For years, the San Francisco chapter of the Sierra Club has been part of a progressive environmental movement. The Club has worked on clean energy, better transit, and sustainable development – and has opposed giant, out-of-control projects like the Wall on the Waterfront. It’s worked with tenant advocates on affordable housing. The influential Club slate card typically endorses the same candidates as the Milk Club, the Tenants Union, and the Bay Guardian.

But for the past couple of years, developers and their allies have been trying to take over the chapter and change its politics. They want a more growth-friendly board that will support market-rate housing development and big commercial projects – and they want the club’s endorsement to go to developer-friendly candidates.

That would be a huge blow to progressive politics in San Francisco.

Last year, a pro-development slate of candidates was defeated after its controversial members attracted critical media scrutiny. But now a well-funded funded new organization, the YIMBY Party, is running a slate of stealth candidates for the club’s Executive Committee. 

While the individual candidates have been vague about their “urbanist” agenda, their sponsoring organization promotes an explicit platform of weakening environmental controls on real-estate development in the city.

The YIMBY Party was formed this year by Sonja Trauss, who previously created the SF Bay Area Renter Federation (SF BARF).  Trauss and her cohort have a simple solution to the housing crisis: Build more luxury housing.  Last year, Trauss told 48 Hills:

          New housing is expensive, because it’s new, and SF has tons of rich people. It’s appropriate to build new, expensive housing for rich people in expensive neighborhoods. Sierra Club (and No wall on the waterfront) are just rich people using their political capital to block housing in their fancy neighborhoods.

Trauss, whose crazy comments about the Mission helped delay construction of a big project on South Van Ness, is not running for the Sierra Club leadership this year. Nor is her former colleague, Donald Dewsnup, who has been charged with voter fraud.  Instead, Trauss’s new YIMBY Party is running a slate of lesser-known allies who all recently joined the Sierra Club with the express purpose of taking over the local chapter. 

While the YIMBY Party has not disclosed its entire budget, for its short existence it has become remarkably well funded—dwarfing in size the local Sierra Club’s own budget. Partial filings with the SF Ethics Commission reveal that since May the YIMBY Party received more than a $101,000 to support political campaigns.

The leading contributors included Mayor Lee’s ‘No DHLM’ ballot measure campaign committee and various shell political action committees funded by the Realtors, developers, and assorted tech billionaires. 

The YIMBY Party has also quickly established itself as a reliable ally of market-driven development policies.  In June, the YIMBY Party rallied to support the Governor’s ‘by right’ development proposal, which every major state environmental organization (including the Sierra Club) opposed because it would have weakened the California Environmental Quality Act and the state’s Coastal Act. The YIMBYs also endorsed the Realtor’s Proposition P, which would have opened up housing development of public lands to for-profit developers, and supported a variety of developer friendly candidates for elected office. 

Last week the YIMBY’s launched a slick mail campaign to bash the Sierra Club leadership and promote their slate.

The YIMBY effort to take over the local Sierra Club is being countered by a volunteer effort of club members who seek to protect the club’s independence and progressive record. If you’re a Sierra Club member, you can get more information here.

Voting for the Sierra Club’s officers ends December 16.

  • JustJake

    I’ll say it again, she’s an Astro-turf, on the sugar-daddy-teat, Yelp-funded dancing prima-Donna carpetbagger. Cue up Green Day “Know Your Enemy”…

    • Heart

      She most certainly is.

    • Jon Schwark

      this is such a rude misogynistic troll-spew thing to say from an account not using your real name. Progressive indeed

  • Y.

    I personally have at this point less patience than ever before for Republican-lite politics, dishonesty, psychos, and mouthpieces for the rich pretending to help the common folks. I hope that this time they lose even bigger than last time.

  • NoeValleyJim

    More dense development is certainly pro-environment and every chapter of the Sierra Club including the national chapter support infill development. Except for the San Francisco Chapter, which has been taken over by the oh-so-precious NIMBYs typified by the Telegraph Hill Dwellers, who pack the organization currently.

    If you are really in favor of reducing automobile usage and helping slow down global warming, you will support the YIMBYs and their efforts to get San Francisco to build more housing.

    • Foginacan

      It should be obvious the YIMBYs efforts will not end well for them.

      Season of the Witch 2: Don’t drink the Kool Aid.

      • NoeValleyJim

        The Boomers have gotten used to pushing everyone else around, they have gotten away with it for a long time. They are in for a shock as the new generation begins to stretch its wings.

        • Wagnerian_thrice

          Hi. Non baby boomer here. You don’t represent me.

        • Foginacan

          You support ruining the City as an act of rebellion against the Boomers? I guess I’ve worked out my parental issues already – you don’t represent me either.

          Plus I can’t think of any who have held notable office since Alioto. Peskin is only 52.

          • NoeValleyJim

            What generation is Ed Lee part of? And what generation do you imagine Peskin to be part of? What generation are Tim Redmond and Calvin Welch? All straight Boomer men, mostly white.

          • Jon Schwark

            Peskin maybe squeaks in there, but he’s a borderline Gen Xer. Are they all straight? are you sure? Does that even matter?

          • NoeValleyJim

            Diversity matters. When all the leaders are of a dominant culture, other groups get marginalized. Though I was just looking at a picture of the BoS and I have to admit, that it is a very diverse bunch. The Sierra Club, not so much.

          • Foginacan

            From ageism into race baiting? Something’s wrong with you.

          • NoeValleyJim

            The proper term is “Race Traitor”, you have your Alt-right terminology mixed up here.

          • Foginacan

            Like anyone thinks you’re conversing with someone involved or sympathetic to the alt-right? Is that the reason you randomly brought up white people? Don’t be a twit.

            I’d like to think SFBARF aren’t all deranged, but clearly you are.

          • NoeValleyJim

            Argumentum ad hominem.

          • Foginacan

            You lost the right to say that after you race baited for the 100th time. You didn’t always come off so mentally disturbed and prejudice.

      • disco_burrito

        Just like it was obvious that Hillary was going to beat Trump? Or that other time when Brexit was going to be defeated?

        • Wagnerian_thrice

          Comparing YIMBY to a Trump win is actually quite apt, I must say.

          • disco_burrito

            Right, because much like TPP and the Eurozone, Progressive housing policy is good for some and bad for many others.

            Not a Trump and or Hillary fan fyi

    • disco_burrito

      I agree. The sierra club has no business opposing dense urban development, even on the waterfront.

    • Do Something Nice

      But the YIMBYs don’t give a shit about the environment.

      The “No Wall On the Waterfront” people were OUTSPENT by the developer and others who wanted to build. And the MAJORITY of voters who voted agreed with keeping the height limits in place.

      Tossing everything that the Sierra Club has done out because of a single issue is nuts.

      • Victoria Fierce

        Opposing infill development – as the Sierra Club does – pushes newcomers further away from their jobs, which means longer commutes, which means more greenhouse emissions.

        Supporting more housing is definitely an environmental justice issue. How do you come to the conclusion that we “don’t give a shit about the environment”?

        • Do Something Nice

          You are not an environmental group. You are an astroturf group funded by developers, VC executives and tech industry millionaires who want to ensure that their profit stream continues at the expense San Franciscans.

          • NoeValleyJim

            https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/images/Housing_Development_Toolkit%20f.2.pdf

            The Obama Administration agrees with us, not you. We number in the hundreds now and are a growing movement. Dismiss us at our own peril, I guess you will just keep losing elections until you wake up.

            From the Obama Housinging Developer Toolkit

            Smart housing regulation optimizes transportation system use, reduces commute times, and increases use of public transit, biking and walking. A preponderance of a metro area’s commuters living far from work in pursuit of affordable housing prevents infrastructure, including public transit, from being used efficiently and effectively. Smart housing regulation would close the gap between proximity and affordability. More residents with access to walking, biking and public transit options also means less congestion on the roads and overall reductions in traffic congestion, greenhouse gas emissions, and commute times. Modern approaches to zoning can also reduce economic and racial segregation, as recent research shows that strict land use regulations drive income segregation of wealthy residents. Inclusionary zoning laws that facilitate working families accessing high-opportunity neighborhoods are effective in reducing segregation and improving educational outcomes for students in low-income families. Research also finds that more localized pressure to regulate land use is linked to higher rates of income segregation, while more state involvement in setting standards and baselines for land use is connected to lower income segregation, reinforcing to the key role that states can play in ensuring access to affordable housing is an even playing field for all residents.

          • Do Something Nice

            I’m talking about SFBARF. It is really that difficult for you to grasp that?

            As for your treats of dismissing “us at your own peril”, that just shows that you are an ideologue. And in case you have followed what I’ve written on this very blog, I agree that growing SF’s population to 1.5 million is a good idea.

            But not in the manner or to satisfy the motives advocated by SFBARF. And not if it displaces tens of thousands of people.

          • NoeValleyJim

            The SFBARF New Urbanist philosophy could have been used as a blueprint for that White House statement of policy. Is the Obama Administration “astroturf” as well?

          • Do Something Nice

            Whoosh. Have a nice day.

          • Victoria Fierce

            If we’re funded by developers, I’d love to see some of that money. But alas, we are not.

      • NoeValleyJim

        I don’t know if you are being deliberately obtuse or if I just did a poor job explaining myself. I will restate what I said in more simple terms:

        The wealthy Golden Gate Apartment dwellers who are generally opposed to any development have spent quite a bit of their personal money on trying to influence the Sierra Club election.

        If you have evidence that developers are spending money to influence the Sierra Club election, let me know, I would be curious who that might be.

        And no one is trying to “toss out everything the Sierra Club has done” we are trying to make it a more democratic and pro-environment organization by putting more sensible people on the Board.

        • Jon Schwark

          Follow the money, which group is running a huge ad campaign on Facebook? “Save” Sierra Club, not SFBARF. Is it so hard to understand that a skyscraper next to jobs in SOMA that had 40% affordable units onsite was opposed by the Sierra Club, leading to more sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions? You don’t have to be astroturf to see the current Sierra Club leadership is off the rails, you just have to look at their actions.

          • NoeValleyJim

            I just got another expensive glossy mailer from “Save Sierra Club.” They sure do have some deep pockets. It feels like they are trying to buy this election.

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  • sebra leaves

    Dense development is a developer’s wet dream. People who want to retain their privacy, and views, and build solar powered self-efficient homes prefer lower, less dense housing with shade free roofs.

    Build your dense cities connected to desert-array power grid systems, on higher, more stable ground, up near route 5 so you can step off the train onto your bicycle and whiz home after your commute from LA or Sacramento.
    San Francisco has a history and a reputation to maintain. People who don’t like it should go build their urban vision concept somewhere else and make a history of their own.

    • disco_burrito

      Yeah, lets build ghost cities, like they do in china. And let’s promote sprawl and marginalize younger generations so we can keep our views and our “shade free roofs.”

      • Wagnerian_thrice

        Oh dear, You say “younger generations”, but what you really are referring to is extremely well paid tech employees. Not all of us are programmers, and we like our views and solar roofs, and diverse cities. Take yr faux bitterness to the trash.

        • disco_burrito

          I grew up here, I’m not a tech employee and I’m not highly paid.

          Let me guess, you’re a baby boomer who is also a home owner?

          • Wagnerian_thrice

            Nope. Not even close.

          • disco_burrito

            Senior citizen with a rent controlled apartment?

          • Wagnerian_thrice

            colder

          • disco_burrito

            Idiot?

          • Wagnerian_thrice

            Hardly.

          • disco_burrito

            Then why would you support progressive (aka regressive) housing policy?

          • Wagnerian_thrice

            Cause I’m smart, and I’m not an asshole.

          • disco_burrito

            Apparently not smart enough to understand supply and demand.

            Progressive housing policy is only smart if you wish to prevent densification and preserve the built environment, regardless of social cost. So you’re either both smart and an asshole, or neither.

          • Wagnerian_thrice

            Oh, so tired. I understand supply and demand. I understand that it’s not the only variable in economics. I understand that that the free market is not the answer to every question. I understand that paving over San Francisco with luxury condos I not the answer to affordable and accessible housing for everyone. I understand that a takeover by the Sierra club by developers and libertarian douchebags is not beneficial to the natural environment.

          • disco_burrito

            So enlighten us, what’s the answer to affordable and accessible housing for everyone?

            I agree, the free market is not the answer to every question, and luxury pied a terres are not beneficial to the environment.

            Regarding the takeover of sierra club, it’s less about the taking over and more about highlighting the hypocrisy of opposing dense urban development.

          • Wagnerian_thrice

            No, it’s a takeover by vested interests. Everybody understands this.

          • disco_burrito

            That’s what I thought, no plan.

            Re Sierra club, they’re populated by vested interests right now. It doesn’t say in the mission statement “preserve the views of the telegraph hill dwellers at all costs” or “indirectly promote sprawl through the opposition of infill housing.”

            Being aligned with specific corporate interests does not make one a corporate shill or an anti-environmentalist.

          • Wagnerian_thrice

            Yet YIMBY/BARF is definitely shilling for the developer/builder industry. I have no doubt there’s abunch of ya’ll getting paid to spread this astroturfing bullshit.

          • NoeValleyJim

            I am getting paid? Where do I sign up? Real environmentalists are backing this effort, including many Green Party members. Regressives who are more worried about their parking spaces than housing are opposed to it.

          • disco_burrito

            Totally possible, though I don’t get that impression.

            Increasing supply doesn’t have to be all about Astroturf and “paving over everything.” We can zone for affordability by drastically reducing apartment square footage and eliminating parking requirements. This has the added benefit of getting more units of housing out of a given size building, and reducing the appeal to wealthy douchebags looking for a second home. This approach probably entails deed restrictions to prevent joining adjacent units to form larger luxury apartments.

            Again, the barrier to this sort of development is existing homeowners who don’t want more people in their neighborhood.

          • renew

            What has the YIMBY party been doing to increase the budget for subsidized housing on a national level, which has dropped considerably since the 1970’s?

          • Kraus

            Right.

            The NIMBY’s have created and supported anti-housing policies over the past 40+ years that have made it so difficult, time-consuming and expensive to create housing that so-called “affordable housing” (at least you call it by its more accurate name: “subsidized housing”) costs 900K for a 2-Bedroom (see 490 S. Van Ness.)

            — And you want more housing subsidies?

            How about making it easier to create housing?

            How about first instituting policies that actually encourage and incentivize housing creation before asking for more $’s for subsidies?

          • renew

            The point I’m making is, the U.S. government puts less money into subsidized housing than in the ’70’s and more luxury housing is being built in this country than any other type…which is not what we need right now. If the YIMBY party was working towards bringing more housing online for working class and even middle class folks then you might have more support, as we know developers drag their feet on building the affordable/subsidized housing that they’re already required to build. We can’t trust them to lead the way.

          • NoeValleyJim

            From the YIMBY Platform:

            “Effective ways to protect and preserve existing affordable housing units include community land trusts, resident owned and controlled cooperatives, the Small Sites Acquisition Program, Real Ownership Opportunities for Tenants Program (ROOTS), maintaining strong tenant protections, promoting homeownership, improving access to credit in minority communities, opposing abusive withholding of housing benefits, expanding federal funding for subsidized housing, providing lawyers for at-risk tenants and homeowners, and building more housing.”

          • renew

            Those are noble goals but when the YIMBY party supports many candidates and propositions that are in line with Real Estate development interests, these goals kind of get undermined.

          • Dewzer

            Supporting subsidized housing is a falsehood with empty promises proselytized by the die hard San Franciscan Nimbys that it would solve the housing shortage. But even Nimby allies admit subsidized housing is not a solution to our housing shortage but building more apartments are the solution to our housing shortage…..Then Dean Preston can write and pass legislation to take those new apartments into rent control. Dean Preston is a CHAMPION of rent control; living in his Victorian mansion next to Alamo Sq right? He won the Supervisor race right? So he is going to write legislation right after we build a fresh supply of apartments right? Building more apartments cools the rental market so both Airbnb hosts and wealthy attorney landlords get less for their rentals, right? Therefore, building more apartments is a rent control advocates and tenant activist’s wet dream, right? But a Nimby’s nightmare, right?

          • renew

            How was your voting experience on Nov. 8? Hope you got your right address!

      • Foginacan

        The ghost cities are a product of density.

    • Aaron

      I get that you feel your carbon footprint is compact and efficient, and if you’re not hurting anyone, you shouldn’t be disturbed. However, the thing is that the system is all connected together. Preserving specific views and parking in one place forces more displacement, and sprawl and car pollution in an adjacent place. It harms the environment when you look at the whole system. Think globally, act locally. Dense infill development is best for the global environment.

  • Sue

    Over and over again, the BARFers attempt to paint the local Sierra Club as anti-infill housing. It just isn’t true. While we have opposed several projects based on the details in those projects (not enough affordable housing, loss of rent-stabilized housing, and being over-parking, among other reasons), there is a lot of construction going on these days in San Francisco. The SF Group of the Sierra Club has not taken a position on the vast majority of construction happening in the city. On the other hand, we have opposed gutting the California Environmental Quality Act in favor of developers seeking to maximize the construction of market-rate housing — and profits. Here are two recent op-eds: http://www.sfexaminer.com/sierra-club-consistently-focused-protecting-environment-building-community/ and https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Proposition+D+Sets+Bad+Precedents&t=ffsb&ia=web

    • disco_burrito

      The sierra club should not oppose any infill housing, period. Opposing housing on grounds of “not enough affordable housing, loss of rent-stabilized housing, and being over-parking” (whatever that means) is not consistent with the mission of the club.

      • Sue

        Actually, the club, nationally, supports rent control and locally we support reducing parking requirements. We also don’t believe that all infill housing is equal. But we are democratic, and if you disagree, that’s why there are elections.

        • Hobo Catsuit

          THANKS SO MUCH SUE FOR INVITING US TO RUN IN YOUR ELECTION.

          SUE VAUGHAN, you PERSONALLY, rejected our appeal of our disqualification from the ballot. Luckily, your superior reversed your decision, and we remained on the ballot.

          DEAR READERS, Please understand, this woman, Sue Vaughn, so helpfully points out that we can run to try to get the club back on track, and then also, in violation of the bylaws, attempts to get us thrown off the ballot.

          • Foginacan

            “attempts to get us thrown off the ballot.”

            You’re illustrating reasons why.

    • NoeValleyJim

      Name some development that the Sierra Club has supported.

    • Hobo Catsuit

      8 Washington was infill housing.
      Sierra Club SF Group opposed 8 Washington.
      ergo, Sierra Club SF Group opposed infill housing.

      It could not be more clear, factual or explicit.

      • Jon Schwark

        160 Folsom was infill housing at 40% affordable. Sue, is there a percentage you would deem acceptable, or even a single development with one market rate unit you supported?

    • Hobo Catsuit

      Sierra Club SF Group opposed the Mission Rock development.
      Mission Rock development is infill housing.
      QED, Sierra Club SF Group opposed infill housing.

      Actions speak louder than words.

    • Hobo Catsuit

      Sierra Club SF Group opposed an upzoning that would have added 10 more floors of housing to 75 Howard.
      75 Howard is infill housing.
      … Sierra Club SF Group opposed infill housing.

      You can maybe fool yourself with ad hoc rationalizations, but we see you opposing infill housing over and over, so that makes us think you oppose infill housing. It is very very straightforward.

      If you want to convince people that the Sierra Club supports infill housing, try, supporting infill housing. That will be very convincing.

    • Dewzer

      Sue, there is no need to paint a picture when everyone knows that key leaders in the SC Bay Chapter have funneled Soda $$$$ into the local Sierra Club Super PAC……this last local election and it’s so transparent it’s really the elephant in the room. And by the way, why haven’t you disclosed your conflict of interest with the Bay Chapter members and the Sierra Club Executive Leadership with your questionable activities in City Hall and particular attorney’s and neighborhood association presidents????? Why hide those conflicts of interest and not disclosed them??? You are making a profit off those activities right???

      • JustJake

        OMG it’s Donald, the poster child for fraudulence. With all credibility known to be absent, we can easily disregard.

        • Dewzer

          Shocking isn’t it. you guys thought you ran me out of town with that lame hit piece. LOL

          Anyways, The SF Yimby Movement is bigger than any one individual and we are not going away. Now about that Soda money going into The SF Bay Chapter Super PAC in the last local election?????? Taking corporate money is not a liberal left virtue and Sue Vaughn’s conflict of interest in her leadership role in the Chapter vs her sweet heart deals as an “operative” with certain neighborhood association Presidents, politicians in City Hall, local attorney’s and SEIU1021??? Why has she not disclosed her political activities that are a conflict of interest with the SF Bay Chapter By-Laws???

    • Jon Schwark

      Name one you have testified in favor of Sue.

  • Laura Foote Clark

    Tim. You have my number. You could have called me to fact check some of this nonsense. Or even just listened to our podcast. I know you don’t like to do your homework, but come on. This is silly.

    https://simplecast.com/s/de2953c6

    • jhayes362

      Says one of the candidates. It’s a single issue slate: take over the local Sierra club in the interest of developer and real estate interests, both of which are profiting handsomely from the building boom.

      I researched the candidates, including Laura Foote Clark, and didn’t find anything to suggest any one of them gives a damn about the environment. Rather, it strikes me that they are a bunch of political climbers who want to use developer money and the Sierra Club to boostrap their way into political power. In this sense they are perhaps a more sophisticated version of the unsuccessful slate fielded by SFBARF last year.

      • Laura Foote Clark

        Generally when you write about someone – assuming you think you’re a reporter – you call them for comment. You do what’s known in the biz as “fact-check.” I know it’s not stylish these days, but it is an important part of writing news stories.

        But I this just confirms it: What we’ve got here is a Bullshit Ass Blog.

      • NoeValleyJim

        It is a single issue slate: take over the Sierra Club in the interest of the environment. There I fixed that for you.

        • Jon Schwark

          I don’t think people realize how much SOME real estate interest benefit from not building. It isn’t a single block. If you own an apartment building that is already at maximum zoning but not rent-controlled, you are getting rich as hell from this shortage.

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  • peacenik

    How did support for “in fill housing” become the litmus test issue for environmentalism? It is a false issue. Most “in fill” projects are approved without any opposition (even by the Sierra Club). But not every “in fill” project deserves to take up scarce land and resources. Building luxury housing which is a 2nd or 3rd ‘home’ for billionaires is merely supporting over consumption. E.g., Millennium Towers. Only apparently the YIMBYs believe that we should eliminate environmental and public review in the name of building luxury housing. YIMBYs are free to make that argument but they don’t need to takeover the Sierra Club to do it.

    • NoeValleyJim

      No you are wrong, most in fill housing is fought tooth and nail by the NIMBY extremists in this town, of which the Sierra Club currently is an ally.

      Yes, again, it’s always worthwhile to remind people of the facts — even if it’s irritating to those with an ideologically-encumbered mindset.

      There was no “housing crisis” in SF from the end of WWII until the 70’s.
      During this period, the system was such that it allowed the production of adequate amounts of housing relative to demand in order to keep housing costs relatively reasonable. From WWII to 1979, on average, we produced 32,000 units of housing per decade in this City.

      (This is why the hippies, i.e, the NIMBY’s of today like Calvin Welch, were able to buy old Victorians in the Haight.)

      Starting in the 70’s increasingly exclusionary/anti-housing/anti-density policies were introduced and over the years continually added to (e.g. through down-zoning, an increasingly cumbersome Planning Code and distended entitlement process, onerous fees, etc.)

      This “tradition” continues today to the point we have a Planning Code that is over 1600 pages and growing (BTW, the largest and most complex in the nation.)

      From 1979 until today, we have averaged 19,500 units of housing per decade — a 39% reduction in productivity. Within the current decade, with all the supposed construction going on, we’re only on track to actually finish barely 21,000 units.

      Production has dropped precipitously and continues to underperform due to a chronically inefficient, inordinately lengthy and expensive governmental review process. For the average 100-unit building, It takes 2 to 3 years and million$ in fees, just to get permission to build, then you’ve got to prepare the working drawings and actually build the project which typically requires another 2 to 2-1/2 years.

      Because of this, since the late 70’s, through every business cycle, housing costs in SF have risen at an increasingly unaffordable rate — ultimately reaching the “crisis point” we have today.

      This is not a “temporary problem”, this is a chronic, “hardwired” problem — created/exacerbated by flawed governmental policy — and it will continue indefinitely unless we reform our poor housing development policies to encourage and incentivize the creation of housing rather than discouraging it.

      The only viable solution is to build more housing — a lot more housing.
      Until we come to terms with this fact, our housing problems will persist and worsen.

    • Jon Schwark

      The idea that most infill housing is approved unopposed in SF is utter nonsense. Sorry.

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