Saturday, April 17, 2021
Uncategorized When all roads lead to SF City Hall, what...

When all roads lead to SF City Hall, what will the mayor do?



By Tim Redmond

When Sup. David Campos was seeking support for his bill to raise relocation fees for Ellis Act evictions, he asked the mayor to sign on. During a Question Time session at the Board of Supervisors, Mayor Ed Lee said he wasn’t pushing any local efforts: “All roads [to Ellis Act reform] lead to Sacramento,” he said.

He repeated that line when I asked him why he refused to sign the Campos bill, which became law without his signature. It’s all about the state Legislature, he said.

Sen. Mark Leno, with the support of the grassroots group Tenants Together, made a huge effort to get Ellis Act reform passed in the state Capitol. He used his exceptional skills to get the measure out of the state Senate. But it stalled in an Assembly committee, and is quite likely dead for this session.

That’s not the fault of Leno, or of Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, who had his own Ellis bill and worked hard for Leno’s. Real-estate interests have long dominated the state Legislature, and it’s almost impossible to get good pro-tenant bills through.

So now we’re back where we were several months ago, and it’s fair to ask: Do all roads now lead right back to San Francisco City Hall? And where will the mayor be?

The state Legislature has a long history of imposing mandates and limits on local government, for good and for ill. The Brown Act and the California Public Records Act force cities and counties to do business in public, which is good; the Ellis Act and the Costa-Hawkins Act restrict how cities can protect tenants, which is bad.

But even when state law seeks to protect landlords and property owners, there’s a lot that creative local governments can do. And that’s where the battle over tenant protections will be fought for the rest of 2014.

It starts with the anti-speculation tax, which is going to be a top priority for tenant groups this fall. The measure’s aimed at taking some of the insane profit out of evicting tenants and flipping buildings, turning them from rental housing into tenancies in common.

It also addresses the problem that Leno talked about when he presented his bill to an Assembly committee this week: Long-time landlords, people who have owned their buildings for many years, don’t tend to be Ellis Act evictors. The evictions come from out-of-town investors and speculators who have no interest in San Francisco or rental housing, but want to make a quick buck at the expense of tenants.

Initially, tenant activists wanted to tax the profits that speculators make, but that turns out to be illegal (again, a problem with state law: Local government can’t tax income). So instead it’s a real-estate transfer tax (which local governments are allowed to impose).

Local governments are also allowed to set a statutory relocation fee for Ellis Act evictions; that was how Campos got the rules changed to make it more expensive to evict a tenant and to give the victims of Ellis evictions a fighting chance to stay in San Francisco.

The state isn’t funding affordable housing at the level it should, but cities still control land use. So Sup. Jane Kim was able to come up with a local law that will make market-rate housing more difficult if San Francisco falls behind on affordable housing – creating an incentive for private developers to work with the city on creative solutions to building new lower-cost housing.

All of these laws represent creative uses of the authority of local government at a time when the state government remains a problem. As we continue to struggle with a tech-job-driven housing crisis, city officials are going to have to keep looking for more.

And so far, although Ed Lee is mayor of San Francisco and not governor of California, he has looked outside the city for solutions to the housing crisis and sought to place the blame on forces that, despite the best efforts of the city’s state delegation, are somewhat beyond our control.

So back to you, Ed: What are you going to do when all roads lead not to Sacramento, but to City Hall?

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.


  1. Th anti speculation tax will get overturned in appeals court. It is a naked taking. Oh, it’s not a tax on profits…it’s a transfer tax. Like that will hold water- give me a break. Is that the best Harvard has taught you campos?

    Overall, all 3 of these measures guarantee to increase San Francisco’s real estate values. Last year you restricted condo conversions. And now (transfer tax) you’re helping increase TIC values. And sup Kim’s misguided imitiative is just all around plain idiocy- let’s kill developments. Truth be told, I’m actually quite pleased with this new wind of liberal stupidity- Ya’all are doing a great job of making me even richer. So thanks!

  2. I was one of those people who took the time to point out Tim’s inconsistencies and distortions when he wrote for the SFBG, which got high search rankings because of its food, music and entertainment listings. I just felt that it is unhelpful if someone searches for SF information and then gets misled.

    I still think that Tim Redmond is highly misleading.For example the other day he implied that Airbnb takes 5,000 units off the market because that is the total number of listings they have in San Francisco. Meanwhile the study he was quoting quantified the effect he was looking for and put the number of full time AirBnb ‘hotels’ at 160 units, with another 147 shared units or rooms.

    But this is his blog. I think that he can be as misleading as he wishes over here.

  3. Three simple responses.

    First, it is the essence of true liberalism that a wide spectrum of opinions are welcomed. You like diversity, right? And hate echo chambers and mindless agreement?

    Second, no rights or freedoms are conferred by the government. Rather they are conferred by the constitution, much of which was written to specifically limit what rights and freedoms could be taken away by the government.

    Third, “dialogue” is not a verb.

  4. Can you please go away, “Sam”? I don’t know who’s pocket you are in, but you still have the sfbg’s air to foul. No one cares over here and we are happy to not have to put up with mindless trolls who have nothing to contribute but empty derisiveness. You are obviously not reading this site because you are interested in progressive viewpoints…what a waste of your time.

    Intelligent conversations only, please! You clearly do not understand that your “freedom” and “Rights” are given to you BY the govt not some higher being. There is no such thing as government overreach, as there cannot be freedom, exchange, or ownership without government intervention. So why should anyone dialogue with you?

  5. So if you support more autonomy for municipalities, you would presumably support the ability of some county in Alabama to reintroduce segregation or prevent gays from marrying?

    Because you do not respect the greater powers we vest in the States and the federal government?

    You overlook the fact that the Ellis Act exists precisely to limit what a city or county can do to infringe on property rights. And yet you want to exempt the one city where Ellis actually has some effect?

    Presumably you are happy for Ellis to apply where it isn’t needed?

    Finally, you complain that it is not the long-term landlords who Ellis. but “speculators”. But of course what really happens is that those long-term owners give up on the property and sell them. And the only buyers are those who will Ellis, because a building with low-rent tenants is a loss-making business and cannot be sustained.

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