The Agenda, Aug15-21: The DCCC, Republican donors, and the supes races …

And a new BART Board race, and (maybe) the limits of growth ... we look at the week ahead

I am intrigued that a New York Times columnist is startled at the lack of growth in much of the world and the resulting problems for the capitalist economy. “The weakness in global supply and demand seems to be pushing each other in a vicious circle,” Neil Erwin writes.

I could go all Marxist and talk about how ol’ Karl predicted this a long time ago, but that’s not really the point here. Nor is about Say’s law, which hardly anyone except the far-right economists believes anymore.

Is this a vision of the future of SF that we really want?
Is this a vision of the future of SF that we really want?

There are plenty of people who will say it’s about too many people chasing too few resources. And others who argue that technology allows us to provide for more people with less inputs. This debate has been going on for decades.

But Erwin only in passing notes one factor (virtually all of the growth in the economies of modern capitalist countries have gone to 1 percent of the people) and never mentions the really scary one:

Modern corporate capitalism only works if there is constant growth. There is no model in our system for a steady-state economy. We have to be constantly taking more resources out of the planet, making more shit, finding new ways to extract wealth … or the whole thing falls apart.

I say this not as some sort of global manifesto, which I am utterly unqualified to present, but as a message to San Francisco politicians and planners. More is not always better; bigger is not always better. Sim Van Der Ryn, the visionary architect and planner, once asked me what American insists on “a perpetually adolescent economy.” I ask the same question all the time in this city.

All of the plans for the future of San Francisco, the Bay Area, the state of California assume constant, endless growth. Why?

I just want to raise the question, crazy and radical as it seems: What if we are happy with the city the size that it is, and we don’t want to have 200,000 more residents? What if growth isn’t always good, because to grow in a place with limits imposed by nature you always have to give up something you already have?

What if unlimited growth, in San Francisco in 2016, benefits only a tiny fraction of the population, and in the process causes often catastrophic harm to the vast majority?

Maybe then you make different planning decisions.

 

The strength of the narrow progressive majority on the Democratic County Central Committee will be tested Wed/17 when the policy arm of the local Democratic Party meets to decide on endorsements in the local fall elections.

Sandy Fewer (d1), Kimberly An lvarenga (D11) and Hillary Ronen (D9) are part of the progressive slate for supe.
Sandy Fewer (d1), Kimberly Alvarenga (D11) and Hillary Ronen (D9) are part of the progressive slate for supe.

The panel will also discuss imposing a $500 limit on campaign contributions, which could radically change the way DCCC campaigns are run. In this last round, some candidates raised huge amounts of unlimited money. In fact, Dede Wilsey, a registered Republican who is in a bit of trouble over her job at the DeYoung Museum, contributed more than $100,000 to the conservative candidates for DCCC this fall – at the last minute, so the voters didn’t know until after the election that a GOP stalwart was trying to buy the election.

Matier and Ross picked up the Wilsey story after the Examiner broke it, and Wilsey told the Chron’s Dynamic Duo that she’s “basically an independent.” But check out how much money she’s given to some pretty bad operators: More than $300,000 to the Republican Congressional Committee (which seeks to elect Reps to the House). $2,700 to Paul Ryan. Money to Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Trump’s pal Chris Christie … She is not someone who shares the political values of San Francisco Democrats. And yet, some San Francisco democrats were happy to take her money in a way that it would never be revealed until after the election.

And those DCCC members will be voting for the conservative candidates for supervisor.

 

Most of the supes races, and the major ballot measures, will be contentious.

The progressives narrowly elected Cindy Wu as the new chair, replacing Mary Jung, who is a lobbyist for the Board of Realtors and a Dede Wilsey favorite. But the people who the voters elected to the job are only part of the picture – every Democratic state or federal elected official in San Francisco is automatically an “ex officio” member, which means Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, state Sen. Mark Leno, Assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu and state Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma get to vote, too.

They never show up, of course, but are allowed to send a permanent proxy.

The progressive slate of elected members won a clear majority of the contested seats in June, but with the ex officios, the balance of power is very close. And even the progressives may not be able to keep their members in line.

When the Bay Guardian endorsed candidates for that job, the editors (including me) were told very clearly that everyone running on the progressive slate had agreed to oust Jung and vote for a new chair who was part of that slate – and to endorse the progressive candidates in Districts 1, 9, and 11. Now it seems that some of the members of that slate are saying they never agreed to that, and want to support Ahsha Safai in D11.

So there we are. Safai, a house-flipper who was once sued for mortgage fraud and who has the complete support of the real-estate industry, may have enough votes to block an endorsement of Kimberly Alvarenga. I can’t imagine Safai actually getting the nod, but the DCCC may wind up going “no endorsement” in one of the most critical local races this fall.

Alvaranga held her kickoff Sunday, and the place was packed with neighborhood and community and labor activists. She’s going to have plenty of people on the ground, but it’s going to be a close race.

It will be fascinating to see how the committee comes down on some of the ballot measures, particularly the public advocate and the measure to create a commission overseeing the Mayor’s Office of Housing. Mayor Lee wants to block both measures, and those votes will come down to the ex-officios.

The meeting starts at 6pm at the state building, 455 Golden Gate.

 

The race for a San Francisco BART Board seat took an interesting turn this week when Lisa Feldstein, the former planning commissioner, decided to drop out. Tom Radulovich, the incumbent, had announced he was retiring from the board after 20 years, and endorsed Feldstein to replace him.

But Feldstein told me that the race wasn’t winnable, especially since former Sup. Bevan Dufty has decided to run. “It was simply going to be too expensive to run a credible race against Bevan,” she said, “and I don’t have access to the kinds of deep pocket necessary to raise that kind of money – especially in a month.”

So now Radulovich, who is not a fan of Dufty (and ran against him for supervisor) is now in the position of essentially giving his former rival that seat.

Dufty would, indeed, be hard to beat, since he has name recognition, the ability to raise money fast – and so far, a fairly positive response from the labor unions that were unhappy with the way Radulovich handled the BART strike when he was board president.

In fact, all of the unions representing BART workers are backing Dufty. “I was a public employee for 40 years,” Dufty told me. “I have always talked about how great public employees are.”

 

  • curiousKulak

    “constant, endless growth”

    Why?

    Globally, Births continue to outpace deaths, don’t they? If we could just prevent babies from being born; or kill off old people one-for-one, then that might solve the growth imperative here and on this planet. Maybe we could do with a Black Plague or Nuclear crisis

    Locally, Immigration continues to outpace emigration. If people insist on coming here, then maybe we should kick out some that are already here, to make way. Any suggestions, for restricting immigrants or selecting those who will leave?

    Those opposed to the former are generally in favor of the later. Not sure if its visa versa or not; but often.

    Agreed there is something ‘cancerous’ about the “endless”ness of it. But then human beings are like this. Don’t really know when to stop. And they always want more – comfort, prestige, knowledge, power. Meanwhile, we can make ourselves an island; for a little while.

    • Barbarajtanksley4

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    • Don Sebastopol

      Population growth is due to fewer deaths not more births. We are not breeding like rabbits but no longer dying like flies. That started with in 1950’s with medical advances. The birth rate in developed countries is declining as are their populations. We have the benefit of immigration. The percent increase in population growth is declining and should level off by 2040 or 2050 then start to decline. Future generations will have to deal with the problem of no growth.

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  • FunKing

    Feldstein was profiled for the BART position on SF Streetsblog and was widely panned for having no transportation expertise and some rather unfortunate, contradictory and inflammatory comments she had made to the media.

    I suspect that was a factor in her decision

  • Brian T

    All of the plans for the future of San Francisco, the Bay Area, the state of California assume constant, endless growth. Why?
    >>Because people keep having babies and immigrating to the US. Until you have a plan to end both of those things, we need to grow.

    I just want to raise the question, crazy and radical as it seems: What if we are happy with the city the size that it is, and we don’t want to have 200,000 more residents?
    >>You can’t always get what you want. Tell me how you plan on implementing this? How do you stop people from moving to SF in a country where freedom of movement is guaranteed?

    What if growth isn’t always good, because to grow in a place with limits imposed by nature you always have to give up something you already have?
    >>Nice strawman argument. Of course growth isn’t always good. Almost nothing is always good. Life is about making hard choices.

    What if unlimited growth, in San Francisco in 2016, benefits only a tiny fraction of the population, and in the process causes often catastrophic harm to the vast majority?
    >>Another strawman argument. How exactly would slow/no growth help the vast majority?

    >>You can’t control who moves to SF. You just can’t. We can try to build to accommodate our new neighbors, or we can burry our heads in the sand. Slow/no growth is not a solution to our problems. It’s one of the major causes.

    • playland

      Good questions @whateversville:disqus and @Brian T.

      I’m also anxiously awaiting Tim’s plan to prevent people from moving to San Francisco, and to learn how it dove tails with that pesky US Constitution.

      I would hazard a guess that the basis of his plan is “If you don’t build it, they won’t come”. The basic theory being that if we can kill off any new market rate development that the people who would have taken them all just give up and stay in Milwaukee. And that none of them already live in San Francisco and would have vacated a home of lesser value.

      There is an alternative theory that the potential inhabitants still do exist and they tend to bid on the existing housing stock.

      • whateversville

        “The basic theory being that if we can kill off any new market rate development that the people who would have taken them all just give up and stay in Milwaukee. And that none of them already live in San Francisco and would have vacated a home of lesser value.”

        San Francisco’s Chief Economist’s analysis of the Mission Moratorium found that 97% of new high-income households in San Francisco move into existing housing, and that “the vast majority of the people who do live in new housing in San Francisco are not new residents of San Francisco – whether high-income or otherwise. 84% of the occupants of new housing lived in another residence in San Francisco one year previously.”

        If you’re curious, you can read Tim’s response to that analysis here.

    • Don Sebastopol

      It’s immigration not the birth rate. Without immigration we would be like other developed counties. They are providing incentives for people to have more babies with limited success.

      You can’t stop people from moving to SF but you can stop building. In any case I don’t believe the population forecasts by urban planners; they always get it wrong.

  • whateversville

    “I just want to raise the question, crazy and radical as it seems: What if we are happy with the city the size that it is, and we don’t want to have 200,000 more residents?”

    OK. Then what? Palo Alto didn’t want to add new residents/housing, so people competed over what little housing there is, and now the median house price is $2.5 million. It’s very clear that some people don’t want new residents in their city. The question I have for ostensible progressives who hold that opinion is how you propose halting growth without accelerating San Francisco’s slide towards a gated city for the rich.

    “What if growth isn’t always good, because to grow in a place with limits imposed by nature you always have to give up something you already have?”

    What if the limits are imposed by people? What if the thing we have to give up is a car-centric suburban lifestyle that consumes vast amounts of natural resources?

    “What if unlimited growth, in San Francisco in 2016, benefits only a tiny fraction of the population, and in the process causes often catastrophic harm to the vast majority?”

    What if halting growth, in San Francisco in 2016, benefits only a tiny fraction of the population, and in the process causes often catastrophic harm to the vast majority?

    • Don Sebastopol

      There is a limit on the rich unless more rich move here from other places. Even that has its limits. How many of the 1% will move here. What’s wrong with living in a gated community. Nice if you can afford it.

      People are not likely to give up the suburban, or less urban, lifestyle. Over 80% of the jobs in the Bay Area are in the suburbs not San Francisco. More an more who live in SF are reverse commuting.

      Regarding Palo Alto 1,400 workers who live in Palo Alto work in SF and 7,000 who who live in SF work in Palo Alto. Maybe because SF is a comparative bargain?

      • Jolenebcampbell

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  • Don Sebastopol

    Good question about growth. What if it stopped. Developed countries have the problem low birth rates and declining populations. Without immigration we would have the same problem. If we did who would pay for our pensions. The world population growth rate is declining and should level off by 2040 or 50 and then start to decline. What if the developing countries China and India become successful and people from there stop coming to the US. How will be manage the decline in demand for housing. Will our property values decline?

  • Andy M

    What if the only point of that article is inflame a small group of readers in order to generate clicks and views, which up until recently were visible to all readers?

    What if the author, who writes a lot about political donations, receives donations from many of the same politicians who receive positive press in this blog?

    What if the people who were the subject of this discussion weren’t called for comment, which many would consider a breach of journalistic ethics?

    What if the author uses a hypothetical questions framework to try and disguise innuendo and slander as actual reporting.

  • Victoria Fierce

    > Modern corporate capitalism only works if there is constant growth. There is no model in our system for a steady-state economy. We have to be constantly taking more resources out of the planet, making more shit, finding new ways to extract wealth … or the whole thing falls apart.

    A fundamental mistake is the assumption that economic growth is exclusive to corporations.

    I have some news for you, Tim. The economy is made up of people. People who get paid. People who spend on things they need. And most relevant of all: people who produce more people.

    If an economy’s net output is $9k per person in a population of 200k, adding one more person means that the net output has dropped by a small amount. Add more people, and it drops all the same. This means that as more people appear and participate in the economy, the share of the economy available to each person gets smaller and smaller and smaller.

    If the net output of the economy does not grow while population grows, people die.
    If the net output grows while the population grows, people flourish.

    Tim, you appear to be advocating for limiting the economic potential of these humans in San Francisco that you purport to represent. Do you want these people to flourish, or do you want families to be forced to move out just because they want to have a kid and give that kid the same economic opportunities that the other 200,000 San Franciscans do?

    It seems that Tim’s vision of a future San Francisco one in which there are two kinds of people: the haves and the have nots.

  • SnapsMcKenzie

    Population growth is inevitable – you cannot mandate people do not have children.