What the preservation vote says about the 2012 supervisors

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UPDATE: Important update at the end of this story

What does it mean that a historic preservation law favored by developers and promoted by Sup. Scott Wiener passed the Board of Supervisors 8-3? Maybe nothing. Historic preservation is a strange poliltical issue, favored by some of the wealthy white homeowner types who love pretty buildings (and aren't so good on other issues), and this thing was sold as a way to help low-income people and affordable housing. But the reality is that the Wiener measure will make it harder to declare historic districts, and thus will take away a tool that the left can use to stop uncontrolled commercial development. And remember: The affordable housing community wasn't pushing this bill, and, for the most part, hasn't had problems with historic preservation. The most progressive political club in the city, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, came out strongly against the measure and urged Sup. Christina Olague, a co-sponsor, to oppose it:

We are extremely troubled that you appear to be buying into the flawed, bogus and self-serving arguments by SPUR and other supporters of this legislation that historic preservation is classist and leads to gentrification, interferes with the production of affordable housing and is a tool of San Francisco’s elite.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

There was a way to address the issues of low-income people in historic districts without making it harder to block inappropropriate development, but Wiener's bill went much further. And while I respect Scott Wiener and find him accessible and straightforward, and I agree with him on some issues, he isn't someone whose basic agenda promotes the interests of tenants or low-income people. His supporters are much more among the landlord class and the downtown folks. The San Francisco Chronicle, which is a conservative paper on economic and development issues, loved the legislation.

So what happened when this got to the Board? Only three people -- the ones the Chron calls "the stalwart left flank of the Board" -- voted no.

John Avalos, David Campos and Eric Mar. They are now the solid left flank, the ones who can be counted on to do the right thing on almost every issue. Once upon a time, there were six solid left votes. Now there are three.

What does this mean for the other key issues coming up, including CPMC, 8 Washington, and the city budget? Maybe nothing. As I say, this issue is complicated. Olague told me, for example, that she's really worried about working-class people who can't afford to comply with the increased regulations that come with historic districts. Her vote doesn't mean she's dropped out of the progressive camp, or that she (or Sups. Jane Kim and David Chiu) can't be counted on in the future. I really want to believe that this was just an aberration, a vote where I'll look back in the fall and say: Okay, we disagreed on that one, but nobody's perfect

Still, it's kind of depressing: The dependable progressive vote is down to three.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I didn't know when I posted this that Olague had spoken to the Milk Club leadership after the club's statement went out and the club has since issued a correction:

Due to a misunderstanding, Supervisor Christine Olague's position on the Historic Preservation Commission's critical role in the life of San Franicsco was misrepresented in our weekly newsletter. Supervisor Olague is looking into ways to help continue Historic District status for the Queer community, the Filipino community in the South of Market area, and the Japantown area. She is specifically looking for wording that would help these plans remain viable and welcomes any questions on her position and on her plan. Our apologies to the Supervisor for this unfortunate mistake.

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