San Francisco Chronicle
S.F. may repeal or amend its boycott of ultra-right states
San Francisco may soon repeal all or part of a local law that prohibits the city employees from traveling to or contracting with companies based in 30 states that have passed laws limiting LGBTQ rights, abortion access and voting rights.
While the boycott was intended to pressure other states and prevent the city from doing business with places that do not share its values, a new city report said the law has been ineffective and cumbersome. Only one state has ever been removed from the banned list and none have ever cited San Francisco’s law as a reason for reforming their own, the report from City Administrator Carmen Chu’s office found. The report also found the law adds costs and complexity to city contracting.
Accordingly, one supervisor wants to amend the boycott and another is working on legislation that would repeal the entire law.
“It creates a burden for San Francisco,” Supervisor Ahsha Safaí said at a committee hearing Monday.
At the hearing, Safaí and Supervisor Matt Dorsey voted to advance legislation Safaí has proposed to exempt construction contracts from the boycott, an effort to lower the local government’s costs by allowing companies located in one of the 30 affected states to compete for the city’s business.
The full Board of Supervisors is expected to consider Safaí’s legislation in the coming weeks. But it won’t be the only proposal on the table: Supervisor Rafael Mandelman is preparing to introduce his own legislation that would fully repeal the boycott.
“It’s an ineffective policy that complicates the business of San Francisco government and makes it very likely that we pay more than we should for goods and services,” Mandelman said in an interview Monday.
Mayor London Breed favors repealing or reforming the boycott. Breed’s office said in a statement Monday that, while the mayor “recognizes the well-intentioned effort behind” the boycott, she also “acknowledges the many difficulties that affect contracting in the City” and would support changes, including the legislation being worked on by Mandelman.
Supervisors established the boycott in October 2016 when they approved a law that banned city-funded travel to states that had restricted LGBTQ rights in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. The law also prevented the city from approving contracts with companies based in the banned states.
In subsequent years, supervisors expanded the boycott to include states that passed laws to limit abortion access and voting rights.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, who led the push to pass the original 2016 law when he was a supervisor, told Mission Local last year that he now has “mixed views on the approach” because the contracting ban doesn’t contain any exceptions for businesses in the banned states that are owned by the very groups the city is trying to defend, such as LGBTQ people.
Mandelman and other supervisors in October asked Chu to recommend reforms to the travel and contracting ban, noting that its effectiveness was not clear and it had imposed significant costs and limited competition. A Budget and Legislative Analyst’s report prepared at Mandelman’s request found that the city had also sent business to the banned states anyway, approving waivers for contracts and purchase orders worth $791 million over a one-year period.
Chu’s office said in its Friday report that it could not find any concrete evidence that the states targeted by the boycott had changed their laws because of San Francisco’s actions.
The law “has created additional administrative burden for City staff and vendors and unintended consequences for San Francisco citizens, such as limiting enrichment and developmental opportunities,” Chu’s report said. “Few, if any, other jurisdictions implement travel or contracting bans as expansive as the City’s.”
Chu’s office said the boycott had led to some unintended consequences. One program that paid for young people to travel to historically Black colleges and universities had to “complete several additional administrative requirements before the travel could be approved because many HBCUs are located in banned states,” the report said.The report presented a range of options for supervisors to consider, including a full repeal of the law, exempting construction contracts from the boycott and “off ramps” that would allow the city to exempt businesses in banned states on a company-by-company basis.
Not everyone supports eliminating the boycott or even amending it to exempt construction contracts. A group of small business leaders spoke out against Safaí’s legislation at the hearing Monday, saying they had not had enough time to weigh in on the proposal and urging supervisors not to disadvantage them.
Supervisor Shamann Walton shared those concerns and cast the lone vote against allowing Safaí’s legislation to advance. The rest of the committee sent the legislation to the full board without making any recommendation on how supervisors should ultimately vote.
Walton said there are parts of the law that are “hampering some of our businesses and some of our communities from being able to thrive in certain ways and certain manners, but opening up the floodgates for corporations is not how we deal with that.”
Mandelman said he wanted the city to do more to support local small businesses, particularly those owned by people of color. But he did not think the existing boycott was the best way to do that, nor was it influencing other states to change their ways.
“The most effective pressure San Francisco can apply on red states is showing that San Francisco can be effectively governed,” Mandelman said.