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    A Progressive Win, A Rough Night for the Mayor, Housing Solutions and More Bad News for the ACCJC

    Rafael Mandelman

    Rafael Mandelman

    Aaron won! It’s been nearly a month, but San Francisco progressives are still basking in the afterglow of one of the great local lefty upsets of recent times. Appointed Supervisor Julie Christensen was a formidable candidate, backed by more than $1 million in direct campaign contributions and soft money from the real estate, development and tech industries, and enjoying the unflagging support of a mayor willing to use the full powers of his office to bolster her candidacy.

    In the end, though, her significant advantages of incumbency were no match for the focus, discipline and determination of a candidate who knew the district better, connected with voters better and put together a far better campaign. Aaron Peskin is District 3’s voice in City Hall once more, and the City’s beleaguered Left finally has something to celebrate.

    Conventional wisdom is that election night was not a great one for the Mayor. Sure, he won his second full term, and his candidates for sheriff and community college board won decisively, as did the affordable housing bond he had championed. But the rout of his candidate in District 3, combined with the Mayor’s own anemic electoral tally (just over 55 percent of the vote in a field of candidates most people had never heard of), have led to speculation that Ed Lee, who only a year ago seemed unbeatable, was actually by election day this year quite vulnerable. If only there had been a viable challenger, some have speculated, the City could actually have had a new mayor come January.

    I am not so sure. Certainly, there is great and growing dissatisfaction with the direction of our increasingly unaffordable and economically polarized city, and a strong challenger would, of course, have benefitted from that. But a stronger challenger and a real campaign would also have given the Mayor an opportunity to rally his supporters, to reframe the debate, and if he prevailed, maybe even emerge with something of a mandate for the next four years. A narrow victory over a Mark Leno might actually have left Mayor Lee in a stronger position than he is in today, coming out of an election that seems to have galvanized the opposition without allowing him to renew his own connection to the voters.

    My probably naïve hope is that, in the wake of the 2015 election, the Lee administration will now undertake a bit of a course correction, reach out to Peskin and the progressives on the Board and move aggressively to address the affordable housing and other challenges of the current economic boom. Of course, that kind of a shift would risk alienating the powerful business interests that have seemed so dominant in City Hall these last few years; on the other hand, it would bring the Lee administration more in line with Lee’s own roots as an affordable housing attorney and community activist. Folks inside City Hall tell me it won’t happen, but I am an optimistic soul, and one can dream.

    One policy initiative I would love to see the Mayor and Board collaborate on would be an increase in the City’s inclusionary housing requirement. Back in 2012, as part of a grand bargain to establish San Francisco’s housing trust fund, the City actually reduced the inclusionary housing requirement for new construction (to 12% onsite or 20% offsite) and ensured that any future increases in that requirement would have to go to the voters. In our current affordable housing crisis, and with the City having negotiated significantly larger inclusionary percentages for the Giants’ Mission Rock development near the ballpark and Forest City’s 5M project in SOMA, I am hearing a growing number of voices saying it is time to go back to the voters to establish a higher inclusionary requirement for all projects.

    Meanwhile, those of you following City College developments will have heard the latest bad news for the Commission: on November 17, the Board of Governors overseeing California’s community college system directed the State Chancellor to develop a plan and timeline for moving the 113-college system to a new accreditor. The decision followed on the issuance in August of the California Community College Accreditation Task Force Report, which was highly critical of the Commission, concluding that it had lost the confidence of its member institutions and ought to be replaced.

    In December, I and a number of others from City College of San Francisco and other California community colleges will be traveling to Washington, D.C., to testify before the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity regarding our experience with the Commission. I know lots of City College folks are feeling vindicated now that the Commission itself is feeling some heat; unfortunately, though, as I have described in this column before, the harms to the College done by the Commission’s threats to close the institution—declining enrollment, financial insecurity, administrative instability, to name just a few—will take years to reverse.

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