Eliminates the almost-formed Department of Sanitation and Streets and returns all its functions to the Department of Public Works while also altering two recently created oversight commissions.
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What the Measure Would Do
This measure would halt the creation of a Department of Sanitation and Streets, which voters approved in 2020 with a measure also called Proposition B, and return the functions that were being transitioned to that new agency to the existing Department of Public Works.
The measure would maintain, with alterations, two commissions also created by Prop. B in 2020: a Sanitation and Streets Commission and a Public Works Commission. Though both bodies would continue to exist, the Sanitation and Streets Commission would only retain policy-setting and advisory capacities. It would no longer be involved in approving contracts or the selection of any agency employees. The Public Works Commission would continue to provide oversight of the Department of Public Works, as many city commissions do for other city departments. Additionally, qualifications that are currently required for commission members would instead be recommended.
In 2020, amid a corruption scandal within the Department of Public Works and a continued deterioration of street conditions in San Francisco, numerous members of the Board of Supervisors put forward a charter amendment seeking to address these issues by structurally reforming the Department of Public Works.
Voters approved the measure and the city is currently in the process of establishing a Department of Sanitation and Streets distinct from the Department of Public Works, as well as the two new commissions.
Two years later, a majority of the Board of Supervisors placed this year's Prop. B on the ballot (in a vote of 8–3) to effectively reverse course. Notably, three of the seven supervisors who supported the creation of the new agency in 2020 are now seeking to halt its creation. This change of heart appears to be, in large part, based on estimates that the additional administrative costs of running a new agency — which are separate from the work of actually improving street conditions — could be $6 million annually. The majority of supervisors now appear to feel that any potential benefits of a new agency are outweighed by the additional administrative cost.
As a charter amendment, this measure requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
As the future impact of the nascent Department of Sanitation and Streets is generally unclear, it is also unclear whether keeping its functions within the Department of Public Works would have a disproportionate impact on any specific demographic group.
The areas of the city that arguably suffer most from unsanitary street conditions are SoMa, the Tenderloin and the Mission. As such, the residents of these neighborhoods, which include a disproportionate number of low-income people, might benefit more than others from cleaner streets – regardless of what agency is tasked with getting the job done.
- Would reduce costly administrative duplication, which could allow the city to put an estimated $6 million toward street cleaning each year rather than incurring new overhead costs.
- By changing commissioner qualifications to recommendations rather than requirements, this measure would provide the supervisors, mayor and controller more flexibility in selecting commissioners.
- This measure would stop the impending split of the people who design public buildings and infrastructure from those who maintain the facilities. Industry best practice for creating cost-efficient building operations is to have all those staff in the same organization. This measure, by halting the creation of the Department of Sanitation and Streets, would ensure that all staff continue to be housed within the Department of Public Works.
- The measure would render fruitless much of the work that the Department of Public Works and other city agencies have done — and the costs they have incurred — to establish the Department of Sanitation and Streets since the ballot measure was passed in 2020.
- The measure would retain the two additional commissions that were created by Prop. B in 2020, resulting in a more diffused and unaccountable decision-making structure.
Splitting the Department of Public Works into two agencies, including a Department of Sanitation and Streets, is, as we argued in opposing Prop. B in 2020, a bad idea.
While it is unfortunate that staff time and money have already been spent establishing the new agency, it is better for the city to write off those one-time costs than saddle itself with millions of dollars in new, recurring overhead costs that provide no assurance of a better outcome.
Looking at the bigger picture, the voters of San Francisco should not be asked twice in two years — by the officials they elected to deliberate on their behalf — to opine on the best structure of government to achieve cleaner streets. Ideally supervisors are judicious when choosing what ballot measures to put before voters so that they can get it right the first time, focusing resources and attention on addressing the problem they are seeking to solve.
 Mike Ege, “Garbage Out: Supervisors Seek to Sweep Away New Street Cleaning Department, The San Francisco Standard, June 15, 2022: https://sfstandard.com/politics/city-hall/garbage-out-supervisors-seek-…