City Hall Van Ness Traffic

City Hall from Van Ness.

What is a charter amendment, and which could end up on your next ballot?

Charter Amendments are explicit changes to the city charter, which must be approved by a citywide vote. These are the hardest-sought ballot measures that can have the most meaningful impact on how city government operates. Some of these are spats between factions or rivalries, while others represent more significant power struggles between the Executive and Legislative branches of government. Others may be more mundane or popular issues that, for whatever reason, can only be addressed through the city charter.

Whether the Board of Supervisors votes to put it on the ballot, or activists gather thousands of signatures to qualify, here’s an exhaustive list of all the proposed charter amendments under consideration: 

Noncitizen Voting in School Board Elections:

When Proposition N passed in 2016 no one expected Donald Trump to win the Presidency. Noncitizen residents voting in school board elections was supposed to be simple and uncontroversial, but here we are. Supervisor Sandra Fewer introduced this proposal with the stated intention of protecting undocumented immigrant residents from federal deportation proceedings by delaying their eligibility for Board of Education voter rolls. In response to a critical public backlash that portrayed the measure as voter suppression, Supervisor Fewer postponed its introduction before the Supervisors’ Rules Committee until this week, pending amendments.

Update 1/25/17: Supervisor Fewer has withdrawn this proposal.

Changing Appointments to Retirement Board:

Currently, the Mayor appoints three members of the San Francisco Employees Retirement System (SFERS) Executive Board. If passed, this measure would transfer authority over one of those appointments to the City Attorney.

Public Utility Revenue Bonds:

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) already has the authority to issue bonds to pay for certain kinds of equipment. If passed, this ballot measure would expand that authority to cover many more power facilities, including solar panels.

Splitting Apart the SFMTA:

Despite their endorsements of rival candidates in the 2016 election, Supervisors Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin joined forces to introduce a ballot measure that would rescind authority over automobile traffic from the San Francisco Metropolitan Transportation Agency (SFMTA). Parking and traffic policy would instead by governed by a new Department of Livable Streets, under the auspices of a commission appointed by the Board of Supervisors. 

So far, this has been one of the more controversial proposals. A joint letter from four local advocacy groups (Walk SF, SF Bike Coalition, SF Transit Riders Union, and SPUR) lambasted the proposal, arguing in part: “Decoupling the operations of transit from the planning and design of our streets is a step backwards from Transit First, threatening the City’s ability to achieve its ambitious Vision Zero and Climate Action Strategy goals.”

There is also longstanding political precedent that could make this more unpopular among voters. In 2016, the electorate rejected Proposition L, which would have split MTA board appointments between the Mayor and Supervisors. The SFMTA was created by ballot in its current centralized form in 1999, shortly after Mayor Willie Brown drastically increased Muni’s budget, along with a major staff overhaul; so far, political winds have yet to shift significantly against it.

But Supervisor Safai’s office believes constituents may want to see car traffic decoupled from the central agency’s jurisdiction, as a bureaucracy under mayoral control may be less politically responsive than your District Supervisor. Ingleside residents repeatedly requested a four-way stop sign at the intersection of Avalon and Edinburgh—if the SFMTA hadn’t denied these requests, Safai contends, then Supervisorial control these sorts of traffic decisions could have prevented several injuries.

If passed, the ballot measure would give a Supervisor receiving such complaints “final oversight on mobility management, parking, and traffic calming” under the Livable Streets Department, according to Safai’s office.

The SFMTA sees it differently. “In early 2016, we added daylighting red zones to two of the intersection corners and also requested tree trimming to address some visibility issues,” said spokesperson Paul Rose. “Our most recent request was from last May. The location was checked by an engineer, the visibility was found to be adequate, and there were no reported collisions since the installation of the red zones. We did not recommend additional stop signs after that investigation.”

But on November 6th of last year, Safai’s legislative aide Cathy Mulkey Meyer was notified by the Ingleside Police Station that a pedestrian had been hit at the intersection. A car crash followed just last week, on January 18. According to Meyer, the SFMTA only provides “significant” traffic calming measures—like a stop sign—“if the SFMTA engineers observe right number of pedestrians are interacting with a hazardous number of cars travelling at rapid speeds during a few hours on one day of the year.”

Meyer added that these traffic audits “don’t reflect the nuances neighbors plan their daily lives around, whether walking across the street or deciding what time to leave for work”—or, in the case of this intersection, three schools within a three-block radius. One local traffic engineer, speaking to the Beacon under the condition of anonymity, insisted that “any assessment” for traffic calming purposes would have “absolutely” included factors such as nearby schools.

Cleaning up Budget Set-aside Cobwebs:

Supervisor Peskin has partnered with another factional rival, this time frequent Budget Committee collaborator Supervisor Katy Tang, to reform the City’s myriad budget earmarks. It’s essentially a ballot measure to curtail the excesses of budgeting by ballot measure. If passed, any set-aside in the city’s budget passed by ballot could be given an expiration date. Currently, spending mandates comprise slightly over $1 billion of the city’s $10 billion budget, with only half of the 19 referendum mandates set to expire. Three new budget set-asides were passed in 2016 alone, while Los Angeles only has two at all.

Streamlined Affordable Housing:

This ballot measure, sponsored by housing advocacy group YIMBY Action, would remove discretionary approval requirements for Below-Market Rate housing developments in the city, enabling the city to apply permits “by-right” for qualifying projects. It has been covered previously by our housing columnist. 

Term Limits - Now For Life:

If an elected official fulfills two full terms in San Francisco, they currently are barred from running again until they sit out one four-year term. This ballot measure would make two terms the lifetime limit for the mayor and Board of Supervisors—though sitting office holders who have previously served two terms, such as Supervisor Aaron Peskin, appear to be exempt. It would exclude other former Supervisors, such as Michela Alioto-Pier, who is rumored to be planning a bid for the District 2 seat. District 2 candidate Nick Josefowitz has provided funding to gather signatures for the proposal, leading to opposition from the Chronicle Editorial Board

No Appointees Running for Office

If passed, this measure would force candidates for elected office to resign from appointed city commissions and boards before declaring their candidacy. A candidate such as District 6 Supervisorial hopeful Christine Johnson, who voluntarily vacated her seat on the Planning Commission before entering the race, would not have a choice in the matter. 

Establishing the Cannabis Commission:

Let’s end this on a high note! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.) This charter amendment would replace the Mayor’s Office of Cannabis with a Department of Cannabis, overseen by a Board-appointed commission. Quite simply, it takes authority from the central executive to the appointees of eleven District legislators.

It’s no secret that San Francisco’s disparate districts feel very differently about cannabis storefronts opening up in certain neighborhoods. Given that social equity issues around cannabis have been central to the city’s legislative ordeals around the newly-legalized product, it could just as likely heat up the issue even more, or bring about a Cannabis Cold War in city politics, if districts end up deadlocked.

Join us to celebrate the Beacon's first anniversary! There'll be food, drink, and great political gossip. RSVP to the Beacon Birthday Bash today!

comments powered by Disqus