Attacks on Labor & Dueling Measures Dominate S.F. Ballot

by Paul Hogarth on August 31, 2010

While San Francisco voters won’t get their handbooks for the November election for a few weeks, ballot arguments are now available for public view in the basement of City Hall – at the Department of Elections. It’s always fun for political junkies to read these now, as it shows what the hotly contested measures will be – and what groups are on each side. Today, Beyond Chron reviews the six propositions that ballot arguments show will be the most controversial. Two of them – Propositions B & G – are signature-driven measures that target City employees, each led by a prominent local politician. The other four are really just two issues – the Hotel Tax (Proposition J & K) and the Sit/Lie Ordinance (Propositions L & M), with factions on each side putting up a rival measure that opponents call a “poison pill.” Tomorrow, Beyond Chron will explore the ballot arguments of the remaining nine measures – which are more low-profile.

Proposition B: Health Care Dominates the Discourse

Jeff Adachi’s Proposition B – a Charter Amendment to overhaul City employee benefits – does two things. It requires higher contributions to retirement pensions, and raises the health care premiums for the dependents (i.e., children and spouses) of City workers. Proponents barely talk about the latter, but it has become a rallying cry for opponents – with 20 paid ballot arguments that focus on it, making it the most controversial measure.

In the official “Yes on B” argument, Public Defender Adachi talks about our growing pension liability – and how this Charter Amendment will save the City millions of dollars. “Prop B will ensure that our pension debt is not passed onto our children,” he writes.

But the children of City employees will start paying more for health care if Prop B passes – a point that Adachi acknowledges very subtly by writing: “the employee still receives free coverage, but pays 50% instead of 25% of the cost of dependent health care.”

Mayor Newsom, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, Board President David Chiu, the San Francisco Firefighters, police union, teachers union and California Nurses all signed the official argument against Prop B – with the line: “don’t cut health care for children and families.” Calling it “deceptive, poorly drafted and unfair,” the group says Prop B would mean that a single mother will be “forced to pay an extra $5,000 per year on health care.”

Joining the “No on B” chorus are paid arguments by the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, a group of registered nurses (who say it forces “more people into the emergency rooms”), the SF Democratic Party, 23 police officers, 38 firefighters, SF Tenants Union, a list of SF teachers, Chinese leaders, 13 City librarians, 25 City gardeners, religious leaders, workers at SF General and Laguna Honda. Police Chief Gascon, Fire Chief Hayes-White and Sheriff Hennessey take it further by arguing that Prop B “endangers the benefits of surviving spouses and children of safety employees killed in the line of duty.”

Who has paid arguments in favor of Prop B? San Francisco residents Mary Beth and Bob Starzel, Margaret Ropchan, Richard Beleson, SOMA activist Jamie Whittaker and former Board President Matt Gonzalez. Each say we can’t afford not to pass Prop B, due to our growing pension liabilities. Members of the Civil Grand Jury – including Beyond Chron contributor Bob Planthold – have a paid argument, where they actually defend the health care components: “voters must solve this problem before it bankrupts the City.”

Proposition G: Opposition More Muted

Like Adachi, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd collected signatures to put a Charter Amendment on the ballot that targets City employee benefits – specifically Muni drivers. But in stark contrast to the official “No on B” ballot argument, politicians are not clamoring to defeat Prop G. Elected officials get first dibs on authoring the “main” ballot arguments, but the “No on G” voice went to TWU Local 250 – who represents Muni drivers. Prop G, they say, “unfairly targets drivers as the only problem at a multimillion dollar transit agency.”

In the official “Yes on G” argument, Elsbernd wrote that it will “improve Muni service.” In the proponent’s rebuttal, SPUR added: “imagine trying to run a transit agency when you don’t know who will show up to work each day.” Paid arguments in favor of Prop G come from the moderate side of San Francisco’s political spectrum – the Coalition of SF Neighborhoods, Plan C, the Chamber of Commerce, Rescue Muni, West of Twin Peaks Central Council, the Council of District Merchants and the Neighborhood Parks Council.

But “No on G” has a fair number of paid arguments. The most persuasive is from 47 Muni bus drivers: “we share our riders’ frustration … but Prop G unfairly targets workers without addressing the real problems with Muni service – politicians slashing our budget, and high paid executives who don’t share the pain.” The Harvey Milk Club and Central Labor Council also weighed in against Prop G – as did International ANSWER (which was last seen at the MTA Board opposing parking meter expansion – while fighting oil wars abroad.)

Prop J vs. Prop K: Dueling Hotel Tax Measures

In June and July, activists who opposed cuts to City services collected signatures to put the Hotel Fairness Initiative on the ballot. Proposition J would close loopholes in the hotel tax, and also temporarily raise the City’s hotel tax by 2%. But Mayor Newsom responded by placing Proposition K on the ballot – which closes the same loopholes, but also has language that explicitly prohibits raising the hotel tax. Now, we have two competing ballot measures.

The Sierra Club, Supervisor Eric Mar, Coleman Advocates, United Educators, a public health nurse and a public school teacher authored the “Yes on J” argument – calling it a “fair solution that will help fund vital services.” They are echoed by 18 paid ballot arguments – from a variety of community based groups, SF General and Laguna Honda Hospital workers, the Democratic Party, Senior Action Network, the SF Tenants Union and others. “We can no longer address our budget issues only through cuts,” writes the SF Human Services Network. “We must have additional revenue as part of the solution.”

Mayor Newsom wrote the main “No on J” ballot argument (along with the chief of the Convention & Visitors Bureau), calling it a “job-killing tax that will harm the tourist industry.” They are joined by paid arguments from the Council of District Merchants, the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, BOMA, the Hotel Council and the SF Chamber of Commerce – who writes “Mayor Newsom balanced the budget without new taxes.” Of course, a more accurate statement would be that Newsom and the Board of Supervisors balanced the budget without new taxes – and lots of awful cuts to vital services.

But the real drama is when you get to Prop K. While Newsom, Treasurer Jose Cisneros and Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Sean Elsbernd and Carmen Chu explain in the “Yes on K” argument that “internet travel companies are currently refusing to pay the City what we are owed,” opponents cut to the chase. In the “No on K” argument, the same folks from “Yes on J” write: “there’s only one reason why hotel corporations put Prop K on the ballot: to confuse voters about Prop J. Hotel owners could have simply opposed Prop J.”

Calling Prop K a “poison pill” is a recurring theme when you read the paid arguments against it. Many of the same groups who weighed in to support Prop J have a similar arguments against Prop K, with a common refrain: “don’t swallow the poison pill.” My favorite is from United Educators, who represents SF public school teachers: “classroom teachers know a trick when they see one.”

Prop L vs. Prop M: Other Side Gets Poison Pill

After Newsom placed Prop K on the ballot to undermine the Hotel Fairness Initiative, the Mayor’s progressive rivals at the Board of Supervisors put Proposition M (a community police measure) on the ballot that would annul Newsom’s Sit/Lie Ordinance (Proposition L.) As a result, we now have another pair of dueling measures on the November ballot.

Some of the same people who support Prop K (which opponents blast as a “poison pill”) have criticized Prop M for the same reason. In the official ballot argument for Prop L and against Prop M, Mayor Newsom, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Police Chief Gascon and Supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Michela Alioto-Pier complain that Prop M “has a poison pill that will override Prop L.” Prop L, they explain, will “eliminate unnecessary hostility and confrontations by banning sitting and lying on the sidewalks.”

Paid “Yes on L” arguments come from the Haight Ashbury Improvement Association, the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, the Chamber of Commerce, the SF Republican Party, a group of public school parents that includes DCCC member Tom Hsieh, the Asian Pacific Democratic Club, the Police Officers Association, the Council of District Merchants and Polk Street Merchants (who write about “struggling with aggressive drifters who scare off customers and threaten vulnerable pedestrians”)

Most of the progressive Supervisors, along with the SF Democratic and Green Parties, penned the official “No on L” argument – saying there are already numerous laws that prohibit obstruction of sidewalks. Paid arguments against it include the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council (who mention that a sit/lie law was passed in 1968 to intimidate hippies), Religious Witness, a group called “Sidewalks are for People,” the Milk Club, and state Democratic Party Chair John Burton, who writes: “when I see people on the street or sitting on the sidewalk, it is not a pleasant sight – but it should not be a crime.”

Virtually all of the same groups opposing Prop L have weighed in favor of Prop M, and vice versa. Official proponents of Prop M argue that San Francisco needs to start treating police foot patrols as a “proactive public safety strategy” – and progressive allies who penned paid arguments say it’s time that we make the foot patrols “permanent.”

In the official “No on M” argument, Newsom and his allies say “don’t let Supervisors play politics with your safety” and “Prop M would throw out your vote.” Paid arguments against Prop M come from Plan C, the SF Chamber of Commerce, the police union, various neighborhood merchant groups and the Coalition of SF Neighborhoods – which asks: “who do you trust on public safety – the Board of Supervisors, or Chief Gascon?”

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