Making nonsense of San Francisco ballot process 

At almost four hours long, Thursday’s Board of Supervisors Rules Committee meeting was more than any sane person could sit through. And so, I give you my summary of what happened when supervisors Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell and Jane Kim heard testimony about certain measures headed for the November ballot because activists wrote a law and four supervisors signed it.  

First is the proposal to prevent “all recreation facilities” from being “leased to private entities.” This one was signed by supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar and Ross Mirkarimi.

Elsbernd asked Avalos to specify what should be cut to ensure that our parks are funded so we don’t need to raise fees and lease facilities.

“I think we have to make those choices,” rhetorical genius Avalos said.

Elsbernd then pointed out that the proposed law does not define “lease,” but elsewhere in The City’s administrative code it defines “lease” as “permit.” This is why the measure would prevent birthday parties, Outside Lands and America’s Cup events. Elsbernd repeatedly said confusion over the term “lease” is why the proposal should have gone through the legislative process.

Later, the committee heard the “prohibiting demolition of residential buildings” proposal. Otherwise known as the anti-Parkmerced measure, it would require a vote by two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors before affordable housing could be demolished. Signatories to this proposal are Avalos, Campos, Mar, Mirkarimi and Kim. Elsbernd asked the author of the measure, tenants rights advocate Ted Gullickson, whether this law was aimed at preventing the Parkmerced project. “Yes,” Gullickson said.

Then, a representative from the City Attorney’s Office explained that, as the contracts for the Parkmerced project have already been signed, this ballot measure would have no effect on its intended target. It would, however, impede other projects.

Avalos and Mirkarimi, each running for office on the same ballot as these measures, are probably hoping for some voter love for their efforts. I guess they think we won’t notice they are creating a well-intentioned but irrational mess.

Separating pension measures makes both less likely to pass

Ordinarily, when two measures on the same subject are passed by voters, they are automatically consolidated. Conflicting provisions are resolved in favor of the highest vote-getter, and parts that do not conflict are included in the final law. For example, if my measure says red and blue, and another measure says green and not blue, if I win, the resulting law is blue, red and green. The purpose of this consolidation is to try and give the voters what they are asking for to the extent possible.  

At last week’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd amended Mayor Ed Lee’s pension measure to prevent any possible consolidation between it and Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s Pension Reform Act. Under the new version of the mayor’s measure, whichever proposal gets more votes will take effect and nothing else — regardless of whether there were elements of the other proposal that voters also endorsed.

Prior to this amendment, voters could choose both proposals and let the nerds sort it out. And campaigns for each measure were incentivized to keep it above the belt and focus on the pension crisis instead of each other. Now that voters have to make a choice, it will have a dramatic effect on the tenor of the campaigns. Groups on either side of the debate will have to go negative, bashing each other’s plans.

And where could all this negative politicking lead? Some voters will be turned off by the whole mess, some won’t want to do the math required to make a decision between the two measures and many will only pick one or the other. This alienated and divided reform vote leaves room for the status quo to win.

What Elsbernd has done is increase the chances that both measures will lose.

Changes might not kill cellphone-labeling lawsuit

Whenever a city official says, “In France ...” when introducing legislation making San Francisco the “first city in the world” to do something, we might as well whip out le checkbook and get ready to pay. And so it was last summer when The City adopted cellphone radiation labeling requirements.

Then-Mayor Gavin Newsom endlessly crowed about this achievement on the road to becoming lieutenant governor, and everyone held hands and felt good about being on the vanguard of public health and safety.

Well, almost everyone.

“We need to deal with the federal government about these issues, not our local merchants,” a public commenter said last year when the law was first considered, echoing the sentiment of the business community. And at the final vote, only one Supervisor said “no” to the labeling law: Sean Elsbernd.
And now after a year of litigation (read: City Attorney’s Office resources), the board is set to vote on an ordinance today that will gut the cellphone labeling ordinance.

The new law won’t require any specific radiation information about any phone. It just asks that retailers post warnings about radiation generally and offer materials that show ways to minimize exposure.

The best part: Even if supervisors endorse this decimated law, the cellphone retailers might still go forward with their lawsuit. Vive le San Francisco!

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Melissa Griffin

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