My San Francisco voter guide to all local elections and propositions

VBM-SLOGAN-LOGO2012_revised.pngOkay, so this is my first election voting in San Francisco, and something I’d known, but hadn’t quite appreciated, was that this state’s tradition of having a shit-ton of referenda on the ballot, both at the state and local measure, makes voting here unbelievably complicated.

This is because almost every ballot measure is backed by some special interest group, and almost all are more than they appear to be on the surface. In fact, a ballot measure that is what it appears to be is actually the exception to the rule. For that reason I spent an inordinate amount of time chasing down the real story behind (many) of our ballot initiatives, and I feel like that information should be put to good use somehow.

Of note here is that I am a ballot initiative minimalist. I think that they tend to do more harm than good over time, and that one of the reasons CA is such a clusterfuck is because people passed a lot of ballot initiatives that sounded good at the time but ultimately had a bunch of perverse incentives (and secret special interest giveaways). So unless I was positive that the ballot was necessary and non-pernicious, I voted against it.

With that, here are my votes.

President: Hillary

Senate: Kamala Harris — she’d be the first person of South Asian descent (and only the second person of African-American descent) to sit in the Senate. Yes, I voted here mostly along racial lines.

House: Nancy Pelosi, duh

State Senate: Jane Kim. As supervisor here in SF, she backed the law that allowed me to move in with my fiancé.

District Supervisor (not relevant unless you live in my part of SF): Joshua Arce. The other candidate, Hillary Ronen, supports clearing the homeless encampments nearby, and I am strongly opposed to this. For me, it is a moral issue that’s of major importance, and Arce is on the right side here.

Judge: Phil Henderson. Was hard to chase down info about the candidates, but Henderson is gay and black, which seems like something we could use on the bench.

School Board, Bart Board, Community College Board: I had absolutely no idea how to vote here, so I didn’t. Also, the Community College Board has ZERO power.

State-Level Ballot Initiatives

  • 51 – NO – This is a $9 bn bond measure for rebuilding schools. The governor opposes this on the grounds that it would increase disparities between rich and poor neighborhoods. This is because the money from the bonds will go to school districts that can match it through local funds. Poor districts–the ones that can’t put up money of their own–would get less money. I see no reason why the state should go into debt to help wealthy districts renovate their schools. If they want money, they are capable of passing bond measures of their own. This measure is also being supported by contractors and developers who hope to get a piece of the construction money.
  • 52 – YES – This is a really difficult measure to understand. It’s a tax on hospitals that the hospitals themselves support. A FB friend, Matthew Gunn, explained it to me. The state of CA was leaving billions in federal matching funds on the table, so the hospitals ginned up this tax in order to contribute to the Medical system, knowing that they’d get the money back (doubled) because of the federal funds. This measure would make the tax permanent and would also permanently secure the revenues, making sure they always go into MediCal. It’s a bit shady, and it’s obviously something supported by a special interest (hospitals), but since it will cost the state nothing, I voted for it.
  • 53 – NO – Right now, revenue bonds, which are bonds which could only be paid back with the fees and tolls from a specific project, do not need statewide ballot approval. This measure would require ballot approval for all revenue bonds over $2 bn. I voted against it because this measure was entirely funded by a wealthy farmer in Stockton who brought it forward for unclear personal reasons (though perhaps it was to scuttle a major water project).
  • 54 – NO – Seems good on the surface. It will require the legislature to publish all potential bills online and wait 72 hours before passing them. This is another bill funded entirely by one person, billionaire Charles Munger, and to me it seems a problem in search of a solution. It also has the potential to harm the legislative process, because bills would be subject to judicial challenge if any part of them, even  a comma, had changed in the 72 hours prior to passage.
  • 55 – YES – Extends a tax increase on people earning more than 250k, with the money going to schools.
  • 56 – NO – Proposition to triple the current cigarette tax by putting a $2 tax on a pack of cigarettes. This was the vote that caused me the most internal debate. I see the argument for passing it. This isn’t a tax that’s designed to collect revenue. It’s a tax designed to stamp out smoking. But in the end, I can’t support a tax which is this regressive. It is a majority of the populace passing a tax they know they will not need to pay. A tax whose burden will fall on a small, poorer, less healthy minority. Further, it’s a tax on a substance that minority is addicted to, and which most of them will be unable to quit. I don’t think I could look into the eyes of a poor, sick person and tell them, “You are harming this country, and therefore you deserve to pay more.” Plus, I honestly don’t see that as being true. Smoking is a personal choice, and in my opinion this tax goes beyond protecting the body politic and veers into the territory of regulating peoples’ personal decisions. Furthermore, California already has the second lowest smoking rate in the country, and it seems likely that simple generational change will eventually bring it even lower.
  • 57 – YES – Proposition to reduce number of juveniles tried as adults and to make more nonviolent offenders eligible for parole.
  • 58 – YES – Proposition designed to, basically, repeal a 20 year old racist proposition that banned bilingual education in schools.
  • 59 – NO – Idiotic proposition that would require California’s elected officials to introduce and support a measure to amend the constitution to overturn the Citizens United decision. If you want your elected officials to do something in the US congress, write them a letter, or elect someone who believes in your opinion. But you cannot bypass this country’s legislative process by mandating, through a state ballot referendum, that we support a particular law. (EDIT: A friend, Mark, pointed out that this is actually a non-binding resolution, so it’s basically just a way for people to express their disagreement with Citizen’s United. Okay, that was a research fail on my part, and if I’d known that I’d probably have voted YES. Unfortunately, after going through dozens of these, you get ballot fatigue.)
  • 60 – NO – mandating the use of condoms in adult films. This is a measure introduced by anti-porn activists in order to drive the porn industry out of California.
  • 61 – NO – Requires that Medi-Cal refuse to purchase drugs at a price higher than that paid by the federal Veterans Affair’s Administration. This is the most expensive ballot proposition fight in US history. The drug companies spent $100 million to fight it. Nonetheless, I must reluctantly side with them, because the ballot initiative is stupid. The buying and pricing of drugs is too delicate a matter to be decided through a blunt measure like this. You’re talking about thousands of drugs, coming from dozens of manufacturers. Furthermore, you’re relying on the drug companies to themselves cooperate. What happens if even one drug company refuses to sell to you at that price? CA would then be legally barred from purchasing that drug at all. At that point, people start to die, because they can no longer get the drugs they need. Since MediCal is a health system that supports the poor and indigent, you also face the unsavory prospect of the people of California deciding to gamble with the lives of poor people. There are too many unknowns here, and I can’t support it. If MediCal wants lower prices, they should negotiate, just the way the VA does.
  • 62 – YES – This measure would repeal the death penalty, which I’d support no matter what. But the system is particularly dysfunctional here in CA, where he have 950 people on death row, but haven’t executed anyone in the last decade.
  • 63 – YES – Background checks for ammunition sales
  • 64 – YES – Legalization of marijuana. This is probably going to pass, which is insane. America’s largest state is going to legalize marijuana.
  • 65 – NO – Measure supported by the plastic bag industry in order to muddy waters re: the fees on plastic grocery bags.
  • 66 – NO – Measure put on ballot by death penalty proponents. Measure would make it easier to execute people. Gross.
  • 67 – YES – This measure was also put on the ballot by the plastic bag industry, but in this case, they want you to vote NO, because this is a referendum on a law that was already passed by the legislature. A NO vote would repeal the law.

Local Ballot Initiatives (Oh no, we are not even HALF done, my little chickadees)

  • A – YES – School bonds. Money to rebuild and renovate our schools. Here we have a community footing the bill for its own improvement, and I support that.
  • B – YES – Tax to support the City College of SF.
  • C – YES – Affordable housing project
  • D – NO – This is just another slap fight between the Mayor and the Board of Supervisors, and I don’t think the Supervisors have made a strong case as to why they should get more power to determine who makes vacancy appointments. Also, this would mean more special elections, and after this election I don’t want to vote in another election ever again.
  • E – NO – Would create a $19 million dollar annual obligation, for the city, to maintain its sidewalk trees. I oppose any ballot props that allocate money without providing revenue for them.
  • F – YES – Allow 16 year olds to vote in local elections. Seems cool and fun, I’m for it, even though I don’t know how legal it’d be?
  • G – YES – Create commission to provide oversight of police. Not sure how effective it’ll be, but the SFPD is a mess and definitely needs more oversight.
  • H – NO – Creates an office of the public advocate, designed to go around and discover problems and then publicize them. Seems kind of meh to me. The office would have zero power. Isn’t this exactly why we have a board of supervisors?
  • I – NO – Funding for seniors and adults with disabilities. Like E, it would create an unfunded obligation to set aside millions each year for this purpose. I don’t think budgeting should be handled by referendum like this. Our city needs to be free to change and reallocate funding in accordance with differing circumstances.
  • J and K – YES – These measures are designed (J) to increase funding for MUNI by (K) raising the sales tax. Also made me think a little bit, because the sales tax is inherently regressive, but ultimately I’m in favor of higher taxes, so I voted for it.
  • L – NO – Another fight btwn Mayor and Board, this time over who can appoint members to the SFMTA board. Again I side with the Mayor on this.
  • M – NO – Same as above, but now with a new Housing and Development commission. Just more bureacracy. Pass.
  • N – YES – Allow non-citizens to vote in School Board elections, if they have kids enrolled in SFUSD schools. Seems fine to me, though of doubtful Constitutionality.
  • O – YES – This would allow a development in Hunter’s Point to proceed more quickly. The development has already been fully studied and argued out. I don’t see why it shouldn’t proceed faster, rather than slower.
  • P – NO – Measure designed to throttle affordable housing projects by requiring they have a minimum of three bidders.
  • Q – NO NO NO NO NO NO A THOUSAND TIMES NO!!!! – This is the single issue I feel most strongly about. Many of these homeless encampments are within a half mile of me. I pass them all the time. I don’t think they are more dangerous or dirty than having homeless people sleeping completely rough. Rather the opposite, I think they’re evidence of ownership and a stake in the community. Many homeless people are native San Franciscans and have lived here far longer than I have. Many were evicted because of gentrification. I do not want to see the sight, in 2017, of police sweeping up and down my streets and evicting these people again. They’re my neighbors, and neighbors shouldn’t tear down each others’ houses. I don’t know why other people don’t see it this way. Maybe it’s because I’m in India, where slum shanties have a long and proud history (and can often be quite nice and valuable). I don’t think a slum shanty is great, but if that’s what people have, why should we take that away?
  • R – NO – Establishes a neighborhood crime unit. Why? To stop car break-ins? Police force allocations should be determined by the Police Chief, not by ballot referenda.
  • S – NO – Allocates funding from Hotel Tax. Again, I think funds should be allocated by legislators and the mayor, according to circumstances and our evolving needs.
  • T – YES – Restricts gifts from lobbyists
  • U – NO – Would raise income limits on who qualifies for affordable housing. Does nothing to solve housing crisis. It would just create more applicants for the same number of units.
  • V – YES – Tax on sugary beverages. The soda industry has spent like $60 billion trying to defeat this. I am sympathetic to the “No” position since, like the cigarette tax, this is a sin tax. Nonetheless, I’m voting for it, because I think there is something deeply wrong with the way we eat, and I think that in many cases this pattern, including the sugariness of our drinks, has been created through government subsidies that created perverse incentives. Further, soda is less addictive than nicotine, and nobody’s identity is defined by soda, so I don’t feel, the way I did with the cigarette tax, that we are victimizing a minority.
  • W – YES – Raises transfer taxes on properties over $5 million. Hey, if they have that much money, they should pay.
  • X – NO – Would require developments to provide accommodations if they’re eliminating certain kinds of uses for space. I couldn’t quite understand who would be the winners and losers here, so I voted against it, particularly since it’s not housing related.

Bart Bond Issue

  • YES – This is a bond issue to raise money for the BART. Seems like they need the money, so I voted for it.

Comments (



  1. davidperlmutter1

    As a Canadian, I wonder why Americans vote on so many things at once on election day rather than dealing with them all at separate times, like we do. You wouldn’t have any idea why that is, do you?

    1. R. H. Kanakia

      Yeah, it’s not true in all states. Some have more ballot referenda. Others have less. D.C., where I used to be registered, had very few referenda in comparison to CA. The whole ballot initiative thing harkens back to the progressive movement at the turn of the 20th century. The idea was to give power to the populace by providing citizens with the power to create and directly vote upon laws. As for why a similar movement never arose in Canada, I can’t say. Perhaps it’s because elections in Canada are held at irregular intervals and with, by American standards, relatively short campaign seasons. Thus it would be difficult for people to propose a referendum and collect enough signatures to put it on the ballot. Whereas with America’s regularly spaced elections, there’s more run up time and hence more ability to do things like this.

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