June 2014 Voter Guide

Governor — Luis Rodriguez
Lieutenant Governor — Jena Goodman
Secretary of State — Derek Cressman
Attorney General — Kamala Harris
Treasurer — John Chiang
Controller — John Perez
Insurance Commissioner — Nathalie Hrizi
Superintendent of Public Instruction — Tom Torlakson
Board of Equalization, District 2 — No Endorsement
House of Representatives, District 12 — Barry Hermanson
House of Representatives, District 14 — Jackie Speier
State Assembly, District 17 — David Campos
State Assembly, District 19 — No Endorsement
SF Superior Court Judge, Place 20 — They’re All Good!

CA Prop 41: $600 Million Bond for Affordable Housing for Veterans — Yes
CA Prop 42: Make Counties Comply with the Public Records Act — Yes
SF Prop A: $400 Million Earthquake Safety Bond — Yes
SF Prop B: Let the People Decide Waterfront Height Limits — Yes

Before you check out our endorsements, remember that this election is a primary! For the candidate races below, we have open primaries in California. That means we all get to vote (you don’t have to be registered with a particular political party). The two candidates who get the most votes will appear on the ballot in November, regardless of party: so it could be two Democrats, a Green vs a Republican, whatever. Or as Stephen Colbert put it, “So the two richest guys win!”

For this primary election, we picked the candidates who align best with our values. Some of them (our pick for Governor is a good example) are awesome but probably won’t end up in the top two when the dust settles. That means that in November we’ll likely endorse a different candidate (often a Democrat facing off against a Republican).

Several of our statewide endorsements are based on that weird dynamic of the open primary. In some of the races where the incumbent is clearly going to get reelected, we endorsed Greens either as a protest vote (Rodriguez for Governor) or because we wanted to support third-party candidates (Goodman for Lt. Governor, Hrizi for Insurance Commissioner) who are unlikely to survive the top-two primary that favors the candidates with the most money.

We’ll reconsider all of these races when the “two richest guys” face off in November.

Governor — Luis J. Rodriguez

Rodriguez is the Green Party candidate. He has roots in the Chicano Movement, is a former gang member turned gang peace activist, a labor organizer, author and poet. He focuses on prison reform, fighting poverty, and environmental justice. He’s running a real, grassroots campaign as an artist and an activist.

We’re disappointed that incumbent Jerry Brown isn’t facing any real challengers. Sure, he’s better that Schwarzenegger (geez, was Arnold really our Governor??), but there are plenty of reasons to be pissed at Jerry:

  • He was timid when Democrats had 2/3rds majorities in the State Assembly and Senate. It was a golden opportunity to push through progressive revenue measures like an oil severance tax and Prop 13 reform to commercial property taxes. But Jerry wasn’t interested.
  • He’s done jack shit for affordable housing after he eliminated Redevelopment Agencies, which were the main source of state funding.
  • Dude seems to have a special pen for vetoing and delaying Tom Ammiano’s awesome legislation! He vetoed a bill to provide media access to state prisons. And, last year, he finally signed Ammiano’s domestic workers’ rights bill and the “trust act” to prevent deportations of undocumented youth after he had vetoed them in 2012.
  • Finally, Jerry Brown’s comments on marijuana? Huh?? He said the world is too competitive to legalize marijuana and we need to “stay alert . . . more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.” First of all, that’s just stupid and out of touch. That also means at least two more years of California putting more black and brown folks in prison for marijuana, which is inexcusable. It’s time for you to go home, Grandpa Jerry.

Let’s put more artists in office! Luis Rodriguez for Governor!

Lieutenant Governor — Jena F. Goodman

As an ecology student at UC Davis & a Green Party activist, Goodman’s priorities include fighting climate change, enacting prison reform, increasing education funding, providing free college for all, banning fracking, funding transit, and investing in renewable energy. Sounds good to us! Plus, the Lt Governor sits on the UC Board of Regents, and it’d be ace to have a student in that seat.

We aren’t endorsing the incumbent, our old Mayor, Gavin Newsom. (Four years ago, we endorsed him in the June primary, but then we switched to “no endorsement” in November after he made some stupid “no new taxes ever” statement.) When he was Mayor, we clashed with Gavin. All. The. Time. But now that he’s off in the do-nothing Lite Governor’s office, we actually appreciate how he’s staked out a position to the left of Jerry Brown. In particular, we appreciate him calling an end to the “war on drugs.” Our cynical side wonders how much of that is Gavin’s principles and how much is political calculation, but either way, we’re glad to see him standing on the right side of history.

Secretary of State — Derek Cressman

Cressman is a voting rights advocate and the serving Vice-President of State Operations for Common Cause (non-profit org that advocates for campaign finance and electoral reform), so we think he’s got the chops to do the job. His primary goal is to get money out of politics (which explains his fierce opposition to the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision) but he also supports modernizing our voting system, same-day voting registration, and expanding voter education so that everyone knows more about what’s on the ballot.

The only downside to Cressman is that he’s another wonky white guy, and we’ve already got plenty of those in Sacramento. Now that Leland Yee is out of the race, Cressman’s primary competition for Democratic votes in the primary is Alex Padilla, a Democratic State Senator from LA. Padilla is young, Latino, and a rising political star who seems to be using Secretary of State as a stepping stone to higher office, whereas Cressman is passionate about elections — ie, what the Secretary of State actually does.

Attorney General — Kamala D. Harris

Harris is a Democrat and the incumbent. She’s been tough on transnational gangs, and in the fight for marriage equality she was a total badass: she forced several bigoted, Republican County Clerks to issue marriage licenses after Prop 8 was overturned. When the banks settled with the states on foreclosure fraud, Kamala held out to get more money for California.

However since then, we haven’t seen any follow through on prosecuting any of the bankers or cracking down on other predatory lending. And she’s not 100% aligned with League values: she’s opposed to legalizing marijuana, and just days after SF’s City Attorney sued landlords who evicted tenants to run Airbnb hotels, Harris held a fundraiser at Airbnb, co-hosted by Uber and others. /headdesk/

Treasurer — John Chiang

The Treasurer is the State’s banker and chief investment officer, responsible for managing the state’s pooled dough. Before Chiang started his campaign for Treasurer, he was on the Board of Equalization and then became the state Controller (more on those below). As Controller, Chiang was pretty effective — he even got sassy with the Governor and legislators in 2011, threatening to dock their pay because their so-called balanced budget was based on a bunch of accounting tricks. Rawr!

Controller — John A. Perez

Perez is a Democrat. In 2010, he became the nation’s first openly gay Speaker when he was selected to lead the California Assembly. If he wins, he’ll be the first LGBT person elected to statewide office!

At one point he sued Governor Schwarzenegger for defunding HIV/AIDS prevention services. As Controller, he would create a reserve fund to level out boom-and-bust state revenue cycles, change how pension funds are invested and advocate to change the rules so that local tax laws would need a 55% majority to pass (instead of the Prop 13 supermajority requirement). Perez supports Ellis Act Reform and a minimum wage increase.

His opponent, Betty Yee, is also a good candidate. As Board of Equalization Chair she is already familiar with CA finances and tax structure. We like both Perez and Yee. Our endorsement of Perez was in large part influenced by our friends at the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club who are making Perez’s campaign to be the first statewide LGBT officeholder a priority.

Insurance Commissioner — Nathalie Hrizi

Hrizi is running under the Peace and Freedom Party. She’s a public school teacher and a mom with a megaphone! The first thing she wants to do if elected is abolish the insurance companies and offer healthcare to everyone. What’s not to love?

The incumbent, Dave Jones, is cruising to reelection, which is a good thing. When it became clear that the CPUC was bought and paid for by Uber and Lyft and was going to let them get away with shady insurance policies, Jones jumped into the issue and basically shamed the CPUC into doing their job. He’s also been solid on implementing Obamacare, and we’re told that he’s a big supporter of single payer health care.

But for the primary vote, we’re supporting Hrizi and her megaphone!

Superintendent of Public Instruction — Tom Torlakson

The State’s Superintendent manages the operational side of the school system, licenses teachers, maintains school property and oversees the California Department of Education. Torlakson is the incumbent. He was once a school teacher and is funded mostly by labor. He’s advocated for after-school programs, fought junk food in schools, promoted health and fitness and wants to close the digital divide in public schools. Torlakson’s opponent, Marshall Tuck, is a charter school CEO who will redirect public school funds to corporate charter schools and private schools.

Board of Equalization, District 2 — No Endorsement

The Board of Equalization collects tax, and is the only publicly-elected tax commission in the United States. Fiona Ma is the Democratic candidate, but we just can’t get behind her. Fiona Ma was a conservative Supervisor here in SF, and voted the opposite way from the League time and time again. Her donor list is a big business roll call. We think she’s more interested in raising money and gaining power than in tackling California’s problems.

House of Representatives, District 12 — Barry Hermanson

Hermanson is the Green Party candidate. He’s an advocate for living wages, Medicare for all, free tuition, GMO labeling, removing big money from politics, eliminating homelessness and other campaigns aligned with League values. Barry is a hardworking, progressive ally of ours who always helps pass out this voter guide! Regardless of what you think about Nancy Pelosi, please vote for Hermanson in the primary to block the Republican from being on the November ballot!

Every two years we have an internal debate about whether or not to endorse Pelosi. Some of us think she has been pretty awful and doesn’t represent San Francisco values. She didn’t vote to impeach Bush, she wrote to blank check on the Iraq war, she caved on universal healthcare. In 2010, we did endorse her because some of us were impressed with how she fought hard to pass the Affordable Care Act and the climate change bill (which died in the Senate).

We’ll have that debate about Pelosi again in November, but however you feel about her, please vote for Hermanson in the primary.

House of Representatives, District 14 — Jackie Speier

Speier is a moderate Democrat who votes the party line on most issues, but she’s just progressive enough to earn our support. She opposes Keystone XL, pushed for tougher standards for natural gas pipelines, is outspoken on gun violence prevention, speaks up for transit and is an advocate for information privacy. And, dude, she took an effing bullet at Jonestown.

State Assembly, District 17 — David Campos

Campos is currently Supervisor in District 9 (Mission, Bernal Heights, St. Mary’s Park, and Portola). He’s progressive, LGBT and Latino. He championed Free MUNI for Youth, created legislation to close the loophole for the Healthy San Francisco Ordinance, passed legislation to protect tenants, fought to protect San Francisco’s sanctuary city status, voted to support environmental review of tech buses, and passed legislation to protect women’s right to choose. Campos doesn’t cave to special interests and is receptive to public involvement in governing. He’s worked to promote dialog between housing activists and tech workers. Because Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is terming out of this seat, we need to replace him with another champion for progressive causes. Plus, we like the idea of maintaining this as an LGBT seat in Sacramento.

His main opponent, David Chiu, (Supe in District 3 — North Beach, Chinatown, Telegraph Hill, Russian Hill, Polk Street, Nob Hill, Union Square, Financial District, Barbary Coast and Fisherman’s Wharf) would fit right in with moderate Democrats in Sacramento… and that’s a problem. He voted to tear down hundreds of units of affordable housing at Park Merced. He voted to criminalize homelessness by passing legislation to close the parks at night. He’s using his Board vote to unseat the just-elected Sheriff of SF — which was a weird insider political machination — to set himself apart from Campos. He’s backed by big downtown money. He recently voted to unseat a progressive woman of color on the Police Commission. And, we’ll never forget “it’s on like Donkey Kong” — he made a backroom deal to appoint Ed Lee just so he could be Board President again for a third term. Thanks but no thanks, David Chiu.

State Assembly, District 19 — No Endorsement

Incumbent Phil Ting is running unopposed, but we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to endorse him. He’s voted for tenants, gun control, domestic workers and immigrant rights. But he also supported the Mid-Market (Twitter) tax break, voted to rename the Bay Bridge after Willie Brown,hisss, and has been found guilty of “phoning in” his vote on bills when he should have been present.

SF Superior Court Judge, Place 20 — No Endorsement

All three of the candidates seemed good here, so we were split three ways! Daniel Flores is the SF-born-and-raised star-lawyer son of Salvadoran immigrants. He’s got more endorsements than God and seems to be the front runner. Kimberly Williams worked as a prosecutor, which is a traditionally conservative role, but she has a progressive judicial philosophy and it’d be great to see more women of color on the bench. Carol Kingsley brings a wealth of experience and a focus on mediation, ethics, and gun control. We can’t lose, so pick whoever’s your style.

Prop 41: $600 million bond to provide multifamily housing to veterans — Yes

This authorizes $600 million in general obligation bonds to address affordable housing needs for veterans and their families. The funds will create multi-family supportive housing, transitional housing, and rental housing or related facilities to relieve homelessness. Projects are prioritized if they have support services attached, and funds that are already available for veterans housing but not being used can be reallocated. So that sounds cool. At the same time, there is no indication of just who will do the building of all this housing. There’s a potential for a shady well-connected business to make lots of money via Prop 41. Does the potential good of this bond overshadow the potential for construction kickbacks? The League recommends a tentative Yes.

Prop 42: Force counties to comply with the California Public Records Act — Yes

This requires cities, counties, and school districts to provide public access to meetings of government bodies and records of government officials- who can argue with that? Unfortunately this prop invalidates laws that forced Sacramento to reimburse local governments for their expenses. This prop won’t affect SF, since we’re already doing all that. It’s a bummer that small communities will incur some costs here, since the state won’t help pay, but overall, transparency is good. Let the sun shine!

Prop A: Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond General Obligation Bond ($400 Million) — Yes

We think borrowing money sucks. And this is really similar to the earthquake bond that passed back in 2010. But it’s endorsed by nearly everyone — because, honestly, when the big one hits, we’re screwed. This cash will improve fire, earthquake and emergency response by upgrading or replacing: deteriorating cisterns (the water tanks marked by brick circles in intersections) and pipes; neighborhood fire and police stations; and certain seismically-unsafe police and medical examiner facilities.

Prop B: Let the People Decide Waterfront Height Limits — Yes

Prop B would change SF’s rules so that, forevermore, the voters must decide whether or not to increase the height limit for new buildings on Port property. Currently, those height limits can be modified by the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors. It might seem a bad idea to modify the planning code by the ballot box, but we’re supporting this because we think that sometimes good politics trumps bad public policy.

Our Port used to be a hub of worldwide shipping, but now all that’s gone to Oakland. What’s left is some of the most valuable property in the City, and of course everybody wants a piece (mostly for luxury condos- imagine the views!).

The Port had three major projects in the works that depend on raising the height limit:

  • The Warriors Arena at Pier 30-32: These piers need hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs. The Warriors planned to pay for that by building luxury condos, a hotel, and a shopping center across the Embarcadero. Mayor Ed Lee had this project on the fast track, and the Warriors had an army of lobbyists and consultants to run it through the approval process. There was no time for questions about whether they were providing enough money for affordable housing or fairly compensating the City. They dismissed concerns about bringing more traffic into that already gridlocked area. But now that Prop B is looming, they’ve accepted defeat, dropped this plan and bought a 12-acre site from Salesforce down in Mission Bay (at 3rd and 16th Streets).
  • The Giants development at Pier 48: This is the Giants’ parking lot across from McCovey Cove. The plan is to build office space, condos and open space to link Mission Bay and SOMA. The challenge is that here they need to build all of the infrastructure from scratch. They plan to pay for that with two 30+ story apartment towers.
  • Another big mixed-used development at Pier 70: upgrading the beautiful but rundown historic industrial buildings in the Dogpatch. Once again, the plan is to pay for all that rehab and infrastructure by building tall condos.

We have hesitations about this prop. We don’t hate tall buildings (although we like to remind people that concrete skyscrapers are more expensive per square foot than wood midrise buildings). We aren’t NIMBYs who support Prop B because we dislike any development. Plus we’re nervous about planning via the ballot box, because new projects are complicated land-use decisions that shouldn’t be boiled down to campaign slogans and a yes-or-no vote.

But we disagree with the argument that voters aren’t smart enough to weigh in on these issues. Sure, in an ideal world they wouldn’t have to, because all these proposals would be rigorously reviewed by the City to ensure the best possible use of the land (for us, that means maximizing affordable housing and public utility). But because the Mayor, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors haven’t been doing that, the voters must step in. We feel we have no choice but to support the blunt political tool that is Prop B. These empty Port parcels and piers are the most valuable properties the City has. We can’t afford to just give them away to the Mayor’s pet projects.

We would love to see a “do over” on the November ballot with a more nuanced waterfront development policy (see the “How We Think the City Should Deal with Waterfront Development” section below), but when forced to say yes or no on Prop B, we say yes.

What Kind of Waterfront Development Do We Support?

We weren’t involved in writing Prop B, so of course it’s not perfect ☺. We would love to see Prop B get revised in November with a more nuanced approach: like, if a waterfront project wanted to raise the height limit in order to build 50% affordable housing, that shouldn’t require a ballot measure to approve. Maybe there could be a similar threshold for projects that create a certain amount of public space?

Urban free marketeers love to Sanfransplain to us how to fix San Francisco’s housing problem. Since we are opposed to letting the market decide how to use our waterfront, they ask us what we should do instead?

Here are a couple of thoughts on key waterfront projects:

  • 8 Washington: (This is a cherry piece of land, kitty-corner from the Ferry Building.) Let’s double the amount of money they contribute to the City’s affordable housing fund, reduce the size of the parking garage from 320 to 67 spaces (1 for every 2 condos), switch half of the ground-floor retail space from restaurants to some kind of publicly available community space, and put a public roof deck on top! Boom.
  • Pier 30-32: It would cost at least $180 million to fix up these ugly, crumbling piers. Or we could tear them out for $40 million. Right next door is the Brannan Street Wharf, a brand new, beautiful little park. How about we tear the piers out, and extend the park? Maybe we could make a smaller pier for launching kayaks and/or a new home for the Port fire station. We could pay for all that with a smaller development on Seawall Lot 330 across street.

But What About Supply and Demand? Can’t We Just Build More Market Rate Housing?

We’re pro-development but critical of more luxury & market rate housing.

The 7 mile by 7 mile constraints of San Francisco severely limit the ability of market rate housing to solve the issue of affordability. We believe that decommodifying housing and passing anti-speculation and progressive property taxes are viable ways forward to keep San Francisco families in affordable housing.

But let’s consider supply and demand- how much new housing would be enough?

The City’s Chief Economist in the San Francisco Controller’s Office (Ted Egan) estimates it would take the construction of 100,000 new housing units to have the same effect of affordability as giving 50,000 families a $75K down payment bonus. That still only makes 25% of the housing market affordable- with a hefty $4 billion dollar investment. Our takeaways are 1) we’re fucked and 2) we have no real answers for affordability.

Geek out on the data: We are slated to build 189% of the City’s target of luxury housing. But we are woefully behind on building affordable housing.

Here’s Our Crazy Ambitious Plan

So new market-rate housing is part of the solution, but only part. Here’s our outline for a full solution:

  1. Let’s build those 100,000 new housing units.
  2. But for every new unit we build, let’s take an existing unit permanently off the market. Make them into co-ops or land trusts, or put a deed restriction on the building that says it will always be rental housing and it can never be sold or refinanced.
  3. And then all we need to do is radically overhaul our transportation network because we just increased our population by 25%! (The City’s population has basically been flat since WWII.) The San Francisco Transportation Authority did a fancy simulation of what traffic would look like if we built 50,000 new housing units. Their paper on that is called “Preventing Carmegeddon in San Francisco’s Rapidly Densifying Core.” It says the only hope to prevent total gridlock is to do “congestion pricing,” which means charging people to drive downtown. We’d also have to virtually stop building new parking garages, charge more for existing parking, and then make big investments in Muni, bike, and pedestrian projects to make San Francisco really Transit First.

Lots of folks seem to want to do #1 and hope that #2 and #3 work out. That’s a recipe for an overcrowded, broken city of millioniares. If we’re serious about a more affordable future for our City, we have to tackle all three together.

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Paid for by the San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters. Financial disclosures available at sfethics.org.


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