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How to Fight City Hall and Lose

May 21, 2015

R.G. Davis : potreroview – excerpt – (first published in 1991)

Every Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in City Hall Room 282, the San Francisco Planning Commission oversees the incremental destruction of urban culture. Ecologists who advocate saving every piece of pristine open space usually avoid the massacre, as they have difficulty with the ugly practices of private property and land exploitation. Whereas environmentalists, those who accept packing the cities – infill housing – hoping for a surrounding greenbelt, merely slow the destruction. They visit occasionally to discuss mitigation statutes. 

When I first visited Room 282 in early 1990, I sat like an open-mouthed tourist surveying the tea-party. The “Mad Hatters” attracted my attention. They were, I learned, the voice of neighborhood concerns. At first I looked upon them as oddballs. But as I became involved, I too began to sound like one of them; a wild voice raised in opposition to the vast assortment of developers and their architects, lawyers, bankers and real estate speculators along with the agencies of the municipal government and the Mayor. 

The few people who habituate City Hall in the name of protecting the neighborhoods are old guard resistor protectors who have little or no sense of ecology or open space and have become a part of the freak show one encounters at the public trough. These volunteer neighborhood voices who know the machinations of the commission are mostly connected to The Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, composed of 53 local groups, which emphasizes retaining “the character” of the neighborhood while developers pound them into smaller and smaller spaces… (more)

Development Continues to Outstrip Infrastructure

May 21, 2015

By Ben Taylor : Potrero View – excerpt

Since passage of the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan in 2008, which seven years later is ushering in upwards of 9,000 new housing units to the Potrero Hill area, concern has been mounting over the lack of infrastructure improvements being made to accommodate the 20,000 to 30,000 new residents that the Plan will ultimately bring.  

While the Plan called for “a full array of public benefits to ensure the development of complete neighborhoods, including open space, improved public transit, transportation, streetscape improvements, community facilities, and affordable housing,” so far the area has seen none of these promised benefits, even as many developments are either on the market already, or nearing completion.

“The bargain that has been made for the past two decades has not been upheld, which is that if we take on this development, if they put all this housing where industrial stuff was before, we will actually get the parks, the schools, the stuff, that you need to make a neighborhood liveable,” Potrero Boosters planning and development chairman Tony Kelly said.  “Not to say that Potrero Hill’s not liveable, but is it going to be liveable when you triple the population, in the same space?  Because if you add up all these plans, that’s what we’re talking about. ”

Kelly claimed that while the plan was designed to handle 7,500 to 8,000 new units over a period of fifteen to twenty years, the San Francisco Planning Commission has already approved enough projects to reach that level, with no sign of stopping.   While less than a half-dozen developments have been completed since 2008, the Planning Department’s third quarter 2014 Pipeline Report shows that there are 4,701 units in the pipeline, well more than initially anticipated.

“It’s an open question what happens when the last unit covered by the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan gets built,” Potrero Boosters president J.R. Eppler said. “Does that mean that all of a sudden every other building permit gets denied, and the planning process stumbles to a halt?  We don’t have a post eastern neighborhoods plan solution, and we’re going to need one sooner rather than later.”

The Potrero Boosters is among a number of local advocacy groups, including Save the Hill, Grow Potrero Responsibly, and Friends of Jackson Park, who are working to get the eastern neighborhoods’ infrastructure needs met.  So far, though, they’ve seen little progress, either by City Hall or District 10 Supervisor Malia Cohen… (more)

Read more…

On Guard: Don’t listen to the Mission housing moratorium smear tactics

May 19, 2015

The Mission moratorium has a simple premise: Hit the pause button on new, market-rate construction, and give city government time to craft a plan to halt evictions and help preserve the Mission, while simultaneously helping it grow. The moratorium in and of itself won’t halt displacement, but as Gabriel Medina of the Mission Economic Development Agency, a local nonprofit, told me: “We need to have a pause to be able to make a plan.”By sfexaminer – excerpt

Supervisor David Campos, said a moratorium on market-rate housing in the Mission would lead to the implementation of home-saving tactics.

Remember that old line from “Field of Dreams,” whispered to Kevin Costner in a wide-open field? “If you build it, he will come.”

If Costner was standing in the Mission, the line would be “If you build it, they’ll evict people.”

As developers increasingly look to the Mission to build trendy new housing for tech workers, people are losing their homes at unprecedented rates: 8,000 Latinos were displaced from the Mission from 2000 to 2010.

That’s part of why hundreds stormed City Hall on Friday, demanding a moratorium on new development in the Mission.

“It was incredibly powerful for hundreds of people to go to the seat of power in San Francisco and let our voices be heard,” Maria Zamudio of the advocacy group Causa Justa Just Cause said. But “it was a continued frustration that we’re not being listened to.”

More than 500 protesters stood on the balconies and filled the grand staircase. They then crowded outside Mayor Ed Lee’s office, but faced a closed door. The Mission’s disenfranchised were met by silence from The City’s elected leader…

The Mission moratorium has a simple premise: Hit the pause button on new, market-rate construction, and give city government time to craft a plan to halt evictions and help preserve the Mission, while simultaneously helping it grow.

The moratorium in and of itself won’t halt displacement, but as Gabriel Medina of the Mission Economic Development Agency, a local nonprofit, told me: “We need to have a pause to be able to make a plan.”…

The moratorium needs nine votes out of 11 at the Board of Supervisors to pass. Five supes are definite aye votes, while two are definite no votes: Mark Farrell and Wiener. But the remaining four supes might swing for it: Malia Cohen, London Breed, Katy Tang and Julie Christensen.

Urge your supervisor to address the moratorium on its merits, and not distort the message.

Take action

Do you support the Mission Moratorium? Email the swing-vote supervisors — Cohen (, Christensen (, Breed ( and Tang ( — and tell them. And, as always, remain On Guard…(more)

Building for all: Nonprofit and developer team up for hybrid approach to housing crisis

May 19, 2015

By : sfexaminer – excerpt

For the first time in The City, a private developer and nonprofit are teaming up to building housing for the formerly homeless on the same site with market-rate housing.

The housing crisis in San Francisco has, if nothing else, prompted developers to think outside the box.

For the first time in The City’s history, a development firm has teamed up with a nonprofit organization to offer supportive housing for formerly homeless individuals and families, on the same site where market-rate housing will be constructed. It’s a move supporters hope will inspire future projects to follow suit.

But some feel the proposal at the decrepit and run-down Civic Center Hotel, owned by the Local 38 Plumbers and Pipefitters Union, will not provide enough below market-rate homes in the thriving mid-Market area.

San Francisco-based Strada Investment Group has teamed up with Community Housing Partnership, The City’s only nonprofit that exclusively provides supportive housing to formerly homeless individuals and families. The firm and nonprofit will transform the hotel into a nearly 600-unit mixed-use development of multiple buildings, along with vehicle and bicycle parking and open space.

 Supportive housing is for individuals, families and seniors who are exiting homelessness and typically earn less than 20 percent of the area median income, which in San Francisco is $71,350…
“Strada was very courageous to make this decision; deciding to do supportive housing, especially in a moment in time when homelessness is such a concern in San Francisco,” said Gail Gilman, executive director of Community Housing Partnership… (more)

Planning commissioner changed controversial Airbnb vote after text message from Mayor’s Office

May 18, 2015

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt – (see notes)

The Office of Mayor Ed Lee silently intervened in a controversial Planning Commission vote last month to regulate home sharing platforms such as Airbnb, according to public records obtained by The San Francisco Examiner.

After Planning Commissioner Christine Johnson cast a deciding vote on a key regulation, she was immediately contacted by the Mayor’s Office by text message. Johnson then asked to “go back” and change her vote.

Long-time California good-government advocate Robert Stern told The Examiner that mayors commonly exert power over city commissions, often out of sight.

“Maybe they should tell the audience ‘don’t bother testifying, because I was told how to vote,’” Stern said. “It would sure cut down the time for the meeting.”

The eight-hour, bare-knuckle public comment from housing activists, an Airbnb lobbyist, and politicians took place at a regular meeting of the Planning Commission on April 23. The 16 home-sharing regulation recommendations each underwent a vote of the commission. The planning commission vote on regulating home-sharing platforms may heavily sway the Board of Supervisors in their final vote on those same regulations, according to insiders. Home-sharing critics are threatening to bring these regulations to November’s ballot if they are not ultimately approved by the board.

“I always review and take into account the recommendations of the Planning Commission, and very much respect that body,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, adding that ultimately he will make his own policy judgment.

Of the regulations the planning commission voted to recommend, No. 6 is “the linchpin in the enforcement program,” AnMarie Rodgers, senior policy adviser at the Planning Department told the commission that night.

That rule would prohibit any home-sharing platform like Airbnb from listing a unit without a city-provided registration number, or the platform could face penalties. Recommendation 6 passed on its first vote, 4-3 out of seven commissioners. That’s when Johnson was sent a text message from Nicole Wheaton, who is the Mayor’s Office appointments secretary.

“What happened?!? I thought we were in agreement on #6 and how that simply would be enforceable?” Wheaton texted, next texting “Wouldn’t*” to correct her previous sentence.

At 9:01 p.m. Johnson then texted Wheaton: “We have the opportunity to go back on our votes on these items, which I will likely do.”

Johnson then asked the commission for a revote. Recommendation No. 6 failed on this second vote, with the three supervisor appointed commissioners voting aye, and the four commissioners appointed by the mayor voting nay. “Thank you for taking that revote,” Wheaton texted to Johnson at 10 p.m. to which Johnson replied, “You are welcome.”

When told about the text messages, Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee and member of Share Better, was incensed. “It seems like commissioner Johnson was voting on the actual merits of the issue related to the policy,” Shortt said, “and then was called out by her boss and realized she better vote based on the interests of the mayor.”

Wheaton declined an interview. But the mayor’s spokesperson Christine Falvey defended Wheaton’s texts.

“She is the mayor’s liaison to commissions, the board, and state and federal legislators, so informing commissioners of policy priorities and positions is entirely appropriate,” Falvey said.

Johnson denied the Mayor’s Office influenced her decision to change her vote. “In the beginning [of the meeting] I expressly said ‘are we allowed to go back and change our votes?’” Johnson told The Examiner.

Stern said mayoral appointees often vote with the mayor’s interest because “they need to go along with them or they’ll be replaced,” he said, noting it is a common practice.

Johnson denied that potentially losing a future reappointment affected her vote. The stakes for new home-sharing regulations are high: A recent city report shows up to 2,000 entire housing units have been taken off of the potential rental market by Airbnb hosts.

Generally, the mayor directing his appointees to vote aye or nay does not violate ethics rules, said John St. Croix, director of the Ethics Commission.

The mayor has been under scrutiny in the media for advancing policies which favor the tech industry and his close fundraising ally, angel investor Ron Conway, who is an investor in Airbnb.

The City Charter says commissioners are not required to be independent, but are required to make “recommendations to the Mayor.”

The recommendations that the planning commission approved are part of three competing proposals to amend home-sharing regulations: One from Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Mark Farrell, another from Supervisor David Campos, and another from Supervisor Jane Kim.

On Monday the Board of Supervisors’ Land Use committee will reviewed the Planning Commission’s recommendations and possibly vote to amend the law. Ultimately the change in regulations would require a vote of the full Board of Supervisors.

Watch the Proceedings here.

Will the Giants rush to a new Wall on the Waterfront?

May 17, 2015

By and sfexaminer – excerpt

In June, on the heels of voters’ rejection of luxury waterfront condos at 8 Washington St., San Francisco overwhelmingly approved Proposition B, which gave voters the right to approve increases in building heights on public waterfront land.

Five months later, 70 percent of voters approved a doubling of heights at Pier 70 — proving that neighborhood engagement, coupled with a well-conceived, publicly vetted plan, could achieve broad electoral support from San Franciscans suspicious of waterfront development.

Unfortunately, the Giants’ property development team may be ignoring the lessons of Pier 70. The Giants have been noticeably silent about their development plans for Seawall Lot 337, the publicly owned waterfront land south of AT&T Park now used for parking.

Press inquiries about the Mission Rock development project have been rebuffed, and there has been little outreach to nearby neighborhoods that have worked closely with the Port of San Francisco, The City and private developers on waterfront issues in past years…

While we celebrate the on-field exploits of our local team, this lack of community engagement by the Giants’ front office is concerning because the Mission Rock proposal would build a far taller wall on the waterfront than either 8 Washington or the abandoned Warriors development on the piers… (more)

Are we seeing a theme here? Big money disdains public opinion. Rushes to ballot instead of negotiating table. Runs the risk of losing public trust and approval of the project.

This feels a lot like the way they rolled out the General Hospital plan. Neighbors, employees, workers, patients and medical professionals were left in the dark on both of these huge projects. And they wonder why we don’t trust them?

New Single Family Home Renters with Wall Street Landlords.

May 14, 2015

tenantstogether – excerpt

This year multinational landlords in the single-family home rental industry said they plan to raise rents. David Singelyn, chief executive officer of American Homes 4 Rent, nationally the largest publicly traded single-family landlord, with about 35,000 homes has said, “In the 2015 rental season, we’re really seeing the ability to move rents.” Many American renters are already extremely burdened when it comes to housing costs, with about 25% nationally paying more than half their monthly income toward housing.

On May 12th 2015 Tenants Together is releasing a report on the experience of tenants renting single-family homes from the three biggest Wall Street landlords in the state: Blackstone/Invitation Homes, Waypoint Homes, and Colony American Homes. Major findings include: Wall Street landlords charge higher than area median rents. Many tenants are performing their own maintenance and repairs, with 40% of tenants reporting that they made repairs to the home themselves, and 80% reporting that they pay for yard maintenance.

The report includes policy recommendations and ways we can take action. Now more than ever we need to protect tenants and our communities against a changing landscape of consolidation of the housing market and rising rents.

(with maps from the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project)… (more)

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