The Agenda

Perhaps, a real mayoral debate

Chron Editorial Page Editor John Diaz moderated the first debate, which was pretty moderate

Tom Ammiano called me this morning to say he was going to dial 911. “I just realized I agree with Willie Brown,” he said.

Chron Editorial Page Editor John Diaz moderated the first debate, which was pretty moderate

That doesn’t happen often to me, either, but I get his point: Brown’s analysis of the mayor’s race reflects the problem we are seeing with this short-track sprint:

The real story behind all this is that there isn’t a cigarette paper’s worth of difference between the candidates on the major issues.

All are calling for more affordable housing. All are calling for compassionate but firm care for the homeless. All say auto break-ins have to stop and that traffic is terrible.

But none of them has a concrete answer for how they will do any of it.

That was my response to the first debate, where there was too much agreement and none of the candidates stood out.  It’s still the problem today.

Brown is, of course, wrong in his overall position: There are very significant differences between the candidates. Mayor Jane Kim or Mayor Mark Leno would take the city in a very different direction than Mayor London Breed (or, in her wildest imagination, Mayor Angela Alioto).

But the voters don’t know that yet – and the election comes closer every day.

We may see that change Wednesday/14, when the first forum organized by progressive groups takes place at the Women’s Building. The forum is hosted by he SF Progressive Alliance, The SF Latino Democratic Club, The Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, San Francisco Tomorrow, [email protected] Young Democrats of San Francisco, The SF Berniecrats, The SF Green Party, Progressive Democrats of America SF, South Beach D6 Democratic Club, SF For Democracy, and more.

Here’s the question I would ask, if I only got one: Do you believe that rapid growth has been good for San Francisco, and that job growth in the tech sector – encouraged as a key policy by the administration of Ed Lee — has had a net positive impact on the city’s economy, on social justice in the city, and on the quality of life for all residents?

I said “net positive impact.” Don’t tell me there are upsides and downsides; on balance, are we better off as a city then we were before Ed Lee too office and Ron Conway began calling the shots at City Hall? Yes or no. Don’t waffle.

The event starts at 6pm.

The Board of Supes Finance Committee once again takes up a huge complex set of campaign-finance and ethics reforms Thursday/15, and the supes are in a strange situation: If they don’t approve everything that the Ethics Commission has proposed, that commission has the ability to put the issue directly to the voters, as is.

The more I learn about this, the more frustrating it gets: Almost everyone on the progressive side of things agrees with 90 percent of the reforms, and those are the most important ones. (The reforms that we really need, dealing with independent expenditure committees, aren’t in the package, in part because of the US Supreme Court and in part because that doesn’t seem to be the priority of Ethics right now.)

But Ethics is insisting on a couple of elements that directly impact nonprofit organizations, many of which are doing important work in the community. 

The key issue is “behested contributions,” which means that a city official has asked some individual or group to give money to a nonprofit (or in some cases, a government agency). The problem is that big corporate donors can do a favor for, say, the mayor by supporting his or her favorite charities – but since it’s not a direct campaign contribution, the amount is unlimited.

Ethics wanted to ban the practice entirely, but wound up settling for a set of disclosure rules that are going to discourage some people from giving money to nonprofits.

As a working group for local charities notes, the legislation

dramatically expands current law in ways that would create major impediments for public officials who engage in charitable activities to support nonprofits in our community

The legislation as written says that anyone who in any way seeks to influence city policy can’t give money to a nonprofit at the behest of a public official without both the individual and the official filing a report.
That means, for example, that someone who goes before the Board of Supes to testify at a hearing in favor of Sanctuary City can’t give $1,000 to a nonprofit without filing forms – if a member of the board asks for the donation.

The city just enacted a similar provision, written by Sup. Aaron Peskin; it became law Jan. 1, 2018. It defines “interested party” as someone who has a financial stake in a public-policy decision, not just someone who (like a huge number of San Franciscans) testifies on some issue at a board or commission. From the nonprofits memo:

The broad definition of interested party will be impossible to track or enforce. It would apply to anybody who speaks at a hearing, calls or writes their legislator, participates in a public rally, or even signs a petition. It fails to draw a distinction between advocacy around a financial interest with personal gain versus the public expression of one’s opinions under the First Amendment. It would apply to people who speak only at a subcommittee hearing outside the public official’s presence, and speakers who exercise their right to testify anonymously.

The other issue is that the law, as proposed, would make it impossible for a lot of nonprofit board members or staff to serve on any city commission.

Board members (and I know this from serving on two nonprofit boards) are supposed to help raise money for the organizations. If you are also on a commission, and you call people and ask for money for your nonprofit, you start to fall into the area where this new legislation would put you in potential legal jeopardy.

The threshold for triggering that reporting process is $1,000. And both the donor and the official have to file the report. (48hills doesn’t get many $1,000 donations, and I’m not on any commission, but I can tell you that if I told those donors they would have to file a report, they would probably say: Well, then never mind.)

Again, from the memo:

These requirements are overly onerous, duplicative to the public official’s filing, create a disincentive to charitable giving, and imply to donors that their contributions are somehow suspect. This requirement will most surely result in a decline of charitable contributions by any potential donors defined as interested parties – which as we highlighted in the section above, would apply to a dramatically expanded group of people – with minimal benefit to the public. The proposal may also result in sanctions when a donor fails to file the required report, even if the public official fails to notify the donor of the reporting requirement. This new double-reporting standard just creates a set of potential traps for unwary donors who simply are willing to make a $1,000 donation to a local charitable organization.

In contrast, we are supportive of reasonable reporting requirements for recipients of major behested contributions ($100,000+). While this provision would impose additional compliance costs for those organizations, contributions of this magnitude are rare and large enough to justify additional scrutiny.

More tricky: I also know that some people like to give money to nonprofits anonymously. No commissioner who is also on a nonprofit board could ask for a contribution from someone who doesn’t want their name made public.

There are real issues with behested payments. When Mayor Ed Lee asked big corporations to chip in for the America’s Cup and the Super Bowl, he was in their debt. That should at least be reported.

And as Larry Bush, a member of Friends of Ethics and a supporter of the legislation, testified last week, the existing behested-payment filings don’t show any small nonprofits; they are all the big guys.

But that’s based on the state’s definition of behested payments, not the definition that would be in this law.

The nonprofit community – and most smaller nonprofits are not corrupt or creating conflicts of interests – is united against this part of the law. I don’t see why Ethics can’t, as Peskin asked at the last meeting, give the existing law a chance to work.

Meanwhile, Peskin is proposing that donors to independent expenditure committees – the superPACs that are the real source of political corruption in this city – be required to file economic interest statements. That’s a fascinating idea.

But overall, it seems as if the city could enact a strong, much-needed set of new ethics rules, with pretty much unanimous support, without attacking legit nonprofits.

But the supes aren’t in control here; Ethics can put this on the ballot anyway. And anti-corruption laws tend to pass pretty easily on the ballot in SF.

The hearing starts at 10am in the Board of Supes chamber.

The full board hears an appeal Tuesday/13 of the Community Plan Evaluation of a proposal to replace a laundromat on Mission Street with 55 units (or more) of market-rate housing.

The issue at hand is somewhat technical – does the project conform with the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which means it doesn’t need further environmental review. But what’s really going on here is that the community has been pushing for the city to buy the site and develop 100 percent affordable housing – and the owner has set the price so high that the city can’t do it.

The legalities are difficult here: The supes probably can’t say that the developer has to sell to the city or he won’t get a permit. But it’s tempting.

That hearing starts sometime after 3pm.

The Agenda: A new mayor (maybe?) and and end to fossil-fuel investments

The Board of Supes will finally decide Tuesday/23 whether London Breed will remain in charge of both branches of government, or take over as interim mayor (and give up her District 5 seat) – or go back to being board president when someone else takes over as caretaker mayor.

Sup. Aaron Peskin has called for a Committee of the Whole meeting to look at that question –- and as of today, as far as I can tell, nobody has six votes for anything.

That could change between now and Tuesday, and at the very least the public will get to weigh in, give the supes a sense of what they want to happen for the next four-and-a-half months – and watch public deliberations on the issue.

The meeting starts at 2pm, but the mayoral discussion is at the very end of the agenda. Still, I expect the Board Chambers will be packed, so get there early if you want a seat.

The SF Employees Retirement Board may take a dramatic step to fight global climate change Wednesday/24 when it holds a special meeting to consider divesting all of its holding in fossil-fuel companies. Right now, that’s about $502 million.

For years, environmentalists have been urging large pension funds to sell off stocks in oil, gas, and coal companies. When John Avalos was a supervisor, he pushed the issue, and since then, Peskin has taken it up.

This chart shows that maybe oil, gas, and coal aren’t such a good investment after all

But the supes can’t tell the retirement board, which manages some $23 billion in assets, how to invest its money – and a majority of the seven-member board has so far declined to approve divestment.

Peskin has a charter amendment that will come up Tuesday/23 that would change the makeup of the board, taking away one of the mayor’s three appointees and giving that seat to an appointee of the city attorney. The current city attorney, Dennis Herrera, is a supporter of fossil-fuel divestment.

But there are indications – in part because of Peskin’s proposal – that the board may shift this week.

The case for divestment is pretty clear: Fossil-fuel companies are a significant reason why the planet is being destroyed, and the city’s money ought to be invested in more environmentally friendly activities.

As the directors of and the Sierra Club noted in an Ex oped:

Divestment is a powerful way for our cities, states and public institutions to cut ties with this industry, take away their social license to operate and weaken their political power

But the Retirement Board staff, in a remarkable memo, argues that divestment is a bad idea because fossil-fuel companies continue to make a lot of money. The memo takes the position that fossil fuels are going to be part of our energy future for a long, long time, and is dismissive of renewable energy.

The workers whose pensions are involved take a different stance – SEIU Local 1021, for example, supports divestment.

The meeting’s at 1pm, 1145 Market 6th Floor. There will be a press conference at City Hall at noon.

The Agenda: Ron Conway gets his way

Two of the leading candidates for mayor told me this week that they think something went very wrong with the Planning Department’s decision to move forward the application for a condo-conversion permit for the building owners who evicted 100-year-old Iris Canada.

Mark Leno told me that “The Commission’s decision is a breath of fresh air as it provides a sense of justice too long delayed. As you mention, the Department’s determinations raise many disturbing issues.”

Sup. Jane Kim told me that “of course this is a problem.” She said that the Canada eviction was so prominent in the news media that it’s hard to believe the planners didn’t know about it and were willing to check the box that said the building had no evictions.

It’s not that hard to figure out where people have been evicted. Someone in the Planning Department ought to be tracking that anyway. The idea that this almost slipped through is shocking.

Perhaps the supes can hold a hearing on the process that planning uses to track evictions.

Sup. London Breed did not respond to my text message seeking comment. 

For ten years, Airbnb was able to devastate the housing stock in San Francisco, building a $10 billion company while thousands of apartments were turned into hotel rooms. For the first few years, the company operated with an entirely illegal business model: Every single Airbnb unit in San Francisco violated the city’s short-term rental ban. Every one. And the city, under Ed Lee, did absolutely nothing.

A 2014 bill by then-Sup. David Chiu allowed the practice of turning rental units into hotel rooms to continue, legally; Breed was on the majority side of a shocking list of 6-5 votes that gave Airbnb everything it wanted. In the end, Kim voted for the bill, even after losing every significant attempt to amend it.

At the time, critics warned that there was no way to enforce the measure, and that thousands of tenants would lost their homes as landlords sought higher returns in the hotel business. Evictions continued to soar, rents continued to rise, and somewhere around 8,000 apartments that could have been available to desperate tenants were rented as short-term vacation units.

Plutocrat Ron Conway and his pals, including Airbnb board member Reid Hoffman, rewarded Chiu with more than $500,000 in IE spending against David Campos in their hard-fought race for state Assembly.

Finally, the city was forced to impose the fundamental rule that Campos had pushed for in 2014: A requirement that Airbnb and other STR companies bar illegal units from their sites. And now, guess what? Most of the 8,500 San Francisco listings on Airbnb are about to vanish.

That’s because they were never legal. Yet they continued to operate, and make millions for the company, because Lee, Chiu, and their allies refused to enforce the city’s laws and protect tenants against the greed of a multibillion-dollar tech company.

The Government Audit and Oversight Committee Meets Wednesday/17, and one of the items on the agenda is a long-delayed hearing on the enforcement of short-term rental laws. It might be time to talk not just about today’s enforcement but about how many tenants lost their homes, and how many were unable to find rental housing, under the last administration’s Airbnb-friendly policies.

Most of the mainstream news coverage of the mayor’s race, including this otherwise fine and accurate piece by Rachel Swan, uses the word “moderate” to refer to Acting Mayor Breed. Breed herself says she has no ideology and is not a partisan.

But anyone who wants to know how this mayor’s race is lining up needs to go beyond labels – Breed has voted with the progressives at times – and read this key scoop by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez at the Ex:

Welcome, folks, to the Great Supervisor Shakedown of 2018. 

Ron Conway, the tech mogul and billionaire ally of the late Mayor Ed Lee, has contacted moderate-leaning members of the Board of Supervisors with one message: Support Acting Mayor London Breed for interim mayor — or else.

That “or else” is clear and simple: Conway routinely spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on independent-expenditure committees to attack candidates he doesn’t like. Everybody on the Board of Supes knows that. They all got the message.

The reason this is so critical is that it shows what’s really at stake. Conway was  behind the Big-Tech-friendly policies of Mayor Ed Lee, and was behind the election of Big Tech-friendly politicians at the local and state level. He’s among the people most responsible for the current state of the city – for the housing crisis, the tens of thousands displaced, the radical income inequality, the loss of entire communities.

Now: Neither Kim or Leno is a radical anti-tech socialist. Kim voted for the Twitter tax break. Leno worked with Conway and Lee on state Ellis Act legislation.

But Conway apparently sees them both as a serious threat to his control over City Hall – and the policies that have made him and his Big Tech and Real Estate pals even more rich and powerful. He is all in with Breed.

That doesn’t mean Breed has promised him anything. As I have said before: She has her own political compass, and her votes are not always with the conservatives.

It does, however, mean that Conway – and since he works closely with other local oligarchs, most of the Big Tech and Real Estate leadership – feels very strongly that Breed is the person most likely to continue with the policies they like. They see her as the successor to Ed Lee. They are very savvy operators with billions of dollars at stake. Maybe Conway is wrong, and in the end, Breed, if she’s elected, will got against him. But he clearly doesn’t think so.

The so-called “moderates” on the board, apparently, are listening to Conway. There are no candidates who can get more than five votes for interim mayor (even people who would be relatively neutral caretakers). Conway’s money means more to a majority of the board than the concept of separation of powers, the fact that most voters want a caretaker, or basic fairness.

In my mind, there’s nothing “moderate” about the Conway agenda. His economic policies are essentially Trumpian, aimed at creating great wealth for the few and telling the rest of us that some of that will trickle down.

So if you don’t like what the policies of Ed Lee have done to San Francisco, keep that in mind as you think about the mayor’s race and who Lee’s people are supporting — and as you think about voting for supervisor in June and November. Instead of “progressives” and “moderates,” maybe we should talk about “Conways’ Crew” and “The non-plutocrats.”

As of this week, there will be no board meeting this week to consider whether to allow Breed to continue to control both branches of government. Breed didn’t schedule a special meeting in time, and at this point, nobody has six votes anyway.

Conway, so far, is getting his way.

The Agenda, Jan 8-16: A critical rent-control vote, and the power struggle at City Hall

Outside the State Building, tenants remind everyone that thanks to the state Legislature, the rent is too damn high

The most important and dramatic change in state rent control law in 20 years is up for its first hearing at a state Assembly committee Thursday/11– and the vote will probably be close.

Assemblymember Richard Bloom, who represents Santa Monica, Malibu and parts of Los Angeles, has introduced SB 1506, which would repeal the Costa Hawkins Act. That 1995 law banned cities from extending rent controls to vacant apartments – undermining effective limits on rent hikes and giving landlords and incentive to evict long-term tenants. It also banned rent control on most single-family houses and condos – and on any housing built after 1995.

Outside the State Building, tenants remind everyone that thanks to the state Legislature, the rent is too damn high

Assemblymember David Chiu, who chairs the Committee on Housing and Community Development, is a co-sponsor and has set the hearing. Although the committee has five Democrats and two Republicans, Democrats in Sacramento have not always been good on tenant issues, and the real-estate lobby is powerful.

Tenant advocates are rejecting any compromise; they want a clean repeal vote, which would (but not require) cities to pass laws that allow rents to remain stable after a tenant leaves.

Berkeley, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood passed so-called “vacancy control” laws in the 1980s, and they were effective tools to fight gentrification and displacement. But after trying and losing in court, the landlords got the Legislature to ban vacancy control in 1995.

San Francisco never had vacancy control – the Board of Supes actually passed a vacancy-control law in the 1980s, but then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein vetoed it.

Without vacancy control, landlords can raise the rent to whatever the market will bear when a tenant moves out; rent control only applies to existing tenants. That gives landlords a huge incentive to use fraudulent evictions, illegal pressure tactics, and any other tactic they can conjure up to get rid of long-term tenants whose rents are well below the market rate.

So the repeal of Costa-Hawkins is a huge deal for the tenant movement, and this committee is the first test. But the other Democrats on the committee are not so clear (and it’s not entirely clear who will be sitting on the committee Thursday, since some members are out of town). The bill needs four votes to advance.

Advocates say the swing vote may well be Ed Chau, who represents a district east of Los Angeles. Anyone who’s reading this who lives in the 49th District might want to give Chau a call. Anyone who knows anyone who lives there – get in touch, and have them call.

It also helps to call Chiu, to let him know that there is strong support for this bill.

We will have updates during the week as the hearing approaches.

The Board of Supes will not be voting on an interim mayor Tuesday/9 – but the issue is likely to come up the following week.

For the moment, London Breed is both acting mayor and president of the board. That’s a strange situation that exists because the City Charter puts the board president in charge when the mayor unexpectedly leaves the job – and Ed Lee’s death was entirely unexpected.

But the idea that one person could hold both jobs for more than a short period of time creates all kinds of potential problems. For example: The mayor of San Francisco will prepare a budget this spring for 2018-2019. That’s one of the most important things a mayor does in this town – the budget sets the city’s policy priorities.

The Board of Supes acts as a check on that power – the Budget and Finance Committee holds hearings, reviews the document, makes changes, and gives the public a chance to weigh in.

If Breed stays in both jobs – as she will, if the supes don’t appoint someone else – she will create the city’s budget. Then she will appoint the members of the Budget and Finance Committee who will review it. Then she will vote on it as a supervisor. Then she will sign it.

In other words, on person will completely control the $9 billion in public spending for the next year.

That happens nowhere else in American government – and for good reason.

Sup. Aaron Peskin is going to ask for a vote Jan. 16 on an interim mayor. That’s creating a massive, behind-the-scenes political scramble.

Breed, Mark Leno, Dennis Herrera, and Jane Kim have all pulled papers to run for mayor. Running as the incumbent would be a huge deal – nobody who has run as an appointed incumbent has lost in at least half a century.

The progressives will, of course, be divided; some will support Kim, some Leno, and some (possibly) Herrera, if he decides he really wants to run. But the Big Tech and Real-Estate powers that be – the folks who have been running this city for more than a decade – have apparently cleared the field for Breed.

Mark Farrell isn’t running. I would be shocked if David Chiu got in the race.

I’m not saying that Breed is in anyone’s pocket or that she has cut any deals with Big Tech and Real Estate. But if those interests were not comfortable with her, they would have found and would be pushing another candidate. That’s just how it works in this town: There’s too much at stake here, too much money to be made in San Francisco. Whatever you think about London Breed, it’s clear that the same people who supported Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee are perfectly okay with the idea of her occupying the Mayor’s Office.

If that’s what people want in the next mayor, then they will be happy with Breed. I think the voters want a dramatic change

Breed tweeted in her announcement that “I am not a partisan. I am not an ideologue.” That’s the start of her campaign – and it says to me that she’s not running to try to topple the existing power structure.

I’m an old-fashioned leftist, I guess, but I have to wonder: How can you not be a partisan or have some ideology when the city is facing the worst wave of displacement in modern history? How can you not be furious when some 400,000 San Franciscans have left the city and income inequality has put San Francisco on the level of a Third World county under the past administration?

How can you say, as she does, “I believe in a San Francisco where we succeed as one” when this town is deeply riven by class warfare? We are not “one.” We can’t become “one” unless the tech and real-estate lords are dislodged from their thrones.

I know these are just words, but when Kim ran against Scott Wiener for state Senate, her campaign theme was about “fighting.” She made it clear that there were people running the system who did not share most of our interests. She stood with Bernie Sanders. Her approach set a tone that allowed people to frame the race (and if Wiener hadn’t had millions in outside money that attacked Kim viciously in the final months, she would have won).

Breed’s final line, “Together, there is no problem we can’t solve,” is a carefully crafted political slogan that rings an old historical bell for me. The last time a mayoral candidate used it, John Molinari was running against Art Agnos in 1987. Molinari was the downtown candidate, and his slogan was “Together, there’s nothing we can’t do.” Agnos ran as someone who promised to fight the power and support the grassroots movement against downtown developers. He won, pretty handily.

This time around, ranked-choice voting makes the whole thing hard to predict. And the vote Jan. 16th will make it even more tricky.

Since the filing deadline for mayor is Jan. 9, by the time the supes vote, they and everyone else will know who is in the race. That cuts two ways: Some think that the only way a candidate who is going to upend the existing political power structure can win is if somehow six members of the board can choose a candidate other than Breed who can then run as the incumbent. The only two candidates I see who can possibly count to six are Leno and Herrera – and in both cases, it would require the five progressives on the board (one of whom is running) to stick together, and one of the board moderates to go along.

That would mean Kim voting for one of her opponents. Or else something really weird happening.

Then there’s the “caretaker” discussion. With Kim in the race and four of her colleagues (including moderate Ahsha Safai) having endorsed Leno, the motivation to have a mayor who can’t run as an incumbent is strong.

That palace intrigue will be dominating all local political discussions until next week.

The Agenda, Jan 2-9: The mayoral issues

Protesters note that the Twitter tax break cost the city millions. It also spurred evictions and displacement

Five months from Friday – that is, on June 5th – San Franciscans will choose a new mayor. The campaigns are already under way, and there’s only one week left to file.

I’ve been thinking, as we enter a new year, what the person’s top priorities ought to be.

Protesters note that the Twitter tax break cost the city millions. It also spurred evictions and displacement

A few New Year’s Resolutions for the candidates:

You have to tell us how you will be different from Ed Lee. The late mayor was a kind, friendly, caring person, but his policies have created the worst urban disaster of my 36 years in San Francisco. The evictions, the displacement, the wholesale destructions of communities … The voters want to know: How will you dramatically change the direction of the city?

Part of that discussion is acknowledging the mistakes city leaders have made (the Twitter tax break, the Google buses, Airbnb, Uber and Lyft). It means connecting the tech boom that Lee endorsed and encouraged to the housing crisis that has driven tens of thousands or more out of the city, and suggesting how we can fix this mess.

I don’t believe that any of the major candidates in the mayor’s race – the people who have an actual chance of winning – openly or actively opposed the Twitter tax break. Jane Kim voted for it. London Breed wasn’t on the board but I never saw her make a public statement of opposition. Mark Leno, if he had a position, kept it to himself. Kim was a lot tougher on the Google buses, although she initially voted against an environmental appeal for the tech shuttles. Leno was in Sacramento, and didn’t have to vote on the issue. Breed has never opposed the Google buses.

Six supervisors, including Breed, voted to legalize Airbnb pretty much on the company’s own terms. Kim pushed for a series of amendments, which would have made the law far more effective; all lost 6-5 with Breed in the majority. Then in the end, Kim voted for the flawed law.

So let’s take stock for the new year and say:

Encouraging companies that hired tens of thousands of high-paid tech workers, most of whom moved here from somewhere else, then making it say for Peninsula cities to create even more tech jobs without building housing by allowing luxury shuttle buses to take workers from SF (thereby further making this city take responsibility for a regional housing crisis) was a terrible idea.

Allowing Uber and Lyft to violate the city’s taxi laws and create unlimited, unregulated service that has clogged the streets was a terrible idea.

Allowing Airbnb to profit for more than two years off the illegal conversion of thousands of housing units to hotel rooms, with no consequences, then legalizing the practice with a toothless law that devastated the city’s rental housing stock and contributed immensely to the eviction and housing crisis was a terrible idea.

Everything the city is doing now to try to mitigate the damage is too late for thousands of San Franciscans, now scattered, too late for deeply damaged communities. Everything we are doing now is a patch, a fix on a badly broken set of policies that put tech companies first and local residents second, that accepted the widely discredited concept of supply-side economics, that assumed that importing jobs and workers was more effective than doing local economic development.

We have a housing crisis because City Hall created it, by accepting and encouraging too much growth, too fast – and so far, the main approach to trying to solve it still assumes that the private market can get us out of this mess. That’s demonstrably untrue.

I am waiting for someone who is running for mayor to say these things.

There is, by the way, nothing wrong with a politician saying they made a mistake. It’s actually a good quality that we hardly ever see. And everyone who wasn’t actively against the Lee agenda made a mistake.

San Francisco has done a rotten job with technology. I’m not talking about using tech; I’m talking about the fact that nobody at City Hall seemed to be willing to enforce the rules, or write effective new ones, when Airbnb, Uber, Lyft, and the Google buses came along and started breaking local laws.

It wasn’t hard to see what was happening. Chris Hayashi, the city’s chief taxi regulator, saw it the moment it started, and tried to block the illegal cabs. She was shown the door. Tenant activists saw it when Airbnb started; Mayor Lee told city officials not to interfere with a local company. A lot of us warned – and it turned out to be true – that the Google buses would drive displacement and evictions; the Mayor’s Office instead made a secret “handshake agreement” not to ticket the buses for illegally using Muni stops.

Now Sup. Norman Yee is worried about robot delivery vehicles – and he had a hard time getting six votes to limit them. The Mayor’s Office never did anything to stop this clear threat to pedestrian safety.

Here’s the deal: Tech companies like to “disrupt,” and they have always operated on the idea that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission. Break stuff now; worry later about how to fix what you have left behind.

That’s fine, I suppose; that’s what they do. But the city doesn’t have to tolerate it.

City officials are supposed to stop illegal activity and set regulations in advance when they see a new technology coming along. San Francisco has done the opposite.

The next mayor might want to appoint a director of technology regulation, to get ahead of the curve.

I am accused of wanting to stifle innovation – but seriously: Would the world (or the city) be a worse place if Airbnb had to operate within strict limits from the start? Would we all really be worse off if Uber had to get permits and accept a limit on the number of vehicles on the street? Will humankind lose life-saving advantages if robots can’t deliver pizza?

Or would all of us be better off if the world was disrupted a little more slowly – and the tech industry made money a little less slowly? Does anyone want to argue that the economic inequality created by a monopolistic, predatory, sexist industry (that’s Wired talking, not me) is entirely something to cheer about?

I don’t expect anyone running for mayor to say that – but it would be nice.

I am waiting for the campaigns to tell us more details about their agenda. So far, it’s all just basic political positioning; Mark Leno wants “a new direction.” Jane Kim talks about her record in the past:

I am proud to fight for the city I love– the highest % of affordable housing, a medically staffed 24/7 shelter for our homeless, strong protections against frivolous evictions + free City College. We did this together. Will you join me to fight for more?

We only have five months to hear their plans for the future; that’s a very short period of time. Campaigns often wait months to put out position papers and specifics. In 1987, Art Agnos even wrote an entire book laying out his plans in great detail, and distributed 40,000 copies to voters. That took month. There are often multiple candidate forums.

This time, we can’t wait. When you consider that absentee voters will be getting ballots in May — just four months away — and groups that are making endorsements will have to decide in a matter of weeks, time is short.

Mark Leno and Jane Kim both have impressive records and strong progressive credentials. Others with credible records may enter soon. But we need the specifics of their proposals for the future, starting today.

More housing. Higher prices. That’s what a new city report shows

While we recognize Ed Lee's lifetime of public service, the candidates for mayor will have to say how they are different

At the Ed Lee memorial Sunday, a string of politicians who are not at all humble talked about the humble side of the late mayor. The event featured at least two people who are seeking higher office; Lee was remembered as a reluctant politician.

Mayor Ed Lee’s development policy has led to a lot of displacement. Photo by Sana Saleem

At the Chron, Carolyn Said at least noted that Lee had promoted an economic boost that also increased economic inequality. On KPIX Sunday night, Melissa Caen said that Lee brought the unemployment rate down – but “unintentionally” created the housing crisis.

These were some of the responses from City Hall and the news media on Lee’s legacy.

I get Melissa Caen’s “unintentionally.” I don’t think Mayor Lee sat down with his advisors and decided that it was a great idea to drive 400,000 San Franciscans out of town and create the worst eviction epidemic and economic inequality in the city’s modern history.

But I find it hard to believe that anyone in his administration believed we could bring in 140,000 tech workers, many of them from out of town, at a time when there was almost no vacant housing, with no impact on the housing market.

If that’s the case, it was the greatest “unintentional” policy mistake that I’ve seen in many, many years.

Randy Shaw, who has always been close to Lee, made the remarkable claim that

Ultimately, Ed Lee laid down the foundation for San Francisco to avoid becoming a city of only the rich and rent subsidized poor. This was his greatest gift to the city, and the core of his legacy.

Is there a single working-class tenant who believes that? I don’t know any of them. All I know is that renters all over town are terrified that they are going to get an eviction notice and be displaced.

Ed Lee didn’t ask for the invasion of speculators who have been getting rich by destroying the lives of long-time San Francisco tenants. He often said publicly that he opposed them. He supported the repeal of the Ellis Act.

But his policies created the turf that the speculators played on. His effort to address unemployment by importing tech companies and high-paid workers (as opposed to doing economic development based on the skills and needs of existing residents) set the stage for a brutal assault on every non-rich San Francisco resident.

All of this discussion of the Lee legacy, which we will continue to examine in detail over the next few days, comes just as the Planning Commission gets the latest Housing Inventory Report Thursday/21. Most city boards and commissions are in recess for the holidays, but Planning is still meeting this week, and while there is no action item on the housing document, it’s worth reading.

Among other things, the report shows that San Francisco developers added 5,046 units to the housing stock in 2016. That’s what Lee wanted, and what the Yimbys want (although they want more); adding more housing (“of all kinds, the Yimbys say) will bring down prices –- but prices have not come down.

In fact, in San Francisco, developers tend to build more housing at the same time that prices go up.

It’s no secret that I am not a fan of the supply-side, trickle-down argument that letting the private market determine the city’s housing future will get us anywhere near where we need to be.

But let’s look at the data – because it shows how housing actually works in San Francisco.

When prices are flat or low (typically only during recessions) developers don’t want to build; the rate of return is higher if they put their money somewhere else. They only want to build when prices are high.

The Yimbys (and the folks in Mayor Ed Lee’s administration) argue that more housing will bring prices down – but the city’s own data indicates that when prices go down, developers stop building. The market won’t solve this.

The Housing Inventory also shows that only 16 percent of the total net housing that’s been built is affordable. That’s less than half of what every expert agrees the city needs.

Shaw is right that San Francisco isn’t the only city facing a housing crisis. Big demographic trends that have been playing out for decades have made cities more attractive to young, educated, high-paid workers.

San Francisco is also not the only city with a housing and homeless crisis.

But rather than being on the cutting edge of progressive policy, San Francisco in the past seven years has been the single worst example in the country of bad planning, hyper-gentrification, and radical displacement.

Could Ed Lee have done anything about that? Yeah: He could have made the protection of existing vulnerable communities a higher priority than creating jobs for people who didn’t live here. Was it necessary to turn SF into the tech-boom center to emerge from a national recession and create jobs? Was there another approach that would have kept people who had built lives and communities in town from leaving in droves?

I think so. Maybe I’m wrong. But let’s at least talk about it.

Oh, and as we think about the glories of the Tech Boom, it’s worth looking at new story on Wired, by Erin Griffith.

She argues that Big Tech (and even startups) still don’t get what I (not Griffith) might call San Francisco Values.

Outside the bubble, things are different. We’re not egging on startups that willingly flaunt regulations. We’re wary of artificial intelligence and its potential to eliminate jobs. We’re dubious of tech leaders’ promises to make their products safe for their kids to use. We are all sick of the jokes that no longer feel funny: lines about the lack of women in tech, about obscenely rich 20-somethings, about awkward coders with bad people skills, about “hustling” and growth at any cost. It all feels inappropriate.

This industry is the savior of our city?

No questions for Ed Lee? What has happened to the idea of robust debate?

Board President London Breed and Mayor Ed Lee are all in favor of Sanctuary city -- in theory

Mayor Ed Lee appears before the Board of Supes Tuesday/12 for Question Time, but according to the agenda, no supervisor from an even-numbered district had any questions to submit.

This has become pretty common.

Bord President London Breed seems happy with the rules that undermined the idea of a real debate with the supes and Mayor Ed Lee

Once a month, by law, the mayor has to show up at the board and answer questions. The supes alternative between odd and even districts so no more than half of them will have questions at any one time. All the questions have to be submitted in advance, which means the mayor’s staff prepares generally worthless written answers that the mayor reads out loud.

When then-Sup. Chris Daly put Question Time on the ballot, his idea was that the mayor would appear once a month for a free-ranging policy debate with the board. But David Chiu was board president when it passed, and he and Lee’s office set up rules that totally undermined what Daly and the voters had in mind.

There is no debate, no discussion. It’s all so scripted that I suspect many of the supes just consider it a waste of time.

Which is too bad, because the mayor of San Francisco should engage in unscripted public debate with the supes. Destroying the concept of Question Time wasn’t the worst thing Chiu ever did on the Board (that was allowing Airbnb to take thousands of rental units off the market), but it still annoys me.

Because there is so much to ask the mayor about.

Does he support the striking workers in Oakland (and acknowledge that his pro-tech-growth policies are one of the reasons that the workers can’t live in their own city anymore)? Does he support the repeal of Costa-Hawkins and the extension of rent control to vacant apartments – and what is he doing to help? He wants to house 1,000 homeless people over the holidays – but what about the other 6,000 or so people on the streets?

Does he support the ballot measure that would provide a lawyer for everyone facing an eviction? Why has he said nothing to defend Sanctuary City in the wake of the Garcia Zarate verdict?

I don’t want a press release answer. I want a real discussion. Board President London Breed can change the rules to make Question Time consistent with what the voters wanted. But she doesn’t to want to. So:  Nobody asks the mayor anything.

If we seriously want to address homelessness in San Francisco, we have to address evictions. If 70 percent of the people living on the streets used to have a home in this city, then the most effective way to prevent more homelessness is to prevent speculators and greedy landlords from throwing people onto those streets.

The data is overwhelming: Tenants who have legal counsel are far less likely to get evicted. If you want to help guarantee every tenant facing eviction a lawyer, you can help gather signatures for the June ballot measure. Contact [email protected]

The SF Berniecrats are holding an “Intro to San Francisco Politics event Tuesday/12, to explain how local government works and who is trying to influence policy. “The material will be presented from an unapolgetically Bernie-progressive perspective,” the flier states. 7pm to 9pm, 518 Valencia. It’s free.

Democratic Socialists of America is holding a march Friday/15 to protest the “open class warfare” of the Trump tax bill. 5:30pm, Harvey Milk Plaza.

We love to list progressive political events! Email me at [email protected]

Cannabis (again), sidewalk robots (again) and a bad housing balance (again)

We are back this week to cannabis.

The SF supes were unable to decide how to handle the new industry last meeting. There’s pressure from some anti-pot folks to keep sales away from schools and child-care centers (and the 1,000-feet-away rule could make most places in the city ineligible and concentrate cannabis stores in a few small areas). Sup. Jeff Sheehy, anxious to get something approved before legalization takes effect Jan. 1, suggested that the city allow the 46 existing medical cannabis dispensaries to operate as adult-use sales outlets at least temporarily.

Does this look that scary?

But Sup. Hillary Ronen pointed out that the War on Drugs has devastated communities of color, particularly the African and American and Latino communities, and that the city has a responsibility to create an equity plan for what will be a huge source of income and wealth in the next few years.

Besides, why is this something to be afraid of?

So they put the question off until after the holiday, and now all of the issues will be back Tuesday/27, with no obvious solution in sight – and something of a time issue.

SF has already missed the deadline for passing a law that would allow legal adult-use weed Jan. 1. If the supes pass something this week, pass it on second reading next week, and the mayor signs it immediately, the first permits could be issued in time for Jan. 5 sales.

The sidewalk robots are back again, too, at the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/20.

Delivery companies (of course) are looking to get rid of human labor, and use robots to bring everything from pizza and Chinese food to Amazon purchases to your door.

There are so many things that could go wrong here: Robts running over seniors and children, robots blocking wheelchair access, robots falling over (or getting pushed over) and blocking sidewalks, people trying to steal deliveries from robots … and Sup. Norman Yee wants to ban the deliveries.

But he couldn’t get six votes for a ban, so he is prepared to allow a pilot program with robots wheeling along through parts of SoMa and other neighborhoods with production, distribution, and repair zoning.

The committee will need to rework this, and perhaps deal with some of the missing questions. If a robot runs over and injures someone, who is liable? If an angry pedestrian pushes the robot over on its side or into the street, who comes and fixes the mess? Will robots only be allowed on sidewalks broad enough to accommodate both the machines and humans in wheelchairs (which would rule out my neighborhood)? What if kids jump on and try to ride the robots and fall off? What if the robots terrify dogs (or dogs start to piss on them)?

Have we really thought this through? Do we really want to once again allow a new technology that could have huge negative impacts go forward before we figure out the right rules?

I am dubious.

Meanwhile, as the supes try to figure out what to do with the traffic mess known as the Hairball, where Cesar Chavez, Bayshore, Highway 101 and I-280 all intersect, a group that has long fought new bike lanes is trying to block some improvements to the area. The city wants to add more bike lanes and make pedestrian safety changes (including removing some parking spaces), but Mary Miles, attorney for the Coalition for Adequate Review, is trying to block the process by arguing that the city didn’t do a valid environmental review.

This is the same group that blocked the city’s bicycle plan for years by suing to say that adding bike lanes (and removing space for cars) created significant environmental impacts.

Rob Anderson, the driving force behind this operation, has said repeatedly that bikes aren’t safe on city streets and interfere with cars, creating more traffic problems.

The appeal of the changes to the hairball is on the Tuesday agenda.

The Land Use Committee hears the latest report on the city’s housing balance (hint: we are way out of balance, with too much market-rate and too little affordable housing) on Monday/27. Three days later, the Planning Commission will consider five projects that include 446 housing units, the majority of them high-end condos that will just make the balance worse.

One of those projects, at Mission between 25th and 26th, would take advantage of the state’s Density Bonus Law to create 75 new units – only 12 percent of which (that’s nine units) would be affordable.

You drop those luxury units into the Mission and you will inevitably see displacement.

We keep going backwards here. And there’s no end in sight.

The Agenda, Nov. 12-19: A homeless sleep-in, a D-8 debate…

This is life for a homeless family in San Francisco

More than 1,000 homeless people are on the adult shelter waitlist in San Francisco. The city continues to find ways to criminalize these folks. This is Homeless Awareness Week, and the Coalition on Homelessness is organizing a Sleep Out to call attention to the city’s failure to solve the problem. On the evening of Thursday/16, hundreds will gather at the Powell Street Cable Car turnaround with sleeping bags and spend the night the way thousands of our neighbors do: Outside.

This is life for a homeless family in San Francisco

If you can show up and stay the night, bring a sleeping bag and some food. If you just want to contribute food and drinks, get in touch with Kelley Cutler, [email protected].

You can make signs, bring art, bring friends … make this a huge statement of support for the people who have been forced to live on the streets (in many cases because of evictions and gentrification). For more info, go here.

The June, 2018 election will include a long list of ballot measures, starting with an effort by the tobacco industry to repeal the city’s ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products aimed at kids and a move to guarantee everyone facing eviction the right to a lawyer.

But there’s also a race that could change the balance of power on the Board of Supes, and that’s the D8 contest between incumbent Jeff Sheehy, appointed by Mayor Ed Lee, and challenger Rafael Mandelman.

The city’s two main LGBT political clubs, the Harvey Milk Club and the Alice B. Toklas Club, are hosting a debate between the two candidates Monday/13 at the LGBT Center Rainbow room. It starts at 6:30pm.

This will be the first chance for voters to see the two offer their contrasting vision for D8 and the city’s future. (For starters, I hope someone asks them both about the right-to-counsel ballot measure. And police Tasers. And market-rate housing.)

If you can’t make it, you can watch the livestream on

The same night (so much going on!), I will be moderating a panel discussion on Prop. M, the Downtown Plan, Tenderloin rezoning and the legacy of the critical land-use battles of the 1980s. The panelists are Sue Hestor, Calvin Welch, and Brad Paul, who have been involved in local development issues for more than four decades and have an incredible wealth of historical information and analysis. It’s hosted by the Middle Polk Neighborhood Association. 7pm, 1541 Polk St.

A long list of elected officials, activists, community groups (and even a Chronicle columnist) are wondering why the Board of Supes is moving to strictly limit cannabis sales in the city. It’s as if we are back in the days of Reefer Madness.

Legislation that comes before the Land Use Committee Monday/13 and the full board Tuesday/14 could make it pretty much impossible to open a legal cannabis outlet anywhere except in some very small and limited districts – or it could prepare the city for a reasonable regulatory approach. In other words, San Francisco, where 74 percent of the votes support legal weed, could be at the forefront of this business – or let other cities set the standards and get the customers.

The defense finished calling witnesses in the Garcia Zarate trial last week, but it appears the prosecution will have a final rebuttal witness Monday/13. The trial’s in Dept. 13 at the Hall of Justice, and if you want to go, you need to show up by 8:30 to get in the lottery for a public pass. It appears at this point that closing arguments will be next week.

Reefer Madness at City Hall

San Francisco is descending into Reefer Madness. The supervisors are trying to pass regulations that would implement Prop. 64, which legalizes adult use of cannabis, by Jan. 1 – but a lot of the supes seem to be bending to the will of the anti-weed folks and loading up the bill with rules that will make it almost impossible for a successful retail industry to operate in the city.

One of the big issues is this crazy, crazy thing about keeping cannabis outlets at least 1,000 feet (and some want 1,500 feet) from a school.

I have two kids. They walked or took the bus (one still does) to public schools. They passed by liquor stores and stores that sell cigarettes (including flavored tobacco products aimed at teens) and soda (including a “teen gulp,” 128 ounces of sugar-laden diabetes-syrup). The liquor stores and the soda stores advertise – big signs that say “come in her and buy booze or Coke. Hey, get a Teen Gulp for only $1!”

There are no rules that say a liquor store or a store that sells tobacco or the Teen Gulp needs to be 1,000 feet from a school. And frankly, those products are worse problems. Any kid can walk in the door.

The existing medical marijuana dispensaries have security guards who carefully check every person who tries to enter. They have no flashing neon lights urging you to buy buds. Most of the time, you can pass them by and not even notice they exist. I suspect the new adult-sales outlets will do the same (and the city could easily ban big signs and on-site ads).

The only thing the “1,000-foot-rule” does is concentrate the stores in a few neighborhoods, because much of San Francisco is within 1,000 feet of a school.

I can tell you from personal experience: Teenagers are no more or less likely to start smoking pot because there is a place where adults can buy it nearby. (They are, on the other hand, easily able to get alcohol by offering an adult who needs some extra money $5 to buy them a bottle, from any of the ubiquitous liquor stores near schools, and parks, and Muni stops, and everywhere else that teens hang out.) And with companies like Ease around, anyone with a card can get cannabis delivered, anywhere, including to a café near a school. 

Again, I’m a parent: I’m not in favor of kids smoking pot, or drinking, or smoking tobacco, or drinking a Teen Gulp. We can educate them about personal health, and that works (to some degree). Prohibition never has and never will.

But there is no logic to the anti-cannabis approach. It’s is all a campaign orchestrated by a small but vocal group of people who still think marijuana is evil.

Meanwhile, the supes really could create an equity-based permit system, much as Oakland has done, that would set aside a significant number of the new permits for people who have been impacted by the War on Drugs.

But this whole idea that we can save the children from the Devil Weed by forcing the entire industry into a few parts of town (which isn’t fair anyway) is just silly. Cannabis is, by any rational standard, no worse than alcohol or tobacco, which can be sold in any neighborhood. We are still, apparently, reeling from almost a century of anti-pot propaganda, which started off as a racist message and evolved into the racist War on Drugs.

There are hundreds of liquor stores in San Francisco, hundreds of places that sell tobacco and Diabetes Juice … and fewer than 50 places that sell medical cannabis. The city might, maybe, approve another 50 for adult use. And the supes are scrambling to limit them, keep them out of their districts, treat them like a social problem …

Sorry, this is madness.

The current version of the legislation comes before the Land Use and Transportation Committee Mon/6 at 1:30pm. I can pretty much guarantee that the anti-cannabis folks will be out in force. But the vast majority of this city voted for Prop. 64. The supes need to stand up to this nonsense.

The robot sidewalk delivery issue is back. A measure that would require a permit for sending big, bulky machines rolling along the sidewalk is at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee Wed/8.

This is mild regulation. I could easily argue that the city should ban robot delivery vehicles until we can get a handle on how we should regulate them, and this falls short. But at least it would require permits and make some effort to determine whether putting robots on the sidewalks are a good idea.

The meeting starts at 10 am.