The Agenda

Will the state Democratic Party support public power?

Demonstrators opposing a PG&E bailout at the CPUC. Photo by Heidi Alletzhauser

The collapse of Pacific Gas and Electric Company is leading to serious efforts on both the statewide and the local level to replace the failed private utility with public-power agencies.

The grassroots movement is in place. The political and financial information is clear.

Demonstrators opposing a PG&E bailout at the CPUC. Photo by Heidi Alletzhauser

A group of Democratic Party activists, led by party delegates Glenn Glazer and Lowell Young, working through the Coalition for a Power Safe California, is circulating a petition asking the party at its May convention to approve a resolution calling for statewide public power. The current draft, which is still a work in progress, says the following:

Whereas the public good must always be the first consideration of the people and our government, and it is demonstrable that PG&E has been acting in wanton and probable  illegal disregard of the public’s health and well-being by differing maintenance and upkeep of their equipment as demonstrated by the roughly 40 fires and gas explosions known to have been caused by their unmaintained equipment, including the San Bruno gas explosion, for which it is on probation for causing, and because of its poor safety record, the PUC is considering the possibility of breaking up PG&E as well as other measures against it; and

Whereas PG&E faces financial ruin due to law suits that have resulted from their negligence and poor management and faces bankruptcy, which will disrupt the company’s operations and place the public’s well-being in great jeopardy, and PG&E has asked for rate increases to cover their losses rather than letting their stockholders bear those loses which is a risk of holding stock in any corporation; and

Whereas the State has shown that it can run an insurance company that competes on the open market successfully, and that operation, The State Fund, and the FAIR programs can be used as models on how to run a non-profit public utility owned by the people by keeping the existing employees of PG&E and installing a top management team initially appointed by the governor and the leaders of the state Senate and the Assembly;

Therefore we call upon the California State Government to acquire PG&E by Eminent Domain or to purchase the stock of PG&E at the lowest market value of the stock in the three years prior to the stocks purchase to prevent the manipulation of the stock’s price which would be unfair to the public, and any loss should be borne by the shareholders of recorded on the date of takeover, and 50% of the new board of directors shall be employees and union representatives and all current union benefits shall be honored and each union shall have their membership protected and all other PG&E employees would be encouraged to unionize. Said new management shall run the company for the benefit of the people and serve until replaced by the State Legislature and governor.

The state party controls resolutions pretty tightly, and I have seen party chairs deflect and quietly kill anything that might offend potential donors (and in the past, PG&E has donated to lots of Democratic Party officials, including the current governor, Gavin Newsom). But there’s momentum here, and this resolution will be hard to ignore — particularly with the growing number of progressives winning election as state party delegates.

I wonder if someone at the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee will introduced a resolution supporting this concept; it would draw some clear lines on that panel.

Meanwhile, Sup. Aaron Peskin has told me that acquiring PG&E’s distribution system – or at least starting that process – is a top legislative priority for 2019.

And on Thursday/14,the Board of Supes Rules Committee will hold a hearing on PG&E’s intransigence in providing connections to let the city use its own hydropower to power public agencies and affordable housing projects. That’s been an issue for more than a year, and Sup. Hillary Ronen is asking for an update.

Peskin’s suggestion, which will likely come up at the hearing, is that the city buy its own distribution system, so that PG&E can’t control the local power grid anymore.

The hearing starts at 10am, City Hall Room 263.

That committee will also hear an ordinance rescinding the authorization for the San Francisco Police Department to be a member of the National Rifle Association or collect NRA tournament fees. Sup. Catherine Stefani wants the city to sever all ties with an organization that opposes even the most modest restrictions on the ownership of assault weapons.

On Aug. 30, 2018, a student at Balboa High accidentally discharged a gun, setting off a massive law-enforcement response. In the process, three students were detained and questioned by the cops, and one student was (wrongly) identified in some news media as the shooter.

Now Sups. Ronen, Peskin, and Vallie Brown are introducing legislation to require than anyone 17 or younger who is questioned by police to be provided with a lawyer and to have parents present. The law would ban the cops from asking any questions of any minor until that person has legal (and parental) representation.

Current state and federal law say that cops can’t question anyone 15 or younger without a parent or lawyer present. But according to a Dec. 20 letter sent to Ronen from the National Center for Youth Law:

Law, science, and common experience all conclude that, as compared to adults, youth have less capacity to understand their rights and are significantly more vulnerable to giving false statements in response to routine interrogation. …

Currently, youth 16 and older in California can waive their Miranda rights on their own, as long as the waiver was made in a voluntary, knowing, and intelligent manner. However, research demonstrates that young people often fail to comprehend the meaning of Mirandarights. Even more troubling is the fact that young people are unlikely to appreciate the consequences of giving up those rights. They are also more likely than adults to waive their rights and confess to crimes they did not commit.

The Rules Committee will consider the legislation Monday/11 at 10am, Room 263 City Hall.

Sup. Sandra Lee Fewer has a far-reaching proposal: She wants qualified non-profit housing organizations to have a right of first refusal on any multi-family housing that goes on sale in the city.

That would mean anyone who owns a building with multiple tenants would have to inform the nonprofit housing community that they want to sell the property, give that nonprofit the first right to bid on it – and also give the nonprofit the right to match any private bid that the landlord is prepared to accept.

The legislation would guarantee that any tenant in any building purchased by a nonprofit would get to remain at the same rent and under the same lease conditions.

The law would be a boost to the existing “small-sites” program, which sets aside money (not enough) to help prevent evictions by helping nonprofits and land-trust operations buy at-risk buildings and take the out of the private market forever.

The Planning Commission will discuss Fewer’s proposal Thursday/14. The hearing starts at 1pm, City Hall Room 400.

Debate over $185 million windfall begins this week

The mayor wants the windfall to go entirely to homeless programs and housing; others have competing priorities.

The debate over how to spend a $185 million windfall that the city just received begins at the Board of Supes Wednesday/6 when the Budget and Finance committee takes up a competing pair of proposals.

Mayor London Breed wants to allocate all of the money for homeless services and affordable housing. The coalition that promoted Prop. C, which raises taxes on the city’s biggest and richest businesses, also supports that idea.

The mayor wants the windfall to go entirely to homeless programs and housing; others have competing priorities.

(Prop. C will be tied up in the courts for a while because it didn’t get two-thirds of the vote. Breed’s active opposition to the measure may well have cost Prop. C its unassailable majority.)

From the Our City Our Home statement:

The Prop C priorities (approved by San Francisco voters) of funding homelessness services as well as other pressing civic needs cannot wait. The influx of increased ERAF funding could provide housing, mental health care and drug addiction services, contribute to clean and healthy streets, prevent additional homelessness, and move youth, women, seniors, and families with young children off of the streets and into supportive and affordable homes.

Four supervisors have a slightly different proposal. Sups. Aaron Peskin, Rafael Mandelman, Sandra Lee Fewer, Gordon Mar,and Norman Yee want to allocate $20 million to pay raises for early-education teachers, $13 million to the school district for teacher pay increases, and $15.6 million to the SF Public Utilities Commission to begin acquiring public-power infrastructure.

The money comes from a property-tax fund for public schools. When the city’s property taxes are higher than expected, and the schools are “fully funded” according to the state, then the city gets the money back for its General Fund.

The so-called Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund is loaded with money thanks to higher-than-expected property tax revenue. In fact, according to the Controller’s Office, the city could be getting another $200 million in 2019.

The teacher’s union argues that the money was originally designed to fund education – and that the schools may have met the funding level required by the state, but it’s still way too low.

Proposition G, which passed in June 2018, gives teachers a 7 percent wage increase – but that, too, is stalled in the courts. The district has enough reserve money to cover the pay hike for this year. But “the teachers expect the board to allocate enough money here and now to pay for next year and the following year,” union activist Ken Tray told me. The $13 million on the table isn’t enough, and the union will be asking for significantly more.

(And I don’t think the teachers are happy that Breed is pitting them against homeless people.)

Both the mayor’s plan and the supes’ alternative contain language saying that the General Fund will be repaid if Props. C and G are upheld in court.

Sup. Hillary Ronen told me she supports giving more money to the teachers, and that the supes and various constituent groups will be meeting in the next few days to try to work out what the supes’s final alternative will look like.

Whatever it is, it won’t be exactly what the mayor wants, setting up the first major conflict between Breed and the new progressive board.

The Land Use and Transportation Committee meets Monday/4 to consider and vote on a tax on vacant storefronts – and it’s clearly a winner. All 11 supes are co-sponsors.

The measure is an attempt to go after landlords who are holding property off the market in the hope that the rents will go even higher – the perverse impacts of the tech boom, spreading all over town.

It’s driven property values up so high that we are losing community institutions – Lucca’s on Valencia, which has been in operation since 1925, is closing so the family that owns it can sell the building for millions.

The tax on vacant buildings may help some small businesses get leases. But let’s not forget that the Twitter Tax break and the policies associated with it have devastated the city.

And I am still waiting for any of the people who supported that policy to say they made a mistake.

Fight the PG&E bailout!

THE AGENDA The California Public Utilities Commission is meeting Mon/28 to discuss, among other things, PG&E’s rates and the pending bankruptcy. Some of the meeting will be in closed session – but there will be activists on the scene.

A protest against any PG&E bailout takes place at 2:30pm, while the commission is holding an emergency meeting. 505 Van Ness, SF.

The SF Planning Department is all agitated about a bill by Sup. Aaron Peskin that would require all projects that seek to use the state’s Density Bonus Law to pay the affordable housing fee on the extra space.

It’s a bit complicated, but in essence, projects that filed their first paperwork before Jan. 12, 2016, are considered “grandfathered” and don’t have to pay the fee.

Peskin wants everyone to pay. The planning staff disagrees:

There are a total of six projects that have invoked the State Density Bonus law and filed an EEA prior to January 12, 2016. Of these, one project that was previously approved has subsequently submitted an application to change to a Student Housing project (which would not be subject to the Inclusionary program) and another utilized the State Density Bonus law to shift building mass and height but did not obtain any additional units or floor area—so the Ordinance would have no effect on either project.

Of the remaining four projects, all but one have already been issued a Site Permit, meaning that there is only one project to which the fee requirement could potentially be applied, and this project is seeking entitlement from the Planning Commission in February. This project proposes a roughly 33% increase in residential floor area; therefore, the additional fee that would potentially be generated under the Ordinance is roughly $1 million.

So the planners want to give up a million dollars to protect the rights of a developer who got Sacramento to make it easier to build market-rate housing.

Then the commission will take up the second part of its housing strategy discussion. On the agenda: The CASA plan, state Sen. Scott Wiener’s legislation to force more market-rate housing into cities, and local housing programs.

The department has put out a handy chart that looks like this:

Which says nothing at all about the connections between new office space and the demand for housing, or the impacts of market-rate housing on affordable housing.

The meeting starts at 1pm, Room 400 City Hall.

The new supes, a public bank, police secrecy …

Matt Haney spoke to a full house at Glide

Matt Haney had his ceremonial swearing in today at Glide, and the room was packed. Even State Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblymember David Chiu, who had supported Haney’s opponents, showed up. The festive event kicked off a series of events to mark the arrival of three new supervisors – and the emergence of a progressive majority on the board.

Matt Haney spoke to a full house at Glide

We still don’t know who will be board president. I know that Mayor Breed is pushing for Shamman Walton, and Hillary Ronen, who has been dismissed by some of her colleagues as too radical and unable to get along with the mayor, is willing to vote for Walton. Putting people who have no record on the board in the top slot hasn’t worked out that well for progressives in the past (see: David Chiu, who won with progressive support and very quickly turned on his supporters). Other progressives (and maybe some moderates) are supporting Norman Yee, who would be in every way a caretaker president; he’s termed out in two years, and has shown no interest in running for any other office.

Elected officials — including some that didn’t endorse Haney — showed up for the event.

There will be public comment on the board president vote before it happens. You can expect the supporters of every possible candidate to show up for what will be a crowded meeting anyway.

Here’s a list of upcoming events for the week. The board meeting starts at noon onTuesday/8and will be dedicated entirely to the swearing in ceremony, the election of a board president, and comments by the mayor and new supes.

The board will get to work next week, after the new president assigns committees.

Among the issues that will be on the agenda for the new board is the concept of a public bank, something that’s been under discussion for years but has risen to the level where a lot of one-time skeptics are starting to take it seriously. The city raises and spends $11 billion a year, and all of that money is held in commercial banks, which make a profit off the business. Public bank advocates say the city could use that profit to fund affordable housing, economic development in low-income communities, green energy, and so many other things.

The SF Public Bank Coalition is holding a kick-off event called “The People vs. Wall Street” Thursday/10at the Women’s Building. 6pm-8pm. More info. here.

The San Francisco Police Commission has been holding community meetings to discuss how and when police reports should be made available to crime victims and their families, and will discuss the issue in a special hearing Thursday/10. There are much bigger issues here: The state Legislature has finally passed a bill that allows public access to some police disciplinary records, and that took effect Jan. 1. We are all still dealing with the issues created by the state Supreme Court in the Copley Press decision.

And the entire issue of police reports ought to be discussed. Years ago, reporters (or any member of the public) could ask for and get a police report on any incident. That’s the case in many other states. But the SFPD doesn’t do that anymore; all that the department will release is the basic, minimum information (the name of a person arrested and the charges).

There’s no state law that bars the release of police reports. The SFPD could go back to its old practice of making them public, and the commission could make that a general order. I have told several police chiefs that the current policy is silly: Police reports offer the officers’ side of the story – and only the officers’s side. The reports are what the cops say happened (and their interviews with witnesses). Why would the department not want to make that public?

The meeting starts at 10:30 at SFPD headquarters, 1245 Third St.

Don’t forget that Democrats in San Francisco will elect delegates to the state party Saturday/12 and Sunday/13. There are competing slates, and the results will depend entirely on who gets their voters to show up, stand in line, and cast a ballot. If you care about the future of the California Democratic Party, show up early and vote.

Gavin Newsom, who was once a member of the SF Parking and Traffic Commission, then a supervisor and mayor, will be sworn in as governor of California Monday/7.

There are all manner of fancy, high-priced events. It will cost you around $25,000 to get a ticket to the main event, on the steps of the Capitol, but you can spend a lot more and get access to a lot of other events.

Newsom will make a speech with a lot of glorious platitudes about the future of California; that’s what he does. I don’t have an advance copy of his speech, but I can absolutely guarantee that he will not discuss a fact that ought to be at the heart of any agenda for the world’s fifth-largest economy:

California now has 144 billionaires, and their net worth — $9.1 trillion – is four times the size of the state’s impressive Gross Domestic Product.

This is not (to use a buzz word Gavin loves) a “sustainable” situation.

But Newsom never, ever did a single thing to address economic inequality in his political career. I don’t even know if he understands the concept.

Happy New Year.

Celebrating the new supes …

The new Board of Supes is sworn in Jan. 8, and the first order of business will be electing a president. The process has run the spectrum from entirely expected and predictable (Tom Ammiano in 2001) to contentious (Matt Gonzalez over Aaron Peskin and Sophie Maxwell after seven rounds of voting in 2003) and unpredictable (David Chiu, in his first day on the job in 2009).

Several events will celebrate the victories of Sups. Matt Haney and Gordon Mar

As of today, I don’t think anyone has lined up the six votes needed, and there’s a lot of discussion among the potential candidates(I can count at least five) and their supporters. There are at least six and probably seven progressive votes, so the left should be able to elect a candidate who politically will be a counter to the mayor.

The board meeting will start at 2pm. There will be nothing else on the agenda.

There will, on the other hand, be plenty of parties to celebrate the new supes. All six will likely have some sort of reception in their offices after the meeting. You won’t have to wait until the official swearing in to party with Matt Haney; he’s holding a community swearing-in event Sunday/6 at Glide Memorial Church, 330 Ellis Street. 1:30pm.    

There’s a Chinatown Community Banquet Monday/7, hosted by the Community Tenants Association, the Chinese Progressive Association Action Fund and the Rose Pak Democratic Club celebrating the election of Haney, Gordon Mar, and Shamann Walton and Rafael Mandelman. 6pm-9pm, New Asia Restaurant, 772 Pacific, $50. RSVP

Haney, Mar, and Walton are celebrating their inauguration Tuesday/8 at the Great American Music Hall, 6pm. Info here.

As I hear of more events I will add them to the list.

The Democratic Socialists of America holds a kickoff for its Transit Justice campaign Friday/4. DSA, which has become a significant factor in SF politics, is asking

How can we build a more just and accessible public transit in San Francisco? Come to the kickoff meeting to envision a truly “transit first” system that serves all residents, whether they live centrally or not!

6pm, 350 Alabama.

Chronicle columnist Willie Brown is suddenly recognizing that policies he supported for most of his career are now damaging the city. He bemoans the death of Gump’s:

Shed a tear for Gump’s, the latest longtime San Francisco institution to go by the wayside. Gump’s is just one of many fashionable stores in and around Union Square that has suffered from skyrocketing rents, downtown traffic gridlock and an aging clientele.

It may be time for San Francisco to start thinking about some type of rent control for retail outlets. Otherwise, we are going to have a downtown made up of chain stores, coffee shops, empty storefronts and the homeless.

One: Skyrocketing rents and the traffic gridlock are largely due to the tech invasion (and the deregulation of the cab industry in favor of Uber and Lyft) that the mayor he backed and convinced to run for a full term, Ed Lee, promoted.

Two: Brown knows full well that the state Legislature – which he controlled for many years – banned cities from imposing commercial rent control in 1987, when he was the all-powerful speaker of the Assembly. He could have stopped that (in the same way he could have killed the Ellis Act or Costa-Hawkins, the way David Roberti did until he was termed out). But on his watch, the real-estate industry ruled.

It’s fine to say you were wrong and should have done things differently. It’s not fine to pretend the policies of your entire political career didn’t happen.


SF keeps losing affordable housing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The hearing starts at 1:30 pm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All are now part of the Yimby agenda.

When demolition threatens neighborhood merchants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Hestor notes:

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

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

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

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

  • Construction staging will probably be over same sidewalk.

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

  • Operations of electric bus 24-Divisidero will be affected

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reality about Nancy Pelosi …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A bad Central Soma Plan is going to move forward …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, the committee approved the compromise.

The Agenda, Election Day edition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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