The Board of Supes today – under intense pressure from the mayor — refused to put a measure to create a Homelessness Commission on the November ballot.
Several of the progressive supervisors went along with Mayor Breed’s effort to delay the measure until March – giving her more time to defuse or kill it.
The mayor, I am told by reliable sources, went all out on this one, calling homeless service providers and supervisors. She didn’t want a commission that she couldn’t control – and the plan by Sup. Matt Haney was to spit the appointments, with three coming from the mayor, three from the supes, and one from the city controller.
All of the homeless service providers supported the idea. All of the advocates supported it. The three supervisors who together represent the districts with 80 percent of the homeless population of the city supported it.
The only organized opposition was from the mayor, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Housing Action Coalition, which supports unlimited market-rate housing development.
The Chamber argued that there was no need for an oversight commission – when they had opposed Prop. C on the grounds that there wasn’t enough oversight of homeless spending.
That’s the same argument Mayor Breed made against Prop. C.
“I was livid at the Chamber,” Bevan Dufty, former supervisor and homeless director under Mayor Ed Lee, told me. “I did not think they had the moral high ground to oppose Prop. C, and then to oppose this.”
Dufty, who is now on the BART Board, strongly supported Haney’s proposal.
He told me he was “genuinely surprised” that the measure didn’t pass.
The vote was an indication that when the mayor is pushing her agenda – and some of the supervisors take the position that everything at City Hall should be about consensus and getting along – the progressive majority on the board doesn’t always hold.
Breed started the process by using her monthly appearance before the board to single out every supervisor and talk about how well things worked when everyone worked together. Behind the scenes, she was working to make sure that this proposal died.
Board President Norman Yee made the motion to put the vote off until March. He was supported by Sups. Sandra Lee Fewer and Rafael Mandelman.
Fewer made a speech saying she supported the idea and would defer to the three supes whose districts have the most severe homeless problems – Hillary Ronen, Haney, and Shamann Walton.
But then she voted in favor of the delay, which means it won’t be on the November ballot.
“I am disappointed that a majority of my colleagues were not supportive of increased accountability for the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing,” Haney said. “There was very strong opposition from the Mayor’s Office and I think that heavily influenced the board’s decision today.
“We’ve got a crisis on our streets and a crisis of accountability at City Hall. This commission is a real solution, and I believe the voters will support it when it makes it to the ballot.”
The opposition from Yee and Mandelman, who argued that the makeup of the commission was a problem, was a bit annoying to Haney. He said at the meeting that he had been working on this for month, with all of the stakeholders. There were committee hearings. There were all sorts of amendments. “I wish I had heard these concerns earlier,” he said.
Mandelman said that he wanted to see the mayor making a majority of the appointments, so that office could be held accountable. “I know who is accountable now,” he said. “Jeff Kositsky (the head of the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing) and London Breed.”
Haney argued that the supervisors are also accountable for addressing homelessness issues.
In fact, Ronen read a selection of emails from constituents complaining not only about homeless encampments in the district – but saying that Kositisky’s department has been unresponsive.
“I tried to get a navigation center in the mission, and Jeff Kostisky said no,” she said. “I had to go directly to the mayor. I jammed it through. I asked if we could do something about people living in RVs; the department said ‘that’s not something we are working on.’”
She said the commission would give the public a place to go to bring concerns that the department wasn’t addressing.
“I don’t know what else I can do,” she said. “I have done everything I can think of. This is a well-thought-out policy idea.”
Haney pointed out that there is no other city department with a budget of more than $10 million that lacks an oversight commission.
But Yee said he “needed more time” to think about amendments. Mandelman said he would be “grateful for more time.” Ronen said “I don’t know what else there is to talk about; we need to act with urgency.” Walton added: “More time and crisis don’t fit together.”
In the end, this was about the mayor wanting to prevent a ballot measure that she would have a hard time opposing (who would be against more accountability for homeless policy?) and some of the supes not wanting to fight with her.
Haney said the measure isn’t going away – and neither is the basic issue. “I’m not going to change it to 4-3 in favor of the mayor,” he said about the makeup of the commission.
So at some point, the board is going to have to stand up and say: No, we can’t have consensus on everything. No, we can’t always all get along when there are critical policy issues where the mayor is on the wrong side.
In the end, though, if the progressives can hang together and make this happen in March, when the presidential primary on the ballot will bring out more voters than the lower-profile November election, it may be a win.