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Tenant Troubles: My washer broke — should I sign a lease?

Tenant lawyer Dave Crow is hear every week to answer your questions. Email him at [email protected] or click here to contact him directly here.

I have lived in a rent-controlled apartment for about 10 years in a building with about 18 units.

Our building was sold to the notorious Lembi Group back in the day and they tried to evict all rent-controlled tenants under Costa Hawkins.  We hired a lawyer and went to the rent board who determined that we were indeed tenants and that Costa Hawkins didn’t apply.

As part of that case, the lawyer from the Lembi Group (CitiApartments) informed us that the previous landlord didn’t have a lease on file for us. We were never given a copy of the lease either, as the apartment’s original tenant moved away and subsequent tenancies were handled verbally with the landlord.

It’s a four-bedroom apartment with a fairly consistent group of roommates – in the past, when a roommate left, the new roommate was approved verbally by the landlord.  No 6.14 notices were ever presented.

When CitiApartments went under, our building was sold again.  The new owners pressured me to sign a new lease, but the Tenants’ Union said I shouldn’t sign one – they said a lease is essentially just a list of reasons for the landlord to be able to evict you.  After my experience with CitiApartments, I was suspicious of all landlords and I didn’t want to sign anything that might give them an excuse to evict us, so I never signed a new lease.

I have now been living under the new management for about four years with no written lease.  Several months ago our washing machine broke.  This is a washing machine that was provided by the original landlord years ago, along with the other appliances.  When I contacted the management company about it, they said they weren’t responsible for it since I didn’t have a written lease stating that they provided it.  They said they would take responsibility for it if I would sign a new lease that included the washing machine and other appliances.

They were using the situation as leverage to force me to sign a lease, so we chose to pay for the repairs ourselves. They have done other repairs without pressuring me – plumbing issues, water damage – but the washing machine is the only appliance we’ve had issues with so far.

It’s been several years now and this management group seems to be pretty good.  They’ve done some long-needed repairs on the building and appear to be a decent company.  So now I’m wondering if I should sign a lease.  I don’t want to have to pay for all repairs to appliances myself, but I don’t want to put myself in a position to be evicted.

Do I need a written lease? If so, what tricks/clauses/loopholes should I watch out for?

I’m glad you mentioned your past experience with the Lembi Group and CitiApartments. It may seem like the distant past now, but as the US Congress for the Rich continues to push for more banking deregulation, we could easily see more real estate investment financed by junk bonds, credit default swaps abetted by derivatives. And once again tenants and regular working people will be required to bail out the institutions that aided and abetted the landlords who harassed and evicted them. For a great take on the Lembis and real estate investment circa 2009,  take a look at “War of Values,” by my friend Danelle Morton.

I tend to agree with the Tenants Union on this one. Why? Because you’ll be presented with a 20+ page lease, like the San Francisco Apartment Association lease, in which several clauses come close to being void as against public policy and others may weaken your rights under the San Francisco Rent Ordinance.

Right now, your oral agreement does not contain any terms that you could breach, subjecting you to a potential unlawful detainer (eviction) lawsuit. The oral agreement doesn’t contain any clauses limiting subletting. Not that such a clause would present as much of a problem as it did in the old days. An oral agreement cannot be enforced to collect any late fees, which must be stated in a written agreement, but there are arguments that late fees cannot collected or when they can be collected, they can only be based upon the California legal interest rate of 10%. About the only way the landlords could evict you with cause would be for nonpayment of rent.

Generally, I only recommend that tenants sign new leases that may modestly increase the rent for single family dwellings, houses or condominiums.

So let me get this straight. You’re thinking of signing a new lease because you want the landlord to repair the washing machine?

If you seek a decrease in services at the Rent Board to require that the landlord reduce your rent for the period of time the washing machine was unusable, you can state that your oral agreement provided the use of the washing machine. This would be especially true if the washer is located in your unit. How are the new landlords going to deny that? They weren’t around at the time the agreement was made.

Is this argument foolproof? Maybe not, but it’s worth a shot and the advantages far outweigh signing a brand new lease. That is, unless the lease contained only two clauses: 1) The rent is due on the first; and 2) The washing machine is a housing service provided in the tenancy. 

The opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not constitute legal advice. The information provided is general in nature. Seek the advice of a tenant attorney for any specific problem or issue. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or Crow & Rose, Attorneys at Law unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

OPINION: The best sort of democracy for San Francisco

The Milk Club, Sierra Club, Community Tenants Association, and Tenants Union all promoted a dual-ensorement strategy for Mark Leno and Jane Kim

Calvin Welch has been a dedicated housing activist and progressive leader for decades, but we have consistently disagreed with him about Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) and about what is best for San Francisco’s democracy. His recent article for 48 Hills, “What went wrong June 5 — and what we can learn”, contains a number of factual and data errors, but beyond that his anti-RCV arguments display the same flaws they have in the past, when he has argued for its repeal. His article is no blueprint for local politics. In fact, a repeal of RCV would hurt progressives as well as our city’s democratic process.

The Milk Club, Sierra Club, Community Tenants Association, and Tenants Union all promoted a dual-ensorement strategy for Mark Leno and Jane Kim

RCV has led to a number of positives in San Francisco elections. One of the most obvious is that RCV has allowed voters to choose from a more diverse pool of candidates. Of the 18 offices in San Francisco elected by RCV, thirteen are held by office-holders of color. That is a 63% increase from elections before RCV, according to a study by FairVote (which controlled for various factors among RCV and non-RCV cities, including population size, demographics and incumbency).

In the four Bay Area cities using RCV—including Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro—women of color have seen a 64% rise in their election rate. Women have been elected to six of the ten elected Board of Supervisor seats in San Francisco (one current seat was appointed to fill a vacancy). A few years ago, Oakland elected the first-ever Asian-American woman as mayor; San Francisco just elected its first African-American female mayor.

RCV also is better for candidates who don’t have access to a lot of business or tech money that is poured into the PACs and independent expenditures that flood mailboxes and airwaves with negative ads. London Breed and her allied independent expenditure committees badly outspent all her opponents. Having to compete in two elections instead of one dramatically increases the amount of money that candidates need to raise in order to be competitive. A separate runoff gives those same interests two shots at picking off candidates they don’t like. 

RCV also has been better for voters, who have been liberated to vote for the candidates they really like instead of the “lesser of two evils.” Voters are no longer stuck guessing which candidate has the best chance of winning, or “bullet voting,” or abstaining from participation in December runoff elections because their favorite candidate is no longer in the race. Now voters can vote sincerely for their favorites, knowing they aren’t throwing away their vote because they can always rank a backup choice as their second pick.  

Most critics of RCV refuse to even acknowledge these positives.  Ignoring such key facts only serves to undermine the validity of their critique.

Was Jane Kim a spoiler candidate in the mayor’s race?

Welch advances his critique that, in running for mayor in the June 5 election, progressives committed “folly” by allowing two candidates in the race, causing what Welch calls a “split vote.” While Welch doesn’t say it, the clear implication is that Supervisor Jane Kim was a spoiler to former State Senator Mark Leno, meaning that Kim siphoned away enough votes from Leno to hand the victory to Breed.

Welch comes to this conclusion by looking at data from a single supervisorial district—District 8, which elected Rafael Mandelman as supervisor in the June 5 election. Welch states that, “Mandelman won with nearly 60% of the vote, receiving some 20,000 votes … [y]et, Leno got only 12,700 votes for mayor—7,200 fewer votes than Mandelman—nosing out Breed by a mere 600 votes. Kim finished a distant third, with 4,500 fewer votes than Leno, but still polled 8,200 votes, clearly most of which would have gone to Leno. Had Leno got the same votes as Mandelman in D8 he would be mayor today.[italics added].

But that’s a complete misreading of the election results. After all the ballots in the mayor’s race were tallied, including taking account of second and third rankings of all voters in District 8, Leno actually received 20,112votes—nearly the same as Mandelman (20,267 votes). Leno picked up an even higher rate of votes from Kim supporters in District 8 – 84% — than his citywide average of 77%.  So most of Kim’s votes didgo to Leno, and Leno didin fact get “the same votes as Mandelman.”Welch’s analysis never accounted for support from Kim’s voters transferring to Leno after the RCV tally was run.

He does this a second time in his article, writing, “Breed [in her mayoral race] got 39% of the D5 vote, down from 52% in her re-election bid in 2016 … [s]he got 10,000 fewer votes in D5 for mayor than for supervisor.” But in Breed’s supervisorial race she only had a single opponent; in the mayor’s race she had multiple opponents with support in District 5, and once the RCV tally was finished, of course Breed won far more than 39% of the vote for mayor in her district (in fact, she won 49.6% to Leno’s 50.4%).So Welch is comparing apples to oranges.

So the real data shows that Jane Kim was in fact not a spoiler, neither in District 8 nor citywide. Not by a long shot. And the progressive vote did not split, in fact her supporters’ second and third rankings transferred to Leno at such a high rate that Leno came within a razor thin margin (1.1%) of winning the mayoral election. 

Everybody we have talked to thinks Jane Kim ran an exciting campaign with a strong grassroots field effort that especially energized young and diverse activists and many organizations. The Leno-Kim strategy of supporting each other as a #2 choice had the early support of many Democratic clubs, who didn’t want to rip open divisions among their own communities. That strategy resulted in 77% of Jane Kim’s support counting for Mark Leno, which created an enormous wave of progressive votes filling the sails of Leno (indeed, the high transfer rate from Kim’s voters to Leno was higher than the Rebecca Kaplan to Jean Quan rate that helped Quan come from behind to beat Don Perata in Oakland’s mayor election in 2010). 

That strategy also led to the thinnest margin in a mayoral election in San Francisco’s history, with Leno losing by only 1.1%. It was the closest that any progressive has come to winning the mayor’s race in 30 years, since Art Agnos was elected as a one-term mayor. And keep in mind, this was the first truly open-seat election for mayor in the RCV era (which began in 2004 — the mayoral elections in 2007 and 2015 had incumbents, and in 2011 the late Ed Lee served as interim mayor for nine months prior to the election, allowing him to run as an incumbent and win in a landslide). 

This election also was a high-water mark for local democracy. Spurred in part by the Leno-Kim strategy of “collaborative campaigning,” voter turnout surged, topping 250,000 ballots, the second most in a mayoral election in San Francisco history. More votes were cast for mayor than for governor or U.S. Senator. Kim’s vote total nearly surpassed Leno’s as the leading progressive candidate in the race.Her campaign’s voter mobilization was quite impressive, and it’s likely that a number of Kim voters would not have returned to the polls to vote for Mark Leno in a separate runoff election once Kim was out of the race. 

So the progressive vote did not split and theMark Leno-Jane Kim strategy resulting in Leno coming so close to winning this mayoral election seems to us and many others asa progressive success story.

Do progressives need a “political boss”?

Instead of seeing a success story, Welch proposes an alternative strategy. In what was perhaps the most ominous part of his article, he wrote: 

“Our side has a serious problem of leadership when it comes to candidates. We have no institution nor paramount personality that has the legitimacy to adjudicate between ambitious politicians seeking higher office. In the past the Democratic Party, organized labor or simply an old-time boss was the traffic cop … [t]he last Democrat to actually play that role was Phil Burton (who died in 1983).”

Understand what Welch is calling for here— a process that pressures certain candidates to drop out of the race. Candidates like Jane Kim, apparently. 

But the profound flaw of this strategy seems obvious: how do you create the Progressive Boss Machine that is able to select the one anointed candidate per race without leaving many constituencies feeling left out? Won’t the very act of doing this undermine progressive unity? Not to mention stifle insurgent candidates who inspire voters and grassroots activists?

Welch tries to mitigate the anti-democratic nature of his proposal by saying, “Not that the old-time boss model was perfect—in fact, a lot of women, LGBT people, and people of color felt left out in that era.” He tries to update his proposed strategy for the modern era by saying: “We need a democratic, bottom up, grass roots ‘machine’ able to not only devise progressive policy but do the hard but essential political work of saying yes and no to candidates and making it stick.”

Welch appears to be thinking of such long-ago groups like Berkeley Citizen Action, which practiced robust grassroots politics and hand-picked candidates, and for a time was influential in Berkeley in the 1980s. We agree that such grassroots organizations can sometimes be an effective counterpunch to big money and pro-business politics (both Steve and Tom were leaders in such organizations, Tom in San Francisco and Steve in the Rainbow Coalition in Washington state). But such organizations are a rarity. An attempt at forming one was tried in San Francisco in 2007, led by Supervisor Chris Daly, but it imploded amidst dueling factions and the sheer enormity of the project. It’s easy to over-romanticize such grassroots organizations which, due to their volunteer nature, over time often become dominated by an inner cadre of influential leaders who end up deciding important decisions (such as candidate endorsements) without much of a grassroots process.

Maybe in some smaller towns, that type of politics is still possible today (Santa Monicans for Renters Rights (SMRR) is still successful in that way). But in a large, fractious, multi-racial, multi-everything city like San Francisco, a BCA- or SMRR-type organization has not proven to be workable. 

Even if such an organization existed in San Francisco, that would change nothing in terms of the debate regarding RCV versus a separate runoff election. It would still be better for a progressive, grassroots organization to adopt an RCV strategy of “collaborative campaigning” among multiple candidates. Each of those candidates mobilizes a different constituency that becomes part of the broader progressive wave, piling on the votes.

A better vision for progressive politics

Meet a new vision for how San Francisco politics can work. David Campos, former Supervisor and now Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, also wrote an article for 48 Hills, proposing an alternative strategy, a different vision, than Welch’s. Campos wrote:  

“Mark Leno and Jane Kim used an innovative RCV strategy of telling their supporters to rank each other 1–2. That meant not only progressive voters but also progressive organizations were not divided over their loyalties, and could avoid bitter internal battles. The Leno and Kim campaigns did not have to engage in aggressive lobbying for support, or “me versus you” strategies, as we have seen in the past. Instead, both progressive camps could go forward together, for the most part united and with a sense of partnership. I would suggest that it was this kind of ‘collaborative campaigning’ that allowed and encouraged this progressive wave to emerge. It unleashed a combined force that made the whole greater than the sum of the parts. 

“And that sense of unity contributed mightily to progressive victories on all the ballot measures, in expanding the progressive majority at the Board of Supervisors, and in Leno coming closer to winning than any progressive candidate for mayor in 30 years. The alternative, which we have seen during many elections before, would have been a progressive movement wracked by infighting, dissension and personal attacks among its candidates, leaders and key organizations.”

So here are two very different strategies for runoff elections—an instant runoff versus a separate (second round) runoff – founded on two different visions of politics. One is inclusive, encouraging candidates, coalitions and mobilization of their supporters, as the basis for a vibrant, rainbow movement. The other is exclusive, cadre-driven and forces out non-preferred candidates. Which is best, which is right, which is fair? It is a crucial question to decide. 

Would a separate runoff election help progressives?

Welch’s argument is further constructed around the assumption that progressive and liberal voters will turn out in stronger force than moderate and conservative voters in a separate runoff election. But will they?

We actually have quite a lot of historical data to help assess this question. San Francisco used runoff elections in citywide races for a few decades until 2003, and after the reintroduction of district elections, for Board of Supervisors races from 2000-2002 (RCV was introduced in 2004). Research has consistently shown that turnout usually dropped in separate runoff elections, often by dramatic amounts. 

For the mayor’s office, there have been seven December runoff elections since 1975, and voter turnout declined in four of them. For example, in the mayoral election of 1995, when Willie Brown was first elected, the number of voters declined by 10 percentage points from November to December. 

Board of Supervisors races set an even lower bar. In the eleven supervisorial runoffs held in December from 2000 through 2002, voter turnout plummeted from November by an average of 47%. Not 4.7%, but a whopping 47%!  Many times the winner in December had fewer votes than the initial leader had in November.

Interestingly, in a paper entitled “Do December runoffs help or hurt progressives?”, Professor Richard DeLeon from San Francisco State University, the author of the acclaimed book on San Francisco politics Left Coast City, found that in November elections, for every 100 voters who turned out in the progressive precincts, 107 turned out in the conservative precincts. But in the December 2001 citywide runoff election for city attorney—which Welch has hailed as an example of how allegedly surging progressive turnout won the day in December elections—for every 100 voters who turned out in the progressive precincts, 126 turned out in the conservative precincts. DeLeon concluded:

“If San Francisco had used [ranked choice voting] in November, Herrera most likely would have won by an even greater margin. In November, the liberal/progressive candidates for city attorney won a combined 60 percent of the vote. It is highly likely that nearly all of those votes in an instant runoff would have stayed in-house and transferred to Herrera. In the December runoff, however, Herrera won with only 52 percent of the vote. Thus, due to the proportionally greater decline in progressive voter turnout, Herrera probably lost approximately 8 percent of his potential vote, making the election close.”

In addition, other studies have found that those who returned to vote in December were overwhelmingly whiter, older, and wealthier than the city as a whole, and tended to be residents of the high-turnout parts of the city. Like in most major cities using two-round election cycles, the difference in San Francisco turnout between the two rounds has always been skewed to favor certain demographics and neighborhoods.

Moreover, people of color, young people and the poor, on average, tend to vote more consistently for progressive candidates and issues than do wealthy people, whites or older Americans. So having separate runoff elections in which people of color, young people and the poor are disproportionately absent does not sound like a formula for a strong progressive outcome. 

Welch cites the 2003 mayoral election as further proof of his thesis. Yet in that election, the progressive in the race, Matt Gonzalez, lost by nearly six percentage points to Gavin Newsom—far more than the 1% that Mark Leno lost by.  Welch observes that “Gonzalez got a whopping 79,000 more votes in December than he did in November while Newsom only got 46,000 more—showing that Gonzalez picked up the overwhelming majority of votes cast for the other candidates in November.” No question, Gonzalez ran a great and exciting race. But his picking up the vast majority of votes cast for the other candidates was hardly surprising or remarkable, since those other candidates leaned progressive. 

In fact, using DeLeon’s methodology, in the November round Gonzalez had 19.6% of the vote, and the other three progressive-leaning candidates had 35.2% in aggregate; combined with Gonzalez’ total, that equaled 54.8%. But in December, Gonzalez won 47.2%. So one could argue that the Gonzalez campaign actually missed out on picking up another potential 7.6% of the vote, which cost him the election. It seems plausible that this “DeLeon effect” hurt the progressive candidate because more conservative and moderate voters actually turned out than progressives in December (or, to use DeLeon’s vocabulary, the “ratio of conservative to progressive voters” actually increased in December 2003). Which means, if San Francisco had elected the mayor by RCV in 2003, the evidence suggests that Gonzalez might well have beaten Newsom.

So no data or evidence has been presented that makes a strong case that, in the past, progressives have consistently turned out in greater numbers in separate runoff elections, or would do so in the future.

One election, or two?

The major dilemma, as always, is: one election or two? Calvin Welch would have San Francisco go back to a two-round runoff cycle, with a first election followed by a second election that pits the top two finishers. But there are a number of problems for progressive candidates with having to win two elections instead of one.

Campaign finance.  What would be the impact on candidates’ electoral prospects if they had to raise money for two elections instead of one? In several places, Welch acknowledges that, even though San Francisco has partial public financing of campaigns (which both Tom and Steve played a seminal role in passing), progressives still face a major fund-raising disadvantage in this age of money-marinated elections. Yet Welch is advocating for a second election in which the need to raise a lot more campaign funds would be greatly exacerbated. Even worse, candidates would have to raise this money in a very short period of time(the previous runoff cycle had only five weeks between the November and December elections).

In fact, it would at least double the amount of money needed, according to the San Francisco Ethics Commission. The Ethics Commission endorsed implementation of RCV in 2003, passing a resolution that said “historically, the amount of independent expenditures has been considerably greater in run-off elections,” including “an almost fourfold increase” from November to the December 2002 runoff. The Ethics Commission resolution concluded that “implementation of Instant Run-Off Voting would dramatically reduce the amount of large independent expenditures.” 

Having multiple candidates in an RCV race also helped to blunt the impact of independent expenditures against Mark Leno. Jane Kim was targeted by more than $300,000 in nasty attack ads by tech mogul Ron Conway and other tech donors that would surely have all been focused on Leno if Kim was not there to attack. With Kim in the race, the only negative attacks on Leno were limited and came very late in the campaign. So Welch’s idea of a Progressive Boss Machine would have actually backfired in this mayoral election by forcing Kim out of the race. 

On the question of exhausted ballots, Welch asks, “At a time when voting rights are under attack why would one of the most progressive localities in the nation accept a system that ‘disappears’ thousands of votes?”

This is misleading. In any runoff system, whether an “instant runoff” or a “separate runoff” held many weeks later, differences in voter turnout between the first and last rounds are inevitable. In the RCV context, “exhausted ballots” are ballots that don’t select one of the top two finishers and so are not part of the tally in the final round. In the two-round runoff context, voters who do not return for the second runoff election in December are called “exhausted voters.” The history of December runoff elections in San Francisco shows that there were far more exhausted voters than there have been exhausted ballots under RCV.

In one study, FairVote found that the median percentage of exhausted ballots in the 24 RCV races needing multiple rounds between 2004 and 2016 was 13.2%, meaning that 86.8% of voters who turned out had their ballot count in the final, decisive round. In this year’s mayoral election, the number was even higher, with 91.4% having their vote count in the final decisive round. 

But as previously noted, under the old runoff system usually the decline in turnout between November and December was substantial, whether in most mayoral elections or in Board of Supervisors races. For supervisorial races, the turnout decline averaged a whopping 47%. That meant a whole lot of exhausted voters did not participate in most December runoffs. One study found that in all the December runoffs for the Board of Supervisors, winners had 8,500 votes on average; but in RCV contests, winners on average won over 11,900 votes, a 40 percent increase.

This shows that RCV’s “instant runoff” (which is usually in November, when turnout is highest) results in the election of a candidate by a much larger proportion of the voting population than do December’s separate runoff elections. Generally, the use of RCV to eliminate low turnout runoff elections has allowed more voters to have a say in who their elected officials are. That is good for democracy, and good for governance.

A related question that Welch only hints at, but others have wondered about, is whether it’s possible that Leno might have won if there had been fewer exhausted ballots, or if voters had more than three rankings. FairVote has released a report about this (which Hill co-authored), and the answer to both is: no, this would not have changed the outcome of the mayoral election. By using publicly available ballot-image data to analyze this race, it can be determined that a substantial number of the exhausted ballots came from voters who supported the less progressive-identified candidates in the race. Those voters tended to favor London Breed over Mark Leno by a ratio of 1.36 to 1. Some voters for Jane Kim also saw their ballots exhaust, and those voters tended to strongly favor Mark Leno. Overall, this analysis estimates that, with more rankings for voters leading to fewer exhausted ballots, Leno might have closed the victory margin by an estimated 183 votes. This would not have been enough to overcome the 2,600 vote gap between himself and London Breed.

If not RCV, then what? 

Other proponents of repealing RCV include the San Francisco Chronicle, Chamber of Commerce and Willie Brown.  The Chronicle has proposed that, instead of going back to a November-December election cycle, San Francisco should use a June-November cycle (or possibly September-November), with the first election narrowing the field to two for a November “top two”-style runoff. But this is the method that Oakland used for years, and the June election had extremely low turnout, meaning that the two finalists were being decided by a much smaller electorate that was overwhelmingly whiter, wealthier and older than the city as a whole (a September-November cycle would suffer from the same problem, as cities like New York, Boston, Baltimore and Charlotte demonstrate). Oakland got rid of that system and switched to ranked choice voting.

Welch essentially would switch San Francisco to a version of the “top two” primary used for state and congressional elections, which is essentially two plurality “highest vote-getter wins” elections.  But we have witnessed the defects of this method in action, especially the problem of vote-splitting. A few years ago in Congressional District 31 in San Bernadino County, which is a Democratic district where Latinos are a near-majority (49 percent), so many Democratic candidates ran that the liberal vote split. The result? Two white Republicans made the runoff, and one of them was elected to represent a Democratic district. Because of these dynamics, in the recent June primaries, Democratic leaders tried to bully candidates out of numerous Congressional races to avoid such vote-splitting.

If San Francisco got rid of ranked ballots, a version of this dynamic would play out locally. Look at the upcoming election in District 10. Five out of six candidates are African-American. In District 4, five out of eight candidates are Asian. Both of these races raise the possibility of split votes among multiple candidates, but thanks to RCV, that is much less likely to happen. The ranked ballots have been important for communities of color to prevent spoiler candidates and split votes, and to encourage diverse candidates to get out there and represent their communities. The ranked ballots have facilitated coalition building among these candidates and their voters. Going back to plurality elections would be really damaging for constituencies that often run multiple candidates, such as the Asian, Latino and African America communities and yes, the progressive community, as the recent mayoral election shows.

Certainly there is no perfect electoral system, but when you talk about repealing RCV, the other side of the coin is that you have to replace it with something. And in reality, the alternatives are all far, far worse

The way forward

Which path is the right one for San Francisco? The one laid out by David Campos? Or by Calvin Welch? With RCV, progressives came closest to winning the mayor’s race in 30 years, passed every ballot measure and solidified a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors. This prompted David Campos to write that this recent election “should be seen overall as a progressive victory.” 

RCV also has resulted in a victory for local democracy — San Francisco has dramatically increased the diversity of representation; has blunted somewhat the impact that campaign spending, independent expenditures and PACs have on election winners by having one decisive election instead of two separate elections; has ensured that more voters will have their ballots count in the final round, that more voters will have a say in who their elected officials are. In the most recent election, RCV’s “collaborative campaigning” contributed to a political wave that showed that there is strength in unity over polarization and division. 

Should progressives now build on that RCV success? Or abandon it and go back to low turnout, high spending, spoiler-plagued, “exhausted voter”-inducing, “lesser of two evil”-choosing separate runoff elections? 

The answer seems obvious. With RCV, progressives certainly won’t win every race. Moderates and conservatives can and will adopt tactics like “collaborative campaigning,” in order to further their own electoral prospects. But on the whole, RCV has been working well, and it’s about to get even better. Starting in 2019, San Francisco will finally get voting equipment that allows voters the option of ranking up to ten candidates, and has a ballot with a simpler design (the candidates’ names will only appear once, instead of being replicated in three different columns). 

With more and more US cities and states starting to use RCV, San Francisco should keep leading the nation, not go backwards or try to turn back the clock to some nostalgic “good ol’ days” of progressive politics that never existed. Ranked choice voting is a modern, efficient, cost-effective electoral system that is well-suited for a modern, multi-pluralistic, urban epicenter like San Francisco that must find the sweet spots of broad consensus over the thorny challenges of the 21st century.

[Steven Hill is a political journalist, author of seven books on political and economic reform, and co-founder of FairVote. He is co-author of San Francisco’s legislation for ranked choice voting and public financing of campaigns, and also led the campaigns to pass and implement both of those political reforms. 

Tom Ammiano is former state Assemblymember, former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and former president of the Board of Education, who led successful battles to pass landmark legislation for health care, housing affordability, workers rights, gay rights/marriage, police reform, public power, political reform and many others.]

Central Soma Plan shows the problem with large-scale EIRs

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

The Central Soma Plan, more than ten years in the making, got a mixed reception at the Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting today, with some community groups saying the plan will lead to displacement.

Sup. Jane Kim, who is the sponsor of the legislation, moved today to add significantly more space for housing development. And she and city planners made clear that the plan’s mandate for 33 percent affordable housing, and close to a billion dollars in community benefits for even more affordable housing, was historic and extraordinary.

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

But the debate made clear a big problem with this plan – similar to the problems we faced and still face with the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan: Work on rezoning central Soma started before the tech boom, when city officials were looking to create jobs in a bad economy. The plan emphasized office space – and, critically, preserving production, distribution and repair as well as retail jobs.

Work on the Environmental Impact Report for the plan began in 2013, before Uber and Lyft and the Google buses and tech displacement were dominating local land-use politics. The report was completed in 2016 – and analyzed alternatives that included a maximum of about 8,300 housing units.

So now the supes can’t add zoning that would include more than 8,300 housing units without blowing up the EIR and starting again – a process that could take at least another two years.

With the Eastern Neighborhoods, the EIR analyzed a level of housing and development that has already been exceeded. John Rahaim, the planning director, freely admitted today that “we did not anticipate the pace of change.”

The idea that the city can do a single EIR for a large swath of land, and expect that it will address the impacts of every project for the next ten or more years, is looking more and more dubious to me. The economy is moving to fast; the city is being transformed at a radical pace. What made sense five years ago makes no sense at all today.

Several community groups, including SOMCAN and the Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, are appealing the EIR, and that will come before the supes Tuesday.

If the board rejects the EIR, then there’s a chance that the process could start again, with a different understanding of what’s going on in the neighborhood.

David Woo, representing SOMCAN, told the supes that “this is a plan and a recipe for displacement.” Rezoing land in a way that raises its value leads to speculation, he said.

Jeantelle Laberinto, also representing SOMCAN, said that the plan will lead to displacement of existing residents, who will then have to move far out of town, and commute to their jobs in the city – creating negative environmental impacts.

Kim said today that she’s looking at anti-displacement legislation.

Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, said that his group’s analysis of the jobs-housing fit shows that Central Soma needs 56 percent affordable housing to meet the needs of the new employees.

John Elberling, director of Todco, said the affordable housing rules are “far short of getting it done.” He went farther: He said that the city needs to be willing to use its power of eminent domain to seize property that could be used as affordable housing.

“The Chronicle Hotel on Mission Street has been vacant for 20 years, and the slumlord owner has refused to sell to anyone,” Elberling said.

“The Ellis Act is out of control,” he said, arguing that the city should condemn and take over any property where there’s an Ellis eviction.

Yeah, he said, that’s “the nuclear option” – but the city’s running out of space and time.

Too many jobs, too little housing in Soma

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

The Central Soma Plan – which will open South of Market to the equivalent of a new downtown, with office space for at least 33,000 more workers and housing for 8,300 people – comes before the supes twice this week.

On Monday/16, the Board of Supes Land Use and Transportation Committee takes up the crux of the legislation that would rezone a fairly large swath of the city.

Then, on Tuesday/17, the full board hears an appeal by several community groups who are challenging the validity of the plan’ Environmental Impact Report, saying that, among other things, it grossly underestimates the impacts of adding more jobs than housing to a city that already has a severe housing shortage.

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

The Yerba Buena Neighborhood Consortium, one of the appellants, argues that the EIR doesn’t adequately address the new growth:

New residents and workers – +9300 and +36,400, respectively, according to the EIR at IV-6 – will so increase the resident and daily population of Central SOMA that they will require substantial new services. The 2015 Initial Study improperly scoped out this issue and the EIR Responses to Comments improperly deferred it. With population increases at the scale of a new city, to keep our City livable reasonably foreseeable facilities must be studied and planned for now as part of the Plan.

Another material defect is the EIR’s failure to evaluate and mitigate cumulative impacts on public services and need for recreation facilities that will be created by the growth of resident and worker population in the entire Central City of San Francisco over the same time span, including the Central Business District and adjacent neighborhoods as well as Central SOMA – thus South of Market, Central Market, the Tenderloin, and Chinatown. Up to 100,000 more residents and 50,000 more jobs may materialize. At that scale, new public services and facilities will be needed, and there has not yet been environmental review or mitigation of this cumulative scenario in any San Francisco EIR to date.

SOMCAN, the South of Market Community Action Network, argues that the EIR fails to disclose the “severity of the level of impact” of the “creation of a second Financial District,” the role of Uber and Lyft in the transportation mess, and the economic impacts of displacement that’s likely when there are more workers pouring into a region than there is housing for them.

Central Soma Neighbors, also part of the appeal, argues that

The Central SoMa Plan essentially creates a second Financial District South of Market, creating 63,600 new jobs, but only 14,500 new housing units. (DEIR, pp. IV-6, IV-5)1. In other words, the Plan creates 50,000 more jobs than housing units (more than four times more jobs than housing). This only exacerbates the City’s jobs-housing imbalance, which will result in even greater demand for limited housing, higher housing prices, more displacement, and more gentrification. Clearly, the City should go back to the drawing board.

The number of housing units and jobs is never going to be exact; that’s driven by what developers want to build. It’s possible that, if demand for office space is strong enough, developers will try to push the office numbers even higher; it’s possible that, if demand for high-end condos remains apparently insatiable, those number could go up, too.

All the city does in this plan is create zoning rules that allow an increase in both types of development.

The plan calls for 33 percent of the new housing to be below-market-rate, which is way higher than what planning rules now require – but well within the range of what Sup. Jane Kim, who represents the district, has negotiated with developers.

Kim, a sponsor of the plan, noted when she introduced it that

I am very proud that the Central SoMa plan sets a new standard for the City with 33 percentaffordability throughout and zero loss of any existing arts or manufacturing jobs,” said Supervisor Jane Kim. “It will be the first new area plan with an eco-district that implements Vision Zero from its inception, designed with robust community benefits such as parks andrecreational open spaces for our entire city to enjoy for decades to come.

The level of development the plan allows could bring in $500 million for city services, supporters say. And if it leads to the development of 9,000 housing units, 3,000 of them would be below-market-rate, which is a big number.

The overall issue here: With the tech boom shifting Silicon Valley more and more into San Francisco, there’s a shortage of office space. The prices are soaring, which makes it harder, planners say, for small businesses and startups to find affordable space.

But at the same time, we have seen the result of bringing too many high-paid jobs into the city when there’s no housing for those workers – and by any analysis, this is going to make the situation worse.

Some argue that, if the cost of office space drives tech jobs back to the Peninsula, the workers will still live here. That’s been true because the city has enabled it by authorizing the Google buses – and refusing to take a stand against Peninsula cities that build no housing at all.

The Land Use Committee meets Monday at 1:30pm. The appeal comes before the full board Tuesday at 3pm.

The Budget and Finance Committee meets Thursday/19at 10am to consider two tax measures that might be headed to the November ballot. Sups. Aaron Peskin, Jane Kim, Hillary Ronen, Norman Yee and Sandra Fewer want to impose a gross receipts tax on Uber and Lyft (and any other ride-share companies that bring in more than $500,000 a year) and any future companies that offer rides in driverless vehicles.

This will be the first chance for Sup. Rafael Mandelman to join what should be a six-vote majority to put this on the ballot.

Not clear how much money it would bring in (these companies won’t share that data), but Uber and Lyft have done serious damage to Muni, congested the streets, and treat their drivers badly. The idea that they should pay a reasonable city tax is a no-brainer.

Then Sup. Malia Cohen wants to add a gross receipts tax on recreational cannabis. This one’s a little more complicated: There’s no question that this growing industry is going to make a ton of money and needs to share that with the city. The issue that new cannabis outlets are raising is that, when the price of legal bud goes too high, people go back to the black market.

But Cohen’s ordinance exempts the first $500,000 in sales, so it’s not going to prevent new outlets from getting started, and after that it’s set at a pretty minor 1 percent, which can go up to as much as 5 percent after 2020. That means a store that sells $1 million worth of cannabis product would pay $5,000 a year to the city. Doesn’t seem like an industry-killer to me.

OPINION: Stopping rent-hikes in affordable housing

Affordable apartments on Friedell St, where the developer keeps trying to raise rents

Young Community Developers has been fighting for Bayview residents and the entire District 10 community for more than 45 years. In 2016, YCD full leased-up it’s first affordable housing project (working with for-profit developer AMCAL) on the Shipyard (Pacific Point), with 59 units of housing, all at 50% of AMI.

Affordable apartments on Friedell St, where the developer keeps trying to raise rents

In the beginning, YCD had brought back 12 certificate of preference holders into the community, and ensured more than 50% of residents were African American (from the community) working with Bayview Hunters Point Multi-Senior Services and the community at large. This was a big win for all of our efforts to fight gentrification and displacement of the African American community; we should also note that the entire building is majority-minority housing.

Within the first six months of the building being fully occupied, AMCAL unilaterally tried to raise rents 10% for all residents after receiving new income guidelines from HUD. This was neither acceptable nor required as AMCAL was grossing more than $60,000 a month and netting (after expenses) more than $30,000.00. When YCD told AMCAL this was unacceptable, they were not happy but conceded at the time. A few months later they raised the rents (unilaterally) 3% for all residents in 2017. YCD was unhappy and has informed AMCAL of its disdain with that decision for months. 

Now, a year later, AMCAL has unilaterally decided to raise rents again with another proposed 3% increase. Not only are they trying to raise rents in our city while we fight gentrification, displacement and affordability concerns, but they are now refusing to speak with YCD (which is required by our Limited Partnership Agreement). The staff at AMCAL has failed to connect the team at YCD with its management staff and they are doing this with disregard to the morality that should exist when you are in the business of working with people. 

So in an era where Tetra Tech has falsified samples of toxins on the Shipyard, we now have a developer (AMCAL) that is trying to attack the quality of life of a community of residents that are already isolated and disenfranchised. AMCAL is basically contributing to the forces that have been forcing people out of San Francisco for years, by making it impossible for some residents to pay their rent and removing the “affordable” from the affordable housing that was promised to our community years ago.

The following needs to happen:

1- AMCAL needs to never raise rents on residents when they are realizing a solid profit monthly (particularly when residents are already paying about 1/3 of their income towards rent);

2- AMCAL should never be allowed to receive another development opportunity in San Francisco (their morals and philosophy do not gel with our values in San Francisco and they are the exact opposite of a responsible developer that cares about people and our neighborhoods);

3- Since we are currently stuck with AMCAL as the co-developer for Pacific Point, AMCAL needs to consult with YCD on EVERY major decision before even thinking about causing harm to the residents at Pacific Point and stay true to the Limited Partnership Agreement we have in place).

4- Any future decision AMCAL wishes to make that affects residents at Pacific Point, should include a community process where residents are not only informed, but also have an opportunity to provide input in decision making

You can email AMCAL’s asset manager, Ryan Barnett, at [email protected]and let him know we won’t tolerate these types of predatory practices in San Francisco.

YCD has been more than fair in its approach with AMCAL (to no avail at this point). AMCAL’s actions have been irresponsible at best and if they continue in their course of action, the damage will be irreparable and feed the gentrification of the African American community and push more people out of the city. Please join us in publicly putting AMCAL on notice that their mode of operation will not be tolerated in San Francisco. This is an appalling scenario and we have all been working together to fight the dismantling of our neighborhoods and communities.

Shamann Walton is the Executive Director of Young Community Developers (a workforce development organization in Bayview Hunters Point), a member of the School Board, and a candidate for D10 supervisor.

Before fake news, fake pregnancy centers

A protest against fake crisis pregnancy centers

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court said that the State of California may not require anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers” to supply women with information about alternatives to end their pregnancies. California had enacted the requirement after finding that some 200 of these centers in the state had posed as medical clinics, and used “intentionally deceptive advertising and counseling practices that often confuse, misinform and even intimidate women from making fully informed, time-sensitive decisions about critical health care.”

Faith-based crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) lure young, vulnerable, pregnant women–many of whom are seeking an abortion and believe they’ve come to the right place–into their centers to persuade them not to have abortions. They use psychological persuasion, lies, and even elaborate scams to send pregnant women away on “scholarships” to bear their children to be adopted into far-right households. There are some 3,000 of these CPCs in the country, advertised on billboards and in social media, about four times as many as clinics that actually perform abortions. Their staff often wear medical garb despite having no medical training, and no licensure as a clinic. They specialize in lies, coercion, and intimidation.

A protest against fake crisis pregnancy centers

I know, because these clinics have been around a long time, and in 1986 I wrote one of the first stories about them, for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, going undercover to see their scare tactics first-hand. It’s impossible to believe that all these years later, they still exist, and are allowed to continue to mislead young women.

I began my investigation when I was at a pro-choice rally and one of the antis gave me a card: “Pregnant? Scared? We can help.” I had that reporter’s instinct that Something Just Didn’t Seem Right, and decided to go to the clinic for a consultation. I had a friend who was pregnant, so I took a jar of her urine with me.

At A Free Pregnancy Testing Center, after the “nurse” told me I was pregnant, I told her I was considering an abortion. She showed me a slide show, “Education on Abortion,” that listed all the possible ways one can supposedly be lacerated, perforated, punctured, or killed during an abortion. It also described women who went on to commit suicide after “experiencing the guilt of an abortion.” The show explained how abortion can render a woman infertile for life, then showed a series of slides of dead, aborted fetuses in trash cans, which, like all the information, were faked. I was glad I wasn’t actually pregnant, nauseated, and terrified.

After the slide show, the “nurse” started in on psychological tactics, questioning me about my boyfriend and relationship, using the name I had given her as my boyfriend’s name to make it more personal. “Don’t you think he loves you?” she asked. “Don’t you think you’d be a good mother?” Before I left, she promised me housing with people who would want to adopt my baby.

 After that I visited Crisis Pregnancy Center in the Sunset, which was also advertised (remember the Yellow Pages?) as a medical center that would offer “all the options” for a pregnant woman. This clinic was attached to a church. Leafing through a staff notebook while I waited, I read, “Do not refer a single woman for contraceptives. The only acceptable birth control for a single woman is abstinence.” The woman at this center showed me similar photos of aborted fetuses, explained that I would never be able to have a baby after an abortion, and that I would have symptoms of depression for life. She suggested it was a good time for me to go back to the church, and that Jesus had died for my sins and would forgive me for considering abortion.

 Then, as now, these centers targeted scared young women who can’t afford medical care. At the time, many were funded by the ultra-right-wing St. Louis-based Pearson Foundation, started in 1969, which provided training sessions, slide shows, pamphlets, video equipment, urine test kits, and a manual titled “How to Start and Operate Your Own Pro-Life Outreach Crisis Pregnancy Center.” These CPCs thrived, funded by anti-choice groups and the sale, in 29 states, of “Choose Life” license plates.

One San Francisco center, I found, deceived the parents of at least one minor, from Mission High School, telling them the girl had received a “scholarship” to Hawaii, where instead she went to have the baby to be given up for adoption to one of the families associated with the movement. The centers were called deceptive by numerous feminist organizations, the Texas Attorney General, the Federal Centers for Disease Control,  and the California state Legislature, which passed the Reproductive FACT Act in 2015, compelling CPCs to post a notice that the state has programs to subsidize family planning services, including abortions. CPCs without medical licenses were also required to disclose that there were no medical professionals on the premises.

These are the protections that were recently reversed by the Supreme Court—on the basis of the First Amendment right to free speech.

In the years since I went undercover to these clinics, a legal case––Food Lion v. Capital Cities/ABC— has made it likely that what I did by posing as a pregnant woman could be illegal today. But the Supreme Court has made it legal for people to pose as medical professionals and tell lies to young, desperate pregnant women, coercing them with kindness into having babies that no one, thereafter, will help support.

 

Cohen is unanimous choice for board prez

After both Sups. Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin, and Hillary Ronen talked about how “unfortunate” the process that Mayor-elect London Breed created for selecting a new board president was, everyone on the board agreed to support Sup. Malia Cohen to be the next board president.

The nomination by Kim and the support by Ronen made it clear that Breed’s move had worked, and that there was no way that the progressives who will in two weeks have a majority on the board could choose their own leader.

Cohen has been part of the moderate bloc on the board, but the unanimous support suggests that she has come to terms with the progressives on committee assignments and the key appointments she will make to the Planning Commission.

The politics of the past week have been intense, with various candidates jockeying for the office and behind-the-scenes strategies playing out. But in the end, Cohen had the votes.

Ahsha Safai was also a potential candidate – but if he’d been board president, he would have been an incumbent in January when the next board president is elected. Cohen will be termed out, so she will be president for only six months.

The outcome creates an historic situation where the two top offices in the city are held by African American women. Breed and Cohen are close political allies and will work closely together.

It will, however, be a challenge for her when she leads a board where she is not in the majority. She’s also going to be running in the November election for state Board of Equalization — also a challenge for someone with those responsibilities.

The progressives who voted for her made clear their unhappiness with the situation. Peskin, who talked about separation of powers, said that “it’s a little inappropriate for the mayor-elect to be voting for the chief of this legislative branch.” Kim noted: “I do think it’s extraordinary, we’ve never had a case where the mayor-elect had a role in choosing the head of this body.”

But then Kim nominated Cohen. There were no other nominations.

OPINION: How to fix the toxic Hunters Point Shipyard mess

The US Navy recently announced the first steps of its plan to re-test some contaminated soil of the Lennar Shipyard, after a faked cleanup called “the biggest eco-fraud in US history” was carried out under their noses. Whistleblowers and community groups have sounded the alarm on this scandal for years, and finally the Navy and the Board of Supervisors have admitted that “public trust has been completely eroded” with this development. Yet against overwhelming evidence, the city’s Department of Public Health still claims that “there are no public safety concerns or health concerns out here.”  

The city is content to wait for revised cleanup plans, from the same agencies and officials who signed off and certified the faked cleanup.

This should be completely unacceptable to any resident of the Shipyard, the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhoods, or San Francisco.

It took six years for this scandal to emerge in public, after the first whistleblowers came forward. Families moved into the Shipyard in those six years, trusting the authorities who told them the site was clean. And now, after nearly 30 years of cleanup plans, no one can say with certainty if any part of the Lennar Shipyard is safe.

We can’t continue to put the health of Bayview-Hunters Point residents at risk in exchange for new expensive housing.  The people responsible for the cleanup yesterday cannot be responsible for the cleanup tomorrow, and there must be a full cleanup of the entire site before development continues.

Here are several steps the city can take right now to make sure the Shipyard is cleaned up right.

1.  The only official body that ever exercised any oversight over the Navy’s shipyard cleanup was the Restoration Advisory Board, disbanded in 2009 after a number of confrontations with the Navy and the city. The RAB was right for all those years, and the Navy was wrong.  Restore the RAB, under the Navy’s auspices or the city’s, so the community has its own voice regarding the cleanup.  

2.  Test the entire site, starting from scratch, on Tetra Tech’s dime but independent of the Navy and Tetra Tech.  And after that testing, commit to a full cleanupof whatever is found at the entire shipyard to residential standards – as mandated by Proposition P, approved by 86% of the voters in the November 2000 election.  We can’t continue to plan to leave the worst toxins and pollution in the ground at Hunters Point. How else will anyone ever trust the Lennar Shipyard cleanup again?

3.  Today, all city decisions regarding the Lennar Shipyard – land use, oversight, community benefits – are made by an unaccountable, unelected, obscure city commission of mayoral appointees that has no record of advocacy for the communities of Bayview.  Bring the Shipyard development back under the direct oversight of the Board of Supervisors, just like the rest of the city.  

4.  At the city hearing last month, the Board of Supervisors asked repeatedly for the Navy to cancel its contracts with Tetra Tech. But has anyone checked to see how much business the city does with them? Cancel any and all City agency contracts with Tetra Tech, and pressure the Navy, state and federal government to do the same.

5.  Why is the Department of Public Health continuing to claim the cleanup is going fine when it obviously isn’t?  They keep dodging that question. It’s troubling to read what Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai wrote on June 12 for the SF Bay View: “The San Francisco Department of Public Health enjoys a revenue stream from earth moving activities at [the Lennar Shipyard] and this revenue incentivizes dangerous development activities on a federal Superfund site at the expense of public health and safety.”  Eliminate any potential conflicts of interest in the Department of Public Health’s budget or staff, and ensure that San Francisco speaks with one voice demanding a complete cleanup.

We shouldn’t wait for the Navy to tell us how they plan to clean up the Lennar Shipyard, decades after they’ve been given that responsibility and failed miserably.  And we shouldn’t let elected officials off the hook for the scandal if they aren’t willing to take specific actions to ensure a safer future at Hunters Point.  If we don’t change the oversight of the Lennar Shipyard cleanup, we are telling Tetra Tech, the Navy, the Department of Public Health, and the developer that the only crime is getting caught.

Tony Kelly is an environmental justice activist, president of the Potrero Hill Democratic Club, and candidate for District 10 Supervisor this November.

Pride, 40 years after the Briggs Initiative

Tom Ammiano leads the gay teachers in the 1978 parade

In 1978, it was scary to be a gay teacher. The Briggs Initiative, which would have banned lesbian and gay people from teaching in public schools, was headed for the November ballot. In Miami, a gay-rights ordinance had just been repealed.

But in the June Pride Parade that year, Tom Ammiano led a contingent of gay teachers, kicking off what would be a successful statewide campaign to defeat Briggs.

Tom Ammiano leads the gay teachers in the 1978 parade. Thanks, Tom, for the picture

Pride was different back then, Ammiano told me. “We were worried about the cops,” he said. “There were people who were shouting that we would burn in hell. It was nervewracking.

“But the crowd must have been big because the cheers for the gay teachers were huge. People were crying when they saw us. It was unsettled times, but when you were in that parade march, that was the sanctuary.”

Four decades later, Ammiano is still marching (with Harry Britt, Harvey Milk’s successor). Brad Chapin picture from Facebook.

Today’s Pride parade was large, festive, fun, political, and commercial. Forty years after the defeat of Briggs, the cops weren’t a problem at all; in fact, I saw a young man (from where, and why was he here?) come up to a group of cops outside the library and ask if they were going to arrest a naked man in the street.

“No,” one of the cops said, shaking his head the same way I was. “I’d have to arrest half the city.”

Today, on the main stage, a young man named Gavin Grimm told the story of his transition – and his long legal fight to use the bathroom in his high school. His poise and confidence was amazing; it’s not easy to address a crowd that big. His story and struggle were inspiring.

There are still echoes of 1978 – the Trump Administration is trying to roll back gains that the LGBT movement has made over the past four decades. That gave the parade a more political edge than we saw a few years ago. Between the Bud Light and the US Bank booths, there were signs protesting Trump’s separation of families at the border. There were people who, like Ammiano 40 years ago, are resisting fascism.

Festive, rebellious, and with a nod toward history (the anti-Briggs crew marched Number Three in the parade), here are some of the images we captured today.

Gavin Grimm, who made history as a trans teen, addresses the crowd
Celebrating history: Phillip Babcock, Daniel Hlad, Sara Hlad, Caroline Hlad, and Sean Greene represent for the LGBT Historical Society.
Angel Man poses for pix
Members of Dykes on Bikes from around the world pay tribute to founder Soni Wolf, who died this spring
Anessa Wedemeyer can’t even drink straight
And while the festivities were going on, a homeless man was trying to sleep outside the library
And Gay Shame wants you to know why there are still homeless people in the streets.

OPINION: The progressive movement was the winner in this election

The public advocate measure by Sup. David Campos will be at the heart of the debate this week

San Francisco just went through one of the most memorable elections in decades. The mayor’s race was the closest in modern San Francisco history, with Board of Supervisors President London Breed besting former State Senator Mark Leno by a single percentage point.

Voter turnout was extraordinarily high, the second highest in San Francisco history for a mayor’s race and much higher than the rest of California. That we had such high turnout in what was essentially a special election is remarkable. I have been thinking a lot about what this election means, who were the real winners and how this affects San Francisco going forward. Here are my thoughts. 

 

Winner #1 — the Progressive Movement in San Francisco. Contrary to what some are reporting, I believe this election was a resounding victory for progressives. While Leno lost to Breed, he came closer to winning the mayor’s seat than any progressive candidate since Art Agnos in the late 1980s. Leno was able to accomplish this even though he was vastly outspent, since Breed was backed by all the deep-pocketed Big Tech operatives in San Francisco, which spent millions of dollars on so-called “independent” expenditures (just as Big Tech did to oppose me and Supervisor Jane Kim in our state legislative races). This year’s outcome is especially impressive given the recent demographic shifts in San Francisco as a result of the tech explosion. 

In the meantime, a progressive wave resulted in progressives winning every other race on the ballot, including winning a new majority on the Board of Supervisors with the exciting election of Rafael Mandelman in District 8, and winning every important ballot measure. In other words, this election should be seen overall as a progressive victory — progressives won a Board majority, won all the important ballot measures, and came the closest to winning the mayor’s race in 30 years.

So there is a lot to build on, and in thinking about how to do that, here’s the crucial question: what role did ranked choice voting (RCV) play in this dynamic? Should RCV be blamed for Leno losing — or should it be given credit for contributing to a progressive wave that resulted in such impressive victories overall? 

That’s an important question which progressives will soon be debating, because the San Francisco Chronicle, Willie Brown and the Chamber of Commerce are calling for RCV’s repeal (just as they did in 2011, after the election of Mayor Ed Lee; the Chronicle then began using its newspaper as the voice of the repeal effort, which was introduced at the Board of Supervisors when I was on the Board, and nearly succeeded, but ultimately failed, to attract majority support). 

Winner #2 — Ranked Choice Voting. To answer the question I have posed about RCV, consider the following: If instead of RCV, San Francisco had been using a two round runoff system (whether a November-December cycle or June/September-November, as the Chronicle has called for), Leno and Jane Kim most likely would have been attacking each other and tearing each other down to see which one would finish in second place and get into a second runoff election against London Breed. Then, in the second election, they would have had the difficult challenge of uniting all their supporters after having just finished attacking each other.

Recall that in the 2003 mayoral runoff against Gavin Newsom, Matt Gonzalez never did receive endorsements from other progressive candidates Angela Alioto and Susan Leal, and Tom Ammiano eventually endorsed but it took him a while because of the bad feelings that resulted from the first round. So uniting supporters afterward is not so easy.

Compare that to this mayoral election — Mark Leno and Jane Kim used an innovative RCV strategy of telling their supporters to rank each other 1–2. That meant not only progressive voters but also progressive organizations were not divided over their loyalties, and could avoid bitter internal battles. The Leno and Kim campaigns did not have to engage in aggressive lobbying for support, or “me versus you” strategies, as we have seen in the past. Instead, both progressive camps could go forward together, for the most part united and with a sense of partnership. 

I would suggest that it was this kind of “collaborative campaigning” that allowed and encouraged this progressive wave to emerge. It unleashed a combined force that made the whole greater than the sum of the parts. And that sense of unity contributed mightily to progressive victories on all the ballot measures, in expanding the progressive majority at the Board of Supervisors, and in Leno coming closer to winning than any progressive candidate for mayor in 30 years.

The alternative, which we have seen during many elections before, would have been a progressive movement wracked by infighting, dissension and personal attacks among its candidates, leaders and key organizations.

Keep in mind that this kind of collaborative campaigning, based on powerful RCV coalition-building, had never been tried before to this extent in the past.

There remains a lot of nostalgia in progressive circles associated with the Matt Gonzalez-Gavin Newsom runoff. People forget that, while Matt ran an exciting and impressive campaign, at the end of the day he really did not come that close to winning — he lost by six percentage points, which is not the political science definition of a close election. The public “debate” also got very hostile, with Willie Brown (the chief backer of Newsom) goading Gonzalez by calling him a male chauvinist and racist and saying Gonzalez had “a defect in his head.” That’s what often happened during separate runoff elections, as voters were bombarded with mudslinging ads from multiple independent expenditure committees, and heard the worst things about their next mayor. 

So to my way of thinking, for any progressive leaders to join the Chronicle/Willie Brown call for RCV repeal for the mayor’s race, and return us to the days of progressive candidates tearing each other down in the first election, fumbling to reunite in the second election, in the meantime being savaged by Independent Expenditures focused on the single progressive candidate left in the race — that sounds to me like a formula for returning to mayoral elections like in 2011 and 1999 when both Tom Ammiano and John Avalos lost by 20 percentage points.

How does San Francisco build on the successes of this past June election? That’s what everyone should be thinking about. It is clear to me that we should keep using ranked choice voting as part of our local democracy. It’s the right thing to do, and the fair thing to do — and if progressives are smart, it will also help our fortunes in future elections. That’s a win-win-win.

But there’s no guarantee; we still need good candidates and the best ideas. Other candidates in San Francisco may also adopt the “collaborative campaigning” strategy, so progressives need to sharpen our campaign skills and tools in this new era of RCV elections. RCV is here to stay, not only in San Francisco but — with recent RCV wins for state elections in Maine, and pro-RCV editorials in the New York TimesWashington PostThe Economist and Vox — RCV is poised to break out nationally. And San Francisco, which is often a pioneer and was the first to start using RCV in 2004, has been leading the way.

David Campos is the chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party and a former member of the Board of Supervisors representing District 9.