SF Politics 101 > SF Legislative Process

The SF Legislative PROCESS

Chess Game

Let’s Get Legislating! | What types of legislation exist? | Write the Legislation | Introduce the Legislation | Schedule Legislation on a Committee Agenda | Obtain a Recommendation from the Committee | Obtain a Majority Vote of the Board | Obtain the Approval of the Mayor | Legislation Flowchart [Chart]


All local legislative processes have their own quirks, with San Francisco being no exception. This guide is meant to serve you in navigating San Francisco’s complex, and in most cases, drawn-out legislative process. We hope this guide proves useful in better understanding legislation that could affect you and your company, and even helps create solutions to counteract or support future legislation.


Let’s Get Legislating!

On its face, the legislative process can be simplified into six steps.

  • Step 1: Write the legislation.
  • Step 2: Have the legislation introduced.
  • Step 3: Have the legislation calendered on a committee agenda.
  • Step 4: Obtain a recommendation from the committee.
  • Step 5: Obtain a majority vote of the Board.
  • Step 6: Obtain the approval of the Mayor.

As you are probably well aware, the process is not always as straightforward as it appears. Let’s take a deeper dive into the intricacies and lesser-known rules that often make the process resemble a year-long game of Chutes and Ladders.


What types of legislation exist?

  • Ordinances: Municipal regulations or laws.
  • Resolutions: Formal expressions of intent, opinion, or will.
  • Motions: Proposals for action that are the sole authority of the Board.

Examples:

Ordinance 190568 – Amending the Administrative Code – Acquisition of Surveillance Technology.
Resolution 190615 – Urging the Renaming of the Central Subway Chinatown Station to “Chinatown Rose Pak Station”.
Motion 190453 – Mayoral Appointment, Municipal Transportation Agency Board of Directors – Steve Heminger

Legal Books

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Write the Legislation

When dealing with municipal regulations and laws, the writing needs to be as clear and concise as possible. To ensure that ordinances are “approved as to form,” Supervisors, the Mayor, a department head, or a commission must request the City Attorney to prepare their proposal.1

On the other hand, resolutions (unless they are bond related) are prepared by the office of the sponsoring Supervisor or staff within a City department. More complex resolutions may be prepared by the City Attorney based on a draft submitted by a Supervisor or department. Resolutions may even be written by members of the public. Occasionally, citizens will submit drafts of proposed resolutions to individual Supervisors, who then may take up and sponsor the legislation for introduction.

In the rare instance of a motion, the office of the sponsoring Supervisor or staff within a City department generally prepares this proposal.2


Introduce the Legislation

The author of the legislation brings their proposal to the Clerk of the Board for introduction. From there, the President of the Board refers the piece of legislation to the corresponding Board committee, commission, or City department for public hearing.

Is this the first time proposed legislation is heard by the Board?
In most cases, this is the first time that proposed legislation is heard by the Board. However, before writing the legislation, a Supervisor may also request a committee hearing on a subject matter. It is preferred that legislation be introduced before this happens, but if a Supervisor requires more knowledge of an issue in order to write proposed legislation, the Supervisor may call for a special subject matter hearing.

Does all legislation need to be referred to Board Committee(s)?
Almost all legislation needs to be referred to committee(s), except for the following cases:

  • When ordinances meet the standards of the Brown Act, or a court decision concerning emergency ordinances is approved by at least eight Supervisors.
  • When routine resolutions on the printed “For Adoption Without Committee Reference Agenda” are adopted by a unanimous vote of the Board.
  • When resolutions not on the printed agenda, but considered on the imperative agenda, meet the standards of the Brown Act and the Sunshine Ordinance, and are adopted by unanimous vote.
  • When the majority of the Board votes to adopt motions that are parliamentary in nature or motions from the planning commission, which are either routine or relating to appeals.

30-Day Rule
Legislation that creates or revises major City policy shall not be considered until at least 30 days after the day of introduction. As a general policy, most ordinances are placed under this 30‐day hold. The Board, by a two‐thirds vote, or the President may waive the 30‐Day Rule.3

Sunshine Ordinance
As a way to increase transparency within San Francisco’s government, the Sunshine Ordinance is a combination of open meeting laws and public record laws. The ordinance ensures the public can attend government meetings and has easy access to public records, including a procedure to follow if they do not receive the public records they requested.4

Brown Act
Passed by Assemblymember Ralph M. Brown in 1953, the Brown Act guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. The law applies to California city and county government agencies, boards, and councils.5


Schedule Legislation on a Committee Agenda

The Board of Supervisors’ Rules of Order determines which committee the proposed legislation is directed to based upon the subject matter. (For further information see the Committee Section. )

Required Referrals
Before a matter can be heard by a public hearing in committee, the legislation, in some cases, is required by law to be referred to specific City departments or commissions for a recommendation. (For further information see the list of Required Legislation Referrals.)

How much time do committees have to provide recommendations?
The committee chairs have jurisdiction on whether and when to calendar all matters assigned to their committee for a hearing. The timing can depend on a variety of factors, including the committee chair’s view or relationship with the proposed legislation.

In certain cases, the committee is required to meet a deadline. For example, when state or local law requires the Board to act by a certain date, or when there are legislative reasons why the Board might wish to act by a certain date, it may refer legislation to a committee, with direction to return the legislation to the Board by a specified date. In the event a committee does not take timely action, the Clerk of the Board can place the legislation on the agenda of the full Board, with the Board sitting as a Committee of the Whole, in order to meet the Board’s required date of action pursuant to state and local laws.6

Schedule


Obtain a Recommendation from the Committee

Before a matter can be sent to the full Board for consideration, legislation must receive votes from at least two of three committee members.

In committee meetings, each matter is presented as a public hearing looking at references from City departments and commissions, bringing in department staff to attend and report on the matter, and opening up the meeting to allow the public to speak. From there committee members have a variety of options on how to proceed.

  • The committee may refer the matter to the full Board:
    • With Recommendation.
    • Without Recommendation.
    • With a Recommendation of “Do Not Pass”.
  • The committee may also take the following actions on a matter:
    • “Continue to the Call of the Chair”.
    • “Continue to a Certain Date”.
      • Substantive amendments have been added
    • “Table/File”7

What Happens if a Committee Takes No Action on a Measure?

Called from Committee
If a measure referred to a committee has not been heard within 30 days after its referral date, any Supervisor may cause the matter to be called from committee and considered by the full Board at the next Board meeting.

If a measure referred to a committee has not been acted upon within 30 days after its referral date, four or more Supervisors may cause the matter to be called from committee and considered by the full Board at the next Board meeting.

The Board may also call a measure from committee to be heard at the next Board meeting with a majority vote, via written motion.

Inactive Measures
If a matter referred to committee has not been heard by the committee for any five consecutive calendar months, the Clerk of the Board shall note on the next committee pending list that unless the item is heard the following month it will be deemed inactive.

Reactivating Tabled or Filed Items
After a committee has tabled or filed a measure, any Supervisor within the following 12 months may call, at any subsequent Board meeting, for the measure to be reactivated by inclusion on the pending list of the committee to which it had previously been referred.8


Obtain a Majority Vote of the Board

In most cases in order to pass the Board of Supervisors, proposed legislation must obtain a majority vote (six members). Some matters, however, require more than a simple majority to head to the Mayor’s desk. (For further information on these exceptions, see the “Index on Votes Required for Various Matters”.)

In order for ordinances to pass, they must obtain a majority vote at two separate meetings, the “first” and “final” readings. If the ordinance is amended at its second reading, it will require a further reading prior to final passage.9

Once a motion passes the full Board with a majority vote, it goes into effect and cannot be subject to Mayoral veto.

Does legislation without a committee recommendation require a majority vote?
Any Supervisor may request that an item requiring six votes be amended, or continued to a date certain. To consider a resolution appearing for the second time on the Adoption Without Committee Reference Agenda, the Board must waive the Board Rule 2.10 requiring Committee Reference (eight votes). If Committee Reference is waived, the Board may then vote on the resolution. Passage of the item requires six votes.10

Board meeting

Photo via sfbos.org

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Obtain the Approval of the Mayor

Once the proposal reaches the Mayor’s desk, the mayor has ten calendar days to submit their decision. There are a few ways for this to occur.

  • Approve: If the Mayor approves an ordinance, it normally goes into effect 30 days after that approval. If the Mayor approves a resolution, it goes into effect immediately.
  • Veto: If the Mayor vetoes legislation, it only becomes effective if eight members of the Board vote within 30 days to override the veto.
  • No Decision: If the Mayor neither approves or vetoes the legislation, it is deemed approved on the tenth day, unless otherwise notified by the Mayor.11

Gavel


Lifecycle of Legislation in San Francisco


Endnotes

1 City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” Legislative Process Handbook. 14 Jan. 2019.
2 City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” Rules of Order. Section 3, 19 Apr. 2019.
3 City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” Legislative Process Handbook. 14 Jan. 2019.
4 Board of Supervisors.” What Does Sunshine Ordinance Mean
5 Lockyer, Bill and Andrea Lynn Hoch. The Brown Act. Edited by Ted Prim, 2003.
6 City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” Rules of Order. Section 3, 19 Apr. 2019.
7 City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” Legislative Process Handbook. 14 Jan. 2019.
8City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” Rules of Order. Section 3, 19 Apr. 2019.
9City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors” Legislative Process Handbook. 14 Jan. 2019.
10City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” Rules of Order. Section 4, 19 Apr. 2019.
11City and County of San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” Legislative Process Handbook. 14 Jan. 2019.


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