Blog: January, 2012
Ocean Beach Master Plan DRAFT Document: For Your Review
Thank you very much for your interest in the Ocean Beach Master Plan and for your help reviewing this draft document. The Ocean Beach Master Plan process was built around public and stakeholder input.
The main purpose of the document review is for you to confirm the message and content is consistent with the past 12 months of discussion, input and alternatives development. The draft document review period will be from today, January 27, 2012, until February 29, 2012.
Please review the draft (whole doc here (75M!) or in eight parts below) and submit your feedback. To ensure your comments are properly recorded and reviewed, please email them to email@example.com in this format:
- Subject line: DRAFT OBMP COMMENTS [your name/affiliation]
- First, GENERAL COMMENTS about the document
- Then, specific comments. For each comment, begin with SECTION and PAGE NUMBER, e.g. “Section V, pp14-15: [your comment]"
- Within your comment, refer to specific graphics as appropriate
- Via U.S. mail:
SPUR (attn. Benjamin Grant)
654 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94105
Please don’t hesitate to contact us (firstname.lastname@example.org) during the review month as we will be happy to clarify any element of the draft document.
Thanks again for your interest in making Ocean Beach the best open space in the city, and for your dedication throughout our planning process!
- OBMP_DRAFT1. Front_Matter_Executive_Summary
- OBMP-DRAFT2. Introduction_Project_Goals
- OBMP-DRAFT3. Chapter 4. Focus_Areas
- OBMP-DRAFT4. Chapter 5. Test_Scenarios
- OBMP-DRAFT5. Chapter 6. Draft_Recommendations
- OBMP-DRAFT6. Chapter 7. Implementation_Strategy
- OBMP-DRAFT7. Chapter 8-9. Cost_Benefit_Analysis_Outreach_Process
- OBMP-DRAFT8. Appendices
The Future of Chinatown’s Stockton Street
How can a rich historical space welcome visitors and new community members while ensuring that it continues to work for current residents? This question is central to the future of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Stockton Street between Sacramento and Broadway boasts one of the busiest, most vibrant corridors in the city. The street is packed with a healthy mix of retail and housing and is well used by many generations of cyclists and pedestrians. But Stockton Street is quickly surpassing its maximum capacity. Buses are overcrowded, retail shop displays spill out onto the street, and truck drivers load and unload merchandise from the street at any time of day, sometimes even using their trucks as makeshift storefronts. Meanwhile, the booming area must decide how to accommodate additional growth and change in the coming years.
To address these concerns while maintaining affordable housing, transit equity, pedestrian safety and a sense of community, SPUR and the Chinatown Community Development Center are undertaking a re-envisioning process for Stockton Street. The process includes upcoming public workshops in both English and Cantonese. SPUR recently held a youth-led tour of Stockton Street.
Stockton Street’s fresh produce markets experience such fierce competition that they sometimes sell items at wholesale value. Each market is allotted two feet of sidewalk space, but they often use more. Most of the food comes from local sources.
The Ping Yuen Central building, at left, is one of four public housing buildings that comprise roughly 10 percent of Chinatown’s housing. In the past, tenants felt that the housing authority was not doing enough to protect the residents. They participated in a rent strike for improvements, winning new gates and other security measures. It is the only housing in Chinatown managed by the government (HUD).
In order to improve safety, Stockton Street instituted “scramble signals” which halt all car traffic and allow pedestrians to cross any direction, including diagonally.
Buses on Stockton Street are often crowded, which slows loading time and causes delays. The new Central Subway will augment public transit in the neighborhood and connect Chinatown to downtown and other parts of the city.
The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (headquartered in the buildling with the green tile awning) was formed in response to nineteenth century anti-Chinese sentiment. The association adjudicated neighborhood disputes and provided newly arrived immigrants with social services including job placement, housing, food and legal representation. Today the association holds an estimated 30 percent of the properties in Chinatown.
Learn more about the re-envisioning process or register for one of the public workshops:
Life After Redevelopment
Redevelopment as we’ve known it really is dead in California. On December 20, the California Supreme Court upheld the legislature’s elimination of redevelopment agencies — and struck down the option for the agencies to pay back a portion of their funding to continue to exist.
This outcome represents the worst-case scenario for supporters of redevelopment. I for one was surprised, having spent all of 2011 working with various coalitions to reform, rather than eliminate, redevelopment. SPUR Board members like Elizabeth Seifel and Fred Blackwell worked tirelessly throughout the last year to avoid this outcome.
As of this writing, some people hope that the state legislature will come up with a new bill that brings redevelopment — or parts of it — back to life. The Supreme Court ruling is clearly more draconian in its result than what the legislature intended. However, new legislation seems unlikely as cities are all winding down their redevelopment agencies, and other government entities are getting ready to feast on the remains of redevelopment. Each redevelopment agency must prepare a list of its “enforceable obligations” — things that still need to be paid for by redevelopment funds before funds flow to other government entities. And each city needs to figure out how to do what has been traditionally been done with redevelopment funds.
What does this surprising turn of events mean for the urbanist agenda in California?
The mixed history of redevelopment
To begin with, we need to acknowledge that redevelopment probably did more harm than good over its long life. Starting in the 1920s, progressive planners in America dreamed of tearing down “slum housing” and replacing it with new, modern public housing. In 1937 the Wagner Housing Act launched both public housing and urban renewal in America, linking the two with the requirement that, for every unit of new public housing created, a unit of “substandard” housing would be removed.
California adopted enabling legislation for urban renewal in 1945. The sins of this phase of redevelopment have been widely documented. The planning establishment, including SPUR (then the San Francisco Planning and Housing Association, and later the Planning and Urban Renewal Association), supported urban renewal in a misguided attempt to stem population and job flight from the inner city. In 1947, SPUR published its report “Blight and Taxes,” urging San Francisco to get to work on its program to reinvest in depressed neighborhoods as a way to shore up the shrinking tax base of the city.
San Francisco’s most important African-American neighborhood, the Fillmore, was bulldozed, as were the South of Market area’s single-room occupancy hotels. The post-war “pro-growth machine” — a coalition of labor, business, developers and planners — worked together to build new neighborhoods according to the design fads of the day, with little regard for the people who lived there. The result was displacement on a massive scale and the creation of places that, today, no one loves.
I’m willing to argue that the damage done by this generation of modernist planners outweighs any positive redevelopment outcomes that came later. But the ironic truth is that, for the past 30 years, redevelopment has become one of the leading tools for social justice and equity in planning. It’s the single most important source of funding for affordable housing and a primary tool for economic development. Moreover, the sins of early redevelopment catalyzed a generation. Community-based movements managed to stop slum clearance, urban freeways and many other mistakes of modernist planning. By the late 1970s the values of the planning profession had undergone a profound shift to emphasize walkability, historic preservation, mixing of uses and the virtues of a traditional, fine-grained property-ownership fabric. The age of wholesale change was over. The age of careful interventions — or no interventions at all — had emerged.
Redevelopment in its early days channeled federal dollars to local projects. But by the 1970s, federal money was mostly gone, and what remained was the powerfully creative tool called tax-increment financing. When a redevelopment area is formed, the original assessed value of all properties within the project area is established. Improvements are planned, and a new assessment is made of the higher land value that the improvements are expected to generate. The difference between the property taxes on these two assessed values is the “increment” of tax increase, which is transferred to the redevelopment agency for up to 45 years after the plan is approved.
Redevelopment has been used for many different types of projects across the state of California, from clear winners like Mission Bay to clear losers like subsidizing golf courses. In cities like San Jose, redevelopment removed key parts of the downtown fabric and left parking lots. Once a new generation came into power, the San Jose Redevelopment Agency spent several decades trying to create a new downtown core that would become a pedestrian-oriented center for Silicon Valley. Now the city is making good progress on how it will continue to fund new projects. Defenders of redevelopment need to acknowledge that many investments by redevelopment agencies simply did not work — from either the perspective of stimulating economic growth or of making successful urban neighborhoods. On the other hand, critics have to admit that many other projects done by redevelopment agencies did work.
But one thing is clear: Redevelopment became the go-to tool for many mayors and city councils up and down the state, with more than 400 redevelopment agencies forming in California. Redevelopment project areas comprise fully 12 percent of the assessed value of the state. In many cases a lot of money was spent with little result. All of this helps explain why Governor Jerry Brown decided to go after the agencies despite his own successful use of the redevelopment tools when he was mayor of Oakland.
What is so difficult in trying to think about city-making in the post-redevelopment era is that redevelopment was used for so many different purposes. As we try to think through how we will solve urban problems using new tools, we will need to devise somewhat distinct solutions for each of the things that we formerly relied on redevelopment to do. Let’s take a look at each of them:
Over the past 20 years, redevelopment has provided the most consistent source of funding for affordable housing in San Francisco and the State of California. Last year, redevelopment provided more than $1 billion in annual funding statewide. State law requires redevelopment agencies to spend 20 percent of the tax increment they collect on affordable housing. In some project areas, San Francisco decided to spend 50 percent of net tax increment on affordable housing. For the affordable housing movement, the death of redevelopment is a catastrophe. But in theory the question of what to do in a post-redevelopment world is not complicated: We need to come up with other sources of funding for affordable housing.
As a combined city and county, San Francisco was able to keep 80 to 90 percent of the local property tax in redevelopment areas; now, without redevelopment San Francisco will be able to capture about 65 percent of the incremental property tax. The city can continue to spend money on affordable housing if it so chooses. But for other cities, the death of redevelopment means a far bigger cut. Most housing advocates are hoping for a new statewide source of funding to make up at least some of the reduction.
Infrastructure and public amenities
Tax-increment financing was used to build infrastructure: streets, roads, sewer lines and all the other basics. It was also used to build public amenities like parks, museums and streetscape improvements: Yerba Buena Gardens, the Tech Museum in San Jose, the new park along Mission Creek and countless other examples. This would then attract private investment to come into a blighted area. When property values would rise as a result of the infrastructure investment, the redevelopment agency would pay back the initial cost of the infrastructure with the tax increment it received.
It’s impossible to imagine private development creating a public amenity like Yerba Buena Gardens without the tool of redevelopment.
The governor, a year ago, said that the elimination of redevelopment would be accompanied by new tools that would make it easier to pay for infrastructure, such as lowering the threshold to issue bonds requiring voter approval to 55 percent. As of yet, we have seen no move in this direction. Moreover, voters do not typically agree to tax themselves to pay for boring, uncharismatic things like basic infrastructure.
It seems that, no matter how you look at it, the elimination of redevelopment is going to result in a reduced investment in infrastructure. Increased reliance on voter-approved bonds might be part of the solution. At a local level, cities can establish set-asides to pay for infrastructure or infrastructure maintenance, as SPUR has recommended.
Perhaps the most important answer will be increased use of Mello Roos Community Facility Districts (CFDs) and Infrastructure Finance Districts (IFDs). These are the two remaining primary tools that California law provides local governments to issue bonds to pay for up-front infrastructure.
There are some important differences: CFDs generate a revenue stream for bonds by adding a 20- to 40-year assessment on top of existing property taxes. Accordingly, they impose a new and direct financial burden on the property owner, so they have a tough political hurdle.
IFDs don’t increase property tax assessments, but instead divert a portion of the future new property tax generated above a base year (the so-called “increment”) for 30 years to provide a revenue stream for bonds, similar to classical redevelopment tax increment financing. Private property owners in theory should not object to the creation of an IFD if they understand that it won’t affect their bottom line — and, better yet, can help pay for public infrastructure investment in their neighborhood. However, IFD law typically limits the portion of increment available for bonding to between 10 to 20 cents per dollar, severely limiting its use beyond the City and County of San Francisco (where approximately 60 cents per dollar would be available).
Both CFDs and IFDs require a two-thirds approval of the voters and/or property owners that will be included in the district. (If 12 or more registered voters live within the boundaries of a proposed CFD or IFD, the law requires an election.) As a practical matter, this means that they only work for large single-ownership parcels (like former rail yards or military bases) with limited housing, and not for complex mixed-use urban neighborhoods with a multitude of property owners.
Redevelopment granted the democratic process enormous power over private property owners: Locally elected legislative bodies could vote to put properties into redevelopment areas without property-owner approval so long as the district as a whole met the legal definition of blight. Without redevelopment, there can only be infrastructure financing where the property owners consent by a two-thirds majority (or, again, by two-thirds of the registered voters if 12 or more registered voters reside in the district). Will this create an incentive for property owners to free load off of the investments made by other property owners or by the public? While locally elected legislative bodies may not always act wisely in how they apply their power over private landowners, nevertheless, the current shift of power away from the democratic process and toward private owners is striking.
Several modest reforms to IFD law could help a lot, most notably allowing local legislatures to form new IFDs without a vote of property owners and tolling the life of the district until debit is actually issued. Currently, it’s not even legal to create IFDs in places that were former redevelopment areas! Will this be changed? It’s too soon to tell.
Another area that defenders of redevelopment worry about is economic development. Given how shaky the discipline of local economic development is, I think this is an area where it is particularly difficult to evaluate the success of redevelopment.
The basic theory of local economic development is that localities need to produce traded goods and services in order to survive. What this means in practice is, generally, three approaches:
1. Reward businesses to come, stay or grow. There are many variants on this, some sophisticated, some not.
2. Enhance labor productivity through education or immigration.
3. Improve the physical or social environment in ways that are conducive to growth. This is where city boosters, chambers of commerce, advocates like SPUR and, yes, redevelopment agencies, have often focused their work.
Yes, it probably worked, and we have clear-cut successes like Mission Bay, but on the whole, it’s hard to tell if the net effect of redevelopment was an increase in jobs in California or just a shifting of jobs from one location to another.
In some cases, shifting the location of economic activity was, and is, precisely the goal. That’s why the original purpose of redevelopment was to remediate blighted areas. It may not increase total tax receipts to state government, but it very much does improve the well being of the state if we direct economic activity into depressed areas where it would otherwise not go.
Even without redevelopment, economic development will still be practiced by cities in California. We will use whatever tools we can, from business attraction and marketing (like SF Travel and the SF Center for Economic Development) to convening industry clusters (like SFMade or BayBio) to all the things we do to try to boost the skills and attractiveness of our workforce and our city.
Redevelopment provided some of the most powerful tools, especially where economic development and land-use change needed to go together. But the field of economic development has other tools as well.
The core of redevelopment
When redevelopment worked, it solved an enormous collective action problem: It got multiple property owners in a blighted area to simultaneously invest and benefit from each other’s investments. Rarely is one private sector actor big enough to assemble multiple parcels, and then finance and build major infrastructure and amenities that can also then re-capture its positive externalities. As redevelopment got more sophisticated, and combined these basic powers with affordable housing and other economic development strategies, it became a powerful tool.
It’s going to be harder to do now. The best redevelopment agencies became centers of entrepreneurial energy within local government: They had a culture of implementation and experimentation in contrast to the traditional planning culture of regulation. All of this could be lost now.
In some ways, what is most irreplaceable is the invaluable role that tax-increment finance plays in recapturing the real estate value generated by upfront public investments. I would argue that perhaps the core of modern redevelopment — as opposed to the bad old days of urban renewal — is the use of tax-increment financing: borrowing against future increases in land value to pay for things that will increase land value.
Taxing back some of the increase in land values to pay for neighborhood improvements meets all of the tests of being a good funding source: It is efficient, it does not discourage economic investment and it is fair.
In a state that has destroyed so much of its system of taxation, we have just witnessed the destruction of one more part. It was not working perfectly. It needed reform. It needed to be used less often. But all of those problems could have been solved.
It’s time to think big about what comes next. We need a new model of urban redevelopment for the 21st century. There will not be one answer, but there should be lots of good answers, matched to the right locations. We will be working hard at SPUR, with people from around the state, to come up with strategies for all of the things we used redevelopment for: affordable housing, infrastructure financing, economic development and everything else. We’re looking forward to figuring out the next chapter, hopefully informed by what worked, and what didn’t, during the previous one.
Stay tuned for the Ocean Beach Master Plan draft document!
The Trouble With Ranked-Choice Voting
I very much appreciate reading Professor Rich DeLeon’s response to my article on the recent municipal elections in San Francisco. Thank you to SPUR for encouraging this dialogue – I think the “author meets critic” format is a good one for instigating a reasoned and analytic debate. Unfortunately, in this case, I think Professor DeLeon’s critique rests on a host of flawed assumptions and tortured interpretations of my analysis of the election that border on the disingenuous and eludes the substantive issues. The purpose of my piece was simply to offer a short appraisal of the mayoral election and the use of ranked choice voting in the November contests. Space and time limitations precluded the type of rigorous analysis Professor DeLeon would have preferred (the article was written the weekend after the election and limited to 800 words) and I am pleased to respond here to his critique with both greater specificity and clarity because I think Professor DeLeon disagree to a far lesser extent than he imagines.
At the outset, and in the interests of full disclosure, I should state that I am neither a proponent nor an opponent of ranked choice voting, despite Professor DeLeon’s efforts to label me a “critic”. My own view is that there are no perfect voting systems and that there are tradeoffs inherent in each. I provided testimony in defense of ranked choice voting in the recent lawsuit brought against the city because I thought the data were clearly supportive of the city’s position, and my research on the recent elections in San Francisco, San Leandro, Oakland, and Berkeley suggests both substantial advantages to ranked choice voting and remaining challenges in the implementation of this voting system. I am not a partisan of either the “pro” or “anti” camps (apparently to the dismay of both).
To quote Professor DeLeon from his 2005 white paper, “it is important for both advocates and critics of this electoral reform to study whether IRV actually works in practice the way some have predicted it would based mainly on theory.” Unfortunately, it appears that to those who helped initiate the national movement for ranked choice voting, anyone who offers anything short of full-throated support is branded a critic and dismissed with misdirections and ad hominem arguments. This has the unfortunate consequence of limiting the discussion to the more extreme voices on both sides – those for repeal and those for maintaining RCV.
As I stated at the beginning of the piece, “by most objective measures”, ranked choice voting held up quite well in November. The results in all three citywide races were clear, there were proportionally less invalidated ballots than in previous elections, and a higher percentage of voters fully used the three rankings. This is indeed worthy of praise, though I don’t know about “breaking out the champagne” as Professor DeLeon suggests. The Department of Elections was wise to begin reporting the ranked choice counts the day after the election, and, as Professor DeLeon states in his conclusion, some candidates and political and non-political groups in town did their part to inform voters about ranked choice voting. It seems that Professor DeLeon would have me stop with that statement.
Instead, I express my perspective that the 2011 election, particularly the mayoral contest, was deeply flawed. The flaws, in my view, included low voter interest and participation and a rather tedious summer of interminable debates and candidate forums which largely yielded minimal substance succeeded by an ugly final month. I do not attempt to make assertions about the independent effects of ranked choice voting and repeatedly state (as the subtitle captures) that the relative effects of ranked choice voting in relation to these matters is “difficult to answer.” I think it is impossible to reach any definitive conclusions based on a single election. But I think that it is important to study whether ranked choice voting is indeed “a necessary reform for repairing our broken democracy” as Professor DeLeon, Chris Jerdonek, and Steven Hill write in their 2006 editorial.
In his letter to the Berkeley City Council urging adoption of Instant Runoff Voting, Professor DeLeon echoes the arguments proffered in favor of adoption in San Francisco: “IRV will insure that elected representatives have majority voter support. IRV will reward positive, issue-based campaigns, discourage negative campaigning, and promote coalition-building. IRV will require only one election rather than two, thus maximizing turnout (runoff elections typically draw fewer voters) and minimizing costs.” He then goes on to offer four additional arguments, one of which is that “ IRV will help to expand voter choice, activate voter interest, encourage greater (but kinder & gentler) political competition, and restore legitimacy to a political system…” I am unsure how else to “study whether IRV actually works in practice the way some have predicted it” without looking at the overall election.
I respond here to each of Professor DeLeon’s five criticisms of my article.
1. Ranked choice voting and popular opinion.
First, I ask whether ranked choice voting accurately captures individual voters’ preferences. This should be our primary concern about any voting system (a voting system is simply a method of aggregating individual preferences). As Professor DeLeon states, there are many possible ways of analyzing this critical question, including “an assessment of how accurately the observed voting patterns reflected the city’s diverse and complex demography.” I agree with him that this would be a worthwhile study, but not one that I could execute in 800 words or in the four days after an election as Professor DeLeon states he “might reasonably expect.” Thank goodness he wasn’t on my tenure committee.
Instead, I chose to analyze the nearly 200,000 ballots in the race to look at two types of voting behaviors: overvotes (ballots in which voters make errors that might invalidate their vote) and the numbers of rankings used by voters. The reason I look at these two measures is fairly straightforward. If voters’ ballots are invalidated at relatively high rates or disproportionately across groups, and/or if voters are not fully expressing their sincere preferences by exploiting the fullest potential of the ballot, this might suggest that the current system of implementing ranked choice voting is not accurately tallying individual voters’ sincere preferences. This methodology is a direct replication of a 2008 study by Neely and Cook that is, to my understanding, the only peer reviewed academic publication on ranked choice voting in San Francisco.
The data from the 2011 election reveal that 1.2% of voters cast an overvote in one of the three citywide contests. This rate is lower than in the past, and yet still higher than in typical “vote for one” candidate contests. Professor DeLeon wonders “how much lower… can it possibly be?” According to a study by Kimball and Kropf (2005), the mean overvote rate in gubernatorial races in their study was 0.17%. These scholars find that “overvotes are almost entirely a function of ballot features and voting technology” and are not related to demography. Overvotes are higher in counties using “connect the arrow” systems used in San Francisco, and yet they are “substantially less common in counties using the error correction feature” used in San Francisco (Kimball and Kropf, 2005:526). So we don’t have an apples-to-apples comparison and reasonable people can disagree about whether 1.2% is substantially higher than 0.17%. For comparison sake, rates of overvotes in 2010 were 1.2% in San Francisco, 0.9% in Oakland, and 0.4% in San Leandro. This strikes me as significant and worthy of discussion about how to mitigate voter error. But unlike overvotes in the races studied by Kimball and Kropf (2005), we do find that errors have been correlated with demographic characteristics of the population (see Neely and Cook, 2008). So it seems reasonable to discern whether there are things San Francisco can do to reduce their occurrence and ensure that some voters are not systematically less likely to cast valid ballots and perhaps learn from across the bay.
My concern with the number of rankings expressed by voters is similarly straightforward and is directly a test of the proposition that ranked choice voting “expand(s) voter choice” in practice as well as in theory. The number of fully-ranked ballots in this election was 73% in the Mayoral, and 52% in the DA race and 43% in the Sheriff race. If this accurately reflects voters’ preferences, the system is working well. If not, then less so. What do the data tell us?
The proportion of voters only voting for only one candidate in the mayoral race was 16%, compared with 27% in the DA’s race and 38% in the Sheriff’s race. 9% of voters ranked only one candidate in all three contests. Now, there are many explanations for this – that voters did not have enough information about other candidates, that voters found no other candidates acceptable, that voters were unaware about the option to rank three candidates, that voters were persuaded by a “vote for one” endorsement (like that of the city’s largest newspaper) or that they were confused by the various political actors spouting inaccuracies about ranked choice voting, among other explanations. I presume, based on previous studies, that it’s a bit of each, but do not hazard a guess beyond that. I would note that, as with overvotes, the incidence of ranking fewer than three choices is not randomly distributed. Data show that voters in the southeastern neighborhoods were more likely to rank only one candidate.
But as Professor DeLeon rightly notes, more research on this is needed and I make no conclusions about why this is the case, only to state that it is both important and “difficult to answer”. For what it’s worth, in the 2005 exit poll conducted by Neely, Blash, and Cook that Professor DeLeon cites, 31% of voters who ranked less than three state that they didn’t know enough about the other candidates, 21% say that no others were acceptable, and 9% say they didn’t know they could rank three.
Just a note about terminology. Professor DeLeon twice calls “misleading” my use of the term “bullet-voting” to characterize voters who vote only for one candidate “because political scientists and campaign managers typically use the term to mean a form of tactical voting in which a voter is encouraged to vote only for his or her preferred candidate.” This is not consistent with my reading of the political science literature which does not distinguish, as I do not, between tactical and sincere votes for a single candidate. Richard Niemi (in his seminal paper) calls bullet voting “voting for only one’s most preferred candidate” (Niemi, 1984). Similarly, Bullock and MacManus define bullet voting as “Voting for only one candidate out of a list of candidates” (Bullock and MacManus 1993). In more recent years, scholars have used bullet voting and “single shot voting” interchangeably (see Bowler and Yoshinaka, 2007; Bowler and Farrell, 2001; Zimmerman, 1994). And to appease any students who might be reading this, good old Wikipedia also does not distinguish between sincere and tactical votes for a single candidate in its description of bullet voting.
2. Ranked choice voting and turnout
Professor DeLeon and I agree that turnout in 2011 was lower than in previous mayoral contests, save 2007. He takes issue with my use of the term “abysmal”, which is certainly fair. He is right that turnout in 2011 was only 3.2% lower than in 2003 and 2.5% lower than in 1999 and higher than in Gavin Newsom’s largely uncontested re-election in 2007. I might mention, however, that observers in 1999 and 2003 complained about low turnout and that in both December runoffs, turnout increased. In 2003, turnout went from 45.7 in November to 54.5% in December. In 1999, turnout went from 45.0% to 48.8%. I suppose I used the term “abysmal” because I was particularly impressed by this group of candidates – the acting mayor, three citywide electeds, and six current and former members of the Board of Supervisors, including its president. And of course the top seven finishers would all have been “firsts”: first elected Chinese-American, Japanese-American, Latino, or openly gay mayor. If that’s not enough, the ballot propositions included two competing pension reform measures and a statement on school assignment policy. I might have expected more voter interest. I thought it was abysmal.
Professor DeLeon seemingly takes issue with why I compare 2011 to past mayoral contests, and yet “dismiss as anomalous” the 2007 race which he deems “truly abysmal by San Francisco standards”. Here’s why I exclude 2007. In 2007, there were three candidate races and 11 propositions. The closest of the three candidate races was won by 47.5%. Gavin Newsom’s nearest competitor scored 6.3% of the vote. District Attorney Kamala Harris ran completely unopposed. Sheriff Michael Hennessy won with just under ¾ of the votes cast. As far as I can tell, there was no significant money spent by any of these challengers nor had any held prior elective office. The ballot propositions were even less interesting than these essentially uncontested races. The most controversial was Proposition E, which would have required the Mayor to participate in question time before the Board of Supervisors. In fact, voters who came to the polls were less likely to stick around and participate on the ballot propositions in that year (93.4% of voters who cast ballots, on average, voted on the propositions in 2007 compared with 93.8% who did so in 2011 suggesting that ballot measures were even less of a draw). So I don’t regard 2007 as “abysmal” turnout relative to what was on the ballot. My own judgment, for what it is worth, is that 2011 was a much more interesting election and that 42% turnout is far more problematic given the nature of the races.
In an August editorial, Professor DeLeon writes, “This election, as I see it, is about choosing how San Francisco will be governed as a progressive city through economic hard times. It is about making the transition from a strident politics of ideology to a more traditional politics of interest and identity. And it is about the capacity of local government to take care of business and the capacity of business to take care of San Francisco.” Given these high stakes, it would appear that 42% turnout would be considered “abysmal”. But, I suppose, reasonable people can disagree about this point.
More significantly, I did not mean to imply that ranked choice voting is “the culprit behind” the low turnout. As I explicitly state in the piece, turnout was low because the costs of voting were high (owing to the large field of most liberal Democrats), and the race was perceived as not particularly close. I would add to that the general sense of voters that things in San Francisco were headed in the right direction. Professor DeLeon dismisses my use of a rational voter framework to explain voter turnout due to the existence of “habitual voters.” I don’t doubt that Professor DeLeon knows this voting behavior literature far better than I so I defer to his judgment on this, but in my reading, habitual voters can be understood using reasonable assumptions of voter rationality (see Geys, 2006 for a review of the literature).
In any case, in their strategic planning, the campaigns had estimated that turnout would approach 50 percent. It was far lower and I think it is an interesting empirical question for future research. But the overall effects of RCV on turnout are not empirically discernible from my perspective – positive, negative, or otherwise. Actually, a piece that Professor Francis Neely and I published several years ago shows that the rate of “undervotes” in Board of Supervisorial elections is lower using ranked choice voting. That is to say that voters participating in the election were less likely to leave those contests blank than in similar elections. Again, it’s unclear whether this brought people to the polls or merely encouraged them to continue to the downballot races once there, but is interesting nonetheless. The impression I intended to give in regards to turnout was not that ranked choice voting is the culprit, but rather that the race was a largely undifferentiated contest involving huge amounts of money and incredible amounts of information, and yet voters seemed not to respond to the historic election in the way I might have expected.
3. Ranked choice voting and information costs
I do think it is the case that ranked choice voting imposes greater informational costs on voters. Ranking three choices takes a lot of information. It seems that Professor DeLeon would agree. As he wrote in the August editorial, “under the city's ranked-choice voting system, the voters will need to do more political homework much earlier than in the past, because this election will be a one-day sale without the option of a later runoff election simplifying choice, for good or ill, by whittling the 16 down to two.” As noted above, the single greatest explanation for why voters did not rank all three candidates in 2005 was that the voter “did not know enough” about the other candidates. And that study shows a strong, statistically-significant relationship between the number of rankings voters express and their perceptions of the ease of the ranking task.
In this section Professor DeLeon raises the issue of whether the limit on articulating three rankings is too stringent and links to the judicial decision on the matter. As noted above, I provided expert testimony on precisely this issue, so the statement that “Professor Cook doesn’t consider this side of the debate in his assessment” is somewhat amusing as I spent several months and dozens of hours working pro bono for the city to empirically defend precisely that side of the debate! In that case, I examined past election results in San Francisco to investigate the plaintiff’s assertions that voters were “disenfranchised” by the limit on three choices. I did not agree then, and do not agree now, that voters were “disenfranchised” and that the consequence of adding rankings would include a more complex and confusing ballot. I think the judge’s decision in that case was exactly right. However, the empirical argument I made rested on the evidence that relatively few voters ranked three choices and of those, relatively few had their ballots discontinued. In the 2011 mayoral race, 72.7% of voters ranked three choices and 22.5 percent of those ballots were exhausted (meaning that they did not include Ed Lee or John Avalos (the two final candidates). These data do not change my opinion about the “disenfranchisement” argument. But these data do suggest that perhaps in this particular contest some voters might have taken advantage of the opportunity to rank more candidates had that been an option and thus, RCV might have more precisely reflected voter preferences.
4. Ranked choice voting and negative campaigning
I am disappointed about Professor DeLeon’s characterization of my writing in this section because I think that he and I actually do not disagree at all on this point. I argue that the 2011 mayoral election was “generally uneventful for the better part of a year (and) became exceptionally nasty in the final month.” I do not state, as he would have me, that “negative campaigning reached new heights of vituperative meanness under RCV. (italics mine). Rather, I state that this campaign got uncommonly nasty down the home stretch in comparison to earlier in the campaign. I did not mean to suggest a comparison to all other races but to the earlier period.
My point was to simply state, as Professor DeLeon does in his analysis of the exit poll results in 2005, that there is no evidence that, at least as it relates to the top tier candidates, RCV reduces negative campaigning. The 2002 ballot argument states that “Previous runoff elections have seen excessive negative campaigning and ‘hit’ pieces. Such mudslinging is common when the field is reduced to two candidates, and candidates can win by attacking their lone opponent rather than attracting voters.” The point I make about ranked choice voting is simply that despite the promises of its proponents, RCV only appears to discourage negativity against those lower in the rankings and/or before the candidate ordering becomes more clear.
If Professor DeLeon wants to count this as “at least half a point” in favor of RCV, for whatever reason, great. I was surprised to find myself characterized as “regretful” about the negativity of the campaign. The political science literature on negative campaigns is mixed – some scholars argue that voters get better information through attack ads, others that negativity turns off voters and dampens turnout. I leave that to folks far smarter than me to sort out – I’m agnostic on how to “score” this.
5. Ranked choice voting and “majority rule”
In the final section of my piece, I write about the complicated political mandates that might emerge from close ranked choice elections. I make four statements:
- “In 15 of the 18 ranked-choice contests held so far in San Francisco, the winning candidate did not receive a majority of the votes cast. Mayor Ed Lee only appeared on 43.9 percent of ballots. Sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi appeared on 46.9 percent. Their “majorities” were secured in relation to their nearest competitors and rested upon on tens of thousands of ballots that were eliminated early in the counting rounds because they did not include second or third choices. These elections did not simulate a majority runoff.”
- “All of the winners on election night received the legal mandate to govern.”
- “It is likely, given the margin of victory, that the vast majority of voters will see these outcomes as legitimate (unlike what appears to have happened in Oakland, where a mayor who did not win a majority now faces a lack of support).”
- And, “particularly for a mayor, there is an advantage to securing a majority electoral coalition when it comes time to govern… The jury remains out on whether ranked-choice voting facilitates this.”
I had to reread my own piece after reading Professor DeLeon’s astonishingly intemperate and wildly inaccurate interpretations of what I actually wrote. There was insufficient space to fully develop each of these points in print, so I appreciate the opportunity to explain them further and clear up any confusion, but I am surprised by Professor DeLeon’s caricature of those four statements and concluding ad hominem argument.
He first claims that I do not “accept the charter language defining a ‘majority’ winner under RCV as the candidate receiving a majority of continuing votes.” Presumably my first statement that “all of the winners on election night received the legal mandate to govern” suggests my acceptance of the charter language. Every one of the 56 winners of ranked choice elections in the bay area legitimately won their races. Every one.
Then, Professor DeLeon repeats the meme that “For Cook, a ‘majority’ (in so many words) is at least 50 percent plus one of total votes cast in a given election, and that is that, no matter how many more votes might be cast for the winner in the typically high-turnout November RCV elections than in the typically low-turnout December runoff elections.”
Actually, I am just referring again to the proponents’ ballot argument, which reads that it “fulfill(s) the goal of electing majority winners without the inconvenience of a second election. The ‘instant’ runoff works much like December’s ‘delayed’ runoff. Voters indicate their favorite candidate, just like now…By doing it in one election, we produce winners who have a majority of the vote and save millions of tax dollars” (italics mine). I was making the quite simple mathematical point that in the majority of cases, the winners do not “have a majority of vote”, but rather have the majority of continuing ballots. I make no predictions about whether Ed Lee, George Gascon, or Ross Mirkarimi would have received more or less votes in December had there been a runoff in place, as I don’t presume to know whether this year would be like the seven times that turnout declined between November and December or the three that it increased during the past 35 years. But I do know that Ed Lee received the least votes of any elected mayor at least since 1975. He was a top three choice of less than 100,000 voters. No other mayor in 35 years, elected by RCV or two stage runoff, won with less than 100,000 votes.
Next, he accuses me of “(denying) governing legitimacy to majority winners under current RCV”, and taking a “gratuitous swipe at Oakland’s new mayor, Jean Quan, challenging the legitimacy of her election.”
Despite the intentionally explosive language, I most certainly do not deny the legitimacy of those elected under RCV or challenge the legitimacy of Jean Quan’s election. I was in fact arguing the opposite. Jean Quan was legitimately elected mayor of Oakland. She won the election because she was preferred by those who voted in the election. My analysis of ballot image data show that she was the Condorcet winner in the race: she was preferred one-on-one to every candidate in the race. I have repeated this time and again over the past year in many different contexts and media. In a blog post for SPUR before the election, I wrote “Though (Don Perata) led the first place tally by 9 percentage points, he appeared on 8 percent fewer ballots than Jean Quan. Head to head, she was preferred to him. It wasn’t a fluke, she wasn’t lucky. She was preferred by voters.”
Rather, the point that I made was that it is my sense that a not insignificant number of Oakland residents do not view her election as having been legitimate. The misconception that her victory was somehow tainted or the result of superior gamesmanship of the voting system, is, in my opinion startlingly common. To be fair, my analysis rests on purely qualitative rather than quantitative data. But even a cursory review of newspaper articles, local political blogs, the statements of those collecting signatures for the recall effort, or even simple conversations with my neighbors in Oakland convinces me that a segment of the population does not agree with Professor DeLeon and me about the legitimacy of her election. Heck, just a couple of weeks ago, an article in the Laney College paper says “Many people feel that Quan was not elected fairly.” Partly, I think that was the result of the long delay between the announcement of first place votes on Tuesday night and the ranked choice tally on Friday. In fact, Mayor Quan made this exact point in a panel we were on together a few weeks ago.
Unfortunately, Professor DeLeon does not address the central argument I am making in this section, that “the jury remains out” whether ranked choice contests are more or less effective in conferring a working governing mandate than other voting systems. I would argue that Mayor Quan would have been better off politically had she scored a victory in a head-to-head matchup with Perata. But that’s not unique to RCV. When Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums won the June 2006 primary election with 50.2% of the vote (thus ending the race and precluding a typical November runoff between the top vote getters) a narrative emerged that he had “narrowly won”. In fact, he was 18 points ahead of his nearest competitor. He would have been better off winning 60-40 in the runoff and building more political capital, in my estimation. As I wrote, particularly for a mayor, there is an advantage to securing a majority electoral coalition when it comes time to govern, and the bigger the better. Mayors will undoubtedly engage the electorate again – whether in contesting charter amendments, bond measures, and statutory propositions, endorsing sympathetic candidates, or in her or his re-election. I suspect that at least in some cases, victorious candidates would have been better served had they achieve a majority of support of those coming to the polls rather than a majority of continuing ballots. I regard this as an open empirical question and have discussed precisely this issue with several colleagues over the years with no simple resolution, thus my safe conclusion that “the jury remains out.”
Disappointingly, Professor DeLeon concludes his critique with his judgment that my “assessment of RCV would be more credible as a fair and objective analysis if (I) had actually acknowledged and engaged those who offer other perspectives on these issue.” This is both a specious and wildly inaccurate claim. Professor DeLeon is certainly correct that as my article was a short opinion piece, I did not explicitly include the perspectives of activists on either side of the electoral reform debate and find them very capable of articulating their own views. Rather, my intent was to offer my nuanced perspective that raised questions rather than answered them. I look forward to a robust and objective discussion of these important issues in keeping with Professor DeLeon’s previous call for such analysis.
* Corey Cook is an associate professor at the University of San Francisco, where he teaches American politics and conducts research on election results and political geography in California.
In Defense of Ranked-Choice Voting
Professor Corey Cook’s article in the December 2011 Urbanist assesses San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting (RCV) system in the 2011 mayoral election. His opening statement concludes that “by most objective measures the system held up rather well: The election results were clear and uncontroversial, individual ballots contained fewer errors than in past contests and most voters chose to participate fully by ranking their first-, second- and third-choice candidates.”
This would seem to be an occasion for high-fives and popping champagne corks. But Cook sees problems with RCV, lots of them. He has “deeper questions” about the effects of RCV on such things as the degree to which the election outcome “accurately reflects popular opinion,” the voter turnout rate, the level of negative campaigning, the perceived legitimacy of election results viewed as a mandate to govern, the informational burdens placed on voters in ranking candidates, and the incidence of voting errors. He acknowledges that these questions “are difficult to answer. In addition to the voting system, the context of the election included generous public financing, an incredibly deep pool of serious contenders and a popular acting mayor who entered the race at the last minute. It’s impossible to disentangle the independent effects of ranked-choice voting.” Undeterred by these obstacles, however, Cook goes on to assert a giant non sequitur: “But it’s easy to see the deep flaws in this election.”
What are these “deep flaws,” and what’s his evidence for them?
1.Ranked-choice voting and popular opinion.
Cook writes that it is “unclear whether ranked-choice voting accurately reflects popular opinion.” Popular opinion about what? Measured how? Here one might reasonably expect a careful comparison of actual election outcomes with the predictions of pre-election polls, or perhaps an assessment of how accurately the observed voting patterns reflected the city’s diverse and complex demography. Instead, Cook reports statistics on the incidence of voting for only one candidate in the mayoral, district attorney and sheriff races. He misleadingly calls voting for only one candidate “bullet voting,” and he claims that it “remains prevalent” based on a reported 16 percent of voters indicating a preference for only one candidate in the mayoral race, with higher percentages in the district attorney and sheriff faces. (Cook’s definition of “bullet voting” is misleading because political scientists and campaign managers typically use the term to mean a form of tactical voting in which a voter is encouraged to vote only for his or her preferred candidate, despite having the option to vote for more, in order to deny votes to rival candidates.) He writes that it’s unclear whether a “sizable block of voters sincerely preferred only one candidate” or — the only alternative he suggests — “whether they [the voters] were unsure what to make of a ranked-choice ballot,” implying voter ignorance or confusion. Cook adds that 1.2 percent of voters marked more than one candidate as their first choice, a figure “higher than in standard ‘vote for one’ candidate races.”
Questions: First, how much lower than 1.2 percent can the comparable figure in “standard” races possibly be? Second, why is an explicit contrast made here but not elsewhere, except by implication, between RCV and “standard ‘vote for one’” methods (such as are used in the traditional runoff system, which some RCV critics would like to restore)? Third, and most important, what makes Cook think these “bullet voting” and voting error statistics are in any way an appropriate yardstick for gauging “popular opinion” and assessing whether RCV accurately reflects it?
2. Ranked-choice voting and voter turnout.
Cook writes that the “clear results from November’s election included abysmal turnout — right around 42 percent — the lowest in a contested mayoral election since at least the 1960s. Only Mayor Gavin Newsom’s 2007 landslide re-election was lower.”
What Cook deems an “abysmal” turnout of 42.5 percent of registered voters was only 3.2 percentage points lower than in the November 2003 election (45.7 percent) and a mere 2.5 percentage points lower than in the November 1999 election (45.0 percent). (The turnout rate was 35.6 percent in November 2007, truly “abysmal” by San Francisco standards, but Cook dismisses that election as anomalous.) Given the secular decline in U.S. voter-turnout rates generally and in urban electorates particularly, why does Cook think San Francisco’s 42.5 percent turnout is abysmal? Moreover, San Francisco has the highest voter turnout rate among the 22 most populous U.S. cities in their most recent mayoral elections. Most urban political scientists would want to explain why San Francisco’s turnout rates are so high relative to other large U.S. cities, not why the city’s turnout dropped 2 to 4 percentage points over the last few elections, which could have happened for any number of reasons.
Lacking such background for evaluating Cook’s claims, some readers might infer that RCV must be the culprit behind the drop in turnout. Voter turnout under the old runoff system was high. Voter turnout under RCV was low. Therefore, RCV must have caused the drop in turnout. To avoid even the suggestion of that kind of fallacious logic, Cook could have provided more context and clarification. Instead, he chose to double down on the thesis that RCV itself was in some way responsible for the lower turnout in the 2011 mayoral election.
3. Ranked-choice voting and the informational burdens of voter calculation.
To buttress that thesis, Cook makes a clever but rather dubious argument. First, the city’s voters, being rational, calculated the benefits and costs of turning out to vote. Second, the informational burdens of ranking as many as twelve serious candidates under RCV increased the perceived costs of voting. Third, those higher costs combined with lowered expected benefits of voting (in a predicted landslide victory for Lee) help to explain why, under RCV, voter turnout dropped from previous levels.
Let’s leave aside debates we might have about how consciously aware typical voters are in computing benefit-cost ratios of whether or not to vote, other than to say that pollsters and campaign managers tag many voters as “habituals” for a reason.
Professor Cook’s assertion about the costly informational burdens of RCV seems to be the critical causal link he wants to make between the adoption of RCV and lower voter turnout. Two points:
First, Cook’s argument, such as it is, ignores the voter’s rarely mentioned burdens of calculation under the old runoff system. Examples: I prefer candidate X. But X is unelectable. So should I vote for X anyway, on principle? Or should I vote for my less-preferred but minimally acceptable and more electable candidate Y, thus avoiding the risk that my principled vote for X will spoil Y’s chances and thus perversely help elect candidate Z, whom I despise? Or should I vote for the despised Z, a weak candidate, to place him in the runoff against my favored candidate, X, thus increasing X’s chances of victory? Etc. As these examples illustrate, if the informational burdens of voting under the old runoff system seem so much smaller than under RCV, that is only because they are so familiar.
Second, Cook’s argument also ignores relevant findings from a San Francisco State exit poll he and his colleagues conducted to assess RCV in the November 2004 Board of Supervisors elections. In that poll, 2,610 non-first-time voters who voted in the Board of Supervisors election were asked: “Compared to past elections for the Board of Supervisors, how much information did you gather about the candidates before voting today: More than in past elections, no difference, less than in past elections?” About 31percent of sample voters said they gathered more information than in the past, about 7 percent said less, and the rest reported no difference. Given these results and Cook’s claims about the burdens of information gathering under RCV, one would expect that voters so burdened would much prefer the less demanding old December runoff system to the new one. Not so. An estimated 71 percent of voters who gathered “more” information on the candidates said they preferred RCV; only 11 percent favored the old December runoff system. Of those who said there was no difference, 68 percent said they preferred RCV and 12 percent the old system. And of those who said they gathered “less” information, “only” 52 percent said they preferred RCV versus 21 percent who favored the old system. Some readers may find these results surprising, especially if they view information-gathering strictly as a burden or cost of voting rather than as a benefit.
One last comment on this point: Some critics of RCV complain that it allows voters too few rankings under the technical limitations of San Francisco’s existing voting machines and software. In other words, the problem, as they see it, is one of not enough choice rather than too much choice. A recent lawsuit challenging the city’s RCV system on just those grounds was rejected by the Ninth Circuit Court earlier this year. Unfortunately, Professor Cook doesn’t consider this side of the debate in his assessment.
4. Ranked-choice voting and negative campaigning.
Cook disputes the claim made by some RCV advocates that it discourages negative campaigning. I have questioned that claim, too, in my independent analysis of Cook et al’s 2004 exit poll data. (PDF download, see pages 5-7.) Yet Cook characterizes the recent mayoral race as “exceptionally nasty in the final month,” implying that negative campaigning reached new heights of vituperative meanness under RCV. He concedes, however, that RCV apparently did discourage negative campaigning among second-tier candidates, whose ballots were likely to be redistributed to the quarrelsome front-runners. That, it would seem, is a glass half full, and a point (or at least half a point) in favor of RCV.
Like the contrary arguments some critics have made about RCV’s informational burdens (too much choice! too little choice!), critics also seem divided on whether hard-hitting negative campaigns are a bad thing or a good thing. Some lament the muted differences and the lack of blood and gore under RCV. Others, like Professor Cook, regret to inform us that the new system may actually foster exceptionally nasty campaigning, at least among top-tier candidates. Based on my own observations, I’ve seen little evidence in this latest election or in earlier ones that RCV discourages candidates from taking strong and clear positions on the issues or from engaging in sharp debates. Politics remains a blood sport in San Francisco, and the old saying that “truce is stranger than friction” in this city still applies, even under the civilizing inducements of ranked-choice voting.
5. Ranked-choice voting and the contested concept of “majority” rule.
I confess I had a hard time following the logic of Professor Cook’s concluding arguments that RCV has failed to produce a “majority” winner (and thus governing legitimacy) in most San Francisco RCV elections. He doesn’t accept the charter language defining a “majority” winner under RCV as the candidate receiving a majority of continuing votes — a definition that has served well over many elections since 2004 to produce “uncontroversial” election results. For Cook, a majority is at least 50 percent plus one of total votes cast in a given election, and that is that, no matter how many more votes might be cast for the winner in the typically high-turnout November RCV elections than in the typically low-turnout December runoff elections.
Cook’s denial of governing legitimacy to majority winners under current RCV rules leads to some unfortunate polemics. (Most disturbing to me is the gratuitous swipe at Oakland’s new mayor, Jean Quan, challenging the legitimacy of her election, which she won fair and square, and insinuating that her current struggles to govern her city under the most trying circumstances stem from a tainted victory under RCV.) I have great respect for Professor Cook, his scholarly publications and his political expertise. However, I believe his assessment of RCV would be more credible as a fair and objective analysis if he had actually acknowledged and engaged those who offer other perspectives on these issues. I trust that his forthcoming study of the city’s ranked-choice voting system will be more comprehensive in scope, more inclusive and respectful of different points of view, and more illuminating.
One last thought: It seems to me that the local political culture has adapted very well to RCV since the city’s first ranked-choice elections in 2004. More political groups and clubs are making ranked endorsements. More media organizations and campaign managers are using ranked-choice formats in their polling. More candidates, at least those serious about winning, are paying close attention to the new rules of the electoral game in calculating strategies and tactics. The city’s election administration is operating more smoothly, quickly and efficiently in processing ballots and reporting election results. Indeed, the most recent election results were, as Cook writes, “uncontroversial” — a word rarely spoken about San Francisco politics. In general, San Franciscans appear to have become quite comfortable and familiar with RCV. That’s why I’m so puzzled by the timing of recent attacks on RCV and calls for its repeal. Could it be — and I’m just speculating here — that some critics fear the last chance is slipping away to smother RCV in its cradle?
* Rich DeLeon is professor emeritus at San Francisco State University, where he taught political science and urban studies for 35 years. He is author of Left Coast City: Progressive Politics in San Francisco, 1975-1991.
Starting a Garden or Farm in San Francisco
Starting a garden or farm in San Francisco just got a little bit easier. Pulling together the most recent changes to city laws, the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance recently released a guide to the regulations for growing and selling food within San Francisco.
The guide covers a host of topics including:
- Finding land
- Gardening on private versus public land
- Water access
- Selling what you grow
- Specific sections on rooftop gardens, animal husbandry, and soil testing.
The booklet was produced based on the guidance of staff from eight city agencies, ranging from the County Agricultural Commissioner to the Department of Building Inspections. It consolidates, for the first time, the specific wording of agency rules as well as relevant departmental contact information.
The guide won't help your plants or animals thrive, but it does serve as a road map to the rules and policies specific to the City for aspiring gardeners and urban farmers.
Note: The author serves as a volunteer co-coordinator of the San Francisco Urban Agriculture Alliance