure G

Transbay Center

Description: Would make it The City’s policy that the northern end of the planned California high-speed rail line be located at the Transbay Transit Center at First and Mission streets.

Official proponent: Supervisor Chris Daly

Official opponent: Eve Del Castello, Republican Party County Central Committee candidate

 

State measures for the June Ballot

 

PROPOSITION 13

Title: Limits on property tax assessment. Seismic retrofitting of existing buildings. Legislative constitutional amendment.

Description: Allows property owners to construct seismic improvements to their buildings without enduring a reassessment of the building’s property tax value, regardless of type of building. Also, it sets a statewide standard for seismic retrofit improvements. Exemptions from reassessments will be limited to specific components of construction that qualify as seismic retrofit improvements as defined by the Legislature.

Fiscal impact: The Legislative Analyst’s Office said the measure would cause a minor reduction in local property tax revenues.

Backers: One state senator, two California municipal officials

Backer claim: Measure would change state’s constitution to eliminate a dangerous and unfair disincentive for property owners to upgrade certain types of buildings that need earthquake improvements.

Opponents: None

Opponents claim: None

 

PROPOSITION 14

Title: Elections. Increases right to participate in primary elections.

Description: In primary elections for congressional, legislative and statewide officers, voters would be able to choose any candidate regardless their own political party preference. The measure would not change primary elections for the president, party committee offices and nonpartisan offices.

Fiscal impact: No significant net change in state and local government costs to administer elections.

Backers: California Chamber of Commerce, California Alliance for Jobs, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Backers claim: Measure would reduce gridlock in state government by allowing best candidates to be elected; reduce influence of the major parties that adhere to special interests; and would give independent voters an equal voice in primaries.

Opponents: Unions for nurses, firefighters, schools etc.

Opponents claim: Measure would allow candidates to conceal their party affiliation from voters; would not allow write-in candidates for general election; would increase cost of elections by 30 percent; and would allow two candidates from the same political party to face off in general election.

 

PROPOSITION 15

Title: California Fair Elections Act

Description: Candidates for secretary of state would be able to qualify for a public campaign grant if they agree to strict spending limits and take no private contributions. Candidates would be prohibited from raising or spending money beyond that grant; and there would be strict enforcement and accountability, with published reports open to the public. Also, it would be funded by voluntary contributions and by a $350 annual registration fee on lobbyists, lobbying firms and lobbyist employers.

Fiscal impact: Increased revenues (mostly from charges on lobbyists) totaling more than $6 million every four years. The funds would be spent on public financing for campaigns of secretary of state candidates for the 2014 and 2018 elections.

Backers: League of Women Voters, AARP, California Nurses Association, California Church IMPACT.

Backers claim: Measure would develop voluntary pilot program allowing elected officials to focus on the public’s interests instead of returning political favors to their campaign donors.

Opponents: California Senior Advocates League, California Manufacturers and Technology Association, Los Angeles Police Protective League, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

Opponents claim: The measure is a trick to undo a 20-year-old voter-approved proposition to ban politicians from using taxpayer money to fund political campaigns. Would impose almost no restrictions on how candidates spend money.

 

PROPOSITION 16

Title: Imposes new two-thirds voter approval requirement for local public electricity providers. Initiative constitutional amendment.

Description: Local governments would be required to obtain approval of two-thirds of voters before providing electricity service to new customers or expanding service to new territories using public funds or bonds. Requires the same two-thirds vote to provide electricity service through a community choice program using public funds or bonds. Also requires the vote to be in the jurisdiction of the local government and in any new territory to be serviced. Provides exemptions to the voting requirements for a limited number of identified projects.

Fiscal impact: Unknown net impact on state and local government costs and revenues due to uncertainty as to the measure’s effects on public electricity providers and on electricity rates. These effects are unlikely to be significant in the short run.

Backers: Pacific Gas & Electric Co., (sponsor), California Tax Association, California Chamber of Commerce.

Backers claim: Taxpayers should have a larger say when local governments enter the power business. Two-thirds is the best protection against costly and risky government schemes to take over local electric service.

Opponents: City of San Francisco (filed lawsuit against measure), other public entities, Sierra Club California, AARP.

Opponents claim: The measure is an attempt by PG&E to maintain its monopoly of power and make it significantly more difficult for public entities to pursue energy service programs that could benefit ratepayers or the environment.

 

PROPOSITION 17

Title: Allows auto insurance companies to base their prices in part on a driver’s history of insurance coverage. Initiative statute.

Description: Changes current law to permit insurance companies to offer a discount to drivers who have continuously maintained their auto insurance coverage even if they change their insurance company, and notwithstanding the ban on using the absence of prior insurance for purposes of pricing. May allow insurance companies to increase cost of insurance to drivers who do not qualify for discount. Establishes that lapses in coverage due to nonpayment of premiums may prevent a driver from qualifying for the discount.

Fiscal impact: Probably no significant fiscal effect on state insurance premium tax revenues.

Backers: Mercury Insurance (sponsor), California Chamber of Commerce, California Senior Advocates League, Small Business Action Committee.

Backers claim: Measure would remedy flaw in existing law prohibiting drivers from taking discounts they received for maintaining insurance with them if they switch insurance companies to get a lower rate.

Opponents: Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, VoteVets.org.

Opponents claim: Measure would allow insurance companies to slap new surcharges on California drivers; would allow insurance companies to raise rates on customers with perfect driving records because they canceled insurance for as little as 91 days over the past five years.

 

San Francisco County

Election date: June 8

Election info: www.sfgov.org/site/elections

Where to find polling place: Location printed on back cover of the Sample Ballot and Voter Information Pamphlet and online at www.sfgov.org/site/elections

Where to find nonpartisan elections info: League of Women Voters (smartvoter.org); California Voter Foundation (www.calvoter.org); Easy Voter Guide (easyvoter.org)

Part two of Decision 2010 will run April 1 and cover the candidates

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