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November 2018 Election: Proposition A, SF’s seawall bond, explained

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What it is, who’s for it, and who’s against it

Photo by dlove/Shutterstock

What’s the proposal?

Proposition A will authorize the city to take out $425 million in bonds and put the money toward fixing the Embarcadero Seawall, which is presently in disrepair.

Who’s behind it?

Earlier this year, six members of the Board of Supervisors (including now-Mayor London Breed) proposed the bond measure as a way to fund the estimated $40 million/year price tag on the first phases of the city’s seawall repair plan.

The board passed the bond plan unanimously in June, but requires a two-thirds majority at the ballot box to go ahead with the proposal.

What’s the back story?

The San Francisco seawall stretches from Fisherman’s Wharf to Mission Creek. It’s essentially the foundation that keeps the waterfront in place and protects from the threat of potential daily flooding.

But this essential structure is made up mostly of 100-plus-year-old landfill. A 2016 Port Commission analysis found that the seawall is seismically unsound and built on weak soil prone to “amplify” earthquake shaking.

A significant earthquake could shift the seawall as much as five feet, potentially inflicting billions in damages. On top of that, the cost to repair the seawall is itself hefty: $5 billion. If passed, Proposition A would be just one of many needed revenue sources.

Arguments for Proposition A

As the original board resolution put it, seawall damage during a large quake would cause “widespread harm to the Embarcadero; historic buildings and piers; critical transportation, utility, and emergency response infrastructure”—all at a time when the city would be the least prepared to address those problems quickly and efficiently.

In all, the wall protects an estimated $100 billion worth of private and public assets, compared to the $5 billion cost of repair.

But the board says the city simply doesn’t have that kind of money in its budget without borrowing. YIMBY Action points out that existing parcel taxes are projected to cover the cost thanks to paying off some older bonds.

Arguments against Proposition A

Libertarian Party of San Francisco spokesperson Starchild complains that Proposition A is wasteful and blames the Port and city for not stepping in to address the issue earlier.

“Why shouldn’t the property owners who own the waterfront property pay the cost of repairing the BAY wall*, since they chose to live there and there’s always some risk when you live close to water?” the party’s voter guide demands.

*For some reason the SF libertarians are very particular about the fact that seawall does indeed guard against the bay rather than the ocean.

Supported by

  • Mayor London Breed
  • SF Board of Supervisors
  • SF Chronicle
  • SPUR
  • YIMBY Action

Opposed by

  • Libertarian Party of San Francisco

Further reading