The Agenda

A city line of credit to help small businesses

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

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

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

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

From DBI tonight:

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

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

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

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

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

Stopping evictions and price-gouging in the coronavirus crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will be a fascinating meeting.

Doesn’t anyone have any questions for the mayor?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When Jerry Brown sounds like Donald Trump

Scott Shafer’s conversations with former Gov. Jerry Brown are running as a series on KQED, and the section on his work in Oakland, which aired Sunday afternoon, makes very clear something that Brown’s critics (including me) have hinted at for years:

Mayor Jerry Brown didn’t care about poor people.

In a radio interview, Brown denounces government funding for housing and health care.

His words were shocking, except that they weren’t. For all his prior manifestation as a populist who blasted big campaign donors and fat cats, by the time he was running Oakland he was all about capitalism, down on government assistance, and a huge fan of real-estate developers.

At times in the interview he sounds almost like Donald Trump.

Brown told Shafer he wanted no affordable housing in the downtown area when he was mayor. His goal of bringing 10,000 new residents to Oakland was really about bringing 10,000 rich new residents. He said that if he allowed affordable housing, the people who lived there wouldn’t have enough money to spend in the upscale restaurants and entertainment venues he wanted to see spring up.

He said he didn’t want to require builders to add subsidized housing because “people who want the government to pay for their medicine and their housing, that’s not how we’ve been doing it in this country.” Yes: He said that.

He spoke of hearing from an African American woman who complained that his policies were driving up rents and forcing Black people out of Oakland. His response: Rents were going up because Oakland was getting more popular for rich people. That was a good thing.

In one of the more shocking segments, he seems to be defending the “riders,” a group of rogue cops who were accused of beatings, planting evidence, and a wide range of other offenses. The city wound up paying more than $10 million to settle civil suits in the scandal.

Brown first talked about how tough it was to be a cop, and how much he liked the OPD. Shafer pushed him and asked if he was defending the planting of evidence and police brutality.

Of course not, Brown said dismissively; those things were illegal. But he said that the cops were “at war,” that very bad people (at that point he sounded like Trump again) were trying to kill the police, and that, apparently, a bit of brutality was in order.

It’s pretty amazing. Except that for low-income people and people of color who lived in Oakland during that period, it’s not going to come as a big surprise.

City College is very much on the agenda this week: The supes will be voting Tuesday/28on whether to give the school the $2.7 million it needs to restore class cuts for this spring.

Mayor London Breed has shown no indication that she supports the supplemental appropriation, so it will need eight votes to pass with a veto-proof majority.

Critics – including the chancellor – are saying that this is just a band-aid, and that the school needs to downsize for the long term. But Leslie Simon, an Interdisciplinary Studies Department faculty member and former chair of Women’s and Gender Studies, said that’s the wrong approach: It’s a bridge, not a band-aid. By next fall, two ballot measures, one local and one statewide, will offer voters a chance to provide a steady stream of new revenue for the school.

Simon notes in an oped piece:

City College of San Francisco has been under attack for the last seven and a half years by conservative forces whose goal is to shrink the college. Education “reformers” seek to turn community colleges into junior colleges removing from the college’s mission “cultural enrichment, civic engagement, and life-long learning.”

Here is a sampling of what was cut for the spring:

Older Adults serving low-income elders lost 90 percent of its classes.

In the era of #Me Too, City College lost its last Women’s History class and both of itslast remaining self-defense classes. Art lost 51 classes and PE/Dance 45. Music, Journalism, Child Development, and Culinary Arts suffered serious losses. Engineering lost 40 percent of its classes

Paralegal Studies students lost the elective (Immigration Law) they needed to graduate from the college’s proud ABA approved program. The coordinator had to scramble to find the students classes elsewhere in the Bay Area.

Since enrollment reductions this year become permanent, cuts set the school in a downward spiral. Fewer classes means fewer students means less state funding – which means more downsizing.

Then on Friday/21, Sup. Shamann Walton, who is sponsoring the $2.7 million measure, has called a hearing at the Joint City, School District, and Community College Committee to discuss the impact the class cuts have had on low-income and communities of color and high-school students.

He tried to do this earlier this month, but none of the key people from City College (including the administrators and the trustees) showed up. The hearing starts at 10am in the board chambers.

The supes are going to vote Tuesday/28 on a settlement agreement in a law-enforcement-abuse case that would cost the city $160,000.

The case involves a boy who was arrested by SF police at 15 and held in juvenile detention in defiance not only of the city’s own risk-assessment tools but the orders of a Superior Court judge:

This case arises from the unlawful incarceration of K.R., an African-American teenage boy, in San Francisco’s juvenile hall. The San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department booked K.R. into the county’s locked juvenile facility on Thursday, June 29, 2017, overriding a risk assessment indicating that he should be released. On Friday, June 30, a judge of the San Francisco Superior Court ordered K.R.’s release. Officers of the Juvenile Probation Department received that court order, but failed to release K.R. Instead, the Juvenile Probation Department held K.R. in custody until the following Monday, July 3, when the judge again ordered him to be released.

As a result of the actions by the San Francisco Juvenile Probation Department, K.R. was held against his will in a locked cell, deprived of his freedom, separated from the care and love of his family, and subjected to the control of the custodial officers.

The city, as usual, will admit no wrongdoing in the settlement. But Bay Area Legal Aid says the case shines a light on a much more persistent problem: In more than 60 percent of juvenile cases in four Bay Area counties, authorities ignored their own rules and kept young people locked behind bars.

The new SF district attorney is likely to change that – although everything he does is getting attacked in the news media. The latest: Boudin has decided, for now, that he can’t charge Jamaica Houston with a crime while he is deciding whether the police officer who shot him also committed a crime.

That actually makes sense, from a legal standpoint: Boudin was a public defender, and he knows exactly what would happen in a trial if the prime witness against an accused assailant – the cop who shot him – is also under investigation (and potentially indictment) in the incident. The defense would shred that witness.

But Boudin didn’t just let a guy accused of assaulting a cop walk away a free man. The Chron has it wrong:

District Attorney Chesa Boudin, a former public defender whose election was opposed by the police union, decided not to pursue criminal charges against Jamaica Hampton, who was shot after he allegedly attacked two officers with a glass vodka bottle in the Mission District in December.

Boudin hasn’t decided “not to pursue charges.” He has withdrawn the charges without prejudice – meaning that any time in the next three years, after he has decided what to do about the officer-involved shooting, he can refile those charges.

And Hampton isn’t going anywhere anytime soon: He’s still in SF General Hospital, where he just had his leg amputated.

The Chron needs to stop feeding Fox News.


Why so little state money for housing?

Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing the biggest budget in state history, $220 billion,which is a huge number, and it shows that Newsom, unlike his predecessor, wants to restore some of the cuts and repair that damage that was done in the lean years of the Great Recession (which was only about a decade ago, but seems like ancient history).

By some accounts, the budget in these boom times will include a surplus of as much as $7 billion.

Berkeley residents ask: Where Do We Go? WIth the state budget so flush, why is there so little money for housing?

There are so, so many priorities in the state, so many things to spend money on. But I have to say: If every poll says that housing and homelessness are the biggest issues, why is there so comparatively little money for affordable housing?

The state ought to be spending $10 billion a year, minimum, on helping cities build non-market housing. Over five years, with some local match (and a little federal money, maybe more after next year if a Democrat who cares about housing beats Trump), we’re talking perhaps as many as 150,000 units of affordable housing. That’s housing for almost 300,000 people (at current average household sizes).

It would be more than enough to house every one of the roughly 120,000 homeless people in the state.

This is not worth 4.5 percent of the state budget?

Sup. Shamann Walton is asking the board to approve $2.7 million (that the city can well afford) to prevent the cancellation of 345 classes at City College. The money would come from the city’s reserves, which are healthy enough at more than $130 million to take a modest hit.

The measure comes before the Budget and Finance Committee Wednesday/15.

The chancellor has made it clear he doesn’t want the money.

I have been talking to City College trustees about this. They say that this is just a pittance, a way to stave off for a semester a much bigger funding problem, and that’s true.

The state has taken the position that all community colleges should focus on getting undergrads the credits they need to transfer to four-year schools. That’s a good focus (and something that many community colleges have not been good at). But serving those students and the larger community are not mutually exclusive – and when and if the voters change Prop. 13 next fall, and provide more than $12 billion for education, this could be moot.

In the meantime, though, if the money’s there, why not take it?

The meeting starts at 10am in Room 250, City Hall.

The full board will consider Tuesday/14 a resolution that is a major step toward the city taking over PG&E’s distribution system and creating a full public-power operation.

There’s nothing binding about the legislation by Sups. Aaron Peskin and Hillary Ronen that calls for

conditionally authorizing the issuance by the Public Utilities Commission of Power Enterprise Revenue Bonds in an amount not to exceed $3,065,395,000 to finance the cost of acquiring certain Pacific Gas and Electric Company electric distribution and transmission assets to provide affordable, safe and reliable electric service, consistent with environmental and climate goals, throughout the City and County of San Francisco, subject to specified conditions, as defined herein.

The city has made an offer to buy PG&E’s facilities for $2.5 billion. The company, which is in bankruptcy court, has rejected it.

Upon further study, the resolution notes, there will be some additional costs:

In addition to the purchase price for the Proposed Acquisition, the PUC anticipates that additional funds will be required for the PUC’s transition to ownership and operation of the PG&E Assets, including but not limited to work to separate the PG&E Assets from the remainder of the PG&E grid; expanding personnel capacity; acquiring equipment inventory and software; and establishing operating reserves; and

WHEREAS, The City has a long history of working productively with its unionized workforce, and will work in good faith to transition current PG&E unionized employees to City employment.

So the $3 billion in bonds would be enough to cover all the transition costs.

This is not going to happen immediately, since PG&E has rejected the city’s offer. But the resolution puts both the private utility and the bankruptcy court on notice that San Francisco is completely serious about taking over PG&E’s local infrastructure.

And when the judge looks at a company scrambling for cash, and sees $3 billion on the table for just a fraction of PG&E’s system, there’s a chance that the court will push for the company to accept it.

If not, once the complex bankruptcy dealing are over, the city’s next step – if PG&E still refuses to sell – could be to initiate eminent domain proceedings and take the system by force. That’s perfectly legal (in fact, I could argue, it’s required by federal law), and while it would take a while, we’ve been fighting over this for almost 100 years.

Eminent domain may be the only option.

The supes will also vote this week to settle for $225,000 a lawsuit that alleges profound racial discrimination by SFPD during drug busts in the Tenderloin.

The suit, filed by the ACLU, alleged that

In 2013 and 2014, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California (“USAO”) partnered with the San Francisco Police Department (“Police Department” or “Department”) on a joint operation (the “Operation”) to enforce certain drug laws in the Tenderloin.  Police Department officers decided which individuals to target for buy-walks and surveillance in the Operation.  Those officers targeted 37 people for federal prosecution for selling small amounts of drugs. Yet despite Police Department officers knowing, at the time, that people of many different races engage in drug sales in the Tenderloin, all 37 people those officers targeted were Black.

Prosecutors ended up dropping all charges against the 12 people named in the suit.

The case, filed in 2018, charged that the SFPD was well aware that some of its officers were racists, but didn’t take adequate action:

The Department has refused to implement reforms to begin responding to its long history of racially biased policing or to counteract a culture that tolerates racism by some officers and fails to discipline adequately officers whom the Department knows have demonstrated racial bias.

So the taxpayers are going to be on the hook for yet another in a long list of abuses by the SFPD. I have always wondered why this kind of settlement doesn’t come directly out the Police Department budget.

Wiener’s housing deregulation bill is back!

Sen. Scott Wiener, shown here with Yimby leader Laura Foote Clark, says he thinks people who fear displacement from market-rate housing are "quacks."

State Sen. Scott Wiener will hold a press conference and rally in Oakland Tuesday/7 to announce that he’s re-introducing a new version of his housing deregulation bill, SB 50. It will need to get through committee and off the Senate floor this month.

Yes, SB 50 is back– with some amendments, and the current opposition of the San Francisco Board of Supes (which means the city’s official position on the bill is Oppose).

Sen. Scott Wiener, shown here with Yimby leader Laura Foote Clark, says he thinks people who fear displacement from market-rate housing are “quacks.”

The East Bay Times calls it a Zoning Reform Bill, but it’s much more than that. It’s a measure that, in essence, would force California cities to rely even more on the private sector to address the housing crisis.

It does not offer a penny of state money for affordable housing. It doesn’t do anything to mandate that cities limit office development until they have adequate housing for the workforce. It starts and ends with the assumption – unproven and by some accounts just wrong– that greater density will lead to lower housing prices.

SB 50 seeks to encourage more density on transit corridors – but doesn’t provide any state aid for cities that will need to spend far more money than the get from developers to add transit infrastructure (and schools, open space, police, fire, affordable housing or anything else that has to be expanded when you increase the population).

California’s tax structure (mandated by the state Legislature and the likes of Prop. 13) makes it close to impossible for cities and counties to recoup from developers the real cost of serving their projects. The big transit measures tend to be sales taxes, tolls, and fare-box fees – hitting the hardest on the poor and working-class, and barely touching the developers and billionaires.

The supporters of SB 50, including the Yimbys, say that zoning that allows single-family neighborhoods is exclusionary and that it’s far more environmentally sound to build density close to jobs.

That’s true – if the housing that’s built is affordable to the workforce.

But the data is really, really clear – the private market has built plenty of housing in San Francisco that’s not affordable to the workforce, and almost zero that is. And with the cost of land and materials and labor, and the demand for return on investment from the speculators who fund housing these days, there’s no way that private-sector housing will ever be affordable in San Francisco. The minute prices come down to the level that most SF workers can afford, the private developers will stop building.

That’s just reality.


But longtime housing activists point out that SB 50 most likely would increase gentrification and displacement in vulnerable communities. Wiener acknowledges that possibility, and the current version of the bill allows some vulnerable communities to be exempted for a few years. There is no provision for the state putting up the money to stabilize these communities.

Nor is there any provision for the state to repeal the Ellis Act or Costa Hawkins, which prevent cities from passing effective laws to prevent displacement.

Now: for those who argue that the local housing marked has any relation to supply and demand, I asked Wiener if he is supporting Prop. E, which would link supply to demand by limiting office space until there’s enough affordable housing for the workers. He didn’t respond.

The Yimbys in SF haven’t taken a position on Prop. E either.

The rally, which will also feature Oakland Mayor Libby Schaff, is on the steps of City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.

The Board of Supes will consider Tuesday/7   deal that could be the final chapter in a 20-year battle between the city, community activists, and the Academy of Art University.

AAU is one of the greatest planning scofflaws in the history of San Francisco, a massive private institution that has grown fast and furious, taken over housing without the proper permits, and built a sprawling campus without submitting the required institutional master plan.

After the late Mayor Ed Lee and the Planning Department allowed the school to get away with violations for years,City Attorney Dennis Herrera finally sued, and after lengthy litigation (involving, among others, former Mayor and Chron Columnist Willie Brown) the supes are now presented with a settlement deal.

Most of City Hall seems to be on board with this, including longtime AAU critics like Sup. Aaron Peskin. Land-use lawyer Sue Hestor, who has been fighting with AAU even longer than Peskin, says the process is moving too fast, during the holiday season, without enough time for full public scrutiny of an immensely complex legal settlement and changes in the city’s zoning laws.

That meeting starts at 2pm.

The City Planning Commission will hear a presentation on the Sustainable Neighborhoods Program Thursday/9. It’s all about healthy air, clean energy, clean water, and zero waste – and resilience to climate change – all of which are critically important.

It does not, however, address in any way the sustainability of existing vulnerable communities.

In other words, the commission will hear about ways to make parts of San Francisco that have had serious problems impacting the health of local residents better. That’s actually a pretty ambitious project. But it won’t hear about how to make sure that the people who live there aren’t forced out by high rents and speculation (and by some accounts, bills like SB 50).

There is, at this point, no Planning Department initiative to create economically sustainable neighborhoods; that would conflict with the department’s longtime position that its job is to facilitate private commercial development, even if the impacts on the city are, well, unsustainable.


The Agenda, New Year’s edition: Saving City College …

A poster at Fort Mason decries the end of many arts classes.

It’s pretty unusual for a public official who runs a major institution that is short of cash to refuse help. But that’s what’s going on at City College – and there’s a lot more to the picture.

When the chancellor, Mark Rocha, decided without any community input or discussion to cut hundreds of classes impacting thousands of students, both the state and the city offered to provide some extra funding – particularly to save classes for seniors.

A poster at Fort Mason decries the end of many arts classes.

But Rocha told the mayor and the supes that he doesn’t want their money – and the City College Board members I have spoken to don’t seem terribly disturbed about that.

When the city finally stepped in to save some of the classes, the mayor outsourced them to other organizations – which means that the laid-off City College faculty may not be teaching them.

See, it’s not about these particular cuts, bad as they are. It’s about a massive policy change in the way San Francisco looks at its community college – and that’s something the board needs to have a long, detailed, public discussion about.

A lot of policy-makers at the state level want to see community colleges shift from, well, community colleges to old-fashioned junior colleges whose entire purpose is to get young students the credits they need to transfer to a four-year institution.

That’s a great goal – but for at least half a century, for City College, it’s only been one part of the mission.

As Madeline Mueller, who chairs the Music Department at the school, points out in the Examiner,

The additional cuts were not made randomly despite appearances. They were made primarily to cancel the Community College mission and replace it with the state chancellor’s push for a return to the California Junior College system of 50 years ago, but now to be run by the State.

Vast numbers of people have taken classes at City College not to get an AA degree but to learn something new that would help them improve their lives or their careers. For seniors, it’s a lifeline, a free place to keep interacting and learning and meeting others.

San Francisco voters have supported taxes and bonds to fund City College, over and over. If the chancellor wants to fundamentally change the mission, it can’t be through a series of annual cuts. The city needs to have a long conversation about this, in public. And the City College board needs to start it – now.

Dennis Richards has been a good member of the San Francisco Planning Commission. He’s often the only person who brings up major, serious issues when commissioners have a chance to speak at the start of a meeting. He was an outspoken voice against state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB 50. He’s always accessible.

And his commission tenure is not going to survive his involvement with flipping a building and eliminating rent-controlled units.

Richards is going to have to step down, with all of his progressive allies in agreement that you can’t have a member of the Planning Commission who is actively speculating on property and turning rental units into the equivalent of condos.

What he’s doing (other than his permit issues) is legal. But it shouldn’t be. One of the worst problems in this city is the removal of rental units by speculators who want to make money getting rid of tenants (in this case, buying them out, but it doesn’t matter) and turning apartments into condos.

When Richards resigns, as he should, the next planning commissioner will be appointed by Board President Norman Yee. There are so, so many great candidates.

But since Richards is taking a leave of absence, which means he’s on the way out, the commission will be choosing a new planning director without him. Better he should step down now, let the supes appoint a replacement, and have that person involved in one of the most important decisions the commission will make in the next decade.

A personal note: The Calendar is just numbers on the wall and on my phone, but it’s about to be 2020. I started this decade as the executive editor of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and as it ends the Guardian is no longer a weekly publication and I am the editor of

Among other projects, we are working with the Internet Archiveon digitizing every back issue of the Guardian (thanks to a major grant from Rainbow Grocery!).

This digital daily newspaper would not exist without you, the readers and supports who contribute to make community journalism happen. Thanks to every one of you.

Downtown prepares attack on jobs-housing measure

It's clear that offices don't pay their fair share for city services -- despite the Chamber of Commerce arguments.

The Chamber of Commerce will apparently be leading the opposition to Prop. E, the measure that would link office growth to housing– and the group’s ballot argument, which just became public, shows the approach the business and development interests will be taking to preserve their right to build more office space than the city’s existing and projected infrastructure can handle.

The argument: Prop. E will mean less affordable housing.

It’s clear that offices don’t pay their fair share for city services — despite the Chamber of Commerce arguments.

“Prop. E would cut $600 to $900 million in affordable housing fees paid by office space over the next 20 years,” the ballot argument states.

Oh, and if Prop. E passes, “the city stands to lose more than $1 billion in property and gross receipts tax revenue that is used to pay for street cleaning, police officers, navigation centers, Muni service, public toilets, and park maintenance.”

Note the choice of services listed here – this argument is designed to convince progressive voters that Prop. E is bad.

But there are, of course, a few key things missing from that discussion.

Office developers due, indeed, pay affordable housing fees, and if we don’t allow more offices, the city will get less affordable housing money from them.

But the facts are really, really clear: The fees aren’t even close to enough to cover the costs that the new office buildings create. Even with Sup. Matt Haney’s recent move to raise those fees, every office building makes the affordable housing crisis worse.

The buildings the Chamber wants to see constructed would create a demand for $1.8 to $2.7 billion worth of affordable housing; the fees would cover about a third of that. Not building those towers would do more for the housing crisis than building them (at the current fee rate).

And the evidence is also really, really clear that new office buildings create more demand for Muni, police officers, and other city services than they pay for. By far.

The ballot argument is signed by Rodney Fong, president of the Chamber, along with Stephen Adams, the president of the Small Business Commission (whose members are getting priced out by the office-tech boom), Larry Mazzola, Jr., business agent for the plumbers’ union (which has long supported development of pretty much any type because it creates jobs for plumbers, even though the tech boom has made it impossible for many of those workers to live in San Francisco), and Sup. Catherine Stefani.

It will be interesting to see if the Chron, or any other local media, simply report these arguments or analyze them. It will also be interesting to see if the Yimby folks – some of whom have told me in the past the they agree office development is making the housing crisis worse — join the Yes on E campaign.

I don’t think anyone other than the SF Business Times has noticed, but at the last board meeting, Mayor London Breed effectively attacked the new Mental Health SF proposal (which she has endorsed) saying there’s not enough money to pay for it.

She also threatened unspecified cuts to other programs the supes have put forward.

Her remarks came at her monthly appearance before the board.

The decision to fully fund the mental-health program will require “a significant amount of resources,” the mayor said, “and we still don’t know where the money will come from. To add layers and layers and think the money will fall out of the sky is … irresponsible.”

She noted: “I will balance the budget, even if you layer on additional responsibilities.”

This is, of course, one of the richest cities in the history of civilization, and with the mayor’s support, it would be relatively easy to increase taxes on the very wealthy and the biggest businesses to fund not only Mental Health SF but a lot of other programs.

But it sounds like she is pushing for cuts.

Also: This isn’t something I have heard anywhere else, but at the meeting, the mayor suggested that outgoing Sup. Vallie Brown might run in fall 2020 to get her seat back.

In a lengthy thank-you speech for Brown’s community service, the mayor said to Brown: “This may not be your last board meeting – there’s an election next year.”

I wonder if that’s the new play by the Breed team.

Dean Preston, who defeated Brown in November, will be sworn in a the new D5 supe Monday/16, and at his first meeting the next day, he will get to vote (and possibly be a key vote) on legislation that would extend eviction controls to apartments built after 1979.

The measure has five co-sponsors. It it’s close, Preston could be the sixth vote.

The supes will also vote on a proposal to mandate that the city provide an annual report on the fit between job growth (by wages) and housing availability.

And maybe Preston, who ran as a candidate who would “stand up to the mayor,” can change something else that’s been bothering me. Question Time – the right of the supes to ask the mayor policy questions in an open forum – has been largely wasted of late. The right to ask questions rotates, no not all 11 supes get to ask questions every month, which I suppose is fair. But it seems as if most months, nobody asks anything.

In the last board meeting, there were no questions submitted by the supes from districts 5, 6, 7 or 8.

Seriously? With all the issues facing the city, nobody wants to ask the mayor (for example) where she stands on Prop. E, whether she agrees that the jobs-affordable-housing balance is unacceptable and whether she things office developers should pay the full cost of the impacts they have on the city?

Nobody wants to ask about homeless sweeps, or when the body-camera footage of the police shooting in the Mission will be released?

The idea that the supes could have no questions at all for the mayor is beyond belief. Question Time exists for a reason; why is nobody using it?

Supes look to protect tenants while planners make the housing crisis worse

This massive tower would make a Texas billionaire developer even richer, while making the SF housing crisis worse.

UPDATE: The item on the Hines tower has been updated to reflect new numbers.

Sup. Matt Haney is pushing legislation that would extend eviction protections to buildings constructed after 1979. It’s a major new step in extending tenant rights to some 35,000 apartments in the city.

The city’s first rent-control law was passed in 1979 – and landlords howled that it would end new housing construction. That was an excuse to block the law, but it had an impact – the supes, with Dianne Feinstein as mayor, were only able to pass a law that exempted all units built after the ordinance took effect.

This massive tower would make a Texas billionaire developer even richer, while making the SF housing crisis worse.

State law also bans rent control on pre-1979 buildings.

But the city’s rent law doesn’t just address prices. It also sets specific limits on when a tenant can be thrown out. Those “just-causes” for eviction include non-payment of rent, illegal use of the building, and owner move-in, or violations of the lease.

That law prevents landlords from simply announcing at the end of a lease period that the tenant has to go – or finding ways to force a tenant out at any point.

And it’s legal to expand those protections to post-1979 buildings.

Haney’s bill is backed by the Housing Rights Committee and the Tenants Union, and it comes before the Rules Committee Monday/2. The hearing’s at 10am, and Haney and advocates will meet at City Hall at 9:30 for a rally and press conference. The event’s on the steps unless it rains, in which case it’s in Room 278.


And while some of the supes are trying to prevent more displacement in the city, the Planning Commission is poised to make it worse.

The commission will meet in closed session Thursday/5 to continue considering candidates for the job of planning director, and while advocates have pushed for someone who has an equity agenda, Mayor London Breed, who will make the final decision, has not even responded.

And the same day, the commission will meet in public to consider, among other things, another giant commercial building that will rival Salesforce Tower in height – and add to the city’s housing crisis.

This is just lunacy. And it keeps on happening.

Gerald Hines (a Houston developer) wants to build an 800-foot-tall tower next to the Transbay Terminal that would include 274,000 square feet of office space, 189 hotel rooms, and 165 housing units. Given the location and the plans, those housing units will be exceptionally expensive.

Because of a city requirement for Transbay projects, Hines will build 337 affordable units nearby, along with 181 market-rate units, in a Mercy Housing project.

But let’s look at the numbers.

According to a city study, the office space alone would create a demand for between 203 and 340 affordable housing units. Then the luxury units would create a demand for another 66 below-market units, and the hotel rooms would create new jobs that would require another 144 non-market units.

The 181 market-rate Mercy units would add a demand for 72 more affordable units. Remember: Luxury housing creates a demand for affordable housing.

That’s a deficit of 294 units — just to meet this project’s demand. So it will make the crisis worse, not better.

(And we aren’t even discussing the costs and burden on Muni.)

The quote the classic Developers’ Lament, this thing just doesn’t pencil out.

Oh, and since this monster of a project is in the Transbay Terminal district, the city won’t even do a full environmental impact report.

Why does a project that hurts the city more than it helps (if it helps at all) even make it to the commission? Why doesn’t the Planning Department staff tell the developers that growth has to pay for growth, and that the rest of us taxpayers aren’t going to keep subsidizing a Houston billionaire?

You would think that would be the job of the planning director. You would think that would be a criterion for the commission and the mayor in hiring a new chief.

Any bets?

Should a developer lawyer be on the Planning Commission?

The number of vacant storefronts is going up despite the economic boom, the city reports

For the first time in at least my 37 years of covering city politics – and possibly much longer – a lawyer who has spent a career representing real-estate developers has been nominated to serve on the Planning Commission.

If Sue Diamond is approved by the supes this week, she will be in a position to help choose the next planning director.

Diamond’s resume states that she has spent the past 28 years

managing the permitting process for some of the largest and most complex real estate projects in San Francisco and the Bay Area(e.g. high-tech and biotech campuses, alternative energy, downtown office buildings, industrial projects, gas wells, assisted living, mixed use) and advising large companies expanding nationally on site acquisition and permitting strategies.

(Gas wells? In the Bay Area? I didn’t know there were any.)

She has a master’s in urban planning from MIT and a law degree from Harvard. She clearly has experience – promoting development.

“We have never, never, had a development attorney on the Planning Commission,” Sue Hestor, who has represented community groups before that panel for more than four decades, told me.

The choice of the next planning director will be huge. Under the outgoing director, John Rahaim, the department was all about facilitating growth and development, no matter what the consequences to vulnerable communities. Activists are calling for a new director who has an understanding of economic equity– but the final decision will be up the commission and Mayor London Breed.

“We are concerned that this candidate doesn’t represent the equity framework,” Jon Jacobo, vice-president of Calle 24, the Latino Historic District, told me. “She has not reached out to any of the communities of concern.”

Diamond’s nomination goes before the Rules Committee Monday/18 at 10am, and will come to the full Board Tuesday/19.

Some activists are pushing the supes to reject the nomination – in part because that would keep Diamond from participating in the hiring decision. But there’s always the danger that if the board won’t accept this nominee, the mayor will come up with someone even worse.

The full board will also consider putting on the March 3 ballot a measure that would impose a new tax on vacant commercial storefronts. It’s an attempt to address a growing problem in some neighborhoods, including North Beach, the Castro and the Mission: Property owners are evicting tenants or refusing to renew leases at any reasonable rent and then leaving the place empty.

Some may be waiting for rents to go up even higher, and some may be hoping that they can get the rules changed to allow more chain stores that will pay higher rent.

The city economist says that it’s partly because of the decline of brick-and-mortar retail – but I am hearing constant stories about small businesses that are getting force out with huge rent hikes that would be thrilled to have a place to go. So I don’t think it’s a lack of demand.

The number of vacant storefronts is going up despite the economic boom, the city reports

“Some landlords have unreasonable expectations of the value of their property and the rent they should get,” Sup. Aaron Peskin, who is sponsoring the bill, told me.

He mentioned Caffe Sapore, which has served North Beach for 23 years, and just lost its lease. The owner, he said, looked into the numerous empty storefronts in the area, “and he can’t afford any of them,” Peskin said.

The bill, cosponsored by Sup. Hillary Ronen, would tax the owner of any storefront that is empty more than 182 days a year. The tax would start at $250 a linear foot of street frontage and after three years go up to $1,000. (Since a typical commercial storefront is about 25 feet, the annual tax on long-term vacancies could reach $25,000 a year – enough to encourage landlords to sign reasonable leases.

“This,” Peskin said, “is long-overdue commonsense policy.”

The Budget and Finance Committee considers Wed/20 legislation that would create an Office of Emerging Technology to consider regulations for the next generation of Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, robots on the sidewalks and whatever other tech concepts that have the potential to make the city worse off for everyone except the investors.

It’s something the city has been missing for years. Airbnb caught San Francisco by surprise. The city let Uber and Lyft operate illegally for years. Suddenly we have scooters all over the sidewalks, and robot delivery vehicles on their way, and who knows what else Big Tech will foist on us in the next few years.

So the idea of this office is to get ahead of the regulatory game and set rules in advance – to make the new ventures seek permission, not forgiveness. If the office is competent and aggressive – that is, if it is on top of the new trends and makes sure nothing happens in the city that will impact the residents and businesses without getting vetted – it could make a huge difference.

A progressive neighborhood group called D4ward, formed in the Sunset in the wake of Sup. Gordon Mar’s victory last year, is holding a forum Wednesday/20 on housing – and specifically, on SB 50, Sen. Scott Wiener’s deregulation bill. Speakers include Dyan Ruiz and Joseph Smooke of People.Power.Media, Ozzie Rohm of the SF Land Use Coalition, and Mar. 6:30pm, Lycee Francais, 1201 Ortega.