City Attorney defends the will of San Francisco voters, upholds 2018 ballot measures on funding for childcare and homelessness
SAN FRANCISCO (July 5, 2019) — City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued the following statement after San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ethan Schulman today ruled that Proposition C from the June 2018 ballot and Proposition C from November 2018 ballot both needed a simple majority to pass. Both ballot measures exceeded that threshold:
“These cases have always been about upholding the will of San Francisco voters. We’re pleased the court has confirmed that when voters act through the initiative process, a simple majority vote is required. The initiative right is about direct democracy. It is one of the most precious rights of our democratic process. These decisions are a victory for voters and a victory for democracy.”
The San Francisco City Attorney’s office in October 2017 issued an opinion stemming from the California Supreme Court decision in the California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland case. The office’s legal analysis found that the California Supreme Court clarified in the Upland decision that certain restrictions bind local officials but do not bind the voters themselves. Because of that, our analysis was that a two-thirds majority is required to pass a special tax initiative placed on the ballot by government officials, but a simple majority is needed when voters put such initiatives on the ballot.
San Francisco voters in the June 2018 election passed Proposition C, also known as the Universal Childcare for San Francisco Families Initiative. It imposes a special tax on gross receipts from the lease of commercial space primarily to fund early care and education services for San Francisco children. It won approximately 51% of the vote. On Aug. 3, 2018 an anti-tax group, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, and other plaintiffs sued to invalidate the ballot measure, saying it needed two-thirds approval.
In November 2018, voters passed a different Proposition C, which imposes a special tax on some large businesses to fund homeless and mental health services. It passed with more than 61% of the vote. To get the certainty that a court order would provide, San Francisco in January 2019 filed a validation action with the court, inviting anyone to challenge the city’s legal interpretation that November’s Prop. C had passed. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association and other business groups joined the case to challenge San Francisco, saying two-thirds approval was needed.
A separate legal challenge to Proposition G on the June 2018 ballot over the required vote threshold is pending. Prop. G authorizes the City to collect a parcel tax to fund the San Francisco Unified School District, including salaries and benefits for teachers and other educational staff. It passed with more than 60% of the vote.
Additional information is available on the City Attorney’s website at: www.sfcityattorney.org.
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