UPDATE 6:15 p.m.: In an unexpected move, the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee reversed its vote Wednesday, reviving Supervisor Jane Kim’s hopes of placing a Free City College charter amendment on the November ballot before she leaves office.
Rules Committee Chair Ahsha Safai made a motion to rescind an earlier vote where he and Supervisor Catherine Stefani moved to block the measure from reaching the full board for approval.
The reversal came hours after the committee took up a number of other items. The committee rescinded its earlier vote and voted to send the proposal to a special Rules Committee hearing on Monday, as Kim had requested.
Supervisor Norman Yee, who had supported Kim’s measure, said he was not sure what convinced Safai to change his mind, but he had asked him to.
“I told him he should reconsider, but I don’t know if I was the only one,” Yee said.
He added, “I think there was communication to let people know how important it was to many people.”
Safai has declined to comment.
Kim said that board President Malia Cohen convinced Safai to change his position. Cohen would not comment on conversations she might have had with Safai, but did confirm to the San Francisco Examiner that she supports placing the charter amendment on the ballot before Kim leaves office.
Now for Kim to succeed with her effort, the Rules Committee would need to vote Monday to send it to the full board, which would then vote on placing the measure on the November 2019 ballot at its Dec. 11 meeting, Kim’s last board meeting before being termed out office.
“I’m excited and hopeful that this will go before the board for an up or down vote so we can ensure the legacy of Free City,” Kim said in a text message. “San Francisco is the only city in the nation to make community college free for our residents and was a huge success in its first pilot year.”
She added, “Money should never be the barrier to higher education.”
Supervisor Jane Kim’s efforts to place a measure on the November ballot before she leaves office to guarantee a tuition free City College of San Francisco for years to come were derailed Wednesday by Supervisor Ahsha Safai.
Kim said she thought she had the six votes needed at the Board of Supervisors to place a city charter amendment on the November 2019 ballot that would require The City to fund Free City College, starting with $15 million in fiscal year 2020-2021.
But the board’s Rules Committee voted 2-1 Wednesday not to advance the proposal, dashing Kim’s hope of placing the measure on the ballot before leaving office. She had wanted the measure to go before a special Rules Committee hearing Monday and then to the full board in time for a vote on Dec. 11, her last board meeting.
Now that won’t happen.
Safai, Rules Committee chair, said he remained undecided on the measure and raised concerns about the cost impact. “This is a significant set-aside,” he said.
Safai voted to continue a vote on the measure indefinitely along with Supervisor Catherine Stefani, holding it up on the committee level. Supervisor Norman Yee supported Kim’s request and even amended her proposal to extend it from 10 years to 20 years.
The postponement came despite’s Kim request to advance it. “I’d like to pass this before I finish my time on the Board of Supervisors, out of respect for the work that I have done over the last two and half years to make this initiative happen,” she said.
Kim led the effort in 2016 to pass a tax on the sale of properties of $5 million or more to generate funding to launch a subsidy for City College tuition. The program launched as a two-year pilot in August 2017, under an agreement between The City and City College.
A Nov. 27 letter from City Controller Ben Rosenfield said that the measure “would have a significant impact on the cost of government.”
He wrote that in fiscal year 2017-2018, The City spent $6 million on Free City. The measure would mandate spending $15 million in fiscal year 2020-2021 and increasing annually.
The funding is expected to cover the full cost of the program, including stipends of $500 for full-time students and $250 for part-time students to pay for expenses like books.
Kim said that the agreement with The City ends in August 2019. “So we don’t know if free City College will continue into the fall semester,” Kim said. “While this charter amendment will not address the fall, it will ensure that from the spring semester onwards City College will remain free.”
Safai said that the proposal can remain subject of debate after Kim’s tenure. “We will continue the conversation and we will pick it back up,” Safai said. He noted that “I think the deadline is July 26, 2019” to place it on the ballot.
Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, a former City College board member, who supports Kim’s measure but was not a voting member of the committee, said that “City College gives people the skills and qualifications and credentials that they need to survive in an increasingly unforgiving economic environment.”
“A $15 million annual investment… would be worthwhile,” Mandelman said. “I do generally share concerns about set-asides. But this is a measure that is funded, that has a tax associated with it. This is obviously something we should do.”