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Making sense of San Francisco’s housing propositions

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Helping you decipher the Tuesday ballot’s alphabet soup

Tuesday is Election Day. You may have already heard.

With everything going on, including a remarkable 25 local ballot measures from which to choose, local voters might feel beleaguered trying to sort everything out, especially with the byzantine way local housing measures add up.

So to help navigate the straits in the voting booth, here’s a quick cheat sheet reminder of the four propositions set to have the biggest effect on how we build.

  • Prop M: The Housing and Development Commission

This one is potentially slippery, as it would create two new departments and a whole new city commission to oversee them, and might cancel out two other votes you’re making further down the ballot.

Passing Prop M would replace two city organs long operated by the mayor’s office—the Department of Economic and Workforce Development and the Department of Housing and Community Development—with similar entities answering to a piecemeal body appointed by the mayor, city lawmakers, and the City Controller.

But here’s the slippery part: A yes vote on Prop M would also mean cancelling out Prop U and Prop P. We’ll unravel that in a bit.

  • Prop P: Competitive Bidding For Affordable Housing Projects

Under Prop P, San Francisco could not build affordable housing on city-owned property unless at least three competing developers make a proposal for the site.

Note that presently, only about 60 percent of affordable housing projects get those three bids.

Where this one gets weird is if the “Poison Pill” in Prop M kicks in, as that would essentially void Prop P even if it passes. So you basically have to vote for one or the other, even if you like both.

  • Prop Q: Prohibiting Tents On Public Sidewalks

Comparatively speaking, Prop Q is pretty simple. Under this measure, the city would be allowed to remove tents pitched on city sidewalks without a permit.

Right now, street camping is only illegal if creates a health and safety hazard. (Note that the city’s sit/lie law only applies certain hours of the day.)

Prop Q would make a crime of the camping itself, although the city would have to offer campers shelter or transportation out of the county before going ahead with removal. Twenty-four hour notice is also necessary.

  • Prop U: Affordable Housing Requirements For Market Rate Projects

The third piece in our slightly weird M-P-U trifecta of interlaced measures would allow new development to uniformly up the price of affordable housing.

As it stands, affordable housing requirements on big projects demand a few homes priced for the lowest earners and also some for “middle income households.”

Prop U would throw that out and dub all homes attainable by buyers making 110 percent of the city’s median income (more than $118,000 for a family of four right now) as sufficient to meet affordable housing requirements.

But that “Poison Pill” in Prop M would mean that even if Prop U and Prop P passed, lawmakers could more or less ignore and replace them at will.

So if you vote yes on M, you’re essentially also voting no on U and P. Even if you actually try to vote yes on either or both of them later.

Prop Q passes or fails all on its own, though. Geez, you got all that? Doing your civic duty is harder than it looks sometimes.