The machine - Page 5

Sup. Scott Wiener is relentless, driven, prolific — and changing San Francisco in sometimes alarming ways

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Scott Wiener follows Harvey Milk, Harry Britt, and Bevan Dufty representing a neighborhood that's changed profoundly.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY KEENEY + LAW PHOTOGRAPHY

Peskin doesn't buy the arguments that Wiener's politics are nuanced and hard to pin down, saying he predictably supports those with money and power and undermines the average citizen in just about every vote. "He's fundamentally a very ideologically conservative person," Peskin said. "He's radical in his conservatism."

 

 

RENTERS PLIGHT

 

Wiener is now in the middle of a fight that pits the progressives and the two-thirds of city residents who rent their housing against the homeowners and real estate interests that have long sought to make it easier to turn housing units into condos.

The bill that created this controversy, which Wiener co-sponsored with conservative Sup. Mark Farrell, is a one-time amnesty that would allow some 2,500 TIC units to bypass the city's condo lottery (limited to 200 conversions a year) and to become condos. Wiener says it's aimed at helping TIC owners stuck in limbo with mortgages they can't refinance.

"In my view, we need housing stability for everyone, and that includes tenants and it includes homeowners," Wiener said. "We've seen in the foreclosure crisis that tenants aren't the only ones who can have unstable housing. And right now, we have many TIC owners who bought...thinking that it was going to take five-seven years to win the lottery because that's how it used to be, but now it's 15 or 20 years."

That, of course, is because so many former rental units were turned into TICs that the conversion list keeps growing. When TICs become condos, the property becomes worth more and easier to refinance.

"The financing for TICs is worse than it's ever been," Wiener said, noting that many TIC owners are underwater. "So the people in the TICs are really hurting. And if they lose their TICs, it's not like they're going away, they're going to compete for rental units."

But San Francisco Tenants Union head Ted Gullicksen said the courts have steadily eroded San Francisco's ability to safeguard rent control and prevent apartments from being turned into TICs and condos. "If we make it easy for them to become TICs, we will have lost the only weak defense we have against conversion," he said.

Gullicksen said the one-time offer will just lead to more TICs — and more evictions. "They're saying if the line gets too long, don't worry, we'll deal with it," he explained.

Gullicksen also disputes the argument that financing for TIC is difficult. The market slowed down after the fiscal crisis of 2008, "but in the past 8-12 months, they have begun to skyrocket again," he said.

Gullicksen acknowledged that Wiener has a history of supporting pro-tenant legislation, particularly during his time on the DCCC when tenant groups were at war with Wiener's predecessor, Bevan Dufty, and then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. But he said that Wiener changed after progressives took over the DCCC and he prepared to run for supervisor in a district that has gentrified, largely because of apartments being converted to TICs and condos.

"He made the decision that he was not going to be with progressives and to ally himself with the conservatives, moderates, and real estate people," Gullicksen said.

Wiener disputes the characterization, saying that he strongly supports rent control and tenants, even though he also supports TICs and other home ownership opportunities.

 

 

COURTING CONTROVERSY

 

A Guardian analysis of legislation from the past two years shows Sup. David Chiu edging out Wiener in total legislative initiatives, 153-119, with the rest of their colleagues in double digits. But while Chiu has authored more ordinances and charter amendments (49) than Wiener (33), it is Wiener that has taken on the toughest fights and found himself at the center of big controversies far more often.