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UncategorizedThe Agenda, June 22-28: Housing bonds, the cost of...

The Agenda, June 22-28: Housing bonds, the cost of more cops, the cost of growth ….

… And some highlights of Pride Weekend — a guide to the upcoming week in politics

SF cops train at the Police Academy: How many more officers do we need, and who will pay the cost? (Photo SFPD)
SF cops train at the Police Academy: How many more officers do we need, and who will pay the cost? (Photo SFPD)

By Tim Redmond

JUNE 22, 2015 – Like developers, mayors don’t always make their best offer on the first round. Ed Lee originally offered a $250 million housing bond, saying that’s what the city could afford without raising taxes. (Why San Francisco – San Francisco, in this exceptionally wealthy era – is afraid of talking about tax increases continues to boggle me.)

But that’s where we are, and the mayor won’t go for anything resembling what the city needs, because property owners might reject it – and remember, bond acts need two-thirds to pass.

So we started with $250 mil. Then a thousand of so folks from the Mission flooded City Hall and a moratorium on market-rate development almost passed, and the mayor upped the stakes a bit, saying he had found a way to increase the bond act to $300 million and would earmark $50 million for affordable housing in the Mission.

(That might, maybe, build 100 units. Not nothing, but really, not enough to even begin solving the problem.)

So then Sups. Avalos, Campos, and Mar came up with an alternative plan for a $350 million act, and the showdown was set for last week. But apparently the mayor didn’t want to risk losing (although he had six cosponsors of his measure) so the matter was delayed a week to allow all parties to discuss things.

Now it comes back to the board, Tuesday/23, with some sort of compromise possible – but as of press time (I love using that term for a digital daily) I am told there’s still no deal. So there might be two competing bond proposals, with the supes in the center having to vote for less money for housing (looks bad) or rejecting the mayor.

But no matter what, the final deal will be better than what the mayor first put forward. Which is a lesson we need to remind ourselves of every day.



Then we’ve got the Scott Wiener/Malia Cohen/Mark Farrell plan to increase the number of police officers on the streets every time the city’s population increases.

Considering that regional governing agencies want SF to accept 280,000 more people in the next 30 years, that’s a whole lot more cops – and a huge amount more expense.

Before we get to the larger policy question – do more cops really mean better public safety? – let’s just do the numbers for a second.

To get from the 1,730 officers we have today to the “more than 2,200” that Wiener and Cohen want means adding 470 more sworn officers. At a cost of $175,000 a year each. That’s another $82.2 million – a year.

We’re at about one officer for every 375 people today. At that rate, you’d need 750 more cops to cover the projected population increase, at a cost of another $131 million – a year.

Where does that money come from? Well, it’s pretty clear, and has been clear for decades, that growth in housing development doesn’t pay the costs of serving that development. Developers don’t pay even a fraction of what it costs to bring them Muni service, much less police and fire.

So that $82.2 Wiener and Cohen are asking for now, and the more than a quarter of a billion a year that would be needed to keep up without our projected growth, will come out of the pockets of ordinary taxpayers.

Or else it will mean cuts in other services.

Police officers are expensive, like prisons, and there are some who argue that more cops aren’t the best or most cost-efficient way to fight crime.

Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi says the city can save a lot of money by using existing law-enforcement resources in a more efficient way – but he’s getting little support from the mayor or SFPD.

When this was up at the Land Use and Transportation Committee, Sup. Jane Kim dissented, saying that she wasn’t convinced that there’s a straight line correlation between more cops and better public safety. That’s worthy of discussion, since the Wiener/Cohen resolution identifies no funding source for this huge new expense.

And it comes back to one of the critical issues the city is facing today: Who pays the costs of growth? So far, it’s not the people who are making big profits from that growth.


That issue – or at least a variation on it – will come up at the City Planning Commission Thursday/25. The commissioners will hear a presentation on the Central Soma Plan – and how much it’s “feasible” to ask developers to pay for community benefits:

Discussion of the economically feasible amount that new development can contribute to public benefits, the amount and type of public benefits that could be funded by these contributions. This information will facilitate future conversations about what benefits the Plan will be able to provide, the potential tradeoffs that will need to be considered, and what additional resources may be necessary to meet our benefit goals.

Let’s parse that for a second, particularly the phrase “what benefits the Plan will be able to provide.” That’s one way to look at development – gee, what can the money people give us?

Another way is to ask: What do we need to accommodate growth? And once you have that answer, you tell the developers: This is what you have to pay, or you can’t build. Why should Central Soma – or any neighborhood – have to beg and scramble for money to mitigate development? If the costs to the city of a new project exceed the benefits, the answer should be: No.


Room 400, City Hall. Meeting starts at noon.


So many Pride Week events, and Marke B. will be telling you about all the glam and parties and fun … but here’s a few big moments:

The Trans March is, in the words of my friend Gabriel Haaland, “sponsored by no corporations.” It’s a grassroots event, getting bigger every year, and this year’s theme is “Power Through Visibility.” Friday/26, Noon, 18th and Dolores.

The installation of the Pink Triangle on Twin Peaks is kind of a weekend kickoff, and there’s always a need for volunteers. People will start to gather at 7am Saturday/27; bring hammers and work gloves. Wear long pants and closed-toe shoes; don’t forget the sunscreen. More info here; the official unveiling is at 10:30.

The Dyke March (and the pre-rally events, and the rally, and the after parties) fill the afternoon of Sat/27. The opening prayer is at 11am, the rally at Dolores Park starts at noon, the march starts at 3pm at Dolores and 18th. Details and more info here.

And of course, the Parade. Sunday/28. 10:30am. Market St.

Also: Don’t miss Pullin’ Pork for Pride, sponsored by the Harvey Milk Club and 48hills. Wednesday/24, 6:30pm-9:30pm, $15 for all the beer you can drink, Carnitas from Casa Sanchez, prizes and much more! The Pilsner Inn, 225 Church. More info here.

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. You well know your original race-baiting comment labelled Marcus Books a store for black customers only. You lost again. Bye.

  2. So glad you brought up whether we really need to increase the number of police officers to maintain or increase public safety. I think the last couple of decades have shown an enormous decrease in many American cities’ crime rates, even as population burgeons. This is certainly true in SF. There is a lot of debate as to why, but mindlessly tying numbers of police officers to population growth is pretty stupid and fiscally irresponsible. Part and parcel of SF’s ongoing sprint from the fiscal reality of increasing pension and healthcare costs, is its mayor’s increase in hiring when the economy is good and revenue high. This takes no notice of the cost of govt when the economy dips, or of the long term costs of a huge number of city retirees. I had hoped Supervisor Wiener was smarter about policy than this latest dunderheaded move. Please contact your supervisors about really thinking through future city bloat.

  3. You really are so tedious, Spam. Remember when you wrongly wrote that Marcus Books was a blacks-only store? When I reminded you of your words, you denied it, then demanded I prove it. Then I posted the link to the article with your very comment.

    Own up or shut up.

  4. It might well be “feasible” that what you say is true.

    But you have provided no evidence, it defies logic and the voters don’t agree.

  5. New market rate housing does not pay its freight, not for infrastructure, not for ongoing services.

  6. The voters routinely support more resources for cops even while they support cuts for other city staff

    The peoples’ priorities are clear.

  7. Crime is down nationwide. SF Cops don’t do their jobs because there is no consequence and the Chief is most likely a criminal.

  8. They get a rent that is closer to free than it is to a fair market rent

    That is why and when Ellis happens. It’s inevitable.

    That is why owners do short-term lets, or convert to TICs

    Rent control eats its own.

  9. You have failed to cite that dubious allegation despite numerous requests from me and others.

    You are a liar.

  10. “I cannot recall ever losing a debate here…”

    If you have to say that, you’ve already lost. (And you don’t debate. You bark.)

  11. Except that the Planning Department stipulates to as much in the source material that you’ve clearly not read.

  12. I cannot recall ever losing a debate here, even to people with decades of alleged political experience.

    And certainly not to you.

  13. You have provided no evidence to support your claim of disproportionate inflation that would justify a review of such fees. Nor have you taken any account of the other revenue benefits of such construction as previously noted.

    You really need to do the background work if you want to be taken seriously on these complicated matters.

  14. Marking time, eight hours a day, avoiding any serious work so that they don’t get killed and move one click towards 90% retirement.

  15. In-lieu off-site inclusionary housing fees are specified as a percentage of units at a low-ball dollar amount per unit that has not been adjusted as prices have risen. You really need to do the background work if you want to be taken seriously on these complicated matters.

  16. It is not my fault that you’ve not done the background work on this topic so that you wouldn’t make an ass of yourself by spouting nonsense.

  17. 200,000 new people will come to SF in the next 2-3 decades.

    Either we build new homes for them or they displace you in your crappy rent-controlled rental, and you move to the ass end of Oakland and dodge bullets.

  18. Oh, yes, we need thousands and thousands and thousands of homes until we can no longer tell the difference between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Well, put ’em in YOUR backyard, Spam.

  19. Since the fees are expressed as a percentage, the year doesn’t matter and inflation is accounted for.

    The numbers are negotiated and situation-dependent. The voters seem comfortable with this as Lee is heading to an easy re-election

  20. Ah, those damned NIMBYs. Like the neighborhood activists who defeated the expressway planned to flank the Panhandle. They didn’t want a freeway to the beach in their backyards. The nerve!

  21. The fees are set to be economically favorable to developers. The Planning Department conducted a sensitivity study to figure out what the range of sharing costs was. They set it very low, at levels the depressed 2008

    economy could sustain.

  22. But the Planning Department found that new market rate housing does not cover its freight on either a one-time or an ongoing basis.

  23. The Planning Department. There is video somewhere on SFGTV of conservative libertarian darling Commissioner Antonini asserting as much.

  24. Look at what happening? Building cranes all over the city, and you turn a blind eye because we throw you a crumb here and there?

    I’m always two steps ahead of regulations. You can’t touch me.

    Don’t forget your rent is due next week.

  25. We threaten moratorium, we threaten ballot measure, we get unions to participate, and looks what happens. Your parasitic, contribute nothing to society days are coming to an end, Sam. Regulation is knocking at your door.

  26. Except that the average city-wide is about 7% affordable.

    Glad you are so complacent and easily satisfied, however.

  27. I’d say we’re doing pretty well – getting 40% BMR on one project and 33% on another. And the developers are still making money – else they’d walk away.

  28. Citation needed. A new property owner is generally putting much more into the city coffers than a longtime property owner is, due to Prop 13.

  29. You’re the one who is lying. Prp taxes have increased at an average of 7% a year since Prop 13. reason is obvious – properties are rebased every time they sell. And of course new build is set as a market cost basis.

    The other cited benefits grow exponentially. There is a reason all cities crave development investments. They are gold mines.

  30. You’re the one that is missing things. All the other revenues and benefits from development which explains why the fees are set where they are.

  31. SF has a lower crime rate than most SF cities. The cops get credit for that, along with gentrification and business success of course.

  32. The rate of increase in residential property taxes is bounded by the 2% annual increase in assessments. Inflation of costs to perform government services rises faster than 2% per year. New construction does not pay for itself. Construction jobs are one-off and do not sustain tax payments to offset the cost to service new residents. Many of these units are for investment purposes only and are kept as pieds a terre. They do not contribute to the non-property tax base.

    You are a liar.

  33. What part of “property taxes levied against new construction don’t cover the cost of city services they consume” are you missing?

  34. Well that’s what it is designed to do; especially when it is levied on new properties valued in 2015 dollars. In any event. Tim just chooses to ignore RE taxes, which is goofy and should be pointed out.

    Another thing that is goofy is when Tim writes about the $50 million increase in the bond:

    “(That might, maybe, build 100 units. Not nothing, but really, not enough to even begin solving the problem.)”

    Well the $50 million isn’t intended to build anything. It is intended to buy properties on which BMR can be built.

    How do I know that? I read it in 48 Hills 2 weeks ago:

    “JUNE 9, 2015 — Mayor Ed Lee is going to announce that he’s adding $50 million to his fall housing bond proposal and will set aside that money for site acquisition in the Mission, I’ve just learned.”

    So Tim learned that on June 9 and then forgot it on June 21 so that he could belittle the figure.

  35. The cops don’t do their jobs, they tend to skate until they can collect their 90% retirements.

  36. There are multiple streams of revenue when we build, and not just developer fees. There are also”

    1) A perpetual stream of property taxes
    2) Payroll taxes for the construction workers
    3) Payroll taxes for the new workers
    4) Sales tax on all the purchases these new people make
    5) Increased economic activity leading to a variety of txes

    and so on. It’s a gravy train, which is why cities compete with each other those those crucial tax dollars. If you think the alternative is better, you should move to Detroit

  37. Wrong, those new people are moving here whether we build for them or not. If you try and extort developers to the point where they build instead in LA or HK or London or Dubai, then you get all those extra people, costs and infrastructure load, and no money to pay for it all. And of course no homes for them either.

    That is why the city always elects pro-development mayors and will do so again in November

  38. You have argued that any cost charged to business is 100% passed on to “consumers” and “purchasers.” You believe that developers pay nothing that people pay everything. Except when it is convenient to argue otherwise.

    If developers built elsewhere, the City would get no money and would also not be saddled with costs which would be a net win.

  39. Aren’t you forgetting that the mere act of paying property taxes does not mean that the equation balances?

  40. Everyone agrees the developers should pay something. The problem with someone like Tim’s approach is that he’d be so greedy and selfish about it that the developers would just build elsewhere, and then the city would get no money, but still see population growth and an increase in costs and infrastructure, as well as higher housing costs and more displacement.

    Unless you’re a mindless NIMBY who really wants to see no new build, and there are some here who are, then you have to understand there are limits to what you can extort before the guys with the gold call your bluff. And then you realize that we need them more than they need us.

  41. Interesting that Tim opposes the only public sector spending increase that I’d actually support and be willing to pay more taxes for – more police.

    It is entirely logical that the cops-per-unit-population ratio should remain roughly consistent. Why are we even debating that?

  42. “”Where does that money come from? Well, it’s pretty clear, and has been clear for decades, that growth in housing development doesn’t pay the costs of serving that development. ”

    Because people in new housing don’t pay full property taxes.

    Actually, the people who are ripping off the system are long-time SF homeowners, who have their property taxes capped by Prop 13, so they pay only a small fraction of their fair share of the costs of local government.

    Let’s get rid of Prop 13 for residential real estate, as well as for commercial real estate – people like Redmond might get a lot less enthusiastic about property tax hikes if they actually had to pay those property tax hikes.

  43. Perhaps you could push yourself outside of your comfort zone and realize that there are one-time expenses and on-going expenses. Property taxes should cover the on-going expenses. The developers should pay for the one-time expenses.

  44. Great idea. And then when people move into those units we’ll make them pay RE taxes to cover those same “infrastructure and services, such as roads, sewage, telecom, public transit, police, parks, schools, emergency response, etc.”

    Perhaps we can think up a third way to get paid for those same services?

  45. >”Where does that money come from? Well, it’s pretty clear, and has been clear for decades, that growth in housing development doesn’t pay the costs of serving that development. ”

    Um….aren’t you forgetting something? The people who move into those new developments will pay (directly or indirectly) huge RE tax bills, right?????

  46. The plan:

    A) Determine the actual cost of new housing and increased population – for example, the increase infrastructure and services, such as roads, sewage, telecom, public transit, police, parks, schools, emergency response, etc.

    B) Make developers pay those costs before they can build anything.

    C) Repeat A and B for new offices/workspaces.

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