"Props. A and C Would Build and Repair Schools, Add Housing"
A pair of property-tax measures on the San Francisco ballot next month would put nearly $1 billion in bonds toward building and repairing city schools and boosting the number of affordable housing units across the city.
Proposition A asks voters to support a big-ticket bond — $744 million — to modernize and expand existing schools, build two new elementary schools and upgrade outdated technology. The measure includes $100 million toward an art center and new home for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, a public high school.
District officials say aging buildings, high-tech demands and growing enrollment are pushing the limits of school facilities.
“Whenever I visit schools, I always hear from students and staff that there’s a wish list of things that they would like to see upgraded, modernized, and this bond will allow us to move forward on some of those items on the wish list,” said school board President Matt Haney. “We have a vision of a 21st century educational experience that our facilities don’t currently provide for adequately.”
Public school enrollment is up despite perceptions that families are fleeing the city, Haney said. The district expects to see an additional 7,000 to 10,000 students over the next decade.
“I think a lot of people are surprised to learn that we are growing as a school district,” he said. “We need to start building classroom space, expanding current schools and building new schools to meet that demand.”
New school sites would probably be in Mission Bay and the Bayview to accommodate growth, though new housing developments on Treasure Island, at Candlestick Point and South of Market are expected to add thousands of students as well.
The bond would increase property taxes by an average $15.90 per $100,000 in assessed value annually over 25 years.
Opponents of Prop. A, which requires 55 percent voter support to pass, say the district needs to do more research before asking voters for the money.
“Let the Board of Education figure out if a new school is really needed and where and then ask for a bond — not the other way around,” the Libertarian Party of San Francisco wrote in ballot arguments opposing the measure.
Perhaps the most controversial part of Prop. A is funding for the new Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. For decades, district and city officials have sought to gather support for the renovation of the former high school site at 135 Van Ness Ave. The property takes up a city block of prime real estate in the center of the city and in the arts district, but currently houses only administrative offices.
Because of the site’s historic status and expensive seismic needs, it needs an estimated $300 million for renovations that would allow it to house the district’s arts-based high school and other art programs. District officials said the $100 million raised in Prop. A would be seed money to spur philanthropic support for the project.
“This has been a dream for a long time,” Haney said. “If this bond passes it will be a huge step forward toward making the SFUSD arts center a reality.”
Proposition C, the second general obligation bond measure, is a new twist on efforts to tackle the city’s affordable housing crisis.
The measure would take an existing bond — one passed by voters more than 20 years ago to help city residents perform seismic upgrades — and redirect the funds toward affordable housing.
In 1992, voters passed a measure authorizing the city to issue up to $350 million in bonds to provide loans to upgrade unreinforced masonry buildings that could fail in an earthquake. But demand for the loans wasn’t as strong as city officials expected — and there’s still $261 million unused.
The measure on the Nov. 8 ballot, which requires two-thirds voter support, would allow the city to use the remaining money to provide loans to community groups, developers or others who want to acquire and modernize multiunit buildings that would be converted into permanent affordable housing.
“The idea is to add to the affordable housing stock,” said Peter Cohen, co-director of the San Francisco Council of Community Housing Organizations. “Prop. C provides a big shot in the arm.”
With loans of up to $250,000 per unit, the funds from the bond could add 1,000 affordable units to the city inventory, he said, providing housing for lower- and middle-income families.
The measure restricts annual loans to $35 million, which would cost property owners on average $7 per $600,000 in assessed value annually over 22 years.
Community aid organizations that manage property would be most likely to take out such loans, including the San Francisco Community Land Trust and the Mission Economic Development Agency, Cohen said.
There is no formal opposition to the measure and no ballot arguments filed against it. Given that the measure needs a supermajority of voter support, the lack of opposition is both a blessing and a curse, Cohen said.
“Because there’s no drama around the measure, it’s easy to kind of lose attention,” he said. “That's the challenge. Not having a fight on our hands is not necessarily making it easy.”