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Ruminations of a Former Supervisor / Quentin Kopp

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Surprising Primary Outcomes & District Elections

• • • • • • • • • • April 2024 • • • • • • • • • •

Quentin Kopp
Quentin Kopp

The ides of March are behind us (March 15th). May 15th, plus the 15th day of July or October, awaits under the ancient Roman calendar. So we can relax and think about the Giant’s Opening Day on April 5th at Oracle Park and Earth Day and Passover on April 22nd.

The March 5th, California primary yielded two surprises. Former Major League baseball player Steve Garvey, a Republican, and Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of Glendale were the top two finishers and, under California’s election laws arising several years ago from my friend then-Congressman Tom Campbell, they will compete on November 5th in the national general election for the U.S. Senate. Schiff, a Democrat, demonstrated his willingness by concentrating on making Garvey his opponent rather than either of the Democratic congresswomen, Barbara Lee and Katie Porter, who could’ve competed strongly against him. Trump supporter Garvey is a well-spoken political newcomer who Schiff will trounce.

The Democratic and Republican County Central Committees both contain new and moderate members who prevailed over left-wing and right-wing aspirants, respectively. The mayoral election broadened with the entry of former Superior Mark Farrell, who had a cup of coffee as mayor before deciding not to run against then-supervisor London Breed and, instead, become a high-tech millionaire. Supervisor Aaron Pesky, at this writing, plays cat-and-mouse with the media and political class over his potential candidacy to the point of “who cares?” He does and could be formidable.


Amidst the arguments about increased housing in Richmond, Sunset, Telegraph Hill, Marina, and elsewhere, remember Mark Twain’s Advice: “Buy land. They’ve stopped making it.”

Perhaps of more importance is the effort to qualify, for the November ballot, a Charter Amendment restoring at-large voting for supervisors from 11 districts in odd-numbered years starting in 2025. With former Mayor Frank Jordan, Robert Guichard, and me as co-chairman, we say, “End the 24-year experiment with District Elections.” It’s been divisive and disastrous. Now, you can vote only for one member of the Board’s 11 members every four years. The other ten supervisors care not about your thinking, and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Before adoption of the “New City Charter” (as proponents dubbed it) in 1995, you had the right to elect all 11 Board members and hold them responsible. Instead, district supervisors are elected with few votes. One was elected, for example, in 2022 with only 8,237 votes, constituting 1.6% of registered voters! That’s not representative government. City Hall stagnation has given us a drug epidemic, rampant homelessness, deficit spending, limitless regulations, fees, taxes, loss of population, and business closures.

It is past time for a change. Campaign headquarters is 45 West Portal Avenue. You can go to to request petitions or make a contribution to a Charter Amendment, which allows all S.F. voters to elect all 11 supervisors while assuring every district has a representative on the Board. We need 49,819 valid signatures of registered voters by July 8th to qualify for the November 5th election.

Another group of taxpayers have been charged for building a downtown arena for a professional basketball team, expected to cost at least $900,000,000! Last month Oklahoma City voters approved a six-year 1% sales tax for the benefit of the National Basketball League’s Thunder. Their owners will only contribute $50,000,000 but collect 100% of the net revenue.

Last January, Assemblyman Corey Jackson, a legislative beauty from Riverside County, introduced the Assembly Constitutional Amendment (ACA7) to divide Californians, as William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal phrases it, by race. Jackson lists his legislative interests in Capitol Inquiry as including “Business… Diversity, Equity & Inclusion…” In 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court prohibited colleges from treating people as racial group members rather than individuals, just as California voters did in 1996 with Proposition 209, a campaign State Senator Tom Campbell, Governor Pete Wilson, and I co-chaired.

In 2020, California voters rejected a proposal to undo Proposition 209 and approve racial performances in education, employment and government contracting. Voters defeated such effort 57.2% to 42.8%. Jackson’s bill adds a provision allowing the governor to create “exceptions.” McGurn opines that doing so “Effectively…” would gut the bans.

I conclude with a corollary to the election of Board of Supervisors members. Threatened by a lawsuit based on the 2002 California Voting Rights Act, our Board of Education acted to change its membership elections from at-large to district-based. Professor John Trasviña of Diamond Heights wrote a stinging Op-Ed in the Chronicle identifying the faults of such action from his experience as a graduate of our public schools, past president and general counsel of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and past dean of the University of San Francisco Law School (and, like me, a graduate of Harvard Law School). John opines that such change isn’t to protect minorities but to avoid lawyers suing the school district and making money.

I’ve commented before that then-Supervisor John Barbagelata and I made a mistake in November 1981 with a ballot measure amending our Charter to remove the mayoral appointment of Board of Education members in favor of electing them. Based on the decline (with good reason) of public school enrollment in S.F. and John Trasviña’s observations, I’d like to restore the mayor’s authority.

As high school seniors await action on their college applications, I’m reminded of Elbert Hubard’s conclusion: “You can lead a boy to college, but you can’t make him think.”

Amidst the arguments about increased housing in Richmond, Sunset, Telegraph Hill, Marina, and elsewhere, remember Mark Twain’s Advice: “Buy land. They’ve stopped making it.”

Quentin Kopp is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator, SF Ethics Commission member, president of the California High Speed Rail Authority governing board and retired Superior Court judge. 

April 2024

Quentin Kopp
Quentin Kopp

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