There’s plenty on the San Francisco ballot in June, but the defining issue is Prop. H, the effort to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin. A huge amount of money from big Republican donors has poured into the city to support the recall, and some local officials—including Mayor London Breed—have either supported the recall or remained silent.
This is about more than one DA; it’s a national battle over the future of the criminal justice system, and a local battle over control of San Francisco politics.
Here’s the truth:
In the areas where residents are frustrated by crime—particularly car and home break-ins and burglaries and retail thefts—the San Francisco police have made virtually no arrests, making it impossible for Boudin to file charges.
Across the board, Boudin has filed charges at about the same rate as his predecessor, and at about the same rate as other local DAs. The difference is that he has sought alternatives to incarceration, including diversion programs, that have been proven to work.
In the few cases that have gotten wild media attention because people released from jail committed other crimes, local judges, not the DA’s Office, made the decision to order the release (following long-established state rules).
All of this has happened during a pandemic when it was difficult to get courtrooms for anything but very serious cases and when judges and sheriffs all over the state were trying to limit the number of people behind bars.
What Boudin has done is exactly what he promised to do when he ran for office: He has prioritized serious, violent crime. He has sought alternatives to the carceral state that has been a profoundly racist failure for the past 40 years.
He has been open, honest, and accessible. He has done nothing that even remotely qualifies for a recall.
And yet, the allies of the mayor, including two people who lost to Boudin in a fair election, and big right-wing money is seeking to get rid of him.
This is a disgrace, and if San Francisco voters go along, it will send the worst possible message to the rest of the country.
It’s also a disgrace that Breed is not out front in opposition to this recall, and that other politicians, including newly elected state Assemblymember Matt Haney and state Sen. Scott Wiener, have ducked the issue and are allowing this disaster to move forward.
The recall of Boudin would further empower the growing right wing in San Francisco, would further encourage the old tough-on-crime approach that has put so many Black and Brown people behind bars and destroyed so many communities, and would show that big money and bad news media can take over local politics.
Everyone with any political conscience in the city, state, and nation should be working against this recall.
There’s not a lot of controversy on the statewide ballot, from the Governor’s race on down. For better or for worse (and there’s a lot of both here) the anointed Democratic candidates are going to win the primaries and general election in November. There are no serious primary candidates challenging the establishment from the left; that’s a big problem, but an issue for another day.
On the local ballot, City Attorney David Chiu, who was appointed to the job by Breed after Dennis Herrera abandoned his leadership of one of the best city attorney’s offices in the country to take a better-paid job at the SF Public Utilities Commission, has to face the voters. He has no opposition.
Herrera did the city a great disservice by leaving in the middle of his term and allowing the mayor to appoint someone who does not support sunshine and open government, who rejected the progressives who originally supported him to advance his own career, and who we fear will take us back to the days when the City Attorney’s Office was a force against progressive policy. If Herrera had served out his term, the voters would have had a real choice for city attorney. Now we have none. We’re not endorsing Chiu.
The 17th Assembly district race is essentially over; Haney won, and David Campos lost. But both names are still on the ballot. We’re encouraging people to vote for Campos. It’s a protest vote, but a good one: If Campos wins a significant percentage in what is a real election, not a low-turnout special, it might signal that Haney has some vulnerability.
Haney went full Yimby in the special election, shifting strongly from his prior positions to get elected. We’re certainly not going to endorse him now.
Phil Ting is running for re-election from the 19th District, and his votes in favor of the Scott Wiener legislation that gives the free market more control over housing in the city have given us pause in the past. But Ting has taken two brave moves: He endorsed Campos over Haney, and he is an out-front opponent of the Boudin recall, even authoring a No on H ballot argument. For that, he gets our endorsement.
The local ballot has eight measures, most of them important reforms. Our recommendations follow:
San Francisco can’t exist without a functioning Muni system. The entire local economy, the ability of people to get around without cars, it’s all on a department that has in the past few years struggled with its mission. Some of that is, of course, the result of COVID; when nobody’s going anywhere and congregate transportation is unsafe, Muni can’t operate. The city is still figuring out how to recover. At the same time, a system designed largely to get people from the neighborhoods to downtown is going to have to adapt to a new reality that downtown may not be the center of the future economy.
Prop. A would authorize $400 million in bond to buy new equipment and make other traffic changes that would improve Muni service. All good.
The problem is that Muni can’t hire enough bus drivers to operate the current system, and bond money only funds capital improvements. The city needs to allocate the money to pay for service, not just capital. But vote Yes on A.
Building Inspection Commission
If you think the current building inspection system is working, you aren’t paying attention to the local news. The Department of Building Inspection is part of the ongoing City Hall corruption scandal, and it’s in part because of a total lack of accountability.
Prop. B makes some important reforms, including changing the makeup of the panel and removing the ability of the commission to hire the director (that would go to the mayor, which right now is another problem, but at least there’s accountability.) Vote yes.
The recall, part of the Progressive Era reforms in California, was designed to give the voters a way to remove corrupt or fundamentally incompetent elected officials. It was never supposed to be a tool to remove people whose policies you disagree with, in the middle of a term, with a special low-turnout election.
But that’s what recalls are becoming, both in San Francisco and around the state and the country. This measure, sponsored by Sup. Aaron Peskin, would slightly limit the qualifying period for a recall: The official would have to serve for 12 months in office before facing a potential recall, and no recall could take place within 12 months of a regular election. That all makes perfect sense.
More important, the recall changes the process for mayoral appointments to replace an official removed by a recall. Under Prop. C, someone appointed to fill that vacancy could be only a caretaker, ineligible to run in the next election.
That would mean that recalls wouldn’t be a political weapon to give the mayor more power. Vote yes.
Office of Victim and Witness Rights
This one sounds like a wonderful idea: How can anyone be against an Office of Victim and Witness Rights? But it’s actually a thinly designed attack on Chesa Boudin by Sup. Catherine Stefani that would create little or nothing that the city doesn’t already offer. There’s no reason this is even on the ballot—the supes and the mayor could create this anytime—except to coincide with the Boudin recall. Vote No.
This is another effort to clean up the political cesspool that is behested payments—money donated by a corporation to a charity at the request of an elected official. Behested payments give city officials the ability to avoid campaign contribution limits and bribery laws by sending money to favored organizations—sometimes creating serious conflicts of interest. Prop. E would bar the supes from seeking behested payments from any city contractors. Vote yes.
Refuse Collection Board
Prop. F doesn’t go as far as some have suggested; it wouldn’t remove Recology’s Charter-guaranteed monopoly on garbage collection in the city. But it would change the makeup of the board that sets the rates. Until now, that job fell entirely to the director of the Department of Public Works, creating the potential for and the reality of serious corruption. Under Prop. F, refuse rates would be controlled by a three-person board made up of the general manager of the Public Utilities Commission, the city administrator and a ratepayer advocate, and would give the city controller a role in monitoring rates.
This is long overdue. Vote yes.
Prop. G would require San Francisco businesses with more than 100 employees to give workers as much as 80 hours of paid medical leave during a public-health emergency. The idea is to allow workers time off in a situation where they, or a dependent, are dealing with something like COVID (or a bad air-quality situation). It has no serious opposition. Vote yes.
NO, NO, NO
We’ve already made the case against the recall. It’s critical that people who care about reforming the political justice system and holding cops accountable turn out to vote June 7. The big money behind the recall will have an impact; if progressive turnout is low. Boudin could lose, giving Mayor Breed the ability to appoint a new DA. The impact would be immediate; in fact, lawyers for a police officer facing criminal charges have pushed for delays in the case in the hope that a new DA would drop the case.
But there’s momentum out there; Boudin’s allies are running an aggressive campaign, and even the San Francisco Chronicle (which was responsible for some of the bad news reporting that fueled the recall) is opposing it:
Tactical differences of opinion, however, are not recallable offenses. Anyone courting the mayor’s favor in replacing Boudin is free to run against him in the next election.
In his recall endorsement interview with The Chronicle, Boudin was thoughtful, strategic and more than capable of justifying his decision-making. Boudin may be many things, but incompetent is not among them. Vote NO.