The Agenda

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.

Supes to vote on Wiener upzoning bill, Police Commission to vote on Taser initiative …

The areas in orange and yellow are the places Scott Wiener's bill would upzone. It's pretty much the entire city. SF Planning Dept. map

THE AGENDA There is good news every once in a while. The Planning Commission last week rejected, on a 7-0 vote, an application to allow the owners who evicted a 100-year-old woman to convert their building to condos.

The action was expected, and it was a huge victory for tenant activists: The first time this came before the commission, the Planning Department staff recommended approval – in large part because the applicants didn’t acknowledge that they had evicted Canada, and the eviction was never filed with the Rent Board. The planners never checked further.

The areas in orange and yellow are the places Scott Wiener’s bill would upzone. It’s pretty much the entire city. SF Planning Dept. map

But after testimony showed that there was in fact an eviction – which would make the building ineligible for conversion – the staff prepared a new report calling for denial.

Commissioner Dennis Richards, who complained at the last hearing about all of the greed and displacement in the city, went a step beyond at the March 8 hearing, attacking the whole idea of Ellis Act speculation:

“People who buy rental buildings knowing they are businesses then Ellis people – they are bad actors,” he said. He told the applicants they were acting in “bad faith – you bought the building knowing people were Ellised.”

Perhaps this will serve as a signal to the serial evictors who are driving seniors out of the city – and it will definitely serve as a reminder to tenant advocates that organizing can make a difference.

State Sen. Scott Wiener is pushing to upzone pretty much all of San Francisco with a bill that would give height and density bonuses to any developer of market-rate housing with any proximity to transit.

But he may get opposition from his home town: Both the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission are considering measures that would put the city on record opposing the bill.

The Land Use and Transportation Committee will consider Monday/12 a resolution by Sups. Aaron Peskin, Hillary Ronen, Norman Yee, and Sandra Lee Fewer opposing the bill.

The Los Angeles City Council is considering a similar bill.

Then on Thursday/15, the Planning Commission will hear a staff report on SB 827. The agenda says the presentation is “informational only,” but it’s likely at least some of the commissioners will want to join supes in opposing the bill.

The Police Commission has already voted to allow cops to carry Tasers — but not right away, and only under the commission’s rules. That’s not good enough for the San Francisco Police Officers Association, which wants to set its own rules for the deadly stun guns.

The POA has already put $100,000 into the measure; the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers has added $10,000 more, according to filings with the SF Ethics Commission.

But Chief William Scott has announced his opposition to the measures, infuriating the POA. And on Wednesday/14, the commission will vote on opposing the measure, too.

There’s not a lot of money so far in opposition to the measure – but if the chief and the commission, who are not opposed to Tasers just to this measure – oppose it, and the voters get that message, there might be a chance to defeat this thing.

The chief and the commission might also see this as a reason to be tougher on the union during contract negotiations, which are going on right now.

The League of Pissed-Off Voters has compiled one of the best, most detailed questionnaires for the mayor’s race, and you can see the candidate answers, and a chart of their key responses, here.

Among the more interesting responses: Board President London Breed and Angela Alioto are the only candidates that support the POA Taser measure. Breed, Amy Farah Weiss, and Alioto also support renewing the Police Department’s involvement with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force, which has been linked to some pretty bad racial profiling. [UPDATE: Weiss tells me she clicked that button by mistake and that she opposes SFPD working with JTTF.]

Breed said she doesn’t support increasing the Transportation Sustainability Fee on downtown commercial property.

There’s a lot more. Check it out.

The Agenda: Taxing Uber and Lyft …

THE AGENDA There’s not a lot going on at City Hall this week; everyone seems to be too busy campaigning. But Sup. Aaron Peskin is introducing an interesting resolution – and it’s probably just the beginning of what could be a full-on battle over taxing Uber and Lyft.

Cities around the country – often frustrated by the way these rideshare companies have illegally entered the taxi market, congested traffic, and avoided the normal regulations that apply to business that pick up and deliver passengers – are moving to tax every ride.

Peskin is already calling for a ballot measure to tax the companies. But he’s also asking the state Legislature to allow cities to charge a transportation-impact fee – which wouldn’t require going to the ballot (where Uber and Lyft could spend millions trying to kill the measure).

When these illegal taxis came on the streets, and the city started to (just a little) ask whether they were legal, Uber went to Sacramento and got the state to give Transportation Network Companies special protection from local laws.

So it might require state legislation to allow California cities to charge a fee for the damage these companies are doing to city, creating a level of congestion that makes it harder to get around town and slowing down Muni.

(Despite what Uber says, these services are not an alternative to private cars; they’re an alternative to public transportation.)

It typically means little when the SF supes call on the state to do something – but in this case, Peskin is calling on our own local delegation – Assemblymembers Phil Ting and David Chiu and Sen. Scott Wiener – to push this legislation.

Chiu and Wiener have always been Uber-friendly.

I asked all three for comment; only Ting got back to me, and his office said he hasn’t seen the resolution and can’t comment yet.

That resolution comes up at the board Tuesday/6.

The Planning Commission is slated to make a final decision Thursday/8 on denying a condo-conversion permit to the folks who evicted a 100-year-old woman from her Page St. apartment.

That would bring to the close one of the uglier chapters in local tenant history.

Peter Owens bought the 668 Page Street building in 2002, for $1.3 million. His goal all along, he told the planners, was to clear the building of tenants and create “home ownership opportunities” by selling the individual units as tenancies in common.

Then he planned to convert those units to condos.

In the end, he would make a lot of money, and the people who bought the TICs would make a lot of money, too.

But there was one obstacle in the way: Iris Canada. The African American senior fought the Ellis Act eviction that Owens attempted, and her lawyer forced the owner to give her a “life estate,” allowing her to remain in the unit until she died.

At that time, she was 85. And 15 years later, she was still alive.

So Owens moved to evict her anyway, on the grounds that she wasn’t living in the unit. She was, indeed, travelling, and spending time with her family elsewhere.

Either way: She was 100 when the sheriff came and took away her stuff and changed the locks on the door. That’s just not acceptable by any standard.
At first, the Planning Department staff urged the commissioners to approve the conversion permit. But at the hearing, when it became clear what really happened, the panel voted 6-0 to deny it.

“What’s going on in this city kind of makes me sick,” Commissioner Dennis Richards said. “It’s so selfish and so money-oriented.”

Now the department has turned around, and the staff recommends rejection of the final permit. But the deal isn’t done, and I don’t know what Owens and his lawyers have up their sleeves.

If Owens had just been willing to wait a little longer, and let Canada live out her life in peace, he’d be able today to make a big chunk of change from his condo plan.

Now, if the commissioners stand firm, they’ll be sending a strong statement: Evict a centenarian in the name of greed, and you don’t get your permit.

The meeting starts at 1pm at City Hall.

Campaign trail: A path for SF Dems to endorse Kim and Leno?

I may have been wrong about my assessment of the SF Democratic Party and the mayor’s race.

If the strategy of the Mark Leno and Sup. Jane Kim campaigns is to win a dual endorsement at the Democratic County Central Committee, they will need to change the rules, which currently only allow a 1-2-3 listing.

That would require a two-thirds vote. There are 31 members, including seven ex-officios (all of the state and federal elected officials from SF who are Democrats). So that’s 21 votes.

As of today, depending on how you count, there are at least 18 or 19 members who have endorsed or are likely to support either Leno or Kim. So a couple more votes could put that strategy over the top.

That would require the Leno folks to work with Kim’s campaign (the way Kim’s campaign helped Leno get a dual at the Harvey Milk Club) to swing the DCCC. Because neither candidate has the votes to get endorsed alone.

It’s not clear where, say, Angela Alioto would go when it becomes clear she isn’t even close to getting the endorsement; would she rather have it go to Kim and Leno or have a “no endorsement,” which is what the supporters of Sup. London Breed are going for?

Not clear where Mayor Mark Farrell will go; would he support Leno and Kim over Breed?

There would have to be some political dancing, but it’s actually possible that there could be enough votes for a dual.

If not, then the Kim and Leno campaigns would have to decide: Is it better for one of them to take second place, or for the party to stay out of it?

The progressive reformers who are trying to take on the state Democratic Party didn’t win any major endorsements this weekend at the party convention in San Diego, but they did have an impact.

Under the party’s rules, 60 percent of the delegates have to vote in favor of a candidate for an official party endorsement. With longtime incumbents, it’s usually pretty routine.

Not this time: Kevin DeLeon, who is challenging Sen. Dianne Feinstein, got 54 percent of the vote, just 150 votes (out of 2775) shy of getting the party’s nod to take on an incumbent. Feinstein got only 37 percent of the vote. The official outcome is “no endorsement,” but the message was pretty clear.

Lite Guv Gavin Newsom got 39 percent for governor in a crowded field; Antonio Villaraigosa, who is considered his strongest challenger, tanked with just 9 percent. John Chiang (30) and Delaine Eastin (20), who are far behind in the polls, combined for half the delegates.

 It’s hard to shake up the state party, which has been controlled for years by powerful insiders. But if a four-term incumbent US senator can’t get the party nod, it’s a sign that things may be changing – that the grassroots organizing around party elections is having an impact.

The student press never gets the attention it deserves; campus newspapers constantly break big stories that either get ignored or stolen by the major media. So it makes me happy to note that The Guardsman, the City College paper, scooped everyone on the story that San Francisco hasn’t yet paid the bill for Free City College – and when both the Ex and the Chron picked up the story, they credited the Guardsman and reporter Michael Toren (who also writes for 48hills).

Not so the broadcast media: When I heard the story on KQED, the line was “The San Francisco Chronicle reported today ….” The TV and radio stations still, even in this new era of media, tend to read the Chron and repeat its stories.

Should have been “The Guardsman at City College reported today ….”

Because if the college paper hadn’t been on this, the news might not have come out at all.

We will all be missing Sharen Hewitt for a long, long time. For her many friends and grandkids and loved ones, the memorial service is Monday/5, at 11am, at Third Baptist Church.

Perhaps, a real mayoral debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The event starts at 6pm.

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

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

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

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

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

As a working group for local charities notes, the legislation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, from the memo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That hearing starts sometime after 3pm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Agenda: Ron Conway gets his way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conway, so far, is getting his way.