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News + PoliticsHousingChiu, Wiener attack 'left-right pincers' on housing

Chiu, Wiener attack ‘left-right pincers’ on housing

Legislators decry alliance between progressive housing activists and 'Nimby' homeowners.


On Tuesday, March 2, SPUR hosted an hourlong online conversation with Assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu and State Senator Scott Wiener. (Link to tape here.) My state senator, Nancy Skinner, was also on the program; but as is so often her wont on such occasions, she didn’t show up. The legislators covered a lot of territory: COVID, the state budget, homelessness, the Newsom recall, and housing. Most of the talk was unremarkable. It was only when they got to housing that the knives came out.

Scott Wiener and David Chiu at SF City Hall.

Their target was the allegedly illegitimate opposition to Toni Atkins’ so-called duplex bill, SB 9. Identical to Atkins’ SB 1120, which died in the 2020 Legislature at the midnight hour, SB 9 has no provisions for affordable housing. That lack has elicited some harsh criticism. Chiu and Wiener attacked the critics in terms that occasionally verged on the ludicrous. I read their tirades as a sign of political vulnerability.


Chiu led off:

“Let’s talk about the Nimbys, and by that I mean folks who tend to be upper middle-class, tend to be white, tend to be in suburban communities. They often are very clever at finding and building alliances with progressive activists of color who are legitimately concerned about gentrification—and what is typically a left-right pincer can be very challenging for the housing conversation. So I think it’s important to separate what the opposition is…and addressing what is legitimate…but also calling out the opposition that really isn’t based on anything but fear of the unknown, fear of the other, fear of changing the status quo.”

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to growth-machine operatives that people who own their homes are not all old, white, right-wing, and/or rich.

For example, San Francisco Sup. Shamann Walton, who represents a district with a high number of Black and Asian homeowners, has consistently opposed this sort of market-rate upzoning because he fears it will lead to displacement.

Chiu’s “left-right” characterization is itself bogus—a pathetic attempt to split the righteous opposition. And in Chiu’s view, opposition to SB 9 because it lacks affordability requirements is right-on, as long as it comes from the right people. As for the fear of change canard: What the past year has revealed is that the parties who really fear change are Chiu and his comrades. They desperately want to revive the insane growth of the past few years. Who’s afraid of change now? As Tim Redmond wrote in a lovely column, the present moment offers an opportunity to reimagine our home place along genuinely new lines.

But it was Wiener whose fulminations went wild. Like Chiu, Wiener said he respected “housing advocates” who want to see affordability in every project. By contrast,

“[i]t is really maddening when you see people who are clearly Nimbys—they just oppose all growth in their communities—communities that have little or no affordable housing for low-income people—all of a sudden they’re criticizing Toni Atkins’ duplex bill because it’s not about affordable housing. It’s a duplex. You don’t put subsidized affordable housing as a duplex. It doesn’t pencil out. You have to have a certain scale of density for affordable housing.”

The senator said the trigger is usually ten units. In Berkeley it’s five.

Then Wiener went over the rhetorical cliff:

“Probably about 98 percent of housing in California is market-rate housing—the home you live in, your single-family home, apartment or condo, is market-rate housing….Are you going to give up your own home, worth one or two million dollars, because you’re so opposed to market-rate housing”?”

Where to start?

California has an affordability crisis. If 98% of the state’s housing is market-rate, why would anybody want to encourage the construction of more of it?

I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t want to see any change. I’d appreciate Wiener and Chiu pointing out such a person.

As I reported last September, SB 1120 was not a duplex bill; neither is its identical twin, SB 9. SB 9 would allow by right—no public process—virtually all lots currently zoned for single-family housing in California to be split into two. As former League of California Cities staffer Dan Carrigg explains, when combined with state Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU—granny flats) law, SB 9 would allow the creation of six, eight, or possibly ten housing units where formerly only one was permitted.

So stop calling SB9 a duplex bill.

LA:  a political backwater?

The housing talk wasn’t all rants. Wiener said that the “biggest political challenge is in Los Angeles”—in his view, a political backwater whose “housing politics” are “ten years behind” the Bay Area. Ting explained: “What’s missing in Los Angeles,” he said, are the counterparts of SPUR, the Housing Action Coalition, the Bay Area Council, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

What Ting didn’t say: these business organizations formulate pro-growth policies, mobilize Bay Area elites to support those policies, hype a complicit media about those policies (how many times have you seen BAC’s Jim Wunderman or Matt Regan approvingly cited in the Chronicle?), and lobby sympathetic elected officials whom their members have recruited, mentored, and funded. That’s a big reason that so much of the new anti-democratic, market-friendly housing legislation comes from Bay Area legislators.

Ting contrasted the Bay Area with LA, where “business groups are involved a little bit.” The assemblymember said he hoped that the NorCal exemplars “can find business groups down there” who will follow their lead. Does that mean they’re doing missionary work?

One of the state legislators who voted No on SB 1120 was Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager, who represented LA’s 54th Assembly District. You can hear her explaining her vote here. I surmise that Kamlager is what Wiener had in mind when he referred to LA’s backward political culture. On Wednesday it was announced that Kamlager had been elected to the 30th State Senate District to replace LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell. She will be the only Black woman in the State Senate. Maybe it’s the Bay Area that’s behind the times.

On Wednesday it was also announced that Atkins had pulled SB 9 from the March 18 hearing for which it had originally been scheduled.

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  1. corporate donors must be treating them well if they’re so comfortable attacking broad segments of the voter base

  2. gorn, the answer to your question is obvious.

    Many people want to live in those new condos because they sell or rent at prices that are unobtainable on the west side.

    We build what people want, not what an armchair analyst thinks that they should want. We build where there is infrastructure, transport and demand.

  3. Why would we want to further upzone the east side, further enriching east side homeowners like me, given that previous east side upzonings have been such a failure, according to “plans?”

    Who wants to live in the Eastern SOMA condo desert or pin their hopes on winning a lottery unit in one of David Baker’s otherwise fine buildings, marred with colored tile that screams “institutional housing?”

  4. Don,

    I do not see much difference between a NIMBY who wants housing shortages to continue so that his property is worth more, and a NIMBY who wants housing shortages to continue so that his ‘hood is quieter and more leafy.

    I am actually fine with SFHs continuing to exist in SF. There is a place for them. So how about keeping the west-side as it is, while putting more density on the east-side, where the jobs, transit, freeways, ferries and capacity is?

  5. Tom, there are NIMBY homeowners, not all affluent, that want to preserve their quality of life, recognizing that up zoning will increase property values. Property values are not relevant unless you leave SF. Their are NIMBYs with children that want a single-family home in the City.

  6. Usually, such “pragmatic” neoliberals will recite the vacuous trope that if they’re pissing off people left and right, they’re probably doing the right thing. Interesting how they’ve been caught unaware that pissing people off left and right might bear downside political consequences for them and the speculative real estate interests they represent.

    As is usual for them, they’ll dutifully recite their ideological mantras, NIMBY are racist, SFH are racist, and then insult everyone who disagrees with them. Were it legal, Chiu and Wiener would block those who challenge YIMBY on social media like so many YIMBY do.

  7. gorn, what is more interesting to me is why you feel the need to invoke stereotypes in order to make an argument.

    Knowing that you are a white male yourself merely compounds the irony there.

  8. tom: nobody loses money betting that any given libertarian is a younger white male.

    It has been said that libertarianism is economic astrology for younger white males.

  9. Whoa, gorn, nice pivot to a race card there.

    Generally when all the other guy has is the “stale, pale and male” stereotype, then I know I have won the debate.

  10. tom: people act for a wide range of reasons other than enlightened self interest as is taught in classical economics classes. That is one reason why classical economics rarely describes current conditions nor predicts future outcomes.

    The right wing prejudice that everyone acts solely for economic self interest is largely reflective of how those white males view others as objects to be manipulated for the benefit of the conservative. it is as off base as the identitarian proposition that all members of a class deemed oppressed think and act the same.

  11. gorn, people act out of enlightened self-interest. If there were a housing subsidy available to me then I would take it, but of course there is not. This obsession with the provision of “affordable” (i.e. subsidized) housing is little more than a desire for someone else to pay for your lifestyle, AKA a free lunch,

    Again, what is the public policy imperative that is served by you having others pay part of your housing costs? Why is it so important that you are in SF rather than somewhere you can actually afford? And why does the city need people who would rather take than give?

  12. laners: “Vote them out. It’s been shown on paper that they are backed by developers.”

    The electoral “alternative” is likewise backed by developers. Progressive Democrats are a cruel, cruel bait and switch joke.

    tom: What you mean is that you will vote for a candidate who offers you subsidized housing

    Typical libertarian bullshit holds that humans are solely guided by narrow self interest that clashes with observed human nature where people care about community and others in addition to themselves. It must be sad moving through life concerned only with oneself.

  13. Laners writes: “We need better candidates. If they backed affordable housing I’d back them”

    All housing is affordable. Otherwise we would have a huge amount of vacant housing like they do in Detroit, where housing is very affordable but nobody wants it.

    What you mean is that you will vote for a candidate who offers you subsidized housing. In other words you want someone else to pay your rent or mortgage so you can stay in a city that you otherwise cannot afford.

    Please tell us voters and taxpayers why it is so important that you live in a town you cannot afford? Do you see me demanding a subsidy so I can live in Aspen? What is the public policy imperative that commands that you be bribed to be here?

  14. Vote them out. It’s been shown on paper that they are backed by developers. We need better candidates. If they backed affordable housing I’d back them but that’s not what is happening. It’s all market rate housing and they complain that Nimby’s hate poor people. It’s ridiculous.

  15. On March 3, Farhad Manjoo wrote an Op-Ed piece for the NYT entitled “How Berkeley Beat Back NIMBYS” using the ever-to-familiar tactic of the YIMBYS of smearing NIMBYS with the racist label and linking such people to the exclusionary zoning and redlining of the C20th.

    For the first time ever in my 30 years or so of subscribing to the NYT I made a comment, and I also emailed the author directly as follows: “I would also note that at age 38 you seem to own a house on 132 Minaret Avenue in Mountain View valued at almost $2 million in an area that is very likely zoned for single family housing!!!

  16. Tom, the problem with your theory that SF businesses should pay for SF housing is simple. In normal times about half a million people commute into SF from other counties. Those other counties are massively subsidizing SF by housing our workers. The number who live in SF but work outside SF is significant but still much smaller.

    It is not realistic to ask SF businesses to pay more tax when half their workers do not live in SF. In fact there should be a housing policy for the entire Bay Area, and not have different cities and counties playing beggar-thy neighbors. Chui and Weiner are thinking much bigger.

    And why does all new housing have to be “affordable” Do you not want successful people to be housed as well? The reality is that all housing is affordable to someone, which is why vacancy rates are typically very low.

  17. Maybe the reason why LA’s delegation in Sacramento does not push developer friendly bills is because there is an independent grassroots progressive movement there that is not a creature of the Democrat patronage machine. With no credible threats from below and to the left, Chiu and Wiener have a free hand.

  18. Poor Chiu and Wiener. They find themselves out of the corruption hothouse that is San Francisco, and the best they can do is to call their opponents names, in front of a crowd of sycophants.

  19. Tim, you’re too kind to tom. You’re not any kind of NIMBY. I’ve read a number of articles of yours in the old SFBG about actual NIMBYs, the people who wouldn’t want halfway houses or social services in their neighborhoods. It’s too bad they’ve taken that term away from where it is actually warranted.

  20. What about people who think that growth should pay for growth, to quote Tom Radulovich at Livable City — and that means new office developments should pay for the housing they need for their workforce (at all levels, as Wiener likes to say)? What about people who are happy to have more density in their neighborhoods (like me) but don’t see the private market as capable of every creating affordable housing?

  21. YIMBY self describe as such.

    NIMBY is a straw person erected by YIMBY and all boosters to describe anyone who does not support their various schemes.

    If duplexes can’t subsidize affordable housing and pencil out, then duplexes are not going to be producing housing in sufficient quantities to push down price, which is what Wiener and Chiu claim this is all about.

  22. There are two kinds of NIMBY.

    The first is the affluent homeowner who wishes to preserve the value of his or her home by seeking to restrict development in the locality, out of a belief that greater density and more traffic will lower their property value.

    The second is the ideological NIMBY who typically denies being a NIMBY at all, but basically wants to build new housing only for people in the same social and economic class as themselves, which is usually low-wage or no-wage renter.

    Of course, many of the first group masquerade as the second group. How many housing activists and advocates do we know who own $2 million homes in SF and want to keep it that way? More than a few whom I could name check, but won’t.

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