Proposition O — Additional Parcel Tax for City College

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 O, also called the San Francisco Workforce Education and Reinvestment in Community Success Act, is a proposed parcel tax to generate funding for a variety of services and programs at the City College of San Francisco. This proposed tax would begin in 2023 and continue through 2043, generating an estimated $37 million annually — though that number would increase over time as the tax is adjusted for inflation. Beyond the cost of administering the tax, revenue from the tax will be put into a special fund to be split four ways for the following purposes:

  • 25% for services that support basic student needs, enrollment, retention and job placement
  • 25% for skills-focused programs such as English tutoring or technological proficiency
  • 25% for workforce development programs
  • 25% for equity programs that support the success and leadership development of historically underrepresented students

City College must also submit an annual spending plan to the mayor and Board of Supervisors to receive revenue from the tax, in addition to undergoing annual audits for the first five years of the tax and periodic audits after that. An oversight committee will be created to make sure investments are being used properly. This measure requires more than 50% affirmative votes to pass.

Individuals aged 65 and over who own and reside in their properties will not be taxed. Neither will certain nonprofits that are already exempt from property taxes.

Rates for the first year of the tax would be based upon the size and type of property. Single-family residential units would pay $150, while residential properties with two or more units would be taxed $75 per unit. Non-residential properties would be charged based upon square footage, ranging from $150 for those under 5,000 square feet up $4,000 for those greater than 100,000 square feet. Mixed-use parcels will have a separate calculation depending on their uses.

The cost to maintain a database to correctly tax each property and apply exemptions would be around $6 million on a one-time basis and an additional $3 million annually according to the city controller, exceeding a rule in the measure that allows for only 1% of funds to go toward administrative costs.

San Francisco property owners already pay an annual flat tax of $99 per parcel to help pay for teachers, counselors and libraries at City College, which is set to expire in 2032. The college has struggled financially in recent years after losing tens of thousands of students in the wake of an accreditation crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, along with a decline in funds that comes with lower student enrollment.

The college was declared at risk of financial insolvency and a state takeover in 2021 after the state’s Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team said the school has not cut expenditures on pace with declining enrollment. In order to balance a $7 million budget shortfall, the City College Board of Trustees made the controversial decision to lay off 38 full-time faculty members and dozens of part-time teachers, in addition to considering the elimination of an estimated 300 courses.

Today, the school says it has balanced its budget, eliminated structural deficits, and created a projected 5% increase in cash reserves for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 budgets in preparation for the next accreditation cycle, which starts this spring.

Though state law limits the amount of revenue that can be spent each year, San Francisco voters can approve increases to the limit for up to four years. If passed, this measure would increase the spending limit for four years.  

Proponents of Proposition O argue that class cuts and losses in enrollment beginning in 2019 and compounded by the pandemic are denying education to the city’s most vulnerable, and that the tax is needed “to guarantee San Franciscans aren’t left behind.” They also pointed to the free classes offered to San Francisco residents through Free City and workforce training courses as evidence of the school’s utility for the city’s diverse communities. Supporters include City College’s faculty and staff unions (AFT 2121 and SEIU 2021), the San Francisco Democratic Party, Board of Supervisors President Shamann Walton, United Educators of San Francisco, the San Francisco Latinx Democratic Club and Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth.

Opponents of the tax such as the San Francisco Apartment Association and the San Francisco Taxpayers Association argue that the city needs to “stop approving blank check funding for a failing organization.” Mayor London Breed, District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin and District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani pointed to the college’s turnover in chancellors (CCSF has had nine chancellors in the past eight years), the $1.3 billion in public bonds that voters have already approved in the past 20 years, and the high administrative cost of the tax, calling on voters to “hold [trustees and administrators] accountable” by not passing another bond.

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