“That’s Sacramento” the old timers say, as they shake their heads. For the entire time that I’ve worked on housing justice in San Francisco, housing activists have told me about about our inability, year after year, decade after decade to defeat the Ellis Act and Costa Hawkins, two laws that were written for and by the real estate industry to limit the power of tenants, and the power of cities to govern themselves and preserve affordability.
Even though Democrats have been in control all this time, maybe this shouldn’t be so surprising: California Democrats get a huge amount of campaign cash from these same real estate industry players. Meanwhile these laws have, of course, caused mass displacement.
No matter how many evictions I encounter, the stories of displacement keep coming, and keep me up at night. One counselor told me two stories from a recent hour-long shift — two ladies, one in her 80’s, one in her 90’s, sisters. They lived with another sister who died; she was the leaseholder. The two ladies were evicted, victims of the Costa Hawkins rule that does not allow subsequent occupants to keep the same terms of the lease. Now, they spend their days at the Senior Center, get one meal, and their nights huddled together at various hospital emergency ward waiting rooms.
Another story was of an older man crying as he talked about his desperation in finding a place to live. He’s sleeping on a kitchen floor. Even this is only available to him during certain hours, and he has no other apartment privileges. He pays $650 a month in cash. At a price point like that, He wouldn’t even qualify for most of the affordable units that are slated to come online in the coming months and years.
Meanwhile, my friend Patricia Kerman faces an Ellis eviction from her home of decades, a handful of blocks away from the Tenants Union. Kaushik Dattani, one of the “Dirty Dozen” repeat Ellis evictors, bought her building and “went out of the business of being a landlord” — despite the fact that he owns dozens more properties, and has done this repeatedly to other tenants. I went with Patricia to Sacramento to demand that San Francisco make a modest adjustment to the rule to prevent the repeat offenders, and the worst of these Ellis abuses.
However, those Democrats with real estate connections let us down again. With the failure of action from Sacramento Democrats, she and her roommate have nowhere to go but the street.
Then came the election of November 2016 — a whole new reason to keep me up at night. As the daughter of immigrants and a lifelong political activist I felt like a stranger in my own country. I have never been so grateful to live in San Francisco. I have never felt more clearly the need to support my neighbors who lack the privileges I have — or as a woman of color, to fight for space at the political table.
In this brave new world we live in now, it feels like anything could happen. Everything we knew about how politics works has been turned inside out. There are looming threats from far right forces on many fronts. We will have a Real Estate Speculator-in-Chief with zero experience at governance, who rouses his base with racist and sexist messages about leadership. Most likely, housing discrimination will be much harder to fight. Rent Control could be overturned. Federal housing subsidies could disappear, leaving millions more like these elderly neighbors in desperate situations across the country. We have no idea what is to come, but we know we have a fight ahead.
At the same time, we also saw massive enthusiasm, trust, and respect for a socialist who ran as a Democrat on a message of economic justice and resisting this inequality and corporate influence. We see a growing movement of people who are getting engaged in new ways they never expected in order to take their country back from corporate and right wing control.
We also see leaders in our city and our state who are using unexpected language of resistance.
The beautiful Joint Statement from California Legislative Leaders on November 9th brought tears to my eyes- They said that they too woke up feeling like strangers in their own country, and will do all they can to fight Trump’s vision of America. The next day our mayor surprised us with his statement that San Francisco will continue to be a sanctuary city despite threats from the Federal Government.
Of course, I’m skeptical that this was more than empty words. The hard questions are: What state and local programs are going to suffer, and who will suffer most, when the federal government stops funding? And how can California, and especially socially liberal coastal cities, be a refuge for the most vulnerable if it costs too much for immigrants, the poor, the disabled and elderly, the LGBTQ, the low income workers, or even the progressive organizers to live here? In the case of Mayor Lee in particular, it seems likely that these words were platitudes, with no plan behind them.
But the fact remains that these words were said. Politicians know which way the wind is blowing, and they know this message is resonating right now. What better time could we imagine to reject the corporate and real estate agenda, and fight for the platform and leadership we really want?
California is only one state, but it is huge. And right now, the Democratic Party is the biggest game in town. With a supermajority in both houses, control of the governorship, and both Senators and three quarters of the US Representatives. The California Democratic Party could potentially be a significant force against many areas of federal onslaught — education, health care, climate change, progressive revenue, criminal justice reform, and of course, affordable housing policy. The California economy is big enough to create a real alternative the rest of the county can envy, or imitate — single-payer health care, overhaul of our criminal justice system, bans on fracking and offshore drilling, and, of course, finally repealing those laws that keep forcing San Franciscans out of their homes.
However, we can’t count on the Democrats in power right now. It’s up to us turn these feelings of resistance and justice that we feel right now in California into concrete action in every way we can — whether it’s direct action, new political formations, or organizing. Additionally, it’s up to us to build leadership and expertise that is NOT beholden to moneyed interests, and is firmly rooted in principles of economic and environmental justice, while developing the leadership of people of color and women.
On Sunday, Democrats in San Francisco and across the state will get to choose delegates to represent them at the State Party level. These delegates will vote on endorsements, party platform, and party leadership. Voting for these progressive Democratic Delegates is merely one small step in the direction of moving the overall power base in California to the left-but it is something we can do NOW.
I have joined a slate of candidates in AD 17 and AD 19 which includes young activists and experienced political office-holders, political strategists, labor and community organizers, Berniecrats, and longstanding progressive democratic clubs, tenants rights advocates who have come together under one platform: We will resist Trump AND the Corporate and Real Estate Democrats who fail to offer a just alternative.
Deepa Varma is a longtime housing activist, former eviction defense attorney, and now the director of the San Francisco Tenants Union.
**Update: Our message of change and challenging corporate control of the Democratic party has resonated so deeply already that a competing slate including many centrist politicos coopted our platform almost line for line, and call themselves progressive! We are clearly doing something right.
The Tenants Union, Milk Club, Berniecrats, and Progressive elected officials and many Progressive neighborhood Democratic clubs endorse the Reform Slate.
The Democratic Party controls California – and yet, this deep-blue state still suffers under Prop 13, still allows landlords to control the political agenda (at the cost of thousands of evictions and a homeless epidemic), and is going to struggle to create an effective response to Donald Trump.
That’s because the California Democratic Party is still a corporate-run operation, dominated by the Clinton wing, not the Sanders wing. And as we saw in November, that’s not a recipe for success.
Moving the state party is a slow process, but it needs to start now. And one of the ways it can begin is with cities like San Francisco sending reformers to the state convention.
We strongly support the Reform Slate that is pushing to move the party to the left. There are seven men and seven women running in D 17, which is the East side of town. We endorse Alysabeth Alexander, Angeles Roy, Davi Lang, Deepa Varma, Lila Carrillo, Mia Satya, Yayne Abeba Wondaferow, Ben Becker, Christopher Vasquez, Peter Gallotta, Rafael Trujillo, Reid Chalker, Tom Gallagher, and Wade Woods.
In D19, the West side of town, we support Amy Erb, Kelly Groth, Li Lovett, Maureen Dugan, Brandon Harami, Ian Fregosi, Gabriel Medina, Xavier Aubuchon-Mendoza, Brigitte Davila, Chelsea Swall, Wendy Aragon, Alan Wong, Jonathan Lyens, and William Walker.
There’s a competing pro-landlord slate in D17, and the decision will be made by a small number of voters – the ones who show up. You have to be a registered Democrat, and you have to turn out on Sunday/8.
AD 17 meets at the Laborer’s Hall, 3271 18th St., starting at 10am. AD 19 meets at the Doelger Café, 101 Lake Merced Blvd, starting at 1pm.
This is, to channel our favorite presidential contender of 2016, a HUUUGE election. There’s an increasingly scary presidential race, control of San Francisco City Hall up for grabs, and crucial state and local ballot measures.
In June, most local progressives did well, and while the Bernie Bump was part of that, the main reason was turnout. When progressives go to the polls, we win. So don’t be alarmed by the length of the ballot: We have spent months researching the ballot measures. We have watched the candidates. We have done our best to provide you with guidance. So take our suggestions (or disagree with them) – but please: Vote.
We were big supporters of Bernie Sanders, and we will repeat his recent comments: This is not a time to vote for a protest candidate.
Donald Trump is by far the least qualified, scariest candidate for president in most of our lifetimes – and that’s included some truly bad candidates. Trump is another level altogether.
We are, of course, disappointed in the choice that the Democratic Party made (and we could still argue that Sanders would have been a stronger candidate against Trump). Clinton is a corporatist and not someone who is going to fundamentally alter the power that big businesses and the very rich hold over American government. Not by herself.
On the other hand, she might very well appoint Supreme Court justices who vote to overturn Citizens United. She’s more of a hawk on foreign policy even than President Obama – but she’s got the experience and the level-headedness to avoid Trumpian disasters. And it’s a big deal to elect the first woman to the White House.
It’s critical that Clinton wins – and that she get a US Senate and a House not dominated by fight-wing Republicans. This one’s easy: Vote for, work for, support Hillary Clinton for president.
This one will hardly be a contest: Harris won the top-two primary overwhelmingly, and is a lock to be the next US senator from California. As we said when we endorsed her in June, we could do worse: The US Senate, even if Democrats take it back, will remain a fairly conservative body, and Harris will bring an energetic and more progressive perspective. She will not, we suspect, be another Barbara Boxer, who was among the most liberal members of that body; her politics have been more to the center – and she’s always been a cautious politician. Example: Rep. Loretta Sanchez, her opponent, supports the repeal of the death penalty (Prop. 62). Harris has been quiet on the issue. While she declined to file capital cases as San Francisco district attorney, she’s aggressively pursued executions as attorney general.
US Congress, District 12
Pelosi was never our first choice for the job – back in 1987, we went with Harry Britt, and over the years, we’ve found plenty of reasons to be critical of Pelosi. She’s been a better national leader for the Democrats than a representative of San Francisco: Her constituency includes a lot of conservative Dems, so she has walked away from San Francisco progressive politics (think: same-sex marriage, which she avoided for years). But there’s actually a chance that the Democrats could retake the House – and if the Republicans continue with a huge majority, she may decide to retire after another term anyway.
State Senate, District 11
This race has been the political story of the year in San Francisco: Jane Kim, widely considered the underdog, heavily outspent, emerged in first place, leaving Scott Wiener and all of his supporters stunned.
Wiener’s response has been to dramatically change the tenor of the campaign. In the primary, the two candidates were (relatively) respectful, holding a series of issue-oriented debates and talking about policy. Since the primary, Wiener has gone heavily negative, attacking Kim from every direction, in every way he can.
Kim was the beneficiary of a heavy turnout in the primary (and the support of Bernie Sanders, who is still a key endorser). She also ran an exceptional campaign – and was part of a progressive movement that recaptured the Democratic County Central Committee.
But this time around, the lines are not quite so clean and clear: Kim, for example, has endorsed both Ahsha Safai and Kimberly Alvarenga in District 11 and is not endorsing anyone in D5. In both of those cases, control of the Board of Supes is in the balance, and Kim has not been part of the progressive campaigns.
Oddly, she was supported by an independent expenditure committee funded in part by Pacific Gas and Electric – that’s odd because Kim has been a supporter of CleanPowerSF, which PG&E hates.
Still, on the issues, there is no real choice: Although she voted for the Twitter tax break, which has been terrible for the city, Kim has largely been a consistent progressive on the Board of Supes. Wiener supports Airbnb and has not been good on controlling and enforcing the short-term rentals law. He’s a big supporter of the Google buses (which have driven up rents and led to displacement). He didn’t support the anti-speculation tax.
Both Wiener and Kim are smart, hard-working, accomplished legislators. But they offer very different political perspectives. There are plenty of moderate Democrats in the state Senate; the representative from San Francisco needs to be someone who will push the edge on both social and economic issues.
More: Wiener has consistently supported the more conservative candidates for office and is part of the group that has been allied with Mayor Ed Lee. The person who wins this office will be poised to run for higher office (sometime in the not-so-distant future, a Congressional seat will be open, and there’s a mayor’s race not that far off). That person will also be able to raise money and influence local politics.
If Wiener’s the winner, the conservatives get empowered. If Kim finishes on top, the progressives get a champion.
No contest there. Vote for Kim.
State Assembly, District 17
The primary two years ago that put David Chiu in the Assembly was a dramatic moment in SF politics. Chiu ran against David Campos, and won narrowly, giving the moderate faction in SF a victory and putting a more centrist candidate in the seat once occupied by progressive champion Tom Ammiano.
Chiu, who ran for supervisor as a progressive, quickly switched sides, to his own political advantage. He is an ally of Scott Wiener, who endorsed him for Assembly over an LGBT candidate (and is now arguing that the city needs LGBT representation in Sacramento) and Chiu is now supporting Wiener.
With expanded term limits, Chiu could be in the Assembly another 10 years, and may wind up doing good things, and might earn our support at some point. But given his history and his support for the wrong candidates, he’s got a way to go.
Assembly, District 19
Here’s the odd thing: Ting, who represents the more conservative side of the city, has been more aligned with the progressives on a lot of issues and endorsements. He’s backing Kim over Wiener. He’s made a point of promoting better tax policy and closing Prop. 13 loopholes. (Next, maybe he can take on the idea of expanding property tax to “intangibles” like stock holdings.) He’s often voted with the progressives on the DCCC. We’ll give him the nod for another term.
Superior Court Judge
Like the Kim-Wiener contest, this is Round Two: Hwang came in first in the primary in June, and will face his closest competitor, Paul Henderson, in November. It’s an usual race – although judges are technically elected officials, they tend to despise elections, and most of them retire mid-term to allow the governor to appoint a replacement. In this case, in a remarkable not to democracy, Judge Ernest Goldsmith is leaving at the end of his term. So it’s an open seat – and while we were surprised that only three candidates entered the race, the finalists are both entirely qualified for the job.
Paul Henderson has spent much of his career as a San Francisco prosecutor, and was expected to replace Kamala Harris as DA when she was elected state Attorney General. Instead, then-Mayor Gavin Newsom made the unprecedented move of appointing the police chief, George Gascon, to the job. Henderson then moved on to work as a criminal justice advisor to Mayor Ed Lee.
He has the support of Scott Wiener and most of the other Lee allies.
Victor Hwang has been a public defender, prosecutor (of hate-crimes cases) and a public-interest civil-rights lawyer. He is the only candidate to get the highest possible rating from the local bar association (“exceptionally well qualified.”) In terms of geopolitics, he is also the candidate of Jane Kim and her allies; most of the progressive movement supports him.
A third candidate, Sigrid Irias, finished third and out of the running in June.
It’s hard to pin judges down on issues, since they typically shy away from any political stands, arguing (not entirely accurately) that the Code of Judicial Conduct forbids them from saying much of anything about anything. But they can talk about how the courts are run – and on that front, Henderson was impressive. He told us he thinks the judges should hold court-administration meetings in public, and that most trials and court hearings should be televised.
Hwang was more cautious, saying that TV cameras should be considered on a case-by-case basis, and he wasn’t as clear about opening the court administration to the public.
But our analysis from the primary hasn’t changed:
Henderson is part of the Ed Lee operation. For five years – while the local cops shot men of color with impunity, while the tech industry took over the city, while thousands were evicted – he was sitting there as a deputy chief of staff and criminal justice advisor. He told us that he “wasn’t the one making the decisions,” but he was part of that team. (And it’s not as if he was forced to take that job – law firms all over town would have lined up to hire him if he didn’t want to be part of the Lee Administration.) In the battle for San Francisco, he chose his side.
Hwang has a long and distinguished record at the Asian Law Caucus and Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach. He’s been a pretty good member of the Police Commission (which lacks a majority of good members). He is a former Bay Guardian Local Hero. Our only caveat in supporting him is that the local defense bar, particularly the Public Defender’s Office, has serious concerns. As we said in the spring:
As a prosecutor, they say, he’s been unreasonable, pushing for harsher sentences and refusing to drop charges that don’t make sense.
Hwang told us that as a prosecutor in the Hate Crimes Unit, he may have been “too aggressive” in pushing criminal enhancements that some of his predecessors bargained away. He made it clear when he arrived in that job that he would not dismiss hate-crime allegations under almost any circumstances – which is fine in theory, but in practice, the cops and DA’s Office often file charges that turn out to be bogus, and most line prosecutors in this city work with the defense to avoid trying cases that aren’t justified.
We understand the need to prosecute hate crimes, and prosecutors and defense lawyers often clash. But the folks in the PD’s Office and the DA’s Office typically treat each other with respect and maintain a professional relationship, and the concern we are hearing in this case is unusual.
We urged Hwang to make an effort to build bridges across the community – and there are signs that he is taking that seriously. After his impressive showing in June, his is the prohibitive front-runner, but he is still working hard, showing up at community meetings, working to build relationships, and impressing us that he would be an excellent judge.
In the end, this is a pretty clear choice. Vote for Victor Hwang.
Board of Education
The San Francisco public schools are in far better shape than they were 15, even 10 years ago. The last two superintendents have been solid leaders; enrollment is increasing, and SF is ranked as the best big-city school district in the state.
And yet, there are serious lagging problems. The achievement gap remains terrible – African American students are still far behind white and Asian students by every possible measurement. There are some schools – mostly in upscale neighborhoods – that raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside money to hire more teachers and enrich the curriculum, while other schools, mostly in lower-income areas, scrape by on inadequate state money.
The elementary schools and high schools are improving faster than the middle schools, and we often wonder why there are not more K-8 offerings or why the district can’t change the model (like K-3, 4-6, and 7-8, or even 7-9?)
The enrollment lottery continues to frustrate a lot of parents who push for neighborhood schools – which, frankly, would make the two-tiered system that we currently have much worse.
Oh, and the next board will have to choose a new superintendent.
And along with all of that, we have what could become the most serious problem the district faces: The housing market is so bad, and teachers are paid so far below that they need, that it’s impossible for educators to live here. The district started the year with a teacher shortage, and the shortage of experienced, skilled teachers is only going to get worse if pay scales aren’t dramatically increased.
In fact, teacher pay, and teacher housing, is the defining issue in this election. And it should be.
The Teacher’s Union has endorsed four candidates who have pledged to work for higher salaries and to look for ways to use surplus land to build housing for teachers. We’re with the union on three.
It’s a tricky question. Typically the Guardian endorses a full slate of candidates in these sorts of races; four will win, and we should back the best four. That’s what the union did.
But this is an odd case, and there are politically strategic reasons for our choices.
Let’s start with the incumbents.
Matt Haney, the current board president, is a clear choice for re-election. He’s been a progressive leader on the board, would be a great person to head the next search for a superintendent, and has our support. (We agree with his suggestion that some school names should be changed, particularly those associated with slave holders. We could add a few more. But that’s become a distraction in the race.)
Sandy Fewer, who has been a solid member of the board, is stepping down to run for supervisor.
The other two incumbents are Jill Wynns and Rachel Norton.
Wynns has been on the board so long it’s hard to remember what the schools were like without her. This would be her seventh term. She has been on the right side of some critical issues, and is the only sitting board member who opposed the commercialization of the schools when the board voted to allow the Golden State Warriors to sponsor a sports field. She has developed a national reputation as a School Board leader.
We appreciate and respect all that she has done. We respect her long institutional memory. We were deeply unhappy with her support for former Superintendent Arlene Ackerman, who was terrible, and her support for JROTC (there should be no military recruitment in high schools). Still, we endorsed her four years ago.
But she is not an ally of the teachers. Besides, six terms is enough. She deserves thanks for her work, and it’s time to move on.
The teachers, reluctantly, added Rachel Norton to their slate. She has been part of the more moderate wing of the board, and is, in fact, part of the moderate/conservative side of SF politics: She ran for DCCC as part of the real-estate-friendly slate. She has worked with Fewer on the school assignment system, and pledged to the union that she would make teacher pay her top priority.
We have not, generally, been fans of Norton, who somewhat dismissively said on her blog that commercialization in the schools is no big deal:
“Principles are pesky things sometimes. On the one hand, I am bombarded by commercial logos every day and I do manage to (most of the time) utilize critical thinking about the companies with whom I choose to do business. If a company is offering an expensive, desirable and useful device free to students, what’s the big deal about a small corporate logo on the case?”
There are two really solid challengers. Stevon Cook ran four years ago, and came up just a handful of votes short. He’s a really impressive candidate who got our endorsement last time. He survived a troubled childhood in San Francisco, thrived at Thurgood Marshall High School, went on to Williams College, and came back to help his community. He’s been an academic advisor at Marshall (one of the most challenging high schools in the district) and now runs a program that seeks to expand computer-science education in the public schools. He will be an excellent School Board member, and we are happy to endorse him.
Mark Sanchez, a career teacher, was a School Board member from 2000 to 2008, and was a leader of the progressive bloc. He called out Ackerman on her abusive style and ineffective policies, fought against JROTC, and worked to improve education for communities of color. After he lost a race for D9 supervisor in 2008 to David Campos, he became principal of Horace Mann Elementary, and is now principal at Cleveland Elementary. He has the political experience, teaching experience, administrative experience, and progressive instincts to be an even better board member than he was last time around.
So we like Haney, Cook, and Sanchez. If we endorse Norton or Wynns, there’s a chance that both of them, with the advantage of incumbency, will win, and one of the three better candidates will miss the cut.
So this time, vote for three – Haney, Cook, and Sanchez – and let’s hope that all of them win.
Community College Board
Talk about a tough job: The elected members of the Community College Board are going to have to figure out how to get through a rigged accreditation system, maybe (we hope) help find a new accreditor, deal with a loss of $35 million in state funds, restore a shrinking enrollment, and get back on working terms with a faculty that was on the verge of striking.
Not even remotely easy for a board that only recently got the authority back to make its own decisions after years of working under the thumb of a state monitor.
But the stakes are immense: City College is one of the most important institutions in the city, a path to higher education for tens of thousands of residence and a source of job training for some of the city’s most important industries. It cannot be allowed to fail; in fact, it can’t be forced to downsize to the point where it’s no longer accessible to the San Franciscans who need it.
There are four seats up. We are endorsing three. As with our School Board endorsements, that’s a strategic move to make sure that the three who are best positioned to build the school for the future get seats.
Rafael Mandelman is an incumbent and served as board president through a very difficult time. The faculty union isn’t thrilled with him, and we understand that. But he is a longtime progressive who is committee to the school and took a leadership role in a tough time. He deserves another term.
Tom Temprano ran two years ago, and finished just out of the running. A young LGBT activist and small business person, he understands the role City College plays in training the next generation of workers and providing educational opportunities for all. He also understands that the faculty are underpaid – and that without good teachers, nothing else matters.
Shanell Williams has been a student trustee – and a leader in the fight to save City College. She is exactly the kind of person who ought to be seeking elective office, and has a bright political future.
BART Board, District 7
This one’s as easy as it gets. The incumbent, Zachary Mallett, has been a disaster. He bungled the BART strike, he showed no respect for the workers, he has shown no evidence that he is capable of continue in office, and he needs to be replaced. Lateefah Simon is about the best candidate for BART Board that we have ever seen, a longtime community activist, former director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, Macarthur Genius Award winner, and someone who understands that transit is a social justice issue.
This district covers Southeast San Francisco and much of the near East Bay. She is supported by the BART workers’ unions – and by pretty much everyone else with any sense in San Francisco and the East Bay. We could not be happier to endorse her.
BART Board, District 9
The Transformation of Bevan Dufty could fill a small book: Once: Willie Brown staffer, strong supporter of a corrupt mayor, elected supervisor on a split ticket against Tom Radulovich, whose seat he is now seeking, and Eileen Hansen, who had most of the progressive support … and the last-minute swing vote to put Ed Lee in the Mayor’s Office. Now: An effective and independent former head of the mayor’s office of homelessness who was part of the Reform Slate for DCCC and who now wants to go back to public service on the BART Board.
People learn, we suppose. We are still stinging from the day when then-Sheriff Mike Hennessey had the votes to become mayor after Gavin Newsom moved to Lieutenant Governor, but Dufty called a recess and went and called Newsom and changed his vote and went with Lee. The city is still suffering deeply from that terrible decision.
But Dufty proved to be a solid advocate for homeless people in the city, and has moved into the progressive camp, and promised us (we got you on the record, Bevan) that he has no desire to run for supervisor again and wants to spend the next ten years fixing public transit. There’s a lot to do. He’s an experienced, smart guy. We’ll give him a chance.
Board of Supervisors
You can see the equivalent of a two-party contest this time in the Board of Supes races; it’s as if we are watching the Democrats and Republicans fight for control of Congress. Not that the moderate/centrist/pro-tech-industry-and-real estate candidates are even remotely Republicans; on social issues, almost everyone in SF politics is a liberal. But on key economic issues of regulation, development, and taxes, there are progressives who think the city is better off with more regulations on rent, evictions, speculation, displacement, housing, the tech industry, and real-estate in general, and moderates who think that we should allow the free market more of a role in deciding who gets to live here.
Four years ago, there were all sorts of contests where we either had several good candidates, or limited choices. This time around, it could not be more clear.
The progressives now have a narrow 6-5 majority on the board, a critical check on a mayor whose politics have failed the city. In three districts, key progressive supes are termed out. If Sup. Jane Kim wins the state Senate race, her district will go to a mayoral appointee and ally.
So the progressive side needs to win all six races – and in every case, there is a progressive candidate and a mayor-friendly candidate, a clear choice between different visions of how the city should be run.
We are supporters of ranked-choice voting, but for the most part it doesn’t come into play this time around. Every district has two major candidates. Every time, there’s a dramatic choice. Our recommendations follow.
Sandra Lee Fewer
The district that basically covers the Richmond has been a key swing area in local politics. Since the return of district elections, it’s represented by Jake McGoldrick, a neighborhood and labor activist who was mostly with the progressives, then Eric Mar, who has been a progressive stalwart and leader. Sandra Fewer is the clear and worthy successor.
Fewer has impeccable credentials for the job. A parent of three public school kids who became a PTA activist; an organizer with Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth; a two-term School Board member. She’s a tenant advocate who worked to force the school district to abandon a plan for market-rate housing on surplus property and turned it instead into affordable units. She’s got amazingly widespread support, from state Sen. Mark Leno and Assemblymember Phil Ting to Sups. Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin, Norman Yee, David Campos and John Avalos to four of her School Board colleagues (who don’t often agree on everything but agree Fewer is a great candidate).
She has the proven ability to bring people together to make things happen.
Her main opponent, Marjan Philhour, has never held elective office, and her main experience in politics is as a paid fundraiser. She’s the candidate of the mayor’s allies – London Breed, Scott Wiener, Mark Farrell. We’re with Fewer.
After the brutal, knock-down-drag-out battle that got Peskin elected to the board last fall, this is an easy one. He has no serious opponents. He has demonstrated in just the few months he’s been back on the board that he’s a watchdog for the public, a master of legislation, and an exceptional supervisor. We’re a bit concerned that he has not taken more of a leadership role in the fall elections: If the progressives don’t win all six seats, the mayor’s allies will be back in control, and Peskin is entirely missing in the critical D5 race. Still: No contest. Vote Aaron.
Board of Supervisors, District Five
The future of San Francisco could come down to this district contest, and we are more than a bit disappointed that so many progressive groups and leaders are either staying out or siding with the incumbent, London Breed.
We will admit, right up front, that there’s racial issue here: Breed is an African American woman who grew up in a tough, violent housing project, raised by her grandmother, lost two siblings to drugs and the criminal justice system, and to her immense credit graduated from UC Davis and got a master’s degree from USF. She is a smart, tough woman, and her personal story is inspiring.
Preston is a white guy who has worked as a tenant lawyer and runs a statewide tenant organization. He owns his home; she is a renter.
It’s hard for a lot of people on the left to endorse a straight white man over a woman of color. We are acutely aware of that. It’s a factor in this contest, and it ought to be.
But Breed has a record in office, and it’s very troubling.
Breed ran four years ago against Mayor Lee’s appointed incumbent, Christina Olague. It was one of the strangest elections in local history: Some progressives supported Community College Board member and Sierra Club leader John Rizzo; some backed Julian Davis, who is the only person in history ever to get and then lose a Guardian endorsement after he lied to us about a foul history of inappropriate behavior.
After we dumped Davis, were prepared to endorse Olague, but the new owner of the paper told us couldn’t do that. Not long after, Tim Redmond (who now runs the Guardian) was fired.
Olague had the mayor’s support for much of the campaign, but lost it at the end after she voted not to impeach Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, in one of the most complicated and politically difficult issues in recent memory. The mayor’s pal Ron Conway and his wife poured about $100,000 into an independent expenditure committee to trash Olague. The real-estate industry was already there.
So Breed won.
Whatever her attitudes toward Mayor Lee when she ran for office, she quickly changed. Over the first three years of her term, she voted consistently with the mayor, his allies, and his agenda.
Breed was on the wrong side of the key votes on Airbnb, supporting rules that let the company turn desperately needed housing into hotel rooms with no effective enforcement. She then voted to make a bad law even worse. She appointed the most conservative supes to key committee assignments. She refused to support the anti-speculation initiative. Most of the time, she has been on the side of Mayor Ed Lee’s allies.
If there are two parties in San Francisco today – and sadly, thanks to the mayor, there are – she is a member of the more conservative group.
Over the past few months, facing a challenge from the left, she has moved somewhat. But her record is clear.
We have never questioned her motivations, or her sincerity. But she has been on the wrong side too often, and if she is re-elected, we believe she will be part of what could be a renewed moderate bloc that will undermine the progressive agenda. In a worst-case scenario, if Mayor Lee (embattled and unable to get anything done) decides to step down, it’s critical that the progressives hold six seats so we don’t get another mayor like Lee.
Preston has a long history as a tenant advocate. He was a leader in the fight to amend the Ellis Act in Sacramento, supported tight restrictions on Airbnb, supported the anti-speculation law, and has been on the right side of pretty much every issue in the city.
He has a history (as a tenant lawyer) of negotiating good deals, so the district would see someone in office who doesn’t quickly cave to developers or the likes of Airbnb (which has devastated the rental housing stock in D5). He’s got all the qualifications that would make him a great supervisor — a command of the issues, political experience, and unerringly progressive stands. He much better represents the politics of D5 than a moderate like Breed.
Preston is running an inspiring grassroots campaign that is offering a serious challenge to the incumbent. We give him immense credit for taking this on; it’s not easy to challenge an incumbent who has the support of the mayor’s big-money operation. Preston is doing this for the progressive movement and for the issues; He has our strong support in what could be a critical district race.
The last two supes from this conservative district were, in order, a total disaster (Tony Hall) and an honest, principled, but very right-leaning legislator (Sean Elsbernd). Norman Yee won four years ago, and has effectively managed to be both a neighborhood advocate, a representative of his district, and someone who is open to progressive ideas.
Yee is often a calming voice on the board, an experienced elder statesman who has served on the School Board, worked in the community, and earned widespread respect. Nobody on any side of an often fractious board ever questions his motivations. He does not always agree with us, but we’re glad to have him on the board.
His main challenger, Joel Engardio, was a terrible member of the DCCC who voted consistently with the real-estate industry and its representative, Mary Jung, who appointed him. We’re happy to endorse Norman Yee.
Again: About as clear a choice as there can be. Ronen, chief of staff to Sup. David Campos, has a history as a civil-rights lawyer and a part of the progressive movement. Josh Arce, her opponent, was appointed to the DCCC by the real-estate industry’s lobbyist, Mary Jung, voted with her most of the time, and singlehandedly shot down a resolution suggesting that the San Francisco Police Department adopt modern standards on use of force.
That was a telling moment that nobody should ever forget. As 48hills reported:
“The resolution had been delayed and delayed after the Police Officers Association opposed it. But Hene Kelly, along with Kelly Dwyer, who recently had to leave the committee after she was rent-hiked out of town, worked for months to come up with an alternative everyone could live with.
They met with the public defender. They met with the cops. They drafted and redrafted.
“I spent three months to get this before the committee,” Kelly said. I had police officers agreeing with our changes. I had to turn it in ten days before the meeting, and it was in the agenda packet 72 hours ahead.”
That’s the process. But last night, something else happened: Member Joshua Arce introduced a “substitute” amendment that amounted to worthless mush. And the policy arm of the San Francisco Democratic Party went with the meaningless statement by a vote of 13-10.
… It’s yet another sign of the takeover of the local Democratic Party not only by allies of developers and the real-estate industry but by people who are unwilling to show any backbone at all on anything at all.”
That’s Arce. He is trying desperately to say that he and Ronen are both progressives, but the record shows otherwise. He is an odd character with strange political ambition: When he was 18, he ran for state Assembly from his dorm room at UCLA with, according to the LA Times, a platform that included “slapping harsher penalties on businesses that hire illegal immigrants.” Now he’s saying he’s the guy to represent the Mission.
We have serious issues with anyone who tries to run as someone he isn’t – and that’s what Arce is doing.
Ronen would be an excellent supervisor. She’s got the experience, the political savvy, the community credentials to be a worthy successor to Tom Ammiano and David Campos. She’s straightforward and honest about her positions. We are happy to endorse her.
Another district where a candidate of the real-estate industry is trying to run as a community advocate. Ahsha Safai is a house-flipper who was sued for mortgage fraud, an ally of Mayor Lee, a candidate who repeatedly makes claims that aren’t true and who would be a terrible supervisor. Somehow, he has some labor support, which is disturbing: Why Local 2, the hotel workers’ union, would back a candidate whose policies will only drive more union members out of town is beyond our comprehension.
We will quote Nato Green from the SF Examiner:
“When Safai ran for supervisor in 2008, he claimed to have “saved St. Luke’s Hospital” on his doorhangers, when, in fact, he made no effort. In 2007, Sutter Health revealed plans to close St. Luke’s Hospital. On behalf of the California Nurses Association, I was involved in building a broad labor-community coalition that worked with practically everyone in San Francisco but Safai to save St. Luke’s.
Sutter [later] appointed Safai as a “community representative” to an ad-hoc community advisory board, and then he promptly took credit for saving St. Luke’s. There were countless interminable hearings, rallies and meetings on the way to saving St. Luke’s, yet we never saw Safai. It gave the impression that Sutter appointed him to this role just to give him something to tout on the hustings.
In 2010, Safai was appointed to the Housing Authority Commission by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom. The commission is responsible for fiscal and operational oversight of the agency and accountability for the director. Safai and four other commissioners so failed in these basic oversight functions that Mayor Lee replaced them before their terms ended.
In March 2013, the Budget and Legislative Analyst Office issued a report that, among other things, was scathing about the Commission:
‘The SFHA Board of Commissioners allowed the financial condition of the authority to reach a critical point, largely as the result of its own inadequate oversight. The Commission did not review SFHA’s financial statements in the 17-month period from October 2011 through February 2013, and did not address financial risks highlighted by the financial statements.’”
This is the candidate who says he can most effectively represent D11.
Worse: Safai is using nasty, misleading hit pieces to go after Alvarenga, suggesting that she would support “pot clubs on every corner.”
Please: Kim Alvarenga is a mom, a former chief of staff to Tom Ammiano, a political director for SEIU Local 1021. She’s a totally decent, honest person who has spent her life working for underrepresented people, while Safai has worked to build a successful real-estate operation. She is a young LGBT woman of color who would be a huge asset to the Board of Supes. We are disgusted by Safai’s tactics, and we fully support Alvarenga.
State ballot measures
The need for funding for K-12 and community college facilities is dire. There’s no way to argue against $9 billion in state bonds to help local communities upgrade ebonds come out of the overall general fund, in this case to the tune of $500 million a year, and while everyone in Sacramento wants to borrow money for good causes, it’s hard to find many who want to raise taxes on the wealthy to pay for it. Still: Vote yes.
Medi-Cal hospital fee
Complex, technical, but the bottom line is that private hospitals would pay a fee to pay for uninsured and Medi-Cal patients. If you think that private hospitals in CA are just charities, go check out the financials of the likes of Kaiser and Sutter Health. They make billions. Vote yes.
Revenue bond vote
This is part of the same agenda that brought us Prop. 13. The anti-tax folks want to make it harder for government to raise money. Revenue bonds aren’t backed by taxpayers; they’re backed by, say, the income from an airport or a public-power agency. The reality is that this is funded by a rich Central Valley farmer who doesn’t like the governor’s plans for new water tunnels or high-speed rail. We don’t like the tunnels, either; we do like the trains. Either way, this is a really stupid way to make policy. Vote no.
This is going to pass with about 70 percent of the vote, and it should. The state Legislature has a habit of introducing new elements to bills at the last minute, just before a session ends. Rotten special-interest riders hike onto unrelated bills; legislator voting on hundreds of measures don’t get a chance to scrutinize what’s going on. Prop. 54 also mandates that all sessions of the Legislature and its committees be streamed on video. Vote yes.
Tax extension on the rich
In 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession, the state imposed a modest increase in taxes on the most wealthy, people with incomes of more than $250,000 a year. That tax is set to expire in 2018. The rich are even richer, the needs are even more serious, and drop of as much as $9 billion in state revenue would be devastating. Yes, yes, yes.
The state’s tobacco tax is only 87 cents a pack. Prop. 56 raises it by $2. The evidence is pretty clear that smoking costs the state billions in health-care costs, and that higher taxes reduce use (particularly among young people.) Vote yes.
Prop. 57 – Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature measure for this fall — is a significant step toward reforming the state’s crazy, racist, inhumane criminal justice system. The measure would allow the possibility of parole for some 30,000 nonviolent felons who are now stuck in long sentences. It would also require a judge – not just a prosecutor – to decide whether a juvenile should be tried as an adult. And it allows prison authorities to allow inmates “good time” – that is, a reduction in their sentences for good behavior. In reality, only a few thousand would likely be set free any single year, and while this won’t solve the prison overcrowding problem, it will help. Vote yes.
English language learning
The description of this measure is a bit confusing, but its impact would be simple: It would guarantee that public schools in California have the right to use bilingual or immersion education as part of the curriculum for English learners. It would overturn outdated and ineffective “English only” rules. Every credible education group supports it. Vote yes.
Overturning Citizens United
Prop. 59 is one of those policy statements that we often see on the ballot in San Francisco but not so much at the state level. It has no immediate impact; it doesn’t change any laws. But it would put California voters on record urging Congress and the courts to overturn the Citizens United decision that allows for unregulated campaign spending by corporations. The momentum to overturn that decision is growing – and for California, the nation’s largest state, to take a strong position would send a national signal. Vote Yes.
Condoms in porn films
This is one of those measures that sounds sensible – until you stop and think about it. Prop. 60 would mandate that adult film performers use condoms “during filming of sexual intercourse.” Sure, public health and workplace safety, right?
Except that the performers themselves are opposed. Public health organizations are opposed. Because this makes no sense and shows no comprehension of how the porn industry actually works these days.
There are still big outfits like Vivid Studios and Kink.com, but a lot of the industry is now pretty homegrown – performers make and produce their own videos. Under Prop. 60, if they aren’t using condoms, they could be sued anytime. Their real names and addresses could become public.
And it seems to be a solution in search of a problem: There isn’t one documented case of a person getting infected with HIV on a porn set in California. Performers are tested regularly.
There’s no question that the state regulators who handle workplace safety – that is, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration – is behind the times on creating rules for porn studios. There may be instances when a performer who wants to use a condom is told not to – and that’s a problem. But Cal-OSHA should be writing the regulations – and this measure will likely either drive porn films out of state or underground, in either case encouraging less, not more, regulation. Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are against this. So are we.
This one also sounds confusing and bureaucratic. What it really does is mandate that the state pay no more for prescription drugs than the federal Veterans Administration. It’s part of a national movement that says Big Pharma charges too much for medicine. The state has bargaining power, the VA generally gets way better deals than the state does, and the California Nurses Association supports it. So does Bernie Sanders. That’s good enough for us.
Death penalty repeal
YES, YES, YES
The death penalty is barbaric. Most civilized countries have long since abolished it. It’s also hugely expensive and doesn’t work.
Prop. 62 is the latest effort to get California out of the state-sponsored killing business. The last time around, the voters narrowly rejected a death-penalty repeal, but the vast cost (hundreds of millions of dollars), the growing evidence that innocent people have been sentenced to death, and the understanding that the death penalty has no deterrent effect, is imposed overwhelmingly on poor people of color, many of them with serious mental-health issues, is starting to turn the public around. This should be the year. Please: Vote yes.
California has better gun laws than a lot of states, and this will make the rules even tighter by focusing on two problems: It’s still relatively easy to buy ammunition (even over the Internet) and it’s hard to get guns out of the hands of people who are legally banned from owning them (felons and people convicted of domestic violence). Yes, Prop. 63 is a vehicle for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who proposed it, to get his name out on a hot issue while he prepares his campaign for governor. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.
The measure would require background checks for people who buy ammo and create a court process for removing guns from people who aren’t supposed to have them. Vote yes.
This isn’t the law we would have written; it’s complex and has all sorts of rules that might not be needed. But still: Legalizing pot is about, oh, 50 years overdue. The measure allows local communities to set regulations around sales, sets licensing standards, and will bring the state hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax money. Oh, and save millions in wasted law-enforcement time. We all know prohibition is silly and doesn’t work. Vote yes.
Carry out bags
The plastic-bag industry, which sells something like a billion bags a year in the state, put this on the ballot to confuse voters and prevent the kind of real regulation that is in Prop. 67. It’s not an environmental issue; the real environmental groups are all against it. Vote no.
NO, NO, NO
Death penalty enforcement
This one’s the opposite of Prop. 62. It’s devious and potentially terrible. The measure would seek to speed up the death-penalty process by eliminating Constitutional protections and imposing unrealistic timelines on prosecutors, defense lawyers, and the courts. It’s impossible for this to work without seriously risking the execution of an innocent person. It would overload local courts with work they aren’t prepared or funded to do. It’s a cynical attempt by the death-penalty lobby to confuse voters. No, No, No.
Plastic bag ban
San Francisco phased out single-use plastic bags years ago – and we seem to be doing fine. The idea of reusable shopping bags has caught on, the economic and consumer consequences are zero – and the environmental impacts of getting rid of a few billion plastic bags, which don’t decompose, aren’t recyclable, and kill fish and wildlife are huge. Vote yes.
San Francisco ballot measures
A few years ago, the San Francisco Unified School District was closing schools and worrying about declining enrollment. Now the opposite is happening – more kids are going to the local schools, many of which are old and in need of upgrades and repairs. Prop. A is a $744 million bond act that would pay for at least one new school, a new arts center, a modest amount of affordable housing for teachers, and facility and tech upgrades across the system. Vote yes.
City College parcel tax
In a perfect world, the incompetent rogue accreditors who deeply damaged City College of San Francisco would be forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages. In this particular world, it doesn’t work that way. City College, a jewel in the city’s educational system, got a raw deal from a group that is about to lose its own license, and the property owners of the city need to step up and make sure the school continues not only to survive but to grow and thrive. Prop. B is not a new tax; it’s just the reauthorization of an existing $99-a-parcel level that provides $15 million a year to the school. City College is going to lose some $30 million in emergency state money next year, and the Prop. B revenue is essential. None of the money can go to administrator salaries; it’s all about paying teachers and providing classroom support. Vote yes.
Affordable housing loans
Back in 1992, the voters approved $350 million in bonds to make loans to property owners for seismic upgrades. For whatever reason, most of that money was never spent, and there’s at least $200 million left in the fund. Prop. C doesn’t add any additional bonds or taxes; it would just allow the city to redirect existing approved money to the acquisition and rehab of affordable housing. This one’s easy – vote yes.
Elect our elected officials
YES, YES, YES
Prop. D is one of the more important items on the ballot, and could have a huge, lasting impact on local politics. It would end the practice of allowing the mayor to fill vacancies on the Board of Supervisors and instead give the voters that chance. It’s textbook good government: There is no other example we can find where the executive branch of government fills vacancies in the legislative branch. If a state Assembly or Senate member steps down, the governor doesn’t appoint a replacement – the voters do. If a member of Congress steps down, the president doesn’t make an appointment – the voters do. The odd San Francisco charter rules have allowed all kinds of corrupt political manipulations; at one point, when Willie Brown was mayor, six of the supervisors were his appointees.
Under Prop. D, if a vacancy on the board occurs, a special election would be held within 180 days. The mayor could appoint a temporary caretaker to fill in, but that person could not run for a full term. It makes perfect sense and is long overdue. Vote yes.
It’s silly that this is such a big deal and had to wind up on the ballot, after much back-and-forth and political argument, but it’s a big deal in a lot of neighborhoods. The Department of Public Works, looking to save some cash, a couple of years ago decided that the trees that populate many local sidewalks would no longer be the city’s problem and would suddenly be the responsibility of the nearest property owner. The result: Trees aren’t getting maintained, and some owners are ready to cut them down so they don’t have to pay for trimming every few years. Prop. E would return this job to the city, where it always used to be. The $19 million cost will be covered by a remarkably progressive parcel tax based on the frontage size of a lot. No reason to oppose it.
Youth voting in local elections
The strongest argument for allowing 16-year-olds to vote in local elections (other than the fact that adults haven’t always done so well at the job) is that voting is a habitual behavior. People who vote this year tend to vote next year. People who never started don’t start. And 18 is a tough time to start a new habit, since many people are leaving the community for college or a job, have too much on their minds, and don’t think about voting.
If 16-year-olds can vote, it will also give them more incentive to learn about and get involved in local politics. All good. Yes on F.
Department of Police Accountability
This is a fairly mild, but modestly helpful, measure that would give a little more independence to the Office of Citizen Complaints, the civilian agency that oversees investigations into police misconduct. The proposal would rename the OCC the Department of Police Accountability, give the agency its own budget (separate from the Police Commission and Department) and would mandate that it conduct a performance audit on police use of force every two years. It won’t solve all of the problems of the SFPD, but it’s a small step.
YES, YES, YES
In New York City, the Office of the Public Advocate is a big deal: The elected official who holds the job is charged not with running the city (like the mayor) or keeping track of the finances (like the controller) or passing laws (like the City Council) but with making sure that the people who live in the city have a place to go when they have problems.
In fact, in NYC, if the mayor leaves office, the public advocate is next in line for the job. The current mayor started off as a public advocate.
The San Francisco proposal is more modest. The public advocate elected in SF would not fill a mayoral vacancy or have a set-aside budget. But Prop. H would create a unique position with the day-to-day responsibility to make sure that local government is working for the people of the city.
We argued for a larger, more robust office that would oversee the Sunshine Task Force (and have the ability to order the release of records) and the Office of Citizen Complaints, among other things. But the version the supervisors put on the ballot is more limited: The Public Advocate would conduct investigations and audits, oversee the whistleblower program, and appoint the director of the OCC.
It’s a good start for something the city needs. Vote yes.
Funding for seniors and adults with disabilities
Sup. Aaron Peskin announced shortly after his election that he would never again vote for a “set-aside” – a mandate that a certain amount of the city budget go for certain programs. We get it: Set-asides make it harder for the supervisors to make the city budget work, particularly in hard times. There are lots of worthy causes, and we can’t put them all on the ballot.
But this measure, the so-called “Dignity Fund,” is one of those that we are willing to support, because it targets a vulnerable population that is often left out of the budget wheeling and dealing. As the number of seniors living in the city increases, and the cost of living makes all of their lives more difficult, we can accept the argument that there needs to be baseline funding for those services. Vote yes.
Funding for homeless services and transportation
Sales tax increase
We don’t love the idea of these two linked ballot measures. Mayor Ed Lee and Sups. Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener, who are trying to criminalize homeless people (see prop. Q), want the voters to pass a (regressive) sales tax to fund services for the homeless and transportation. One of the reasons that there are so many homeless people is that evictions have been epidemic since the mayor gave Twitter and other tech firms at tax break to come to town. One of the reasons that Muni has so much trouble is that Lee, Wiener, and Farrell support the idea of the giant Google buses that take up Muni stops and pay nothing even remotely near their share of the cost. More: The city has the right to charge developers more than $80 a square foot for Muni service. The mayor and the sponsors of this sales tax went with $18. They want to tax the working people of the city and not tax the developers, the Ubers and Lyfts of the world, the Google buses, and tech companies.
It’s enough to make you sick.
But in the end, the city needs the money, the services are critical, and the tax hike is the only way to pay for the (dubious) set-aside. Hold your nose and vote Yes.
The voters of San Francisco years ago adopted a measure that was supposed to take the politics out of public transit by creating an “independent” commission to oversee Muni. But that commission is entirely appointed by the mayor, can make all sorts of decisions on fare hikes, route changes, and budgets with no oversight by any elected official, and if you ride the buses, you know it’s not working. Prop. L would give the supervisors the ability to appoint three of the seven commissioners of the body that oversees transportation in the city and an easier veto over budgets. Vote yes.
Housing and development commission
YES, YES, YES
Prop. M is one of the more significant measures on the ballot. In theory, key decisions about land use, development, and planning go to the Planning Department, which answers to a commission. In practice, a lot of the most important work these days happens in the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the Community Development. That all happens behind closed doors, and there are hundreds of millions of dollars involved.
Prop. M would create a commission to oversee MOHCD and the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Yes: This is a significant move to reduce the power of the Mayor’s Office. But the SF Mayor’s Office has far too much power, more than most city executives have. Yes on M.
Non-citizen voting in School Board elections
Thousands of parents in San Francisco have no direct say in how their children are educated because they aren’t US citizens. Prop. N is a bold idea that could have national implications: Why not let parents and legal guardians of all kids, citizen or not, vote in School Board races? It’s just a short-term trial – the law would expire after three School Board elections unless the supervisors decided to renew it. Vote yes.
Office development in Hunters Point
Prop. O would allow Lennar Corp. a special exemption to build 5 million square feet of new office space at Candlestick Point and Hunters Point without regard for the city’s annual limit on office space.
This is not good planning policy for anyone – the residents and businesses in Hunters Point or the rest of the city.
Lennar already has the right to build 10,500 housing units, 885,000 square feet of retail space, and between 2.5 million and 3 million square feet of office space. The environmental impact report on the project analyzed 2.5 million square feet. The (inadequate) transit and infrastructure mitigations were based on 2.5 million square feet.
Under current law, passed by the voters in 2008, that office space has to be included in the city’s annual limit of 950,000 square feet, and will count against the limit. Lennar gets a preference – in essence gets to be first in line for permitting – but the law keeps the annual limit intact.
Now Lennar wants to essentially doubt the amount of office space – and exempt it from the annual limit.
There are very good reasons for that limit: The city only has the infrastructure to absorb office space, and the jobs and new people it brings to the city, if there are some controls on how much is built every year. The clear facts, borne out by numerous studies, are that new office space doesn’t pay even a fraction of the cost of providing Muni, fire and police, water and sewer, and other costs it puts on the city.
Under Prop. O, not only would the office space in Lennar’s project be exempt, but it wouldn’t count against the limit anywhere else.
If you think the city’s roads, bridges, and already maxed-out transit systems can handle another 20,000 people – and that’s about how many workers will be filling those 5 millions square feet of space – you haven’t spent much time on the streets lately. In fact, the mayor and Sup. Scott Wiener want to raise the sales tax – a regressive tax that hits poor people the hardest – to pay for better Muni service, and the amount that gets raised won’t even bring the current system to the level it needs to be. The EIR on the project notes a long list of “significant and unavoidable” impacts to traffic congestion and Muni service – and that’s at about half the size.
The 10,500 housing units Lennar is building are supposed to help the existing affordable housing crisis. If we add 20,000 new workers to the area – and keep building office space at a rate of nearly 1 million square feet a year everywhere else in the city – that housing capacity will be instantly be taken up. Which, of course, is why Lennar wants this: The giant developer wants to be sure that there’s enough demand to keep prices high for all of its market-rate housing units. Prop O would create a net deficit of more than 2,000 affordable housing units.
We are not opposed to more development in Hunters Point; Lennar already has all the permits and entitlements it needs to go forward with a very large project. We could ask, as some community activists in the neighborhood have, whether moving a bunch of new tech offices into a low-income area will be a gentrification and displacement machine, but that’s almost beside the point. Lennar supported the 2008 ballot measure that allowed all this development, and agreed at the time to a smaller amount of office space and agreed that the annual limit should apply. Now the developer wants to change the rules. Vote no.
Competitive bidding for affordable housing
Why is Sup. Mark Farrell declaring war on the city’s nonprofit affordable housing infrastructure? Why is he trying to make it harder for the city to build desperately needed housing? It makes no sense, and Prop. P represents a profound misunderstanding of how affordable housing works in this town.
Affordable housing is built by community-based nonprofits, typically within their communities. It’s not as if they’re trying to enrich themselves – the money is carefully monitored and goes for as many units of housing as possible.
Farrell wants a minimum of three competing bids for every project that the city helps fund. Should a Mission-based nonprofit compete with the Chinatown Community Development Center for a project in Chinatown? Why? Who would benefit?
Nobody, really. But if there are not three competing bids, no project can go forward. Do we really need another obstacle to building affordable housing? Vote no on P.
Tents on the sidewalk
This is one of the most ridiculous, mean-spirited measures to make the city ballot in years. It’s nothing but a pointless way to stir up sentiment against homeless people for political points.
Prop. Q would ban camping on the sidewalks in San Francisco. Guess what? That’s already the law. Prop. Q would give the campers 24 hours’ notice and offer them shelter (for one night). Guess what? There’s nowhere near enough available shelter for the existing homeless population.
Why is this even on the ballot? One reason: So Farrell and his ally Wiener can use homelessness as a wedge issue in the state Senate campaign. Disgusting. Vote no.
Neighborhood crime unit
Again: A bad piece of public policy that’s on the ballot only for crass politics. This time it’s Wiener leading the charge, and he wants 3 percent of all sworn police officers to be assigned to a new Neighborhood Crime Unit that will focus on quality-of-life issues. Guess that that means? More harassment of homeless people.
This is no way to assign officers and manage the Police Department; in fact, it shifts resources away from more serious crimes.
Hotel tax allocation
There’s very little opposition to this measure by Sup. Eric Mar that would slightly change the way existing hotel taxes are allocated. The measure would create an Ending Family Homelessness Fund and a Neighborhood Arts Fund, and each would get a small percentage of the money raised by the hotel tax. Vote yes.
Prop. T is the latest example of the Ethics Commission putting measures on the ballot to restrict (or at least put some sunshine on) political influence peddling. The last time around, we thought a measure that swept nonprofits up in the lobbying net was too broad, and we have similar concerns about this one: So-called “expenditure lobbyists” – any organization that spends money organizing to influence City Hall – include, of course, fake astroturf groups and corporate-sponsored operations like Airbnb turns out to prevent new regulations. But they also include a lot of much smaller nonprofits, and the city needs to find a way to make a distinction.
In this case, if bars any lobbyists from making campaign contributions to anyone they have contacted on behalf of a client in the past 90 days. Makes sense, but the supes (who will have the right to amend this later) need to make sure that it’s not stopping genuine activists who happen to work for affordable housing or tenant groups from participating in politics. For now, vote yes
Affordable housing requirements
NO NO NO
This deceptive measure is simply an assault by the real-estate interests on San Francisco’s affordable housing laws. The measure allows apartments rented to people who make as much as 110 percent of median income to count as “affordable” in market-rate projects. That means developers don’t have to provide as many units for lower income people – and can make a lot more money.
The current rules say that a project sponsor has to make 25 percent of their units “affordable” or pay a fee to the city. Building apartments that rent at a rate working people can actually afford in this city requires the developers to in essence subsidize the rent. Raising the level to 110 percent means a lot less subsidy – since in many parts of town, that rent level is already close to what the market will bear.
This isn’t about building “middle class housing.” It’s a giveaway to developers who want to find a way around SF’s affordable housing laws. The campaign is funded largely by the California Association of Realtors – and tech titans Ron Conway and Michael Moritz each just dropped $49,000 into the till. Vote no.
Sugary beverages tax
Don’t believe the hype, well-funded by the soda industry: This is not a “grocery tax.” It’s a tax on soda, levied on the distributor, not on the store. Its aim is not so much to bring money into the city but to discourage people (particularly kids) from buying a product that can lead to serious health problems.
If we had our way, California would treat soda the way we treat alcohol and cigarettes – don’t let kids buy it in the first place. But that’s never going to happen in Sacramento, so cities are looking for ways to slow down what has become a public-health epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Sugary drinks are part of that problem.
Why this strange 1-cent-an-ounce tax on distributors, not a tax on the sale in stores? Simple: The state won’t let cities do specific sales taxes like that. San Francisco can’t, for example, put its own tax on cigarettes – or on soda. So it has to be an excise tax on the distributor.
This is not a perfect solution – taxes of this sort are always regressive, and if state law allowed, San Francisco could use a more refined approach. But like so much of what cities have to do today to get around a state Capitol that is controlled by powerful lobbies, it’s the best we can do. In Berkeley, a similar tax has led to a decrease in soda consumption.
But here’s the main point: It’s time for the country to start looking at soda the way we’ve looked at other health threats like tobacco. If SF approves this, it will push the national issue. Vote yes.
Sup. Jane Kim’s legislation to raise the transfer tax on properties sold for more than $5 million would bring in $45 million a year to the city. That’s more than enough to pay for free City College for all San Franciscans – with plenty left over. The people who will pay the tax are individuals who buy and sell very-high-end residential property – and corporations that buy and sell big commercial buildings. Vote yes.
Arts and industrial space retention
The tech boom has been particularly hard on art spaces and businesses that need industrial space – so called Production, Distribution, and Repair (or PDR) space is getting converted rapidly to tech offices. Prop. X would limit that assault and require developers to provide replacement space when they demolish or convert PDR. Vote yes.
There are good arguments against this measure, starting with the fact that the BART Board has been obsessed with building tracks to even-more-outlying areas at a huge cost, while ignoring the urban core. Oh, and BART seems to have no sense of social justice – as more and more working class people forced out of SF have to take BART to work from the East Bay, the prices are way too high.
But the system is aging, and it’s a critical part of our regional transportation network – and with any luck, we’ll have a couple of new BART Board members next year who can push for better priorities.