Prepare for a plentiful pamphlet in November

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching coverage of the 2008 presidential race for the past decade or so, it’s this: Modestly useful data + unrepentant conjecture + the obvious = what passes for “political analysis.”

And there’s no reason for Washington, D.C., to have all the fun. Both the official and the paid “pro” and “con” arguments for November’s local ballot propositions have been submitted, and I was granted double-secret access. (And by “double-secret access” I mean I went to the Department of Elections office and rifled through the cabinets marked with neon green signs that say “Ballot Arguments.”)

And so today, I bring you a preview, information and analysis based on what I braved the metal detectors at City Hall to investigate.

About half of the 22 proposals have failed to capture anyone’s imagination, with minimal or no arguments submitted on either side of the debate. For some, like the Pier 70 stuff (Proposition D) it’s because arguing about the measure might require the unpleasant act of reading it.

Other proposals are easy to understand — like whether it should take 20 percent of the voters in a district to recall a supervisor (Proposition E) — but no one gives a damn, because even our pets have more important things to think about.

The last grouping consists of propositions like Mistermayor’s anti-budget-set-aside policy (Proposition S) that no one wants to go on record as opposing because they are popular and might do some good. No one wants to go on record as endorsing them either because, in case they don’t work, folks will have thus reserved the right to bore bartenders all across town with feigned proclamations of frustration at possessing the neglected foresight of Cassandra.

Of the remaining propositions, seven appear to have significantly more support than opposition. But you should note that, with the exception of the proposal to establish a Historic Preservation Commission (Proposition J), in each case, funding for at least half of the “pro” statements can be traced to a single source.

These include the bajillion-dollar general hospital bond (Proposition A), funding the Community Justice Center (Proposition L), the anti-tenant-harassment ordinance (Proposition M), changing property-transfer tax rates (Proposition N), the 911 tax (Proposition O) and modification of the payroll tax (Proposition Q). It’ll be interesting to see whether this bring-a-bazooka-to-the-fistfight strategy works with San Francisco voters.

The ballot argument “wars” — those with substantial support and opposition — center on a predictable list of issues: the affordable housing set-aside (Proposition B), the periphrastically-entitled energy initiative (Proposition H), decriminalization of prostitution (Proposition oh-K) and policy regarding JROTC in high schools (Proposition V). Thanks largely to these four initiatives, our recycling bins will eat well for the next few months.

All these fascinating arguments can be found in the world’s largest “pamphlet” — the S.F. Voter Pamphlet — to be mailed out the first week in October.

Court decision on strip-searches is latest on attorney’s agenda

What you read: On Aug. 22, the 9th Circuit Court Appeals ruled that the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department had a jail strip-search policy which, prior to 2004, violated arrestees’ Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

The case, Bull v. San Francisco, focused on the fact that, under the old policy, persons arrested and not released within the first 24 hours were strip-searched before being transported to a longer-term facility, regardless of their alleged crime or criminal history.

The Court ruled that you need at least a drug or weapons accusation, or a bad vibe or something to justify rooting around in peoples’ … well, you know. Ahem.

What you didn’t read*: The opinion relied heavily on the fact that the Sheriff’s Department didn’t produce any evidence of a person being found with contraband whose sole reason for being strip-searched was to prepare for transport. Might’ve put that on the to-do list for a case like this …

In an amazing coincidence, the Bull case was filed April 23, 2003, and the Sheriff’s Department changed its strip-search policy to eliminate blanket searches of arrestees as of Jan. 21, 2004.

The plaintiffs’ attorney in this case, Mark Merin, apparently eschews collecting stamps and building tiny ships inside bottles and instead keeps himself occupied by suing municipalities for Fourth Amendment violations. In addition to this Bull lawsuit in San Francisco, since 2004 he has sued the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Humboldt, Marin, Sacramento, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Solano and Placer for having unconstitutional strip-search policies.

They’re pretty strict on the security at City Hall. Maybe I should give Merin a call …

*Unless you are a total nerd like me.

The argument awards

Best celebrity endorsement goes against Prop. K, the initiative to decriminalize prostitution. Six of the nine paid arguments against Prop. K were paid by the No on K Committee Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation, whose three largest contributors are the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, Twiss Butler and — get this — Gloria Steinem. Fabulous! Apparently, The City without Prop. K is like a fish without a bicycle.

The runner-up for Most Money Spent on Proposition Arguments goes to PG&E, which shelled out $9,236 for 22 paid arguments against the energy initiative (Prop. H) through its Committee to Stop the Blank Check.

Speaking of blank checks, that’s peanuts compared with what the Committee to Rebuild General Hospital, Yes on Prop. A spent. The committee — whose three largest contributors are the San Francisco General Hospital Foundation, the Service Employees International Union Local 1021 Issues Political Action Committee and SEIU Local 1000 Issues PAC — spent $19,538 for 37 arguments in favor of Prop. A. Hmmm, are y’all trying to tell us something?

Runner-up for Most Unique Argument goes to one of my favorite voter pamphlet contributors: Starchild. His anti-911 tax (Prop. O) argument goes like this: If we stopped spending millions of dollars to enforce prostitution laws, we’d have plenty of money to respond to emergencies and therefore wouldn’t need this tax. You gotta admire someone who can turn anti-telephone tax text into a pro-prostitution plea.

But the award for Most Unique Argument has to go to Colin Gallagher, whose opposition to naming the Oceanside Water Treatment Plant after George W. Bush (Prop. R) ends with, “Besides, if we name the local sewage plant after Bush, then what’s left to name after Jesse Helms?”

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