The Agenda

Should a developer lawyer be on the Planning Commission?

The number of vacant storefronts is going up despite the economic boom, the city reports

For the first time in at least my 37 years of covering city politics – and possibly much longer – a lawyer who has spent a career representing real-estate developers has been nominated to serve on the Planning Commission.

If Sue Diamond is approved by the supes this week, she will be in a position to help choose the next planning director.

Diamond’s resume states that she has spent the past 28 years

managing the permitting process for some of the largest and most complex real estate projects in San Francisco and the Bay Area(e.g. high-tech and biotech campuses, alternative energy, downtown office buildings, industrial projects, gas wells, assisted living, mixed use) and advising large companies expanding nationally on site acquisition and permitting strategies.

(Gas wells? In the Bay Area? I didn’t know there were any.)

She has a master’s in urban planning from MIT and a law degree from Harvard. She clearly has experience – promoting development.

“We have never, never, had a development attorney on the Planning Commission,” Sue Hestor, who has represented community groups before that panel for more than four decades, told me.

The choice of the next planning director will be huge. Under the outgoing director, John Rahaim, the department was all about facilitating growth and development, no matter what the consequences to vulnerable communities. Activists are calling for a new director who has an understanding of economic equity– but the final decision will be up the commission and Mayor London Breed.

“We are concerned that this candidate doesn’t represent the equity framework,” Jon Jacobo, vice-president of Calle 24, the Latino Historic District, told me. “She has not reached out to any of the communities of concern.”

Diamond’s nomination goes before the Rules Committee Monday/18 at 10am, and will come to the full Board Tuesday/19.

Some activists are pushing the supes to reject the nomination – in part because that would keep Diamond from participating in the hiring decision. But there’s always the danger that if the board won’t accept this nominee, the mayor will come up with someone even worse.

The full board will also consider putting on the March 3 ballot a measure that would impose a new tax on vacant commercial storefronts. It’s an attempt to address a growing problem in some neighborhoods, including North Beach, the Castro and the Mission: Property owners are evicting tenants or refusing to renew leases at any reasonable rent and then leaving the place empty.

Some may be waiting for rents to go up even higher, and some may be hoping that they can get the rules changed to allow more chain stores that will pay higher rent.

The city economist says that it’s partly because of the decline of brick-and-mortar retail – but I am hearing constant stories about small businesses that are getting force out with huge rent hikes that would be thrilled to have a place to go. So I don’t think it’s a lack of demand.

The number of vacant storefronts is going up despite the economic boom, the city reports

“Some landlords have unreasonable expectations of the value of their property and the rent they should get,” Sup. Aaron Peskin, who is sponsoring the bill, told me.

He mentioned Caffe Sapore, which has served North Beach for 23 years, and just lost its lease. The owner, he said, looked into the numerous empty storefronts in the area, “and he can’t afford any of them,” Peskin said.

The bill, cosponsored by Sup. Hillary Ronen, would tax the owner of any storefront that is empty more than 182 days a year. The tax would start at $250 a linear foot of street frontage and after three years go up to $1,000. (Since a typical commercial storefront is about 25 feet, the annual tax on long-term vacancies could reach $25,000 a year – enough to encourage landlords to sign reasonable leases.

“This,” Peskin said, “is long-overdue commonsense policy.”

The Budget and Finance Committee considers Wed/20 legislation that would create an Office of Emerging Technology to consider regulations for the next generation of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, robots on the sidewalks and whatever other tech concepts that have the potential to make the city worse off for everyone except the investors.

It’s something the city has been missing for years. Airbnb caught San Francisco by surprise. The city let Uber and Lyft operate illegally for years. Suddenly we have scooters all over the sidewalks, and robot delivery vehicles on their way, and who knows what else Big Tech will foist on us in the next few years.

So the idea of this office is to get ahead of the regulatory game and set rules in advance – to make the new ventures seek permission, not forgiveness. If the office is competent and aggressive – that is, if it is on top of the new trends and makes sure nothing happens in the city that will impact the residents and businesses without getting vetted – it could make a huge difference.

A progressive neighborhood group called D4ward, formed in the Sunset in the wake of Sup. Gordon Mar’s victory last year, is holding a forum Wednesday/20 on housing – and specifically, on SB 50, Sen. Scott Wiener’s deregulation bill. Speakers include Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke of People.Power.Media, Ozzie Rohm of the SF Land Use Coalition, and Mar. 6:30pm, Lycee Francais, 1201 Ortega.

Guess who’s a lawyer for the city’s worst planning scofflaw? (Hint: He writes for the Chron)

The City Attorney’s Office and the Planning Department just released some details of the legal settlement between the city and the Academy of Art University after years of violations by the school that led to a city lawsuit.

The documents are complicated, and it will take a while for advocates to go through the more than 100-page development agreement and the settlement documents. Among other things, AAU will pay the city $37.6 million for affordable housing mitigations and will cease using nine properties that have been operating illegally for years.

But the city, according to an Oct. 24 letter from Planning Director John Rahaim, also agreed to make amendments to the Planning Code and approve a master development agreement.

This will all have to come before the Planning Commission and the Board of Supes – and right now, the commission is short-handed (there’s a vacancy that the mayor wants to fill with a developer lawyer) and Rahaim is retiring, so the commission is looking for a new planning director.

The commission was set to hear this immensely complicated development agreement and settlement Nov. 21.But it’s not clear that the seat vacated by Rich Hillis will be filled by then (the Rules Committee appears in no hurry to hold a hearing on Diamond’s nomination) and critics of AAU are going to push for a delay.

In the meantime, there’s a fascinating element to the settlement. We have known for a long time that AAU has a battery of lawyers – but while there have been rumors that former Mayor Willie Brown was working for the school, his name has never appeared in any of the records.

Until now.

An Oct. 25 letter from David Millstein, AAU’s primary lawyer, to the City Attorney’s Office has cc’s at the end – including “Willie L. Brown, Jr, esq.” So yeah: The Chronicle columnist is also a lawyer helping negotiate this deal for AAU. He has not, I believe, ever disclosed this fact to his readers.

The full Board of Supes will consider Tuesday/29 Sup. Matt Haney’s legislation to charge developers more for affordable housing – and the final vote will be politically critical.

The bill’s going to pass – Haney has six co-sponsors. But the Mayor’s Office is still opposing it, which means he needs eight votes to override a veto.

Sup. Rafael Mandelman, who got elected with strong progressive support, is not on the list of co-sponsors. Sup. Vallie Brown, who is in a tight race with tenant lawyer Dean Preston, isn’t either.

Sup. Ahsha Safai voted against the bill in the Land Use Committee, saying he thinks the fee would be too high. Haney has so far shown no sign of backing down and reducing the number.

This will be one of the most important board votes of the year – and the vote to override the mayor’s likely veto will be just as important.

The news for Vallie Brown keeps getting worseJoe Eskenazi at Mission Localtracked down the son of a woman who Brown evictedwhen she bought her building on Fillmore Street, and his story is painful:

Following the eviction, Dessman and her son, Williams, traveled a more circuitous route. For months, Williams says, they lived hand-to-mouth in a Bayview motel on Third Street. The forced relocation to the other side of town, Williams said, took the shine off his graduation from John Muir elementary to Everett Middle School. “We lived in a hotel and didn’t have much in the way of a refrigerator,” he recalled. “We pushed bottles and recycled to get money to buy groceries.

Dessman and her son eventually obtained a unit in the notoriously tough Sunnydale Projects. “I grew up in a family-oriented neighborhood and I went to a poverty-stricken neighborhood,” he told Mission Local. “I went from a place where I didn’t see too much negative stuff to a place where I could look out the window and see a person chasing another person and shooting at them …

He becomes emotional when told that his mother and her fellow tenants are being described by Brown as freeloaders. “I don’t know how she can have the audacity to make those accusations against hard-working people who struggled for years,” he says. “She put my family in the position of being in poverty. She ended up ruining my childhood.”

The story has been in 48hills. It started in SF Weekly. It’s been in Mission Local. It’s been in the Examiner. By any standard, it would seem that there’s news here.

But so far, the Chronicle, which endorsed Vallie Brown, has not said a word.

A final note: Buck Delventhal, who was a deputy city attorney for almost half a century, died this weekend. His current boss, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, put out a statement:

“San Francisco lost a piece of its heart today. Buck Delventhal was not just the oracle of the City Charter, a highly accomplished courtroom attorney, and the go-to person for tough legal questions. Buck was a beacon. He was a beacon of inspiration, trust, and boundless optimism. He was a legal lion and an even better person. Over nearly 50 years at the City Attorney’s Office, he quietly helped millions of San Franciscans in countless ways, even though they probably didn’t know he was the one to thank. Buck wouldn’t have had it any other way. City Hall – and San Francisco – will never be the same without him.”

Herrera has been a progressive city attorney. But Delventhal also worked under George Agnost, who was a horrible right-wing pro-developer city attorney, and Louise Renne, who I used to argue with on a regular basis (particularly about PG&E).

But always, from my first days as a reporter in this city, back in the early 1980s, Delventhal was friendly, polite, and helpful. There were times in those early days when nobody else in Agnost’s office would talk to me; Delventhal always took my calls. He explained city laws, he was always completely honest and straightforward, and at one point (and I never asked if his boss knew what he was doing) he filled me in on how San Francisco could get around state law and create a city income tax.

We were not always on the same political page, but everyone who knew him agreed: Buck was a person of immense integrity and principle.

The city will miss him.

SF’s housing policy failure on full display this week

The picture of displacement, from a budget analyst report.

The city’s failure to make sure affordable housing keeps up with office growth will be on full display at the Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting Monday/21.

The committee will hear two related items: Sup. Matt Haney’s effort to increase the fees that office developers pay to offset their impacts on housing, and a new report requested by Sup. Gordon Mar that looks at the city’s future needs for affordable housing.

The picture of displacement, from a budget analyst report.

The studies behind both items are clear and hard to dispute: The tech office boom is creating a huge demand for affordable housing, and the city is not even close to keeping up.

In fact, the report by the budget analysis on future housing needs makes clear that the city doesn’t have a “housing crisis;” it has an affordable housing crisis. And while politicians like Mayor London Breed and state Sen. Scott Wiener talk about the need to build “housing at all levels,” the real need is not luxury housing – which is getting built – but housing for everyone else.

The report has some stunning data: It notes, for example, that job growth in the city is highly bifurcated:

Between just 2016 and 2018, the number of jobs in the San Francisco areaincreased by 96,360, a 9% increase. Job growth was concentrated in high-wage and low-wage industries though housing production was concentrated on market rate, or high income, housing. Jobs in moderate-wage industries remained steady.

That is: the boom is creating high-paid jobs and low-paid jobs, and not a lot in between. We are seeing the top-end tech jobs, and the service sector jobs that don’t pay enough to cover the cost of housing.

For just 2016 through 2018, we estimate that 27,546 new low- and moderate- wage jobs were added in San Francisco. During the same time, 2,913 affordable housing units were produced for a jobs to housing ratio of 9.5.

To meet the need created by this office boom, the city should have provided 14,491 affordable housing units – “11,585 more that were actually produced,” the report states.

Housing needed at “all levels?” Well, not really:

Based on the State-defined Regional Housing Need Allocation goals set in 2015 for San Francisco for 2015-2022, as of 2018 San Francisco has produced 96% of the housing target goal for high-income households but only 39% of the target for low-income households and 15% of the target for moderate-income households.

Over the next ten years, the report finds,

Based on the number and types of housing in the development pipeline in San Francisco as of the second quarter of 2018, there will continue to be a shortage of housing units for low-income households while there will be enough housing constructed for the projected growth in high-income households.

Now connect that with Haney’s proposal. New office buildings, the study that backs up his legislation shows, create a massive demand for affordable housing. Some of the workers in, say, the Salesforce Tower are earning top wages – and developers have built, and are building, housing for them.

But at least a third of the office jobs will go to people who are low or moderate-income workers. Just to keep from making the affordable-housing crisis worse, the city should be charging developers about $190 a square foot for the housing impacts of new office space.

The current charge is $28.57. Haney wants to raise it to $69.60.

Six other supes are co-sponsoring the legislation, which so far the mayor opposes. Instead, Mayor Breed is trying to make it easier to build more offices. The four supes who are not on board are Vallie Brown, Ahsha Safai, Catherine Stefani, and Rafael Mandelman.

If Breed vetoes the bill, it would take one more sup to oppose the mayor and the developers.

The hearing starts at 1:30 pm in Room 250, City Hall.

Sup. Aaron Peskin wants to limit the impact that bond pass-throughs have on tenants. When the city sells bonds backed by property taxes, landlords can pass half of the tax increase onto their tenants – something the real-estate industry demanded in exchange for not opposing every single bond act ever to go on the ballot. But Peskin has proposed that tenants facing serious financial hardship have the right to appeal that passthrough to the Rent Board – and to spread the additional costs over a longer period of time.

That will be heard at the Rules Committee Monday/21 and (assuming is clears that committee) at the full board Tuesday/22.

The full board will also hear a detailed report on what progress the SFPD is making toward implementing a long series of reforms urged by the Obama-era Department of Justice. I hope that the recommendations of an independent blue-ribbon panelare also part of the discussion, and that the supes discus the role the Police Officers Association plays in creating what that panel called a “toxic culture.”

From a 2016 press conference releasing the report:

“The SFPD is, for all practical purposes, run by the POA,” [retired Judge LaDoris Cordell said]. “The POA leadership sets the tone, and historically, it’s an ugly one.”

She described how hard it was for the panel to find cops who wanted to talk. The POA “intimidated officers who wanted to talk to us,” she said. “The officers were told they had to go through the POA.”

In fact, the report consistently describes two visions of the department: One that comes from officers who were suggested and provided by the POA, who spoke with a POA lawyer at their sides, and who said that the department had no culture of bias or insensitivity – and a very different one that came from officers who agreed to testify only confidentially because of their fear of reprisal.

The officers who were not sent and approved by the POA described a demoralizing climate of racism, sexism, and homophobia perpetrated by a culture that promotes insiders who play the game and isolates reformers.

That hearing is slated to start at 3pm.

SF Planning’s really weak ‘Community Stabilization Policy’

The Planning Department offers little to address the causes of the Housing Crisis

The San Francisco Planning Commission will hear a presentation Thursday/ 17 on the department’s Community Stabilization Policy– supposedly an interagency effort to fight the disaster of displacement that has plagued San Francisco for the past decade or more.

There are a few bright spots in the proposal – it calls for more money for acquiring small buildings that could be bought by speculators, and it actually mentions pressuring Sacramento to repeal the Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins to allow the city to protect existing tenants.

The Planning Department offers little to address the causes of the Housing Crisis

But for the most part, it’s a reflection of longstanding policies that ignore the role office development and the tech boom has played in creating the housing crisis and does nothing to address income inequality or make sure that growth pays for growth.

It’s a classic SF Planning document, one that’s consistent with what former Mayor Ed Lee set as policy and what incumbent Mayor London Breed is continuing.

The document doesn’t even mention the idea that office developers ought to pay the actual costs of the housing demand they create. It doesn’t even mention the idea that new office space ought to be limited until there’s enough affordable housing for the new workers. It just assumes that more growth is good, and that the city ought to do a few little things to scramble to protect vulnerable communities – without even a passing mention of the reasons for the crisis.

It’s stunning.

Of course, Mayor Breed opposes the idea of office developers paying their fair share for housing. It’s going to take a ballot measure to link new office space to affordable housing.

And the planners have decided to limit, radically, the tools that they could use to prevent more catastrophic displacement.

make matters worse, Breed has nominated for a vacant commission seat a land-use lawyer who has spent her career helping big, private developers get projects approved by the SF Planning Commission.

I don’t think, in the more than 35 years that I’ve been covering city planning, that a big-time developer lawyer has ever been nominated to or sat on the Planning Commission.

Susan Diamond’s resume says she spent much of her career “managing the permitting process for some of the largest and most complex real-estate projects in San Francisco.” That includes “high-tech and biotech campuses, alternative energy, downtown office buildings, industrial projects, gas wells, assisted living, mixed-use.”

(Um, gas wells?)

Dennis Antenore, a retired lawyer who served on the Planning Commission, said the conflict issue “seems obvious to me.” I don’t know the rules on when and how often she might have to recuse herself (particularly if former clients appear before the commission), but the idea that someone who has spent a career helping the same developers who have put San Francisco in this mess is the mayor’s first choice for the Planning Commission is, at best, a bit dubious.

The Board of Supes needs to approve her nomination; that should come before the Rules Committee Monday/21.

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee Thursday/17will hold a hearing and consider a series of measures to stop the Department of Public Health from removing 41 beds at SF General dedicated to mentally ill patients who can’t care for themselves.

It’s been a huge issue over the past few months, as DPH officials and the mayor scramble to explain why desperately needed beds have been vacant and why existing patients could be displaced.

Ronen and Sup. Matt Haney have shown no patience whatsoever with DPH. The hearing will force the Breed Administration to give some answers.

DA deal? D5 money … and will an 11-year EIR ever die?

A 60-unit project at 14th and Mission is moving forward on the basis of an 11-year old environmental study.

There are really only two questions for George Gascon at this point: Did he cut a deal with the mayor (and everyone knows Gascon is not close to London Breed) so that Suzy Loftus would be able to run as an incumbent?

Or did he just decide to ditch the city without any concern for how his sudden resignation and move to LA would impact his office?

A 60-unit project at 14th and Mission is moving forward on the basis of an 11-year old environmental study.

I think we will know in a few months, when the money starts coming into his LA DA race. If there’s a bunch from Breed’s allies, it will suggest they are, at the very least, grateful for his untimely exit.

(And while the SF Police Officers Association despises Gascon, I wonder about their role in all of this. The cops endorsed Leif Dautch for DA, but have made it clear they can live with Loftus – and they will go to great lengths to prevent reformer Chesa Boudin from winning the election. Would that include working with Breed and Gascon?)

The real-estate money that everyone expected to see in the D5 supes race has arrived.The California Association of Realtors just dropped a mailer accusing challenger Dean Preston of (seriously!) not supporting affordable housing.

Preston, a tenant lawyer, has backed every affordable housing measure in this city for at least a decade.

But the real-estate mailer raises a larger question that is at the heart of the debate in this critical district. It attacks Preston for opposing market-rate housing and for arguing that housing on public land should be 100 percent affordable.

Frankly, the mailer is pretty weak. So is a simplistic pro-Brown mailer that was sent out a few days earlier.

And there’s more money about to pour into that race. The Firefighters Union just dropped $5,000 into an independent expenditure committee supporting Brown, and that IE just spent $18,500 (which it doesn’t have in the bank, so more money must be coming in) for the pro-Brown mailer.

But despite the mail money, I think this election is going to be won and lost on the ground; without any top-ticket races to spur turnout, it’s all going to be about getting your voters to the polls.

The Board of Supes will hear Tuesday/8 another in a long line of appeals of market-rate housing projects in the Mission based on the inadequacy of the 11-year-old Eastern Neighborhoods Plan EIR.

In this case, it’s Our Mission No Eviction challenging a 60-unit project on 14thnear Mission. The developer is using state density bonuses and will make only 8 units – 13 percent – affordable.

The project can go forward with no specific environmental review because it’s part of the Eastern Neighborhoods planning area, and in 2008, the city did a “project” EIR for the entire region.

That study, however, projected far less housing than has been built – and as Planning Commissioner Dennis Richards noted three years ago,it was adopted

before the Google buses, before the massive tech-boom displacement, before the Twitter tax break, before Uber, before Peninsula cities fully outsourced their housing problems to SF. It’s a different city today, and what made sense back then isn’t working any more.

In 2018, Our Mission No Eviction appealed a project on 19thStreet on the grounds that the old EIR, crafted during the Great Recession, was radically inadequate for today’s problems. It ignored the massive gentrification that’s happened and its impacts:

Gentrification Has Caused Unanticipated Increases in Traffic and Automobile Ownership. The unanticipated influx of high earners in the Mission has resulted and will continue to result in a substantial increase in the rate of automobile ownership and TNC use in the Mission. It is now well recognized that high earners are twice as likely to own an automobile than their low income counterparts, even in transit rich areas such as the Mission. The TNC “ride-share” phenomena, increased frequency of amazon/meal/grocery deliveries and the implementation of Mission St “red lanes” have resulted in significantly changed traffic patterns. Additionally, the rise in “displacement commutes” of Mission families driving back long distances to their jobs and children’s schools in San Francisco, as well as the plethora of new Silicon Valley “reverse commutes” were not anticipated and have significantly changed the traffic picture.

A year later, the situation has, if anything, only gotten worse. From the appeal:

When The Eastern Neighborhoods EIR (PEIR) was prepared in 2008, it had no way to predict the extraordinary changes coming to the Mission District. It had no way to predict this rapid rate of development, the creation of the TNC model, and the cultural shift to near absolute use of delivery services by high-income newcomers for shopping and services. And now, our systems and residents are paying the price of woefully low cumulative impact projections, inadequate impact fees, delayed infrastructure updates, and hyper-gentrification. As a result of concerns that development would stall during the 2008 recession, impact fees were set at only 1/3 of the actual needs, and adequate alternative funding sources have never been identified.

The supes have, so far, refused to uphold any of these appeals. But at a certain point, it will become so clear that the old data is invalid that approving new developments under a 2008 analysis will be an increasing stretch.

The Planning Commission Thursday/10 will take a big step toward banning private cars from Market Street – an idea that some transit advocates have been pushing for more than two decades.

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez does a good job explaining the plan in the Ex. It would eliminate all private auto traffic from Van Ness to Steuart St. Only buses and taxis would be allowed. (The ban would include Uber and Lyft vehicles, which are not taxis.)

The idea is to make the city’s main street more pedestrian and bike friendly – and to make Muni move faster. Since much of SF’s public transportation infrastructure shares surface streets with cars, anything that gets cars out of the way helps Muni.

The commission will be asked to approve the final EIR on the project. It will got to the SFMTA Board Tuesday/15.

Haney seeks big increase in developer fees for housing

Sup. Matt Haney wants to force developers to pay for the housing demand they create.

The Planning Commission will consider Thursday/19 a plan that would dramatically raise the amount office developers are required to pay to offset the housing demand they create.

The proposal, by Sup. Matt Haney, would hike the fee from $28.57 a square foot to $69.60 a square foot. That could generate as much money for affordable housing over the next ten years as the mayor’s proposed $600 million housing bond.

Sup. Matt Haney wants to force developers to pay for the housing demand they create.

It has also set off a major political battle that so far has received little news media attention. The developers are freaking out; the Planning Department is trying to derail the proposal.

That’s because Haney is asking the question that ought to be central to all development discussions: If new office buildings don’t pay for the damage they do to the city, if they are costing us more than they provide in benefits, why are we approving them?

“There is no inherent good in more office space,” Haney told me. “If development is going to happen, the developers should contribute enough to mitigate the impacts they have on the community.”

The debate over this proposal will also force local officials, from the mayor to the supes to the planning commissioners, and legions of local activists, to take a clear stand:

Are they in favor of affordable housing – and making office developers pay for it? Or are they willing to let the office developers reap big profits while they make the housing crisis worse?

Here’s the background:

Under state law, San Francisco has the right to charge developers a fee to mitigate the impacts of their projects. If a new office building creates demand for more Muni service, the city can charge the developers for that cost. (So far, the city has decided not to charge developers even a small fraction of the cost of providing Muni serviceto their office buildings.)

New office buildings attract new workers to the city, and those workers need a place to live. Many of them – roughly a third, according to city data – will not make enough money to afford market-rate housing.

So the city has the right to ask developers to pay for building affordable housing for their workforce. In fact, if that doesn’t happen, then every new office building makes the housing crisis that much worse.

Before the city can set that charge, it needs to do what’s called a “nexus study” – an economic study that links the impact of the development to the cost of mitigating it.

In this case, San Francisco hired Keyser-Marston, a respected economic-analysis consulting firm, to run the numbers. The report, which you can read here, is, like much of this stuff, a bit dense and complicated. But what is concludes is simple: New office buildings create a substantial need for affordable housing. A fee that links new offices to affordable housing is completely legal and legit.

Now: KM decided not to go all the way out and calculate what that fee would be. But the report does say that every 1,000 square feet of new office space creates a demand for 0.8 units of affordable housing. So 1 million square feet of space would create the demand for 800 units.

So what do we do with that? From the report:

This report does not include a calculation of maximum supported fee level. Maximum supported fee levels per square foot of building area may be calculated by:

  1. 1)  Multiplying affordable unit demand factors summarized in Table III-6 by an affordability gap representing the estimated average net cost to produce each unit of affordable housing; and

  2. 2)  Dividing by 1,000 square feet of building area.

Fair enough. I did that math. It comes out to about $188 per new gross square feet of office space. In other words, based on the KM numbers, the city has every right to charge developers $188 million for affordable housing for every million new square feet of office space.

Haney’s proposal doesn’t ask for that. He told me he’s only seeking 36 percent of the maximum the city could charge. That’s consistent with other nexus fees, like the Muni charge.

Still, it represents a chance to capture a large amount of money for affordable housing.

The developers ought to be happy – by law and logic, the fee could be a whole lot higher. But of course, they are arguing that fees that high could cause their buildings not to “pencil out.” They wouldn’t make enough profit for the international speculative financial world the puts up the money for this stuff.

Although it’s not city law, the Planning Department decided on its all that these fees should be subject to a “feasibility analysis” that looks at how much developers can afford to pay. In this case, the city’s feasibility analysis — which delayed the process by six months and potentially cost the city miliions — says that the poor developers won’t make enough money on offices if the mitigation rates go up.

Okay: Let’s break this down.

An office building has a lot of negative impacts on the city. It causes more congestion, more costs for Muni, more demand for affordable housing (and if we don’t meet that demand, more homelessness, more people facing long commutes that are bad for the planet, etc.)

What benefits does that building give to the city? If the tax revenue it brings in doesn’t meet the costs it creates, why should the city approve it? Why do we need more office buildings if they are making life in the city worse?

Why not just say to the developers: Okay, your project doesn’t work in SF. That’s fine; we don’t want it or need it.

But that’s not how the City Planning Department works. It’s largely a permit-processing office, that operates on the assumption that all development is good development.

So the planning staff recommends that the housing fee be increased by only $10 a square foot. That doesn’t even cover the cost of inflation; the original fee was set in 1996, and just to keep up with the inflation, it should be $43.61.

“This is a huge opportunity to bring some balance and equity to development and housing,” Haney told me. “This strikes at the heart of how San Francisco deals with developers.”

He said that he has no plans to back down from his number. “If people in this city say they are pro-housing, then it’s important for them to stand up.”

Whatever happens at the Planning Commission, this will wind up at the Board of Supes, where Haney said he has six votes. But that’s not enough to override a veto if Mayor London Breed decides to side with the developers.

This will be a huge test, a defining moment for a lot of local officials. We all need to pay attention.

Massive new development would transform Dogpatch area

A massive project will transform Dogpatch -- but how will people get around?

The SF Planning Commission will consider Thursday/5 the first steps toward approving a massive new development in Dogpatch, one of the biggest single projects in the city outside of the troubled Lennar redevelopment of Hunters Point.

The commission will be considering a project agreement to allow a developer to rezone and transform 29 acres of land that once was a PG&E power plant at the foot of Potrero Hill, near Pier 70.

A massive project will transform Dogpatch — but how will people get around?

When it’s complete, the project would include more than 5 million square feet of housing, hotel, industrial, and retail space, along with almost 7 acres of public parkland, some of it built on city-owned property.

It would completely transform what is now a largely industrial area, which almost certainly would mean existing light-industry in the surrounding area would ultimately be displaced for more lucrative uses.

The Power Plant Project could add more than 5,000 residents, and 250 hotel rooms, to the area, along with 1.5 million square feet of office and research-and-development space, and nearly 100,000 square feet of retail space, attracting somewhere around 6,000 new jobs.

The hotels and light-industrial space would add another couple of hundred jobs – meaning the jobs-housing balance would be out of scale.

There’s also at this point limited transit access to the site, which would include 2,600 off-street parking spaces.

The developer has promised to make 30 percent of the housing units affordable.

The site contains both underground and above-ground toxics, and demolishing the existing buildings and creating a new community will require substantial mitigation.

I know that area pretty well. If you add that many new people and jobs without expanding transit pretty radically, Third Street (and the light rail that runs along it) will become impassible.

And that doesn’t include the impact of the new Warriors Stadium nearby.

I heard a speaker at last week’s Planning Commission meeting say that Moscow has added 80 new underground transit stations in just the past ten years. That’s the kind of investment SF is going to need if it wants to accept this level of new growth.

And there is no plan at all to pay for it.

The Board of Supes is back in business this week after an August recess. On the agenda: A move by Sups. Aaron Peskin and Ahsha Safai to require a conditional use hearing and approval for any new employee cafeterias in office buildings. The idea is simple – while areas like mid-Market have an office-space boom, it’s not trickling down to the local restaurants because tech-company employees get free food at work. It might be a good idea in general for some of those folks to leave the office every now and then and spend some time in the neighborhood.

The Chamber of Commerce and the real-estate industry opposes the idea, and Peskin and Safai had to trim it back from a ban on the cafeterias to a CU. Interesting to see where, for example, Sup. Vallie Brown, who has extensive support from real estate and is in a heated election campaign, will wind up on this one.

Sup. Gordon Mar wants to make it more attractive for local candidates to use the public-financing system, which includes limits on spending – and he wants to encourage candidates to get more money in smaller donations.

Mar has introduced a measure that would increase substantially the initial grant that candidates would get when they qualify for public financing, and raise from 2:1 to 6:1 the match amount for candidates after their initial grant.

It would also limit contribution matches to $150; now, the city will match up to $500.

The idea is to encourage more candidates to accept the spending limits and encourage more small donations. The measure comes up at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee Thursday/5.

The Trump supporters who opposed Rose Pak Chinatown Station

Rose Pak, who helped put Ed Lee in office, told reporters he is "isolated" and listens only to tech money

The most remarkable thing about the close vote to name the Central Subway’s Chinatown Station after Rose Pak was how little the opposition had to do with Rose Pak.

I watched almost all of the more than five hours of testimony. The supporters, including Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer, former Sup. Jane Kim, Re. Norman Fong, who runs the Chinatown Community Development Center, and others, talked about the role Pak played in making the train to Chinatown happen.

Rose Pak and John Avalos talk outside the Election Night party for David Campos for Assembly

We heard that she started years ago, after the demolition of the Embarcadero Freeway, pushing for an underground transit route to Chinatown. We heard how much of an advocate she was for the community. We heard that she was often aggressive and pushy (although we don’t typically hear that sort of criticism about men) – but single-minded in her efforts to help her community.

And a lot of young people were speaking in favor: The outpouring of support from the next generation of activists, most of them on the progressive side, was clear and obvious.

I had my political disagreements with Pak. But I get that she was a major force pushing for the subway, and I understand why people want to honor her.

The interesting thing was that, other than a few speakers who suggested that Pak was “corrupt” (Quentin Kopp) and a “bully” (members of the Chinatown Merchants Association), most of the opposition had nothing to do with local transit policy.

It was about the Falun Gong and the People’s Republic of China.

The spiritual movement clearly spent a lot of money and time organizing people to say that Pak was too closely linked to the Chinese government, that she was, in the words of some, a “communist agent.” (Actually, from my experience, Pak was very much a Capitalist Agent; she worked with the Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and our disagreements were over her support for politicians like Ed Lee, who were far too willing to let the free market determine housing and development policy.)

I’m not here to defend the Chinese government. But I don’t think the Falun Gong movement represents progressive San Francisco ideas, either: the group’s newspaper, the Epoch Times, is firmly in the Trump camp, and was just banned from Facebook for posting pro-Trump ads without any clear disclosure where they were from.

The doorhanger I got and the posters I’ve seen around town opposing the station naming had no information identifying the source of the funding.

So at this point, it will be Chinatown Rose Pak Station. Unless someone tries to take this to the ballot, in which case we will get an actual clear picture of where the anti-Pak money comes from.

The Board of Supes is still on recess, but two major items come before the Planning Commission Thursday/29. The first is Sup. Ahsha Safai’s proposal to allow overnight camping and long-term vehicle parking in a city-owned lot at 2340 San Jose, near the Balboa Park BART station. The lot will be eventually be turned into affordable housing, but that project won’t break ground for at least another year, maybe two.

In the meantime, people who have been living in their vehicles for more than 60 days would have a place to stay, with bathroom and shower facilities on site.

The planning staff points out, correctly, that the homeless crisis won’t be over in 12-24 months, and that this would be only a short-term stopgap solution. But if it works as a pilot project, there are plenty of other sites in the city.

Then comes the draft environmental impact report on The Hub – the 84-acre area around Market and Van Ness. The idea is to add about 7,200 new housing units to The Hub, an area that’s already highly congested – and that nine major Muni lines and one streetcar line cross.

The Planning Department still insists that there are no significant traffic or transportation impacts to worry about. They got to that conclusion with some stunning numbers games.

The DEIR says that since this is already an area well-served by transit, developers can build housing without a lot of parking, discouraging car use. Which is a fine idea – except that the population likely to occupy these high-end apartments and condos are less likely to get on a Muni bus anywhere, and more likely to take Uber of Lyft. They’re also highly likely to order food from delivery services and goods from place like Amazon. So there will be a lot of new traffic whether they allow parking or not.

How much? Well, the Planning Department says, Uber and Lyft won’t tell us how many passengers they pick up and drop off, and where. So that means planners can’t study the problem.

However, the report notes:

The Hub Plan could result in commercial vehicle and passenger loading demand that could not be accommodated off-street or within curbside loading spaces, which could result in potentially hazardous conditions or significant delays for transit, people bicycling, or people walking.

And what do we do about that?

There is no feasible mitigation available to reduce this impact.

The hearing starts at 1pm in Room 400, City Hall.

Planners keep wanting to streamline approvals for housing that won’t get built

The Board of Supes isn’t back from vacation yet, but the Planning Commission is – and on Thursday/22 the panel will hear a report on how the Planning Department is complying with a mayoral order to speed up housing construction.

You can read the report here. What it says, in essence, is that the department is overturning long-established environmental rules, making it easier for developers to get permits even if their projects create (for example) air-quality issues – and still, housing in not speeding up.

USF is hosting a discussion on D5 issues Thursday/29

Let me quote from the letter from Planning Director John Rahaim:

Standard Environmental Conditions of Approval for selected CEQA topics. The Department has initiated an effort to replace project-by-project evaluation of required mitigation measures with Standard Environmental Conditions of Approval for several environmental topics, including Air Quality, Biological Resources, Paleontology, Historic Resources, Noise, and Transportation. This will significantly improve the transparency and predictability of the environmental review process, and allow for more projects to be evaluated for eligibility under existing CEQA exemptions, reducing typical review timeframes by several months.

Air quality and transportation are huge issues for development projects in SF, particularly when adding more office or residential space will create significant traffic impacts. Every time we have seen “streamlining” on environmental analysis, it’s been a problem.

Oh, and look at the numbers: Even with the “streamlining,” it doesn’t appear that developers are building anything but a limited amount of luxury housing. That’s because the city’s rules aren’t the real limit to development — the market is driven by speculative capital and land and construction costs. The tech boom has driven up land costs (in a 47-square-mile city) to the point where most housing that isn’t at the very high end doesn’t make any economic sense.

It’s not the rules. It’s capitalism, stupid.

The SFMTA will consider Tuesday/20 naming the Chinatown station for the new underground light rail connection after Rose Pak. It won’t be a simple or easy vote: The last time around, after considerable public pressure and testimony, the panel deadlocked 3-3. The seventh seat has just been filled by Steve Heminger, and if nothing else changes, he will have the final say.

Heminger, appointed by Mayor Breed and confirmed by the supes, is a former director of the MTC.

The supes unanimously approved a resolution by Sup. Aaron Peskin urging the MTA to name the stop the Chinatown Rose Pak station. But practitioners of Falun Gong, a spiritual system that has faced a crackdown from the Chinese government, are strongly opposed and have raised enough money not only for ads and an online presence but for door hangers that dropped in my neighborhood this past weekend.

The politics are interesting: There was a time, back in the early days of Ed Lee’s mayoral administration, when progressives on the board clashed with Pak. She and Willie Brown were the ones who convinced Lee to go back on his promise of serving as a caretaker mayor and run for a full term. She was a strong supporter of his policies, which progressives often opposed.

But over time, Pak developed different alliances. She sided strongly with David Campos in his Assembly race against David Chiu; “to know Chiu is not to trust him,” she told me, repeatedly. She was close to Jane Kim and supported her for state Senate over Lee ally Scott Wiener.

And pretty much everyone agrees that she was the number one advocate for the Central Subway Project, which she said was a way to bring back some of the tourists and shoppers that Chinatown lost when the Embarcadero Freeway came down (against her best efforts, under Mayor Art Agnos, whom she had supported).

And she was furious when Lee appointed Julie Christensen to the D3 supervisor seat that Pak though should have gone to Planning Commissioner Cindy Wu. So she made friends with Peskin – who had often criticized her in the past – and helped him win the seat.

(BTW, back in 2010, when state Sen. Leland Yee was running for mayor, Rose Pak sat down with me over tea at the Chinatown Hilton and told me some hair-raising stories about the senator. She said he was deeply corrupt, took bribes, and was involved in some very sketchy stuff. She produced no evidence. She said none of her sources would talk to me. I knew she disliked Yee, and since there was nothing to go on, I never pursued that story. The FBI did; they got the scoop.)

So expect a loud, long meeting – and if the MTA refuses to go along with the name change, expect the supes to move to take away the MTA’s exclusive naming authority and do it themselves.

The D5 supes races is one of the most important political contests on the November ballot. Both candidates, Dean Preston and incumbent Sup. Vallie Brown, have raised substantial amounts of money (Preston, the challenger, more than keeping pace despite huge amounts of real-estate money going to Brown.) We are waiting for the inevitable flood of independent-expenditure cash that will soon emerge on the Brown side, as the mayor taps her big-money backers to use the IE loophole to send unlimited money into an account that will be used to attack Preston.

In the meantime, the candidates have been meeting in debates and neighborhood forums. One that will be interesting: Thursday/29, Preston and Brown will be at the University of San Francisco McCarthy Center for a discussion that will focus on the issues facing the district – with USF students (many of whom live in D5) leading the dialogue. It’s at 4:30 pm, in the Handlery Room at the Lone Mountain campus, and open to the public. Politics Professor James Taylor will moderate.

 

After 50 years, SF poised to move on public power

The Chron kicked off the annual media week of stories on homelessness Sunday with a long, detailed, Q&A – readers submitted questions, and Editor Audrey Cooper and Reporter Kevin Fagan answered them.

Most of the section was entirely predictable (both the questions and the answers). But two stood out: 

Q: Are there examples in other countries of successful methods/processes that have been used to decrease homelessness? Can some of those be applied to the Bay Area?

A: Other Western countries don’t have the same kind of homelessness problem we have here because they have national health systems, living-wage laws, unemployment payments that pay basic bills and national social low-income housing programs, many with laws providing a legal right to a roof.

Q: What are the three main reasons for homelessness and what are the top three solutions?

A: The top three reasons for homelessness are loss of job, loss of housing, and drug or alcohol abuse. The top three solutions are housing aid — counseling-intense supportive housing for the most troubled — employment programs and substance abuse rehab.

The first question makes the point that this is ultimately a problem with the US version of late-stage capitalism (often referred to as “neoliberalism”), and it’s been in place for almost four decades, under both Democrats and Republicans.

One example: Ronald Reagan gutted federal aid for housing in cities – but neither Clinton nor Obama brought it back, and it hasn’t been a major issue in the Democratic primaries.

The second is more telling on a local level: Why do people become homeless? Because they can’t pay the rent or they get evicted. (Drug and alcohol abuse are reasons why someone might lose their job or get evicted; they are not, alone, causes of homelessness. Lots of alcoholics and drug addicts live in nice mansions with trust funds or money they have made at other points in their lives; their substance abuse doesn’t force them onto the streets.)

So in all of the solutions the Chron has talked about, not one mentions addressing the problem before it happens, which would require action on the state (not the federal) level. The state Legislature, dominated by Democrats, could repeal the Ellis Act and Costs Hawkins, allow cities to enact effective rent controls, enact state-wide just-cause eviction laws, and prevent thousands of evictions a year in SF alone – thus preventing thousands of people from becoming homeless in SF.

While we talk about the crisis in homelessness in SF and other cities, and the Chron interviews the mayors of SF and San Jose, nobody from the major news media is talking about the corrosive power of the real-estate industry in Sacramento and the failure of the Democratic leadership to rise above that corruption and address homelessness in a meaningful way.

(I see, by the way, that Cisco is a sponsor of this project. Nothing wrong with Destination Home in Silicon Valley. But I wonder if maybe all these corporations that want to do good might do more if they formed a major statewide PAC with millions of dollars that supported only candidates who vow to reject real-state money and protect tenant rights, including ending no-fault evictions. According to campaign finance records, plenty of Cisco employees, for example, gave money to Newsom for Governor; did any of them ask him what he was going to do to stop no-fault evictions and prevent the homelessness crisis from getting worse every day? Or: They could support candidates who are pushing for higher taxes on corporations that would fund housing. Putting a few million into the ballot initiative to reform Prop. 13 would be a start.)

Most of official City Hall shuts down the first couple of weeks of August – we’re like Paris that way. The supes don’t meet, the Planning Commission doesn’t meet, the Police Commission doesn’t meet … everyone goes out of town or take a break.

Everyone agrees it’s time for SF to take over PG&E’s facilities — but time is of the essence.

But before that happens, there’s a huge issue coming up Monday/28 in the Land Use and Transportation Committee. The SF Public Utilities Commission will present its report on the next steps San Francisco can take to create its own public-power system.

At this point – almost exactly 50 years after the late Berkeley Professor Joe Nielands wrote a groundbreaking story in the Bay Guardian (March 22, 1969) exposing the history of the Raker Act and PG&E’s illegal private-power monopoly in San Francisco – almost everyone in City Hall agrees that it’s time to get rid of the bankrupt, crooked private utility.

Just a couple of weeks ago, the director of the Department of the Environment, Deborah Rafael, testified to the supes that it’s critical for the city to take control of its own electric grid. It’s critical for our local response to climate change; it’s also a source of immense revenue. The city could buy out PG&E (right now, at a bargain price since the company is in bankruptcy proceedings), replace all the old, unsafe infrastructure, modernize the system, and still clear hundreds of millions of dollars a year – after cutting rates to customers.

And of course, lower electric rates are good for residents and businesses and would pour more money into the local economy.

Labor needs to be a partner in the discussions, since IBEW represents thousands of PG&E workers who would wind up moving into the city power system. But it’s entirely possible to transition all of those workers into the city system, at their same pay rates, with no loss of pensions or seniority; the city will need the trained workers.

The City Charter, which was ignored for many years when PG&E dominated City Hall, states very clearly that

It is the declared purpose and intention of the people of the City and County, when public interest and necessity demand, that public utilities shall be gradually acquired and ultimately owned by the City and County.

On April 9, 2019, the supes unanimously agreed that the public interest and necessity require a move toward public power. The resolution gave the SFPUC 45 days to produce a report laying out the next steps.

With PG&E in bankruptcy, and both management and potential other suitors (hedge funds) that want to buy the utility discussing options, time is of the essence. The city needs to be sure than any bankruptcy plan include SF buying PG&E’s local distribution system.

The hearing starts at 1:30 in the BOS chamber.