Commentary

Commentary: Quentin L. Kopp

Advice on Ballot Measures

In 1948, “The Complete Poetry and Prose of Walt Whitman” contained his utterance: “I know nothing grander, better exercise, better digestion, more positive, proof of the past, the triumphant result of faith in humankind, than a well-contested American national election.” 

That surely applies to us in San Francisco on June 7. I am sufficiently egotistical to believe voters await my local ballot measures recommendations which mirror San Francisco Taypayers Association positions in applicable ways. 

For example, I strongly urge rejection of Proposition A, which authorizes general bond indebtedness in the amount of $400 million for unspecified grandiose projects such as “cost of construction, acquisition and improvement of certain transportation, street safety and transit related capital improvements and requiring certain funded projects to be subject to a Project Labor Agreement.” 

A California Court of Appeal’s decision relating to the 2008 California High Speed Rail Authority General Obligation Bond of $9 billion effectually means general obligation bond money can be used any way the issuer wants. Labeled “Muni Reliability and Street Safety,” the sponsor (MTA) ignores the controller’s statement that interest on the 30-year bond will approximate $600 million. That is borne by homeowners who usually pay double the voter-approved debt, thanks to compounding interest. 

Muni is, of course, famous for its Central Subway Project which is 30% or more over budget in taxpayer expense and more than three years late in completion. A study by an outside non-governmental entity found earlier this decade that MTA has never completed a project on time or as promised to taxpayers in cost. The obedient Chamber of Commerce supports Proposition A, realizing that homeowners and renters will pay most of its costs. Vote “no” on Proposition A. 

Proposition B, a Charter amendment, applicable to the Building Inspection Commission, changes Commission composition, which comprises four mayoral appointees consisting of a structural engineer, a licensed architect, a residential builder and a nonprofit-housing development corporation representative, and Board of Supervisors presidential appointees consisting of a residential tenant, a residential landlord and a member of the general public, all of whom serve two-year terms, Proposition B eliminates commission membership based upon designated profession, background or industry affiliation. The commission represents the result of conniving by a Residential Builders Association City Hall “fixer” and a then-Board of Supervisor member and never should have been created in 1994. It was previously part of the Department of Public Works with one honest head of the Bureau of Building Inspection, the late Robert Levy, after whom the Broadway Tunnel was renamed. Proposition B is unnecessary because the Commission is useless. I’m voting “No.” 

Proposition C represents City Hall intrigue to reduce the efficacy of recalling elected officials. It’s a reaction to the recall of three Board of Education members in February and the imminent district attorney recall next month. It prohibits recall petitions before 12 months after the politician has assumed office and a recall petition if the subsequent recall election would occur within 12 months of a regularly scheduled election for the office in question. It also prohibits any interim officer appointed to fill the vacancy created by a recall from running in the subsequent vacancy election, thereby depriving Mayor London Breed of her authority. Board of Supervisors’ efforts to thwart voters mustn’t prevail. Vote “no” resoundingly on Proposition C. 

Proposition D establishes another bureaucracy, an Office of Victim and Witness Rights, plus a free lawyer for domestic violence victims. We’ve had an office to provide services to domestic violence victims and other crime victims for decades, starting in the 1980s. Disregarding free lawyers, passage of Proposition D will yield more public employees to supplement the more than 38,000 now on City and County payroll as the largest employer in San Francisco. Vote “no.” 

Proposition E amends an ordinance to expand the ban on solicitation of behested payments by including city contractors seeking the Board of Supervisors’ approval of their contracts and requiring Ethics Commission approval, plus super-majority approval, by the Board of Supervisors for future amendments to such corruption sometimes called “pay to play.” I recommend approval. 

Proposition F constitutes a historical effort by Supervisor Aaron Peskin “finally” to repeal the 1932 electoral ordinance which granted a monopoly for garbage collection. Recology, Inc.’s longtime monopoly has resulted in the highest refuse rates in California. Garbage collection in 1932 was effectuated by individual collectors who later merged into Sunset Scavengers for residential property owners and Golden Gate Disposal for commercial property owners before Recology combined them. Instead of also providing for competitive bidding, as occurs in almost all other local governmental contracts, this theoretically enables the Board of Supervisors to amend the Refuse Ordinance to require competitive bidding for trash collection. Proposition F is supported by the mayor and all supervisors, but requires any refuse ordinance amendment to pass by an eight-vote “supermajority.” To mollify rate-payers, it additionally replaces the controller on the Refuse Rate Board, “historically controlled by Recology” with an appointed “rate payer representative.” Our city controller has saved rate-payers and tax-payers millions of dollars, I don’t trust any “rate-payer representative” who will probably remind us of the former director of the Department of Environment, forced to resign last month after revelations of her City Hall corruption, once again ignored by the “fighting” DA. 

Proposition G amends the Police Code to require private employers with more than 100 employees worldwide to provide public health emergency leave to San Francisco employees during public health emergencies, while exempting certain non-profit organization from same. Such emergencies include contagion infections, communicable diseases and air quality emergencies and mandate two weeks leave with pay. I’ll probably vote for it to annoy the downtown Chamber of Commerce.

Proposition H is the most important ballot measure next month. It recalls the criminal defense lawyer from the Public Defender Office who, because of ranked-choice voting, was elected in 2020. Chesa Boudin represents a legacy, with parents who were leaders in the Weatherman Underground and convicted of murder in a bank robbery in New York State. His grandfather was widely known after World War II for representing Socialists and Communists. His notions of “reform” stem from his assertion that our criminal justice system criminalizes “poverty, addiction and mental illness; while failing to hold violent police accountable.” He ignores city government corruption, which, thankfully, is pursued by the United States Attorney’s office, even though his 2021-22 budget contains a Criminal Division White Collar Unit with many investigators and lawyers, at an estimated taxpayer cost of $4.2-$6.3 million. Vote “Yes” on Proposition H as many times as the law allows, but don’t worry about violating the law while Boudin is district attorney.

For those readers accustomed to my state ballot measure recommendations, be advised the legislature and governor changed the rules last decade so that state ballot measures are only presented to voters in the November general election, not the June primary election. 

Meanwhile, as national government increases federal debt and state government collects income taxes while building a herculean surplus, I’m reminded of Ralph Waldo Emerson in a 1929 essay declaring; “Of all debts, men are least willing to pay the taxes. What a satire is this on government! Everywhere they think they get their money’s worth, except for these.” Remember our military veterans on May 30,  vote on June 7 or before, and remember and grieve for the late Peter Keane who died Easter Sunday after an extra life of achievement, including chairmanship of our Ethics Committee and deanship of Golden Gate Law School.

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Commission and retired judge. Find an archive of his columns at RichmondSunsetNews.com.

8 replies »

  1. A helpful start on evaluating the Propositions. By taking the opposite side of these curmugdeonly gripes I’ll probably be on the right track!

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  2. Thank you Judge Kopp for your commentary and recommendations — always a pleasure to read; both in form and content.

    I appreciate the Emerson quote, which continued with the concluding:

    “Hence, the less government we have, the better, – the fewer laws, and the less confided power.”

    P.S Emerson’s words ring true today as they did a hundred years ago (1929?) as well as nearly 200 years ago — which is closer to when they were written.

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  3. To have less government one has to vote for less candidates and against more bond measures . The bond measures that l have voted for and won have been cancelled by the courts . With the ranked voting many times have the person who did not have the most votes winning in order to reduce the cost of a runoff ballot . Often l do not vote for any candidate in order not to encourage a candidate to run . However l have participated in every election in which l was qualified to vote in my 86 years . Thus l never feel responsible for voting in the wrong candidate such as the Democrat’s President Joe Biden .

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  4. Thank you Mr Koop – you make me feel less alone in this now mad city., no longer “our fair city.” A neighbor, also a native, remarked that he felt as if the city had been torn away from him – the closures of Golden Gate Park and Great Highway, the demise of grand downtown stores and small neighborhood businesses, the filth on streets, and, to me most importantly, the lack of civility. Herb Caen commented, “I tend to live in the past because most of my life was there.” It was a wonderful city and you, Mr Kopp, represent its best qualities.

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