Waiting lines for affordable housing

Instead of Going Big, Supes Play Political Games With Mayor’s Plan

San Francisco supervisors continue to treat the city’s worsening affordability crisis as a political game. Last week the Board’s majority broke over a month of silence in unveiling a rival ballot measure to Mayor Breed’s charter amendment exempting affordable and teacher housing from CEQA appeals and discretionary review.

The Board’s measure is an ordinance, not a charter amendment.  This means that the Board’s measure still subjects affordable and teacher housing to frivolous appeals and CEQA-related delays. Both can only be changed by the charter.

Supervisors clearly have the right to differ from the mayor on housing policy. But the context shows that more than policy differences are at stake. The Board released its proposal after Supervisor Ronen had refused to even calendar Mayor Breed’s charter amendment, and after supervisors remained publicly silent about their specific concerns with the mayor’s measure.

Refusing to engage in a policy discussion and then waiting until the last minute to unveil a separate plan is not the best way to make policy. It’s more about political gamesmanship.

The Board’s alternative has other shortcomings, including limiting its projects to forty feet.  This means no nonprofit housing will likely get built under the measure. A Board majority truly concerned about enacting the most effective housing policy changes would have engaged with the mayor about concerns they had with her proposal. Instead, supervisors threw together an “alternative” under pressure to “do something” about housing.

Nobody should be fooled.

Had the supervisors really wanted a measure to expedite affordable and teacher housing to pass, they would have publicly raised concerns soon after Mayor Breed announced her plan. Instead there was silence.

Silence that continued until they unveiled their “alternative.”

UESF’s Housing Failure

Supervisor Matt Haney cited teacher union support in justifying the Board’s measure, which does not stop CEQA or discretionary review appeals from delaying if not stopping affordable and teacher housing.  United Educators of San Francisco (UESF) and AFT 2121 ((which represents CCSF teachers)  took no position on Breed’s charter amendment and now backs the supervisors’ plan.

But UESF has long done a terrible job addressing teachers housing needs.

For years, progressive activists insisted that the city’s inclusionary rental housing law only serve those with income levels above starting teacher salaries. The teachers’ union raised no opposition for two reasons.

First, UESF’s leadership has long been politically aligned with those commonly defined as progressives. Former School Board members now supervisors Matt Haney, Shamman Walton, Sandra Fewer, and Norman Yee are UESF political allies; the union was not going to back Mayor Breed’s teacher housing proposal when these allies were not on board.

Consider the teachers unions’ stated reasons for backing the supervisors’ measure. Wynd Kaufmyn, vice president of AFT 2121 told the SF Examiner’s Joe Fitzgerald Rodriquez, “the supervisors’ ballot measure is better because it doesn’t lock in changes that might not actually facilitate truly affordable housing.”

What Kaufymyn is saying about not “locking in changes” means that the union opposes Mayor Breed’s using a charter amendment rather than an ordinance to protect teacher and affordable housing from CEQA challenges, discretionary review, and other frivolous appeals. The union prefers the Board’s weaker measure because  it allows frivolous appeals of teacher housing.

If you back teacher housing, that position makes no sense.

UESF’s leadership was not quoted in Rodriquez’s story but former longtime UESF official Ken Tray said teachers had “ ‘pretty productive’ ” meetings with the Mayor’s Office, but it was the supervisors who got brought them in early in the process.”

The unions’ preference for the supervisors’ measure was not about “process.” It was about backing politicians whom the teachers unions have long supported.

UESF’s leadership has long been composed of boomers who were able to buy houses in San Francisco before teachers were priced out. Their view of the housing crisis is more aligned with their generation’s opposition to increased density than with the needs of millennial teachers entering the district (among the reasons there is such high teacher turnover).

UESF did nothing to address teacher’s housing needs as rents and home prices skyrocketed during the late 1990’s dot com boom. As I describe in Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, it was not until Mayor Ed Lee pushed for teacher housing that this critical unmet need was addressed. Lee worked with State Senator Mark Leno to pass state legislation in 2016 enabling school district employee housing to be built. UESF was completely on board, but it took Mayor Lee to make it happen.  (my book describes how other cities are now building teacher housing to address rising rents).

UESF never publicly articulated its problems with Mayor Breed’s charter amendment. They played the game that their supervisor allies wanted played, even though that meant a rival ballot measure that could create confusion among voters causing both plans to fail in November. (Both my daughters are SFUSD teachers and UESF members. These views are my own).

Progressive Quandry

I understand progressive supervisors’ quandary. They can win district elections despite supporting exclusionary single-family home zoning and guaranteeing constituents’ the power to file frivolous appeals against new housing.

What these progressives cannot do is win a citywide mayor’s race. The election of Willie Brown, Gavin Newsom, Ed Lee and London Breed confirms that most voters actually want the city to build more housing.

Breed distinguished herself from rivals Jane Kim and Mark Leno in the June 2018 special election by openly promoting her pro-housing stance. And she won.

Mayor Breed has become as outspoken as any mayor in the nation about the need for their city to build a lot more housing a lot faster. If that were an unpopular position, Breed would not essentially be running unopposed for re-election.

What San Francisco’s progressive supervisors can also not do is meaningfully address the city’s housing crisis while retaining the city’s existing zoning and housing density. As I said about Aaron Peskin’s complex renovation/demolition legislation denounced by the Planning Commission last week, it’s really an example of changing deck chairs on the Titantic—it ignores the city’s core housing problem of inadequate supply.

San Francisco’s progressive supervisors could turn the city into a national leader in ending racist and elitist exclusionary single family home zoning. They could pass the strongest Green New Deal of any city by promoting dramatically more infill housing to address San Francisco’s population and job growth.

I will keep pushing to make this happen.

I think every current or aspiring supervisor could win election if they backed a lot more infill housing citywide. But until that occurs, San Francisco’s s estrangement from truly progressive policies on housing and climate change continues.



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