San Francisco Voters to Decide DA Race, Ballot Measures in November

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A tax on Uber and Lyft rides, repealing a ban on e-cigarette sales, borrowing money for affordable housing and the city’s future approach to criminal justice are just a few tough choices San Francisco voters must make this Election Day.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed (right) announces her decision to appoint candidate Suzy Loftus (left) to fill the vacant district attorney position weeks before the Nov. 5 election. (Nicholas Iovino / CNS)

Among those decisions, the city’s hotly contested race for district attorney has grabbed the most attention. It was supposed to be the first SFDA race without an incumbent in more than a century, but that changed this month when San Francisco Mayor London Breed appointed her favored candidate, former police commission president Suzy Loftus.

Critics denounced the move as an underhanded tactic designed to give Loftus an incumbent’s edge. Breed defended her decision, saying the district attorney’s office is too important to leave vacant. Loftus said when the mayor asked her to step in, she accepted because and she “will always step up and serve the city I love.”

At a debate at the UCSF Medical campus Monday night, many voters said they were still undecided. Some were unaware of the controversy surrounding the Oct. 4 appointment while others had already formed strong views.

Sha Stepter, a 37-year-old Ingleside resident, said he thought Loftus’ appointment as interim DA was “super shady.”  Stepter supports Loftus’ chief rival, Chesa Boudin, a San Francisco public defender.

Considered the most progressive candidate in the race, Boudin has promised to boost restorative justice programs, including nonprosecution diversion programs and reduced reliance on incarceration. Boudin’s parents, Weather Underground radicals, went to prison when Boudin was 14 months old for driving the getaway car in a robbery outside New York City that left three men dead. Boudin’s father is still behind bars.

“I think he really understand the impact of mass incarceration and why it’s so harmful,” Stepter said, adding he thinks it’s important to have a district attorney that does not come from a prosecutorial background.

Jamie Austin, a 51-year-old Potrero Hill resident, said he thinks Loftus’ experience and ability to work with city leaders and police makes her the most qualified to serve as San Francisco’s top law enforcement official.

“That experience is important for taking on big challenges such as ending mass incarceration and reducing car break-ins and property crimes,” Austin said.

Alex Wankowicz, a 29-year-old Twin Peaks resident, said he came to the debate undecided but left intending to vote for candidate Leif Dautch, a deputy state attorney general who wants to turn the city’s juvenile hall into a mental health center and target organized gangs responsible for car break-ins.

“I think he came across as balanced and to the point,” Wankowicz said.

Another candidate vying for the position is Nancy Tung, an Alameda County deputy DA with 18 years of experience as a prosecutor.

Frank Noto, an Inner Sunset resident who missed the debate Monday night, said in a phone interview he believes Tung’s experience makes her well positioned to strengthen the DA’s office. Noto said Tung will fight to increase staffing levels and give prosecutors the support they need to help tackle a recent spike in property crimes.

“I think she would stop the epidemic of burglaries and auto break-ins,” said Noto, who works with Tung as a fellow board member of the group Stop Crime SF.

Ballot measures

On Nov. 5, San Francisco voters will also decide whether to replace a ban on e-cigarette sales with a lighter set of regulations that could also undo the city’s ban on flavored tobacco products. Juul, the San Francisco-based vaping giant who led the effort to pass Proposition C, pulled its support for the initiative last month amid pressure from critics and lawmakers.

Despite Juul’s decision to stop backing the measure, the director of the No on C campaign said his group is not giving up the fight. Juul already spent $11 million of the $18 million it had dedicated to the campaign before withdrawing its support.

No on C campaign director Larry Tramutola said a decision on Measure C will have implications that reach far beyond San Francisco.

“If Juul funded by Big Tobacco can prevail, we’re going to see efforts across the country to fight off any efforts to regulate these products,” Tramutola said.

Voters will also decide whether to approve a tax on Uber and Lyft rides to fund traffic congestion mitigation and road improvements. Proposition D would add a 3.25% tax on rides and 1.5% tax on shared rides, generating up to $32 million per year for public transportation, road repairs, and bike and pedestrian safety improvements.

“It will be the city’s first attempt at asking private transportation companies to help mitigate the impacts they are having on our city streets,” said San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who introduced the measure after reaching a compromise on the proposed tax with Uber and Lyft last year.

Two other ballot measures seek to address the city’s persistent lack of affordable housing. Proposition A would authorize a $600 million bond to fund the construction of 2,800 affordable housing units over four years. It would be the largest affordable housing bond in the city’s history.

Proposition E would alter the city’s charter to allow affordable housing and teacher housing to be built on public land. Mayor London Breed backs both measures.

“Building more housing requires a wide range of solutions, and this bond is a key part of that effort,” Breed said in July when the ballot measure was first introduced.

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