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News + PoliticsDeveloper allies again try to take over Sierra Club

Developer allies again try to take over Sierra Club

YIMBY Party, which wants more luxury housing, tries to take control of influential local environmental group

For years, the San Francisco chapter of the Sierra Club has been part of a progressive environmental movement. The Club has worked on clean energy, better transit, and sustainable development – and has opposed giant, out-of-control projects like the Wall on the Waterfront. It’s worked with tenant advocates on affordable housing. The influential Club slate card typically endorses the same candidates as the Milk Club, the Tenants Union, and the Bay Guardian.

But for the past couple of years, developers and their allies have been trying to take over the chapter and change its politics. They want a more growth-friendly board that will support market-rate housing development and big commercial projects – and they want the club’s endorsement to go to developer-friendly candidates.

That would be a huge blow to progressive politics in San Francisco.

Last year, a pro-development slate of candidates was defeated after its controversial members attracted critical media scrutiny. But now a well-funded funded new organization, the YIMBY Party, is running a slate of stealth candidates for the club’s Executive Committee. 

While the individual candidates have been vague about their “urbanist” agenda, their sponsoring organization promotes an explicit platform of weakening environmental controls on real-estate development in the city.

The YIMBY Party was formed this year by Sonja Trauss, who previously created the SF Bay Area Renter Federation (SF BARF).  Trauss and her cohort have a simple solution to the housing crisis: Build more luxury housing.  Last year, Trauss told 48 Hills:

          New housing is expensive, because it’s new, and SF has tons of rich people. It’s appropriate to build new, expensive housing for rich people in expensive neighborhoods. Sierra Club (and No wall on the waterfront) are just rich people using their political capital to block housing in their fancy neighborhoods.

Trauss, whose crazy comments about the Mission helped delay construction of a big project on South Van Ness, is not running for the Sierra Club leadership this year. Nor is her former colleague, Donald Dewsnup, who has been charged with voter fraud.  Instead, Trauss’s new YIMBY Party is running a slate of lesser-known allies who all recently joined the Sierra Club with the express purpose of taking over the local chapter. 

While the YIMBY Party has not disclosed its entire budget, for its short existence it has become remarkably well funded—dwarfing in size the local Sierra Club’s own budget. Partial filings with the SF Ethics Commission reveal that since May the YIMBY Party received more than a $101,000 to support political campaigns.

The leading contributors included Mayor Lee’s ‘No DHLM’ ballot measure campaign committee and various shell political action committees funded by the Realtors, developers, and assorted tech billionaires. 

The YIMBY Party has also quickly established itself as a reliable ally of market-driven development policies.  In June, the YIMBY Party rallied to support the Governor’s ‘by right’ development proposal, which every major state environmental organization (including the Sierra Club) opposed because it would have weakened the California Environmental Quality Act and the state’s Coastal Act. The YIMBYs also endorsed the Realtor’s Proposition P, which would have opened up housing development of public lands to for-profit developers, and supported a variety of developer friendly candidates for elected office. 

Last week the YIMBY’s launched a slick mail campaign to bash the Sierra Club leadership and promote their slate.

The YIMBY effort to take over the local Sierra Club is being countered by a volunteer effort of club members who seek to protect the club’s independence and progressive record. If you’re a Sierra Club member, you can get more information here.

Voting for the Sierra Club’s officers ends December 16.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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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