City’s set-asides a ballot target

San Francisco voters have approved a number of requirements for how The City must spend money, but they could end up voting in November to eliminate all of them.

Last fiscal year, The City was required by law to spend $860 million dollars on a number of needs, including $200.9 million for a mandated staffing level at the Police Department, $137.4 million for children services, $75.5 million for public libraries and $1.6 million for the San Francisco Symphony.

Supervisor Chris Daly has asked the city attorney to draft an amendment to a charter amendment that would provide voters with the opportunity to eliminate all The City’s set-asides.

Set-asides are a way to ensure sufficient funding is allocated each year to a specific need. Critics, however, say it does not provide flexibility in balancing the budget or the ability to fund emerging needs.

The proposal comes as Daly has put on the ballot a new set-aside that, if approved, would require The City to spend about $2.7 billion on affordable-housing needs during the next 15 years.

Mayor Gavin Newsom, an opponent of Daly’s housing measure, has submitted a charter amendment for the November ballot that makes it official policy not to approve a new set-aside without an accompanying new revenue source to cover the cost.

“If [Newsom] is serious about taking on set-asides, then he will join me in the effort. If he isn’t, then he should back off,” Daly said.

“The mayor wants to put the brakes on set-asides.”

Newsom’s spokesman Nathan Ballard said that “what Daly is proposing is like driving the entire bus off a cliff.”

Daly said if set-asides remain in place then there should also be one for what he calls the No. 1 priority, affordable housing.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd said set-asides “have significantly limited our ability to provide a great deal of the services” that constituents request, but called Daly’s proposal a “rush job.”

Daly said he will ask his colleagues to support amending Newsom’s charter amendment to include the elimination of The City’s set-asides during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The board could take its first vote July 22 on whether to place it on the ballot with a final vote July 29.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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