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Uncategorized THE AGENDA: Feb. 3-10, 2015

THE AGENDA: Feb. 3-10, 2015


A weekly guide to the events, issues, and activist pressure points for San Francisco and the Bay Area


By Tim Redmond

FEBRUARY 3, 2015 – The biggest immediate need in town this week is help for the victims of the two big fires in the Mission and the Tenderloin. Sups. David Campos and Jane Kim held a meeting tonight to connect the now-homeless people with the services they need, but it’s going to be a huge lift: Some of these families and individuals have lived in their apartments for as long as 30 years, and thanks to rent control, were paying way below the current market rent. There’s no way they can afford to stay in town right now without huge subsidies.

Campos is devoting $40,000 from his supervisorial contingency fund to help out, but the need is far, far greater.

There are the basics: People lost clothing, medication, records, passports … everything’s gone. Mission Local has a list of immediate needs, by individual, for the Mission building, and a list of drop-off points.

Campos told me that some of the victims said there were problems with fire alarms and exits; the Fire Department and Department of Building Inspection will be sorting that out in time. This may spur a call for a residential sprinkler law; as Randy Shaw points out, “only sprinklers put out fires. Alarms and smoke detectors do not.”

In the meantime, all these families need a place to live. By law, after the landlord rebuilds the place, the existing tenants are allowed back at their current rent – but that could take more than a year. By them, some people may have been forced to leave the entire region.

Some kind San Franciscans will offer space to the refugees. But I’m with Tom Temprano: If Airbnb really believes in “sharing,” why not share some housing with the displaced residents – free, or at their current rents?

I mean, the company owes SF $25 million in back taxes. How a real “sharing economy?”


It’s astonishing to me that any public agency would seek to collect money from protesters who were engaged in civil disobedience. The BART Board seems to be backing down from that demand – but 14 African American protesters who blocked the trains are still facing criminal charges.

The BART 14 will be arraigned in court Wednesday/4 at the Wiley Manual Alameda County Courthouse. Supporters want to pack the room to let both BART and District Attorney Nancy O’Malley know that the public is watching.

(The reality is, this is on BART: The DA has to move forward, but if BART decides it doesn’t want to press charges, this case will be over.)

Gather at 8:15 am, 661 Washington, Oakland.


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. Problems are best solved by those closest to them not by commuters with no skin in the underlying game other than a paycheck. Nobody has a right to leverage public resources to make a buck for themselves.

    Spam is always comfortable with hypocrites.

  2. I have no problem with Shaw being a hypocrite. He is entitled to try and make a buck by fair means or foul.

    Equally, we are entitled to call him out on his true motives, rather than the motives that he is claiming.

  3. The market price is the fair price, because it is the price someone is actually willing to pay for it, rather than somebody’s idea of what it should cost.

    “Fairness” is, of course, entirely subjective.

  4. I said fair price, not market price.

    We agree that because government has so much power, it needs to be above reproach in its exercise.

  5. Eh, we’re all hypocrites. Attacking Shaw for a normal human failing seems ineffective critique of his policy proposal. Ad hominem just isn’t very convincing.

    As for regulation, it’s incoherent to assume regulations that create and maintain property value are natural law, while all others are distortion and interference.

    Real property has no value without government. You could argue that the just compensation due a property owner expropriated by the government is $0.

    That seems kind of mean, though.

  6. WC, you are half right and half wrong.

    marcos/Guest has a problem with Shaw taking money from the city. I do not.

    marcos/Guest has a problem that Shaw has found a way to get rich off people who have no money. That doesn’t bother me.

    marcos/Guest doesn’t like that Shaw supports Lee, but I am fine with that.

    I have a problem with any policy that deliberately devalues properties that the city or its agencies may then seek to purchase or lease at a reduced price. I suspect marcos does not.

    That said, we both think that Shaw is trying to feather his own nest here, and that his advocacy of policies like this are self-serving, and not noble or high-minded at all.

    IOW, hypocrisy.

  7. WC, by that argument you would support price gouging during times of war or natural disaster.

    It is precisely because the government has the power to devalue properties that it must be impeccable about doing so.

  8. Just compensation merely means paying a fair price.

    If someone can’t stomach regulatory risk, he probably shouldn’t own real property in San Francisco.

  9. When two ideologues from opposing camps agree on some analysis, all it tells you is that the underlying facts are uncomfortable for both belief systems. That says something interesting about Marsh and what passes for the left-right divide in this town, but it says little or nothing about the soundness of my position.

  10. WC, if you can get marcos (Guest) and I to agree on something (anything) in opposition to your argument, then you can bet that you have this wrong.

  11. The city would not be paying just compensation if they deliberately passed laws to lower the value of properties that t wants to buy.

  12. When government takes my property, we call it ‘tax’.

    The takings clause doesn’t prohibit taking property, just taking property without just compensation.

    Don’t you pay your taxes?

  13. There are ethical conflicts in those who are recipients of public dollars in a policy area to use those public dollars to subsidize political advocacy in those policy areas especially when those individuals are not residents of San Francisco.

    The irony is that Shaw’s life in practice has been anything but one of activism, rather one of accommodation and complacency.

  14. Those who don’t have money never have any problem with prescribing how the money of other people should be spent.

  15. The let “randy” fund it.

    And to the “sprinklers-only-in-the-kitchen-guy”. The problem is that the fire dept, in its infinite wisdom (and practicality) won’t allow you to install a practical-better-than-nothing system. Example: I was required to sprinkle 1 frickin basement hallway- 4 fucking heads in total. And I HAD TO put in a separate water meter, and the vertical stem pipe and all this super expensive bullshit. North of $30k, for 4 fucking sprinkler heads! I pleaded with the idiots to just let me run a line from the water main, but nope. i now have the infrastructure to put in 80 sprinkler heads up, down and sideways my building….which I will never be required to do. Thanks for wasting my money, idiots.

  16. That’s real sweet Janet, but did you stop to think that the building is PRIVATE PROPERTY??? Maybe the guy wants to build something more like the fancy Vida next door. Guess what, it’s his frickin’ building, he gets to choose what he wants (within planning and building codes) and doesn’t have to be strong armed by the peanut gallery.

    Why don’t YOU buy a building and then YOU offer it up for some cockamamie scheme?

    But, thanks for playing! (With other people’s assets.)

  17. Randy Shaw has a informative article, SF needs an apartment sprinkler law.
    Especially in the old wooden houses/apartments

  18. CCSF? What the heck does that failed educational institution have to do with the rebuild of a privately owned home?

    And if I were the property owner, why would I agree to what you are proposing? Convince me it is worthwhile to me. Crunch the numbers for me and show me how I am better off.

  19. The property owner would not be ‘compensated’ – he would be a full partner in an innovative financing arrangement that CCSF puts together. Maybe a 50 – 60 year loans with bond financing through the public bank that Supervisor Avalos is proposing…think outside the box…the building should pay its bills and a reasonable rate of return.

  20. Janet, how would you compensate the owner of this property for the increased costs and reduced rents that you gleefully seek to impose upon him?

  21. IMHO The building should be rebuilt with ground floor uses mirroring the current uses, 2nd floor professional, 3rd and a new 4th floor for low income rentals to include units for the residents who lost their homes, then 2-4 floors of workforce rental housing. Somehow an innovative rebuild should be prioritzed and begun as soon as possible. It is a perfect site to renew and add much needed affordable housing and significantly upgrade the housing for the residents displaced by this tragedy.

  22. You can’t sell a nonprofit.

    Why shouldn’t Shaw advocate policy? Talking your book is a time-honored activity in the business world. At least THC has half a clue how to run SROs.

    No, if you want a villain, you need to look to politics. The Board and the Mayor make housing policy.

  23. The problem is that Shaw uses his blog which is in effect subsidized by public dollars and contracts to manipulate politics towards more public dollars and contracts flowing his way.

    Why again is some guy living in a mansion in the Oakland hills charged with owning SRO policy in San Francisco? And doesn’t his support of Ed Lee make everything in “The Activist Handbook” One Big Lie?

  24. THC houses 1,500 tenants across 16 buildings and employs 150 people. It may technically be a “non profit” but the annual turnover is bigger than a lot of regular businesses, and Shaw gets paid a great deal of money to oversee this.

    Shaw has made a lot of money out of the homeless. I don’t necessarily have any problem with that, but I do have a problem with his punditry which advocates policies that he knows will devalue the buildings that he wants THC to take over.

  25. Aha. THC is a nonprofit. It bought one building.

    Maybe we shouldn’t use phrases like ‘Shaw’s manipulated windfalls’ unless someone named Shaw received a manipulated windfall.

  26. Apparently at the DCCC meeting the matter of the $25 million figure came up and, since there is nothing behind it, they had to drop all references to it.

    I think Tim was there but his job is to keep talking about the $25 million dollars as if it actually exists. It’s not as if he has credibility that he needs to worry about.

  27. The problem is that if you allow those displaced by fire to “jump the queue” and bypass any lottery or selection process for BMR housing, then that is effectively punishing those applicants who have been on the waiting list for years.

    It would be a slap in the face for those who didn’t have the “good fortune” to be displaced by a fire, which would then be seen as a windfall opportunity to get subsidized housing.

    That said, I’d rather the city provided the subsidy than have that pushed onto private individuals, and it would then free up the refurbished replacement units for new tenants.

  28. The fact that there may be a tax deduction is largely irrelevant for any building that is already operating at a loss, as many of these older controlled buildings are.

    And of course any write-off is only at your marginal tax rate. The balance still needs to be found.

  29. Perhaps it’s better then to call on the City to house the displaced through The THC and the SFHA. Or if you want to go for big “private” owners you can call on the SF Art Institute, who owns plenty of properties.

  30. The costs is enormous. I was in involved in a project that was north of $250k. There’s also monthly monitoring costs as well. Besides, when the sprinkler system is engaged then you have severe water damage to contend with, which can can cause vacancy and loss to personal property.

  31. I thought it was THC that bought the building, and that they only bought one. What did Shaw buy?

    Nonprofits are fine, but the charitable deduction is distorting and benefits almost exclusively the very wealthy.

  32. Kitchen-only sprinklers would not be cheaper if the city then came back later and mandated sprinklers elsewhere in the building, as they did with SRO’s.

    That is the problem with “regulatory creep” – just when you think you’re done, there’s more.

    The only way it would get widespread support is either if the city funded the work or allowed 100% reimbursement from the tenants via a special passthough that doesn’t require a rent board petition, like what happens with parcel taxes.

  33. “If Airbnb really believes in “sharing,” why not share some housing with the displaced residents – free, or at their current rents?” Airbnb does not own rental units. How would a company that owns no units give people a place to stay? Should they force the people advertising on the site to do so?
    And please, Tim, I would like to see evidence of $25 million owed in back taxes as well.

  34. Yes, my 50K estimate was for a small 2-6 unit building. For larger buildings, the sky is the limit for the cost of such protection – that is why so many SRO’s folded when the city made them fit sprinklers.

    Yes, capex passthroughs are only for rent-controlled buildings. Shaw’s article is mostly concerned with the loss of rent-controlled housing through fires. I think he exaggerates that, and it is only this mini-spate of fires that has garnered attention. If I have uncontrolled units then it’s less of a problem as they are typically better financed, better maintained and (in many cases) they are newer structures built to a safer code.

    Finally, I have no problem with the city purchasing rental buildings for a market price if the owner wants to sell. My specific beef was when the city passes policies at the behest of someone like Shaw who then buys those buildings because the new rules devalue them. I don’t often agree with marcos’ criticism of non-profits but Shaw’s manipulated windfalls were a mendacious misuse of public policy IMO, and his carping about sprinklers this week is similarly self-serving, I suspect.

  35. I’m glad I could share the requirements for testing and maintaining alarms, then. Worth knowing.

    It’s a fine idea, but you’d face sustained political opposition. More than sixty thousand units in the city pay rent under $1,000, and I bet the vast bulk lack kitchen sprinklers.

    It’s a good idea, though. Maybe the State could fund it.

  36. > very expensive.. 50K for an average-sized apartment building

    50k seems cheap.

    Half the apartment buildings (5 or more units) in San Francisco have more than 20 units. If you can put sprinklers in your building for a few thousand a unit, you should.

    > cost would be passed through to the tenants via a capital expenditure pass-through

    Only if they’re rent controlled; non-controlled rents are set by supply and demand, and sprinkler installation doesn’t change that.

    Rent-controlled tenancies in apartment buildings either bear half the cost, with rent increase capped at 10% per year, but probably elect to pay all of it with total rent increase capped at 15%. A 15% max rent increase doesn’t seem so onerous.

    > and so would have the effect of raising rents

    Only below market rents would go up, and by at most 15%.

    > Then he bought them

    Self-enrichment schemes are ugly, but as public policy the City could consider purchasing less-profitable, rent-controlled buildings and running them. You would have fundamentally to reorganize the SFHA into a competent administrator, though.

  37. Yes, I’m familiar with the requirement for sprinklers in new units.

    I’m asking that sprinklers in the kitchen be installed in all older units. That would prevent the biggest percent of apartment fires, and, presumably, kitchen only sprinklers would be cheaper for the landlord than and entire retrofitting of sprinklers throughout the building.

  38. > mandate the installation of sprinklers.. in all units

    ‘A key component in the 2010 code adoption is the addition of residential fire sprinklers in all new one-and two-family dwellings..’

    > mandate annual inspections by landlords of all fire/smoke detectors

    ‘the owner.. shall be responsible for testing and maintaining alarms’

    > heavily penalize any landlord who refuses

    Meritorious tenant lawsuits are are extremely expensive.

  39. Can you provide documentary evidence for that claim?

    Generally the discounts are about 10% or so – a tiny fraction of the cost of installation.

  40. The cost to install basic life safety equipment in residential buildings would be easily and quickly recovered in lower insurance premiums.

  41. I don’t know the facts about these two fires, but national statistics show that 42% of all fires start in the kitchen, and, the next highest category is ‘home heating’ at 14%. Assuming this is also true for San Francisco, is would seem that a good compromise would be to

    1. Mandate the installation of sprinklers or some other automatic, stand-alone fire extinguishing system in kitchens in all units in San Francisco

    2. Launch a culturally competent heater safety campaign. Consider providing at a low-cost or for free oil-filled, electric ‘radiator’ space heaters which usually don’t cause fires are are more energy efficient.

    3. Mandate annual inspections by landlords of all fire/smoke detectors and other fire prevention/fire safety equipment. Every year, the landlord for every unit will have to sign a form that states that inspections have been made and that everything is in working order. Heavily penalize any landlord who refuses to do so or falsifies the documentation.

  42. Sprinkler systems can be very expensive to install. It can easily be 50K for an average-sized apartment building. That cost would be passed through to the tenants via a capital expenditure pass-through, and so would have the effect of raising rents.

    When the city tried to mandate expensive fire protection measures for SRO’s, there was a spate of mysterious SRO fires. The expense, which was crippling for such large, old buildings, made them no longer viable as businesses. But the city would not let them close instead, and so some owners took the easier route and took the insurance money instead. (I’m not condoning such behavior; just pointing out how the law of unintended Consequences can bite us).

    Facing such an additional expense could trigger another round of Ellis evictions, changes of use, and refusal to re-rent. These measures, no matter how noble and well-intentioned, invariably lead to less rental housing being available. You can only pile on so much rules, regulations and restrictions before owners decide to shut down the enterprise.

    But maybe that is Shaw’s idea. He made his millions by getting laws passed that made the SRO business unprofitable, and those buildings much cheaper as a result. Then he bought them cheap with money and loans from the very city that had passed those laws. Maybe it is his ambition to now do that to the city’s rental housing stock i.e. sabotage their viability through punitive “safety” laws, and then pick them up for a song.

    In other words, corruption dressed up as compassion.

Comments are closed.

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