Sunday, May 16, 2021
News + Politics The Agenda, Jan 25-31: The Super Bowl, tech buses...

The Agenda, Jan 25-31: The Super Bowl, tech buses ….

... affordable housing -- and what's up with London Breed's punitive committee assignments?


Mayor Lee hasn’t met with the press since his campaign fundraisers were charged with felonies, but reporters will get a chance to talk to him Tuesday/26 after he appears before the Board of Supervisors for “question time.”

Do Google buses cause displacement? Should the city at least ask?
Do Google buses cause displacement? Should the city at least ask?

And while none of the supes submitted questions about the latest scandal, Lee will have to respond to concerns about the cost of the Super Bowl and changes in the affordable housing rules.

Sup. Aaron Peskin asks:

Mr. Mayor: I have been fielding a high volume of complaints that the City did not act   in its negotiations with the National Football League to host the Superbowl 50 promotional events, or take any precautions to ensure that San Francisco would be reimbursed for the tax dollars that are being used to accommodate the events. There have also been many complaints about the lack of transparency from the city side. Who in your office was the lead negotiator of this deal, and who are the members of the actual Host Committee?

It’s a good question. At the last hearing when this came up, Sup. Jane Kim tried, over and over, in vain, to find out who was in charge of this whole deal. Who was running the show in the Mayor’s Office, she asked. Nobody could provide an answer.

In fact, it seems today as if this whole mess was an uncoordinated team effort that left the city with a large tab. The rules for Question Time, which were gutted by David Chiu when he was board president, still allow supes to ask follow-up questions, and I hope Peskin is ready to pursue this, since the mayor, as is his fashion, will simply read a prepared statement that won’t directly address the issue.

Then comes Sup. John Avalos with this:

Mr. Mayor: Last Tuesday, you introduced a measure for the ballot that compliments Supervisor Kim’s Inclusionary Charter Amendment to double the inclusionary requirement for the June ballot, in response to an out of control real estate market and affordable housing crisis. Are you then going on the record as supporting the Charter Amendment, as reputable polling has revealed that 71 % of voters do?

The issue here is Kim’s attempt to increase the mandated percentage of affordable housing and to give the board the ability to increase it further. The developers are going batshit about this, saying it will end all market-rate housing construction. That’s what we hear all the time when these things come up. And of course, I have to ask: If we stop all market-rate housing, is that such a bad thing? All the new housing that’s getting built in places like SF and New York is for very, very wealthy people, and in many cases, nobody actually lives in the new units.

So how can the mayor possible oppose something that will mandate more affordable housing? We shall see.


Then sometime after 3pm, the supes will hear a critical appeal of the city’s determination that allowing essentially unregulated and unlimited Google buses is fine and doesn’t require an environmental impact report.

The city wants to make permanent a temporary program that legalized the buses and allows them to park, for an insignificant fee, in Muni bus stops. The appellants want the city to do a full EIR and look, among other things, at whether the shuttle program leads to more displacement.

It does: The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has shown that evictions and rents have increased in the areas near the shuttle stops.

Much of the language in the appeal is legalistic and technical, and the Planning Department will want the supes to rule on the narrowest possible interpretation. But this is one of the first tests of the new progressive majority; in the past, favors for the tech world have typically passed with a 6-5 vote. Now Peskin, who has a long history as an environmentalist and critic of City Planning, is in the position to reject this EIR and this program and force a study that could show the larger impacts of the shuttle buses.

For example: If people who work in SF are displaced by higher-paid workers who want to live near the Google buses, and those people move to Stockton or Vacaville, and then drive to their jobs in the city (since there’s no other way to get here), does that add to the carbon-emissions problem that the buses are supposed to prevent?

More than the Google buses are at stake here. This is about whether the new board is willing to stand up to the mayor and the tech industry (which spend vast sums trying to keep Peskin from winning election).


But wait, there’s more.

The board will also vote on several different resolutions related to the shooting of Mario Woods, one calling for a Day of Remembrance, one calling for a federal investigation of the shooting, and one calling for more police accountability. The POA will be pushing supes to oppose all three.

Sup. Jane Kim is asking the board to vote to convene next week as a Committee of the Whole to consider her affordable housing Charter amendment, which would allow the measure to go to the ballot in June. It’s a procedural vote, but if there’s serious opposition from the mayor and the pro-developer supes, we’ll see it here.


And this will be the first week where the new committee assignments are in place. The Chron plays this all as some sort of Game of Thrones metaphor, but what it’s really about is the District 5 race.

Three of the most progressive supes – David Campos, John Avalos, and Eric Mar – have been given the fewest, and the least important, committee roles. Campos and Avalos have already endorsed Breed’s challenger, Dean Preston, and Mar may not be far behind.

Peskin, who has not made an endorsement in that race, came out relatively well.

I asked Breed why Campos, Avalos, and Mar were screwed, and she said: “Ask [the progressives] what they would do if the tables were turned and you’ll have your answer.”

The reality is that it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as the pundits say. The political message is clear – Breed is going to be punitive to people who cross her – but the actual impact is pretty minor. There are two primary roles for committees – to consider legislation, and to hold city administrators accountable. In Sacramento or Washington, if a bill doesn’t get out of committee, it dies; in SF, committees rarely kill bills, and if there are six votes for the measure, it gets called out to the full board anyway.

As for the hearings, by tradition, supes who aren’t on a committee but care a lot about an issue are allowed to sit in and question city officials anyway.

I think Breed made herself look vindictive, and won nothing important in the process.

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. We need to evict that native born, projects raised, African American woman London Breed! displace her! and replace her with a white male entitled lawyer from New York. That’s the progressive way!

  2. Breed is vindictive, petty, and … well only cares about herself. For most of the first three years into her term, Breed ignored the majority of the issues facing her constituents, especially renters. Last spring, as a project of the SF Tenants Union, Dean Preston started leading tenant rights bootcamps around the city.

    It only became clear to Breed that renters need to know their rights when she herself faced uncertainty about her own living situation. After her building sold, she realized she was one of the people she’d ignored in her embrace of development and techzilla. So, she held a tenants forum on December 3, suddenly concerned what had been going on for years. So concerned, in fact, that she approached the Housing Rights Committee for help with her own situation.

    Preston and several others helped convene the Affordable Divis community meetings after Breed, without any outreach to or input from residents in the area, upzoned Divisadero into a neighborhood commercial transit district. Affordable Divis asked her to rescind this and actually work with the community. She declined. She also said it was impossible – in fact illegal – to increase the required amount of affordable housing in new developments. She did, however, feel the pressure. The day after her forum (and the day before Affordable Divis had a community planning meeting to map out specific demands), Breed magically could announce that she found a way to get more ostensibly affordable housing built in the Divisadero Transit Corridor.

  3. This argument rests on an assumption that puts Say’s law to shame: that development creates precisely matching person migration.

    What suggests development creates precisely matching migration?

  4. I don’t know what studies there are. Certainly if higher quotas were set and enforced, land prices wuold go down to the point that building on them would be profitable with these new onstraints.
    People who live in luxury apartments generate demand by lower-paid employees. If the latter are not provided with a place to live, then building luxury housing will make housing pressure worse, not better.

  5. It’s wrong to think everyone now in a bus would end up driving if the buses went away. They would quickly learn that parking hassles would be a misery and traffic on 101 the same and that SF would suddenly not be such a great place to live. Besides, the buses are lux rides and allow passengers to work on their laptops along the way. Best of all worlds.

  6. In a world where the status quo ends discussion of proper policy, ballots have a single line simply marked, ‘yes’. In this world, describing a failed status quo does not answer policy questions.

    If the housing market does not provide enough places for people to live, isn’t the proper policy for government to build homes?

  7. The $0.8 trillion over five years is at the federal level alone, to say nothing of state level tax deductions or Prop 13 subsidies.

    Seems there is always a reason not to build homes for people who need them. Shouldn’t an advocacy site that purports to care about people’s lives fight to build housing during a housing shortage?

  8. That three quarters of a trillion dollars are at the state and federal level. We are talking here about a local need for building new affordable homes. Can you explain how that money would percolate down to municipalities on a scale that would have any impact?

    And why would the voters in the state and in the nation agree to lose all those tax breaks so that people in a relatively small number of expensive desirable cities can have subsidised housing?

    It is not clear to me how such an idea would be sold to the voters, more than half of whom are homeowners. And without that, we are back to the problem that providing affordable homes is an unaffordable activity.

    Realistically we cannot rely on the rest of the nation to bail us out, but rather need to come up with a practical local solution. If not Kim’s gambit, then what?

  9. It was in the past. Now government policy is to give away land to private developers and then haggle over how little affordable housing will be built there (see Hunter’s Point, Treasure Island, etc.)

  10. Is $750 billion enough? That’s the most recent estimate for the next five years tax expenditures on the mortgage interest and property tax deductions and the principal residence capital gains exclusion.

    There is plenty of funding available for housing policy. The problem is that there is zero opposition to wealthy rentiers who want it for themselves. Their natural opposition, instead of advocating for aggressive public building so that people who need homes can have them, as here seems to support ceasing private development entirely as a first-best solution.

    If someone can explain how this would help people, that would be swell.

  11. Y, is there any data out there which shows how something like a 60% or 75% set-aside would impact the number of new units built? Clearly not all projects currently in the pipeline would be continued if the financials were changed so dramatically.

    Some recent deals indicate that 25% to 40% is viable, as long as zoning and height limits are relaxed as well.

  12. Aggressive public building would require aggressive funding. Any policy advocating that would need to identify those new sources of funding. Kim’s plan does identify the source of funding, but there is no way to know what effect such a mandate on developers would have on the actual number of new units constructed.

  13. Strained analogies with board seat sinecures aside, this sounds like, don’t build homes for anyone, because poor folks can’t afford them.

    If the housing market does not provide enough places for people to live, isn’t the proper policy for government to build homes?

  14. AJ is very good, but I never realized they covered such small regional issues. This kind of study requires good knowledge of local issues and their history. Not even the NYT, the guardian or the New Yorker got this close.
    Building more housing because 15% of it is affordable is like giving to a charity where 85% of contributions go to board members’ salaries.

  15. The Google buses are going to be used to shuttle people from SF to the Superblow. Are they approved for using bus stops, etc, whenever they want or just for taking employees to work?

    Can anyone start a bus company in SF and crowd the streets with more buses?

    Who needs laws, rules or engagement.

  16. If we stop all market-rate housing, is that such a bad thing?

    Not as long as we replace private building with public building.

    Why doesn’t 48 Hills advocate aggressive public building? Everyone needs someplace to live. If the market does not provide enough, government must.

  17. Of all places? Al Jazeera is an excellent news organization. (Unfortunately, being an excellent news organization does not pay; they are folding their US arm April.) Indeed that article makes the excellent point that providing a handful of below market units to a few lottery winners is a recipe for more gentrification, not less.

    Absent foundational changes to property rights, the only way the Bay Area makes housing more affordable for everyone, not just a few strivers, is to build a lot of it.

  18. The anti-eviction mapping project report does not say that private shuttles lead to evictions. It says that most evictions occurred near a private shuttle stop. It’s possible that there’s some causality, but the AEMP report doesn’t say that. Looking at their map, there are shuttle stops basically everywhere in the city where there are apartment buildings. I think the phenomenon that caused the rise in evictions is the same one that brought us private shuttles, but I don’t think private shuttles caused evictions.

    I don’t know a whole lot about the EIR process, but it seems like such a report would also have to credit the fact that everyone who rides it isn’t driving down the peninsula.

    It looks like the BoS was somewhat involved in approving the SB50 bid as far back as 2012.

    I can’t tell what’s really going on here. Why are Supes who were on the board back in 2012 (including the former chair of Gov’t Oversight) only raising the alarm now? It’s not like this event was a secret. Were the cost projections truly being kept secret or were they asleep at the wheel?

  19. Even the proposed new 25% affordable housing quota is a pittance. The general plan in 2009 called for 60% affordable housing (and even this was a compromise.) The developers howled, because tough times, and the city, of course, backed off. Now times are good for developers, and housing is less affordable than ever. They should make it 75% instead.

    The only thorough coverage of this issue I’ve seen recently was a year ago in Al Jazeera, of all places.

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