Sunday, November 29, 2020
News + Politics Explosive debate finally shows the candidates as they are

Explosive debate finally shows the candidates as they are

Sparks fly at the Potrero Hill Democratic Club, where candidates could ask each other questions

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The best and most revealing mayoral debate so far – because it was an actual debate – took place last week at the Potrero Hill Democratic Club. (Thanks to Thomas Brown for the YouTube video)

The format was far better than anything we have seen so far: In the first part, the moderator, Marisa Lagos, asked real challenging questions (“what would you do as mayor that nobody else will do?” “What specific policies will you propose to address injustice and historic racism against the African American community?”)

The major mayoral candidates had a lively debate with a format that others ought to copy. Screenshot from Thomas Brown YouTube video

Then the candidates got to ask each other questions. And that’s when the sparks began to fly and we got more of a sense of the candidates and how they are different.

Among other things, Sup London Breed said that she didn’t vote against effective regulation of Airbnb in 2015.

Amy Farah Weiss challenged Breed on the question, and Breed tried to talk about legislation that came later – after hundreds of evictions and the evisceration of housing stock by a company whose business plan was entirely based on illegal conduct.

When pressed about the 2015 vote on a bill by Sup David Campos tht would have banned Airbnb from listing unregistered, illegal units, she said “That’s not what we were voting on.”

Actually, that’s exactly what they were voting on.

The measure by Sup. David Campos would have required hosting platforms like Airbnb to make sure that every unit they list complied with local law. The competing measure, by Sup. Mark Farrell (with Christensen’s amendments) would shift the responsibility completely off the corporations and onto the city and the people hosting visitors.

[Sup. Julie Christensen] moved to eliminate the 120-day cap that Farrell had proposed, and replace it with the existing rules, which allow pretty much unlimited short-term rentals as long as the host is at home.

There is, most agree, no way to enforce that without spying on every one of the 5,000 or so STR units in the city to see who is living there when.

But no matter: She pushed for that, and then asked that the hosts be the ones who have to file quarterly reports on how many nights they are renting out their apartments.

Campos was stunned. “Sup. Christensen’s proposals do what I didn’t think was possible,” he said. “They have made the Farrell/Lee proposal much worse.”

The amendments, he said, “shift responsibility to the hosts.” He compared it to a rule that would put the onus on hotel guests, not the hotels, to collect and pay the city’s hotel tax.

“This is an unprecedented step,” he said. “You are turning your back on the hosts to protect a $23 billion company.”

But never mind: This deal was done.

The Christensen amendments were adopted, 6-5, with Sups. London Breed, Christensen, Malia Cohen, Farrell, Katy Tang, and Scott Wiener in support.

The Campos bill went down by the same margin.

The Farrell measure was adopted, again 6-5.

Breed voted with Airbnb both times. That’s just the record.

It’s important that the voters know she was with Airbnb in 2014 as well as in 2015, that she (along with Kim) endorsed the Google buses in 2014 (although in 2016, Kim pushed hard to end the program that allows the shuttles to use Muni stops.  Breed generally sided with Mayor Ed Lee’s promotion of the tech boom.

It’s also important for voters to know that Kim co-sponsored the Twitter Tax Break and ultimately voted for the flawed Airbnb legislation after siding with Campos’ efforts to amend it. It’s important for the voters to know that Mark Leno endorsed Scott Wiener – the author of some very bad housing legislation – for state Senate.

The voters need to know that Weiss has never held any elected office or managed or run anything remotely as complicated as the City and County of San Francisco.

As far as I know, Kim has not denied co-sponsoring the Twitter tax break and Leno has never backed away from his endorsement of Wiener, the way Breed seems to be trying to distance herself from her Airbnb votes.

The format of this debate allowed the actual records of candidates to come into play.

Speaking of Wiener, Breed went after Leno about his position on state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 827, a trainwreck of a bill that would upzone the entire city without providing any new affordable housing. Leno – along with all of the other major candidates – effectively endorsed the bill at the first debate before the conservative United Democratic Club. A the progressive debate, he said he couldn’t vote for it in its current form.

Why, she asked, did he change his position?

Now: I think it’s fine for people to change their minds if they get new information. And if Breed wanted to say, for example, that she made a mistake voting with Airbnb and later decided more regulations were needed, good for her.

In fact, one of the things I have been pushing every candidate to do is acknowledge that the policies of the past seven years have been bad for the city, and that we need to change. We all make mistakes (I was a part of the Bay Guardian endorsements team for 30 years, and some of the people we supported turned out to be terrible choices. We live with that.)

Leno hedged a bit, said that at the first debate he just endorsed the concept of the bill, and that once he read the City Planning Department analysis, he realized he couldn’t back it. Fair to ask about his change in stance.

But what was interesting after that was that Breed seemed to double-down on her endorsement of SB 827. She said that Wiener was going to make amendments to deal with affordable housing, but that she wanted to “make sure that the bill passes.”

Angela Alioto then challenged Breed about her position on Tasers. The former supervisor turned trial lawyer said: “When I first met you, you were against officers having Tasers because you said officers were so out of control that they would use Tasers all the time.” Now, Alioto said, Breed supports Tasers.

I wasn’t there when Breed met Alioto, but I have to say: If Alioto’s recollection is accurate, then Breed made a statement that’s entirely true and she should be proud of.

But she’s not. Instead, she said that “after discussion it with people in my community, I hate guns, and if a Taser is going to stop [police shootings] I will support that.”

Tasers don’t stop police shootings. If the cops get them, they will, as Breed allegedly said to Alioto, be out of control and use them all the time.

Kim, in a discussion with Alioto, said she supports a $1 billion bond to build affordable housing (and buy existing rent-controlled housing and take if off the market). Even at a high price of $500,000 a unit (which could come down a lot of the city used existing public land, and built larger multi-unit buildings) that’s 2,000 new affordable units. If there’s any state and federal money left (and there is some), that could be leveraged into a significantly larger total.

Breed’s response was to ask whether that bond would raise property taxes and compete with other priorities (like shoring up the waterfront seawall). She suggested that higher property taxes would hurt people already struggling in the housing market. That’s another sign that she is moving to the center.

Kim at first didn’t talk about taxes; she said that “in order to make a big dent” in the problem, we need to do something big.” But in the end, she said that yes, there will be a slight increase in property taxes, “but we need to prioritize this issue.”

Every time the city sells general-obligation bonds, property taxes go up. Landlords can pass half of that increase on to tenants. Commercial property owners, who typically have set leases with tenants, have to eat the increase.

With all of the property in San Francisco, the amounts tend to be small.

Leno took Kim’s suggestion a step further: He said that the city should plan for a housing bond once every five years.

Then the discussion got into the complex politics of commercial-rent tax increases. Kim has a measure to raise the tax on commercial rents to pay for free child-care programs. Sup. Ahsha Safai, with the support of Breed, has a measure to raise the same tax to pay for affordable housing.

Interestingly, the Safai measure includes a poison pill: If it gets more votes than the Kim measure, then the Kim measure and free child care dies.

Kim’s measure has no such provision.

Kim said that a rich city like San Francisco “has dozens of revenue sources. People don’t have to choose between child care and housing.”

The biggest clash came toward the end, when Leno challenged Breed around his pledge to denounce and reject any outside superPAC money. “Common cause says superPACs are a disaster for democracy,” he said. There are already two of these groups that have signed up to support Breed – and one has already done an attack on Leno, and we have no idea who paid for it.

Breed said she has her own pledge, and “I’m not a follower, I’m a leader.”  She said, “I won’t tell women to be quiet,” and noted that Leno in his 18 years in public life has benefitted from independent-expenditure campaigns.

She asked him if he would return the money he’s received from lobbyists; Leno started raising money a year ago, but as of this January, lobbyists can’t contribute to local candidates.

Leno said that he has followed every campaign-finance law.

In the debate’s most cringe-worthy moment, Alioto said that superPAC spending is corrupt – and told Breed that “as a minority woman you should want a level playing field.”

As if “minority” (seriously?) women ever had a level playing field.

Breed responded the same way she has in the past when asked about her ties to the likes of Ron Conway: “All of a sudden, I’m beholden to somebody,” she said.

Leno insisted that he never said Breed was beholden to anyone.

There’s a difference between calling someone a puppet of special interests and saying that powerful interests want that person to be mayor. They may just share the same basic philosophy of governing; the Big Tech folks may think, without ever talking to Breed, that she is more likely to share their pro-growth agenda.

None of that changes the fact that big money may come into play in this race.

When they were asked what they would do that no other candidate would, we got a sense of priorities. Kim said she would make child care affordable to every SF resident. Weiss said she would create “transitional villages” for homeless people. Leno said he would appoint commissioners who represented local communities, not political hacks, and that he would use zero-based budgeting to find another $150 million in wasted city money that could be put toward housing. Breed said she would push bold ideas “that make us uncomfortable” – like safe-injection sites.

Alioto said she would “clean the streets.”

I love this format: Let the candidates ask each other questions, allow time for response, and let a real debate happen that isn’t scripted. The Potrero Hill Democratic Club set the standard for the next three months of campaigning.

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.

89 COMMENTS

  1. Sunset Guy,

    Once I was passing a half filled bottle of Thunderbird to another poet in training in front of the building.

    One other drunk pointed up and the building and said something to the effect of …

    “Did you know that the City owns this building?”

    “Yep, hundred year lease to somebody from SFUSD but City owns it.”

    Is that true?

    Go Angela!

    Go Giants!

    h.

  2. Tim,

    Thank you for your coverage.

    “You shall know them by their deeds.”

    I think Jesus or someone like that.

    Keep in mind, the most important thing in this race.

    That is that you are choosing a Mayor for the next 9 1/2 years

    During that time they will undoubtedly continue to do the same kind of things they have done for the same powers that put them in office in the first place.

    Take, Mark Leno …

    Great guy.

    Hard hard worker.

    He’s right about gay things and I’d be surprised if he wasn’t.

    Renters and poor people?

    Nope.

    He invented ‘Off-site Inclusionary Housing’ which should have Orwell turning in his grave.

    It meant that if developers would allot (think it was 10-1% at the time) …

    If developers would build that percentage of low-income housing amongst their market rate moneymakers that they didn’t have to build them at the location of the rich condo site.

    He worked out a deal where black preachers in the Bay View agreed to let the developers build them in their empty parking lots.

    Empty because the same black preachers had sold out their congregations for decades before.

    Mark Leno?

    That was his idea.

    Later he ammended the legislation to say that the developers didn’t need to build any housing for the poor anywhere.

    On Earth.

    They could just give a fee.

    Which was later given back to the developers via Scott Wiener legislation.

    Now, Mark (a really and truly great guy I want to emphasize – I truly like the guy and have nothing against him personally … only against his racist and class-based favoritism for white folks living in their own gated spaces and all of the others living somewhere apart) …

    Now, I hear that Leno more recently favored the Wiener legislation that would take away pretty much all of San Francisco’s legislation to determine what get’s built in the City?

    I’m thinking that if elected, Mark will revert to form and in 9 1/2 years?

    Rent control will be gone.

    Alioto for Mayor!

    Go Giants!

    h.

  3. “And all the construction over the last few years have not lowered prices at all.”

    All the new solar panel construction over the last few years hasn’t immediately reversed climate change.

    That doesn’t mean we should stop building solar panels, does it?

  4. They also don’t have minimum lot sizes, setbacks, or require congruence between buildings along a street.

  5. It is more replacement than displacement. The nice thing about Ellis is that it creates more owners. I agree the region could add more housing.

  6. Anyone but Super Pac Breed!! Question her record and she will attack you. Question her developer speculator giveaways and she’ll call you a racist. Question her fatcat backers Ron Conway and DD Wilsey and she’ll call you a misogynist. Keep your eye on her record! It’s been 5 years.

  7. That’s why initially I used per population numbers. Another fact: makes SF as dense as Paris and it would be a city of 2 million people. We can add the homes we just choose not to.

  8. I. Don’t. Care. $22 million is 15 hours of spending in this town, and was a good investment as it turns out. Peanuts, as I said. Bond measures? Borrowing money on a municipal credit card for decades, when the budget does nothing but expand exponentially? And bonds are for major capital expenditures, not day to day necesssities. Yet the BoS is thinks it wise to spend bonds for street repairs. Idiots.

  9. Tokyo’s city limits are 845 square miles versus our 47. Building in the surrounding Bay Area is a different argument.

  10. Twitter has had one single profitable month since it started. It laid off 300 employees a few years ago, with no indication that they were replaced. All I know is, unlike bond measures, we didn’t get to vote on the $22 million tax break.

  11. OK. I gave you the opportunity to read the Controller’s report and perhaps learn something but you are apparently satisfied with displaying your simple mindedness. Have a good night.

  12. No offense, but the grownup fails to mention the hundreds of layoffs at Twitter over the last few years. Not too rosy for payroll tax revenues.

  13. $22 million of tax money spent to generate $7.1 million in payroll tax. Gee, grownup, thanks for the arithmetic lesson.

    Well, let me try to explain in simple terms. If you give me 22 apples and then I start giving you 7 apples a year every year…aren’t you going to wind up with a lot more apples? Aren’t you going to be glad that you gave me those 7 apples way back when?

    And that’s just one aspect. The Controller’s report that I linked to described multiple revenue growth opportunities that are there for anyone to see….provided that they aren’t lazy and are more interested in reading and learning as opposed to just mouthing off without having the slightest clue what they are talking about. No offense.

  14. So twitter asked or didn’t ask (your prior post) for a tax break? Make up your mind. The deal Ed Lee made to anchor them here (the furniture mart was bordering on derelict and wasn’t exactly full of thriving businesses) has more than repaid itself. Let’s go with that stated figure of $7.1 million. That’s MORE payroll tax alone. Times how many years Twitter has been there and you won’t even acknowledge that. Look, I’m not one for corporate giveaways but this looks like it was a prudent investment in a company’s presence in SF and on that stretch of Market in particular.

  15. Hootin’ and hollerin’! The SF Furniture Mart was hardly derelict, as it had recently been in regular use. But what did we get for the tax break that Twitter demanded, a revitalized mid-Market Street? A few bucks spent at local lunch counters? A burst of creative personalities added to our cultural scene? No on all counts.

  16. it wasn’t spent. It simply wasn’t collected. The key word appears to be ‘MORE’ collected, than it otherwise would have. Reading is fundamental.
    Had the building been left empty, zero minus zero is still zero, is it not?

  17. measly pension? Heather Fong, the former police chief, picks up $1 Million every 36 months. IN RETIREMENT. The current Fire Chief – Joanne Hayes White, collects one half million per year…..CA has a trillion in unfunded pension liability. That’s not pension, that’s theft. Hardworking bureaucrats? This city has a $10 billion budget and 550+ employees per square mile. It simply isn’t efficacious or sustainable. I know in your head, “conservative” is a slur, but you’re not familiar with the origins of the word anyway, but hey, labels for other people make it easy!

    The offer was made to twitter by Ed Lee to entice them to take over the derelict Market Square building. The $22 million wasn’t “ours” to begin with, and never materialized. SFGov is shoveling hundreds of millions into programs that nobody is sure is working, but hey, not a peep about that, huh? No audits for that? Do you think this City & County is well run and efficient?

  18. $22 million of tax money spent to generate $7.1 million in payroll tax. Gee, grownup, thanks for the arithmetic lesson.

  19. So I repeat: what did Twitter spend that $22 million of our money on?

    Good question.

    The answer is that it was spent on growing a business that has become an anchor to spur development in a long underutilized part of San Francisco. If you don’t believe this then your argument is with the San Francisco Controller’s Office:

    the Area generated $7.1 million more in payroll tax than it would have, if it had grown at the same rate as the rest of the city from 2010 to 2013

    Review of the Impact of the Central Market Payroll Tax Exclusion

    Adults know that often you have to spend money to make money. You know those $1 billion dollar bonds that Kim and Leno are talking about? Well if they somehow came to pass you will be very glad that the city has the second highest rating possible from Moodys. Because Ed Lee was a grownup who understood that a healthy tax base gives the city the ability to act on the voter’s desires.

    Or you can make it clear that you don’t care if growing local businesses move to Brisbane. Whatever floats your boat.

  20. LOL, exactly. You so-called conservatives hoot and holler over some hardworking bureaucrat’s measly pension but you’re perfectly willing to shovel tens of millions of public dollars to a rich corporation that neither asked for nor deserves a tax break—without demanding accountability. So I repeat: what did Twitter spend that $22 million of taxpayer money on?

  21. “…the tax break provided much greater long term benefits to the city as a whole.”

    Such as? What did Twitter spend it on?

  22. Well, Ladd does seem to care about people who don’t live here yet. Unfortunately, it’s at the expense of those who already do.

  23. You can’t build your way out of the housing crisis, any more than you can drill your way out of peak oil. You just wind up destroying the quality of life in the end.

  24. At least Breed was honest when asked about Ron Conway’s patronage: “All of a sudden, I’m beholden to somebody.”

  25. $22 million won’t buy you much housing. It costs about $700K for each unit of subsidized affordable housing, so for that $22 million you’d only get about 25 homes. Affordable housing is important, but the tax break provided much greater long term benefits to the city as a whole.

  26. ah yes. You are well known as both a troll and a fool. It doesn’t matter if we’ve built some new buildings; what matters is how much we’ve built relative to the size of our working population. And in that regard, we haven’t really built much housing at all. A true geek would not find this difficult to understand.

  27. We is the area within the City and County of San Francisco. San Franciscans of all stripes need more housing. This is obvious and noncontroversial to pretty much everyone but the leftist dead-enders who visit 48Hills.

  28. I’m going to have to get my hands on another copy of SF POLITICS FOR DUMMIES, as I seem to have misplaced my copy (and my reflexive outrage)

  29. Also there were financial benefits that more than made up for the $22 million, as outlined by the controller.

    You gotta love progressives. THAT $22 million would have made all the difference.

    Just like the few hundred units that had been converted to AIrbnb units ‘eviscerated’ the housing market. The law of supply and demand doesn’t apply here EXCEPT when a few hundred units get converted to Airbnbs.

  30. who is the WE? Developers building market rate luxury towers? Does zip for anyone middle class or less-well off.

  31. “I hate helping others” because the money grows on trees?
    And thus, nothing. You have no argument, only reflexive scorn.

    This is the worst run large city in the country. A $10 billion + annual budget and the usual course of panic, hand-wringing, empty promises, corruption, fiscal mismanagement and incompetence will continue, regardless of who warms the mayor’s seat after the election….Political party affiliation, oh judgemental one? None.

    https://archives.sfweekly.com/sanfrancisco/the-worst-run-big-city-in-the-us/Content?oid=2175354&showFullText=true

  32. neither of which are free. They have to be paid for somehow, don’t they? Jane Kim clearly sees the “revenue sources” like some kind of magic chocolate fountain, just bring your spoon and tap into it.

  33. rotfl my foot. That $22 million would’ve been incinerated into the SFGov furnace, nor was it “missed”. The City & County spends that much in in less than 20 minutes with what to show for it?

  34. It is about 4 one hundredths of one percent of the city’s budget.

    Also, the Controller’s office published an extensive accounting of the financial impact on the city and it came out as a net positive. And they showed their work.

  35. ROTFL!!!! That $22 million could have built housing, improved school, hired police officers, or any number of other needed things.

  36. Funny how people like you only whine when taxes benefit those you look down. People need child care. AND affordable housing.

  37. SF added a small fraction of what Tokyo did as a function of population. SOMA is about to get the Central SOMA plan, which adds a massive number of jobs and little housing.

    Rezone the 72% of the city that is single family to multifamily, and we’ll see a fall in rents.

  38. Except, we added housing. Or have you not been to mid-Market? And SOMA? And Mission Bay? Dogpatch? Around the Ballpark?

  39. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent, it won’t be long before rent control disappears completely. And all the construction over the last few years have not lowered prices at all.

  40. They’ll be pushed out because the prices are so high that the Ellis act looks like a reasonable alternative. If we want to end displacement we need to add more housing regionally.

  41. And soon, those who having housing will be pushed out You think you can con people, but your colors are showing.

  42. I’m not yet sure if you are trolling or if you are just a fool. SF has built only a tiny amount of housing relative to our population growth. Teeny tiny. There’s not enough housing for most working and middle class people. Not even close. We need housing for everyone; over-focusing on low income housing is how progressives got us into a housing shortage in the first place.

  43. I’m surprised you did not whine due to fact you either have no kids or they are grown. And thus, you hate helping others. Must be a Republican

  44. Stop with the hyperbole and outright lying. Makes you look bad. Oh and kid, there will never be enough new housing units to touch the price. As it is there are plenty of available high end apartments to rent. We need more low income housing, not hi tech housing.

  45. So you only care if there is enough supply for you, not care about WHO can live here? I again feel you care only for yourself and your wants. Not the need of many who may not be as fortunate as you income wise.

  46. The rent control we have now works for them. Expanding it won’t work nearly as well as increasing supply.

  47. Not nearly enough. We’ve just moved along the same supply curve, instead of doing the things that would really bring down costs.

  48. You are wrong, young, and wrong. You only care about your needs, not those who would end up homeless if not for rent control.

  49. “Kim said that a rich city like San Francisco “has dozens of revenue sources. People don’t have to choose between child care and housing.””

    There’s no such thing as free child care, Jane…but I guess when one is spending other peoples money, one needn’t worry about such things, amirite?

  50. So you are asserting we have not added any housing in the past 7 years? Dude, hyperbole does not help a damned thing

  51. The tax break could save Twitter an estimated $22 million in taxes over six years. A company spokeswoman declined comment after the supervisors’ vote. (per the sfgate.com link)

    Still on about this nonsense years later? That’s basically the equivalent of SFGov finding change in the sofa.

  52. And then the newcomers to the city will find they can’t find any place to live. Rent control is a price cap, and doesn’t work. Building more homes does.

  53. The interests of those who are paying market rent are best served by those who want to protect and expand rent control.

  54. Basically,
    Breed is a tool of tech and developers.
    Leno and Kim are sell-out careerist politicians.
    Farrah Weiss is inexperienced.
    And Alioto’s just a washed up hack.

    And this is the best we can do?

  55. I also like the format. It keeps a lot of “pre-filled answers” – a.k.a.talking point spin for any subject – out of the mix.

    Not many surprises in the answers from each candidate knowing their history, and confirms my suspicions about London Bridge, Dead Lee’s protégé.

  56. Yes, this does finally sound like a real debate. I wonder if it will happen again, or if Breed has “learned a lesson” and will refuse to participate in the future.

  57. Love it when white liberals tell black people what they should think…that always works out well.

  58. You’re right: adding jobs without housing for the past 7 years has been terrible for the city. So why on earth do you push for more of the same?

  59. It’s encouraging that Leno now opposes 827, but I don’t like this mushiness. How could he “not have read the bill” before the first debate? He at least must have known that it takes decision power from cities. What mayor would agree with something like that without first studying it carefully? Leno knows very well that Wiener’s politics are from the opposite side to his own. Why wouldn’t he at least be skeptical of a bill of Wiener’s when he hadn’t studied it?

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