Building momentum and the Women’s March

Plus: Newsom's got the housing crisis all wrong -- and SF negotiates with PG&E over CLeanPowerSF. That's The Agenda for Jan 21-28.

The New York Times spent a lot of time talking about the “controversy” around this weekend’s Women’s March. The march was “smaller;”maybe there’s a “waning of interest.”

That’s not how people felt in San Francisco, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi walked – walked – in the middle of the group, along with local Democratic Party Chair David Campos.

DCCC Chair David Campos and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Campos photo from Facebook.

More important, I think, is this essay by Alicia Garza at USA today:

As a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network and a longtime community organizer, I know firsthand what happens to successful and impactful social movements — those who are afraid that those social movements will usurp their unearned power, wage deceitful campaigns to try and undermine them. The Women’s March is no different — it has been demonized, and there have been those who have tried to detract this powerful organizing vehicle from its purpose — to make women powerful in every aspect of our lives.

We know that movements are not perfect, that they are deeply flawed because the people who comprise the core of social movements are themselves in a process of being transformed. We are reflections of the world we live in, and our desire for a new one doesn’t automatically mean we are successful in shedding the problematic aspects of the current one.

Today, in part because of the Women’s March and, in part, because of the incredible organizing and activism that preceded it and that follows it, women are building momentum, we are taking power and we are learning how to transform it. And that is how social movements work. We learn together, we cry together, we struggle together, we work together, we reach for one another, over and over again, because we deserve to be powerful, together.

Photo by Eric Weaver

Thanks, Alicia, for putting the mainstream news in perspective.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest “bold move” (and we in San Francisco have seen many of these that never amounted to anything) is to link gas-tax money for cities to the somewhat random housing goals the state has set for local government.

It’s hard to dispute that some cities have failed to allow any increased housing density. Cupertino was happy to allow Apple to build a new campus for 20,000 workers, while insisting on remaining a city with a limited number of single-family houses. In essence, Peninsula suburban cities have outsourced their housing problems to San Francisco.

But there’s another solution to that: Just link commercial office development to housing. Instead of responding entirely to the supply issue, look at demand: If you’re a city that wants the prestige and tax revenue of a new tech campus, then you have to be willing to rezone your city to allow a lot more housing. If not? Fine – Apple can build its new campus somewhere else.

But there’s a more deep, fundamental problem with what Newsom is proposing, and it goes back to his entire history as San Francisco mayor. Newsom tried repeatedly to privatize city services, to let private business take over government. It was pretty much an unequivocal failure.

Now Newsom, with the support of state Sen. Scott Wiener, wants to pave the way for private developers to solve the housing crisis.

See, cities don’t build housing. Developers build housing. And guess what? We have clear evidence in San Francisco that developers only build when the speculative capital market gives them enough return. It’s not the Nimbys who are causing a slowdown in the local housing market; it’s the investors.

So why should San Francisco lose money it needs to support Muni (to deal with demand that office growth has created) just because the international capital markets have decided they aren’t as interested in building luxury condos here?

How about the Guv takes some of the vast resources of the state (money that’s come in thanks in part to the tech boom) to start building public-sector housing?

He could link transportation funding to cities agreeing to accept dense social housing – and make sure that there’s transit available to support the new residents.

But Newsom has always been a private-sector guy. This is just the latest example, and not a good sign for the future of his administration.

The Budget and Finance Committee meets Thursday/24 and among the agenda items is a $20 million contract with PG&E to provide services to CleanPowerSF. The problem: PG&E is about to file for bankruptcy.

Sandra Lee Fewer, who chairs the committee, told me that she continued the item because it was “a retroactive contact first written in November … if PG&E wants to declare bankruptcy [the SFPUC] wants to be sure their contract is in place. There are all these assurances from PG&E, but they are all verbal, so my question was, do we need to strengthen our language for our contract so we don’t lose out on the money. I will meet with the city attorney and the PUC this week.”

Also on Thursday/24: The Planning Commission meets to talk about its 2019 budget, and the associated documents tell an important story.

A full 80 percent of the department’s $52 million budget comes from “charges for services.” Only $5.8 million – about ten percent – comes from the city’s General Fund.

What does that tell you? That the department is dependent on developers who want to build projects to pay its staff. (Most of the budget, $39 million, goes to salaries and benefits.)

That fits with longtime planning critic John Elberling’s chief complaint: The role of the department isn’t really planning; it’s expediting development.