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ElectionsCampaign TrailWhat the March election really meant—and where the city goes from here

What the March election really meant—and where the city goes from here

Big tech money and low progressive turnout carried the day—but what if there's a real mayor's race in November?

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“There is a difference between Republicans and Democrats. Republicans move people around while Democrats move money around”.

         Joe Evakovitch, Local 261 Laborers Union

“Its just more stupid California money”

         Beth Dutton (Kelly Reilly),” Yellowstone”

We were in for an odd night of election returns when the first batch showed that State Senator Scott Wiener was leading President Joe Biden by some 3,000 votes. As the votes continued to be counted, that margin increased to 10,000 votes, with all but the provisional votes counted.

One side of San Francisco turned out to the March 12 election—the wealthy side of town. While citywide turnout will be right at 47 percent, a closer look shows how uneven the turnout was: 61percent turnout in Glen Park, 60 percent turnout in the Castro, 59 percent in Noe Valley, 56 percent in West Portal and St. Francis Wood. But only 29 percent turnout in Bayview, 32 percent in Chinatown, 32 percent in the Outer Mission, 34 percent in the Tenderloin, 36 percent in the Excelsior.

If Peskin runs for mayor, he and Breed will offer very different visions for the city. Here, they celebrate together the win of the affordable housing bond.

The overwhelming political money that poured into this campaign, more than $11 million, came from one side: the tech/real estate coalition. It flowed in an effort to defeat two judges, pass three deeply cynical ballot measures and elect a slate of candidates to the Democratic Party committed to the policies of displacement so favored by their funders.

Let us make no misstate here. No one who looked at the actual measures believed that giving the police more power (E), allowing the Board of Supervisors to reduce taxes approved by the people (C) and forcing poor people to do drug tests (F) would, in fact, even work, let alone address the city’s problems. They were aimed to drive turnout in the more conservative parts of San Francisco in hopes of defeating two “soft on crime” judges and electing a slate of compliant Democratic County Central Committee members.

With no real suspense driving the presidential race, and a growing hostility to Biden’s Gaza War policy with left/liberal voters, the stage was set for a “moderate sweep.”

Even with all that in their favor the tech/real estate coalition blew the judges race and. The tax cuts for wealthy tech real estate investors as a result of C will have no major impact, s the Controller Report shows), and it seems that the drug testing gambit will be locked up in negotiations with city employee unions who claim it is a violation of their memorandum of understanding with the city as no new positions or training is part of the measure. And lets see how safe San Franciscans feel after the first, second or third high-speed-chase kills innocent folks caught in the middle.

The essential meaninglessness of these measures, aimed only at short-term turnout, did not really help Mayor London Breeds chances of turning around the city to bolster her re- election efforts.

Indeed, she and her staff have shown an inability to chart a separate and independent course from the real estate/tech backers. It’s not clear how many of the real estate/tech allies now on the county committee will continue to stick with her when their backers decide that she can’t win and it’s time to switch to another candidate, one that, perhaps, looks more like them: wealthy men.

Handing over the local Democratic Party to corporate interests is not good for Democrats, not locally, not at the state level and not nationally. Indeed, it seems that the national Democratic Party understands this better than does the Newsom and Breed wings of the parity. The Democrats at the national level understand that they cannot defeat Trump without the full-throated support of working and poor people. Newsom and Breed are moving in the exact opposite direction, embracing, indeed becoming captive to big tech money.

Biden’s people are struggling with the fact that while the measurable economy is improving, working and poor people don’t see the economy in the same light. They have slowly realized that there are two economies in the US, one for the well off and one for all the rest. The race for president will be determined by how fast the Biden national Democrats can bridge that gap, provide policies and programs that actually help every day people living in the real economy.

One of the major disconnects in the gap between how millions of Americans view the economy and the economic statistics which all trend positive is the cost of housing. In every major survey and poll that ask the question, the overwhelming opinion across the nation (indeed, it seems to be true in Europe as well) massive numbers complain that housing is simply too expensive.

In every region of the nation where there is a functioning economy, north, south, east, or west, housing costs, that is affordability, is a major problem.

Yet there is no national program to address it. The federal Housing and Urban Development budget for affordable housing constriction has been cut by every President, Democrat and Republican, since Jimmy Carter. We actually have a national law prohibiting the construction of new public housing. We have handed housing nearly totally over to the private sector.

The failure of housing affordability, then, is a failure of the private housing market. The unequal distribution of income has made it profitable to simply price out a growing sector of Americans from the market as the richer portions of that market, including international investors seeking safe havens for their money, can still provide enough profit to make developing housing only for the rich a “successful business model.”

Biden’s people have recognized this fact and has started addressing it in its 2025 budget. Some $35 billion in totally new affordable housing proposals have been included in that budget, funding for the development of new public housing, dramatically increasing project based Section 8 (used as a development subsidy for affordable housing development, not a portable voucher, which doesn’t work) and the creation of a $20 billion program aimed at increasing the production of affordable housing production (Biden budget).

These programs are aimed at specifically providing direct subsidies for affordable housing production, not only a program of of “market stimulation” as favored by Newsom and Breed.

Newsom and Breed continue to pay only lip service to affordable housing, and instead push policies that, in Yimby talk, “provide housing for all income groups”—but that, it turns out, is market-rate housing.  

By definition an affordable housing crisis cannot be solved by the market for the simple reason that the folks needing the housing are simply priced out of the market. Yet, each has embraced the simple minded Yimby model: more market-rate housing in ever higher buildings covering more and more of the state and the city.

Newsom and Breed insist that cutting approval “red tape,” including required affordable housing, denying public participation, pushing aside environmental concerns, creating and then giving state “density bonuses” for ever more market-rate housing will, through the “magic of the market place” result, over time, in more affordable housing.

Central to this formulation is the concept of “filtering” the notion invented by academic economists that, as the federal mortgage agency Freddie Mac says in a recent study on housing filtering rates “the process by which properties, as they age…tend to be occupied by lower income households [and] is the primary mechanism…markets supply low-income housing.”

The study found that “filtering rates” varied by geography and the local areas income. In some areas filtering rate go up, not down when household income increases. This is especially true in California as the chart from the study shows:

The Yimby argument is that filtering works only in one direction, down. As thousands of new market-rate units are created in ever more dense developments, the Yimbys argue, “over time” existing housing, as it ages, will become more affordable as wealthy folks move out into the new, market rate units.  

Newsom and Breed parrot that line and transform it into government policy, arguing that approving dense, market-rate housing development will, over time, lower housing costs.

Facts revealed in the study show that filtering rates also increase.  Instead of going down in San Francisco (and five other California cities) they go up, by about 0.7 percent every year. Producing more market rate units will, overtime, continually increase housing costs, not lower them. It’s simply how the market works, says the researchers at Freddie Mac, in high income markets like San Francisco. And that has been the San Francisco experience.

The open embrace of the market and the failure to provide government policies that address affordability is driving more working class and low income people away from the Democratic Party, creating a real problem. Some Democrats seem to understand that, and are moving to address that issue by proposing a more active role for government to addressing housing affordability. In some small way such a move was on display in the vote for the US Senate here in San Francisco.

A surprising outcome was how poorly Katie Porter did here against Adam Schiff. Porter was strongly supported by Wiener and nearly the entire Yimby delegation in Sacramento. She was supported by the Chronicle over Schiff in part because of her housing position.

Schiff was supported by Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan.  If you compare the housing positions of both candidates it is clear that Schiff stressed government action to address the affordable housing crisis, including funding for community based non-profits ( see Schiff housing position ) when compared to Porter’s position which was, frankly, warmed over Yimbyism (Porters housing position).

Certainly voters in the low turnout areas of the city took notice, giving Schiff a larger vote than Porter in the Bayview, OMI, and the Tenderloin, and an outright victory in the Outer Mission, Excelsior and Chinatown.

It is worth noting that the one measure supported in all but the most reactionary areas of the city was the affordable housing bond which garnered some 155,000 votes, more votes than props C, E and F, Wiener and Biden got. San Francisco was the first city in the state to use general obligation bonds to tax itself to build affordable housing when it first passed a $100 million bond, devised and drafted by the Council of Community Housing Organizations, in 1996. That’s a progressive idea still overwhelmingly favored by voters in a city that both the Chronicle and Standard declared officially no longer progressive.

It now appears likely that Aaron Peskin will run for mayor, giving the voters a real choice. Make no mistake, Peskin will be roundly attacked by the tech/real estate coalition and the three “moderates” seeking its support in the race.

The attack will center on Peskin’s opposition to development schemes that tend to destroy neighborhoods and displace neighborhood-serving small businesses and existing residents, for which he has a long and multi-faceted record. These various schemes will be lumped together and disguised as “anti-housing” by the his opponents, and Peskin will be made to be “anti-housing” just as the media defines Yimbys as being “pro-housing,” even though their polices call for the demolition of thousands of units of existing housing and the displacement of current residents now in the way of their high-rise towers.

What the March election shows is the arrival in San Francisco politics of the oligarchs. What is observable in Poland, Hungary, and Russia is now observable here. Once only interested in creating economic monopolies and amassing more cash for themselves we now see the tech titans—Tan, Moritz, Larson, Sacks, Oberndorf, Raj, Conway—demanding direct control of government, pushing not simply self serving policies but anti-democratic policies and programs.

Who designed Proposition E, which undercuts the mayor’s own Police Commission and gives to the police bureaucracy final say policies without reference to the public? Who pushed for Proposition F, which made policy the dangerously flawed notion that an understaffed city staff could take on a huge new job with no input from the folks who are now supposed to implement it? Was this a well thought out program carried out by the mayors staff? Or was simply presented to the mayor, complete with promises of all the money needed to wage a campaign?

It has the ring of the Moritz-funded “Fentalife!” campaign, or the Tan funded School Board recall: angry, frightened, wrong, and well-funded. In each case, these efforts attacked not just policy, but the government, seeking to delegitimize it.  

Indeed, they really had no alternative policy to offer. Indeed, what characterizes the efforts of our junior oligarchs is the contempt they have for popular democracy, or, more to the point, to democracy as practiced here in San Francisco by the current residents.

There are three petitions now circulating for the November ballot, each dramatically reduces residents direct involvement in our politics. Two are the product of Moritz and his SF Together. One would dramatically reduce City Commissions (see my piece on it here), and the other would dramatically increase the power of the mayor.

The third initiative is by former Supervisor and one-time district election supporter Quentin Kopp and former mayor Frank Jordan and would repeal district elections.

Make no mistake: our tech oligarchs are really certain that they and they alone should govern and the rest of need to get the hell out of town. Period.

The race for mayor will be about who lives here and who is displaced. Three candidates, Breed, Lurie and Farrell, seem very comfortable with doing the work of displacement, merely competing to see which one is better at it. Breed and Farrell have a common voting record on the Board of Supervisors of favoring polices, from supporting short term rentals to proposing measures which would demolish rent controlled housing, that displace San Franciscans. Lurie has shown a surprising willingness to move to the right even quicker than his two right wing opponents by rushing to endorse Prop. E.

Supervisor Ahsha Safai has a much more nuanced record on the board. He has a pro-Yimby voting record on housing and land use issues and has generally been an ally of the mayor. Yet his run for mayor has meant that he has had to move to the center. His sponsorship of Proposition B, the pro-police funding but with a tax, was seen as his being loyal to his city employee labor base and a way to be both “pro-police and “fiscally responsible. The million-dollar campaign the tech oligarchs poured into the no vote sunk not only Prop B. but made him an enemy of the tech oligarchs. With Peskin presumably now in the race the “middle position” he was trying to cultivate has shrunk dramatically.

Peskin, the longest serving supervisor in modern times, has served on most of the board’s committees and been president twice. It seems very probable that, given the realities of rank choice voting, that he and Safai would find it to each other’s advantage to form a common front. He has a long record of supporting neighborhoods, and would have the ability to do so to effectively campaign in the vote rich southeast portion of the city, ignored and dismissed by the tech oligarchs.

The lines seem drawn, with Breed’s veto of a Peskin ordinance that would protects areas of his district from the mayor’s high-density market rate development proposal.

Where Farrell and Lurie, the two rich white guys go in this race, go will be fascinating, but in the end meaningless. It will be a race between Breed and Peskin. So let’s see just how moderate San Francisco voters are once they are given a real choice between candidates for mayor that have real policy differences.

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

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