By Zach Drucker
In the third and most consequential election of the year so far, the June 2022 San Francisco election results made it clear that San Francisco voters want more accountability from their city leaders. Voters bucked low voter turnout predictions and voiced their displeasure through the high-profile recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin and the passage of various government oversight measures. The 46 percent voter turnout should not be taken lightly, as it easily surpassed voter turnout for the Gubernatorial Primary Elections in 2010 and 2014 and came close to the 52.6 percent turnout in 2018. Let us break down the June 2022 election results and explore what the outcomes mean for the future of our City.
Ahead of the June 7 election, sf.citi released our June 2022 Election voter guide to detail where we stood on San Francisco’s eight ballot measures. See below for how our recommendations compare to the June 2022 San Francisco election results.
COMPARING sf.citi’s RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE RESULT
With the election results final, sf.citi can confirm we differed with voters on a few ballot measures this election cycle as we only aligned with San Francisco voters on four of the seven measures included in our voter guide.* Voters approved two measures we opposed (Proposition E and Proposition G). They also did not pass one of the measures we supported (Proposition A), which came within a couple of percentage points of the required two-thirds vote threshold.
*As a reminder, sf.citi does not endorse candidates; thus, we did not provide a recommendation for Proposition H as it pertained to an elected official.
KEY TAKEAWAYS OF THE NOVEMBER 2020 SAN FRANCISCO ELECTION
Responding to Government Corruption
San Francisco voters overwhelmingly supported the three government oversight measures on the ballot: Proposition B, Proposition E, and Proposition F. In the wake of the City’s ongoing government corruption scandal that started with former Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru, it should come as no surprise to see a slew of government oversight measures and favorable voter support.
Let us start in alphabetical order with Proposition B. As a direct response to the widespread corruption in the Department of Building Inspection (DBI)—which included high-profile cases involving a department director, DBI commission members, and department staff—this measure changes the appointment process and required qualifications for the seven-member commission that oversees DBI. The measure also adds more oversight by shifting the power to hire and fire the DBI director from the commission to the Mayor.
Overall, these reforms will help DBI restore public trust by reducing the power of special interests in the department and creating a more transparent appointment process. Despite these changes, DBI still has a long way to go before it fully addresses its various challenges.
With the passage of Proposition E, the City will expand its current prohibition on behested payments—a payment made at the request of an official for a legislative, governmental, or charitable purpose. The City’s original behested payment law barred city officials from receiving donations and gifts directly. The law, nevertheless, still allowed city officials to solicit donations as long as payments made on their behalf were to third-party organizations such as nonprofits.
Officials later identified this caveat in the original behested payment law as a potential pathway to corruption. Proposition E closes this loophole by banning city officials from soliciting donations to nonprofits from interested parties, including registered lobbyists, city contractors, and other individuals seeking to influence them.
The strengthening of the City’s stand against corruption, however, might come at the cost of the City’s ability to partner with nonprofits on projects and how the City helps nonprofits fundraise. As the City recovers from the pandemic, this change to behested payments could be especially problematic for nonprofit organizations and the vulnerable communities they serve.
Finally, Proposition F restructures the garbage collection rate-setting process and governance system. The measure removes the City Controller from the Refuse Rate Board and fills the seat with a ratepayer advocate. Additionally, the City Controller becomes the refuse rate administrator—previously held by the Public Works Director—where they will monitor waste collection rates, expenses, and revenues.
After a federal investigation found Recology overcharged ratepayers by more than $100 million in 2017, the City needed to make significant changes to restore public trust. This measure does precisely that as it ensures a more objective and transparent rate-setting process. The reforms may even lead to lower garbage rates for San Francisco residents.
Emphasizing Government Accountability
While sf.citi does not weigh in on candidate races, we would be remiss not to briefly discuss the impact of Proposition H and the successful recall of District Attorney Chesa Boudin.
Boudin got elected in 2019 on a platform centered on criminal justice reform. During Boudin’s tenure as a District Attorney, violent crime fell, but a string of high-profile crimes committed on his watch made headlines as they demonstrated the downside of his policies. These included crimes committed by suspects awaiting trial or who were previously in jail but freed too fast.
Additionally, while violent crimes decreased, the City saw an uptick in less severe crimes like property crimes, and burglaries. These types of crimes created a palpable uneasiness in the community. While Boudin certainly cannot be blamed for the City’s long-running ills, many believe he could have done more to emphasize public safety and ease the public.
The critiques of Boudin’s policies eventually convinced voters to oust him from office by a ten-point margin. As a leading figure in the nation’s progressive prosecutor movement, this recall will have an outsized effect on criminal justice reform in San Francisco and throughout the country. Now, Mayor Breed must appoint a new district attorney ten days after the election is certified—most likely by the end of June. Whoever the Mayor appoints will step into a role under intense scrutiny and be tasked with making significant decisions about the direction of crime policy in San Francisco.
In response to the recall elections of the District Attorney and Board of Education members, Proposition C sought to restrict the San Francisco recall process by limiting the window to recall an elected official to two years. In the event of a successful recall, the replacement official would be barred from running for reelection, thus creating a lame duck official, unbeholden to voters.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected Proposition C, sending a resounding message to city officials about limiting their democratic process. As it turns out, voters appreciate having the ability to hold elected officials accountable. If anything, these recent recalls should be a sign that the recall process works.
As an unintended result of voters demanding more government accountability, Proposition A fell within less than two percentage points of the two-thirds majority required to pass. Despite having almost universal support from elected officials, political clubs, and advocacy associations, the measure to significantly improve and update the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s (SFMTA) outdated and rundown infrastructure could not convince enough voters. Maggie Muir, the consultant who ran the Proposition A campaign, said the results reflected voter dissatisfaction with the way San Francisco officials run the City and recent decisions by SFMTA, particularly in the Sunset. This loss in funding will only compound the money issues for SFMTA and the City’s transportation even further, as they already faced financial uncertainty before the election.
MEET THE CANDIDATES HEADING TO THE NOVEMBER GENERAL ELECTION
San Francisco voters joined the rest of the state last week in voting on a litany of primary races at the state and federal levels. Under California’s top-two primary rule, all candidates—no matter their party affiliation—run in the same primary where the top two vote-getters make it to November. In most of the state, and especially in the Bay Area, this set up a lot of Democrat against Democrat races in November. The election results did not lead to any surprises in San Francisco-involved races. However, the small number of San Francisco voters in California’s 15th Congressional District will weigh in on an open seat for the first time since 2008 after Congresswoman Jackie Speier announced her retirement.
As for nonprimary races, the appointed City Attorney David Chiu ran unopposed in a special election to carry out the rest of his predecessor’s term. He will be on the ballot for a full term in November 2023.
San Francisco-Involved Contests
- California 11th Congressional District: Nancy Pelosi* v. [too close to call]
- California 15th Congressional District: Kevin Mullen v. David Canepa
- California Assembly District 17: Matt Haney* v. David Campos
- California Assembly District 19: Phil Ting* v. Karsten Weide
- Board of Equalization, District 2: Sally Lieber v. Peter Verbica
- United States Senate: Alex Padilla* v. Mark Meuser
- Governor: Gavin Newsom* v. Brian Dahle
- Lieutenant Governor: Eleni Koulnakis* v. Angela Underwood Jacobs
- Attorney General: Rob Bonta* v. [too close to call]
- Secretary of State: Shirley Weber* v. Rob Bernosky
- Controller: Malia Cohen v. Lanhee Chen
- Treasurer: Fiona Ma* v. Jack Guerrero
- Insurance Commissioner: Ricardo Lara* v. [too close to call]
- Superintendent: Tony Thurmond* v. [too close to call]
PARTING ELECTION THOUGHTS FROM sf.citi
Like all of the elections during the pandemic, voters carried out their civic duty under unprecedented circumstances. As we learn to live with COVID-19, the nation also faces rising inflation, crippling supply chain issues, and a waning economy. Additionally, San Francisco at a city level must contend with a more permanent remote workforce, decreasing population, and surging tech exodus. San Francisco needs a well-run government operation to navigate the City safely through these challenging times. San Francisco residents support more government involvement and recognize that through incremental changes, better governance can happen.
Looking ahead to the next election, San Francisco voters will have a packed ballot in the November 2022 election. In addition to the various state and federal races, the San Francisco November ballot will include a slew of ballot measures and races for District Attorney, Public Defender, Assessor-Recorder, and all five even-numbered Supervisor districts. Even with primarily incumbents running for the Board of Supervisors, the races should prove exciting as several challengers have already registered to unseat them.
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