“This is the Black Panthers vision, and its being evicted,” said Aunti Frances Moore, revolutionary founder of the Self-Help Hunger Program and poverty skola/teacher with POOR Magazine. She was speaking on the impending eviction from her North Oakland home — and the base of her deep rooted revolutionary community work with the Self-Help Hunger Program at Driver plaza, a small pocket park at 61st and Adeline, a block away from her apartment.
The devastation of eviction is something that destroys the spirit of anyone it touches, but for elders and children, as documented and presented to SF District Attorney George Gascon by POOR Magazine in 2014, it’s elder and child abuse. In the case of Frances Moore, this is abuse of an elder, of community love, power and liberation.
The triplex that houses former Black Panther Aunti Frances was sold to Natalia Morphy and her parents James and Alexandra Morphy in 2016. Oakland’s rent control laws limit how much landlords can raise the rent on existing tenants, and that applies even when the building is sold.
Median rents have skyrocketed in this gentrifying city, and can only be raised to market rates when tenants move out. So even though Aunti Frances has been an excellent tenant paying her rent on time, the Morphys want her out. Aunti Frances was served eviction papers on November 19th.
This is the Morphys’ third attempt to push her out. Rent control should make this impossible, but there are gaps in the legislation. If the eviction is successful, it is unlikely that Aunti Frances will be able to find other housing. She’ll either be forced out of the city, or into the streets.
“I am just tired Tiny, so tired of fighting for everything and then fighting just to live.” Frances and I speak all the time because she is integral part of our Elephant Council at POOR Magazine, our teaching staff at our liberation school, Deecolonize Academy, and our revolutionary building project us poor people have created called Homefulness — a poor people’s solution to homelessness. Frances is co-leader of the Stolen Land/Hoarded Resources Tours across Turtle Island, a theatre of the POOR teacher, radio producer and published author of the POOR Press publication called “The Making of Aunti.”
“We need to build Homefulness in North Oakland too,” she said at a recent POOR Magazine DegentriFUKation Tour held at Homefulness, East Oakland. Aunti Frances and the Self-Help Hunger program embodies everything we land liberators and community revolutionaries claim to be and do and she is a very important leader in the Oakland community who carries all of her spirit, her poverty scholarship, and her love into all she touches. But this eviction has truly dealt her another blow, pulling her into the depression, fear and loss that plagues all of us houseless and formerly houseless folks.
“Thank god for Aunti Frances and this community, otherwise I wouldn’t eat,” said Sam B, Black elder, life-long Oakland resident and POOR Magazine reporter who became houseless when his family home was stolen with the fake paper trail of an unpaid tax bill, only to be predated on by one of the many salivating gentrifiers that predate on all of us poor people every day.
The work and struggle of the long-time Black residents of North Oakland who are participants of the Self-Help Hunger program that feeds, clothes, supports, and offers love at Driver Plaza every week, and this eviction threat of Aunti Frances, is in so many ways a metaphor of the hypocrisy of the supposedly Black Panther-admiring Oakland. The Black community that built the spirit of Oakland, those who walked liberation and Afro-centric deep structure, are the very people who have lost their homes, economies, and lives to the lie of settler colonizers.
Elders and leaders like Sam B and Aunit Frances shouldn’t even be fighting to stay here. Matter of fact, the Oakland gentrifiers and the City of Oakland should be paying reparations to the people who made Oakland, Oakland.
A really bad housing bill that Gov. Jerry Brown has been pushing may be dead for now – but opponents are keeping a close eye on the Legislative leadership, where strange things happen at the last minute.
But Brown really wants this to happen, so he’s made a nasty kind of offer: The skinflint governor who has never put even a few pennies into real affordable housing has agreed to add $400 million in housing money to the budget – but only if his by-right measure passes.
In fact, he made it part of the budget process, in an attempt to force the affordable-housing community to support it. And some, like Randy Shaw, are arguing that the measure isn’t all that bad, and that housing groups shouldn’t be fighting it:
Legislative backers of affordable housing funding made a smart deal, as passage of “as of right” would eliminate the chief roadblock to Brown’s support for housing funding in future years. It could pave the way for over a billion dollars in new affordable housing funding to be allocated in the next few years.
But labor has a problem with the bill (there’s no guarantee of union jobs in the new development Brown envisions). Environmentalists have a problem with the bill, which is another attack on CEQA. And tenants and affordable housing groups, including Tenants Together, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and ACCE, say it will lead to displacement – and very little affordable housing.
Shaw thinks this could “lead the way” to more housing money, but that’s not in the deal – and might never materialize. Instead, the governor and the developers get to build market-rate housing, displacing existing vulnerable communities, and the entire state of California gets … $400 million.
That would build maybe, maybe, 1,000 units in San Francisco, maybe twice that number in other communities. So the state, which needs billions and billions of dollars in housing money, would get so little that, for all practical purposes, nobody would notice. The impact on homelessness and the need for affordable housing would be vastly outweighed by the increase in homelessness and affordable housing needs caused by dumping unlimited market-rate development into working-class communities that would have no legal right to fight back, or even to demand concessions from giant developers.
As of August 17, the affordable housing groups have said it’s time for the governor to admit that his by-right housing plan is going nowhere, and to free up the $400 million:
“Legislators and Governor Brown still have an opportunity to build homes affordable to thousands of Californians who can’t even afford to rent a decent place to live,” said Julie Snyder, with California’s Planning and Conservation League. “This money is a direct investment in reducing our state’s horrific level of homelessness caused by high housing costs and low wages.”
The truth is, Inglis said, there’s very little support in the state Legislature for Brown’s idea. (Not that many legislators, many of whom were once local elected officials, like the idea of giving up local land-use controls, some for the right reasons, some for the wrong ones.) The only way Brown could get any traction was to tie it to the budget and to affordable housing money.
“The governor released a statement complaining that we all walked away,” Aimee Inglis, acting director of Tenants Together, told me. “The truth is he decided to shove this proposal down our throats as part of the budget process instead of going through the normal legislative process.”
The Legislature has until the end of August to act on this, and under normal circumstances, it would be dead. But Sacramento is strange, and a small number of players can pull crazy stunts, so housing advocates remain vigilant. And we will, too.
More than a thousand people (my estimate) showed up today at the state building to weigh in on health-care costs – and make the case for a single-payer system in California.
Former state Sen. Mark Leno managed in 2015 – over the fierce resistance of the health-insurance industry – to get a bill passed that requires insurance companies to provide some clear data on their rate hikes and the reasons behind them.
The bill also mandated that state regulators hold a hearing once a year, in either San Francisco or LA – and this year, it was in the Milton Marks Auditorium in the state building.
Outside, a huge and loud crowd of mostly labor folks marched and rallied and made clear that the current system isn’t working.
Inside, testimony made that even more clear.
Leno noted that price increases have been somewhat lower since his bill passed. Although the measure doesn’t give the state the authority to regulate rates, just the transparency requirements have helped keep costs a bit more under control.
But he noted (as did others) that pharma companies and hospitals continue to charge at times outrages amounts for goods and services – and “if the insurance companies can’t negotiate a better price, then maybe the government should take over that role with a single-payer system.”
That brought applause. Pretty much everyone in the audience agreed that single-payer would be cheaper and more effective.
Some of the information was just crazy.
The average cost for health care for a family of four is $25,000 a year. That’s many times higher than the cost in most Western democracies that have a national health-care system – and the outcomes, by any measure of health, are worse in the US.
A member of UNITE HERE Local 2, which represents hotel and restaurant workers, talked of how every year the union has to decide how much money to allocate to pay increases – and how much to health care. It’s painful: Older workers need health care, but younger workers can’t afford to live in the city without pay hikes.
“My employer pays $12 an hour for our health care fund,” one UNITE HERE member noted.
Mike Casey, a longtime Local 2 leader, confirmed that to me: $12 an hour, much of which could be going to higher wages, winds up in the pockets of the health insurance companies.
I have always wondered why industrial capitalists don’t support single-payer — it would make General Motors more competitive and profitable. But as Casey told me, the CEOs are all part of the same game: “Big investment groups own the hotels and the insurance companies,” he said.
That was a theme all afternoon. “Where did my raise go?” asked stickers worn by workers. “To the CEO at Kaiser,” one of them told me.
That, and Big Pharma.
Data that the state has gathered shows that a significant amount of the money that goes to health-insurance payments is spent on vastly overpriced prescription drugs.
“There is still a lack of transparency about pharmaceutical costs,” Li Lovett, a teacher and union activist at City College, testified.
Assemblymembers David Chiu and Phil Ting both send representatives to speak. Either one talked about single-payer as the only solution.
But that’s what many of the labor people on hand today are pushing – and it’s going to be a serious campaign this year. As the Trump Administration looks to gut and repeal the Affordable Care Act, California isn’t going to have many options: Either we accept that two million people will lose their health insurance, or we push back – seriously.
The regulators who held the hearing today have no authority to make policy; as a long line of people spoke of the horrors of the current system, they could do nothing but listen. I wish the governor had been forced to sit and listen.
But UNITE HERE had a videographer tape the whole event, and it was powerful and moving, and as Casey said, “it’s going on the road.”
And the Democrats who control California are going to have to make clear: Are they really going to oppose Trump (by supporting single-payer) – or are they going to let the insurance industry and Big Pharma continue to control a dysfunctional health-care system?
Based on #Calexit tweets, the good people of Oregon and Washington would like to join us.
And Trump would probably be happy to see the West Coast go.
Maybe Nevada wants to join, too.
I’m only a little bit serious, but I’m only a little bit kidding. The West Coast seems to have to little in common with the rest of the country now. More important, the states and the cities that are not in synch with what Trump has in mind are going to have to do something pretty radical:
We aren’t actually going to secede (I think) – but we have to act as if we are.
By that I mean that California, and its major cities, now have to recognize that the federal government is not only no longer our friend, it is probably our enemy. And we have to stop thinking that Washington is going to help and start figuring out how we can deal with the massive impending crisis on our own.
And we need to start now.
We don’t know what Trump and a GOP Congress will do, but we can guess. And those guesses tell us that we are in for some serious shit.
We need to plan before the bad stuff comes down – and city and state officials need to immediately assure their constituents that they are on top of this. It’s as if we knew there would be a 9.0 earthquake in three months.
Seriously: People in the city are really, really scared. I was just out of college when Reagan won, but it was nothing like this – the Democrats controlled the House, we figured it would be bad but survivable … and of course, we were wrong. It was horrible. But as I walk the streets I see people more afraid than I’ve ever experienced in politics.
So far, City Hall and Sacramento haven’t responded.
So what we need to do is hold hearings and make plans for what we are going to do when:
The modest money we still get from the federal government for transportation, housing, and other services almost entirely goes away. That’s hundreds of millions of dollars. How is San Francisco going to replace that funding? We’re no longer talking about pushing a Clinton administration to add money for affordable housing; we’re talking about losing almost everything that’s left.
The Affordable Care Act is repealed and tens of thousands of San Franciscans and millions of Californians lose their health insurance. Where are they going to go when they get sick? How are we going to pay for the impact on SF General?
Medicare is so deeply cut that tens of thousands of seniors lose their health insurance. How are we going to take care of them?
Privatized Social Security tanks in a bad market, and tens of thousands of seniors can’t pay their rent or eat. Who is going to help them?
A huge new force of federal agents starts trying to deport thousands of San Franciscans, tearing up families and shattering communities. How are we going to respond?
The Charter School movement takes aim at our public schools at the same time that a new secretary of education pushes a radical-right agenda.
The list goes on; this is just a start. But it’s not far off – much of that could happen in the next 12 months or less. And then how about
The Trump economic agenda causes the markets to tank and the economy to go into a tailspin, and we have another deep recession, where tax revenue to local and state government falls off and we are facing deep deficits just as we most need local and state services.
As I said: An 9.0 or greater earthquake. And we don’t have any insurance.
I know it’s only been one day, but we need to get to work now. Mayor Lee: The city is full of people so afraid that they can’t go to work. What are you going to tell them?
The new supervisors will take office just as the Trump Earthquake hits. That’s too late – the board needs to start making plans now.
Gov. Jerry Brown needs to call an emergency session of the state Legislature to line up contingency plans: How will the state handle health care if the ACA is repealed in February? What will happen if the Environmental Protection Agency is defunded (as Trump promised) to the point where it can’t function?
Who’s going to address the very real potential for massive poverty among seniors?
I’m waiting for Jerry Brown and Ed Lee to say:
We are California, and we are San Francisco, and we can survive this. It will require the wealthiest among us (many of whom voted and worked against Trump) to accept much higher taxes. It will require us all to enforce Sanctuary City laws – even if that means, as Trump threatens, that we will lose federal money.
The state is going to give cities the tools they need to last this out (the Ellis act, Costa Hawkins, and every other law that restricts local rent control and eviction protections) will be repealed. State rules limiting local taxes will go. We will all work together to modify Prop. 13.
When the ACA is gone, we will create a state-run single-payer program that provides health care for all.
California is rich. San Francisco is rich. We can build housing for vulnerable seniors, and supplement what the feds cut, and create our own safety net. And we are going to do it, because we have no choice.
That’s what I want to hear, and I’m not hearing it. The earthquake is coming, and its damage is going to be incalculable. Why are we not getting ready, now?
I think it’s a good idea for the news media in town to all get together and talk about crucial city problems, and I’m glad Cooper is pushing this and focusing attention on homelessness. So yeah, I’ve said I would be a part.
And now I want to talk about why this problem isn’t going to be “solved,” despite all the media coverage, until we (and this includes the Chron’s editorial page) decide that we are willing to take the only steps that might actually make a difference.
I feel as if the media is doing the same stories and making the same suggestions, over and over – and the problem isn’t getting any better.
Let me start off with a story.
When I first arrived in San Francisco, in 1981, I met a woman who worked at the Haight Ashbury Switchboard, a community resource center where I also volunteered. She was disabled and living on SSI, and had a four-year-old son.
The two of them lived in a flat on Fell Street, and they constantly took in people who needed a place to crash; we called it the “Fell Inn.” Her rent was $175 a month for the flat; her SSI income was about $800 a month. She also got food stamps.
She wasn’t rich, but her kid had food and clothes and birthday presents and a safe, warm, secure place to come home to after (subsidized) preschool every day. There were homeless people in San Francisco back then, but not that many; at the Switchboard, we worked to help them find temporary housing, drug treatment, medical care, food stamps, welfare … and most of them were able to find actual housing.
An SRO hotel room was cheap enough that you could get $350 a month in General Assistance (welfare) and food stamps and stay inside and eat.
The last time I talked my old friend, she was living on the streets. She still got her SSI check – but housing became so expensive that there was no way someone on public assistance could afford it.
In the meantime, under Gavin Newsom, the city got rid of General Assistance and created “Care Not Cash.” No matter: SRO hotels were soon way too expensive for someone on welfare.
So the first problem is simple: Public assistance for people who (for whatever reason) can’t make a stable living hasn’t kept up with the cost of housing. Not even close. Under Bill Clinton, welfare was radically cut. It’s really hard to get on SSI without a lawyer. Federal support for affordable housing has almost vanished. So: People live in the streets. Is this any surprise?
Next: There are two sides to the “supply and demand” equation, and one of them is demand. San Francisco has created, by public policy, huge demand for housing, mostly by encouraging tech companies to locate here. The Peninsula has done the same. And everyone seemed to assume that by magic, the supply of housing would appear – fast enough to keep up with explosive job growth and a huge influx of people coming here from somewhere else to take high-paying jobs.
The Chron supported the Twitter Tax Break.
None of that is Audrey Cooper’s fault – the editorial page is distinct from the news sections. But seriously, we will never solve the homeless problem until we do some things that the Chron (and the rest of the local news media who wring their hands about homelessness) ought to be advocating for:
Stop the eviction epidemic. Every daily newspaper that ever complains about homeless people on the streets needs to make reforming the state’s tenant laws the number one priority and issue in the next governor’s race and in every race for state Legislature. As long as the Ellis Act and Costa-Hawkins are on the books, landlords will evict low-income tenants so they can rent to richer people. Stop those evictions and 70 percent of the people who are now on the streets might still be in their homes.
Require developers to pay for housing. The biggest beneficiary of the Twitter tax break wasn’t Twitter – it was the Shorenstein Company, which owned the building that Twitter moved into. The building was never supposed to be used for office space, and when it was converted, the city lost $25 million in impact fees (which could have paid for a lot of housing).
Growth should pay for growth. If you build an office complex for 10,000 employees, you should pay for the housing they will need.
Stop doing housing law backward. State Sen. Scott Wiener wants to force cities to build more housing. Instead, the state should tell cities to build less office space until there is enough housing for the new workers.
Stop worshiping the “market.” Even if every zoning law were repealed and developers were allowed to demolish anything they wanted and build all the housing they could imaging in San Francisco, prices wouldn’t come down and people who are living on the streets wouldn’t be able to afford a place to live. That’s not how modern markets work. The minute prices softened, the financiers would stop underwriting new housing in SF. There is no way the market can solve a problem that we created with bad public policy.
Pay up. Santa Clara County just passed a $950 million housing bond, with $700 million going to house existing homeless residence. San Francisco is a very rich city; we could afford twice that. How about every tech billionaire who made money by building a company in SF whose employs displaced existing residents and cause them to become homeless paid 10 percent of their exorbitant wealth to build housing for the homeless? If you just take the eight richest San Franciscans from the Forbes 2016 list, they are worth $89 billion. Most of that money is from tech.
Ten percent. $8.9 billion. That’s housing for every homeless person in the city, easy. And Mark Zuckerberg will never miss a meal. There’s a pledge Mayor Lee could promote.
Index public assistance of every kind to the cost of housing. Bring back GA; give people who are living on the streets enough money to pay the rent. Yeah, some of them will use it to buy drugs or alcohol, but a lot of people who are housed do the same thing. Housing First means first get people off the streets; the rest comes later.
Rethink economic development. When Mayor Lee faced a high unemployment rate early in his term, he did what so many other mayors do: He tried to attract high-paying businesses to town. What that did was bring in high-paid employees from other parts of the country, who forced out existing residents, drove up costs for everyone, and created spin-off service sector jobs that pay so little that the workers can’t live here.
Imagine if he had done the opposite. Imagine if he had done a labor-pool analysis, looked at who the unemployed San Franciscans were, what skills they had, what training they needed – and worked to create living-wage jobs for them, first?
Take drug and alcohol addiction seriously, and accept modern methods. There is no “treatment on demand” in San Francisco. There are nowhere near enough critical psych beds, and there haven’t been for years. A wet house and safe injection sites are obviously part of the answer, and Mayor Lee hasn’t been held accountable for refusing to support those ideas.
Take seriously the “demand” side. Why, when we have a horrible housing crisis, is San Jose about to approve a plan to let Google build office space for 20,000 workers – and nowhere near the housing they will need? At what point do was ask, as David Talbot did several years ago, “How much tech can San Francisco take?”
The crisis in homelessness isn’t going to be solved with new navigation centers. I support those efforts, but they will never be enough.
We need to seriously rethink our housing, economic development, and planning policies. Starting now. Or we will all be doing these same stories next year, and the year after that.
It’s the price we pay for vast economic inequality and great wealth. We can fix that, too. But not the way this city is going.
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.
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.
PARTY RADAR Just as we had sighed some relief upon hearing that Elbo Room’s lease had been extended for another year of course there was bad news waiting to leap out at us like a bachelorette screeching “Thats so random!” at a gay bar.
And then came news that the city’s oldest gay bar, The Gangway, scene of queer debauchery and hope for more than 50 years (and a bar for more than 100) was being sold to the owner of the proudly trashy and quite icky Kozy Kar bar (itself the site of former gay bar N’Touch) to become a “kung fu laundromat.” Oof.
Is there hope for the Gangway now? To save it either through political will, like the Eagle, and/or or community support, like the Stud? (Full disclosure: I’m a Stud Collective member.) Well, everything is still in the transition stage, and although Supervisor Jane Kim has yet to issue a statement, word from her office is that there is “grave concern.”
The Gangway signaled that it want a buyer for awhile, but no one from the gay community ponied up. Losing a historical queer Tenderloin watering hole — just as the neighborhood is inaugurating a transgender cultural district — is tragic. (Everyone run to Aunt Charlie’s and the Cinch and drink, now!) Let’s hope the boozy, cozy Gangway keeps (unsteadily) walking the planks.
THIS LOOKS RAD Kid Koala, pre-eminent turntablist, composer, and musical inventor, brings us new show Nufonia Must Fall: “a revolutionary multi-disciplinary performance that mixes live Puppet Theater and video projection with an ensemble of strings, piano, and electronic instruments.” Through the weekend at SFJAZZ. Thu/10-Sun/13, $25-$55. SFJAZZ. Tickets and more info here.
> Need a car to get there? Rent one in your neighborhood on Getaround. Sign up today, and enjoy $50 off your first trip:http://get.co/48h. [Sponsored]
FRIDAY, AUGUST 11
MASSIVE SOUND INTERNATIONAL The Bay Area reggae/dancehall powerhouse’s Robert Rankin’ and Spliff Skankin’ drop into the heavy, heavy Dub Mission party for some deep shenanigans. Fri/11, 10pm-2am, $7-$8. Elbo Room, SF. Tickets and more info here.
JAMES MURPHY The teddy-bear guru of earnest musical irony takes a break from reviving his LCD Soundsystem outfit for a DJ set thats sure to ring your deep-cut indie-techno-disco bells. Fri/11, 9:30pm-3:30am, $20-$30. Public Works, SF. Tickets and more info here.
VIVVY’S GRAND OPENING Mindfuck drag at its best and mindfuckingest. Every month, Vivvy comes up with something spectacular, be it two drag shows happening simultaneously, a 45-minute journey through a dystopian space colony, a very weird Cats, or a dozen drag queens interpreting the same song. Plus, all-night dancing. Fri/11, 10pm-4am, $10. The Stud, SF. More info here.
TRIBUTE TO THE JACKA A seminal Bay hip-hop presence, gone too soon, with Paul Wall, Cormega, Husalah, Andre Nickatina, Mistah Fab, J Stalin, Philthy Rich, Keak Da Sneak, FEDX, Rydah J Kylde, AP.9, Laroo, Dru Down, Ampichino, Traxamillion, Lee Majors, Cellski, Roblo, Dubb 20, Street Knowledge, Mitchy Slick, Krondon, Planet Asia and more. Fri/11, doors 7pm, $22.50-$25. Regency Ballroom, SF. Tickets and more info here.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 12
THE RETURN OF WICKED RECORDS They’re back! One of the original SF rave crews — Jeno, Garth, Markie, Thomas — come together for their annual reunion blowout (so good!) and this time they’re bringing some brand new jams. Get into it. Sat/12, 10pm-5am, $15-$20. Great Northern, SF. Tickets and more info here.
LOBSTER THEREMIN SHOWCASE The heady-fun London label shuffles its way into town via DJs Route 8 and nthng. At the ever-awesome As You Like It party. Sat/12, 9:30pm-4am, $15. Monarch, SF. Tickets and more info here.
HOT SAUCE Let’s go dancing on the patio! El Rio’s huge patio, that is, out in the hopefully-sun, with cute queer DJs The SyntheTigers, Tobirus Mozelle, John F-ing Cartwright, Beya, Major, and Mark O’Brien. Hosted by Intensive Claire. Sat/12, 2pm-8pm, $7-$10. El Rio, SF. Tickets anymore info here.
KINGDOM! SWITCH! Kingdom is a monthly, raucous drag king showcase — but this time it’s switching it up by having drag kings become drag queens, and inviting prominent drag queens like Sister Roma and Bebe Sweetbriar to butch it up as kings. Craziness. Oh, and I’m DJing old school hip-hop and R&B. Sat/12, 10pm-2am, $10. The Stud, SF. More info here.
POUND PUPPY Arf! The gay scruff-pup party is back, this month featuring DJ Josette from Gray Area. She is incredible! (And rarely makes such an appearance — go.) Sat/12, 9pm-2am, $10. Eagle, SF. Tickets and more info here.
TREEHOUSE SESSIONS Too cute — Public Works residents Peter Blick and Rachel Torro get to step out up on their own to the decks. They are really good! Nice and cozy in the Public Works loft. Sat/22, 9pm-2am, free with RSVP or $10. Public Works, SF. More info here.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 13
CLUB FIST UNDERGROUND QUEER FESTIVAL Behold some of the boldest, most talented players on the queer nightlife scene, as awesome queer punk/goth/fetish Club Fist brings together its favorites for a nine-hour marathon. Sun/13, 1pm-10pm, $10-$20. DNA Lounge, SF. Tickets and more info here.
SUNSET BOAT PARTY Mexican wonder-DJ Rebolledo will lead you to psychedelic house bliss aboard this summer tradition, courtesy of Sunset Sound System — I love them so much — and there’s an afterparty at Monarch as well! Sun/13, 5pm-11pm, $55-$65. San Francisco Spirit, Pier 3. Tickets and more info here.
> Need a car to get there? Rent one in your neighborhood on Getaround. Sign up today, and enjoy $50 off your first trip:http://get.co/48h. [Sponsored]
San Francisco wound up with a sweeping new affordable housing policy this week, one that will encourage the demolition of some existing low-rise commercial buildings housing neighborhood businesses, increase density in many parts of town, and set affordability levels lower than what the voters approved last year but higher than what some supervisors wanted.
It’s a compromise that is going to shape housing policy for the immediate future – and is aimed overall at encouraging somewhere around 30,000 new housing units without any discussion of how the city will pay for the infrastructure to support them.
In many ways, it was a victory for housing activists, who several months ago were looking at some very problematic legislation. People close to the talks told me that the fact that the community and progressive labor were able to come together and fight back — and get some victories — was a very big deal.
And it’s not likely to stop community groups in places like the Mission from demanding more from individual project developers.
The good news in the Grand Housing Compromise is that some of the worst provisions of Sup. Katy Tang’s HOME-SF bill – provisions that would have undermined the city’s affordable-housing goals – were amended out.
The final deal reflects much of what community activists wanted, an indication that even with this more conservative board, organizing makes a difference.
Of course, it also allowed all of the supes, including new appointee Jeff Sheehy, to avoid taking a tough vote on an issue that would have gone 6-5.
Tang wanted to turn HOME-SF – a voluntary program that gives developers an extra two stories in height and more density in exchange for building more affordable housing – into what could have been a replacement for the carefully crafted rules on inclusionary housing.
Her plan would have allowed developers to make more money by providing lower subsidies for housing.
But at the last minute, Tang backed down, and changed her affordability mix to more closely resemble what Sups. Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin, London Breed, and Ahsha Safai had ageed on for the city’s mandatory inclusionary program.
The community groups that came together to put pressure on all the supes had a significant impact.
Here are a couple of key elements that the activists got included, according to the Council of Community Housing Organizations:
If a court strikes down city’s density bonus fee scheme, Inclusionary reverts to 24% rental and 27% ownership requirements
If more than 50% of total projects receive a density bonus, Inclusionary reverts to 24% rental and 27% ownership requirements.
The final bill mandates that all “affordable” housing be priced at least 20 percent below the market rate for that neighborhood — also a big victory for housing advocates who argued that in some parts of town, the new “affordable” units would sell or rent for about the same price as market-rate units.
Tang agreed to exempt the Mission from the new rules once the city starts on an area plan for the neighborhood. But she refused to accept an amendment from Sup. Norman Yee that would have removed part of Ocean Ave, saying she didn’t want any more carve-outs.
She also refused to accept a proposal by Sup. Hillary Ronen to exempt buildings where legacy businesses are situated. That’s critical if you want to protect some neighborhood merchants, because the whole point of HOME-SF is to encourage developers to buy low-rise buildings, demolish them, and put up dense housing.
Ronen mentioned the Good Life Grocery in Bernal Heights, which occupies a single-story structure on Cortland. That site would be a prime target for housing under Tang’s plan – it’s on a transit corridor, it’s big enough to allow a fairly substantial project, and demolition would not involve removing any existing housing units.
But it would be the end for a community institution that is an anchor of the Cortland commercial district. That’s because the rent a developer would charge for ground-floor space in a fancy new project would be far more than what Good Life could pay – even if the space was suitable.
Ronen said she had identified 11 business that have the city’s official legacy status that could be at risk if their buildings are demolished for new housing.
But Tang insisted that there were already too many rules and limits in the measure, and that one more might make it less appealing to builders.
That amendment failed, with only Sandra Lee Fewer, Norman Yee, and Jane Kim joining Ronen.
The discussion, of course, was about “feasibility” and what would “pencil out” – that is, what level of city mandate would be low enough – and profits high enough — that speculative investors would continue to finance residential development in San Francisco.
Safai insisted, as he has repeatedly during this debate, that the only way we are going to see more housing built in the city is if we keep affordability requirements below 25 percent, the level that voters approved with Prop. C.
In fact, at developers of at least two Mission projects, and several others around the city, have already agreed to provide 25 percent of their units at below-market prices. And unlike the people who apply to live in affordable housing, who have to prove their income, developers never open their books.
So, as Jennifer Fieber of the Tenants Union noted at one hearing, we are simply taking them at their word.
The inclusionary housing deal doesn’t quite get to what the voters clearly wanted, but it’s a big step forward from what was proposed. Safai and Breed wanted to cap the requirements at 18 percent, but pressure from housing activists led to a deal that will raise the rate to 22 percent by 2019.
And the levels of affordability, initially set to favor higher-income people, are now back to essentially where they were with the passage of Prop. C last year.
Then there’s HOME-SF. That’s an alternative to following the city’s inclusionary program. If developers want to use the alternative, they get two extra stories in height above what local zoning would allow and more density – and in exchange, have to build 30 percent affordable units.
The challenge was defining “affordable.”
Tang’s first version would have set aside two thirds of the condo units (there are different rules for rentals, but most of what gets built these days is condo projects) for people with incomes of more than $90,000. The final skews that down a bit. (the higher the income level that counts as “affordable,” the less the developer has to subsidize and thus the more money they make.)
The original version of HOME-SF could have created widespread demolition of existing housing. The final version exempts sites with housing already on them. So the targets for developers will be so-called “soft sites” (like old gas stations or parking lots) that can easily be turned into housing with little or no demolition) and places where there are single-story commercial buildings.
Tang predicted that the policy will lead to the construction of 5,000 affordable units in the next 20 years (which would mean more than 20,000 units overall). I don’t think there are enough “soft sites” to accommodate all of that growth so, as is almost always the case in a crowded city, some existing buildings and businesses will have to go to make room for new housing.
Landlords who own low-rise commercial buildings just saw the value of their property rise: Places (like the site of Good Life Grocery) that in the past probably wouldn’t be demolished for new housing are now on the block.
Safai was at least honest about this: He said that there are tradeoffs, which he called “tough decisions.” In other words, we are going to have to lose some of what we have to make room for what we want.
(I have to go back to the demand side for a moment: If the mayor had put the Twitter tax break on the ballot, and asked if San Franciscans wanted to be the tech hub of the nation – with the consequent evictions, displacement of local artists and musicians and writers and small businesses, and the traffic problems and everything else that has come with this vision – would the majority have voted yes? Or might we have decided to grow a little more slowly, and let the boom happen somewhere else?
And if we did that, would most of the city’s residents — and the immigrants who came here not for high-paying jobs but for sanctuary from oppression and the freedom to be themselves — be better off? It’s at least worth asking this question, since it’s at the heart of the entire debate.)
HOME-SF is in part about increased density in parts of town that have always resisted it. Observers have often quipped that San Francisco is indeed a city and county – everything east of 19th Avenue is the “city,” and the west side is the “county.”
I don’t know anyone in progressive politics who seriously believes that all the new housing growth should take place on the east side of town, that the west should be exempt from all new density.
The reality is that this particular program won’t radically change that. It only applies to sites where there is no existing housing, so you won’t see six-story buildings replacing single-family homes in St. Francis Wood. There may be some bigger buildings along transit corridors where there are “soft sites,” and you may see single-story commercial buildings torn down to make room for more housing. I worry that in neighborhood commercial corridors, community-serving merchants will be gone. New developments will charge higher rents, and that could be devastating to places like Clement St.
But the “suburban” neighborhoods that the people pushing for more density decry aren’t going to be impacted all that much. Legalizing second units across the city would probably do more to create denser housing on the West side.
I spoke to Sup. Hillary Ronen, who represents D9, which includes the Mission, where some of the fiercest housing battles have taken place (and more are on the way.) She said the compromise, while it’s as good as progressives could get with this board, won’t be the end of the story.
“Development in the Mission, in sensitive areas, will continue to be controversial and there will continue to be negotiations on individual projects,” she said.
The compromise doesn’t guarantee that all work on projects will be 100 percent union. It doesn’t address the loss of artistic and performance space or the ongoing attack on production, distribution, and repair space.
There’s also the displacement issue: A lot of Mission activists fear, which good reason, that a project like the one proposed for 16th and Mission will drive up surrounding property values and lead to the displacement of more low-income people than the new affordable housing included with the project will be able to house.
The new legislation will exempt some “area plans” (and there will be one in the Mission fairly soon). When the Planning Commission and the supes agree to rezone broad parts of the city, new rules go into effect – and HOME-SF wouldn’t always apply. Area plans are great for builders – the city does one environmental study of, say, the Eastern Neighborhoods, then authorizes anything that meets pre-set zoning rules. But those zoning rules take forever to create and are set in time and neighborhoods change, fast: The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan was approved before the tech boom, before the Google Buses, before Uber … and yet, projects are still subject to its outdated rules.
And through it all, the city has taken the position that the best way to build affordable housing it to build more market-rate housing and make the developers set some aside for people who aren’t rich.
Tom Radulovich, director of Livable City, has a very simple slogan: “Growth should pay for growth.” It often doesn’t.
I’m not opposed to increased density, but I am opposed to the city getting a bad deal. And it’s never been clear who would pay for all the new Muni service, the schools, the police and fire and all the other city services that will be needed when another 30,000 housing units, and the 60,000 or so people who will fill them, arrive in the city.
That issue never came up in the great housing debates of the past several weeks.
Neither, really, did the issue of the city’s workforce: If we create a housing plan that sets aside less than a quarter of the new housing for workers who make up far more than half of the workforce, are we really getting anywhere?
The largest employers in San Francisco are government, health care, and hospitality. Their workers, by and large, are unable to afford what will be around 80 percent of the new housing. Does that make any sense?
Welcome to Examined Life, our new column that explores the intersection between politics, culture, and living mindfully in the Bay Area and beyond.
EXAMINED LIFE Do you remember the last time you stepped out into nature or simply had a moment of silence to reflect on what it means to be alive? First, you felt this all-encompassing awe and wonder. Then, the sobering recognition that this feeling is the exception, not the rule, in our daily lives. That’s because we have all lost our minds. Of course, humans have been losing their minds since forever. The problem is that we’ve now lost the places to which we once went to recollect them. We’ve lost our sacred spaces.
Sacred spaces are places where we go to be alone with our thoughts and feelings, and contemplate the wonder of existence; spaces where we gather with other human beings to revel in artistic expression or natural beauty; spaces where we break bread together, and gather to share our troubles and delights. The hiking trail, the dinner table, the arts venue, and the road trip—places that were once sacred—are all abuzz today with texting, checking in, and posting.
I hiked a volcano in Hawaii this year and had reception in the crater. Every time I go to a local live music venue, half the crowd is viewing the show through small rectangular screens. Recently, I attended a silent meditation retreat where I was surprised to see that many participants, once careful to leave their electronics at home or in the car, now had to be coerced by staff to surrender their devices in a bizarre faux-spiritual ritual. Just five years ago, I’d walk into the room to teach a yoga class in San Francisco, and the students would be on their yoga mats, quietly waiting for class to start. They still are, but now they’re on their yoga mats checking Facebook.
As individuals, we’re not to blame. The human mind is fragile and easily misdirected by shiny, alluring, temporarily pleasurable distractions. Our devices have been engineered to fit the bill perfectly. Basically, we’re addicted—and we all know it. (Bay Area musician Cello Joe even wrote a hilarious song about it.) But what does this addiction mean, for our minds and for the future?
Addiction, as you know, is a relationship with an activity or substance that we can’t break without serious difficulty. But though addiction is hard to end, it begins quite simply: We experience a very human feeling of discomfort—like loneliness, anxiety, or run-of-the-mill ennui—and we reach for some kind of balm or distraction. When we’re in an emotionally healthy space, we may self-soothe with community, nature, art, or exercise. Or, if we practice mindfulness, we may learn to tolerate the discomfort without reaching for anything. But if our nervous systems are taxed or we don’t have immediate access to healthy emotional relief, we reach for a quick fix. Dopamine.
Dopamine is a happy-feeling neurotransmitter that is awesome at taking our minds off our present heartbreak or existential crisis du jour. This chemical is necessary for our brains, and is released during profound and deeply rewarding experiences through a slow and steady pathway. However, it is also released in intense and short-lasting bursts during activities or substances that offer immediate gratification. When we receive dopamine as this quick fix, we come down hard and fast, and then feel agitated until we get more. Over time, as a result of these repeated quick bursts, we desensitize to dopamine and need more and more of it to feel good—or even normal.
This is how major addictions like alcohol or gambling get going. But it also explains why, according to a recent study by a research company Dscout, the average person engages with their smart phone 2,600 times a day. While obsessive emailing and googling won’t ruin our lives the way heroin will, the addictive mechanism is similar. Our brains have been hijacked by a cyclic chemical process of which we are not in control; in essence, we have lost our minds.
In addition to temporarily hijacking our minds, another unfortunate result of this process is that, over time, it changes the brain and distorts our memory. The result: We literally forget other less immediately intense, but more meaningful and lasting, ways to access pleasure. So, we’re not intentionally disregarding those sacred spaces we once had. We’ve actually forgotten the point of them. In our inebriated states, we can’t see any reason to protect them.
But it’s essential that we do.
Smart phone addiction poses a very special kind of problem for those affected (i.e., most of us) because device abstinence is simply not an option for most people. Our phone, as you’ve likely noticed, is not just a phone—it’s our whole life in digital form, and it’s very hard to logistically do without. According to a recent study by Hackermoon, only about 50 percent of phone time is used for texts and calls. The rest of the time, we do questionably useful things (like watch videos, engage with social media, and play games), as well as essential and practical things (like get directions, send emails, track our bank accounts, pull up our boarding passes, and even, ironically, meditate). For the first time in history, all of the facets of our entire lives—the necessary along with the potentially addictive—are completely interwoven. So, while you might nobly desire to curb your dopamine-spiking social media-posting habit, you still need to use your calendar. Since it’s all in one place, it’s nearly impossible to visit the calendar without also visiting social media. And then you’re back in the loop of distraction.
There’s really only one antidote to this insanity, and that is the practice of discernment. This is the art of intentional choice-making, and it has played a major role in every great social and spiritual movement since the dawn of time. To practice discernment, we have to orient not to the short-term pleasure an activity might yield but instead to the long-term more profound benefits of any given action. Healthful eating over ice cream, the fragile life of the planet over quick financial gains, our long-term relationships over short-lived affairs: These are all acts of intentionality, not impulse. In this way, discernment is at odds with addiction because it is less about an immediate dopamine reward, and more about living a meaningful life.
The practice of discernment is essential to protect our sacred spaces, which are, in turn, the best places to develop deeper discernment because we can notice, in those spaces, how awesome it feels to be free. Quiet, tech-free spaces give us access to the most essential parts of ourselves; if we lose these spaces forever, we’ll eventually forget what it is that we have lost, and thus have no hope of recovering it. We must establish times and places where we simply turn off technology (both the useful and the pleasure-seeking aspects). Think of it as rehab or detox for your mind. And if that doesn’t sound attractive, think of it as a time to dream and engage again with wonder and the infinitesimal space of consciousness that is your birthright.
Our lives are deeply interconnected, which means we are all responsible for creating these spaces together, whether it’s the dinner table, the retreat center, the basketball court, or the yoga studio. Create social contracts with friends, family, and colleagues to put technology aside for a meal, a meeting, or the whole weekend. Make the bold choice to leave your house without your phone when you’re walking your dog or going food shopping, and just be present to the mundane miracle of existence. Invest in a cheap flip phone (I have one for just this reason) that can be your emergency contact number, so you’ll have no excuse not to turn off your smart phone at night, at meals, or on your days off. Most importantly: When you make the choice to power down, notice how empowering it feels; the imprint of that feeling will encourage you to develop more discernment.
And remember that sacred space is not only an external construct. The space of your own mind is also sacred, and—with some effort—can be maintained even when we do use technology. This takes a different type of discernment. It means that each time you reach for the phone, you pause for a moment and check in to see if you actually need it. If you do, stay focused on that purpose and don’t allow yourself to be pulled into another app or screen. And if you don’t, consider reaching for something else. Like a feeling of freedom. Like the understanding that it’s okay to be exactly as you are in this moment—lonely, anxious, fatigued—without checking out in the digital abyss. Reach for space, itself, and then abide within it. In moments like these, saying no to technology is saying yes to your relationship with all things sacred, including yourself.
It’s hard not to be riveted by the terrifying advance of Donald Trump’s presidency. But it would be a huge mistake to ignore less sensational exercises in autocracy, especially those occurring at home. One such operation, which has gone virtually unnoticed, is the continuing travesty of democratic governance known as Plan Bay Area.
Mandated by SB 375, the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, Plan Bay Area is our nine-county region’s Sustainable Community Strategy—a so-called blueprint that knits together transportation and land use plans and investments for each region in California so as to accommodate the area’s projected growth of jobs and households and at the same time meet its official greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
Unelected officials run the show
Plan Bay Area’s autocratic character is rooted in the un-democratic governance of the regional agencies under whose aegis it proceeds, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the Association of Bay Area Governments. Both entities are putatively overseen by unelected officials—to be precise, elected officials (mayors, city councilmembers, and county supervisors) who were not elected to serve on MTC or the ABAG Executive Board. It follows that when they run for office or re-election, their positions on Plan Bay Area and the regional agencies’ other projects never come up.
Scott Wiener sits on MTC, and Jane Kim is on the ABAG Executive Board, but during their hotly contested campaigns for state senate, nobody asked about MTC’s hostile takeover of ABAG last May (Wiener supported it—vociferously, accusing opponents of “throwing rocks at MTC”; Kim was absent for the Ex. Board’s May 19 vote on the matter) or their positions on Plan Bay Area’s gigantic growth forecasts and allocations for San Francisco and the 11th State Senate District, and its implications for displacement and housing affordability or local control of development.
Augmenting the democratic deficit, both MTC and ABAG are effectively led by staff, not their governing boards, whose members have no staff of their own, and whose obligations to their local jurisdictions in any case preclude their delving into the copious details of regional policy. Since MTC’s coup, ABAG staff report to MTC’s peremptory executive director, Steve Heminger.
After a stormy public planning process, the first edition of Plan Bay Area was approved by MTC and ABAG in July 2013. State law requires each Sustainable Community Strategy to be updated every four years. Plan Bay Area is well into its first quadrennial update. On November 17, following a perfunctory deliberation, MTC and the ABAG Executive Board approved a Final Preferred Scenario and Investment Strategy that will serve as the conceptual template for the update. The fully realized blueprint-cum-Environmental Impact Report is to be finalized next summer or fall.
A farcical public process
Plan Bay Area’s autocratic character is exacerbated by its superficial public planning process. Compared to the public process that culminated in Plan Bay Area 2013, the update proceedings have been uncontentious. That’s because most of the individuals who participated in the first round haven’t shown up for the second one—for a good reason: they’ve realized that the meetings are a time-consuming sham that exist only because SB 375 requires some form of public outreach. No meaningful input could possibly emerge out of the cursory, often infantilizing, staff-dominated activities that the regional agencies peddle online and at their workshops and open houses.
The only members of the public who’ve continued to participate are those who are paid to do so: representatives of the non-profits that weighed in on round one. This motley crew includes equity and housing advocates (Urban Habitat, Working Partnerships USA, Public Advocates, Non-profit Housing Association of Northern California, 6 Wins for Social Equity Network), environmental organizations (Greenbelt Alliance, the Sierra Club), transit promoters (TransForm), and lobbyists for big business and big property capital (SPUR, the Bay Area Council, the Building Industry Association, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group).
Their considerable political differences notwithstanding, these organizations have two things in common: they all accept Plan Bay Area’s growth-to-the-max premise; and, however righteous their missions and valuable their work, they’re all private entities that are ultimately accountable to their donors and their boards of directors, rather than to any public electorate.
The regional agencies seem to show the local jurisdictions little more respect than they offer the public at large. During the takeover fight last spring, ABAG contrasted its attentiveness to cities, meaning cities’ planning directors and county transportation congestion management agencies, with MTC’s haughtiness.
Perhaps because MTC is now in charge, this fall such solicitude was in scant evidence. In late October, staff to the San Francisco County Transportation Agency, San Francisco’s congestion transportation agency, said that they had yet to be fully briefed about the update by MTC and ABAG.
By October 20, forty-one jurisdictions had commented on the Draft Preferred Scenario. MTC and ABAG staff stated that they would respond to all comments by the end of December—a month and a half after the Final Preferred Scenario was to be approved.
To achieve its arguably unachievable double goal of accommodating all of the region’s forecasts new jobs and households and at the same time meeting its greenhouse gas reduction targets, Plan Bay Area directs most new residents and employment into so-called Priority Development Areas, existing neighborhoods near transit. San Francisco has twelve PDAs.
The forecasts or projections—we’re not supposed to call them predictions—for San Francisco are wild. Plan Bay Area 2013 expected the city to accommodate 15% of the region’s total growth through 2040, measured against a 2010 base: 92,480 more housing units and 191,000 more jobs—a 25% and 34% jump, respectively.
The numbers in the Plan Bay Area 2017 Final Preferred Scenario are even crazier.
Plan Bay Area 2017 update: Final Preferred Scenario
Household and Employment Forecasts for San Francisco
Households Forecast 2040
Employment Forecast 2040
483,700 (+137,889 or 40%)
872,500 (+295,650 or 51%)
310,100 (+127,670 or 59%)
741,700 (+267,710 or 64%)
At an average household size of 2.4 people, we’re talking about 1.1 million residents in this geographically limited city.
The big numbers are more meaningful broken down by PDA. High-level city planning staff are still negotiating the PDA allocations with MTC and ABAG. Here are a few of the biggest increases in the Draft Preferred Scenario:
Household Forecast 2040
Employment Forecast 2040
Bayview/Hunters Point Shipyard/Candlestick Point
Transit Center District
Eroding local control
MTC and ABAG repeatedly assert that nothing in Plan Bay Area constrains local control of development. The October 28, 2016, ABAG/MTC staff memo re the Final Preferred Scenario and Investment Strategy states:
[T]he Final Preferred Scenario does not mandate any changes to local zoning rules, general plans or processes for reviewing projects, nor is it an enforceable direct or indirect cap on development locations or targets in the region. As is the case across California, the Bay Area’s cities, towns and counties maintain control of all decisions to adopt plans and permit or deny development projects.
Strictly speaking, this is true. No jurisdiction can be legally compelled to designate a Priority Development Area. The region’s 191 PDAs were all nominated by local jurisdictions. San Francisco’s PDAs were unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2007.
And even if a city does designate Priority Development Areas, it can’t be legally forced to approve the number of new housing units that it’s been allocated—at least, not yet.
At the November 17 meeting, held at the regional agencies’ fancy new digs on Beale St., Heminger asserted that the regional agencies needed to get the authority and the funding to build housing to accommodate the region’s entire population.
In response, State Senator-elect Wiener described the current housing scene as “a slow-moving train wreck” and asked, “What is the path to figuring out how many units we need…to stop the bleeding?” (I’ve asked both Wiener and his supervisorial staff whether he supports state legislation that would compel cities to approve the housing they’ve been allocated by Plan Bay Area. So far, no reply.)
Heminger estimated that it would take “over a million” new housing units “to make a dent in the shortfall.” The real challenge, he said, is “to fit that growth in the communities we cherish,” adding, in a non sequitur: “We need to change what the Bay Area looks like.” Heminger noted that such a transformation would require the “legal enforceability” that the regional agencies now lack. He told Wiener: “We’ll be on your doorstep asking for the money and authority to carry it out.”
Heminger’s call for ending local control of residential development was echoed by two new members of the ABAG Executive Board representing San Francisco, both Mayor Ed Lee’s appointees, Planning Department Senior Policy Advisor Anne Marie Rogers and Community Planning Manager Joshua Switzky (The city has four representatives on the board: two supervisors, currently Kim and Mar, and two representatives of the mayor). Rogers called for “enabling legislation” that would provide “the tools we need.” Switzky said, “We need to have the courage to push cities to accept the plan.”
In fact, cities’ prerogatives are already constrained by SB 375 and its statutory progeny. For example, under SB 743, passed in 2013, a development that’s “consistent with a sustainable communities strategy” cannot be challenged under the California Environmental Quality Act on the basis of its “growth-inducing impacts.”
Moreover, a jurisdiction that doesn’t get with the program is going to be moved to the back of the line for money from the regional agencies, especially from MTC, which controls billions of dollars of discretionary transportation funding. That’s a big deal; infrastructure drives development. Without the envisioned new transit, getting 295,000 new workers in and out of San Francisco is going to be well-nigh impossible.
The top staff to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, whose governing board comprises the city’s eleven supervisors, sent the SFCTA a memo dated October 5 recommending approval of the city’s input on the Plan Bay Area 2040 Draft Preferred Scenario that they were proposing. Referencing the scenario’s Transportation Investment Strategy, the memo lists forty-one Projects in San Francisco and Multi-County Projects of Interest to San Francisco whose total cost comes to $17.6 billion.
The big-ticket items include transit preservation and rehabilitation ($2.26 billion), expanding the Muni transit fleet ($1.5 billion), the Presidio Parkway ($1.6 billion), and the next phase of the Central Subway ($1.6 billion). Another twenty-nine regional and multi-city projects, including the BART Transbay Core Capacity Project ($3.4 billion), high-speed rail in the Bay Area ($8.4 billion), the first phase of Caltrain electrification ($2.4 billion), and the Caltrain/HSR downtown San Francisco Extension ($4 billion) will cost a total of $246 billion.
Unsurprisingly, SFCTA Executive Director Tilly Chang’s October 18 letter to MTC and ABAG commenting on the Draft Preferred Scenario, co-signed by San Francisco Planning Director John Rahaim and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency Executive Director Ed Reiskin, opened on a propitiatory note:
Overall we appreciate that the transportation investment scenario supports San Francisco’s transportation policy and project priorities, which is critical given the land use scenario’s proposal for the City to absorb a great amount of the region’s jobs and housing growth through 2040.
No public deliberation in San Francisco
The Preferred Draft Scenario never came before the Board of Supervisors. It appeared only on the agenda of San Francisco County Transportation Authority, the congestion management agency for the city and county of San Francisco. SFCTA’s governing board meets on the fourth Tuesday morning of every month. Staff proposal for San Francisco’s input on the Preferred Draft Scenario was on the Authority’s September and October agendas. At those meetings, not one supervisor asked a question or remarked on staff’s proposed comments to MTC and ABAG. Nobody spoke at public comment. On October 25, the SFCTA unanimously approved the staff recommendations.
The absence of public deliberation is stunning. To be sure, the Draft Preferred Scenario was issued just two months before a highly contested election. People were otherwise preoccupied. And no doubt supervisors and staff were in consultation behind the scenes, which likely explains why the regional agencies dropped their initial expectation that San Francisco’s cap on annual new office development would be eliminated. But given what was at stake, the city’s response should have been a high-profile topic.
The Planning Department should have sponsored substantive community briefings about the update—one meeting in each PDA would have been ideal—solicited and documented residents’ informed responses to the growth projections, and incorporated those responses in the city’s comprehensive comments. It did not. Not incidentally, the draft PDA allocations are not posted on either the city’s or Plan Bay Area websites; I had to ask city staff to provide them.
I asked Calvin Welch, dean of the city’s community activists, whether the Planning Department had ever briefed any neighborhood about a Priority Development Area. His reply: “I know of no specific briefing or notice given to either community organizations or neighborhood groups in these specific neighborhoods.”
The city’s ambiguous response
So we are left with the staffers’ October 5 memo and October 18 letter as statements of the city’s position on the massive growth that the regional agencies expect it to absorb by 2040. As it contemplates those expectations, the October 18 letter moves from appreciation to apprehension to outright opposition. It’s not that the authors are anti-growth. Quite the contrary. It’s just that even they can’t help blinking at the enormous numbers. Watching them grope for language that expresses their unease but doesn’t offend their powerful patron, MTC, is almost comical. But their overall take is alarming.
On housing growth: Though “the [projected] housing growth…far exceeds both historic and recent annual average production numbers, and the 128,000 units proposed in the Draft Preferred Scenario “is a 33% increase over PBA 2013 allocation,” they “feel” that “the land use scenario assumptions for San Francisco are ambitious but achievable,” as long as the city is given “substantial additional revenue sources and new policy tools,” as well as “commensurate transportation investment.”
On jobs growth: “The aggregate jobs allocation for San Francisco,” they write, “is 70% higher than the PBA 2013 (311,00 vs. 190,00).” The regional agencies reduced that figure to 267,710 in the Final Preferred Scenario.
While plausible, this depends substantially on densification of existing space….Densification in existing space is a key aspect of capacity that the City cannot regulate or affect [untrue] and can mostly just speculate as to potential overall capacity and likelihood or pace of such absorption.
On transportation funding:San Francisco has successfully secured local revenues for transportation and housing and is continuing to seek additional revenues given insufficient and reliable state and federal funds….However local funds are not enough to meet our needs as one of the three big cities taking on the most job and housing growth in PBA 2040….We want to ensure we are receiving a commensurate share of regional discretionary dollars and [are] not being penalized for seeking and securing new local dollars.
On the distribution of new housing units among the city’s Priority Development Areas: Here Chang, Rahaim and Reiskin drop the conciliatory gestures. “Distribution of growth within San Francisco should reflect local plans”[emphasis in original). Despite the fact that since May, the “Planning Department has been working with ABAG and MTC staff to make final redistributions of proposed growth within the city to align with current plans and policies,” at the PDA level there are “unrealistic discrepancies that should be rectified.”
For San Francisco, notable over-allocations were shown on the housing side to Mission Bay, Bayview/Hunters Point Shipyard-Candlestick, Treasure Island and the Port, and on the jobs side to Downtown-Van Ness-Geary, Balboa Park, Mission Bay, and non-PDA areas.
On social equity: The trio objects even more strenuously to the Draft Preferred Scenario’s negative implications for social equity. SB 375 says nothing about social equity. Under pressure from the 6 Wins for Social Equity Network, a coalition of non-profit equity advocates, the regional agencies added social equity targets dealing with anti-displacement, and housing and transportation affordability to Plan Bay Area 2013. In preparing for the 2017 update, MTC staff tried to remove the anti-displacement target; ABAG staff wanted to keep it in. An ugly public fight ensued. Thanks to the 6 Wins Network’s effective organizing, the anti-displacement target survived. But Plan Bay Area 2017 is going to miss all three social equity targets—badly.
Adequate housing/community stability: By the regional agencies’ own reckoning, the inflated property values generated by the new development projected by Plan Bay Area 2013 were going to put 30,000 households at risk of displacement. The target in the Draft Preferred Scenario holds that risk steady. Instead, MTC and ABAG staff expect the growth forecast by the Draft Preferred Scenario to increases the risk of displacement by 9%.
Equitable access to transportation and housing: The target decreases transportation and housing costs for lower-income households by 10%. Instead, those costs will increase by 13%.
Affordable housing: The target increases the share of affordable housing in the Priority Development Areas, Transit Priority Areas and high-opportunity areas [too much plannerese to unpack in this story] by 15%. Instead, the share will increase by just 1%.
The equity failures elicited the San Francisco staffers’ unequivocal condemnation. “Despite these ambitious goals [the jobs and housing growth],” they write, “the Draft Preferred Scenario fails to meet the Plan’s affordability and anti-displacement targets, and this outcome is simply unacceptable.”
Agreed, at least as far as the unacceptability of the equity shortfalls is concerned.
The Chang/Rahaim/Reiskin analysis of those shortfalls is another matter. The projected equity failures will occur, not as the threesome assert, despite the “ambitious” jobs and housing growth, but rather because of them. The affordable housing crisis reflects the influx of tens of thousands of highly paid tech workers into the city—an influx encouraged by Ed Lee and his administration (for starters, think the Mid-Market “Twitter” tax exemption). Predictably, the word “tech” does not appear in the five-and-half-page single-spaced letter. Any analysis that omits that term is deeply flawed.
Like their assessment of the Final Preferred Scenario, the department heads’ proposals are ambiguous. Their recommendations for protecting existing rental units and tenants and enabling production of new below-market-rate rental housing are excellent:
Reform the Ellis Act to allow local jurisdictions to limit removal of rental units and to provide for adequate relocation costs commensurate with local conditions
Reform the Palmer court ruling (no inclusionary housing in rentals) the Palmer ruling (no inclusionary housing in rentals), and the Costa Hawkins law, so as to allow new rental housing to be rent-restricted.
But their overall analysis echoes the real estate industry’s misguided build, baby, build gospel. For Chang, Rahaim, and Reiskin, the main sources of the region’s housing crisis are “constraints in production, many cities not doing their part, lack of funding, and no teeth to enforce the Plan.”
They suggest two ways of expediting the production of affordable housing:
A regional measure to enact a regional jobs-housing linkage fee (i.e., assessed on new commercial construction to be used for affordable housing), whereby cities would be exempt if they already have a fee or adopt their own fees equal to or greater than the regional fee
A regional pilot program “to see what it really takes to produce affordable housing” in different kinds of places (big city, suburb), ideally using regional funds to leverage local dollars in two or three locations “facing high displacement risk”
Fine. But their overarching proposal for addressing the affordability crisis is inexpedient: pursue “state legislation to increase housing production and compel local jurisdictions to zone for and entitle housing consistent with regional sustainable communities plans.” They don’t explain why building all the new housing envisioned by updated Plan Bay Area 2040 would help people, especially poor people, who can’t get into the current housing market find shelter. Presumably they believe in the supply and demand argument, which has been repeatedly debunked (here and here). If they have a different theory, I’d be glad to hear it.
In any case, forcing cities to approve the housing units they’ve been allocated by Plan Bay Area 2017 is a bad idea. It’s undemocratic, replacing local control of development with de jure control by unelected officials and de facto control by the real estate industry. Yes, cities can and do refuse to build affordable housing because they don’t want poor people in their neighborhoods. That’s wrong and reprehensible. It’s also illegal. But what drives the real estate industry is neither social justice nor economic democracy; it’s maximizing the rate of return on investment—a motive that, as we’ve recently been seeing, leads to inflated property values, greater inequity, displaced tenants, and fractured communities.
Missing: fiscal impacts, water issues, quality of life, community character
The build-to-the-max position espoused by San Francisco officials and Plan Bay Area raises grave issues that are off the table.
Fiscal impacts: Those 138,000 additional households and 295,650 additional workers are going to need sufficient new services besides transit: schools, police, firefighters, parks, public works. How much will they need, and how will those will those services be funded?
Water: SB 375 narrows environmental sustainability to addressing climate change. What about resource depletion—specifically, water? California is in a long-standing drought. In October scientists at the Bay Institute reported that the diversion of rivers has led to the near-collapse of the San Francisco Bay ecosystem. How much water are those 138,000 additional households and 295,650 additional workers going to consume? Where is the city going to get it?
These questions seem obvious and urgent, but at the November 17 meeting, the issue of water supply was raised by only two voting officials, neither one from San Francisco: Novato Mayor Pat Eklund and Hayward Mayor Barbara Halliday, who sit on the ABAG Executive Board.
And what about the other water problem—sea level rise? Nonsensically, Plan Bay Area channels a good deal of San Francisco’s projected construction into the Eastern Neighborhoods, where sea level rise is a growing concern.
Quality of life/overcrowding: Most of the forecasted growth would go into parts of San Francisco—what planners are calling the downtown core, plus the southeastern and southwestern neighborhoods, where traffic congestion and transit system crowding were—and are—already acute. SB 743 eliminated traffic congestion as an environmental impact for infill projects under CEQA.
On November 17, after Heminger, Rogers, and Switzky had advocated changes in state law that would enable MTC and ABAG to force cities to approve the new housing stipulated by Plan Bay Area, Alameda County District 1 Supervisor and MTC Commissioner Scott Haggerty reported that on November 8 every incumbent in his district had lost. The yard signs, he said, all railed against “rampant growth.”
Haggerty’s geographically enormous district includes Fremont, Livermore, and Dublin—all scenes of massive new development (Dublin, said the supervisor, is the second fastest growing city in California)—and Highway 580, a road that’s become synonymous with gridlock.
To Haggerty, the incumbent wipeout didn’t suggest that it’s time to re-think the growth imperative. True, he questioned the big numbers, asking where they came from. Given his many years in leadership role on both the ABAG Executive Board and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the query was disingenuous.
Haggerty’s answer—the big numbers came “not from any elected officials,” but from the state’s department of Housing and Community Development—indicated his real concern: the voters “are starting to rebel” against big growth. “They did at the ballot box this year, and they’ll do it again and again,” he declared. To stave off further such rebellion, he wants more money for transit, money that, he complained, “you,” i.e. Plan Bay Area 2013, “didn’t give me.”
Palo Alto Councilmember Greg Scharff, who sits on the ABAG Executive Board, agreed. Scharff warned his colleagues: “If we don’t solve the congestion problem, you’re not going to have the political support to build the housing.” More ominously, he added: “If you really want to see an insurrection,…start talking about taking away local control.”
Would San Franciscans join a slow growth revolt?
Not, to state the obvious, if it’s made in the name of protecting suburban character.
Otherwise, the answer is unclear, at least judging from the results of the November 8 election.
The voters decisively (65% No) rejected Prop. K, which would have boosted the local sales 8.75% tax by .75% to pay for homeless services and Muni improvements. Perhaps they were confused: they just as decisively (66% Yes) supported Prop. J, which would have amended the City Charter to pay for the services and improvements that K would have funded. Or perhaps they objected to a regressive sales tax/new set-aside for Muni. Prop. K’s defeat nullified Prop. J’s passage.
On the other hand, the voters narrowly (52% Yes) approved Prop. O, which allows Lennar Corporation a special exemption to build five million square feet of new office space at Candlestick Point and Hunters Point without regard for the city’s annual limit of 950,000 sf of new office space or the transit needs of the project’s 8,000 new workers. Did Prop. O’s passage indicate that pro-growth sentiment now (barely) prevails in San Francisco? Or does it reflect the fact that the measure’s opponents spent zero, and its supporters spent $2 million dollars and still only eked out a victory?
In any case, San Franciscans ought to demand that the supervisors, their elected representatives, publicly vet Plan Bay Area’s big-picture growth agenda. Democracy, like autocracy, begins at home.
Note: For an incisive critique of the Draft Preferred Scenario’s equity failures, see the 6 Wins for Social Equity Network’s October 13 letter to MTC and ABAG.