A Call for Citywide Voting
By Quentin L. Kopp
William F. Buckley, Jr., the 1950’s and 1960’s author and television commentator, once declared: “I would rather be governed by the first 2,000 people in the telephone directory than by the Harvard University faculty.”
The Yale University graduate’s aphorism could be applied to the Board of Supervisors whose members are elected by districts rather than each as a candidate seeking citywide approval. I’ve written of voter frustration because of legal prohibition of “at-large” voting, which is citywide, under the California Voting Rights Act effectuated by the state legislature and governor, effective in 2003.
Since the 1932, Charter was approved by voters. Prior to then, when the Board consisted of 16 supervisors, San Francisco eschewed district supervisorial elections, also called “ward politics,” which possesses a pejorative connotation (see “Plunkett to Tammany Hall” regarding New York City Tammany Hall’s famous political boss in the early 20th century). As I noted last spring, district elections were unwisely approved by San Francisco voters in 1976 and were in effect until their 1980 repeal, but then reinstated in the 1990s.
Following my last musing about the deplorable results of such ward elections and their rise under threat of California Voting Rights Act litigation in such small cities as Millbrae, San Bruno, South San Francisco, Foster City and Redwood City, I discovered a possible silver lining. Santa Monica, population approximately 90,000 with citywide council election since 1914, was sued in 2018 by its Pico Neighborhood Association which claimed at-large councilmember elections discriminate against Latinos, Blacks and Asians.
The California Court of Appeal, in July 2020, rejected such contention and ratified Santa Monica’s at-large system. Pico Neighborhood Association sought review by the California Supreme Court, which was granted. The case now awaits the decision of California’s highest court. If Santa Monica prevails, I encourage San Franciscans to restore citywide supervisorial elections via charter amendment approved by voters in 2023. I’m reminded of another citywide option: Until this century, San Mateo County’s Board of Supervisors members were elected by at-large voting, but had to live in one of the County’s five districts. A victory by Santa Monica would permit us that alternative. Stay tuned!
It’s not too early to discuss the Nov. 8 general election which will include re-election of all Democratic statewide office holders, led by Governor Gavin Newsom, our 2024 presidential candidate. It’ll also include such nonpartisan officers as chief justice and associate justices of the Supreme Court, presiding justice and associate justices of the Court of Appeal (those elections ask voters to vote “yes” or “no” on their retention for another six-year term), superintendent of Public Instruction and local offices assessor, district attorney, public defender, Board of Education (three seats), Community College Board (four seats) and Board of Supervisors (Districts 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10). If you want to submit a potential opponent argument for city ballot measures, do so by noon, Aug.18. (Proponent arguments customarily receive priority authorhood). Paid ballot arguments must be submitted by noon, Aug. 22 with a $200 submission fee, plus $2 per word, and cannot exceed 300 words.
There will be eight state ballot measures and at least five local ones, including one to reopen the Upper Great Highway and return its original use as an essential route for 20,000 daily users, and the same for JFK Drive in Golden Gate Park with its partial Saturday closure, plus Sunday and holiday closures as a compromise. I strongly support that citizen initiative.
Emblematic of local government sloth is the Board of Supervisors’ failure to enact a law requiring competitive bidding for garbage collection and recycling contracts. After voters repealed the 1932 ordinance bestowing a monopoly on Recology Inc.’s predecessors on June 7, citizens anticipated legislation to speedily do so. Supervisor Aaron Peskin would logically have done so as supervisorial leader on the subject matter. Neither he nor any other supervisor has done so. For that, they’re paid to represent about 79,000 people in a city losing population every day
Despite his defeat by voters on June 7, criminal lawyer Chesa Boudin will run again for district attorney this fall. Meanwhile, sister publication Marina Times’ ace columnist Susan Dyer Reynolds reports a source in that office disclosed Boudin gave at least five staff members official leave to volunteer in Boudin’s campaign! If proven, taxpayer money must be recovered by litigation or payment by Boudin and his deputy D.A. fraudsters. The San Francisco Taxpayers Association has retained one of its members to do so.
Don’t forget it’s been said: “A successful man or woman is one who thinks up ways of making money faster than the government can take it away from him or her.”
Happy Birthday to Mayor London Breed whose natal day (Aug. 11) is the same as mine. Yes, there’s a few years’ age difference!
Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, member of the SF Ethics Commission and retired judge.