SF Voter Guide 2016: The Small Business Edition

October 26, 2016 • 8 min read
Ahmad El-Najjar

Ahmad El-Najjar


San Franciscans love a good ballot measure. You’d be hard-pressed to find any other municipality with the number of local ballot measures that even comes close to San Francisco. And, with a Presidential election on this November 8 ballot, the local measures are multitudinous, with a total of 24 ballot measures for San Franciscans to consider. We’re offering an SF Voter Guide on the mere seven of those 24 that would have the biggest impact on local small business owners.

Of course, each of these 24 local measures is important and should be considered carefully before you step into the voting booth. They have the ability to significantly affect the lives of all San Franciscans. (You can familiarize yourself with all the measures up for your vote by checking the San Francisco Department of Elections.)

San Francisco Ballot Measures

Currently, there are two mechanisms by which a measure can be placed on the ballot: an initiative and by the Board of Supervisors.

San Franciscans’ right to start an initiative to get a measure on the ballot is not one shared by all municipalities. This incredibly powerful civic tool places a lot of power in the hands of individuals and organizations in San Francisco.

Since 2016 is a Presidential election year, voter turnout is expected to be higher than usual. Many groups and elected officials have taken advantage of this expected increase and gotten their measures placed on the ballot for what is bound to be a very big year in local as well as national politics.

SF Voter Guide: The Small Business Measures on the Ballot

Since there are seven measures and a few of them are pretty contentious, this guide is a two-parter. Part 1 covers Propositions E, R, T, and X. Part 2 covers the more complicated Propositions K, Q, and V, which address two different sales tax measures and the homeless encampments.

Here are the details of the first four measures and how they are likely to affect San Francisco’s small businesses.

Proposition E: Maintaining Street Trees and Sidewalks

For local businesses, trees can add a lot of character and charm to a street which in turn attracts customers. But, what happens when those trees are poorly maintained with roots pushing up the concrete or branches smacking potential customers in the face? It’s bad for business.

It used to be that the City of San Francisco was responsible for maintaining all those trees you see along the sidewalks. In 2011, when the City was short on funds, they passed a law transferring the responsibility of tree maintenance to the property owner adjacent to the trees’ location.

Needless to say, many residents were upset when they were notified that a tree’s care, which in many cases the City had originally planted, was now their financial responsibility, including repair of any root-related damage to sidewalks. Now, in 2016, the City is putting Proposition E before the voters, which asks them to approve a $19 million yearly budget allocation for the City to once again maintain sidewalk trees.

For small business owners looking at Prop E, whether you own your property or not, having the City take care of issues with trees is likely a good thing. Here’s the City’s Department of Elections Prop E information.

Proposition R: Neighborhood Crime Unit

proposition rProposition R would create a dedicated police unit within the San Francisco Police Department called the Neighborhood Crime Unit (NCU). The NCU, a specialized unit, would be maintained at three percent of the total Police force (so, about 60 officers), who would primarily patrol, collect data and metrics, serving a specific neighborhood. What’s different about the NCU from regular policing is that these officers will address quality of life issues, including petty crimes such as vagrancy, vandalism, and car burglaries—petty crimes that can have an enormous impact on neighborhoods, especially the small business community. The NCU officers will coordinate regular foot patrols and respond not just to 911 calls but also to 311 calls The latter call line is used to report things like abandoned vehicles, graffiti, and illegal dumping.

Prop R sounds like it would be a non-issue for voters who have regularly called upon the City of San Francisco to increase beat patrols and presences in neighborhoods. However, there is a bigger political concern for those who oppose the bill. According to the SF Chronicle, opponents feel that the Board of Supervisors is attempting to insert itself and dictate policy to the Mayor and the Police Department—since there’s nothing keeping the Mayor or Chief of Police from creating an NCU.

That said, the Mayor and Chief of Police are not taking any action to address neighborhood crime in the way the NCU would. In recent years, “there has been evidence of growing crime in some neighborhoods in San Francisco, particularly property crime.” For example, a “civil grand jury reported that car break-ins in 2015 reached a five-year high of 24,800 (a 34 percent increase over 2014 and three times more than 2011).” These kinds of numbers are worrying for residents and small business owners alike.

Prop R gives San Franciscans a choice between voting yes and having a special unit to address neighborhood crime formed immediately, and voting no, which means waiting to see if the Mayor and Chief of Police create such a unit on their own. Here’s the City’s Department of Elections information on Prop R.

polling place
Illustration from 1891 book Elements of Civil Government

Proposition T: Restricting Gifts and Campaign Contributions from Lobbyists

No our SF Voter Guide for small businesses has not gotten off track. Lobbyists and campaign contributions have quite a bit to do with small businesses, as it turns out. Proposition T is a ballot measure sponsored by The Ethics Commission, a City Agency, which asks voters to approve a change to the current campaign contribution law. If Prop T is approved, there would be much stricter registration requirements for lobbyists. In essence, Prop T would mandate that lobbyists not just register, but register specifically who or what department they are trying to influence. The new law would also make it illegal for any City official to receive any gift of any kind from a lobbyist. (Currently, City officials can accept up to $25.)

The biggest change would be how lobbyists are allowed to make campaign contributions. Currently, a lobbyist can “bundle” campaign contributions of up to $500 each per individual on behalf of clients. Prop T will make it illegal for any lobbyist has registered with the City in the previous 90 days from making a personal campaign contribution or “bundling” on behalf of others.

For small businesses in San Francisco, Prop T could go a long way to leveling the playing field when it comes to how City officials are influenced by companies and organizations that have the financial resources to hire lobbyists. Individual residents and local business owners, as well as local community groups, who feel they aren’t heard by City officials are likely to approve this measure. Here’s the City’s Department of Elections information on Prop T.

Proposition X: Preserving Space for Neighborhood Arts, Small Businesses, and Community Services

The last of the ballot measures relevant to small businesses—in this half of our SF Voter Guide—is Prop X. Proposition X is intended to protect the production, distribution, and repair of space used for institutional community and arts organizations or projects (collectively called PDRs) in two San Francisco neighborhoods. It would change the zoning code to require any development project in either the Mission or SOMA that demolishes or converts an existing space used for PDR to be replaced by a space similar in size to the displaced PDR. Basically, if a developer tears down or converts a space with an existing business that is considered a PDR, the developer has to replace the space with some equivalent within the new development.

For artists and manufacturers, many of whom are located in the Mission or SOMA, Prop X could be a much needed lifeline in a City that seems to be fast tracking the displacement of its local maker community.

Opponents of the measure claim it doesn’t need to be on the ballot because the Board of Supervisors can do the same thing through the legislative process. It’s a situation similar to that with Prop R, the Neighborhood Crime Unit measure, above. Proponents of the bill argue that though the goals of the ballot measure could be accomplished by City officials, the fact remains that they are not acting. And, here’s the City’s Department of Elections information on Prop X.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of our SF Voter Guide for small businesses, and remember: It’s your vote! Get out and use it!

Hero image by Vox Efx, Flickr

Related Posts