San Francisco Chronicle

Police staffing measure flooded with money

- By J.D. Morris Reach J.D. Morris: jd.morris@sfchronicl­; Twitter: @thejdmorri­s

The most expensive battle on San Francisco’s March ballot centers on a controvers­ial measure that seeks to increase police staffing if voters make future tax revenue changes — and recent polling suggests the measure is in a dead heat.

Supporters and opponents of Propositio­n B have reported receiving $1.9 million in cash donations and in-kind contributi­ons such as political mailers. That’s more than the second costliest measure, Propositio­n E, a different police measure placed on the ballot by Mayor London Breed that’s seen about $1.7 million in total pulled in from both sides, with those in favor far outraising those against.

Prop. B would set a new minimum staffing level for the police department that increases every year for five years, but it would require voters to approve a new tax or amend a tax that’s already on the books. Supporters, including Supervisor Ahsha Safaí and labor groups, cast it as a fiscally responsibl­e way to respond to the city’s police staffing shortage. Opponents, including Supervisor Matt Dorsey and Breed, have branded it a “cop tax” and said the city can already afford to raise police staffing using its existing $14.6 billion annual budget.

The financial disclosure­s land less than two weeks before Election Day, which many political observers see as a possible referendum on Breed and her policies ahead of her tough November reelection bid. The exorbitant amounts of money being pumped into the March election have also garnered attention, with moderates and progressiv­es fighting not only over certain propositio­ns, but also over control of a littleknow­n Democratic Party organizati­on that gives out key endorsemen­ts.

A recent EMC Research poll conducted in January for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce found voters were about evenly split on Prop. B, though the results were within the margin of error. Likely March 5 voters who responded to the poll’s question about Prop. B were 49% in favor and 48% against or leaning against. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.7 percentage points.

The campaign against Prop. B had reported about $1.3 million in contributi­ons as of Friday. The largest amount came from Neighbors for a Better San Francisco, a group backed by the billionair­e Bill Oberndorf and other wealthy donors. In an effort to defeat Prop. B, Neighbors has given about $825,000, mostly for mail sent by third-party groups. As of Feb. 17, the No on B campaign had about $294,000 in the bank after deducting expenses.

“This entire measure is a stalking horse for a tax hike,” said Dorsey, a former police spokespers­on who is fighting to defeat the measure. “There’s a lot of voter confusion.”Dorsey originally introduced the legislatio­n that became Prop. B, but he planned to pay for police recruitmen­t by setting aside funds in the city budget. Dorsey later pulled his support for the legislatio­n after a fight

with Safaí, who amended it to link recruitmen­t funding to new taxes or changes to existing taxes. Safaí is one of three major candidates running for mayor against Breed this year.

Prop. B supporters, meanwhile, have raised $607,500 entirely from organized labor groups, including SEIU Local 1021, the city’s largest publicsect­or union. The Yes on B campaign had about $598,000 in cash on hand as of Feb. 17.

Safaí said Prop. B is the most responsibl­e way to increase police staffing given the city’s massive budget deficit, which led Breed to instruct her department­s to plan for 10% cuts next fiscal year.

“We have very limited discretion­ary funds. We have shortages in our hospitals. We have shortages in our mental health staffing,” Safaí said. “It would be totally irresponsi­ble to do a budget set-aside in that environmen­t.”

Dorsey this month challenged Safaí to a public debate on Prop. B. Safaí said he would agree to do so, but only if Breed would also participat­e and debate Prop. E, which would expand police power in certain areas and put new limits on the Police Commission. Breed did not respond to Safaí’s invitation.

 ?? Stephen Lam/The Chronicle 2023 ?? Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who is running for mayor, is among the supporters of Propositio­n B.
Stephen Lam/The Chronicle 2023 Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, who is running for mayor, is among the supporters of Propositio­n B.

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