San Francisco Ballot Measures 2020

San Francisco voters are deciding on a whopping 13 ballot measures this November. Some are related directly to COVID-19 relief and police reform, in addition to youth suffrage and funding Caltrain and other Bay Area services.

We’ve summarized the measures and key points below, but we recommend you take a look at more detailed recommendations from organizations you trust. Some of our favorites include the SF Chronicle, SPUR (which breaks down equity implications for each measure), and TechEquity Collaborative.

Keep in mind that in general, most tax and bond measures require a ⅔ majority to pass, while other measures just need a simple majority (50%+1)

We’ve updated this post to reflect the results of the Nov. 2020 election.

Measure A: Health and Homelessness, Parks, and Streets Bond

A “Yes” vote: Authorizes the City to borrow up to $487.5 million by issuing general obligation bonds to fund mental health and homelessness projects, parks, open spaces and recreation facilities, as well as improvements to streets, curb ramps, and plazas.

Things you should know:

  • Prop A is designed to help SF recover from the COVID-19 pandemic by improving city services and creating jobs. It was put together via collaborative efforts from city departments.
  • A bond is similar to an IOU between the lender (individuals who buy them) and the borrower (the City of SF). After a certain date, lenders can cash in their bonds and get paid back (plus interest) by the borrower.
  • The city of SF is already in debt, and this would increase that debt. Whether that’s a good idea or not during a pandemic is the primary controversy surrounding this proposition.

Support: Notable supporters of this proposition include Mayor London Breed, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, APIA community leaders, Black Women Organized for Political Action, Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club, San Francisco Parks Alliance, San Francisco Human Services Network, San Francisco Democratic Party, Chinatown Community Development Center

Opposition: Notable opponents of this proposition include Libertarian Party of San Francisco

Measure B: New Department of Sanitation and Streets

A “Yes” vote: Creates a Department of Sanitation and Streets with oversight from a Sanitation and Streets Commission and establishes a Public Works Commission to oversee the Department of Public Works.

Things you should know:

  • Currently, there are only four divisions in the City’s Department of Public Works (operations, building design and construction, infrastructure design and construction, and finance/administration). This measure would create a fifth division solely focused on street/sidewalk cleanliness and maintaining trash cans, trees, and public restrooms.
  • This doesn’t actually change the standards or processes by which the city operates; it just creates a new division solely responsible for these things.
  • It will probably cost the city $2.5–6M annually, mostly because of a staffing increase. These staff would be administrative roles, not new street cleaners.

Supporters: San Francisco Democratic Party, San Francisco Labor Council, DA Chesa Boudin, PD Mano Raju, BART Board Director Bevan Dufty

Opponents: San Francisco Republican Party, SPUR

Measure C: Removing Citizenship Requirements for Members of City Bodies

A “Yes” vote: Amends the City Charter to remove the requirement that people serving on city boards, commissions, and advisory bodies be registered voters and U.S. Citizens.

Things you should know:

  • This is intended to allow new and diverse voices to advise SF officials and city departments, especially those that impact minorities and immigrant communities.
  • A state law already allows non-citizens to serve on state boards and commissions, but it didn’t extend to local areas. SF would be among the first local jurisdictions to remove this requirement.
  • They would continue to require people be old enough to vote in City elections and be SF residents in order to serve on city bodies.

Supporters: San Francisco Democratic Party, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, Libertarian Party of San Francisco, Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, San Francisco Latino Democratic Club

Opponents: San Francisco Republican Party

Measure D: Sheriff Oversight

A “Yes” vote: Amends the City Charter to create a Sheriff’s Department Office of Inspector General and a Sheriff’s Department Oversight Board that would make recommendations to the Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors about the operations of the Sheriff’s Department.

Things you should know:

  • This civilian oversight body would have the power to investigate complaints and in-custody deaths, make recommendations on disciplinary action and use of force, and refer cases to the DA or Ethics Commission.
  • Prop D would create a process for incarcerated people and the public to file complaints directly.
  • This would cost the city about $400,000 annually.

Supporters: SF Board of Supervisors,

Opponents: No notable opponents

Measure E: Police Staffing

A “Yes” vote: Removes the City Charter requirement that the SanFrancisco Police Department maintain a minimum of 1,971 full-duty sworn police officers and replace the requirement with regular evaluations of police staffing levels.

Things you should know:

  • This doesn’t actually reduce the number of police officers in SF, but allows the City to re-evaluate staffing and reduce it over time.
  • Ultimately, this should free up police budget for other purposes.

Supporters: San Francisco Board of Supervisors, The Libertarian Party of San Francisco, Afrosocialists & Socialists of Color Caucus of San Francisco

Opponents: San Francisco Republican Party

Measure F: Business Tax Overhaul

A “Yes” vote: Eliminates the City’s payroll expense tax, increases gross receipts and administrative office tax rates in phases, reduces business taxes for some small businesses, and further increases the City’s business taxes if the City loses either of the lawsuits regarding the Early Care and Education Commercial Rents Tax or the Homelessness Gross Receipts Tax, but excludes money collected from these increases when determining baseline funding.

Things you should know:

  • This will add $97M in revenue to the city…eventually. It also authorizes some spending in the short-term, mostly from previously taxed dollars that have been tied up for bureaucratic reasons.
  • The money would go towards early childhood care and education, homelessness, and other critical city services while creating an estimated 5,500 jobs.
  • This should provide relief for sectors impacted by COVID-19, like retail, restaurants, the arts and manufacturing. It also gives small businesses relief from some of SF’s heavy business taxes (like payroll tax and the gross receipts tax) that have been called out as reasons why so many small businesses in the city struggle to make ends meet.

Supporters: SF Board of Supervisors, notable San Francisco nonprofits and educators

Opponents: Libertarian Party of SF

Measure G: Youth Voting in Local Elections

A “Yes” vote: Amends the City Charter to allow San Francisco residents to vote for local candidates and local ballot measures if they are U.S. citizens, at least 16 years old and registered to vote.

Things you should know:

  • Supporters hope that this will build good voting habits for young people (18–29 year olds currently have the lowest voter turnout of any age bracket), as well as give youth a voice on decisions that impact them.
  • Opponents argue that teens are too biased and impulsive to make good decisions, and that they’re considered “children” for a reason.

Supporters: San Francisco Board of Supervisors, San Francisco Board of Education, child and youth advocates

Opponents: No notable opponents

Measure H: Neighborhood Commercial Districts and City Permitting

A “Yes” vote: Changes the City Planning Code for Neighborhood Commercial Districts to increase permissible uses, eliminate public notification processes for new permitted uses, and require an expedited process for permits.

Things you should know:

  • This allows for more flexibility in how space is used in SF, with a particular focus on outdoor spaces, and would generally speed up the permitting process.

Supporters: Mayor London Breed, San Francisco Small business commission, San Francisco Republican, Democratic, and Libertarian Parties

Opponents: No notable opponents

Measure I: Real Estate Transfer Tax

A “Yes” vote: Increases the transfer tax rate on sales as well as leases of 35 years or more of real estate with a price of at least $10 million.

Things you should know:

  • This would generate significant revenue (up to $196M), but might lead to tax avoidance and reluctance to sell/build new structures among real estate developers.
  • It wouldn’t directly affect most homeowners or small businesses, since most homes are under $10M, though some think it will exacerbate existing housing shortages.
  • The revenue isn’t earmarked for anything in particular, but the Board of Supervisors says that emergency rent relief and permanently affordable housing are the top priority for the new revenue.

Supporters: San Francisco Democratic Party, notable San Francisco small businesses (e.g. Bi-Rite and City Lights Books), San Francisco Chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations

Opponents: SF Apartment Association, Golden Gate Restaurant Association. BOMA-SF-PAC (Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco PAC), SPUR

J Parcel Tax for San Francisco Unified School District

A “Yes” vote: Will, beginning on July 1, 2021, replace the 2018 School Parcel Tax with a new tax that changes the annual tax rate from $320 per parcel to $288 per parcel, adjusted for inflation each year and with an exemption for people age 65 or older.

Things you should know:

  • A parcel tax is a form of real estate tax that is not directly based on property value. That means that every parcel, be it the Salesforce Tower or a 2-bedroom Mission apartment, is taxed the same. In this case, the amount will be $288 annually, which will be adjusted for inflation until 2038.
  • This replaces a previous tax that was challenged in court, which means the revenue from the previous tax has not been spent. As such, it should free up currently frozen funds.
  • This would generate over $48M for SFUSD, which is designated mostly for teacher salaries and staffing.

Supporters: San Francisco Board of Education, Mayor London Breed, San Francisco Board of Supervisors, SFUSD

Opponents: No notable opponents

Measure K: Affordable Housing Authorization

A “Yes” vote: Authorizes the City to own, develop, construct, acquire or rehabilitate up to 10,000 units of low-income rental housing in the City.

Things you should know:

  • This would have no immediate cost to taxpayers, but if the City decides to put together a department to manage these units, it might have some associated costs.
  • In addition to creating permanently affordable housing, this bill authorizes the creation of municipal social housing, which would serve mixed-income residents rather than being restricted to low-income families.

Supporters: Board of Supervisors, San Francisco Democratic Party, Housing Rights Committee, Coalition on Homelessness and other notable San Francisco nonprofits and small businesses

Opponents: San Francisco Libertarian Party

Measure L: Business Tax Based on Comparison of Top Executives’ Pay to Employees’ Pay

A “Yes” vote: Places an additional tax on some businesses in San Francisco when their highest-paid managerial employee earns more than 100 times the median compensation paid to their employees in the City.

Things you should know:

  • This would generate around $60-$140M in revenue for the city, but that amount might fluctuate quite a bit. It also would be delayed until 2022.
  • Some see this measure as a powerful message in support of economic policy reform.
  • There is some speculation that this might drive executive compensation into more difficult-to-track forms rather than simply lower it. It could also encourage businesses to move middle- and low-wage jobs outside of SF, though it would be unlikely to drive businesses out of the city entirely.

Supporters: SF Board of Supervisors, SF Democratic Party, Local 21 Craft Union

Opponents: No notable opponents

Measure RR: Caltrain Sales Tax

A “Yes” vote: approve a sales tax of 0.125% within the Counties for thirty years.

Things you should know:

  • This is expected to raise roughly $100M per year, which is prioritized for Caltrain service, expansion, programs for low-income riders, and other capital investments in Caltrain’s Business Plan.
  • This increases the total retail tax in SF from 8.5% to 8.625%. This is on the higher end of combined (state + city) retail taxes, but it’s definitely not the highest.
  • This measure requires a ⅔ majority to pass.

Supporters: Dianne Feinstein, London Breed, SF Board of Supervisors, Caltrain, and BART.

Opponents: No notable opposition.

Catalyzing the next generation of social impact | Bay Area