Vote your vote away - Page 2

Sup. Wiener seeks authority for the board to change or repeal voter-approved measures

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He did the number-crunching and concluded that of the 983 policy ordinances on the books, 207 (21 percent) were policy initiatives. Of those, 102 (about 10 percent) were approved by the voters.

"Not quite overwhelming the ballot," Welch said. "The argument that what is promoting this — the inundation of the initiatives — is not borne of the facts."

Welch believes Wiener is targeting certain landlord and tenant issues that date back to 1978, when San Francisco voters first started adopting rent control measures. "That is what the agenda is all about — roughly 30 measures that deal with rent control and growth control," he said.

Wiener denies this is an attack on tenants, and claims he doesn't have a specific agenda in mind. "This is long-term reform, not immediate gratification reform. To take the big, big step, we would have to change state law. This is just a modest first step."

Welch also took issue with the idea of "election proportionality," calling the measure an undemocratic power grab since many initiatives in San Francisco's history were approved with more than 200,000 votes.

"Mayors don't get 200,000 votes — these measures do," Welch said. "That a body can overrule thousands of voters undermines the election process of San Francisco. Why not limit government actors instead of the people? It's about what Sup. Wiener wants to change."

Budget set-asides have long been a target for legislators, explained Chelsea Boilard, a budget analyst with Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. Historically in San Francisco, moderate politicians have mostly honed in on social service programs, not those with a lot of clout and political backing, like police and fire budgets. Although the Children's Fund, which was set up by a charter amendment, would be exempt, other social program priorities set by voters could be eroded.

"The reality is that the police and fire departments don't have to go to City Hall every year to defend their budgets, but health and human services do," Boilard said.

While many on the left would love for the California Legislature to have the authority to make changes in the property-tax-limiting Proposition 13 — like by removing commercial property from being taxed at artificially low levels — activists see real danger in Wiener's measure.

"I think this is bad policy. I know folks are frustrated with Prop. 13, for example, and wish it was easier to amend or repeal. But the way he's going about this is odd to me," political activist Karen Babbitt told us. "For one thing, it appears to apply to retroactively to existing ordinances and policy declarations."

Babbitt also cites legal research indicating that Wiener's proposal might contradict state law and be subject to legal challenge if it passes. Plus, that challenge could come from any direction since it would allow liberal and conservative reforms to be challenged by the board.

One proposition that would fall under Wiener's amendment is Proposition L, the sit-lie ordinance approved last year that prohibits sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 am and 11 p.m. After a divisive campaign against the measure, police began enforcing it in April. In three years and with enough votes by the board, the board could repeal a law that Wiener supports.

"It's really interesting," said Bob-Offer Westort, a civil rights organizer with the San Francisco Coalition of Homelessness. "I have a lot of questions. I guess it cuts both ways. We'd like to see the aggressive panhandling law changed. We'd like to see the sit-lie repealed. There are definitely things, with the right composition of the board, we would benefit from. And there are things that we would not want to see changed."

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