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The Associated Press reported on January 20:

Amid a tough reelection fight, Mayor London Breed has declined to veto a non-binding resolution from the San Francisco supervisors calling for an extended cease-fire in Gaza, a measure she blamed for inflaming tensions in the city.

Similar language about Breed "declining to veto" or "refusing to veto" the resolution was used in articles by the San Francisco Chronicle and Fox News. All three articles describe Breed as being critical of the resolution, using verbs like "slam", "criticize" and "fault".

But I am not so sure if it is accurate that Breed did not "veto" the resolution. Here's what actually happened:

  1. On January 9 the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a resolution "calling for an extended cease-fire in Gaza". (See this AP report.)

  2. On January 19 Mayor Breed issued a statement on this resolution in which she criticizes the Board of Supervisors for passing it, explaining the reasons why she finds it problematic. See the statement on Breed's X account: link. The statement is a formal letter addressed to the Board of Supervisors. The letter ends with the words: "I return this resolution without my signature."

The issue here is that as far as I understand, in US politics in general, and San Francisco city politics in particular, there is no legal distinction between "vetoing" a resolution and "returning it without [the executive office-holder's] signature". Here is the relevant section of the San Francisco city charter, titled "veto power":

(I added emphasis on a part of it that seems relevant)

SEC. 3.103. VETO POWER.

Any ordinance or resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors shall be promptly delivered to the Mayor for consideration. If the Mayor approves the ordinance or resolution, the Mayor shall sign it and it shall become effective as provided in Section 2.105 of this Charter. If the Mayor disapproves the ordinance or resolution, the Mayor shall promptly return it to the Board of Supervisors without the Mayor's signature, accompanied by a statement indicating the reasons for disapproval and any recommendations which the Mayor may have. Any ordinance or resolution so disapproved by the Mayor shall become effective only if, subsequent to its return, it shall be passed by a vote of the Board of Supervisors required by Section 2.106 of this Charter. Any ordinance or resolution shall become effective, with or without the Mayor's signature, unless it is disapproved by the Mayor and returned to the Board of Supervisors not more than ten days after the date the ordinance or resolution was delivered to the Mayor's Office for consideration.

On the counter-argument side, Mayor Breed's statement on the resolution does contain several passages in which she appears to create the impression that she does not want to veto the resolution, or even that she has decided not to veto it. However, nowhere does she explicitly state that she is "declining" or "refusing" to veto the statement, or is "refraining from vetoing" it, "not vetoing it", etc - the language she uses when discussing a "veto" is suggestive but vague. The only explicit action she is describing herself as taking is "returning the resolution without her signature". Per the city charter, that appears to constitute a veto.

My question

Were the news articles correct in saying that London Breed "declined to veto" or "refused to veto" the resolution?

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  • This looks like a question asking for the reasonability of an opinion or interpretation rather than solving a claim. There is no dispute of the only to the correctness of the use of a certain phrase.
    – SIMEL
    Jan 23 at 20:00
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    @SIMEL it's a factual question. Did Breed veto the statement, or didn't she? (If she didn't, I'd be satisfied that she can indeed be accurately described as "declining" to veto it.) I don't think my question is opinion-based, but if it is, then an explanation of why there is no objectively correct answer would also be a valid answer from my perspective. And it's a claim several news outlets have made, so certainly it counts as a notable claim and within the scope of Skeptics.
    – Dan Romik
    Jan 23 at 20:03
  • Isn't tweeting a picture of a letter but not actually delivering it (so that the resolution automatically takes effect) a completely plausible way to decline to veto something under those bylaws?
    – CJR
    Jan 24 at 3:27
  • So everyone involved in this lawyer-heavy process says it wasn't vetoed and the only evidence otherwise is that someone tweeted a picture of a veto letter? Preparing a letter and deciding not to send it is common thing that should be familiar to everyone, I think
    – CJR
    Jan 24 at 16:19
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    @CJR I had the same theory as you but I was intrigued enough to call the SF Clerk of the Board of Supervisors this morning to ask about this (see my answer below for more details). It turns out that the mayor's letter was actually officially included with her unsigned resolution. You can see that this is the case because the letter appears here as "attachment 11": sfgov.legistar.com/…
    – maksim
    Jan 25 at 0:29

1 Answer 1

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Yes, the news articles were correct.

You can read the final form of this legislation here. On the next-to-last page of the document, you can see that the Clerk of the Board (of Supervisors) has recorded the legislation as both "unsigned" and "approved", which confirms the quoted news reports.

enter image description here

Additionally, the Clerk added the below note at the very bottom of the doc linked above, completely removing any ambiguity on this:

enter image description here

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    I suppose the question then becomes did she have the power to veto in the first place? Reading this alongside the quotation in the question, it sounds like she did the most she could to object, which was then overruled by a vote - in which case saying she "declined" to veto would be misleading, like saying King Canute "declined" to stop the tides evidenced by the fact he got wet? Jan 24 at 22:44
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    @user56reinstatemonica8 the mayor could definitely have vetoed the resolution. According to the Clerk of the Board, the mayor would've had to explicitly say she is vetoing it in the letter attached to the unsigned resolution (which physically gets delivered by hand to the mayor's office and then to the clerk 😮)
    – maksim
    Jan 25 at 0:29
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    🤔 these rules are so confusing... 2.106 Veto Override says "The Board of Supervisors may enact an ordinance or resolution which has been vetoed by the Mayor pursuant to Section 3.103 if ... two-thirds of the Board of Supervisors shall vote ...", and it's Section 3.103 ("Veto Power") that describes unsigned returns (which she did?). So it looks like she used the 3.103 "Veto Power", but it passed via a 2.106 "Veto Override"? Does "board rule 2.14.2" say mayors can veto or override the veto override? Jan 25 at 14:39
  • @user56reinstatemonica8 I very much agree the rules are confusing. However, as my answer shows, it's unambiguous that the Mayor did not exercise Veto Power. Instead, she returned the resolution unsigned, and it was subsequently made effective with no further debate or voting.
    – maksim
    Jan 26 at 16:27
  • Ahhhh, I just found that her letter that you referred in your other comment actually talks explicitly about why she doesn't veto it. So, she did the whole veto/disapprove process, except for whatever legal magic words in the accompanying letter would have triggered a veto override vote, apparently because she didn't have a meaningful veto power and thought using her 3.103 "veto power" would merely sustain harmful political theater: Jan 26 at 17:43

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