by Larry Bush
City Hall is facing a crisis. It and its powerful friends' sweetheart deals keep losing to the voters.
Three years ago, the mayor, Supervisor Scott Wiener and big-money backers couldn't defeat an initiative that protected Coit Tower's fragile mural rooms from exclusive multimillionaires' dinner parties and other high-end activities.
Two years ago the mayor, Wiener and colleagues, and high-rise developers lost on a referendum over 8 Washington St.'s wall on the waterfront for luxury condos built in part on public land.
Last year, the mayor, downtown-backed supervisors (Wiener among them), the Chamber of Commerce and others lost over an initiative (Proposition B) to require voter approval for additional waterfront height limits.
The Warriors decided to move down the waterfront to a Mission Bay site.
At Pier 70, a major waterfront developer Forest City set a new voluntary standard for affordable housing including middle-class units, new developer financing for waterfront parks and more through serious community outreach, winning voter approval.
Kilroy Realty is facing a decision over its planned development of the San Francisco Flower Mart site and fears an initiative. Airbnb could be next.
The cozy relationship between today's City Hall and the moneyed interests that rely on political influence is no longer as useful because the voters are taking charge of their city with initiatives.
The response didn't take long. Wiener is seeking to rewrite the law that gives voters a voice.
Disguised as "sensible reform," it aims to make it much harder for voters to challenge City Hall by increasing how many voters must sign to place a measure on the ballot.
As the prime proponent of this measure, Wiener says his aim is "to stop the wild swings in the number of signatures required," which he apparently believes encourages greater citizen involvement if the number of signatures lowers. He claims the result is "arbitrary and unfair."
Except that Wiener's claim that the system is arbitrary and unfair is a fraud.
The truth and facts are obvious. For decades, city law has based the number of signatures required for an initiative on 5 percent of the number who voted for mayor. Of course that number of required signatures changes once every four years after each mayoral election. And in the last 20 years, it has had no discernable impact on the number of initiatives submitted. Out of the last 20 years, only one year — 2007 — had a shift of more than 5 percent because Newsom, running as an incumbent mayor, had no significant opposition.
After 1995, some 10,510 signatures were required.
After 1999, some 10,486 signatures were required.
After 2003, some 9,735 signatures were required.
After 2007, some 7,473 signatures were required
After 2011, some 9,702 signatures were required.
Only sore losers could claim that after decades that our process is "arbitrary and unfair."
Wiener proposes replacing this by basing the number of signatures on the number of registered voters, currently 432,900 voters.
Thus, if the same 5 percent calculation is used, initiatives would now require 21,645 signatures — more than twice the number needed over the past 20 years.
The intention is clear: make it harder for voters to initiate laws wanted by the public, but which City Hall and deep-pocket backers oppose.
But this is not the first time that Wiener has tried to fiddle with The City's initiative process. In 2011 he put on the ballot a measure that let the supervisors repeal or amend an initiative.
That could have meant everything from The City's open-space requirements to the children's fund to rent control to civil-rights protections. It was backed with checks for $10,000 and $15,000 from the conservative Committee on Jobs, Building Owners & Managers Association and billionaire Ron Conway.
Voters rejected it by 67.13 percent to 32.87 percent.
Wiener's colleagues should keep that in mind when he asks for their support for his latest effort to interfere with the voters' ability to act.
Larry Bush writes in CitiReport, was a speechwriter and policy adviser for former Mayor Art Agnos and served on The City's civil grand jury in 2013-14.