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Tenant troubles: My building is for sale — what should I do?

I live in 24-unit building in the Western Addition, built long before 1979. It is three stories and all of the units are either studios or one-bedrooms.  I’ve been there seven years and pay about $2,000 a month for a one-bedroom unit. 

Yesterday we received notice from the property management company that the owner of the building has decided to sell it. I’ve always assumed that because the building is so large it wouldn’t be turned into condos, have owner move-in evictions, etc. Now that it’s being sold, of course I’m worried about what will happen next. Do you have any advice for what we should be aware of with new ownership?  

A few years ago, I would have been cautiously optimistic in my answer to your question.

Then, as now, a 24-unit building was ineligible for condominium conversion. An owner-move-in eviction of a given unit sold as a tenancy-in common (the allocation of a single unit to an owner with a shared interest in a building) would have been next to impossible to accomplish, because an OMI requires ownership of a 25% interest in the entire property. An Ellis Act eviction (removing all of the tenants from the building to exit the rental business) would have been impracticable because the highest and best use of a 24-unit building remains as a rental income property.

So it’s likely I would have reassured you that your tenancy would be safe, barring the return of the Lembi family to the San Francisco real estate investor landscape.

But that was yesterday and yesterday’s gone. No tenant is immune from the huckster-carpetbaggers who epitomize today’s new real-estate tycoons.

During the last few years, I have noticed an alarming trend. Companies/LLCs often purchase larger rent-controlled buildings like yours with the intent to renovate vacant units, turning studios into one-bedrooms and one-bedrooms into two-bedrooms, etc.

How do the units become vacant? There may be a few vacant units in the building as a result of inevitable tenant turnover—the seed units, if you will.

Often the new owners will send the remaining tenants the old “win-win letter,” which goes something like this:

“We are reaching out to you ahead of the start of construction to notify you of the work and also take the opportunity to make you aware of a program the owners have created to help tenants transition into new housing. Some tenants are understandably sensitive to construction activity in close proximity to their unit, and thus one opportunity we would like to bring to your attention is to reach an agreement whereby you would agree to vacate your unit at some agreed upon date in the future, in exchange for a payment of money.”

You know…heads we win, tails you get to live in a noisy, dusty, filthy construction zone—unregulated by a battered EPA, barely regulated by a local building department with bigger fish to fry, and ignored by a build, build, build planning department. And from a legal perspective, not quite uninhabitable enough to justify moving and suing. You’ve just entered the Tenant Twilight Zone.

“And thus one more opportunity we have to procure a vacant unit.”

How can you find out if your building is slated to double its population?

  1. Get a copy of the sales listing or a prospectus for the building. Because this type of project will attract more sophisticated investors, a more detailed proposal may be available, one that includes renovation cost estimates per unit, along with projected income for a renovated unit. If the listing includes these details, then you can begin to plan for the inevitable.
  2. You can gain valuable insight into a bare-bones listing by analyzing the income and expenses. If the price of the building is comparatively low based on net income, it may not be a candidate for renovation.
  3. If the building sells, get as much information as you can about the new owner(s). Find other properties they own or have owned. You can search for recorded documents online here and check the San Francisco Property Information Map for more detailed information.
  4. Speak to other tenants in the building. Your combined knowledge will be much more complete…and powerful. Create a listserv. Begin to work as a group, a team. Go to the San Francisco Tenants Union to learn how to organize.
  5. Try to get information from the real estate agents handling the sale or the current owners. Occasionally, somebody associated with the building may blab. The first rule of speaking to those in the know: Keep your ears open and your mouth shut.
  6. If the new owners offer you a chance to discuss a buyout, I recommend that you or a representative tenant from your group sign the Pre Buyout Disclosure form. Signing the form does not obligate you, in any way, to accept a buyout; but it may, in some circumstances, represent another method to gain information from the new owners or their representative. Get the owner to explain why your buyout offer is so low. He may want to rationalize his offer by explaining why his costs are so high. Ask lots of questions and listen carefully.
  7. If the new owners begin their construction, don’t wait to complain about the noise and the dust and the trip hazards in the hallways. Always document your complaints in writing. Coordinate your complaints with the rest of the tenants. Give the owners one chance to remedy and if they don’t, call a housing inspector at the Department of Building Inspection.
  8. Finally, call your San Francisco supervisor. He or she needs to hear your complaints loud and clear and often. He or she may begin to think twice about accepting that “contribution” from the SFAA or some other shill for the so-called real estate industry.

I don’t mean to alarm you by suggesting your building will be absolutely targeted in this manner, but the impending sale of a building these days, even 24-unit building like yours, should concern tenants. An impending sale also provides them an opportunity to connect, organize and take power.

Dear Readers:

Every once and awhile I will have to guess at a detail or two when I attempt to answer your questions. For example, I will often assume that a building was built before 1979, given the context of a question. When I make that assumption, it’s highly likely that I will assume that you live in a rent-controlled unit and answer your question using the standard of the San Francisco Rent Ordinance. That could be a problem for two reasons. If your building was built after 1979, it is not covered by the Rent Ordinance. Worse, what if you don’t live in San Francisco?

So, I thought it might be a good idea to give you a short list of details to consider and/or include when you write me.

When was your building constructed?

If you don’t know, you can find out by using the SF Assessor-Recorder’s website to find out. If that site is being funky (not unusual) ask around. Finally, take a look at your building. Victorian? That’s easy. The difficult ones are buildings built in the 1960s and 1970s, the big square ugly boxes reminiscent of the shit they’re building these days.

How many units are in your building?

That seems like a no-brainer. But it’s not so easy if you live in a single-family dwelling in which the landlord rents rooms. The Rent Board might consider each room as a unit depending on the facts. The other common scenario is the single-family house with an illegal in-law. Rent controlled? (By that I mean, subject to annual allowable increases?) Yes. This is a two-unit building because Illegal units are covered by the Rent Ordinance.

Do you live in a house?

If the house was built before 1979, it is subject only to the just cause eviction provisions of the Rent Ordinance and the landlord can increase the rent as much as he likes…within reason. However, if your tenancy started before 1996, the house is subject to the price control provisions of the ordinance.

Do you live in a condominium?

This can be difficult to ascertain if you live in a converted building. Ask the landlord or check the Assessor-Recorder site above. Condos are legal single-family dwellings, usually only subject to the just cause eviction provisions of the Ordinance. There is an exception, see Tenant Troubles: Are The Buyout Terms My Landlord’s Offering Acceptable?

How old are you? Are you disabled?

This may be applicable if you are a protected tenant under the Rent Ordinance.

How long have you lived in your unit?

This could be important to determine if you have a protected status or, as in the example above, if your tenancy in a house or condo is subject to price control.

How much is your rent?

Often this is the most important detail because it usually points to the underlying motive of the landlord for taking whatever action he is taking–he thinks you’re not paying enough rent.

What does your lease say about it?

The lease controls the terms of your tenancy. It is always helpful to me to understand how to apply the law to your problem when I know if there is an applicable term in your lease. For example, if you are having a problem adding a new roommate, I need to know if the lease absolutely prohibits subleasing or if subleasing is subject to the landlord’s written consent. The ordinance is different for each scenario.

Details, details, details.

If the landlord is harassing you, I want to know how. Does the landlord like to watch you sleep? It’s important to understand if your lease has a clause prohibiting pets and you just adopted a baby gorilla. It’s also important to know about the gorilla because other laws may apply. Sometimes little details can shed light on an issue you may not know you have.

Obviously, this format has its limits. If you know your unit is rent controlled you can just say so. I want the gory details that make your case unique. They help make this column more interesting and fun.

Oh yeah, if you live in Oakland, I need to know that, because they have a different Rent Ordinance. If you live in Daly City, I also need to know that, because they don’t have jack to protect tenants except feudal (California) law.

I’m at 48 Hills to answer your landlord-tenant questions every Wednesday, so send them to me at [email protected]

The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not constitute legal advice. The information provided is general in nature. Seek the advice of a tenant attorney for any specific problem or issue. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or Crow & Rose, Attorneys at Law unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.


Funky old Iceland? DJ Platurn dives into Reykjavik’s rare grooves

DJ Platurn

ALL EARS  At turns goofy, touching, mesmerizing, super-funky, and just plain weird, local DJ Platurn‘s just-released, two-part mix of unfamiliar Icelandic rare grooves and pop hits, Breaking the Ice, is a brilliant, painstaking excavation of unheard gems—and of his own past. If your knowledge of that icy island’s scene doesn’t extend beyond Bjork and Sigur Rós, Breaking the Ice will blow your mind with dozens of tunes from the late 1960s through early 80s (and clue you in to what was happening on Reykjavik’s intimate but lively glam rock, space pop, psychedelic, bubblegum, and pastoral folk scene). 

Platurn’s a very respected name on the local turntablist and hip-hop scene, laying down beats at parties from Motown on Mondays to Dre Day (which he organizes). But in 2006 he started exploring the musical variety of his Icelandic roots with his cousin, especially inspired by his father.

Platurn’s dad, Icelandic DJ Magnus Thorvardson (www.thordarsonline.com)

Platurn’s dad was Magnus Thordarson, a groundbreaking DJ and concert promoter who, in the early 1970s, brought rock and roll to Iceland’s only radio station. According to journalist David Ma, who wrote Breaking the Ice‘s excellent liner notes (buy the two-CD version for some awesome pics and documentation of the early Iceland scene), the national radio station, Ríkisútvarpið, was trying to be all things to all people, and looked down on overseas rock as “too aggressive”—so it ended up a bland morass of traditionalist tunes and propaganda. Thordarson changed all that when he scored a one-hour show and started breaking not only overseas records, but local bands who were adopting and developing new sounds.

“I was super into rock and roll, and its appeal to sexual impulses of young adults,” Thordarson told Ma with a laugh. “But I wanted to take it beyond that, I wanted to speak about the lyrics and take it into the intellectual realm.” Thordarson eventually opened Icelandic ears to everything from reggae to the Kinks, and fed a thirst for connection with the world that sparked Icelandic musicians to take up instruments and make their own noise (even if it was a cover of “Rock the Boat”).

Platurn discovered his own mission regarding the music is father had hyped so well, when he realized how much groove a lot of it had—and started thinking about how the records from that time could be mixed together in a journey through Iceland’s recent past. The seamless result toggles from energizing nostalgia to “WTF what is that?!” inspiration, much like a radio station from the past reaching our own attention deficit disorder present.  

I talked to Platurn over email about the records, his heritage, and the Breaking the Ice process that took 12 years to complete.    

48 HILLS Where you got ahold of these amazing records? Were there any specific shops you dove into? Were these mostly your father’s records?

PLATURN Many different outlets. My father’s collection (he was a DJ and promoter in Iceland back in the day), my own collection from when I was a kid, digging with my cousin in various places back home since 2006, and a couple of must-have pieces online. Almost all 65+ records came from old school excavation, not to mention the countless hours of educating myself—and maintaining broke status well throughout.

48H You and your cousin started getting really into older Icelandic rock music around 2006. What spurred you to start exploring more?

P Figuring out that said rock music had a lot more groove than expected. Was really that simple. I knew players in the music scene back in the day were bad ass musicians, I just didn’t know to what extent how soulful and interesting a lot of the grooves really were.

48H I love how you’ve talked about how a lot of Icelandic music had funky drumming “almost unintentionally.” Can you give me a couple examples of records that you recognized that on?

P Not really mentioning names, but there are very popular bands back home that many know about, like Hljomar for instance, that had great pocket drummers throughout many of their releases. 

48H How did you make the mix itself, i.e. what software tools did you use, or was it purely turntable oriented? Was there any challenge to working with such older records?

P All recorded in Pro-Tools. All original vinyl pressings, so yeah piecing it all together certainly wasn’t easy. From the time I started to completion I’d estimate it took me roughly two years to complete the actual recording process. Choosing the music and finding all the pieces where I felt like I was satisfied took roughly 12 years. Older records always present a challenge, but that’s what I love about projects like this. I’ve never been one to take the easy-street shortcut.

48H Are there any interesting or surprising connections between Iceland in general (or Icelandic music specifically) and the Bay? 

 P Not really. There is a Northern California Icelandic Society that gets together a few of times a year to celebrate popular holidays back home, but that’s about it. There’s only about 350,000 of us, and a rough guesstimate of how many live outside of the island would probably be somewhere between 20 and 30 thousand I’m assuming, spread out all throughout the planet. 
I did purposely put two records on there that certified the California/Iceland connection for me personally. First one is a cover of The Mamas & The Papas “California Dreaming,” a rendition translated as “Farm Boy’s Dream.” And the other a hokey pop-disco song entitled “Frisco Disco,” not to be confused with the classic B-boy break from Eastside Connection of the same name.
Purchase the Breaking the Ice 2xCD set here.
Follow Platurn here

Drag Queens Against Guns

Pictured from left to right: Khmera Rouge, Estee Longah, Kristi Yummykochi, Buka Kay, June Glüm (Bottom) Faluda Islam, Raya Light

On June 12th, 2016, a mass shooting left 49 dead and 53 wounded at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on Latin night. As someone who helps organize one of the handful of Asian Pacific Islander LGBTQ spaces in San Francisco, it broke my heart. I found myself wondering what would happen if this had occurred here in San Francisco, in our space? How do you respond when a space that is supposed to be safe is flooded with gun violence? How do you fight back, and more importantly, how can we come together to do that.

In response to the Parkland shooting, I wanted to show our community united against gun violence, so I brought together drag queens from all over the Bay Area to speak to issues of gun violence that are important to them. Why drag queens? Drag is inherently performative. It’s a visceral medium of storytelling that forces you to question your conventionality. In times of political unrest, drag is powerful and gives the LGBT community a unique tool to subvert marginalization. As such, drag queens become the perfect way to change the narrative on gun violence, and show it as an issue with deep ties to the LGBT community. 

Photos by Vince Flores and Christine Vo.

Pictured from left to right: Khmera Rouge, Estee Longah, Kristi Yummykochi, Buka Kay, June Glüm (Bottom) Faluda Islam, Raya Light

As a community, it’s time for us to move past living in this supposed post-marriage equality daze, and accept that gun violence is an issue for the LGBTQ community to fight. According to 2016 FBI statistics, race, religion, and LGBTQ identities make up the top 3 categorical targets for hate crimes, with our community accounting for roughly 20% of total REPORTED hate crimes. The term reported here is important to note since many crimes go unreported, and transgender individuals are often misgendered. Marginalized communities disproportionately bear the burden of gun violence, and this is especially true for LGBTQ people of color.

When talking about gun violence, it’s also important to understand that more Americans kill themselves with a firearm than are murdered with one at a 2:1 ratio, and that stricter gun control laws have shown to strongly correlate with lower suicide rates. Suicide involving firearms is fatal 90% of the time. Alternate methods are less deadly, and give time for that individual to be reached out to, to receive help

After Parkland, and now Maryland, policy makers are already offering their thoughts and prayers. Let’s organize our community and push them to do more.

Faluda Islam

Faluda Islam is a drag queen rebel leader bent on liberating the Muslim world from the shackles of Western Imperialism. Infusing San Francisco ideals with a queer Muslim identity, she wants to show the world that Muslims are a nonviolent people. Even though they carry the stereotype of being terrorists, they are not actually responsible for a majority of the gun violence, or event acts of terrorism in America. Historically, more Americans are killed by right-wing extremists born right here. School shooters have a demonstrated profile, so why do we immediately think of Muslim terrorists? Faulda comes in peace. Muslims come in peace. They can come to escape violence or to find new homes. They can be queer, and they can also advocate against gun violence.

Raya Light


Our media landscape is fragmented. We have a greater number of media outlets, and those outlets are increasingly reaching specific, segmented audiences. We can get trapped in our own bubbles of influence, and it can be hard to separate fake news from real. What can you believe when there is a non-stop, escalating garbage dump of rhetoric? We can often feel disillusioned, defeated, and silenced, but we can break free from the chaos and find our voice. Listen to the victims of mass shootings. Listen to the Parkland kids. Listen to the survivors of Pulse. If we are going to fight gun violence, we must be engaged in the struggle for what is right. Surveys show that LGBT groups overwhelmingly support gun control measures, it’s just time for us to be a little bit louder about it.

June Glüm

We’re sick and tired of Thoughts and Prayers™. Our elected officials offer nothing but pithy platitudes after each mass shooting, and we’re done with it. Our nation is at a tipping point in the gun control movement, and this mass shooting feels different. The Parkland survivors are inspiring–particularly Emma Gonzalez and Delaney Tarr, two of the strong young women leading the charge–unequivocally rejecting and renouncing offers of thoughts and prayers and demanding action. Our nation has burned through all our thoughts and prayers over the years, and if our legislators won’t take action, WE are the ones who get burned by the continued inaction. Time’s Up for #thoughtsandprayers

Kristi Yummykochi

On February 27th, 2018, the Florida House Appropriations Committee passed a bill that included $67 million for a program to train teachers to carry guns. There is no good research showing that arming teachers, or even putting more armed police in schools is effective. In fact, the good guy with a gun narrative has shown to overwhelmingly incorrect. More guns means more death. Trump has said that “gun-free” zones are invitations for attackers, but then why aren’t guns allowed in congress? The teachers from Parkland and countless other school shootings have told is that they don’t want guns, they want gun control and funding for school supplies instead. It’s time to listen to them.

Panda Dulce

Gun control is a numbers game. It’s no secret that sponsorship of major politicians and mass marketing efforts is what gives the NRA its formidable political clout. In 2016, the group donated more than $30 million to get Trump elected — the highest amount ever spent on a presidential candidate. However, this statistic is indicative of a bigger problem: Over the past 15 years, spending on gun rights lobbying exponentially exceeded that of gun control by nearly tenfold. Not only are we lacking in voting numbers, but we also lack the monetary numbers necessary to bring safety to us all.

We need to unify a voting bloc and target donating entities. We need to fight numbers with numbers. We need to put our money where our mouth is.

You’re invited to the 48 Hills Fifth Anniversary May Day Gala!

Join Tim Redmond, Marke B, and all of us at 48 Hills to celebrate independent media and the revolutionary spirit of San Francisco. Get your tickets here for the 48 Hills Fifth Anniversary May Day Gala!

JUST ANNOUNCED: Rose Aguilar of KALW’s “Your Call” show and Tom Ammiano will be joining us! 

For five years, 48 Hills has been the essential, daily online voice for local news, arts, and culture in the Bay Area. We’ll also be celebrating the groundswell of resistance and peoples’ unity against corporate oppression that we’ve been documenting over the past half-decade.

Mingle with local cultural, arts, political, and labor leaders in the main gallery of the wonderful Mission Cultural Center! Enjoy food from Casa Sanchez restaurant, tasty libations, art by local Latinx artists, music by DJ Marke B., and very special guest speakers!

Best of all, you’ll be supporting important, corporate-free, locally produced journalism—the kind our democracy thrives on. Bring your friends!

Join us Tuesday, May 1, 6pm-8pm for an evening to remember! Get your tickets now.

IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND, PLEASE DONATE! 48 Hills is completely community-supported and our Gala helps us raise funds for another year of in-depth reporting and lively arts coverage. Thank you for your support! 

48 Hills is a publication of the San Francisco Progressive Media Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. All donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. 

BART Board votes to endorse Wiener housing bill

On March 8, the BART Board voted 5-4 to support SB 827 – state Sen. Scott Wiener’s housing bill — with undetermined amendments that address tenant protections, affordability, incentives for developers, and prevailing wages. The BART directors who voted for the endorsement included Nick Josefowitz, who’s running for District Two supervisor. During the board’s deliberations, Josefowitz downplayed the bill’s impact, stating that it “would trigger some changes in local zoning.”

To be precise, SB 827 would slash cities’ authority over land use: The bill exempts housing projects within a half-mile of a major transit stop or a quarter-mile radius of a transit stop on a “high-quality” transit corridor (defined as “fixed route” bus service no less than every 15 minutes during peak commute hours) from local controls on

  • density
  • minimum parking spaces
  • maximum heights
  • and zoning that limits additions onto existing structures that comply with the bill’s own maximum height limitations of 55 of 85 feet, depending on the width of the street.

As Wiener, has it: “Developers can choose to build shorter, but cities can’t force them to build shorter…” According to the San Francisco Planning Department, SB 827 would upzone almost 96% of the city. When the state’s density bonus kicks in, under certain conditions, buildings could go as high as 105 feet.

Until March 8, other than the bill’s co-authors, who include State Senator Nancy Skinner, the supporters of SB 827 were all private members of the state’s growth machine:

  • real estate interests that will cash in on the speculative frenzy that would be triggered by the bill’s loosened restrictions on development
  • tech companies whose highly-paid employees have bid up the Bay Area’s residential real estate values to their current obscene levels
  • academics at the University of California, USC, and San Jose State University who lend their credentialed expertise to the growth machine
  • pro-growth non-profits, including think tanks and philanthropies with housing, environmental, and/or equity agendas.
  • the machine’s new “shock troops” (Wiener’s term): the highly educated young professionals who call themselves Yimbys for Yes in My Backyard but really mean Yes in Your Backyard. SB 827 was drafted by CA Yimby Executive Director Brian Hanlon.

The BART Board gave the bill its first endorsement from a public agency.

Board followed staff’s lead

The agenda for the BART Board’s March 8 meeting included a memorandum, “State and Federal Legislative Update” (Item 6A), written by Rodd Lee, the manager of BART’s Government and Community Relations Department, that recommended support for SB 827. The associated one-page “analysis and recommendation” is stunning in its superficiality.

Summarizing the bill’s provisions, Lee noted that SB 827 expands on two laws enacted in 2017, Chiu’s AB 73 and Wiener’s SB 35, that addressed California’s “severe housing shortage” by “establishing state minimum zoning near high quality transit.” He offered no assessment of this legislation.

Lee also noted “[r]ecent amendments” to SB 827 that “seek to address early concerns regarding displacement and affordability.”

  • the adoption of local mandatory inclusionary housing requirements and voluntary programs that grant zoning bonuses and waivers for affordable housing
  • local control over demolition bans and [demolition] permitting
  • and a Right to Remain Guarantee for all displaced tenants provided by the developer

According to Lee the amendments “provide some assurance against the loss of low-income housing.” How much, he didn’t say.

Most revealing is his sanguine analysis of the bill’s impact on BART. “By incentivizing the building of housing near transit,” Lee wrote,

SB 827 provides many potential benefits to BART. BART stations by nature are “major transit stops” and could see an increase in housing built within a half-mile radius. Denser housing near BART could increase ridership as data show that residents within a half-mile of BART are twice as likely to walk, bike or take transit for their commute trip, and own fewer cars.

That data comes from the U.S. Census American Community Survey, 2010-2014 and consultant Nelson/Nygaard. It’s displayed in bar charts on the BART website:

“In addition,” Lee wrote,

housing next to BART and high-quality transit offers a sustainable way to ensure ongoing ridership, which helps reduce freeway congestion and greenhouse gas emissions related to vehicle trips. SB 827 compliments [sic] many aspects of BART’s TOD Policy and performance targets.

BART certainly needs more riders and more revenue. Even with the region’s  megagrowth and voters’ 2016 approval of a $3.6 billion BART bond, the agency is losing patronage and money, as Item 2E on the March 8 agenda, the “FY18 Second Quarter Financial Report,” makes clear:

Total Ridership was 3.2% under budget for the second quarter of FY18, compared to 2.4% under budget in the first quarter, and 3.4% lower than ridership in the same period of FY17. Despite reduced budget expectations for FY18, monthly ridership in FY18 is still trending below the lower budget. Second quarter FY18 weekday trips were 2.7% below budget and weekend/holiday trip were 5.3% below budget. Passenger revenue in the second quarter was $3.6M (2.9%) unfavorable, more than the first quarter negative budget variance of $1.0M.

The financial report ends with a dreary prediction:

“[t]he ridership decline is expected to continue into the second half of FY18, with a negative impact on operating sources. BART’s focus on filling only critical operating positions has helped manage labor expenses, however, the second half of the year is expected to be more financially challenging due to pressure to increase staff to address service and quality of life issues. The ridership and expense trend may result in an operating deficit of FY18 YearEnd.

Transit-Oriented Displacement

A crucial question, then is whether SB 827 would likely increase BART’s ridership and revenue. A satisfactory answer requires more than data about how car ownership and commuting modes positively correlate with residential proximity to BART. We also need to know whether transportation-oriented development (TOD) reliably increases transit use and reduces driving. BART’s staff and its board assume that it does. That assumption is not borne out by scholarly research.

The 2010 study from Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, “Maintaining Diversity in America’s Transit,” analyzed socioeconomic changes in 42 neighborhoods in 12  metropolitan areas first served by rail transit between 1990 and 2000. The “predominant pattern,” the researchers found, was that TOD inflated real estate values, driving out low-income people, who use transit the most, while drawing new, wealthier residents into the transit-accessible neighborhood who were more likely to own a car and to use it to commute.

With that pattern in mind, it’s hard to take seriously the claim, put forth in the Yimbys’ letter to BART urging support for SB 827, that “reliable high quality transit” such as BART, is “an effective anti-poverty program.”

But what about the recent amendments to SB 827 addressing displacement and affordability?

Unfortunately, the amendments are sops.

  • Most California cities lack inclusionary ordinances, that is, requirements that housing developers include a certain amount of affordable housing in their projects.
  • “[V]oluntary programs that grant zoning bonuses and waivers for affordable housing” cannot be enforced.
  • Respecting local control over demolition means little because many California cities, including the biggest one, Los Angeles, have no such controls.
  • The “Right to Remain Guarantee” for all displaced tenants is more accurately labeled the “Right to Come Back After You’ve Been Forced Out of Your Home For Up to Three and a Half Years.” The bill provides no funding to enforce or monitor the temporary relocation process. In any case, moving is a burden, especially for people of modest means. Most tenants won’t return.
  • The amended bill does not mandate the creation of a single unit of affordable housing.

Above all, by raising heights and densities, SB 827 will set off a flipping boom and strengthen the major force behind displacement: real estate speculation. In the words of former LA Councilmember and LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, SB 827 “isn’t a housing bill; it’s a real estate bill.” That’s why 37 affordable housing, tenant rights, and transit equity groups signed ACT-LA’s letter opposing the bill. Wiener’s amendments haven’t changed their opposition.

During public comment at the BART Board’s March 8 meeting, Public Advocates Senior Staff Attorney David Zisser said that the tenants’ rights community is “extremely concerned” about the SB 827’s silence on affordable housing and land value capture (returning to the public some of the jump in property values resulting from public investment in transit). Zisser asked the Board to oppose or at least not support the bill.

SB 827 has other big problems that the staff report ignored: It says nothing about funding the myriad new services—police, firefighters, sewers, water, parks, schools, and, yes, transit—for the new housing it would presumably foster. It bypasses the state’s premier environmental law, the California Environmental Quality Act. And it eliminates due public process—notifications, workshops, rights of appeal—for all properties in its coverage areas.

What pro-SB 827 BART directors said

San Francisco has three BART districts. Annoyingly, the numbers of the districts are not on the map proper that’s posted on the agency’s website. From west to east: Josefowitz represents District 8 (orange). Number 9 (deep pink) is represented by Bevan Dufty. Lateefah Simon represents District 7 (yellow), which also covers parts of Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Josefowitz, Dufty, and Simon all voted to support SB 827. Josefowitz’s campaign for District 2 Supervisor has been endorsed by Wiener and Simon.

Speaking in favor of SB 827, Josefowitz averred that the bill would not give BART new powers. He made that claim after commenting on another bill under consideration at the board’s March 8 meeting, AB 2923. Introduced by Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Tim Grayson (D-Concord), AB 2923 would authorize BART to impose new TOD zoning guidelines over contiguous BART-owned land larger than a quarter acre and within a half-mile of BART stations in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. (San Mateo County escapes, because its voters have no elected BART representative.) Within two years of such imposition, local jurisdictions would be required to adopt an ordinance that approves the application of the TOD guidelines.

Josefowitz told Bay Area News Group Bay Area News Group reporter Katy Murphy that he supports AB 2923. At the Board meeting, he denied that the bill is “an attempt by BART to grab more power.” Later in the meeting, General Manager Crunican stated that “none [i.e. neither] of these bills were BART-initiated.

But whatever its origins, AB 2923 would greatly aggrandize the agency’s land use authority—and so would SB 827. According to BART’s 2017 “Transit-Oriented Development Guidelines,” the agency owns about 250 acres of “developable land” spread across 27 current and under construction stations. In 2017, the state Legislature approved SB 680, which extended the distance in which BART may engage in TOD projects from one-quarter mile to one-half-mile from a transit facility. The agency already had the authority to acquire property, including by eminent domain, in order to operate its transit system within its jurisdiction. Introduced by Fremont Senator Wieckowski, SB 680 was sponsored by the Bay Area Council. Its supporters included BART, the Building Industry Association of the Bay Area, SPUR, Yimby Action, and the Yimby legal arm, the California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA).

Under SB 827, BART, like any other owner of property within a half-mile of a major transit center or a quarter-mile radius of transit stop on a high-quality transit corridor, would have the legal right to build housing at least 55 to 85 feet high (and higher with the State Density Bonus), with no parking minimums or residential density maximums.

Stating that SB 827 was a work “in progress,” and that “various concerns will be addressed,” Josefowitz said that “it would be a shame” to oppose the bill, and that if his colleagues “want to see how it evolves,” he wasn’t “in a massive rush” to vote on it. Once it had become obvious that a bare majority of the board was willing to support the embryonic measure, he voted to endorse.

I couldn’t understand most of what Bevan Dufty said or, at times, even if he was the one who was speaking, because Board President Robert Raburn didn’t name the directors on whom he called. For anyone watching the meeting online, as I did, it was often impossible to tell who had the floor. Moreover, Dufty repeatedly failed to speak into his mic, making his statements incomprehensible. We didn’t have a timely chance to discuss those statements before this story went to press.

By contrast, Lateefah Simon was both audible and comprehensible. Citing California’s “tremendous housing shortage and the “audaciousness” of SB 827, Simon expressed support for the bill, pending strong amendments for tenant protections. “I’m not willing to say No about either [SB 827 or AB 2923],” she said, adding that she was “open to further conversations before we vote.” Apparently, subsequent discussion swayed her to say Yes to SB 827. Simon also joined the six other directors who voted to follow the staff recommendation and remain neutral on AB 2923. Like Josefowitz, she didn’t reply to request for an interview.

The other two Directors who voted to endorse SB 827 were Raburn, representing District 4 (magenta), and Saltzman, representing District 3 (green). Raburn lavished praise on the bill. After reciting pro-SB 827 boilerplate—“we’re in a [housing] crisis”—he declared:

We need an Apollo-like program to house the two million people that, ABAG projects, will be living next to us in the Bay Area over the next twenty years….Will they be living in Tracy or Manteca, or will they be living over a BART station?….I look at 827 and personally wonder, what’s not to like? Maybe something about labor.

But labor “isn’t an issue for BART,” Raburn opined, alluding to “labor project-specific agreements” that “have been in place since 2011.

Given BART’s recent labor history, this was a confounding statement. In reply to my emailed query, Raburn explained that he was referring to the BART policy that requires a Project Stabilization Agreement with local hire provisions on the agency’s TOD projects. The agreements are negotiated by BART staff between the developer and the building trades council of the county in which the project is located. 

Raburn did express concerns about TOD-fostered displacement of small businesses and non-profits as well as tenants. Overall, however, he deemed SB 827 to be “incredibly elegant,” because it “doesn’t burden any one jurisdiction with development.”

At the meeting, Saltzman provided a clarifying voice, as the meeting threatened to dissolve into chaos, due to Raburn’s failure to direct deliberation. Her ultimate vote to support SB 827 was predictable, given that on January 4, the day after Wiener had introduced the bill, she tweeted thanks to him for “a bold proposal that would increase and accelerate housing production on BART property and around stations. BART is committed to dense TOD but does not control zoning: this bill would help us meet our ambitious goals.”

Saltzman and I spoke after the March 8 meeting. When I noted that the board hadn’t detailed the amendments it wanted to see in SB 827, she said that writing those amendment wasn’t the board’s responsibility. But when the board voted 7-2 to remain neutral on AB 2923, it directed it staff to work with state legislators on changes to the measure. In any case, the prudent move would have been to wait and see what, if any, additional changes Wiener and Skinner make in their bill, before supporting it.

Saltzman also demurred when I asked about SB 827’s failure to address the provision of new services and infrastructure—including transit—for the explosion of new housing that the bills’ authors hope it will prompt. In January, I’d asked Wiener the same question at the UCLA Extension’s Land Use and Law Conference. He ducked the issue, and so did she, in words that echoed his. “People are coming to California,” she said. “The population is growing. They’re here, and we need to accommodate them.” So all they’re going to need is a place to live?

Saltzman seemed unaware of TOD-instigated gentrification, displacement, and reduced transit use. I sent her links to a few studies.

Anti-SB 827 directors

The four BART Directors who voted not to support SB 827 were Debora Allen (District 1, blue), Joel Keller (District 2, brown), John McPartland (District 5, pale pink),  and Thomas Blalock (District 6, charcoal). Allen and McPartland voted also against remaining neutral on AB 2923, which they adamantly oppose.

Allen began by acknowledging that the combination of high density and transit is good for housing. That was the last positive thing she said. BART, she observed, is already “at capacity,” and is going to remain that way for a while. More importantly, “this agency should not be the anointed redevelopment agency for the Bay Area…..We are a transit agency” that “has struggled and still struggles to accomplish that mission.” BART needs to continue addressing “crime, cleanliness, modernization of our stations, and infrastructure improvements.” Building housing, she said, would be “a diversion from all of those priorities.” Moreover, due to shortages in the building trades, “we don’t have the labor available.” Staff recently told the board that it would take “seven years to replace all of our escalators.”

McPartland gave Wiener a nod, saying that he “appreciate[s] the senator’s “perspective.” He does not, however, appreciate SB 827, which he called “cookie-cutter legislation for TOD that works in San Francisco, not in Piedmont.” As for AB 2923: “I can’t overstate how viscerally offended I am by this legislation. We want to be partners with our municipalities” and “should be sharing concerns about the amount of density we can put on this property.” Then, a quote you rarely hear from an elected official: “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Commenting on both SB 827 and AB 2923, Keller referred to “the inability of local jurisdictions to get [housing] projects approved.” But he also voiced his “strong conviction” that “these decisions are best made at the local level.” In any case, “the market does not support this kind of housing.” The Pittsburg Bay Point station has “acres of land” nearby, but “the numbers don’t pencil out.”

BART Board elections and RM3

As more and more people find out about SB 827, opposition is growing. The bill has become a major factor in San Francisco’s mayoral election. It may well figure in the city’s supervisorial races and in the BART Board elections as well.

BART Directors have staggered four-year terms. In November, Keller, Raburn, Blalock, and Josefowitz will be up for re-election. Raburn is running. His district covers Alameda and southern Oakland. The endorsers listed on his campaign website include Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County, and Oakland City Councilmembers Rebecca Kaplan and Dan Kalb, who’s running for the 15th District Assembly seat.

Josefowitz, however, is running for District 2 Supervisor in San Francisco. Prohibited by State law from running for two offices at once, he unsuccessfully sued the city to have the election moved up to June. His attorney argued that the San Francisco City Charter calls for limiting the amount of time a political appointee can remain in office; his opponent, Catherine Stefani, was appointed by former District 2 Supervisor Mark Farrell after Farrell became Interim Mayor in the wake of Ed Lee’s untimely death in December. Had Josefowitz prevailed in his lawsuit, he could lose the Supervisor race in June and still run for re-election on the BART Board. Now he has to win in District 2, or he’ll be out of office.

In June, Regional Measure 3 will be on the ballot in all nine Bay Area counties. RM3, as it’s familiarly known, would raise tolls on all the region’s bridges but the Golden Gate by $3. The $4.45 billion measure includes nearly a billion dollars for BART: $500 million for “expansion BART cars,” $375 million for Phase 2 of BART’s expansion to Silicon Valley, and $50 million for new transbay BART tube and approaches—in all, $925 million.

Will Bay Area voters who care about local democracy, fiscal responsibility, and social justice protest the BART Board’s support for SB 827 by voting No on RM3?

Party Radar: The way, way, Wayback Machine

Escort plays Rickshaw Stop, Fri/23

PARTY RADAR I’ve got a horn and I’m gonna toot it! I’ve loved covering SF nightlife, starting way back as an imaginary, omnipresent, somewhat baffling drag queen gossip columnist named Kika YoAss in the mid-1990s, for a little startup called Citysearch. (Twenty years later, Kika came to life, thanks to the magic of Juanita More and Glamamore at their monthly drag makeover party Powerblouse. Never forget!)

Somewhere in the 2000s, I moved to the Bay Guardian with a wee little column called Super Ego, which was weekly when I wasn’t too hungover. Lovey, I can’t even understand half the stuff I wrote back then—but I’m excited to announce that we’ve finally restored a huge portion of the Bay Guardian online archives, including my nightlife musings from 2005-2014.

So if you’re a music scholar looking to see what DJs came through SF back in the heyday of French Touch, minimal house, and hardcore electro (the Bush years were very dark)—or just curious about why I would dedicate an entire column to a product called Ejaculoid, then dive right in: here’s a pair of goggles, and good luck with all those MySpace references.

You’ll also find interviews with Dolly Parton, Joan Rivers (I called her from a port-A-Potty at Folsom Street Fair), Sandra Bernhard, and Madame (yes, the puppet), plus others like Mary Anne Hobbs, Mr. Scruff, Greg Wilson, Amon TobinThe Martinez BrothersBuraka Som Sistema, Pete Tong, Guy Gerber, A Tribe Called Red, Le1f, and even, gasp, Tiësto and Kaskade (both charmingly and surprisingly humble). And of course a billion, zillion locals I adore.

And that’s not even mentioning Na Nach Techno and EpiscoDisco! So if you like my stuff, you just might like more of my stuff. Grazie mille for reading, always. Anyways! 


DJ Tanya Leigh (with Little Foot)

THU/22 TANYA LEIGH Minneapolis rave scene represent! This ace DJ has been on it since 1998 (she was part of the longtime duo Complicit) and is coming in to the Konstruct party to drop some dope, deep Midwest bombs. 10pm-2am, $5. Underground, SF. More info here

THU/22 CLUB BEAUTIFUL: SCIENCE FAIR “HYPOTHESIS: If seven drag performers and one DJ come together at the Elbo Room to perform science experiments on stage, then nothing really ever happened at all.” Finally, the Schroedinger’s Cat of Gender Illusion. 9pm-2am, $10. Elbo Room, SF. More info here.   

THU/22 PHYSICAL THERAPY The head honcho of the Allergy Season “is known for a constantly shifting and abstracted take on club music, from bongo-infused techno to breakbeat science.” Joined by Miagma, Dionysian Mysteries, and Birch Koolman for the new Boomtown party. 10pm-2am, $5. The Stud, SF. More info here

FRI/23 ESCORT The multi-member disco orchestra combined retro glitz with new attitude and stormed the cub scene of the late 00s with big city aplomb and “Cocaine Blues.” Now Escort’s back and ready to roll you round like roller skates. 9pm-1am, $15-$17. Rickshaw Stop, SF. More info here

FRI/23 GREG WILSON An absolute legend who gets me right in the feels every time. The first DJ to mix live on British TV in the 1970s, who later came roaring back with an incredible slew of disco edits (and his patented reel-to-reel effects machine). Essential. 9:30pm-3am, $10-$20. Great Northern, SF. More info here

FRI/23 JUS-ED + DJ QU Classic New Jersey deep house feeling brought by two classic new Jersey personalities who will get freaky on the decks. Last time I saw these guys—yep, Jus-Ed got on the mic, too—I was taken by the spirit somewhere far away I’d never been before. 10pm-4am, $10. F8, SF. More info here.  

FRI/23 MIKE GUSHANSKY Awesome LA techno DJ (and local favorite—he’s part of the As You Like It crew) plays one of the neatest little parties around, Outpost. 10pm-2am, $5. Underground, SF. More info here.  

DJ Eric Bloom of Harder

SAT/24 HARDER SF You don’t always go into a gay party expecting some great music, but when I visited promoter Ricardo Tavares’ party in NYC last fall, I knew I wanted to see it come here. DJ Eric Bloom keeps it steamy deep but super-interesting (touches of robotic Italo Disco and Brazilian funk, sparkling keyboard digressions), with tempos set to sizzle, and the cute boys know what to do. 10pm-4am, $10. The Stud, SF. Tickets and more info here.  

SAT/24 STACY PULLEN Deep and tribal techno tracks for days and a pounding yet still very danceable tempo from this beloved second-wave techno legend. 9:30pm-2am, $10. Audio, SF. More info here

SAT/24 LOVE HANGOVER WITH MIGUELITOOOO I was heartbroken when this cutie moved to Mexico City, but am so glad he’s coming back to spin at this lovely afternoon disco affair at the bear bear (with free BBQ, natch). 3pm-8pm, $5. Lone Star Saloon, SF. More info here

SAT/24 SQUIRRELS ON FILM This great local label and act is at the very forefront of infusing techno and IDM with heady psychedelia. They will trip you out in a witchy way, but not in a corny way. With Lokier, Solar, C.L.A.W.S., Mozhgan, and Its Own Infinite Flower, plus visuals by Michele Armstrong. 10pm-2am, $10-$15. F8, SF. More info here.  

SAT/24 MARK FARINA + HOMERO ESPINOSA Two house heroes celebrate their birthday with a huge hurrah at Halcyon. With The SyntheTigers and Ivan Ruiz. 10pm-4am, $10-$20. Halcyon, SF. More info here

SUN/25 SSION Opening for the great Beth Ditto on her tour, Ssion is one of the most intriguing performers (and video artists — who else would stuff one of our gay porn hometown heroes, Adam Ramzi, into their latest video, not to mention Ariel Pink in drag). Do not miss a gender-bending, highly affecting, danceable spectacle. 7pm, $25-$30. Regency Ballroom, SF. More info here.   

SUN/25 BOOB TUBE: STEVEN UNIVERSE OMG this is a drag/cosplay party celebrating the most adorable Cartoon Network show, with performances, contests, dancing, and more. Last Boob Tube sent up Sailor Moon, and it was glorious. 10pm-2am, $5-$10. The Stud, SF. More info here

SUN/25 SUNSET SEASON OPENER AFTERPARTY It’s that time — the great Sunset Sound System Season Opener party/picnic that takes over Stafford Lake Park in Novato, 11am-7pm, lets us know that spring is here at last. Also essential is the afterparty at Monarch, always full of extra special surprises. 8pm-2am, $10. Monarch, SF. More info here

American myth-busting in Roxie’s ‘Dark Side of the Dream’

Humphrey Bogart in 'Black Legion'—a film sued by the KKK.

It’s always good news when there’s a revival series at the Roxie, and this week’s four-day “Dark Side of the Dream” is all gold: A mix of classics and rarities that expands outward from the noir and pre-Code showcases that co-producers Elliot Lavine and Don Malcolm have previously brought to the venue. The theme this time is vintage films that offer some critique of the “American Dream”—one myth that just about everybody seems to believe in, yet which has always been out of reach for many. The films range from 1930s Warner Brothers crime dramas to high noir and ’60s exploitation. 

The resonance of these films in our own very peculiar political era is particularly clear in Elia Kazan’s 1957 A Face in the Crowd, a movie that has really regained some traction of late. And no wonder, since TV’s lovable bumpkin Andy Griffith plays a sociopathic slimebag who purveys a pandering populist image into a dangerous sort of quasi-political celebrity. How audiences were able to accept eight innocuous seasons of The Andy Griffith Show after his skin-crawling performance here is something of a mystery. 

Such trenchant social observation was fairly rare onscreen in the 1950s. But a couple decades earlier, Warner Brothers routinely cranked out socially conscious dramas—three of the best (if not best-known) included here. The revelation among them may be William Wellman’s 1933 Heroes for Sale, which is in the running as the most ambitious 71-minute narrative ever. It sprawls 15 years from WW1 foxholes to flophouses to prison to Depression shanty towns, following the hard knocks given a WW1 veteran (Richard Barthemless) whose heroic battlefield deeds get mistakenly attributed to a cowardly comrade. Almost a compendium of the era’s pressing social issues, it’s a compact wonder. 

Hardly lacking ambition either is Archie Mayo’s 1937 Black Legion, in which Humphrey Bogart plays a not-particularly-bright factory worker whose jealousy of a more industrious colleague’s promotion makes him easy prey for a racist vigilante organization. (Trivia note: The KKK actually sued WB for patent infringement in use of one of their symbols. They lost.) It’s a strong portrait of how disgruntled “nice guys” can become little fascists. The same year the studio also featured Bogart in a rare female-driven “gangster film,” Lloyd Bacon’s very tough Marked Woman—one of Bette Davis’ first great roles, as a “nightclub hostess” who turns state’s witness against her mob boss. It’s among the most brutal and shocking movies Hollywood managed to get made shortly after the introduction of the censorious Production Code.

Probably the rarest film in the series is M, a 1951 American remake of Fritz Lang’s famous 1930 German film, which introduced the world to Peter Lorre. This time it’s David Wayne playing the pathetic child murderer—though as with the original, the focus is more on the city population itself, as fear and anger turn even the criminal underworld into police allies as the manhunt goes on. Though not as innovative as Lang’s original, this version is striking on its own terms nonetheless, particularly for the vivid use of downtown Los Angeles locations—this is not at all a studio-soundstage enterprise. The director Joseph Losey is also represented here by The Lawless from the prior year, a prescient movie about a newspaper editor’s exposing miserable conditions thrust upon Mexican immigrant agricultural workers in a central California town. 

Losey was just at the start of a promising directorial career, one shortly derailed by Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt for supposed Communist sympathizers in the film industry. (He ultimately re-settled in England, thoroughly re-inventing himself as the maker of elegant, arty films like The Servant and The Go-Between—to the point where eventually few realized that he was from Wisconsin, not Hyde Park.) Several other films in the series feature blacklisted talents, including the poetical boxing melodrama Body and Soul (1947), whose star John Garfield, director Robert Rossen and writer Abraham Polonsky were all seriously impacted by the “Red Scare.” Ditto Cy Endfield, who had to work under pseudonyms for a while after 1950’s Try and Get Me! aka The Sound of Fury. It’s a modest but harrowing variation on Strangers on a Train terrain, as a chance meeting between a hapless good guy (Frank Lovejoy) and a swaggering very bad guy (Lloyd Bridges) solders their fates together. 

Able to escape the blacklist was John Huston—though he fought vigorously on behalf of its victims—who between famous screen classics made the comparatively little-known We Were Strangers. It is, however, one of his most overtly political films, with the compelling Garfield (and the iffier Jennifer Jones) among unlikely would-be revolutionists against a corrupt, tyrannical Cuban government of 1932. 

Other films in “Dark Side of the Dream” include longtime “A-list” director Mervyn LeRoy’s 1937 sensation They Won’t Forget, which provided a star-making (if brief) role for Lana Turner as a sexy student whose murder sparks a politically-manipulated trial. It was pretty damn shocking for its time—but doubtless no one then could have imagined anything quite so alarming as Samuel Fuller’s 1964 The Naked Kiss, chronologically the last film in “Dark Side of the Dream.” This not-dissimilar screaming expose of small-town hypocrisy features Constance Towers as a prostitute (they weren’t calling them “nightclub hostesses” by then) who flees her big-city degradation in one of the most lurid opening sequences ever. Aiming to start afresh, she lands in pristine, cozy Grantville—but it turns out this seemingly squeaky-clean burg has a whole lotta hidden sleaze going on, too. A cult favorite, The Naked Kiss is quite possibly the idiosyncratic Fuller’s most flamboyant and outlandish film…which is saying a lot. 

Roxie, SF.
More info here

Campaign trail: Homelessness, superPACs and a weird Chron story

Street art by Romanowski

This was the week of candidates putting forward plans to address homelessness.

Mark Leno put forward his plan to end “street homelessness,” and while some of the proposals are similar to ideas we’ve heard before, his plan includes what the previous administration never seriously considered: The concept that one of the best ways to address homelessness is to prevent evictions and keep people in their homes.

Street art by Romanowski

“70% of San Franciscans living on the street were living under a roof in San Francisco before they became homeless,” the Leno plan states.

That’s a sharp contrast to Ed Lee’s time in office, when rental subsidies were curtailed and evictions became epidemic.

Leno, along with Sup. Jane Kim and Amy Farah Weiss, supports the ballot measure that would guarantee every tenant who is facing eviction the right to a lawyer.

Leno also points to the more than 1,500 SRO hotel rooms that are vacant and could be used to house homeless people.

The SF Public Press reported on this in the fall, and also on the reasons those rooms remain empty. Some landlords are just keeping units off the market because they think prices will continue to go up; once a tenant moves in and stays 32 days, the unit comes under rent control.

In other cases, landlords don’t want to rent to homeless people because they’re worried about the impact of tenants who need services that often aren’t available. Leno’s response:

We know that many SRO landlords leave units empty because City Hall isn’t meeting the need for supportive services that help keep formerly homeless tenants safely and reliably housed. Landlords should not have to worry whether a new tenant exiting homelessness will have the social services they need to pay rent or maintain mental and physical stability — this should be a guarantee from City Hall.

TODCO, the Soma affordable housing group whose executive director, John Elberling, has endorsed Jane Kim, notes that

The residential hotels in SOMA, the Mission, and the Tenderloin that have been empty for years are owned by owners who have refused to sell them to nonprofit affordable housing groups at any reasonable price, and cannot not even lease them to the City for homeless programs because they are not up to today’s codes. These owners are speculating these properties looking for a maximum price by “investors”/developers like StarCity. Many will ultimately wind up being “taken upmarket,” after modest renovations, to become hip SRO housing for the City’s new Young Gentry.

It might take a vacancy tax to force some of these landlords to accept tenants. Kim has proposed using eminent domain to force the owners to sell these buildings to the city, which would give SF a direct source of more than 1,000 affordable units. That’s a lengthy legal process – it could take years, although some landlords might decide to settle and sell rather than go through the expense of litigation

Sup. London Breed released her own homelessness plan today, which doesn’t mention the vacant SROs but does call for building 5,000 new housing units a year, reflecting her position that more market-rate housing will help bring down costs (and presumably prevent homelessness).

The city’s own data shows that building market-rate housing makes the housing crisis worse.

She also cites the number of homeless people who used to be housed in San Francisco, and talks about the need for prevention (including more funding for rent subsidies.

Breed doesn’t support the Right to Counsel ballot measure; she’s introduced her own legislation at the board that at this point offers a more limited program than the ballot measure does. TODCO’s got an analysis of Breed’s plan here.

Neither of these plans includes full details of how they would be funded – Leno says he wants a top-to-bottom audit of all existing expenditures on homelessness to be sure there’s no waste, and Breed is talking her tax plan that would raise $70 million a year. The need is far greater than either of those solutions.

But at least the debate is (finally) focused on prevention as well as cure. Now perhaps we can all start discussing whether this problem is linked to the city and the region growing too fast.


The superPAC run by the San Francisco Firefighters Union, which is supporting Breed (and will probably wind up attacking her opponents) just picked up another $75,000 in cash.

Documents on file with the Ethics Commission show that the independent-expenditure committee received $50,000 from Pilot Construction Management, Inc., which couldn’t give money, even a fraction of that amount, directly to a candidate because local law bans corporate contributions – and because Pilot has done business with the city.

The president of Pilot, Lina Tan, has donated the maximum $500 in the past to David Lee for Supervisor and Ahsha Safai for Supervisor. Other than that, she and her company have not been major donors in the city.

The other $25,000 came from Mae C. Woo, a retired real-estate agent.


The conventional political wisdom has always been that front-runners don’t like to debate; it rarely does them any good, and can lead to blunders. By some recent accounts, London Breed is now the front-runner in the race, which may explain why she hasn’t shown up for some of the more progressive groups’ endorsement forums.

She missed San Francisco Rising, the Latino Democratic Club, the Bernal Heights Democratic Club, and the Council of Community Housing Organizations. She showed up for the Democratic County Central Committee endorsement interviews, but left early.

Or maybe she’s just really busy. Nobody can make all the events. Still, these were all forums held by progressive groups who would have had tough questions for her.


It’s hard to cover a complex topic like housing at a contentious forum when you don’t have much space, so I know what the Chron’s Rachel Swan was up against. Still, our reporter had a different take on what happened at the Council of Community Housing Organizations forum. And when I watched the video, I was a bit perplexed.

Here’s what the Chron reported:

The dramatic high point came when an audience member asked a question that seemed targeted at Breed, who wasn’t even there: How would each candidate help African Americans who have been priced out of the city?

The audience member specifically cited the Western Addition, a neighborhood that was bulldozed by redevelopment in the 1960s. Breed, who is African American, grew up in a housing project there and now represents the area as a district supervisor.

It was an awkward moment for Leno, who has framed his campaign around the idea of political change — a notion that Breed’s supporters have slammed, arguing that Leno is a 66-year-old white man who spent decades in City Hall and the state Capitol.

Leno lamented “the exodus of our African American population” from San Francisco but offered no concrete solutions to stop it. Kim said she would open an office of race and equity if elected mayor. Alioto blamed the Third Street rail line for driving African Americans out of Bayview-Hunters Point, though she didn’t explain how the two things connected. Her mayoral platform is largely about saving the soul of the city.

I watched the video and actually, Leno had a perfectly reasonable response: He said that a serious local-hire program that sought to make sure that a fair share of the new tech jobs went to existing residents, including African Americans, would help prevent displacement by giving the vulnerable communities a chance to benefit from the high wages of the boom. That may be a good idea or not, but it’s certainly a legit proposal. Kim also talked about a program in Portland that gives displaced residents first preference in affordable housing; again, that may or may not be a good idea, but it’s a credible proposal.

Alioto’s comments about displacement in Bayview Hunters Point seemed pretty clear to me, and I suspect most people in the room got the point.

I asked Swan about it, and she told me that

Leno’s comments on the African American question seemed a little vague to me. I got what Angela was suggesting with regard to the Third Street rail, but to me the gentrification connection was unpersuasive.

I did think the Midtown question — clearly a dig at Breed — put Leno in an awkward position. Maybe it was more of a gut feeling sitting in the room there.

Each candidate had one minute to answer one of the most complex questions facing the city. Hard to be more than a little vague.


State Sen. Scott Wiener unleashed a vicious attack on Kim over her opposition to SB 827, the state housing bill that would upzone pretty much all of San Francisco without any new affordable housing requirements or any way for the city to capture some of the profound increases in property values that the law would create.

Interesting that he has made no such harsh comments about Leno, who also opposes SB 827 — and who Wiener has endorsed.


‘How To Be a White Man’ explores power and identity with a comic touch

Kevin Glass and Luna Malbroux in Malbroux's 'How To Be a White Man'

ONSTAGE Growing up in rural Louisiana, queer black comedian and social worker Luna Malbroux was pretty familiar with assumptions people might make about her. Hearing fellow comedian Mindy Kaling talk about how she carries herself with the entitlement of a white male made a big impression of her, and partly inspired her to write her play How to Be a White Man (at Burial Clay Theatre, March 23-April 1).

Malbroux, who leads anti-bias and anti-racist workshops, performed in the play with Faultline Theatre company at PianoFight last year. She got good feedback, but some people, including from Rodney Earl Jackson, Jr., who has an M.F.A. in theater from Carnegie Mellon, saw it more as a performance piece than a play.

Jackson, who co-founded the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Company, knew Malbroux because they were both doing a residency at the African American Art & Culture Complex, which gave them access to the offices and theater there (“like a African American futuristic We Work,” Jackson said.) They talked about reworking How to Be a White Man, and now they’re putting it on with Jackson directing and Malbroux starring.

Luna Malbroux

In the first version, Malbroux says, there were eight or so characters, and now there are just two.

“There’s a black woman and a white man,” she said. “I don’t want to give it all away, but it explores identity and power in a relationship. Also when I first wrote this, Obama was president [both she and Jackson laugh] and a lot has changed between the summer of 2017 and now, so I wanted to make sure it goes deeper.”

Jackson says the previous play had a lot of different stories in a vignette style, and now it’s possible to go more in depth. Because they share an office with each other as well as others involved in the play, they can check in with each other. This is helpful to her as a writer, Malbroux says, giving her immediate feedback, which she’s used to as a stand-up comic. Asked for an example of an idea she got or something she changed as a result of talking with her co-workers, both Malbroux and Jackson start laughing again. They were thinking about the artistic director of the play, a black woman, and what she said during a conversation about the concepts of the show.

‘How To Be A White Man’ director Rodney Jackson, Jr.

“She said when she was young and starting her own business, she would be taken more seriously if she said she was ‘Stanley Emerson’s secretary,'” Malbroux said. “He was a character she created to do business. We just lost it. I said, ‘I’m going to use this.'”

In How to Be A White Man, Malbroux plays Michelle, about to get a job at a SNL-like show, Avocado Nation, but constantly feeling the pressure to be twice as good, being a black woman in comedy. Her white male foil is played by Kevin Glass.

Jackson, who appeared in Motown the Musical as well as Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, about the Temptations, has directed musicals before, but this is his first time directing something like this, and he says it was fun to get the comedy and drama across just using words. Malbroux thinks this version of the play is easier to connect with, and she’s loving it as a writer and actor.

“The people I work with inspire me on the daily,” she said. “I work with Kevin Glass, and having his support and Rodney’s and doing a play that has such tense subject matter and we all get along and love each other—that means a lot.


March 23- April 1

Burial Clay Theatre, SF.

Tickets and more info here

Police accountability groups make POA contract an issue for supes, Farrell

Labor battles in San Francisco are typically about wages, benefits, and staffing. In tough years, City Hall tries to make cuts, and the unions fight back. Of late, public workers have been demanding wage hikes to address the radical increases in housing costs.

But there’s a potentially huge battle brewing over the contract with the Police Officers Association – and it’s not about pay.

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

San Francisco already has among the highest-paid cops in the country. The POA has negotiated generous benefits and retirement. And even the harshest critics of the SFPD aren’t saying that officers should be paid less.

But as the union seeks more money, activists are pressuring city negotiators to demand reforms in the way the POA deals with policy changes, particularly around use-of-force and Tasers.

The No Justice No Deal Coalition, made up of 38 organizations and individuals representing police accountability, immigrant, tenant, human rights and faith-based communities, wants the city to demand that the POA stop invoking the right of “meet and confer” when it comes to implementing the federal recommendations for improving the department.

The group is also worried about the role Mayor Mark Farrell is playing in the negotiations. The mayor has supported the POA’s Taser ballot measure and brought political consultant Nathan Ballard, who played a key role in the administration of Ed Lee, aboard as an advisor. Ballard until recently was the communications consultant for the POA.

In a March 13 letter to Mayor Farrell, the group notes:

We are concerned about your retention of Nathan Ballard, a political consultant who has worked with the POA for many years. Tellingly, Mr. Ballard—skilled in political communications strategy—has shared only one of your communiques through his Twitter account:  the one supporting the TASER ballot initiative. This is emblematic of a clear conflict of interest when it comes to the negotiation of the new police contract. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are at stake. Mr. Ballard taking a short break from the POA does not remotely remove the threat that he will personally profit, and retaining him to advise you on this topic smacks of corruption.

The group wants Farrell to recuse himself from the negotiations and allow the Board of Supes to take over. The supes will have to approve the contract anway.

And the mayor has so far supported Prop. H, the POA’s ballot measure that undermines the Police Commission’s policy on Tasers:

We are also concerned that decisions you’ve made during your short tenure as Mayor demonstrate that you care more about your relationship with the POA than critically-needed police reform or community priorities. For instance, we are appalled by your endorsement of the POA’s TASER ballot measure. As you know, SFPD Chief Scott opposes the measure and listed its critical weaknesses in his departmental analysis. Significantly, he called the ballot measure “the antithesis of the spirit of many of the US DOJ COPS recommendations.” The TASER ballot initiative also enshrines a policy in the city charter that directly contradicts de-escalation, a centerpiece of the US DOJ COPS report. Therefore, your subsequent support for the measure amounts to a rejection of the US DOJ COPS recommendations.

The POA has consistently sought to block reforms by insisting that the commission “meet and confer” on changes. POA President Martin Halloran repeated that claim in a Chronicle oped, saying that the “city must confer with the POA” before finalizing any Taser policy.

That, reformers say, is a misuse of labor law – and in fact, when the POA sued the city in 2016 to block changes in use-of-force laws, the courts found that the commission has the right to set policy for the department and that the union has no right to delay or seek to veto those policy changes.

When the commission voted last week to approve a Taser policy, the POA immediately insisted that it wanted to “meet and confer” – although the commission specifically voted not to do that. And while the room was packed with community members who weighed in on the policy, nobody from the POA showed up.

The group is asking the more for the following:

In sum, we demand a Memorandum of Understanding between the City and POA that prioritizes public safety and police accountability and represents the needs of communities most impacted by over-policing, racial profiling, and police violence. Specifically, we demand:

  1. 1. a provision in the new MOU ensuring that the POA will not invoke—or claim the right of—meet-and-confer or interest arbitration regarding any policy enacted or issued to implement the US DOJ COPS recommendations; and

  2. 2 your recusal from MOU negotiations by ceding direction of DHR to the Board of Supervisors for this limited purpose.

The Board of Supes Government Audit and Oversight Committee will hold a hearing on the POA contract Wednesday/21; the meeting starts at 10am. Members of the coalition will gather at 9am outside City Hall.


The full board will take up a proposal Tuesday/20 to change “question time,” the policy requiring the mayor to appear before the supes once a month and answer questions. The current rules, drafted by the-Board President David Chiu and advisors to then-Mayor Ed Lee, have rendered the process largely worthless; the supes have to submit questions in advance in writing, and the mayor gives a written scripted response. There is never any follow up.

Under an ordinance proposed by Sup. Aaron Peskin, the supes would rotate questions on a three-month basis – the members from District 1,2,3, and 4 would ask questions the first month, 5,6,7,and 8 the second month and 9, 10 and 11 the third.

There would be no requirement that questions be submitted in advance. The supes would get to ask a direct question and the mayor would be required to answer. The supe could ask a follow-up, and the mayor could ask the supe a follow-up.

That would bring the program closer to what then-Sup. Chris Daly had in mind when he put this on the ballot – he was looking for a robust debate and discussion on policy issues, in public, involving the mayor and the supervisors.

The vote will be a reflection on the balance of power between the mayor and the board and the need for more open discussion.