THE AGENDA The Board of Supes will vote Tuesday/3 on a watered-down resolution kinda, sorta, opposing state Sen. Scott Wiener’s latest real-estate bill, SB 827.
Sup. Aaron Peskin proposed that the board put the city on record seeking the defeat of the bill, which would allow developers to build massive amounts of new luxury housing without giving cities any ability to recapture the vast new wealth that would be bestowed on property owners.
But in committee, Peskin accepted an amendment by Sup. Katy Tang, so the bill now just calls for the bill to be amended.
The list of amendments that the bill would need to be acceptable to Peskin and a lot of other opponents is so extensive that it might not be possible for Wiener to get there. Wiener would have to give cities some extraordinary taxing authority to make sure that the property owners whose land would double, triple, quadruple or more in value with the massive upzoning would have to share with the city. He’d have to figure out a way to encourage cities to expand transit – even thought that would automatically trigger upzoning. He’d have to replace somehow the community imput that has created far better development with more community benefits. I suspect he’s not going to do that.
The supes will also hold a joint meeting with the Ethics Commission and consider two versions of a law that would tighten a lot of campaign-finance rules – and create problems for local nonprofits.
Most of the legislation has widespread support – except for a few provision that would actually impact small donors:
The challenge in this legislation, several supervisors and members of the public noted, is to find a way to tighten the rules without discouraging small donors, driving more money to superPACs, and harming nonprofits that are already going to be scrambling under a Trump tax plan that removes a major incentive for people to donate to charities.
“The idea that everyone who gives $15 has to sign an affidavit that they understand the law, people will say no,” Peskin noted.
It’s not a new problem: When the laws around campaign finance get more complicated, the big donors and the well-funded candidates do just fine; they can pay for legal help. If the rules don’t make sense in the real world of campaigns, then they have the opposite effect of what’s intended.
Then there’s the nonprofit issue. As we noted:
One of the areas that has created the most conflict is the concept of “behested payments.” There’s plenty of room for abuse: Mayor Lee, for example, asked a lot of big players to give money to his pet causes (the Super Bowl, the America’s Cup) and that could give them access and influence at City Hall.
At the same time, local officials sometimes show up at fundraisers for legitimate community-based organizations and ask the crowd to kick in money.
It’s one of those gray areas that exist in a world where it’s impossible to do real campaign-finance reform (which would require overturning Buckley v Valeo and Citizens United and allowing limits on all political spending and full public financing of campaigns).
The supes have already passed new rules on disclosure of behested contributions; they have had, as Peskin noted, “31 days to work.”
Calvin Welch, a longtime housing advocate, told the committee that “there is a theory among some Ethics Commission members that at the very heart of public corruption in San Francisco is nonprofits.”
Kathie Lowry, who is on the board of Larkin Street Youth Centers, said that often public officials come to the group’s fundraisers and exhort the people in attendance to chip in money. Under the new rules, if fewer than 50 people are present, the official and all the donors would need to file reports.
Nonprofits that do social service work are going to have a tough year anyway: By some accounts, the Turmp tax bill, which increases the standard deduction, will reduce dramatically the number of people who will donate to charities and get a tax write-off. As much as $20 billion in charitable giving could be at risk.
Larry Bush, a member of Friends of Ethics, said that of $25 million in behested payments his group has tracked, “almost none went to nonprofits that provide human services.” The money went to things like the Super Bowl and America’s Cup committees.
Ben Becker, a member of the SF Berniecrats, said that “no citizens who are not affiliated with a nonprofit spoke against this. In SF, one hand washes the other.”
Which gets into some of the real tricky business here. There are nonprofits – and there are nonprofits, just as there are corporations – and there are corporations.
The Ethics Commission has the ability, with four of the five members in agreement, to place a measure directly on the ballot. It’s too late for June, but this could be an issue in November – unless the supes and the Ethics Commission can figure out a way to resolve the issues.
Peskin has a version of the legislation that is a bit easier on behested payments; the Ethics Commission version is also before the board.
The San Francisco Police Commission meets Wednesday/4, and on the agenda is a resolution by the Youth Commission that directly takes on the criminal justice system and urges dramatic reforms in the way the city deals with Transitional Aged Youth.
I’m not so sure the Police Commission will go along with this, but at least the Youth Commission is raising the issues.