Ken Garcia: Confusion on ballot again 

San Francisco has so many “poison pills’’ on the local ballot this year you’d think the people at City Hall are actually running a pharmaceutical company.

Yet poison is what you get when you use the ballot box as an engineering grid for political fueds and the level of discourse seems like a parody of “The Karate Kid’’ — tax on, tax off.

This week, the election games continued when a San Francisco Superior Court judge removed one of said poison pills, this one on a pension and health care reform measure that would raise city worker contributions to their pensions.

The measure, by Public Defender Jeff Adachi, also included a provision that if it passed and was successfully challenged in court, a five-year cap on employee compensation would be imposed — one of those artificial obstacles that the judge said was about as draconian as it gets in these parts.

And judging by this year’s ballot, that’s saying a lot, because the measures are just dotted with language designed to confuse voters who may not know that a community policing measure mandating police foot patrols exists as a result of a majority of supervisors refusing to adopt a sit-lie measure designed to help police get rowdy thugs off the street.

Just to make matters more complicated, Proposition M — the community policing measure — includes language that if it gets more votes than Proposition L, the sit-lie initiative, then sit-lie gets dismissed.

No, it does not make sense, but that’s exactly the point. Obfuscation is a pillar of San Francisco politics.

Along those lines are two similar-sounding propositions, J and K, which focus on The City’s hotel tax. Labor groups want to raise the hotel tax 2 percent and also stop the practice of allowing online travel companies avoid taxes.

However, Mayor Gavin Newsom, who opposes all new taxes, is fighting the measure and instead proposed Prop. K, which would just close the online tax loophole. It does, however, include a provision that Prop. J would be rescinded if his initiative gets more votes.

One upside is that voters generally see through this.

“The natural impulse for voters is to vote no when the waters are muddied,’’ said Corey Cook, assistant professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. “They do a pretty good job of sorting things out.’’

It’s another election in San Francisco — let’s be careful out there.

Jerry Brown needs to step up his game soon

The big question for pundits watching the governor’s race was whether Jerry Brown will come out burning from the traditional Labor Day political barbecues to finally meet the financial tsunami that is Republican candidate Meg Whitman.

And the answer, as with most things with California’s political Yoda is: Who knows?

About the only thing we know about Jerry’s World is that the labor unions independently backing Brown announced that they will not be spending any more money on air time. They will leave that to the Democratic hopeful in the final months of the campaign.

Yet how aggressive will the perennial candidate be in dealing with Whitman’s riches ($104 million and counting)? Brown’s camp believes that it has already made the right decision of not spending any money this summer because polls show the two contenders in a dead heat and Whitman’s bankroll was supposed to give her a considerable advantage.

Still, it’s one thing to say that Whitman’s negative attack ads “damaged her brand’’ and quite another to step up and declare why voters should believe Brown deserves a third term as governor, especially in a state that has defied all answers. At some point soon, Brown has to come up with a better answer for being governor than that he has the experience — career politician not being a favorable tag in the year of the Tea Party. Word has it that Brown’s campaign might finally air its first advertisement next week. If that’s true, it better be good.

San Jose State may eke out a moral victory


Some universities like to play the underdog. The Spartans of San Jose State like to play the impossible.

And that pretty much sums up the school’s quixotic gridiron adventure this weekend when its football team travels to Tuscaloosa to face defending national champion and preseason No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.

Money and losing programs will do that to a school. San Jose State won only two games last year, yet the university will reportedly get $1 million for traveling to Alabama for the Crimson Tide’s home opener.

I talked to a few players recently and they all seemed excited about playing against the perennial powerhouse before more than 100,000 fans. They didn’t talk about the score, just the experience.

Most of the experience will be on Alabama’s side, which is why it’s the consensus No. 1 team in the country. As of today, Alabama is favored by 39 points, but most football observers don’t think it will be that close.

Give the Spartans credit, however. They love a challenge. Last year they opened against then fourth-ranked Southern Cal and only lost 56-3. The team will also play third-ranked Boise State this year. Who says there aren’t moral victories?

Local supervisor broke dubious ground

It’s not officially the Ed Jew law, so we’ll just say that the former San Francisco supervisor was way ahead of his time  — and not in a good way.

This week, the state Legislature approved a bill that would subject locally elected officials to expulsion and civil penalties for living outside their districts.

The bill was authored by Southern California Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, who was bothered by news that a Los Angeles city councilman, Richard Alarcon, was not living in the district that he shares with Fuentes.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Jew was living in Burlingame when he was allegedly representing the Sunset district. It didn’t even turn out to be his biggest problem. He was found guilty of mail fraud and extortion and is serving a five-year prison term.

Yet it all started with revelations that he didn’t live in his district. Remember, in politics, there’s no place like home.

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Ken Garcia

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