Sunday, May 9, 2021
News + Politics The agenda, Aug. 29-Sept 4: What if Ed Lee...

The agenda, Aug. 29-Sept 4: What if Ed Lee decides to step down …

... Plus new Airbnb legislation, corruption and the Lennar Corp., and a Burning Man talk that I will be glad to miss


It’s the week before Labor Day, and the fall campaigns are moving into high speed, and I look around at the state of San Francisco politics, and I think back on more than 32 years I’ve spent watching this mess, and there’s something that keeps me awake at night, and it goes like this:

What happens if the progressive lose control of the Board of Supes this fall – which will happen if Jane Kim wins and the left doesn’t go six-for-six in the district contests – and then around about February or so, Mayor Ed Lee decides that he’s had enough and announces he’s stepping down?

What if Ed Lee decides to step down in 2017?
What if Ed Lee decides to step down in 2017?

He can’t be having fun – everywhere he goes in public he gets booed, his approval rating is as low as any mayor I have ever experienced, and he can’t even put his name on a single ballot measure or endorse a single candidate because he’s political poison.

If the allies of the tech and real-estate industry control the board in January, Lee’s pals, like Willie Brown and Ron Conway, won’t try to talk him out of leaving early. He’s done his job – and he can retire in peace, with the people who support him knowing that his replacement will have the same political stands.

The board majority will appoint someone else who answers to the same masters. Not only that: An appointed incumbent, with more than two years left on the term, will have plenty of time to become entrenched with the big money, and to create a situation where he or she is really hard to beat in 2019. So we’re stuck for another six years, at least, with another Ed Lee.

This is why I am boggled that everyone who opposes the mayor’s agenda isn’t working to win in every district, including D5 and D11 (where the DCCC Reform Slate was unable to endorse either Dean Preston or Kimberly Alvarenga).

It’s not just the board that’s in the balance this fall. It’s the future of the city.


Sup. Jane Kim, who is running for state Senate, will appear Tuesday/30 at a forum discussing housing — along with former LA Mayor (and possible candidate for governor) Antonio Vallaraigosa, CSU Trustee and BART Board candidate Lateefa Simon, and author David Talbot. It’s at the Mission High School Auditorium, and is free; 630pm to 8:30pm. There’s an RSVP link on the campaign website, but the place is huge and there should be plenty of room.


Pretty much everyone who’s going to Burning Man has left town or is leaving right now, but the rest of us might want to ponder what has become of the “radical” arts festival, which now features TED talks – and one of the speakers is Chip Conley, head of Global Hospitality and Strategy at Airbnb.

Yes, the rogue hotelization company that is damaging cities, driving evictions, forcing up housing prices – and now suing San Francisco for daring to mandate that it follows the law.

But Airbnb is apparently welcome at Burning Man, where Conley will speak on the following topic:

In the digital age, a provocative divergence is taking place. Power is shifting ten years younger at the same time as life expectancy is shifting ten years older – creating an interesting sociological environment for those over 50. In this talk, I’m going to address what it means to be a “modern elder” in the 21st century and the blessing that this unique opportunity offers for an intergenerational transfer of wisdom.

And how’s that working out for the “modern elders” who are losing their homes while another provocative divergence takes place – money goes more and more to the top 1 percent?

Or is that not on the Burning Man agenda?


The Supes get back to work after Labor Day, and one of the things we can expect is another attempt to increase the regulations on Airbnb, a move that might include both a tighter limit on the number of days a host can operate a hotel room and a private right of action allowing a group like, say, the Tenants Union to file legal action when the city fails to do so.

I know that the TU has a long list of places that are operating illegally. There have been complaints to the city. Very little has happened.

The big company, of course, complained when this was on the ballot that “neighbors will sue neighbors.” But I guess it’s okay for Airbnb to sue the city where it was founded and is based.

Any new regs will need eight votes, since Mayor Lee will almost certainly veto anything the board passes. That leads to some interesting election-season calculus: Could London Breed, who has voted against effective short-term rental legislation in the past, do the same thing when she’s facing a challenge from tenant lawyer Dean Preston?

Here’s what infuriates me about this Airbnb lawsuit: The city has the right to eliminate all short-term rentals, to essentially put Airbnb out business in this town. The only reason Airbnb is able to operate at all legally is that the supes passed a bill allowing some people to violate the law against rentals of less than 30 days if they follow some very clear and specific rules.

Those rules can’t be enforced, it’s clear, unless Airbnb refuses to list illegal units. The site doesn’t want to do that, of course, since it would wipe out a lot of its revenue – and would give other cities the same idea.

So why don’t the supes just say: Fine. Sue us. We will repeal the law that you don’t like, and simply say that all of your rentals are illegal and begin aggressively enforcing the law.

You follow the rules or you don’t get to play the game at all. Seems reasonable to me.


I hope everyone read the recent New York Times expose on how Washington think tanks are becoming corporate shills. The main example: Lennar Corporation.

WASHINGTON — As Lennar Corporation, one of the nation’s largest home builders, pushed ahead with an $8 billion plan to revitalize a barren swath of San Francisco, it found a trusted voice to vouch for its work: the Brookings Institution, the most prestigious think tank in the world.

“This can become a productive, mutually beneficial relationship,” Bruce Katz, a Brookings vice president, wrote to Lennar in July 2010. The ultimate benefit for Brookings: $400,000 in donations from Lennar’s different divisions.

The think tank began to aggressively promote the project, San Francisco’s biggest redevelopment effort since its recovery from the 1906 earthquake, and later offered to help Lennar, a publicly traded company, “engage with national media to develop stories that highlight Lennar’s innovative approach.”

And Brookings went further. It named Kofi Bonner, the Lennar executive in charge of the San Francisco development, as a senior fellow — an enviable credential he used to advance the company’s efforts.

This, of course, is the same Lennar Corp. that is sponsoring Prop. O. which would exempt as much as 5 million square feet of office space from the city’s annual cap on office development.

Let’s put that in perspective. At one worker per 250 square feet, the Lennar plan could add as many as 20,000 new workers to a city that has a world-class housing crisis. Will Lennar be building 20,000 new housing units, plus schools and roads and buses, for all of those workers?

It never seems to happen that way.

But I bet Brookings will be telling us what a great idea this project is.

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. He’s helped raise a ton of money for HRC, and there are lots of sweet low-key appointments where he wouldn’t get in anyone’s way.

  2. Leno’s not Ammiano, for sure, but he did introduce a law to disallow Ellising a building owned for less than 5 years, to limit flipping. I can’t imagine Wiener doing that.

  3. There was speculation on here that he could be appointed ambassador to China. That seems unlikely as he’s a) a nobody on the state and national levels b) not a diplomat and c) being posted to Beijing is not a sinecure, unlike some of the other ambassador positions.

  4. I’m not convinced that Kim would be much different in Sacramento than Weiner. Leno was, after all, the “conservative” candidate. And other than LGBT issues, he hasn’t been particularly great at fighting for anything else, until maybe the last couple years. But now progressives seem to love him, even though he has yet to endorse a single progressive candidate in a tough race. Weiner and Kim would both be your standard liberal Democrats. Pro business, pro tech, pro LGBT and abortion rights (like everyone else), anti-police reform, and nominally pro-working class but not lifting a finger. This isn’t Tom Ammiano we’re talking about. It’s not even David Campos. In San Francisco, they’ve built their careers answering to different constituencies. But in Sacramento, they’re pretty much answering to the same constituencies. There would be little air between Kim and Weiner in Sacramento. Maybe free tuition… but do you really believe Kim’s going to be successful at that, or even fight for it in any meaningful way? I’d love to be proven wrong, but I think anyone who believes her is deluding themselves.

  5. About the BOS, strategically you’re right of course in the short term, but it actually does help a lot to have someone fighting for our issues in Sacramento. There are many more representatives there, but Ammiano and Leno have made a lot of difference, and Kim or Wiener could too (in opposite ways).

  6. Two observations:
    1. Fighting for every district is all good and well, but what about D6 and D8? If Weiner wins, Ed Lee replaces an A-hole with an A-hole -it’s a wash. But if Kim wins, Ed Lee replaces a halfway OK-ish supe with an A-hole. That makes the BOS climb that much steeper for progressives, and makes the nightmare scenario of Ed Lee resigning and being replaced by another member of the dynasty much more likely. Something to think about.
    2. Yes, the willful ignorance of the techno-utopians is really irritating, but I don’t think you can generalize about Burning Man from one lecture. As a 6-time Burner, I can assure you that while those people are there, it doesn’t represent a majority viewpoint among participants.

  7. You’re absolutely right about it just being a drop in the bucket. I live in Hunters Point and this discussion prompted me to inquire with the OCII and the developer. The planned housing from each block doesn’t sum correctly to what we’ve been told is planned for the entirety of phase I and I want to find out what’s actually happening. So thanks for inspiring that inquiry.

    I’ll be interested to see how demand for units changes. Here in HP, the 2brs have been the first to sell out. 1brs and 3brs have lingered on the market for much longer. I get the sense (based on anecdotal observation) that the kind of people who want to live downtown may be younger/single-er than those who are willing to live in a much sleepier part of the city. Only time will tell as the plan for each block is formulated.

    The other point I would make in re: Prop O is that the office development is paying for a huge new park, renovation of a lot of really run down public housing, and a huge environmental remediation project. Jobs/Housing balance is crucial, but I would argue that its slightly less important in HP b/c of the immediate need for toxic clean up/

    5M was a frustrating project as both sides tried to describe it in a way that politically advantageous. I was in favor of the project, but it was a lark to hear it described as 40% affordable etc etc.

  8. I didn’t question it. I’m just saying it’s not in the development plan. In order to double the office space, they’ll need to get an amendment.

  9. And yet, no ‘add-back’ funding for enforcement in this or past cycles. Guess the progressive BOS doesn’t give a shite either.

  10. That probably indicates they want to build more office space that the original plan, but that remains to be seen?
    You obviously don’t know what you are talking about if you question that.

  11. One can only hope that enough people have figured this out by now. We do know that enough people figure out that they didn’t want the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Bonus Plans and the Governors’ by-right plan to stop those. So there could be enough people who have it figured out to continue the demand to slow it down and let’s figure it out before rushing to build, build, build, and tax, tax, tax. It does make sense when you put those two together, doesn’t it.

    Why build ourselves out of our homes and why tax ourselves every time we shop? No sales tax increase and no more uncontrolled building. There, I said it. Hopefully that will get through the message sausages factory, It’s not that complicated. Many people should get it.

  12. OK, cool. I didn’t look at the numbers for this project, but these are much larger proportions of 2brs and especially 3brs than the projects I have looked at elsewhere in the city. The 5M project, just to take one example, has one building with 74% 1br/studios and no 3brs, and another with either 70% or 40% singles (not sure which one they settled on) and again no 3brs. Smaller units are more profitable, and developers fight hard to have as large a proportion of them as possible. I’d be surprised if Lennar didn’t do the same, once all 12K units have been accounted for. As you say, the numbers you give are only for 622 units, about 5% of the total. I’d like to know the numbers overall.

    In the larger scheme, we’re both nitpicking. Clearly there should be balance between new housing and new jobs. You say build more housing. I say, first of all stop building more office buildings until the existing shortage is getting close to fixed. More fundamentally, I think the problem is that any long-term thought of how much growth is possible or desirable, and how to balance jobs and housing, is being jettisoned in favor of what the big money wants.

  13. “Will Lennar be building 20,000 new housing units, plus schools and roads and buses, for all of those workers?

    It never seems to happen that way.”

    Yes, mostly because NIMBYs worked for years to chisel down the height limits for Eastern Neighborhoods. That development SHOULD have 20k new housing units but we shot ourselves in the foot because you have created a phobia of new housing development.

  14. Do we really want Scott Weiner in Sacramento when he seeks to repeal CEQA and promote all that Governor Moonbeam is trying to promote now like that development by right bill the legslator correctly decided against. And, that SF assembly guy who fell for some wheeling dealing by the governor. Where do you find these guys to represent you? Start growing some ethical candidates with a spine.

  15. More evidence that Airbnb got just what it wanted when Chiu carried its legislation and the Board of Supervisors approved it.

  16. I agree that it seems unlikely that Ed Lee will quit for no reason. It was rumored (here on this site) that he might snag a possible appointment in the Clinton administration. That seems like the only reason he would step down early to me.

  17. Do you know for sure what the “typical development” is? I don’t. I suspect your statement is based on intuition rather than actual data. If I’m wrong and you have a report from the planning department feel free to correct me.

    More to the point, we’re not talking about a typical development; we’re talking about a specific development where the information is publicly available ( If you look through through the development agreements for blocks 49 through 57 (all that I had time to go through), you’ll see the developer plans to build 622 housing units; 1 studio, 198 1brs, 302 2brs, and 121 3brs. 68% of the development is 2br or larger.

    I don’t mean to unload on you Y, but you just ran afoul of one of my pet peeves about this site, which is that the author and commenters make assumptions or assertions without doing any research first. People should be able to come to sites like this and get solid information, not assumptions and conjecture.

  18. “San Francisco’s average household size is 2.2 people per unit” That includes all the 3brs and 2brs and people with families. Typical developments these days are about half 1brs and studios and half 2brs, so maybe 1.5 people per unit, including couples with only one wage earner and rich singles in 2 brs, so the numbers don’t compare so well.

  19. I’m not convinced that Ed Lee would quit now. Did he really ever like the job? Would the difference between his pension and the full $300K salary for two years be worth it?

    Also, there’s the risk that if the puppeteers try the incumbent trick twice in a row there would be a backlash. They could wait two years and then have someone like Wiener run for mayor.

  20. In re: Lennar and the Hunters Point development. Prop O exempts up to 5 million square ft, but the current plan for the area calls for about 2-3 million sq ft (
    That probably indicates they want to build more office space that the original plan, but that remains to be seen.

    In addition to the office space, that development also includes about 12K housing units ( San Francisco’s average household size is 2.2 people per unit (, which means that housing will accommodate about 26K people, which is more housing than necessary according to the article. It’s even better if you do the calculation based on the current planned office space in the development (3M sq ft).

    More importantly, complaining about the jobs/housing imbalance is crazy when this blog has advocated against the developments (5M) that would house the people who would occupy these jobs, and the policies that would help spur further housing development ( Pro Prop I, anti-AHBP).

  21. Ever since a house near me was sold to two men who now own five illegal hotels, I have been looking closely at certain listings on the site.

    In addition to all of the unregistered listings (the vast majority of Airbnb listings), there are other types of illegal use as well.

    They let law students list dorm rooms. This is a UC Hastings:

    They let people convert SROs to tourist hotels. Tis is 626 O’Farrell St:

    They let people list accessory buildings that are permitted for home office use. This is 1432 Grove (owned by an intellectual property attorney – not that he’s an intellectual, just that is the legal practice he runs – alongside his illegal practice of running an unlicensed hotel):

    They let people list multiple units and make fake names for themselves (names that are “verified” by Airbnb). This is 1314 Eddy Street, owned by two men who own four other fake hotels. It isn’t owned by “Cali,” the host Airbnb says is verified. Airbnb also allows them to lie in their listing. The listing says “**PLEASE NOTE: ONLY ACCEPTING 30+ DAYS RESERVATIONS AT THIS TIME**” but you can rent the house for a five night minimum. Check the calendar, check the number of reviews, and ask the house cleaners who come after each renter moves out.

    This is 817 Oak St. They’ve been busted twice. Most recently they lied to the city planner saying they only rent for 30+ days. Except that a minimum stay is just two days. The owners don’t care about their privacy, either, since they’ve been on a reality tv show discussing the man’s butt waxing options.

    This is 272 Guerrero. It is registered with the Office of Short Term Rentals, even though the unit cannot legally be registered. The hosts state in the listing that they live in the unit above. They only way they could have registered the unit they rent is by perjuring themselves and submitting false claims.

    This is 749 27th Street. It has a permit, but it is a stand alone building in the backyard of a property that is zoned RH-1. The “host” tells interested guests that “Possession of a San Francisco Short-Term Rental Registration Certificate certifies that the registration certificate holder has agreed to comply with the terms of the San Francisco Short-Term Residential Rental ordinance (San Francisco Administrative Code Section 41A).” That is all well and fine, except that she could only register her unit by making fraudulent claims and committing perjury. Not only is she not complying with the STR Ordinance, but she lied to so she could say she wasn’t lying.

    This is 22-24 Annapolis Terrace. It is an illegally built third unit in a neighborhood zoned RH-2.

    In addition to including a private right of action, new short-term rental laws need to make explicit that fraudulent claims and perjury are serious crimes. I assume the lawyer who is illegally using his stand-alone home office knows this – he didn’t lie to get a permit for his hotel, but he did lie when he got the permit to build his home office. I don’t know if the “hosts” who have registered their units know that lying on a government form is really a bad idea, but it would be nice to see them find out.

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