Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2015

There’s a theme to this year’s election: this CITY’S INSANE HOUSING MARKET! Yes, I’m shouting, it’s that serious. Friends of mine and yours are losing their homes. Others are stuck in rent-controlled apartments they can’t afford to leave. And just TRY moving here from somewhere else, if you don’t work for some hot new tech company that pays you well. And then…there’s this guy.

Yikes!

Yikes! Really?

There’s lots of finger pointing… at greedy landlords, Airbnb, Mayor Ed Lee, the Board of Supervisors, too much rent control, not enough rent control, tech companies, the Ellis Act, Google buses, the $725 cocktail. This November’s ballot attempts to place the blame on some of the folks on this list.

Three out of 11 measures (A, D, and K) hope to enable building more housing, most of which is affordable, two (I and J) are aimed at slowing the rate of gentrification, and one (Prop F) hopes to further restrict short term rentals in the city. Some are good, some are very very bad. I put a lot of thought into these endorsements, and if you know me, you may be surprised by a few.

Without further ado, I submit to you my Big Ol’ Voter Guide. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a progressive attorney with a background in municipal law who currently works for a few mobile app companies (one small, one very small), whose passions include protecting and promoting San Francisco’s nightlife and culture, getting more women elected to public office, and bringing more public art to cities around the world. I’m Second Vice Chair of the San Francisco Democratic Party, and I also like long walks on the beach.

Mayor: Ed Lee
City Attorney: Dennis Herrera
Treasurer: Jose Cisneros
District Attorney: George Gascon
Sheriff: Vicki Hennessey
Community College Board: Alex Randolph
District 3 Supervisor: Julie Christensen
Prop A: Affordable Housing Bond – YES!
Prop B: Paid Parental Leave for City Employees – YES!
Prop C: Expand Lobbyist Ordinance – NO
Prop D: Mission Rock – YES!
Prop E: Remote Testimony in Public Meetings –NOOOOO!
Prop F: Restricting Short Term Rentals – F-NO!
Props G/H: Clean Energy – NO on G, YES on H
Prop I: Mission Housing Moratorium – YES!
Prop J: Legacy Businesses – Yes
Prop K: Affordable Housing on City’s Surplus Property – YES!

Mayor: Ed Lee

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.11.17 AMBroke-Ass Stuart is a friend of mine, and I’ve donated to his mayoral campaign. His candidacy is a performance art piece that gives voice to widespread frustration with the direction the city has headed in recent years. The city’s ever-widening economic divide and the scary housing market are making it impossible for young folks and the middle class to survive here. BUT: (1) calling attention to this doesn’t mean Stuart has the know-how to run a city with a $9 billion budget (Sorry, Stuart!); and (2) the city’s economic trajectory is not Ed Lee’s fault. Just as the mustachioed mayor can’t legitimately take credit for the dramatic increase in property tax revenues and record low unemployment, he also can’t be blamed for the housing crunch or for $4 toast. The mayor is, frankly, not powerful enough to control the economy in either direction. The rent is too damn high because too many damn people want to live here. And it takes a lot longer to build a hundred new housing units than it does for a tech company to create a hundred new jobs.

And hey, Lee is doing a fine job with the meager amount of power he does wield. He is working to alleviate the affordable housing crisis (see: Prop A – his affordable housing bond, and Prop K – his effort to build affordable housing on city-owned property) and he is showing leadership on keeping families and the middle class in SF (see: universal pre-school and improving economic opportunities for women). He has 26 years of experience in city government, he is not afraid to roll up his sleeves, and he has appointed women to the most important jobs in city government (which I just love, of course). Personally, I think the folks who actively oppose him need someone to blame for the outrageous cost of…well, everything.

City Attorney: Dennis Herrera
Treasurer: Jose Cisneros
District Attorney: George Gascon

I’m not going to waste your time on these races, because all three of these folks are unopposed. And each of them is doing a decent job. Let’s reflect on that for a minute: In San Francisco, where every public figure, movement, real estate development, legislation and stop sign placement has opposition, these three candidates don’t. To me, that’s saying something.

Sheriff: Vicki Hennessey

This was a hard one for me. Ross Mirkarimi has been a friend of mine for many years, and by most measures, he’s been a solid Sheriff. He is a strong advocate for progressive prison reform: from health care rights for prisoners, to improving recidivism rates through education, to stopping the gouging of inmates for the cost of personal phone calls (which has garnered national attention). But his successes have been overshadowed by the accusations that he engaged in domestic abuse against his wife Eliana early in his term. Eliana has always denied those charges and she has fought hard to defend him. However, Ross did plead guilty to misdemeanor false imprisonment for his actions, and earlier this year, he had his driver license suspended for failing to report an auto accident to the DMV. He has also taken heat for Sheriff deputies who were promoting fights among prisoners, and the accidental patient death at SF General that his deputies might have been able to prevent. Even just last week, it was reported that a deputy challenged Mirkarimi’s ability to take a firearms exam given his misdemeanor conviction. These distractions, I think, are preventing him from getting more done and they have affected morale in the department.

Vicki Hennessey is a former Chief Deputy Sheriff with several decades of experience. She ran the department while Mirkarimi was fighting domestic violence charges, and has avoided involvement in any scandal. I have worked with her since 2001 when I was on the Elections Commission and she did a good job at designing a ballot custody system. She has the support of lots of folks, and I sincerely hope that she will use the Sheriff’s office to continue the kinds of progressive reforms that her two predecessors have worked so hard to achieve.

Community College Board: Alex Randolph

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.12.38 AMAlex Randolph was appointed in April to fill an open seat on the College Board, and he is running to defend the appointment against two challengers: Tom Temprano and Wendy Aragon. All three have credited community college with giving them a leg up, although Randolph is the candidate with the most experience and insight to solve CCSF’s accreditation and enrollment problems. He wants CCSF to staff up the class registration process, which would help with the dramatic decline in enrollment, and he has also identified several places where CCSF could upgrade the technology it uses, to start solving its problems on a larger scale.

I met Alex Randolph when he was the campaign manager for my opponent in my ill-fated Supervisor race nine years ago. Back then, he was young and scrappy, and I was impressed by his willingness to work hard, even though it was against me. He has an impressive list of endorsements, including a majority of both the Board of Supervisors and the Board of Education.

District 3 Supervisor: Julie Christensen

Christensen is smart and competent, and she is working hard on stopping evictions, promoting neighborhood safety and improving transit. Her opponent is a former ally of mine, but we’ve parted ways politically for several reasons. For those reasons and more, see my endorsement in a separate blog post.

It's safe to say this housing is not affordable.

It’s safe to say this housing is not affordable.

Prop A: Affordable Housing Bond – YES!

If this bond is approved, $350 million will go toward building low- and middle-income units, and to rehab the city’s public housing. It also includes down payment assistance for teachers and middle-income folks. There is no reason not to vote for this measure! Housing prices are ridiculously high, and it costs a lot of money to build new units in the city. The entire city family has coalesced behind this bond measure.

Prop B: Paid Parental Leave for City Employees – YES!

Prop B would allow every city employee who becomes a parent to have the time to bond with their newborn. I’m not sure why this needs to be a ballot measure – perhaps the proponents want to make sure it’s hard to repeal? But it’s a no brainer to me – city government is the largest employer in San Francisco, it should absolutely serve as a model for family-friendly policies.

Prop C: Expand Lobbyist Ordinance – NO

Some pieces of legislation are better for the ballot, and some are better for the legislative process at the Board of Supervisors. Laws approved by ballot measure can only be amended by another ballot measure, making it nearly impossible to change it – it basically sets a law in stone. Laws that go through the Board, by contrast, can be improved by the public input of many stakeholders, and can be able to be amended over time, as time passes and circumstances change. Prop C should have been brought to the Board, and that is why I am opposing it.

Prop C is well meaning. It promises to daylight the activities of anyone engaged in direct or indirect lobbying, public outreach, research, reports on city activities, advertising, etc., requiring them to register and pay a $500 fee and submit monthly reports on their activities. It casts a wide net that catches all kinds of nonprofits and community organizations whose activities don’t warrant this kind of scrutiny. This law should be presented to the Board and subjected to public input, so that the Board can determine exactly which kinds of organizations should be registering, and which ones shouldn’t.

Prop D: Mission Rock – YES!

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.14.37 AM“Mission Rock” is code for “Giants Parking Lot A.” The Giants have been planning a mixed-use development on their parking lot for years, but it is currently zoned for open space. And after Prop B was passed in 2013, any waterfront development that seeks to increase height limits has to go to the voters. So – if the Giants want to build anything taller than a maintenance shed, they have to ask the City’s voters to give their consent. To the Giants’ credit, they did a good job of soliciting input from lots of stakeholders: neighbors, planners, community groups… and what has resulted is a great project. It includes 1500 new housing units (33% of which would be in the price range of low- and middle-income residents), 8 acres of parks and open space, and a retail center with shops and restaurants. Almost everyone supports it – even the staunchest of opponents to waterfront development. I’m looking forward to seeing it built.

Prop E: Remote Testimony in Public Meetings – NOOOOOO!

If approved, Proposition E would require that public meetings, testimony and comments all be made accessible through electronic and pre-recorded means. It also requires that any pre-recorded public testimony and live, remote public commentary be played at the meeting. Sounds great, right? Who doesn’t love public participation in the democratic process?

Rush Limbaugh wants you to vote for Prop E

Rush Limbaugh wants you to vote for Prop E

If you’ve been to a commission or board meeting at City Hall, you know that this measure would be a complete disaster. In my opinion, it would allow interest groups to jam up meetings that are already jammed up by folks who show up by the dozens to read the SAME. TALKING. POINTS. FROM A SCRIPT. OVER AND OVER. FOR HOURS. Don’t get me wrong – public comment is extremely important, and can often be persuasive to legislators who are on the fence. But to require that every video and email that gets sent to the City be played in its entirety would open the process up for abuse. And would be a catastrophic waste of time.

Moreover, this law would require that public testimony – from ANYWHERE in the world – be played live at the meeting. This means that every time Rush Limbaugh disagrees with legislation at the Board of Supervisors, he can tell his listeners to send thousands of emails, voice recordings and videos to City Hall. And City Hall will be required to play them. In their entirety. And because this is a ballot measure, the law will be very difficult to repeal, it might take a year or more to do it. ICK. Please vote NO.

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 3.19.10 PMProp F: Restricting Short Term Rentals – F-NO!

The main reason I oppose this measure is the same reason I oppose Prop C (above): Laws approved by ballot measure are nearly impossible to change. And this is exactly the kind of law that needs to iterate over time. The products and services created by technology companies like Airbnb are constantly evolving – and the laws that regulate them need to be just as nimble. If Prop F passes, it sets these restrictions in stone, and the Board of Supervisors won’t be able to amend them. Any revision – no matter how small – will require another election cycle and another contentious and expensive battle for votes. For a detailed explanation of the merits and flaws of this complicated legislation, see my separate blog post about Prop F.

Prop G/H: Clean Energy – NO on G, YES on H

Here’s the inside scoop on these two measures that you probably won’t hear from anyone else. The City has created a program called CleanPowerSF that will give city residents and businesses the option to buy power from renewable sources, such as wind or solar power. This program will be taking customers away from PG&E, and so the company (or rather, the electrical workers union) put Prop G on the ballot in order to make it harder for the city to market this new program. The measure would prevent the city from calling large portions of the energy produced by CleanPowerSF as “clean” or “renewable.” Yep, it is kinda evil.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.17.07 AMAfter Prop G qualified for the ballot, Supervisor London Breed sprang into action, crafting Prop H as a compromise measure, using the same definitions of “clean energy” and “renewable energy” as those used by state law. CleanPowerSF is happy because the new law will allow the city to call more of the energy it produces, “clean.” Consumers win because the city is forced to be accurate in its marketing of the program, in describing the percentage of types of renewable energy to be supplied.

In fact, Prop H was so well crafted (good work, Supervisor!) that PG&E (oops, I mean the electrical workers union) has withdrawn its support for its own measure, and has agreed to throw its weight behind Prop H. That’s why – you may have noticed – there is no “Yes on G” campaign, and everyone in town has endorsed H. Vote NO on G and YES on H. And then go to www.cleanpowersf.org to sign up for the program.

Prop I: Mission Housing Moratorium – YES!

Screen Shot 2015-10-26 at 11.37.56 PM

Boundaries of the Proposed Mission Moratorium

If approved, Prop I would establish a temporary, 18-month prohibition on the construction of any housing project larger than five units in the Mission neighborhood, roughly bounded to the west by Guerrero Street, to the south by Cesar Chavez Street, to the east by Potrero Avenue, and to the north by U.S. Route 101. Projects that include only 100% affordable units are exempt from the moratorium.

Yes, it’s true: the law of supply and demand tells us that stopping the building of housing is not the way to alleviate the housing crunch. However, this moratorium is not about solving the housing crisis. It’s about saving the Mission from losing its essential character, and about slowing the pace of change so that the neighborhood isn’t swallowed by the city’s insatiable appetite for development.

There are lots of good reasons to support this moratorium. The Mission has suffered the most profound effects of the housing crisis because every new tech worker moving to the city wants to live there. The speed of development there is especially intense, and has led to an unprecedented number of evictions and displacement. Walk down Valencia Street, and you will have to agree that the neighborhood looks nothing like it did even a few years ago. Moreover, when buildings are demolished, and new market-rate condos are built, the change is irreversible; the new buildings are designed to last for 50-100 years. Slowing this process down by 18 months – so that the city can be more deliberate in planning what the neighborhood should look like in 10, 20, 50 years – is a very good idea. It is a brief little window of time in the big picture. And finally, the amount of real estate we’re talking about is a small portion of the city. There are other places in the city where market-rate housing can be developed in the next few years.

Screen Shot 2015-10-27 at 12.31.51 AMMy only hesitation about Prop I is that it would have the consequence of delaying the Armory’s plans to turn its Drill Court space, recently fitted with a new floor and sound-proofing, into a full-time concert and event venue. The city needs more event venues of this size! But under Prop I, new permits of all kinds, including changes of use like the Armory’s, would be halted for 18 months. It’s a shame the Armory’s plans are caught up in this measure – but it would only be until mid-2017, so on balance, it’s a temporary sacrifice worth making.

It won’t surprise you to learn that landlords, developers, realtors, and construction trade unions oppose Prop I, along with the more moderate elected officials in town. Prop I supporters include an interesting combination of folks who don’t always agree, such as tenant groups; black, Asian and Latino groups; labor unions; teachers; environmental organizations; neighborhood political clubs from all over the city; and women’s organizations. I’m a homeowner and a real estate attorney, and I generally like development. And yet I side with the “yes” folks. Let’s give the Mission a breather.

Prop J: Legacy Businesses – Yes

As I have mentioned several times before, the city is changing very very rapidly. Neighborhood businesses give the city its character, and the ones that have been around the longest are disappearing quickly due to rising rents and the pressure from gentrification. Prop J, if approved, will establish small grants for these “legacy businesses” that have existed for more than 30 years and can show significant contribution to San Francisco’s identity and character. Eligible businesses will receive $500 for each of their full-time employees, and property owners leasing to these legacy businesses will be given a small grant ($4.50 per square foot) if they provide the business with a 10-year lease. (Aw! Isn’t that nice.)

The City Controller says this measure will cost the city about $3.7 million in the current fiscal year if fully funded. And the cost to the city could increase every year, reaching somewhere between $51 million and $94 million annually within 25 years. (Yikes! That’s a lot of money.) However – and this is critical – the actual costs of this proposition will depend on the number of businesses added to the “legacy list” and the budget approved each year by the Mayor and Board of Supervisors. Prop J would not legally require any amount of the annual budget to go towards the fund.

So…it’s really a symbolic gesture. But it could be a useful tool that city leaders can use to give a hand to neighborhood businesses that are contributors to the essential character of this fine city. Since it doesn’t actually commit the funds, I say, why not? Let’s give it a shot and let the Board and the Mayor duke it out later over how much money they are willing to put into it.

Prop K: Affordable Housing on City’s Surplus Property – YES!

By now you are sick of hearing about the city’s housing crisis. But hey! This is the last measure on the ballot, and it’s about housing. And it’s a good one.

Yep.

Don’t click on this image so that you can see the detail. Don’t do it.

 

One of the main reasons why it’s so hard to build affordable housing in the city is because the underlying land costs are so high that these projects just don’t pencil out for private developers. So! Enter Prop K, which attacks the shortage of affordable housing in the city by encouraging the development of below-market-rate units on surplus property already owned by the city. That’s right, it doesn’t matter how much the underlying property is worth, because the city already owns it and can do whatever it wants with it, like handing it over to affordable housing developers to build units that non-millionaires can afford.

Specifically, Prop K prioritizes the use of all surplus property to build housing for a range of households from those who are homeless or who make less than $51,000 per year (55% of area median income), to those with incomes up to $112,000 per year (120% of area median income). For projects of more than 200 units, some housing would be available for households earning up to $140,000 per year (150% of area median income). Everyone agrees that the city needs more housing for regular people and working class folks. And I do mean everyone, including both the Examiner and the Chronicle. The only people who oppose this measure are Chicken John and the people who hate taxes generally. Yes on K!

 

 

 

 

4 thoughts on “Big Ol’ Voter Guide – November 2015

  1. I think that Zumper map is misleading because almost no one pays those rents. The median rent in San Francisco is actually $1600 according to the Census Bureau because of rent control. Those are asking rents for new renters not median rents.

  2. Hey Alix – thanks as usual for your thoughtful & thorough slate! I disagree with you on some & agree on others – but one thing I’d like to point out is that Ed Lee has been really bad for MUNI (http://sf.streetsblog.org/2014/03/31/will-sfmtas-board-buck-mayor-lee-keep-sunday-parking-meters/) and asinine on bikes(http://sf.streetsblog.org/2015/09/28/mayor-lee-vows-to-veto-bike-yield-law/). So there are plenty of smart reasons to oppose him that have nothing to do with the costs of housing.

  3. Pingback: » The ‘Deep Slate: November 2015 Edition

  4. Thanks for your informed view that reflects both your clear transparent viewpoint and values that I share. Your guide helps me tremendously to vote my conscience. Much appreciated.

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