Voters: Want to Pay $412M to Prepare for the Big One?

Thursday, May 27, 2010  |  Updated 1:00 PM PDT
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San Francisco voters on June 8 will weigh fears of a disastrous  earthquake against the city taking on $412 million in debt during a budget crisis to repair its emergency infrastructure.

      Supporters of Proposition B argue the repairs to existing  firefighting and police facilities are needed to prepare for the next major  earthquake, which scientists estimate may hit San Francisco within the next few decades.
   
The measure would have the city take on $412.3 million in bond  debt to renovate and make seismic upgrades to the city's auxiliary water supply system; to build, repair and retrofit fire stations; and to build a new Public Safety Building in Mission Bay that would house police headquarters, the Southern District police station and a fire station.
     
The Public Safety Building would replace the current facilities at the antiquated Hall of Justice at 850 Bryant St.
     
The measure allows an increase in property taxes to pay for the  bonds.
     
The city controller's office estimates the increase could range  from $2.60 per $100,000 of assessed property value in the next fiscal year to $18 per $100,000 in fiscal year 2016-17.
     
Landlords would be allowed to pass on half of the property tax  increase to tenants.
     
San Francisco has an estimated budget deficit of $483 million for the coming fiscal year.
     
The measure -- which requires a two-thirds vote to pass -- has the broad support of nearly all city officials, including Mayor Gavin Newsom and  most of the Board of Supervisors, police Chief George Gascon and fire Chief  Joanne Hayes-White.
     
Gascon has called the move out of the Hall of Justice "absolutely critical," arguing that in the current facility, police command could be cut  off during a critical emergency such as a major earthquake or terrorist  attack.
     
Hayes-White says the city's nearly 100-year-old emergency water  supply system, built after the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake, is deteriorating.
     
Supervisor Chris Daly, the measure's lone opponent on the board, has spoken out against it, saying the proposal is politically motivated.
   
 Daly, in whose district the Hall of Justice stands, noted in an official ballot argument that the measure would not replace the building's other residents: the courts and the county jail.
   
 Daly said "it won't just be the people that we have locked up  fighting for their lives in a major earthquake. It will also be the deputy sheriffs, district attorneys, judges and jurors, and members of the public who are unlucky enough to be there when the next big one hits."
     
Daly argued that proponents of the measure don't think voters are  willing to fund a new jail or tackle the Police Department's scandal-ridden  crime lab. He said the measure should be rewritten.
     
The measure as originally introduced was $652 million, but $240  million -- which would have funded a new forensic sciences center for the medical examiner's office and crime lab -- was later removed.

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