Putting tenants first in the Democratic Party

“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.

Join us.


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.

Opinion: The progressive case for Measure AA

Editor’s note: The Bay Guardian endorsed against Measure AA. You can read our argument here.

This is a response by Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, and Aaron Peskin

San Francisco progressives stand united in our commitment to protect and restore San Francisco Bay, the Bay Area’s defining feature and greatest natural treasure. That’s why we strongly support Measure AA, our region’s response to the critical challenge of restoring the Bay’s wetlands over the next 20 years, before sea level rise due to climate change makes doing so impossible or prohibitively expensive.

A consortium of scientists has found that the Bay needs 100,000 acres of wetlands to keep it clean and healthy, but the Bay has only 44,000 acres of wetlands today. Another 36,000 shoreline acres are under public protection and awaiting restoration, but until now, there has been no funding to do the work.


Measure AA, a parcel tax of $12 per year throughout the Bay Area, would raise $500 million over 20 years for wetlands restoration to reduce trash and toxic pollution; improve water quality; expand habitat for fish, birds, and other wildlife; increase public access to shoreline parks and recreation; and provide a cost-effective, green solution to protect Bayfront communities – including low income areas of San Jose, East Palo Alto, Hayward, Richmond, Bay Point and Marin City – from flooding due to sea level rise.

San Francisco wetlands restoration sites that have been identified as potential recipients of Measure AA funds include Yosemite Slough at Candlestick Point, China Basin, Heron’s Head Park, Islais Creek, Slipways Park and Crane Cove Park on Pier 70, Tennessee Hollow, and Warm Water Cover Park.

Fittingly, San Francisco’s leading progressive officials and organizations, including Sen. Mark Leno and Asm. Phil Ting; Supervisors Eric Mar, Aaron Peskin, Jane Kim, David Campos, and John Avalos; the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, the San Francisco Tenants Union, and Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council; UNITE HERE Local 2 and SEIU Local 1021 all have endorsed Measure AA.

How is it, then, that our friend Tim Redmond can oppose Measure AA? Because he ignores the specific purpose and powers of the public agency that is proposing Measure AA, and the details of how it works.

The San Francisco Bay Restoration Authority was established by the California State Legislature in 2008 for only one purpose: “to raise and allocate resources for the restoration, enhancement, protection, and enjoyment of wetlands and wildlife habitats in the San Francisco Bay and along its shoreline.”

It has no regulatory authority over San Francisco Bay or its shoreline. It has no say in local government land use entitlement and project permitting decisions. It is even legally prohibited from owning any real property. It can only raise resources by a two-thirds vote of the electorate under its jurisdiction, and it can only allocate resources for wetlands restoration under a specific set of criteria set forth in state statute – a set of criteria that under Measure AA would become even more specific and restrictive.

Like the San Francisco projects listed above, other wetlands restoration projects throughout the Bay Area that are anticipated to be eligible for Measure AA funding are already known and have already been scoped in detail by their various public agency and public trust sponsors. The list of these projects is published on the Restoration Authority’s website at http://sfbayrestore.org/docs/Projects.pdf.

The Restoration Authority’s actions are also subject to checks and balances by both a statutory stakeholder Advisory Committee with an ongoing voice in its policies and grant making and an Independent Citizens Oversight Committee that will review its performance under Measure AA.

Finally, the Restoration Authority’s Governing Board is composed entirely of local elected officials, who surely would face serious consequences from their own constituents if they were to act unwisely. That these officials are appointed by ABAG, a regional planning agency itself composed of local elected officials from cities and counties throughout the Bay Area, is solely a function of the reality that neither state nor local officials supported creating a region-wide elected body for this agency’s limited purpose.

All in all, there is every reason to think we can hold the Restoration Authority’s spending accountable, and that Measure AA is a positive step toward regional collaboration beneficial to the public interest.

Measure AA is a tiny tax of a dollar per parcel per month that will generate huge benefits for San Francisco Bay, for its wildlife, and for all Bay Area residents. It is our best chance to protect and restore our beautiful Bay as a legacy for future generations. Please join us in voting Yes on Measure AA.

East Bay Endorsements

Jesse Arreguin calls himself "Berkeley's kind of mayor." We agree

We don’t have the bandwidth to do for our friends across the Bay the detailed work we did in San Francisco, so we aren’t going to weigh in on every single race and every single ballot measure. That wouldn’t be fair to anyone.

But we want to make a few key endorsements – and they reflect our longstanding efforts to help the progressive movement on both sides of the Bay (and in this case, we want to do all we can to help some candidates who are under attack for standing in favor of police accountability).

If you want detailed explanations and endorsements that you can take to the polls, check out the East Bay Express, which has done a fantastic job. Except for a couple of modest quibbles, we are in agreement with the Express on everything.

Our (selected) recommendations follow.

Alameda County Measure A1


This $580 million affordable housing bond is critical to the East Bay’s ability to build housing (and deal with a regional crisis that has been caused in part by San Francisco and Peninsula cities attracting big tech companies without building enough housing to handle the new workers). It needs a two-thirds vote, and that will be tough in the conservative parts of the county, so every vote in the more progressive areas is critical.

Jesse Arreguin calls himself "Berkeley's kind of mayor." We agree
Jesse Arreguin calls himself “Berkeley’s kind of mayor.” We agree


Berkeley Mayor

  1. Jesse Arreguin
  2. Kriss Worthington

These two longtime progressive councilmembers are running a strategic ranked-choice voting campaign with the aim of putting a real activist back in charge of the city. We will quote the Express: “The truth is, for too long, Berkeley has been run by cautious moderates.”

Arreguin has the experience and the political drive to put the city back where it ought to be – in the forefront of progressive change. Once upon a time, Berkeley led the state on issues like rent control and tenant protection, social and economic justice, and police accountability. Arreguin is the best candidate to restore that vision. He’s been solid on tenant and affordable housing issues, understands that the solution of every problem is not more developer giveways, and has long been a supporter of higher minimum wages. He’s endorsed by Bernie Sanders. Worthington has been the voice of the left on the council for many years, and we’ve always endorsed him in the past. At this point, Arreguin is the strongest candidate with the most hope of winning. Vote Arreguin 1 and Worthington  2.


Berkeley Rent Board

Christina Murphy, Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Leah Simon-Weisberg, Igor Tregub

This is the pro-tenant slate. Every renter group and rent-control advocate is with these four. So are we.


Measure U1 YES

Measure DD NO


Berkeley landlords are generally doing just fine, and the big landlords are doing even better. Measure U1 is a modest per-unit tax on property owners with more than five units, and it will bring in $3.5 million a year for affordable housing. Measure DD is a landlord trick designed to counter U1.



Oakland City Council, District 1

Dan Kalb

Kalb, who represents this North Oakland district, has been a progressive and a voice of reason on the council – and now he’s under attack by the Oakland police union. Kalb and Council Member Noel Gallo authored a measure (LL) that would create an independent Police Commission; the cops don’t like it, and have just dropped more than $12,000 into an independent expenditure committee attacking him. Kalb deserves re-election – and we don’t like this kind of payback.

Oakland City Council District 3

Noni Session

The incumbent in this district simply has to go. As the Express notes,

Lynette Gibson McElhaney isn’t just “ethically challenged,” as the East Bay Times wrote in its endorsement. She has demonstrated repeatedly that she’s willing to use both her public office and also position as a nonprofit operator to benefit herself and her family members.

Sessions is a far better alternative who would bring more progressive (and ethical) politics to the council.


Oakland City Council, District 5

Noel Gallo

Gallo was the driving force behind Measure LL, and the cops are now funding his opponent. The mayor is after him. He has been a strong voice on the council, and deserves support for standing up for police accountability.


City Council, At-Large

Rebecca Kaplan

Always one of our favorite Bay Area politicians, Kaplan is a solid progressive vote on the council, a regional leader, and full of creative ideas. Her leading opponent, Peggy Moore, works for the mayor and has been engaged in some misleading (to say the least) campaign activities. We’re happy to endorse her for another term.


Oakland School Board, District 7

Chris Jackson

Jackson was a solid member of the San Francisco Community College Board, a voice against the state takeover and a friend of labor. He’s since moved to Oakland, and is running for School Board. He’s got a great political future and we’re happy to endorse him for this seat.


Oakland Measure JJ


Rent control in Oakland has never been terribly strong, and JJ is an effort to improve it. The measure would add just-cause eviction protections to thousands of units and make it harder for landlords to raise rents about the legal limit.


Oakland Measure LL


A first step in bringing real police accountability to Oakland, Measure LL would create a Police Commission and start the process toward establishing a civilian-oversight body that could investigate misconduct. Vote yes

Richmond City Council

Melvin Willis

Ben Choi

Willis and Choi are the candidates of the Richmond Progressive Alliance and have strong labor support. Choi is a member of the Planning Commission; Willis is a community organizer with ACCE. Both support rent control and are great choices.

Richmond Measure L


This is the latest step in a long battle to bring rent control to Richmond, where housing prices have been soaring. An attempt by the City Council to enact a reasonable law was shot down by the California Apartment Association. Now the battle has gone to the ballot. Measure L would not only create a rent control system in the city, but would undo a recent rash of huge rent hikes by setting the base rent as the amount charged in July 2015. It’s a huge deal; vote yes.

BART Board District 7

Lateefa Simon

We already endorsed Simon for this district that spans both San Francisco and the East Bay. As we noted:

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.

Bay Guardian endorsements for the Democratic County Central Committee

Cindy Wu is running for DCCC, 17th Assembly District.

Here are the Bay Guardian endorsements for Democratic County Central Committee, 2016.

The race for Democratic County Central Committee, often a second thought on the June ballot, is now a big deal, a proxy for the defining struggle to save what’s left of San Francisco from corporate power and real-estate greed.

Cindy Wu is running for DCCC, 17th Assembly District.
Cindy Wu is running for DCCC, 17th Assembly District.

The DCCC sets policy for the local party. A lot of times that means passing resolutions that don’t have immediate policy impacts. In the best of times, it means registering voters, building a more progressive party structure.

But right now, what’s at stake is the party’s endorsement in the November supervisorial races. Control of the city is up for grabs – the six seats on the board that are on the ballot will determine whether the mayor and the tech moguls can dominate city politics for the next two years, or whether the rest of us have a fighting chance.

There are, to be blunt, two sides in this race. We know that some candidates want to appeal to everyone, to say they are “independent” or “moderate” or somewhere in the middle of the battleground.

But at a time of crisis – and anyone who thinks this city isn’t in crisis isn’t paying attention – there is, for better or for worse, no room in the middle. Either you are on the side of the evictors, the developers, the landlords, Airbnb, and the one percent – or you think that it’s unacceptable for the chair of the Democratic Party of San Francisco to be a lobbyist for the Board of Realtors.

So there are, in essence, two slates for the DCCC. One is made up of the supporters of Mary Jung, the landlord lobbyist who is the current chair. The other includes people who have promised two things: They will vote to replace Jung with a progressive (Sup. David Campos is our first choice) – and they will support the progressive candidates for supervisor this fall. The candidates on the Reform Slate have vowed that they will not back the candidates of the mayor, Ron Conway, and the power structure under any circumstances.

There are people on the Reform Slate who might not be our first choices. Bevan Dufty was the supervisor who swung to vote to put Mayor Lee in office, and the city has been terribly damaged by that decision. But he has seen that damage first-hand as the city’s homeless coordinator, and is now standing with the left in this race. We were not always in agreement with Sophie Maxwell when she was on the board.

And there’s a strange twist – after the progressives spent months finding a broad-based diverse slate, John Burton, the former state Senate president and chair of the state Party, decided to run. That might be good news if he is part of the progressive slate, since he will almost certainly win, and Burton has been a liberal legend in Sacramento, but on local issues, he has a much more mixed record.

This race is so important that both sides have scrambled to get high-profile candidates. Name recognition is critical when the voters look at choosing 14 people on the East Side and 10 on the West Side, and nine of the 11 members of the Board of Supes have filed to run. Two School Board members are on the ballot, and one Community College Board member.

Angela Alioto, former supe and daughter of a mayor, is running. Tom Hsieh, Sr., who was one of the most conservative people to serve on the Board of Supes in the past 30 years, is on the ballot.

There are arguments for lots of different candidates, but in the end, this is a classic battle of Us Against Them. The Reform slate will kick the Board of Realtors out of the chair of the Democratic Party and ensure that the DCCC helps progressives win in the fall. The Real Estate Slate will keep things the way they are – which is, frankly, unacceptable.

So here are the Bay Guardian endorsements. Everyone on this slate has promised to replace Jung as chair and to support the progressives for supervisor. We expect that most of the progressive groups in town will be offering a similar slate. It’s our best hope for the first round in the next fight for the soul of the city.

17th Assembly District (East Side)
Alysabeth Alexander
Tom Ammiano
David Campos
Petra DeJesus
Bevan Dufty
Jon Golinger
Prathima Gupta
Frances Hsieh
Jane Kim
Rafael Mandelman
Sophie Maxwell
Aaron Peskin
Leroy Wade Woods
Cindy Wu

19th Assembly District (West Side)
There are 10 seats up in this part of town. So far, only seven have met our criteria. If others decide to commit to supporting the Reform agenda, we will add them in for our final endorsements in late May, before the absentee ballots drop.
Brigitte Davila
Sandra Lee Fewer
Hene Kelly
Leah LaCroix
Eric Mar
Myrna Melgar
Norman Yee