Quiet Election Expected on November 5

The San Francisco election calendar this year is low-key with only local offices and ballot measures coming before the voters. The following city officials will be on the ballot this year:

City Attorney
Treasurer
Assessor Recorder
District 4 Supervisor

The last two offices are not regularly scheduled elections but are necessary because District 4 Supervisor, Carman Chu, was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to the Assessor Recorder position left vacant when Phil Ting was elected to the State Assembly. Katie Tang was then appointed to take Chu’s place as Supervisor of District Four. The November election will ask the voters to confirm those appointments. All of the candidates except Carman Chu are running without any opponents on the ballot and all the incumbents are expected to win.

Ballot measures are always a large part of elections in San Francisco, but things are quiet on that front too for this election. Only four propositions will appear on the ballot. The Ballot Simplification Committee, which is charged with preparing a fair and impartial summary of each local ballot measure in simple language, started its meetings on July 29 and completed them on August 5.

The first measure to be discussed was a Charter Amendment concerning the Retiree Health Care Trust Fund (titles of ballot measures are not yet final) which will appear as Prop A on the ballot. At the present time health care costs for retirees are paid from the city’s General Fund each year. In January 2009, the City established a trust fund to set aside money to pay for future health care costs, which are expected to increase substantially. The funds from this trust fund may not be used to pay health care costs until January 1, 2020. The Charter Amendment would change the conditions under which the funds could be spent, delaying the 2020 date until a time when there is enough money in the fund to pay all projected health care costs. The amendment allows a few exceptions to this postponement if the city’s financial picture changes.

Supporters of the Charter Amendment spoke at the committee meeting to support language making it clear that the primary goal of the amendment was to ensure the full funding of the trust fund. No opponents of the measure appeared before the committee.

The second measure to be discussed was a Declaration of Policy relating to Prescription Drug Purchasing by the city. This proposal (Prop D) would make it City policy to use all available opportunities to reduce the cost of prescription drugs used in city health services. Proponents of this measure are especially concerned with the high cost of prescriptions needed for AIDS-related medications. Once again no opponents of the measure appeared at the committee hearings.

At the following day’s meeting, two ballot measures concerning the same construction project at 8 Washington Street were discussed. One of them (Prop B) is a referendum and one (Prop C) an ordinance.

To understand the difference between the two measures, we have to look back at the history of the development project. In 2012, the Board of Supervisors approved a development project for the site which included two mixed-use buildings with 134 residential units, ground floor restaurants and retail shops, and a fitness and swim facility. The project would also provide a public park and open space as well as underground parking for residents and the public.

At the same time that it approved this project, the Board adopted an ordinance to increase the building height restrictions on a portion of the project. Before the ordinance went into effect, opponents of the proposed development filed a referendum petition requiring the ordinance to go before the voters. This referendum (Prop B) asks voters whether or not they want the ordinance to go into effect and the project to move forward.

A separate initiative was then submitted (Prop C) called the 8 Washington Street Initiative, which asks that that new zoning be adopted for the site and allowing a new development project to be implemented. In essence, the proponents of Prop C are asking that the height requirements of the original development project be approved. In other words, it is essentially repeating the provisions that were in the ordinance approved by the Board of Supervisors. As is always true, if both propositions (Prop B and Prop C) are passed by the voters, the one with the most votes goes into effect.

Even though there are few decisions to be made by voters at this election, there will probably be many lively arguments about the ballot measures. The slogan of the proponents of the 8 Washington Street project is “Open up the Waterfront” and among the proponents are SPUR, the SF Chronicle and the Examiner, and several civic leaders. The slogan for the opponents of the project is “No Wall on the Waterfront.” Both of these slogans are likely to become very familiar to San Francisco voters during the weeks before November 5.

— Adele Fasick

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