Proposition B — Public Works Department and Commission, Sanitation and Streets Department and Commission

See our November 2022 SF Election Guide for a nonpartisan analysis of measures and contests on the ballot in San Francisco for the election occurring Nov. 8, 2022. Voters will consider the following proposition in that election.

Proposition B would undo a charter amendment approved by voters in November 2020 to take responsibilities away from the Department of Public Works and form a Sanitation and Streets Department. It was meant to address such efforts as cleaning grimy streets, clearing overflowing garbage receptacles and power washing graffiti on public property. And in the wake of numerous corruption charges within Public Works, it also established oversight commissions for both departments, annual controller’s performance audits, and cost and waste evaluations. This measure requires more than 50% affirmative votes to pass.

As we reported in our November 2020 election guide, the restructuring came partly in response to an FBI probe that uncovered corruption at City Hall in January 2020. The FBI investigation led to the arrest of then-Department of Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru and ensnared five other city department heads as well as contractors and a restaurant owner. In August this year, Nuru was sentenced to seven years in federal prison and three years of supervised release.

Nevertheless, in May 2022, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, Proposition B’s sponsor, expressed “buyers’ remorse” over the new agency when board hearings revealed the high costs.

Potential savings came into doubt and additional administrative costs were expected to total at least $6 million annually.

In a letter submitted to the Department of Elections, the controller’s office stated that eliminating the new Sanitation and Streets Department would provide estimated savings of about $6 million over the next two fiscal years, and that recombining departments would require 23 fewer administrative staff positions.

“Do we want paper pushers of broom pushers?” Peskin wrote in his filing with the Department of Elections. “Do we want our heard-earned dollars going to people working at desks or people working to clean up San Francisco?”

Public Works wouldn’t need additional accounting, contracts and information technology staff and Sanitation and Streets wouldn’t need a department head or administrative staff. It would also eliminate the need for redundant equipment and contract services.

The measure would also limit the authority of oversight commissions and eliminate the controller’s annual audit over waste and inefficiency.

Opponents of Proposition B say the measure would open up the department to corruption again. Matt Haney proposed the charter amendment to create the Sanitation and Streets Department when he was a board supervisor. Now a state assembly member, he opposes its reversal.

Haney argues that the cost is a “miniscule fraction” of the city’s $14 billion budget. He accused the proponents of wanting to “take back to the power to decide which streets get cleaned and which are left covered in trash.”

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