November 2019 San Francisco Voting Guide

NEW: I’ve moved my blog. Find this and more at https://www.sbuss.dev/post/november-2019-san-francisco-voting-guide/

I will use my San Francisco Voting Framework to give you recommendations for the November 2019 election. The numbers in (parenthesis) are the voting principles I’m applying to my endorsement.

If you think we need this kind of rigorous analysis in the Democratic Party, then please support me: Steven Buss for Democratic County Central Committee.

San Francisco Ballot Propositions

A: Yes — Affordable Housing Bond (10)
B: Yes — Department of Disability and Aging Services
C: No — Vapor Products (7)
D: Yes — Traffic Congestion Mitigation Tax (1, 4)
E: Yes — Affordable Housing and Educator Housing (2, 3)
F: No — Campaign Contributions and Campaign Advertisements (5, 7)

San Francisco People

Mayor: London Breed
Supervisor, District 5: Vallie Brown
City Attorney: (uncontested) Dennis Herrera
District Attorney: Leif Dautch #1, Nancy Tung #2, Suzy Loftus #3
Public Defender: (uncontested) Mano Raju
Sheriff: (uncontested) Paul Miyamoto
Treasurer: (uncontested) Jose Cisneros
Board of Education: Jenny Lam
Community College Board: (uncontested) No Endorsement

Explanations below

San Francisco Ballot Propositions: Why?

Prop A — Affordable Housing Bond

YES. This municipal bond will fund the creation and preservation of Affordable housing.

This bond needs a ⅔ majority to win, so PLEASE tell your friends to vote yes!

Here’s a breakdown of where the $600MM goes, copied from the SPUR voter guide:

  • $220 million for the construction, acquisition and rehabilitation of low-income housing, including supportive housing for households earning between 0% and 80% of AMI.
  • $150 million for the repair and rebuilding of distressed public housing, which serves households earning between 0% and 80% of AMI.
  • $150 million for the creation of senior housing for households earning between 0% and 80% of AMI.
  • Up to $30 million for the preservation of existing affordable housing (serving households earning between 30% and 120% of AMI) that is at risk of physical decline or conversion to market-rate housing.
  • At least $30 million to assist in the creation of housing opportunities for middle-income households earning between 80% and 200% of AMI, such as site acquisition for new housing developments or individual down-payment assistance programs.
  • $20 million for predevelopment and construction of housing for educators making between 30% and 140% of AMI.

It’s not perfect. It spends too much money on preservation and not enough on building new units. A bond should be used to build or repair infrastructure, not to fund subsidies (regular taxes should fund those).

Of the $220MM that’s reserved for “construction, acquisition and rehabilitation of low-income housing,” I would estimate at least a quarter will be spent on the acquisition portion — aka removing units from the market via “small site acquisition.” Combined with $30MM for “preservation of existing affordable housing,” and $30MM for the down-payment assistance program and other middle-class subsidies, that’s over $100MM not being spent on construction of new Affordable housing.

But the upside far outweighs the downside.

This will directly fund construction of thousands of units of subsidized housing. Given roughly $800,000 per door for each unit of affordable housing, and the fact that $1 in city money is leveraged into about $3 with state and federal subsidies, the remaining ¾ of the $220MM will build over over 600 units for the working class, and the $150MM for new senior housing will build over 500 units for seniors.

I’m not sure if the $20MM for educator housing will qualify for state and federal subsidies, if not then it will build about 25 units; if it does then it should fund about 75 units for teachers.

It took a lot of political capital to get here and wouldn’t be possible without the hard work of Mayor Breed and YIMBY Action.

This satisfies principle 10.

Prop B — Department of Disability and Aging Services

YES. We have to vote on this because it’s a charter amendment. It’s a simple uncontroversial change with no reason to oppose.

For background, San Francisco has a city charter which defines (way too) many things about how the city works. It’s kind of like the city’s constitution. We’ve done many dumb things with the charter over the years, which is why Prop B is necessary. The name and membership of this department is defined in the city charter, so any changes must go to the voters. Yes, this is a dumb way to run a city. No, that’s not a good reason to oppose it.

This doesn’t really satisfy or undermine any principle in my voting framework.

Prop C — Vapor Products

NO. Look, vaping shouldn’t be banned. All of the research I’ve seen indicates that vaping is dramatically safer than smoking combustible cigarettes. I really want to vote yes… but putting these new regulations into law via ballot prop will prevent the city from altering the regulations without another popular vote. Regulations should be defined by the legislative arm (the Board of Supervisors) and not by ballot prop.

I went back and forth on this prop. For most of this election season I was leaning Yes because I don’t think vaping should be banned. But I ultimately ended up on No. Here’s what I learned:

Vaping is much safer than smoking cigarettes, and the increase in vaping doesn’t nullify the decrease is smoking.

The UK has put out some excellent research on the safety of vaping vs cigarettes, including a finding that vapes are 95% safer than combustible cigarettes:

  • the current best estimate is that e-cigarettes are around 95% less harmful than smoking
  • nearly half the population (44.8%) don’t realise e-cigarettes are much less harmful than smoking
  • there is no evidence so far that e-cigarettes are acting as a route into smoking for children or non-smokers

The Royal College of Physicians in the UK goes so far as to recommend “promoting e-cigarettes widely as [a] substitute for smoking.”

Yes, usage (even among children) is rising, but switching to vaping is still net-positive on public health.

The US Surgeon General put out a report on “E-Cigarette use among youth and young adults” in the United States. The top-level summary is that “ the use of electronic cigarettes (or e-cigarettes) is growing rapidly among American youth and young adults.” While it is true that vaping is increasing among youth, the net number of tobacco users has not increased according to this report (caveat: the usage data in this report stop in 2015, which is before Juul really got popular, so this data may not actually be that useful in 2019). Keep in mind that even if usage rates go up, vaping instead of smoking is still a net-positive public health win since vaping is 95% safer.

Here are two big-take-away graphs:

Among middle school students, usage of combustible cigarettes has gone down while vaping has increased. You can see that 100% of the increase in “combustible and noncombustibles” is made up by the noncombustibles (aka vapes). This backs up what the UK found — that vaping is not actually a gateway to smoking cigarettes.

Note that this graph is a little weird. The blue line “Combustibles and e-cigarettes” only is an intersection, not a union — ie it doesn’t include people who vape but don’t smoke, it only includes people who do both. To find the total number of tobacco users, we have to manually sum up the lines. In 2013, e-cigarette only + combustible and e-cigarette only + combustible only sums to about 14%. In 2015 it sums to about …14%.

This trend holds in high school, too:

As in the middle school graph above, we need to sum up the various lines. In 2013 the net usage of combustible or vapes is about 33%, in 2015 the sum is about 36%. All of that growth is from vaping while combustible usage has gone down dramatically. This is a huge public health victory.

Ok, so if vaping isn’t a gateway drug to smoking cigarettes, and vaping is 95% safer than cigarettes, and tobacco usage isn’t actually skyrocketing, and all things considered this is good for public health, then why am I opposing Prop C? Simply, it comes down to good government and regulatory capture.

Vote No on C because it’s the definition of regulatory capture

Prop C was written by Juul — it is the literal definition of regulatory capture: a private company regulating itself. The regulations they’re proposing aren’t necessarily bad, but they’re completely inflexible and written in a way that is likely to be overly favorable to Juul.

But the worst part of this particular regulatory capture is that these regulations will be extremely difficult to change.

The way government ought to regulate is via the legislature, not via the ballot box. If Prop C passes, then any changes to these regulations must also go to a public vote instead of the regular deliberative processes at the Board of Supervisors (the only way to modify a ballot prop is another ballot prop).

I really don’t like that we banned vaping. I think it’s a bad choice that the Supervisors should reverse. But Juul just needs to get regulatory approval from the FDA to not be subject to the ban. They could have spent the last six months doing that instead of writing their own legislation. They could have done a simple repeal of the ban (which I would have endorsed). Juul has a clear way out that doesn’t undermine good government: just apply for FDA approval.

The better democratic approach is to vote out your Supervisor.

This satisfies principle 7.

Prop D — Traffic Congestion Mitigation Tax

YES. Traffic and pollution are unpriced externalities. We should tax them.

This will levy a small tax on Uber & Lyft rides, with a lower tax for shared rides (eg Uber Pool). On the margin, it should decrease rideshare usage and hopefully shift those riders to public transit, walking, or biking. That’s both good for the environment and for public health. There’s a risk, however, that people will instead be pushed to take a private car since street parking is often free.

Other possible downsides include decreased economic opportunity for Uber drivers, and making it harder to pass a full congestion pricing bill later, since that would target what’s left: private car usage. I don’t think either of these are worth opposing the prop over, though.

This prop needs two thirds of voters to approve, and all of the polling indicates it’s going to fail. Be sure to tell your friends to vote yes!

This satisfies principle 1 and principle 4.

Prop E — Affordable Housing and Educator Housing

YES. Prop E will rezone some parcels for Affordable housing, lessen some restrictive rules about the built form of the building, exempt 100% Affordable buildings from conditional use permits, and mandate that the projects are reviewed within 90 or 180 days depending on the size of the project.

At a headline level, this prop is AMAZING. But it does have some drawbacks that make it not quite as good as it could have been. This is mostly due to petty politics from the Board of Supervisors: they killed Mayor Breed’s proposal which was more permissive. The Mayor’s proposal would have allowed additional height and had less strict unit mix requirements (percent of 1, 2, and 3 bedroom units). The board claims it’s doing more than it’s actually doing; see these two amazing twitter threads for details: thread 1, thread 2.

But hey, it’s probably the very first upzoning that the Progressives have ever done. This is a HUGE victory for YIMBY!

This satisfies principle 2 and principle 3.

Prop F — Campaign Contributions and Campaign Advertisements

NO. Prop F is being pitched as a good governance prop, but it is the exact opposite. It prevents home builders from donating to candidates running for Mayor or Supervisor, while further entrenching the voices of homeowners. It also adds new complex financial disclosure requirements that will not increase transparency. It will make it harder for grassroots candidates to run for office without accidentally making a mistake which will cost them thousands of dollars. It will cement the political machine running San Francisco by adding new, cumbersome, and complex rules that upstarts won’t be able to comply with.

The reason Prop F is on the ballot is political — ballot props related to ethics almost always win. People love voting for things that claim to be about good government and transparency. So many ethics laws have been passed at the ballot that we’re now stuck doing it constantly since — like with Prop C — the only way to change something passed by ballot prop is to run another ballot prop.

Prop F claims to do two things:

  1. “Get developer money out of politics” aka ban home builders from donating to political campaigns while protecting small landowners.
  2. “Sunlight on dark money” aka new campaign finance reporting requirements

1. “Get developer money out of politics”

The first part of Prop F is so disingenuous it hurts. I’m just going to copy/paste from YIMBY voting guide:

In short: anyone who is building projects with 10+ homes would be prohibited from donating to candidates for Supervisor, Mayor, and City Attorney. Part one is a bit petty, but won’t have a huge impact. Home builders cannot buy influence with $500 contributions to supervisors. Ironically, this could push those donations to PACs, making things more opaque rather than less.

Part 1 would prohibit anyone with a “financial interest in a land use matter” from donating to candidates running for those elected offices. Any individual or officer of a company developing a project worth more than $5 million would be impacted. Nearly every building with at least 10 homes is worth more than $5 million.

Prop F exempts primary residences, so homeowners who are trying to remodel or develop their homes get a blanket exemption from these new limitations. Additionally, it does not impose limits on mega landlords who just collect rent; it only impacts people producing new homes.

This may be a violation of prior restraint and will almost certainly trigger a long court battle. The city is going to have to pay for these legal bills. We’re signing ourselves up to spend tens of millions of dollars fighting for a very dumb new regulation.

2. “Dark money”

The Progressives love to talk about “dark money,” but the donations they’re trying to police are anything but. The phrase “dark money” refers to money which is funneled through shell organizations to fund causes while hiding the source of the cash. We just… don’t have that here for local elections. Literally every donation is public and you can look up the source of all donations at sfethics.org. But fighting “dark money” polls so well!

With this portion of Prop F, they are:

  • Increasing the minimum font size of the campaign disclosure statement (eg “Paid for by That Fucking Guy for District 3 Supervisor 2020. Financial disclosures available at sfethics.org”) from 12pt to 14pt
  • Mandating the top two donors in a PAC be individually mentioned on campaign literature
  • Mandating the disclosure statements happen at the beginning of phone calls and video ads

To give you an idea of how big 14pt font is — if I were to write out my entire disclosure statement for my 2020 DCCC race, “Steven Buss for Democratic County Central Committee 2020. Financial disclosures available at sfethics.org” it would fill an entire side of a business card.

Current law mandates that the top two donors of a PAC must be disclosed on campaign lit. But the top two donors may also be PACs, so you could see a disclosure statement like:

Ad paid for by The Human Fund PAC. Committee major funding by
ㅤFriends of Humans PAC
ㅤPeople for the passing the buck PAC
This advertisement was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate. Financial disclosures are available at sfethics.org.

If Prop F passes, this will change to:

Ad paid for by The Human Fund PAC. Committee major funding by
ㅤFriends of Humans PAC, major funding by
ㅤㅤBig Bad Bear
ㅤㅤEvilCorp, Inc
ㅤPeople for the passing the buck PAC, major funding by
ㅤㅤSome guy
ㅤㅤSafer time travel PAC
ㅤFriends of ink distributors PAC
ㅤㅤCommittee for wasting voters’ time
ㅤㅤBig Bird
This advertisement was not authorized by a candidate or a committee controlled by a candidate. Financial disclosures are available at sfethics.org.

Finally, this entire new disclosure statement needs to be read out at the beginning of any phone call, TV ad, or radio ad. All for information you can already get at sfethics.org. This isn’t making anybody more informed or taking big money out of elections. It’s just a new requirement to make running for office even harder. It will privilege incumbents and people part of the political machine.

Prop F is being sold as increasing transparency and accountability, when in reality it just adds new onerous disclosure requirements and prohibits people who build homes from donating to campaigns. Don’t fall for the lies being spun about Prop F. Vote NO.

This satisfies principle 5 and principle 7.

San Francisco People: Why?

When analyzing people I don’t have a voter framework, but I do consider my personal political identity and policy preferences. They’re presented fairly well in the YIMBY Neoliberal platform.

Mayor: London Breed

She’s serious about getting more housing built. She has consistently pushed to make our regulatory landscape easier to understand, to streamline production of subsidized Affordable housing, led the effort on Prop A: the Affordable Housing Bond, created a Director of Housing Delivery, and has had consistently shown her YIMBY credentials, and is endorsed by YIMBY.

No one else in the race comes close to her level of competence and dedication to fixing San Francicso’s ills.

Supervisor, District 5: Vallie Brown

Vallie Brown, like Mayor Breed, is serious about getting housing built. She has endorsements from YIMBY, The Chronicle, The Examiner, the Democratic County Central Committee, the United Democratic Club, and many elected officials. She understands that the city needs housing production at all income levels.

Her opponent, Dean Preston, is a multi-millionaire landowning “socialist” who opposes all market rate housing construction. He says we should only build subsidized housing but has no clear way to pay for it, so none of it will actually get built. One might accuse him of opposing all housing development…

City Attorney: (uncontested) Dennis Herrera

This race is uncontested. I don’t really know anything about Herrera, but there is no competitor for this race.

District Attorney: Leif Dautch #1, Nancy Tung #2, Suzy Loftus #3

The front runners in this race are Chesa Boudin and Suzy Loftus. I think neither Leif Dautch nor Nancy Tung have a good chance of winning, which has influenced my ranking.

I don’t have strong positive feelings about any of the above, but I do have some fairly strongly negative opinions about Boudin. Chief among them are his stance on drunk driving, and his collaboration with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

Chesa thinks that the system is too hard on drunk drivers and that people arrested on a DUI should get an easier plea deal. He is pitching himself as the “progressive” DA candidate, but since drunk driving is a crime that’s most commonly committed by white men, one could be forgiven for questioning his commitment. I’m a daily bicycle commuter, and the thought of having a DA who wants to go light on drunk drivers makes me literally fear for my life.

Bad opinions on drunk driving aside, his collaboration with the Venezuelan regime under Hugo Chavez should disqualify him from ever holding public office in the US. After graduating from college, he moved to Venezuela to work as a translator for Hugo Chavez and even advised him on policy (and wrote a terrible book about it). Helping Chavez destroy Venezuela through a disastrous socialist revolution shows an unbelievable lack of judgement and a fundamental misalignment with American values and norms. He even argued that is was a good thing when Chavez abolished term limits and made himself president for life.

Chesa Boudin shouldn’t ever hold public office.

As for my ranking of Dautch #1, Tung #2, Loftus #3 — it is because Loftus is almost certain to win that I place her last. I think Suzy Loftus will do a fine job, but won’t do anything to meaningfully reshape the DA’s office. I am intrigued by both Dautch and Tung’s stance on fixing property crime (eg bust the organized crime rings that do most car-window-busting), and their general rhetoric on the need for reform. I don’t think that Loftus will do a bad job, but I think the status quo in San Francisco is not working and we need reformers.

It doesn’t much matter if you put Dautch or Tung first — neither will get enough votes to win. The only thing that matters is that you don’t vote for Chesa Boudin.

Public Defender: (uncontested) Mano Raju

This race is uncontested. I don’t really know anything about Raju, but there is no competitor for this race.

Sheriff: (uncontested) Paul Miyamoto

This race is uncontested. I don’t really know anything about Miyamoto, but there is no competitor for this race.

Treasurer: (uncontested) Jose Cisneros

This race is uncontested. I don’t really know anything about Cisneros, but there is no competitor for this race.

Board of Education: Jenny Lam

This is more of a de-endorsement of her two competitors. Since I don’t have children, I don’t really follow education issues. I figure that since I’m not being directly affected, I should leave it up to people with kids in the school system.

Lam’s competitors are in the race for the wrong reasons: they both are running to preserve the Washington High mural, not to improve the education system. I am not going to say anything about the mural, but I will say that running for a seat on the Board of Education just because of your pet issue that has nothing to do with education is despicable. We owe it to our kids to vote for people who actually care about their education. Vote Jenny Lam.

Community College Board: (uncontested) No Endorsement

This race is uncontested. Ivy Lee is the only person running, but I can’t recommend her.

Ivy Lee is going to run for Supervisor and she’s using this race as a stepping stone. This happens far too often in San Francisco politics and is one of the reasons our institutions struggle so much. The people running are interested in their own career advancement, not in doing a good job.

I don’t have enough knowledge to know if Ivy Lee will do a good or bad job, but I strongly object to using Community College Board as a ladder to higher office. I intend to leave this choice blank.

YIMBY Neoliberal lead, YIMBY Action Board Member, Software Engineer, A little too obsessed with land use policy