The week ahead also includes an important discussion over whether “live-work” lofts can be converted to normal dwellings without paying affordable housing fees
By Tim Redmond
MARCH 9, 2015 – I was at a fascinating panel discussion Saturday with a group of people who have been both activists and politicians or department heads, talking about the connections between “inside” and “outside” politics. Among other things, the panelists shed some light on the workings of the Newsom Administration: Margaret Brodkin, who was director of the Department of Children, Youth and Families under Newsom, was in on the discussion, as was Aaron Peskin, who was president of the Board of Supervisors in that era.
The message I got, loud and clear, was that Newsom:
- Didn’t want his department heads ever to talk directly to the supervisors (who, after all, oversee their budgets).
- Didn’t want departments heads to operate outside their areas of (limited) influence and
- Didn’t make any effort to find ways for departments to work together more effectively.
Now he wants to run the largest state in the nation.
The panelists, who also included Ted Lempert, former San Mateo County supervisor and state Assembly member, and Neva Walker, director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth and former member of the Minnesota state Assembly, talked about the importance of keeping activist pressure on elected officials – even on our friends.
When a progressive president or mayor is elected, Peskin noted, we all tend to think things will be okay, so we get off the streets and go back to our normal lives. And that sense of complacency allows the politics of the country or the state or the city to go in a very bad direction: The Chamber of Commerce doesn’t slow down, no matter who is in office.
So you can’t have effective “inside” people holding elective office or running public agencies if you don’t have active “outside” groups pushing them (and sometimes, as Walker noted, supporting them). Always.
But another point they made, and it’s worth remembering as we go into budget season, is that we often get into huge fights over little things and miss the big picture. We go to the mat over a $75,000 allocation to some group or cause – and then five minutes later, the supervisors approve a $250 million department budget without a whiff of dissent.
I will add: Sometimes really important things get almost no media attention.
Which brings me to a modest item on the Board of Supervisors agenda for Tuesday March 10.
The item is one of those resolutions that urge state and federal representatives to support something the city supports. In this case, it’s a complaint San Francisco filed against Pacific Gas and Electric Company with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission back in October, 2014. The complaint involves a lot of money, and has gotten almost no news media attention.
That’s in part because it’s really, really, horribly complicated. If you like dense regulatory filings, you can find it here. In essence, PG&E wants to raise significantly the price it charges the city for the use of its lines and connections.
Long history here: San Francisco built a dam and hydroelectric generation plant in Yosemite National Park under a special federal law, the Raker Act, which mandates the city operate a public-power entity. But the city has never been able to raise the money to build its own distribution system, so we pay PG&E for the use of its lines.
Now PG&E wants to raise the rates it charges and wants to require the city to install expensive metering equipment that has never been needed before.
All of this is probably a precursor to PG&E’s fight with the city over the new version of CleanPowerSF.
Nine of the 11 supes are named on the resolution, so it will pass. But if the mayor wanted to make an issue of this, he could have done it already.
The Budget and Finance Committee will be hearing from the Mayor’s Office and the Controller’s Office Wednesday March 11 on that state of the current budget and the five-year outlook. That’s the opening chapter in the long set of hearings that will shape the next city budget.
The Land Use and Transportation Committee will consider Sup. Scott Wiener’s monster house legislation Monday March 9,and will hold a hearing on double parking. Double parking doesn’t sound like a big deal – unless you ride a bike on Valencia Street, where people going to fancy restaurants routinely block the bike lanes, and nothing ever happens.
There are parking control officers driving around my neighborhood (Bernal Heights) giving out tickets for people who park facing the wrong way on a street (in a place where streets are so narrow they are effectively one-way). Fine, the law is the law. But what about all those double-parkers (in some cases, they are valet parking companies flagging in drivers)?
We shall see.
The state of California bans lobbyists from giving money to the people they try to influence. That means an individual or company that wants to get the governor to shift policy in their direction can’t just give him cash.
San Francisco has no such rules. You want the mayor to be your friend? You can fork over $500 (and so can every partner in your lobbying firm). No problem.
In fact, the Ethics Commission website shows that Mayor Ed Lee has (already) received $85,000 from registered lobbyists. Check out the list; every damn lobbyist in town has given the max to the mayor.
Sue Hestor, attorney for San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth, has filed demands that the Planning Commission hold discretionary review hearings on four applications to convert live-work housing units to legal dwellings.
Sounds like a minor detail, right? Wrong. There’s big money at stake for affordable housing.
In the 1990s, the city legalized “live-work” spaces. The idea was that artists who had moved into warehouse space and made it livable – but weren’t in compliance with city codes for housing – could stay under special rules.
Of course, the developers in the dot-com era went crazy, building more than 5,000 new “live work” units that were in effect condos for tech workers. And because of the relaxation of city rules for this sort of housing, not one of the projects had to build a single unit of affordable housing or contribute a penny to Muni.
Now some property owners want to convert their buildings from live-work (which comes with restrictions) to regular dwellings. To qualify for a live-work unit, the occupant needs to be running a business – and has to show a business license – as well as living in the space. That’s always been honored in the breach, but it’s on the rule books.
Getting rid of some of those rules would make money for the owners – but Hestor argues that any conversion should trigger the payment of the transit and affordable housing fees required of any other market-rate housing project.
When you build market-rate housing in the city, you have to set aside a modest percentage for affordable housing, or pay into an affordable housing fund. Live-work was exempt – but only on the condition that it was really “live-work” and not condos for the rich.
The addresses in this case are 208 Pennsylvania (also 1001 Mariposa) and 530 542, and 548 Brannan.
This is just the latest in a a long string of efforts by developers to convert property from one use to another without paying the required fees. At some point, we have to put a stop to this.