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SPUR Talk: Uber Tax and Election Analysis

4:34 PM PST on November 6, 2019

Alex Clemens breaks down the numbers on the Uber tax. Photos: Streetsblog/Rudick

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It's not surprising that the presentation was "sitting room only," said Alex Clemens of Barbary Coast Consulting, given the lack of big races on yesterday's ballot. "The room reflects the intensity of the election."  However, San Francisco still saw a 40 percent turnout, around what one would expect for an off-year contest.

Empty seats at SPUR's election roundup are a phenomenon one sees only in an off-year election
Empty seats at SPUR's election roundup are a phenomenon one sees only in an off-year election

Still, Clemens and David Latterman of Fall Line Analytics, who did their usual post-election duo at SPUR this afternoon, had plenty to discuss. Notably to Streetsblog readers, that includes a nail-biter on Prop. D, also known as the Uber tax, which would add a 3.25 percent charge to each individual ride in an Uber or Lyft. If it passes, proceeds will go to improve transit and make streets safer. As of this afternoon's discussion the votes were counted as 67 percent 'yes' and 33 percent 'no.'

And according to Clemens, if you counted out that vote to a few decimal points, the proposition has the two-thirds it needs to pass. Of course, with 70,000 ballots left to count, the only way to really know if it will really pass is to "take a long nap until Friday and then call the registrar," he said.

Clemens added that the miracle of Prop. D is the lack of conflict over it. "Uber and Lyft and Supervisor Aaron Peskin got in a room and agreed on this," he said.

"But there were a few people actually thinking for themselves and they didn’t want the cost to go up," said Latterman. He added that San Franciscans are always happy to increase taxes--until it applies to themselves, which is why D is still a squeaker. The two agreed that D was opposed by people who use Uber and Lyft and just don't want any more fees on anything, along with people who think it's too small a tax given the damage the companies do to the city in terms of increased traffic.

Other propositions, of course, also hang in the balance. The housing initiative, Proposition A, a $600 million affordable housing bond, cleared the two-thirds threshold on Tuesday. Proposition E passed handily, allowing the city to build teacher housing on city-owned property regardless of most zoning. "I'm pleasantly surprised A didn’t fail because there’s so many freakin’ NIMBYs in this city," said Latterman.

The Mayor, of course, was re-elected in an uncontested race (except for the, as Latterman calls them, 'clown car candidates'). And Supervisor Vallie Brown, with 46.7 percent as of the vote as of this afternoon, was losing by a hair to Dean Preston at 47.2 percent in the Supervisor's race for District 5. Latterman opined that Preston's lead would hold as votes are counted.

And then there were the national races. "Hello Kentucky!" said Clemens. "When you criticize a teacher's strike by saying that because teachers are striking kids are getting molested at home, I guess you should be thrown out as governor. But that’s not our election today."

Meanwhile, the two explained that because voter turnout was low, it reduces the number of signatures required to put an initiative on the ballot in the next election. All the odd seats on the Board of Supervisors are coming up for election and, as Latterman explained, candidates like to unofficially tie themselves to ballot initiatives. All of which means the next ballot promises to be very crowded with initiatives.

One member of the audience wondered if one of those initiatives might be about congestion pricing. "Planners love it, the SFMTA loves it; the people who think about these things love it," said Latterman. "But the people do not. If you put it on the ballot, it would get whooped."

As to D, the Uber tax, Clemens seemed confident that even if it fails, the idea of taxing Uber and Lyft is not going away. "We’re going to see version 2.0," he said. Uber and Lyft might not be behind whatever comes next, but he said Supervisor Peskin will just come back with something "more draconian."

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

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