SPUR Ballot Endorsements Sweep Election 2012

While the majority of voters were lost in a sea of presidential fervor, San Francisco was busy having a historic local election. And after four years of significant cuts to education and public services, Governor Brown’s elimination of redevelopment agencies and a flagging local economy, the city had some serious business to address. On the ballot were a number of important issues — from education to parks, housing to taxation. Voters universally supported SPUR’s ballot recommendations. And San Franciscans turned out in record numbers to cast their votes. Here’s how the verdicts came down on four important measures:


City College (Prop. A)

City College is one of the largest English as a second language (ESL) providers in the city and an invaluable workforce development partner of the City and County of San Francisco. With the combination of repeated state reductions and a looming accreditation crisis haunting the school, San Franciscans clearly voted to support City College. Prop. A will provide approximately $14 million per year to support operations at the college, which — in combination with funding from the approval of California Prop. 30 — should give City College some breathing room to navigate the accreditation process.

This measure required approval of two-thirds of San Francisco voters.

Verdict: Passed with 72.4 percent of the vote


Housing Trust Fund (Prop. C)

With the demise of redevelopment agencies, cities across the state have been deprived of one of their main sources of financing for affordable housing. Prop. C is a direct response to this issue.

The result of unprecedented cooperation between diverse interests, Prop. C provides up to $50 million in funding per year for affordable housing construction and down-payment assistance, while making it less costly for developers to provide on-site inclusionary housing units. Make no mistake: this is a big deal. The housing trust fund will change how affordable housing gets built in San Francisco, and it provides $1.2 billion of housing funds to get it done over the next 30 years.

Verdict: Passed with 64.8 percent of the vote


Election Reform (Prop. D)

One of the least-noticed measures on the ballot will actually result in $1 million annual savings to the city. Prop. D will consolidate elections and coordinate the election of citywide offices, eliminating an election every four years. With the cost of elections at roughly $4.2 million per election, Prop. D savings will add up quickly.

Verdict: Highest voter approval. Passed with 83.5 percent of the vote


Business Tax Reform (Prop. E)

In 2001, a legal settlement over business taxes left San Francisco wondering what to do. The business tax at the time required companies to pay the greater of either the city’s gross receipts tax or its payroll tax. After a lawsuit found the requirement to pay the higher of the two options to be unconstitutional, San Francisco went with payroll tax only.A similar structure in Los Angeles was also struck down following a legal challenge, but L.A. went the opposite direction — gross receipts tax only — with better results. While much easier to administer, San Francisco’s payroll tax had the unfortunate effect of taxing job creation. Prop. E ends more than a decade of attempts to devise a more reasonable alternative, and it is the result of more than six months of outreach and negotiations with businesses of all shapes and sizes.

Verdict: Passed with 71.1 percent of the vote


Lessons Learned

Now that the dust has cleared, what do these results mean? It has become increasingly clear in recent years that ballot reforms championed by SPUR have helped narrow the focus of ballot measures and reduce the number of measures. In fact, this year had the lowest number of local measures for a presidential election since 1964.

There is one lesson here that may seem obvious but has just been proven: Consensus can work, even in San Francisco. These major reforms had very broad support across the political spectrum, and that in itself is remarkable in a city that is often divided.

Can San Francisco maintain this level of civility and consensus? That might be overly optimistic, but for now, it’s time to celebrate progress on some important issues that the city has faced for a long time.