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UncategorizedThe Agenda, March 7-12: Newsom's failures, inside and outside...

The Agenda, March 7-12: Newsom’s failures, inside and outside politics, PG&E and Ed Lee’s lobbyist donors

The week ahead also includes an important discussion over whether “live-work” lofts can be converted to normal dwellings without paying affordable housing fees

Margaret Brodkin talks about inside and outside politics with panel moderator Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation
Margaret Brodkin talks about inside and outside politics with panel moderator Fred Blackwell, CEO of the San Francisco Foundation

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:

  1. Didn’t want his department heads ever to talk directly to the supervisors (who, after all, oversee their budgets).
  2. Didn’t want departments heads to operate outside their areas of (limited) influence and
  3. 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.

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.
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  1. When was a progressive mayor elected and what is the definition of that term?

    Agnos was a conservative/liberal mix, but he was the most “left” in recent history.

  2. Anon, I make comments and observations on the topic that Tim raises. I do not comment only to criticize other people, as Russo does.

    His real problem, and evidently yours, is that you cannot tolerate hearing different viewpoints

  3. Spamalot (“Guest”),

    You’re not here to “discuss and debate issues.” You’re here to derail conversations, fight with progressives whom you despise and engage in snarky soundbites that only you, 4th Gen and SFRentier think are funny. Bored much?

  4. Yes, most drivers I know take the view that the odd fine here and there is just the cost of driving in the city. The odds of getting caught are minute and the odd fine ends up being cheaper than constantly using paid parking (which the city has made insanely expensive through a confiscatory tax).

    So I just drive and park where I want, and take my chances. People break laws when they see no utility or value in those laws, or when they are not consulted about them.

  5. Or those like you, Russo, who only comment here to personally those with whom you disagree, and NEVER add substance.

    Your whining adds zero value here. In fact it subtracts value from those of us who want to discuss and debate the issues

  6. You can blame the increase in double parking on road diets and the elimination of parking spots. People who complain about the lack of enforcement don’t understand what motivates people to follow the rules. Rules only work when they help people. Double parking makes no sense when there is parking and the traffic is flowing. Once you reduce parking, constrict the flow of traffic, and put up confusing signs, more people double park because the rules no longer help them. You can’t hire enough enforcers to keep people in line when the rules are put of sync.

  7. Newsom had an affair with a direct report, broke up their family and moved on as if nothing had happened. Sex is incidental to the sleaziness in this case.

  8. In the meantime we’ll likely see some juicy candidate fights among the “environmental groups” (Walk SF, Bike Coalition, Transit Riders, etc.) verses candidates representing the more traditional progressive forces (tenant groups, SEIU and Milk Club). These two large groups were the backbone of the city’s progressive politics since the 1990’s that Tom helped bring together, but their split could impact future races in D5, D6, D9 and D11.

    The split was engineered intentionally via manipulating these groups through city contracts. The goal was to create zero sum games where they fought each other, divided to the benefit of the conquerors.

    The egos of the principals are too dug in on either side for there to be an easy reconciliation. They cannot think outside of their silos. To even do so to them is a sign of weakness.

  9. Ross got to be sheriff? Yeah. Just. And then almost lost the job by being, well, Ross.

    And that is not a policy-making role. It’s an administrative role.

    And thanks to his inability to not bitch slap his wife, that will be a one-term appointment.

    I think you need a better role model. Ditto Daly, natch.

  10. Peskin only passed away politically, not physically. Same difference, and he’s not the answer.

    Agnos won, that’s the point. What he did after winning was what every politician does when elected – move to the center. It’s that reality thing, you know? But at least he won, which nobody did before or after.

    Ammiano played it safe, for the most part. But you can’t blame him for the schism you describe because that is a natural schism. The affluent white liberal transit mob never really had much in common with unions for the uneducated working class and non-white lobby groups seeking to over-compensate. And you see it now where the NIMBYs (white, affluent) clash with the affordable housing folks (affluent and often non-white).

    The eternal curse of the left is that they need to rely on various factions who have little in common except that they are bitter and twisted. No surprise when that doesn’t work out.

    But yes, of course, progressives should broaden their support and popularity by moving to the center. Duh. But they are afraid that then they will be ideologically impure. The SF left would rather be pure and irrelevant, than be open and broad-minded, and actually sometimes win.

  11. Eulogize? Did Peskin pass away? I’m sorry to hear that. That’s likely a fatal blow to future SF progressive organizing efforts.

    Agnos turned his back on the lefties once he got into office and decided he wanted to play with downtown developers – and the powerful construction unions who benefit from development – more than he wanted be a mayor who built a larger left base. Agnos is from the political tradition that gave “neo-liberals” such a terrible name and worse legacy. It’s always surprising he gets trotted out as “one of the progressives” given how much damage he did to the SF left.

    No one can dis Tom for his VERY LONG LIST of legislative accomplishments. Whatever the left achieved in the mid-1990’s was mostly due to the amazing effort of Tom (and Sue Bierman). Perhaps his only failing was not realizing he wasn’t the right person for mayor and not supporting other candidates who would have resonated better with moderate voters. And he’s partly responsible for the schism in the left in the ’00’s when the progs tended to split between those with access to city hall (affordable housing and transportation non-profits), whose policies indirectly support more development, gentrification and by extension more tenant displacement. Scott Wiener has seized on this division and may ride these non-profit groups to higher political office.

    The progressives could mount a comeback if they were smarter about housing and development policies, but the non-profits seem to have neutered the left with their narrow housing policies that will never benefit 99% of voters who will never qualify for one of their housing projects. With smarter policies and more professional candidates there’s no reason the progs couldn’t reach many of the upper-income techie libertarians who have moved to the city in big numbers over the last 10 years, assuming power players like SEIU and tenant groups allow the deviation from their historical message.

    In the meantime we’ll likely see some juicy candidate fights among the “environmental groups” (Walk SF, Bike Coalition, Transit Riders, etc.) verses candidates representing the more traditional progressive forces (tenant groups, SEIU and Milk Club). These two large groups were the backbone of the city’s progressive politics since the 1990’s that Tom helped bring together, but their split could impact future races in D5, D6, D9 and D11.

  12. Yeah, and Gavin ran against a virtual nobody in 2007 since Daly and Mirkirimi decided they didn’t want to be demolished 65-35%, which could have hurt their chances in future elections. It worked well for both of them: Ross got to be Sheriff and Daly became a wealthy landlord who can fund wave after wave of future progressive candidates.

    Gavin’s popular with the electorate because he’s polished and has some command of issues people care about. And he’s got a huge rolodex with hundreds of influential people who have very deep pockets and connections to others with deep pockets and media connections. Newsom, Willie Brown, Nancy Pelosi and Diane Feinstein are playing a very different game than the one progressives play, which has hurt the progs at the ballot box and has hurt their ability to build a solid organization and field strong candidates.

  13. I agree with much of that, except the part where you eulogize Peskin – a one-time average supervisor who has done nothing since leaving office. And whose personality is every bit as dysfunctional as Daly and Mirk.

    The most successful progressives in SF are the following:

    1) Agnos, albeit lost after one disasterous term, but at least he showed it was possible for a leftie to win room 200. Just.

    2) Milk. Although, like JFK, history has been kind to him because he had the good fortune to be assassinated, thereby ensuring a positive legacy

    3) Ammiano. OK, always a committee man and never a leader. But he got about as far as it is possible for a gay leftie to get in any society that we can credibly imagine

  14. It’s funny that posters here are dissing Gavin when he’ll be one of the stronger political candidates in future state and national races. This obsession tells us all we need to know about how progressives have come up with terrible political leaders (aside from Peskin) over the years. Daly, Mirkirimi and many others who wave the progressive flag are repelling and divisive personalities, while The Gavin sails along with his superficial soundbites climbing the ladder of electoral success.

    Character assassination rarely works in politics, and most SF voters don’t care about someone’s past affairs or drug use. The death knell for the SF left might have been when the proggies went after Gavin for his drug use and sexcapades, but the electorate just yawned. It was a major backfire that exposed the progs as stern taskmasters who like to tell other people how to live and act. That strategy might work in Peoria, but it’s the wrong strategy and wrong message in libertine SF. Competence, compassion. professionalism and connecting with voters different from the candidate are the skills that will win SF elections, but it doesn’t appear many progs have these skills. Hopefully leaders like Peskin can salvage a core of progressive competence among the hundreds of SF activists, but judging by many of the comments on this website it won’t be an easy task.

  15. I get the impression that Barry drops in here once a day, regurgitates the exact same ideological babble each time, and then leaves.

    No engagement, no substance, no debate. Just mindless proselyting.

  16. 4th, when Gavin won in 2003 it was reasonably close – i think he got 10% more votes that Matt. (Ammiano came a bad 4th).

    But when Gavin stood for re-election, he won easily, kinda like Reagan’s second term.

    There is no reason to believe he was not very popular.

  17. Hey Barry – do you have anything substantive to say? Or just a bunch of psychologizing that’s totally unrelated to Newsom’s actual work? How about mentioning a few ways he’s harmed the city/state besides offending Puritans with his lifestyle? Many great people have “done alcohol” and cocaine, and had affairs. Time to grow up buddy.

  18. Hey Barry – do you have anything substantive to say? Or just a bunch of psychologizing that’s totally unrelated to Newsom’s actual work? How about mentioning a few ways he’s harmed the city/state besides offending Puritans with his lifestyle? Many great people have “done alcohol” and cocaine, and had affairs. Time to grow up buddy.

  19. There cannot be an effective inside/outside strategy to keep the insiders accountable if the outsiders themselves avoid accountability with a fervor greater than that which they show against their putative opponents. So long as the only goal is to get developers to pay their fair share instead of pushing back against the rules written for and by developers, then there is no inside/outside strategy, it is simply one set of weaker insiders trying to even the playing field for their interests relative to another set of stronger insiders.

    The Overton Window has been painted shut.

  20. I love the infighting of the left. And true, Gavin is terrible. True Hestor & Welch are old and will be out of commission soon. Wasn’t the choice between Gavin and Matt though or am I wrong? I mean on the 2nd time, after the Ruby Tourk scandal?

  21. Tim,

    It’s such a revelation, that info about insider and outsider strategy for activists. News to me. Have you ever thought about publishing a weakly newspaper to share such valuable insight?

  22. Gavin won re-election as mayor of SF with a massive landslide victory. Evidently the voters disagree with you.


  23. As someone who has owned a live-work property, as well as both lived in it and rented it out, I can confidentally state that those restrictions are not enforced. Evidently nobody thinks they are worth enforcing.

    In fact, it rather surprises me that any owner would want a change of use. They are exempt from rent control, and highly desired by tech workers as they are usually centrally located and low-maintenance. I gave a 50% rent increase one year and my tenant didn’t even complain.

    If the city tries to stock them with fees, I suspect the owners will be OK with that. The city loses again.

  24. Who but the blind and those with a pecuniary interest thinks that Gavin Newsom is fit for anything but appearing in hair gel commercials? It is testimony to the corruption of the old boys and girls network that this phony is still the golden boy. He has ambitions to be Governor, U.S. Senator and ultimately President of the United States. Yes, he wants to be President! That’ll be the day I move to Canada, when we have a President Newsom. Gavin was a misfit in politics from the very start, which should have been and should now be even more evident to everyone who knew him even slightly. He’s a damaged personality whose grandstanding and attention-seeking stems from being born into a broken and disturbed family, the father of which, Judge Newsom, moved out of the home when G.N. was still a privileged little snot. So he’s trying to compensate in any neurotic way that occurred to his small brain for this loss of a father’s approval. He did drugs (and not just alcohol as some pretend to believe but cocaine as well), he abused his office by ignoring his duties, screwed his secretary and best friend’s wife right in his City Hall office, went through a miraculous therapy cure and all his problems were disappeared in a few short weeks…. He’s cost the city plenty and has sprinkled plum patronage appointments of the worst sort of hacks from the “City Family” throughout city government (Ginsburg, Reiskin, et al), where they continue to do harm and mismanage to this day. It’s laughable that he should hold ANY public office after such malfeasance but hardly surprising that fossils such as DiFi, John Burton, Willie Brown and the pterodactyls who run the Chronicle think he is a legitimate contender for anything besides Playboy bunny but this is the state of politics in San Francisco 2015. Don’t look for this farce to run its last performance under the reign of Ed Lee, who loves anyone with money. These be the powers dat be. It’s time for a change.

  25. Except that all controlled units pre-date impact fees anyway, so no fees were paid for them either.

    Those live-work units might never have been built if fees had been due. That is why they were given a waiver in the first place

  26. The live-work fee break meant that those new builds never paid their fees. It seems sensible and fair to charge them for conversion.

    Condo conversion does not create a new unit, so any applicable fees for new builds for a controlled unit have already been paid. Basis, similarly, shouldn’t change. Prop 13 is stupid and terrible law, but it is the law and it regulates assessments.

  27. Charlie, you could make the same case of any conversion, such as a conversion of a rent-controlled rental unit into a non-controlled condo. but nobody argues for that/ Heck, the property tax basis doesn’t even go up when you do that.

    Those impact fees are intended for new build, not change of use.

  28. Sue Hestor and Napoleon Peskin have done more long term harm to the health and viability of San Francisco than a thousand of the greediest developers. The day that either of them “runs out of energy” is a great day for the city.

  29. Sue Hestor is right that payments should be made – it is only fair and it will discourage others from bending the rules for profit.

    And who is going to fill her critical role if/when she ever runs out of energy?

  30. I don’t often agree w/ Sue, but she’s right about conversions. The subsidies, along with interest, need to be paid back to the City, should an owner convert from mixed-use to SFR.

  31. Wait a minute…Aaron Peskin has criticized Gavin Newsom’s ledership style? And the mainstream press is, of course, silent on this development.

    Another reason why we need Tim Redmond to give us important news that everyone else obviously tries to cover up.

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