Opinion

OPINION: We need housing, not more offices, in Soma

345 Fourth St is now office space, not housing

Ever since 1980, Todco and our community action arm, the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, have pressed for more housing instead of office buildings in our Yerba Buena Neighborhood. And, for once, the Redevelopment Agency listened and agreed, changing the entire Redevelopment Plan that way in 1984. That resulted in five large market-rate housing developments instead of the office buildings originally planned here.

Even just two years ago we successfully pushed the city — the MTA this time — to build affordable housing in the “air rights” above its new Folsom Street Central Subway station, instead of the office building the MTA had wanted to get developer money. The process to choose a nonprofit developer is underway now.

345 Fourth St is now office space, not housing

And the debate over the Central Soma Plan has focused this year on the need for more housing development instead of the massive office projects to improve the plan’s overall “jobs/housing balance.” But the department’s response has been limited to a few token changes — window dressing for political cover — that won’t really make any difference.

So when this small 345 Fourth Street “49er” office project (49,000 square feet in size to avoid the Prop. M limits that kick in for projects bigger than 50,000square feet) came to the commission two weeks ago for approval (it complies with the current zoning rules), we pushed the commission to turn it down because its location is a terrific in-fill housing site. A developer could certainly fit 50+ units there, with 20% affordable inclusionary units, ten or more.

Our point was simple: “You planning commissioners say we need the housing in Central Soma, so make it actually happen right here, right now when you can!”

And … they laughed at that. As if turning down an office project to get more housing was a silly idea (“Oh we need more office space too” as they clutched their planning pearls). Only Commissioner Richards saw the obvious hypocrisy of this and voted against it. So the commission rubber-stamped the office project 6-1

This just proves yet once again, as if any more proof was needed, that the San Francisco Planning Department and Commission really just work for the development industry and property owners – not for the people of San Francisco, not for our communities.

And there will be more small office buildings and small hotels proposed for other good in-fill housing sites in Soma — there’s already a half-dozen in the pipeline.  Our Fake Planning Commission will cave in and approve them too just like this one. Just wait and see.

Only a change to DCP’s proposed Central Soma zoning can prevent this.

John Elberling is executive director of Todco

OPINION: Stopping rent-hikes in affordable housing

Affordable apartments on Friedell St, where the developer keeps trying to raise rents

Young Community Developers has been fighting for Bayview residents and the entire District 10 community for more than 45 years. In 2016, YCD full leased-up it’s first affordable housing project (working with for-profit developer AMCAL) on the Shipyard (Pacific Point), with 59 units of housing, all at 50% of AMI.

Affordable apartments on Friedell St, where the developer keeps trying to raise rents

In the beginning, YCD had brought back 12 certificate of preference holders into the community, and ensured more than 50% of residents were African American (from the community) working with Bayview Hunters Point Multi-Senior Services and the community at large. This was a big win for all of our efforts to fight gentrification and displacement of the African American community; we should also note that the entire building is majority-minority housing.

Within the first six months of the building being fully occupied, AMCAL unilaterally tried to raise rents 10% for all residents after receiving new income guidelines from HUD. This was neither acceptable nor required as AMCAL was grossing more than $60,000 a month and netting (after expenses) more than $30,000.00. When YCD told AMCAL this was unacceptable, they were not happy but conceded at the time. A few months later they raised the rents (unilaterally) 3% for all residents in 2017. YCD was unhappy and has informed AMCAL of its disdain with that decision for months. 

Now, a year later, AMCAL has unilaterally decided to raise rents again with another proposed 3% increase. Not only are they trying to raise rents in our city while we fight gentrification, displacement and affordability concerns, but they are now refusing to speak with YCD (which is required by our Limited Partnership Agreement). The staff at AMCAL has failed to connect the team at YCD with its management staff and they are doing this with disregard to the morality that should exist when you are in the business of working with people. 

So in an era where Tetra Tech has falsified samples of toxins on the Shipyard, we now have a developer (AMCAL) that is trying to attack the quality of life of a community of residents that are already isolated and disenfranchised. AMCAL is basically contributing to the forces that have been forcing people out of San Francisco for years, by making it impossible for some residents to pay their rent and removing the “affordable” from the affordable housing that was promised to our community years ago.

The following needs to happen:

1- AMCAL needs to never raise rents on residents when they are realizing a solid profit monthly (particularly when residents are already paying about 1/3 of their income towards rent);

2- AMCAL should never be allowed to receive another development opportunity in San Francisco (their morals and philosophy do not gel with our values in San Francisco and they are the exact opposite of a responsible developer that cares about people and our neighborhoods);

3- Since we are currently stuck with AMCAL as the co-developer for Pacific Point, AMCAL needs to consult with YCD on EVERY major decision before even thinking about causing harm to the residents at Pacific Point and stay true to the Limited Partnership Agreement we have in place).

4- Any future decision AMCAL wishes to make that affects residents at Pacific Point, should include a community process where residents are not only informed, but also have an opportunity to provide input in decision making

You can email AMCAL’s asset manager, Ryan Barnett, at [email protected]and let him know we won’t tolerate these types of predatory practices in San Francisco.

YCD has been more than fair in its approach with AMCAL (to no avail at this point). AMCAL’s actions have been irresponsible at best and if they continue in their course of action, the damage will be irreparable and feed the gentrification of the African American community and push more people out of the city. Please join us in publicly putting AMCAL on notice that their mode of operation will not be tolerated in San Francisco. This is an appalling scenario and we have all been working together to fight the dismantling of our neighborhoods and communities.

Shamann Walton is the Executive Director of Young Community Developers (a workforce development organization in Bayview Hunters Point), a member of the School Board, and a candidate for D10 supervisor.

OPINION: What went wrong June 5 — and what we can learn

Mark Leno and Jane Kim appear at a joint press event

Editor’s note: Progressives who supported Mark Leno or Sup. Jane Kim are looking at the results of the election and trying to figure out what happened and what can be learned. Last week, we ran a piece by Democratic Party Chair David Campos with his analysis. This week, we add a perspective from longtime activist Calvin Welch.

London Breed’s final 2,546 vote (1.1%) victory over Mark Leno was the slimmest margin of any mayor since run-off elections were established in 1975.Her 37% of the first-place votes and 23% of the counted Ranked Choice Vote starkly reveal the depth of popular opposition to her policies.

The fact that 63% of those who voted for mayor chose someone else and that 77% of those casting second-place ranked-choice votes for Jane Kim preferred Leno over Breed exposes the challenges she will face in governing, but also reveal the absolute folly of “progressive leadership” following a politic that split their vote with two candidates for mayor.

Mark Leno and Jane Kim appear at a joint press event

The true cost of that folly will of course not be paid by those most responsible, but instead by San Francisco voters who turned out in stronger than expected numbers to advance programs and candidates able to resist the continued policy of displacement and hyper-gentrification at the very heart of the Lee administration.

That a cost will be paid is certain, with Breed’s post-election boast that her administration will “build more housing, build more housing, build more housing” dropping all pretense of any need to address the reality that not one in 20 current San Franciscan can afford these new houses and that tens of thousands of us face eviction and displacement in order to make room for them in a city that has no vacant land, is the second most dense major city in the nation and has no plan to pay for the needed infrastructure, including Muni, to support this mindless development.

This article will explore the nature of the vote, what lessons might be learned from it and, given the outcome, what needs to be done to win more than a simple majority of the Board of Supervisors, which will be necessary if any meaningful change benefiting current residents can be achieved in the November, 2018 election.

The structure of the vote for mayor

The media and local political pundits denoted four “major candidates” in the race: two “progressive/liberals,” Kim and Leno, and two “moderate/conservatives,” Breed and Alioto. In addition, there were two other moderate/conservative “minor candidates” in the race: Republican Richie Greenberg and Ellen Lee Zhou who, together, polled some 16,000 votes, close to Alioto’s 17,000 vote total. Greenberg and Zhou votes were centered in Districts 2 and 7 (Greenberg) and 4,10, and 11 (Zhou).

The combined Kim/Leno vote was a majority OF ALL VOTES CAST in Districts 1,3,5, 6, 8, and 9, while the Breed/Alioto vote was a majority in only District 2. In Districts 4,10, and 11 the Zhou/Greenburg vote cut into the Breed/Alioto vote, denying them the majority.

Both Breed and Leno won a plurality of the vote in the supervisor district they represented: Breed in D5 and Leno in D8. Kim, surprisingly, did not win a plurality in D6. Indeed, she beat Leno by merely 60 votes, coming in second to Breed. She actually lost to both Leno and Breed in the South of Market portion of D6.

Breed got 39% of the D5 vote, down from 52% in her re-election bid in 2016. Her vote drop was the largest in the Western Addition where she polled some10,300 votes in 2016 but only 5,700 votes for mayor. She got 10,000 fewer votes in D5for mayor than for supervisor.

But the impact of the progressive split vote can be seen in D8, Leno’s former district. D8 had the highest turnout of any district, with some 36,0000 votes cast for a 64% turnout. Rafael Mandelman won with nearly 60% of the vote receiving some 20,000 votes. Leno was an early endorser of Mandelman, when the outcome was in great doubt. Yet, Leno got only 12,700 votes for mayor — 7,200 fewer votes than Mandelman — nosing out Breed by a mere 600 votes.

Kim finished a distant third, with 4,500 fewer votes than Leno, but still polled 8,200 votes, clearly most of which would have gone to Leno. Had Leno got the same votes as Mandelman in D8 he would be mayor today. That simple, that clear: Kim/Leno split the overwhelming progressive/liberal vote in D8 and it was decisive.

In an interview in the Chronicle after the election, Breed claimed that her support for State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB827, which would have over-ridden all local zoning and public hearing policies in order to build high density, high rise housing along most streets in San Francisco (Wieners SB827), most notably in western neighborhoods, was “something people appreciated, because we have to build more housing.”

The fact that she never, in fact, campaigned on SB827 and failed to defeat a resolution of the Board of Supervisors that formally opposed it was not mentioned by the Chronicle. Indeed, popular opposition to SB827, especially in western San Francisco (both District 7 Supervisor Yee and District 4 Supervisor Tang voted to support the resolution opposing SB827was also missed by the Chronicle) was extensive and deeply held.

Breed’s position supporting and Kim and Leno’s opposition to SB827 was not missed by D4 and D7 voters. Both Kim and Leno aggressively campaigned against it in the west. Kim held a special event presser on West Portal Ave. announcing her adamant opposition. It paid off.

In D4, Kim came in second to Breed with Kim/Leno outpolling Breed 9,500 votes to 7,100. Adding in the D4 Alioto  vote – Alioto also campaigned against SB827 — the anti SB827 candidates out polled Breed 11,500 to 7,100. In D7, Leno came in second and Leno/Kim outpolled Breed narrowly 10,900 to 10,100. Adding in Alioto’s D7 vote widened the anti-SB827 margin to 13,500 to 10,100.

While these traditionally “moderate/conservative” voters in D4 and D7 rejected Prop. C (free childcare) and Prop. F (legal counsel for tenants facing evictions) they did not, in fact, “appreciate” Breed’s position on SB827. More about the potentially changing politics in D4 and its significance for the D4 Supervisor race in November below.

The vote-buy-mail factor

A continuing structural feature of the San Francisco vote is the rise in votes being cast by mailed-in ballots (known as “Vote by Mail,” VBM). It is now routine that the majority of votes cast are VBM ballots. But not all VBM voters are the same. There are at least two sets of VBM voters, classified by when they turn in their ballots: early VBM voters and “late” VBM voters. Early VBM voters tend to vote more “conservatively” than election day voters, late VBM voters, folks who drop off their ballots at the polling place or show up at City Hall during the last week before the elections tend to fall somewhat between election day voters and early VBM voters.

This greatly complicates a campaigns effort to “get out the vote” as there is now an extended period, 30 days, during which votes are cast and thus an extended period during which votes must be “got out.” As always, money makes a difference. If you have the money to mail all VBM voters, then track new requests for mailed ballots and then both money and dedicated staff to “chase” or track VBM ballots as they come in, you are ahead of the game. But only the most well-funded campaigns can do this. It is very difficult for a campaign that relies upon a volunteer “field campaign” to both do the necessary door-to-door voter ID of the usual field campaign AND to effectively “chase” VBM voters for 30 days. Mail and increasingly ads on social media and cable TV are used to chase these votes.  Some observers claim that younger voters tend to fall into the late VBM vote mode more than elderly voters, who tend to fall into the early VBM voter mode. Working people still seem to vote on election day after work and are able to be contacted by more traditional GOTV efforts.

Progressive campaigns have been slow to adapt to these changing patterns of voting, mostly due to their inability to raise money early enough to organize and fund a VBM effort and a bias to spend what early money they have on a field campaign.

Jane Kim had no chance to win this election after the early VBM votes were cast and counted. Like other recent progressive campaigns for mayor — Gonzalez, and Avalos — early VBM votes placed her so far behind that she could never catch up. While she made strong headway in the election day vote and with late VBM voters, she simply could not overcome the 13,000 votes she trailed Breed or even the nearly 7,000 votes she trailed Leno in the early VBM vote; for her the election was lost before any of the later votes were counted.

Leno, however, succeeded in overcoming the progressive curse of death by early VBM vote. He came in second to Breed, only about 7,000 votes behind. He did so by spending money buying a wall-to-wall cable TV presence about 30 days out, hitting early VBM voters as they were making up their minds. By the final election day count (Report 4) Breeds first place vote lead was shrinking and the RCV count gave the lead, narrowly to Leno.

But then something that has never happened before happened.

A total of 98,629 votes were counted between the day after the election and June 15th. Some 73,000 were absentee ballots dropped off at polling places on election day, another 10,000 or so were absentee ballots received in the mail with post marks on or before election day and thus qualified to be counted, and some 14,000 provisional votes were counted. A provisional vote is a vote cast at a polling place in which the voter is not listed on the precinct roll and thus must be verified as being from a registered voter after all other votes have been counted.

In terms of the mayor’s race these “late VBM votes” were the decisive votes and its critically important for us to try to understand them.

Of those votes, 41% were cast from progressive voting districts 5,6,8, and 9, while 31% were cast from swing districts 1,3,10, and 11and 28% from conservative voting Districts 2,4, and 7. That a majority of these votes were from progressive districts can be seen in the votes for the four key ballot measures. Props. C and F got a higher percentage of yes votes and D and H a higher percentage of no votes from these voters than from those counted on election day.

Like election day voters, the majority of the votes cast for mayor were from the progressive Kim/Leno side with Kim/Leno getting 49% of them and Breed but 39%. The difference was that they broke Breed/ Kim, not Kim/Leno — as did the election day vote — giving Breed her slim margin of victory.

The Breed/Kim vote was unusual: Breed and Kim have been on the opposite sides of most of the key issues. But for a significant number of voters, the national narrative that encourages the election of women and women of color was more important than those differences.

The progressives opposed to Breed’s policies had a hard time countering that narrative, which was promoted by one-time progressive stalwarts like former state Sen. Carole Migden and longtime activist Debra Walker, who much of the progressive establishment supported for D6 supervisor over Jane Kim in 2010. The Leno campaign had challenges with that narrative, too.

The Kim campaign did a late ad buy on cable news when cable news was featuring this same narrative at the national level. Breed had enough money that she continued ad buys over the entire 30-day period. Leno had less money than Breed and spent it early.

Lessons learned

What lessons for the future can be learned from this election and how might we apply them to future elections?

First, don’t split your vote. In the face of an opponent who commands both money and media access, progressives must marshal our limited resources and concentrate on a single viable candidate. Ranked Choice Voting and having three votes will not overcome political folly.

Our side has a serious problem of leadership when it comes to candidates. We have no institution nor paramount personality that has the legitimacy to adjudicate between ambitious politicians seeking higher office. In the past the Democratic Party, organized labor or simply an old-time boss was the traffic cop. The last one in San Francisco, Phil Burton, died in 1983.We have been making it up as we go along ever since.

Don’t think Willie Brown plays this role for the other side; he simply acts like he does. He is totally dependent on business money and thus on candidates acceptable to them. He is about personal access not moving a wide agenda. The last Democrat to actually play that role was Phil Burton who was independent of business money and had access to both labor and party money and was about moving a liberal political agenda.

Not that the old-time boss model was perfect – in fact, a lot of women, LGBT people, and people of color felt left out in that era.

Progressives love to complain about “the machine” but there is no “machine” — just oodles of business money. We need a democratic, bottom up, grass roots “machine” able to not only devise progressive policy but do the hard but essential political work of saying yes and no to candidates and making it stick.

Breed did not have to play a fundamentally defensive ranked-choice game. Business interests are disciplined enough to not only pick a candidate but also tell others not to run and failing that, make sure they get few votes. Alioto, Greenberg and Zhou combined vote was less than one third of Breed’s and did not hurt her, while Kim and Leno split 122,000 votes — more than the four moderate/conservative candidates combined — guaranteeing that both lost. Shame on us.

Second, learn how to wage a 45-day GOTV campaign without throwing money at the problem. Don’t get me wrong, money would work, I just don’t believe our side will every have enough to do it. One way to think about the dominance of VBM is to view the late VBM vote as a 30-day GOTV exercise. For early VBM, we can mail or drop them before the 30 day window on voting is opened so we must devise techniques to track who has applied for the mail vote and who have returned them.

We must verify that late VBM voters tend to be progressive and early VBM voters not so much but still a critical vote to get, as equally critical as election day precinct voters. We must simply approach them differently. The Prop. F campaign did targeted walk lists by precincts for VBM voters and it worked for them.

I do not claim to have all the answers, but I do have the questions: how can we avoid being beaten by the early VBM vote, how do we chase (identify and track) later VBM voters. How do we integrate election day GOTV with VBM GOTV?

Third, the combined strength of the Kim/Leno vote in D4 and D7 clearly demonstrate that western neighborhoods are moving ever so slightly in the same direction as eastern neighborhoods on displacement and development issues. D1 is already there now, voting not only for progressive candidates but also for progressive issues like C and F and against D. How do we maximize that emerging convergence? What set of issues, able to be placed on the ballot, might assist that coming together?

There is a growing awareness that city policies governing demolitions of residential uses is a key high ground to stake out protecting residents and buildings in existing neighborhoods both east and west. Breed will never be able to “build more housing, build more housing, build more housing” without demolitions of existing homes and the displacement of existing residents. This could be made a key issue in the D4 campaign by progressive candidates running this November.

Funding Muni to meet existing and future transit needs is also a key development issue that stands a fair chance of appealing to the transit-poor western neighborhoods as well as transit reliant eastern neighborhoods.

Fourth, we have failed to articulate a convincing narrative about a left -progressive future for San Francisco. Such a narrative should be based on the challenges of not only resistance to Trump policies but also a vision of the future of this city that is both inclusive and socially just.

This November will most probably see a major ballot measure aimed at taxing the gross receipts revenue of the most profitable businesses in San Francisco to build new housing and provide social and health services for homeless people or people at risk of becoming homeless. While the campaign will be an uphill fight, we on the left in this city have a chance to use it to frame the debate about urban poverty and homelessness in San Francisco that differs from the Chronicle. Creating that new narrative is an essential part of articulating a new “San Francisco story” not based on fancy food and tech titans.

The Chronicle has become an active campaign resource used by the pro-big-business side. Its collusion with Breed campaign operatives in planting an attack on Kim as a news story, its repeated use of Breed campaign poll numbers to show Leno running a distant third and its attempt to claim that tech titans had no real interest in local politics when both Kim and Leno were campaigning against their undue influence in Room 200 are examples of “fake news” not aimed at Trump but us, residents of San Francisco. The ability of the Chronicle to shape news coverage by other media, to actually define deeply conservative even reactionary politics and policies as “moderate” has grown as other daily news sources disappear. The fact that it has a tiny and shrinking circulation and is a major revenue drain for the Hearst Corporation except for its downtown real estate holdings is simply another set of “facts” that never keep it from spinning its narrative of our city.

There is some good news on this front. As newspapers disappear the web is picking up some of the slack. Mission Local, a vibrant and compelling digital newspaper, has just added Joe Eskenazi as managing editor and the quality and extent of coverage of local politics is sure to increase; San Francisco Public Press does San Francisco stories with a depth and reach not found anywhere else; Fogtown blog covers housing and land use issues with accuracy and humor; Found SF offers rare insights to San Francisco history including a unique set of reprints of neighborhood newspapers; and finally here, 48 Hills, which has become the electronic newspaper of political record here in San Francisco as its readers expand beyond the Bay Area.

But more, much more must be done to reclaim for residents of the city the ability to tell their history and the history of their communities and what a compelling narrative that would be.

Finally, I am going to have to disagree with former supervisor, current Democratic County Committee Chair and my campaign ally, David Campos, and call for the repeal of ranked choice voting. In the name of full disclosure, I opposed and campaigned against RCV when it was initially proposed. But this election outcome should raise serious question in anyone mind about the efficacy of RCV.

Let me start by repeating the simple and stark facts: London Breed got 37% of the first-place votes and 23% of the RCV vote and she is now Mayor. How is she a “majority elected” mayor by either common sense or any other system but our current RCV system?

All of the pre- election blather that the election would turn on second place votes was simply wrong. It turned on first place votes, not second place votes. Kim and Leno split their first-place votes and Breed kept all of hers and was elected. The RCV strategy of maximizing second-place votes could not have been worked better than was done by both the Kim and Leno campaigns. Yet, it could not overcome the fact that both got fewer first place votes than did Breed.

There are two things fundamentally wrong with Ranked Choice Voting.

  1. Fewer people vote in RCV mayoral elections than in actual run-off elections.

Run-off elections started in 1975. Eight elections were held between 1975 and 2003. All resulted in runoffs.  Average turnout in those 16 elections was 51%. In three — 1975, 1999 and 2003 — turnout in the run-off was greater than in the general election, averaging 52%.

Starting in the 2007 Mayor election RCV “instant run-offs” went into effect. Turnout in RCV elections up to this year averaged 41%. A full 10% below the actual run-off elections.

This June’s election turnout was 53%, the highest turnout under RCV for mayor ever, but it occurred under special circumstances: a statewide governor election and a special election in D8, the highest voting district in the city, both boosting voter interest. Fully 14% of the total citywide vote came from D8.

Turnout in D6 and D10, the districts with the most African American voters, in an election with an African American woman in a close race, turned out 43% and 46% respectively

  1. Under RCV, thousands of voters never get their votes counted for the winners.

In this election a total of108,310 votes were cast for the six candidates that did not finish first or second. Only 86,753 were “transferred” to Breed and Leno. The 21,459 votes that were not “transferred” were classified as “exhausted votes” almost all being from voters who only voted for one candidate and thus had no second and third votes to transfer. It was as if those 21,000 folks never showed up for the runoff.

Of the 86,753 votes transferred only 75,722 votes were added to either Breed or Leno’s totals.

So, of the 253,487 San Franciscans that went to the polls and cast a vote for mayor, only 229,045 total votes were counted for Breed and Leno.

RCV is 14 years old. Four mayoral elections have occurred under it. Tens of thousands of voters still cast only one vote. Thousands more have their votes simply not counted in the final “RCV Slate” due to the RCV algorithm that no one knows anything about because it is a private contractors private property.

What if there was a recount, that the vote was so close that it triggered one. How would anyone check the RCV algorithm to make sure is was both accurate and fair?

RCV replaces an actual democratic vote with a gimmick, hardly the historic mission of “progressives.” The Progressive Party of the late 19th and early 20thcentury was noted for EXPANDING the vote, not replacing it. In California and a handful of other states where Progressives were victorious state law was changed to allow referendum, initiative and recall three procedures which allowed voters at elections to override elected bodies and politicians by the power of direct vote. The great national victory of the Progressive movement was the 1914 passage of the 17th amendment to the US Constitution which required the direct election by popular vote at an actual election of US senators, banning forever the practice of state legislators and or governors selecting them in secret.

At a time when voting rights are under attack why would one of the most progressive localities in the nation accept a system that “disappears” thousands of votes?

But the real problem of RCV is its political impact. Actual run-off elations give folks a second chance to make a political decision about a candidate, something “instant run-offs” don’t allow.

Last week’s essay by Campos surprisingly cites the Gonzalez /Newsom run off of December 2003 (the last actual Mayor run-off) as an argument for RCV. I say surprisingly because the 2003 runoff had a far higher turnout (55%) than did the November general (46%) and higher turnout than for any RCV election for mayor. Moreover, Gonzalez got a whopping 79,000 more votes in December than he did November while Newsom only got 46,000 more — showing that Gonzalez picked up the overwhelming majority of votes cast for the other candidates in November.

While it might be true, as Campos recounted, that the other candidatesmight have had a hard time endorsing Gonzalez, those of us in his campaign knew that their voters had no such difficulty. Gonzalez lost because his campaign manager simply did not believe that the VBM voter was nearly as important as election day GOTV. He was wrong and even with RCV both Avalos and Kim’s campaign seemed to have shared the same mistaken priority with the same result.

This November’s election will be the final act giving definition to this month’s vote. If a left progressive can be elected in D6 against two powerful pro-market rate development advocates and if a left progressive can pull off a victory in D4, both will be seen to be a defeat of Breed and her backers exposing her actual weakness implied in her narrow win in this month. If a $300 million a year tax is voted in on the most profitable businesses in the city in order to fund very-low and low-income housing development and the provision of health and human services for the poorest of our poor, then the June election will have been but a blip on the screen of the biggest urban political soap opera now playing.

OPINION: How to fix the toxic Hunters Point Shipyard mess

The US Navy recently announced the first steps of its plan to re-test some contaminated soil of the Lennar Shipyard, after a faked cleanup called “the biggest eco-fraud in US history” was carried out under their noses. Whistleblowers and community groups have sounded the alarm on this scandal for years, and finally the Navy and the Board of Supervisors have admitted that “public trust has been completely eroded” with this development. Yet against overwhelming evidence, the city’s Department of Public Health still claims that “there are no public safety concerns or health concerns out here.”  

The city is content to wait for revised cleanup plans, from the same agencies and officials who signed off and certified the faked cleanup.

This should be completely unacceptable to any resident of the Shipyard, the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods, or San Francisco.

It took six years for this scandal to emerge in public, after the first whistleblowers came forward. Families moved into the Shipyard in those six years, trusting the authorities who told them the site was clean. And now, after nearly 30 years of cleanup plans, no one can say with certainty if any part of the Lennar Shipyard is safe.

We can’t continue to put the health of Bayview-Hunters Point residents at risk in exchange for new expensive housing.  The people responsible for the cleanup yesterday cannot be responsible for the cleanup tomorrow, and there must be a full cleanup of the entire site before development continues.

Here are several steps the city can take right now to make sure the Shipyard is cleaned up right.

1.  The only official body that ever exercised any oversight over the Navy’s shipyard cleanup was the Restoration Advisory Board, disbanded in 2009 after a number of confrontations with the Navy and the city. The RAB was right for all those years, and the Navy was wrong.  Restore the RAB, under the Navy’s auspices or the city’s, so the community has its own voice regarding the cleanup.  

2.  Test the entire site, starting from scratch, on Tetra Tech’s dime but independent of the Navy and Tetra Tech.  And after that testing, commit to a full cleanupof whatever is found at the entire shipyard to residential standards – as mandated by Proposition P, approved by 86% of the voters in the November 2000 election.  We can’t continue to plan to leave the worst toxins and pollution in the ground at Hunters Point. How else will anyone ever trust the Lennar Shipyard cleanup again?

3.  Today, all city decisions regarding the Lennar Shipyard – land use, oversight, community benefits – are made by an unaccountable, unelected, obscure city commission of mayoral appointees that has no record of advocacy for the communities of Bayview.  Bring the Shipyard development back under the direct oversight of the Board of Supervisors, just like the rest of the city.  

4.  At the city hearing last month, the Board of Supervisors asked repeatedly for the Navy to cancel its contracts with Tetra Tech. But has anyone checked to see how much business the city does with them? Cancel any and all City agency contracts with Tetra Tech, and pressure the Navy, state and federal government to do the same.

5.  Why is the Department of Public Health continuing to claim the cleanup is going fine when it obviously isn’t?  They keep dodging that question. It’s troubling to read what Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai wrote on June 12 for the SF Bay View: “The San Francisco Department of Public Health enjoys a revenue stream from earth moving activities at [the Lennar Shipyard] and this revenue incentivizes dangerous development activities on a federal Superfund site at the expense of public health and safety.”  Eliminate any potential conflicts of interest in the Department of Public Health’s budget or staff, and ensure that San Francisco speaks with one voice demanding a complete cleanup.

We shouldn’t wait for the Navy to tell us how they plan to clean up the Lennar Shipyard, decades after they’ve been given that responsibility and failed miserably.  And we shouldn’t let elected officials off the hook for the scandal if they aren’t willing to take specific actions to ensure a safer future at Hunters Point.  If we don’t change the oversight of the Lennar Shipyard cleanup, we are telling Tetra Tech, the Navy, the Department of Public Health, and the developer that the only crime is getting caught.

Tony Kelly is an environmental justice activist, president of the Potrero Hill Democratic Club, and candidate for District 10 Supervisor this November.

OPINION: The progressive movement was the winner in this election

The public advocate measure by Sup. David Campos will be at the heart of the debate this week

San Francisco just went through one of the most memorable elections in decades. The mayor’s race was the closest in modern San Francisco history, with Board of Supervisors President London Breed besting former State Senator Mark Leno by a single percentage point.

Voter turnout was extraordinarily high, the second highest in San Francisco history for a mayor’s race and much higher than the rest of California. That we had such high turnout in what was essentially a special election is remarkable. I have been thinking a lot about what this election means, who were the real winners and how this affects San Francisco going forward. Here are my thoughts. 

 

Winner #1 — the Progressive Movement in San Francisco. Contrary to what some are reporting, I believe this election was a resounding victory for progressives. While Leno lost to Breed, he came closer to winning the mayor’s seat than any progressive candidate since Art Agnos in the late 1980s. Leno was able to accomplish this even though he was vastly outspent, since Breed was backed by all the deep-pocketed Big Tech operatives in San Francisco, which spent millions of dollars on so-called “independent” expenditures (just as Big Tech did to oppose me and Supervisor Jane Kim in our state legislative races). This year’s outcome is especially impressive given the recent demographic shifts in San Francisco as a result of the tech explosion. 

In the meantime, a progressive wave resulted in progressives winning every other race on the ballot, including winning a new majority on the Board of Supervisors with the exciting election of Rafael Mandelman in District 8, and winning every important ballot measure. In other words, this election should be seen overall as a progressive victory — progressives won a Board majority, won all the important ballot measures, and came the closest to winning the mayor’s race in 30 years.

So there is a lot to build on, and in thinking about how to do that, here’s the crucial question: what role did ranked choice voting (RCV) play in this dynamic? Should RCV be blamed for Leno losing — or should it be given credit for contributing to a progressive wave that resulted in such impressive victories overall? 

That’s an important question which progressives will soon be debating, because the San Francisco Chronicle, Willie Brown and the Chamber of Commerce are calling for RCV’s repeal (just as they did in 2011, after the election of Mayor Ed Lee; the Chronicle then began using its newspaper as the voice of the repeal effort, which was introduced at the Board of Supervisors when I was on the Board, and nearly succeeded, but ultimately failed, to attract majority support). 

Winner #2 — Ranked Choice Voting. To answer the question I have posed about RCV, consider the following: If instead of RCV, San Francisco had been using a two round runoff system (whether a November-December cycle or June/September-November, as the Chronicle has called for), Leno and Jane Kim most likely would have been attacking each other and tearing each other down to see which one would finish in second place and get into a second runoff election against London Breed. Then, in the second election, they would have had the difficult challenge of uniting all their supporters after having just finished attacking each other.

Recall that in the 2003 mayoral runoff against Gavin Newsom, Matt Gonzalez never did receive endorsements from other progressive candidates Angela Alioto and Susan Leal, and Tom Ammiano eventually endorsed but it took him a while because of the bad feelings that resulted from the first round. So uniting supporters afterward is not so easy.

Compare that to this mayoral election — Mark Leno and Jane Kim used an innovative RCV strategy of telling their supporters to rank each other 1–2. That meant not only progressive voters but also progressive organizations were not divided over their loyalties, and could avoid bitter internal battles. The Leno and Kim campaigns did not have to engage in aggressive lobbying for support, or “me versus you” strategies, as we have seen in the past. Instead, both progressive camps could go forward together, for the most part united and with a sense of partnership. 

I would suggest that it was this kind of “collaborative campaigning” that allowed and encouraged this progressive wave to emerge. It unleashed a combined force that made the whole greater than the sum of the parts. And that sense of unity contributed mightily to progressive victories on all the ballot measures, in expanding the progressive majority at the Board of Supervisors, and in Leno coming closer to winning than any progressive candidate for mayor in 30 years.

The alternative, which we have seen during many elections before, would have been a progressive movement wracked by infighting, dissension and personal attacks among its candidates, leaders and key organizations.

Keep in mind that this kind of collaborative campaigning, based on powerful RCV coalition-building, had never been tried before to this extent in the past.

There remains a lot of nostalgia in progressive circles associated with the Matt Gonzalez-Gavin Newsom runoff. People forget that, while Matt ran an exciting and impressive campaign, at the end of the day he really did not come that close to winning — he lost by six percentage points, which is not the political science definition of a close election. The public “debate” also got very hostile, with Willie Brown (the chief backer of Newsom) goading Gonzalez by calling him a male chauvinist and racist and saying Gonzalez had “a defect in his head.” That’s what often happened during separate runoff elections, as voters were bombarded with mudslinging ads from multiple independent expenditure committees, and heard the worst things about their next mayor. 

So to my way of thinking, for any progressive leaders to join the Chronicle/Willie Brown call for RCV repeal for the mayor’s race, and return us to the days of progressive candidates tearing each other down in the first election, fumbling to reunite in the second election, in the meantime being savaged by Independent Expenditures focused on the single progressive candidate left in the race — that sounds to me like a formula for returning to mayoral elections like in 2011 and 1999 when both Tom Ammiano and John Avalos lost by 20 percentage points.

How does San Francisco build on the successes of this past June election? That’s what everyone should be thinking about. It is clear to me that we should keep using ranked choice voting as part of our local democracy. It’s the right thing to do, and the fair thing to do — and if progressives are smart, it will also help our fortunes in future elections. That’s a win-win-win.

But there’s no guarantee; we still need good candidates and the best ideas. Other candidates in San Francisco may also adopt the “collaborative campaigning” strategy, so progressives need to sharpen our campaign skills and tools in this new era of RCV elections. RCV is here to stay, not only in San Francisco but — with recent RCV wins for state elections in Maine, and pro-RCV editorials in the New York TimesWashington PostThe Economist and Vox — RCV is poised to break out nationally. And San Francisco, which is often a pioneer and was the first to start using RCV in 2004, has been leading the way.

David Campos is the chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and a former member of the Board of Supervisors representing District 9.

OPINION: Why political money should be a top issue in the mayor’s race

Pay to Play belongs at the top of the issues in the mayor’s campaign if for no other reason the hundreds of thousands (soon to be a million plus) that pour into independent expenditure committees to elect or defeat candidates.

What do these big-money donors want, why do they think they can get it, and how will they get it?

Point one: the past is not prologue. Once, we could track the source of funds going to a candidate, and it could signal what the candidate didn’t say him or herself. Tobacco money, casino money, realtors, energy companies, and others were flashing signals.

Point two: officials now have many routes for money to play a role beyond direct contributions. Well-heeled backers pick up airfare, hotel and travel expenses for officials. Corporations banned from making campaign contributions instead give in response to a candidate’s request, often to pay for the official’s own project. In the past eight years or so, more than $22 million flowed at the request of the mayor, various supervisors and others. Often it came in checks for $1 million or more. Officials sometimes establish nonprofits, and the next mayor could pay for a big-time inaugural with that money.

Some officials and many donors don’t want you to be able to follow the money, or even for you to know if they are meeting with money men and women.

Contributors hide through a thicket of committees, sending money through one that then goes to another that in turn pays into a third or even a fourth. Ann Ravel, past chair of the FPPC, sued over that tactic when unnamed sources poured millions into a California ballot fight — but we couldn’t get to the first original before it flowed through back channels.

One group called Progress San Francisco has contributed more than $250,000 to other committees spending money on the SF election, and there are no signs it will stop anytime before the election. Because that group is registered with the state, not the city, it won’t release anything on its donors until next Thursday — with the elections just 10 days away.

So voters are already casting ballots – but don’t know who is paying for the online, television and other ads as well as mailers and other communication strategies that seek to sway our votes.

The questions remains: what do these donors want, how do they plan to get it, and why do they think they can get it.

Start with the easiest question: Why do they think they can get it?

In one example, the mayor and two supervisors invited lobbyists, contractors and others seeking city approvals to tell them they risked their approvals if they gave to the wrong candidate or didn’t give to the right one.

That happened in April 2015 when Aaron Peskin was seeking to unseat appointed supervisor Julie Christensen.

As the SF Public Press wrote, “The meeting, convened by the mayor, Supervisor London Breed and Supervisor Mark Farrell in an invitation marked “confidential,” was called to discuss “campaign priorities.”

Four days later, a marquee collection of Lee supporters, including lobbyists, developers and union representatives, assembled around a rectangle of tables pushed together in a 26th-floor conference room at the firm’s Market Street offices.”

A national leader in campaign reform, Maplight’s Dan Newman, summed up the episode (again in SF Public Press): “Newman described the effect of such coordination between candidates and financial supporters as a form of “bribery, even if it’s legal.” He added: “It’s an indication of a broken campaign system that gives favors for money.”

A City Attorney investigation was stymied after each of the participants refused to discuss the meeting with his investigators. An Ethics Commission investigation requested by Commissioner Quentin Kopp at its March 16, 2018 meeting was never scheduled by the commission’s chair or information submitted by Ethics staff. “I ask that staff begin investigation into all of such activities which I believe should be the subject of a special hearing by this commission, either in April or May. The people of San Francisco who will be voting on June 5 should have the benefit of the results of the investigation…” said Kopp at that meeting.

That helps answer why they think they can get it (and get away with it).

What they want is even simpler to answer. It can be found on the Ethics web site where lobbyists disclose their clients and what City decisions they seek.

Ron Conway’s lobbyist has been meeting with supervisors to talk about taxes and the business climate. The lobbyists are also meeting with officials to “ensure regulation does not inhibit innovation.”

Airbnb wants action on auto burglary efforts affecting its home sharer clients. The Building Owners and Managers Association wants to pitch its views on commercial tax increases in the ballot measure on housing and homelessness. Dozens of lobbyist contacts with local officials have been about building permits. PG&E is discussing Hunters Point and other issues. Lyft met about ride sharing policies.

The point is that what they want is not a piece of the city budget, not a hand out but a hand up. They want City Hall to adopt policies that let them operate for maximum profit with minimum regulation. It’s what one should expect, because that’s the reason they are in business.

But it reminds us that what political contributions hope to impact is not a direct benefit to a specific company as much as a broader set of actions that lets them thrive and grow for their maximum benefit.

There is no quarrel with that so long as it isn’t at the expense of the rest of us — for example, so long as keeping taxes low doesn’t mean increasing fees the rest of the public pays to use a public park, or to park in a garage or at a street meter, or to ride public transit, or to have garbage picked up. That’s where the hidden taxes are felt in nicks and cuts in your personal budget while their corporate budget are held harmless.

How will they get it and with what techniques?

One place to look is in the checks they write at the request of elected officials, often timed to when they are also seeking action from the same officials. California is virtually the only state that allows such a transactional relationship between elected officials and those seeking approvals from those officials. Elsewhere it is considered bribery.

Here are some examples:

Kilroy Realty contributed $500,000 on June 24, 2013 at Mayor Lee’s request. Six weeks later, on August 15, 2013, the City Planning Commission approved Kilroy’s request to add six stories to its building at 350 Mission Street. As the city moved forward with other elements of Kilroy’s requirements, Kilroy contributed a second $500,000 on January 31, 2014.

San Francisco Waterfront, sponsor of 8 Washington, contributed $10,000 on June 12, 2013.  During this period, signatures were gathered to put 8 Washington on the ballot, which qualified on July 12, 2013. During the election, Mayor Lee frequently appeared on behalf of San Francisco Waterfront in mailers and on television ads. Their measure lost overwhelmingly in November 2013.

Google contributed $6.8 million on June 13, 2014 to MTA for free Muni for two years for city school children. At the time Google was seeking city approval for a pilot program to allow Google to use city bus stops at minimal cost to transport its employees. Six weeks prior to that behest payment, on May 1, 2014, Google was sued over its use of city bus stops by a coalition of housing and community organizations.

Those are only a few examples. Others include Recology, PG&E, Lennar, AT&T, and 20 more — each with an ask at City Hall at the time they wrote checks.

That’s what is at issue in this election: a status quo that we can see rewards those with the most and requires those with the least (including middle-income residents) to pay the share that others aren’t paying.

Stopping Facebook at SF General Hospital

Nurses unhappy with Facebook removed its founders name from the city's hospital

People rallied Saturday at the San Francisco General Hospital, to demand that patients’ personal information stay private and to protest the newly proposed policies in the federal department of Health and Human Services that critics say discriminate against LGBTQ community members.

The rally happened a month after CNBC exposed Facebook’s secret talks with hospitals requesting patients’ data and the day after news broke of the breach of personal information from 900 patients at General and Laguna Honda hospitals.

Nurses unhappy with Facebook removed its founders name from the city’s hospital

Sasha Cuttler, with the San Francisco General Hospital RN chapter of SEIU Local 1021, spearheaded the rally.

“I’m being visible for the people that can’t be. People are afraid,” said Cuttler, who self-identifies as gender fluid or “GQ pretty,” and was dressed in a 1950’s nurse smock and cap.

Taking out a megaphone, Cuttler addressed the 15 to 20 union members and attendees.

“We didn’t want this to happen,” said Cuttler about Facebook’s secret talks with several hospitals asking them to share patients’ data. “We all get trained on privacy protections and it’s a big deal.”

Cuttler, who is a registered nurse and has a doctorate in nursing, has used patients’ data for research and is passionate about the ethical standards that health care professionals follow to safeguard this data.

“People need to know that before Cambridge Analytica, Facebook did their own unethical research,” Cuttler said, referring to Facebook’s experiments, manipulating users’ experiences via their newsfeeds.

Cuttler also expressed anger about Facebook’s real-name policy requiring users to use their legal name on their accounts instead of their chosen names. Cuttler said this policy could endanger transgender people, victims of domestic violence, and would make it harder for drag queens and performers under different names to find work.

Rally attendees also protested the newly created Conscious and Religious Freedom division at HHS that would allow health care workers to deny care to patients if the care or procedure is against their religious convictions.

“For example, a nurse might cite a religious objection for caring for a transgender person or refuse to include the spouse of a gay or lesbian person while planning care,” Cuttler said. 

“We call on the U.S. Congress to pass legislation to prevent the Health and Human Services Department from implementing policies designed to give health workers the unprofessional right to discriminate,” Cuttler added.

Another health care worker, Guy Vandenberg, expressed his love for San Francisco General Hospital and his dislike of including Zuckerberg in hospital’s new name.

“I came up with the differential diagnosis for this problem,” he said. Then he rattled off names of fake diseases that could be the culprit to the problem: Zuckerware, Cyberberg, Face Slap Book and Zuckerbreach, among others.

He then proceeded to list cures for these fake diseases such as uninstalling Facebook, “there might be withdrawal symptoms,” and “restarting previous regimen of names that could include The General or just San Francisco General Hospital,” and lastly, “(reevaluating) in six months, like November-ish.”

Others also voiced their anger about the naming of the city’s public hospital.

One such speaker was Mary Magee, who was named woman of the year by former State Assemblymember Tom Ammiano in 2013.

“I appreciate that Zuckerberg put finishing touches on this building, but it is absolutely an affront to our community that the whole hospital was named for him,” Magee said. “I just think that it should be San Francisco General Hospital or San Francisco General People’s hospital.”

She also denounced Facebook’s effort to access hospitals’ patient data.

“There is absolutely no need for that kind of risking people’s most private information. I am appalled that the Stanford and the American College of Cardiology even agreed to meet about this issue.

After the speeches concluded, the small crowd walked peacefully through the parking stopping in front of the placard with the hospital’s name. Cuttler and others took blue painter’s tape and covered the Zuckerberg part of the placard in tape so that the only name showing was San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.

“Nobody asked us if we wanted his name. We are grateful for the money but it should be unconditional,” RN Meg Brizzolara said. 

SF needs a mayor who will tax, spend, and regulate

The next mayor needs policies that are different from the past

Consider a short list of the realities facing our next mayor:

  • The social/economic/cultural transformation of the city through unchecked hyper-gentrification caused by a development policy that has, at its heart, maximizing speculative real-estate profit at the expense of existing residents and the businesses and activities that serve them.
  • A local-government public sector dominated by bureaucrats, policies and programs that see “facilitating the market” as the primary goal of government, by advancing expensive “private public partnerships” in which all of the costs are public and all of the profits are private, which leaves fewer and fewer services that benefit residents producing a sullen disregard (and electoral disengagement) for all government amongst our people;
  • An alarming under-investment in our urban public infrastructure — affordable housing, health and human services including effective programs for homeless San Franciscans, public transit, the timely maintenance and expansion of public facilities and the special investment needs of sea level rise/land subsidence — additionally burdened by the recent period of hyper development of dense market rate housing, commercial office expansion and conversion and the unregulated explosion of ride sharing making many of our streets unusable during ever lengthening “peak hours;”
  • A growing assault on local democratic government specifically aimed at San Francisco led by, at the state level, real estate speculators and their legislator allies seeking an end to “local control” to avoid increases in affordable housing requirements and rent control policies and at the national level, by Trumps’ increasingly frantic efforts to change the subject from his own failures by attacking “sanctuary cities” adopted at the local level;
  • The rapidly growing re-segregation of our civic life involving the toxic brew of race and income inequality, fueled by the Lee Administration’s favoring the tech sector and its systematic under employment of people of color and women, and the emergence of a tech and developer funded astro-turf movement of 30-something white people demanding housing polices aimed at displacing lower income residents and communities of color to house them.
The next mayor needs policies that are different from the past

Given these realities, the June 5th election for mayor has the unmistakable feeling of being a directional election defining San Francisco’s future. As an open race with no incumbent running for the first time since the Matt Gonzalez/ Gavin Newsom race of 2003, candidates (and voters) are free to address the impending challenges facing us, free of any necessity of addressing the record of an incumbent.

How that tactical freedom will be used, and what sets of policies and programs candidates will place before us, is yet to be fully seen. But what should be clear to us is that we need a major change of direction from that set by Ed Lee and his allies on the Board of Supervisors. We need a Tax and Spend Regulator in Room 200 — not only to repair the damage of the Lee administration, overcome the costs of its disastrous deferral of the public interest to private gain but also to create a local buffer to the massive deregulation of our public life now underway at both the state and federal levels.

Stop the Bleeding: Tax and Spend

It is established wisdom at City Hall that unlimited development, both commercial and market-rate residential, is essential to the economic well being of the city and that policies that either retard or limit it are both un-needed and wrong-headed.

There are two things very wrong with this view: First, San Francisco is uniquely ill suited for massive growth without massive social cost, namely the displacement of the existing population, and, second, real estate development simply cannot, under current tax policies, off-set the cost to local government it creates.

San Francisco is a physically mature city with all of its land area already developed. Of its 46.7 square miles, only about 23 square miles is available for all forms of development (and about 13 square miles is available for residential development). Mark Twain’s old advice — “buy land, they’re not making it anymore” — does not fully apply, as a recent study has shown that land in San Francisco is actually sinkingat the same time Bay water is rising as a result of weather change and we will actually have less land than we do now.

New development, especially large or dense projects, requires the demolition of existing structures to clear the land for the new uses.

At residentially zoned land with human densities over 60,000 folks per square mile, tens of thousands of San Franciscans have already faced, or face near-future displacement as a result of unchecked development. This is what gives land-use politics it edge in the city — rarely is there a “win/win” for residents in new development proposals, and more often it’s a zero-sum game with real winners and losers. And the losers leave town.

Far too often, unchecked development is also a bad deal economically for the residents who remain, as the demand for public services increases but funds needed to meet the needs of the new office workers or luxury condo owners are simply not generated by the development themselves.

A decline in the quality of public life — parks, schools, Muni service — is more and more noticeable for the simple fact that costs outpace income when property tax increases are restricted by Proposition 13 but growth (and its attendant demand on public infrastructure) is unlimited.

San Francisco is currently undergoing it biggest real-estate driven boom in modern history. New office space is being built at rates equal to the boom of the late 1970s and market-rate housing — unaffordable to all but a handful of current residents — has reached historic levels. For the market lovers, paradise is within view. Yet, in the midst of this development boom, the City Controller’s office, by law required to keep a running tab on our civic balance sheet, reports that we are currently running a deficit of some $200 millionby the fiscal year 2019-20.

In a report issued just after Ed Lee’s death and ignored by the media, a task force on the future funding needs of Muni found that there was a “$22 billion funding gap for San Francisco’s transportation system through 2045” if the current amount of market rate housing and commercial office growth was to continue. That works out to a need of an additional $785 million a year each year (in constant dollars) for the next 28 years to be added to the city’s general fund.

That does not count the recent news that the new Warriors stadium will cost an additional $62million to provide both an expanded platform and the needed new Metro cars to serve it. The Warriors, in a deal negotiated by Mayor Lee, will pay $19 million with public funds picking up the balance.

A study done by an upper division political science/urban studies class I teach at San Francisco State last fall looked at some of the public cost of accommodating some 220,000 new San Franciscans in 100,000 new housing units — the number asserted by SPUR and others that would be needed before any measurable costs reductions would occur – and the results are sobering.

(Students participating in the studies cited above were Kiley Wyart, Claye Fowler, Adian Finn, Julian Patino, Christian Michel, Brandy Gonzalez, Gerardo Gomez, Andres Cortez, Julio Flores, Connor Hochleutner, Luis Lopez, Ivonne Ruiz-Garcia, Sia Tehrani, and Francisco Vega.)

The cost to the San Francisco Unified school district would be an additional $130 million a year, assuming that only 60% of the new school age population — 12,750 of the 21,250 projected new kids in the new housing — would go to public schools.

Using the current department budgets and the current population to determine a resident-per-department cost, the students found the following additional costs per year to the City and County of San Francisco:

Parks: at the current 254 persons per acre of public parks and additional 1,300 acres of parks would have to be added at an additional cost of $50 million a year in operational budgets for Rec and Park;

Health Department: at the current budget of $2,600 per resident an additional $572 million a year would be required;

Police Department: at $668 per resident, the police budget would have to increase by $147 million a year to accommodate the population growth;

Fire Department: at its current budget of $282 per resident, an additional $62 million a year would be needed.

The bottom line of these annual additional costs to the City and County of San Francisco, including Muni, parks, public health, police and fire (but excluding the SFUSD public education costs) is $1.62 billion a year.

To give some context to an otherwise mind-numbing number, it exceeds by more than 40% the $926 million total operating revenue of SF International Airport in 2017, the biggest money maker in city government.

But, wait there is more.

As we all know, Mother Nature bats last. Sea-level rise in the Bay is increasing at an accelerating rate, now that the additional phenomenon of filled land settling has been discovered. There is a ballot measure already being prepared to make a $500 million “down payment” on as much as a final $5 billion bill due to rebuild the three-mile-long “Great Seawall” along the eastern edge of San Francisco.

But the sea wall is merely part of the problem. Far more of the city’s key infrastructure than the sea wall would have to be relocated, not simply rebuilt. For example, Muni’s brand new 8.4-acre Islas Creek Motor Coach Facility, the primary fueling and dispatch center for the Eastern Neighborhoods area, would have to entirely relocated.  While it’s possible to build a floating fire boat station along the Bay (which the city is doing), it’s not possible to have a floating Muni bus yard. Finding a spare eight acres of dry land, and coming up with the funding for a new facility just after the old one was built, will surely add to the $785 million-a-year funding deficit for Muni.

At this writing, there is no official local estimate of how much San Francisco firms will get in the Trump tax cuts, but it will be tens if not hundreds of millions in federal tax savings. The next mayor must present plans and programs to recapture as much of that as possible and apply it to the unmet public needs of the city.

In a late move to get key Senate support, an additional sweetener was added that benefits the developer boom here in San Francisco. Aimed at developers of offices, housing complexes, and apartment buildings, the tax law granted an additional 20% deduction to development firms with few employees. Taxing that windfall tax cut should be a primary objective of the new mayor.

Also high on any list of tax increases is figuring out a way to add additional payments to car-sharing rides in San Francisco. New York just passed a $2.50 a ride tax on ride share trips and we should seek to do so as well.

We are facing enormous public infrastructural costs from unchecked development, which does not pay its own way and which forces out existing residents and businesses that serve them.

Regulate or Die

The only reason San Francisco has a chance to elect a true left/liberal mayor is because of the regulation of its housing market.

Between 1978 and now, some 242,000 units have had some sort of price controls, limiting, at least partially, residents from the harsh blast of the market. At San Francisco’s average of 2.2 persons per household, that’s 532,000 San Franciscans who are protected by local price regulations. The largest number, some 175,000 units, are covered by rent control. But each year, hundreds of rent-controlled units are converted to condos or TICs — and all rent controlled units are “vacancy decontrolled” and revert to market rents when they are vacated.

The next largest number of units, about 31,000, are non-profit developed and publically owned “permanently affordable” housing. These units do not revert to market rate when vacant. Another 20,000 or so units that are regulated can be found in residential hotels and about 25% of them are run by non-profits and have means-tested affordable rents.

The other 15,000 residential hotel units are privately owned — but conversions to tourist hotel rooms are regulated, keeping their rents lower than would be the case if they were not. Finally, there are some 15,000 public housing units and Section 8 rental subsidies

The protection and, with the repeal of Costa Hawkins (to be on the state November ballot), the expansion of rent control is the center piece of housing price regulation in San Francisco. State legislation (Costa Hawkins) prohibits local governments’ ability to expand the pool of rent controlled units. Every unit built since 1978 is exempt from rent control. We lose, through Tenants in Common (TIC) conversions, owner move-ins, and demolitions about 450 rent controlled units a year.

Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer has proposed a critically important amendment to the local law that would limit the costs of re-financing and local property taxes from being passed on to tenants. With the Republican tax cut barring rental property owners from deducting their local property tax from their federal taxes, pass-throughs of those costs to tenants would be expected to spike, driving rents up.

Proposition F on the June ballot is another example of regulation aimed at keeping folks in their homes by having the city pay for lawyers to represent any tenant facing an eviction.

Local efforts by a labor/ community coalition and progressive elected officials to limit and regulate short term rentals done by Airbnb and other web based corporations have had an immediate and real impact on both reducing evictions and actually increasing the supply of rental housing. These local regulations resulted in an increase, on one apartment listing web site, 680 percent in long-term rental listings in San Francisco in the month the new equations took effect. As many as 4,500 apartments may have gone back on the market as a result of these regulatory efforts. This is one “supply side” increase unmentioned by the usual cast of “pro-market” cheerleaders.

Trump (and lame-duck Paul Ryan) are pushing the deregulation agenda at breakneck speed at the national level (with far too little push back from national Democrats, even if only rhetorical), requiring a local capacity to backfill gaps created in national regulations from the environment to voting and civil rights. Any mayor seeking left/liberal support should be required to lay out a creative and doable local “re-regulation” agenda given the national situation.

But it isn’t only the national Republican deregulation agenda that is alarming. It is also the state-level, Democratic-party driven mania to de-regulate real-estate speculation and land use that requires strong and creative local response.

For the last two years, Democrats in Sacramento have used their super-majority to limit, and now they want to actually eliminate, local control over basic land use regulation.  While failing to repeal Costa-Hawkins, itself an attack on local government’s ability to regulate its housing market by imposing rent control on recently built housing developments, state Democrats have rushed to pass a series of bills aimed at taking land use decision making power away from local governments seeking protections for low and fixed income residents.

In April 2015, The Economist, the Old Testament of market based neo-liberal propaganda, published a cover story that may put what we are going through into some sort of context and point the way to even more destructive follow on policy.  In the piece , the “Paradox of Soil,”the editors argue that “land, the center of the pre-industrial economy, has returned as a constraint on growth.”

They lay out a two steps to address this “constraint”:

               “First, city -planning decisions [should be] made from the top down. When decisions are    taken at the local level, land-use rules tend to be stricter.

                  Second, government should impose higher taxes on the value of land…Whereas a high tax on property can discourage investment, a high tax on land creates an     incentive to develop unused sites” (emphasis added).

There can be no question that “by right” proposals of Gov. Brown and the “stream lined ” approval process in Wieners SB35 have the effect of making planning decisions “from the top down. (See this and this for details of each).

But both measures pale before Wiener’s proposed SB 827 in creating top-down control; that law would simply gut all local planning powers and establish the right at any time of a state department to declare “invalid” a local law that, for example, makes meaningful changes to affordable housing requirements for new development if those changes are deemed “inconsistent” with SB 827.

It must be remembered that urban renewal – redevelopment — was a legal edifice built on state laws that allowed the creation of a state mandated entity that had limited local control. But SB 827 has even less local control than did redevelopment. Moreover, redevelopment was a state function had had required public hearing and mandated citizen review. SB 827 has neither and its operations are controlled by the “invisible hand” of the private market.

Wall Street investors, developers and banks never have public hearings or mandated citizen review. Hell, they have damn little government review and oversight. But they read The Economist religiously. So can we expect next year a measure that establishes a state land tax on local parcels that only have a ten-unit apartment building on it when state density bonus laws allow 50 units on it until that 50-unit apartment building is built? Given the power of real estate and developer interest on Democrats in Sacramento this is not an impossibility. And while SB 827 is now stalled in committee, Wiener has made it clear he will push it again next year.

It may well be that the only recourse folks will have to massive, community busting development is local government. And we should pin down what candidates for mayor will do to counter act the pressure from the state top pre-empt local land use policies aimed at protecting residents and their communities.

But balanced development is only part of the problem that needs to be addressed at the local level in the face of both national and state regulatory indifference.

We see, before our very eyes, the rise of gentrification of urban transit — yet our city seems powerless to address it.  Uber, Lyft and Chariot are simply the leading edge of this new pheromone. Studies show ( 2017 UC Davis Study) that these private modes of transit are popular with upper income folks — the new “urbanites” that really aren’t all that urban in the sense that they really don’t want to get too close to folks unlike themselves, draining ridership and funding from public transit. “Disruptive transportation” must be integrated into our urban transit system, and its for-profit manifestations taxed, and that revenue used to grow public transit and safer streets. New York has just imposed a tax specifically on ride hailing services. We must figure out how to do that given the increasable influence at the state level theses service have.

Tax, Spend and Regulate

Democrats, if they have a chance at meaningful political power, must come home to their true base: working and lower income folks. They are not the party that Bill Clinton tried to create: a party of “win win” Wall Street millionaires “doing good” for the less fortunate by offering a “hand -up and not a hand out” while quietly saving all the handouts for themselves . That old game is over.

Democrats are uniquely dependent on an urban vote. They cannot win without it — but they can’t win with it alone. In addressing the needs of the urban working class — men and women, families, the elderly, immigrants and people of color — they can devise programs and policies that appeal to non-urbanites in the midwest and the south and have a chance to become the dominate national political party.

At the very heart of those policies and programs rests the clear need to tax and spend and regulate. Let that realization start here in San Francisco and let it start this June.

Trump’s offshore oil plan is a hostile act by a rogue nation

Polar Bears, among other threatened species, could be driven to the brink of extinction by Trump's plan

We can’t overstate just how much President Trump’s offshore drilling offensive threatens the planet and its inhabitants. Not only is he inviting dirty drilling rigs off Ocean Beach and the entire West Coast, but he’s jeopardizing California and other coastlines for generations to come.  

If the draft plan that the Trump administration released this month becomes final, letting the oil industry tap every ocean in the country, we’re dooming people and wildlife around the world to needless suffering and death.

Polar Bears, among other threatened species, could be driven to the brink of extinction by Trump’s plan. NASA photo

That may sound alarmist, but it’s also true. This is a crucial, life-altering decision. Our country will never recover if we get it wrong. That’s why Californians are forming a wall of opposition leading up to the Feb. 8 hearing in Sacramento, the only one in our huge state.

Selling decades-long fossil fuel leases in the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans would lock in disastrous climate change scenarios, delay our country’s transition to a clean energy economy, and pollute coastal communities that rely on clean seas. It could also hasten the extinctions of several endangered species by the end of this century, including polar bears, Pacific walruses, and several species of seals and whales.   

Trump doesn’t seem to understand the implications of his industry-backed plan, seeing only the illusory short-term benefits to oil companies and his presidency, but the dangers are clear.

Multi-million-dollar fishing, recreation, and tourism industries in California, Florida, Alaska, and the East Coast would suddenly be threatened by the oil spills that inevitably come with offshore drilling.

Beautiful coastlines that have never been marred by oil-producing offshore drilling platforms – like Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties in California, Virginia Beach, North Carolina Outer Banks, and Florida’s famed Daytona Beach – would have their postcard-perfect settings sullied by Trump’s reckless, foolish giveaway.

Tourism is big business in these places, creating far more jobs and revenues than the oil industry ever will. The industrialization that comes with dirty energy production, and the oil spills that follow, would change these coastlines forever. 

That’s why more than 140 East Coast municipalities officially opposed President Obama’s 2010 inclusion of one offshore Atlantic lease in his draft five-year offshore energy plan, causing it to be removed from the final plan. Trump’s plans to turn over all federal waters to the oil industry will hit even bigger walls of popular opposition.

In California, more than two dozen cities and counties have recently passed resolutions opposing expanded offshore drilling and fracking, including San Francisco on Jan. 9. On Feb. 3, there will be rallies in a half-dozen California coastal cities opposing offshore drilling and big crowds are expected in Sacramento for the Feb. 8 federal hearing.

But will Trump listen or will he continue to ignorantly threaten the global climate by deepening our country’s dependence on and promotion of dirty fossil fuels?  

The United States is already the only country in the world to reject the Paris climate accord, even though we’ve sent more carbon pollution into the atmosphere and ocean than any other nation – by far. Yet defiantly lighting the fuse on the carbon bomb in our oceans would be seen as an unforgiveable act of aggression by rogue nation.

Drilling and burning all the recoverable oil and gas in Trump’s offshore plan would create almost 50 gigatons of carbon dioxide pollution. That would make limiting global temperature increases to 3.6 degrees, the maximum target set in the Paris, almost impossible.

So it’s up to Americans to save the world from the hubris of our political and economic leaders. Write your representatives, join our protests, make a ruckus, and demand the federal government protect our oceans and climate.  

This is the moment. We all have to do everything in our power to limit the leasing of federal waters before that final five-year offshore energy plan is issued later this year. Act as if the future depends on what we do right now – because it does.

Steven T. Jones, the former Bay Guardian city editor, is a media specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity’s oceans program, based in Oakland. For more information California’s campaign against offshore drilling and how you can get involved, visit www.endangeredoceans.org.

OPINION: Cannabis is not a threat to our neighborhoods

It's not that scary. Really

It feels as if in the last few months, the dominant narrative at City Hall has been that cannabis small business are somehow innately harmful to our communities.

When we say that there can be no small cannabis business around schools and when we talk about excluding whole neighborhoods from the new cannabis industry we are sending a message that just doesn’t align with fact, science and the personal experience of every politician in City Hall: We are saying that somehow that the very existence of these business near schools is harmful, while somehow bars are not.

It’s not that scary. Really

San Francisco is proud of its nightlife industry. It’s been my honor to stand with many of my colleagues as an ally to nightlife and work to pass legislation that preserves and supports are historic bars, nightclubs, and music venues.

Let me say this: if City Hall had been this short sighted in the 1930s when alcohol prohibition ended, and had passed the same sort of restrictions on bars and venues that we are considering for cannabis today — San Francisco would have been changed for the worse.

We would have missed out on the swings clubs of the forties, the Fillmore Jazz clubs of the 50’s, the Summer of Love wouldn’t have happened, and neither would the gay rights movement that was born in the bars of the Castro.

Cannabis has the potential to be a powerful force for good in our city. We are looking at a brand new blue-collar industry that people who actually live in San Francisco can be part of. Unlike the tech industry — which at times this board has rushed to do everything it can to support – this industry has a low barrier to entry.  Anyone with a dream, savings, and a smart business plan can open up a cannabis business and make a living – a good living.

Watching the success of the new cannabis industry in Washington and Colorado has been really exciting: Small business, tourism, and the most important part “taxes” has resulted in huge benefits for local communities.

But unfortunately, San Francisco’s City Hall seem to be focused on saying no rather than finding ways to say yes.

I want to say thank you to my colleagues Supervisor Malia Cohen and Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer for their work on cannabis equity. I truly appreciate their focus on how cannabis can benefit our marginalized communities.

I think that as we move forward to decide what the future of cannabis is going to be in our city that we also need to look back on the long history of cannabis here in San Francisco.

Here’s the reality. San Francisco has always had cannabis. It came here with the sailors and gold-miners who founded our town, and has never left. In the 1860’s when Mark Twain moved to San Francisco it was legally being sold and advertised in our local newspapers.

It wasn’t until 1915 that America began its crack down on cannabis, and like all parts of the Drug War it was deeply rooted in racism.

Racist policy forces near the border began referring to cannabis by its Spanish name “marijuana” and claiming that Mexican’s were crossing the board high on cannabis imbued with Superhuman strength. Here’s a real quote from a Texas Police Captain.

“Under marijuana Mexicans become very violent, especially when they become angry and will attack an officer even if a gun is drawn on him. They seem to have no fear. I have also noted that under the influence of this weed they have enormous strength and it will take several men to handle one man while, under ordinary circumstances, one man could handle him with ease.”

They’re talking about stoned people here.

It’s funny until you realize the devastation this racism has had on the Latino Community which I have the honor of representing. Here’s a quote from the first director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics Harry Anslinger:

“There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the U.S., and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz and swing result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers and any others. Reefer makes darkies think they’re as good as white men.”

That chills me to the bone. This right here is the beginning of the war on drugs. And here’s what the racist, hateful, policies that came from this type of disgusting think resulted in.

  • America has less than 5% of the world’s population but nearly 25% of its incarcerated population. We imprison more people than any other nation in the world – largely due to the war on drugs.
  • People of color arrested for drug law violations experience discrimination at every stage of the judicial system and are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced and saddled with a lifelong criminal record. Among people who received a mandatory minimum sentence in recent years 38% were Latino and 31% were black.
  • This type of racism is causing mass deportations. The drug war has increasingly become a war against migrant communities fueling racial profiling, border militarization, violence against immigrants, and intrusive government surveillance. More than 40,000 people are deported from the U.S. every year for drug law violations.

And that’s just the Latino community. Black, Chinese, Filipino and LGBT communities have all suffered under our non-fact based, non-science-based, racist drug war history.

What I want to focus on in the next few weeks as the Board of Supervisors decides the future of Cannabis is how we can make reparations for the terrible treatment of minority communities during the drug wars.

This is our opportunity to make sure that the benefit of the cannabis industry will be intentionally directed to the communities that suffered from the cannabis drug war. I want to make sure that we’re practicing cannabis affirmative action and giving these community’s a leg up in this industry.  I look forward to continuing this debate.

Sup. Hillary Ronen represents District 9.