By Tim Redmond
OCTOBER 24, 2014 – In December, 2003, the local power structure had a genuine freak-out moment: A series of polls showed that Green Party member and upstart supervisor Matt Gonzalez had a chance to beat Gavin Newsom and become the next mayor of San Francisco.
The resulting four years would have been, to say the least, unpredictable, and power likes predictability. So Newsom’s people got on the phone and hauled in the biggest hitter they could. Developer Walter Shorenstein sent a private plane back east to pick up a guy name Bill Clinton, who came out and did a rally for Newsom.
I thought about that when I saw that Ed Lee had (with remarkably little media fanfare) endorsed David Chiu for state Assembly. Even Lee’s allies say the decision makes little political sense for the mayor. Lee is not close to Chiu.
But Ron Conway and the tech leadership are very close to the mayor (and in Room 200 City Hall, Conway these days has a lot more clout than Rose Pak or even Willie Brown). And Conway really, really doesn’t want David Campos to get elected.
I will say right now: I have no polls on the race. But if Chiu was comfortably ahead, why would Conway and Reed Hoffman be putting even more hundreds of thousands of dollars at the last minute into their anti-Campos Independent Expenditure committee?
And why would the mayor have gotten dragged into this?
I don’t think Lee’s endorsement means much either way. San Francisco mayors famously lack coattails, and most of the people who trust Ed Lee will vote for Chiu anyway. But it tells me that the Chiu camp, at least, thinks this race, as of today, is very close.
I’m very glad to see that City Attorney Dennis Herrera is going to appeal the really awful decision by federal Judge Charles Breyer striking down the Campos legislation raising payments for tenants facing Ellis Act evictions.
The decision hung on the notion that landlords can’t be forced to pay for a situation they didn’t create. Since the housing crisis is not the fault of any individual landlord, Breyer said, making a property owner pay the cost of helping a tenant stay in the city is unconstitutional.
Of course, by that standard – taking the case to its extreme – rent control would be unconstitutional; why make any individual landlord accept below-market rent when you can’t prove that any one landlord is responsible for high rents?
The courts have always upheld rent control – and in fact, both the state Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court have upheld the right of cities to tightly regulate rents – including extending rent controls to vacant apartments.
The state Legislature banned that practice, but the courts were willing to accept it.
The courts have also upheld the right of a city to prevent landlords from evicting tenants to sell the units as condos – in fact, that decision, coming out of Santa Monica, was the spur for the state’s Ellis Act. Again: The legislature says you can’t force a landlord to keep renting his or her units – but the courts were fine with that kind of law.
But there’s another issue side of the law, one that’s similar to Prop. G, the anti-speculation tax on the November ballot. The intent of the supervisors in passing the Campos bill was to give a tenant who is evicted a fighting chance to stay in the city. The impact, however, could well be to reduce the profit in Ellis Act evictions, and thus the number of evictions. That’s certainly the case with Prop. G – if it passes, and the city never collects a dime because the speculators have backed off, the law will have done its job.
The city can’t prevent landlords from doing Ellis Act evictions. But we can make it more expensive. And if the courts take away that right, they will be doing much deeper damage.