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Curbed SF election guide: SF’s Proposition B earthquake bond, explained

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

A small, red and white boat spraying a huge jet of water into the air.
An SF Fire Department boat on the anniversary of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.
Photo by Ray Chavez/MediaNews Group/The Mercury News via Getty Images

Like clockwork, it’s almost Election Day in San Francisco; in fact, early voting has already started for the upcoming California primary election on March 3, 2020.

In additional to the hotly contested Democratic presidential primary, the March vote places a handful of crucial housing and infrastructure propositions on the ballot. We have everything you need to know about every vote you’re being asked to cast, starting with Proposition B.

What’s the proposal?

Concerned about the state of SF infrastructure in the face of pending earthquakes, the city wants to take out $628.5 million worth of bonds to upgrade and repair fire stations, police stations, and SF’s water delivery systems, with an eye toward preventing water shortages for firefighting efforts when “the big one” strikes.

In all, $275 million would go toward the firehouses, $121 million to police stations, and $153.5 million toward the city’s “emergency firefighting water system,” with extra funds for other disasters-relief infrastructure, including the city’s 911 call center. This measure requires two-thirds of the vote to carry.

Who’s behind it?

The San Francisco Boards of Supervisors voted 10-0 (with one abstention) to put the bond up for voters last summer, with Supervisors Catherine Stefani and Sandra Lee Fewer and Mayor London Breed singling themselves out as the bond’s principle architects.

What’s the backstory?

As you may have heard, San Francisco experiences regular earthquakes—in fact, we’re famous for it. The U.S. Geological Survey projects a 72 percent change of a major quake (size 6.7 or larger) somewhere in the Bay Area 2043. Even the smallest such quake with an epicenter miles from the city would cause considerable property damage and provoke significant fire risk.

Infamously, nearly the entire city water delivery system failed after the 1906 earthquake, making firefighting efforts nearly impossible. Ever since then, the city has been particular about ensuring that water will flow in the hours after the next major seismic event.

Arguments for Proposition B

Last year, Stefani and Fewer emphasized the necessity of upgrades on the city’s west side, where disaster infrastructure is less robust—a 2019 civil grand jury warned that neighborhoods like the Sunset District are not serviced by the emergency water supply systems for firefighting, nor are areas like the Bayview.

Those with an eye on the city’s disaster responses worry that cisterns, pipes, and the very buildings that house first responders are aging and vulnerable to an inevitable temblor, with the long-ago memory of the 1906 fire still a surprisingly sharp spur toward more investment.

Arguments against Proposition B

There is not much formal opposition to the bond plan—nobody has even bothered to compose an official opponent’s argument or rebuttal for the SF Department of Elections, and almost everyone of noted in SF has endorsed the bond.

Supported by

  • SF Board of Supervisors
  • Mayor London Breed
  • Firefighter’s Union
  • SF Labor Council
  • SPUR

Opposed by

  • n/a