Vote your vote away

Sup. Wiener seeks authority for the board to change or repeal voter-approved measures


The article has been changed from the print version to correct an error.

In a surprising move that is causing a strong backlash from progressives and other groups that have won important reforms at the ballot box, Sup. Scott Wiener is pushing a charter amendment that would allow the Board of Supervisors to change or repeal voter-approved ballot measures years after they become law.

If voters approve Wiener's charter amendment, among the most vulnerable reforms may be tenant protections such as limitations on rent increases, relocation assistance for no-fault tenant removal, and owner move-in eviction limits, to name a few.

The Rules Committee heard concerned testimony about the proposal May 19 and opted to hold off on voting to send it to the full board for approval until the next meeting on June 2 to allow for more public comment.

If approved, the amendment will be on the November ballot, although the public may be confused about why such an amendment would be on the ballot in the first place. The measure covers ordinances and resolutions that were placed on the ballot by supervisors, and Wiener has said he plans to amend the measure to exempt those placed on the ballot by voter petition. Changes to taxes or bonds are not a part of the amendment because those are required by state law to go to the ballot box.

Paradoxically, Wiener's reasoning for the proposal is that he believes voters are bogged down with too many ballot measures with complex issues that need changes, measures he claims the board could deal with more efficiently. But critics say it makes progressive reforms vulnerable to attack by a board that is heavily influenced by big-money interests.

At the committee meeting, about a dozen people spoke in opposition to the amendment, saying it seemed broad in scope and would be a more appropriate change at the state level.

Matthias Mormino, a legislative aide to Sup. Jane Kim, who chairs the Rules Committee, said that his boss is still on the fence. "She has concerns and hasn't made up her mind yet."

Currently California is one of the last states where a voter-approved initiative cannot be subject to veto, amendment, or repeal, except by the voters.

"It's not a radical thing," Wiener told the Guardian about the proposed amendment. "My thinking is that we should do our jobs. We elect public officials to make decisions every week. I wanted to strike a balance where the voters still have a strong say."

But how strong of a say will the voting public have in cases where voter-approved initiatives are changed by the decisions of a board of politicians with their own influences and bias?

Wiener stated that he had no specific initiatives in mind when he decided to propose the amendment nor was he targeting any kind of legislation, except ones that are "outdated." Wiener cited an example of updating campaign consultant reporting from quarterly to monthly as a change that needed to happen but could seemingly be a nuisance at the ballot box.

He is proposing a tiered system in which, for the first three years, an initiative is untouchable. In four years, a two-thirds majority vote by the board could make changes to initiatives; after seven years, a simple majority could do so. That means a raft of tenant measures approved in the 1990s could come under immediate attack.

"Does he not like our sick-leave policy?" Sup. John Avalos told us. "It's so vague and unclear on what he is trying to do. I'm afraid that he is trying to change laws that are popular with the voters. It's not a democratic way to resolve policy issues."

Calvin Welch, a longtime progressive and housing activist, has his own theory on Wiener's proposal. "Voters don't have a big problem discerning which ones they agree with and which ones they don't," he said about voter-approved initiatives.


Wiener the Weasel, what an unmitigated disaster, another of his 'baby steps'.

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 7:46 am

I completely support this. There is a reason why officials are elected, and sorry, but the vocal minority of SF who push things to the ballot box are provincial and unable to think past their own front noses.
Enough BS!

Posted by Guest on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 8:32 am

Maybe we should just do away with pesky things like elections and appoint a board of business leaders to run things, like the Republicans are trying to do in Michigan?

Who needs this democracy thing anyway?

Posted by Cool to be contrarian on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 10:18 am

Supervisor Wiener justified his proposal by pointing to a political consultant measure that has to return to the voters to change how often consultants file reports. First, there is nothing in the existing law to prevent increased reporting. But more importantly, this is a shadow play because his measure also gives the Ethics Commission to change any part of the political consultant measure as it wishes in the future. Nowhere does he admit that this is an open-ended invitation to our least effective city agency to dumb down the law for political consultants.

It is dishonest on its face.

Posted by CitiReport on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 10:44 am

"The Ethics Commission", now there's an oxymoron.
About as worthless as comments from nameless, faceless 'guests'.

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

Can't Wiener get a few of the other supes to put something on the ballot to repeal something he doesn't like?

Posted by matlock on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

This would be the end of democracy, as we know it in SF anyway. This must not pass!!

And, Posted by Guest on Jun. 01, 2011 @ 8:32 am, why not use your real name? I did. (chicken sound)

Posted by GrannyGear/Terrrie Frye on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 10:01 am

Hey don't worry. Weiner said he was tenant friendly when he ran for office.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 10:25 am

Wiener pushes downtown, anti-progressive revisionism on his march to a comfy chair inside the beltway. We're looking at Gavin II, except Wiener has a little more smarts.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 10:43 am

We elect a Board of Supervisors to vote for us! They are supposed to be there representing us... why should the electorate have to vote on complex issues that need to be dumbed-down in order to vote on them by an uninformed electorate? This makes no sense.

Posted by Guest-SF on Jun. 02, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

"We elect a Board of Supervisors to vote for us! They are supposed to be there representing us... why should the electorate have to vote on complex issues that need to be dumbed-down in order to vote on them by an uninformed electorate?"

Why not elect people to think for us too?

And maybe the board of supervisors could come to our homes and wipe our asses after we take a shit, because if San Franciscans are too stupid to open up a voter handbook and decide how to vote on an issue, then maybe we're too stupid to clean ourselves.

Uh-oh... now I've done it. Matlock and Snapples will probably change their minds now that a progressive has said something in opposition. They know the Weinie bill is stupid, but a progressive thinks it's stupid too -now what? Wait, I think I smell burnt circuitry...

To the tech wiz who came up with those particular troll-bots, my sincere apologies for making your Matlock-bot and your Snapples-bot programs crash.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 04, 2011 @ 12:09 am

As long as its the supervisors telling others how to live its fine with you. You elect people who you want "to think for us", when it goes your way.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 04, 2011 @ 12:36 am

See what I mean when I say that you disagree just for the sake of disagreeing? Good to know that the bot program is still running.

Posted by Greg on Jun. 04, 2011 @ 12:46 am

Your opportunism is so interesting.

I think Weiner's idea is a bad thing, especially since a few supes can get together and put something on the ballot.

You on the other hand love it when they are doing our thinking for us, when it goes your way. Cracks me up that when it might not go your way you complain about state power.

Posted by matlock on Jun. 04, 2011 @ 1:13 am

Also from this author

  • Last stand at the Bulb

    With Albany looking to clear a bayshore homeless encampment, residents brace for a conflict

  • Albany Bulb squatters lose in court and turn to direct action to resist evictions

  • Battle of the Bulb

    Eviction day nears for the homeless inhabitants of a colorful stretch of shoreline in Albany that nature lovers want cleared