Proposition C - Non-Citizens as Members of Boards, Commissions and Advisory Bodies

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the March 2002 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This proposition would change the city Charter to allow non-citizens to be named to appointive boards, commissions and advisory bodies.

Why it is on the ballot

The present Charter allows, through specific ordinance, the appointment of individuals under voting age or not resident in San Francisco to boards, commissions, and advisory bodies. However, other than those under the age of eighteen, all appointees must be electors, meaning citizens eligible to vote. This charter amendment would change the requirements to allow the appointment of a non-citizen over eighteen and resident in San Francisco upon a finding that the candidate, except for the elector requirement, is qualified to serve.


Those who support the measure state:

  • Boards, commissions, and advisory bodies perform a wide variety of functions in city government. It makes sense to appoint any person who will be most helpful in carrying out the function of a given government entity. Research shows that many of San Francisco's non-citizens possess information or knowledge that can increase the quality of information provided and the effectiveness of city government; their insights should be formally encouraged.
  • The quality of the democratic process is partly determined by the quality of the deliberative process in which the public and elected officials jointly debate the issues of the day. Many public policy decisions will significantly affect non-citizens. On certain issues, these immigrant groups will have their own interests and perspectives. It makes sense to include them in the deliberative process as much as possible, so that policy-making can be informed by their views.
  • Participation in the local democratic process is a socializing experience, inculcating people with the skills to resolve conflict and work together. This measure will help build social cohesion and trust while encouraging more people to become involved.


Those who oppose the measure state:

  • Citizenship is a status that comes with both rights and responsibilities. It is an important goal that immigrants for hundreds of years have worked to obtain. The process of naturalization gives people a basic knowledge of American government. We should not dilute the symbolic or real value of citizenship by separating formal participation in the governmental process from citizenship.

SPUR's analysis

A variety of municipalities across the country are taking steps to increase civic involvement among non-citizen residents. Several cities have granted or are currently considering granting non-citizens the right to vote in local elections. In Maryland, non-citizens vote in six communities around the state; in both Chicago and New York City non-citizens vote in elections for School Board. Numerous other cities have passed laws that encourage formal representation and participation of non-citizens in less direct ways.

In general, advocates of increased formal civic participation among non-citizen residents often cite several primary benefits to the community. First, policies developed with input from all segments of the community are argued to be more legitimate, rational, and effective. Second, it is argued that non-citizens present an untapped pool of talent, expertise, and knowledge that could greatly benefit city government.

Today in San Francisco non-citizen permanent residents number more than 125,000, comprising 17% of the city's total population. The U.S. Social Capital Benchmark Survey, a nation wide study conducted in 2000, suggests that non-citizens in San Francisco posses a remarkably high degree of civic knowledge and involvement. In that survey, 18% of San Francisco non-citizens could name both U.S. senators from their state, compared with 20% of U.S. citizens nationally; 29% of San Francisco non-citizens report being "very interested" in politics and national affairs, compared to 30% of U.S. citizens nationally; 33% of San Francisco non-citizens reported having worked on a community project in the last month compared with 39% of U.S. citizens nationally; and 49% of San Francisco non-citizens trust local government "always or most of the time" compared with 43% of U.S. citizens nationally.

Compared to a number of efforts around the country to formalize participation by non-citizens in city government, this ballot measure is relatively limited in scope. It would not grant voting rights, but would instead simply amend the Charter to allow non-citizens to be appointed to city boards, commissions, and advisory bodies.

Democracy is not just about voting once a year, but rather, about ongoing participation in civic life. This measure will strengthen our city's democracy by encouraging new voices to be part of the city's public deliberations.

SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition C.