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News + PoliticsHousingLandlords try to trick voters with anti-tax mailers on Props M and...

Landlords try to trick voters with anti-tax mailers on Props M and O

Cynical campaign exploits very real economic fears in an effort to protect the big real-estate interests.


The stack of mail on my desk is growing by the day. That’s because I save all the political mailers that come to my household, which now has four registered voters, two male, two female, two 60 or over, two 25 or younger. All of us vote in every election. So we fit a wide range of targets. We get a lot of mail.

One of the pieces that arrived a few days ago features someone named “Lily,” who is described only as an “SF Resident.” The says: “I’m working hard to live within my budget, and the city should too. Now is not the time to raise taxes.”

It shows the strategy that the big landlords are using to attack measures that would save City College and impose taxes on vacant apartments in the city.

I don’t know who Lily is, but unless she owns a lot of large commercial or residential buildings—in which case she probably isn’t working all that hard to live within her budget—she isn’t going to paying much in the way of new taxes.

In fact, unless she owns a residential building with more than three units and has kept one of those units off the market for more than a year, for now good reason, she won’t pay any taxes at all under Prop. M.

And if she’s a homeowner (and let’s be honest, most homeowners in San Francisco, including me, benefit greatly from Prop. 13 and pay low property taxes) she’s going to pay exactly $150 more a year. That’s $12.50 a month. If she’s a tenant, and her landlord passes the tax on, it’s $75 a year, at most.

The mailer says that more taxes “will just make it more expensive for all of us to live here.” Not these taxes.

And this to save one of the most important institutions in San Francisco, a place that provides not only free education to young people who want a degree but offers job training, ESL, and so much more and has been the path to a better future for generations of immigrants.

This entire campaign is funded by big landlords.

-A Chinese-language mailer exploits very real fears, advocates say.

At a rally Oct. 25 in Chinatown, a coalition of Chinese community leaders denounced the mailers as misleading.

Angela Zhou, a leader from Chinese Progressive Association, said:

Many of us immigrated to the United States and our native language is not English. For us to have an easier life in the U.S, we rely on CCSF for the opportunities CCSF gives to learn the English language. We shouldn’t sacrifice education for our communities during a pandemic. In fact, we need to invest more in education for all of our communities in San Francisco to recover. Passing Prop O will bring back all the classes we lost in the past few years. This is so everyone can have the opportunity to learn basic English, find good jobs, and allow our families to live and prosper.

Sally Chen, education equity program manager at Chinese for Affirmative Action, told me that the landlord-funded ads are “playing on very specific fears of the Chinese American community. Asian Americans, particularly seniors, are struggling with the increased cost of living, and this is a very real issue that is being exploited by real-estate investors.”

Angela Zhou talks about the importance of City College and the misleading mailers at an Oct. 25 rally. Courtesy photo.

She noted the ads “don’t even mention City College.” The don’t mention the 60,000 vacant apartments that are driving up the cost of housing for San Francisco families, either.

I don’t know if an anti-tax campaign works in San Francisco right now. But Prop. O and Prop. M need 50 percent plus one, and they’re at the bottom of the ballot. The landlords are figuring a lot of people won’t get that far, and the ones that do will be open to their message.

In a world of cynical campaigning, this is near the top.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

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.

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