What it does
This measure would require voter approval of a project by any San Francisco board, commission, department or other unit of government that would fill 100 acres or more of San Francisco Bay. It states that after certification of the project's environmental impact report (EIR) and conditional approval, the sponsoring entity shall request the Director of Elections to place on the first general municipal or statewide election a specified measure seeking voter approval or disapproval of the project.
Why it is on the ballot
San Francisco International Airport's proposed runway expansion project was the stimulus for this Charter amendment. However, it would apply to any project exceeding the 100-acre bay fill limit. Numerous environmental and neighborhood groups encouraged the Board of Supervisors to submit a Charter amendment to the voters. A unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors placed this measure on the ballot.
Those who support this measure state:
- SFO's airport expansion plan could potentially have such major impacts that voters should make the decision to proceed.
- Electorate approval of the project could assist Airport Commission in obtaining other regional, state and federal approvals.
- Knowing that the electorate will vote on the project may dissuade others from placing additional measures on the ballot.
Those who oppose this measure state:
- Elected San Francisco officials should not try to hide behind this Charter amendment. Instead, they should evaluate and vote on the Airport Commission's plan.
- Airport expansion planning is very complex with multiple city, region, state and federal reviews and approvals. There are ample points for the public to have input into the review and approval process. Voters will not be able to make an informed decision because they will not have reviewed the detailed design, financial and environmental analysis, so they are likely to be swayed by political appeals.
- If the voters of San Francisco approve bay fill, this could have the unintended political consequence of making it more difficult for subsequent decision-making and permit-granting bodies to deny the fill.
- A number of questions remain unanswered: What happens if there are conflicting votes by San Francisco, regional or San Mateo county voters? Which vote will prevail? Is this another point where opponents of airport expansion could legally challenge the project?
As the airport has conducted planning and environmental analysis, substantial controversy has been generated. Generally, concerns center around whether the expansion proposal would relieve the airport's congestion and weather delays, degradation of the bay due to the magnitude of potential bay fill and other environmental impacts, and regional consequences of SFO's expansion to other Bay Area airports.
No one doubts that the scale of the runway expansion would draw one or more ballot measures either to thwart SFO's proposal or reconfigure it by initiative. Allowing voters a "yea" or "nay" on the airport's project may reduce the likelihood of another measure, although San Francisco's political history certainly suggests that alternative initiatives could reach the ballot anyway.
If this measure is passed by the San Francisco voters this November, a vote on the bay fill would occur only after the Airport Commission has completed and certified an EIR including mitigation measures and conditionally approved the project. SFO's expansion project would go to the voters prior to receiving various regional, state and federal approvals. It is unclear whether actions taken by other agencies could force a second vote should their requirements lead to project changes and supplemental environmental analysis. The proponents argue that the other approval agencies are likely to make only minor changes, reduce environmental impacts, and be more supportive of a project supported by the electorate. The Airport Commission would rather complete all regional, state and federal approvals before the voters consider the project.
There is no doubt that this issue is so important that the public should and will be able to vote on the project. This measure was put on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors, not some fringe group, and is relatively simple and direct.
SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition D.