Blog » blog
- November 3, 2011By Corey Cook, University of San Francisco
In the weeks leading up to the November 8 election, San Franciscans find themselves up to their necks in news articles (from the Chronicle, the Mercury News and even The Economist) about our ranked-choice voting (RCV) system and how the tallying of voters’ first, second, and third preferences might affect the outcome of the mayoral election. In principle, ranked-choice voting is simple: If no candidate receives an outright majority of the first place votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and his or her votes are redistributed according to those voters’ next choice. The votes are re-tallied, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated, and so on. In what amounts to an instant run-off, this process of redistributing ballots continues until a winner is declared.
As someone who studies voting systems (and spends free time poring over data from recent elections), I find the level of interest in RCV somewhat astonishing. Not long ago, the switch to using it seemed irrelevant to election results. Though San Francisco adopted this voting system in 2002 and it has been in place since 2004, prior to last year’s election, every candidate that led on the initial “first place” rankings was ultimately victorious. Sure, there were some close races, but most leading candidates saw their relative share of the vote increase in subsequent tallies. Only Supervisor Eric Mar had to sweat out the tallies of second and third place votes before ultimately emerging victorious.
As a result, the consensus was that ranked-choice voting was just like a plurality system: the leading candidate would end up winning. The 2010 election changed everything. The mayors of Oakland and San Leandro, Jean Quan and Stephen Cassidy, respectively, and two members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Malia Cohen and Mark Farrell, came from behind to win. That is to say, they did not initially lead the race when first place votes were tallied.
Supervisor Farrell and Mayor Cassidy won exceptionally close races. Both narrowly trailed in the first round and narrowly won in the end. And Supervisor Cohen came from third to first in a deep field of 22 candidates. But the real shocker was the Oakland race. Mayor Quan trailed by a whopping 9 point margin (33.7%-24.5%) and ended up winning by two points.
A new conventional wisdom was born: that ranked-choice voting could jumble an otherwise orderly election. Just Google “ranked-choice voting” and “wildcard” and you’ll get a sense of this new fascination. Willie Brown opined recently that it might be preferable for a candidate to be in second place after the initial tally.
The empirical data, however, are far less interesting. They don’t reveal any secret voodoo to voting in a ranked-choice election or tricky ways to game the system. Here’s what we know: In a very close race, second and third choices can indeed tip the outcome. But clear frontrunners win — and usually expand their margins of victory.
Oakland 2010 was an aberration resulting from three unique factors. Here’s what they were and how they compare to what will most likely happen in this year’s San Francisco mayoral race:
First, voters in Oakland exercised all of their choices. Nearly 80 percent of voters cast a ballot with three unique choices. Typically, in San Francisco only about half of those who cast ballots in an RCV election vote for three different candidates. The other half do something else, like vote only for their first-place choice or perhaps only for first and second place — some even vote for the same person three times, hoping their vote will get counted more than once (it doesn’t). As a result, ballots are more likely to be “exhausted” in San Francisco (i.e., they do not accrue to any of the candidates remaining in the race as the field narrows) than was the case in Oakland. For example, in Oakland 88.4 percent of votes ended up continuing to the final round of tallying in 2010. In San Francisco’s four competitive races last year, only 81.8 percent of the ballots continued to the final round — 77.7 percent in Supervisor Jane Kim’s race, and just 46.0 percent in Cohen’s. In a survey that we at the University of San Francisco conducted with the Bay Citizen, only around half of those surveyed expressed a preference for three different candidates in the current mayor’s race. This means that if people vote in the election the way they did in the survey, we can expect a lot of exhausted ballots — and that means fewer chances of an unexpected upset.
Second, in Oakland, there were three leading opponents of front-runner Senator Don Perata. For voters who wanted to cast a ballot for “anybody but Perata” (and there was a vocal contingent opposed to him), it was easy to do so. Candidates Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan even adopted the “anyone but Perata” approach and encouraged voters to put each other second. In San Francisco this year, voters who oppose the perceived frontrunner, appointed Mayor Ed Lee, have 15 other options, including three citywide elected officials, a state senator, and two current and three former members of the Board of Supervisors. This long menu of choices will likely water down the opposition. Again, we can expect a lot of discontinued ballots.
And third, Perata was uniquely polarizing. Though he 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. Ed Lee is not nearly as polarizing a figure as Don Perata. In our survey, 78 percent of voters expressed support for his job as acting mayor. That number has certainly fallen in the past two weeks as the campaign has heated up and allegations have been leveled against the organizations supporting the mayor. Still, it’s not yet clear that he will engender the kind of opposition needed to defeat a leading candidate.
All of that is to say that ranked-choice voting is not random. As with other voting systems, it favors incumbents and frontrunners — and that most certainly benefits Mayor Lee in this race.
It’s also true, however, that RCV doesn’t inherently produce the kind of outcome that the old two-stage runoff used to, i.e. one in which the winning candidate receives an actual majority of votes cast. Because of the high number of exhausted ballots in these elections, the candidate left standing at the end of the tallying is most commonly a plurality winner, meaning they may have gotten the most votes, but they didn’t get more than half. Of the 15 elections that came down to RCV in San Francisco since the voting system was adopted, 13 of the winners ultimately did not receive a majority of the votes cast in the election. Only Assessor Phil Ting (2005) and Supervisor Scott Weiner (2010) ended up with a true majority. That’s much less problematic in low-profile races. But it seems to me that the most pressing question for those of us interested in effective political leadership is whether the next mayor — be it a frontrunner like Ed Lee, City Attorney Dennis Herrera or Supervisor John Avalos, or someone else from the field — can effectively govern after winning an election by something less than a majority of the ballots cast.
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.Tags: good government
- November 2, 2011By Egon Terplan, Regional Planning Director, and Aaron Bialick, SPUR intern
The Bay Area is in the midst of a major planning initiative to identify where to grow and how to allocate scarce transportation dollars to support new population and jobs over the next 30 years. The goal of the Bay Area’s Sustainable Communities Strategy (SCS), laid out by state legislation, is to grow in a way that reduces per capita greenhouse gas emissions from driving. City agencies have been consulted in the development of the SCS, but recently they got a chance to respond publicly to the plan and raise concerns about its three proposed growth scenarios. Staff members from the San Francisco Planning Department and the San Francisco Transportation Authority presented their response at a public forum last month.
SPUR agrees with much of the city’s response, but we differ on a few key points. Namely, we believe that San Francisco, alongside other dense urban places with good transit access, should absorb a big share of the future growth. Where better to add a large portion of the region’s projected 770,000 new housing units and 1 million new jobs than in walkable urban areas where residents have access to sustainable transportation?
In their response, city staffers argued that San Francisco cannot support the level of growth envisioned in the SCS’s Core Concentration Scenario, which would allocate 111,000 new housing units and 207,000 new jobs to San Francisco — that’s about one-seventh of the region’s new housing and one-fifth of its jobs. We don’t think this is unreasonable growth for San Francisco. The city has the most extensive transit system in the West, and its existing walkable, bikeable neighborhoods make it one of the few logical places to add new jobs and population.
The staffers went on to argue — rightly, in this case — that to accommodate some of the projections, San Francisco would require a much greater share of regional transportation funding than the city has historically received, not to mention funding to support affordable housing, open space and other amenities that make a complete community. For its population, jobs and number of transit trips, San Francisco does not get its fair share of resources to maintain and grow its transportation system. Muni is the workhorse of the Bay Area, carrying well over 700,000 daily trips, far more than any other local transit system in the region and twice that of BART. And if you consider regional transit providers as well, San Francisco accounts for more than 60 percent of the region’s transit-trip destinations. If San Francisco is to stem the tide of rising automobile emissions as it grows, the SCS needs to include much more robust investments than those proposed in order to make Muni, bicycling and walking more attractive transportation options for a larger share of residents and commuters.
But in order to receive, cities must be willing to give a little. The truth is, urban places like San Francisco will have the moral authority to demand more regional transportation investment only if they are also willing to accept a larger share of growth. SPUR will be working closely with San Francisco city staffs and other stakeholders to craft an urban-focused response to the proposed SCS scenarios and related transportation investments.
- November 1, 2011
Dale Minami has served as a Bay Area attorney for four decades, garnering nationwide recognition for his civil rights leadership in the process. A personal injury attorney with Minami Tamaki LLP by practice, Dale has made substantial contributions to the advancement of Asian-American rights. He helped found the Asian Law Caucus and the Asian American Bar Association, both the first of their kind in the United States. He has been involved in significant litigation concerning the civil rights of Asian Pacific Americans and other minorities, including Korematsu vs. United States, which overturned a 40-year-old conviction arising from the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Dale has also influenced public policy through his service on numerous state and federal judicial commissions.
Learn about the other 2011 Silver SPUR honorees:
- November 1, 2011
Rick Laubscher is most well known for his transformative impact on Market Street’s historic streetcars, but his transportation advocacy and commitment to San Francisco’s important historic treasures extends well beyond the Market Street Railway. A fourth-generation San Franciscan, Rick and his family have long been engaged in the vibrant life of Market Street. Among his civic contributions, Rick served as founding board chair of The City Club of San Francisco, on SPUR’s board and transportation committee, and on the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce board. Over his career, Rick has been a radio and television news reporter, a corporate public relations executive and a civic activist.
Learn about the other 2011 Silver SPUR honorees:
- November 1, 2011
Art Gensler is a business visionary who has transformed the industry of architecture and design through his entrepreneurial creativity and leadership. In 1965, he co-founded Gensler, a San Francisco architecture and design firm, now a 3,000-person firm with 30 offices worldwide. A Cornell University graduate, Art is on the Advisory Council of Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Art’s civic leadership includes service to the Buck Institute for Aging, the California College of the Arts, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. As a founding member of the National AIA Committee on Interior Architecture, Art is an AIA Fellow and a professional member of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
Learn about the other 2011 Silver SPUR honorees:
- November 1, 2011
Natalie Berg, Ed.D., has influenced San Francisco as an educator, civic leader and land use consultant. In her 30 plus years at City College of San Francisco she has served as a professor, dean and most recently as an elected member and president of the Board of Trustees. Natalie recently retired from 12 years of service at Forest City Development, where she was responsible for obtaining the entitlements for the Westfield San Francisco Centre and now consults on land use issues. Natalie has served as the president of the Yerba Buena Alliance, vice president of the Market Street Association and as a member of numerous other community and neighborhood groups.
- October 26, 2011By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
Question: What’s the best way to revitalize Central Market?
Answer: There isn’t one way, but many — and they all need to be coordinated with one another.
While this sounds like an answer that Yoda might offer, we hope that the folks at the Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OWED) don’t have to rely on the Force alone to help finalize the Central Market Economic Strategy. The objectives of the strategy include creating an arts district, improving public safety, reducing vacancies, encouraging development and improving the public realm. All of these are good ideas — and all will need substantial political support in order to be realized.
The city is well positioned to build on its work in the Central Market District. The passage of the neighborhood’s payroll tax exemption is bringing in big employers like Twitter. Meanwhile several city departments (including Planning, the Department of Public Works and the Municipal Transportation Agency) are in the process of contemplating some major changes for Market Street itself as part of the Better Market Street Plan. All of these positive changes could help form the basis for real improvements in the district.
The Central Market Economic Strategy seeks to build on this work. In doing so, the city will need to find ways of dealing with challenges that have bedeviled planners for decades, such as high storefront-vacancy rates along Market Street. How can the city, given the current fiscal climate, attract and retain businesses in the area? Are there ways of incentivizing temporary uses to enliven the area? How can we get arts uses to thrive?
SPUR is in the process of developing its own position on the latest draft of the Central Market Economic Strategy. We urge you to do the same.
- October 25, 2011By Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director
Last week, the Bay Area's Business Council on Climate Change — which SPUR is a part of — released the Green Tenant Toolkit, an online resource for improving the sustainable performance of existing commercial buildings in San Francisco. The toolkit is designed to help commercial tenants, building owners and property managers collaborate to improve the energy efficiency and other sustainability metrics of their buildings. It is divided into three sections:
1. Green leases, including sample leases and key negotiation points in the leasing process;
2. Stakeholder engagement, which defines what the roles can be for owners, tenants and occupants in making buildings more green and outlines best practices in how they can interact and set goals;
3. Check lists, which include questions or metrics for understanding the sustainable performance of an existing building and identifying opportunities for the future. (For example, is electricity sub-metered? Does the building have solar panels?)
The toolkit was inspired by the recommendations of the Mayor’s Task Force on Existing Commercial Buildings (PDF), which completed its work and published a report (SPUR was a participant) in 2009. That report found that while San Francisco's green standards for new construction were high, sustainability performance standards and tools were especially needed for existing buildings because they comprise by far the majority of buildings that will be here in the future. Less than 1 percent of the city's buildings are newly constructed each year, which means it would take more than 60 years to “green” even half of San Francisco's building stock through new construction.
The commercial buildings task force proposed a voluntary goal of reducing the energy use in existing commercial buildings 50 percent by 2030, with an average reduction of 2.5 percent per year. The Green Tenant Toolkit is designed to help improve those spaces that are leased and may not be undergoing major renovations in the near future.
SPUR has also examined the challenges of resource efficiency for existing multi-tenant residential buildings, which are responsible for as much of our city's greenhouse gas emissions as commercial buildings. Multi-tenant residential buildings suffer some of the same challenges as multi-tenant office buildings, although leasing terms, capital improvement financing and regulations, among other things, are different.
The Green Tenant Toolkit is intended to evolve based on user feedback, so check it out and provide yours at www.greentenanttoolkit.com.Tags: sustainable development
- October 24, 2011By Sarah Karlinsky, Deputy Director
Many of us in the Bay Area felt a series of sharp tremors on October 20 and 21 — coincidentally the same day that Oakland-based Christian radio broadcaster Harold Camping predicted would bring the Apocalypse. It might not be time for the Rapture just yet, but we do know the Big One is coming, and we want our buildings to be prepared.
Fortunately, so do the smart people in San Francisco City Hall. They’ve taken the good work developed as part of the Community Action Plan for Seismic Safety and created an Earthquake Safety Implementation Program. Last week Mayor Ed Lee released a first draft of the program, a 30-year road map for strengthening San Francisco’s stock of privately owned buildings so that our city can be well situated to withstand a major earthquake.
The program includes 50 objectives that comprehensively address San Francisco’s building stock, but one of the most important is a plan to retrofit San Francisco’s “soft story” apartment buildings — those that have large openings like garage doors or storefront windows on the ground floor. These buildings house a substantial number of San Franciscans and are also very vulnerable to damage. SPUR has long called for a program of mandatory retrofits for soft-story buildings and enthusiastically endorses the Earthquake Safety Implementation Program.
Read San Francisco’s Earthquake Safety Implementation Program >>Tags: disaster planning
- October 12, 2011By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program Manager, and Jesse Sleamaker
At three in the morning, a four-block stretch of Jerrold Avenue in the Bayview neighborhood is abuzz with business. The San Francisco Wholesale Produce Market, which is busiest during the graveyard shift, is a hidden hub of San Francisco’s fresh food system.
On a recent Friday, fifteen early-rising SPUR members gathered for a walking tour at 8 a.m. — the end of the day for most businesses at the market. Much of the Bay Area excitement around food focuses on either the farms where food is grown or the tables where it is consumed. Our tour of the Wholesale Produce Market gave us an inside look at the infrastructure and people between farm and table. The more than 25 wholesalers and distributors at the market serve as brokers between producers and retailers, balancing the fickle demand of buyers on one hand with a highly variable supply of produce on the other. The businesses that operate at the market provide fresh food throughout the city – to small ethnic restaurants and Michelin-rated ones; to neighborhood grocers like Good Life and Bi-Rite as well as major chains such as Whole Foods, Safeway and Molly Stones. There’s a good chance that the salad you had today passed through the loading docks in Bayview this morning.
And, that’s been true for more than forty years. The Wholesale Produce Market began as an assortment of produce distributors along streets just northwest of the Ferry Building. In the early 1960s, however, the city approved the Golden Gateway Redevelopment Project that includes today’s Embarcadero Centers, forcing the market businesses to move. After years of negotiation, the vendors agreed to move to the market’s current location, which is on city-owned land. Today, the market is in the process of renegotiating its lease with the city so that it can remain and expand in the existing location.
Though the cost of business for the market tenants is higher in San Francisco than in other parts of the Bay Area, many choose to stay in the city. What keeps them in San Francisco? Michael Janis, our guide and the Market’s General Manager, explained that it was a combination of factors. First, the market provides the essential infrastructure of loading docks, warehousing, refrigeration and easy access to highways. But beyond the infrastructure, the market offers added value to its tenants by providing a community of businesses, a mature market with a long-standing customer base and a management structure that works with the businesses.
The Wholesale Produce Market has worked so well as an incubator that some of the businesses have begun to outgrow their space there. Greenleaf, the market’s largest business, is hoping for an expansion. If the market can’t expand to accommodate the growth of businesses like Greenleaf, it may lose them.
The morning’s tour emphasized how infrastructure like the Wholesale Produce Market is essential to the future of our regional food economy. The market provides the region’s farmers with access to buyers while also supporting the growth of food retailers of many sizes. This industrial facility, tucked away in our dense city, is a critical piece of economic infrastructure that would be nearly impossible to recreate in San Francisco today. We’re lucky to have such a thriving market, and we need to ensure that any future food systems policy doesn’t lose sight of the importance of food distribution infrastructure – hidden though it may be.