Major housing measure set for S.F.'s November ballot

Submitted by admin on Wed, 01/09/2008 - 4:58pm

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors took on two of the city's most intractable problems in its first meeting of the year - and handed victories to a plan to set aside an unprecedented sum of money to finance affordable housing and a measure to streamline enforcement of laws against sleeping in the parks.

The supervisors voted 8-3 to place a City Charter amendment before voters in the fall requiring the city to spend an estimated $2.7 billion over 15 years to rebuild and restore housing affordable for residents earning less than 80 percent of the city's median income, or $64,267 for a family of four.

"This will be the most significant measure, in terms of total dollars, ever dedicated to affordable housing by a local jurisdiction in the history of this country," said Supervisor Chris Daly, who sponsored the charter amendment, which needed at least a majority of the 11-member board to be placed on the November ballot.

Supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Michela Alioto-Pier - Mayor Gavin Newsom's closest allies on the board - opposed it.

The measure, if approved by a majority of voters in November, would set aside minimum funding of $88 million, equal to the amount the city spent on affordable housing in last year's budget. It also would commit 2.5 percent of assessed property taxes revenue to affordable housing development annually.

The measure is expected to appear on the ballot along with a bond measure seeking $800 million or more to rebuild San Francisco General Hospital - and likely will be a political rallying cry for candidates from the city's most liberal progressive wing running in the same election for seats on the Board of Supervisors.

Some backers of the hospital bond - including Newsom and organized labor - have expressed concern that voters might be scared off by the amount of spending contained in the two measures combined and wind up rejecting both of them. The hospital bond - because it would be financed by a levy on property taxes - will need approval from two-thirds of voters.

The San Francisco Labor Council sent a letter to the board Tuesday giving tacit support of the affordable housing measure, so long as the group can be convinced the hospital bond will pass.

Newsom's spokesman Nathan Ballard said the administration also objects to the affordable housing measure because it ties the hands of officials when it comes to setting budgetary priorities.

"An earmark of this magnitude may end up costing the city billions of dollars that could be used for other important services like health care," Ballard said.

The park measure - which also passed 8-3 on the first of two votes needed to become law - extends by four hours the prohibition against sleeping in city parks, extending it to 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. It also amends the park code to ban cooking in parks without a permit.

The legislation was carried by Alioto-Pier for the Newsom administration as a response to homeless encampments in Golden Gate Park.

Before the measure passed on Tuesday, however, it was amended by the board so that a person can be cited only for a second offense. It also was changed to say that people ticketed for violations can have those citations dropped if they enter rehabilitation or housing programs designed for the homeless within 30 days.

Opponents of the measure said citing people for sleeping in parks criminalizes homelessness, though they were appeased somewhat by the added exemption.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who sponsored the amendments, said he offered the changes to soften the blow of the new law. "It's the carrot and the stick," said McGoldrick. "But instead of trying to use the big stick, we use the gentle stick."

Voting against the measure were Supervisors Daly, Tom Ammiano and Gerardo Sandoval.

E-mail Wyatt Buchanan at

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle