Ballot Primer for an Election that Will Drive You to Drink

A standing-room only crowd drank beer and listened to the experts at SPUR breakdown SF's ballot measures. Photo: Streetsblog
A standing-room only crowd drank beer and listened to SPUR’s experts break down SF’s ballot measures. Photo: Streetsblog

Yesterday evening, over 220 people squeezed into the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association’s (SPUR) downtown S.F. location to hear the organization’s policy experts explain which ballot measures they are endorsing. With 25 measures on the San Francisco ballot this November 8, each of the six SPUR experts spent just a few minutes on each decision–and it still took nearly two hours to get through them all.

Thankfully, they also offered bottles of beer at the door.

Here’s a sampling of some of the most Streetsblog-relevant “yes” recommendations:

Measure RR (for “Railroad”)

SPUR started with Measure RR, the $3.5 billion regional bond measure to update, repair and replace all of BART’s aging infrastructure. “Obviously, we say vote ‘yes'” said Ratna Amin, SPUR’s Transportation Policy Director. She spoke about the Washington D.C. Metro, which is about the same age as BART–and has suffered serious breakdowns as a result of deferred maintenance. “We don’t want to go down that road.” She praised the bond for offering some monies for studying a second set of BART tubes, which she described as “dreamy things.” Streetsblog, of course, agrees that RR should be a “yes,” and officially endorsed it earlier this week. This could be a tough one, as it’s a dedicated tax and therefore requires two-thirds of all votes in the three-county BART District (San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa) to pass.


SPUR's panel. That's Ratna Amin, SPUR's transportation expert, in the foreground. Photo: Streetsblog
SPUR’s panel. That’s Ratna Amin, SPUR’s transportation expert, in the foreground. Photo: Streetsblog

Measures K and J (money for homeless services, transit, and safe streets):

These two measures would go to fund homeless services, transportation, and Vision Zero goals. They are written in a way that gets around the two-thirds threshold for a dedicated sales tax, and each requires a simple majority to pass. K increases the effective sales tax in San Francisco by 0.75 percent, from 8.75 to 9.25 percent (the math works out because a previous sales tax expires concurrently). Prop. J, meanwhile, is a city charter amendment that dedicates money from the general fund to homelessness and transportation programs. Taken together, that means $95.5 million will go to San Francisco transportation in the first year. “It protects against future cuts, with eighteen percent going to infrastructure and the Muni fleet, escalators, rails, wires… nine percent for optimization and expansion, twelve percent for Vision Zero, bike lanes, driver education,” explained Amin. ” This will close a $6 billion gap in our transportation needs between now and 2030.”

Proposition E (for “Tree”)

Laura Tam, Sustainable Development Policy Director, discussed Proposition E, which transfers responsibility for maintaining street trees to the city. This measure pays for the costs through a $19 million set-aside from the general fund, adjusted annually. “Currently it’s inconsistent,” said Tam. “Seventy percent of trees are the responsibility of the [adjacent] property owner and thirty percent are maintained by the city.” But, she added, it’s often difficult to know which ones fall under which umbrella, which results in many trees dying because of lack of maintenance. “E recognizes that this is bad policy,” she said.

Another look at SPUR's center during the Ballots and Brews discussion. Photo: Streetsblog.
The SPUR panel discusses ballot measures while the audience drinks brews. Photo: Streetsblog.

It was obvious from the discussion that SPUR’s experts had done their homework. Streetsblog encourages its readers to follow their recommendations, especially on the decisions specified above. For the full slate of SPUR recommendations, including a few undecideds, check out its voter guide. Or follow the chart below:

SPUR created this handy cheat sheet/voter guide. Image: SPUR
SPUR created this handy cheat sheet/voter guide. Image: SPUR

As to the rest of the ballot, SPUR also has the right idea–it’s best combined with beer.

For more events like these, visit SPUR’s events page.

  • djconnel

    I’m voting against J and K, because K taxes merchants to make up for revenue lost from free Sunday parking and low vehicle registration fees. Funding transit is good, but don’t do it in a way which effectively subsidizes motor vehicle ownership and use. The revenue here exceeds that lost from Sunday parking, but nevertheless I want that back before other, more damaging revenue sources are pursued. The irony is the free Sunday parking is claimed to support merchants (which it does not due to reduced parking turn-over) but a higher sales tax indisputably hurts them.

  • RichLL

    The interesting thing about J, to me, is the way the Supes are lined up on it. The two most left-wing Supes (Campos and Avalos) support it but so do the two most right-wing Supes (Farrell and Tang). But at least it’s not a bond measure – it doesn’t raise taxes although it does re-allocate funds.

    K is another whole ball of wax because it is a huge increase in a regressive tax – sales tax. One can argue that a sales tax is fairer because it is the most broad-based and because it is relatively easy to avoid. But my general rule is to always vote against tax increases except for police and prison bonds.

  • Bruce

    Thanks for covering this, Roger! Hopefully no one drove themselves home after the meeting.

  • Roger R.

    Don’t know, but I took Muni.

  • Amin is a total moron. As director, she should be a serious advocate for substantial near and long terms transit solutions, including a much-needed second BART tube. Her view of a tube as “dreamy things” only proves my point that she is just talk (like SPUR in general), not action. She is part of the transportation problem in the Bay Area.

    RR is a flat out No.

  • No on J and K as well. MUNI will hike fares again next September, regardless. Want to fix the escalator problem? Build canopies.

    Increase corporate taxes, not the sales tax. Those tech firms driving up the cost of living need to pay more for the luxury of having a SF address. They should also be taxed to improve our transit infrastructure.

  • SF Guest

    You don’t think the BOS hasn’t already looked at increasing corporate taxes among other taxes including transportation? It’s up to the majority of voters to tell them no, but it won’t happen since SF is a liberal city.

  • RichLL

    Raising corporate taxes simply drives up the cost of the products and services that they sell, just like sales tax does. There is no way around that – corporations ultimately pass all extra costs onto either their customers, their employee or their shareholders (i.e. your IRA or 401K). Corporations cannot ultimately pay tax – only people can.

    In fact SF had to reduce taxes on Twitter etc to stop them moving to nearby cities with more tax-friendly rules.

    That said, I’m also voting “NO” on J and K as well. If both moderates and liberals are opposing them, they cannot win

  • RichLL

    True but that is why the State laws are so important – they restrain the city’s ability to tax gouge. Not just Prop 13 although can you imagine how much our property taxes would go up if they could? But the State also stops the city imposing local income taxes, CGT and estate taxes, and limits their ability to raise sales and road taxes.

  • xplosneer

    Yes on death penalty and a thinly veiled attempt to get grocers to oppose the ban on plastic bags? Get outta here.

  • RichLL

    I would not expect any two people to agree on absolutely everything.


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