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Advocate Roundup on Key City and State Propositions

In less that two weeks, people will again head to the polls. There are several initiatives on the ballot that are either peripherally or directly relevant to advocates for safe and livable streets. Here is a rundown of what advocates are writing about some of the most significant propositions and measures on the ballot.

No on Prop. 6 - the Gas Tax Repeal

California's Prop. 6, which would repeal S.B.1, a 2017 adjustment to the state gas tax and vehicle registration fees. Streetsblog has already chimed in on this one directly, pointing out the damage this would do to transportation projects and road conditions throughout the state, dispelling the phony arguments in its favor, and tracing the cynical, political ploy at the root of the proposition.

Where do the advocates stand on Prop. 6? Opposition is universal.

From SPUR's voter guide page on Prop. 6:

The state’s roads and transit systems need to be in good shape to support the world’s fifth-largest economy, control greenhouse gas emissions and maintain quality of life. SB 1 is an overdue investment in transportation. If Prop. 6 passes, there would be no other source of revenue on the horizon. Much like the effect of 1978’s Prop. 13, the detrimental impacts of Prop. 6 could last for decades.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, on its endorsements page, is also clear about Prop. 6:

If the gas tax is repealed, we will see an immediate threat to bicycle and pedestrian safety projects locally and our ability to fund these projects in the future will be strongly curtailed, requiring a 2/3 threshold in the future, making it difficult to meet our transportation needs.

TransForm is also recommending, well, more like shouting, a clear "No Way on Prop. 6":

Prop 6 would eliminate $5.4 billion per year in transportation funding, including almost $1 billion per year for public transportation, safe walking and biking, and multi-use trails. This politically motivated measure would repeal the increased gas tax and vehicle fees passed by the legislature in SB 1, the landmark transportation improvement bill passed last year.

Last but not least, Walk Oakland - Bike Oakland just emailed Streetsblog with this to say:

Mark "NO" on Prop. 6, a sneaky Proposition that cuts off $5.4 Billion annually to fix and upgrade roadways, transit and ped safety projects.

But simply, Prop. 6 is universally derided by safe-and-livable streets advocates. Vote 'No.'


Yes on San Francisco Prop. A - Seawall Safety Bond

A whole lot of downtown San Francisco is built on landfill. That may not have been the best idea, but now parts of the city are potentially in danger of flooding given the twin-threats of sea level rise and a major earthquake. What to do? Clearly, the seawall has to be maintained and bolstered to withstand the inevitable. Prop. A will authorize $425 million in general obligation bond to fund planning, design, engineering and construction of a bolstered seawall and other flood-control measures.

SPUR lays out what's at stake, with a strong endorsement:

The Embarcadero seawall is the foundation of 3 miles of the city’s waterfront, stretching from Mission Creek to Fisherman’s Wharf. It was built over a hundred years ago by the State of California off of San Francisco’s original Bay shoreline. This retaining wall enabled the city to use landfill to create and develop over 500 acres of land up to First Street — a low-lying area that the seawall still protects from flooding today. The seawall supports the city’s historic piers, wharves, maritime uses and iconic sites such as the Ferry Building, and it underpins utility networks including BART, Muni, ferries, the sewer and water systems, and communications infrastructure. According to the city, the seawall protects more than $100 billion of assets and economic activity.

The Bicycle Coalition agrees: of our organization’s core values is sustainability, which calls on us to fight climate change, while also protecting against the inevitable sea-level rise that is coming. That’s why we are in strong support of Prop A to maintain and upgrade our Embarcadero Seawall for decades to come to prepare our city for whatever the future holds.

Livable City, TransForm, and others also recommend a "Yes" vote on San Francisco Prop. A.


Yes on San Francisco Prop. C - Business Tax for Homeless Services

Prop. C is a tax on the highest-earning businesses (aka the tech industry) to fund homeless services.

According to Ballotpedia, a 'yes' vote is a vote in favor of authorizing the city and county of San Francisco to fund housing and homelessness services by taxing certain businesses at the following rates:

    • 0.175 percent to 0.69 percent on gross receipts for businesses with over $50 million in gross annual receipts, or
    • 1.5 percent of payroll expenses for certain businesses with over $1 billion in gross annual receipts and administrative offices in San Francisco

Where do the advocates stand? SPUR is recommending a 'yes' vote:

In a city with a thriving economy and a budget exceeding $11 billion, there are too many people who remain in need. This measure would generate significant funding to be spent in a holistic way, providing “upstream” services that prevent homelessness and bolster mental health support, as well as supporting a range of housing options for those experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless.

The Bicycle Coalition is also recommending a 'yes' vote, stressing the intersection of safe streets for cyclists and people in dire need of help, especially in locations such as the hairball, where encampments often block bike infrastructure:

In recent years, we have seen how the homelessness crisis has intersected with biking at places like the Hairball or the Duboce bikeway, and we support Prop C to bring compassionate solutions to make San Francisco a better place to live, work and bike.

TransForm agrees:

Homelessness in San Francisco is a humanitarian and public health crisis. A tax on businesses with annual gross receipts of more than $50 million will house more than 4,000 people currently on the streets, provide mental health and substance treatment, prevent homelessness for 7,000 of our neighbors, and eliminate the shelter waitlist by adding 1,000 shelter beds.


But... Advocates are Divided on Prop. 10

Prop. 10 would repeal 1995's Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which establishes limits on the kind of rental control that cities can implement. There are already plenty of good explainers on Costa-Hawkins, and what its repeal could mean for the rights of tenants and/or the housing market.

Here's where the advocates stand.

SPUR is recommending a 'no' vote, out of concern that unintended consequences of the Prop. will make the Bay Area housing situation even worse: control is an imperfect tool for stabilizing communities because it is not targeted to help low-income households or other disadvantaged populations; the people who benefit most are those who have been in their rental units the longest, not necessarily those who need the most help. Supporting means-based affordable housing programs would be more effective.

They also write that:

With the exception of subsidized affordable housing, which relies on government funding and tax incentives, housing is developed in a market-economy environment. Housing production is highly dependent on capital financing because it costs so much to build, usually in the tens of millions of dollars for multi-unit projects. The institutions making decisions about whether or not to lend money to housing developers (banks, pension funds and other investors) consider whether they can reasonably expect to be paid back for their investment.

When housing units become rent-controlled, the amount of return that these investors can expect goes down because rents can’t go up along with operating costs and other factors over time.

SPUR goes on to argue that in a state without limits on rent control, financing for housing projects will become even more difficult to obtain and, as a result, fewer housing units will get built--supply will be further diminished and prices will go up. Some cities in the Bay Area have a nasty habit of passing NIMBY-inspired ordinances that intentionally limit new housing, and taking restrictions off rent-control will give cities even more ability to stop housing construction.

TransForm and Livable Cities, on the other hand, support Prop. 10., and other propositions that are viewed as helping reduce the cost of housing:

This will allow cities and counties the freedom to decide what rent control protections make sense for their jurisdictions, and address the affordability and displacement crises wracking our communities.

This bit of discord on Prop. 10 among advocates is probably why the SFBC hasn't made a recommendation.


Check out the full lists of recommendations, including for candidates for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the BART Board, at SFBCSPUR, Livable City, and Transform.

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