The Agenda, Jan 8-16: A critical rent-control vote, and the power struggle at City Hall

Can a good tenant bill clear the state Assembly -- and who does the power structure want in the Mayor's Office?

The most important and dramatic change in state rent control law in 20 years is up for its first hearing at a state Assembly committee Thursday/11– and the vote will probably be close.

Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who represents Santa Monica, Malibu and parts of Los Angeles, has introduced SB 1506, which would repeal the Costa Hawkins Act. That 1995 law banned cities from extending rent controls to vacant apartments – undermining effective limits on rent hikes and giving landlords and incentive to evict long-term tenants. It also banned rent control on most single-family houses and condos – and on any housing built after 1995.

Outside the State Building, tenants remind everyone that thanks to the state Legislature, the rent is too damn high

Assemblymember David Chiu, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Community Development, is a co-sponsor and has set the hearing. Although the committee has five Democrats and two Republicans, Democrats in Sacramento have not always been good on tenant issues, and the real-estate lobby is powerful.

Tenant advocates are rejecting any compromise; they want a clean repeal vote, which would (but not require) cities to pass laws that allow rents to remain stable after a tenant leaves.

Berkeley, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood passed so-called “vacancy control” laws in the 1980s, and they were effective tools to fight gentrification and displacement. But after trying and losing in court, the landlords got the Legislature to ban vacancy control in 1995.

San Francisco never had vacancy control – the Board of Supes actually passed a vacancy-control law in the 1980s, but then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein vetoed it.

Without vacancy control, landlords can raise the rent to whatever the market will bear when a tenant moves out; rent control only applies to existing tenants. That gives landlords a huge incentive to use fraudulent evictions, illegal pressure tactics, and any other tactic they can conjure up to get rid of long-term tenants whose rents are well below the market rate.

So the repeal of Costa-Hawkins is a huge deal for the tenant movement, and this committee is the first test. But the other Democrats on the committee are not so clear (and it’s not entirely clear who will be sitting on the committee Thursday, since some members are out of town). The bill needs four votes to advance.

Advocates say the swing vote may well be Ed Chau, who represents a district east of Los Angeles. Anyone who’s reading this who lives in the 49th District might want to give Chau a call. Anyone who knows anyone who lives there – get in touch, and have them call.

It also helps to call Chiu, to let him know that there is strong support for this bill.

We will have updates during the week as the hearing approaches.

The Board of Supes will not be voting on an interim mayor Tuesday/9 – but the issue is likely to come up the following week.

For the moment, London Breed is both acting mayor and president of the board. That’s a strange situation that exists because the City Charter puts the board president in charge when the mayor unexpectedly leaves the job – and Ed Lee’s death was entirely unexpected.

But the idea that one person could hold both jobs for more than a short period of time creates all kinds of potential problems. For example: The mayor of San Francisco will prepare a budget this spring for 2018-2019. That’s one of the most important things a mayor does in this town – the budget sets the city’s policy priorities.

The Board of Supes acts as a check on that power – the Budget and Finance Committee holds hearings, reviews the document, makes changes, and gives the public a chance to weigh in.

If Breed stays in both jobs – as she will, if the supes don’t appoint someone else – she will create the city’s budget. Then she will appoint the members of the Budget and Finance Committee who will review it. Then she will vote on it as a supervisor. Then she will sign it.

In other words, on person will completely control the $9 billion in public spending for the next year.

That happens nowhere else in American government – and for good reason.

Sup. Aaron Peskin is going to ask for a vote Jan. 16 on an interim mayor. That’s creating a massive, behind-the-scenes political scramble.

Breed, Mark Leno, Dennis Herrera, and Jane Kim have all pulled papers to run for mayor. Running as the incumbent would be a huge deal – nobody who has run as an appointed incumbent has lost in at least half a century.

The progressives will, of course, be divided; some will support Kim, some Leno, and some (possibly) Herrera, if he decides he really wants to run. But the Big Tech and Real-Estate powers that be – the folks who have been running this city for more than a decade – have apparently cleared the field for Breed.

Mark Farrell isn’t running. I would be shocked if David Chiu got in the race.

I’m not saying that Breed is in anyone’s pocket or that she has cut any deals with Big Tech and Real Estate. But if those interests were not comfortable with her, they would have found and would be pushing another candidate. That’s just how it works in this town: There’s too much at stake here, too much money to be made in San Francisco. Whatever you think about London Breed, it’s clear that the same people who supported Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee are perfectly okay with the idea of her occupying the Mayor’s Office.

If that’s what people want in the next mayor, then they will be happy with Breed. I think the voters want a dramatic change

Breed tweeted in her announcement that “I am not a partisan. I am not an ideologue.” That’s the start of her campaign – and it says to me that she’s not running to try to topple the existing power structure.

I’m an old-fashioned leftist, I guess, but I have to wonder: How can you not be a partisan or have some ideology when the city is facing the worst wave of displacement in modern history? How can you not be furious when some 400,000 San Franciscans have left the city and income inequality has put San Francisco on the level of a Third World county under the past administration?

How can you say, as she does, “I believe in a San Francisco where we succeed as one” when this town is deeply riven by class warfare? We are not “one.” We can’t become “one” unless the tech and real-estate lords are dislodged from their thrones.

I know these are just words, but when Kim ran against Scott Wiener for state Senate, her campaign theme was about “fighting.” She made it clear that there were people running the system who did not share most of our interests. She stood with Bernie Sanders. Her approach set a tone that allowed people to frame the race (and if Wiener hadn’t had millions in outside money that attacked Kim viciously in the final months, she would have won).

Breed’s final line, “Together, there is no problem we can’t solve,” is a carefully crafted political slogan that rings an old historical bell for me. The last time a mayoral candidate used it, John Molinari was running against Art Agnos in 1987. Molinari was the downtown candidate, and his slogan was “Together, there’s nothing we can’t do.” Agnos ran as someone who promised to fight the power and support the grassroots movement against downtown developers. He won, pretty handily.

This time around, ranked-choice voting makes the whole thing hard to predict. And the vote Jan. 16th will make it even more tricky.

Since the filing deadline for mayor is Jan. 9, by the time the supes vote, they and everyone else will know who is in the race. That cuts two ways: Some think that the only way a candidate who is going to upend the existing political power structure can win is if somehow six members of the board can choose a candidate other than Breed who can then run as the incumbent. The only two candidates I see who can possibly count to six are Leno and Herrera – and in both cases, it would require the five progressives on the board (one of whom is running) to stick together, and one of the board moderates to go along.

That would mean Kim voting for one of her opponents. Or else something really weird happening.

Then there’s the “caretaker” discussion. With Kim in the race and four of her colleagues (including moderate Ahsha Safai) having endorsed Leno, the motivation to have a mayor who can’t run as an incumbent is strong.

That palace intrigue will be dominating all local political discussions until next week.