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City HallThe AgendaSupes push back on state-mandated housing disaster

Supes push back on state-mandated housing disaster

Plus: An honest discussion about the cops and budget priorities. That's The Agenda for Nov. 26 to Dec. 3

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The mayor’s housing bill is back at the Board of Supes this week, with a potential state deadline that the administration of Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to use to force his onetime hometown to give private for-profit developers greater profits.

That’s happening even though everyone who has looked at the issue seriously agrees that the goals Newsom has set are simply impossible.

So the Land Use and Transportation Committee will consider, and then the full board will have a chance to approve, a poorly drafted, ramshackle piece of legislation that nearly every community-based tenant organization opposes and that could allow the demolition of rent-controlled apartments.

Sup. Connie Chan wants to push back on the state’s impossible rules

If the supes don’t approve it, Newsom’s Department of Housing and Community Development will seek to revoke the city’s Housing Element, revoke the city’s authority over land use, and let developers build anything they want.

That’s thanks to State Sen. Scott Wiener, who wrote the bill that creates this utter fiasco. No matter what the city does, even City Economist Ted Egan (who is hardly a leftist) agrees that the private market is not going to create the number of units Newsom is mandating.

Instead, developers will tear down existing housing, including historic Victorians that can never be replaced, and build new, cheap, ugly stuff that will rent or sell at rates that most San Franciscans who need housing can’t afford anyway.

Or else they won’t, because nobody is financing new housing today. That has nothing to do with “constraints” in San Francisco and everything to do with interest rates.

Sups. Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan are asking the city attorney and the city’s lobbyist (yes, San Francisco hires and pays a lobbyist in Sacramento) to ask not only for a deadline extension but for some recognition that the major problem in the city is a lack of affordable (non-market) housing.

From their resolution:

San Francisco will not be able to achieve its 2023-2031 affordable housing production goals with a singular focus on private development policies and practices, and without sufficient measures to address racial equity, fair housing practices, affordability, and displacement, HCD’s singular focus on efforts to streamline market rate development may even exacerbate our affordability crisis … The deadlines imposed by the “Policy and Practice Review” do not consider or accommodate the City’s obligation to consider and address in the drafting and implementation of new policies the potential adverse impacts its requirements would impose on the urgent need to preserve and enhance existing rent-controlled housing, the retention of neighborhood small businesses, job opportunities and the workforce represented by organized labor, communities at greater risk and disproportionately impacted by displacement, particularly Black, Indigenous and people of color, and other critical needs of San Francisco’s residents.

The resolution also notes that in San Jose, the “Builders Remedy” the state wants is actually leading to fewer, not more, housing units. (This is a huge story that the Chron and the Yimbys have largely ignored.)

Peskin and Chan are also, possibly, setting the table for a lawsuit (although City Attorney David Chiu is a longtime Yimby and might not go along):

San Francisco is a Charter City with authority over municipal affairs, with the power to take local action, as long as the action is not inconsistent with the city’s charter or the California or United States Constitutions, and even if the subject matter may be at odds with a state statute or if the subject matter is of statewide concern, in which case state law must be reasonably related and narrowly tailored to address that statewide concern.

The Council of Comminity Housing Organizations, the Race and Equity in All Planning Coalition, and the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition are supporting the Peskin-Chan approach and oppose the mayor’s proposal:

Together, our coalitions represent nearly 90 community-based organizations that have played critical roles for decades in innovating affordable housing, tenant rights, and anti-displacement policies in San Francisco. As coalitions deeply committed to moving forward solutions and investments to address fair housing, racial and social equity, affordability, and displacement, we are deeply concerned that HCD’s PPR will further jeopardize our city’s ability to meet its affordability goals and move our City out of compliance with its obligations to Affirmatively Further Fair Housing. HCD, through its Policy and Practice Review (PPR) seeks to usurp the City’s own legislative authority while imposing time frames for moving legislation that are out of sync with the process for that legislation. For instance, as San Francisco Planning Department staff stated at the October 30 Land Use Committee, the Mayor’s staff is still drafting a new set of amendments to the Mayor’s streamlining legislation. Those amendments will be introduced at the November 27 Land Use Committee hearing, yet HCD’s PPR sets a deadline for the Mayor’s legislation to be finally passed by November 24. Another example is the “charter amendment” that HCD’s PPR demands that the City pass by January, 2024, yet charter amendments must go to the voters as ballot measures, and there is no election cycle in January.

So what do the supes do? Pass a bill that makes no sense and will only make the affordable housing crisis worse, or defy the state and risk losing all control over local land use?

The Land Use and Transportation Committee meets Monday/27 at 1:30 pm.

Sup. Matt Dorsey is a career public-relations person who knows how to find a good line and push it for political advantage. That’s what PR folks and political consultants do. Dorsey was an expert. He used to work for the San Francisco Police Department, doing copaganda like this.

But now he’s an elected official, and he’s doing the same thing: He’s created this concept of a “cop tax” to attack his colleagues who think that the city should find a way to pay for things before locking them into the City Charter.

Dorsey wants to guarantee money to hire more cops, including huge signing bonuses to lure trained officers away from other departments (since, as Sup. Shamann Walton points out, the real problem is that the department, which is fully funded, can’t fill Police Academy classes.)

The problem, of course, is that the city is facing a massive budget deficit, which will get way worse as property taxes and sales taxes from downtown continue to crater.

So let’s be honest: What the Dorsey proposal said was that cops are more important than anything else the city funds. More important, for example, than the 911 call center, which is radically underfunded, or the mental health system, or San Francisco General Hospital, or affordable housing, or drug treatment, or the Fire Department, or any of the other things that are part of the overall public-safety picture.

Fair enough, if that’s what he wants to say. I texted him more than a week ago a simple question: If you think the cops should have more money, and there isn’t any more money in the budget, what should the city cut instead?

He has not answered.

And there is no easy answer. Budgets are a statement of priorities. You can decide to fund one service and not another—or you can decide, if there’s not enough for everything, to raise taxes and bring in more money. Then you have to decide who pays those taxes.

But you can’t magically mandate $300 million for the cops and not discuss whether that means cuts somewhere else or new revenue.

The amendment that Sup. Ahsha Safai introduced, which is now part of the measure, doesn’t call for a “cop tax.” It just says that the city will set minimum spending for the Police Department if and when the supes either find new revenue, or redirect existing revenue.

I’m going to set aside for the moment the much larger question of whether more cops on the street actually reduces crime. But even if we assume that’s a good goal, let’s have an honest discussion.

Dorsey says a fully funded Police Department should be a basic public service, guaranteed as part of the existing tax base. So, I would argue, should a public hospital with enough beds for everyone with serious mental illness, and affordable housing for everyone who is living on the streets, and a functional public transportation system, and a public school system that provides a quality education for all kids. I could add to the list.

I could also argue that a city with 84 billionaires should be able to afford all of these things with a fair progressive tax structure.

But that’s not the media debate. It’s about a “cop tax.” Dorsey is a pro at political spin, but the news media should know better.

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
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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