SF’s June Election Surprise

by on January 14, 2016

Mary Jung, after winning election as Chair of the SFDCCC in 2012

As San Francisco faces another low turnout June election, the city’s progressives are trying to change this pattern. Seeking to win control of the city’s Democratic County Central Committee (DCCC),  progressives are using June ballot initiatives to get their voters out.

The chief initiative is the Jane Kim/ Aaron Peskin plan to increase the inclusionary housing requirement from 12% to 25%. The charter amendment also returns the city’s inclusionary housing law to the jurisdiction of the Board of Supervisors, adding necessary flexibility for future changes.

The DCCC Races

While the DCCC is unknown to most voters,  politicians and political insiders know its roster backwards and forwards. The reason is its endorsement power. In an overwhelming Democratic city, candidates “Endorsed by the Democratic Party” gain an edge.

After moderates won a DCCC majority in 2012 and installed SF Association of Realtors liaison Mary Jung as President, many saw this as the Democratic Party turning against tenants. But the DCCC still endorsed the anti-speculator tax in the November 2014 election, which lost despite the DCCC’s support.

Candidates in San Francisco believe winning the Party nod is critical to their success. They all feel they have a stake in who wins the June DCCC elections.

DCCC elections are primarily decided by name recognition. That’s why the 2014 race elected six supervisors, John Avalos, David Campos, David Chiu, Malia Cohen, Scott Wiener and Eric Mar. Candidates for supervisor have long used the DCCC race to build name recognition and to collect money from donors beyond that which they could receive for their supervisor’s race alone. For example, Joshua Arce, running in D9, was appointed to the DCCC and is now running for his own term.

Winning a DCCC election usually requires candidates be part of a slate. And the outcome of the race between “moderate” or “progressive” slates this June depends a lot on whether progressives  increase past voter turnout.

The SF Chronicle’s Heather Knight described the city’s June 2014 election as “sleep-inducing.” That low-turnout election proved bad news for progressives, which is why Peskin and Kim hope that running the affordable housing initiative in June gets their base to the polls to also support the progressive DCCC slate (Note: the progressive base will be in an even deeper sleep under the ill-conceived proposal to fill the 2017 D6 or D8 supervisor openings via special election. That’s why the Avalos plan hurts tenants and should be rejected).

The 25% Proposal

Due to the June election deadline, Kim announced her plans to raise the housing fee as Mayor Lee was attending the first meeting of his Working Group assembled to reach a consensus. The Mayor felt such a diverse group of stakeholders could not reach consensus  in time for the June ballot, which was likely correct. Lee also assumed that the economic feasibility study legally and politically necessary to raise inclusionary requirements could not be completed without rushing to meet a June deadline.

But given the urgency of the housing crisis and the need to drive progressive turnout for June DCCC races, Kim’s plan is moving forward. It is almost certain to appear on the June ballot. A feasibility study will soon get underway and be available prior to the Board’s final approval of the charter amendment.

While the version sent to voters is likely to remain at 25%, major differences over income levels, the size of exempted projects, and the extent of grandfathering remain.

Under Kim’s current proposal, 15% of the inclusionary units will serve those earning 55% of area median for rental, and serve those at 80% of area median for ownership. The other 10% targets renter households earning 100% of median and 120% for those getting below market homewnership.

Kim’s decision to go with higher area median incomes for 10% of her proposal ensures it benefits teachers, nurses and other working people. But as the battle over Forest City’s 5M project showed, some progressives do not support Kim’s efforts to broaden the beneficiary base for affordable housing.

Building Size

The Kim-Peskin measure does not increase housing fees on projects of 25 units or less. That takes away a big argument that unified small and big developers in recently defeating Prop L, the Mission Moratorium.

But the measure still treats all buildings over 25 units the same. Can a builder of a thirty unit project in the Bayview really afford a 25% inclusionary requirement, with deep homeownership subsidies for 15% of the project? I have yet to come across anyone who feels large developers in upscale SOMA should have the same inclusionary rate as small builders in less prosperous neighborhoods, but that’s what the current version of Kim-Peskin does.

Grandfathering

“Grandfathering” involves when the higher requirements take effect. If I read the Kim-Peskin proposal correctly, only already entitled properties will open under the old 12% rules.

I hope this extreme position is a bargaining chip because it is not fair. Housing developments waiting years for approval due to the city’s glacial process should not now face higher requirements.

Many developers got financing based on economic assumptions that the higher inclusionary requirements change. Unless the city goes back some number of years to grandfather these projects in, I see litigation and a heavily funded opposition campaign facing the charter amendment.

The Kim-Peskin measure is still a work in progress. Its final form   gives progressives a chance to show they can work with developers to get more affordable housing built. Or it could otherwise confirm their opponents’ suspicions that more stringent requirements are designed to ensure that only the biggest, most upscale housing projects get constructed.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. He describes the Tenderloin’s strategic approach to housing development in his book, The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco.

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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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