A new housing ‘compact’ looks a lot like a developer’s dream

With State Sen. Scott Wiener’s new housing bill now pending, a group convened by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission has released a draft plan to solve the region’s housing crisis – and some of its key conclusions are linked to Wiener’s vision.

The group is called CASA, and MTC calls it the Committee to House the Bay Area. It’s led by philanthropic, nonprofit, and private-sector people and some of its members are elected officials.

The group has spent the past 16 months trying to come up with what it calls a grand compromise, a Bay Area “Compact” that brings together the best practices and ideas from around the country. The concept, released in draft form this week, is designed around three concepts: Producing new housing, preserving existing affordable housing, and protecting vulnerable communities. (You can download the pdf here).

And indeed, it includes what for much of the Bay Area would be pretty dramatic tenant protections, including an immediate 8 percent cap on rent hikes, rent control and just-cause eviction protections everywhere, and a right to counsel for any tenant facing an eviction.

The language specifically states that rent controls would not apply to vacant apartments, enshrining the principle of the Costa-Hawkins Act that tenant groups tried so hard to overturn in November.

But since most Bay Area cities have no rent control at all, the proposal is a step forward.

The proposal also calls for $1.5 billion a year in spending on housing in the region, which is a good start.

Still, when you look at the draft report, it’s clear that the goal is to allow developers to add a lot more market-rate housing in areas that are already choked by market-rate housing – and some areas that are highly vulnerable to displacement pressures – without adequate protections for existing residents.

“We [should] house the Bay Area with racial equity within a frame of doing no harm, of protecting at-risk communities and breaking open those exclusive communities that refuse to build housing at any level,” Fernando Marti, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, testified at a Dec. 3 hearing on the plan. “What I see in this plan is a map that says we are going to break open development, we are going to break open the low-income areas of Santa Rosa … it’s not policies that target cities like Lafayette… and cities like Palo Alto and Cupertino that approve commercial development without any housing.”

Marti said that there has been little discussion in the plan about the difference between “hot markets” like San Francisco with 45,000 units of housing that are entitled but haven’t started building, or San Jose, where SPUR reports that there’s a glut of approved luxury condos.

“Those are not the places we should be upzoning and streamlining,” he said.

The Compact, like so many other proposals and discussions, calls for more housing “at all levels.” The reality is that the private market won’t provide housing at any but the top levels. So the remainder – which most experts agree is far more than half, probably more than 60 percent of all new housing – has to be built outside the private market.

That’s where the connection to Wiener’s bill comes in.

The measure he is proposing, which is embedded in the CASA report, is all about private-sector solutions, about “streamlining” permit approvals and overriding local zoning to allow a lot more density along transit corridors.

The Wiener bill has another twist that observers are still trying to figure out: It allows for increased density in any “job-rich” area. Here’s the actual language:

Job-rich housing project” means a residential development within an area identified by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Office of Planning and Research, based on indicators such as proximity to jobs, high area median income relative to the relevant region, and high-quality public schools, as an area of high opportunity close to jobs.

That, it appears, is Wiener’s effort to stave off criticism that his proposal exempts suburbs that don’t have good transit. But it’s all on the supply end: There’s nothing in the bill that limits new office development unless there is housing available for the workforce.

In the meantime, it’s still unclear: Would most of Berkeley, for example – a city that has high median income and high-quality public schools and is near San Francisco, which has a lot of jobs — be upzoned, even though Berkeley has not approved large tech office complexes?

Add in the state’s density-bonus laws – and the Housing Accountability Act changes of 2017 – and this package could eliminate a tremendous amount of local control over housing.

That’s critical for several reasons. Local zoning laws in places like San Francisco are often used to force developers to build significant amounts of affordable housing. Under the CASA plan, the state would “monitor inclusionary standards … to ensure that IZ does not suppress local housing production.”

That could turn into a huge developer giveaway. Every developer starts off arguing that anything more than a very small percentage of affordability will prevent the project from “penciling out.” In San Francisco, nearly every time the supervisors have said that a project won’t go forward without more affordable units, the developer has caved.

If the state regulators side with the developers, the city’s ability to enforce affordable housing rules will be undermined.

San Francisco right now has met (and is on track to far exceed) its state-mandated regional housing goals for market-rate housing. It’s far behind in its goal for affordable housing.

Peter Cohen, co-director of CCHO, told me that the current draft of the CASA plan “is very disappointing.” It reduces the affordable housing requirements for cities like San Francisco and in many cases is “just straight [developer] giveaways.”

The CASA proposal has no weight of law, and would require extensive state and local legislation to be implemented. But it sets a tone for the debate over the region’s future – and could encourage more Wiener-type bills in Sacramento. (In fact, I can see much of the pro-development agenda making it through the Legislature without any of the tenant protections.)

And it would put a lot of decisions in another set of unelected boards (like MTA).

This whole discussion is missing the much larger question: Why do we keep saying that growth is not only inevitable but good? What if, instead of all these rules to mandate housing for tens of thousands of new tech workers, the region adopted a version of SF’s 1986 Prop. M, and put a cap on the amount of new office development that can be approved every year?

It’s been successful in slowing what was often out-of-control office growth in this city. For a while, it was successful at preserving other types of industry, and jobs in other then finance, insurance, real-estate and the tech sectors.

Maybe we need to do the same thing for the region, or the state.

Maybe we should at least talk about it.

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.

Protesters demand a Green New Deal

Donning particle masks in the smoke-fogged air this morning, dozens of protesters urged Bay Area congressional representatives Nancy Pelosi and Barbara Lee to endorse a Green New Deal select committee that could create millions of jobs combating the climate crisis.

“We need to respond with the urgency the situation requires,” said 24-year-old Sunrise Movement volunteer organizer, Daniela Lapidous. “We can create millions of green jobs, and move our economy to safe renewable energy, and keep our communities healthy.”

Sparked by a proposal by incoming New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, young people mobilized hundreds of protest actions across the country at congressional district offices to pressure representatives to embrace the Green New Deal  concept.

In the Bay Area this morning, nearly 100 protesters pressed Pelosi and Lee to support Ocasio-Cortez’s plan for a select committee on a Green New Deal, which would aim to pass legislation by 2020 calling for massive carbon reduction and huge new public investments in renewable energy and green, climate-friendly jobs across the US.

Below Pelosi’s district office in the San Francisco Federal Building, about 25 climate activists urged the former (and likely future) House Speaker to endorse the Green New Deal committee. So far, Pelosi has issued supportive statements but has called for reinstating a committee on energy independence and global warming that she helped launch in 2007—but that was an advisory committee that had no legislative authority and was killed by Republicans in 2011.

So far, 12 congressional representatives have endorsed the Ocasio-Cortez Green New Deal committee proposal, most prominently Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, and California Reps. Ro Khanna and Jared Huffman.

In Oakland earlier this morning, about 70 activists called on Rep. Lee to endorse Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal, according to Sunrise organizer Claire Morrison. “We are calling on Barbara Lee to stand with us, this is the only viable solution on the table,” said Morrison. “Be the leader on climate that we know you are…She’s been a fighter for justice for such a long time. It would seem that standing with that moral clarity would be an easy choice.”

Lee didn’t respond to our requests for comment on the protest actions. On November 13, just after Ocasio-Cortez launched her Green New Deal push, Pelosi stated, “I have recommended to my House Democratic colleagues that we reinstate the select committee to address the climate crisis. House Democrats ran on and won on our bold campaign for a $1 trillion investment in our infrastructure that will make our communities more resilient to the climate crisis, while creating 16 million new good-paying jobs across the country.”

Pelosi’s communications director, Taylor Griffin, told me that any new committee “has to be discussed in a full caucus setting so all committees of jurisdiction can hear it.” She said the House “leadership challenge has stalled some of the planning we want to do caucus-wide.”

Griffin stressed Pelosi’s “staunch position on the importance of addressing climate change,” but added, “I don’t believe her statement was meant to be an endorsement of the Green New Deal writ large.” She said the Sunrise protest accompanied by Ocasio-Cortez was “a new one for me” in her five years on Pelosi’s staff. “It’s the first time I’ve had to supervise a protest in our office with a member-elect.”

But for the young activists pressuring Congress to tackle climate change with greater urgency, Pelosi’s comments may not be enough. Morrison, 24, attended the first Green New Deal protest at Pelosi’s Washington, DC office, where Ocasio-Cortez joined demonstrators on her first day of orientation as a new member of Congress. Her message to Pelosi: “Right now, Pelosi says she would support revamping a 12-year-old committee on climate change that would have no legislative power – that’s an untenable solution in this climate crisis.”

Morrison added, “We just won you the House, our generation turned out in record numbers… It’s your turn to fight for our future.”

California’s deadly fires—which have now claimed at least 79 lives, with nearly 700 people listed as missing and thousands displaced from their homes—were a looming presence at today’s climate actions. Ryan Higgins, one of the older protesters at age 26, said the protesters “felt it was important to honor and reflect on the people who have passed away in the recent fires.”

Speaking to the crowd near Pelosi’s office, Lapidous remarked, “The last week in the Bay Area, breathing in the worst air in the world from the Camp Fire smoke, has me thinking so many thoughts, thinking of hundreds missing and dead from the fire, of friends and neighbors living and working on the streets here in SF, breathing in the toxic air, thinking of my friend’s baby born into this world one week ago, breathing this air in her first breaths ever.”

Another protester, 19-year-old Cheyenne Rupert, was visiting from Wisconsin and spent yesterday helping the Democratic Socialists of America hand out free particle masks to homeless people. “This is a great opportunity for young people to get involved, to get educated about climate change,” she said. “Our country cannot continue, and the world can’t go on, without progressive initiatives such as the Green New Deal. We need cleaner energy, we need to stop the fossil fuel companies from taking over. It’s not fair to our generation and future generations..”

The Green New Deal select committee “would be tasked with drafting a 10-year plan for a justice-oriented economic mobilization plan that would decarbonize the US economy by 2030,” according to a press release from Sunrise Movement.

If enacted, this Green New Deal “would put millions of Americans to work transforming our society away from fossil fuels to a clean energy economy on the timeline demanded by science and justice.” As Ocasio-Cortez describes on her website, the committee would “have authority to develop a detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan…for the transition of the United States economy to become carbon neutral and to significantly draw down and capture greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and oceans.”

According to a 2018 report by Data for Progress, a Green New Deal could create 10 million new jobs over 10 years in a wide range of renewable energy expansion, environmental restoration, clean technology development, and more. One study, by the International Trade Union Confederation, estimates that “spending 2 percent of annual GDP on the green economy could create over 15 million green jobs in 5 years.”

Particularly in the context of “climate deniers in office and in power,” Higgins said the rising Green New Deal movement has given him some hope: “I feel like there’s great momentum. The components of the Green New Deal, I can’t understand why anybody would be opposed – job creation, clean technology, creating a better environment for everyone.”

On Veterans Day, let’s also remember those who fought for the right to dissent

The dungeons in the basement of Alcatraz were used to inflict terrible punishment on COs

When Robert Simmons, an African American man from Savannah, Georgia, was brought to the foggy, windswept island of Alcatraz in the winter of 1918, he was thrown into the “hole,” a pitch-dark dungeon – below the main cell block –with slimy walls, crawling with rats.  He was held there for 14 days.

His crime?

Simmons was a Conscientious Objector who opposed war and refused to fight on the battlefields of World War I.

The dungeons in Alcatraz were used for brutal treatment of COs in WWI

When the war began in Europe in July, 1914, a great debate unfolded in the United States as to whether the US should enter the war.  President Woodrow Wilson finally decided to declare war on April 6, 1917 – but the country was still divided. Many political, labor and religious organizations opposed the war and urged their members not to fight. In response, the government passed laws that criminalized dissent, forced conscription and jailed many who took anti-war positions.

There was great unrest in the African American community at the time of Wilson’s declaration of war. Jim Crow laws condemned Blacks to the poorest conditions in cities and rural areas alike. The US Supreme Court ruled that segregation was the law of the land. President Wilson showed “The Birth of a Nation” in the White House, a film the newly formed NAACP tried to ban because of its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan. The rise of the KKK and other white vigilante groups terrorized Black communities, burning churches and homes and lynching thousands. 

While some Black leaders encouraged men to join the military to prove their patriotism, others urged them not to fight abroad when there was no democracy or justice for Blacks at home. As one African American newspaper wrote: “The Negro may be choosing being burnt by Tennessee, Georgia or Texas mobs or being shot by Germans in Belgium.”

Although 290,000 Blacks were conscripted, military units were completely segregated. Some trains carrying Black troops were fired on when they passed through southern towns.

Perhaps all of this was on Robert Simmons’ mind when he was conscripted and sent to fight in France. When he refused, declaring himself a Conscientious Objector, he was subjected to a military court martial and sentenced to prison. 

At Alcatraz, then a military prison, Simmons was one of 30 COs – both political and religious. Simmons was one of a dozen “absolutists,” COs who refused to obey any military order – whether putting on a uniform or joining a work gang. Every time they refused to comply, their sentences were extended. When they were released from the dungeon, they were placed in “iron cages,” cells where they were forced to stand, chained to the cell door, unable to sit or even turn around, for eight hours a day.

Their protests brought outside investigators to Alcatraz from church groups and the ACLU, who documented the brutal conditions and complained to the federal government. The dungeons were not abandoned until the ACLU forced a high-level military inspection of the prison.

Though the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918, the COs endured harsh imprisonment long after the fighting ended. Robert Simmons was not released from Alcatraz until February 27, 1920, more than a year after the end of the war.

Though Simmons may have felt completely isolated in the dungeons of Alcatraz during World War I, his legacy has endured.

During World War II, Bayard Rustin, James Farmer, and George Houser were Conscientious Objectors. A decade later they were leaders in the Civil Rights Movement, bravely facing violence at the hands of Southern law enforcement and white vigilantes to fight for racial equality.

Probably the most famous Conscientious Objector in our lifetime remains boxing champion Muhammad Ali, an African American Muslim who refused to fight in Vietnam.  He stated, “My conscience won’t let me go shoot my brother, or some darker people, or some poor hungry people in the mud for big powerful America. And shoot them for what? They never lynched me, they didn’t put no dogs on me, they didn’t rob me of my nationality, rape and kill my mother and father… Just take me to jail.”

Rustin, Farmer, Houser, and Ali may not have known about Simmons’s stance decades earlier, but their courageous actions were cut from the same cloth.

On the centennial of the end of World War I, we should also remember those who stood up for the right to dissent – and paid a heavy price.

Election winners and losers in SF

Democratic Party Chair David Campos celebrates on Election Night

First, we don’t really know anything for sure yet. There are, according to the Department of Elections, an astonishing 139,000 ballots still to be counted – which means there could be more than 12,000 votes (or more) remaining in each of the contested districts.

Democratic Party Chair David Campos celebrates on Election Night. Photo by Ebbe Roe Yovino-Smith

But based on the preliminary numbers, the results of the Nov. 6 local election were dramatic: Despite more than $1.3 million of Big Tech and Real Estate money, the progressives will maintain a majority on the Board of Supes. It might be a significant majority, if Gordon Mar, who is ahead in the votes, winds up winning – and if Shamann Walton, who won with the support of some of the progressives supes, winds up voting with them instead of the mayor on key issues.

The biggest loser of the night was Big Money. Nick Josefowitz poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his own campaign in D2, and lost. Ron Conway’s friends tried desperately to beat Matt Haney in D6, and got trounced. Whatever happens in D4, the fact that Mar was able to withstand a withering assault of more than $640,000 and come out ahead in the plurality vote suggests that the principle of district elections, where volunteers and retail politics can be Big Dark Money, is still alive in San Francisco.

Mayor Breed did not fare well. She opposed Prop. C, which passed with a strong mandate. She supported two candidates in D6 who lost badly. Not only will she have a board that is a check on her policies, the next board president could be a strong critic of the mayor.

If I had to count today, I would say that Hillary Ronen is in a strong position to be the next board president. She backed Haney, Mar, and Walton.

The Coalition on Homelessness was a huge winner: This small operation, which constantly struggles for funds, crafted Prop. C, got it on the ballot, and passed it over big-money opposition. The support of Mark Benioff was a huge help — but the Coalition and its allies and their ground campaign made the difference, from the first day. This campaign changed the way people think about homelessness.

Jennifer Friedenbach, director of the Coalition on Homelessness, congratulates the campaign team

The other big winner, locally, is Democratic Party Chair David Campos. Campos worked closely with incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to set up the Red to Blue headquarters that helped turn out local folks to campaign for Dems nationally. He supported Haney, Mar, and Walton. He led the party’s endorsements — and it appears every supe candidate he backed is winning.

On Election Day, I almost felt as if we were watching the Mayor’s Race again – Mark Leno and former Mayor Art Agnos were riding around on a cable car promoting Haney. Except this time, the mayor didn’t win.

After elections, everyone tends to make nice, and Haney will be friendly with Breed. But he will remember, and so will Mar, that her allies spent vast sums of money on nasty, inaccurate hit pieces attacking them.

So that will help define the next two years.

The turnout, according to figures from DOE, appears to be extraordinarily high, over 70 percent. That’s a record for a mid-term election. It reflects, in part, the overall desire in San Francisco to make a statement about Trump, even though it was clear that our Congressional districts and our Senate seat will remain Democratic.

It’s also a factor of high awareness – even people who are not regular voters were getting texts from celebrities, there were political ads everywhere, and it was hard to miss the fact that a critical election was happening.

I think the grassroots efforts of the key campaigns also played a huge role. Prop. C and Prop. 10 had volunteers contacting voters; the field operations of Haney and Mar were key to getting voters to the polls.

Everyone in San Francisco cares about housing. Everyone knew that there were two major housing measures on the ballot. Even in districts where there was no race for supervisor, Props. C and 10 were a draw.

In D4, Prop. C may have been a defining issue. We won’t know until we see the detailed precinct maps, but the campaigns were finding a lot of support for C even in the most conservative areas – and Mar supported C while Ho opposed it.

Mar is a progressive, but he also made the race about who would best represent the district – a longtime resident or someone who just moved there in March. Sing Tao Daily, which is not typically a progressive news outlet, endorsed Mar.

The Yimby agenda was also a big loser. Sonja Trauss, the Yimby candidate in D6, came in a weak third. She ran an RCV strategy with Christine Johnson, and it worked fairly well – 70 percent of the Trauss vote went to Johnson. But Haney had so many first-place votes that he will likely finish with more than 50 percent, so RCV isn’t going to relevant in that race.

It was a good night for labor: Mar is a labor candidate, and labor worked for him.

We will see when the next round of votes comes out.

UPDATE: Only a few new votes counted in D4, but the trend is distinctly for Mar, who won an additional 273 votes to Ho’s 181. That has him 60-40 over Ho. Trevor McNeil picked up only 84 more votes — and in the RCV results show Mar picking up more second-place votes from McNeil than Ho.

The 48hills election-night coverage was prepared by the University of San Francisco Journalism 1 research team: Tim Redmond, Ilyria Bitton, Jamie Brown, Megan-Marie Caruana, Claudia Cortez, Ezra Del Rosario, Michaela Duncanson, Abigail Glass, Alizee Jean Jacques, Haley Keizur, Lexie McNinch, Katherine Na, Ciarra Nean-Marzella, Georgia Rodger, Josine Torres, Isabelle Hallock, and Olivia Scott.

A No on 10 study out of UC Berkeley is so dumb it’s almost a joke

From the Ivory Tower, a report that is almost laughable in its failure to understand housing in California

The opponents of Prop. 10, which would allow cities to expand rent control, have another academic study they’re touting to make the strange case that rent control is bad for tenants (and in this case, for small businesses).

This one’s out of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at UC Berkeley, and is written by Kenneth Rosen, an emeritus professor who runs a real-estate consulting firm.

Is this a report from UC Berkeley — or from a real-estate consulting firm? And who paid for it?

You can read his argument here. Rosen got his PhD from MIT, but his argument is pretty simplistic. He says that that value of rental property depends on the expected return on investment, and rent control lowers the expected return, so it lowers the value of property, which means that property tax revenues could fall. And since landlords have less money to spend, that will hurt local economies and small business.

Overall, if potential rent growth is reduced, a buyer today would receive less income during the years that they own and operate the property, and less money when they decide to sell the asset in the future … If over an extended period of time expenses grow faster than rental income, the value of the income and value of the property will ultimately deteriorate to zero. At some point, it will cost more money to operate the property than it generates in rental income. The real, inflation-adjusted value of a rental property only holds up if income (not just rents) grows at least on pace with inflation. Overall, small differences in rent growth accumulate over time and lead to large differences in the value of the property, and price that a buyer is willing to pay today.

I have no PhD, and I never went to MIT, but it’s not too hard to see the fundamental fallacy in his argument. In fact, Rosen’s argument are so dumb it would be funny if the future of tenants in the state weren’t at risk.

When a small landlord buys rental property in California, that person has to project the existing rents, the existing taxes, the future maintenance costs, and any other possible expenses, and the existing rent has to cover all of that plus a reasonable return. If it doesn’t, the small landlord won’t get a mortgage; the banks check all of this out.

Property taxes don’t go up under Prop. 13. Mortgages are typically fixed monthly payments. Depreciation and maintenance are easy to project and are part of any investment decision. (Nobody with any sense buys a building that they haven’t paid a contractor to inspect; major repairs are known in advance and included in the calculations. That’s just how it works.)

The only way rental property is purchased at a price that can’t be justified by existing rents is if big speculators buy buildings assuming they can get rid of rent-controlled tenants and jack up the rents.

Those companies exist; they are bankrolling the No on 10 campaign.

But they don’t play into Rosen’s study.

And he leaves out a huge factor. Landlords aren’t the only ones who spend money in a local community and support local small business. And the idea that cities will lose money because property values fall under Prop. 10 is utterly disconnected from reality.

So I sent Professor Rosen a note:

I have read with interest your papers on Costa-Hawkins. I have a question:

In your analysis, you argue that rent control hurts property values (and thus could lower tax revenues) and hurts small businesses.

However, 100 percent of the rent-controlled stock in San Francisco, and I believe in CA, was built pre-1995, most of it pre-1979. Those buildings are assessed at, and pay property taxes at, a level far below their true market value thanks to Prop. 13. It seems very unlikely that any of the owners of these buildings would be able to successfully appeal for lower property taxes on the basis of stricter rent control laws, since their taxes are already so far below market.

It’s possible that future projected taxes on new buildings – in the unlikely event that any city imposed rent controls on new buildings – could be lower, but the current market is so high right now that again, with all of the factors that play into the value of a building, I have trouble understanding how rent control could reduce property taxes, certainly not in a city like SF.

I’m also curious about your argument that rent control will hurt small business. I think it’s pretty clear that rent control is, in essence, a transfer of income (and to some extent, wealth) from the landlord class to the tenant class. It’s also clear that while some tenants are richer and make more money than some landlords, overall, the landlord class is wealthier than the tenant class. This is particularly true with large property groups, which have been increasingly buying up rental property in the Bay Area.

It seems to me that basic economic theory has always shown that putting more money in the hands of less-wealthy people stimulates the economy, esp. small local businesses, since those people are more likely to spend their money (instead of saving/investing). So rent control should be a good thing for small local businesses, since it will put more money in the hands of their customers.

Also: I was here from 1981-1994, when Berkeley had vacancy control. None of the horrible things you talk about (lack of maintenance etc.) actually happened. But one could certainly argue that small businesses in Berkeley did quite well; in fact, one could argue that Berkeley in that era lacked the overall income to support things like the birth of the Gourmet Ghetto – but the increase in disposable income that tenants had helped that happen. (I have no hard data on this, but I think it’s a reasonable argument.)

I’m wondering why you didn’t discuss the potential benefit to small business of rent control.

Also, I’m curious if this was a UCB study or something paid for by an outside group.

The distinguished professor has not responded

Doormat Division, Week 4

Editors note: Our correspondent Erik Walker does the only thing appropriate to the NFL these days: Makes fun of a league in shambles.


In a pregame full of fear and potential loathing, with the specter of losing to the Browns dangling over Mark Davis’ hideous hairdo, the Raiders and Browns put on a game of free-wheeling huge plays (could that be bad defense? Oh, come come!), bonehead mistakes, dropped balls, interceptions, fumbles and everything that should make for a fan crushing display of ineptitude, and turned it into the most entertaining game of the season.

If that’s Doormat Division play, then I’m all for it. New Brownie savior Baker Mayfield did his part, turning the ball over four times (though 1 interception and 1 fumble were not his fault), with a pick-six for the first score, but also pulling off plays of almost hilarious daring and speed. The Browns have a real QB.  Until just this moment the Browns have been like most rock bands — terrible lead singers.  After a while you just give up and go with whoever can stand in front of a mic and scream (or mumble), and maybe remember lyrics.  Just filling space, and always opening first on a bill with seven bands. The punk days, bless them, were Doormat Gold.  If you had a good singer, nobody trusted you.  So Baker Mayfield looks like a young Pavarotti right now… just ignore the low trajectory on the passes, shhhh. 

Raider QB Derek Carr responded with two interceptions of his own, and hurled 58 passes.  There were three runs over 40 yards, two for TDs, multiple big yardage pass plays.  It was like the old AFL. 

The teams still got off 13 punts, and how you score 87 total points when you keep bailing, well, you gotta have just the right combo of good and bad. These teams have it. For one day, and 38 total possessions. That’s an average of holding onto the ball for only 1:57 for each possession. 

The Browns really appeared to be robbed of a first down when Carlos Hyde’s knee touched down just shy of the marker (sure didn’t look like it to us!) at the end of regulation.  They would have run out the clock and won.  Las Vegas called the replay booth or something, there. Good grief.  The Raiders then scored the tying TD and two-point conversion.  TVs all over Cleveland are still stuck in freeze-frame on that spot of the ball.

Skinny rookie Raider kicker Matt McCrane, one of a chorus line of kickers rotating around the league right now, who missed twice when kicking from the 2nd base bag earlier, chipped in the last FG late in the OT to hang the win on Raiders, now 1-3 and no longer perfect. Browns return to having a losing record, and everyone can relax a little bit.

It is now proven that, despite having Brent Musberger as their new radio play-by-play man, the Raiders can win a football game.  I cannot tell you how off-putting and completely wrong it is to have ol’ Brent as the Raiders announcer.  So, utterly, totally WEIRD.

Let’s have a look at the standings:



NFC            W-L        PF      PA      DIFF


Arizona        0-4          37        94     -57

NY Giants    1-3          73       95      -22

Detroit         1-3           94       114    -20

Santa Clara   1-3         100      118   -18

Atlanta         1-3         116      122    -6


AFC            W-L        PF        PA     DIFF


Buffalo         1-3          50        106   -56

Oakland        1-3          97       123     -26

Houston        1-3          96       108    -12

Indy              1-3          94        100     -6

NY Jets         1-3          89         89        0

Pittsburgh     1-2-1      102      116     -14

Cleveland     1-2-1      102      104     -2


Lotta losing going on, here, something’s gotta give. 




It took everything they had, including shanking a winning FG with 1:50 left, but perseverance pays off.  The Cardinals lost a game they were in deep danger of winning, going right down to 0:00 to fall to the Seahags.  Let’s face it — the Crudinals wanted it more.  Last 0-fer team left in the league.  Cards engaging in too many close scores.  They need a blow-out loss.  Let’s see what they can dial up next week in Santa Clara. 



The Bills have clearly righted the ship, and wiped the memory of that bizarre victory over the Vikes last week from the collective memory: 11 first downs, three turnovers, 87 passing yards, 8 punts, 7 sacks.  Wow. Only three penalties, but when you are just refusing to do anything, it’s hard to get penalties.  Still the early favorite to take the AFC.

49ers 25, CHARGERS 27

His name isn’t BeatHard for nothing.  SF QB C.J. Beathard takes another shellacking, with LT Joe Staley having to leave the game, but doesn’t seem fazed, as the Whiners barely escape Los Angeles with the loss. Neither team seemed sure about winning the game, but, ultimately, the worst kicker on the field kicked the winning field goal.  San Diego kicker Caleb Sturgis missed TWO extra points, but scraped in three out of four field goal tries, and juuuuust saved his job, and didn’t have to go back to the high-kicking unemployment chorus line.


The worst 3-0 team in the NFL met up with reality yesterday, and took their usual beat-down from the Patriots, who, for one week, returned to being the best team in the AFC East.  Which isn’t hard to do, when your competition is the Nyets, the Nils, and the Floppers. Woulda been a goose-egg, but the Patriots started playing fans from the stands (only ones with the best costumes!) late in the 4th and the Floppers got a pointless touchdown and 5 phony first downs on their last drive.  They had only SIX first downs until that tortured crawl down the carpet.  I hate when stats get skewed like that.


The Gnats score first.  And then pretty much stopped.  1-3 and right behind the Cards in the standings.  Still, NY fans (not the Mets fans) can just ignore all this until the Wednesday Wild Card game is over.  Football?


They gave the Colts multiple chances to win, but to no avail.  Another wild Doormat game goes in the books, and the Toxins have to take a win.  A total of 944 yards, 20 penalties, 11 sacks, two lost fumbles. 

Gotta love those porous defenses when they meet up. 


Our commissioner called on the red phone around 6:00 last night, and notified us that the Steelers were on the top step of the Basement stairs, an extremely rickety construction, and gingerly taking the next step down.  We could hear the tattered hulk of Big Ben looming up there, in the dark (the light burned out three years ago), fumbling with the light switch, hoping for some vision. The Shower Curtain?  The Reelers? 

BUCS  10, BEARS 48

The Bucs have not just come down to earth, they went under a steam roller yesterday.  It was 38-3 by halftime, it was so efficient.  The Bucs yank Fitzpatrick as daBears keep dynamiting every team they play, throw in Jameis Winston, and he delivers with a couple interceptions.  But…the Bears!  QB Michael Trubisky throws 6 TD passes, almost tying HOF Bear god Sid Luckman for most ever (7) in a game.  Bears are exiting the Basement.

Remember last year and ‘Orange You Bad’?  Our Orange teams this year have turned it around: Bears 3-1,  Bengals 3-1, Broncos 2-1 (not after tonight), Miami 3-1, and Cleveland 1-2-1. 

JETS 10,  JAGS 31

Jets QB Sam Darnold may well be the QB of the future, but, right now, he’s the QB of a Doormat contender.  Keep an eye on the Jets.  I don’t know if you should WATCH them, but…


Anotherwild game, and though they don’t play like it, the Falcons just keep on losing.  1-3 and who knows what wheels will come off in the next couple weeks.

Next week will clear out the standings, for sure. 

aaaAAAAAAnd That’s the View From the Basement!!!!!

Big donor supports GOP Senate campaign, Lindsey Graham … and Jessica Ho, Sonja Trauss, and Christine Johnson

Some of the 2018 contributions from Diana "DeDe" Wilsey's real-estate firm. Source: OpenSecrets

In the wake of the horrifying Kavanaugh hearings, it seems likely most San Franciscans are hoping that the GOP loses control of both the House and the Senate in the fall.

But a prominent San Francisco society figure has given more than $500,000 in 2018 to help keep Republicans running Congress.

Some of the 2018 contributions from Diana “DeDe” Wilsey’s real-estate firm. Source: OpenSecrets

Diane Wilsey, through her real-estate firm, gave $300,000 to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and $100,000 to the Republican National Senate Committee, campaign finance records show.

Wilsey donated the individual maximum, $5,400, to Sen. Lindsey Graham, a fervent supporter of Kavanaugh who called last week’s hearing and the allegations of sexual assault against the judge “despicable.”

DeDe Wilsey, patron of the DeYoung museum, is also a patron of the GOP

And she’s also pouring money into electing Jessica Ho in District 4 and Sonja Trauss and Christine Johnson in District 6.

Wilsey also gave $250,000 to Progress SF, an IE controlled by tech plutocrat Ron Conway that has spent more than $180,000 supporting Ho and another $250,000 supporting Trauss and Johnson, according to Ethics Commission filings.

The Trauss and Johnson IE that got the Progress SF money is called San Franciscans for Change.

And that’s just as of Sept. 22. There could be far more money poured into these key district races, which will determine whether Mayor London Breed has a majority to support her policies.

Candidates have no control over IEs; by law, they have to be entirely separate operations. So Ho, Trauss, and Johnson can’t return that money or influence who gives to help them get elected.

But some say it’s a bit alarming that a person who thinks the Republican Party should control Congress, and is supporting one of Kavanaugh’s strongest allies, also thinks Ho, Trauss, and Johnson should be running San Francisco.

Trauss and Johnson did not respond to my emails seeking comment. Christian Kropff, campaign director for Ho, said that “Jessica’s campaign has no control over who contributes to any IE in the race. Jessica’s campaign is focused on the issues of the district and finding solutions to the problems that district 4 residents face everyday.”

But Edward Wright, a spokesperson for the Gordon Mar D4 campaign, told me that “it’s alarming that the same people who are aligned with Trump Republicans – and especially Lindsey Graham, who has been the strongest voice to silence women – are trying to influence a San Francisco election with big money. These are not San Francisco values. The Sunset needs someone who can stand up for the people who live here.”

Matt Haney, who is running in D6, told me that Wilsey “does not sound like someone who shares my values, so I should not be surprised that she is spending all this money to defeat me. Her donations ago against SF values. It’s ironic that they are calling their IE San Franciscans for change, because I don’t think this is the kind of change San Franciscans want.’

Haney noted: “It’s important for people to understand where all this TV and direct-mail money is coming from.”

Business districts use public money to attack homeless people, study finds

Business Improvement Districts, which are in essence private tax assessors that spend money to spiff up certain parts of town, have been using public money to advocate for laws attacking homeless people, a new UC Berkeley study has found.

The study, done by the Policy Advocacy Clinic at Berkeley Law School, examined how BIDs deal with homeless people and found a long list of problems – some involving potential violations of state law.

BIDs have become more and more popular in the past 20 years in California. Under a 1994 law, property owners in a defined district are allowed to vote to tax themselves to pay for “special” improvements that the city can’t or won’t provide.

In the early days, that meant things like new landscaping, better street lights – that sort of thing. But now these BIDs – and there 189 in 69 cities – are using money to lobby for anti-homeless laws and to pay private security guards to roust homeless people, the study concludes.

In fact, the study shows, a lot of what the BID money goes for these days is political advocacy – for anti-homeless laws. Two examples:

  • In 2010, San Francisco’s Union Square BID submitted letters of support and testified at numerous public forums for Proposition L, an anti-homeless measure to restrict sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. (so-called “sit-lie” laws).

  • In 2012, the CEO of the nonprofit that manages the Downtown Berkeley BID was the major individual financial contributor to the campaign for Measure S, a proposed sit-lie law.

The BIDs work through the California Downtown Association, which

actively mobilized its BID members to oppose Assembly Bill 5, the Homeless Person’s Bill of Rights and Fairness Act, and Senate Bill 608, the Homeless Right to Rest Act.

And the money they are making is used for politics:

  • San Francisco’s Union Square BID spends assessment revenue on policy advocacy under a category of services labeled “Marketing, Advocacy, Beautification and Streetscape Improvements,” and its executive director is a lobbyist registered on behalf of the BID with the City and County of San Francisco.

  • Los Angeles’ Downtown Industrial BID does not mention policy advocacy in its planning documents, yet in its quarterly reports to the city, it classifies activities like testifying at city council meetings and meeting with council staffers as assessment-funded “Economic Development and Communications” programming.

  • Assessment-funded policy advocacy expenses in the Union Square BID, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, and Oakland’s Jack London Improvement District represent the full or partial salary costs of various personnel who engage in policy advocacy.

Business groups have every right to lobby and organize for their own interests. That’s probably not what the Legislature had in mind when it created this strange private-taxation authority, but that’s what has happened.

However, when public money is involved, it’s a very different situation. And there’s a lot of public money involved.

The BIDs (unlike the normal tax-assessment process) can hit up government agencies for money. And a lot of the money from some of these BIDs comes from the taxpayers.

This, the report says, is a problem.

The 1994 BID law permitted districts to collect assessment revenue from publicly owned properties and it increased BID spending authority. State law, however, does not authorize BIDs to spend assess- ment revenue from public parcels on all kinds of policy advocacy.151 In fact, state laws prohibit the use of public funds to support or oppose local or state candidates and ballot measures.152 Interpreting one such law, the California Supreme Court said: “A fundamental precept of this nation’s democratic electoral process is that the government may not ‘take sides’ in election contests or bestow an unfair advantage on one of several competing factions.”

In general, when BIDs use assessment revenues from publicly owned properties for policy advocacy, the public—as owners of assessed property—is being taxed to fund advocacy on behalf of businesses. We found specific instances in which BIDs or BID officials engaged in formal lobbying, support for ballot measures, and other policy advocacy.We also found examples of BIDs and their officials making financial contributions in local elections.Through the use and leveraging of assessment revenue from publicly owned properties, BIDs are spending government revenue to take sides in the democratic process.

BID use of public funds for policy advocacy may sometimes result in expenditures that local agencies themselves could not make. For example, under state law, cities and counties may spend public funds to lobby if the city or county has deemed passage or opposition of the legislation at issue to be beneficial or detrimental to the city or county.When BIDs spend assessment revenues from publicly owned properties to lobby on issues that only their managing nonprofits have identified as priorities, they bypass legal requirements designed to ensure that taxpayer funds are used to advance the public’s interests.

 Then there’s the role this special districts play in enforcing laws against homelessness. The report found that many of these agencies routinely use private security forces to harass homeless people or press local law-enforcement to do that job.

The researchers found more than 2,000 pages of emails between Sacramento BID officials and the Sacramento Police Department, which included messages like this:

Sacramento BID executive asked, “Can someone swing by our building [. . .] and remove the homeless person hanging around in the corner?”  Another email from a Sacramento BID to a police lieutenant asked: “When one of your officers has a chance, could s/he please ask the homeless person who is sleeping in front of

Suite C/D to leave. They are sleeping on the concrete walkway with a hacking cough . . . not very enticing for customers.”

The study found a correlation between the political activity of BIDs and the rise of anti-homeless laws – although there are clearly other factors involved.

The study also concluded that, while some BIDs try to work with social-service providers to help homeless people, the results are often not helpful.

In San Francisco, the Union Square BID attempts to move lawful (nonaggressive) panhandlers from the district.Because such panhandling is not prohibited by law, BID ambassadors are instructed first to “inform the person that their behavior is not supported by downtown businesses and actually harms the image of downtown.” If the person continues to panhandle, the ambassador is to then “stand ap- proximately 15’ away from the panhandler educating the public not to give to panhandlers, but rather agencies that can help” and will “continue this around the panhandlers [sic] area (until they move out- side of the district).”

And since most homeless people don’t trust and have had bad experiences with the BIDs, referrals and communications are worthless.

The report has a long list of policy recommendations, starting with a ban on using BID assessment revenue – particularly from public property – for anti-homeless advocacy. Cities have the ability to monitor and oversee these operations, and they need to pay more attention to an area that is largely ignored.

It’s an arcane area of law, and nobody pays much attention to it – but for the homeless population, this is a big deal.

Governor Brown’s climate shortcomings are bad for our health

Oil wells in LA are causing health problems

California often gets credit for being an environmental leader, but such plaudits overlook the many neighborhoods in California that live a nightmarish reality due to the toxic effects of the oil and gas industry. In Los Angeles, our health suffers daily from poisonous air emissions released by oil wells and the dangerously leaky Aliso Canyon gas facility.

Governor Brown is hosting a climate summit in San Francisco, where he will warn us about climate change and boast about his leadership. But our experiences raise serious questions about whether this governor has the fortitude to take on the fossil fuel industry.

Oil wells in LA are causing health problems

In South Central Los Angeles, families are surrounded by oil wells that emit noxious fumes that make our children sick. The emissions from one well, operated by AllenCo, were so severe that when federal inspectors visited the site they all got sick just minutes after exposure. AllenCo is surrounded by nine schools, including one for disabled children, and an affordable housing community.

When one of our daughters was just a child, she suffered from nosebleeds, headaches and nausea from AllenCo’s fumes. While operations at the site have been temporarily halted, thanks to community efforts that won the help of former Senator Barbara Boxer, AllenCo is now pushing to resume drilling. There are several other wells nearby that are just a handful of the 5,000 active oil wells within the Los Angeles County.

Twenty miles northwest of the AllenCo well lies the Aliso Canyon gas field, perched above the San Fernando Valley. Three years after the facility had the biggest gas blowout in the nation’s history, leaks continue to send toxic gas downhill to the neighborhoods of Porter Ranch, Granada Hills and Northridge. Recently released testimony from a SoCalGas engineer shows that this gas contains dangerously high levels of benzene—a known carcinogen. 

One of our daughter’s nosebleeds and respiratory problems that began after the blowout continue to this day. Our neighbors and their pets also suffer from ongoing severe breathing problems, rashes and nose bleeds—just like families living by oil wells across town.

Our pleas to the governor for relief have been dismissed and deferred. Brown refuses to exercise his power to shut down Aliso Canyon and neighborhood oil drilling operations, even though they aren’t needed to supply energy, and tells us that they will go away – someday. Just not under his watch.

We wonder whether Brown’s inaction is due to contributions from the industry. Brown has taken millions in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industries, and his sister has earned $1 million in stock and cash to serve on the board of Sempra, the company that owns Aliso Canyon.

So perhaps it isn’t surprising that Brown has let these interests continue business as usual despite his dire warnings on climate change.

Statewide, Brown has refused to ban fracking or take any action to limit oil drilling in California, leaving communities and local governments to fend for themselves and fight an industry with endless financial reserves. His office is quick to say that campaign contributions don’t affect his decisions, but Brown once said the opposite himself.

“You bet I was influenced,” Brown told a caller to his We The Peopleradio show over 20 years ago. “You think you can collect $10 million or $20 million and not let it affect your judgment? Your behavior is influenced, and that is the vice that is destroying us. People who work in the fish factory don’t realize they stink.”

We who suffer the consequences of Brown’s fossil-friendly policies, certainly smell the stench of political cowardice. Governor Brown has the authority to put an end to these dangerous and polluting practices, but he refuses to act. That’s why more than 750 organizations have formed the Brown’s Last Chance campaign, which includes supporters such as Food & Water Watch and Consumer Watchdog, to shine the light on Brown’s record of negligence.

We will be in San Francisco to bring our message to the Governor directly at his climate summit this week. And if he fails to act, we will keep working to push the next governor to be the real climate leader that California desperately needs.

Monic Uriarte and Helen Attai live in Los Angeles.