Guardian forum: Everybody loves public power

Leland Yee and Bevan Dufty share a laugh at the Guardian candidates forum. Photo by Luke Thomas/Fog City Journal.

The Guardian candidates' forum was a blast -- standing room only at the LGBT Center, a great, lively crowd, and most of the candidates for mayor showed up. Not Ed Lee, though -- we invited him, but he was a no-show. That's typical -- he's skipped the vast majority of the mayoral debates and events, and when he does show up, he leaves early.

We set out to pin the candidates down on five key issues that came out of the Guardian's summer issues forums. Shaw San Liu, our moderator, forced the mayoral contenders to give us yes-or-no answers, and our all-star celebrity panel of answer analyzers (Sue Hestor, Corey Cook and Fernando Marti) weighed in and raised signs to tell us whether the candidate had said Yes, No, or Waffled.

The questions:

1. Will you support the creation of a municipal bank to offer access to credit to small business instead of relying on tax breaks for economic development?

 2. Will you support a freeze on condo conversions and the development of new market-rate condos until the city has a plan and the financing in place to meet the General Plan goal of 60 percent of all new units available at below market rate -- and then index new market-rate housing to the creation of affordable units?

3. Do you have a viable plan to bring $250,000 a year in new revenue into the city to address the structural budget deficit?

4. Will you agree to opt out of the federal secure communities program and will you reverse Mayor Newsom’s policy and direct all local law-enforcement agencies not to cooperate with immigration authorities?

 5. Will you support a proposal to either buy out PG&E’s San Francisco facilities or build a new city grid through a bond act so that San Francisco will control its own energy distibution system?

Only John Avalos answered Yes to all five. But it was remarkable how many of the candidates supported most or all of the progressive agenda we've developed. Every single candidate voiced support for a municipal bank. And every one of them said Yes to buying out PG&E's distribution system so the city could run it's own electric utility.

They had a lot more trouble with the notion of a freeze on new market-rate housing and condo conversions, and not all of them could explain how they would bring in $250,000 in new revenue. But I give them all credit for showing up and facing the tough questions and saying that, for the most part, they wanted to promote a progressive agenda.

Here are the scores:

John Avalos: Y, Y, Y, Y, Y

David Chiu: Y, W, Y, Y, Y

Bevan Dufty: Y, N, Y, Y,Y

Dennis Herrera: Y, W, Y, Y, Y

Phil Ting: NA. NA, Y, Y, Y (He came late and missed the first two)

Joanna Rees: Y, N, N, Y, Y

Leland Yee: Y, W, W, Y, Y

Jeff Adachi: Y, W, Y, Y, Y

Terry Baum: Y, Y, N, Y, Y

So five waffles on housing policy; nobody wants to stand up and say that we're building too much housing for the rich and that it has to stop until we catch up with affordable housing. (At least Dufty was honest and told us he doesn't want to cut off TIC and condo conversions).

I'm waiting for the video and I'll post it when I get it.



A typical commie gathering. No pledge. No national anthem. No invocation. Not a single, "Go Giants!" from the crowd. Bruce slept through the entire thing and the affordable housing activist guy next to me kept passing gas.

No good can come of this.


Posted by h. brown on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

Unfortunately, or fortunately as the case may be, we have a Board of Supervisors. So this wish list of Gabriel Haaland and the other Dons of Non Profit Inc will just have to wait - no matter WHO wins the mayor's office.

And I think there's a typo in number three. $250,000 wouldn't fund the weekly drunk tank visits of your average Tenderloin homeless person, much less make a dent in the city budget deficit. Perhaps you meant $250,000,000.

Posted by Right on Sister Snapples on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 4:53 pm

looks the best, having answered "no" on the most issues.

She's also the only one of the four candidates whom I like who showed up, so she gets some credit for that, even if I don't blame Hall, Lee and Aliota-Pier for not bothering.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

The reason there is a call for more revenue is because all the money is being sucked away by the pension fund and for benefits for city employees. In a few years, the pension fund will require a $800,000,000 contribution. Will the Guardian then contend we need $800,000,000 in new revenue?

Posted by The Commish on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

Enough with these right-wing hacks migrating from SF Gate, who want nothing other than to get progressives mad. The forum was great, kudos to the Guardian, and as a steering committee member of the Community Congress, I was so glad to see this mayoral forum and the others come off so well-attended (by both candidates and crowd). Great job Guardian. Now we need to hold these folks accountable for their answers.
And to Commish, just so you feel satisfied that you raised progressive hackles: city employees and worker pensions, while very costly, are not the problem--revenue, and fair appropriate taxation of private accumulated wealth is what will balance our books and enable real community-driven economic growth and progress. Stop attacking public sector workers when private wealth is the core problem.

Posted by Christopher Cook on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 7:43 pm

Christopher, how do you propose that these candidates be held accountable?

How do we hold activists accountable who fail to hold candidates accountable?

Absent democratic, participatory grassroots organizing, none of this is going to happen as it is clear that the current configuration of organizations and activists has proven itself unable.


Posted by marcos on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 8:33 pm

Ah, hello Marc! Well, I propose we all, media and activists, hold them accountable by publishing and publicizing their answers--particularly whomever is elected--and keep reminding them, and their supporters, of such. And keep the pressure on, through org's, supes, protests, letter writing, calls, emails, etc, etc.
If you want to keep ranting and attacking rather than helping, that's your business, I don't find it very useful or helpful. Why not just do your own thing to make things better, and start your own accountability organization or something, and do that, rather than attack others for failing as you see it? Just go do it. You clearly have smarts and knowledge--so just do it, rather than trashing others for not doing as you see fit.

Posted by Christopher Cook on Sep. 22, 2011 @ 10:53 pm

Christopher, either we learn from failure and adapt and evolve or we go extinct. Showing up with great ideas is clearly not enough. If that were the case, then the City would look much different now than it does.

The attack here is against the non-rich San Franciscans by those paid to do progressive activism and advocacy who believe that we can keep on doing that which fails us and will eventually succeed. That is delusional.

I've tried to do my own thing to move the progressive agenda, but over the past decade have encountered more resistance from progressives than from corporate power. I gave ten years of my life to the progressive cause in SF, getting paid less than $2000 over that time. That donation of resources gives me another ten years of license to call shit as I see it. The way to stop that is for you all to figure out something, anything, new and try it.

The Community Congress came up with ideas, none of which have been moved forward.

The SFBG has come up with ideas, none of which will move forward.

It is not like I am saying that those behind this idea hatching are bad people. It is just that observed reality indicates that there is more to solving this problem than just good ideas.

Why are you attacking rank and file San Franciscans by holding out the hope that there are viable progressive solutions at hand when the evidence clearly indicates that without grassroots organized voltage to drive the current of good ideas, our progressive circuit is dead? When was the last time you all scored a point on corporate San Francisco?

Quit yanking our chain that you've got a plan to move an agenda when the toolkit you're using has dulled to the point of ineffectiveness. Would that you all attack corporate power with the same vigor that you attack me, but it is clear that the nonprofits and advocates have been coopted with corporate and government cash to the point of utter ineffectiveness.

The left in the US is so wed to opposition, to marginalization that has grown accustomed to losing and has come to like it.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 8:15 am

plea for accountibility is moot.

First, the next Mayor is almost definitely going to be the incumbent. He wasn't at the meeting, doesn't believe in these ideas, and won't implement them.

Second, that's also the position of the majority of SF voters, who don't support these ideas. And that of course is why Lee is going to win - his views reflect the silent majority, not the activist fringe.

So what you are really complaining about here is that these ideas won't get implemented. Even Eric appears to understand that. So you're really asking how to implement ideas that a majority disagree with. And the simple answer to your question is that, in a democracy, you can't.

So the left is left with their eternal dilemma. Stay pure and remain a marginal element? Or become more moderate in order to have relevance? Let us know which you decide upon.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 8:38 am

Progressive ideas are popular, it is just that there is powerful resistance from numerically small quarters that requires organizing to overcome.

The problem is that those in power have coopted organizers through the nonprofit complex such that activists are now dependent upon appeasing corporate and political power for their meal tickets and must keep on their good side in order go be granted access in order to secure any sort of minor gains to claim legitimacy from their base.

There has been a complete rupture in any lines of accountability, as demonstrated by Christopher Cook's response to calls for accountability with attacks, so the nonprofiteers and activists are on their own, without much popular support.

The upshot is that corporate power continues to dominate, to run the table, while increasingly ineffective progressive activists and nonprofiteers continue to get paid while delivering less and less in the way of achievements.

This is not so much a reflection of what policies San Franciscans support, rather the immensity of corporate power in working its will on a rigged political system and the complete short-circuiting of any effective progressive challenge to that.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 10:21 am

The whole business of activism is using whatever resources and influence you have to skew the results of elections in your favour.

The corporations, perhaps understandably since they have interests but cannot vote, use their money to further their goals. That's hardly a shocking position for them to take. You cite corporate power, but corporations feel under attack from regulations, tarriffs and high taxes.

But likewise, the left, also seeks a result different from a neutral result, by deploying their resources. So unions will back a candidate whom they think will protect them. Or individual activists, like some who post here, seek to project power far beyond their vote by pounding the sidewalk or profusely blogging.

Then there is the majority in the middle, who do not play these games, and take no political action except to vote. IMO, it is those we should be listening to. And given that ideas like public power have never gained traction with the majority, then I'd question attempts to badger, bully or brainwash them into changing their minds.

Some progressive ideas may be popular. But so are some Tea Party ideas. We only discover which commands a majority at election time.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 10:44 am
Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 11:03 am

along with union money, activists and bloggers etc.

So it's a balanced fight. Reasonable voters should probably ignore both extremes. But it's not an unfair fight.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 24, 2011 @ 8:21 am

Bogus response. The corporate side of this fight has both money for ads and mailers -and- pays to put even more feet on the ground than we do.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 24, 2011 @ 9:07 am

And on top of all of that, the corporate elite, both legally and illegally bribe public officials and agency staff constantly to get their way.

Grassroots progressives are -totally- out gunned in these fights. It's amazing that we ever win at all.

The fact that we often -do- win, shows that we both, have truth on our side, and are damned good at what we do.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 24, 2011 @ 9:28 am

At least in SF, the bias, bullying and brainwashing is almost all from the left. Just look at the SFBG as a good example of that.

While if you have any evidence of "bribery", then I suggest that you contact the DA.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 24, 2011 @ 9:33 am

i'm with eric brooks on this one. their resources are greater than ours.

Posted by suzanne on Sep. 26, 2011 @ 11:23 am

You talked about "their" resources and "our" resources. You immediately frame the world in terms of a "them versus us" class war.

So when I go WalGreen's to buy a toothbrush, I see a convenient drug store that happens to provide a living for tens of thousands of their employees and shareholders. What do you see? A rapacious corporate villain raping and pillaging the nation?

Businesses aren't the enemy. IBM isn't going to rape your sister. Chevron isn't going to steal your car. WalMart won't mug you. They are just businesses - you know - the enterprises that exists everywhere and give people jobs. America is built on them. So, for that matter, is Europe and Asia.

Businesses aren't the antichrist. They're just consensual collections of people working hard to try and improve the lives of Americans.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 26, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

in an effort to increase profit.
For example: PG&E.
PG&E killed 8 people in San Bruno less than a year ago, and this disingenuous turd defends them whenever he has the chance.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 26, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

that's a public entity. Accidents happen. But I'm more interested in your statistical analysis that shows that P,G & E or any private enterprise is provably more reckless and dangerous than a public entity.

I await with evidence.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 26, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

Bhopal, Exxon Valdez, BP Horizon (and other BP accidents), the Corvair, Pinto and all of the other automobiles which unnecessarily kill tens of thousands per year, coal mining deaths due to extreme negligence, 100,000 plus deaths per year due to -proper- usage of pharmaceutical medications, the nuclear power industry, the tobacco industry (millions of premature deaths), Monsanto in Anniston Alabama, myriad disease outbreaks from factory farms, and many, many, more...

Looks like private enterprise wins the reckless and dangerous prize hands down.

As long as we leave out war - and that's a 50/50 joint venture between government and corporations...

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 26, 2011 @ 7:56 pm

You claim to want accountability yet when I hold you accountable your response is to attack. You all don't want accountability at all, not for you, not for elected officials.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 8:44 am

So who is Snapples? (I thought that was Arthur, R.I.P.)

Posted by Rick H on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 12:56 am
Posted by Guest on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 4:14 pm

You say, "Nobody wants to stand up and say that we're building too much housing for the rich and that it has to stop until we catch up with affordable housing." But Terry Baum said, "There is 125% of housing needed for the rich in San Francisco. No more housing for rich people until there is housing for the rest of us." Isn't that close enough? She got applause on this, the audience didn't miss it.

Posted by Guest Carolyn Myers on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 1:07 am

Housing prices in San Francisco are not stabilized. Adding new market rate housing, by definition, pushes down the price of housing when demand is soft. In no other jurisdiction would a Board of Supervisors or Planning Commission not face recall for taking proactive steps to reduce property values.

For every new unit of market rate housing entitled, how many San Francisco families who purchased over the past decade, in accordance with stated City policy encouraging greater home ownership, will be at greater risk of foreclosure?

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 9:05 am

That recall politicians who don't try and manipulate RE prices? That's a crock - I've never known a single case.

If the pols were seriously about wanting cheaper housing, they'd remove much of the rules, restrictions and NIMBY'ism that prevents such investment. A cluster of high rises in the SE part of the City would do wonders for affordibility.

House prices were high way back in the 1970's. And every political attempt to lower housing costs has failed, because they're still pricey. (Just like rents are still high after 30 years of rent control). The government doesn't control housing prices because they can't control RE prices.

Not everyone who wants to live here, can afford to live here. It's that simple.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 10:19 am

Conservatives lament that San Francisco has too few home owners and that lack of commitment diminishes civic values. In jurisdictions where elected officials count on the votes of a majority of homeowners, the issue of property values are sacrosanct. In no other jurisdiction are policy makers zoning for much more housing now that housing prices are in the toilet and headed down the drain.

Lower housing prices combined with lower wages does not increase affordability, rather it takes everyone down with it into a deflationary spiral, with developers shifting value from individual homeowners into their pockets, with enough thrown at elections to scare politicians into representing the interests of their constituents.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 10:33 am

civic responsibility. That's why two thirds of Americans own their own home, and most of those who don't, would like to.

The market value of that housing is governed by supply and demand, and it's quite simply too deep and broad a market for governments to have much effect, except at the margin.

Moreover, the Constitution does not allow governments to adversely impact the value of your home without compensation.

All a government can do is grant enough permits to build enough homes to maintain some reasonable balance between supply and demand. And in SF, the problem is supply. Not just the fact that we don't have much buildable land - in fact there's a lot in the SE of the city. It's the zoning rules and NIMBY attitude of many that restricts the construction of housing in sufficient numbers to bring down the price.

In some areas, governments should just admit that they can't control things. Unlike many businesses, RE isn't controlled by a few large entities. Rather, it's a marketplace with millions of families trying to make rational decisions. Having a bigger, better supply would help them more than trying to micro-manage the market.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 10:53 am

I love it when right wingers start a comment with the phrase "It's well known".

It's also well known that Jesus founded America and aliens from space are visiting us and are about to bring our society to a new utopia....

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 11:01 am

In ase you might not have noticed, the housing market is mired in the margins.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 11:16 am

They're off their peak but the situation is in no way like Concord - where homes have lost 75% of their value. Good quality, nicely-maintained homes in San Francisco STILL sell and they usually sell for more than they're priced.

Posted by Right on Sister Snapples on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 11:20 am

Asking price versus sales price has no bearing on the relationship of mortgage to home value which is the cause of foreclosures.

There have been more than 1000 homes in some state of foreclosure at all times this year:

For every home in foreclosure, how many are underwater? How many are close? My contention is that the base of homes exposed to negative equity gets broader the further prices fall.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 11:33 am

because the SF job market has been strong, at least at the levels where home buyers are drawn from. The last 2 purchases on my block have been right at the asking price - that's the sign of a healthy, balanced market.

Not too much inventory either, so the 500K to 1M space is in demand.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 11:48 am

266 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area 10.1

Here's Republican Arthur Bruzzone making the case in 2009 that Obama underestimates SF unemployment:

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

high-earners who are the likely buyers of RE, and low/minimum wage earners who don't affect the Re markets anyway.

I'm seeing a bouyant RE market in the high value NW part of the city. I can't comment on the avenues or flatlands.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

Your anecdotal experience is meaningless when compared to a rigorous investigation of the data and ongoing construction trends.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 12:52 pm

talk to homeowners, realtors, bankers etc. to see what really happening block by block.

While you just scavenge the internet looking for evidence that might conceivably support your pre-existing prejudices.

But anyway, whether we're in a good or bad Re market should not inform public policy, nor allow it to intrude where it isn't required.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 24, 2011 @ 11:14 am

Paul T,

Once again: could you please supply some evidence or facts to back up your claims, which are mainly a series of assertions. Or do you have some crystal ball or book in the sky that you reach for?

Posted by Michael W. on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

from any poster. While we can all usually find some convenient cite or reference that supports any particular point of view we like.

I base my judgments on a variety of sources, and not just what you can find on the internet. Determinations made from real life generally trump some self-serving citation from the web.

But ultimately this place is a venue for expressing opinions, not facts. Evidence here is typically something trumped up to support a rigid ideology, not something objectively sought out in a process of discovery of the truth.

We're debating here, not performing science.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 24, 2011 @ 11:19 am

I suspect Marcos rents and so doesn't follow these things. Although much of CA is mired in RE declines, and even Oakland has been pummelled, SF RE has held up well. Average home sale price is still well north of 600K, and the pricey stuff is even stronger.

Also SF has international appeal, and we're seeing a lot of Asian buying - the weak dollar makes SF RE prices look cheap to them.

Quality always sells and SF is a highly desirable place to live. It's not going to be cheap unless we have a earthquake at 8.5 or above.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 11:46 am

The market can vary by location. But the general rule about this RE slump, is that the higher end had stayed solid, while the badlands have been trashed. 'Twas ever so.

Good news for Pacific Heights; bad news for Bayview.

Posted by PaulT on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 12:35 pm

So public policy should encourage policies that are bad for San Franciscans by entitling more housing constructions to exacerbate a decline in property values?

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

the prices agreed between consenting adults in a private contract. Nor should it focus on second-guessing the prices of bonds, shares, commodities, real estate or any other asset that is privately traded.

Whether you think high home prices are a good thing or a bad thing probably depends on whether you own a home or not. To me, it's neither good or bad - it merely is what it is.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 24, 2011 @ 1:49 pm

Thats Marc Salomon, looking out for the value of his condo.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 25, 2011 @ 5:21 pm

Until the greed, crimes, and policies of the "1%" and their ignorant enablers are dealt with,anything else is a diversion, a distraction and doomed to failure.
If Corporations are People
These People should be in Jail.
Have a good weekend y'all.

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 9:52 am

That is not going to happen unless we make it happen.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 10:09 am

Our Nurses actions are a good start, also Take Back Wall Street etc, but probably to little and way to late, the die is cast and we're all gonna keep on suffering, eventually even the T-douchebaggers will come to realise how they have been duped and victimised like the rest of us. I posted a comment on 'Bruce's Blog' under his SF Foreclosure item, repeating one simple little thing we all could do rather than sitting idly by. Here's a link to some more info.

Posted by Pat Monk.RN. on Sep. 23, 2011 @ 11:04 am

Today's edition of Democracy Now has a great report/debate on how a fake health benefits 'crisis' was recently manufactured in order to put the U.S. Postal Service into premature and unnecessary debt and thereby break middle class workers and unions, and shove vital pubic services toward corporate privatization.

This story shows, using a distantly related but eerily similar example, how corporate elites are manipulating worker benefits everywhere, in every venue, to undermine unions and the lower classes; exactly as is being done locally with our public employee 'pension crisis'.

Watch/listen at:

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 27, 2011 @ 4:26 pm

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