Proposition K - Selection of Official Newspapers

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


What it does

Proposition K would revise the criteria by which the City selects newspapers for the publication of official notices by eliminating extraordinary preferences given to papers which are locally owned, printed in San Francisco, and owned by women and minorities.

Why it is on the ballot

In 1994, the voters passed Proposition J which set a new procedure by which the City selected newspapers in which to publish official notices. Prior to 1994, the City's bidding and contracting procedures were such that the Chronicle was typically the official newspaper of choice. At that time, the Chronicle was owned by the Chronicle Publishing Company, successor to the de Young family. The Fang family interests, which then published and continues to publish the Independent, sued the Chronicle for predatory advertising practices. The Fangs were the authors of Prop J, which set new bid requirements for the selection of official and what are called "outreach" newspapers.

Prop J designated the City Purchaser as the party to evaluate and rank proposals, taking into consideration advertising cost, circulation and cost of the paper to the public. Extra preference points are given for local/minority/ woman ownership. Because Article 9 of the City's general contracting rules already give similar preferences to local, minority, and woman ownership, such businesses receive double preferences.

In 1994, SPUR opposed Proposition J which it saw as special interest legislation, designed to benefit a particular newspaper company.

The effect of Prop J has been that the Independent has become the official newspaper of choice. The predatory pricing lawsuit against the Chronicle was settled for $1.6 million at the time the Hearst Corporation bought the Chronicle and the Fangs bought the Examiner.


Those who favor Prop K state:

  • It would broaden the pool of potential bidders and increase competition.
  • Preferences for women and minority owned enterprises are already contained in the City's general contracting rules. It is unnecessary to double count those preferences, as the current system does. It would eliminate the double counting of preferences.


Those who oppose Prop K believe:

  • This is a blatant political attack on a publisher whose editorial content and columnists are opposed by a certain group of Supervisors.
  • This is a chilling attack on the First Amendment and the concept of a free press.
  • There is no emergency or time constraint. If the Supervisors want to consider such a change in City law, it should only be done after appropriate hearings and public testimony at the Board of Supervisors.

SPUR's analysis

Prop K generally:

  • Eliminates the 50,000 circulation requirement
  • Eliminates the requirement for printing in the city
  • Eliminates the requirement for publication three times per week
  • Eliminates the special preferences for locally owned, women or minority owned, and printed in San Francisco contained in Prop J
  • Changes the administrative body from the Purchaser to the Director of Administrative Services
  • Requires the Clerk of the Board to consider cost effectiveness of selected papers for "outreach" advertisements
  • Allows the same bidder to bid on official and outreach advertising
  • Allows the Board of Supervisors to select any newspapers for advertising if the Director of Administrative Services finds the bids unresponsive.

It is believed that the intent and effect of Prop K will be to eliminate the Independent as the official newspaper, thereby jeopardizing its financial viability. A likely contender to receive the advertisements would be the Bay Guardian, which is non-union, not printed in San Francisco , non-minority owned, and published once a week.

While SPUR did not believe Prop J in 1994 was good policy, the manner by which Prop K was introduced brings up broad constitutional questions. The measure appears to be retribution against publishers who tend to be critical of a certain group of Supervisors. While 1994's Prop J was motivated by financial self-interest on the part of the Fang family, Prop K is so motivated by the politics of trying to shut down a critical voice that that it cannot be ignored, whatever the other results.

If the Supervisors wish to reconsider the means of selecting newspapers, this should be done with care and consideration and full public airing in public hearing and without the appearance of blatant control of the press.

SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Propsition K.