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Wait, wasn't the primary election back in February? Yes, it was in a way. The California Legislature, in an effort to make the state more relevant (that turned out well, didn't it?) moved the presidential primary several months earlier this year but left the rest of the primary races, and some key initiatives, for the June 3 ballot. There's a lot at stake here: three contested Legislative races, two judicial races, a measure that could end rent control in California ... vote early and often. Our endorsements follow.
Congress, District 6
It's an irony that the congressional representative from Marin and Sonoma counties is far to the left of the representative from San Francisco, but Lynn Woolsey's politics put Nancy Pelosi to shame. Woolsey was against the Iraq war from the start and the first member of Congress to demand that the troops come home, and she continues to speak out on the issue. At the same time, she's also a strong advocate for injured veterans.
Woolsey, who once upon a time (many years ago) was on welfare herself, hasn't forgotten what it's like to have trouble making ends meet. She's a leading voice against cuts in social service spending and is now pushing a bill to increase food stamp benefits. She richly deserves reelection.
Congress, District 7
George Miller, who has represented this East Bay district since 1974, is an effective legislator and strong environmentalist. Sometimes he's too willing to compromise he worked with the George W. Bush administration on No Child Left Behind, a disaster of an education bill but he's a solid opponent of the war and we'll endorse him for another term.
Congress, District 8
Cindy Sheehan, the antiwar activist, is moving forward with her campaign to challenge Nancy Pelosi as an independent candidate in November, and we wish her luck. For now, Pelosi, the Speaker of the House and one of the most powerful people in Washington, will easily win the Democratic primary.
But Pelosi long ago stopped representing her San Francisco district. She continues to support full funding for Bush's war, refused to even consider impeachment (back when it might have made sense), refused to interact with war critics who camped out in front of her house ... and still won't acknowledge it was a mistake to privatize the Presidio. We can't endorse her.
Congress, District 13
You have to love Pete Stark. The older he gets, the more radical he sounds and after 32 years representing this East Bay district, he shows no signs of slowing down. Stark is unwilling to be polite or accommodating about the Iraq war. In 2007 he announced on the floor of the House that the Republicans "don't have money to fund the war or children. But you're going to spend it to blow up innocent people if we can get enough kids to grow old enough for you to send to Iraq to get their heads blown off for the president's amusement." He happily signed on to a measure to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. He is the only member of Congress who proudly admits being an atheist. It's hard to imagine how someone like Stark could get elected today. But we're glad he's around.
Superior Court, Seat 12
There aren't many former public defenders on the bench in California. For years, governors both Democratic and Republican have leaned toward prosecutors and civil lawyers from big downtown firms when they've made judicial appointments. So the San Francisco judiciary isn't, generally speaking, as progressive or diverse as the city.
Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, who will be termed out this year, is looking to become a judge and there's no way this governor would ever appoint him. So he's doing something that's fairly rare, even in this town: he's running for election against an incumbent.
We're happy to see that. It's heartening to see an actual judicial election. Judges are technically elected officials, but most incumbents retire in the middle of their terms, allowing the governor to appoint their replacements, and unless someone files to run against a sitting judge, his or her name doesn't even appear on the ballot.
Sandoval is challenging Judge Thomas Mellon, a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1994. He's not known as a star on the bench: according to California Courts and Judges, a legal journal that profiles judges and includes interviews with lawyers who have appeared before them, Mellon has a reputation for being unreasonable and cantankerous. In 2000, the San Francisco Public Defenders Office sought to have him removed from all criminal cases because of what the defense lawyers saw as a bias against them and their clients.
Sandoval hasn't been a perfect supervisor, and we've disagreed with him on a number of key issues. But he's promised us to work for more openness in the courts (including open meetings on court administration), and we'll give him our endorsement.
State races and propositions
State Senate, District 3
It doesn't get any tougher than this two strong candidates, each with tremendous appeal and a few serious weaknesses. Two San Francisco progressives with distinguished records fighting for a powerful seat that could possibly be lost to a third candidate, a moderate from Marin County who would be terrible in the job. Two people we genuinely like, for very different reasons. It's fair to say that this is one of the hardest decisions we've had to make in the 42-year history of the Guardian.
In the end, we've decided with much enthusiasm and some reservations to endorse Assemblymember Mark Leno.
We will start with the obvious: this race is the result of term limits. Leno, who has served in the state Assembly for six years, argues, convincingly, that he is challenging incumbent state Sen. Carole Migden because he feels she hasn't been doing the job. But Leno also loves politics, has no desire to return to life outside the spotlight, and if he could have stayed in the Assembly, the odds that he would have taken on this ugly and difficult race are slim. And if Leno hadn't opened the door and exposed Migden's vulnerability, there's no way former Assemblymember Joe Nation of Marin would have thrown his hat into the ring. We've always opposed term limits; we still do.
That said, we'll hold a few truths to be self-evident: In a one-party town, the only way any incumbent is ever held accountable is through a primary challenge. Those challenges can be unpleasant, and some including Migden and many of her allies argue that they're a waste of precious resources. If Migden wasn't scrambling to hold onto her seat, she'd be spending her money and political capital trying to elect more Democrats to the state Legislature. But Leno had every right to take on Migden. And win or lose, he has done a laudable public service: it's been years since we've seen Migden around town, talking to constituents, returning phone calls and pushing local issues the way she has in the past few months. And while there will be some anger and bitterness when this is over and some friends and political allies have been at each other's throats and will have to figure out how to put that behind them on balance this has been good for San Francisco. Migden has done much good, much to be proud of, but she had also become somewhat imperious and arrogant, a politician who hadn't faced a serious election in more than a decade. If this election serves as a reminder to every powerful Democratic legislator that no seat is truly safe (are you listening, Nancy Pelosi?), then the result of what now seems like a political bloodbath can be only positive.
The Third Senate District, a large geographic area that stretches from San Francisco north into Sonoma County, needs an effective, progressive legislator who can promote issues and programs in a body that is not known as a bastion of liberal thought.
Both Migden and Leno can make a strong case on that front. Leno, for example, managed to get passed and signed into law a bill that amends the notorious pro-landlord Ellis Act to protect seniors and disabled people from evictions. He got both houses of the Legislature to approve a marriage-equality bill twice. During his tenure in the unpleasant job of chairing the Public Safety Committee, he managed to kill a long list of horrible right-wing bills and was one of the few legislators to take a stand against the foolish measure that barred registered sex offenders from living near a park or school. Migden helped pass the landmark community-aggregation bill that allows cities to take a big step toward public power. She's also passed several key bills to regulate or ban toxic substances in consumer products.
Migden's record isn't all positive, though. For a time, she was the chair of the powerful Appropriations Committee although she gave up that post in 2006, abandoning a job that was important to her district and constituents, to devote more time to campaigning for Steve Westly, a moderate candidate for governor. When we challenged her on that move, she showed her legendary temper, attacking at least one Guardian editor personally and refusing to address the issue at hand. Unfortunately, that isn't unusual behavior.
Then there's the matter of ethics and campaign finance laws. The Fair Political Practices Commission has fined Migden $350,000 the largest penalty ever assessed against a state lawmaker for 89 violations of campaign finance laws. We take that seriously; the Guardian has always strongly supported ethics and campaign-finance laws, and this level of disregard for the rules raises serious doubts for us about Migden's credibility.
Sup. Chris Daly posted an open letter to us on his blog last week, and he made a strong pitch for Migden: "While there are only a few differences between Carole and Mark Leno on the issues," he wrote, "when it comes to San Francisco politics, the two are in warring political factions. Carole has used her position in Sacramento consistently to help progressive candidates and causes in San Francisco, while Leno is a kinder, gentler Gavin Newsom."
He's absolutely right. On the local issues we care about, Migden has been with us far more than Leno. When the public power movement needed money and support in 2002, Migden was there for us. When the University of California and a private developer were trying to turn the old UC Extension campus into luxury housing, Migden was the one who helped Sup. Ross Mirkarimi demand more affordable units. Migden was the one who helped prevent a bad development plan on the Port. Migden stood with the progressives in denouncing Newsom's budget and Leno stood with the mayor.
The district supervisorial battles this fall will be crucial to the city's future, and Migden has already endorsed Eric Mar, the best progressive candidate for District 1, and will almost certainly be with John Avalos, the leading progressive in District 11. Leno may well back a Newsom moderate. In fact, he's made himself a part of what labor activist Robert Haaland aptly calls the "squishy center" in San Francisco, the realm of the weak, the fearful, and the downtown sycophants who refuse to promote progressive taxes, regulations, and budgets at City Hall. His allegiance to Newsom is truly disturbing.
There's a war for the soul of San Francisco today, as there has been for many years, and Leno has often tried to straddle the battle lines, sometimes leaning a bit to the wrong camp and never showing the courage to fight at home for the issues he talks about in Sacramento. We'll stipulate to that and the only reason we can put it aside for the purposes of this endorsement is that Leno has never really had much in the way of coattails. He supports the wrong candidates, but he doesn't do much for them and we sincerely hope it stays that way.
While Leno is too close to Newsom, we will note that Migden is far too close to Gap founder and Republican leader Don Fisher, one of the most evil players in local politics. She proudly pushed to put Fisher who supports privatizing public schools on the state Board of Education.
A prominent local progressive, who we won't identify by name, called us several months ago to ask how were going to come down in this race, and when we confessed indecision, he said: "You know, I really want to support Carole. But she makes it so hard."
We find ourselves in a similar position. We really wanted to support Migden in this race. We'd prefer to see the state senator from San Francisco using her fundraising ability and influence to promote the candidates and causes we care about.
But Migden has serious political problems right now, baggage we can't ignore and it's all of her own making. Migden says her problems with the Fair Political Practices Commission are little more than technical mistakes but that's nonsense. She's played fast and loose with campaign money for years. When it comes to campaign finance laws, Migden has always acted as if she rules don't apply to her. She's treated FPPC fines as little more than a cost of doing business. This latest scandal isn't an exception; it's the rule.
Unfortunately, it's left her in a position where she's going to have a hard time winning. Today, the election looks like a two-person race between Leno and Nation. And the threat of Joe Nation winning this primary is too great for us to mess around.
Despite our criticism of both candidates, we would be happy with either in the state Senate. We're taking a chance with Leno; he's shown some movement toward the progressive camp, and he needs to continue that. If he wins, he will have a huge job to do bringing a fractured queer and progressive community back together and the way to do that is not by simply going along with everything Newsom wants. Leno has to show some of the same courage at home he's shown in Sacramento.
But right now, today, we've endorsing Mark Leno for state Senate.
State Senate, District 9
This is another of several tough calls, another creature of term limits that pit two accomplished and experienced termed-out progressive assembly members against each other for the senate seat of termed-out Don Perata. We've supported both Loni Hancock and Wilma Chan in the past, and we like both of them. In this one, on balance, we're going with Hancock.
Hancock has a lifetime of experience in progressive politics. She was elected to the Berkeley City Council in 1971, served two terms as Berkeley mayor, worked as the US Department of Education's western regional director under Bill Clinton, and has been in the State Assembly the past six years. On just about every progressive issue in the state, she's been an activist and a leader. And at a time when the state is facing a devastating, crippling budget crisis that makes every other issue seem unimportant, Hancock seems to have a clear grasp of the problem and how to address it. She's thought through the budget calculus and offers a range of new revenue measures and a program to change the rules for budget passage (two-thirds vote in the legislature is needed to pass any budget bill, which gives Republicans, all but one who has taken a Grover Norquistinspired pledge never to raise taxes, an effective veto).
Chan, who represented Oakland in the assembly for six years, is a fighter: she's taken on the insurance industry (by cosponsoring a major single-payer health insurance bill), the chemical industry (by pushing to ban toxic materials in furniture, toys, and plumbing fixtures), and the alcoholic-beverages lobby (by seeking taxes to pay for treatment for young alcoholics). She's an advocate of sunshine, not just in government, where she's calling for an earlier and more open budget process, but also in the private sector: a Chan bill sought to force health insurance companies to make public the figures on how often they decline claims.
But she seems to us to have less of a grasp of the budget crisis and the level of political organizing it will take to solve it. Right now, at a time of financial crisis, we're going with Hancock's experience and broader vision.
State Assembly, District 12
We were dubious about Ma. She was a pretty bad supervisor, and when she first ran for Assembly two years ago, we endorsed her opponent. But Ma's done some good things in Sacramento she's become one of the leading supporters of high-speed rail, and she's working against state Sen. Leland Yee's attempt to give away 60 acres of public land around the Cow Palace to a private developer. She has no primary opponent, and we'll endorse her for another term.
State Assembly, District 13
This one's easy. Ammiano, who has been a progressive stalwart on the Board of Supervisors for more than 15 years, is running with no opposition in the Democratic primary for state Assembly, and we're proud to endorse his bid.
Although he's certain to win, it's worth taking a moment to recall the extent of Ammiano's service to San Francisco and the progressive movement. He authored the city's domestic partners law. He authored the living wage law. He created the universal health care program that Mayor Newsom is trying to take credit for. He sponsored the 2002 public-power measure that would have won if the election hadn't been stolen. He created the Children's Fund. He authored the Rainy Day Fund law that is now saving the public schools in San Francisco. And the list goes on and on.
Beyond his legislative accomplishments, Ammiano has been a leader at times, the leader of the city's progressive movement and is at least in part responsible for the progressive majority now on the Board of Supervisors. In the bleak days before district elections, he was often the only supervisor who would carry progressive bills. His 1999 mayoral challenge to incumbent Willie Brown marked a tectonic shift in local politics, galvanizing the left and leading the way to the district-election victories that brought Aaron Peskin, Matt Gonzalez, Jake McGoldrick, Chris Daly, and Gerardo Sandoval to office in 2000.
It's hard to imagine the San Francisco left without him.
Ammiano will do a fine job in Sacramento, and will continue to use his influence to push the progressive agenda back home.
State Assembly, District 14
This is another tough one. The race to replace Loni Hancock, one of the most progressive and effective legislators in the state, has drawn two solid, experienced, and well-qualified candidates: Berkeley City Council member Kriss Worthington and former council member Nancy Skinner. We like Skinner, and she would make an excellent assemblymember. But all things considered, we're going with Worthington.
Skinner was on the Berkeley council from 1984 to 1992 and was part of a progressive majority in the 1980s that redefined how the left could run a city. That council promoted some of the best tenant protection and rent control laws in history, created some of the best local environmental initiatives, and fought to build affordable housing and fund human services. Skinner was responsible for the first local law in the United States to ban Styrofoam containers a measure that caused McDonald's to change its food-packaging policies nationwide. She went on to found a nonprofit that helps cities establish sustainable environmental policies.
Skinner told us that California has "gutted our commitment to education," and she vowed to look for creative new ways to raise revenue to pay for better schools. She's in touch with the best economic thinkers in Sacramento, has the endorsement of Hancock (and much of the rest of the East Bay Democratic Party establishment), and would hit the ground running in the legislature.
Worthington, Berkeley's only openly gay council member, has been the voice and conscience of the city's progressive community for the past decade. He's also been one of the hardest-working politicians in the city a recent study by a group of UC Berkeley students found that he had written more city council measures than anyone else currently on the council and had won approval for 98 percent of them.
Worthington has been the driving force for a more effective sunshine law in Berkeley, and has been unafraid to challenge the liberal mayor, Tom Bates, and other leading Democrats. His campaign slogan "a Democrat with a backbone" has infuriated some of the party hierarchy with its clear (and intended) implication that a lot of other Democrats lack a spine.
"All of the Democrats in the assembly voted for 50,000 more prison beds," he told us. "We needed a Barbara Lee [who cast Congress' lone vote against George W. Bush's first war resolution] to stand up and say, 'this is wrong and I won't go along.'"
That's one of the things we like best about Worthington: on just about every issue and front, he's willing to push the envelope and demand that other Democrats, even other progressive Democrats, stand up and be counted. Which is exactly what we expect from someone who represents one of the most progressive districts in the state.
It's a close call, but on this one, we're supporting Kriss Worthington.
State ballot measures
Abolition of rent control
Eminent domain reforms
There's a little rhyme to help you remember which way to vote on this critical pair of ballot measures:
"We hate 98, but 99 is fine."
The issue here is eminent domain, which is making its perennial ballot appearance. Californians don't like the idea of the government seizing their property and handing it over to private developers, and the most conservative right-wing forces in the state are trying to take advantage of that.
Think about this: if Prop. 98 passes, there will be no more rent control in California. That means thousands of San Francisco tenants will lose their homes. Many could become homeless. Others will have to leave town. All the unlawful-evictions laws will be tossed out. So will virtually any land-use regulations, which is why all the environmental groups also oppose Prop. 98.
In fact, everyone except the Howard Jarvis anti-tax group hates this measure, including seniors, farmers, water districts, unions, and believe it or not the California Chamber of Commerce.
Prop. 99, on the other hand, is an unapologetic poison-pill measure that's been put on the ballot for two reasons: to fix the eminent domain law once and for all, and kill Prop. 98 if it passes. It's simply worded and goes to the heart of the problem by preventing government agencies from seizing residential property to turn over to private developers. If it passes, the state will finally get beyond the bad guys using the cloak of eminent domain to destroy all the provisions protecting people and the environment.
If anyone has any doubts about the motivation here, take a look at the money: the $3 million to support Prop. 98 came almost entirely from landlords.
This is the single most important issue on the ballot. Remember: no on 98, yes on 99.
San Francisco measures
School parcel tax
Every year, hundreds of excellent teachers leave the San Francisco Unified School District. Some retire after a career in the classroom, but too many others young teachers with three to five years of experience bail because they decide they can't make enough money. San Francisco pays less than public school districts in San Mateo and Marin counties and far less than private and charter schools. And given the high cost of living in the city, a lot of qualified people never even consider teaching as a profession. That harms the public school system and the 58,000 students who rely on it.
It's a statewide problem, even a national one but San Francisco, with a remarkable civic unity, is moving to do something about it. Proposition A would place an annual tax on every parcel of land in the city; the typical homeowner would pay less than $200 a year. The money would go directly to increasing pay mostly starting pay for teachers. The proposition, which has the support of almost everyone in town except the Republican Party, is properly targeted toward the newer teachers, with the goal of keeping the best teachers on the job past that critical three to five years.
Parcel taxes aren't perfect; they force homeowners and small businesses to pay the same rate as huge commercial property owners. The way land is divided in the city most big downtown properties sit on at least five, and sometimes as many as 10 or 20 parcels, so the bill will be larger for them. But it's still nowhere near proportionate.
Still, Prop. 13 has made it almost impossible to raise ad valorum property taxes (based on a property's assessed value) in the state, and communities all around the Bay are using parcel taxes as a reasonable if imperfect substitute.
There's a strong campaign for Prop. A and not much in the way of organized opposition, but the measure still needs a two-thirds vote. So for the sake of public education in San Francisco, it's critical to vote yes.
City retiree benefits change
San Francisco has always offered generous health and retirement benefits to its employees. That's a good thing. But in this unfortunate era, when federal money is getting sucked into Iraq, state money is going down the giant deficit rat hole, and nobody is willing to raise taxes, the bill for San Francisco's expensive employee benefit programs is now looking to create a fiscal crisis at City Hall. Officials estimate the payout for current and past employees could total $4 billion over the next 30 years.
So Sup. Sean Elsbernd and his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors have engineered this smart compromise measure in a way that saves the city money over the long run and has the support of labor unions (largely because it includes an increase in the pensions for longtime employees, partially offset by a one-year wage freeze starting in 2009) while still offering reasonable retirements benefits for new employees.
Previously, city employees who worked just five years could get taxpayer-paid health benefits for life. Under this measure, it will take 20 years to get fully paid health benefits, with partially paid benefits after 10 years.
It's rare to find an issue that has the support of virtually everyone, from the supervisors and the mayor to labor. Prop. B makes sense. Vote yes.
Benefit denials for convicts
On the surface, it's hard to argue against Prop. C, a measure promoted as a way to keep crooks from collecting city retirement benefits. Sup. Sean Elsbernd's ballot measure would update an ordinance that's been on the books in San Francisco for years, one that strips public employees found guilty of "crimes of moral turpitude" against the city of their pensions. A recent court case involving a worker who stole from the city raised doubt about whether that law also applied to disability pay, and Prop. C would clear up that possible loophole.
But there are drawbacks this measure.
For starters, the problem isn't that big: cases of rejected retirement benefits for city workers are rare. And the law still uses that questionable phrase "moral turpitude" poorly defined in state law, never clearly defined in this measure, and as any older gay person can tell you, in the past applied to conduct that has nothing to do with honesty. The US State Department considers "bastardy," "lewdness," "mailing an obscene letter" and "desertion from the armed forces," among other things, to be crimes of moral turpitude.
Besides, Prop. C would apply not only to felonies but to misdemeanors. Cutting off disability pay for life over a misdemeanor offense seems awfully harsh.
The law that Elsbernd wants to expand ought to be rethought and reconfigured for the modern era. So vote no on C.
Appointments to city commissions
Prop. D is a policy statement urging the mayor and the supervisors to appoint more women, minorities, and people with disabilities to city boards and commissions. It follows a study by the Commission on the Status of Women that such individuals are underrepresented on the policy bodies that run many city operations.
Despite the overblown concerns raised by local Republicans in the ballot arguments, this advisory measure would do nothing to interfere with qualified white males or anyone else getting slots on commissions.
Board approval of San Francisco Public Utilities Commission appointees
"The last thing we need is more politics at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission," was the first line in Mayor Gavin Newsom's ballot argument against Prop. E. That's ironic: it was Newsom's recent political power play including the unexplained ousting of SFPUC General Manager Susan Leal and the partially successful effort to reappoint his political allies to this important body that prompted this long overdue reform.
The SFPUC is arguably the most powerful and important of the city commissions, controlling all the vital resources city residents need: water, power, and waste disposal chief among them. Yet with the mayor controlling all appointments to the commission (it takes a two-thirds vote of the Board of Supervisors to challenge an appointment), that panel has long been stacked with worthless political hacks. As a result, the panel never pursued progressive approaches to conservation, environmental justice, public power, or aggressive development of renewable power sources.
Prop. E attempts to break that political stranglehold by requiring majority confirmation by the Board of Supervisors for all SFPUC appointments. It also mandates that appointees have some experience or expertise in matters important to the SFPUC.
If anything, this reform is too mild: we would have preferred that the board have the authority to name some of the commissioners. But that seemed unlikely to pass, so the board settled for a modest attempt to bring some oversight to the powerful panel.
Vote yes on Prop. E because the last thing we need is more politics at the SFPUC.
Hunters Point-Bayview redevelopment
On the face of it, Proposition G sounds like a great way to restart the long-idle economic engine of the Bayview and clean up the heavily polluted Hunters Point Shipyard.
Who could be against a plan that promises up to 10,000 new homes, 300 acres of new parks, 8,000 permanent jobs, a green tech research park, a new 49ers stadium, a permanent home for shipyard artists, and a rebuild of Alice Griffith housing project?
The problem with Prop. G is that its promises are, for the most part, just that: promises which could well shift at any time, driven by the bottom line of Lennar Corp., a financially stressed, out-of-state developer that has already broken trust with the Bayview's low-income and predominantly African American community.
Lennar has yet to settle with the Bay Area air quality district over failures to control asbestos dust at a 1,500-unit condo complex on the shipyard, where for months the developer kicked up clouds of unmonitored toxic asbestos dust next to a K-12 school.
So, the idea of giving this corporation more land including control of the cleanup of a federal Superfund site as part of a plan that also allows it to construct a bridge over a slough restoration project doesn't sit well with community and environmental groups. And Prop. G's promise to build "as many as 25 percent affordable" housing units doesn't impress affordable housing activists.
What Prop. G really means is that Lennar, which has already reneged on promises to create much-needed rental units at the shipyard, now plans to build at least 75 percent of its housing on this 770-acre waterfront swathe as luxury condos.
And with the subprime mortgage crisis continuing to roil the nation, there is a real fear that Prop. G's final "affordability" percentage will be set by Lennar's profit margins and not the demographics of the Bayview, home to the city's last major African American community and many low-income people of color.
There's more: The nice green space that you see in the slick Lennar campaign fliers is toxic and may not be fully cleaned up. Under the plan, Lennar would put condo towers on what is now state parkland, and in exchange the city would get some open space with artificial turf on top that would be used for parking during football games. Assuming, that is, that a deal to build a new stadium for the 49ers which is part of all of this ever comes to pass.
In fact, the lion's share of a recent $82 million federal funding allocation will be dedicated to cleaning up the 27-acre footprint proposed for a new stadium. In some places, the city is planning to cap contaminated areas, rather than excavate and remove toxins from the site.
If the environmental justice and gentrification questions swirling around Prop. G weren't enough, there remains Prop. G's claim that it will create 8,000 permanent jobs once the project is completed. There's no doubt that the construction of 10,000 mostly luxury homes will create temporary construction jobs, but it's not clear what kind of jobs the resulting gentrified neighborhood will provide and for whom.
But one thing is clear: the $1 million that Lennar has already plunked down to influence this election has overwhelmingly gone to line the pockets of the city's already highly paid political elite, and not the people who grew up and still live in the Bayview.
But there's an alternative.
Launched as a last-ditch effort to prevent wholesale gentrification of the Bayview, Proposition F requires that 50 percent of the housing in the BVHP/Candlestick Point project be affordable to those making less than the median area income ($68,000 for a family of four).
That's a reasonable mandate, considering that the city's own general plan calls for two-thirds of all new housing to be sold or rented at below-market rates.
And if the new housing is built along Lennar's plans, it will be impossible to avoid large-scale gentrification and displacement in a neighborhood that has the highest percentage of African Americans in the city, the third highest population of children, and burgeoning Latino and Asian immigrant populations.
Lennar is balking at that level, saying a 50-percent affordability mandate would make the project financially unfeasible. But if Lennar can't afford to develop this area at levels affordable to the community that lives in and around the area, the city should scrap this redevelopment plan, send this developer packing, and start over again.
San Francisco has an affordable housing crisis, and we continue to doubt whether the city needs any more million-dollar condos and we certainly don't need them in a redevelopment area in the southeast. Remember: this is 700 acres of prime waterfront property that Lennar will be getting for free. The deal on the table just isn't good enough.
Vote yes on F and no on G.
This one sounds just fine. Promoted by Mayor Gavin Newsom, Proposition H is supposedly aimed at ensuring that elected officials don't solicit money from city contractors for campaigns they are sponsoring. But it lacks a crucial legal definition and that turns what ought to be a worthy measure into little more than an attack on Newsom's foes on the Board of Supervisors.
The key element is something called a "controlled committee." It's already illegal for city contractors to give directly to candidates who might later vote on their contracts. Prop. H would extend that ban to committees, typically run for or against ballot measures, that are under the control of an individual politician.
Take this one, for example. Since Newsom put this on the ballot, and will be campaigning for it, the Yes on H campaign is under his control he would be barred from collecting cash from city contractors, right? Well, no.
See, the measure doesn't define what "controlled committee" means. So a group of Newsom's allies could set up a Yes on H fund, raise big money from city contractors, then simply say that Newsom wasn't officially aware of it or involved in its operation.
When Newsom first ran for mayor, the committee supporting his signature initiative Care Not Cash raised a fortune, and the money directly helped his election. But that wasn't legally a "controlled committee" because Newsom never signed the documents saying he was in control.
Prop. H does nothing to change that rule, which means it would only affect campaign committees that a politician admits to controlling. And guess what? Newsom almost never admits that, while the supervisors, particularly board president Aaron Peskin, are a bit more honest.
When Newsom wants to clearly define "controlled committee" in a way that would have brought the Care Not Cash effort under the law we'll go along with it. For now, though, vote no on H.
San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee
The DCCC is the policy-making and operating arm of the local Democratic Party, and it has a lot of influence: the party can endorse in nonpartisan elections for San Francisco supervisor, for example and its nod gives candidates credibility and money. There's been a struggle between the progressives and the moderates for years and this time around, there's a serious, concerted effort for a progressive slate. The Hope Slate, which we endorse in its entirety, has the potential to turn the San Francisco Democratic Party into a leading voice for progressive values.
There are other good candidates running, but since this group will have consistent support and is running as a slate, we're going with the full crew.
13th Assembly District
Bill Barnes, David Campos, David Chiu, Chris Daly, Michael Goldstein, Robert Haaland, Joe Julian, Rafael Mandelman, Aaron Peskin, Eric Quezada, Laura Spanjian, Debra Walker
12th Assembly District
Michael Bornstein, Emily Drennen, Hene Kelly, Eric Mar, Jake McGoldrick, Trevor McNeil, Jane Morrison, Melanie Nutter, Connie O'Connor, Giselle Quezada, Arlo Hale Smith
Alameda County races
Superior Court judge, Seat 21
There are two good candidates running for this open seat. Dennis Hayashi, a public-interest lawyer, would make a fine judge. Victoria Kolakowski would make history.
Kolakowski, who works as an administrative law judge for the California Public Utilities Commission, would be the first transgender person on the Alameda bench and, quite possibly, in the entire country. That would be a major breakthrough and important for more than just symbolic reasons: transpeople have extensive interactions with the judicial system, starting with the work to legally change their names; and, all too often, members of this marginalized community wind up in the criminal justice system. Having a sitting TG judge would go a long way toward educating the legal world about the importance of trans sensitivity.
Kolakowski is eminently qualified for the job: as a private intellectual property lawyer and later an ALJ at the CPUC, she's handled a range of complex legal issues. She currently oversees administrative hearings that are very similar to court proceedings, and she has a calm and fair judicial temperament.
That's not to denigrate Hayashi, who also has an impressive résumé. He's spend much of his life in public-interest law, working for many years with the Asian Law Caucus, and he was co-counsel in the historic case that challenged Fred Korematsu's conviction for refusing to report to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. He's run the state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing and was a civil rights lawyer in the Clinton administration.
We'd be happy to see either on the bench, but we're going to endorse Kolakowski.
Board of Supervisors, District 5
Keith Carson, the leading progressive on the board, has no real opposition this time around. He's been a voice for protecting the fragile social safety net of the county, and we're happy to endorse him for another term.
John Russo, who has made no secrets of his political ambition, failed in a bid to win the State Assembly seat for District 16 in 2006, and now he's running unopposed for reelection. Russo has voiced some pretty ridiculous sentiments: he told a magazine for landlords in May 2006 that he opposed all forms of rent control and was against laws requiring just cause for evictions. That's a horrible stand for a city attorney to take in a city with a huge population of renters. But Russo is smart and capable, and he's one of the few city attorneys who consistently supports sunshine laws. We'll endorse him for another term.
City Council, District 1
An attorney and former teacher, Jane Brunner spends a lot of time pushing for more cops; crime is the top issue in the North Oakland district she represents. And while we'd rather see anticrime approaches that go beyond hiring more officers, we appreciate that Brunner takes on the police department over its hiring failures. We also find her far more preferable on the issue than her opponent, Patrick McCullough, a longtime neighborhood activist who has become something of a celebrity since he shot a teenager who was hassling him in front of his house in 2005.
Brunner is one of the council's strongest affordable housing advocates and has worked tirelessly for an inclusionary housing law. She deserves reelection.
City Council, District 3
Nadel is hardworking, effective, a leader on progressive economic and planning issues, and one of the best members of the Oakland City Council. She asked the hard questions and demanded improvements in the giant Oak to Ninth project (although she wound up voting for it). She's pushing for better community policing and promoting community-based anticrime efforts, including a teen center in a part of her district where there have been several homicides. She was a principal architect of the West Oakland industrial zoning plan, which she hopes will attract new jobs to the community (although she also pissed off a few artists who fear they'll be evicted from living spaces that aren't up to code, and she needs to address the problem). We're happy to endorse her for another term.
City Council, District 5
Somebody has to try to oust Ignacio De La Fuente, and this time around, Juarez is the best bet. A small-businessperson (he runs a real-estate operation with around 60 employees), he has some surprisingly progressive positions: he not only supports inclusionary housing but told us that he wanted to see the percentage of affordable units increased from 15 to 25 percent. He wants to see community policing integrated fully into Oakland law enforcement. He suggested that Oakland look into putting a modest fee on all airport users to fund local education. And he's in favor of stronger eviction controls and tenant protections.
De La Fuente, the City Council president, has been the developers' best friend, has run meetings with a harsh hand, often cutting off debate and silencing community activists, and needs to be defeated. We know Juarez isn't perfect, but his progressive grassroots-based campaign was strong enough to get him the nod of both the Democratic Party and the Alameda County Greens. We'll endorse him, too.
City Council, District 7
Neither of the candidates in this race are terribly impressive, but incumbent Larry Reid has been so terrible on so many issues (supporting big-box development, inviting the Marines to do war games in Oakland, supporting condo conversions, etc.) that it's hard to imagine how Clifford Gilmore, director of the Oakland Coalition of Congregations, could be worse.
City Council, at large
Rebecca Kaplan is exactly what the Oakland City Council needs: an energetic progressive with the practical skills to get things done. As an AC Transit Board member, she pushed for free bus passes for low income youths and defying all odds, managed to get all-night transit service from San Francisco to the East Bay. She did it by refusing to accept the conventional wisdom that transit agencies on the two sides of the bay would never cooperate. She put the key players together in a meeting, convinced the San Francisco supervisors to allow AC Transit buses to pick up passengers in the city late at night, and put through an effective program to get people across the bay after BART shuts down.
Kaplan is running for City Council on a progressive platform calling for affordable housing, rational development, and community policing. Her latest idea: since Oakland has so much trouble attracting quality candidates for vacancies in its police department, she suggests the city recruit gay and lesbian military veterans who were kicked out under the Pentagon's homophobic policies. Her proposed slogan: "Uncle Sam doesn't want you, but Oakland does."
Vote for Rebecca Kaplan.
School Board, District 1
The Oakland schools are still stuck under a state administrator; the district, which was driven by mismanagement into a financial crisis several years ago, paid the price of a state bailout by giving up its independence. The school board has only limited authority of district operations, though that's slowly changing. The state allowed the board to hire an interim superintendent, meaning issues like curricula and programs will be back under local control. So it's a time of transition for a district that has had horrible problems, and the board needs experienced, level-headed leadership.
We're impressed with Jody London, a parent with children in the public schools who runs a small environmental consulting firm. She has been active in the district, co-chairing the 2006 bond campaign that raised $435 million and serving on the bond oversight committee. She has a grasp of fiscal management, understands the challenges the district faces, and has the energy to take them on.
Her main opposition is Brian Rogers, a Republican who has the backing of outgoing state senator Don Perata and is a big fan of private charter schools. Tennessee Reed, a young writer and editor, is also in the race, and we're glad to see her getting active. But on balance, London is the clear choice.
School Board, District 3
Not a great choice here we're not thrilled with either of the two contenders. Jumoke Hinton Hodge, a nonprofit consultant, is too willing to support charter schools. Oluwole, who works with parolees, has limited experience with education. But on the basis of his community background (he's on the board of the Oakland Community Organization) and our concern about Hodge and charter schools, we'll go with Oluwole.
School Board, District 5
Noel Gallo, the incumbent, is running unopposed. He's been a competent member of the board, and we see no reason not to support his reelection.
School Board, District 7
Alice Spearman, the incumbent, isn't the most inspiring member of the board and she's known for making some ill-considered and impolitic statements. But her main opponent, Doris Limbrick, is the principal of a Christian school and has no business running for the board of a public school district. So we'll go with Spearman again.
Alameda County measures
Utility users tax
Measure F extends and slightly increases the utility tax on unincorporated areas of the county. It's not the greatest tax, but it's not terrible and it provides essential revenue to pay for services like law enforcement, libraries, and code enforcement. The parts of Alameda County outside any city boundary have been dwindling as cities expand, but the county provides the only local government services in those areas. And, like every other county in California, Alameda is desperately short of cash. So Measure F is crucial. Vote yes.
Oakland Measure J
Measure J would update a 40-year-old tax on phone use that goes for local services. The tax law applies only to old-fashioned land lines, so cell phone users get away without paying. This isn't the world's most progressive tax, but Oakland needs the money and Measure J would more fairly share the burden. Vote yes.