Smart Voter
San Francisco County, CA November 2, 1999 Election
Proposition G
Sunshine Ordinance Amendment
City of San Francisco

Majority Vote Required

95,616 / 58.20% Yes votes ...... 68,399 / 41.70% No votes

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Infomation shown below: Summary | Fiscal Impact | Yes/No Meaning | Arguments |
Shall the City make changes in the requirements and procedures regarding public access to City records and meetings provided in the Sunshine Ordinance?
Summary Prepared by the Ballot Simplification Commiteee:
THE WAY IT IS NOW: The City's Sunshine Ordinance currently provides rules and procedures for public access to City meetings and records. These provisions include:

  • City boards, commissions and other bodies generally must conduct their business at open and publicly announced meetings. They may meet in closed session only for limited purposes, such as conferring with labor negotiators or attorneys.

  • The public has a right to view City records, unless the records are confidential. Records may be confidential for a number of reasons, including privacy concerns, ongoing negotiations, ongoing deliberations, because the records are subject to attorney-client privilege, or when the public interest in seeing a record is clearly outweighed by the public interest in keeping the record confidential.

THE PROPOSAL: Proposition G is an ordinance that would make numerous changes and additions to the City's Sunshine Ordinance. Some changes would clarify or extend the existing ordinance. Changes and additions include:

  • The public would be permitted to attend meetings of any group that meets with the Mayor or City department heads to discuss fiscal, economic or policy issues:

  • The public would be permitted to attend meetings of city employees to review or develop City policy or procedures relating to public health, safety or welfare;

  • Groups that contribute money for the City's activities would have to comply with the ordinance;

  • The Mayor and City department heads would be required to keep, and make public, calendars listing who meets with them and the topic of the meeting;

  • Any meeting of the governing bodies of certain local, state, regional and federal agencies attended by City representatives would have to be open to the public;

  • The City's assertion of public interest would no longer be a sole basis for withholding records;

  • The City would be prohibited from withholding records solely because they reveal the "deliberative process" of City officials;

  • In certain negotiations, the City would be required to disclose documents exchanged by the parties or prepared by the City;

  • The City Attorney could not give confidential advice to City officers or employees on matters concerning government ethics, public records and open meeting laws; and,

  • The City would be required to create certain text, audio, and video records, maintain certain records for longer periods, prepare an index of public records, and be limited in what it could charge for reproducing records. Certain records would have to be made available on the City's website.

Failure to comply with the provisions of the Sunshine Ordinance would be considered official misconduct.

Fiscal Impact from the City Controller Edward Harrington:
In my opinion, should this ordinance be adopted and implemented it would increase the cost of City government by an amount that cannot be fully estimated at this time, but may be substantial.

At a minimum, the ordinance requires additional staffing and computer hardware and software that is likely to cost over $300,000 initially and over $400,000 annually. Additional costs that cannot be estimated will arise from:

  • requirements for retaining more documents for longer periods of time than would be normal;

  • provisions that do not allow the City to recover the labor or computer costs of providing information, even where these costs may be substantial; and

  • sections which appear to require the City to make its negotiating positions or other draft documents available to the opposing side in negotiations.

Meaning of Voting Yes/No
A YES vote of this measure means:
If you vote yes, you want to make these changes to the City's Sunshine Ordinance.

A NO vote of this measure means:
If you vote no, you do not want to make these changes to the City's Sunshine Ordinance.

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San Francisco Chronicle
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Arguments For Proposition G Arguments Against Proposition G
San Francisco is a city in crisis. Neighborhoods are being gentrified. Downtown and South of Market is undergoing rampant development without infrastructure improvements and long-time residents are forced out by the resulting rise in rents. The millions of dollars that could improve services are being negotiated away in sweetheart deals to big corporations dealing behind closed doors for lucrative city contracts.

San Francisco is being sold out to the highest bidder, and City Hall wants to keep it that way. That's why many of our elected and appointed officials oppose the Sunshine Initiative. It would open the city's contracting process so that all of us can have a voice in deciding how our taxes are used before the money's spent, not after.

It would accomplish much more than that too. It would amend the city's open-government law, the Sunshine Ordinance, to improve access to public meetings and records and establish an enforcement mechanism so that individuals denied access can appeal without having to resort to expensive court battles. A recent statewide poll showed 70% of Californians support reforms contained in Proposition G.

Don't believe City Hall's misinformation campaign. Proposition G will not eliminate any state and federal privacy protections for individuals contacting city officials. City Hall's estimates of the cost of implementing the initiative are overstated, and do not consider the cost savings that public scrutiny is certain to bring. (They said $700,000 when the Sunshine Ordinance was enacted in 1993 - another false prediction.)

What Prop. G will do is make city government more accessible and accountable to the San Franciscans it's supposed to serve. That's why Prop. G is endorsed by numerous neighborhood, community, and activist groups.

Yes on GIt's Good Government.

Tom Ammiano, President, Board of Supervisors Leland Yee, PhD, Finance Committee Chair, Board of Supervisors

Rebuttal to Arguments For

Sometimes it's embarrassing to see with whom one finds oneself voting.

I read the 8/18/99 Bay Guardian editorial "BROWN'S WAR ON SUNSHINE":

"The Brown - Burton machine, which runs San Francisco politics with an ever tighter grip, put on a raw desplay of power Aug. 11 and open government was the clear loser...[T]he San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee voted 17-9 to oppose the [Sunshine] initiative. The vote was almost exactly along machine lines: Chair (and Brown ally) Natalie Berg, Sups. Sue Bierman and Leslie Katz... [and] virtually every public official, commissioner, or city hall bureaucrat went on record as supporting the mayor's undeclaired war on sunshine.... The initiative is aimed at preventing the sort of secrecy that has led the FBI to investigate several San Francisco agencies over possible fraud in contracting. It's aimed at preventing Brown and his allies from giving away millions in taxpayer money to big business... [and] at the sleaze that has become the hallmark of the Brown - Burton machine..."

I agree with the "Bay Guardian" that Willie Brown should be defeated for re-election as San Francisco Mayor.

On the subject immediately at hand, Proposition G, I believe that the Sunshine Ordinance needs to be broken down from its current 41 pages and turned into several shorter, more compact, and hard-hitting statutes.

Revise Proposition G.

Give Proposition G more "teeth".

Dr. Terence Faulkner, J.D.
Past County Chairman*
San Francisco Republican Party
(Founded: 1856 A.D.)

(*) Titles or organizations for identification purposes only.


The 41 pages of the so-called "Sunshine"Ordinance need to be revised and subdivided into several shorter laws. Legal complexity is not "legal reform".


A great deal of cautious redrafting is needed to clean out all the doubts and legal cobwebs from the "Sunshine" Ordinance. Whole new statutes need to be enacted by the voters, not just the much troubled "Sunshine"Ordinance amended is needed.

The life of the "Sunshine" Ordinance needs to be extended, but with more effective penalties for those public officials who openly violate its provisions. The demand in the proposed Proposition G amendment that the meetings of certain state and federal agencies which are attended by San Francisco representatives be open to the public appears to have federal and State of California preemption problems. Better legal scholarship is needed in revising the "Sunshine" Ordinance.


Committee to Reform the City Charter

Dr. Terence Faulkner, J.D.
Chairman of Committee to Reform the City Charter

Rebuttal to Arguments Against
The Sunshine Initiative is a major step toward open government. Drawing on years of experience encountered by good government activists, much of the language is based on working models from states such as Massachusetts, with effective sunshine laws.

  • The length and complexity are reflective of the various means bureaucrats have employed to avoid our laws.

  • State and Federal law may, indeed, supersede in some instances.

  • Costs For Open Government. The City hired 1400 new staff people last year. Surely many are qualified to keep basic, modern, businesslike records. That is all this initiative seeks. Yet opponents' estimates are based on several new employees.

  • Unrealistic costs for "new equipment" and record storage. Opponents ignore recent advances in technology and simplifications that allow anyone to perform duties previously reserved for "technicians."

  • The City may need to re-assign a staff person to handle the backlog from the previous Sunshine Ordinance. But with major loopholes closed, clear laws and penalties, fewer complaints will come before the task force.

Opponents are wrong - 99% of Sunshine requests are not routinely granted. It's exponentially less.

...And what about THE MILLIONS IN SAVINGS from public scrutiny of contracts; the postage, reams of stationery, and staff time currently spent on public inquiries that posting on the city's website will save?

We ask opponents, at what point do you draw the line and say,

"Open government just ain't worth it?"

Yes on G

Tom Ammiano
President, Board of Supervisors

Leland Yee, PhD
Chair, Finance Committee, Board of Supervisors

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Created: November 18, 1999 14:59
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