Did you know it only takes signatures of four supervisors to put an ordinance on the ballot? It’s true! There doesn’t even have to be a public hearing on the subject. (The class of 2000 especially loved this little trick, putting some 21 initiatives on the ballot between November 2002 and November 2006, more than the total from the prior decade.) And any little pet piece of legislation that is approved by the voters cannot be changed without going back to the voters.
The same goes for an ordinance put on the ballot by the mayor or even by a majority vote at the Board of Supervisors: Anything enacted by voters can only be changed by the voters.
This means that even the most benign update to a law has to go on the ballot, contributing to the seemingly endless number of ordinances we face every election and prompting cries to the supes, “Do your job! Why are we being asked to make these decisions?” Well folks, Supervisor Scott Wiener is on the case.
His recent proposal to allow the Board of Supervisors to treat voter-approved ordinances (not charter amendments) like other ordinances, subjecting them to amendment without additional public vote, has been met with howling opposition by the handful of people who are paying attention.
And so, Wiener has pledged to work with concerned groups to devise a way to ease the pain of the endless ballot. It’s too early to know the details of what he will propose, but on behalf of a beleaguered electorate, I commend him for wading into this dicey subject. I hope he won’t be the only one.
‘Knowing that we will, by November, have put forth other things that suggest very strongly that we’ve taken care of our financial house, then I know that the public will be prepared for this particular bond,” said Mayor Ed Lee as he proposed a $248 million bond for road repairs and upgrades.
It was a remarkably cocksure statement in light of the fact that more than 66 percent of voters in November would have to endorse the bond. I’m fairly sure he was relying at least in part on a poll conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates that reportedly cost The City $29,000. For that amount, we got the results of telephone interviews with 611 San Franciscans who declared themselves probable voters in the November election. I got my grubby little hands on the poll results and showed it to some fancy consultants.
Andre Pineda of Pineda Consulting is a pollster whose client list includes President Barack Obama. After reviewing the poll results, Pineda remarked, “It looks to me that the street repair measure will have a very, very tough time passing.”
That’s because the overall 67 percent approval rating for the bond (which has been cheerily reported) is the sum of three numbers: 32 percent “Definitely yes,” 21 percent “Probably yes” and 14 percent “Undecided, lean yes.” With these numbers, “I wouldn’t say the measure is dead on arrival. But everything has to go right in order for it to win, including no organized opposition,” Pineda said.
And the poll shows just how an opposition group could defeat the measure. The poll was designed not only to gauge what positive factors would bolster the chances of the bond passing — increased pedestrian safety and job creation top the list — but it also tests which negative factors would be most effective at defeating the measure. The statement that elicited the most powerful response — negative or positive — was the following:
“At a time when The City is cutting funding for health care, education and emergency services, this measure would spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a remodeling project in one tiny area of The City — Jefferson Street — in anticipation of the America’s Cup. The bond would devote more money to this project than to all other sidewalk, bridge and overpass improvements citywide.”
Forty-one percent of those who heard that found it a “very convincing” reason to oppose the measure. Observed Pineda, “In the hands of a good media consultant, negatives that get 40 percent are silver bullets.”
Indeed, I asked a good media consultant about the poll and he wrote, “I would set it up as a bond to benefit billionaire Larry Ellison, America’s Cup, and special interests.”
According to the poll, if someone decides to do just that, it would pave the way for defeat of the bond in November.
Other items of note from the poll:
When asked which of several options are serious problems in our fair city:
- “Waste and inefficiency in city government” topped the chart with 29 percent rating as “extremely serious.”
In fact, government ineptitude beat out:
- “Quality of public schools” (25 percent).
- “Unemployment” (28 percent) in the “extremely serious” category.
Given a list of services, respondents were asked to rate how well The City is doing as a provider:
- “Managing San Francisco’s budget and finances” drew the most disappointment, with 29 percent of respondents rating that service “poor” and 42 percent rating it “only fair.”
- “Maintaining city streets and roads” was close behind — 27 percent rated that category “poor” and 46 percent “only fair.”
In spite of the fact that respondents believe The City is run by wasteful people who don’t understand basic math, the poll does reflect optimism:
- Fifty-four percent of the respondents believe San Francisco is “on the right track.”
- Recent polls in other cities show only 42 percent of New Yorkers and 35 percent of folks in Washington, D.C., believe their city is on the right track.