➡️ Shanell Williams
➡️ Tom Temprano
➡️ Jeanette Quick
➡️ Marie Hurabiell
I’m deferring again to the San Francisco Chronicle’s
endorsements. They’ve picked candidates with a good
mix of backgrounds: incumbents who have experience with the school board
(Williams, Temprano), a recent CCSF student (Quick), and a finance-focused
BART Director, District 9
➡️ Patrick Mortiere
Bevan Dufty is the incumbent and has the most
experience, but hasn’t provided any platform or proposed policies. He spent half
of his candidate statement telling a nice story about that time he personally
cleaned a BART station. I do not consider candidates unless they share
Similarly, Michael Petrelis (no website) has only provided vague policy
proposals. To use COVID-19 as an example, the candidate’s statement says simply:
“Enhancing Covid-19 [sic] protections for all workers and riders.”
The remaining candidates are Patrick Mortiere and
David Wei Wen Young. Their platforms are fairly
similar. Mortiere wants more bike-friendly stations and an expansion of
discounted fares for low-income customers. Young plans to keep drug abusers out
of BART with new fare gates, which I don’t think will really solve the problem,
and promises not to accept campaign contributions from BART vendors and unions.
Both candidates mention the need to cut spending to make up for ridership
decline, but neither offers the specifics of which items they would cut.
State ballot measures
Navigating California’s ballot proposition system
California’s ballot proposition system requires voter approval for
certain kinds of bills, including issuing bonds, amending the state
constitution, and amending previously passed propositions. Voters can also
introduce new laws and veto laws already passed by the legislature.
There is a problem with direct democracy: people typically aren’t as informed as
their representatives. Suppose there is a measure to issue $5 billion in bonds.
How do I know that’s the right amount? Why is it not $5.1 or $4.9 billion?
Because few voters are public policy experts, the proposition section of the
ballot has become a prime target of astroturfing campaigns and populist
Because of its tendency to produce bad ideas and make them hard to undo, my
heuristic is to vote “no” by default, especially when the proposition in
question seems complicated or has received funding from interest groups. I’ll
also watch out for propositions that could be passed as normal legislation and
hold them to a higher standard. They tend to be put on the ballot by special
interests or astroturf campaigns trying to trick voters into passing favorable
These resources can help too:
Ballotpedia provides neutral summaries of each
proposition, often in far greater detail than provided by the official
voter guide. Ballotpedia also lists the top donors and their
spending, which can be used as a proxy for whether to support a proposition.
SPUR, a member-funded think tank that publishes in-depth analyses
with citations. Although they are opinionated, they also do a great job of
summarizing the context surrounding each issue.
14: Stem Cell Research Bonds
Basic research, including stem-cell research, should be funded by the federal
government. I would prefer for a federal agency to fund projects on a more
granular basis, rather than as a huge lump sum by committed up front by voters.
15: Assess Commercial Property Tax with Current Value
California’s Proposition 13 is one of the worst tax policies in
history. It effectively locks in the property tax rate based on the sale price,
not the fair market value of the property. This simple rule causes a variety of
poor second-order effects in the residential market, including:
Making California more dependent on income and sales taxes, which are more
Regressive tax: the homeowners whose property values have increased the most
are taxed the least.
Incentivizes holding onto property and increases “tenure” of homeowners
trying to avoid property tax reassessment. This reduces the market’s ability
to increase housing supply in popular areas, such as Silicon Valley, because
current residents don’t want to move out. For commercial properties, it
incentivizes businesses to structure their property deals to avoid
Proposition 15 would phase out this policy for commercial properties worth more
than $3 million, starting in 2022. It’s an important first step in reversing the
harms done by Proposition 13.
16: Diversity as a Factor in Public Employment, Education, Contracting
In 1996, Proposition 209 banned affirmative action in public
employment, contracting, and education by constitutional amendment. This
proposition would allow public entities in the state to use affirmative action,
while not mandating that they do so.
To me, this seems like an appropriate cleanup of legislation that should not
have been created through propositions.
17: Restore Right to Vote after Completion of Prison Term
Currently, they must finish parole to be allowed to vote again. I’m in favor of
anything that expands the right to vote.
18: Permit 17-Year-Olds to Vote in Primary
This proposition would allow underage voters to vote in a primary or special
election if they would turn 18 by the date of the following general election. It
seems like an easy way to increase young voters’ engagement.
19: Expand Elderly Property Tax Transfer and Reduce Property Tax Inheritance Loopholes
This proposition allows homeowners who are over 55, disabled, or disaster
victims to transfer their low property tax base (from Proposition 13) to their
new primary residence without restrictions. (They must currently move within the
same county and to a home with lower value.) They would be able to transfer
their low property taxes three times instead of just once. This may reduce the
cost of moving away from a high-demand area after retirement, freeing up housing
supply, and provides a path for wildfire victims to move to a more defensible
Parents can pass their low Prop 13 tax rates to their children through
inheritance. In exchange for giving the elderly an additional tax break, this
proposition would limit such inheritance to the primary residence.
On balance, it seems like we’re not getting enough reform in exchange for
increased tax breaks for older homeowners who don’t need it. Presumably, if they
really wanted to move to a cheaper area, they could use the appreciation of
their current home’s value to pay for the increased property taxes.
I also don’t like that this proposition is funded by
realtors, who have spent over $40 million in cash
contributions to “Yes on 19” committees. Realtors are already doing pretty well
on the regulatory capture front.
20: Restrict Parole for Certain Non-Violent Offenses
This proposition would limit parole for some non-violent offenses, such as
shoplifting. It would also allow some misdemeanors to receive felony sentences.
In addition, it disallows early release for child sex trafficking and felony
Passing this proposition would reverse recent progress toward reducing the
prison population, which doesn’t make sense for minor offenses yet is very
expensive for taxpayers. Disallowing early release for certain crimes can be
implemented through the normal legislative process.
The Costa–Hawkins Housing Act limited the ways cities can
enact rent control. This proposition would amend it in the following ways:
Instead of limiting rent control to properties built before 1995, allow
cities to enact rent control on any property that was built more than 15
Allow “vacancy control,” where the city limits the increase in rent charged
to a new tenant moving into a vacant unit. Currently, cities can’t place
limits on the rent charged to new tenants.
Rent control raises housing prices in the long run by reducing new housing
construction and discouraging renters from moving. In addition, there is no
reason this needs to be a proposition, which makes it difficult to undo in case
of unintended consequences in the future. Costa–Hawkins could be amended or
repealed by the legislature instead.
22: Exempt App-based Transportation from Employee Benefits
AB 5 classified many independent contractors as employees. The state
later issued hundreds of exemptions, which means AB 5 basically only applies to
gig economy apps. Now Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash are funding a proposition to
exempt themselves too.
In exchange, drivers would receive a wage floor set at 1.2 times the minimum
wage, compensation for work-related injuries, and health insurance
The proposition could be amended by seven-eights of the legislature, rather than
requiring another proposition. This is somewhat meaningless as the threshold is
set so high that is is unlikely to be reached.
In my opinion, Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash employ a spectrum of drivers. Some are
more employee-like while others are more contractor-like. I disagree with AB 5’s
classification of all drivers as employees.
But I also don’t think a ballot proposition is the right way to address this
issue. The regulation needs to change as we learn more about the economics of
these operations. For example, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi claimed that prices
in San Francisco would rise by 20 percent if California drivers
were employees. I’d like to run the experiment and see some evidence before
making permanent changes.
Finally, Proposition 22 also acts as a referendum on whether $200 million in
campaign contributions can allow an industry to write its
own regulations in California. This is an absurd amount of money. To put it into
perspective, every second YouTube ad in the past couple months has been paid for
by the Uber–Lyft–DoorDash interest group. I don’t want to reward this type of
23: Requirements for Dialysis Clinics
This is a rerun of 2018 Proposition 8. It is also the result of a dialysis
clinic labor dispute. While it sucks to be on the same side as
DaVita, the question of dialysis clinic regulation
should be resolved through the normal legislative process.
24: Amend Consumer Privacy Laws
This proposition would expand the GDPR-like California Consumer Privacy
Act that passed in 2018. It’s not clear to me why this needs to be a
ballot proposition. As I mentioned in the section about Proposition 22, I
believe privacy regulation needs to change as we learn more about the effects of
25: Referendum on Replacing Cash Bail with Risk Assessment Procedure
The current cash bail system keeps defendants in jail if they are accused, but
not convicted, of a crime and can’t come up with enough money. Being stuck in
jail can cause further financial stress, such as losing one’s job, if ultimately
proven innocent. It is a regressive tax.
SB 10 ended cash bail and replaced it
with a system of risk assessments to decide whether a defendant should be
released. Risk is assessed based many factors, including whether the crime is
violent and whether the defendant has a history of violence.
Allows the city to issue $488 million in bonds to pay for parks, housing/drug
services, and infrastructure. The bonds would be repaid by increasing property
B: Create Department of Sanitation and Streets
This proposition would split operations and cleaning responsibilities into the
Department of Sanitation and Streets, while the design and construction
responsibilities remain with the Department of Public Works. It also creates two
five-member oversight commissions, one for each department. Members would be
appointed by the Board of Supervisors.
It’s not clear to me that this reorganization would fix San Francisco’s
sanitation problems. For example, the argument in favor says that this will
allow “data-driven cleaning.” But they haven’t shown why that practice is
impossible to implement under the current organizational structure.
C: Remove Citizenship Requirement for Members of City Bodies
Currently, one must be a registered voter and US citizen to serve on city boards
and commissions. This proposition would remove that requirement.
San Francisco has a lot of immigrants and it’s a long, difficult process to
receive US citizenship. There could exist many non-citizens who have great ideas
on how to run our city.
D: Create Sheriff Inspector General and Oversight Board
I’m deferring to SPUR’s
because I don’t know much about how we handle police misconduct currently.
This detail stuck out to me:
In May of 2019, the Sheriff’s Department entered into an agreement with the
Department of Police Accountability (DPA) to investigate several existing
high-profile allegations of misconduct
In August of 2020, the relationship between DPA and Sheriff’s Department was
modified in an effort to strengthen the provision of oversight. A key addition
to the agreement includes the ability for incarcerated people and the public
to file complaints directly with DPA, as opposed to the sheriff assigning
cases to DPA.
It seems better to codify the agreement between the Sheriff and DPA into law.
E: Remove Police Department Minimum Staffing Requirement
The City Charter requires San Francisco to maintain at least 1,971 police
officers. This proposition would remove the requirement.
Regardless of your opinions on policing, having a fixed headcount number is a
nonsensical way to make staffing decisions.
F: Various Business Tax Changes
Among other things, this proposition primarily eliminates the payroll expense
tax in exchange for increasing the gross receipts tax. The city would make an
additional $97 million per year.
According to SPUR and the San Francisco
Chronicle, this is a surprisingly good tax reform since
the payroll tax can discourage hiring, while the gross receipts tax is
progressive to reduce the burden on small businesses. It’s part of a long-term
shift away from payroll taxes.
G: Permit 16-Year-Olds to Vote on Local Issues
I am generally in favor of expanding voting. This seems like an easy way to
increase engagement among young people.
H: Expedite Planning Process in Commercial Districts
San Francisco’s approval process is disgustingly bad. It
makes sense to expedite this process and remove the notification requirement for
some uses, reducing the barrier to entry for new businesses.
I: Real Estate Transfer Tax Increase
The city levies a transfer tax on real estate sales. This proposition would
increase the tax on property valued at $10+ million from approximately 3 percent
to approximately 6 percent. According to SPUR, the transfer tax
is highly volatile income source because it depends on both property value and
transaction volume. And San Francisco already has a high transfer tax rate.
Some proceeds would be spent on compensating landlords whose tenants didn’t pay
rent due to COVID-19 hardships. In my opinion, this spending is dubious at best.
Being a professional landlord is a speculative business: those who can’t weather
a market downturn shouldn’t get into it.
J: School District Parcel Tax
In 2018, voters passed a tax of $320 per parcel to fund the school district. The
measure was challenged in court over the required voter threshold to pass, and
until that dispute is resolved, the school district might not be allowed to
spend the money raised by the tax.
This proposition reduces the tax to $288 per parcel. It also requires a
two-thirds majority to pass, which would avoid the issue with the 2018 tax.
K: Authorize City-developed Affordable Housing
Article 34 of California’s Constitution requires cities to receive voter
approval before constructing low-income housing projects or paying private
organizations to do so. This proposition authorizes San Francisco to construct
up to 10,000 units under Article 34.
L: Tax Companies with Large Executive Pay Disparity
This proposition increases the payroll and gross receipts tax rate of companies
whose ratio of executive to worker pay for workers in San Francisco exceeds 100
to 1. The Controller notes that this would increase tax revenues by $60 to $140
million. SPUR notes that the increase is small enough not to
affect the decision to do business in San Francisco and that companies may find
other ways to compensate executives.
I am voting no because it seems to be difficult to enforce, while not bringing
in much tax revenue or offering much of an incentive for more equal pay.
District ballot measures
RR: Caltrain Sales Tax
The US-101 corridor is the most economically productive road in the United
States. Caltrain is essential for moving workers between San Francisco and Santa
Clara counties, which will keep the region productive after the pandemic.
Caltrain currently faces a large budget shortfall from a decline in ridership.
This proposition would increase sales tax by 0.125 percentage points to fund
Caltrain’s operations and upcoming electrification.