San Francisco Voters Back Sheriff Reforms and ‘Overpaid CEO’ Tax

San Francisco Hall of Justice, which houses County Jail No. 4. (Courthouse News photo via Wikipedia)

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) — Breaking up a scandal-tainted city department, creating an oversight board for the sheriff’s department and taxing companies that pay CEOs far more than their workers are just a few of the ballot measures San Francisco voters approved this election year.

Voters in the city by the bay passed two police-reform measures — Proposition E, which eliminates a 1,971 staffing limit for fully-duty police officers, and Proposition D, which creates a new oversight board and inspector general’s office for the sheriff’s department.

San Franciscans overwhelmingly supported eliminating a requirement that the city maintain a nearly 2,000-person police force. The staffing limit stems from a 1979 class action settlement to address race and sex discrimination in the police department. The lawsuit claimed discriminatory promotional exams and physical agility tests disfavored female and minority applicants. At the time of the settlement, the 1,670-person police force had only 60 women and 200 Black, Asian, or Hispanic officers.

The settlement mandated a minimum staffing level of 1,971 to be maintained for at least three years. The staffing minimum later became part of the city charter in 1994 with the passage of a ballot measure.

At a time when progressive activists are pushing to divert funds from police departments to community resources, San Francisco Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee, who proposed the change, called the staffing limit “an antiquated number.” He recommended that staffing levels be based on workloads and periodically reviewed by the board. Concurring with that perspective, 72% of voters approved the measure.

Voters also endorsed creating an oversight board and investigative arm to add more accountability to the Sheriff’s Department following reports of mistreatment in city jails and accusations of excessive force by a sheriff’s captain at a racial justice protest in June.

The board will make recommendations to city supervisors based on the inspector general’s investigations of in-custody deaths and complaints made against the sheriff’s department and its contractors.

Supervisor Shamman Walton, who introduced the proposed charter amendment, called it “a first step in rebuilding community trust” in July. The proposal garnered support from 67% of voters.

On proposed reforms for another city department, voters green-lighted a plan to break up the Department of Public Works, which was rocked by scandal this year when its former director Mohammed Nuru was arrested for corruption in January. Supervisor Matt Haney proposed splitting up the department and creating a new city agency focused solely on cleaning and maintaining streets and sidewalks. Proposition B will also create two five-member commissions to oversee each department, approve contracts and provide extra accountability and transparency. Voters approved the measure with 61% in favor.

A proposal to impose an extra tax on companies whose top executives earn at least 100 times more than the median pay of their San Francisco employees was overwhelmingly approved as well. Proposition L will impose an additional 0.1%–0.6% gross receipts tax on those businesses. Companies that could be affected include Gap, Visa, Wells Fargo, and Charles Schwab.

The tax is expected to generate an extra $60 to $140 million per year for the city’s general fund. Supervisors have recommended using the “overpaid executive” tax money to hire essential health care workers, first responders and mental health care providers.

On another business tax-related proposal, voters endorsed a plan to overhaul the city’s business tax structure. Proposition F will eliminate the city’s payroll tax, which some criticized as disincentivizing the hiring of workers, and increase its gross receipts tax and registration fees for some businesses while exempting others, such as small businesses. The proposal is expected to increase annual revenue by $97 million. More than 68% of voters approved it.

San Franciscans did not easily approve every proposal before them this year. Proposition G which would have allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, is so far failing by a razor-thin margin. A mere 818 votes separate those in favor from the 168,852 who voted it down. A nearly identical proposal also failed in 2016 with 52.6% of San Franciscans voting against it.

In June, high school students who serve on the city’s youth commission argued that young people should have more of a say in their government so they don’t have to take to the streets in protest, as many did after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this past May, when they strongly disagree with policies on issues such as police accountability.

If approved, San Francisco would become the first major city in the United States to let 16- and 17-year-olds vote in municipal elections.

These early results are based on 353,572 ballots, of which 91% were mail-in votes. About 90,000 ballots still need to be counted, according to the San Francisco Department of Elections.

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