SF Politics Turns to 2016

by on November 23, 2015

Peskin's candidacy ignited activism that will spread in 2016

Thanksgiving week typically marks the end of one year’s political activism and the forging of plans for the next.  For San Francisco politics, it is more accurate to say that the campaigns of 2016 began taking shape when Aaron Peskin announced his candidacy last March. This reignited a spirit of grassroots activism that will dominate the political landscape in 2016.

If Peskin addresses half the issues his backers want him to work on it will be a very busy legislative year. But 2016 offers much more.

It is the first time since the return of district elections in 2000 that a presidential election coincided with multiple open and contested supervisor seats.  There will likely be more San Franciscans working on political campaigns than ever before, further demonstrating that there are a lot of people who still believe in working to achieve a better future for San Francisco.

I hope people take a minute to consider this reality.

As popular as it has become to claim that San Francisco has lost its “soul,” the Peskin campaign and the visible excitement I see among activists heading into 2016 says otherwise.  A tech “invasion” has not “destroyed” San Francisco and those seeking further evidence of this fact should pay attention to city politics next year.

The Supes Races

San Francisco faces competitive supervisor races in more districts than at any time since 2010.  They include districts 1, 5, 9, and 11 (I’m assuming Peskin and Yee will draw little opposition in districts 3 and 7).

Progressives currently hold three of the four contested seats in districts 1, 9, and 11.  Progressives lost the D5 seat they held with Matt Gonzalez and Ross Mirkarimi to London Breed in 2012 and are hoping to take it back (expect Breed to vote with progressives on key issues in 2016 to prevent this).

Each of these contested district races will see multiple candidates with a large number of campaign volunteers. In fact, the combination of the supervisor campaigns, the Kim-Wiener State Senate race, likely initiatives on the November ballot, and state and national races could make 2016 a record setting year for San Francisco political engagement.

I’ll hold off my predictions on these supervisor races until my annual column starting the New Year. I will offer an early warning to those considering grassroots ballot measures for 2016: past experience shows that activists favor candidate campaigns to working on initiatives. The many supervisor campaigns and State Senate race will take most volunteers, so keep this in mind when planning your measure.

Housing Agenda

Housing remain the city’s dominant issue and two critical legislature efforts and one potential ballot initiative will attract the most interest in 2016. The first—new legislation on short-term rentals—is no mystery. Airbnb needs to put this issue behind them. There are enough areas of compromise that with skilled negotiator Aaron Peskin on the Board a resolution is not simply possible, but even probable.

The second issue is the need for a charter amendment on the November 2016 ballot to raise the 12% inclusionary housing percentage approved by voters when they passed Prop C in 2011.  The housing market has changed dramatically since 2011 and the Board of Supervisors and Mayor need to finally get the right formula for the percentage of affordable housing the city requires from private developers.

The right formula means breaking from the one size fits all approach used in the past. The inclusionary requirement should be higher for large buildings and should account for the fair market value of the site (projects in upscale areas should have higher requirements).  Developers want  inclusionary requirements to reflect falling market conditions, which means someone has to come up with a metric that addresses this.

It takes six votes to put a charter amendment on the ballot, which should be easy. But even though it only needs a majority vote, the mayor and Board have to come up with a measure that can win this majority. That will be less easy. The split between nonprofit groups and private developers that emerged over November’s Prop I has not yet healed, and the positive working relationship that led to the enactment of the Housing Trust Fund and the Housing Bond must be rebuilt.

As for the potential ballot initiative, after Prop G (the anti-speculation tax) lost in 2014, tenant groups talked about returning a version of the measure to the ballot in 2016. It is too soon to know whether the inclusionary charter amendment means this won’t happen next year. But November 2016 offers a much larger tenant turnout than 2014, and Prop G could be revised to eliminate some minor provisions that contributed to the measure’s defeat.

With Ellis Act reform in Sacramento not apparently happening in 2016, the return of an anti-speculation tax ballot measure will certainly be considered.

Mayor Lee’s Agenda

Mayor Lee will be centrally involved in the Board’s top legislative efforts, but he has non-legislative goals that start with plans to address public concerns over street homelessness.

I can’t predict what specifically the mayor will do to respond to this public and media clamor, but I do believe he will announce plans that offer a significant new direction.  Despite Mayor Lee reducing veterans’ homelessness,  adding $500,000 just last week to house fifty homeless families, and adding a whopping 1000 supportive housing units in the current and next year, the public is unhappy with what they see on the streets. And whether that unhappiness is “fair” or not, the mayor cannot ignore it.

I think the Mayor’s office will come up with smart ways to improve homeless outreach that avoids past conflicts and is a win-win for all involved. The Navigation Center was one such strategy, and there are others that should be implemented soon after the mayor’s second term begins.

It’s going to be a very busy year in San Francisco and across the nation. So use the upcoming holidays to rest up and recharge your batteries, as January 2016  will be here before you know it.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.  If you are looking for sex, crime and resistance this holiday season, read his new book, The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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's latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior 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. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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