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Uncategorized The strange stories around the Christensen campaign

The strange stories around the Christensen campaign

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Big money and dubious ethics in the D3 election

Mayor Lee with APDC and Realtor lobbyist Jay Cheng entering into private nonprofit "Friends of Tenants" rally for Julie Christensen at a public school site
Mayor Ed Lee walks into a “Friends of Tenants” rally for Sup. Christensen with Jay Cheng, a Realtor lobbyist and leader in APDC

By Tim Redmond

OCTOBER 28, 2015 – There are advantages to being the incumbent in an election. That’s hardly news. There are also advantages to being supported by a mayor who has strong connections in a crucial part of your district.

So Julie Christensen gets to do events like this, where she is the featured speaker at a Planning Department forum on how to more easily get permits for your projects.

But at a certain point, an election campaign pushes a line – and the effort to elect Christensen, involving a wide range of players other than the candidate, is getting awfully close.

In fact, her involvement with events where gifts were handed out to voters, her connections to a very dubious “tenant” group that is linked to the most anti-tenant factions in town, and her massive support from landlord groups and one wealthy real-estate developer who has devoted millions of dollars to trying to destroy rent control, raise a lot of serious questions about the state of politics in San Francisco.

Three times this fall, according to witnesses and Chinese-language media reports, Christensen has appeared at events at a public school that at involved exhortations to vote for and her least twice involved a food giveaway– something that even the Mayor’s Office says is against the law.

Event sponsors say the supervisor’s participation was a coincidence, and maybe if it happened once, that would be credible. Three times? Seems more like a coordinated campaign effort.

The sponsor of the events, according to Chinese language newspaper reports, is a group called Friends of Tenants, which was incorporated Aug. 6, 2015 as a nonprofit organization under Section 501 c 3 of the Internal Revenue Code, state records show.

It’s charitable purpose, documents on file with the Secretary of State show, is to “promote tenant rights.”

An organization with that designation is not allowed to endorse or support any political candidate at the local, state, or federal level. The IRS is very clear about this and there’s little wiggle room.

And yet, FOT held an event July 19th that Sing Tao Daily described this way:

“Friends of Tenants”, a tenant group established at the beginning of this year, gathered 300 members yesterday morning at Jean Parker Elementary School to rally for Julie Christensen. They were also registering members to become voters,

An article in the Epoch Times, which was translated for 48hills, states that

On August 22nd, “San Francisco Friends of Tenant Association” held an event to support Julie Christensen for District 3 Supervisor at Jean Parker Elementary School.

Among the speakers was Josephine Zhao, who is the head of a landlord group that has opposed virtually every piece of tenant legislation at the city or state level; in fact, she and her group were out in force to oppose Mayor Ed Lee’s efforts to reform the Ellis Act. It’s hard to imagine how a group called “Friends of Tenants” could be working with her.

A person who attended told us through a translator that she was given cooking oil and noodles for showing up. It wasn’t a public event, tickets were required, and members of the Chinatown Tenants Association were told they were not welcome.

On Sept. 26, the Sing Tao daily reported, FOT held another event at the same school, and again, Christensen was present – this time with Mayor Lee – and part of the program was an exhortation to vote for her. Again, the translation provided to us reads:

Ed Lee pointed out, elected officials should spend more time on practical matters rather than wasting time on arguments. He said Christensen works closely with him at City Hall in fighting for more funding to hire more police officers and fire fighters, as well as building more housing. When Julie Christensen came up to the stage, Ed Lee raised her hand, asking voters to support her in the November election.

At the event, reported in SF Weekly, slate cards from the Asian Pacific Democratic Club, which endorsed Christensen, were handed out, witnesses who asked not to be identified said.

 

An article in the Chinese newspaper World Journal quoted the head of Friends of Tenants saying that the event did happen, and that Lee and Christensen were there – but said that the political rally was purely a coincidence:

“Friends of Tenants” President Tow Kuk Wong said the [SF Weekly] article is inaccurate. 9/27 was Mid Autumn Moon Festival, 26th was the Mid Autumn Moon Festival celebration, and not a political activity.  It was the organizations second activity since its establishment, only gave out small amounts of moon cake and sausages to celebrate Mid Autumn without a political purpose. Tow Kuk Wong said that it was an event for their members, Mayor Lee and Julie Christensen were not invited; rather they initiated to attend after learning of the activity.

Even so, if the event started with a nonpolitical purpose and turned into a campaign event, a tax-exempt entity could have problems.

And again: This isn’t the only FOR event that Christensen appeared at. There is a pattern here.

Also: The mayor doesn’t typically invite himself to events after learning about them. He has been aggressively campaigning for Christensen. And a mayoral staffer, Hydra Mendoza, who serves as Lee’s education advisor and also sits on the school board, was the one who arranged for the use of the space, the Weekly notes:

 Mayoral backer Walter Wong approached the mayor’s education advisor Hydra Mendoza, an elected member of the Board of Education, about renting the room at Jean Parker early in the summer. (Wong is a real estate developer and “permit expediter” — a nice way to describe someone who speeds construction projects along in exchange for cash.)

The facility is not normally rented out, Principal Wesley Tang wrote to Mendoza, who nonetheless made it happen. “Please work this out and let me know if I can offer the site to the group,” Mendoza wrote in an email to school district staffers.

Mendoza told SF Weekly that she handles requests like this all the time, and that she just happened to be “who he [Wong] knew on the school board.” That Wong is a longtime supporter of former mayor Willie Brown and of the current mayor — he gave $25,000 to two of Lee’s pet campaign efforts last year and traveled with the mayor on a recent junket to China — is pure coincidence.

“I didn’t ask what he used it for,” she said. “I don’t get involved in that kind of stuff.”

Nonetheless, with Mendoza’s help, Wong associate Betty Chen secured Jean Parker for several events throughout the summer and fall, including the one Ying attended.

“Thank you for providing the meeting place at Jean Parker,” Wong wrote to Mendoza in an email. “It worked out perfectly.”

If Friends of Tenants spent more than $1,000 – in cash or in-kind contributions — running an event that was designed to promote Christensen’s candidacy, the group would be required to file a report with the city’s Ethics Commission. I could find so such report at press time.

Gentle Blythe, spokesperson for the SFUSD, told me that it’s legal to use public schools for political events, but the rental price is higher than it is for non-partisan events. At press time, she had not provided me with the names of the people who booked the site and the price they paid.

Friends of Tenants lists Stephen Lau as its incorporator. He’s not a major political player – in fact, most of my Chinatown sources say they don’t know much about him.

But we do know that Sing Tao reported he was with Christensen when she visited the newspaper’s editorial department, and the paper described him as a “campaign team member.”

Friends of Tenants is not listed in any of the Christensen campaign documents as a donor or vendor. And we don’t at this point know where its money comes from. That means if the group is spending money to elect her, it’s supposed to operate independently, and not coordinate with her campaign.

But there’s no way that three events happened in Chinatown, with Christensen appearing at all of them, and Lau showed up with her at Sing Tao, unless there was some degree of coordination.

I tried to contact Stephen Lau, but my messages to him were not returned.

Christensen didn’t return my messages either.

But somebody had to pay for the room, the promotional materials, and the food gifts. It seems unlikely that two such events could be done for less than $1,000.

 

The Asian Pacific Democratic Club Political Action Committee, which had slate cards handed out at at least one event, has spent more than $50,000 to support Christensen, records on file with the Ethics Commission show. That includes more than $25,000 for a Chinese-language TV buy.

The group is listed as an IE – that is, an organization that can’t coordinate with the Christensen campaign. It can’t, for example, arrange to hand out slate cards at a event where she is featured.

The PAC is rolling in money; as of September, it had more than $250,000 in contributions, including $10,000 from Laurene Jobs, the widow of Apple CEO Steve Jobs; $10,000 from attorney Steven Kay; $25,000 from Mayor Ed Lee’s re-election committee; $10,000 from the Police Officers Association; and $5,000 from realtor Victor Makras.

The group is very close to the Association of Realtors, which has provided food and phone banks for its canvassers, who were working to elect Christensen, the records show.

The California Association of Realtors, of which the SF group is a member, is a major influence on tenant laws in Sacramento. In fact, state Sen. Mark Leno, who tried really hard to reform the Ellis Act to prevent evictions in San Francisco, told me that the Realtors were the major force that shot down the bill – which Mayor Ed Lee supported.

So Lee’s candidate, running at a time when the city’s eviction crisis is as bad as it’s ever been and the mayor is talking constantly about affordable housing, has the support of one of the most radical anti-tenant groups in the state.

It’s just another example of how so much of Democratic Party politics in this town has been taken over by the real-estate industry and its allies.

The head of the Democratic County Central Committee, Mary Jung, is also a lobbyist for the Board of Realtors.

Jay Cheng, the president of APDC, is also a lobbyist for the Realtors and Jung is on the APDC board.

Tom Hsieh, who sits on the DCCC, is a paid staffer for the Airbnb-backed No on F campaign, and has been paid $107,000 in consulting fees by the APDC.

The level of landlord and tech-investor money pouring into the Christensen effort at the last minute is stunning. Ron Conway has put in $50,000. Thomas Coates has poured $125,000 into the anti-Peskin campaign at the last minute.

Coates is a far-right Republican who backed Arnold Schwarzenegger for governor and spent millions of his own money on a state measure to end rent control. He’s stuck his fingers into local politics in the past, but we haven’t heard from him in several years.

There’s a whole web of influence here – big-money tech and landlord influence – swirling around and through the Christensen campaign.

The Ron Conway money, the Thomas Coates money, the really dubious work of real-estate interests… all of it suggests just how frightened the landlords, the evictors, and the tech barons are of the possibility that Peskin might get elected.

 

Here’s what’s so crazy about all of this: There are multiple possible violations of law here. Richard Slota, a District 3 resident, has filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission charging that the Friends of Tenants events were illegal for numerous reasons.

Among other things, his complaint charges that Lee’s campaign illegally coordinated with Friends of Tenants and the Asian Pacific Democratic Club, which are supposed to be independent of the Christensen campaign.

And, the complaint alleges, the events illegally offered gifts of food in exchange for participation.

But that complaint won’t be addressed, much less adjudicated, until after the election – and the worst that will happen is a minor fine.

If the allegations are true, then seriously illegal activity occurred with the tacit support of the mayor and Christensen – and if she wins re-election, it will all be covered up, dismissed, and ignored.

The district attorney won’t prosecute. All the players will continue to do what they do, with impunity.

That’s the way politics works in this city under the powers that be who support Mayor Ed Lee.

It’s a disgrace.

 

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.

72 COMMENTS

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  3. It was WRONG DATE! my mother was attented that even. SHE IS NOT VOTER! and neither her friends. That is SEPT, before ballet mailed out. WHAT R THIS ARTICAL DOING? You might get the pictures on SEPT, and do it on Oct?? YOU ARE HORRIBLE.

  4. Oh shut up. Civil people can disagree without calling each other liars.

    Here is the exact sentence, cut and pasted from the SF Examiner article listed above:

    “As I was sitting in City Hall, listening to Mayor Ed Lee unveil his proposal for a new bond for affordable housing a few weeks ago, I encountered an unexpected jolt when Supervisor Julie Christensen explained her belief that a key cause of the affordable-housing crisis was “the rent-control problem.” “

  5. Look, @walker, you just have to understand that some people, most in fact, consider liars to be shameful people.

    And when you say that “Christensen explained that a key cause of the affordable housing crisis was the ‘rent control problem'” you are lying.

    It never happened. She used the words ‘rent control problem’ to describe the fact that people find it very expensive to move from their rent controlled apartment when their physical needs change (they have kids or get old). Not a bad thing for a Supervisor to think about.

    Anyway, some people think lying is shameful, you seem to be proud of it…I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree and leave it at that.

  6. No shame here – I’m proud that I can see that Christensen has been nothing more than a rubber stamp for Lee.

  7. 1. Both candidates, Christensen and Peskin, have received big donations from monied interests. Peskin currently has received more money overall than Christensen. I don’t find this disqualifies either candidate.

    2. Simply repeating the falsehood that Christensen is against rent control is morally wrong. You are repeating a lie in the hopes that if you say it often enough it will appear to others to be plausible. You should hang your head in shame, but you won’t. I, however, will remember your name and henceforward look at all your postings with a skeptical eye.

    3. Voting for Christensen (or Peskin for that matter) is voting for an individual whose character you believe to be sound, and whose policies you approve of. Both candidates possess forceful personalities and public accomplishments and are nobody’s puppets. Vote for either, please, but don’t cast this district election as a referendum on Mayor Lee.

  8. Christensen accepted more than $100k from the landlord who dumped $1 million into a campaign to overturn rent control. Why do you think he is fighting Peskin? Please tell me again how she is FOR rent control? Why did the SF Tenants Union decide to endorse Peskin?

    The main issue for me is that the city’s trajectory is not good and voting for Christensen will do nothing to change that trajectory.

    Voting for Christensen is saying that you approve of Lee and Conway. And I don’t.

  9. Your characterization of Christensen’s position on rent control is simply wrong. She very much supports rent control and recently voted to enhance tenant protection from landlords who falsely or frivolously invoke so-called just cause evictions for minor lease infractions like parking your bike on a balcony or hanging laundry in the window. Christensen and Wiener got the Accessory Dweling Unit legislation passed for their districts in the face of decade long opposition. And Christensen wants to stimulate production of these ADUs by subjecting them to the same constraints on short term rentals (90 days) as other apartment units.

    Do I agree with every policy Julie Christensen advocates? No. I am voting for F, against I, and definitely for Christensen as the best person to address creating the most housing and the most affordable housing in the next decade. So is Dianne Feinstein– supporting F and Endorsing Julie Chistensen. Reasonable people can disagree in the nuts and bolts of policy but still see the value in supporting a thinking, hard working, dynamic neighborhood advocate for public office where she has done more good in nine months than most supervisors do in four years.

  10. Except, y’know, sometimes reporting takes time and effort to investigate and make sure you get the facts right.

  11. I have no idea, so I didn’t respond.

    And Mayor Ed “bomb scare” Lee has used plenty of unethical tactics.

  12. Oh geez, the rest of the items have nothing to do with “Peskin media sources.”

    Julie said that stories about evictions are ‘overblown’, she’s taken gobs of money from Conway and Coates, the SF Tenants Union is supporting Peskin, and she rejected controls for ADUs.

    I don’t need your help.

  13. Yep, no response for this irregularity.

    It’s okay, I know all of CCDC’s tactics anyway. I’m sure all CCDC organizers will be “volunteering” for Peskin all the way to election day, helping seniors remember to vote. This has been going on forever. The only mistake was trying to use these tactics against the mayor, as part of some petty revenge for not appointing Cindy Wu.

  14. Oh, unnamed sources provided their interpretation of what she said, got it. You were right to take it and run with it as being absolutely factual. After all, it is what you want to hear, so it must therefore be true.

    Look, I can’t help you. Look for more third party interpretations of something she has denied saying and print them as the truth. Nobody cares.

  15. http://www.sfweekly.com/thesnitch/2015/04/23/supervisor-says-rent-control-caused-housing-crisis

    From a translation of the April 10 edition of Sing Tao Daily:

    After referring to Chinatown residents as ‘lower class’, the new District 3 Supervisor Julie Christensen who also represents Chinatown is in yet another controversy. Sources who attended the Housing Bond meeting organized by Mayor Lee last week revealed that during the meeting, Christensen said rent control is one of the causes of the housing crisis, shocking all the tenants rights advocates in the room. Christensen denied saying those words on Thursday, and said she meant that the sloped hills and stairs are everywhere in the district which makes it difficult for seniors to be mobile.

  16. OK,lie, error, whatever you want to call it. As long as you can point to the headline of an article by Sara Shortt interpreting something that she heard second hand as the source of the wisdom you are helping to spread.

    You may think that tenants would be stupid to support Christensen, others think that supporting Peskin would be evidence of a more serious cognitive failure:

  17. OMG, I copied something from the Examiner and I flubbed one 2 words. I will change my post. If you weren’t in constant ‘rage mode’ in your posts, I may have understood what you were saying in your first response.

    I don’t care if you believe anything I say.

    Regardless of ONE error, my response is apt: Tenants would be stupid to support Christensen.

  18. Look, @walker you said “Christensen said that a key cause of the housing crisis is rent control.”

    All I did is point out, for the record, that you lied.

    So to try to wiggle out of it you link to an interpretation written by Sara Shortt, and if you look at the article Shortt didn’t even hear Christensen say that: “As I heard it, she blamed rent control for forcing people to remain in homes that are not appropriate for their needs.”

    Which is true by the way…there are kids living in closets because Mom and Dad can’t find an alternative to their rent controlled apartment. Same with seniors in 5 story walkups.

    But your wrote “Christensen said that a key cause of the housing crisis is rent control” and you got caught lying.

    So excuse me if I don’t believe anything else you say. I don’t expect you to understand.

    #liar

  19. I wouldn’t call myself a Peskin “supporter” – I’m voting against Christensen.

    And I’m not making anything up.

    “SF supervisor needs to stop blaming rent control and focus on creating more housing opportunities”

    http://archives.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/sf-supervisor-needs-to-stop-blaming-rent-control-and-focus-on-creating-more-housing-opportunities/Content?oid=2930168

    Regarding the ADU’s

    “District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim also brought up concerns and introduced amendments to the legislation. One would prohibit a building owner from adding an ADU if an Ellis Act has been done on a unit within less than 10 years. She also asked to prohibit short-term rentals in ADUs and to prohibit condo conversions, so the units would always be either rentals or owner-occupied.”

    http://hoodline.com/2015/08/sup-christensen-hopes-to-add-housing-in-dist-3-with-accessory-dwelling-units

    “Neither Christensen nor Wiener was open to most of the amendments.

    Christensen, who said she “saw politics creeping into this,” argued that limiting the ability of a landlord to turn a second unit into a hotel room, or into a condo, would “withdraw the incentive” for people to build those units.”

    https://48hills.org/2015/07/20/in-law-units-get-approved-with-conditions-that-sup-christensen-doesnt-like/

  20. >”*Christensen said that a key cause of the housing crisis is rent control.”

    Um….did she REALLY say that or are you just lying?

    Also:

    >”Christensen then supported rules to allow the owners of these in-law units to rent them to tourists, screwing tenants.”

    Um, no. They would be governed by the same short term rental laws as everyone else, which limits the amount of days they can be short term rented; the economics of building one of these units just for a short term rental doesn’t pencil out for 90 nights a year or whatever.

    But hey, you’re a Peskin supporter so just go on making things up. Follow his example.

  21. How?

    *Christensen said that a key cause of the housing crisis is rent control.

    *Christensen got donations from landlords, including $155k from Tom Coates, who spent over $1 million of his own money trying to overturn rent control via prop 98 in 2008. See the item above to know why he is giving her money.

    *The SF Tenants Union is supporting Peskin.

    *The SF Apartment Association is also supporting prop F; Peskin supports F and Christensen is against it. This is being floated as one reason that they are supporting Peskin.

    *The ‘housing crisis’ was one reason that the newly-approved regulation that allows the legalization of in-law units was approved. Christensen then supported rules to allow the owners of these in-law units to rent them to tourists, screwing tenants.

    *Christensen got donations from Ron Conway and other AirBnB investors/supporters. See the item above to know why they are giving her money.

    *Christensen said that the eviction crisis is “overblown,” and given that she isn’t the brightest bulb in the batch, it is probably what she heard one of her real estate industry supporters say.

    Tenants are fools if they vote for Christensen.

    Christensen supporters like to say that she unites various groups to get things done. That she united the SF Apartment Association (landlords) and the SF Tenants Union against her is probably not the validation her supporters want.

  22. How can Tim claim Christensen is supported by landlords when the SF Apartment Association endorsed Peskin?

    This article seems to have the usual 48 hills slant.

  23. I think that’s standard for both sides. All the signs I ever put up get taken down by the forces of the fringe left.

  24. Chill, troll. It’s a shitty rag that no one reads, so one can be forgiven if the spell check doesn’t recognize it. So spare us the faux outrage and put away the race card. Oh, and upvoting your own comment… soooo classy.

  25. Except that the charges are being brought by AFDC, who got a lot of money to phone bank for Christensen, and Tom Hsieh, who is getting at least $150k in work from AirBnB. And interesting that SFGate didn’t bother with CCDC’s response:

    • APDC reported three examples of “widespread voter fraud” in three buildings with “ties” to CCDC. But they left out critical elements of the story:

    – In none of the examples that APDC selected was any member of CCDC’s staff identified as having been involved in handling absentee ballots. The persons involved were described as strangers.

    – One of three buildings with “ties” to CCDC has no present relationship to CCDC. “Orangeland” has never been owned or operated by CCDC. Our only relationship was 30 years ago when Chinatown Resource Center (our predecessor) worked with a young attorney named Ed Lee to represent the tenants.

    – CCDC owns and operates more than twenty buildings. We take every allegation of people coming onto our building and misleading voters very seriously. But two reports do not show a “widespread” pattern particularly if the source has selectively chosen which story to tell. We need to know the wider context for what is happening in the community as a whole.

    • APDC accuses us of violating our nonprofit charter by allowing Aaron Peskin to visit one of our buildings. What they failed to say is:

    – CCDC does not and cannot exclude candidates who are invited by our tenants to visit a building.

    – At her request, Supervisor Christensen has already visited and campaigned at several of CCDC’s buildings with cooperation of our management team. Candidate Wilma Pang is also welcome to visit as well.

    More here:

    http://www.chinatowncdc.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=430%3Alets_not_let_partisan_politics_damage_our_community&Itemid=76

  26. As mentioned elsewhere, this weekend I saw a lot of Christensen flyers on doorknobs in District 3…and quite a few Peskin ones none-too-coincidentally thrown to the ground nearby. Seems like her supporters aren’t exactly good sports.

  27. Sing, not Tsing. Sing Tao Daily.

    Next, you can’t complain about the Board of Realtors lobbyist when the climate is all “build, build, build”.

    Anyway, does anyone think Christensen has the first clue how votes are being manipulated in Chinatown? How about Peskin? We know about Rose Pak’s vote delivery services, but it’s not like Peskin really involves himself. Strange stories are wherever you look for them. With both candidates.

    Planning? Still grabbing at straws there, when Christensen’s own aid was a Planner? Who cares that a sitting Supervisor ran a community outreach during campaign season. How is that worse than Peskin literally rewriting the Planning Codes, specifically in his district, making it known you have to gain the approval of his wife, or associates? That initially continued on to Chiu’s election too.

    Screw jobs aren’t in short order here. Christensen learned it from Peskin. I keep waiting for a real smoking gun, and I can’t help but think they’re there, and people just aren’t touching it.

  28. It looks like the majority of Christensen’s funding is coming from outside of San Francisco.

    Hers is one of the most inept campaigns I’ve seen. They have everything – money, the incumbent, the mayor’s support. And yet, they are struggling.

    It would be wise for Peskin to continue taking the high road.

    There are stories about Christensen ripping down a sign in Coit Liquor and this, copied from Nextdoor North Beach:

    “CLARIFICATION ABOUT D3 SUPERVISOR CHRISTENSEN AT THE NB BAUHAUS FROM THE OWNER

    Romalyn Schmaltz from Barbary Coast/North Waterfront

    I’m the owner of the Bauhaus. On Saturday, 10 October, Julie came in and stood in the doorway around 4:00 PM during the Italian Heritage Festival. My partner was upstairs and I was downstairs. I couldn’t hear James but I could hear her yelling. It was so bad I thought it was a crazy person, but then I heard her saying “lies… all lies… and then I heard Aaron’s name mentioned, so I came upstairs. She continued to yell and block the doorway, and we agreed to substantiate every bullet point on our parody sign which lists 5 things she has “done” for us. So we did, URLs and all. They’re all from simple, reputable sources.

    She STILL didn’t stop yelling and it was only when two customers came in to inquire about a photo that I told her she was harassing us, damaging our business, and looking foolish. I then told her she needed to leave. . .”

    Oh, and the 25 evictions she claims to have stopped were really stopped by Mayor Lee, all of them in the SRO building at 2 Emery Lane, near Central Station. See ”
    Chinatown evictions halted by Mayor Ed Lee” here:

    http://archives.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/chinatown-evictions-halted-by-mayor-ed-lee/Content?oid=2924904

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