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    Our Queer Powerhouses, and the Ellis Act

    rafealOver the years, San Francisco has graced our State Legislature with some extraordinarily effective and prolific legislators, and it should be a point of pride for our LGBT community that over the last two decades – ever since Carole Migden first cracked the glass ceiling for San Francisco LGBT politicians seeking higher office – three of these powerhouse politicians have been queer.

    Midway through his final term in the State Assembly, Tom Ammiano is, of course, still going strong, recently winning a major victory for California’s domestic workers with the enactment of AB 241, his landmark Domestic Worker Bill of Rights law. Governor Brown had vetoed Ammiano’s prior attempt to guarantee overtime pay and other protections to hundreds of thousands of nannies, cooks, housekeepers and other domestic workers statewide, but Ammiano and the activists persevered, and this year they were able to deliver for some of the hardest working and most vulnerable workers in our economy.

    Over in the State Senate, Mark Leno has been pretty busy himself, chairing the Senate Budget Committee, and in his spare time battling to save local inclusionary affordable housing programs, reforming our State’s drug sentencing laws, championing industrial hemp cultivation, and urging California’s pension funds to disinvest in Russia until that country repeals its vile anti-gay laws.

    One area where Leno has tried valiantly (but so far unsuccessfully) to make a mark is in the area of Ellis Act reform. The Ellis Act, you may remember, is the legislation that allows landlords to evict their tenants if they decide to go out of the landlord business. Now there’s a reasonable underlying rationale for the Ellis Act. Think, for example, of the aging small property owner who simply can no longer manage the maintenance of rental property. But in San Francisco, the Ellis Act has been used to alarming effect by speculators who purchase buildings, including large apartment buildings housing dozens of longtime tenants, and then use the Act to clear out those buildings and sell off the units as TICs.

    Leno, and former Senator Sheila Kuehl before him, have tried to address this abuse of the Ellis Act through legislation that would prevent a buyer acquiring rental property from invoking the Ellis Act to evict tenants for the first five years following the acquisition. It’s a reasonable, common sense proposal to preserve the protections of the Ellis Act for longtime landlords, but to deny it as a tool for speculators looking to make a quick buck. Astoundingly, however, even with Democratic supermajorities in the State legislature, we are still told that Ellis Act reform is dead on arrival in Sacramento.

    This is intolerable. There are few greater threats to the vitality of our City, and in particular the survival of its LGBT community, than the displacement sweeping our neighborhoods.  Leno has demonstrated his commitment to pursue any realistic avenue to meet the challenge, and no one could question Ammiano’s willingness to pursue justice even against the longest odds. But as the next generation starts eyeing Ammiano’s and Leno’s seats, it is incumbent on anyone serving or seeking to serve in Sacramento to offer solutions to the Ellis Act challenge. And it is incumbent on the community to insist that our extraordinarily effective and prolific elected officials, of whom we are so very proud, fight this fight until it is won.

    Rafael Mandelman is a member of the San Francisco Community College Board of Trustees. He is also a partner at Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP.