In this city, democracy not only is alive and well, some would say it is running amok.
In a 188-page voter handbook, 29 pages longer than the state tome, voters must grapple with everything from taxicab rates to a measure that would oust nine of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors to two measures on whether the battleship Missouri should be based here.
In line with San Francisco tradition, also on the ballot is a controversial foreign policy question that will be totally unaffected by the vote: whether there should be a Palestinian homeland.
Across the bay, however, Berkeley will go one foreign policy step better on Nov. 8. Voters there will be asked to make Berkeley a sister city of the Jabaliya Palestinian refugee camp on the West Bank.
Surveying the massive San Francisco ballot, John Jacobs, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said: “Representative democracy isn’t alive and well when you have (24) local initiatives. It has failed.”
This has not stopped the chamber from backing one measure in favor of making this city the Missouri’s port. The chamber opposes a second proposition that would call on the Navy to pay all the costs associated with the home-porting, something the Navy refuses.
“One doesn’t want to discourage citizen participation,” said Carole Migden, local Democratic Party chairwoman. But there are a couple “cockamamie” measures, she said, citing one that leads in local polls and would limit supervisors to two 4-year terms and move supervisorial elections to odd-numbered years.
Although the measure would end the supervisorial careers of nine veteran board members next year, its sponsor, John Barbagelata, a conservative gadfly and former supervisor, is careful not to call it a recall.
“It’s an environmental issue,” he says. “We want to clean up the environment.”
“The voters will finally get a chance to say who’s going to be elected,” said Barbagelata, calling his opposition “progressives,” a term he defines as “somebody who belongs to Tom Hayden’s organization.”
Migden said the measure is “an effort to Republicanize city government” in what has long been a Democratic stronghold. The proposition is opposed by nearly all local officeholders. Some suspect that if it passes, the board will sue to overturn it or hold a special election in an effort to overturn it, resulting in yet more campaigns to resolve the issue.
But at the same time, Jacobs explained its lead in the polls by saying that there is a feeling that voters are “fed up with our elected officials dabbling in national politics or international politics.”
“They perceive it to be what it is--somewhat ludicrous,” Jacobs said.
While elected officials worry about Barbagelata’s proposition, much of the attention is focused on two measures that leave it to local voters to decide whether the Navy should make Hunters Point Naval Shipyard the home port of the Missouri and as many as a dozen support ships.
The 4-year-old debate seemed over last August when in one of her last big victories, then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein won narrow support from the Board of Supervisors to back an agreement with the Navy to base the ships here.
But the agreement required the city to pay at least $2 million to dredge San Francisco Bay to accommodate the refurbished World War II battleship. The battle flared anew when Art Agnos, who campaigned against the Navy’s basing plan, became mayor and would not stick by the deal.
“The home-porting plan can proceed tomorrow,” Agnos said. “The Navy owns the ship, they own the shipyard, they own the shipping lanes. But if they want local tax money, there has to be more in it for the local taxpayer.”
Agnos is leading the opposition to the Missouri with a measure that says San Francisco would welcome the Navy, but will not pay any of the costs.
Feinstein and state Sen. Quentin Kopp, a San Francisco independent, say a refusal by San Francisco to pay for dredging will kill any chance of placing the ships here because Congress requires that cities in which ships are based bear some costs.
With Chamber of Commerce backing, Feinstein and Kopp drafted a proposition that would require the city to adhere to Feinstein’s commitment to pay for dredging. They contend that a naval presence would bring 5,000 jobs to the region and economic benefits of more than $200 million a year.
Kopp, long a rival of Agnos, also accused him of opposing the Missouri plan because he “is anti-military.”
“His supporters are anti-military, anti-nuclear. They’re against the presence of sailors in San Francisco,” Kopp said.
But while this city has long been a center of various peace movements, it also struggled to erase a $180-million deficit this year. Agnos and other opponents say the Navy plan would strain city services, ranging from police protection to bus service. They fear that the ships will cause environmental damage to San Francisco Bay and contend that the Navy discriminates against gays in its ranks--something the Navy denies.
“This is not anti-Navy. It’s not anti-patriotic. It is just good business. I can’t afford to build military bases with local tax money,” Agnos said.
“The fundamental question,” the mayor added, “is this: Does the U.S. Navy get enough money from the federal government or do they come to the local governments, which already are burdened because the federal government has abrogated its responsibility for the homelessness, AIDS, crack cocaine.”