Top SPUR Priorities Head to the Ballot

A bond to fund new affordable housing is on the San Francisco ballot this November. Photo of Richardson Apartments by Bruce Damonte, courtesy David Baker + Partners Architects.


It’s not often that the SPUR agenda features so prominently on the ballot in San Francisco. But the November 2012 election hits on three significant issues at the forefront of our work: affordable housing, business taxes and funding for parks. Our policy work has helped shape three important measures on the upcoming ballot, all of which we will support this fall.

Housing Trust Fund (Prop. C)

In the shadow of the governor’s elimination of redevelopment agencies, Prop. C is a Charter Amendment that would create a dedicated source of local funding for affordable housing for the next 30 years. SPUR and other housing advocates spent many months crafting this proposal to create a Housing Trust Fund for San Francisco. The measure would take advantage of the loss of redevelopment to recapture a portion of the local property tax receipts and dedicate up to $50 million annually toward the construction of affordable housing. But the measure goes even further; it would also provide down payment assistance to moderate-income families and it could provide an incentive for building more overall housing in San Francisco by lowering developer requirements for on-site affordable units, a move that could stimulate the production of both market rate and affordable housing.

Business Tax Reform (Prop. E)

Ever since a 2001 legal settlement eliminated a gross receipts tax and left the city’s business tax entirely dependent on a payroll tax, SPUR has advocated to either revise or replace the payroll tax altogether. While the revenue from the payroll tax funds important local priorities, taxing job creation through a payroll tax sends the wrong message and compromises San Francisco’s competitiveness as a city. There are many different ways to incentivize the creation of jobs and attract businesses, and Prop. E is a step in the right direction. Prop. E would transition San Francisco from a payroll-based tax to a gross receipts tax, a structure currently used in Los Angeles and other major cities in California. While retaining any local tax on business may not be ideal (SPUR has long been interested in whether or not environmental taxes could replace the payroll tax), this gross receipts tax proposal will actually result in less volatile revenues than the payroll tax — a key component to stable growth. This reform of the business tax was not put together quickly. It is the result of a process involving literally hundreds of businesses and hours of meetings: exactly the type of collaboration and consensus the city needs for a major transition such as this.

Parks Bond (Prop. B)

Funding for our city’s parks and open spaces has long been an important part of the SPUR agenda. The focus of our Seeking Green report was on finding operating funds to keep the doors (and park gates) open to the public and to properly maintain facilities built or renovated with bond funds. This year’s parks bond is the third in a series to help the department rectify years of deferred maintenance driven by budget reductions. The department has done a lot of work to improve planning and project delivery of bond projects, but much work remains. While we support this one-time bond, our hope is that the department’s next effort will address a more permanent solution to its $30 million annual operating deficit.

While these three propositions are quite distinct, they are in many ways interconnected. We need a healthy business community to provide employment opportunities for our residents and a source of revenue for important local priorities. People flock to San Francisco not simply for its jobs, but also for its quality of life and amazing recreational and cultural amenities. And without adequate affordable housing, too many people will be left out and the entire ecosystem could ultimately crumble. Now we must turn our attention to the November election and ensure that San Francisco voters also understand the importance of the complex ecosystem supported by the measures before them.

Look for the full SPUR voter guide with our in-depth analysis of all San Francisco measures this fall at