The Agenda

SF keeps losing affordable housing

The maximum affordable housing the city is getting is 18 percent, and that's going to drop

The latest Housing Balance Report comes before the Board of Supes Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/10 and the news is as bleak as ever: In the past ten years, San Francisco has built 6,577 affordable housing units – and lost 4,263, mostly to evictions and Tenancy in Common conversions.

That means every time the city creates two affordable units, it loses one.

The maximum affordable housing the city is getting is 18 percent, and that’s going to drop

“There are a lot of numbers thrown around these days about housing,” Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, said in a press statement. “Here, in this Housing Balance Report, authored by the Planning Department we have the real story, from the city’s own building permit data, planning data, and Rent Board data.”

The message: SF is never going to solve its housing problem unless the city can stop allowing existing affordable housing to be taken off the market. It’s far, far cheaper to protect existing rent-controlled housing than to build new housing.

The report, which you can read here, is just the latest evidence of the failure of city housing policy. San Francisco is, of course, limited by state law – the city can’t ban Ellis Act evictions or impose rent controls on vacant apartments. Instead of fighting to change those things, our state legislators are pushing to mandate more market-rate housing.

But the city now has a huge budget windfall – and the supes will be discussing how much of that money can go to implementing Prop. C and buying up small sites that are vulnerable to Ellis evictions and TICs.

The hearing starts at 1:30 pm.

The committee also finally gets to consider the proposal by Sups. Ahsha Safai and Aaron Peskin to ban employee caefterias from new office buildings. The idea is to help local small businesses by encouraging tech workers to go outside of their office cocoons and actually buy lunch and interact with the community where they work.

The Budget and Finance Committee will hear a report Thursday/13 from the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector on the findings of the Municipal Banking Task Force. The task force has issued a draft report, which you can read here. There are models that require a public subsidy, and models that make a pretty fast profit.

The report is primarily financial, and doesn’t spend much time looking at what a municipal bank could do, for example, to finance affordable housing. But it’s clear that the concept is feasible, and could radically change the way the city and a lot of residents interact with the financial sector.

The meeting starts at 10am; the hearing is at the end of the agenda.

Mayor London Breed will appear at the full board meeting Tuesday/11 to begin (public) discussions over how the city should spend the $181 million in state money that’s suddenly on the table. The mayor has suggested that much of that funding should go to implement Prop. C (which she opposed). Some, including incoming Sup. Matt Haney, say that since it’s education money, some should go to increase teacher pay at SFUSD.

This will be the first time the supes and the mayor together have an open discussion on the topic. It’s why we have Question Time.

The board will also consider, in a special Committee of the Whole, whether to put a Charter Amendment on the Nov. 2019 ballot to preserve free City College for the indefinite future. We’re talking about a budget set-aside, and a lot of supes don’t like budget set-asides, which I understand – but in this case, the voters passed a measure that should (assuming the city survives the court challenges) provide a steady stream of revenue for the $15 million a year or so it would cost to allow low-income and working-class San Franciscans to get an education.

And the board will consider legislation that seeks to prevent the owners of single-family homes and condos to use massive rent increases as a tool for eviction – like this.

The Yimbys lost big-time in the November SF election – but that doesn’t mean they have lost the political support of some of the city’s most powerful officials. It’s worth noting that among the hosts (and presumably speakers) at the Yimby Action annual gala Tuesday/11 at the Swedish American Hall are Mayor London Breed, state Sen. Scott Wiener, state Assemblymember David Chiu, and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff.

All are now part of the Yimby agenda.

When demolition threatens neighborhood merchants

This building on Cortland St. would be demolished -- but local merchants know nothing about it.

The Board of Supes will consider Tuesday/4 extending a rule that exempts many property owner on commercial strips in D4 and D11 from notification requirements when they change the type of business use in their storefronts. The district supes, Ahsha Safai and Katy Tang, like this, and it could make things easier on district merchants.

This building on Cortland St. would be demolished — but local merchants know nothing about it.

But there’s a reason why neighbors – including neighborhood merchants – need to be notified about changes on their streets. Take the case of a proposal that just surfaced in Bernal Heights, where I live.

A public notice ad in the Examiner – and hardly anyone reads those ads – alerted land-use lawyer and neighbor Sue Hestor to a proposal to demolish a building at 432 Cortland that is currently two housing units and replace it with a three-unit building with ground-floor commercial.

Never mind that, if one of more of the units has been rented, it’s under rent control – and the new housing would not be. That’s a problem. Cortland is a mixed-used area with neighborhood commercial and housing; adding one more unit of housing is fine, although it won’t be affordable housing.

But the demolition would have a huge impact on neighboring businesses, because the property in question is in the middle of the block, right next to a gift shop and a grocery store, and it extends right up to the sidewalk. There is no way that can be demolished without closing off the (busy) sidewalk for a significant period of time. It’s a pre-1900s building so it’s almost certainly full of lead paint and possibly asbestos.

Sup. Aaron Peskin has complained about how city construction (like the Central Subway) has damaged district merchants. This private demolition job and subsequent construction could damage Cortland Street merchants – and as of today, when I walked along the street and talked to people, nobody knew anything about it.

The Planning Department posted a notice on the property Friday. There has been no mailing to local merchants, no outreach by the developer (Allshums & Parners LLC, which state records show is owned by Jennifer Leung Chong Kan, who owns several residential properties on the Peninsula and in SF).

As Hestor notes:

From reviewing Planning files there appears to have been ZERO notice or consultation with businesses along Cortland.  

  • Despite fact that demolition will occur right next to two buildings/businesses.  

  • Adjacent building foundations (downward sloping lot) will have to be shored up.

  • Demolition will occur up against and debris passed over important sidewalk that connects the neighborhood.

  • Construction staging will probably be over same sidewalk.

  • Construction parking will interrupt curb spaces for months – at least.

  • Operations of electric bus 24-Divisidero will be affected

  • Demolition and construction will directly affect operations of Cortland merchants.

  • The merchants have no knowledge of this proposal, its demolition and construction.  

The Planning Commission hearing is set for Dec. 20 – right in the middle of the busiest time of the year for local merchants. It’s hard to imagine how a small business owner during the Christmas rush could take an entire afternoon off to go to the commission meeting and protest.

And just so the Yimbys don’t start up on me, my house is far enough away that this will have no impact on me one way or another. I have no problem with adding housing on Cortland. But in this case, we will apparently lose two units of existing housing and get a net gain of one (1) unit of high-end housing.

The developer bought it for $1.59 million in 2017. Sell three units and rent out the ground floor and she’ll make a nice profit. Which, of course, it what this is all about.

The Board will also have to decide whether to approve Mayor London Breed’s appointment to the Rent Board, a property manager named J.J. Panzer who was the embodiment of greed in the Mission when he tried to jack up the rent on Boogaloos restaurant to an unaffordable level, then backed off and worked with the place to set a reasonable price and help them get back in business after a fire.

But it turns out that the guy didn’t do even the basic homework to apply for the job, and Breed’s office didn’t brief him on what he needed to know, and since he makes a living helping landlords screw tenants at the Rent Board, he might not be eligible. It takes a super-majority to reject his appointment.

The voters in 2016 approved a new tax to make City College free, and now Sup. Jane Kim wants to put in the City Charter a guarantee (also known as a set-aside) that the city will allocate at least $15 million a year for free tuition and stipends to pay for textbooks and other costs. There was a bit of drama at the Rules Committee on this; at first, Sup. Ahsha Safai tried to block the proposal, then changed his mind and allowed the measure to go to the full board. It’s one of Sup. Jane Kim’s final acts, and she wants to put it on the November, 2019 ballot. Now the full board will get a chance to vote on it before she is termed out.

The reality about Nancy Pelosi …

When Nancy Pelosi became speaker of the House in 2007, Washington news media started calling me. The right wing was going nuts; Pelosi, they said, was going to bring “San Francisco values” to the rest of the nation. Reporters were looking, I suppose, for a critic from her hometown, and I had been very dubious about her role in privatizing the Presidio National Park.

I think it was Roll Call that first reached me, and I told the reporter what I have said many times since: Everyone on all sides needed to calm down. Nancy Pelosi was not a wild-eyed “San Francisco liberal.” She wasn’t going to promote socialized medicine or gay marriage or higher taxes on Wall Street or big cuts in the military budget and a rapid end to the US wars in the Middle East. She was a mainstream Democrat whose constituency was the Democratic majority in Congress, and she would do what she needed to do to preserve it, and she was very good at that job.

“I’m a crazy left-wing San Francisco liberal,” I said. “Nancy Pelosi is not.”

The story with my quotes came out in DC, and the right-wing media were all over it: Here’s a guy in San Francisco who thinks Nancy Pelosi is too conservative. I went on some of their shows, and they abused me horribly. I stuck to my point: Pelosi isn’t a radical. She’s the first woman to hold this powerful job, and that may be causing the likes of Sean Hannity (yeah, I fought with him on the air) to freak out, but seriously: If you wanted stability in Congress and the Democratic Party, Pelosi was an excellent choice.

That’s what we saw over the next few years. Pelosi pushed through the Affordable Care Act with no provision for any sort of single-payer program. She did not stand with Gavin Newsom when he legalized same-sex marriage in 2004 (it wasn’t until 2012 that she asked for a marriage-equality plank in the Democratic Party national platform). She had a very mixed record on military spending and engagements. Today, she’s made clear that she doesn’t think impeachment or the abolition of ICE are winning issues. She dismissed the victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as any kind of a larger wake-up for the party.

I’m not saying that Pelosi should be replaced as the Democratic Party’s leader. She is one major reason the Democrats retook the House. She’s a brilliant strategist. At this point, it doesn’t appear she has any credible opposition – certainly not from the left, which is why Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives are moving toward supporting her.

But let’s be realistic. Pelosi will not push a serious progressive agenda unless she is forced to by her more progressive Democratic colleagues. She’s going to be cautious, thinking towards 2020 with a strategic approach that fears offending more conservative voters.

She took a bold stance and supported Prop. C, and that’s a great sign. Still, for most of her career she’s been a Hillary Democrat, not a Bernie Democrat. That’s just reality. She’s also said, famously, that power isn’t given to anyone; you have to take it. That’s how the new and growing left in Congress is going to have to approach the next two years.

Mayor London Breed appears before the Board of Supes Tuesday/27, and homelessness is at the top of the Question Time agenda. Sups. Vallie Brown and Rafael Mandelman both want to ask her about her about the issue. Since the new rules allow for some real debate, and it’s starting to rain, and thousands of homeless people have nowhere to go, and the Breed Administration is still sweeping people off the streets, it could be an interesting discussion.

The Supes will also hold a special hearing on the city’s track record hiring and promoting African-American workers, as well as workplace discrimination and complaints. Pushed by SEI Local 1021, the supes are going to call in department heads and ask about the lack of diversity in hiring and promotions – and the “disproportionate amount of disciplinary actions against African-American workers.”

The Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club holds a vigil Tuesday/27to remember the horrific assassinations of Sup. Milk and Mayor George Moscone 40 years ago. 7pm, Harvey Milk Plaza.

The state Legislature passed, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed, a law allowing involuntary conservatorships of people with mental illness and substance-abuse problems. The city is planning to implement that law, which has advocates for the homeless and civil-liberties groups concerned.

Voluntary Services First holds a forum Friday/30 on the issue, featuring Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, Susan Mizner of the ACLU Disability Rights Program, and CW Johnson, outreach specialist of the Mental Health Association. 2pm at the Main Library.

A bad Central Soma Plan is going to move forward …

The future of Soma from Potrero Hill. City Planning Dept. image

The Board of Supes is set to give final approval Tuesday/13 to a Central Soma Plan that almost everyone agrees has too much office space and too little housing. I still don’t understand why this is going forward – except that City Planning, Sup. Jane Kim, and a lot of others have been working on it for a very long time, and perhaps they just want to see something finished.

The plan would potentially create another downtown in Soma. San Francisco doesn’t need another downtown. In fact, I could argue that San Francisco doesn’t need a whole lot more office space – the office space we already have is enough to have created a massive housing crisis.

All the yellow blocks show where new buildings could be allowed in Central Soma

The unemployment rate is about as low as it can get in San Francisco (although many people are working part-time or in the “gig economy” with no benefits or job security). So why are we trying to bring in more jobs – the majority of which will go to people who don’t currently live here? Which means they will need a place to live – and the jobs-housing mix in the Central Soma Plan is completely out of whack.

And since the EIR for this project was done with the goal of creating more office space, the supes can’t approve more than a fraction of the housing the city will need without doing a new EIR.

As we noted in September, when the EIR was before the board:

The overall reason that the planning department wants this proposal is, as planner Lisa Chen told the board, the existing zoning, which includes a lot of industrial areas, doesn’t bring in enough money to pay for the improvements the neighborhood needs. So those blue-collar jobs have to go to make room for tech offices (even though there is nowhere near enough housing in the city for the new tech workers, and we have been through this before, and it has been a nightmare for existing residents).

This is an astoundingly rich city, perhaps the richest city in the history of civilization (I know that’s a crazy claim, but try to dispute it). We can afford to fix up Soma without making the housing situation radically worse and losing thousands of blue-collar jobs.

Nobody dissented from the approval of the EIR. Kim is supporting the plan, so it will pass. And when the housing crisis, the traffic, the demands on public services, all get worse in five years, everyone will look around and wonder why.

The supes are also slated to approve a deal with the Mayor’s Office that gives some market-rate housing projects that are grandfathered in with lower affordability requirements a time extension for starting construction.

This goes against both the intent of Prop. C (the 2016 version), which mandated higher affordable housing construction, and the direction the board has been taking for the past year or so, which is to demand that developers who have gone through the approval process actually start building their housing.

Mayor Breed wanted to give 33 developers who are still operating under the old, lower requirements 30 months to start construction. The current deadline is in December. Sups. Kim and Aaron Peskin got that down to 18 months.

The discussion at the Land Use and Transportation Committee was interesting: For starters, the Mayor’s Office said there were as many as 4,000 units, including 600 affordable units, that “might not make the deadline.”

The supes were able to establish that there are actually only two projects, with a total of 55 units, seriously at risk. So we’re talking about a tiny number of affordable units.

Also, Peskin pointed out that the Planning Department’s number “are terrible” and that the process was a mess:

I think we came up with a pretty good compromise, and then with all respect to the representative of the mayor’s office, generally the way this works is when the supervisors say last week, hey, city attorney, we want you to craft some amendments, generally we work collaboratively in the intervening week, and you don’t go and dump your own amendments on this committee, particularly amendments that were not in any way discussed with the supervisors who were indicating that we wanted to work together, compromise, and that we were drafting some amendments. That’s just the way it works here, and that’s the way it’s worked here for the almost 20 years that I’ve been on and off the Board of Supervisors.

Nevertheless, the committee approved the compromise.

The Agenda, Election Day edition

Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, fires up the crowd at a rally to celebrate a successful signature-gathering effort for what is now Prop. C

The biggest election day of a lot of our lives is Tuesday/6, and I know that sounds overly dramatic, but I think it’s true.

The country is falling apart. Trump’s emboldened supporters are promoting white supremacy, sending bombs to Democrats, and massacring Jewish people. I lived through Watergate. I lived through Reagan destroying the New Deal and the post-War consensus of shared prosperity. I lived through GW Bush, 9/11, the Iraq War, and so many other disasters. I have never seen anything like this.

The mid-terms that are a plebiscite on Trump will define politics in the United States for years going forward.

The local elections in San Francisco will determine whether the voters are willing to tax the richest corporations in town to seriously address the homeless crisis, and whether Mayor Breed – who is opposing Prop. C – will have a majority to support her policies on the Board of Supervisors.

Polls are open from 7am to 8pm. You can find your polling place here.

You can find our big comparison of Who’s Endorsing Whom here.  

The biggest story of the local election is the flood of corporate money, more than I can ever remember. San Francisco has strict limits on campaign donations to local candidates, and has matching funds for candidates who agree to a spending cap. But none of that really matters right now, since the big money is in the independent expenditures bankrolled by Big Tech and Big Real Estate.

Progress San Francisco, in IE group funded almost entirely with massive checks from the real-estate industry and friends of Ron Conway, has spent close to $1.3 million in just two districts, 4 and 6. The folks who want to control the city in the interests of developers, major landlords, and tech companies that don’t want to pay fair taxes or accept reasonable regulations are promoting Jessica Ho in 4 and Christine Johnson and Sonja Trauss in 6.

As of the latest filings, Progress San Francisco poured $638,000 into D4 and $672,000 into D6.

And that’s not the only source of outside unlimited often dark money.

It can be hard to follow who is really funding which attacks, since the money gets funneled through so many committees. For example, this mailer was signed by “Westside Neighbors.” That slate-mailer organization hasn’t filed yet with the Ethics Commission. But other filings show it’s actually funded with some of the $27,500 donated by Safe and Affordable SF to attack Mar and oppose Prop. C.

There are some surprising elements in the late money. Shamman Walton, who has the support of many progressive leaders, just got $10,000 from Progress SF. Of course, the disclosures don’t list the $10K from the real-estate PAC; instead, Progress SF gave that money to the United Democratic Club, which has been a conduit for big corporate money, and the UDC spend close to $10K on a field operation supporting Walton.

I will repeat my general analysis of big campaign money. The fact that Progress SF gave money to Walton doesn’t mean that Walton has any connection to that corporate operation, or that he has given them any indication that he will vote the way they want. It just means that this operation, which represents one side of San Francisco politics (the side that doesn’t support redistribution of wealth and power) thinks he’s a better candidate than his leading opponent, Tony Kelly.

The same goes for Gordon Mar and Jessica Ho. The Big Money clearly prefers Ho to Mar.

Salesforce, which has put itself in the forefront of the campaign for Prop. C, was in a strange place last week. The company put $50,000 into the IE for Jessica Ho in D4, but when CEO Mark Benioff learned that Ho is against Prop. C, the company asked for its money back. The tech industry – or, that segment, led by Benioff, that is willing to acknowledge that the tech boom has helped fuel the housing and homeless crisis and that the companies making the most money out of San Francisco should give back – is still in a learning curve.

There are two sides in SF politics, and Prop. C is defining them pretty clearly. The people who think that the free market will solve our problems and are willing to defer to the tech industry to set the agenda are on one side. The people who think that the wealthiest in the city should pay a small part of their excessive wealth to solve the problems they helped create are on the other side.

If you are looking for Election Night Parties, here’s a partial list (if I haven’t listed your party let me know and I will update).

SF Democratic Party’s Red to Blue operation – along with quite a few other candidates – will be at The Oasis, 298 11thStreet.

Matt Haney for Supe will be right down the street at Calle 11, 1501 Folsom.

Tony Kelly for Supe will be at Thee Parkside, 1600 17thStreet.

 Shamann Walton for Supe will be at Laughing Monk Brewery, 1439 Egbert

Gordon Mar for Supe will be at the Irish Cultural Center, 2700 45thAvenue.

Jessica Ho for Supe will be at Hole in the Wall Pizza, 1825 Irving.

Yes on 10 will be at El Rio, 3158 Mission.

The Yes on C Party is At Roccapulco, 3140 Mission. I think Prop. C is going to win big, and this will be a party for the ages.

6,000 more office workers with no housing, the failure of planning in the Eastern Neighborhoods …

Labor is joining Mission activists in a protest against a 16th and Mission developer

Mayor London Breed is pushing legislation that would amend the city’s historic office-space limitation law to allow an additional 1.5 million square feet of space – enough to house 6,000 more workers – with no plans for how to house those people.

This is the latest chapter in an ongoing saga in San Francisco: In the name of creating jobs, the city allows developers to build new office space, and gives tax breaks for companies to move into town – with no regard for the housing crisis that those policies create.

There’s substantial community opposition to the Monster in the Mission

In this case, the legislation is a bit technical, and involves a revision to Proposition M, which in 1986 limited new office construction to 950,000 square feet a year. The tech industry is demanding more office space, and the mayor has a loophole.

The concept: For various reasons, about 1.5 million square feet of office space was converted to another use between 1984 and 2016. The Breed proposal would exempt that total from the amount the city is allowed to build.

John Elberling, director of TODCO, sent a letter to the committee pointing out the problems:

The additional space would result in about 6,000 new office workers – creating an additional housing demand for about 4,000 households, almost half of which would be moderate/middle-income employees who today cannot afford market-rate housing in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

Where will those needed extra 4,000 housing units be built? Where/how will that needed 2000 additional affordable housing units be built? There is no plan, none at all!

And suggestions that many of these new workers will live outside of San Francisco, so they are not “our problem,” is preposterous. The rest of the Bay Area’s housing development is not even close to keeping up with its economic growth either, and the shortfall in regional affordable housing development in particular is catastrophic.

More: The current fees that developers pay for jobs-housing linkage are ten years old and way too low. The current fee is $26.95 per square foot.

There is currently a total of about 6 million square feet of San Francisco office development awaiting approval … At the current rate, those projects combined will pay about $160 million of JHLP fees for new affordable housing, only enough to fund building about 500 affordable units. Even doubling this fee would bring that … total up to 1,000 units, when 2,000 more are needed just to meet the additional demand from the proposed Prop. M office developer giveaway.

So why is this happening? Well, the 950,000 square foot limit rolls over every year, so if that much space isn’t built, there’s room for more in the future. In the Great Recession, not much was constructed, so there’s been a pretty good inventory of allowable space.

But it’s now down to a total of 3.5 million square feet, and developers have about 6 million square feet of projects pending.

And no matter what they say, the real top priority of the Mayor’s Office and the Planning Department is “accommodating growth” – jamming through more tech industry office development – NOT fighting the gentrification of our communities by building all the affordable housing this growth demands.”

The measure will be considered at the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/29.

The Eastern Neighborhoods Plan will be on trial once again Tuesday/30. The plan, approved ten years ago, is way, way out of date– in fact, the environmental impact report on the plan assumed that between 2008 and 2025, the Mission would see 2,054 new housing units. More housing than that has already been approved.

The latest challenge involves a project at 2750 19thSt. The proposal calls for demolishing three industrial buildings on the site and building 60 residential units over 10,000 square feet of production, distribution, and repair space.

(I worked for years in that neighborhood. I started at the Bay Guardian when it was in the building next door, at 2700 19thSt. One of the things we learned was that PDR space – if it’s actually PDR space with blue-collar jobs – doesn’t mix well with luxury housing, which is what this plan involves. PDR is noisy, involves deliveries at all hours – and tends to offend rich people who live upstairs. I don’t see how this project will work.)

But the appellants are raising a larger issue. These regional planning processes allow one single environmental impact report, and then exempt any project that conforms to the area plan from an individual EIR. That’s become a huge problem.

Larisa Pedroncelli and Kelly Hill, representing Our Mission No Eviction, say the new project exceeds the discussion of the Eastern Neighborhoods EIR:

The PEIR was prepared in the midst of the the “great recession” and did not project the steep increases in housing prices that has been especially exacerbated by the increase in high paying jobs that have come to San Francisco. As a result, development has accelerated at a faster pace than anticipated by the PEIR. Major unforeseen development projects in the Eastern Neighborhoods such as the UCSF Hospital buildout, Pier 70 buildout, 5M project, Mission Bay buildout, Warriors Stadium, and the new Central SOMA plan bringing with it significant – and unanticipated – new office space to the area.

The PEIR did not anticipate the impact of tech shuttles from a traffic standpoint but also from the perspective of demand for housing in proximity to these new shuttle stops. The desire by high-earning tech employees to move to areas within a few blocks of a free ride to work has exacerbated the already high demand for housing. These shuttle stops are disproportionately in the Mission. The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has documented the connection between shuttle stops and higher incidences of no-fault evictions

Gentrification Has Caused Unanticipated Increases in Traffic and Automobile Ownership. The unanticipated influx of high earners in the Mission has resulted and will continue to result in a substantial increase in the rate of automobile ownership and TNC use in the Mission. It is now well recognized that high earners are twice as likely to own an automobile than their low income counterparts, even in transit rich areas such as the Mission. The TNC “ride-share” phenomena, increased frequency of amazon/meal/grocery deliveries and the implementation of Mission St “red lanes” have resulted in significantly changed traffic patterns. Additionally, the rise in “displacement commutes” of Mission families driving back long distances to their jobs and children’s schools in San Francisco, as well as the plethora of new Silicon Valley “reverse commutes” were not anticipated and have significantly changed the traffic picture. A recent INRIX Global Traffic Scorecard shows that in 2017 San Francisco driving now ranked 5th most congested city in the world, with its average driver spending 79 hours a year stuck in traffic at a cost of $10.6 billion per year ( Although a traffic study was done for this project, it did not contain any cumulative analysis and based its Mode Share Projections on 2011-2014 projections. We cannot know the exact issues related to cumulative impacts on traffic and circulation because they have not been studied.

Reality: The supes almost never overturn planning decision and side with these appeals. But the issues that will come up are profound, and need to be addressed.

The Monster in the Mission is back.

The massive market-rate housing development at 16thand Mission, which has been the focus of community opposition for years, at one point seemed to be dead when the property owners and the developer – Maximus, which also owns ParkMerced where there are serious labor issues– couldn’t reach a deal.

But the plan is once again on the agenda of the Planning Commission, which will hold a special meeting Thursday/1 in the Mission High School Auditorium to hear an informational presentation on the latest version of the project. (UPDATE: THE HEARING HAS BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO SCHEDULING CONFLICTS, WE’LL UPDATE WHEN IT HAS BEEN RESCHEDULED.)

The current plan is for 331 mostly luxury units in a building that could reach 105 feet tall on the northeast corner of the 16thSt. BART plaza.

The issue that opponents have raised is clear: If you put hundreds of new rich residents in what has been traditionally a fairly affordable area, rents in other buildings will rise, community businesses will be forced out, and you’ll see what some have called a “gentrification bomb.”

The commission will hear from the community starting at 4pm.

Minimum pay for nonprofit workers, the mayor’s affordable housing exemptions …

Assignment to a fire truck is highly coveted -- and one woman alleges created a climate of sexual harassment.

The Board of Supes will consider Tuesday/23 a change to the ordinance that sets minimum wages for workers at nonprofits that get city contracts. It’s a big deal: The city spends hundreds of millions of dollars on year contracting services to nonprofits. Workers at those agencies typically make far less than unionized city employees.

In fact, they make less than workers at private for-profit companies with city contracts; the for-profits (mostly in areas like construction) have to pay at least $17 an hour (and many of them have unionized trades workers).

Assignment to a fire truck is highly coveted — and one woman alleges created a climate of sexual harassment.

Nonprofit workers get only the city’s minimum wage of $15 an hour.

The supes, sitting as a Committee of the Whole, will hear a proposal by Sups. Jane Kim, Sandra Lee Fewer, and Norman Yee to raise the pay of nonprofit workers to $17 an hour by next year and to include and annual cost-of-living increase in those contracts.

What that means, of course, is that the city will have to increase the amount it pays the nonprofits to cover those costs. And if nonprofits increase the pay of other workers to keep pace (so that, for example, a $15-an-hour worker who isn’t doing city contracted work gets the same pay as a $17-and-hour worker who is), the cost could reach $7 million a year, according to the Budget Analyst.

The Controller’s Office says it could be as much as $17 million, under certain circumstances.

But supporters say that people doing the city’s work should be paid enough to live in the city — and even at $17, that’s a stretch.

Negotiations between labor, the Mayor’s Office and the supes are ongoing. “I hope those negotiations lead to something we can all support,” Sup. Rafael Mandelman, who said he would vote for the pay raise, told me.

The supes will also decide whether to follow a committee recommendation and impose strict new rules on massage establishments. The Land Use and Transportation Committee approved the plan by Sup. Katy Tang last week despite opposition from both sex-worker groups and therapeutic massage businesses.

The bill would use land-use regulations to make it harder to open a health-care establishment – in the name of cracking down on sex trafficking. Sex workers argued that all the bill would do is harm workers and therapeutic outlets.

Then there’s a move by Mayor London Breed to allow as many as 33 market-rate housing developments to escape the city’s current requirements for affordable housing.

Breed wants those projects to get an exemption, which would allow as little as 13 percent affordable units, because they were in the permitting process when new higher standards were approved.

Sup. Aaron Peskin raised the issue last week at Question Time. Breed said she would be happy to work with him on individual projects – but the whole package is now before the board.

Among the normally routine items listed on the Tuesday/23 supes agenda is this:

“Settlement of lawsuit, Suzanne Montes, $575,000. … Other terms of the settlement are restoring 384 hours of sick leave with pay and 240 hours of vacation time to employee.”

There are employment disputes all the time in the city; hard to run an operation this size without some. But somehow, this one intrigued me, so I ran the case number through the federal court search system.

Here’s what I learned. It’s shocking.

Montes is a firefighter in San Francisco. She was assigned, according to the lawsuit filed in 2017, to Station 2 and became only the sixth female in department history to serve on a fire truck (a coveted assignment).

From the suit:

Many of her co-workers at Station 2 were opposed to a female being assigned to the position and started a campaign of harassment aimed at forcing Ms. Montes to leave the station. Ms. Montes was ostracized, constantly degraded, and had feces spread in her bathroom. She crawled into bed only to find that one of her co-workers had urinated in her bed.

There’s more.

In January and February 2016, Ms. Montes constantly heard other firefighters in Station 2 openly and enthusiastically refer to her as a “bitch” in conversations with other male firefighters. Despite the open nature of these comments, no officer at Station 2 took any action to discipline those making the comments or to prevent their reoccurrence.

On January 20, 2016, Ms. Montes’ skin lotion was emptied over the counter of the woman’s bathroom, and all the toilet paper was deliberately removed from the stalls and from the cabinets where the extra rolls were normally stored.

On February 5, 2016, feces was spread on the toilet and floor of the women’s bathroom. The probationary firefighter assigned to clean the bathroom that day was instructed not to clean up the mess. No officer at Station 2 took any action regarding this incident.

Ms. Montes filed a formal complaint regarding the harassment on February 12, 2016. The SFFD took no remedial action until it concluded its protracted investigation of the matter on August 31, 2016. At that point the SFFD, despite sustaining most of the allegations Ms. Montes made, placed Ms. Montes on administrative leave, administered no discipline to anyone else involved, and required some employees to receive training eight months later.

If there were no merit to any of these claims, the city wouldn’t be putting out more than half a million of the taxpayers’ money to settle the case. This, needless to say, does not speak well of the culture in the SFFD more than 30 years after women were allowed to become firefighters. (I remember that struggle; the Old Boys Network hated the idea and fought bitterly to keep women out.)

That may be one of the reasons that the Government Audit and Oversight Committee is holding a hearing Thursday/25on allegations of sexual harassment and sex discrimination in the Fire Department.

I look forward to hearing from the chief.

Two big (and environmentally awful) projects — and a step toward saving the Mission

Greenaction's Marie Harrison testified against the India Basin plane

The India Basin environmental impact report, which was more-or-less rejected by the supes two weeks ago when the local air board said the construction proposals would cause too much airborne pollution, comes back to the board Tuesday/16.

Greenaction, a Bayview Hunters Point environmental justice group, appealed the EIR on the project, which involves the construction of 1,500 new housing units on the edge of the Hunter Point Shipyard, where we now know there is still at least some radioactive contamination. At the hearing two weeks ago, Greenaction representative Marie Harrison, who was carrying an oxygen tank because of her respiratory problems, said that the development would cause further damage in an area that already has the highest asthma rates in the city.

Greenaction’s Marie Harrison testified against the India Basin plan. Photo by Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner.

A representative of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District said that the construction would cause unacceptable levels of pollution and that the plan needed changes.

The air-pollution issues are nothing new: The EIR acknowledges that there are air-quality problems that can’t be mitigated. But the Planning Commission decided that the city’s need for housing is so great that it overrides those concerns.

So now the issue is back before the board, which only very rarely overturns EIRs. Sup. Malia Cohen, who represents the district, supports the project. But as Tony Kelly, candidate for D10 supe, told me,

I’ve been around a while, but it’s still a shock that, in San Francisco in 2018, the city might approve a building project next to the Shipyard that hasn’t really considered how safe the dirt is, has environmental impacts that can’t be mitigated, and deliberately avoided communities that don’t speak or read English. And the official reason the city might approve the project anyway is, they want the money and the expensive housing. If this gets approved, how wrong does a project have to be to get rejected?

Shamman Walton, who is also a leading candidate in D10, told me he doesn’t have enough information to take a position on the project EIR.

And then the supes will have to deal with the Central Soma Plan, which pretty much everyone agrees is a mess– too much office, too little housing, no concern for massive new traffic problems. The board approved the EIR September 25 despite all those issues, and Sup. Jane Kim, who represents the district, said she wants to add a lot more housing to the mix.

I asked Kim why the city needed to make room for that much more office space in the first place, why this level of growth is a good thing for anyone. “I get that argument,” she said.

But that argument – that the city can’t possible handle the impacts of this rapid office and job growth – is generally dismissed by planners, and frankly, by most of the supes.

So the plan itself comes before the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/15 and the full board the next day.

Two weeks later, Land Use and Transportation will hold a hearing called by Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer to talk about the idea that private buses should be able to use the city’s Muni-only lanes. If the Muni-only lanes are meant to speed up the city’s transit system, clogging them with Google buses would seem counterproductive – but that’s what the MTA is considering at this point. Transit and environmental advocates are urging people to contact their supes in advance of the hearing and express opposition to the plan.

Sup. Hillary Ronen has introduced legislation that might make some impact on the dramatic gentrification of the Valencia Street corridor and surrounding areas and the displacement of long-time neighborhood businesses by high-end restaurants and brewpubs.

The measure would require conditional-review permits for new restaurants and would ban new brewpubs in the area roughly bounded by 14thStreet, Guerrero, Cezar Chavez, and Potrero.

Ronen also wants to block the merger of ground-floor commercial spaces resulting in spaces larger than 1,500 feet (except for legacy business, arts, and community uses). And she would require than any new developments of more than 10,000 square feet provide storefront space of less than 1,500 square feet.

Light industrial use would be legal in most areas, and a conditional-use hearing would be required if any legacy business is replaced.

This is just a start; there’s a lot to be done to save what’s left of the Mission. But it’s a step forward, and the Planning Commission will hear it Thursday/18.

Who supports real rent control — and environmental justice in Bayview?

All 11 supervisors will have to take a public stand Tuesday/2 on Proposition 10, the statewide ballot measure that would allow cities to impose effective rent control. Sup. Aaron Peskin has sponsored a resolution in support of the measure; it could have gone through two weeks ago, but Sup. Malia Cohen insisted it be sent to committee first, saying she wasn’t sure about the impacts on homeowners in her district. (There are no impacts on homeowners, just on landlords and tenants.) The Land Use and Transportation Committee heard the measure and sent it back to the full board – with an amendment that states that San Francisco has no plans to extend rent control without an economic analysis by the city controller. Sups. Ahsha Safai and Katy Tang were concerned about rent controls on single-family homes.

This is one of the two most important issues on the November ballot (SF Proposition C is the other).  And we will get a chance to see where every member of the board actually stands on tenant rights.

The board will also hear an appeal of the Environmental Impact Report on a big project in India Basin that would allow for 1,500 new residential units and 15 acres of parkland in an old industrial area that may still have toxic materials buried in the soil.

A lot of the news media coverage of the issue has focused on the future of a popular Russian spa near the site.

But Greenaction, an environmental justice group, appealed the EIR, saying that the project would cause increased air pollution in an area that already has the worst air quality (and highest rates of respiratory disease) in the city. The EIR admits there are environmental problems that can’t be entirely mitigated, but the Planning Commission decided that the city’s need for housing is so important that it overrides the potential downsides.

Tony Kelly, a candidate for D10 supervisor, told me that

I’ve been around a while, but it’s still a shock that, in San Francisco in 2018, the city might approve a building project next to the Shipyard that hasn’t really considered how safe the dirt is, has environmental impacts that can’t be mitigated, and deliberately avoided communities that don’t speak or read English. And the official reason the city might approve the project anyway is, they want the money and the expensive housing. If this gets approved, how wrong does a project have to be to get rejected?

The hearing will start sometime after 3pm.

The Planning Commission will, after months of delay, hear a proposal Thursday/4 to build a Whole Foods store on Jackson, between Polk and Van Ness, the site of the old Lombardi Sports. Neighbors have argued that the site is too valuable just for a two-story grocery store and that the project should also include housing.

The commission sent the plans back to the developer and asked for an alternative that included housing – but the developer now says that’s pretty much not going to happen. The existing building isn’t capable of handling the weight of several more stories on top, according to a report by the engineering firm Santos and Urrutia, which the city is suing for allegedly violating building codes.

So, the developer says, the building would have to be torn down and rebuilt, which this owner has no desire to do. Otherwise: No housing, just Whole Foods.

Several commissioners have been dubious about this project from the start. Let’s see how they handle the latest.

Also Thursday/4:Legal Assistance to the Elderly holds its annual party and fundraiser at Johnny Foley’s Irish Pub. Fell disclosure, I serve on the board of this organization – so I can vouch for the fact that it does amazing work protecting one of the city’s most vulnerable populations, low-income seniors and disabled people. It’s $25 at the door. 5pm to 7:30 pm, 243 O’Farrell.

The Climate Change Agenda for the week

Marchers demanding real solutions to climate change kicked off a week of events. Photo by Sunshine Velasco, courtesy of

More than 30,000 people marched for climate justice in San Francisco Saturday – and that was just the start of a series of events designed to coincide with Gov. Jerry Brown’s Climate Summit.

While the politicians are making their public statements, the grassroots will be working to connect climate change and racial, economic, and social justice.

Marchers demanding real solutions to climate change kicked off a week of events. Photo by Sunshine Velasco, courtesy of

Here are the week’s events (thanks to Marie Choi for compiling the list)


9am – Intertribal Prayer, Teach-In, and Direct Action Training at the West Berkeley Shellmound – Save West Berkeley Shellmound and the Indigenous Bloc for RISE Days of Action will lay down prayers, offer songs, and learn about the struggle to protect this ancient burial/ ceremonial and village site of the Lisjan/Ohlone people.  A direct action training will follow the ceremony. 

1pm – Toxic Tours, Solutions Tours, and Art Builds.  Community groups are hosting tours in Richmond, Bayview Hunters Point SF, SF Chinatown, SF Excelsior, and East Oakland to share how people living in frontline communities are fighting big polluters and building community-led solutions to climate change. 


8am – RISE Against Climate Capitalism – Direct Action to Shut Down the Carbon Market Investors Meeting, 55 Cyril Magnon Street, San Francisco –  Idle No More and Indian People Organized for Action are holding a nonviolent direct action including prayer, teach-in and street mural painting outside of a carbon market investors meeting.  “People of the world are being led astray by polluting industries and elected officials promoting climate capitalist systems like carbon trading and carbon tax shell games. These systems… allow the fossil fuel industry to continue to harm Indigenous people and communities around the world from extraction to transport to refining.”


10am-8pm – Solidarity to Solutions Summit, Cesar Chavez Park in San Francisco – The Solidarity to Solutions Summit (#Sol2Sol Summit) will highlight frontline communities’ solutions that address the interlinked crises of climate, economic, and racial justice. Through cross-sector, solutionary strategy exchange, community leadership development, creative actions, and democratic popular assembly, we will provide direction on bold and transformative pathways for change and shift the narrative around false top-down market-driven solutions and techno-fixes. 


7am-12pm – Stand with Communities, Not Corporations!, Jessie Square, 736 Mission Street, San Francisco.  This is taking place outside of the Global Climate Action Summit to protest “Jerry Brown’s promotion of continued fossil fuel production, carbon trading markets and other incentives to oil, gas and other polluting corporations, perpetuates climate change and decimates indigenous communities and working-class communities of color around the world.”

At some point, the Board of Supes is going to make a final decision on the Central Soma Plan, and it’s going to put Sup. Jane Kim in a difficult position.

Kim has been a supporter of the massive rezoning effort, which would create as many as 63,000 new jobs but housing for less than half that number of people.

Now Kim says she wants to increase the amount of housing, but she’s facing a structural problem: The city did an environmental impact report on the entire plan five years ago, and the EIR only analyzed a plan with a maximum of 8,300 housing units. So now the Planning Commission and the Supes can only approve a plan that fits in those parameters – unless they scrap the EIR and start the process over again.

Which could take another two years – but in the meantime, existing protections for blue-collar jobs would be in place along with limits on new office space.

The South of Market Community Action Network, which Kim has been close to in the past, is incensed by the plan and has filed an appeal of the EIR:

The new Central SoMa Plan is a rezoning of the South of Market that caters to private interests and highlights the ongoing struggle of working-class communities in San Francisco.… The likely result of this change in zoning is the displacement of existing PDR jobs, and increased land values which means increased rents for both residents and businesses. 

SOMCAN is joined by Central Soma Neighbors and the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium.

The EIR appeal has been delayed by the board several times, as Kim has sought to increase the amount of housing in the zoning legislation. But she can’t go beyond what the EIR has analyzed.

There are lots of technical details in the appeal. Among other things, the YBNC notes that the EIR entirely dismissed any discussion of the fact that the addition of a small city to the existing Soma would create a serious demand for new public services:

In general, despite the projected daily population increase of 78,800 persons as a result of the Plan by 2040, the Initial Study concluded that the need for additional Police, Fire, and “other” public services would have a “less than significant impacts,” and thus this topic was excluded from technical and public evaluation in the DEIR.

This is a questionable assumption on its face – 78,800 people are the size of new city! And the Initial Study did not cite any technical analysis of the needs for Public Services for a daily population of this size, or lack thereof.


Despite their undeniable presence in the Plan Area in substantial numbers during the last 30 years, neither the Initial Study nor the Project DEIR specifically addressed the environmental issues related to the homeless population, and the resulting Public Services impacts. But the associated demand for public sanitation, health, shelter, and safety services is absolutely obvious to everyone today and is a major civic controversy.


The area defined as the Central SoMa Plan Area is a neighborhood. While we are not opposed to further growth, we are opposed to Planning’s proposed transformation of this neighborhood into a new Financial District. The scale of development and the mix of commercial, office and high end luxury development described in the Plan are not conducive to a healthy neighborhood.

The DEIR is also negligent in assessing the new impacts of ride-hailing/ Transportation Network Company (TNC) services like Uber and Lyft. The references in the DEIR on pages IV.D-65 and IV.D-76 are completely inadequate. Their impact can in no way be equated with bicycles in terms of traffic or environmental impact. Their vehicles circle endlessly as they aim to be proximate to the next person who orders their services such as rides and food deliveries. As more office space and more residences are built in the Plan Area, the volume and impacts from these services will increase dramatically.


The DEIR upzones large swaths of Central SoMa. Upzoning of property increases the values of the underlying land, which leads to increased costs for residential and commercial tenancies and increased sale prices. Therefore existing residents or small businesses that are paying less than the new market rate will be forced out.

But the overall issue for the supes is deeper: Should they scrap the existing, out-of-date, area-plan EIR and start the process over again? Or should they accept what it pretty clearly a plan that will make the jobs-housing imbalance in the city much worse – with all the displacement impacts that involves – just because five years ago a flawed EIR was approved?

Kim has always supported increased density in her district, often demanding (and getting) in exchange high levels of affordable housing. The Central Soma Plan sets affordability levels at 33 percent.

But her own progressive constituents aren’t happy here.

SOMCAN’s appeal will finally be heard, it appears, Tuesday/11. The group is encouraging the public to show up and testify; the hearing begins at 3pm in the board chambers.

David Talbot, the author, activist, former Chronicle columnist, and progressive activist will be talking with environmental lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr.Wednesday/12.From Talbot:

I obviously have a LOT to talk about with Bobby, whom I’ve known for many years. Among our topics will be Bobby’s remarkably honest and insightful new memoir, American Values: Lessons I Learned from My Family, his recent prison visit with Sirhan B. Sirhan — the man convicted of assassinating his father; why he has come to doubt the official versions of both the JFK and RFK assassinations; and Bobby’s involvement in the recent landmark court decision against chemical giant Monsanto for failing to warn consumers about the carcinogenic dangers of its herbicide Roundup.

I’m sure that Kennedy will have a lot to say about Election 2018, the Trump apocalypse and other burning topics too.

You can buy books from both Kennedy and Talbot (I haven’t read the Kennedy book, but The Devil’s Chessboardis really, really good) and hear the discussion starting at 4:30pm.

McRoskey Mattress Factory, 3rd floor loft, 1687 Market Street, San Francisco. Donations $5/Tickets at the door.