Tying the tourniquet. I’ve lived in San Francisco for ten years. In that time, our budget has more than doubled and just about every responsibility under the purview of our elected leadership — housing, homelessness, drug abuse, education, public transportation — has significantly degraded. Unfortunately, our opportunity to improve the city is limited this election cycle. With just a small handful of exceptions, which we’ll get to in a moment, we’re mostly looking at races between useless people and crazy people, or between crazy people and somehow even crazier people. But this cycle it’s important we at least tie the tourniquet and vote for the best of all options. The truth is, this is our fault (blaming sane people here). We know our city’s broken, and we could have taken this election more seriously 6 or 8 months ago by running a full ballot of strong, well-funded candidates with a coherent goal for improving the city, and a reasonable strategy for getting us there. But we didn’t do that, so here we are. No use belaboring the point. Next election, we learn our lesson and mobilize (stay tuned for that). For now:
A San Francisco voting guide for people who aren’t insane.
A quick note on my thinking: not even a doubling of funding this decade has stemmed the near collapse of our city. Money is clearly not the issue. Leadership is the issue, and by “leadership” I do not mean someone who makes me feel nice when they empathize with the city’s problems or seems “strong” when they talk about the pandemic. I’m talking about candidates who 1) are demonstrably cognizant of the city’s many actually critical failures, 2) have made solving — not simply addressing, not ameliorating, but actually solving — one or all of these problems their goal, and 3) have presented a rational plan to achieve that goal. In terms of propositions, at the local level I am not at all a libertarian. I’m perfectly happy supporting any request for more money provided there’s a clear reason, with a precisely-stated and tangible goal, and a plan to achieve that goal. But we almost never see this. Example: for ten years I’ve watched almost every request for more money for homelessness pass, the homeless never see that money, and every year the situation gets worse. This is because we have no plan in place to actually solve the problem. Money is therefore funneled into increasingly-bloated bureaucracy, or non-profits that serve no apparent purpose beyond securing votes for the politicians funding them, while the actual human misery on our neighborhood streets metastasizes.
Action-orientation only. No money without a plan. But also we need a plan.
Below: a voting cheat sheet, with expanded notes on most candidates and selected propositions thereafter.
Board of Supervisors, District 1: Marjan Philhour and David Lee. Select Marjan first, Lee second. IMPORTANT: Leave Connie Chan OFF the ballot.
Board of Supervisors, District 3: Danny Sauter. IMPORTANT: Leave Aaron Peskin OFF the ballot.
Board of Supervisors, District 5: Vallie Brown. IMPORTANT: Leave Dean Preston OFF the ballot.
Board of Supervisors, District 7: Joel Engardio. IMPORTANT: Leave Vilaska Nguyen and Myrna Melgar off the ballot.
Board of Supervisors, District 9: (Hillary Ronen is running unopposed)
Board of Supervisors, District 11: Ahsha Safaí. IMPORTANT: Leave John Avalos off the ballot.
BART Board of Directors, District 9: David Young.
Board of Education: Michelle Parker. IMPORTANT: vote for NO ONE else.
NO on Proposition 14
YES on Proposition 15
NO on Proposition 16
YES on Proposition 17
NO on Proposition 18
NO on Proposition 19
NO on Proposition 20
NO on Proposition 21
YES on Proposition 22
NO on Proposition 23
NO on Proposition 24
NO on Proposition 25
NO on Regional Measure RR
NO on Proposition A
NO on Proposition B
NO on Proposition C
NO on Proposition D
YES on Proposition E
NO on Proposition F
NO on Proposition G
YES on Proposition H
NO on Proposition I
NO on Proposition K
NO on Proposition L
Board of Supervisors, District 1: Philhour has The San Francisco Chronicle’s endorsement, and, in my opinion, a better chance of winning than Lee. Both express the critical sense of responsibility outlined at the top of this guide. Connie Chan expresses no such sense of responsibility. She also hides behind anti-tech language, and is clearly the favored candidate among the anti-housing “progressive” (anti-housing, anti-growth) wing of San Francisco politics. She’s endorsed by the absolutely useless woman currently sitting in the seat.
Board of Supervisors, District 3: Danny Sauter has forcefully argued for problem solving, expressing the essential sense of responsibility here largely discussed. Aaron Peskin, however, leads the disastrous political coalition currently crippling our city. He is easily the worst leader in San Francisco. Corruption vibes. Likes to focus on things like workplace cafeteria bans rather than any one of our city’s ongoing literal disasters. Notably endorsed by the Chronicle (easily their worst endorsement among a not entirely awful list of suggestions) for the pretty obvious reason that he feeds them information on the internal machinations of the Board. Gross. GET HIM OUT.
Board of Supervisors, District 5: Vallie Brown. Vallie is extremely a “tying the tourniquet” candidate. A boring moderate (far left by the standards of the rest of the country) who may not accomplish much, but a remarkable personal background, and she’s at least pro-housing. Dean Preston, on the other hand, is the most unhinged politician in San Francisco (closely followed by Chesa Boudin, and with an important distinction from Aaron Peskin, who is just “The Worst.”) Notably, Preston is the architect of the Haight’s government-sanctioned tent city, which he lied into existence by cynically promising temporary COVID-19 relief, while attacking all small businesses in the area, many of which are closing because of the city’s pandemic response. He spends most of his time LARPing the Communist Revolution, to cheers from the DSA. His positions on housing and crime are I think actually antagonistic to the people living in this city.
Board of Supervisors, District 7: Joel Engardio has expressed a sense of fiscal sanity, and ascribes the failures of our city to a failure of leadership, not to a lack of funding, expressing a sense of responsibility and promising to work toward meaningful change. Fingers crossed. In any case, he’s nothing like Vilaska Nguyen or Myrna Melgar, who want to make MUNI free in the middle of a catastrophic budget shortfall that has already gutted MUNI service. NO. Access denied. Next stupid question.
Board of Supervisors, District 11: Ahsha Safaí is the most action-oriented, fiscally reasonable person running in this district. John Avalos is a part of the Peskin mafia, an absolute disaster on almost every issue that matters, but especially housing. He previously lost control of this seat. Let’s keep it out of his hands. Leave him off the ballot.
BART Board of Directors, District 9: David Young. One of my favorite candidates running. He’s planning to get rid of the open air drug markets in our BART stations (controversial, somehow, and he doesn’t care), and to vote for critical infrastructure updates to BART stations, currently in limbo, which we’ve already paid for.
Board of Education: everyone other than Michelle Parker is, from what I can tell, quite useless or quite crazy.
A note on propositions. California’s institution of ballot propositions is itself bad. We do not elect policy, we elect representatives to craft policy. This is important because if the policy fails (more often WHEN the policy fails in the case of California), we need actual leaders to whom we can point and hold to account. But until we abolish this deranged institution of propositions entirely, it is the system at hand. Below are notes on my recommendations for this year’s absolute hurricane of shitty ballot props.
YES on Proposition 15. This at least chips away at Proposition 13, which famously locked our landed gentry class of rich San Franciscans into property taxes assessed many years ago — often decades ago — while new property owners are forced to carry a tax burden for the entire state. Prop 13 directly impacts the exorbitant cost of rent by disincentivizing movement and building. Prop 15 impacts commercial property, rather than residential, which is infuriating. But it’s a start.
NO on Proposition 16. This is framed as a pro-diversity measure, but a yes vote here explicitly allows the government to discriminate on the basis of race or sex. That strikes me, with hopefully all moral people, as deeply scary.
YES on Proposition 17. After a prisoner has served his or her time, they should absolutely be allowed to vote.
NO on Proposition 21. This is an impediment to new housing. We don’t need impediments to new housing. WE NEED THE GOVERNMENT TO LET US BUILD HOUSING. Please just google “supply and demand,” my God.
YES on Proposition 22. An extremely important proposition that will chip away at Lorena Gonzalez’s disastrous AB-5, which was designed to eliminate all contracting work in the state. Now, after months of corrupt, back room deal making, it mostly just targets the technology industry. YES on 22. Next, we need to find some way to repeal AB-5 entirely (lawsuits against the state for lost wages in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic?). A YES vote on 22 will save literally hundreds of thousands of jobs. Possibly millions.
NO on Proposition 24. A massive piece of what is, we’re told, privacy legislation, but what is in fact just another anti-tech proposition. A mixed bag on actual privacy protections (vs. impediments), this will dramatically increase the tech industry’s cost of operation with no conceivable benefit to anyone living in the state. A disaster.
NO on Regional Measure RR. Another tax for transit. A NO vote here, but just on the planning grounds outlined at the top of this guide. Before we give these people any more money we need evidence of competent leadership, and a strategy.
NO on Proposition A. “Health and Homelessness, Parks, and Streets Bond.” Another tax for homelessness. Again, no on the planning grounds outlined at the top of this guide. We have money. What we need now is evidence of competent leadership, and a strategy. But can I also add: absolutely the fuck not. Prop A authorize the City to borrow up to $487.5 million in bonds to fund the ambiguous “services and projects” for homelessness and mental health that I suppose we’ll learn more about some time — *checks watch* — oh right never. The City already collects over 600 million dollars a year to combat homelessness, which increases every year, and by all evidence appears to have ballooned under COVID-19. The policies in place are literally counterproductive. No more money for this problem until every single failing non-profit we’re funding with money meant for the actually destitute is defunded, all of that money is handed to a single person in government, under the mayor, charged with SOLVING, not AMELIORATING, the homeless crisis, an actual fucking plan is put forth to fix this problem, and the person responsible for the plan is held accountable for his or her failures. Or (hopefully) accomplishments.
NO on Proposition B. “Department of Sanitation and Streets, Sanitation and Streets Commission, and Public Works Commission.” We don’t need to create ANOTHER bureaucratic entity to keep the human shit off our streets. We already have a department for that. They need to do their jobs, and people who shit in the street should, if of sound mind, be punished. If they are so deeply far gone as to be shitting themselves in public with no sense of the transgression (I have seen such people, personally, in my neighborhood) they need to be brought under city conservatorship, where we can actually help them. Prop B is another multi-million dollar jobs program for government employees. NO.
YES on Proposition E. “Police Staffing.” This amendment to the City charter would allow us, if we choose, to increase or reduce the number of police officers as needed, which I frankly didn’t realize we couldn’t already do. I do not think the city should currently be reducing the number of police officers in the city, but that number should of course be reflective of current need rather than a random number set in stone in 1994.
NO on Proposition F. “Business Tax Overhaul.” Another tax. No on planning grounds outlined at the top of this guide. Citizens of San Francisco are possibly the most taxed citizens of any city in the country, and this punitive anti-technology industry tax is specifically designed to drive new workers out of the city. The proposition also insidiously frames itself as aiding small businesses by reducing annual registration fees, but it increases registration fees for any small business with greater than 1 million dollars in GROSS (!!!) receipts. In San Francisco, a million in gross receipts is barely enough to cover rent, salaries for a handful of employees, and operation. An insane assault on small businesses in the middle of a fucking pandemic. NO.
NO on Proposition G. “Youth Voting in Local Elections.” The mayor wants 16-year-olds to vote. I genuinely support this provided we also allow 16-year-olds to smoke, drink, gamble, join the military, and have consensual sex with whomever they want. Either 16-year-olds are adults or they’re not, and children shouldn’t be voting.
YES on Proposition H. “Neighborhood Commercial Districts and City Permitting.” Absolutely yes. Anything that reduces the friction innate of operating a small business in this city should be supported.
NO on Proposition I. “Real Estate Transfer Tax.” No plan, no money.
NO on Proposition J. “Parcel Tax for San Francisco Unified School District.” No plan, no money.
NO on Proposition K. “Affordable Housing Authorization.” No plan, no money. Also: PLEASE JUST ALLOW US TO BUILD HOUSING. Thanks.
NO on Proposition L. “Business Tax Based on Comparison of Top Executive’s Pay to Employees’ Pay.” No plan, no money. Separately: fuck you for yet another punitive anti-tech industry proposition. The city budget has doubled thanks to the technology industry. The government has lit that money on fire. It’s time to hold our leaders to account.