Prop B

Earthquake Bond

Bond

Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond

Authorizes $628.5 million in general obligation bonds to retrofit emergency management facilities and infrastructure to make them resilient to earthquakes. 

Vote YES
 

What the Measure Would Do

This measure would allow San Francisco to sell $628.5 million in bonds to finance the construction, acquisition, improvement and seismic retrofitting of the city’s emergency management infrastructure, including fire and police facilities and the 911 call center. The ultimate uses of the bond revenues would be determined if the measure passes, but the city has identified the following possible uses: 

• $275 million for seismically upgrading select neighborhood firehouses and replacing the Treasure Island firefighter academy and training facility 

• $153.5 million to fund upgrades to the city’s Emergency Firefighting Water System 

• $121 million to support seismic upgrades to district police stations and other police facilities 

• $70 million for seismic improvements to other disaster response facilities 

• $9 million to fund an expansion of the Department of Emergency Management’s 911 call center 

This bond would generate approximately $40 million each year to be spent on these potential uses. It would be funded through property taxes at the rate of 1.5 cents for every $100 of assessed property value for 30 years (equivalent to $150 a year for a $1 million home). It would not raise taxes above today’s levels, because it would be part of the city’s capital planning program, which holds property taxes steady at the 2006 rate. The city achieves this by only issuing new bonds as older ones retire and the tax base grows. This measure would require annual reporting on expenditures by a citizens’ oversight committee, as well as periodic public reporting and the creation of a website describing bond projects and progress. 

The Backstory

There is a 72% likelihood that a major earthquake (6.7 magnitude or greater) will strike the Bay Area within the next 25 years. San Francisco’s emergency response system depends on a citywide network of critical infrastructure, including first responder facilities, cisterns, water pipes, disaster response shelters and more. 

This bond would extend the Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response (ESER) bond program, which began in June 2010 with voter approval of a $412 million bond and continued in June 2014 with voter approval of a $400 million bond. All of the authorized 2010 and 2014 bonds have been sold and put to use. 

Prop. B was placed on the ballot by a majority vote of the Board of Supervisors and the signature of the mayor. As a bond measure, it requires a two-thirds majority to pass. 

Pros

• The projects that would be funded by Prop. B would improve San Francisco’s ability to respond to — and recover from — a major disaster. Efficient disaster response can save lives, reduce injuries and limit property damage. 

• This measure is part of a long-planned capital improvement program that was developed to sequence investments at a level that the city can afford, without a property tax increase. 

• Prop. B would improve the fair distribution of city services by extending San Francisco’s high-pressure firefighting water system to neighborhoods it does not currently serve. In addition, this extension would provide a backup emergency supply for the drinking water distribution system. 

• This measure would help support public health by retrofitting certain community facilities to provide multiple disaster-related services, including shelter, cooling and clean air. 

Cons 

• This measure does not specify which or how many facilities would be retrofitted for $628.5 million. As a result, we don’t know how much closer this level of investment would bring the city toward its overall seismic performance targets. 

• Earthquakes are just one hazard the city faces; in a world of growing risks to the built environment from climate change, a major public bond program should invest in resilience to multiple hazards, not just earthquakes. San Francisco also needs safety from flooding, extreme heat, power service interruption and more. There is currently no bond program dedicated to retrofitting our public infrastructure to protect from these hazards. 

SPUR's Recommendation

SPUR believes that seismic preparedness is a public health and safety issue deserving of public investment. That’s why we supported both the 2010 and 2014 ESER bonds, which have funded: 

• A vulnerability assessment of all 44 neighborhood firehouses and retrofits to 37 of them, including three full replacements 

• Upgrades to the firefighting water system, including water supply retrofits and the construction of 30 new cisterns around the city 

• Renovations and upgrades to nine of 12 district police stations and the construction of the brand-new Public Safety Building in Mission Bay 

While debating the merits of Prop. B — the third, and by far the largest, bond in the city’s 10-year capital program — the SPUR Board of Directors wished for more details on how the money would be spent, how much total investment in the seismic performance of disaster facilities is needed and how much further along this relatively large bond would get the city toward its seismic safety targets. However, we also recognize that complete seismic and disaster safety is not an achievable end state: Building codes and engineering standards change, policies change, and human knowledge regarding best practices in disaster management grows with each event. San Francisco and other cities will probably always need to invest in catching older buildings up to modern codes and maintaining infrastructure in a state of good repair. This bond would complete the program envisioned in the 10-year capital plan and would address many or most of the critical risks to emergency management infrastructure that the city identified after the Loma Prieta earthquake. SPUR has a considerable body of work on seismic safety,1 and we have long supported San Francisco’s earthquake safety programs, targets and goals. We continue to believe that significant reinvestment in lifeline public infrastructure is a critical priority. 

Vote YES on SF Prop B - Earthquake Bond

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