Historic ballot-box opportunities are in store for San Francisco this year, including a rarely seen referendum and a chance to have an even bigger role in The City's famously participatory planning process.
But the issues this November will likely be considered by few voters.
Despite serious spending and a media campaign surrounding the controversial waterfront development project at 8 Washington St. — subject of the first planning referendum in The City since 1991 — there's not much else to attract voters to the polls.
It's an odd-year election following a presidential contest, and there are a slew of lesser-known candidates running for lesser-known offices — and running unopposed.
This makes the Nov. 5 election a double off-year for voting, one that has a serious chance of breaking records for low voter turnout, observers say.
“There's serious election fatigue … and there's a bunch of uninteresting races,” said researcher and analyst David Latterman, who predicted a turnout of 20 percent, “give or take.”
That would be the lowest of any election since turnout hit rock bottom with 16.58 percent of voters casting ballots in the December 2001 runoff for city attorney, and the lowest turnout for a November ballot since 2009's 22.58 percent.
Voting for people, it turns out, is what makes people go to the polls — and what gets volunteers to take time off work to knock on doors and inform voters, said Mary Jung, chairwoman of the Democratic County Central Committee.
“In a year like this, with all the major candidates all running uncontested, we just don't have that passion,” she said.
There are four elected offices up for “grabs” and only five candidates.
City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Assessor-Recorder Carmen Chu and Treasurer Jose Cisneros are running unopposed.
District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang, who represents the Sunset and is up for election only because she was appointed earlier this year, is the very heavy favorite over accountant Ivan Seredni.
The lone serious competition on the ballot is 8 Washington, where Pacific Waterfront Partners — headed by longtime San Francisco developer Simon Snellgrove — has for seven years proposed to build a 134-unit luxury condo development.
The project received approval from the Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors, but not from neighbors who say the condos will block other homes' views. They backed a petition drive to qualify the first planning referendum in more than 20 years. The developer, in turn, backed his own ballot initiative.
The result is supporter-backed Proposition B and opponent-backed Proposition C. There are two measures to choose from, but they are not so much in competition, as dueling initiatives on pension reform have been in the past. The way forward is simple: a no vote on both means rejecting the project and a yes vote on both means it can go forward.
In other words, a choice between something and nothing, said David Beltran, campaign manager for Yes on B&C.
“Opposing it doesn't get you anything,” said Beltran, who noted that public amenities like a large park, tax revenue, jobs and cash for The City's affordable-housing fund won't happen if the project is nixed.
“No project, no park, no benefits,” he said. “It keeps the status quo, which has been stagnant for years now.”
Opponents are banking hard on nothing being better than something — especially if that something is a building they compare to the loathed Embarcadero Freeway or a set of unsightly postwar towers near Aquatic Park.
“Do we want another Fontana Towers in the heart of our waterfront?” asked Jon Golinger, campaign manager of No on B&C. “This developer is trying to take over [the waterfront] and we're taking a stand.”
The other two ballot initiatives are Proposition A, which puts tougher restrictions on The City's retiree health care fund, and Proposition D, which encourages The City to pursue cheap prescription drugs. Both have the support of elected officials and are expected to pass.
Spending figures reported through Oct. 19
Cash raised: $187,325.17
Cash spent: $151,649.99
Cash raised: $155,300
Cash spent: $86,166.73
Cash raised: $52,791.54
Cash spent: $20,823.09
District 4 supervisor
Cash raised: $173,772.98
Cash spent: $111,898.99
Challenger: Ivan Seredni
Retiree Health Care Trust Fund
Cash raised: $286,765.83
Cash spent: $286,465.63
No opposition spending
Yes on B&C
Cash raised: $1,680,374.92*
Cash spent: $1,842,544.92
No on B&C
Cash raised: $614,625.98
Cash spent: $511,703.03
Prescription Drug Purchasing
Cash raised: $225,288.92
Cash spent: $250,000
No opposition spending
*Includes late contributions through Oct. 25
Source: Ethics Commission