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Scenes from the Women’s March

Maelle, Hillary Ronen's daughter, tells the crowd that "Donald Trump needs a very long time out."

Maelle, Sup. Hillary Ronen’s daughter, tells the crowd that “Donald Trump needs a very long time out” as Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer watches
The young and the experienced join in denouncing Trump
At least 50,000 people, probably many more, were at the march
Rhonda Smith, from the Sf Right to Counsel Committee, says “tenants rights are women’s rights.”
Jone Fornier and Jamie Sutton have a message for 45
Elizabeth Asdorian and her daughter, Takouhi Asdorian, are rallying against racist policies. “I’m here to let all women and young girls know that they’re not alone, that they’ve power and that we stand together in this world,” Takouhi said
The force was with this march
Our sentiments exactly

 

D5 resident says Breed can’t run in June as “acting mayor”

Can one person be both mayor and board president -- for six months?

A District Five resident has challenged Acting Mayor London Breed’s ballot designation for the June election, adding another wrinkle to the question of whether one person can serve as both mayor and president of the Board of Supes for an extended period of time.

Karen Fishkin filed a formal challenge this afternoon to Breed’s effort to be listed on the mayoral ballot as “acting mayor.”

“Acting Mayor” was added after the filing deadline

That ballot designation is a bit strange anyway: Documents on file with the Department of Elections show that Breed initially described herself as “president, Board of Supervisors.” That’s what the documents showed when she filed for mayor on the final deadline day, Jan. 9.

But two days later, on Jan. 11, that designation was crossed out and replaced with “acting mayor/supervisor.” The change was initialed “MM,” apparently a reference to Breed’s campaign manager Maggie Muir.

Fishkin notes that under state election laws, a ballot designation by an elected official may only include “an office to which he or she was elected by a vote of the people.” If the person holds office by virtue of an appointment, the designation must say “appointed incumbent.”

“Acting mayor is neither a job that London Breed was appointed to or elected to,” Fishkin’s appeal letter states. “Acting mayor is not an occupation, because she is not paid to do the job of acting mayor.”

The appeal cites a December 12, 2017 memo by City Attorney Dennis Herrera that states that Breed has the right to hold both offices until June. The memo argues that Breed has never been sworn in as mayor and isn’t getting paid the mayoral salary.

The ballot designation may not seem like a huge deal, but the power of incumbency is real. It clearly means enough to her campaign that Muir showed up two days after the filing deadline to change it.

“I wish we’d had an extra two days,” Jon Golinger, who is managing Sup. Jane Kim’s campaign, told me.

Fishkin told me that she filed the appeal as a private citizen and not a member of any group. “What she did, whether on purpose or not, was take advantage of this tragic event,” Fishkin told me. “There are rules, and the need to be followed.”

The appeal with challenge Herrera’s Office: If, as the city attorney argues, Breed is only acting mayor because she was the board president when Ed Lee died, an although she has all the powers of the mayor she can still be president of the board, effectively running both branches of government, then “acting mayor” doesn’t appear to be a legal ballot designation under state law.

It’s another twist in this strange situation where Breed is in essence trying to run as the incumbent without actually taking the oath of office – which would require her to renounce her board seat.

Herrera will have to make a decision fairly quickly so the issue can be settled – and if necessary, litigated – in time for ballots to be printed.

Newsom’s final try at undermining voter control of the waterfront

Gavin Newsom is suing the city where he was born and served as mayor. Photo by Steve Rhodes

A judge heard closing arguments Wednesday in the State Lands Commission’s lawsuit to overturn Proposition B, which requires voter approval for new construction on the San Francisco waterfront that exceed existing height limits. The commission, on which Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom sits, filed the lawsuit in 2014 shortly after Prop. B passed.

Gavin Newsom is suing the city where he was born and served as mayor. Photo by Steve Rhodes

Throughout the lawsuit, the state has argued that the Burton Act, the 1968 state law that delegated control of the waterfront to the San Francisco Port Commission, specifically does not allow direct voter involvement in Port decisions.

In her closing argument, Deputy City Attorney Christine Van Aken, representing San Francisco, said the state’s interpretation of the law ignores 50 years of practice on the waterfront. As an example, voters passed Proposition H in 1990 to prohibit hotels on Port piers, she said.

In a ruling issued in the case before trial in 2015, Judge Suzanne Ramos Bolanos seems to have already agreed and indicated voters may pass ballot measures affecting land use on the waterfront.

The state has further tried to show that Prop. B will cause the Port to receive less revenue on future waterfront projects. When projects require voter approval, the state argues, developers feel they need to make concessions—such as not building as tall as they might otherwise want, or increasing the percentage of affordable housing—to appeal to voters and gain support.

“The duty of the trustee is to do the best job it can for the beneficiaries, and Prop. B interferes with the city’s ability to do that,” said Deputy Attorney General Joel Jacobs in his closing argument.

 “But do you have any evidence that Prop. B interferes in that way?” asked Bolanos, interrupting him. “You don’t have any evidence that absent Prop. B there would be more revenue, and other purposes that would be fulfilled.”

“As to the financial aspect, I believe there is considerable evidence,” said Jacobs. “I understand where the question is coming from, and it’s an important question. From a financial perspective, there was harm.”

The state relied on an expert witness, Karen Weymann, who analyzed the two waterfront developments voters approved since Prop. B passed, and concluded that because of Prop. B, revenue declined.

But Van Aken disputed Weymann’s conclusions, and said her method of comparing the projects’ financial term sheets from before Prop. B to current versions of the projects “doesn’t make any sense.” A term sheet is an early snapshot, she said, and project proposals change up to the last minute before they are approved by the Planning Commission and finally the Board of Supervisors. Van Aken said the only person who defends the method is Weymann herself, whose analysis is entirely based on it.

Van Aken said that even if the projects’ term sheets are compared to the projects today, one project, Mission Rock, is projected to bring more revenue to the Port than anticipated at term sheet, and the other, Pier 70, is projected to bring in either the same or greater revenue.

Different conclusions have been drawn based on different ways sources of revenue can be calculated and accounted for. Many of those details were only presented to the court in closed sessions, to protect the confidentiality of ongoing negotiations surrounding the project. Van Aken argues Weymann focused on specific kinds of revenue and cherry-picked the worst numbers, “ignoring the good numbers.”

Jacobs disputed that claim. “If the city believes that there are other numbers which are good numbers that went up as a result of Prop. B, where are those numbers?” he said. “I don’t think we’ve seen them, just a big overall analysis.”

The role of affordable housing was also raised. After Prop. B, developers increased the percentage of affordable housing in the proposals before placing them on the ballot for voter approval. Because funding for the affordable housing in both projects is subsidized by the city and not the Port, “Port revenue is fully protected, and we have this other good thing,” Van Aken said.

But Jacobs took issue.

“Affordable housing is a city goal it wants to accomplish, and it is using these projects as a vehicle to accomplish those goals,” he said.  “This is technically a form of self-dealing.”

“Promoting affordable housing is a form of self-dealing, but isn’t affordable housing a statewide interest?” Bolanos asked.

Jacobs contended that it is not a waterfront public trust issue. “Finding housing for the people of San Francisco is primarily a local interest, and not a public trust interest.”

“Even if it’s not a public trust interest, it doesn’t conflict with a public trust, does it?” Bolanos continued.

“Your honor, that’s the question,” Jacobs replied.

Outside the courtroom after closing arguments, former City Attorney Louise Renne said she’s hopeful the judge will rule Prop. B is valid. “I wasn’t able to sit in on the whole trial, but from what I saw, I didn’t think the state made their case at all,” she said.

“I found a lot of the state’s argument to be completely inconsistent, in my view, with the public trust,” she added. “The state was making a big deal about developers not getting their maximum amount of money because of Prop. B, but my question to that would be, since when does the public trust mean developers get top dollar for their projects?  I didn’t think the public trust doctrine was about maximum profits for developers.”

Van Aken said she doesn’t know when a ruling may be issued, but does not expect a long delay.

Newsom’s agency keeps trying to tell voters they have no say on waterfront

Protesters ask Newsom to call off the suit against SF

The State Lands Commission continued to make its case in court Tuesday to overturn Proposition B, which requires voter approval for new construction projects on the San Francisco waterfront that exceed existing height limits. The trial, which started last week, was filed immediately after Prop. B was passed in 2014 by the commission, on which Lt. Gov. Gavin Newson sits.      

Deputy Attorney General Joel Jacobs confers with expert witness Karen Weymann outside the courtroom on Tuesday morning

The state’s argument at trial seems to be that the Port has lost money because of Prop. B, as demonstrated through expert witnesses who analyzed the two waterfront developments, Pier 70 and Mission Rock, that the voters have approved since Prop. B was passed. The state also pointed out that the Port is far from flush with cash and could benefit from additional funds. In particular, urgently needed repairs to the Seawall may cost as much as $2-$5 billion, for which funding has not yet been identified.

But Deputy City Attorney Christine Van Aken, representing San Francisco at trial, demonstrated through several witnesses that financial term sheets, which were used to estimate a project’s value pre-Prop. B, are non-binding documents and frequently change as a project progresses. They are not a guarantee of projected income, several witnesses testified.

Van Aken told 48 Hills that project proposals routinely undergo many changes for a number of reasons which can be difficult to attribute to any one cause.  “No one in the trial was able to isolate it and say, ‘I did a deep dive, and identified that after Prop. B, the cost or benefit was XYZ dollars,’” she said. “No one has said that.”

Reached for comment Tuesday afternoon, a spokesperson for the State Lands Commission had difficulty articulating their argument for overturning Prop. B. Asked if maximizing revenue was the most important factor to consider when evaluating waterfront proposals, Sheri Pemberton, chief of external affairs, said that was not the commission’s position.  

“I couldn’t speculate about the arguments presented in court, but I can tell you the issue at hand which prompted the commission to pursue litigation,” she said. “The principle the commission is trying to uphold with the litigation is the statewide interest, and the right to have access to these public trust lands.”

But Pemberton couldn’t cite examples of how Prop. B conflicts with that principle and said those answers could be found in the legal briefs the state has filed in court. “There’s a lot of complexities associated with the litigation,” she said. “It’s all explained in those documents, and being litigated at this time.”

The Attorney General’s office, which is representing the Lands Commission in court, was not able to provide someone to comment about the trial.

Regarding the two waterfront projects voters approved since Prop. B’s adoption, Van Aken said, “There can’t be any question, I think, that these projects will benefit the public trust.”

“The State Lands Commission is saying that Prop. B is invalid in each and every application,” said Van Aken. “Given that Prop. B has resulted in quick and certain approval process for these two projects, and that there was resounding community consensus behind them, I don’t see how you can say that each application of Prop. B is incompatible with the trust. The State Lands Commission doesn’t have any examples of how it’s not.  Their case is based on ‘what if,’ ‘what if,’ ‘what if…’”

All testimony in the trial is expected to conclude on Wednesday, and closing arguments may be heard as early as Wednesday afternoon.

 

Cops push stunning ballot measure to allow Tasers

The San Francisco Police Officers Association – the folks who have opposed every major effort at reforming the department – has put up $80,000 so far to pay for signature gathering for a ballot measure that would completely undermine civilian oversight of local policing and mandate that the city spend millions of dollars buying Tasers for every officer.

The measure is stunning both in concept and in policy: It would allow the POA to force on the city a weapon that the Police Commission has already debated for years and has agreed to phase in slowly, with proper oversight.

The Taser x2, which the cops want to force the city to buy, is largely untested in the field.

It would require the mayor and the supervisors to fund the purchase of the controversial devices with additional money from the General Fund. It would override the ability of the commission and the chief to set policy for how and when Tasers can be used.

And it would directly contradict the approach that the chief, the commission, and many community advocates have come to accept as the basis of the department’s Use of Force Policy: The notion that officers should first try to de-escalate and defuse situations before resorting to potentially lethal weapons.

There are paid signature-gatherers on the streets today with petition for what’s called “The Safer Policing Initiative.” According to records with the Department of Elections and Ethics Commission, it’s sponsored by the Community Alliance for Jobs and Housing, a downtown-backed group that includes some of the more conservative labor unions. Yimby Action is a member. So is SPUR.

Gary Delagnes, the former president of the POA, who has a history of defending racist and violent cops, is the group’s secretary.

Laura Clark, executive director of Yimby Action, told me that her group is not supporting the measure:

We have not voted to support that initiative, and we sporadically take different positions than the coalitions we are a part of. I think that’s pretty normal.

Personally, I’ve seen data that indicates that when police forces get tasers it does not bring down the number of shootings, but instead creates a new category of situations that are now tase-able, that used to be resolved non-violently. I think that analysis is compelling. I think there might be room to move from guns to only tasers, or to do a program that involves a lot more training and linking the tasers to mandatory reductions in the use of guns. Because these provisions are not in the current initiative, I am not supporting it.

I haven’t yet heard from SPUR. [UPDATE SPUR’s executive director, Gabriel Metcalf, told me that the POA ballot measure “will be going through the SPUR ballot analysis process, along with all the other ballot measures. We don’t have a position till then.”

The city’s been debating tasers for years. For the most part, the Police Commission has been wary about the devices, which have a long history of misuse and are, in fact, not “non-lethal.”

In the wake of a series of police shootings that led to the resignation of former Chief Greg Suhr, the commission sought input from national experts, who reached a series of policy recommendations. Among them – and at the top of the list of most modern policing policies – is the idea that officers should be trained in de-escalation techniques and should seek solutions to conflicts that don’t involve shooting anyone.

The current chief, Bill Scott, agrees with that concept.

The Police Commission agreed this fall to allow officers to carry tasers – but not until the de-escalation program and the new Use of Force policy is fully implemented. That would be December, 2018 at the earliest. And the Board of Supes would still have to allocate money for the stun guns.

I’m against giving cops tasers under any circumstances; they’ll be abused and wind up hurting and killing people. But at least the commission took a measured, reasonable approach.

This initiative would throw that entire community process, and the idea that a civilian commission gets to decide on Use of Force politics, out the window.

It would also take away from the supes the ability to decide that this is not something the city wants to prioritize for funding.

But between the POA’s money and money that I suspect will come in from Taser International, the company that makes the so-called Conductive Energy Devices, this measure could pass – unless every elected official and credible community group in town comes out against it.

So far, the response from City Hall has been pretty quiet.

The initiative states that the department must “purchase enough CEDs to provide every uniformed officer with a CED.” The money would have to come from the General Fund – so this is, in effect, a police set-aside.

The officers – on the basis of a ballot measure – would have the right to use tasers whenever they believe someone is “actively resisting” or “exhibiting any action likely to result” in injury to an “officer, themselves, or another person.”

The Police Commission guidelines are more likely to state that a taser can only be used after de-escalation techniques have been attempted and officers who are trained to defuse situations and deal with mentally-ill people have been brought onto the scene.

The policy that would be mandated by this initiative – which could not be changed except by a four-fifth vote at the Board of Supervisors – would allow individual officers wide discretion to zap suspects.

I’m pretty sure that in the 35 years I’ve been covering San Francisco, the voters have never approved a ballot measure that allows the cops to override civilian policy on the use of lethal force. It’s frightening to think about what could happen if this succeeds.

And so far, there has been very little news media attention.

Keep this in mind when you meet someone on the street with a ballot measure that talks about “safe policing.”

The Agenda: Ron Conway gets his way

Two of the leading candidates for mayor told me this week that they think something went very wrong with the Planning Department’s decision to move forward the application for a condo-conversion permit for the building owners who evicted 100-year-old Iris Canada.

Mark Leno told me that “The Commission’s decision is a breath of fresh air as it provides a sense of justice too long delayed. As you mention, the Department’s determinations raise many disturbing issues.”

Sup. Jane Kim told me that “of course this is a problem.” She said that the Canada eviction was so prominent in the news media that it’s hard to believe the planners didn’t know about it and were willing to check the box that said the building had no evictions.

It’s not that hard to figure out where people have been evicted. Someone in the Planning Department ought to be tracking that anyway. The idea that this almost slipped through is shocking.

Perhaps the supes can hold a hearing on the process that planning uses to track evictions.

Sup. London Breed did not respond to my text message seeking comment. 

For ten years, Airbnb was able to devastate the housing stock in San Francisco, building a $10 billion company while thousands of apartments were turned into hotel rooms. For the first few years, the company operated with an entirely illegal business model: Every single Airbnb unit in San Francisco violated the city’s short-term rental ban. Every one. And the city, under Ed Lee, did absolutely nothing.

A 2014 bill by then-Sup. David Chiu allowed the practice of turning rental units into hotel rooms to continue, legally; Breed was on the majority side of a shocking list of 6-5 votes that gave Airbnb everything it wanted. In the end, Kim voted for the bill, even after losing every significant attempt to amend it.

At the time, critics warned that there was no way to enforce the measure, and that thousands of tenants would lost their homes as landlords sought higher returns in the hotel business. Evictions continued to soar, rents continued to rise, and somewhere around 8,000 apartments that could have been available to desperate tenants were rented as short-term vacation units.

Plutocrat Ron Conway and his pals, including Airbnb board member Reid Hoffman, rewarded Chiu with more than $500,000 in IE spending against David Campos in their hard-fought race for state Assembly.

Finally, the city was forced to impose the fundamental rule that Campos had pushed for in 2014: A requirement that Airbnb and other STR companies bar illegal units from their sites. And now, guess what? Most of the 8,500 San Francisco listings on Airbnb are about to vanish.

That’s because they were never legal. Yet they continued to operate, and make millions for the company, because Lee, Chiu, and their allies refused to enforce the city’s laws and protect tenants against the greed of a multibillion-dollar tech company.

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee Meets Wednesday/17, and one of the items on the agenda is a long-delayed hearing on the enforcement of short-term rental laws. It might be time to talk not just about today’s enforcement but about how many tenants lost their homes, and how many were unable to find rental housing, under the last administration’s Airbnb-friendly policies.

Most of the mainstream news coverage of the mayor’s race, including this otherwise fine and accurate piece by Rachel Swan, uses the word “moderate” to refer to Acting Mayor Breed. Breed herself says she has no ideology and is not a partisan.

But anyone who wants to know how this mayor’s race is lining up needs to go beyond labels – Breed has voted with the progressives at times – and read this key scoop by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez at the Ex:

Welcome, folks, to the Great Supervisor Shakedown of 2018. 

Ron Conway, the tech mogul and billionaire ally of the late Mayor Ed Lee, has contacted moderate-leaning members of the Board of Supervisors with one message: Support Acting Mayor London Breed for interim mayor — or else.

That “or else” is clear and simple: Conway routinely spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on independent-expenditure committees to attack candidates he doesn’t like. Everybody on the Board of Supes knows that. They all got the message.

The reason this is so critical is that it shows what’s really at stake. Conway was  behind the Big-Tech-friendly policies of Mayor Ed Lee, and was behind the election of Big Tech-friendly politicians at the local and state level. He’s among the people most responsible for the current state of the city – for the housing crisis, the tens of thousands displaced, the radical income inequality, the loss of entire communities.

Now: Neither Kim or Leno is a radical anti-tech socialist. Kim voted for the Twitter tax break. Leno worked with Conway and Lee on state Ellis Act legislation.

But Conway apparently sees them both as a serious threat to his control over City Hall – and the policies that have made him and his Big Tech and Real Estate pals even more rich and powerful. He is all in with Breed.

That doesn’t mean Breed has promised him anything. As I have said before: She has her own political compass, and her votes are not always with the conservatives.

It does, however, mean that Conway – and since he works closely with other local oligarchs, most of the Big Tech and Real Estate leadership – feels very strongly that Breed is the person most likely to continue with the policies they like. They see her as the successor to Ed Lee. They are very savvy operators with billions of dollars at stake. Maybe Conway is wrong, and in the end, Breed, if she’s elected, will got against him. But he clearly doesn’t think so.

The so-called “moderates” on the board, apparently, are listening to Conway. There are no candidates who can get more than five votes for interim mayor (even people who would be relatively neutral caretakers). Conway’s money means more to a majority of the board than the concept of separation of powers, the fact that most voters want a caretaker, or basic fairness.

In my mind, there’s nothing “moderate” about the Conway agenda. His economic policies are essentially Trumpian, aimed at creating great wealth for the few and telling the rest of us that some of that will trickle down.

So if you don’t like what the policies of Ed Lee have done to San Francisco, keep that in mind as you think about the mayor’s race and who Lee’s people are supporting — and as you think about voting for supervisor in June and November. Instead of “progressives” and “moderates,” maybe we should talk about “Conways’ Crew” and “The non-plutocrats.”

As of this week, there will be no board meeting this week to consider whether to allow Breed to continue to control both branches of government. Breed didn’t schedule a special meeting in time, and at this point, nobody has six votes anyway.

Conway, so far, is getting his way.

Planning Commission rejects condo application after 100-year-old was evicted

Peter Owens, who bought 678 Page Street, evicted all the tenants under the Ellis Act, and sold the units as TICs, tells the Planning Commission that he should be able to convert to condos after evicting a 100-year-old woman

The San Francisco City Planning Commission unanimously rejected an attempt by the building owners who evicted 100-year-old Iris Canada to convert their property to condos after every single commissioner said that the application submitted by the owners, and the information provided by the planning staff, were inaccurate.

Peter Owens, who bought 678 Page Street, evicted all the tenants under the Ellis Act, and sold the units as TICs, tells the Planning Commission that he should be able to convert to condos after evicting a 100-year-old woman

The 6-0 “intent to deny” motion sends the application back to planning staff, who now will draft a formal denial motion, which will be heard Feb. 1.

The move is the latest chapter in a terrible story: Canada, who had lived in her unit for more than 60 years, was evicted and died shortly afterward.

But the planning staff accepted a conversion application stating that there had been no evictions at the property in the past five years.

That was, the commissioners noted, demonstrably untrue.

“I believe there is inaccurate information on this application,” Commission President Rich Hillis said. “Whatever the cause was, there was an eviction.”

The law states very clearly that a building that was cleared by the eviction of a senior or disabled person is not eligible for condo conversion.

Peter Owens, who appeared at the hearing, bought the property at 668 Page Street in 2002, for $1.3 million. Within a week, he filed for Ellis Act evictions of the ten tenants. He intent, he told the commissioners, was to “create home ownership opportunities.” What that actually means is that he bought a building intending to kick out the existing renters and turn it into tenancies in common – and make a huge profit in the process.

But people who buy TICs pay higher interest rates on loans and always want to convert to condos. The city has pretty strict rules on those conversions, since condos are exempt from rent control and eliminate rental housing units.

In this case, Canada fought the Ellis Act eviction, and as part of the settlement of that case, Owens agreed to allow her a “life estate” – the right to stay in her apartment as long as she lived.

As Commissioner Christine Johnson noted, “condo conversions should be clean and amicable.” All the residents of the building should be on board – and in this case, she said, “death is not amicable.”

Owens and his lawyer argued that Canada violated the terms of her life estate by moving out of her unit in 2012. That’s the same argument they made in court.

But speaker after speaker made it clear that Canada was in fact living in her unit.

Among the items submitted as evidence: One of the building’s occupants argued against a construction project at an adjacent building by telling the planners that the project would block the light of a senior citizen – Iris Canada – who was living there.

“I know she was living there, I had been visiting her, sitting on the red sofa that she liked,” Tommi Mecca of the Housing Rights Committee noted.

Canada’s niece, Iris Merriouns, pointed out that Canada had every right to travel from time to time, and to visit friends. In her later years, after a stroke, she spent time in the hospital. None of that should violate her right to live in her apartment.

Besides, none of that should matter: If the owners evicted her, that should have been on the conversion application, and it wasn’t.

Deepa Varma, executive director of the SF Tenants Union, said that the sheriff’s office came and changed the locks on her door while Canada was at a senior center. Many of us were there on the street when her belongings were removed.

The residents of the building who pushed for the conversion complained that the tenant activists were “harassing” them. One resident pointed to, and showed the commissioners, a poem that Mecca wrote that was published in 48hills. If that’s harassment, “I’m glad to be a dangerous poet,” Mecca told me.

The case raises larger questions: How did we get to this point? How did the Planning Department staff not realize that there had been an eviction at 668 Page Street? What process does the staff follow to check on the records of building that apply for condo conversions?

It’s not that hard. The anti-eviction mapping project has a tool that lets you check any property in the city for evictions. I typed in 678 Page and instantly found that six units were cleared by an Ellis Act eviction in 2002. A simple google search would have shown that Iris Canada was evicted in 2017.

There’s a larger issue here, which Commissioner Dennis Richards discussed:

“What’s going on in this city kind of makes me sick,” he said. “It’s so selfish and so money-oriented.”

He told the residents of the building, who portrayed themselves as people who just wanted a better deal on their homes, that “when you bought these units, you knew they were Ellis Acted.”

So this is a rare victory, but an important one: The Planning Commission has decided that there are limits to how horrible property owners can be, that clearing a building through the Ellis Act, selling it as TIC, and then evicting a 100-year-old woman is not okay.

Key rent control bill dies in Assembly committee

Tenants urge Assembly members to support tenant rights. Housing Rights Committee photo via Twitter

The effort to allow cities to impose effective rent controls failed in a state Assembly committee today after two Democrats refused to vote for the bill.

The repeal of the Costa-Hawkins Act needed four votes to move forward. It died, 3-2, when Assemblymembers Jim Wood of Healdsburg and Ed Chau of Arcadia abstained from voting.

Tenants urge Assembly members to support tenant rights. Housing Rights Committee photo via Twitter

That continues a disturbing pattern of Democrats siding with the real-estate industry on tenant issues. Demorats control the Governor’s Office and have super-majorities in both houses of the Legislature, but the landlords still seem to rule.

Former state Sen. Mark Leno was unable to get even a modest reform of the Ellis Act through the Assembly. Now, this.

Tenants flooded the Capitol and pressed lawmakers to address the epidemic of evictions that are in part responsible for the homeless crisis in California cities. But that wasn’t enough to overcome the power of the California Apartment Association and its allies in both parties.

Protests erupted in the Capitol after the vote, with tenant groups occupying the rotunda.

This is a breaking story, and we will keep you posted.

The narrow loophole that lets Breed control both branches of government

London Breed, flanked by what looked like every elected SF official, addressed Ed Lee's sudden death at a press conference at City Hall.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera says that London Breed can be both mayor and Board of Supervisors president for the duration – because of one little loophole in the law.

Attorney Dean Preston has questioned whether Breed can do both jobs, since the City Charter makes clear that mayor of San Francisco is a full-time position.

London Breed, flanked by what looked like every elected SF official, addressed Ed Lee’s sudden death at a press conference at City Hall.

I’ve looked at the ballot handbook for the 1977 Charter amendment, Prop. E, that has the relevant language, and it’s fascinating. The measure was introduced by then-Sup Quentin Kopp, who according to my historical sources, was angry that Mayor George Moscone was still part of a law firm and used to dictate memos to his legal secretary from City Hall.

(UPDATE: Kopp tells me that is inaccurate: “That Charter amendment resulted from the late and great Joe Alioto’s practice of dictating law office material to Ann Racich, his mayoral secretary, in Room 200, City Hall, almost every Saturday. He had a thriving law practice. George Moscone had been in the law firm of Bridgett, Hanson et al, but not as a partner or associate, and was not part of a law firm in 1977 or 1976 after his election as Mayor. George had nothing to do with my characteristically successful ballot measure. Please correct the misinformation of your historical sources.” I stand corrected.)

Whatever the reason, the language of the measure is very clear: Mayor is a full-time job, and the occupant can’t do anything else. Presumably, that includes being a supervisor.

“With the extensive responsibilities of government management and the complexity of issues in need of mayoral attention, it is imperative that the Mayor serve solely in that capacity,” Kopp’s ballot argument – which would serve as legislative intent in a court proceeding – states. “This would not only remove the hint of conflict of interest, but more importantly, it would guarantee that full time is spent on the business of providing efficient and effective San Francisco government with no possible distractions.”

The Charter provides that the Board of Supes president becomes acting mayor in the event of a vacancy – but in at least the last 70 years, no acting mayor has served for more than a few days. Dianne Feinstein was acting mayor for eight days after the death of Moscone; at that point, the board appointed her mayor and she resigned her supervisorial seat.

When Gavin Newsom resigned to become lite guv, the board quickly appointed Ed Lee as mayor.

Preston argues that the charter never foresaw a situation in which the board president could be acting mayor for months at a time.

So how do you address the conflict? According to John Cote, the city attorney’s spokesperson, it comes down to one issue:

As acting mayor (not interim mayor), Breed never takes the official oath of office. So she’s not really the mayor. Sort of:

As our office has opined before, there is a distinction between Acting Mayor and Mayor.  I’d refer you to this memo. The President of the Board of Supervisors becomes Acting Mayor by operation of law when the Mayor’s position becomes vacant and serves in that capacity until a successor is selected.  They are not, however, the Mayor. They are the Acting Mayor. As we noted in the memo: 

Because the Board President serves as Acting Mayor by virtue of her tenure as Board President, she does not take an oath of office to enter on execution of the Office of Acting Mayor.

The President of the Board is not sworn in as Mayor because they are not the Mayor.  They are still board president with temporary authority to wield the power of Mayor, even though they don’t hold that office. 

The acting mayor, under the charter, has the full powers of the mayor.

But because of that technicality – she never took an oath – Breed can write the 2018-2019 budget, appoint the committee that reviews that budget, vote on that budget, and sign that budget.

It’s important to separate this issue from the politics of Breed and the mayor’s race. Whatever your opinion of Breed, it’s hard to argue than any one person should have control over both the executive and legislative branches of government for more than a short period of time in an emergency. 

Kopp, as a member of the Ethics Committee, can’t comment on the issue.

But Preston said the opinion doesn’t make sense:

I have not heard back from the City Attorney’s office in response to my letter. 

The response you received says that “They are still board president with temporary authority to wield the power of Mayor, even though they don’t hold that office.”  This is inconsistent with the City Attorney’s previous statement that the Acting Mayor assumes the duties and obligations of the Mayor. Cote leaves out the obligations side, one of which is to only do the job of mayor.

If Breed can assemble six votes, she will become interim mayor. If not, she should vote for another interim mayor and return to being supervisor. What she cannot do is serve as Acting Mayor, Board President and Supervisor for six months.

This will all come up next Tuesday, when the board votes to consider appointing an interim mayor.

Will SF allow the owner who evicted a 100-year-old to get a condo conversion permit?

Iris Canada died shortly after being evicted

The SF Planning Commission is set to vote Thursday/11 on allowing the owners of the building where Iris Canada was evicted to convert to condominiums.

The centenarian died shortly after she was forced out of the unit where she had lived for more than five decades.

Iris Canada died shortly after being evicted

The eviction of Iris Canada became a huge political issue in the city – but the commission initially put the condo conversion, which was the prime reason for her eviction, on the consent calendar.

Only after tenant advocate Tommi Avicolli Mecca objected was the item moved to a full hearing.

And the paperwork for the hearing, with commission staff recommending approval, shows just how utterly messed up the city’s planning process can be. The commission packet states that there were no evictions in the building for the past five years, and that all of the tenants were offered the first right of refusal to buy their units.
That’s what the condo-conversion code requires.

In this case, the owners filed to evict Canada, the case was in Superior Court, was all over the news media, and many of us were there when the landlord changed the locks and took all of the ailing woman’s possessions out of her home.

“Of course there was an eviction,” Mecca, who works with the Housing Rights Committee, told me.

The application states that the unit was “vacant” between 2012 and 2017. That’s clearly not true – Canada had what’s known as a “life estate,” the right to stay in her home until she died, and was living in the Page Street apartment when she was tossed out.

The city was well aware of this issues here: In an April, 2017 letter to the city, Mecca noted that

Iris Canada, a 100-year-old African American woman who had lived at 670 Page since the 1950s, was evicted in February of this year by the owners of her unit: Peter Owens, Carolyn Radische and Stephen Owens. She was originally served an Ellis eviction by these same owners in September 2002, as were the other tenants in the other apartments in her 6-unit building. She got an attorney at Tenderloin Housing Clinic and managed to stay, until 2014 when Owens, Radisch and Owens filed another eviction against her. 

The law on this is pretty clear. If a tenant – particularly a senior – has been evicted to make way for a condo conversion, the city is supposed to deny it.

Subdivision Code sec 1386 reads:

When the City Planning Commission determines that vacancies in the project have been increased, or elderly or permanently disabled tenants displaced or discriminated against in leasing units, or evictions have occurred for the purpose of preparing the building for conversion, or if rents in the project over the previous 18 months preceding the date of filing the application have been increased substantially greater than any increase in the residential rent component of the “Bay Area Cost of Living Index, U.S. Dept. of Labor,” (except for increases reasonably related to construction of Code-required capital improvements directly related to Code enforcement, or to recoup the costs thereof), or when the City Planning Commission determines that the subdivider has knowingly submitted incorrect information (to mislead or misdirect efforts by agencies of the City and County of San Francisco in the administration of this Code), the Tentative Map shall be disapproved and the subdivider may not reapply for 18 months from the date of denial.

The Planning Department memo states that there is no record in Rent Board files of any eviction in the past five years. But landlords often fail to file their eviction papers with the Rent Board. And in this case, even a quick Google search would have shown the planners (who would have had to be completely out of touch with local politics to be unaware of the Iris Canada issue anyway) that the Page Street unit was the subject of an eviction of a senior.

One of the issues in the eviction: Canada was unwilling to give up her right of first-refusal to buy the place. That’s also public record, easily available to anyone who did even a cursory search.

There is more than just a vote on a subdivision and condo conversion at stake. The planners have a chance here to say that evicting a 100-year-old African American woman is not okay, and that the people who did it should not be rewarded with the very lucrative windfall that a condo conversion allows.

Iris Canada lived in District Five. Her supervisor was and is Acting Mayor London Breed. I texted Breed and asked if she had any comment on the condo conversion, but she didn’t respond.

Four of the seven planning commissioners are appointed by the mayor, and they often take their cues from Room 200. If Breed called for them to reject this deal, chances are good that it would happen.

The supes, who have to approve any changes in the subdivision maps, which are required for condo conversions, will also have a chance to weigh in. These things are often pretty routine – but the case of 668-678 Page Street is far from routine.

The item is number 16 on the commission agenda.