The Agenda

The Agenda, June 11-17: A chance to move beyond PG&E

Sup. Hillary Ronen wants to know why PG&E is such an obstruction to public projects

No matter who wins the mayor’s race, there’s a lot of good news from the San Francisco election – and one of the sleeper issues is the passage of Prop. A, which allows the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to sell revenue bonds for clean-energy projects.

If we have a PUC that’s willing to defy Pacific Gas and Electric Company – and a Board of Supes that’s willing to go along – the city now has the potential to start building out its own environmentally sound energy infrastructure.

That could save ratepayers billions of dollars and improve the creaky infrastructure of an aging and failing private utility that might be out of business soon anyway.

And, by the way, enforcing federal law and breaking up PG&E’s illegal monopolyin the process.

Since the 1920s, the city has tried repeatedly to do what the Raker Act of 1913 requires: Use the Hetch Hetchy power project to create a municipal electric utility. Munis historically have lower rates, better service, and more clear power than private companies.

But to deliver the city’s own clean hydropower to residential and commercial customers, the city would need to buy out the lines and poles that carry that power to end users. And in every case, the bond measure to buy out PG&E’s facilities had to go on the ballot, and the company spend whatever was necessary to shoot down those bond acts.

Sup. Hillary Ronen wants to know why PG&E is such an obstruction to public projects

Now PG&E is reeling from the North Bay firesand the potential of billions of dollars in legal liability. The company has no credibility left in San Francisco. CleanPowerSF is taking off, and will soon have nearly every residential and business customer in the city buying power from a public co-op. (You can sign up here.)

And nobody in their right mind would buy PG&E ancient, crumbling local infrastructure today.

Now, the city has the right to build clean-power projects (like major solar installations or wind turbines), and build out modern power lines to deliver that energy to customers – and pay for it with the revenues from sales. No risk to the city’s General Fund or property owners.

At the same time, the city could (with just a little bit of money) run fiber-optic cable next to the power lines, and build out a municipal broadband system.

A lot of city services are expensive; Muni will always lose money. So will SF General Hospital. You don’t bring in revenue hiring cops and firefighters.

But selling power and broadband are lucrative operations. Santa Clara used some of the money it makes from its public-power system to lure the 49ers south. Other cities with public power use the profits to keep taxes lower and pay for services.

So this is a winner for everyone –except PG&E (and Comcast and AT&T, if we are willing to get into the muni broadband business).

And this is all happening in the wake of PG&E’s decision to make it harder for city projects and agencies to get access to the grid.

Sup. Hillary Ronen has asked for a hearing at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee Wednesday/13to look at how the company is blocking city projects from access to city-owned clean power. We shall see if PG&E even shows up.

But the larger issue that the supes can now start to address is: Why are we still relying on PG&E to deliver the city’s own power through its unreliable grid? Now that Prop. A has passed, the city can start running its own wires, and bypass the corrupt, dying, private monopoly entirely.

The meeting’s at 10 am in Committee Room 263.

The (Election Day) Agenda: It’s going to be close

Really -- in this race, it's going to be close

Election Day is Tuesday, June 5. All the polls are clear: This is close, and second-place votes are going to determine the winner. I predict that the three major candidates, London Breed, Jane Kim, and Mark Leno, will all wind up with between 20 and 30 percent of the vote, and the margins may be so close that we won’t actually know who the next mayor is until several days after the election, when all of the election-day absentees are counted.

Really — in this race, it’s going to be close

The Department of Elections plans to start posting early results here at about 8:45pm; those will be the traditional vote-by-mail ballots, which tend to be older, somewhat more conservative voters (although that’s changing).

After that, the department will update results on a regular rolling basis about once an hour as new numbers come in. If the past is any guide, most of the ballots will be counted by midnight.

But that’s just the start. There will be tens of thousands of VBM ballots that are dropped off at City Hall or a polling place on Election Day, and each of them has to be certified and counted, which can take three or four days (or more). Elections will release those results at 4pm every day.

During the first and last results release, Elections will also run the ranked-choice-voting program to give us some preliminary idea where the mayor’s race stands.

We will be following the results as they come in and giving you analysis and reporting at 48hills, and live updates on Twitter (@48hills).

Election night parties: London Breed will be at Delancey St., 600 The Embarcadero. Jane Kim will be at the Foundry, 1425 Folsom St. Mark Leno will be at Jane Warner Plaza. You can figure on most parties getting underway by 8:30pm and going on until the last votes are counted.

I will update with any other election-night parties when I find out where they are. Please let me know ([email protected]).

The New York Times surprised me this week with a story saying that the tech industry “is hanging back”in the San Francisco election. There are some fascinating moments in the story:

Mr. Benioff called Mr. Conway “the Koch brothers of San Francisco,” a reference to the siblings who are heavy backers of conservative causes. He added: “That is his prerogative as a citizen of the United States. He feels he’s doing the right thing. He’s a good person. But he doesn’t speak for me or tech.”

And this, which is largely accurate, particularly when it comes to the Mayor’s Office:

“San Francisco, despite its reputation, isn’t especially left wing,” said Ben Tarnoff, a San Francisco historian and editor of Logic, a new magazine focused on deepening the discourse around tech. “Its political leadership is reliably socially liberal, but it has largely governed within the policy parameters set by the real estate and tech industries.”

But overall, reporter David Streitfeld interviewed tech industry leaders, who mostly told him they were too busy or didn’t want to get involved in the mayor’s race.

I disagree. Big Tech is all in on this mayor’s race, with huge amounts of money pouring into superPACs, mostly supporting London Breed and attacking Jane Kim and Mark Leno.

Yeah, the tech folks are trying to hide – Ron Conway even told his allies how to give money that wouldn’t be disclosed until the very end. But Big Tech is by far the dominant force in this town right now, including the selection of the next mayor.

We hear a lot, especially during elections, about “progressive candidates,” and – the Times story above aside – there has been a lot of discussion of how, in the words of Willie Brown, “there’s not a cigarette paper’s worth of difference” between the major candidates.

The SF Public Press just came out with a detailed study that suggests otherwise.

A data-driven analysis by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and in partnership with the Public Press, reveals what many political observers of San Francisco City Hall have been saying for years.

London Breed, president of the Board of Supervisors and candidate for mayor in the June 5 election, is a political moderate, close to the middle, even though she has eschewed that tag. Based on a moderate-to-progressive scale, relative to the city’s generally liberal bent, her closest ideological colleagues are District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee on the progressive side, and appointed District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who is running for election, farther on the moderate scale, though he declines to label himself one.

The Public Press and the UC David researchers looked at more than 400 votes and mayoral actions – in other words, they did what the Chron can’t seem to do, and went beyond what the candidates say and promise and instead looked at their records. Which is a much better indicator of future behavior than any campaign promise.

The Yimby crowd might want to take a look at this June 2 NYT story about Vancouver– a city that has been building highrise housing rapidly and still seeing radical price shocks.

The figures show, however, that unlike other expensive West Coast cities like San Francisco, where the housing supply has long lagged behind population growth, Vancouver has consistently produced new housing. Over the past decade, the housing stock has grown by about 12 percent, while the population has grown by about 9 percent, according to the city.

This disparity has persuaded the city to broaden its measures beyond just a push for new buildings to efforts like the empty homes tax.

“It’s getting out of the mind-set that just more is better,” said Gil Kelley, the city’s general manager of planning, urban design and sustainability

There are plenty of homeowners in Vancouver – as there are in SF – who would be happy to see prices fall. This idea that homeowners want to block new housing to preserve their own property values doesn’t hold up in the polls:

In 2016, the nonprofit Angus Reid Institute in Vancouver found that roughly two-thirds of residents in the metropolitan area wanted home prices to fall, including half of homeowners. More startling was that one in five homeowners in the survey expressed a desire to see home prices fall by 30 percent or more.

Count me in. Some of us just don’t believe that building more market-rate housing is going to bring prices down. And the data from up north suggests we may have a point.

I will repeat my earlier point: This race is very, very close. You can still register on Election Day and cast a provisional ballot. You can vote all day Monday and Tuesday City Hall, you can find out where your precinct polling place is with this handy utility. You can vote for up to three candidates, and it does your first choice no harm to pick a second (and it does you no good to only vote for one).

Low-turnout elections, and this will be one, tend to help those who can get their voters to the polls. Whatever candidate you support, your vote matters. And these days, it’s so easy there’s no excuse not to vote.

How SF loses affordable housing almost as fast as it gets built

Look how many units we lose to evictions

The Planning Commission will hear a report Thursday/24 on the city’s latest housing balance figures – and the data includes some startling information that helps explain why homelessness is such an intractable problem.

The data comes from legislation that requires a twice-annual report to the Board of Supes on how much affordable housing has been built, how much market-rate housing has been built – and how much affordable housing has been lost.

In the past ten years, the data shows, the city has added 6,515 units of affordable housing – and lost 4,221 units, mostly to Ellis Act and Owner Move-In evictions.

That means, in essence, that every time we build 100 units of affordable housing, we lose about 60 units to evictions. Add in the number of evictions that are never reported, the number of rent-controlled units lost to Airbnb, and the number of people who lose their jobs or are told to leave after crashing with friends or family and you can see how every month, on average, 100 more people become homeless in San Francisco.

Look how many units we lose to evictions

The city spends $300 million a year to address the problem, much of it for supportive housing and other programs to get people off the street. But even if we manage to get 1,000 people a year housed, another 1,200 will need the same services the next year.

We can demand that developers build 30 percent affordable housing – but more than half of that number is lost every year, meaning our net increase in affordable units is small.

The bottom line – although the Planning Department report doesn’t say it: We can’t solve the homeless crisis until we solve the eviction crisis. And keeping people in their homes is far, far cheaper than helping them get off the streets.

I wonder why that never made it into the Department’s report.

Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer has a proposal that will help a lot of tenants, might prevent some evictions, and will reign in some of the worst abuses of big speculative landlords.

Here’s the deal: Under the city’s rent-control law, landlords are allowed to pass on to tenants part of the cost of capital improvements. You renovate the place, put in a new roof, whatever – some of those costs can be recovered through rent increases.

But the law includes mortgage and tax increases in that category – so if a speculator buys a building, pays a high price (perhaps with the hope of getting rid of rent-controlled tenants) and then gets a property tax hike under Prop. 13, everyone’s rent can go up by 7 percent.

The idea that tenants should pay to support the overpriced purchases and taxes of speculators has never made sense. Fewer’s bill, which isnow out of the Rules Committee,would put an end to that.

It’s on the agenda for the full board Tuesday/22.

 

Supes to hear about squalid conditions for big-landlord tenants ….

At a Veritas building, Amina Rubio took this picture of water in her apartment before sending it off for testing. Photo Courtesy: Amina Rubio

The tenants of the city’s largest landlord have been complaining for years about squalid living conditions. Now the Board of Supes Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday/16on the “impact on the health and welfare of tenants residing in large and speculative units” – and I’m told that Veritas will be a major focus of the discussion.

The special meeting of the committee starts at 10:30 in City Hall Room 263.

At a Veritas building, Amina Rubio took this picture of water in her apartment before sending it off for testing. Photo Courtesy: Amina Rubio

It’s pretty clear at this point that at least some of parcels at the old Hunters Point Shipyard that are slated for development are too toxic and even radioactive for people to live. They may be too toxic for office space.

But that city has a long-term deal with Lennar Corp. to turn this site into a bustling new neighborhood – and the recent data on faked soil tests puts a lot of that in doubt.

The issue comes before the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/14at a hearing sponsored by all 11 members of the board. The Department of Public Health, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, and the EPA have been asked to report. Lennar is not on the list.

The full board will consider Tuesday/15a move by Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer to pull from committee a proposal to stop landlords from raising rents because their mortgage and property taxes went up after a sale. This is a big deal: When a landlord buys a building from a long-term owner, the taxes go up under Prop. 13. The prices of new buildings are so crazy that some buyers take out huge loans. And then they want to pass those costs onto tenants.

Her measure has been stalled in the Rules Committee, chaired by Sup. Ahsha Safai. Fewer wants the whole board to consider this.

The board will also consider a resolution opposing a new luxury yacht harbor on Treasure Island.

The Planning Commission gets to consider Thursday/17a proposal by Sup. Aaron Peskin to increase the transportation fee on large office projects by $5 a square foot.

This has come up in the past: John Avaos, when he was on the board, tried to get a modest raise in the price and was shut down. (London Breed and Scott Wiener were among those opposing the increase.)

Reality check here: The cost of providing transit to large office buildings is $87 a square foot, according to the city’s own studies. The city charges $18.

When Avalos tried to raise the fee, Breed said that the calculus was “more of an art than a science” and Wiener worried that some projects wouldn’t get built.

So some office projects, which the city has too many of already, would not get built because the developers don’t want to pay the cost of the transit they need, sticking the taxpayers with it instead? This is a problem?

At any rate, Peskin is trying again. The commission meets at 1pm in Room 400, City Hall.

The odd ad in the Chron, the mayor and the homeless sweeps ….

I know that good newspapers keep the editorial and ad departments separate. Good publishers don’t tell their editors to favor one store or restaurant – or candidate – because they’re a big advertiser.

We went through this at the Bay Guardian all the time. We lost ads because of our editorial stands. The ad department knew that was going to happen; it was part of the deal working for an alt-weekly with an aggressive editorial team.

Hey: The endorsements issue of the Bay Guardian has an ad from the tobacco companies urging No on E, the flavored nicotine measure. We endorsed Yes on E. We take ads from campaigns whether or not we agree with their positions.

So I have no reason to believe that the San Francisco Chronicle has been influenced by the large sums of money that Ron Conway and his allies are spending running their anti-Jane-Kim attack ads on the Chron’s website. Audrey Cooper, the Chron’s editor, doesn’t (I hope!) hear from the publisher that she has to be nice to the advertisers.

But this is a little embarrassing: Cooper’s piece admitting that the Chron failed to uphold its own standards in what would have been a hit piece on Kim – is running right next to a big-money ad campaign attacking Kim.

BTW: The attack on Kim is that somehow she supports domestic violence because she didn’t vote to remove Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi from office after he was convicted of a DV-related crime. For those of you who don’t remember that situation, the issue on the table was not just weather Mirkarimi was guilty; it was about the power of the mayor to remove from office summarily someone who was elected by the voters.

Kim said at the time that she would support a recall election, so the voters could decide if they wanted Mirkarimi to stay as sheriff. Ron Conway could easily have funded that effort.

But she was reluctant, as she should have been, to fire an independently elected official. That would have set an alarming precedent for the mayor to get rid of his opponents, since the City Charter sets almost no grounds for removal except that the mayor thinks the official is guilty of official misconduct.

That, of course, doesn’t fit in a 30-second ad.

The mayor appears at the Board of Supes meeting Tuesday/7, and nobody has submitted any questions. That seems pretty odd to me, since I have a question that any reasonable person, including a reasonable member of the board, might want to ask:

So Mr. Mayor: You did a big sweep of homeless encampments, and said that everyone would be offered services and shelter. Yet the Ex reports that only six people– yes, six – wound up getting shelter.

So where is everyone else? What good did the sweeps do? Won’t the homeless people you rousted from one place be back somewhere else – because they have nowhere else to go?

Why is this not just abject cruelty?

The No on H campaign is trying to get the word out about the Taser measure supported by the Police Officers Association. The POA is spending a ton of money on a very misleading campaign, suggesting that Tasers are an alternative to shooting people.

The reality is that (a) Tasers are often lethal weapons themselves, and (b) they don’t stop cops from shooting people:

To be clear, CEWs cannot be substitutes for guns because there are inherent limitations in how they function that render them unreliable for being used in deadly force situations. 

The leading manufacturer of CEWs specifically states in its training materials, “CEWs do NOT replace deadly-force options.” Most departments that have CEWs instruct officers NOT to use them in deadly force situations because they cannot be relied upon to stop a threat.  Many factors can cause the CEW be ineffective – how thick the person’s clothing is, whether both probes hit the person, and whether the CEWs electrical charge captures enough muscle to incapacitate, to name a few.

The law permits officers to use their firearms in deadly-force circumstances, which involve a threat of death or great bodily harm. The manufacturer’s training materials advise officers that the optimal range for CEW deployment is seven to 15 feet. To use a CEW in a situation in which an individual is armed or violent or aggressive would require the officer to be just seven to 15 feet from the individual. Alarmingly, CEWs have been found to fail often, in fact the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) reported a 47% failure rate in 2015

But it’s a hard case to make when you are wildly outspent. So the No on H campaign is holding a last-minute event to try to raise money for a final literature push. If you’re interested, it’s Tuesday/14, 5:30pm, at the offices of Keker, Van Nest & Peters, 633 Battery. Here’s the evite link to RSVP.

 

The Agenda: Standing up to the cops

The former mayor is really wrong: Police violence caused protests at the Lee inauguration, and it could have gone much much worse

Tuesday/1is International Workers Day, celebrated in countries around the globe, but not (officially) in the United States. It’s also the day when 48hills celebrates its Fifth (!) Anniversary as a community-supported, nonprofit daily news outlet.

I wasn’t really sure when I (unexpectedly) left the Bay Guardian five years ago that this idea would work. But we’ve survived and thrived thanks to all of you, our readers and supporters, and we are, I hope, helping establish a new model for daily journalism in American cities.

Come celebrate with us Tuesday, 6:30pm, at the Mission Cultural Center. Tom Ammiano and Rose Aguilar will be speaking. Casa Sanchez will be providing excellent snacks. Beer and wine specials. Check out the details here.

It appears that most of City Hall —  including the Mayor’s Office, the Department of Human Resources, and most likely the Board of Supes – is united in demanding that the San Francisco Police Officers Association agree to stop blocking reforms in exchange for a hefty raise in contract talks.

High School students fill the steps of City Hall to protest police killings

 

“This is unprecedented,” John Crew, former ACLU police practices lawyer and a longtime accountability advocate, told me.

The POA and the city have been in talks on a new contract for months, but negotiations broke down and the matter is now in arbitration. We were worried at first about what that might mean, given the role of the mayor and his consultant, Nathan Ballard, who also worked for the POA.

But to the surprise of a lot of observers, the city’s labor negotiators, who work for the mayor, have insisted on what’s known as Proposal #22

requiring the San Francisco Police Officers Association to request to meet within 14 days of any changes involving United States Department of Justice recommendations, and to waive factfinding and impasse procedures if no agreement is reached.

This is a huge deal: the POA has been using “meet and confer” provisions in the contract, which are supposed to cover changed in labor rules, to delay desperately needed reforms that have nothing to do with work rules.

The city is demanding that the arbitrators include that proposal in any final contract.

It’s also a sign of the changing political times. The POA has had undue political influence on elected officials for decades, even as it has fought efforts to bring women and people of color into the department, has defended racist and brutal cops, and has sought to overrule civilian oversight of law enforcement.

But the continued rash of police killings of people of color, with impunity, has so disgusted the body politic that even former allies like Mayor Farrell are apparently willing to stand up to the POA, at least on this reform issue.

The Board of Supes will hear a resolution Tuesday/1urging the arbitrators to include Proposal #22 in any final deal. I wonder if anyone will vote against it.

The Budget and Finance Committee will hold a hearing Thursday/3on what the board’s budget priorities are for 2018-2019. It will be a long list – but also a chance for the public to see what the supes think is most important.

Also on the supes agenda is a minor item that means a lot to some of us who have been pushing to public power for decades. The resolution from Mayor Farrell seeks to declare May 6, 2018 the 100thanniversary of the arrival of clean Hetch Hetchy power to San Francisco.

Please read the resolution. Then read the real history. The only reason that the city was allowed to build a dam for water in Yosemite National Park was a compromise between environmentalists, who hated the idea (John Muir founded the Sierra Club in part to stop it) and people who believed that electricity was too important to the nation’s future to be controlled by private companies.

I have spent weeks in the National Archives in Washington researching this. Congress put a clear, unequivocal condition on the permit to build a dam on the Tuolumne River: the dam had to be used not just as a municipal water supply but as a hydroelectric system that would supply public power to all of San Francisco. The record makes clear that the deal intended to stop Pacific Gas and Electric Company from controlling the Northern California grid.

Put simply, the Raker Act was aimed at ending PG&E’s ability to create a private-power monopoly in San Francisco.

That never came to pass, because for 100 years, PG&E has bought off, bullied, bribed, and otherwise controlled politicians and the voters to keep the city from building its own electrical distribution system.

That may start to change if Prop. A passes in June. But in the meantime, it would be nice if someone at the board would correct the record before we pass this lovely resolution.

Supes asked to allow condos where centenarian was evicted

Iris Canada died shortly after being evicted

The owners of a Page Street building who evicted a centenarian who died shortly after losing her home are asking the Board of Supes to overturn a decision denying them the right to turn the building into condos.

The Planning Commission voted unanimously to reject a condo conversion permit for 670 Page St., where Iris Canada had lived. The commissioners agreed that the application was inaccurate because it had listed no evictions at the site.

Iris Canada died shortly after being evicted

The city doesn’t allow condo conversions for property where seniors have been evicted.

The case received significant news media attention, but somehow, Planning Department staff never notice that the application was faulty. It took an organizing effort by tenant groups to explain to the commission what had actually happened.

Peter Owens bought the building in 2002, and promptly filed Ellis Act eviction notices for all ten of the existing tenants. He planned to flip the units as tenancies in common, making a tidy profit in the process.

Then he could apply for a condo conversion permit, increasing the value of all of the units.

But Canada fought the Ellis eviction, and to settle that case and avoid the problems associated with tossing out a woman who at that point was 85, he agreed to allow her to live in her home for the rest of her life.

But as a resident with a “life estate” stake in the building, she would have to agree to the condo conversion, which could have meant the end of her tenancy. When she refused, Owens got the sheriff to lock her out.

He argued in court that she wasn’t actually living in the unit; she said she was, and reporters who visited her there found every indication that she was a regular inhabitant.

But that doesn’t matter: She was evicted. At this point, the Planning Commission and the Department of Building Inspection are clear: The building is not eligible for conversion.

And yet, the supervisors will hear once again from Owens’ lawyers and probably from him and his neighbors, who will say they just want the ownership rights that come from a condo conversion.

The item’s at 3pm, at the Board Chambers.

San Francisco is a progressive city with a lot of good people working in the public sector, but the way that the city responds to the survivors of sexual assault is more than a little troubling. As Bianca Rosen reported in 48hills last July,

In 2016, the vast majority of adult sexual assaults in San Francisco went uninvestigated or prosecuted. According to a list I generated through SF Open Data, there were 757 reports of adult sexual assault that year. When I asked the Police Department directly, the number they gave me was 694.

But even using SFPD’s number, out of the 694 reports of adult sexual assault, 297 — or 43 percent — were investigated, 91 — or 13 percent — were referred to the D.A.’s office, 11 adult and child sexual assault cases, or 1.6 percent, went to trial, and nine, or 1.3 percent, resulted in a guilty verdict. These numbers are staggering but sadly typical in terms of historical patterns and trends that persist across the country.

The Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee will hold a hearing on the issue Wed/25 at 10 am in Committee Room 263.

There are seven affordable housing projects approved for District 9, which has been ground zero for evictions and gentrification, and none of them have begun construction. Sup. Hillary Ronen has asked for a hearing to figure out what the delays are; that’s at the Land Use and Transportation Committee Monday/23. 

The state Legislature, which is seriously in hock to the real-estate industry, has refused to allow cities to enact effective rent control – that is, rent control that remains in place when a tenant vacates an apartment. The Costa-Hawkins Act, one of the most pernicious pieces of legislation to come out of Sacramento in the past 30 years, guarantees that landlords will have an incentive to evict long-term tenants and is probably responsible for a significant number of the homeless people on the streets today.

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, with the financial support of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, has apparently gathered enough signatures to place the repeal of Costa Hawkins on the November ballot. It’s a risky move, as these ballot measures often are; if the tens of millions of dollars from the landlords swamps the initiative and it loses badly, efforts to repeal Costa Hawkins in the Legislature will be set back years.

But if it succeeds, tens of thousands of Californians will be more secure in their homes.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti supports the measure, and will appear at a rally in LA.

In Oakland, tenants will meet at noon at City Hall Monday/23to rally and turn in signatures.

If you’ve read this far, then you care about 48hills! Come support us at our Fifth Anniversary Gala May 1 at the Mission Cultural Center. All of the info is here.

Wiener’s real estate bill gets first Senate hearing

State Sen. Scott Wiener’s real-estate bill that would increase height limits across 96 percent of San Francisco faces its first hearing in the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee Tuesday/17.

A coalition of neighborhood groups, tenants, and small businesses rallied recently against SB 827

It is not a progressive panel, and doesn’t include many representatives of the cities that will be hit hardest by this measure. If Wiener has trouble here, he will have trouble everywhere.

Wiener has amended the bill to reduce mandatory heightson transit corridors from eight stories to five, but opposition remains. From TODCO:

Here’s How To Fix It:

  1. Exempt from it all lower-income Central City communities now facing gentrification and displacement – the MTC/ABAG- identified “Communities of Concern” in the Bay Area and comaprable neighborhoods throughout the State.

  2. Do not allow piling the State Housing Density Bonus on top of its upzoning.

  3. Do not limit local inclusionary housing requirements being increased where it applies.

  4. Permanently forbid any Ellis Act property from using it.

Meanwhile, we continue to hear the line that the opponents of this bill just want to preserve or increase their property values:

Cities believe developers must contribute a public benefit in exchange for the right to build housing—which many see as a public good. In contrast, homeowners who prevent housing in their neighborhoods make huge profits by artificially restricting supply—and cities require them to provide no public benefits at all … Single family home prices in San Francisco went up 24% in the past year alone. The median single family home price is now $ 1.6 million. The average sales price of a Noe Valley single family home sold this February was $3.5 million. Noe Valley residents are particularly militant in stopping new housing—and they have reaped the profits to show it.

The argument (in this case, from Randy Shaw) assumes that greater density will bring down prices. That may be true in some parts of the state (Cupertino and Mountainview homeowners clearly believe it). But there’s no evidence that it’s true in San Francisco; in fact, I think it’s the opposite.

Let’s take a small bungalow in Noe Valley. Sure, it’s worth $3 million today. But if you can build up to eight stories on that site, it’s worth a whole lot more – either a really rich person will buy it, do a “substantial renovation” that amounts to a tear down, and build a mansion, or (if the city allows it) the single-family home can be replaced with, say, five apartments worth $2 million each.

The real winners aren’t homeowners but the owners of low-rise neighborhood commercial buildings, which will instantly be targeted for demolition and replacement as tall apartment complexes. I was thinking about the building on Cortland Street that houses the Good Life Grocery; it’s about 6,500 square feet, and last sold for $2 million. It’s worth a lot more than that now – but under SB 827, it would be worth a fortune. That site could be turned into what, 40 apartments? At today’s prices, that’s at least $40 million.

I wouldn’t mind seeing housing on top of the store – but someone would have to pay for the increased Muni service Cortland would need to accommodate the growth. And under SB 827, the owner of that lot would share none of that profit with the city.

(As it turns out, that building is owned by the people who own the Good Life, and I don’t think they are interested in being real-estate developers, but it’s still an example of the transfer of wealth this amounts to).

So SB 827 – more density – is going to make property owners, including homeowners, richer. If building more luxury housing, which is all that developers build now, was going to bring down housing prices, maybe Shaw would have an argument – but that’s never happened in San Francisco.

And nobody pushing this line – the rich entitled homeowners who don’t want more density because it will hurt the property values – is looking at the demand side of the equation. Did the Twitter tax break, which Shaw supported, not have a role in this housing crisis?

Yes, there are people in San Francisco who want to preserve their single-family neighborhoods. But it’s not because of property values; SB 827 would make them even richer.

The Board of Supes is moving quickly to crack down on the latest tech-economy idea – motorized scooters that are just strewn all over the sidewalks and streets.

The Land Use and Transportation Committee will hear a measure by Sup. Aaron Peskin Monday/16 to ban unauthorized scooters and establish a system of fines and citations. That will go to the full board on Tuesday/17.

So will a measure by Sup. Norman Yee to establish a working group in the City Administrator’s Office to try to figure out these “emerging technologies” and start to get ahead of them with regulations before they devastate our housing stock, clog our streets, and create a dangerous mess on the sidewalks.

Supporters of the Justice for Luis Gongora Pat movement will be outside the office of District Attorney George Gascon at 8:30 am Monday/16 – and every morning for the next week – demanding that the DA file charges against the officers who shot and killed the homeless man.

Gascon has promised advocates that he will decide by April 25 whether to file charges against the officers.

This DA has never filed charges any cop who shot and killed someone.

The Board of Supes gave Gascon $1.5 million in 2016 to investigate criminal police misconduct – but, as Adriana Camarena notes, nothing has come of it: Gascon’s office “has dismissed the backlog of SFPD killing cases since 2011, without charges.”

Can SF get ahead of new technology? Maybe …

Nazeer Sadiq, a cab driver for 21 years, says Uber "is killing us."

San Francisco is not good at figuring out how to handle new technology. When Uber and Lyft began breaking the law and operating taxis without permits, City Hall could see what was going on; in fact, the head of the Taxi Commission complained to me repeatedly that these companies were out of control.

But the supes and the mayor did nothing to crack down until Uber was big enough to get the state to legalize its activities, preventing any local oversight.

Nazeer Sadiq, a cab driver for 21 years, says Uber “is killing us.” That happened while the city ignored the illegal industry; maybe we can do better

Airbnb was hardly a secret either; the company operated in the open, promoted its services – and every single listing violated city law, with impunity, for years, until the company had enough money and clout to win over the likes of Mayor Ed Lee, then-Sup. David Chiu and five other board members who retroactively legalized the company’s activities without even demanding back taxes.

We were going down the same road with self-driving cars, butnow that an Uber vehicle has killed a woman,that’s on hold everywhere. And now there are delivery robots headed for the sidewalks. Soon, we will see Amazon drones dropping off packages.

Always, always, San Francisco – the city that is home to so many innovative companies – is way behind the curve when it comes to regulations.

We have all these departments that encourage development, that encourage growth, that encourage new businesses – but we have nobody who is tasked with making sure that the next round of technology isn’t going to lead to evictions, traffic jams, displacement, and death.

Sup. Norman Yee, who is worried about delivery robots(and so am I), is now suggesting, very gently, that the city administrator convene and “Emerging Technology Task Force” to “inform and adopt future legislation regulating businesses that use emerging technologies.”

The measure comes up at the Rules Committee Wednesday/11. It’s a start; there’s no guarantee that the city administrator will do anything, or that a task force will be effective. But the resolution puts on the agenda an idea that ultimately might have to become law. Someone needs to be paying attention before the next Airbnb wrecks the city’s housing stock, or the new Uber destroys the cab industry and puts tens of thousands more cars on the streets. Or the next robot runs over someone on the sidewalk.

Mayor Mark Farrell will appear before the board Tuesday/10 for what may be the last Question Time governed by the old rules, which pretty much made these monthly events a farce.

No supervisor has submitted a written question in advance. That was the past requirement. Under new guidelines written by Sup. Aaron Peskin, the supes in the future will only have to give the Mayor’s Office a general idea of the topics to be discussed, and there will be a chance for a real policy discussion, not a set of rote remarks.

The Peskin measure is up for final passage at the same board meeting. Sups. London Breed, who is running for mayor, joined Katy Tang and Catherine Stefani as the only dissenting votes April 3; unless something changes, the measure will become law after this week.

The Central Soma Plan comes before the Planning Commission Thursday/12, and it puts into focus some of the most pressing issues facing San Francisco.

For one thing, the plan would allow office space for some 40,000 new jobs – and allow space for only 7,000 new housing units. And it’s not easy to change: The environmental impact report on the plan is already done, and it only analyzed the office-heavy proposal. So anything that mandates a lot more housing (like, three times as much) would have to go back to the starting point.

Where will all those people live? How will they get to work?

San Francisco, the Yimbys like to say, has historically not allowed enough housing. That’s not actually true (more on that to come), in recent years, the city has allowed a lot more office space, attracting tech companies with lots of jobs – but has never kept pace on the housing side.

I would argue that we allowed too much office and tech development, too fast. The Yimbys would like to say that we now need to catch up by letting the free market build lots of housing, which doesn’t work. But my Hippocratic Oath of Housing Policy is: First, do no harm. That is, don’t make things any worse than they already are, and adding a lot of new office space without housing – particularly affordable housing – makes no sense.

TODCO has its own plan, calling for 50 percent affordable housing – and extensive community benefits.That’s important because if there’s one axiom we all ought to be able to agree on, it’s that in a Prop. 13 world, growth doesn’t pay for growth. The additional tax revenue the city will get from all this new office space and (luxury) housing won’t cover the cost of the city services needed to support it and mitigate its impacts. Never has, never will. Not without massive, stringent community benefits agreements that go far beyond anything the city has ever seen.

Planning has to approve this, but in the end, all of the implementing legislation has to go to the supes. So this is Step One. And some commissioners have already said they aren’t happy.

Will SF supes oppose Wiener’s real-estate bill?

The Wiener bill would upzone 96 percent of San Francisco

THE AGENDA The Board of Supes will vote Tuesday/3 on a watered-down resolution kinda, sorta, opposing state Sen. Scott Wiener’s latest real-estate bill, SB 827.

Sup. Aaron Peskin proposed that the board put the city on record seeking the defeat of the bill, which would allow developers to build massive amounts of new luxury housing without giving cities any ability to recapture the vast new wealth that would be bestowed on property owners.

The Wiener bill would upzone 96 percent of San Francisco

But in committee, Peskin accepted an amendment by Sup. Katy Tang, so the bill now just calls for the bill to be amended.

The list of amendments that the bill would need to be acceptable to Peskin and a lot of other opponents is so extensive that it might not be possible for Wiener to get there. Wiener would have to give cities some extraordinary taxing authority to make sure that the property owners whose land would double, triple, quadruple or more in value with the massive upzoning would have to share with the city. He’d have to figure out a way to encourage cities to expand transit – even thought that would automatically trigger upzoning. He’d have to replace somehow the community imput that has created far better development with more community benefits. I suspect he’s not going to do that.

The supes will also hold a joint meeting with the Ethics Commission and consider two versions of a law that would tighten a lot of campaign-finance rules – and create problems for local nonprofits.

Most of the legislation has widespread support – except for a few provision that would actually impact small donors:

The challenge in this legislation, several supervisors and members of the public noted, is to find a way to tighten the rules without discouraging small donors, driving more money to superPACs, and harming nonprofits that are already going to be scrambling under a Trump tax plan that removes a major incentive for people to donate to charities.

“The idea that everyone who gives $15 has to sign an affidavit that they understand the law, people will say no,” Peskin noted.

It’s not a new problem: When the laws around campaign finance get more complicated, the big donors and the well-funded candidates do just fine; they can pay for legal help. If the rules don’t make sense in the real world of campaigns, then they have the opposite effect of what’s intended.

Then there’s the nonprofit issue. As we noted:

One of the areas that has created the most conflict is the concept of “behested payments.” There’s plenty of room for abuse: Mayor Lee, for example, asked a lot of big players to give money to his pet causes (the Super Bowl, the America’s Cup) and that could give them access and influence at City Hall.

At the same time, local officials sometimes show up at fundraisers for legitimate community-based organizations and ask the crowd to kick in money.

It’s one of those gray areas that exist in a world where it’s impossible to do real campaign-finance reform (which would require overturning Buckley v Valeo and Citizens United and allowing limits on all political spending and full public financing of campaigns).

The supes have already passed new rules on disclosure of behested contributions; they have had, as Peskin noted, “31 days to work.”

Calvin Welch, a longtime housing advocate, told the committee that “there is a theory among some Ethics Commission members that at the very heart of public corruption in San Francisco is nonprofits.”

Kathie Lowry, who is on the board of Larkin Street Youth Centers, said that often public officials come to the group’s fundraisers and exhort the people in attendance to chip in money. Under the new rules, if fewer than 50 people are present, the official and all the donors would need to file reports.

Nonprofits that do social service work are going to have a tough year anyway: By some accounts, the Turmp tax bill, which increases the standard deduction, will reduce dramatically the number of people who will donate to charities and get a tax write-off. As much as $20 billion in charitable giving could be at risk.

Larry Bush, a member of Friends of Ethics, said that of $25 million in behested payments his group has tracked, “almost none went to nonprofits that provide human services.” The money went to things like the Super Bowl and America’s Cup committees.

Ben Becker, a member of the SF Berniecrats, said that “no citizens who are not affiliated with a nonprofit spoke against this. In SF, one hand washes the other.”

Which gets into some of the real tricky business here. There are nonprofits – and there are nonprofits, just as there are corporations – and there are corporations.

The Ethics Commission has the ability, with four of the five members in agreement, to place a measure directly on the ballot. It’s too late for June, but this could be an issue in November – unless the supes and the Ethics Commission can figure out a way to resolve the issues.

Peskin has a version of the legislation that is a bit easier on behested payments; the Ethics Commission version is also before the board.

The San Francisco Police Commission meets Wednesday/4, and on the agenda is a resolution by the Youth Commission that directly takes on the criminal justice system and urges dramatic reforms in the way the city deals with Transitional Aged Youth.

I’m not so sure the Police Commission will go along with this, but at least the Youth Commission is raising the issues.