Dirty desperate lies about Prop. C

Prop. C rally in Dolores Park

Proposition C to appear on November’s ballot is a long time coming. It’s San Francisco’s opportunity to tackle the humanitarian crisis of homelessness while transforming the lives of thousands of our neighbors – keeping vulnerable tenants housed and housing those without homes.   It makes good fiscal sense: If we don’t house people, we spend more on health care and police costs, so in the end it is cheaper to provide housing.

Prop. C rally in Dolores Park

Prop. C would levy a half-percent tax, on average, on SF business revenue of more than$50 million, and would impact companies that just got a massive Trump tax break. While no companies are coming forward thus far and saying that they would be paying more than they did a few months ago, the dinosaurs at the Chamber of Commerce are screeching like wounded tetradactyls about paying into this fund.

They have very little in terms of rational arguments: Apparently the “we just got a break we shouldn’t have to pay more” and the “why should only the wealthiest companies have to pay” messages are not turning voters against it.

So they have resorted to the age-old political trick: Lies.

Big, brazen, dirty, desperate lies, that are easily corrected.

Look this is a democracy, everyone has different perspectives. The Chamber opposes most taxes, no matter what. We get that their entire point is to protect the bottom line of business, and while we think this is short sighted, because the benefits of addressing homelessness far outweighs the costs of not addressing it, we believe they are entitled to their opinion.

However, lying to voters? That’s just plain wrong. 

And yet, these big-business interests are lying at speaking engagements, on the radio, on twitter. They are so brazen, they even put their lies into the voter handbook. They have even offered up the crazy lies to the SF Chronicle – and admitted to putting out this same false statement to voters in a poll.

Immoral.  Brazen. Arrogant. Sound familiar?  Well it should, it is straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook.

Here are the Chamber’s biggest lies:


“[Prop. C] would house 4,000 people over five years at a cost of nearly  a half million per homeless person.”

This is kind of nutty. The Prop C opposition put out a push poll – those are polls that they use to influence voters. They then put out a big fat desperate lie in that poll, and then went on to pitch that story to Matier and Ross at the Chronicle, who then printed it. What did it say?  It said that if our measure passes we will spend half a million dollars per person to house them. Once they told voters the lie, voters were less likely to support. This ended up being the story, not the lie, but we feel like the lie makes for a much better story.

How in the world could they have gotten to half a million when the real number is $25,000 per person year to house people under Prop C. (Simple Prop C math: $150 million divided by 6,000 people or 4,000 households=$25,000  per person per year).  Even if they take the total and add the current spending and divide by 4,000 and multiply that by five years, they don’t get to that crazy number!

Well, turns out they did some baffling and creative math. Enough to make elementary math teachers’ heads swirl.

Luckily, the Chronicle had just published the real costs here a couple days earlier.  


“Prop C will increase spending on homeless services from $383 million every year to $683 million every year – forever. That’s more than we spend on MUNI, all parks, and all libraries COMBINED.”  (Twitter post from official campaign)

We took a little look at this, and just a quick google search revealed some numbers

The police department budget alone is just under the total.

SFMTA, which is the department that runs Muni? A quick search reveals their budget is twice as high as the homeless budget — even with Prop C revenue added in. The SFMTA has a $1.2 billion two-year operating budget. The agency’s capital budget in 2020 is $630 million, and that’s on top of the operating costs. We won’t even bother with the library budget amount. On their website they added in a couple more departments just for measure. The Chamber of Commerce and their campaign numbers are just plain silly. 

The reality is the current homeless department budget in San Francisco is just 3 percent of the city’s budget. Time and again, the Chamber argues that we “just be more efficient with what we have.” Well, our homeless budget today is mostly spent on housing 9,500 people at a cost of $26 per person per night, plus paying a small portion for medical services, outreach, and drop in centers.  That’s pretty efficient.

Sure, we could move the money around – but what would that get us?  The overwhelming majority of the homeless budget in SF today pays for housing; do we want less of that?

Prop. C would bring homeless spending in SF to about 6 percent of the entire budget. That includes all state, federal and other private grants, not just city dollars. For the number one issue that San Francisco is facing, that should be about right. 


San Francisco city government already spends more per capita addressing homelessness than any city in America. (Voter handbook, main opponent argument, opponent website.)

The City and County of San Francisco is in a unique position of being the only combined city and county in California. There are very few combined cities and counties in the country. We looked at Washington DC, a city of comparable size. 

Washington DC. has a budget of $14.6 billion and a population of 693,972, which would be a per capita city budget of $21,037.  It is therefore incorrect to state that San Francisco city government already spends more per capita than any big city in America; Washington DC spends less than twice our per capita spending.

There is a lot of confusion among voters on this issue; they know we are spending money on homelessness and they don’t see the results. That is because the results are hidden – once homeless people are housed, we don’t see them anymore on the streets. We just don’t have enough housing for everyone.

Opponents also argue we spend $51,000 per homeless person – A FULL FIVE TIMES MORE THEN WHAT IS ACTUALLY SPENT.  Here are the real facts on how the city spends its money.


Paid anti-Prop C canvassers were asking to put up No on C signs in businesses in District 10; they pitched that this would increase taxes for all businesses.

As noted in the beginning of the article, only revenue of more than $50 million would be taxed. If a business makes $54 million, only the $4 million would be taxed.  The tax would be an average of a half of a percent; for low-profit industries like retail, it is only .175%


In 1999, San Francisco spent $104 million on direct services for homelessness and there were 7,000 people living on the streets.  Today, the budget is almost four times as large and there are still 7,000 people on the streets

This is clearly just plain bizarre. Do you think maybe since 1999 that not one more homeless person has become homeless? No housing crisis? No rising rents? No loss of public housing? No real-estate speculation? 

The budget has grown to house people; we just need more, and that costs money. If the budget had not increased, we would have thousands and thousands more on the streets. In the crafting of Proposition C, we built out the strategic framework of the homeless department, and we know where the housing is going, and we have a very specific plan to transform the crisis.


Proposition C proponents got no input from the business community or Mayor-elect London Breed (stated on KALW your call radio by Jess Montajaro).

Every single mayoral candidate had input BEFORE we submitted the language, including Mayor Breed. We reached out to as many elected as we could.They all had an opportunity to give feedback on draft language. We got input from all the pertinent department heads – DPH, DHSH, MOHCD. We got input from hundreds of people with lived experience with homelessness, those working on the front lines addressing the crisis, and those running programs for homeless people. We even talked to the Chamber of Commerce.

In fact, we incorporated that feedback; the Chamber asked that we exempt commercial rents, and that we have a variable rate that is proportioned based on current structure. We did all of that. Retail has a much lower rate as a result in our measure, and there will be no tax on commercial rental income. 

All that input resulted in a carefully crafted, broadly supported measure that is our opportunity to finally address the homeless crisis. 

Stop listening to the lies. Look at the facts of Prop. C.

Jennifer Freidenbach is the director of the Coalition on Homelessness.

Governor Brown’s climate shortcomings are bad for our health

Oil wells in LA are causing health problems

California often gets credit for being an environmental leader, but such plaudits overlook the many neighborhoods in California that live a nightmarish reality due to the toxic effects of the oil and gas industry. In Los Angeles, our health suffers daily from poisonous air emissions released by oil wells and the dangerously leaky Aliso Canyon gas facility.

Governor Brown is hosting a climate summit in San Francisco, where he will warn us about climate change and boast about his leadership. But our experiences raise serious questions about whether this governor has the fortitude to take on the fossil fuel industry.

Oil wells in LA are causing health problems

In South Central Los Angeles, families are surrounded by oil wells that emit noxious fumes that make our children sick. The emissions from one well, operated by AllenCo, were so severe that when federal inspectors visited the site they all got sick just minutes after exposure. AllenCo is surrounded by nine schools, including one for disabled children, and an affordable housing community.

When one of our daughters was just a child, she suffered from nosebleeds, headaches and nausea from AllenCo’s fumes. While operations at the site have been temporarily halted, thanks to community efforts that won the help of former Senator Barbara Boxer, AllenCo is now pushing to resume drilling. There are several other wells nearby that are just a handful of the 5,000 active oil wells within the Los Angeles County.

Twenty miles northwest of the AllenCo well lies the Aliso Canyon gas field, perched above the San Fernando Valley. Three years after the facility had the biggest gas blowout in the nation’s history, leaks continue to send toxic gas downhill to the neighborhoods of Porter Ranch, Granada Hills and Northridge. Recently released testimony from a SoCalGas engineer shows that this gas contains dangerously high levels of benzene—a known carcinogen. 

One of our daughter’s nosebleeds and respiratory problems that began after the blowout continue to this day. Our neighbors and their pets also suffer from ongoing severe breathing problems, rashes and nose bleeds—just like families living by oil wells across town.

Our pleas to the governor for relief have been dismissed and deferred. Brown refuses to exercise his power to shut down Aliso Canyon and neighborhood oil drilling operations, even though they aren’t needed to supply energy, and tells us that they will go away – someday. Just not under his watch.

We wonder whether Brown’s inaction is due to contributions from the industry. Brown has taken millions in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries, and his sister has earned $1 million in stock and cash to serve on the board of Sempra, the company that owns Aliso Canyon.

So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Brown has let these interests continue business as usual despite his dire warnings on climate change.

Statewide, Brown has refused to ban fracking or take any action to limit oil drilling in California, leaving communities and local governments to fend for themselves and fight an industry with endless financial reserves. His office is quick to say that campaign contributions don’t affect his decisions, but Brown once said the opposite himself.

“You bet I was influenced,” Brown told a caller to his We The Peopleradio show over 20 years ago. “You think you can collect $10 million or $20 million and not let it affect your judgment? Your behavior is influenced, and that is the vice that is destroying us. People who work in the fish factory don’t realize they stink.”

We who suffer the consequences of Brown’s fossil-friendly policies, certainly smell the stench of political cowardice. Governor Brown has the authority to put an end to these dangerous and polluting practices, but he refuses to act. That’s why more than 750 organizations have formed the Brown’s Last Chance campaign, which includes supporters such as Food & Water Watch and Consumer Watchdog, to shine the light on Brown’s record of negligence.

We will be in San Francisco to bring our message to the Governor directly at his climate summit this week. And if he fails to act, we will keep working to push the next governor to be the real climate leader that California desperately needs.

Monic Uriarte and Helen Attai live in Los Angeles.

‘Founding Father’ knows best: The problem with Brett Kavanaugh

Brett Kavanaugh is sworn into the DC Court of Appeals. White House photo.

Do you believe that the contours of your relationship with other people should be determined by a group of 20- and 30-year-olds living 250 years ago?

This is what Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s new Supreme Court Justice pick, actually does believe.

Brett Kavanaugh is sworn into the DC Court of Appeals. White House photo.

He believes this because, even though he seems like a nice-enough, personable, normal-seeming fellow, as a boy, he was conditioned to believe in a collective fantasy that he is part of an imaginary “we” whose relations with each other are to be determined by the “intent of the Founding Fathers.”

In other words, at a certain point in his childhood, perhaps in his eighth-grade civics class but to some degree even earlier, through rituals like the pledge of allegiance to the red-and-blue cloth in the front of the room, he came to split his consciousness in two.

In his direct experience of real others, like his family and schoolmates, he lived in the “personal” life that he still lives today; but in his imaginary life, he became to some extent hypnotized to think that he was “one of the we” who were created by earlier Beings invested with majesty and unique prescience, and whose intent we must follow today.

Antonin Scalia, when he was alive, gave a lengthy talk to the collectively delusional Federalist Society, explaining what he considered a rational basis for this “Original Intent” theory of interpreting the Constitution. In that talk, he said that we cannot trust each other and cannot know what each other want in life, and therefore the only way to determine how we must relate to others, to determine how we are “constituted” in “the Constitution,” is by looking to the exact words of the document itself, that piece of parchment still held under glass in a museum in Philadelphia.

Evidently at the moment of the signing of that document, to Scalia, “we” momentarily existed together and reached agreement as to who “we” were. And since that’s the last time “we” were truly connected, we must apply “the law” based on what the 21-year-old Alexander Hamilton and the 25-year-old James Madison, and others of these “founding fathers” thought at that time.

That is why Brett Kavanaugh thinks that, say, 21-year-olds today have the right to own semi-automatic weapons. “We” (in the imaginary world that Kavanaugh is partly living in) cannot take away their so-called Second Amendment Right to do so according to the meaning of that Amendment’s words that is “found” by today’s robed figures sitting elevated from everyone else in the Supreme Court building using their supposed specialized training that has prepared them to project back into the minds of the larger-than-life “founding fathers” living in 1789.

Never mind that the actual words of the Second Amendment seem likely to mean the opposite of what Kavanaugh thinks; the point I’m making here is that Kavanaugh believes the effort to limit mass murders in the United States today is dependent upon, and severely restricted by, the magical pronouncements of young men existing “at the dawn of our nation.”

All the discussion in the press about “originalism” and “textualism” as some kind of legal philosophy comes down to a collective “belief” – really a hallucination of sorts – of this kind. It is the story of grownups today, mainly men, who feel we cannot create our really existing social world out of our own freedom and moral convictions, but rather must defer to our Father, to our founding fathers. If this contributes to the killing of 17 high-school children in Parkland, Florida, or 20 six-and seven-year-olds in Newtown, Connecticut, it cannot be helped; it’s out of our hands.

If we want to create a loving and caring world based upon our inherent goodness, based upon our desire for authentic mutual recognition of each other’s beautiful humanity, then we have to relinquish any residual belief in magical documents written by magical fathers and the like. We have to do it ourselves and take the spiritual and social actions necessary to bring that loving world into being.

For more on the “the law”, and on the imaginary nature of legal narratives, and on their origin in our fear of other people whom we also long to love, please see my book The Desire for Mutual Recognition, chapter 5 (“Language, Thought, Ideology”) and chapter 7 (“Politics as the Struggle Over Who ‘We’ Are”).

Peter Gabel is editor-at-large of Tikkun and the author most recently of The Desire for Mutual Recognition, published by Routledge Press. This article first appeared in Tikkun.

The case for another Rape Treatment Center in SF

SF General Hospital is the only place the survivors of sexual assault can get treatment in SF

On May 18th, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) re-introduced the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act after a failed attempt to push the legislation forward in 2016. SASCA aims to expand healthcare for sexual assault survivors and is born out of the experience of one rape survivor, Leah Griffin. In 2014, Griffin was turned away from a hospital in the hours following her assault because they did not administer rape kits, also known as sexual assault forensic exams.

SF General Hospital is the only place the survivors of sexual assault can get treatment in SF

The options given to her were to get herself to another hospital that did do rape kits or pay out of pocket for an ambulance to get her there. Disappointed and in crisis, Griffin decided to go home and receive care later on. This delay in evidence collection then negatively impacted her case and eventually prosecutors declined to bring charges. More importantly though, this delay hindered Griffin from receiving medical attention and connection to further rape crisis services that she, and other survivors like herself, deserve.

In counties across the country, including San Francisco, very few hospitals are equipped to administer rape kits. They lack the facilities and trained staff, otherwise known as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. In the entire county of San Francisco, Zuckerberg San Francisco General is the only hospital available to survivors who want rape kits and other services offered by the Rape Treatment Center.

The Rape Treatment Center, housed in ZSFG, is made up of a small staff that serves the whole population of San Francisco and non-residents who are assaulted in San Francisco. In addition to doing rape kits, they provide medical examinations, and STI, HIV, and pregnancy prevention medication up to five days after the actual assault.

Cases like Griffins are a very real possibility for survivors in San Francisco with ZSFG’s Rape Treatment Center acting as the sole provider of sexual assault forensic examinations. There are significant transportation barriers to get to ZSFG, which are further compounded by the lack of public information and knowledge about the Rape Treatment Center. Especially for survivors in marginalized communities, this can make accessing the Rape Treatment Center a burden.

SASCA will work to increase survivors’ access to sexual assault forensic examinations. This will be done through a number of ways, including, but not limited to: the creation a grant program to allow states to implement surveys of their hospitals’ capacity to serve survivors of sexual assault, a pilot program to test best practices for augmenting the availability of services, and the development of national standards of care for survivors.

SASCA is moving through the Senate as the Board of Supervisors has just passed legislation that will create the Office of Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Prevention, sponsored by Supervisor Hillary Ronen. SHARP will be charged with receiving and resolving survivors’ complaints regarding how city agencies responded to their assault. This Office will also work with community-based organizations and city Departments to enact system-wide reform.

With the pressure on the Sexual Assault Response Team, the creation of SHARP, and the promise of the Survivors’ Access to Supportive Care Act, there is a policy window; it is an opportune time to examine the efficacy of having one hospital designated for rape kit examinations and other free medical services that survivors have a right to. Although costly, it is worth considering the opening of another Rape Treatment Center in the City to create access for residents who may not be able to receive care in a timely fashion at ZSFG.

Opponents may argue that having one hospital to administer rape kits helps to keep the evidence collection and custody streamlined for the betterment of a survivor’s case. In reality, we have to question who this policy is really serving. As Leah Griffin’s case showed, this policy can actually deter timely evidence collection. Even more disturbing is the fact that it can discourage survivors from getting medical attention and support services.

There are many legitimate reasons for survivors not to want to go the hospital after their assault. We should be giving them one less reason. Leaders in the Ccty’s response to sexual assault should revisit the policy of having one hospital equipped with trained staff to serve survivors.

OPINION: Yes we cannabis — even in Chinatown

We love cannabis legalization, both personally and as a policy matter: healing the sick, employing workers, reducing criminal-justice disparities, and generating tax revenue for social services.

A small minority of Chinese-American San Franciscans in Chinatown dislike cannabis legalization. We know because, when the Board of Supervisors considered cannabis business zoning in Fall 2017, some Chinatown residents gave public comments and said so.
This has always been fine: No need to agree.

But now, Supervisor Aaron Peskin has introduced legislation (file# 180319) to ban cannabis retailers from ever opening up shop in the Chinatown (the Community Business District, the Visitor Retail District, the Mixed Use Districts, and the Residential Neighborhood Commercial District… a thorough ban).

Last month, the Planning Commission held a full hearing and disapproved the ban, but now the Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday anyway.

We think it’s fundamentally wrong to carve out a district and say you can’t have certain businesses there. Carve-outs undermine citywide policymaking. Disproportionately, SoMa has half the city’s existing cannabis retailers, because for many years, wide swaths of the city (here’s looking at you, Richmond District) refused them.

What’s next? No cannabis retail in the Excelsior? Carve-outs are a slippery slope to bans. Prohibition already failed; that’s why we (over 74% of San Franciscans) voted to legalize cannabis in 2016.

The Board of Supervisors already argued this issue back in the fall. Certain supervisors wanted neighborhood bans on cannabis retailers. With much wrathful wrangling, they eventually decided not to include such restrictions. Six months after the cannabis zoning ordinance has become law is much too soon to go back on this deal.

Banning cannabis retail in Chinatown would perpetuate demonizing stereotypes from the past about the false evils of cannabis users. In the 1970s, the federal government spent our tax money to lie to our children that cannabis was deadly, and poison cannabis plants so their lies would come true. Now, the state government requires rigorous lab-testing of all cannabis products for pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals, and microbials. Last week we saw the state’s first product recall, showing that this regulation is really working to protect us.

Supervisor Peskin’s legislation argues that “the cultural and communal considerations of Chinatown’s immigrant and lower-income populations have yet to be addressed through language-appropriate and culturally sensitive educational and outreach efforts.” But the city’s Office of Cannabis has already published a Chinese-language fact-sheet and mandated that every cannabis purchase in the city be accompanied by a fact-sheet in the customer’s language.

Finally, this hyper-local ban is especially inappropriate for Chinatown in particular, geographically. Chinatown is physically narrow, just a few blocks wide. Banning cannabis retail there will likely yield a concentration of cannabis retailers along its edge, across the street from Chinatown, instead of a more even dispersion.

For all these reasons, we caution the Board of Supervisors against banning cannabis retail from Chinatown. We just created this zoning, carve-outs are a slippery slope, and educational and regulatory efforts are underway. Inconveniencing Chinatown residents who want to buy cannabis, to satisfy the vocal minority who don’t, would be poor public policy, and create more harm than good.

Tom Ammiano is a professor at SF State and the University of San Francisco, and former state Assemblymember and SF Board of Supervisors member.
Jesse Stout is a criminal justice activist, SF Cannabis State Legalization Task Force appointed member, and attorney practicing corporate law for cannabis companies.

OPINION: The best sort of democracy for San Francisco

The Milk Club, Sierra Club, Community Tenants Association, and Tenants Union all promoted a dual-ensorement strategy for Mark Leno and Jane Kim

Calvin Welch has been a dedicated housing activist and progressive leader for decades, but we have consistently disagreed with him about Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and about what is best for San Francisco’s democracy. His recent article for 48 Hills, “What went wrong June 5 — and what we can learn”, contains a number of factual and data errors, but beyond that his anti-RCV arguments display the same flaws they have in the past, when he has argued for its repeal. His article is no blueprint for local politics. In fact, a repeal of RCV would hurt progressives as well as our city’s democratic process.

The Milk Club, Sierra Club, Community Tenants Association, and Tenants Union all promoted a dual-ensorement strategy for Mark Leno and Jane Kim

RCV has led to a number of positives in San Francisco elections. One of the most obvious is that RCV has allowed voters to choose from a more diverse pool of candidates. Of the 18 offices in San Francisco elected by RCV, thirteen are held by office-holders of color. That is a 63% increase from elections before RCV, according to a study by FairVote (which controlled for various factors among RCV and non-RCV cities, including population size, demographics and incumbency).

In the four Bay Area cities using RCV—including Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro—women of color have seen a 64% rise in their election rate. Women have been elected to six of the ten elected Board of Supervisor seats in San Francisco (one current seat was appointed to fill a vacancy). A few years ago, Oakland elected the first-ever Asian-American woman as mayor; San Francisco just elected its first African-American female mayor.

RCV also is better for candidates who don’t have access to a lot of business or tech money that is poured into the PACs and independent expenditures that flood mailboxes and airwaves with negative ads. London Breed and her allied independent expenditure committees badly outspent all her opponents. Having to compete in two elections instead of one dramatically increases the amount of money that candidates need to raise in order to be competitive. A separate runoff gives those same interests two shots at picking off candidates they don’t like. 

RCV also has been better for voters, who have been liberated to vote for the candidates they really like instead of the “lesser of two evils.” Voters are no longer stuck guessing which candidate has the best chance of winning, or “bullet voting,” or abstaining from participation in December runoff elections because their favorite candidate is no longer in the race. Now voters can vote sincerely for their favorites, knowing they aren’t throwing away their vote because they can always rank a backup choice as their second pick.  

Most critics of RCV refuse to even acknowledge these positives.  Ignoring such key facts only serves to undermine the validity of their critique.

Was Jane Kim a spoiler candidate in the mayor’s race?

Welch advances his critique that, in running for mayor in the June 5 election, progressives committed “folly” by allowing two candidates in the race, causing what Welch calls a “split vote.” While Welch doesn’t say it, the clear implication is that Supervisor Jane Kim was a spoiler to former State Senator Mark Leno, meaning that Kim siphoned away enough votes from Leno to hand the victory to Breed.

Welch comes to this conclusion by looking at data from a single supervisorial district—District 8, which elected Rafael Mandelman as supervisor in the June 5 election. Welch states that, “Mandelman won with nearly 60% of the vote, receiving some 20,000 votes … [y]et, Leno got only 12,700 votes for mayor—7,200 fewer votes than Mandelman—nosing out Breed by a mere 600 votes. Kim finished a distant third, with 4,500 fewer votes than Leno, but still polled 8,200 votes, clearly most of which would have gone to Leno. Had Leno got the same votes as Mandelman in D8 he would be mayor today.[italics added].

But that’s a complete misreading of the election results. After all the ballots in the mayor’s race were tallied, including taking account of second and third rankings of all voters in District 8, Leno actually received 20,112votes—nearly the same as Mandelman (20,267 votes). Leno picked up an even higher rate of votes from Kim supporters in District 8 – 84% — than his citywide average of 77%.  So most of Kim’s votes didgo to Leno, and Leno didin fact get “the same votes as Mandelman.”Welch’s analysis never accounted for support from Kim’s voters transferring to Leno after the RCV tally was run.

He does this a second time in his article, writing, “Breed [in her mayoral race] got 39% of the D5 vote, down from 52% in her re-election bid in 2016 … [s]he got 10,000 fewer votes in D5 for mayor than for supervisor.” But in Breed’s supervisorial race she only had a single opponent; in the mayor’s race she had multiple opponents with support in District 5, and once the RCV tally was finished, of course Breed won far more than 39% of the vote for mayor in her district (in fact, she won 49.6% to Leno’s 50.4%).So Welch is comparing apples to oranges.

So the real data shows that Jane Kim was in fact not a spoiler, neither in District 8 nor citywide. Not by a long shot. And the progressive vote did not split, in fact her supporters’ second and third rankings transferred to Leno at such a high rate that Leno came within a razor thin margin (1.1%) of winning the mayoral election. 

Everybody we have talked to thinks Jane Kim ran an exciting campaign with a strong grassroots field effort that especially energized young and diverse activists and many organizations. The Leno-Kim strategy of supporting each other as a #2 choice had the early support of many Democratic clubs, who didn’t want to rip open divisions among their own communities. That strategy resulted in 77% of Jane Kim’s support counting for Mark Leno, which created an enormous wave of progressive votes filling the sails of Leno (indeed, the high transfer rate from Kim’s voters to Leno was higher than the Rebecca Kaplan to Jean Quan rate that helped Quan come from behind to beat Don Perata in Oakland’s mayor election in 2010). 

That strategy also led to the thinnest margin in a mayoral election in San Francisco’s history, with Leno losing by only 1.1%. It was the closest that any progressive has come to winning the mayor’s race in 30 years, since Art Agnos was elected as a one-term mayor. And keep in mind, this was the first truly open-seat election for mayor in the RCV era (which began in 2004 — the mayoral elections in 2007 and 2015 had incumbents, and in 2011 the late Ed Lee served as interim mayor for nine months prior to the election, allowing him to run as an incumbent and win in a landslide). 

This election also was a high-water mark for local democracy. Spurred in part by the Leno-Kim strategy of “collaborative campaigning,” voter turnout surged, topping 250,000 ballots, the second most in a mayoral election in San Francisco history. More votes were cast for mayor than for governor or U.S. Senator. Kim’s vote total nearly surpassed Leno’s as the leading progressive candidate in the race.Her campaign’s voter mobilization was quite impressive, and it’s likely that a number of Kim voters would not have returned to the polls to vote for Mark Leno in a separate runoff election once Kim was out of the race. 

So the progressive vote did not split and theMark Leno-Jane Kim strategy resulting in Leno coming so close to winning this mayoral election seems to us and many others asa progressive success story.

Do progressives need a “political boss”?

Instead of seeing a success story, Welch proposes an alternative strategy. In what was perhaps the most ominous part of his article, he wrote: 

“Our side has a serious problem of leadership when it comes to candidates. We have no institution nor paramount personality that has the legitimacy to adjudicate between ambitious politicians seeking higher office. In the past the Democratic Party, organized labor or simply an old-time boss was the traffic cop … [t]he last Democrat to actually play that role was Phil Burton (who died in 1983).”

Understand what Welch is calling for here— a process that pressures certain candidates to drop out of the race. Candidates like Jane Kim, apparently. 

But the profound flaw of this strategy seems obvious: how do you create the Progressive Boss Machine that is able to select the one anointed candidate per race without leaving many constituencies feeling left out? Won’t the very act of doing this undermine progressive unity? Not to mention stifle insurgent candidates who inspire voters and grassroots activists?

Welch tries to mitigate the anti-democratic nature of his proposal by saying, “Not that the old-time boss model was perfect—in fact, a lot of women, LGBT people, and people of color felt left out in that era.” He tries to update his proposed strategy for the modern era by saying: “We need a democratic, bottom up, grass roots ‘machine’ able to not only devise progressive policy but do the hard but essential political work of saying yes and no to candidates and making it stick.”

Welch appears to be thinking of such long-ago groups like Berkeley Citizen Action, which practiced robust grassroots politics and hand-picked candidates, and for a time was influential in Berkeley in the 1980s. We agree that such grassroots organizations can sometimes be an effective counterpunch to big money and pro-business politics (both Steve and Tom were leaders in such organizations, Tom in San Francisco and Steve in the Rainbow Coalition in Washington state). But such organizations are a rarity. An attempt at forming one was tried in San Francisco in 2007, led by Supervisor Chris Daly, but it imploded amidst dueling factions and the sheer enormity of the project. It’s easy to over-romanticize such grassroots organizations which, due to their volunteer nature, over time often become dominated by an inner cadre of influential leaders who end up deciding important decisions (such as candidate endorsements) without much of a grassroots process.

Maybe in some smaller towns, that type of politics is still possible today (Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) is still successful in that way). But in a large, fractious, multi-racial, multi-everything city like San Francisco, a BCA- or SMRR-type organization has not proven to be workable. 

Even if such an organization existed in San Francisco, that would change nothing in terms of the debate regarding RCV versus a separate runoff election. It would still be better for a progressive, grassroots organization to adopt an RCV strategy of “collaborative campaigning” among multiple candidates. Each of those candidates mobilizes a different constituency that becomes part of the broader progressive wave, piling on the votes.

A better vision for progressive politics

Meet a new vision for how San Francisco politics can work. David Campos, former Supervisor and now Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, also wrote an article for 48 Hills, proposing an alternative strategy, a different vision, than Welch’s. Campos wrote:  

“Mark Leno and Jane Kim used an innovative RCV strategy of telling their supporters to rank each other 1–2. That meant not only progressive voters but also progressive organizations were not divided over their loyalties, and could avoid bitter internal battles. The Leno and Kim campaigns did not have to engage in aggressive lobbying for support, or “me versus you” strategies, as we have seen in the past. Instead, both progressive camps could go forward together, for the most part united and with a sense of partnership. I would suggest that it was this kind of ‘collaborative campaigning’ that allowed and encouraged this progressive wave to emerge. It unleashed a combined force that made the whole greater than the sum of the parts. 

“And that sense of unity contributed mightily to progressive victories on all the ballot measures, in expanding the progressive majority at the Board of Supervisors, and in Leno coming closer to winning than any progressive candidate for mayor in 30 years. The alternative, which we have seen during many elections before, would have been a progressive movement wracked by infighting, dissension and personal attacks among its candidates, leaders and key organizations.”

So here are two very different strategies for runoff elections—an instant runoff versus a separate (second round) runoff – founded on two different visions of politics. One is inclusive, encouraging candidates, coalitions and mobilization of their supporters, as the basis for a vibrant, rainbow movement. The other is exclusive, cadre-driven and forces out non-preferred candidates. Which is best, which is right, which is fair? It is a crucial question to decide. 

Would a separate runoff election help progressives?

Welch’s argument is further constructed around the assumption that progressive and liberal voters will turn out in stronger force than moderate and conservative voters in a separate runoff election. But will they?

We actually have quite a lot of historical data to help assess this question. San Francisco used runoff elections in citywide races for a few decades until 2003, and after the reintroduction of district elections, for Board of Supervisors races from 2000-2002 (RCV was introduced in 2004). Research has consistently shown that turnout usually dropped in separate runoff elections, often by dramatic amounts. 

For the mayor’s office, there have been seven December runoff elections since 1975, and voter turnout declined in four of them. For example, in the mayoral election of 1995, when Willie Brown was first elected, the number of voters declined by 10 percentage points from November to December. 

Board of Supervisors races set an even lower bar. In the eleven supervisorial runoffs held in December from 2000 through 2002, voter turnout plummeted from November by an average of 47%. Not 4.7%, but a whopping 47%!  Many times the winner in December had fewer votes than the initial leader had in November.

Interestingly, in a paper entitled “Do December runoffs help or hurt progressives?”, Professor Richard DeLeon from San Francisco State University, the author of the acclaimed book on San Francisco politics Left Coast City, found that in November elections, for every 100 voters who turned out in the progressive precincts, 107 turned out in the conservative precincts. But in the December 2001 citywide runoff election for city attorney—which Welch has hailed as an example of how allegedly surging progressive turnout won the day in December elections—for every 100 voters who turned out in the progressive precincts, 126 turned out in the conservative precincts. DeLeon concluded:

“If San Francisco had used [ranked choice voting] in November, Herrera most likely would have won by an even greater margin. In November, the liberal/progressive candidates for city attorney won a combined 60 percent of the vote. It is highly likely that nearly all of those votes in an instant runoff would have stayed in-house and transferred to Herrera. In the December runoff, however, Herrera won with only 52 percent of the vote. Thus, due to the proportionally greater decline in progressive voter turnout, Herrera probably lost approximately 8 percent of his potential vote, making the election close.”

In addition, other studies have found that those who returned to vote in December were overwhelmingly whiter, older, and wealthier than the city as a whole, and tended to be residents of the high-turnout parts of the city. Like in most major cities using two-round election cycles, the difference in San Francisco turnout between the two rounds has always been skewed to favor certain demographics and neighborhoods.

Moreover, people of color, young people and the poor, on average, tend to vote more consistently for progressive candidates and issues than do wealthy people, whites or older Americans. So having separate runoff elections in which people of color, young people and the poor are disproportionately absent does not sound like a formula for a strong progressive outcome. 

Welch cites the 2003 mayoral election as further proof of his thesis. Yet in that election, the progressive in the race, Matt Gonzalez, lost by nearly six percentage points to Gavin Newsom—far more than the 1% that Mark Leno lost by.  Welch observes that “Gonzalez got a whopping 79,000 more votes in December than he did in November while Newsom only got 46,000 more—showing that Gonzalez picked up the overwhelming majority of votes cast for the other candidates in November.” No question, Gonzalez ran a great and exciting race. But his picking up the vast majority of votes cast for the other candidates was hardly surprising or remarkable, since those other candidates leaned progressive. 

In fact, using DeLeon’s methodology, in the November round Gonzalez had 19.6% of the vote, and the other three progressive-leaning candidates had 35.2% in aggregate; combined with Gonzalez’ total, that equaled 54.8%. But in December, Gonzalez won 47.2%. So one could argue that the Gonzalez campaign actually missed out on picking up another potential 7.6% of the vote, which cost him the election. It seems plausible that this “DeLeon effect” hurt the progressive candidate because more conservative and moderate voters actually turned out than progressives in December (or, to use DeLeon’s vocabulary, the “ratio of conservative to progressive voters” actually increased in December 2003). Which means, if San Francisco had elected the mayor by RCV in 2003, the evidence suggests that Gonzalez might well have beaten Newsom.

So no data or evidence has been presented that makes a strong case that, in the past, progressives have consistently turned out in greater numbers in separate runoff elections, or would do so in the future.

One election, or two?

The major dilemma, as always, is: one election or two? Calvin Welch would have San Francisco go back to a two-round runoff cycle, with a first election followed by a second election that pits the top two finishers. But there are a number of problems for progressive candidates with having to win two elections instead of one.

Campaign finance.  What would be the impact on candidates’ electoral prospects if they had to raise money for two elections instead of one? In several places, Welch acknowledges that, even though San Francisco has partial public financing of campaigns (which both Tom and Steve played a seminal role in passing), progressives still face a major fund-raising disadvantage in this age of money-marinated elections. Yet Welch is advocating for a second election in which the need to raise a lot more campaign funds would be greatly exacerbated. Even worse, candidates would have to raise this money in a very short period of time(the previous runoff cycle had only five weeks between the November and December elections).

In fact, it would at least double the amount of money needed, according to the San Francisco Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission endorsed implementation of RCV in 2003, passing a resolution that said “historically, the amount of independent expenditures has been considerably greater in run-off elections,” including “an almost fourfold increase” from November to the December 2002 runoff. The Ethics Commission resolution concluded that “implementation of Instant Run-Off Voting would dramatically reduce the amount of large independent expenditures.” 

Having multiple candidates in an RCV race also helped to blunt the impact of independent expenditures against Mark Leno. Jane Kim was targeted by more than $300,000 in nasty attack ads by tech mogul Ron Conway and other tech donors that would surely have all been focused on Leno if Kim was not there to attack. With Kim in the race, the only negative attacks on Leno were limited and came very late in the campaign. So Welch’s idea of a Progressive Boss Machine would have actually backfired in this mayoral election by forcing Kim out of the race. 

On the question of exhausted ballots, Welch asks, “At a time when voting rights are under attack why would one of the most progressive localities in the nation accept a system that ‘disappears’ thousands of votes?”

This is misleading. In any runoff system, whether an “instant runoff” or a “separate runoff” held many weeks later, differences in voter turnout between the first and last rounds are inevitable. In the RCV context, “exhausted ballots” are ballots that don’t select one of the top two finishers and so are not part of the tally in the final round. In the two-round runoff context, voters who do not return for the second runoff election in December are called “exhausted voters.” The history of December runoff elections in San Francisco shows that there were far more exhausted voters than there have been exhausted ballots under RCV.

In one study, FairVote found that the median percentage of exhausted ballots in the 24 RCV races needing multiple rounds between 2004 and 2016 was 13.2%, meaning that 86.8% of voters who turned out had their ballot count in the final, decisive round. In this year’s mayoral election, the number was even higher, with 91.4% having their vote count in the final decisive round. 

But as previously noted, under the old runoff system usually the decline in turnout between November and December was substantial, whether in most mayoral elections or in Board of Supervisors races. For supervisorial races, the turnout decline averaged a whopping 47%. That meant a whole lot of exhausted voters did not participate in most December runoffs. One study found that in all the December runoffs for the Board of Supervisors, winners had 8,500 votes on average; but in RCV contests, winners on average won over 11,900 votes, a 40 percent increase.

This shows that RCV’s “instant runoff” (which is usually in November, when turnout is highest) results in the election of a candidate by a much larger proportion of the voting population than do December’s separate runoff elections. Generally, the use of RCV to eliminate low turnout runoff elections has allowed more voters to have a say in who their elected officials are. That is good for democracy, and good for governance.

A related question that Welch only hints at, but others have wondered about, is whether it’s possible that Leno might have won if there had been fewer exhausted ballots, or if voters had more than three rankings. FairVote has released a report about this (which Hill co-authored), and the answer to both is: no, this would not have changed the outcome of the mayoral election. By using publicly available ballot-image data to analyze this race, it can be determined that a substantial number of the exhausted ballots came from voters who supported the less progressive-identified candidates in the race. Those voters tended to favor London Breed over Mark Leno by a ratio of 1.36 to 1. Some voters for Jane Kim also saw their ballots exhaust, and those voters tended to strongly favor Mark Leno. Overall, this analysis estimates that, with more rankings for voters leading to fewer exhausted ballots, Leno might have closed the victory margin by an estimated 183 votes. This would not have been enough to overcome the 2,600 vote gap between himself and London Breed.

If not RCV, then what? 

Other proponents of repealing RCV include the San Francisco Chronicle, Chamber of Commerce and Willie Brown.  The Chronicle has proposed that, instead of going back to a November-December election cycle, San Francisco should use a June-November cycle (or possibly September-November), with the first election narrowing the field to two for a November “top two”-style runoff. But this is the method that Oakland used for years, and the June election had extremely low turnout, meaning that the two finalists were being decided by a much smaller electorate that was overwhelmingly whiter, wealthier and older than the city as a whole (a September-November cycle would suffer from the same problem, as cities like New York, Boston, Baltimore and Charlotte demonstrate). Oakland got rid of that system and switched to ranked choice voting.

Welch essentially would switch San Francisco to a version of the “top two” primary used for state and congressional elections, which is essentially two plurality “highest vote-getter wins” elections.  But we have witnessed the defects of this method in action, especially the problem of vote-splitting. A few years ago in Congressional District 31 in San Bernadino County, which is a Democratic district where Latinos are a near-majority (49 percent), so many Democratic candidates ran that the liberal vote split. The result? Two white Republicans made the runoff, and one of them was elected to represent a Democratic district. Because of these dynamics, in the recent June primaries, Democratic leaders tried to bully candidates out of numerous Congressional races to avoid such vote-splitting.

If San Francisco got rid of ranked ballots, a version of this dynamic would play out locally. Look at the upcoming election in District 10. Five out of six candidates are African-American. In District 4, five out of eight candidates are Asian. Both of these races raise the possibility of split votes among multiple candidates, but thanks to RCV, that is much less likely to happen. The ranked ballots have been important for communities of color to prevent spoiler candidates and split votes, and to encourage diverse candidates to get out there and represent their communities. The ranked ballots have facilitated coalition building among these candidates and their voters. Going back to plurality elections would be really damaging for constituencies that often run multiple candidates, such as the Asian, Latino and African America communities and yes, the progressive community, as the recent mayoral election shows.

Certainly there is no perfect electoral system, but when you talk about repealing RCV, the other side of the coin is that you have to replace it with something. And in reality, the alternatives are all far, far worse

The way forward

Which path is the right one for San Francisco? The one laid out by David Campos? Or by Calvin Welch? With RCV, progressives came closest to winning the mayor’s race in 30 years, passed every ballot measure and solidified a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors. This prompted David Campos to write that this recent election “should be seen overall as a progressive victory.” 

RCV also has resulted in a victory for local democracy — San Francisco has dramatically increased the diversity of representation; has blunted somewhat the impact that campaign spending, independent expenditures and PACs have on election winners by having one decisive election instead of two separate elections; has ensured that more voters will have their ballots count in the final round, that more voters will have a say in who their elected officials are. In the most recent election, RCV’s “collaborative campaigning” contributed to a political wave that showed that there is strength in unity over polarization and division. 

Should progressives now build on that RCV success? Or abandon it and go back to low turnout, high spending, spoiler-plagued, “exhausted voter”-inducing, “lesser of two evil”-choosing separate runoff elections? 

The answer seems obvious. With RCV, progressives certainly won’t win every race. Moderates and conservatives can and will adopt tactics like “collaborative campaigning,” in order to further their own electoral prospects. But on the whole, RCV has been working well, and it’s about to get even better. Starting in 2019, San Francisco will finally get voting equipment that allows voters the option of ranking up to ten candidates, and has a ballot with a simpler design (the candidates’ names will only appear once, instead of being replicated in three different columns). 

With more and more US cities and states starting to use RCV, San Francisco should keep leading the nation, not go backwards or try to turn back the clock to some nostalgic “good ol’ days” of progressive politics that never existed. Ranked choice voting is a modern, efficient, cost-effective electoral system that is well-suited for a modern, multi-pluralistic, urban epicenter like San Francisco that must find the sweet spots of broad consensus over the thorny challenges of the 21st century.

[Steven Hill is a political journalist, author of seven books on political and economic reform, and co-founder of FairVote. He is co-author of San Francisco’s legislation for ranked choice voting and public financing of campaigns, and also led the campaigns to pass and implement both of those political reforms. 

Tom Ammiano is former state Assemblymember, former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and former president of the Board of Education, who led successful battles to pass landmark legislation for health care, housing affordability, workers rights, gay rights/marriage, police reform, public power, political reform and many others.]

OPINION: We need housing, not more offices, in Soma

345 Fourth St is now office space, not housing

Ever since 1980, Todco and our community action arm, the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, have pressed for more housing instead of office buildings in our Yerba Buena Neighborhood. And, for once, the Redevelopment Agency listened and agreed, changing the entire Redevelopment Plan that way in 1984. That resulted in five large market-rate housing developments instead of the office buildings originally planned here.

Even just two years ago we successfully pushed the city — the MTA this time — to build affordable housing in the “air rights” above its new Folsom Street Central Subway station, instead of the office building the MTA had wanted to get developer money. The process to choose a nonprofit developer is underway now.

345 Fourth St is now office space, not housing

And the debate over the Central Soma Plan has focused this year on the need for more housing development instead of the massive office projects to improve the plan’s overall “jobs/housing balance.” But the department’s response has been limited to a few token changes — window dressing for political cover — that won’t really make any difference.

So when this small 345 Fourth Street “49er” office project (49,000 square feet in size to avoid the Prop. M limits that kick in for projects bigger than 50,000square feet) came to the commission two weeks ago for approval (it complies with the current zoning rules), we pushed the commission to turn it down because its location is a terrific in-fill housing site. A developer could certainly fit 50+ units there, with 20% affordable inclusionary units, ten or more.

Our point was simple: “You planning commissioners say we need the housing in Central Soma, so make it actually happen right here, right now when you can!”

And … they laughed at that. As if turning down an office project to get more housing was a silly idea (“Oh we need more office space too” as they clutched their planning pearls). Only Commissioner Richards saw the obvious hypocrisy of this and voted against it. So the commission rubber-stamped the office project 6-1

This just proves yet once again, as if any more proof was needed, that the San Francisco Planning Department and Commission really just work for the development industry and property owners – not for the people of San Francisco, not for our communities.

And there will be more small office buildings and small hotels proposed for other good in-fill housing sites in Soma — there’s already a half-dozen in the pipeline.  Our Fake Planning Commission will cave in and approve them too just like this one. Just wait and see.

Only a change to DCP’s proposed Central Soma zoning can prevent this.

John Elberling is executive director of Todco

OPINION: Stopping rent-hikes in affordable housing

Affordable apartments on Friedell St, where the developer keeps trying to raise rents

Young Community Developers has been fighting for Bayview residents and the entire District 10 community for more than 45 years. In 2016, YCD full leased-up it’s first affordable housing project (working with for-profit developer AMCAL) on the Shipyard (Pacific Point), with 59 units of housing, all at 50% of AMI.

Affordable apartments on Friedell St, where the developer keeps trying to raise rents

In the beginning, YCD had brought back 12 certificate of preference holders into the community, and ensured more than 50% of residents were African American (from the community) working with Bayview Hunters Point Multi-Senior Services and the community at large. This was a big win for all of our efforts to fight gentrification and displacement of the African American community; we should also note that the entire building is majority-minority housing.

Within the first six months of the building being fully occupied, AMCAL unilaterally tried to raise rents 10% for all residents after receiving new income guidelines from HUD. This was neither acceptable nor required as AMCAL was grossing more than $60,000 a month and netting (after expenses) more than $30,000.00. When YCD told AMCAL this was unacceptable, they were not happy but conceded at the time. A few months later they raised the rents (unilaterally) 3% for all residents in 2017. YCD was unhappy and has informed AMCAL of its disdain with that decision for months. 

Now, a year later, AMCAL has unilaterally decided to raise rents again with another proposed 3% increase. Not only are they trying to raise rents in our city while we fight gentrification, displacement and affordability concerns, but they are now refusing to speak with YCD (which is required by our Limited Partnership Agreement). The staff at AMCAL has failed to connect the team at YCD with its management staff and they are doing this with disregard to the morality that should exist when you are in the business of working with people. 

So in an era where Tetra Tech has falsified samples of toxins on the Shipyard, we now have a developer (AMCAL) that is trying to attack the quality of life of a community of residents that are already isolated and disenfranchised. AMCAL is basically contributing to the forces that have been forcing people out of San Francisco for years, by making it impossible for some residents to pay their rent and removing the “affordable” from the affordable housing that was promised to our community years ago.

The following needs to happen:

1- AMCAL needs to never raise rents on residents when they are realizing a solid profit monthly (particularly when residents are already paying about 1/3 of their income towards rent);

2- AMCAL should never be allowed to receive another development opportunity in San Francisco (their morals and philosophy do not gel with our values in San Francisco and they are the exact opposite of a responsible developer that cares about people and our neighborhoods);

3- Since we are currently stuck with AMCAL as the co-developer for Pacific Point, AMCAL needs to consult with YCD on EVERY major decision before even thinking about causing harm to the residents at Pacific Point and stay true to the Limited Partnership Agreement we have in place).

4- Any future decision AMCAL wishes to make that affects residents at Pacific Point, should include a community process where residents are not only informed, but also have an opportunity to provide input in decision making

You can email AMCAL’s asset manager, Ryan Barnett, at [email protected]and let him know we won’t tolerate these types of predatory practices in San Francisco.

YCD has been more than fair in its approach with AMCAL (to no avail at this point). AMCAL’s actions have been irresponsible at best and if they continue in their course of action, the damage will be irreparable and feed the gentrification of the African American community and push more people out of the city. Please join us in publicly putting AMCAL on notice that their mode of operation will not be tolerated in San Francisco. This is an appalling scenario and we have all been working together to fight the dismantling of our neighborhoods and communities.

Shamann Walton is the Executive Director of Young Community Developers (a workforce development organization in Bayview Hunters Point), a member of the School Board, and a candidate for D10 supervisor.

OPINION: What went wrong June 5 — and what we can learn

Mark Leno and Jane Kim appear at a joint press event

Editor’s note: Progressives who supported Mark Leno or Sup. Jane Kim are looking at the results of the election and trying to figure out what happened and what can be learned. Last week, we ran a piece by Democratic Party Chair David Campos with his analysis. This week, we add a perspective from longtime activist Calvin Welch.

London Breed’s final 2,546 vote (1.1%) victory over Mark Leno was the slimmest margin of any mayor since run-off elections were established in 1975.Her 37% of the first-place votes and 23% of the counted Ranked Choice Vote starkly reveal the depth of popular opposition to her policies.

The fact that 63% of those who voted for mayor chose someone else and that 77% of those casting second-place ranked-choice votes for Jane Kim preferred Leno over Breed exposes the challenges she will face in governing, but also reveal the absolute folly of “progressive leadership” following a politic that split their vote with two candidates for mayor.

Mark Leno and Jane Kim appear at a joint press event

The true cost of that folly will of course not be paid by those most responsible, but instead by San Francisco voters who turned out in stronger than expected numbers to advance programs and candidates able to resist the continued policy of displacement and hyper-gentrification at the very heart of the Lee administration.

That a cost will be paid is certain, with Breed’s post-election boast that her administration will “build more housing, build more housing, build more housing” dropping all pretense of any need to address the reality that not one in 20 current San Franciscan can afford these new houses and that tens of thousands of us face eviction and displacement in order to make room for them in a city that has no vacant land, is the second most dense major city in the nation and has no plan to pay for the needed infrastructure, including Muni, to support this mindless development.

This article will explore the nature of the vote, what lessons might be learned from it and, given the outcome, what needs to be done to win more than a simple majority of the Board of Supervisors, which will be necessary if any meaningful change benefiting current residents can be achieved in the November, 2018 election.

The structure of the vote for mayor

The media and local political pundits denoted four “major candidates” in the race: two “progressive/liberals,” Kim and Leno, and two “moderate/conservatives,” Breed and Alioto. In addition, there were two other moderate/conservative “minor candidates” in the race: Republican Richie Greenberg and Ellen Lee Zhou who, together, polled some 16,000 votes, close to Alioto’s 17,000 vote total. Greenberg and Zhou votes were centered in Districts 2 and 7 (Greenberg) and 4,10, and 11 (Zhou).

The combined Kim/Leno vote was a majority OF ALL VOTES CAST in Districts 1,3,5, 6, 8, and 9, while the Breed/Alioto vote was a majority in only District 2. In Districts 4,10, and 11 the Zhou/Greenburg vote cut into the Breed/Alioto vote, denying them the majority.

Both Breed and Leno won a plurality of the vote in the supervisor district they represented: Breed in D5 and Leno in D8. Kim, surprisingly, did not win a plurality in D6. Indeed, she beat Leno by merely 60 votes, coming in second to Breed. She actually lost to both Leno and Breed in the South of Market portion of D6.

Breed got 39% of the D5 vote, down from 52% in her re-election bid in 2016. Her vote drop was the largest in the Western Addition where she polled some10,300 votes in 2016 but only 5,700 votes for mayor. She got 10,000 fewer votes in D5for mayor than for supervisor.

But the impact of the progressive split vote can be seen in D8, Leno’s former district. D8 had the highest turnout of any district, with some 36,0000 votes cast for a 64% turnout. Rafael Mandelman won with nearly 60% of the vote receiving some 20,000 votes. Leno was an early endorser of Mandelman, when the outcome was in great doubt. Yet, Leno got only 12,700 votes for mayor — 7,200 fewer votes than Mandelman — nosing out Breed by a mere 600 votes.

Kim finished a distant third, with 4,500 fewer votes than Leno, but still polled 8,200 votes, clearly most of which would have gone to Leno. Had Leno got the same votes as Mandelman in D8 he would be mayor today. That simple, that clear: Kim/Leno split the overwhelming progressive/liberal vote in D8 and it was decisive.

In an interview in the Chronicle after the election, Breed claimed that her support for State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB827, which would have over-ridden all local zoning and public hearing policies in order to build high density, high rise housing along most streets in San Francisco (Wieners SB827), most notably in western neighborhoods, was “something people appreciated, because we have to build more housing.”

The fact that she never, in fact, campaigned on SB827 and failed to defeat a resolution of the Board of Supervisors that formally opposed it was not mentioned by the Chronicle. Indeed, popular opposition to SB827, especially in western San Francisco (both District 7 Supervisor Yee and District 4 Supervisor Tang voted to support the resolution opposing SB827was also missed by the Chronicle) was extensive and deeply held.

Breed’s position supporting and Kim and Leno’s opposition to SB827 was not missed by D4 and D7 voters. Both Kim and Leno aggressively campaigned against it in the west. Kim held a special event presser on West Portal Ave. announcing her adamant opposition. It paid off.

In D4, Kim came in second to Breed with Kim/Leno outpolling Breed 9,500 votes to 7,100. Adding in the D4 Alioto  vote – Alioto also campaigned against SB827 — the anti SB827 candidates out polled Breed 11,500 to 7,100. In D7, Leno came in second and Leno/Kim outpolled Breed narrowly 10,900 to 10,100. Adding in Alioto’s D7 vote widened the anti-SB827 margin to 13,500 to 10,100.

While these traditionally “moderate/conservative” voters in D4 and D7 rejected Prop. C (free childcare) and Prop. F (legal counsel for tenants facing evictions) they did not, in fact, “appreciate” Breed’s position on SB827. More about the potentially changing politics in D4 and its significance for the D4 Supervisor race in November below.

The vote-buy-mail factor

A continuing structural feature of the San Francisco vote is the rise in votes being cast by mailed-in ballots (known as “Vote by Mail,” VBM). It is now routine that the majority of votes cast are VBM ballots. But not all VBM voters are the same. There are at least two sets of VBM voters, classified by when they turn in their ballots: early VBM voters and “late” VBM voters. Early VBM voters tend to vote more “conservatively” than election day voters, late VBM voters, folks who drop off their ballots at the polling place or show up at City Hall during the last week before the elections tend to fall somewhat between election day voters and early VBM voters.

This greatly complicates a campaigns effort to “get out the vote” as there is now an extended period, 30 days, during which votes are cast and thus an extended period during which votes must be “got out.” As always, money makes a difference. If you have the money to mail all VBM voters, then track new requests for mailed ballots and then both money and dedicated staff to “chase” or track VBM ballots as they come in, you are ahead of the game. But only the most well-funded campaigns can do this. It is very difficult for a campaign that relies upon a volunteer “field campaign” to both do the necessary door-to-door voter ID of the usual field campaign AND to effectively “chase” VBM voters for 30 days. Mail and increasingly ads on social media and cable TV are used to chase these votes.  Some observers claim that younger voters tend to fall into the late VBM vote mode more than elderly voters, who tend to fall into the early VBM voter mode. Working people still seem to vote on election day after work and are able to be contacted by more traditional GOTV efforts.

Progressive campaigns have been slow to adapt to these changing patterns of voting, mostly due to their inability to raise money early enough to organize and fund a VBM effort and a bias to spend what early money they have on a field campaign.

Jane Kim had no chance to win this election after the early VBM votes were cast and counted. Like other recent progressive campaigns for mayor — Gonzalez, and Avalos — early VBM votes placed her so far behind that she could never catch up. While she made strong headway in the election day vote and with late VBM voters, she simply could not overcome the 13,000 votes she trailed Breed or even the nearly 7,000 votes she trailed Leno in the early VBM vote; for her the election was lost before any of the later votes were counted.

Leno, however, succeeded in overcoming the progressive curse of death by early VBM vote. He came in second to Breed, only about 7,000 votes behind. He did so by spending money buying a wall-to-wall cable TV presence about 30 days out, hitting early VBM voters as they were making up their minds. By the final election day count (Report 4) Breeds first place vote lead was shrinking and the RCV count gave the lead, narrowly to Leno.

But then something that has never happened before happened.

A total of 98,629 votes were counted between the day after the election and June 15th. Some 73,000 were absentee ballots dropped off at polling places on election day, another 10,000 or so were absentee ballots received in the mail with post marks on or before election day and thus qualified to be counted, and some 14,000 provisional votes were counted. A provisional vote is a vote cast at a polling place in which the voter is not listed on the precinct roll and thus must be verified as being from a registered voter after all other votes have been counted.

In terms of the mayor’s race these “late VBM votes” were the decisive votes and its critically important for us to try to understand them.

Of those votes, 41% were cast from progressive voting districts 5,6,8, and 9, while 31% were cast from swing districts 1,3,10, and 11and 28% from conservative voting Districts 2,4, and 7. That a majority of these votes were from progressive districts can be seen in the votes for the four key ballot measures. Props. C and F got a higher percentage of yes votes and D and H a higher percentage of no votes from these voters than from those counted on election day.

Like election day voters, the majority of the votes cast for mayor were from the progressive Kim/Leno side with Kim/Leno getting 49% of them and Breed but 39%. The difference was that they broke Breed/ Kim, not Kim/Leno — as did the election day vote — giving Breed her slim margin of victory.

The Breed/Kim vote was unusual: Breed and Kim have been on the opposite sides of most of the key issues. But for a significant number of voters, the national narrative that encourages the election of women and women of color was more important than those differences.

The progressives opposed to Breed’s policies had a hard time countering that narrative, which was promoted by one-time progressive stalwarts like former state Sen. Carole Migden and longtime activist Debra Walker, who much of the progressive establishment supported for D6 supervisor over Jane Kim in 2010. The Leno campaign had challenges with that narrative, too.

The Kim campaign did a late ad buy on cable news when cable news was featuring this same narrative at the national level. Breed had enough money that she continued ad buys over the entire 30-day period. Leno had less money than Breed and spent it early.

Lessons learned

What lessons for the future can be learned from this election and how might we apply them to future elections?

First, don’t split your vote. In the face of an opponent who commands both money and media access, progressives must marshal our limited resources and concentrate on a single viable candidate. Ranked Choice Voting and having three votes will not overcome political folly.

Our side has a serious problem of leadership when it comes to candidates. We have no institution nor paramount personality that has the legitimacy to adjudicate between ambitious politicians seeking higher office. In the past the Democratic Party, organized labor or simply an old-time boss was the traffic cop. The last one in San Francisco, Phil Burton, died in 1983.We have been making it up as we go along ever since.

Don’t think Willie Brown plays this role for the other side; he simply acts like he does. He is totally dependent on business money and thus on candidates acceptable to them. He is about personal access not moving a wide agenda. The last Democrat to actually play that role was Phil Burton who was independent of business money and had access to both labor and party money and was about moving a liberal political agenda.

Not that the old-time boss model was perfect – in fact, a lot of women, LGBT people, and people of color felt left out in that era.

Progressives love to complain about “the machine” but there is no “machine” — just oodles of business money. We need a democratic, bottom up, grass roots “machine” able to not only devise progressive policy but do the hard but essential political work of saying yes and no to candidates and making it stick.

Breed did not have to play a fundamentally defensive ranked-choice game. Business interests are disciplined enough to not only pick a candidate but also tell others not to run and failing that, make sure they get few votes. Alioto, Greenberg and Zhou combined vote was less than one third of Breed’s and did not hurt her, while Kim and Leno split 122,000 votes — more than the four moderate/conservative candidates combined — guaranteeing that both lost. Shame on us.

Second, learn how to wage a 45-day GOTV campaign without throwing money at the problem. Don’t get me wrong, money would work, I just don’t believe our side will every have enough to do it. One way to think about the dominance of VBM is to view the late VBM vote as a 30-day GOTV exercise. For early VBM, we can mail or drop them before the 30 day window on voting is opened so we must devise techniques to track who has applied for the mail vote and who have returned them.

We must verify that late VBM voters tend to be progressive and early VBM voters not so much but still a critical vote to get, as equally critical as election day precinct voters. We must simply approach them differently. The Prop. F campaign did targeted walk lists by precincts for VBM voters and it worked for them.

I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do have the questions: how can we avoid being beaten by the early VBM vote, how do we chase (identify and track) later VBM voters. How do we integrate election day GOTV with VBM GOTV?

Third, the combined strength of the Kim/Leno vote in D4 and D7 clearly demonstrate that western neighborhoods are moving ever so slightly in the same direction as eastern neighborhoods on displacement and development issues. D1 is already there now, voting not only for progressive candidates but also for progressive issues like C and F and against D. How do we maximize that emerging convergence? What set of issues, able to be placed on the ballot, might assist that coming together?

There is a growing awareness that city policies governing demolitions of residential uses is a key high ground to stake out protecting residents and buildings in existing neighborhoods both east and west. Breed will never be able to “build more housing, build more housing, build more housing” without demolitions of existing homes and the displacement of existing residents. This could be made a key issue in the D4 campaign by progressive candidates running this November.

Funding Muni to meet existing and future transit needs is also a key development issue that stands a fair chance of appealing to the transit-poor western neighborhoods as well as transit reliant eastern neighborhoods.

Fourth, we have failed to articulate a convincing narrative about a left -progressive future for San Francisco. Such a narrative should be based on the challenges of not only resistance to Trump policies but also a vision of the future of this city that is both inclusive and socially just.

This November will most probably see a major ballot measure aimed at taxing the gross receipts revenue of the most profitable businesses in San Francisco to build new housing and provide social and health services for homeless people or people at risk of becoming homeless. While the campaign will be an uphill fight, we on the left in this city have a chance to use it to frame the debate about urban poverty and homelessness in San Francisco that differs from the Chronicle. Creating that new narrative is an essential part of articulating a new “San Francisco story” not based on fancy food and tech titans.

The Chronicle has become an active campaign resource used by the pro-big-business side. Its collusion with Breed campaign operatives in planting an attack on Kim as a news story, its repeated use of Breed campaign poll numbers to show Leno running a distant third and its attempt to claim that tech titans had no real interest in local politics when both Kim and Leno were campaigning against their undue influence in Room 200 are examples of “fake news” not aimed at Trump but us, residents of San Francisco. The ability of the Chronicle to shape news coverage by other media, to actually define deeply conservative even reactionary politics and policies as “moderate” has grown as other daily news sources disappear. The fact that it has a tiny and shrinking circulation and is a major revenue drain for the Hearst Corporation except for its downtown real estate holdings is simply another set of “facts” that never keep it from spinning its narrative of our city.

There is some good news on this front. As newspapers disappear the web is picking up some of the slack. Mission Local, a vibrant and compelling digital newspaper, has just added Joe Eskenazi as managing editor and the quality and extent of coverage of local politics is sure to increase; San Francisco Public Press does San Francisco stories with a depth and reach not found anywhere else; Fogtown blog covers housing and land use issues with accuracy and humor; Found SF offers rare insights to San Francisco history including a unique set of reprints of neighborhood newspapers; and finally here, 48 Hills, which has become the electronic newspaper of political record here in San Francisco as its readers expand beyond the Bay Area.

But more, much more must be done to reclaim for residents of the city the ability to tell their history and the history of their communities and what a compelling narrative that would be.

Finally, I am going to have to disagree with former supervisor, current Democratic County Committee Chair and my campaign ally, David Campos, and call for the repeal of ranked choice voting. In the name of full disclosure, I opposed and campaigned against RCV when it was initially proposed. But this election outcome should raise serious question in anyone mind about the efficacy of RCV.

Let me start by repeating the simple and stark facts: London Breed got 37% of the first-place votes and 23% of the RCV vote and she is now Mayor. How is she a “majority elected” mayor by either common sense or any other system but our current RCV system?

All of the pre- election blather that the election would turn on second place votes was simply wrong. It turned on first place votes, not second place votes. Kim and Leno split their first-place votes and Breed kept all of hers and was elected. The RCV strategy of maximizing second-place votes could not have been worked better than was done by both the Kim and Leno campaigns. Yet, it could not overcome the fact that both got fewer first place votes than did Breed.

There are two things fundamentally wrong with Ranked Choice Voting.

  1. Fewer people vote in RCV mayoral elections than in actual run-off elections.

Run-off elections started in 1975. Eight elections were held between 1975 and 2003. All resulted in runoffs.  Average turnout in those 16 elections was 51%. In three — 1975, 1999 and 2003 — turnout in the run-off was greater than in the general election, averaging 52%.

Starting in the 2007 Mayor election RCV “instant run-offs” went into effect. Turnout in RCV elections up to this year averaged 41%. A full 10% below the actual run-off elections.

This June’s election turnout was 53%, the highest turnout under RCV for mayor ever, but it occurred under special circumstances: a statewide governor election and a special election in D8, the highest voting district in the city, both boosting voter interest. Fully 14% of the total citywide vote came from D8.

Turnout in D6 and D10, the districts with the most African American voters, in an election with an African American woman in a close race, turned out 43% and 46% respectively

  1. Under RCV, thousands of voters never get their votes counted for the winners.

In this election a total of108,310 votes were cast for the six candidates that did not finish first or second. Only 86,753 were “transferred” to Breed and Leno. The 21,459 votes that were not “transferred” were classified as “exhausted votes” almost all being from voters who only voted for one candidate and thus had no second and third votes to transfer. It was as if those 21,000 folks never showed up for the runoff.

Of the 86,753 votes transferred only 75,722 votes were added to either Breed or Leno’s totals.

So, of the 253,487 San Franciscans that went to the polls and cast a vote for mayor, only 229,045 total votes were counted for Breed and Leno.

RCV is 14 years old. Four mayoral elections have occurred under it. Tens of thousands of voters still cast only one vote. Thousands more have their votes simply not counted in the final “RCV Slate” due to the RCV algorithm that no one knows anything about because it is a private contractors private property.

What if there was a recount, that the vote was so close that it triggered one. How would anyone check the RCV algorithm to make sure is was both accurate and fair?

RCV replaces an actual democratic vote with a gimmick, hardly the historic mission of “progressives.” The Progressive Party of the late 19th and early 20thcentury was noted for EXPANDING the vote, not replacing it. In California and a handful of other states where Progressives were victorious state law was changed to allow referendum, initiative and recall three procedures which allowed voters at elections to override elected bodies and politicians by the power of direct vote. The great national victory of the Progressive movement was the 1914 passage of the 17th amendment to the US Constitution which required the direct election by popular vote at an actual election of US senators, banning forever the practice of state legislators and or governors selecting them in secret.

At a time when voting rights are under attack why would one of the most progressive localities in the nation accept a system that “disappears” thousands of votes?

But the real problem of RCV is its political impact. Actual run-off elations give folks a second chance to make a political decision about a candidate, something “instant run-offs” don’t allow.

Last week’s essay by Campos surprisingly cites the Gonzalez /Newsom run off of December 2003 (the last actual Mayor run-off) as an argument for RCV. I say surprisingly because the 2003 runoff had a far higher turnout (55%) than did the November general (46%) and higher turnout than for any RCV election for mayor. Moreover, Gonzalez got a whopping 79,000 more votes in December than he did November while Newsom only got 46,000 more — showing that Gonzalez picked up the overwhelming majority of votes cast for the other candidates in November.

While it might be true, as Campos recounted, that the other candidatesmight have had a hard time endorsing Gonzalez, those of us in his campaign knew that their voters had no such difficulty. Gonzalez lost because his campaign manager simply did not believe that the VBM voter was nearly as important as election day GOTV. He was wrong and even with RCV both Avalos and Kim’s campaign seemed to have shared the same mistaken priority with the same result.

This November’s election will be the final act giving definition to this month’s vote. If a left progressive can be elected in D6 against two powerful pro-market rate development advocates and if a left progressive can pull off a victory in D4, both will be seen to be a defeat of Breed and her backers exposing her actual weakness implied in her narrow win in this month. If a $300 million a year tax is voted in on the most profitable businesses in the city in order to fund very-low and low-income housing development and the provision of health and human services for the poorest of our poor, then the June election will have been but a blip on the screen of the biggest urban political soap opera now playing.

OPINION: How to fix the toxic Hunters Point Shipyard mess

The US Navy recently announced the first steps of its plan to re-test some contaminated soil of the Lennar Shipyard, after a faked cleanup called “the biggest eco-fraud in US history” was carried out under their noses. Whistleblowers and community groups have sounded the alarm on this scandal for years, and finally the Navy and the Board of Supervisors have admitted that “public trust has been completely eroded” with this development. Yet against overwhelming evidence, the city’s Department of Public Health still claims that “there are no public safety concerns or health concerns out here.”  

The city is content to wait for revised cleanup plans, from the same agencies and officials who signed off and certified the faked cleanup.

This should be completely unacceptable to any resident of the Shipyard, the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods, or San Francisco.

It took six years for this scandal to emerge in public, after the first whistleblowers came forward. Families moved into the Shipyard in those six years, trusting the authorities who told them the site was clean. And now, after nearly 30 years of cleanup plans, no one can say with certainty if any part of the Lennar Shipyard is safe.

We can’t continue to put the health of Bayview-Hunters Point residents at risk in exchange for new expensive housing.  The people responsible for the cleanup yesterday cannot be responsible for the cleanup tomorrow, and there must be a full cleanup of the entire site before development continues.

Here are several steps the city can take right now to make sure the Shipyard is cleaned up right.

1.  The only official body that ever exercised any oversight over the Navy’s shipyard cleanup was the Restoration Advisory Board, disbanded in 2009 after a number of confrontations with the Navy and the city. The RAB was right for all those years, and the Navy was wrong.  Restore the RAB, under the Navy’s auspices or the city’s, so the community has its own voice regarding the cleanup.  

2.  Test the entire site, starting from scratch, on Tetra Tech’s dime but independent of the Navy and Tetra Tech.  And after that testing, commit to a full cleanupof whatever is found at the entire shipyard to residential standards – as mandated by Proposition P, approved by 86% of the voters in the November 2000 election.  We can’t continue to plan to leave the worst toxins and pollution in the ground at Hunters Point. How else will anyone ever trust the Lennar Shipyard cleanup again?

3.  Today, all city decisions regarding the Lennar Shipyard – land use, oversight, community benefits – are made by an unaccountable, unelected, obscure city commission of mayoral appointees that has no record of advocacy for the communities of Bayview.  Bring the Shipyard development back under the direct oversight of the Board of Supervisors, just like the rest of the city.  

4.  At the city hearing last month, the Board of Supervisors asked repeatedly for the Navy to cancel its contracts with Tetra Tech. But has anyone checked to see how much business the city does with them? Cancel any and all City agency contracts with Tetra Tech, and pressure the Navy, state and federal government to do the same.

5.  Why is the Department of Public Health continuing to claim the cleanup is going fine when it obviously isn’t?  They keep dodging that question. It’s troubling to read what Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai wrote on June 12 for the SF Bay View: “The San Francisco Department of Public Health enjoys a revenue stream from earth moving activities at [the Lennar Shipyard] and this revenue incentivizes dangerous development activities on a federal Superfund site at the expense of public health and safety.”  Eliminate any potential conflicts of interest in the Department of Public Health’s budget or staff, and ensure that San Francisco speaks with one voice demanding a complete cleanup.

We shouldn’t wait for the Navy to tell us how they plan to clean up the Lennar Shipyard, decades after they’ve been given that responsibility and failed miserably.  And we shouldn’t let elected officials off the hook for the scandal if they aren’t willing to take specific actions to ensure a safer future at Hunters Point.  If we don’t change the oversight of the Lennar Shipyard cleanup, we are telling Tetra Tech, the Navy, the Department of Public Health, and the developer that the only crime is getting caught.

Tony Kelly is an environmental justice activist, president of the Potrero Hill Democratic Club, and candidate for District 10 Supervisor this November.