Legal challenge to police-unit ballot measure says it won’t increase ‘bike patrols’

A November ballot measure to create a neighborhood crime unit to tackle home burglaries, auto-break ins and other quality-of-life crimes is misrepresenting itself in the ballot handbook, according to critics.

Arguments in the ballot handbook in favor of Proposition R said it would “significantly increase” the San Francisco Police Department’s “bike patrols.”

But, one bicyclist wrote in a legal challenge, that’s completely false.

That’s according to Jeremy Pollock, who filed a legal petition Friday for “writ of mandate” against the ballot handbook’s argument in favor of Prop. R in San Francisco Superior Court.

A writ of mandate is essentially a court order to compel an action to comply with the law.

The author of the challenged “proponent argument” is Supervisor Scott Wiener, according to public records.

Pollock is an aide to Supervisor John Avalos, but filed the challenge as a “voter, regular bike rider and member of the bike coalition” unaffiliated with his position.

Prop. R is one of 25 of San Francisco’s ballot measures in this November’s election. Proposed by Mayor Ed Lee and Wiener, the measure also counts supervisors Malia Cohen, Katy Tang and Mark Farrell as its backers.

Wiener called Prop. R a “common sense” measure.

“All it does is hold the police department accountable for deploying more officers to our neighborhoods: to walk beats, to address property crimes, and, yes, even to ride bikes,” he said. “It’s bizarre that the opponents are so aggressively attacking this community policing measure.”

Wiener said The progressive political attack on his measure “is exhibit A for why we had to go to the ballot with Prop R.”

Addressing Pollock’s critique, Wiener said the ballot argument is “completely accurate.”

The language of the ballot measure, available publicly online, describes a special SFPD unit that should “proactively” be responsible for quality-of-life crimes in neighborhoods, which “include but are not limited to” burglary, robberies, vandalism, obstruction of sidewalks and “bike theft.”

But, Pollock wrote in his challenge, arguments in favor of Prop. R say the measure would increase bike patrols, a claim that is “clearly a false and misleading statement.”

The challenge goes on to say “bike patrols,” “bicycle patrols” and similar phrases are not used in the legal text of the proposition at all.

Pollock wrote that as a bike advocate and regular bike rider, “petitioner is concerned that this false statement would mislead other voters who support bike riding into falsely believing that Proposition R would increase the number of San Francisco Police Department officers assigned to bicycle patrols.”

The challenge directly names Mayor Lee, and the supervisors who back the measure. California Elections Code allows ballot arguments to be amended or deleted, within a 10-day public examination period.

In an email from San Francisco Department of Elections Director John Arntz to Pollock, he wrote that the 10-day period was up Aug. 29. Pollock challenged that in his court filing.

“If the false and misleading ballot argument is allowed to remain in place,” Pollock wrote, “misleading pamphlets and ballot materials will be printed and distributed to voters.”

Pollock wrote his argument as a member of the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Though the group doesn’t have an official stance on Prop. R, the group’s spokesperson, Chris Cassidy, was able to speak generally about enforcement.

“Traffic enforcement should be data-driven,” Cassidy said, “focusing resources where [police] can do the most to reduce severe collisions.”

San Francisco is often bitterly divided on the topic of bikes and police.

Last summer, SFPD Park Station Capt. John Sanford started a “crackdown” of bicyclists he said disobeyed traffic laws by rolling through red lights and stop signs.

Many city drivers backed Sanford’s position, citing “near miss” collisions from scofflaw cyclists.

But it also prompted a backlash from an activist cyclist group called The Wigg Party, and its supporters. They protested the crackdown by obeying traffic laws to the absolute letter — which gummed up traffic for hours.

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