The progressive wing of the Board of Supervisors (including, to her credit, Sup. Jane Kim) has placed three important reform measures on the November ballot. That the measures are headed for the voters is a clear indication of the shift of power at the board — progressives no longer have a reliable six votes. But the progressives still have the ability to push issues — and in an mayoral election year, these measures will provide a valuable gauge for the candidates and create broad-based organizing opportunities.
The measures include a ban on the demolition of more than 50 units of rent-controlled housing; a ban on further admissions charges at parks or leasing park facilities to private companies; and a requirement that participants in the Care Not Cash program get an actual housing unit — not just a shelter bed — before their welfare grants are cut.
The supervisors are under immense pressure to back off from those proposals, and if two of the five supporters pull their names before the final deadline of July 14, the measures won't make the ballot. Some argue that the controversy over the measures could threaten the mayoral campaign of progressive standard-bearer John Avalos. But Avalos told us he supports all three measures and has no interest in turning back. He's right — the supervisors should hold firm and insist on a public vote on all three.
The Care Not Cash reform has already generated a lot of controversy. Mayor Ed Lee has denounced it, saying it will destroy the entire program, and two mayoral candidates, former Sup. Bevan Dufty and Assessor-Recorder Phil Ting, have come out against it. But the measure is pretty simple and straightforward: it says that a bed in a shelter doesn't count as "housing."
That's a critical definition, because under Care Not Cash, the city tries to put homeless welfare recipients into housing, mostly single-room-occupancy hotels — and in exchange, takes back most of the welfare grants. But by law, a bed in a shelter counts as a home — so the minute the city finds someone a cot to sleep on in a noisy, sometimes dangerous shelter with no privacy and arbitrary curfews and rules, that person loses most of his or her welfare grant. Along the way, the city locks up shelter beds for people in the CNC program — so when other homeless people show up for a place to sleep, they're told there's no room. That's a sign of a broken system.
The housing demolition measure comes as a response to a badly flawed proposal to rebuild Parkmerced — tearing down hundreds of rent-controlled housing units in the process. The parks measure is an attempt to stop Phil Ginsburg, head of the Recreation and Parks Department, from turning public property over to private for-profit firms in an effort to raise cash.
The community groups and grassroots sponsors of these measures have a responsibility to organize and mount serious campaigns; there's going to be big-money opposition. But it's worth having all three on the ballot in November.