Proposition D - Multiple-Subject Charter Amendment

Voter Guide
This measure appeared on the November 2004 San Francisco ballot.


What it does

This proposed Charter Amendment contains six distinct provisions. It would:

  • Extend most time deadlines for Board of Supervisors action during board recesses
  • Lower the number of votes required for the board to take action when board members are disqualified due to conflicts of interest
  • Prevent appointed members of boards and commissions from remaining in their positions for more than 120 days after their appointments expire (it would eliminate extended "holdover" appointees)
  • Expand the scope of matters under the purview of the Commission on Aging to include issues affecting adult dependents
  • Remove limits on the Commission on the Environment's ability to consider building and land use issues in its review of the environmental sustainability of proposed City policies
  • Remove from the Charter the limitation of two legislative aides per member of the Board of Supervisors and allow the number of aides to be set through the normal legislative process

Why it is on the ballot

This measure was placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. The measure is on the ballot to consolidate a number of amendments proposed by various supervisors.


Those who support Proposition D state:

Board Deadlines During Recess

  • The measure would allow enough time to be involved with legislative actions. Many board actions must be heard on compressed timelines. Some items require multiple committee hearings and readings before the board, meaning that a two-week recess can dramatically limit the amount of dialogue needed to craft sound public policy.
  • The measure would prevent the mayor or policy bodies from taking an action just before a scheduled board recess, thereby forcing the board to act in haste or not at all.
  • Before scheduling a recess, a resolution must be introduced, heard in committee, and voted on by the board. This process is long and unpredictable enough to prevent the board from "gaming the system" by scheduling recesses in order to postpone decisions for political reasons.

Votes When Board Members Are Disqualified Due to Conflict of Interest

  • When members are disqualified, it is more difficult for the board to take action. A disqualified board member, as a practical matter, counts as a "No" vote, since he or she cannot vote "Yes" but the threshold for approval is not reduced. This measure would make passage of legislation and adoption of board actions more likely when a disqualifying conflict arises, thus preventing unnecessary legislative gridlock.

Holdover Appointments

  • Appointments have terms for a reason. Terms encourage reevaluation of appointees, turnover as deemed necessary by successive administrations, new people and ideas in government, and greater attention by the administration to the activities of City commissions and other bodies. Allowing holdovers undermines the intent of term appointments.

Many fixed terms expire mid-year

  • This means that with the four-month grace period provided for in this legislation, newly elected officials would have 10 months to reappoint or find replacements, which is plenty of time.

Commission on Aging

  • Because issues involving adult dependents and the elderly are substantially similar, it is logical for the commission to oversee the department that manages these issues.

Commission on the Environment

  • Building and land-use issues are inextricably intertwined with environmental sustainability, as is environmental justice. For example, "green" building policies and the relationship between residential density and automobile use are building and land-use policies that have profound environmental implications. The Commission on the Environment should be able to consider these issues.
  • The legislation ensures that Commission on the Environment reviews would not in any way limit the powers of the Planning Commission or Building Inspection Commission. This means the legislation will not add another layer to San Francisco 's already complex and dysfunctional building and land use processes.

Legislative Aides

  • Serving as a board member is very demanding, and most are inadequately staffed to respond to the needs of their constituents.
  • The budget process, not the Charter, is the appropriate way to dictate how many aides each board member should have based on the job demands.
  • Limiting the number of legislative aides is a poor place to target cost savings in government; the cost of additional legislative aides would be more than offset by the improvement in quality of legislation and governance they would provide.
  • No other department has its staffing levels determined by the Charter, except for the minimum staffing requirements for the Police Department. These kinds of staffing rules do not belong in the Charter.


Those who oppose Proposition D state:

Board Deadlines During Recess

  • This measure may permit the board to vote to go into recess after the clock for board action starts ticking, thus postponing important decisions for political reasons.
  • The measure appears unnecessary given that board is in recess only a few times per year and usually for short periods.
  • The public is not served by potentially long delays in legislative or administrative acts by the board.

Votes When Board Members Are Disqualified Due to Conflict of Interest

  • As a general matter, this measure would increase the probability of legislation getting passed. Lowering the threshold for approval of legislation is unwise, because in some cases it may allow a small minority of board members to adopt ill-conceived and harmful legislation.

Property- and business-owning board members are more likely to be disqualified due to conflicts of interest

  • This change would make it easier for the board to adopt legislation that property- and business-owning board members are often disqualified from voting on, substantially shifting the legislative balance of power in City government. In this way, Proposition D is an attempt by one end of the political spectrum to change the rules of the game to their benefit.

Holdover Appointments

  • Difficulty in getting appointment confirmations could lead to boards, commissions and advisory bodies lacking sufficient members for extended periods of time to take action. In many cases, the executive and legislative branches of government must approve the other's appointments. This change could leave important positions unfilled when the mayor and Board of Supervisors cannot agree on appointments, preventing City government from functioning properly.
  • Holdovers allow incoming mayors the opportunity to review individual commissioners before re-appointing or replacing them. In some cases, limiting holdover lengths may compel mayors to make more rushed and less thoughtful appointments.

Commission on Aging

  • The needs of the elderly are different in many ways from those of adult dependents. It makes sense to keep the commission focused on a single issue.

Commission on the Environment

  • Land-use decisions are already hopelessly fragmented, leading to a situation where anyone who opposes change has disproportionate power. This measure could further confuse the City's planning processes and result in conflicting direction to property owners, project sponsors and residents. Just as the state made a terrible mistake by establishing the California Environmental Quality Act outside of land-use planning law, the City could once again be adding to fragmentation of the planning process. If our Planning Code does not already reflect environmental concerns, the Code should be changed rather than creating one more power center to weigh in on the planning process.
  • The Commission's new authority could be used as a political tool to further obstruct planning decisions, rather than as an unbiased source of information that policymakers can use to improve the quality of land-use and building decisions. Although technically the Commission on the Environment's comments would be non-binding, one must presume that the proponents expect it to have some effect.

Legislative Aides

  • The Board of Supervisors holds the purse strings of City government. Because it has large influence over the budget process, the board should not be given the opportunity to increase its own staff size at taxpayer expense.
  • The board does not need additional staff. Each member represents only a single district, not the entire City. Thus, the workload is small enough to be handled by a supervisor and two paid staff members.

SPUR's analysis

The measure contains six distinct sections. While ordinances are restricted to apply only to a single subject, Charter amendments such as Proposition D may address any number of subjects.

  • Board Deadlines During Recess. This provision would extend any deadline for action by the Board of Supervisors during periods when the board is in recess. The board generally goes into recess, meaning that no committee meetings are held or other legislative action taken, for periods of one to two weeks during the winter holiday season and again near the end of August. Many legislative actions have a time limit attached to them, meaning that the board must act on them within a specific amount of time. Currently, these deadlines remain unchanged when the board is in recess, meaning no additional time is allowed to accommodate these breaks. This measure would change the rules so the time limits would only count during periods when the board is active, not when they are in recess. For example, the board currently is allowed 30 days to override a mayoral veto. If the board were in recess for five days after a mayoral veto, the deadline to override would be extended to 35 days. The extension rule would not apply to deadlines for preparing and adopting budgets, for calling or conducting elections, or for collective bargaining. Additionally, under the rule, the extension cannot exceed 45 days (i.e. total time to override Mayoral veto could not exceed 75 days).
  • Votes. When Board Members Are Disqualified Due to Conflict of Interest . The City's ethics laws sometimes prevent members of the Board of Supervisors from voting on certain matters. For example, a supervisor who owns property may be disqualified from voting on legislation that may affect the property's value. Currently, when one or more members of the Board of Supervisors are disqualified from voting on an item before the board, the number of votes required for passage does not change. Under this measure, the number of board votes required would be calculated based on the total number of available potential votes from members who are not disqualified. For example, for a vote requiring a board majority where two members out of eleven have been conflicted out, the current Charter still requires six yes votes (a majority of all eleven) to pass. Under Proposition D, only five votes would be required (five out of nine votes would constitute a majority of the remaining qualified members).
  • Holdover Appointments. Many positions on City government boards, commissions, and advisory bodies have specific term lengths for the people appointed to them. Currently, however, these terms are not strongly enforced. Individuals can continue to serve in their positions after their terms have expired. These appointed individuals whose terms have expired but who have not been reappointed or replaced are known as holdovers. Under Proposition D, no member appointed to a City board, commission, or advisory body of any kind could serve as a holdover for more than 120 days after expiration of the member's term. After 120 days beyond the end of his or her term, the person could no longer continue to serve in the position without being re-appointed. The appointing authority would have to either re-appoint the individual or appoint a new person to the position, or the position would go unfilled until such an appointment was made.
  • Commission on Aging. Currently the Department of Aging and Adult Services provides services to the elderly and to adult dependents. However, different functions within the department are overseen by different people. Presently, the Commission on Aging has authority over issues affecting the elderly, but not adult dependents. The department's director, who is appointed by the mayor, has authority over the remaining services affecting adult dependents. Proposition D would rename the Commission on Aging to the "Commission on Aging and Adult Services" and give it authority to oversee the entire Department of Aging and Adult Services. Thus, authority over the department would be consolidated in a single body.
  • Commission on the Environment. Currently, the Commission on the Environment has the authority to review proposed City policies for conformity with existing policies related to environmental sustainability. However, the one limitation the Charter places on this authority is that the commission may not consider building and land-use issues. This measure would remove that limit, but clarify that the commission's review does not supersede the powers and responsibilities of the Building Inspection Commission or Planning Commission. In other words, the Commission on the Environment would be allowed to make non-binding comments on land-use and planning issues. Proposition D does not specify which "environmental" criteria the commission would use when making these comments, for example, whether it would view infill development as good or bad for the environment, or whether it would focus primarily on "green building" issues.
  • Legislative Aides. Proposition D would allow Board members to have as many (or as few) legislative aides as the annual budget allows, subject to mayoral veto. Currently, the Charter specifies that each board member may have only two staff members. Other City agencies do not have their staffing levels determined in the Charter. Legislative aides assist in analysis of legislative proposals, respond to constituent inquiries, and help with the enormous range of tasks involved in governing the City.

A Charter amendment of this complexity, with multiple provisions on multiple subjects, will inevitably have both strengths and weaknesses. However, because the six provisions are packaged together in a single amendment, we cannot pick and choose, but must weigh the good against the bad. On balance, SPUR believes that this measure's negatives outweigh its positives.

Some provisions in the measure are sensible. In particular, we agree that the number of Board of Supervisors legislative aides should be taken out of the Charter. Two staff is not nearly enough to support the enormous workload faced by our City legislators, and their ability to attend to constituents and matters of policy suffer mightily because of this shortsighted constraint. In addition, the consolidation of authority over the Department of Aging and Adult Services is a sensible way to allocate control over two similar services.

However, this measure may be something of a wolf in sheep's clothing. In many ways Proposition D appears to be an innocuous "housekeeping" measure, but it could have numerous significant unspoken, whether intended or unintended, consequences. The changes with regard to holdover appointments could lead to significant problems for City government. Two years ago we learned about the potential problems resulting from power struggles over the appointment process when the Board of Supervisors and mayor reached a standoff over Planning Commission appointments, causing the commission's work to cease for months. Although holdover appointments have their problems, this change could lead to additional problems as the branches of government are pushed into struggles over appointments. Additionally, the provision lowering the threshold to pass legislation when board members are disqualified due to a conflict of interest could have very serious consequences for what type of laws are adopted by the City. Because of the small size of our legislature, a few disqualifications could dramatically shift the outcome of legislation, allowing a minority of board members to dictate City policy.

SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Proposition D.