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    San Francisco Goes Boom

    rafealBy Rafael Mandelman

    Sign of the times: The front page of a recent issue of the Chronicle had a story about a luxury residential project slated to break ground at 3rd and Mission in July. It is anticipated to “shatter records for San Francisco’s most expensive units ever.”

    With the tech boom showing no signs of slowing, neighborhoods across the City are under intense development pressures, and many are pushing back. I was delighted to see Supervisor Scott Wiener introduce and pass legislation to help the Corona Heights neighbors slow the proliferation of monster homes in their neighborhood. Wiener’s tenure on the Board has been frustrating for those of us who do not share the “build baby build” agenda of his friends at the Chamber of Commerce, SPUR and the Building Trades. I do not imagine that the monster home legislation signals any great change of the Supervisor’s heart or mind on the larger development questions, but it does demonstrate, as he often does, his responsiveness to constituent needs and his willingness to adapt and respond to new information. And those qualities are worth a lot in an elected official.

    Supervisor David Campos, of course, remains the Board’s leading champion of economic fairness. In February, his dogged pursuit of Airbnb resulted in the company’s payment to the City of millions of dollars in back taxes. As Willie Brown noted in his February 27 Chron column, “Campos will be forever known as the guy who got Airbnb to pay up. Not a bad thing to have on your resume.”

    Campos’ recent announcement that he is considering proposing controls on market-rate development in the Mission, possibly including a temporary moratorium, has sparked an irate response from pro-development types and other believers in the magic of the invisible hand. Critics have been quick to condemn Campos for daring to threaten the real estate gold rush, but it should be quite obvious that our response to the housing crisis so far has been utterly inadequate. The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project has found numbers to support that point: 4,978 units affordable to low income households have been produced in San Francisco since 2007 (well short of the City’s goal of 12,124 such units). In the same period, however, 3,278 affordable rental units were lost through eviction and conversion to TICs or condos. Not only are we failing to produce enough new affordable units to meet the growing need, but we are also barely producing enough to make up for the housing we have lost.

    Reading the attacks on Campos reminded me of a Heather Knight column in the December 28, 2014, Chron. It focused on the all-too-familiar litany of bad consequences of the boom: rapidly rising rents, increased evictions and the fastest growing income gap in the nation. What struck me at the time about Knight’s column (so much so that I clipped it out and have been carrying it around with me ever since) was a comment by SPUR executive director Gabriel Metcalf, whom Knight quoted as saying, in reference to the challenges posed by the tech boom, “I run a public policy shop and sometimes it’s humbling to realize just how limited the role of public policy is.”

    To be sure, the role of public policy is quite limited if, from the outset, you are unwilling to even contemplate changing the rules in ways that would slow the accumulation of wealth by those profiting from the boom. I for one am awfully glad that not everyone in local government accepts Metcalf’s grim claims of public impotence. Thank you, David Campos.

    And speaking of politicians who aren’t afraid to shake down the wealthy and powerful, it’s looking increasingly likely that former District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin will, in fact, challenge mayoral appointee Julie Christensen this November. I am a big fan of Aaron’s and look forward to having him back on the Board. He’s whip smart and a great ally in a political knife-fight. Most importantly, at a time when private development interests are so dominant at City Hall, we need people on the Board who believe in using the powers of their office to bring those interests to heel. The race will be a tough one—it’s incredibly difficult to unseat an incumbent, even an appointed one—but it would be a great thing for Aaron to win this, for District 3, for the City and for reform politics.

    Finally, a last pitch for you to get your tickets for San Francisco’s Big Queer Party of the Year, the SFLGBT Community Center Soiree Saturday on March 28 at City View at the Metreon. I’ll be there, and so should you. Get your tickets at www.sfcenter.org

    Rafael Mandelman is an attorney for the City of Oakland. He is also President of the City College of San Francisco Board of Trustees.