Ballot Badness: Vote No on Props Q, R, P and U

In my last column I wrote about two ballot measures that I like a lot: Proposition B (City College parcel tax) and Proposition W (Free City College). This month, just to balance things out, I thought I might cover a few measures I really do not like: Propositions Q, R, P and U.

Proposition Q is the brainchild of Supervisor Mark Farrell and would ban tents on sidewalks. I count at least three previous ballot measures over the last two decades that were supposed to address homelessness and its impacts on our neighborhoods: Care Not Cash in 2003, the ban on Aggressive Panhandling in 2004 and the ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks in 2010. I opposed each of these measures, not because I am some bleeding-heart lefty ideologue who thinks people should be able to camp out wherever they want to and make our public spaces unusable by anyone else, but because I saw these ballot measures as dishonest political (in the worst sense of the word) gimmicks to divide the electorate without offering real solutions.

All these years later, all these ballot measures later, housed San Franciscans are still angry about the state of our sidewalks and plazas, and too many homeless folks are still being left to rot in open sight. The problem is not a lack of laws on the books that can be used to clear tents or people off sidewalks. The problem is a more practical one: we have not mustered the resources to get those folks the housing, the health care, the drug treatment and other services they need once the tents have been cleared and they have been moved along.

I never forgave Gavin Newsom for Care Not Cash, but at least that measure actually enacted a policy change that Newsom knew he could not otherwise accomplish through the legislative process at City Hall. For good or for ill, the measure defunded the direct cash grants thousands of homeless people relied on to survive and re-directed those funds to create more supportive housing. Farrell’s measure, by contrast, finds no new funding and offers no new solutions. It’s the worst.

Proposition R is Supervisor Scott Wiener’s measure to establish a Neighborhood Crime Unit of at least 60 officers to focus on robbery, burglary, vandalism and theft, as well as neighborhood “quality of life” crimes. Maybe that kind of unit is a good idea; maybe it’s not. But why on earth is this even on the ballot? Police Department staffing decisions don’t obviously seem like a natural fit for direct democratic decision-making, and I have yet to hear a compelling reason why the voters should have to decide this one.

Propositions P and U were cooked up by the San Francisco Association of Realtors apparently with the intention of screwing over the nonprofit affordable housing developers who are often politically at odds with the realtors. The trouble is these measures will also end up screwing over a lot of people in desperate need of more affordable housing.

Proposition P seems like a good government measure requiring competitive bidding in the affordable housing context. However, opponents argue the measure ignores the realities of affordable housing production in San Francisco. The City already has a competitive bid process, but by prohibiting approval of an affordable housing project unless there are at least three competitive bids, the measure could end up delaying or killing unprofitable affordable projects that often receive fewer than three bids.

Proposition U, also sponsored by the Realtors, would change the affordability requirements imposed on developers of market rate housing. Instead of having to develop a percentage of the project to be affordable to households at 55% of area median income (AMI), Prop U would raise that threshold to 110% of AMI. Now I am all for requiring developers to build more housing for the middle class, but not at the cost of losing housing for the poor. That’s just wrong.

Each of these measures has a superficial appeal. If you dig a little deeper, however, you will find that each one is rooted in a profoundly cynical approach to governance. When confronted with a ballot as long as this November’s will be, I know some voters tend to just vote “no” on everything. I would not encourage that approach; there are simply too many worthy and important measures that need your vote. But when you hit Propositions Q, R, P and U, please do feel free to give into that impulse to just say no.