Ballot measures San Franciscans will consider next month could affect city employee health care and pension contributions, public transit operator pay, hotel and real estate taxes, and the ability of police to crack down on confrontational street denizens.
Voters will entertain 15 local propositions on the Nov. 2 ballot.
Proposition B, a measure offered by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, is estimated to save the city about $120 million annually by raising the contributions of city workers to their pension plans and also to dependent health care.
Proponents say the city is facing an unsustainable financial burden based on the costs of employee pensions and health care, and that workers need to contribute more.
The measure, which requires a simple majority to pass, has drawn fierce opposition from city worker unions and from almost every major elected official in the city, who say it will hurt working families.
Proponents claim the concerns are overblown, and that officials are beholden to those same unions for their re-election campaigns.
Proposition G, an initiative spearheaded by Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, would change the way San Francisco Municipal Railway operators are paid.
Currently, the city charter requires Muni drivers be paid the second-highest operator salaries in the country. This measure would require contracts be negotiated through collective bargaining and binding arbitration, similar to other city employees.
According to the controller’s office, as of July, the highest Muni driver wage rate was $27.92 per hour.
Opponents say the measure targets drivers without fixing Muni service.
Proposition G requires a simple majority for passage.
Propositions J and N would raise hotel and real estate taxes, respectively.
Proposition J, an initiative by the San Francisco Labor Council, would increase the city’s tax on non-residential hotel guests from 14 percent to 16 percent for three years. The controller’s office estimates the measure would generate an additional $38 million per year for the city. It requires a simple majority to pass.
Mayor Gavin Newsom, who opposes the measure, placed Proposition K on the ballot, which if passed by a greater margin than Proposition J, will nullify it and keep the hotel tax rate at 14 percent. It would clarify existing hotel tax laws and raise an estimated $12 million more annually for the city.
Proposition N, placed on the ballot by eight members of the Board of Supervisors, would raise the city’s tax rate on the sale or long-term lease of real estate valued at $5 million or more, from 1.5 percent to between 2 and 2.5 percent.
Proponents say it will help fund city services by taxing the sale of the biggest downtown office buildings and not homeowners or small property owners. The measure also requires a simple majority to pass.
According to the controller’s office, the measure could have generated between $6 and $90 million more for the city annually had it been in effect for the past 10 years, but the office noted that the property transfer tax is the city’s most volatile revenue source.
The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce opposes both tax measures, while supporters include the San Francisco Democratic Party.
Another controversial proposal, supported by Newsom and police Chief George Gascon, would give police more authority to crack down on homeless people disturbing pedestrians on city sidewalks.
Proposition L would ban sitting or lying on a public sidewalk between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m., with exceptions for disabled persons using wheelchairs, parades and protests, lawful sidewalk businesses, or waiting in a line.
It would also require police to give an initial warning before violators are cited. It requires a simple majority for passage.
The sit-lie initiative was originally backed by some business owners in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood who complained to police about homeless street youth encamped on the sidewalks becoming more aggressive or threatening to people walking past them.
Business groups support the measure, but homeless advocates condemn it as an attack on the homeless, saying police should merely enforce existing laws.
Police contend that under current law, they need residents or business owners to file a complaint and testify in court in order to address the behavior. They say many business owners are reluctant to close shop in order to go to court to testify, or are afraid of retribution if they do.
Proposition L closes that loophole, according to police.
Another measure, Proposition M, spearheaded by Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, would require police to adopt a new policy on foot patrols by officers, and would also invalidate the sit-lie measure if it receives more votes.
Voters will also consider propositions to increase the vehicle registration fee; finance earthquake retrofits on affordable housing; require the mayor to appear monthly before the Board of Supervisors; and allow non-citizen residents to vote for school board members.
Four other measures would establish Election Day voter registration; reduce the frequency of Health Service Board elections; prohibit elected officials from serving on influential local political committees; and allow Saturday voting in the November 2011 local election.
Ari Burack, Bay City News