Haney’s victory does not mean progressive candidates have to move to the right

The entire local media narrative is wrong, again. The real issue is why no local reporters ever question the fantasy of the Yimby narrative.

Sup Matt Haney defeated David Campos in a state Assembly election where less than 25 percent of the registered voters cast ballots, most of them were over 50, and some $2 million in mostly real-estate money was used to attack Campos.

This, almost all of the local news media say, contains a powerful message that progressives are doomed and have to move to the right if they ever want to win again.

Check it out:

From the SFStandard:

Campos’ focus on being corporate-free might have resonated in the days when Bernie Sanders had liberal arts majors swooning, but the pandemic and issues the city is facing this very moment have superseded noble gestures on campaign cash.

(This is one of the most cynical things I have read in a while; is economic inequality not still a critical issue that goes way, way beyond “liberal arts majors?”)

From The Chron:

For decades, some housing activists in San Francisco have fought to upend a common perception that the city’s deeply progressive values are at odds with policies that seek to dramatically boost the construction of market-rate housing.

Through that lens, Matt Haney’s blowout victory in Tuesday’s runoff election for California’s 17th Assembly District seat wasn’t just a win for the YIMBY movement — it was a coup d’état. …

“Progressives should be for more housing. Period,” the supervisor opined as his supporters celebrated at a bar in the South of Market neighborhood. “And progressive candidates should not be Nimbys. Period.”

Laura Foote, executive director of YIMBY Action, the pro-housing advocacy group that endorsed Haney in the runoff, said he tapped into a shift that has been under way for many years, particularly among younger progressives. She said many believe that building more housing, at all price levels, is needed to combat the affordability crisis and prevent urban sprawl that increases emissions from cars.

From MissionLocal:  

Well, ever thus. Progressives, as ever, remain overly clubby and unwilling/unable to expand their base. 

I have heard this story before, many, many times. The link above goes to a story Joe Eskenazi wrote in 2011, which predicted the “fall” of the city’s left.

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It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now.

It’s perfectly fair and a good thing to analyze what went wrong with the Campos campaign and what we can learn from it.

Yet while Eskenazi talked about the failure of the left in the city 10 years ago, and most of the local media are talking about how the Yimbys have taken over (in a “coup”) and that nobody can ever get elected without embracing a market-based trickle-down theory of housing that doesn’t work, let’s take a moment to remember:

In just the last 24 months, San Franciscans have elected perhaps the most progressive Board of Supervisors ever. A multi-million-dollar campaign to elect supes more friendly to the mayor failed. The city elected perhaps the most progressive district attorney in the country. The voters passed a measure to take big real-estate interests to fund housing for homeless people.

I could go on.

I have been following progressive politics in this city since 1982. When I first started at the Bay Guardian, the editor, Bruce Brugmann, told me: “Don’t every come to me with a story that says the left is in disarray.” The left is always in some sort of disarray; we are diverse, and active, and self-critical, and bold, and we make mistakes. But I can say that the San Francisco left in the past 10 years has been as organized and effective as ever. Many of the people who have run and are running local campaigns are young, and are learning.

There is no evidence to suggest that this one election signals a sea-change in local politics. Mayor London Breed defeated the progressives in 2019; a year later, the progressives defeated all of her candidates for supervisor.

There is, on the other hand, a larger issue here, and we all need to think about it. The local media world is entirely dominated by the Yimby narrative. No local news outlet, other than 48hills, even questions that approach, much less challenges it.

From the Chron:

Haney, a member of the Board of Supervisors and unabashed progressive …. ran what political observers say was one of the most housing-focused campaigns the city has seen in recent history, one that could change the conventional wisdom that progressive and YIMBY activists don’t mesh — a shift Haney embraced in an election-night tweetstorm.

“Progressives should be for more housing. Period,” the supervisor opined as his supporters celebrated at a bar in the South of Market neighborhood. “And progressive candidates should not be Nimbys. Period.”

Laura Foote, executive director of YIMBY Action, the pro-housing advocacy group that endorsed Haney in the runoff, said he tapped into a shift that has been under way for many years, particularly among younger progressives. She said many believe that building more housing, at all price levels, is needed to combat the affordability crisis and prevent urban sprawl that increases emissions from cars.

Let’s parse this for a moment.

First of all, I would argue that nobody who gets $2 million in support from the California Association of Realtors—a group that has blocked any reform of the Ellis Act, that has kept cities from passing effective rent control, and that has been responsible for thousands of evictions in San Francisco alone—can ever call themselves a “progressive,” much less an “unabashed” progressive.

Second:

Many believe that building more housing, at all price levels, is needed to combat the affordability crisis and prevent urban sprawl.

Yes: But let’s for a moment live in the reality-based world.

Building more housing “at all levels” by limiting regulations is a giant, obvious, myth, just like “creating jobs by cutting taxes” and the idea that “a rising tide lifts all boats.” We have lots and lots of data on this, going back 40 years, to the Reagan era.

We know that California Yimby is funded by the real-estate industry.

Private developers will never build housing at “all levels.” What, exactly, are the Chron reporters thinking about? Private developers respond to the market and to what investors will fund; that is, right now, housing for the rich and tech-worker dorms.

That’s it. That’s what “pencils out.”

Housing “at all levels” will only be built with massive public investment in non-market housing.

This isn’t anything radical. It’s basic, fundamental, economics.

We can argue about whether building market-rate (that is, luxury) housing will cause rich people to buy those units, so they won’t displace poorer people in existing neighborhoods. There is lots of national data that says otherwise. The data in San Francisco suggests otherwise; many of the young, wealthy tech workers who have moved to the city in the past decade are not buying downtown condos, because they don’t want to live there. Many of those condos are part-time pieds-a-terre. Many are just empty investment properties.

But never mind that: Let’s go back to “building housing at all levels.” It’s not happening, and it’s not going to happen, if the Yimby approach becomes the law of the land.

What will happen is demolition of existing housing and displacement of existing low-income communities.

I am not against new housing. I am not against density. I am not in favor of suburban sprawl. Neither are most of the progressives who challenge the Yimby narrative.

We just don’t believe in the fantasy that the private market will save us.

I don’t know how, in a media world where none of the reporters covering politics and housing have a clue, we get that message out. That’s what we should all be talking about.

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