The Agenda

Public toilets—and public corruption

JCDecaux got a sweet deal to make money off public toilets. SFDPW photo.

The deepening public works scandal, which now involves political connected permit expediter Walter Wong, appears to have links to a big corporation that has been doing business in SF for years.

The Board of Supes Government Audit and Oversight Committee will consider July 2 a resolution calling on the Department of Public Works to immediately end its contract with JCDecaux, the French company that has the contract for “street furniture” in San Francisco – the public toilets, kiosks, and for a while newsracks that have lucrative ad spaces on them.

JCDecaux got a sweet deal to make money off public toilets. SFDPW photo.

JCDecaux, according to documents presented to the committee, generated about $125 million in advertising dollars between 1997 and 2017 – and gave the city “a dismal 5.8 percent.”

The analogous advertising revenue agreement between the City and County of San Francisco and Clear Channel for utilization of advertising space on Munishelters requires the remittance of 55 percent of ad revenue to the City, while the advertising revenue agreement between the City and County of San Francisco and Titan Outdoor for the utilization of advertising space on Muni vehicles requires the remittance of 65 percent of ad revenue to the City.

Why did this one company get such a sweet deal? Well, first Mayor Frank Jordan and then Mayor Willie Brown were lobbied by JCDecaux’s local fixers; Brown got to go on a helicopter ride in Paris. And the director of public works, Mohammed Nuru, personally worked to get the 2019 update through the board:

In  his capacity as Director of Public Works oversaw the terms set forth in both the 2015 and 2016 Requests for Proposal and the negotiations which resulted in the renewed 2019 Revenue Agreement; and, throughout this process, then-Director Nuru personally lobbied several members of the Board of Supervisors to ensure that the 2019 Revenue Agreement would ultimately be adopted by the City and County of San Francisco; and In the wake of voluminous allegations of fraud on behalf of then-Director Nuru over the course of this time period, additional concerns have surfaced regarding the relationship between Nuru and JC Decaux, including concerns set forth in local news outlet Mission Local that Nuru was “wined and dined” at JC Decaux’s “elegant waterfront farmhouse in the bucolic Parisian suburb of Plaisir.

This is just one city contract, one really bad city contract that has been in place for more than two decades, thanks to a French company’s connections with local politicians.

Sups. Aaron Peskin, Matt Haney, and Gordon Mar want it ended, now that there’s credible evidence that Nuru was involved in illegal activities that helped companied seeking contracts with the city.

I don’t really know what to say about Willie Brown’s comments on the Walter Wong indictment. Here’s from his column Sunday:

Permit consultant and contractor Walter Wong’s guilty plea on federal conspiracy charges in the City Hall scandal did not come as a shock.

For years, Wong has been “a friend to all” in and around City Hall. I had my mayoral campaign headquarters in his building, and so did Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez when he ran against Gavin Newsom for mayor in 2003.

For me, Walter is best known for his annual Christmas party.

You see, Walter fancies himself an amateur singer. Every year he would get up at the party and sing to show how much his talent had progressed over the past year.

Now he’s singing for a whole new audience. The feds.

The indictment “did not come as a shock?” How much did Brown know about Wong’s activities when he was mayor? And whatever his singing skills, this is somewhat serious stuff, with millions of dollars of city money – and more important, the reputation of local government – at issue.

I guess I just don’t find this grounds for flippant humor about parties.

At the same meeting, the Government Audit and Oversight Committee is holding a hearing on public corruption, and asking the city attorney and the controller to report.

On Monday/29, the Rules Committee will consider a City Charter Amendment that would create an Office of the Public Advocate. Former Sup. David Campos tried this in 2016,but the voters turned the idea down. Now Sups. Gordon Mar and Hillary Ronen think it’s time to try again. And the escalating public corruption scandal makes it very timely.

The proposal would create a new elected office, and the public advocate would have the authority to

review the administration of City programs, including the distribution of programs and services throughout the City, the effectiveness of the public information and service complaint programs of City agencies, and the responsiveness of City agencies to requests for data or information. The Public Advocate would also review the management and employment practices of City officers and departments, including City policies and MOU provisions that promote or impede the effective and efficient operation of City government, and would review the City’s contracting procedures and practices. And the Public Advocate would investigate and attempt to resolve complaints from members of the public concerning City services and programs.

If I were writing the bill, I would also give the public advocate power to subpoena documents and witnesses and conduct investigations into public corruption.

And I’d add something else: Sunshine.

The San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance Task Force has never been as effective as it should be – because it’s authority is limited. The Task Force can’t order the release of documents, the way the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission can. It can only ask the Ethics Commission to file misconduct charges against public officials who violate the Sunshine Ordinance, and that never happens.

What if the findings of the task force went instead to the public advocate, who had the legal authority to order remedies – not sanctions against public officials, but the release of documents and the mandate to revote on illegal meetings?

What if the public advocate had the ability, for example, to mandate the release of Police Department incident reports and disciplinary records (to the extent that state law allows) and the City Charter required the Police Department to comply?

What if the public advocate were charged with setting up a public-records database where every document created by any public agency or employee automatically was sent (unless the agency marked the document as confidential under law)? No more reason for departments to deal with sunshine requests; it’s all there, searchable, for any of us to find.

What if the public advocate had the legal authority to compel elected officials and department heads to release text messages that relate to public business?

I would also want the public advocate to review every department’s record-retention policies. A lot of city departments claim they routinely destroy records more than two or three years old. In the digital age, when storage is not an issue or a cost (my $800 laptop could probably store a year’s worth of city records), this is not just silly – it’s a historical abomination.

That would make a huge difference in the ability of the public to keep tabs on what some rather sunshine-adverse departments are doing.

There will likely be more on the fall ballot to ensure accountability. Sups. Shamman Walton, Ronen, Haney, and Dean Preston want a new independent oversight board and inspector general to review complaints against the Sheriff’s Department. The city as a civilian oversight agency for the cops; the two previous sheriffs (Mike Hennessey and Ross Mirkarimi) were civilians. Not that the current sheriff is someone who is a career enforcement officer, it makes sense that someone outside the system takes a look at misconduct.

And Haney, Walton, and Preston want to create a new commission to oversee the Department of Public Works. Do I even have to discuss the case for that?

The Rules Committee hearing is at 10am.

Wearing a mask is a political statement—that you care about community

Defy Trumpism -- wear a mask.

Donald Trump has – no surprise – turned a basic public-health practice into a political issue, putting millions of lives at risk.

Trump has consistently refused to wear a mask, even in situations where there’s a serious risk of infection. Hey, he’s Donald Fucking Trump! That little Corona virus can’t get him!

So all over the country, people are refusing to wear masks, too.

Defy Trumpism — wear a mask, like 48 Hills publisher Marke B.

Even in California, after Governor Gavin Newsom issued an order telling people to wear masks outside, it became a political issue.

The virus, however, is nonpartisan. It doesn’t care if you wear a MAGA hat or watch Fox news. And all the evidence shows that wearing a mask provides significant protection – not just for you but for everyone you encounter.

That’s the thing – a mask doesn’t just keep you from getting infected; if you are infected (and don’t know it, which is common) it keeps you from infecting someone else. Refusing to wear a mask is an act of profound selfishness – and that, I think, is one reason Trump won’t do it.

Sure, he wants to look tough (did John Wayne wear a mask while he was Winning the West with an unregistered gun?) But he and his followers also have in common the idea that individuals are more important than community, that we are not all in this together. Trumpism is about demonizing The Other, and protecting Me.

Remember, many people who have the virus (particularly young and healthy people) have zero symptoms – but they can still spread it to others who are more vulnerable.

I don’t think Donald Trump cares if he infects someone else. I don’t think her cares about anyone else except himself. He is a pathological narcissist.

That’s also the message he’s sending to his supporters.

Check out the rally that he held, inside, in Tulsa. It wasn’t fully attended, but there were more than 6,000 people there – and according to the photos I’ve seen in thenews media, many of them were not wearing masks. Oh, and six of his staffers tested positive.

Here’s a photo from Business Insider. Note: No masks.

It’s kind of like gun culture – yeah, keeping a loaded gun in your house puts your kids at risk. Carrying a loaded gun – or hunting when you are loaded – puts others at risk. But some of the people who are part of that culture don’t think about the risk to others; it’s all about Me.

I could easily argue that this basic attitude is the root cause of global climate change; why should I give up any of my privilege as a wealthy North American who owns a big gas-guzzling car to help someone else, somewhere else (even if that person happens to be my kids and grandkids)?

So I’m going the other way: Wearing a mask is, indeed, a political statement. It means you care about the broader community, that you care about public health and not just your personal health, that you believe that collective solutions are the only way to address major social, economic – and public-health – problems.

Put on your mask when you walk outside. It’s easy, it’s cheap, there are plenty available, and you can make it a fashion statement. But mostly, you can make it a statement that you care about all of us.

The Board of Supes will consider Tuesday/23 two measures that would have profound and lasting impacts on local politics. Both are likely to wind up on the fall ballot.

One would change the rules for commission membership to require only that commissioners be

residents of the City and of legal voting age, replacing the requirement that members of boards, commissions, and advisory bodies be United States citizens and registered voters.

That would allow undocumented people to serve on commissions.

The second measure would lower the voting age in local elections to 16 – potentially allowing tens of thousands of young people to get involved in local politics and play a role in electing supervisors, School Board members, Community College Board members – and the mayor.

The youth-voting charter amendment still needs some work and will likely be continued. But the commission membership proposals has enough votes to make it to the ballot.

Sup. Dean Preston has announced he’s introducing a ballot measure for that fall that would change the way the city does affordable housing. His measure would authorize the city to acquire or develop 10,000 units of affordable housing – in part using money from another measure he’s pushing that would raise taxes on high-end real-estate sales.

The measure goes beyond the current model by explicitly allowing some or all of that housing to be built and operated directly by the city. It would carve out a local exemption to a 1950s-era state law that requires a citywide vote before any public housing can be built.

That, of course, was part of the racist history of housing in California, and was designed to make sure that white people could stop Black people from moving into public housing in white communities.

“This is a significant step towards dismantling racist barriers to affordable housing,” Preston said in a press release. “Article 34 is a relic that, like Confederate flags, needs to be thrown into the dustbin of history. With our local ballot measure, we are making it possible to create thousands of units of municipal housing for the people of San Francisco, especially people of color.”

I always cringe when people tell me that “San Francisco is building enough housing.” San Francisco for more than half a century has built no housing at all; housing is built by private developers, either in the for-profit or the nonprofit sector. The nonprofit affordable housing developers have done, for the most part, an amazing job of building and managing permanently affordable housing, and their experience and model needs to be part of any future housing policy.

But Preston also sees municipal housing as part of the package:

The measure breaks new ground by explicitly authorizing the creation of municipally owned housing, a key part of the growing social housing movement.

The measure needs six supervisors and a 50 percent plus one vote in November.

Breed’s choices on cops and homeless face challenges

The full Board of Supes will decide Tuesday/8 whether to reject Mayor London Breed’s two nominees to the Police Commission.

The vote will come as protesters all over the world are demanding radical reforms to the way police operate – and Breed’s two nominees are far from radical reformers.

This is what the city put up after a sweep in the Haight. Mayor Breed will have to defend her homeless policies in the COVID crisis Tuesday. [UPDATE: I am told this wasn’t a typical “sweep,” that all of the people living in this area were moved to the safe sleeping area. Still: Never seen that sign before.)
Alameda County prosecutor Nancy Tung ran for SF district attorney with the support of the toxic Police Officers Association. She told the Rules Committee that she didn’t think the cops who shot Mario Woods or Jessica Williams should be prosecuted – or even fired.

Geoffrey Gordon-Creed, a private lawyer, said he had no opinion on whether those cops should be punished. He has no background at all in police reform.

The Rules Committee voted against the two nominees after more than three hours of testimony from at least 100 community activists who begged the supes not to allow two new commissioners who seem unwilling to challenge the established practices of the department.

“People are begging anyone with any political power not to conduct business as usual,” Sup. Hillary Ronen said at the meeting. “We have to make moves that are big and urgent.”

The supes are typically reluctant to reject mayoral appointees, but this isn’t a normal situation. The uprisings that will still be going on as the board meets form the backdrop to what will be a key political decision.

Breed is also going to have to talk publicly about her policies for addressing the COVID pandemic in the homeless population. It’s been a huge matter of controversy for weeks, with the supes demanding that the city open more than 8,000 hotel rooms and the mayor refusing.

This week is Question Time, and Sup. Dean Preston wants the mayor to explain her COVID homeless response.

I suspect it will be a lively discussion – which is what Question Time is supposed to be all about.

The Breed Administration will have to defend its program to address the crisis in the Tenderloin Thursday/11. Sup. Matt Haney has asked for a hearing at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee on what he has repeatedly called a public health and public safety disaster. Thousands of unhoused people are living in unsafe conditions in that neighborhood – and the mayor’s plan to address the situation hasn’t worked.

The discussion over the lack of safe sleeping spaces – that is, empty hotel rooms, some of which the city is already paying for – will probably be front and center.

The Land Use and Transportation Committee will consider legislation Monday/8not only to prohibit evictions for tenants who can’t pay rent during the pandemic but to prevent landlords from imposing late fees, penalties, or any other charges. If it passes, which is likely, that will also go to the full board Tuesday/9.

The Rules Committee will consider Monday/8 putting a City Charter amendment on the November ballot that would allow undocumented residents to serve on city boards and commissions.

The language sounds pretty technical and legalistic:

[Amendment] to require that members of boards, commissions, and advisory bodies be residents of the City and of legal voting age, replacing the requirement that members of boards, commissions, and advisory bodies be United States citizens and registered voters

But it’s a profoundly important move that would give the thousands of San Franciscans who lack the legal paperwork to be citizens a much larger role in local government.

It would also be a strong statement at the November ballot that San Francisco rejects the politics of hate and division that are coming out of the White House, the Republican Party, and too many other places in this country.

There’s also a move to amend the charter to allow San Franciscans who are 16 and 17 years old to vote in municipal elections. That’s backed by Sups. Norman Yee, Sandra Lee Fewer, Shamann Walton, Hillary Ronen, Matt Haney, Ahsha Safai and Gordon Mar.

The two measures together would change local politics – and possibly set an example for the rest of the country.

The Agenda: Why isn’t the Police Commission meeting?

The SF POA is using this photo of cops in "Blue Lives Matter" masks to sell the masks -- which the chief has banned.

Two members of the SF Police Commission are asking Mayor London Breed to allow the panel to start meeting again – and it’s past due.

The mayor’s Shelter-in-Place order bars most city commissions from holding even online meetings, which makes little sense at this point. While the Mayor’s Office has cited “technical difficulties,” pretty much the rest of the world is managing to meet on Zoom or another platform. The Planning Commission is meeting; the Airport Commission is meeting.

The SF POA is using this photo of cops in “Blue Lives Matter” masks to sell the masks — which the chief has banned.

As Petra DeJesus and John Hamasaki note in a May 4 letter,

While we support the ability of our fellow commissions to meet, one has to ask: Is approval of a West Elm Formula Retail Store (Planning Commission Agenda, May 7, 2020), more important than the health and safety of our residents and visitors? We think the answer is clearly, no.

The last Police Commission meeting was held Feb. 19. Since then, the two commissioners write, the following has happened:

Study finds SFPD Patrol Staffing ‘Severely Inadequate’: Study ordered by Board of Supervisors President Norman Yee found that SFPD’s patrol staffing is severely inadequate. (March 10, 2020)

SFPD Officer Arrested on Suspicion of Rape, Domestic Violence: A 22-year veteran of the Department was arrested on suspicion of rape and Domestic Violence. (April 10, 2020)

Off-Duty Officer Involved Shooting: An off-duty SFPD officer was involved in shooting a car-jacking suspect who was later killed. (April 12, 2020)

SFPD Officer Involved Shooting: A SFPD officer shot and injured a suspect in an aggravated assault. (April 21, 2020)

SFPD Officers Responding to Protest Wearing POA Blue Lives Matter masks: SFPD officers arrived at a protest wearing matching masks with POA insignia and controversial Blue Lives Matter symbol. (May 1, 2020)

The last item alone is grounds for a commission meeting. The cops who wore those masks clearly violated department general orders, which prohibit the display of any political material on police uniforms. The chief has since banned the use of the POA masks, which the organization is still selling and proudly promoting on its website. The site also proudly includes both photos of officers wearing the masks and news articles on the chief’s order banning them.

The Sunshine Task Force is not meeting. The Ethics Commission isn’t meeting. As Magick Altman noted in testimony to the supes May 5:

Also, we need the Immigrant Rights Commission to take actions immediately to find a way to close the camps by urging the governor to use his emergency powers to close these privately owned detention camps that are now becoming death camps.

There’s no risk to the public or the commissioners to hold Zoom meetings. Like so many things about the mayor’s policies, I’m not sure why this one makes any sense.

The mayor will be appearing before the board for Question Time this week; maybe someone could ask about this. Except that none of the supervisors submitted any questions.

The City Planning Commission is taking the final steps toward a massive rezoning that will create a neighborhood of 15,000 residents around the area of Market and Van Ness. It’s called The Hub, and the final EIR is set to be certified Thursday/14. At the same meeting, the planners are set to approve a 590-foot tower at 10 South Van Ness that would offer close to 1,000 new housing units.

Welcome to the new “Hub”

All of this new housing will be expensive – if it actually gets built. Because as planning staff freely admitted in a hearing back in January, these projects are driven not by local planning or needs but by international speculative capital that demands high returns in investment:

In fact, Planning Director John Rahaim confirmed that problem: “Very large projects require a range of investors, many international, who require a high rate of return.”

That’s hard to get in a city where land has become so expensive.

“If it costs $600,000 to build a unit, how can anyone making $50,000 a year afford that?” Richards asked. “The idea that we can build our way out of this – I challenge that.”

Meanwhile, Melgar noted, “when we entitle a project, we vastly increase its value on the market,” driving up the cost of land (and thus of any future housing). “Just by what we are doing here, we are fueling this increase in price.”

So we heard a little bit of sanity: The concept that upzoning and approving more housing and limiting public review and appeals … that’s not going to work. There are tens of thousands of units that already went through that process, and they still aren’t getting built – because in 2019, the housing market is controlled by international capital, not by SF planners.

In fact, some commissioners suggested, approving big market-rate projects that drive up land costs for everyone else is making the situation worse.

Is this really a good time to be giving entitlements for more luxury housing, which the city doesn’t need and may not get financing for a long time to come? Are we just going to end up with a lot of non-projects taking up valuable land that could be used for something the city needs (say, affordable housing)?

The hearing starts at 1pm.

Why turn affordable SROs into tourist hotel rooms?

The Mosser Hotel could be housing for homeless people, not tourists.

While the supervisors and the mayor are engaged in a critical, and bitter, debate about moving homeless people into hotels, the Planning Department is moving forward a plan to eliminate 68 low-cost rent-controlled residential hotel rooms in Soma and convert them to tourist rooms.

This proposal has been around for a few years, and in the past, the planners haven’t been terribly supportive. But now it’s back, and while Mayor London Breed has told the department to prioritize projects that promote housing and help small businesses, this one appears to be the opposite.

It was on the Planning Commission agenda for May 7, but will likely be continued to June. Still: It’s a serious proposal – and it’s pretty strange.

The idea is to let the owners of the Mosser Hotel, on 4thStreet, convert 68 mostly empty SRO units into tourist hotel rooms.

The rest of the Mosser is already tourist rooms.

The Mosser Hotel could be housing for homeless people, not tourists.

City law is pretty strict on SRO conversions; developers aren’t allowed to do them unless the units are replaced, one-for-one. But the actual language allows a developer to pay a fee that covers 80 percent of the cost of replacement.

Meaning the city has to find the other 20 percent – and these days, that’s a lot of money.

But the larger question is simple: Tourism isn’t coming back on any scale for a while, and the smaller hotels will be largely empty for maybe a year or so, maybe more. Why take away rent-controlled affordable units and replace them with what will almost certainly be empty beds (unless the city decides to take them over)?

The place hasn’t been sold in decades, and according to the Recorder’s Office, is assessed at about $16.5 million, which means the owner is paying very little in property taxes.

I could argue that instead of taking away affordable housing the city should be talking to the owner about selling or long-term leasing the place.

BTW: Did you catch Matier on Sunday saying (as I have heard over and over for many years) that San Francisco has become a “magnet” for homeless people?He actually talks about the city’s being “charitable with the homeless.”

Which is entirely inconsistent with what actually happens on the streets.

What “data” do we have here? A comment from the fire chief, two anonymous sources, and one interview:

Nicholson said that up to 75% of the estimated 100 campers living in tents along the Fulton Street side of the Asian Art Museum appear to have come to the city with the hope of getting a hotel room.

“It would be better than living with this crap,” said Cordell, a recent arrival from Stockton who didn’t give his last name, as he swept up around his tent at the Fulton camp Thursday.

First: In every census count, the data shows that more than 70 percent of the people who are homeless in San Francisco used to have a home in San Francisco.

Second: Governor Newsom has already signed a deal to lease 15,000 hotel rooms statewide, and there’s no reason that SF shouldn’t work with him to have outreach workers identify people who are eligible for rooms under the state program.

Oh, and other counties, including some far from SF, are also offering hotel rooms to homeless people.

There are other issues on the agenda this week. The Board of Supes Government Audit and Oversight Committee will consider Thursday/7a measure directing the Department of Elections to make it easier for local residents to vote by mail in the fall. Right now, anyone who fills out a form and requests a mail ballot gets one – but why not make it simple? Why not send out a ballot to every registered voter in the city? People who don’t send their ballots back could still vote at an Election Day polling place, but given the real possibility that the COVID crisis will still be lingering in the fall, and that the city may have fewer volunteers and fewer open polling places, VBM makes perfect sense.

The Land Use and Transportation Committee will finally address Monday/4 the concept of limiting office use in what are called Urban Mixed-Use districts, including the Mission.

And the full board will take on Sup. Aaron Peskin’s rules to limit intermediate-occupancy housing.

Developer wants huge density bonus — should we know why?

The project doesn't "pencil out" without special benefits -- or so the developer says. SF Planning photo via Hoodline.

Fascinating housing discussion last week at the Board of Supes. The issue involves a large site at Geary and Masonic that for years was home to the now-shuttered Lucky Penny diner – and there’s a lot more to the debate than how much housing should be allowed.

The developer, Presidio Bay Ventures, wants to put 101 new housing units on the site, which would require a new Special Use District – essentially a spot rezoning of the site to allow a lot more housing density.

The project doesn’t “pencil out” without special benefits — or so the developer says. SF Planning photo via Hoodline.

The original zoning would have allowed only 23 units.

The site is in District 2, but also borders on District 5.

Sup. Catherine Stefani, who represents D2, is promoting the project as offering needed housing “for families and working people,” as she told the board members April 14.

Btu the project will include zero on-site affordable units; instead, according to the plan Stefani is promoting, Presidio Bay Ventures would put $4.5 million into the city’s affordable housing fund. Stefani said she hopes the money can be used for below-market housing in her district.

That’s not the 20-percent-plus that most projects this size have to set aside for BMR. In fact, at current prices, the city might be able to build seven or eight units for $4.5 million – less than ten percent.

The developer needs the upzoning, Stefani said, and can only pay the $4.5 million off-site fee – or the project won’t “pencil out.”

And in that case, she said, it won’t get built, the city won’t get the housing, and the site will remain a blight on the neighborhood.

But Sup. Dean Preston, who represents D5, said he’s concerned that the city would be giving the developer the right to build four times as many units – but none would be anything but market-rate.

He questioned the basis for the developer’s argument that the project won’t be financially feasible with any on-site affordable housing.

Presidio Bay Ventures has given that data to Stefani – but has not shared any of it with the public. And that’s one of the key issues in my mind: When a developer asks for a huge bonus from the city, on the grounds that they can’t build without it, shouldn’t they have to make those financials public?

Does the term “pencil out” include a massive profit for the developer and the investors? What profit level and return is appropriate and acceptable? What rate does the developer have to pay to get financing – and is that within the normal parameters for this sort of project?

Do the developer’s figures assume that the cost of building materials will continue to rise as it has in the past five years – when I think it’s highly likely that the post-COVID recession is going to send those costs way, way down?

Is there really no way to do this project without the city overruling long-established principles about the need for inclusionary affordable housing?

Maybe that’s the case. If it is, why not share the data with the rest of us?

Back in the 1990s, when the city was giving away cash to developers and businesses as incentives, the voters passed the San Francisco Sunshine Ordinance, which included this clause (Section 67.32):

The City shall give no subsidy in money, tax abatements, land, or services to any private entity unless that private entity agrees in writing to provide the City with financial projections (including profit and loss figures), and annual audited financial statements for the project thereafter, for the project upon which the subsidy is based and all such projections and financial statements shall be public records that must be disclosed.

Does this apply to special upzonings? Should it?

And who will this housing be for? Will it really be priced for “families and working people” or will it wind up as pied-a-terres for the very rich or as investment properties that are never occupied?

The board passed the measure on first reading last week, but several supes said they wanted to know more before voting for its final approval. It comes up again Tuesday/21.

 

The Land Use and Transportation Committee will consider Monday/20 an emergency ordinance to stop all rent increases during the pandemic. Under the city’s rent control law, landlords are allowed an annual increase in rent that’s tied to inflation; the measure would halt that practice and keep all rents flat until further notice. That meeting starts at 1:30pm.

The Budget and Finance Committee also has an emergency ordinance to create a $10 million Disaster Family Relief Fund to provide financial support to undocumented and very-low-income families with minor children who don’t otherwise qualify for federal stimulus money. That meeting starts at 10am.

Hotel rooms debate comes to the Board of Supes…

The next step in the effort by five supervisors to mandate that the city procure 8,250 hotel rooms for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic comes before a special meeting of the Budget and Finance Committee Monday/13.

If the committee passes the legislation it will go to the full board the next day as an emergency measure, which will need eight votes.

The number of hotel rooms the city has rented and projects.

In the meantime, the ever-changing policy response of the Breed Administration appears now to include plans for the city to lease at least 7,000 rooms – but it’s not clear who will get them. The mayor said as recently as April 3 that housing most of the city’s homeless people in hotel rooms “is not going to happen.”

At last Wednesday’s Budget and Finance meeting, Controller Ben Rosenfield presented figures showing that the city currently has 1,977 rooms under contract for 90 days, at a cost of about $35 million; the federal government will reiumburse the city for at least $20 million of that. He estimated that the cost of the 7,000 rooms would be $105 million, and the feds would cover half of that. There’s almost certainly other federal and state money available, he said.

Sup. Hillary Ronen did some quick math and said that at the prices Rosenfield was quoting, the city was paying an average of $197 a night for the rooms. Supervisors Dean Preston and Matt Haney have both secured hotel rooms for people from shelters in their districts, raising private money to pay for it – and the cost is about half what the city bargained for, Ronen noted.

Joe Eskenazi at Mission Local posted the Request for Proposals that went out to local hotels; you can see it here. It states very clearly that

The City is willing to pay a minimum guaranteed payment per day from the beginning of the agreement as quoted under this process and agreed by the parties. The City would expect this payment to align with recent revenue generation trends over the course of March, where occupancy was quite low, so as to leave hotels no worse off than if they remained open to the current limited market.

Expedia has lots of hotel rooms for under $125 a night right now. And when you book a large block of rooms, you almost always get a big discount. At least, the conventions do. And the city doesn’t have to pay the city’s hotel tax, which should knock 15 percent off the final price.

Rosenfield told Ronen he would look into the prices and get back to her.

The mayor appears for monthly Question Time at the board meeting Tuesday/14, and nobody submitted any questions in advance. But I would be shocked if the supes didn’t seek a rule waiver to discuss the hotel-room issue and the spread of COVID in homeless shelters.

It’s the one major area where the board and the mayor have sharp policy disagreements, and that’s exactly what Question Time is supposed to be about.

From Ronen on Facebook tonight:

UCSF is offering to test every resident at a shelter in SF for free following the 70 who tested positive at MSC South. City HAS NOT taken them up on the offer. We need a new team of decision makers in charge of taking care of the homeless population in SF. This is ridiculous!

That ought to be a question for the mayor, too.

Sups. Haney, Mar, and Ronen are also asking for an emergency ordinance mandating that employers with more than 500 workers provide public-health emergency leave.

Sup. Dean Preston’s measure to put the supes on record opposing any Muni fare increases will also be on the full board agenda. The supes used to have the authority to approve or reject all Muni fare hikes (as well as route changes) but thanks to a 2007 City Charter amendment sponsored by SPUR, which turned out to be a big mistake, the board’s authority was removed and shifted to the Municipal Transportation Agency, which is controlled by the mayor.

One of these days, while the progressives control the board, they ought to create (and appoint) a Charter Reform Commission to take a hard look at all these issues in the City Charter, which has been amended piecemeal over and over again in the past two decades. Some of those changes have worked; some clearly haven’t.

The regular Budget and Finance Committee will hear Wednesday/13 a proposal by seven supervisors to set aside $10 million for a special Family Relief Fund to help undocumented and extremely low-income families with children 18 and younger.

The Human Rights Commission would administer the fund, and provide at least $500 a month to as many as 5,000 families.

The measure requires eight votes; the sponsors are Sups. Shamann Walton, Norman Yee, Hillary Ronen, Gordon Mar, Matt Haney, Dean Preston and Ahsha Safai. It seems likely that between Sups. Aaron Peskin, Sandra Lee Fewer, and Rafael Mandelman, there will be at least enough for eight votes.

While the COVID pandemic is at the top of the news, as it should be, there are other issues that the supes are addressing – and one stands out as something that should have been done long ago. Sup. Ronen has introduced legislation that would ban most offices in what the city calls Urban Mixed-Use Districts. UMU was part of the planning agenda in the late 2000s, and allowed for housing as well as industrial uses – and office space – in areas that were once just industrial. Much of the UMU in the city is in the Eastern Neighborhoods.

The idea was that industrial land is cheaper, so developers could build more affordable housing there. That’s turned out to be a complete failure – the housing built in the Eastern Neighborhoods has been overwhelmingly high-end condos and luxury rentals. No surprise, since without regulations the developers charge what they can get, and since the tech boom and the boom in speculative international capital buying housing in cities like San Francisco, prices have soared (as did developer profits).

At the same time, we started to see tech officescreep intowhat were supposed to be industrial or residential areas – meaning that light industry, which provides decent jobs to people without college degrees, was forced out.

Ronen wants to make it clear: No commercial office use in UMU districts, which includes a lot of the Mission and Potrero Hill. The bill would allow offices for neighborhood-serving businesses (banks, doctors, dentists, acupuncturists, tax-preparers, and other small businesses that serve people who live in the area) but no more tech offices.

The measure is now before the Planning Commission, and will get to the board sometime in the next month.

A city line of credit to help small businesses

Sup. Hillary Ronen wants to keep small businesses alive in the crisis.

Almost everything at City Hall is closed, cancelled, shut down right now. That’s obviously the right thing to do.

Although I must admit, it’s a bit infuriating that housing developers, including people building luxury housing (not a priority in any way) whose workers may not be able to experience social distancing on job sites, are allowed to keep working – while most building inspection services are closed.

Sup. Hillary Ronen wants to keep small businesses alive in the crisis.So if you’re a developer, you can pretty much get away with anything – there’s nobody to watch to make sure you aren’t violating your permits or endangering your workers.

From DBI tonight:

Starting Monday, March 23, the Department of Building Inspections and other permitting departments at 1660 Mission Street will resume provision of services such as plan review of previously submitted projects and inspection services for Essential Infrastructure. This will include answering calls and emails from the public.  However, the building will remain closed to the public for now.

Most building inspectors, I am told by insiders, will not be on the job.

I don’t understand why building fancy housing that is far beyond the reach of most San Franciscans is such a priority that it’s worth risking the health of workers – who will, of course, go home to their families and communities. That exception in the mayor’s shelter-in-place order makes no sense at all.

Still, the Board of Supes is meeting, and the Budget and Finance Committee will consider Wednesday/25 legislation by Sup. Hillary Ronen that would authorize the controller to establish a $20 million line of credit to make short-term, no-interest loans to small businesses suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Ronen has made it clear that she is open to discussing details of how this would work – but the bottom line is that the city needs cash, now, to keep the infrastructure of SF small businesses alive.

The hearing is at 10am in the board chambers. You can watch remotely at sfgovtv, and you can make comments at sfbos.org.

Stopping evictions and price-gouging in the coronavirus crisis

It's official: Dean Preston will take office in December.

Sup. Dean Preston is calling for a moratorium on all evictions in San Francisco during the coronavirus outbreak. And District Attorney Chesa Boudin has set up a special hotline to report profiteers who are price-gouging in the crisis.

Preston’s legislation will be introduced Tuesday/10, and is aimed at preventing not just people who are sickened and unable to work but the low-income workers who are seeing their incomes plummet as people stay home from restaurants, concerts and performances are canceled, and the local economy slows.

Sup. Dean Preston is calling for a moratorium on evictions.

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has already announced his plan to ban the evictions of both residents and small businesses who have lost income during the public-health crisis.

Boudin, along with both the governor and state attorney general, has warned that California law prohibits price-gouging during a state of emergency.

That means, potentially, that San Francisco landlords can’t raise the rent—even on vacant apartments—by more than 10 percent right now.

It gives the city, which has also declared a state of emergency, considerable power to prevent landlords from tossing out tenants who can’t pay the rent because the crisis has caused them to lose income, Preston told me.

“This is well within the board’s authority,” he said.

The measure will take more than a month to work its way through the legislative process. If the mayor were on board, she might be able to use executive authority to move more quickly.

But since evictions typically take several months anyway, this could be a big deal to a lot of vulnerable tenants.

The entire discussion also raises the question of what the state and the city can do to subsidize individuals and small businesses that are suffering, and will continue to suffer for months to come. The arts community has been devastated already—musicians and performers from both large and small operations are out of work, and a lot of them are gig workers who don’t get paid if their event is canceled or their venue shuts down.

Rupa Marya, an associate professor of medicine at UCSF who is also a performing musician, posted an open letter/petition via Facebook to the mayors of Oakland and San Francisco:

As a hospital medicine physician at UCSF and a first responder to the CoVID19 spread, I want to commend you for taking steps to contain the virus by recommending limited social engagement. I believe that limiting how many gatherings are happening this month will be crucial to how quickly and effectively we weather this storm together.

Many wage workers I know will be deeply impacted by this. Musicians are having gigs canceled. Restaurant workers are not making the tips they need to survive. Theater performances are being canceled and actors, stagehands and crew are impacted. Yoga teachers and dance teachers are impacted as well.

I am asking for you to put a moratorium on evictions and enact a plan to forgive rent for wage workers who will be unable to make the income needed to pay rent for the month of April. By following the advice of the SF health department, they are doing a service to the greater good and should not be punished fiscally for that collective action.

But the city and the state also ought to be looking at financial help for the people who are suffering. During the financial crisis, the federal government was happy to bail out the banks; now, some of the working population needs that sort of help.

Nate Seider, who runs a special-event and wedding DJ company, told me that he has lost one big corporate event and another community gathering has been cancelled. “At this point I’m out two months’ rent,” he said. “I also know a lot of people who are losing gigs.”

He said “it’s really hard on DJs and entertainment people. We’re all just hoping we can weather this.”

I think it’s safe to say that the federal government under Trump won’t do anything, but California is in a position to try to keep this from becoming even more of an economic crisis. And there are a lot of people in this city who, despite some stock-market losses, have massive wealth and could help with an arts, workers, and small-business bailout fund.

(The money Mike Bloomberg wasted running for president would have been enough to save thousands of jobs, prevent thousands of evictions, and keep thousands of artists and performers from financial disaster.)

And the city is in a position to make sure than anyone taking advantage of this outbreak to make excess profits is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

District Attorney Chesa Boudin told me tonight that his office will hold accountable anyone who violates the state price-gouging law.

“The last thing anyone should have to worry about in a crisis is being cheated,” he said. “People who try to profiteer from a public-health emergency will be held accountable.”

If you think you’re a victim of price-gouging (including by landlords) you can call the DA’s hotline at 415-551-9595.

Sup. Aaron Peskin’s legislation regulating intermediate-term rentals comes back to the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/9, and should be headed for a vote that would send it to the full board. The committee will also be hearing a resolution confirming that it’s the city’s intention to take over Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

PG&E is at a state of collapse – state Sen. Scott Wieneris calling for a state takeover,and the company’s market value is less than a quarter what it was two years ago (meaning the state could get it cheap). Of course, the company’s bankruptcy-exit plan is massively expensive and will rely on a huge amount of new borrowing, which will make the company even more unstable and unable to provide clean, reliable energy at a fair price.

PG&E has so far refused to negotiate with San Francisco. So at a certain point, if the city is going to fulfill its legal and historic mandate for public power,the supes and the mayor and the city attorney are going to have to condemn the company’s property and seize it under eminent domain.

That’s a complicated legal process and could take years. So is this bankruptcy mess. The sooner they start, the sooner we could see some progress.

Mayor London Breed appears before the board Tuesday/10, and for once, some of the supes actually have some questions for her. They should be enlightening.

Preston has informed Breed he wants to ask about “corruption.” I think it’s pretty clear that he’s going to focus on the Department of Public Works scandal, and I don’t know what he’s going to ask, but one obvious question is this:

In all the time you have known Mohammed Nuru, both as a friend and as a public official, did you ever have any suspicion that anything he was doing was in the least bit unethical? And if not, what does that say about your management ability?

District 6 Supe Matt Haney is going to ask about “transportation infrastructure.” Perhaps he wants to know if all the new development the mayor is supporting will actually pay for itself.

The board will also vote on Haney’s proposal to hire an outside investigator to look at corruption in local government, particularly the DPW scandal. There are four co-sponsors, Sups. Hillary Ronen, Gordon Mar, Preston, and Shamann Walton. Takes six votes.

And Sup. Aaron Peskin’s measure to allow the Government Audit and Accountability Committee to issue subpoenas is on the agenda.

Will be a fascinating meeting.

Doesn’t anyone have any questions for the mayor?

Why don't any of the supes want to engage the mayor in debate?

Rev. Norman Fong is stepping down as the head of Chinatown Community Development Center after 30 years of organizing leadership. He was, and is, one of the most popular people in Chinatown and in San Francisco politics: I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t love Norman Fong.

He’s worked hard for a long time serving others, and he deserve to relax and have some time for himself. But I doubt that’s going to happen: Norman is a born organizer and he’ll still be part of the local political scene.

Why don’t any of the supes want to engage the mayor in debate?

The mayor’s monthly scheduled appearance before the Board of Supes is Tuesday/11, and is the custom, none of the board member submitted any questions. What I hear from the supes and their staff is that they find the process useless, since the mayor has to be told in advance the subject of the question, and she simply reads a prepared answer full of spin and deflection.

Which completely undermines the intent of the measure that created “question time.” The author, former Sup. Chris Daly, envisioned a vigorous period of policy debate between the mayor and the board, with both branches of government discussing in public the issues facing the city.

The law, passed in 2006, doesn’t say specifically that the board members have to submit questions in advance; that’s up to the rules that the board sets. And at first, then-Board President David Chiu cut a deal that required all questions to be submitted first in writing.

Sup. Aaron Peskin got the rules changed in 2018, and he has used the new rules to try to get some actual debate.

But since then the Mayor’s Office has pretty much refused to offer anything but stock answers.

This is a waste of what ought to be an important part of SF politics and policymaking.

I don’t know who the next board president will be; Sup. Norman Yee is termed out, and the board the city elects this fall will then choose a new president in Jan. 2021. But top on the agenda for anyone who wants the job should be new rules:

The supes submit nothing in advance to the mayor. The mayor shows up, the board members ask questions, and there is a policy debate for at least 15 minutes.

In the past, mayors have said they need to know the subject matter in advance so they can be prepared to answer. That’s so ridiculous: If the mayor of San Francisco can’t answer policy questions from the supervisors without their staff first vetting the material and writing out a prepared statement, then the mayor is woefully ill-informed and the public has the right to know.

The supes will also vote on an ordinance that would add teeth to the rules around landlords buying out tenants so they can vacate the units.

With rents soaring and greedy owners desperate to get rid of long-term rent-controlled tenants, it’s increasingly popular for owners to offer sums of cash to convince renters to leave.

These buyouts used to amount to stealth evictions; the tenant was gone, but the city had no record of it. Now, the city requires buyout agreements (typically in Ellis Act evictions) to be recorded with the Rent Board.

But there’s a loophole: If the landlord files an eviction lawsuit, and as part of the settlement the tenant agrees to accept money and leave, that’s not recorded; it’s just part of a lawsuit settlement.

The measure by Sup. Hillary Ronen would expand the rules to make sure than any attempt by a landlord to pay a tenant to leave– even as part of a settlement – get recorded at the Rent Board.

That’s not going to stop all of these (evil) evictions, but it will give the public a better chance to see what’s going on.

And speaking of knowing what’s going on: A lawsuit filed by a developer-funded organization that wants to overrule the city’s recent law requiring real disclosure of “dark money” will be heard in federal court Friday/14at 10am. The judge is Charles Breyer; the court is at 450 Golden Gate Ave.