Creates a new Housing and Development Commission to oversee the city’s Housing and Community Development and Economic and Workforce Development agencies.
What the Measure Would Do
Proposition M is a charter amendment that would establish a new Housing and Development Commission. The commission would oversee a new Department of Housing and Community Development (currently the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development) and a new Department of Economic and Workforce Development (currently the Office of Economic and Workforce Development).
The commission would be made up of seven members, three appointed by the mayor (confirmed by the Board of Supervisors), three appointed by the Board of Supervisors (but not confirmed by the mayor) and one appointed by the controller. One of the mayoral appointees would be required to have experience in affordable housing or community development; another would be required to have experience in supportive housing or homelessnessprevention services. One of the Board of Supervisors’ appointees would be required to have experience in affordable housing or community development. The controller’s appointee would be required to have experience in finance. Members would be appointed for four-year terms and be permitted to serve two consecutive terms.
The commission would have the power to:
Oversee the work of the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Department of Economic and Workforce Development
Hire and fire the directors of these departments, with no involvement from the mayor
Make recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on whether to approve, reject or amend development agreements negotiated by the Department of Economic and Workforce Development and agreements regarding the conveyances of surplus land
Adopt rules to create competitive bidding processes for the development of affordable housing
Review changes to inclusionary housing requirements and make recommendations regarding those changes
Adopt a strategic plan that outlines the city’s goals for affordable housing and community development projects, including the city’s plans to prioritize investments in neighborhoods with the highest needs for affordable housing and community development
This measure also contains two “poison pills” that would void two other measures appearing on the November ballot: Prop. U, which increases the qualifying incomes for residents of inclusionary rental housing, and Prop. P, which creates requirements to govern existing bidding processes for affordable housing. If this charter amendment passes, the Board of Supervisors could pass legislation that would supersede the income definitions in Prop. U. Additionally, the rules adopted by the commission regarding competitive bidding would supersede the regulations defined in Prop. P.
Attacks on the City Charter’s Balance of Powers:
PROPOSITIONS D, H, L AND M
The distribution of power in San Francisco government is defined by its City Charter, the city’s constitution. In 1995, after years of work by SPUR and others, the voters adopted a new charter to replace the previous one, from 1932. Over time, the 1932 charter had become outdated and overly complex, with hundreds of incremental changes.* The primary purpose of the 1995 charter reform was to lay out clear lines of authority, responsibility and accountability between the commissions, the supervisors and the mayor to allow the city to act quickly and decisively as needs arose and to enable citizens to hold elected leaders accountable.
Ever since the 1995 charter passed, there have been piecemeal moves to chip away at the definition of roles, in particular to weaken the office of the mayor. The latest ad hoc efforts are the four charter amendments on this ballot that remove power from the office of the mayor and redistribute it to supervisors and newly proposed positions. These measures would create a public advocate position (Prop. H), split appointments to the SFMTA board between the mayor and the supervisors (Prop. L), put the management of two departments under a commission rather than the direct oversight of the mayor (Prop. M) and prevent a mayoral appointee to the Board of Supervisors from completing a term and standing for re-election (Prop. D).
SPUR is concerned by these piecemeal assaults on the City Charter and the lack of public input involved. Changes to San Francisco’s system of government ought to be undertaken inclusively and comprehensively, informed by a set of principles. Props D, H, L and M reflect political motivations and should not be enshrined in the city’s guiding document.
*San Francisco Select Committee on Charter Reform Records (SFH 32), San Francisco History Center, San Francisco Public Library
In San Francisco, the mayor hires, fires or selects from among nominees the directors of nearly every major department in the city, including the Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Works, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Planning Department, the Recreation and Parks Department and the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The mayor also has the authority to hire and fire the directors of the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Under most of the city’s commissions, the mayor selects a department head from three candidates identified by the commission.
Under this measure, the mayor would have no formal say in who is appointed to lead the renamed departments of Housing and Community Development and Economic and Workforce Development. This would make these departments very unusual within the city’s governmental structure.
One of the main purposes of Prop. M is its two poison pill provisions, which would counteract Prop. U and Prop. P, initiative ordinances that aim to regulate how affordable housing units are built and occupied.
This measure was placed on the ballot by a 6 to 5 vote of the Board of Supervisors. As a charter amendment, it must be on the ballot and requires a simple majority (50 percent plus one vote) to pass.
- Prop. M’s mandate for a new strategic plan for housing and community development could help the city prioritize resources for these activities through a publicly vetted process. SPUR believes strategic plans are important to well-functioning agencies.
This measure would not provide new services for San Franciscans and would be likely to slow down and increase costs for two of the city’s most urgent functions: affordable housing and economic development. The new commission would undoubtedly establish new rules, regulations and procedures that could make it harder for the departments to negotiate development agreements and disperse funding. This would result in delays in the creation of affordable housing.
Placing the departments that do this work under a new commission and removing the mayor’s ability to appoint the department directors would undermine the mayor’s capacity to manage those departments and make it harder for the departments to function effectively.
This commission would cause confusion and reduce accountability by changing San Francisco’s governance structure from one where appointment and management responsibility is distributed clearly between the executive and legislative branches to one where management responsibility is diffuse.
This measure would inexplicably put two very different types of functions — economic development and housing — under a single commission. It also would not require any member of the commission to have expertise in economic development. Important city functions that are currently performed by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development — such as small business support, job training and emergency disaster relief loans to businesses — would be put at risk. Effectively, this measure would place economic development under a housing commission’s purview, doing a great disservice to both critical functions.
Prop. M could delay the work of two of San Francisco’s most vital city agencies, those responsible for creating affordable housing and leading economic development initiatives. The nature of this work — which requires complex coordination across many city agencies — requires the directors of these departments to be close to and speak for the chief executive of the city. By removing the direct link with the mayor and adding an ill-fitting layer of bureaucracy, Prop. M would make it more difficult for the city to execute the major plans that create affordable housing, provide jobs and revitalize neighborhoods.
While public commission meetings would increase the formal opportunities for public input on the city’s housing and economic development efforts, there is no evidence that existing opportunities for public input are insufficient. And a strategic plan could have been undertaken without creating a new commission. This measure is unnecessary and potentially very damaging to the city’s ability to do planning, support economic development and build affordable housing.