City Commission Membership Requirements
Removing Citizenship Requirements for Members of City Bodies
Allows non-citizens to serve on commissions and other city advisory boards.
What the Measure Would Do
Proposition C would amend the city charter to remove the requirement that appointed members of city commissions and advisory boards be registered to vote in San Francisco. Instead, the charter would require that these members be of legal voting age and be residents of the city. This change would allow all non-citizens to serve on commissions and other city advisory boards.
San Francisco’s government has more than 100 commissions, policy boards and other advisory groups. These bodies can be established in the City Charter, created by legislation or created by the voters. Commissions and boards may provide oversight, have significant decision-making authority or serve a policy advisory role.
Currently, the City Charter requires that members of these commissions and boards be registered to vote in San Francisco; this requirement means they must be of voting age, be United States citizens and be San Francisco residents. Several exceptions to this rule exist around age or residency,1 but none of these exceptions includes waiving the citizenship requirement.
California is home to more than 11 million immigrant residents, more than any other state. Roughly half of this population are naturalized citizens, while about 23% have some legal status (like a visa or green card) and about 26% are undocumented.2
Roughly 34% of San Franciscans are immigrants, and as many as 13% of residents are non-citizens.3 The immigrant community makes up a sizable portion of workers and contributes significantly in state and local taxes. Undocumented immigrants alone pay an estimated $3 billion each year in California.4
Following the 2016 election and the Trump administration’s efforts to limit immigration, reduce non-citizen rights and increase deportation, a parallel movement grew, seeking to protect and to give the right to vote to non-citizens. A number of cities and states including California have protected their residents from federal immigration enforcement and have worked to combat the increase in hate crimes against immigrants and people of color. In 2018, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of bills to increase protections for non-citizens, as well as SB 225, which allows non-citizens to serve on state boards and commissions. This measure is similar to a San Francisco ballot measure in 2002 that would have allowed non-citizens to serve on commissions, which ultimately failed.
A coalition of San Francisco immigrant advocate groups wrote this measure, which was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors. As a change to the City Charter, it requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
This measure would allow non-citizens to be appointed to positions of power and influence in city government. Non-citizens, and undocumented non-citizens in particular, are a community that is disproportionately burdened by structural inequality and discrimination. Many non-citizens work in low-paying jobs and face barriers to resources and stigma associated with non-citizenship. In California, undocumented workers make up between 10% and 30% of the workforce in industries like crop production, food services and janitorial services.5 Non-citizens are ineligible for most public benefits like the federal earned income tax credit, CalFresh (food stamps) and cash support through CalWORKS.
This inequity has been magnified as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic recession. The state estimates that as many as one in three undocumented workers have been employed in an industry that was immediately impacted by the shutdown orders.6 Yet non-citizens have been excluded from expanded unemployment and federal stimulus payments. To the extent that this measure results in more non-citizen representation on city boards and commissions, it could lead to city government better serving these communities.
- More representation of non-citizens on city commissions and boards could lead to better public policy and decision-making, by more deeply taking into account the perspectives and needs of those communities and providing them with positions of power and influence to advocate for their fair share of public resources.
- SPUR could not identify any downsides to this measure.
In the midst of a pandemic and a national reckoning with racial injustice, San Francisco needs government to be reflective of the communities it serves. Increasing representation in civic decision-making leads to better and more legitimate policy, while building trust and reducing stigma. And participating in city commissions and boards is a powerful way for undocumented immigrants to directly impact their communities.
Non-citizen immigrants send their children to San Francisco schools, pay taxes and contribute to their communities. Those who are eager to serve their city should have that opportunity.
1 For example, members of the Youth Commission may be under 18.
3 Based on American Community Survey estimates. See: https://datausa.io/profile/geo/san-francisco-ca/#:~:text=San%20Francisco%2C%20CA%20is%20home,the%20country%20(301k%20people).
4 California Budget and Policy Center, “No Safety Net or Federal COVID-19 Relief: California’s Undocumented Workers and Mixed Status Families Are Locked Out of Support,” https://calbudgetcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/CA_Budget_Center_...