Democracy is no stranger to The City

July is the time of year when we celebrate American democracy. Here in San Francisco, each July we respect our democracy in the most honorable way possible — by using it.

More than a century ago, San Francisco became the first city in the nation to adopt the voter initiative as an option for the people to resolve pressing problems when their elected representatives fail to do so. Given the worsening housing crisis and other mounting challenges facing our city, it’s no surprise that on the initiative petition deadline day the Monday after July 4, tens of thousands of petition signatures were delivered to the Department of Elections to qualify a variety of initiatives for this fall’s election ballot.

While there may be one or two additional measures added by the Board of Supervisors before the July 31 final ballot deadline, we now know most of the ballot measures that are likely to go before San Francisco voters on Nov. 3.


Dirty Energy: Measure backed by PG&E that would allow PG&E to label its dirty fossil fuel and nuclear power as “clean” and “green” while restricting San Francisco’s ability
to provide cleaner renewable energy to consumers through The City’s CleanPowerSF program.

Giant Waterfront Towers: Raises waterfront height limits up to 240 feet for the private development of 11 office buildings and residential towers on public waterfront land.


Affordable Housing Bond: Authorizes The City to incur $310 million in bond indebtedness without raising any property taxes to build, acquire and rehabilitate affordable housing.

Public Land for Affordable Housing: Prioritizes any surplus city public land that is suitable for new housing to be used for building affordable housing instead of luxury condos.

Affordable Housing in the Mission: Enacts a temporary pause on The City issuing new permits for housing developments in the Mission District that are not 100 percent affordable and requires The City to create a plan to preserve and create more affordable housing in the Mission.

Tourist Rental Rules: Establishes clear rules and effective enforcement mechanisms for residential rentals to stop evictions and illegal tourist rentals by companies such as Airbnb.

Legacy Business Protection: Establishes the Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund, which will fund grants to long-time San Francisco businesses to help them stay in business.


Public Meeting Requirements: Would require all city policy bodies to broadcast meetings online and accept electronically-submitted public comments for items at public hearings.

Increased Lobbyist Disclosure: Ethics Commission-sponsored measure to require registration and disclosure of spending by corporations and groups who lobby City Hall.

On the last day of the U.S. Supreme Court’s term last month, the court issued yet another historic ruling — this one upholding the power of the initiative process and reinforcing the constitutionality of allowing voters to decide issues when necessary. Writing for the court majority in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concluded: “The Framers may not have imagined the modern initiative process in which the people of a State exercise legislative power coextensive with the authority of an institutional legislature. But the invention of the initiative was in full harmony with the Constitution’s conception of the people as the font of governmental power. As Madison put it: ‘The genius of republican liberty seems to demand … not only that all power should be derived from the people, but that those intrusted with it should be kept in dependence on the people.”

That is certainly an idea worth celebrating with action. Happy Birthday, America.

Jon Golinger is an environmental attorney who lives in North Beach.

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