Parks panel — finally — shuts down a project that violates Prop. K. Breed appointments reflect moderate trend on the board

 

Board President London Breed and Sup. Scott Wiener, who is on two key committees, chat at the mayor's state of the city address
Board President London Breed and Sup. Scott Wiener, who is on two key committees, chat at the mayor’s state of the city address

By Tim Redmond

JANUARY 20, 2014 – The victory by Soma activists over a condo project that would shadow Victoria Manalo Draves Park has received fairly limited media attention. Just a J.K. Dineen story on an inside page of the Chron.

But it’s a pretty big deal on several levels.

Proposition K, the measure aimed at protecting sunlight in the parks, passed in 1984. It required both the Rec-Park Commission and the Planning Commission to give special approval to any project that would cast a significant shadow on a public park.

Since then, lots and lots of projects casting lots and lots of shadows have gone through. Never once has the intent of Prop. K been upheld.

But maybe, just maybe, as the city gets ever more crowded, the two commissions will start to notice that this is a serious problem – not to mention city law – and start acting accordingly.

The 5-0 vote came as the mayor was delivering his State of the City speech, and Sup. Jane Kim skipped that event to join community leaders in urging the Commission to oppose the project. “We have the smallest park space in the city and have the fastest population growth,” she told me. And Victoria Manalo Draves is the only park in Soma that’s open to all kinds of users.

And as Dineen notes:

While 190 Russ St. is a small project by SoMa standards, the vote is significant because it is the first in a series of proposals near Draves Park. Nearby projects that will come before the commission include a 92-unit project at 301 Sixth St., a 34-unit development at 345 Sixth St., and a 116-unit project at 377 Sixth St.

Those are big-deal, big-money projects – but if the commissioners rejected this one, they will have a hard time making exceptions for the others.

The vote might also be a hopeful sign that some of the worst actors in city real estate could be held to account for their actions. It’s no coincidence that tenant activists rallied to the cause here: The project is sponsored by a company owned by one of the more notorious Ellis Act evictors in the city, Sergio Iantorno.

The Ellis Act wasn’t at issue in the decision. And the commissioners have to judge every project on its merits, with no regard for the sponsor. But everyone knew that approving the project would be doing a big favor to a landlord who has been driving low-income people out of the city.

I would like to believe that all developers, no matter what their political connections, get the same fair hearing in front of all city commissions. But we all know that’s not true; the big and the powerful get special treatment all the time.

But maybe the tenant organizing around Ellis Act evictions has made commissioners a bit more aware of whom they are dealing with.

 

The Board of Supervisors committee assignments are out, and nobody should be terribly surprised.

The two most important committees – Budget and Land Use – are controlled by some of the most conservative members of the board. Mark Farrell chairs Budget; Katy Tang is vice-chair. Eric Mar is a member, but will be outvoted. When the panel expands to handle the mayor’s budget proposals, Scott Wiener and Norman Yee will join.

At best, that’s 3-2 for the mayor.

Land Use is chaired by Malia Cohen; Wiener is vice chair, and Jane Kim is a member. That reflects where a lot of the growth is happening in the city – districts 6 and 10 – but Kim is the only one of the three who has challenged developers and the mayor’s land-use policies on anything resembling a consistent basis.

John Avalos chairs the Rules Committee, which votes on appointments, but he will be in the minority on any contested issues, since Katy Tang and Malia Cohen are his colleagues.

Board President London Breed told me that the assignments are “reflective of what the supervisors specifically requested, although some members who requested Budget Committee were not granted their request, including those you do not consider progressive.”

Land use, she said, went to people who had asked to be on Land Use. “John [Avalos] asked to be Rules Committee chair, and I gave it to him.”

Avalos told me he had asked for budget, but “I understood everyone wants to be on Budget and I’ve been on Budget for five out of six years.” He said he was willing to serve on Rules but wanted to be the chair.

“I’m happy with Rules,” he said. “I get to vet mayoral appointments and advocate policy goals with them. I’m sandwiched between moderates though so it may have to be a bully pulpit kind of power.”

Breed said there wasn’t a huge rush of applications for Land Use, and the supervisors who wanted that panel got it. Surprising to me; that’s where the action is right now.

The reality is, there are only four supervisors at this point who can be considered part of the progressive camp, and not all of them vote together. Eric Mar, for example, supported Breed for board president over David Campos.

“It’s a confirmation of the shift to the right at the board,” Campos, who wound up for the first time not chairing a committee, told me.

So it’s going to be a challenging year – as we all know – in 2015. It appears the mayor will have no real opposition, and the board will be only a marginal check on him – so the action may shift to the ballot box with progressives pushing direct initiatives.

And the organizing to shift the balance of power on the board is already under way.