A hectic election cycle has come and gone in San Francisco. The dust is settling as Mark Leno is making a concession speech and London Breed is preparing to take office, and San Franciscans are grappling with the implications of propositions passing or failing. Proposition F passed this cycle, meaning that the city will now provide legal representation for tenants facing eviction, while Propositions D and H were defeated, which would have respectively taxed the lease of commercial properties for low- and medium-income housing and homeless services and permitted SFPD to develop a policy governing Taser use without the established oversight of the Police Commission. San Francisco voters showed their commitment to needed early education and tenants’ rights, and affirmed their opposition to a proposition designed to allow the police to dodge accountability. But the defeat of Proposition D, a disappointing piece of legislation aimed at expanding housing in San Francisco across all income levels, shows that there is still more organizing to be done in order to pass policy which ensures the expansion of truly affordable housing in the city.
Proposition F was introduced by a citizen-led petition that collected over 21,000 signatures in order to qualify the proposition for the June ballot. During the campaign, the proposition attracted a wide array of support from elected officials and activist communities alike, securing endorsements from members of the SF Board of Supervisors (including mayoral candidates Jane Kim and Mark Leno), as well as organizations such as the San Francisco Sierra Club, the California Nurses Association, and the SF Tenants Union. As emphasized by the Yes on F campaign’s official press release following their victory, the San Francisco chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America played a major role in mobilizing support for the measure, conducting citywide canvasses and other organizing efforts. The San Francisco Republican Party opposed the measure, with the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board citing concerns that the measure would grant legal protection to all tenants being evicted, even those who were “abusive to others or destructive to property.” But with 55.11 percent of voters supporting the measure and 44.89 percent against, Proposition F is nothing less than a monumental triumph for the rights of tenants living in San Francisco. According to the City of San Francisco’s 2017 point-in-time homeless count, 69 percent of homeless people in San Francisco resided in the city prior to their loss of housing, with 33 percent having directly rented or owned housing. According to the Eviction Defense Collaborative’s 2016 report on San Francisco evictions, over 75 percent of EDC clients possessed incomes at 15-30 percent of Area Median Income, or between $17,760 and $35,500 annually for a family of four. There is clear-cut inequality in legal power between tenant and landlord, and organizations which provide legal assistance cannot provide sufficient resources to all those affected by the threat of eviction. The passage of Prop F shows that San Francisco’s voters have identified this power dynamic and feel it is necessary that the City take a more radical step towards taking accountability for protection of low-income residents against gentrification and displacement.
Proposition H, which made it to the ballot through a citizen initiative petition circulated by the San Francisco Police Officers’ Association was soundly defeated by voters, with 37.93 percent for and 62.07 percent against. Contrary to much of the confusing messaging used by the Yes on H campaign, the vote was not a referendum on police’s ability to carry and use Tasers, but instead would have replaced the current Police Commission’s policy on SFPD’s use of Tasers with language included in the proposition. The Police Commission finalized its policy on Taser use in March, permitting police to use the weapons when there is “reasonable belief” that an individual poses a reasonable threat of exacting harm on the officer or others. Prop H’s language would have expanded the scope of legitimate Taser use to include all behavior which is considered “active resistance,” even if the person in question was unarmed and which includes verbal ques. Moreover, the text of the Proposition stated that either another direct referendum with voters or a four-fifths majority of the Board of Supervisors would be required in order to get H’s wording overturned or modified once passed, effectively bypassing the Police Commission and the community input which had significant impact on its Taser policy. We are enthusiastic that a clear majority of San Francisco voters saw through this attempt by the POA to pass deceptive legislation, but still more dedicated organizing is needed beyond H to check the power of SFPD. Mayor Farrell’s proposed 2018-2019 Budget, which is currently slated for public comment on June 18, expands funding to bring 250 new officers to the San Francisco Police Department in the next four years, while also offering over $10 million for the purchase of new police vehicles and Tasers. It has long been established by community activists, homeless folks and people of color that an increase in the size of San Francisco’s police force does not make us safer, nor do the purchase of Tasers. We must continue to put pressure on Mayor Farrell and his successor, Mayor-elect Breed, to reconsider funding the police where more lasting investments in housing, public health, and education would better ensure safety for all San Franciscans.
Finally, Proposition D, a piece of legislation that would have increased the gross receipts tax by 1.7 percent to fund the construction of medium- and low-income housing and homeless services, was defeated on June 5 with 44.59 percent of voters for and 55.41 percent against. The legislation was forwarded not as a citizen petition initiative, but instead by Supervisors Ahsha Safai, Jeff Sheehy, Katy Tang, Malia Cohen and now-Mayor Mark Farrell, which meant that the Proposition would have needed a two-thirds majority to pass. The Proposition was designed to compete with Proposition C, which proposed a similar gross receipts tax which would have instead been allocated towards the provision of childcare and early education programs, so that if D and C had passed, D’s language would have nixed C. Forcing voters to choose between the expansion of either educational or housing resources available to children and their families was a totally unnecessary move by the initiative’s sponsors. As of this article’s publication, Proposition C’s passage is still too close to call, but Proposition D’s defeat should not halt progress on the pursuance of more housing for homeless and housing insecure people in San Francisco, with solutions borne by and from communities most affected by the housing crisis.
The Coalition on Homelessness, in partnership with activists, homeless service providers, and homeless communities throughout the City, are petitioning San Francisco voters to get a new proposition on the ballot for the November election. Titled “Our City, Our Home,” the measure would institute an additional 0.5 percent gross receipts tax on businesses in San Francisco which are making than $50 million. This tax would generate an estimated $300 million annually, 50 percent of which would go towards building housing, 25 percent of which would go to developing public health resources for homeless people, and 22 percent of which would bolster existing homeless prevention and shelter services; besides a 3 percent deduction for administrative costs, the remainder of funding would be reserved for housing and services dedicated to homeless people. In contrast, the revenue generated by the Proposition D tax would have been split between homeless and non-homeless residents of San Francisco, with only 45 percent of D’s funding dedicated to getting homeless individuals and families into shelters and permanent housing, with the remaining 55 percent going towards a series of provisions which would affect people making up to 80 percent of area median income, which represents a yearly income as high as $94,700 for a family of four. Housing is desperately needed in San Francisco, but we should not be indiscriminate about who has access to that housing, lest we exacerbate region-wide trends of displacement. YIMBY (Yes in My Backyard) activists have advocated for a policy of generating more housing, at all income levels, but their advocacy for mixed-income development neglects the provision of sufficient resources for homeless people who are compelled to fight for a fraction of new housing units while the vast majority remain dedicated to new City residents who are able to pay higher rents. It is time for legislation that focuses entirely on people living on the streets and shelters who need housing now, rather than those with the income-based privilege of shopping around for housing. No single ballot initiative will end homelessness in San Francisco, but Our City, Our Home as legislation aims at making a more concrete impact for unhoused populations.
If you are interested in volunteering with the Coalition to collect signatures to get Our City, Our Home on the November ballot, or would like to read the full language of the initiative, go to https://www.ourcityourhomesf.org/.
Note: All vote counts come from the Unofficial Summary Report #10, published by the SF Department of Elections on June 11th, 2018, available here: https://sfelections.org/results/20180605/data/20180611/summary.pdf. While these counts are representative of the most recent tallies, they are not final as of publication and are subject to change.