The new 6-5 majority on the Board of Supes was in full force today when Sup. John Avalos moved to increase modestly the amount that developers pay the city for the impacts their buildings have on public transit.

Sup. John Avalos managed to get six votes to charge developers a more equitable price for Muni
Sup. John Avalos managed to get six votes to charge developers a more equitable price for Muni

The issue is pretty critical. Every time someone puts up an office building in the city, that building fills with workers, and those workers (or many of them) take transit, which means the city has to buy more buses and hire more drivers and spend more money.

How much? A city study puts the figure – the actual, cash impact, the amount that the city (that’s us, the taxpayer) will have to spend to support new office buildings is about $87 a square foot.

The city wants to charge developers $18.

It’s a huge giveaway to developers, worth billions. It’s astonishing that the city is willing to say: You can build and make millions in our city without paying even a fraction of the cost of that growth.

So Avalos wanted to hike the fee just a little bit – not to the $87 level where it ought to be, but closer to $20. That would bring in another $2 million a year for Muni, and backdating it would bring in a one-time payment of about $30 million.

You would think that the city would be thrilled with this idea – nobody has ever suggested that development would cease if the people making massive profits in SF were asked to pay for the full costs of growth. But no: Sup. Scott Wiener said that we were already asking enough.

“Someone can always say that it’s still not enough,” Wiener said. He said that over the past five years, city agencies have discussed the fees at great length, that the current fees are higher than they were in the past, and that when some increases were proposed, “the development community could have opposed it but they didn’t.”

Sup. David Campos pointed out that “there’s a reason the developers didn’t fight it. The Board of Supervisors left hundreds of millions of dollars on the table.”

This is a classic issue, pitting the interests of developers against the interests of the city, and a year ago, it would have been a hopeless battle. But now the power on the board has shifted.

Still, Sup. London Breed, who is running for re-election in one of the city’s most progressive districts, said she considers the current fees fair. “Setting these fees is more of an art than a science,” she said.

Actually, it’s not that hard: You do a study that shows how much the developers have to pay to cover the costs to the city, then you charge that much.

And this time around, the board voted 6-5 to at least come a little bit closer. The Avalos measure passed, with Sup. Breed joining Sups. Katie Tang, Scott Wiener, Malia Cohen, and Mark Farrell in opposition.

The mayor may veto this – which will leave him and the five supes who opposed it to explain to the public why they are willing to let developers get away with billions of dollars and why they did such a bad job negotiation a deal to pay for Muni.