SF Supes’ Stellar Year

by on August 1, 2017

Has any prior San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed more critical housing legislation in a seven month period than the current group in 2017?  I don’t think so.

Yet the Board’s stellar record has gotten little attention. The health care battle and all things Trump have overshadowed the remarkable success of San Francisco’s local officials this year. It’s time to provide a reminder, as well as explanations for the Board’s unprecedented success.

Major Progress on Housing

In 2017, the Board has already strengthened the city’s SRO Hotel anti-conversion ordinance, toughened enforcement against sham Owner Move-In evictions, enacted density bonuses for affordable housing via HOME-SF, finalized new inclusionary housing rules and passed stronger restrictions on short-term rentals (this measure was vetoed by the mayor).

Each of these achievements would alone represent a successful seven months for many prior Boards.

To put this in perspective, the city’s SRO law had not been strengthened since 1990. That’s 27 years ago.

San Francisco voters have passed stronger measures to stop sham OMI evictions, but it is rare for the Supervisors to do so. And remarkably, on the most sweeping new enforcement procedure—non-profit right of enforcement—the vote was 11-0!

I really wish former SF Tenant Union leader Ted Gullicksen were alive to see that vote. He would never have believed it possible.

Trying to build housing on the city’s Westside has been considered hopeless for decades. Mayor Lee vowed to change this, and the SF Planning Department initiated an effort to do so.

It did not go well. In 2016, the predecessor to HOME-SF had insufficient political support to even reach a vote of the full Board.

But in 2017, virtually the same legislation passed—and on second reading the vote was also 11-0. The measure does more than bring 16,000 additional housing units to the city; it changes the popular mindset about the city’s recognizing the need to build more housing.

The struggle over creating new inclusionary housing rules seemed to leave all sides less than satisfied. But this is another case of our Board coming together to get key legislation passed. And yes, the vote was 11-0.

Mark Leno certainly recalls the struggle he faced to enact the city’s first inclusionary housing law; Aaron Peskin was on the Board that passed it. We’ve gone from an all-out war over 10-12% affordable housing requirements to a unanimous vote for what will soon be 20% inclusionary for most of the city.

While the Board’s short-term rental legislation was vetoed, a new agreement between San Francisco and Airbnb will make registration and enforcement much easier.  City Attorney Dennis Herrera deserves much of the credit but the Board’s engagement with the issue clearly helped.

None of the measures were mere window-dressing. This was not a case of  politicians wanting to appear they are addressing the housing crisis without actually taking meaningful action.

It’s also worth noting that while the Board’s landmark neighborhood preference legislation passed in 2016, it was first implemented in 2017 at the Willie B. Kennedy apartments.

What explains this remarkable productivity? Here are my thoughts.

Ongoing Affordability Crisis

I think the chief reason that the Board has been so active on housing is that the city’s affordability crisis demands supervisor action.  When even California Governor Jerry Brown is finally open to funding affordable housing—having denied state funding since taking office in 2011—you know the times have changed.

San Francisco’s crisis has increased public support for new housing and greater tenant and rental housing protections. This has brought stronger Board support.

Strong New Board Members

On January 9, 2017, I wrote “ Will SF’s New Supes Bring Change?” I concluded that “the four new supervisors bring impressive talents to the Board and San Francisco will be well served by their enthusiasm and commitment.”

Their record confirms this.

Hillary Ronen was an aide to her D9 predecessor David Campos and had no learning curve upon taking office in January. Ahsha Safai used to work at City Hall and understood the legislative process prior to becoming D11 Supervisor—he too hit the ground running. Sandra Fewer did not have the City Hall experience of her fellow newcomers but as a longtime School Board member she knows how the political system works. Jeff Sheehy has defied efforts to portray him as anti-tenant and played a key role in passing tougher OMI eviction restrictions.

None of these  supervisors have the ego issues that has made Board cooperation difficult in the past.

Veteran Supes Who Get Things Done

London Breed, Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell, Jane Kim, Aaron Peskin and Katy Tang all have proven they know how to get legislation passed. We may not support all of their measures but they know what they are doing.

When you are dealing with complicated legislation—-which covers all of the key housing measures passed this year—the Board needs supervisors who can effectively work the process. This means not asking extended questions of city staff because they have failed to read their Board packets;  not allowing personal grudges to shape their votes; and not getting caught up  in demanding personal credit.

A body known for conflict has become an effective force for positive change.

In these difficult times nationally, we are fortunate to have a Board of Supervisors that is doing the right things for San Francisco.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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