It’s a pretty amazing thing to see

Mark Leno, after running for mayor for approximately 65 years, finally has an opinion on something. Homelessness is bad and it’s London Breed’s fault.

Which is definitely an incredibly valid thing to say. It definitely true that the current state of homelessness in SF is the fault of a black woman who’s been in office for 6 years and definitely has nothing to do with the policies promoted (and issues ignored by) a man who’s been in office since I was 9 years old (which is considerably more than 6 years).

And it definitely makes sense to blame London Breed even though basically every shot from that ad takes place in district represented by Jane Kim (8 years in office) his other opponent and the person he thinks should get your #2 vote.

Good thing he released his very innovative and not at all plagiarized homeless plan (March 21, 2018) three days after Breed’s plan (March 19, 2018) while somehow managing to basically copy all of her policy proposals.

Note: Some faithful readers are pointing out that Mark Leno first tried to release his plan on March 18 — which is when he held his first press conference on the topic. The problem? The actual PDF of the plan wouldn’t open. Sorry, but that’s the “dog ate my homework” of policy proposals. This isn’t Schrodinger’s policy. It doesn’t exist until I (and everyone else) can get my hands on it.

Let’s compare Leno’s totally unique approach to homelessness with Breed’s obviously totally inferior plan that was released three days earlier. Leno has 15 major points to his homeless plan. Let’s walk through each of them to see how they represent Leno’s completely unique and superior plan for dealing with homelessness:

Leno Point 1: Immediately move at least 1,000 people off the streets and into permanent supportive housing.

Breed: Her platform doesn’t mention this point, probably because there’s a dispute over whether these empty units even exist.

Leno Point 2: Reform our homeless shelter system to increase capacity and improve rates of re-housing.  His only specific elements to this point are Navigation Centers (Point 3) and improving “wraparound services” (Point 11)

Breed: Build more navigation centers; also leverage Assemblymember Phil Ting’s legislation AB 932 to expedite construction of homeless shelters and AB 857 to secure state lands at virtually no cost.

Leno Point 3: Move as many people as possible off the streets by quickly expanding our navigation center system.

Breed: Build more Navigation Centers, which have more services and fewer restrictions than typical shelters;

Leno Point 4: Take advantage of our Small Site Acquisition program to move more people from the street and into housing

Breed: Acquire more properties via our Small Sites Acquisition Program

Leno Point 5: Bring all families and children in off the streets. This is just saying that he thinks children and families should get priority in the shelters, supportive housing, and navigation centers.

Breed: [citing the high proportion of homeless youth who are LGBTQ] Build an LGBTQ youth services shelter, create host-home subsidized housing for LGBTQ youth.

Leno Point 6: Establish a Mental Health Justice Center to stop recycling homeless people in and out of jail.

Breed: Pass my conservatorship legislation so courts can appoint guardians for the mentally ill, open safe injection facilities, expand the street medicine teams, 

Leno Point 7: Create Universal Mental Health Care for all. This sounds great, but is mostly about adding psychiatric beds to the city’s hospitals.

Breed: She doesn’t mention psychiatric beds.

Leno Point 8: Create 15,000 units of affordable, workforce, and permanent supportive housing to move people off our streets and under a permanent roof. How? Where? With what money? Your guess is as good as mine.

Breed: Build 5,000 more housing units each year; Create a supportive In-Law Unit/Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) program where the City pays for the construction of ADU units (such as these) and manages the permitting process, in exchange for the property owner making the unit permanently available as affordable housing to “Moving On” tenants; Expand, the Homeward Bound program; Lease apartments, buildings, and SROs to expand “step up housing” for folks with vouchers; Lease or buy underutilized buildings to operate as supportive housing under the Master Lease program.

Leno Point 9: Protect at-risk tenants to keep people in their home. He mentions suing people who abuse the Ellis Act to evict tenants, providing rental assistance and Right to Counsel for those facing eviction.

Breed: Pass my Right to Counsel Law, expand rental subsidy programs, continue the Rental Assistance Demonstration program to rehab public housing, extend affordability covenants on units for which the covenant will expire, expand the Good Samaritan Law to protect victims displaced by earthquake or fire, regulate short-term rentals, protect existing housing stock by retrofitting seismically unsafe buildings.

Leno Point 10: Create new tools to hold city government accountable to meeting district-specific criteria and benchmarks

Breed: Implement and improve our unified data system to ensure various agencies and nonprofits serving homeless people are accurately tracking their history and needs and allocating resources appropriately.

Leno Point 11: Fix our broken system of supportive services. This involves securing General Assistance and food stamps for more of the homeless population.

Breed: She doesn’t specifically mention General Assistance or food stamps.

Leno Point 12: Do a top-to-bottom audit of homeless dollars to stop and prevent waste.

Breed: Get more out of each homeless dollar we spend by launching audits and potentially implementing pay for performance contracts

Leno Point 13: Pass a comprehensive regional housing and homelessness bond measure

Breed: Write and pass a $50 million General Obligation bond to build modular homes for homeless people; invest in our affordable housing stock via measures like our $310 million housing bond; pass our Housing For All ballot measure this June to generate $1 billion.

Leno Point 14: Make use of the $100 million dollars I secured as State Senator to create 400 units of permanent supportive housing. This references Prop 63, passed in 2004 which provided funding for homeless services.

Breed: She doesn’t mention this source of funding. However, the San Jose Mercury News says that a recent audit revealed SF only has $22M available.

Leno Point 15: Leverage statewide connections to fund homeless resources

Breed: Advocate with other mayors, state, and federal officials for more homelessness and supportive housing funds

So there you have it — Mark and London’s homelessness plans side-by-side. It’s one thing for a man who held public office for 22 years to blame homelessness on a woman whose been in office for 6 years. It’s another thing to do that AND basically copy her homelessness plan which you released three days after she did.


2016 Election: Can the Primary Results Predict the Next Six Days?

After the 2015 election in San Francisco, I noticed something that I’m sure other more practiced election watchers have known for a long time: San Franciscans don’t vote consistently. Specifically, I was curious how Aaron Peskin was elected to Supervisor in District 3 even as those same voters rejected major policy initiatives he supported (Propositions F [AirBnb regulation] and I [Mission Housing Development Moratorium]). That inspired me to look at the election results for the whole city and see how that might impact the local races in the 2016 election.

With just a few weeks to go, I’m going to try to do the same thing with the primary election results.

Note #1: the results were finalized waaaay back on June 24, 2016.  The reason I didn’t publish this sooner is that I screwed up all my excel tables and didn’t notice until I was about to hit publish on the post. So I went back and had to redo all my analysis and rebuild all my visuals. It was a real bummer, but I’m not perfect and this blog is more for my own edification than anything else. The end result is that this post is super late and looks at far fewer election results than originally planned.

The central question of the previous post was “do local election results give us any insight into what will happen in November 2016?” Today we’ll look at the results of the (1) presidential primary, (2) state senate primary, and (3) results of Prop C (raising the affordable housing %).

Note #2: I’m going to focus on who I believe are the two main candidates in each race. Sorry other candidates. Many of you are great and deserve attention, but I’m not really promoting anyone here. I’m trying to better understand how San Franciscans vote.

Disclosure #1: even though I literally just said “I’m not really promoting anyone here” I have my favorites. I can’t help it. That’s how I feel, and I just want to be honest. Marjan Philhour is way up there.  The reason? She’s committed to a high information campaign. Her medium page is full of very nuanced policy positions, which she began writing back in April and continues to update. Her opponent, Sandra Lee Fewer, is very smart and accomplished, but took a lot longer to get her policy positions out to the public. On the issue I care most about, housing, I believe Ms. Fewer’s positions, which mirror those of Aaron Peskin, will only increase prices and expedite displacement to the detriment of the neighborhood and the city. At a debate on October 26, she reiterated her commitment to building only 100% subsidized housing, which is tantamount to building nothing. I have no qualms with subsidized housing; we need as much of it as we can get. However, we currently fund affordable housing projects through fees on market rate developments. Building 100% affordable housing means disallowing market rate housing, which would simultaneously exhaust our affordable housing funding, provide very few units, and eliminate a crucial source of funding for future projects. Promoting the construction of only “100% affordable housing” sounds great, but it’s basically the policy equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping.

Joel Engardio is another fave. He’s also committed to an extremely high information campaign. He also has the right idea on housing and transportation. His opponent, incumbent Norman Yee, doesn’t; but is pretty low key about it. He doesn’t quite get my hackles up like Fewer does because he’s less forward leaning in his backward views.

District 1: Sandra Lee Fewer & Marjan Philhour

Back in February, I wrote that based on the previous election results, I thought Marjan Philhour would win in a squeaker. Most residents of the district supported Mayor Ed Lee’s reelection and rejected Props F and I, though these results were less overwhelming than in other parts of the city.

However, the primary results indicate that District 1 voters have a very idiosyncratic relationship with Progressive candidates and causes. When it comes to progressive ballot initiatives, they tend to vote very similarly to the city as a whole, but the results for Progressive candidates are a little more muddled.

About 68% of District 1 voters supported Prop C, the map of support below. This is basically identical to the city-wide results (D1 voters were slightly more supportive, but by less than 1%).


You can see the Prop’s main support in the district comes from the “Progressive Arc” that starts in precinct 9136 in the SW corner, rises up to California Ave in the Middle Richmond and then heads south again as we head East toward the University of San Francisco.

Jane Kim was Prop C’s sponsor and main proponent and she carried the district in state senate primary with about 47.5% of the vote (her main opponent Scott Wiener received 41.5% of the vote). Compared to the city as a whole, Jane Kim over performed among District 1 voters, but again by only about 1% whereas Scott Wiener under performed by the relatively dire 4%.


Progressives and moderates can both find reasons to celebrate the map above. Jane Kim surpassed Scott Wiener by a very healthy 6%. She carried the vast majority of precincts. However, she failed to carry a majority of the districts’ voters and only won two precincts with over 50%. The reason both candidates failed to get over 50% is because Republican Ken Loo received 11%, a relatively strong showing for a Republican in San Francisco.

On first blush, it would appear that Bernie Sanders beat Jane Kim in District 1. There’s a much more visible Progressive Arc in the map below. Bernie won an outright majority in many more precincts than Kim did.


However, while his strength among progressives was stronger than Kim’s, he was weaker among moderate voters. He beat Hillary Clinton in the district, but received a lower vote percentage than Kim.

I predict the race for district Supervisor will be very close, perhaps the closest in the city. In the primary, there were more than enough Republican voters (who will vote in the non-partisan Supervisors race) to swing the results to less progressive candidates. If neither Philhour or Fewer receive 50%+1 of the vote, a result I believe is likely, than it will come down to voter’s second and third choice.

District 3: Aaron Peskin & Tim Donnelly

Tim who? Good question. Incumbent Aaron Peskin faces token opposition in late-entrant Tim Donnelly, who’s running because he “couldn’t let Aaron run unopposed.” Democracy is about choices, and Mr. Donnelly should be applauded for doing his district this service.

Aaron Peskin will win re-election to his seat, but let’s take a look at the results anyway.


The results in District 3 largely mirror those in District 1. Aaron Peskin was a big proponent of Prop C, and it performed slightly better in D3 than it did city-wide.

The Prop C map does a good job illustrating areas of political strength in the district. Progressive candidates and causes do well in the Tenderloin-adjacent areas in the SW corner, Chinatown, and along Columbus Ave (North Beach-ish). They do poorly in the Financial District, Nob Hill, Russian Hill, and along the Embarcadero.

This pattern is repeated in the State Senate results.


Like in District 1, Jane Kim and Republican Ken Loo over performed, while Wiener under performed their city-wide results. Also, like in District 1, Kim won without winning a full majority. Despite that, she still beat Wiener by about 7%. Kim is a close ally of Peskin on the Board of Supervisors and her strength is probably a reflection on his.

Unlike District 1, where Bernie Sanders did very well, he under performed in District 3 relative to his support city-wide.

Figure 6: Bernie and Hillary in D3

Figure 6: Bernie and Hillary in D3

Bernie’s failure in District 3 is interesting because he and Jane Kim campaigned together and performed similarly in most districts. This was decidedly not the case in District 3 thanks, in large part, to the voters of Chinatown who strongly supported Kim AND strongly supported Hillary Clinton. These results show that Chinatown continues to be the key to District 3.

As I said, Aaron Peskin is the prohibitive favorite to win reelection. It will be interesting to see exactly what level of support he garners. He’s rumored to want to run for mayor, and a decisive reelection win will go a long way toward helping him realize that goal.

District 5: London Breed & Dean Preston

As I wrote previously, London Breed has the benefit of incumbency despite the fact that she is perhaps not the best ideological fit for District 5, which is, along with District 9, among the most strongly progressive parts of the city. Prop C is a great example of that progressive strength. Almost 75% of District voters were in favor of Prop C. It only did better in District 9.

Figure X: Prop C in D5

Breed’s opponent, Dean Preston, is desperate to brand her as allied with the mayor/too moderate for this district, and back in February I agreed that this might be an effective strategy. However, the results of the primary offer both candidates a pathway forward.


Jane Kim had her third best performance among the voters of District 5, making this district among those that make up the core of her progressive support. It was one of three Districts where she won an outright majority. As you can see in the bar chart, she won a huge number of precincts. Her strongest area of support within the District was what I call “Greater Haight” – Upper and Lower Haight, NOPA, and Alamo Square. Wiener did best in Cole Valley, Japantown, and Lower Pacific Heights. Hayes Valley, the Western Addition, and the Inner Sunset are sort somewhere in the middle, though Kim generally swept them all. This is exactly the path that Dean Preston would like to recreate as he runs for Supervisor.

London Breed, on the other hand, wants to mirror Hillary Clinton, who squeaked out a slim win against Bernie Sanders.


Like Wiener, Hillary lost the Greater Haight, but managed to run up the score in Cole Valley, Lower Pacific Heights and Japantown. However, she managed eke out small victories in Western Addition, Hayes Valley precincts, such that she was able to win the District by a very thin margin.

I’m inclined to believe that London Breed will win re-election largely by following Hillary Clinton’s path. Bernie Sanders, for whatever reason, has endorsed Breed’s opponent (sort of), but his endorsement matters little with the voters Breed needs in order to win her race. She’s from the Western Addition and will probably perform strongly there. Still the path she must walk is a very narrow one, and it should be noted that Hillary won the district with a plurality, rather than majority of votes. If this were a 3+ candidate race, Breed’s name recognition would probably allow her to prevail through ranked-choice voting. With only two candidates, the winner must get a majority of first-choice votes and that happens very rarely for moderate candidates or causes in District 5.

District 7: Norman Yee & Joel Engardio (and others)

Like District 5, the seat in District 7 is held by an incumbent running for reelection (Norman Yee) who may not be the best ideological fit for the district. He’s a progressive in what is probably the least progressive district in the city.

District 7 voters were among the least in favor of Prop C in city. It was one of two districts (District 2 is the other), where it garnered less than 60% of the vote. In fact, in many areas of the district it flat out lost.


Progressive candidates fared even worse.  Jane Kim received only about 38.5% of the vote, losing all but 11 precincts. Scott Wiener received almost 49% and Republican Ken Loo received about 12.5% of the vote.


Mirroring the results of the state senate race, Bernie Sanders received about 38.5% of the vote, Hillary Clinton received almost 49%, and Republicans received 12.6%. These results underscore how ideologically consistent voters in District 7 are.


You might think that progressive Norman Yee would be facing an uphill battle in his reelection effort, given these results. Indeed, the results above indicate he will. However, Yee got a lucky break in that he’s being challenged by four candidates, all of whom are less progressive (Joel Engardio, Ben Matranga. Mike Young, and John Farrell). A divided race benefits the incumbent because higher name recognition will make him more likely to be voters second or third choice.

Joel Engardio ran for the seat in 2012, and was the first challenger out of the gate this cycle. That experience was definitely on display during a recent debate between the candidates (except Yee, who declined to participate). Engardio’s answers reflected a fluency with the issues that the newer entrants did not always have. Had this been a two person race, I think Norman Yee would be facing a very tough race. Case-in-point, both the Chronicle and the Examiner, which are often at odds, endorsed Engardio, making Yee the only incumbent who failed to receive their endorsements. As it is, the fundraising and moderate political establishment is divided. All the challengers would be aided by a coordinated “1-2-3 Defeat Norman Yee” campaign in order to diminish the number of 2nd or 3rd choice votes Yee picks up through name recognition.

District 9: Hillary Ronen and Josh Arce

District 9 remains the most progressive part of the city. Prop C received 75% of the voters in D9, higher than any other district. Only the residents of the Portola, in the very southern part of the district, were lukewarm on the measure.



This was also Jane Kim’s best district. She won 56% of the vote among D9 residents and won the vast majority of the precincts. She performed best in the Mission; in the northern part of the District, and worst in, again, the Portola.



Like in District 5, the other progressive stronghold, there was a neighborhood schism in the presidential primary.


While Bernie remained strong in the Mission, Hillary managed to perform well ahead of Scott Wiener among voters in the Bernal Heights neighborhood. Hillary lost Bernal Heights by less than 100 votes. Wiener lost Bernal Heights by over 1000 votes. Bernie still managed to win a a majority of D9 voters, it was by a much slimmer margin than Kim’s victory.

The progressive establishment has lined up behind Hillary Ronen, and her path to victory is clear; just do what every other progressive candidate has done before her. If Josh Arce has any chance at an upset, he’ll need to outdo Hillary Clinton’s performance, which probably means winning Bernal Heights, and minimizing losses in the Mission.

District 11: Ahsha Safai and Kimberly Alvarenga

I must admit that of all the areas in the city, this is the one I visit least. Hopefully that means the election results will speak for themselves; uncolored by any preconceived ideas I might have had. Most likely it means I have no idea what’s going on.

I do know that many progressive columnists have been hitting moderate candidate Ahsha Safai harder than candidates in other races, a sign that they believe their candidate, Kimberly Alvarenga, is in danger of losing. My previous analysis justified these fears. The district was almost entirely in favor of the mayor’s reelection and against Props F and I. This time, however, Prop C performed fairly well. About 69% of voters were in favor of Prop C, which is slightly better than District 1 and slightly worse than District 3 and higher than the city-wide results.


Likewise, Jane Kim enjoyed similar success. She captured about two-thirds of the districts precincts’ and almost 47% of the vote, which is slightly better than her city-wide result. Scott Wiener’s silver lining is that this was among Kim’s narrower wins, and there are more than enough Republican votes (9%) in this district to impact the outcome.


Like we’ve now seen in several districts, Hillary Clinton out performed the other moderate candidates She also received almost 48% of the district vote, to Bernie’s 45%. We see that the Republican share of the vote was 2% lower in this race than it was in the State Senate race. Hillary had to win a few Kim voters in order to win, but this Republican shift gives us some indication of who they can impact the outcome of close local races.


TL;DR/Supervisor Wrap Up

In the bag: Aaron Peskin has the race in District 3 sown up, in what could ordinarily be a swing district. Watch his support in Chinatown for an indication of what the future holds.

Progressive Girl in a Progressive World: Hillary Ronen is the favorite to win the race in District 9. District 9 voters have voted in favor of every progressive candidate or cause I’ve looked at.

The Benefit of Incumbency?: moderate London Breed (D5) and progressive Norman Yee (D7) aren’t the best ideological fit for voters in their districts. Will Breed’s less-dogmatic voting record and focus on neighborhood services history save her? This writer thinks so based on Hillary Clinton’s victory over Bernie in the district. Norman Yee’s chances seem slimmer. Voters in D7 are very consistent and very conservative (by SF standards). If  he win’s it will be because the field of opposition is crowded and his higher name recognition allowed him to pick up voters as voters second or third choice.

Wide Open: It could go either way in swing districts 1 and 11. Progressives would seem to have the advantage in D1, given the twin victories of Kim and Sanders, but both races could have swung differently had Republicans been included. As we’ve seen in previous elections, D1 voters have history of being lukewarm on progressive causes. Democrats in D11 are slightly less progressive than D1, but the district also has fewer Republicans. I think either of these races could go either way. Both districts have elected Progressive supervisors in the past, but by only the thinnest of margins.

State Senate: Kim and Wiener

Kim’s narrow primary shocked the world! Though I was never really sure why. Jane Kim and Scott Wiener are, in my opinion, our two most forward leaning supervisors. Unlike some of their peers, who receive complaints for being unresponsive, Wiener and Kim are both extremely active Supervisors with lots of legislative accomplishments. On one hand this race should be easy to predict because they already ran against each other (with Republican Ken Loo) in the primary and Kim won, albeit ever so slightly.


Kim’s areas of greatest strength are progressive strongholds District 9 and 5, and District 6, which she currently represents. Wiener’s base is in the ultra moderate Districts 7 and 2; and in District 8, which he currently represents. She won narrowly in District 4 and 11, and by wider margins in Districts 1 and 3. Aside from his strongholds, Wiener only won narrowly in D10. Kim supporters shouldn’t get too excited though. If the November election is as close as as June’s primary was, Wiener will probably win because Loo is no longer on the ballot and there were more than enough Loo voters to alter the results.

If I had to pick today, I would say Wiener in a squeaker.

Reasons why I could be wrong!

Turnout will be high!

The primary had a 56% voter turnout rate, which is actually pretty good for an SF primary (the 2012 primary only had a 30% turnout; 2008 only had about 40%). As high as that is, the November election will almost certainly be much higher. The 2012 presidential election had a 72.5% voter turnout, and 2008 had an 81%. If an extra 120,000 San Franciscans turn out to vote who knows what could happen.

Does race matter?

One important dynamic that I am in no way qualified to discuss is the impact of candidate’s race. Will the Chinese-American candidates (Fewer, Yee) get a boost from Chinese-American voters in their district? If such a benefit exists, will that extend to the Korean-American Kim? Some have argued that it does. Likewise, will Joshua Arce’s Latino heritage help him in the Mission?

I have no idea. I just started looking at elections last year. Let’s wait and find out.

Courting Republicans might turn off other Democrats

I’ve written quite a lot about there are more than enough Republicans to impact the results of the races for Supervisor in District 1 and District 11 as well as in the State Senate race, but candidates like Wiener, Philhour and Safai have to be careful. It’s possible that courting Republicans could backfire and turn off other moderate Democratic voters. It’s also possible that Republicans could be so bummed about being on the San Francisco endangered species list that they could stay home entirely.

Who knows? Life is a grand adventure, isn’t it?

Individual candidates may have other issues

Voters may be ideologically attracted to a candidate, but feel like that candidate has other overriding flaws. Sandra Lee Fewer attracted negative press over her fundraising activities. Likewise, Ahsha Safai attracted negative attention concerning is tenure at the Housing Authority. These issues are personal, rather than ideological. I don’t account for them, but voters certainly will.

Other issues may have come to the fore

I only focus on a handful of propositions, mostly concerning housing and development. However, voters’ attention may have shifted such that other issues like homelessness, policing, or transportation may have increased in relative importance.

We’ll find out the answers to these questions and more in just under a week.

Fighting a War on Two Fronts: Gentrification and Displacement

As San Franciscans watch the vote results trickle in, housing affordability continues to dominate the headlines and the political discourse. Attention continues to focus on the impact of gentrification and displacement on low-income communities and whether or not market-rate development is helpful or harmful.

I believe this kind of thinking represents a false dichotomy rooted in the city’s existing zoning structure that forces all new residents and new development into small pockets of the city that allow multi-unit housing, which them against the existing lower-income residents.

Market-rate Housing is More Like a Vaccine than a Cure

We’ve talked about the San Francisco Housing Wars before (boy, have we ever), and why market-rate housing may not be enough to satisfy current low and middle-income residents. Housing development, as necessary as it is: 1) will not arrive in time to stave off those most at risk of displacement, and 2) it probably won’t ever succeed in bringing prices down. Rather it will only slow the rate at which prices increase.

Even as price increases begin to flatten, thanks to new housing supply, it is almost certainly the case that existing residents’ income is still too low to securely afford housing.

Don’t get me wrong, attacking the cost curve from the top is still a very good thing, because it means things aren’t getting worse. If we don’t produce enough market-rate housing, upper-income people will gobble up all the existing housing that previously served lower-income residents.

Prop I report

Every time housing prices increase, a new cohort of residents now have to turn their attention away from new market-rate housing to lower-cost affordable housing. If prices go from $1,000 per month to $1,100 per month, then all those people who could previously only afford up to $1,000/month no longer can.  We’ve seen this phenomenon in the city’s study on the effect’s of the proposed Mission Moratorium (2015’s Prop I), and the state’s study on the impact of market-rate housing.

state report blurb

If you want to protect the existing stock of affordable housing (i.e. rent controlled units occupied by people paying below market rents), it’s very important to stave off price increases.

So if adding to the housing stock through market-rate development slows (or stops) price increases then the existing affordable housing stock is preserved (i.e. existing affordable housing isn’t turned into market-rate housing through evictions, demolitions, or through the natural churn of tenants).

A War on Two Fronts: Displacement and Gentrification

The process of actual/existing residents losing their ability to live in their historic homes or neighborhoods because of price increases is displacement (if your reading this blog you probably already knew that). Landlords whose apartments were previously affordable can take advantage of the instability of low income populations and lack of vacancy price controls to raise rents, such that a similar low-income family would not be able to replace the one that they just left.

Market-rate housing, unequivocally, is crucial to preventing future displacement. No matter what Tim Redmond says. New market-rate housing diverts higher-income populations away from the existing affordable housing stock. I described the opposite phenomenon in my post If the Development is an Unstoppable Force and the Mission is an Immovable Object, in which new higher-income residents flood the old apartments in the Mission. Without housing development, higher-income populations outbid existing lower-income populations for whatever housing stock exists.

But what if alleviating displacement isn’t the goal? Or rather, what if it isn’t the only goal? I started thinking about this question after Gabriel Medina of the Mission Economic Development Agency (MEDA) strongly opposed the revised plan for the “Beast on Bryant” development, even though it included a much larger land dedication for affordable housing. “It’s better to not build any market-rate in the Mission if you’re not going to build 100 percent affordable… No housing is better than gentrified housing,” Medina said, as quoted in Mission Local.

Many Mission housing advocates have vocally opposed market-rate developments, usually giving the development a catchy, if hyperbolic moniker like the Monster in the Mission, the Beast on Bryant, the Fright on Folsom, and the Titanic Mess on South Van Ness. Their opposition is usually based on the idea that the majority of the units would not be affordable to the existing residents of the neighborhood.

This brings me to the main issue with using market-rate housing construction exclusively: gentrification. Displacement is about individuals, but gentrification is about neighborhoods. It’s when a previously lower-income or minority neighborhood is slowly transformed into a wealthier and whiter one. Here in San Francisco displacement is nested within gentrification. As in, we have gentrification because we have a lot of displacement. This phenomenon is especially noteworthy in the Mission.

Though many refuse to admit itmarket-rate housing development will mitigate displacement. However, it can still propel gentrification.

In the best of circumstances, neighborhood in-migration when coupled with equal housing development can prevent displacement. All the original residents can stay in their apartments, even as the neighborhood grows.

In short, gentrification without displacement looks like this:

gentrification chart

Every new resident changes the neighborhood culture, and character. In high-income neighborhoods, like the Potrero Hill or Telegraph Hill, this produces wails about loss of sunlight or street parking, which should be treated with the appropriate seriousness (none). However, in low-income neighborhoods, this demographic change can alter the political and economic landscape in ways that may not be beneficial to the pre-existing low-income residents. New residents may demand goods or services that are different from those provided by the current retail or commercial environment, causing business turnover. As demographics shift, new residents’ political influence may grow and dilute that of the older residents.

So attacking housing prices from the top, even in the best circumstances, may not be ideal for all existing residents. Gentrification can still occur when the built environment only expands to accommodate new high-income residents.

To combat gentrification and displacement, we have an Inclusionary Housing Policy in San Francisco. It requires developers to provide some on-site affordable housing or pay a fee into the affordable housing trust fund. The point of this policy is to recognize that the current market-rate housing production will not be affordable to low and middle-income San Franciscans.

Inclusionary housing is great. It’s one of the few ways San Francisco can produce new affordable housing. However, it still produces more market-rate housing than it does affordable housing, and thus, can lead to gentrification.

So when Mission Activists protest development, even development that has significant onsite affordable housing, like the recently approved Beast on Bryant, they do so because they see every new project as further transforming the neighborhood. With that, I can’t disagree. I can argue that not building housing is worse, because it expedites displacement and gentrification. But I cannot say that building market-rate housing will not lead to gentrification.

Density Equity Could Turn Growing Pains into Economic Gain

Is gentrification the best case scenario? No.

Baked into our exercise is an assumption that higher-income people can only move into lower-income neighborhoods.

Here in San Francisco, much of the ire in response to the rapid gentrification has been directed at young people who work in tech, because they’re higher-income apartment dwellers who arrived more recently. In truth, there were few areas in which they could move.

San Francisco is only 46ish miles, but two-thirds of that space is zoned for single-family housing (i.e. no multi-unit buildings). Despite our status as the second-densest city in the US, that density is concentrated in a few areas.


That means 66% of the surface of our city is basically off-limits to new residents. If the city would allow multi-unit development in this (often transit-accessible) single-family districts (I’m looking at you, West Portal), then all the residents wouldn’t need to move into SOMA or the Mission.

pig in python

This concept is called Density Equity. It’s a term I first heard used by Planning Commissioner Cindy Wu, used in regards to the 5M development. I don’t know if she would define it this way, but “Density Equity” basically means that as a city grows, each part should grow with it. The low-income and minority areas should not be made to shoulder all of the city’s growth.

As I’ve written before, the city’s growth is relegated to a few areas in the city. Growth-spread more evenly across the city (or region, for that matter) could provide an economic boost to each neighborhood. More residents would be living, working, and shopping in those areas. It would also allow each neighborhood to grow a little more slowly. Uneven growth requires that certain areas grow more rapidly. Because housing takes a long time to plan and build, rapid population growth concentrated in one neighborhood can cause displacement and gentrification.

That’s exactly the dynamic in San Francisco. As of mid-2015, there were about 1564 housing units in the developments in the District 9, which includes the Mission. Meanwhile, the  Districts 1 and 4 (on the Westside) only have about 333 on the horizon. That means District 9 has 4.6 times as many units in the pipeline as Districts 1 and 4. That’s density inequality. To only further underscore that point, the Districts east of the Mission (6 and 10) are growing even more unequally. The have over 40,000 units in the pipeline.

densit vs non dense

So, on one hand I understand Medina’s position. In the absence of economic power, it’s perfectly rational for the folks in the Mission to use political power to extract as many concessions as possible. On the other hand, opposing any and all market-rate housing, doesn’t seem like it has much of an end game.

Rather than oppose market-rate housing, I wish Mission activists would protest the zoning wall that prevents would-be apartment dwellers from living on the West side.

Neighborhood Feudalism

Why aren’t neighborhood activists clamoring for more housing in less dense neighborhoods? Neighborhood activism in San Francisco got its start as an anti-development movement. In the past, San Francisco’s political machinery was run by business and labor; as embodied in Mayor Joseph Alioto. His aggressively pro-growth agenda generated a strong backlash from folks on the left who rightly saw the redevelopment of SOMA and the Western Addition as a racist tool to displace low-income minorities. Meanwhile, folks on the right feared “Manhattan-ization” would diminish their quality of life. With an emphasis on hyper local-control and community input, neighborhood slow-growth activism turned neighborhoods into mini city-states, with activist power-brokers pulling up the drawbridge more often than not. The slow-growth movement successfully capped annual office development  and prohibiting development that cast shadows on city parks.

As applied to housing, slow-growth policies have led to displacement and gentrification among renters in low-income and minority neighborhoods, while spurring rapid price appreciation among home-owners in wealthier and whiter ones.

Despite the divergence of interests, the left/right anti-development alliance still exists. Employing phrases like “people over profits,” slow growth activists decry housing development as capitalism run rampant. That kind of thinking would upend capitalism only to replace it with feudalism; where most of the city’s housing is available to very few and what little affordable housing is doled by powerful intermediaries.


That’s why we’re seeing many more density-equity inspired proposals from “moderate” supervisors who operate outside of this coalition.

Though they haven’t yet employed the language of density-equity or the social justice implications, several Supervisors have proposals that are on the right track. Supervisor Farrell requested a report on the economic impact of zoning restrictions. Supervisors Wiener, Christensen, and Peskin (not considered a “moderate”) proposed accessory-dwelling unit legislation. Most notably, Katy Tang’s Affordable Housing Bonus Program is the first real heroic step toward density-equity that I’ve seen. It’s the first proposal that would actually incentivize affordable housing creation in neighborhoods that have very little. Instead of displacement and gentrification, we could have low and middle income families moving into rich enclaves like Pacific Heights, Telegraph Hill, and West Portal.

The YIMBY movement has emerged in opposition to the anti-growth policies for which many (but not all, and not consistently) of the “progressives” on the Board of Supervisors have vocally advocated. Most of the pro-housing activism has focused getting support for individual housing developments, but recently it’s turned its eye to bigger prizes.  SFBARF is suing the leafy-suburb of Lafayette for blocking housing development.

And last week,  Greg Ferenstein, a writer, put forward a proposal that Kim-Mai Cutler, another writer, described as a Hail Mary:

kim-mai cutler

It’s a radical plan to upzone the entire city for multi-unit dwellings, which is the first step to a more equally dense future. I’m excited for it, and to see how well it does. However, a ballot initiative of that scope and magnitude requires severing the slow-growth movement from the political left. That’s a feat that can only be accomplished if the pro-housing movement 1) takes fear of gentrification seriously, and 2) embraces density-equity as a tool of social justice.

Mitch McConnell’s Thelma-and-Louise Moment

Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court today, a choice which has both Democrats and Republicans scratching their heads. This is, however, the natural conclusion of a really long strategy that has very little to do with the Supreme Court itself, and everything to do with the other two branches of government.

Mitch McConnell – The Louise

Republican Leader, Mitch McConnell, has previously declared that Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee would not get a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, no way, no how. But why not just give the nominee a hearing? If the objective were only to deny Barack Obama’s nominee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, chair of the Committee, knows how to quietly slow-walk a nominee until the clock expires, but instead they’ve decided to make a stand.

That’s a position that only makes sense if the Republicans thought they were poised to keep the Senate and recapture the White House, which seems, at best, a 50-50 shot, given the current likelihood of a Trump/Clinton face-off.

By denying Obama’s nominee a hearing, the Republicans make the Supreme Court nomination an election issue. Republicans, it seems, care a lot about ideological purity on the Supreme Court. Ted Cruz had been trying to inject it into the campaign, even before Antonin Scalia died. With Scalia’s death, this issue isn’t hypothetical anymore, it’s REAL. Like mega-real. The question becomes how does making the Supreme Court nominee a mega-real issue help Mitch McConnell?

I think it’s fair to say that the Republican establishment isn’t too excited about Donald Trump, they’ve started to dog-whistle the idea that there may be a brokered convention. In order to deny Trump the nomination, they need to start to slow his delegate roll. Republican primary voters may not care that Donald Trump has flip-flopped on abortion and gay rights, but they might start to care if that had an impact on his potential Supreme Court nominee. If Republican primary voters start caring about the Supreme Court, they might start to see Donald Trump’s positions in a slightly different light and consolidate around other candidates, thus denying him votes and delegates (this is a long shot). Watch John Kasich and Ted Cruz both start try to use this line in their current campaigns. More acutely, however,if Mitch McConnell can deny Donald Trump as many delegates as possible AND gin up enough Republican anxiety about the Supreme Court there might be pressure at the Republican convention not to nominate Donald Trump.

Republican anxiety about the Supreme Court could manifest in two ways: (1) Actual Republicans concerned about who Donald Trump might pick; and (2) Actual Republicans freaking out because Donald Trump’s candidacy may throw the election to Hillary Clinton who would get to choose, in their minds, a terrifyingly liberal jurist.

Paul Ryan’s recent “I dunno” about accepting the Republican nomination is another dog-whistle in this direction. It’s going to take  scheme of Ocean’s Eleven-like proportions to deny both Ted Cruz and Donald Trump the Republican nomination, but the first step is keeping either of them from reaching the delegate threshold. John Kasich is crucial to that endeavor. Without him in the race, it seems unlikely that neither of them would get a majority of delegates. We’re in the phase of the campaign were most of the primaries allocate their delegates are winner-take-most, so it’s going to be important to siphon off as many delegates as possible.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell also really cares about the Senate. Many of his incumbents face an uphill reelection. What better way to give his colleagues some much-needed moderate credibility than give them the opportunity to break with their own leadership. Oh look, it’s already started. Those Senators running for reelection can kvetch and cry and rend their clothes about how rancorously partisan things have become all the while knowing that they don’t actually ever have to vote on the nominee.

Is this a long shot? Absolutely, but guess what? There’s no downside. The Republican presidential nominee will be chosen this summer. If Mitch and Friends can’t dislodge Donald Trump and fear that his election will cost them the White House and Senate, they can just go ahead and confirm Barack Obama’s nominee. Those Blue State Republican Senators can pretend they struck a deal for civility and moderation.

If Mitch and Friends CAN usurp the nomination from Donald Trump, they can install someone else who might seem better able to beat Hillary Clinton and not wreak havoc in down ballot elections.

I know what you’re thinking, “But they could still totally lose the White House and Senate even if Paul Ryan is the nominee.” Indeed, they could, but Mitch McConnell will have a much better idea of how likely that is once the general election campaign starts. If it looks like they’re going to lose big in November, they can just go ahead and confirm Barack Obama’s nominee. Those Blue State Republican Senators can pretend they struck a deal for civility and moderation.

As it turns out, this strategy has another upside, it kind of forces Barack Obama to nominate a moderate jurist. I’ll explain why in a moment.

I know a lot of you are still thinking, “but this could totally blow up in their faces,” which is totally true. However, you guys are just thinking about downside risk of this strategy, not the downside risk of not using this strategy. I bet that Mitch McConnell thinks Donald Trump is a much bigger problem for the Republican Party in the near term than Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee. In Mitch’s mind Donald Trump’s nomination is more likely to lead to President Clinton and a Democratic Senate, which is even worse than Barack Obama’s moderate Supreme Court pick. He has to do something or he’s guaranteeing a Clinton-appointed liberal jurist.

Voting on Garland’s nomination now basically allows the election to continue on its current trajectory. The Republican establishment is, I believe, really unhappy with the way this election is going. They don’t know if  they can spin the Supreme Court nomination into a winning issue (and neither do I), but there’s no reason they shouldn’t try.

Mitch McConnell is Susan Sarandon in the last scene of Thelma & Louise. He’s stuck between the Grand Canyon and Harvey Keitel. Turning back means jail. Racing forward means flying of the edge of a cliff. Spoiler alert: They choose the cliff, and we don’t know if Thelma and Louise die or escape to freedom.

Barack Obama – The Thelma

Liberals are universally bummed out that Barack Obama chose to nominate a moderate, old vanilla white dude to the Supreme Court. Don’t be mad guys, he didn’t really have a choice.

Even before Mitch McConnell announced that they would be stonewalling of his nominee, Barack Obama knew that Republicans would be itching to deny him another Supreme Court pick. Most of the Republican Senate caucus has nothing to gain from approving his pick. In fact, they have everything to gain from trying to make his pick sound like an anti-American ultra-liberal-communist who will tip the balance on the Supreme Court. His only shot at mitigating that effect was to nominate someone who looked (white, male, old) and sounded (long time jurist, past bipartisan support) completely unobjectionable.

That dynamic has only become more prominent given that this is a Presidential election year. President Obama wants the Republicans to completely fall apart. He wants a long miserable nominating process where Trump barely emerges as the nominee, and the party emerges completely disorganized. He can them in that direction by nominating someone like Merrick Garland, who is the human equivalent of a bran muffin. The hope is that Republican obstructionism projects very poorly to Americans just as they’re deciding how to vote.

Merrick Garland is a trap. Barack Obama is trying to tempt Republicans into looking crazy and foolish in the face of this extremely qualified nominee. He probably expects that they’ll never actually vote on it, but as long as the nomination is in place, Barack Obama can keep the story of Republican obstructionism in the news.

That being said, Barack Obama could withdraw the nomination at any time. If things started to look desperately bad for the Republicans, and it looks like Mitch McConnell will allow a vote just to stave off whatever nominee Clinton would put forward, Barack Obama could have Merrick Garland step down. He probably wouldn’t do that, but he could. The worst that can happen for Obama is that his probably more-moderate-than-ideal, but otherwise totally acceptable nominee is confirmed.

Barack Obama is definitely the Geena Davis in our Thelma & Louise metaphor (not just because he’s prettier than Mitch McConnell). He’s in that car with Louise and he’s saying, “Let’s keep going.”

Merrick Garland – The Brad Pitt

Always the Supreme Court bridesmaid, never the bride, Merrick Garland has nothing to lose. Too liberal for a Republican, normally too conservative for a Democrat, he knows he’d never get this chance if the circumstances weren’t so peculiar. In fact, it’s likely he wasn’t even the first choice this time. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if the other candidates on the shortlist said “Thanks, but no thanks.” This nomination is going to be a circus and likely won’t result in his becoming a Supreme Court Justice. Under these circumstances, the only reason to sign up would be if you thought this was your only shot.

Merrick Garland is J.D. (played by a very young Brad Pitt) who is invited to ride along with the ladies because Thelma thinks he’s cute (despite Louise’s protest). He’s sees his chance at a hustle and he takes it. He’s in the right place at the right time, but most importantly he isn’t in the movie for very long.

Donald Trump

In case you were wondering, Donald Trump is Harvey Keitel. A man driving everyone to the edge (and maybe beyond).

Districts to Grow Into

The politics of housing and growth in San Francisco is something I bloviate about with some frequency. Usually, I try to respond to the events of the day in a timely fashion.

Today, however, I’m going to break new ground and write about a topic that is so tangential that you, dear reader, are going to correctly assume that I need to get a life.

Today’s topic is: Population Growth, the Census, and How the Board of Supervisors Districts are Drawn.

I’m going to argue that by ignoring growth patterns, the Redistricting Task Force created districts in a way that would expedite their obsolesce; a phenomenon which we can see now, just four years after the new map was finalized.

table 1

Figure 1: 2010 population by District before Redistricting

The History

Population changes identified during the 2010 census triggered an adjustment of the Board of Supervisors’ district boundaries. Each of the 11 districts is supposed have an equal population, which would have been 73,203 people each at the time of the last redistricting.

The census revealed that our districts were pretty far out of whack. District 6, most pressingly, had 20,000 residents to shed. In response, the city formed the Redistricting Task Force to adjust the district boundaries to bring them closer to equality.

As a result, several neighborhoods were moved from District 6 into Districts 9 (the North Mission), District 3 (several blocks north of Market St), and District 5 (areas west of Van Ness St).

The Rules

 Despite the fact that inequality is what prompted redistricting, the Task Force cannot simply just draw the most equal districts possible. In fact, equality in population is only one piece of criteria that governed the Task Force’s work. The city Charter considers districts with variations of +/- 1% from the statistical mean (732 people in 2010) to be equal enough.

Districts are allowed to exceed the 1% variation (up to +/- 5%) “if necessary to prevent dividing or diluting the voting power of minorities and/or to keep recognized neighborhoods intact.” There are federal elections laws and Charter requirements that require the the Task Force to use this higher threshold if necessary to preserve “Communities of Interest.”

Generally the pillars of redistricting (pg 3) are: Equality in population, Contiguity, Compactness, Preservation of Neighborhoods and Communities of Interest.

The Results

The Redistricting Task Force took full advantage of the 5% threshold in their final results. Seven out of 11 Districts had variations greater than 1%.  Here is the final map:


Figure 2: The Final Board of Supervisors Map after the 2012 Redistricting


Figure 3: The population by district before and after Redistricting

And a table of the changes:

The Redistricting Task Force, not wanting to take a sledgehammer to the whole map, made only the bare minimum changes so that as many communities and neighborhoods could stay intact and in their historic districts as possible (often at the behest of the public). The downside is that many of the boundaries push pretty close to that 5% threshold.

Plus-or-minus 5 percent is kind of a lot. Especially if one district is plus (like District 11)  and another is minus (like District 1). The result of the Redistricting Task Force  The residents of districts 11 , 9, and 8 are under represented compared to their friends in Districts 1, 2, and 3, but the deviation is within the tolerance set by Redistricting Task Force criteria.

These Districts would be fine if the city’s population grew evenly, but we know that hasn’t happened. Growth has largely been relegated to the Eastern neighborhoods. We know this is the case because the lop-sided growth in District 6 is the reason we had to redistrict in the first place. As we’ll see, those growth patterns are more pronounced now than they were in 2010.

Durable Districts

The issue is that these district boundaries were not made to last. They are not durable. By “durable,” I refer to whether or not these districts will ensure equal (ish) representation for the entire 10 years that they’ll be in place. If a district boundary, after 10 years of existence, still meets the original criteria then it is durable.

It’s entirely possible that you cannot reasonably create totally durable districts. It may be that growth patterns are such that there’s no way to draw districts today that will be valid 10 years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t design districts with the idea that they should be as durable as possible. At some point between 2002 (when the previous map was created) and the 2010 census (when the current map was created), the district boundaries stopped meeting the criteria set by the city’s charter and state and federal law. Maybe they fell out of tolerance after eight years. Maybe it was three.

The issue of how long these districts remain valid is important. These districts exists to ensure that voters are represented equally. We’ve set parameters around what counts as “equal” (contiguous, compact, about the same population, neighborhoods and communities are not split), but what good are these parameters if our districts only meet them for a year or two?

Our Districts Today

The Redistricting Task Force in 2012 was concerned with creating a map that met the criteria at the time of its creation, but it’s obvious that they didn’t really (or weren’t able to) care about how long those district boundaries remained in tolerance.

The city continues to grow unevenly, but thanks to the housing pipeline report have some idea how the city will grow and could use that information to inform how our district boundaries are drawn.


Figure 4: Current net units by district in the Housing Pipeline Report

Note: just because it’s in the development pipeline doesn’t mean its anywhere near being built (or will ever be built. 8 Washington was in my pipeline report as one of the largest projects in D3, but has since been yanked). The point of looking at the pipeline is not to look precisely at each project individually, but to understand overall what parts of the city are growing in proportion to others.

Here’s what housing growth looked like in San Francisco the last time I checked the housing pipeline report ( in Fall 2015). There were almost 55,000 net new units in the pipeline at that time. That number is now over 62,000. As you can see, the eastern neighborhoods continue to do the lion’s share of the growing. Development in Districts 6 and 10 account for over 75% of the total. District 7 comes in a distant third at 11% (largely from one project, Parkmerced, which accounts for over 5,000 of D7’s new units). Parkmerced, it should be noted, hasn’t yet opened (this is one of the limits of using the pipeline report, more on that later).

The San Francisco’s estimated 2014 population is 852,469; an increase of 47, 234 from the 2010 census.  If we use the growth patterns indicated by the pipeline report to allocate these 47K new San Franciscans across the 11 different Supervisorial Districts, we see that the districts created only four years ago are not be valid today. Indeed, they are already deeply unequal.


Figure 5: 2014 Population by district using the Housing Pipeline Report as a proxy for growth

If San Francisco’s population growth followed it’s housing development then six of the eleven districts are outside the +/- 5% threshold, and only three out of the eleven are within the +/-1% threshold.

The reason these districts became so lop-sided so quickly is because the Redistricting Task Force gave the benefit of being 5% below the target population to the slow growth districts. While they didn’t make the highest growth districts (Districts 6 and 10) 5% above the target population, that didn’t stop the populations of those districts from blowing right through the 5% thresholds.

In order to get District 6’s population within tolerance, the Task Force loaded up Districts 11, 8, 9 and (to a lesser extent) 5 with extra people. Those are almost all the districts that touch Districts 10 and 6. That means that we cannot just cleave off parts of Districts 6 and 10 and shunt them next door. Next door is already pretty full. That would really just be kicking the can down the road again.

By starting the decade with over representation in some of our slower growth districts (Ds 1, 2, and 3), we ensured that our faster growing districts would only be more under represented as the decade wore on.

An Alternate Universe 

Had the Task Force considered growth patterns when it was drawing its district boundaries and tried to make their districts as durable as possible, they may have created district populations that looked something like the tables below. On the left, we have the hypothetical populations of each district if I had been on the Task Force. On the right, we have those same districts in 2014, using the pipeline report to approximate population growth.


Accounting for projected growth requires that our growth centers, Districts 6 and 10, have the smallest populations possible (-5% from the statistical mean). In this demonstration I also gave District 7 a lower population because its also projected to grow more than some of the other districts. Districts 1 and 4 (the furthest West) need the larger populations because they experience the least growth.

The rest of the districts need slightly larger populations, basically just to account for how small Districts 10 and 6 need to be. Despite my best efforts, I wasn’t able to make still wasn’t able to make Districts 6 and 10 durable. This is because the current geography of the districts concentrates growth. The only way to make truly durable districts would have been to carve out some of the growth and put them in other districts.

Caveats, Provisos, Stipulations, Limitations

Changing the map changes growth rates: I played with numbers but not geographies. Increasing the population of a district may also impact it’s growth rate. For example, by expanding the boundaries of District 1 to include new populations, I might also have to include some new developments as well, which means the new District 1 would grow more quickly than projected. In a way this is ideal. By better distributing growth into several districts, you help mitigate the diluting effect it has on the voters when it all happens in one district. However, because growth is so incredibly concentrated along the East side of the city, we would need radically different district boundaries for this phenomenon to have an impact.

Communities of Interest: I didn’t yet consider the implication these hypothetical population distributions have on neighborhoods or communities of interest. I’ve only just started playing with ReDrawSF.

The Pipeline Report isn’t Perfect: I’ve already mentioned, that many projects in the pipeline report are a long way from being finished. Many of them may not be built. New projects are added all the time. District 7’s growth is contingent on one really large development. Districts 6 and 10 have a few very large projects as well. If something happens to derail those large projects then our projections will be off. The Task Force wouldn’t necessarily want to look at the whole pipeline, but they would want to see estimates of how many units would be completed each year. However, individual projects normally aren’t that important (except Parkmerced) because we’re really only trying to get a directional indicator of where growth is and isn’t occuring. For that reason, the pipeline report isn’t a terrible indicator of growth. It certainly shows us where growth isn’t happening.

Growth that is Significant and Concentrated is Impossible to Accommodate: As we’ve seen even, growth in San Francisco is so concentrated that it’s impossible to follow all the rules and create districts that will last for 10 years without really changing the current map. However, just because you can’t mitigate it entirely, doesn’t mean you should mitigate it as much as possible. And it certainly doesn’t give you license to exacerbate the impact, as the Task Force did in 2012.

Why Is This Important?

San Francisco, by design, has concentrated growth in it’s Eastern Neighborhoods. One of the unfortunate consequences of concentrated growth is that, as the decade wears on, the influence of those voters is gradually diminished relative to the voters in the Western neighborhoods. Because each Supervisor gets one vote, the voters in slow-growth districts influence increases as the city’s total population grows, but not in their districts.

Imagine the grid on the left is San Francisco in 2010 after redistricting. Each square represents a district with roughly the same number of people and each district gets one voting representative at the Board of Supervisors. With our concentrated growth, two districts grow much more rapidly than the others and, by 2014, those districts still only have one voting representative, but a much larger number of people. That’s the grid on the right.


It’s pretty obvious why district populations are supposed to be as close to equal as possible. The city Charter mandates near equality at the time the map is adopted, but it also goes to great pains to reinforce the idea that voters’ influence should not be diluted, especially that of minority voters.

Faced with the dramatic concentration of growth in San Francisco, Redistricting Task Force would never have been able to create districts that were completely durable without completely dismantling the existing map. However, by allowing the slow growth districts to begin the decade with over representation (though within the legal limits), they ensured that the voters in the faster growing neighborhoods would see their influence increasingly diluted as decade wore on. This is especially troubling, given that District 10 contains San Francisco’s largest, but shrinking, African American population.

Some will argue that accommodating growth runs, like an oncoming train, into the mandate to preserve communities of interest. I would argue the opposite. I think failing to accommodate growth puts certain communities above others. Districts 6 and 10 have diverse neighborhoods, whose communities should not have the quality of their representation systematically undermined.

Consider that if the next Task Force draws a map similar to what the previous one drew, then the residents of District 6 will have been under represented for about 30 years compared to their Western neighbors.

I am not arguing that growth should trump all other considerations. However, it shouldn’t be ignored, as it was in 2012. The next Task Force needs to strike a balance and take equal representation seriously. I believe the only way to do that is to consider future growth. Despite the risks and uncertainties that come with trying to anticipate growth,  to ignore it undermines the principle of “One Person, One Vote.”




Responding to Aaron Peskin’s Marina Times Article

This is a response to Aaron Peskin’s March 2016 article in the Marina Times about the Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP), entitled Progressives Didn’t Cause This Problem.

Before I launch into this tirade, I  want to state upfront that I don’t mean to suggest that Supervisor Peskin is bad or evil or malicious. Google him and you can find countless examples of individuals facing extreme hardship (usually eviction) who have benefited from his intervention. However, Supervisor Peskin flagrantly mischaracterizes the Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP) in his article below. Love it or hate it, his constituents deserve an honest discussion about the program on its merits.

Peskin’s original text is in normal font, my responses to each paragraph are in italics.

Progressives didn’t cause this problem

The headline is really bonkers (that’s probably on the Marina Times editors). The article isn’t about Progressives, its about the AHBP. However, the more operative question is “Will Progressives Fix This Problem?” By flat-out opposing the AHBP, Progressives will have continued it.

A 1979 relic of a state law permitting developers to add height and bulk if they set aside 13 to 20 percent of units for “affordable housing” has our Planning Department ready to push through a flawed local Affordable Housing Bonus Program (AHBP). The Planning Department’s argument for what is essentially a plan to up-zone most of San Francisco is a 2013 court ruling that Napa County’s local density bonus ordinance placed unfair burden on developers by setting a higher threshold than is allowed by state law. Napa had a 20 percent inclusionary housing requirement, and its density bonus program required even more. The court sided with the developers, upholding their right to cough up less affordable housing in exchange for significant height and bulk increases.

In the paragraph above, Mr. Peskin calls the AHBP “flawed.” However, you’ll see that he never actually lists a flaw with the program. He perpetuates two untrue myths about the program and vaguely derides up-zoning. 

Our Planning Department is worried that San Francisco will be challenged next, because we are subjecting developers to “unfair” affordability requirements with the 12 percent inclusionary housing requirement. After 37 years without a peep regarding the state’s density bonus law, the sudden fear of legal action for not doing enough to incentivize development density seems more than a little bogus.

One important point that Mr. Peskin leaves out: The state density law goes into effect regardless of whether or not the AHBP passes. The point of the AHBP is to force developers to implement the state law in a way that generates more affordable housing. Developers are already submitting applications asking for their state-mandated density bonus

Regardless of what has happened over the last 37 years, land-use law firms are already fishing for cases in San Francisco. However, if the question is “Do we even have to follow the state law?” then the answer can only be provided by the City Attorney (who signed off on the AHBP see FAQ 55). However, if we do have to comply with the state program, then the AHBP is actually a lot stronger than the state law. It requires more affordable housing.


According to the Association of Bay Area Governments’ 2015 housing progress report, our tiny 49 square miles have taken on the lion’s share of regional housing production in the last decade. To give you a sense, between 2000 and 2009, San Francisco averaged about 2,892 new housing units per year, compared to 605 units in all of Napa County. For all of SPUR’s caterwauling about how “progressives” created the housing crisis, the decade I was first in office saw a tremendous amount of housing production, mostly as a result of up-zoning in eastern San Francisco, enabling us to create some 10,000 new units. The reality is that other counties are not pulling their weight when it comes to building housing for the Bay Area’s growing population. In fact, the growth has not been in San Francisco; the city’s chief economist recently submitted a report highlighting the real impacts of gentrification and displacement: a stunning outmigration of 62,757 San Francisco residents since 2014.

How does someone start a paragraph off arguing that San Francisco has built enough housing and end that very same paragraph decrying the plight of the displaced? This is total doublespeak. Our neighboring counties have definitely failed at producing enough housing, but so have we.  According to that same city economist Mr. Peskin cited, we’re not doing well at all. 2,892 units per year is still about 1000 units too few to stabilize housing prices (slide 9). That problem is compounded every year we build too little.

But since you brought up “fire,” Mr Peskin, it’s actually a really big problem for tenants in San Francisco. Here are three articles about it. Sadly, when old apartments burn down, there’s no mechanism to replace those lost affordable units. That’s exactly what the AHBP aims to do. Instead being replaced with a totally market-rate apartment building, developers know have an incentive to make a third of their units affordable. Under this program, they can build larger buildings, so that 30% gives you an even greater number of affordable units.

No, San Francisco’s issue is not that we haven’t built enough housing — it’s that most of the housing that is being built is out of reach for over 60 percent of the population. Even with the passage of lofty policy goals and studies galore, the city is still building at 150 percent of its market-rate development goals and only 30 percent of its affordable housing goals.

We have not built enough housing at any income level, especially lower income levels, but the AHBP was designed to address exactly the problem laid out by Mr. Peskin.

The goal of the AHPB is to produce more affordable units. It takes developments that would be entirely market-rate and turns them into potential mixed-income affordable developments.

Without this program developers have no incentive to build any affordable housing. They can just continue to build the market rate housing they always would have built. This program allows up to two additional stories of height as long as the entire building (that includes the two new stories) is 30% permanently affordable.


For starters, more density cannot come at the expense of our existing renters and small businesses. Recently, while enjoying coffee at a local cafe, I was stunned to hear from the proprietor that he and his fellow merchants were relegated to month-to-month leases after the landlord declined to renew their long-time agreements. The reason the owner gave? He was eagerly awaiting passage of the proposed AHDB program so he could tear down the building — rent-controlled units above and commercial retail below — to build anew and up. This is just one troubling tale in a chorus I’ve heard from people citywide, reinforcing my belief that any incentive program that applies to existing housing and commercial sites is a recipe for displacement, not density.

This is where I flipped out. Mr. Peskin is perpetuating two myths about this program that are wholly untrue.

The AHBP cannot short-cut the current demolition process. If this landlord can’t get a demolition permit now, then he won’t be able to under the AHBP. 

But guess what? Even if he can get a demolition permit he still can’t take advantage of the AHBP. Buildings with rent-controlled units are excluded from the program. Supervisor Breed’s amendment on this subject can be found here.

It’s true that the program can be used on buildings that are existing commercial sites, but this isn’t a flaw of the AHBP, it’s a function of the state law (remember that Napa case?). The state law applies to every parcel of land in the city: rent-controlled, commercial, etc. If someone is going to take advantage of the state density program, wouldn’t it be better if we could get them to use the AHBP instead and provide more affordable units

Not to mention that tearing down an existing building, evicting all the tenants, spending years (and millions) getting a new (only modestly taller) building approved and built is an incredibly expensive proposition. To get the maximum density bonus, 30% of the units in the building must be permanently affordable. So this landlord can only collect market-rate rents on 2/3rds of the building even after spending years not collecting anything from a vacant building. This makes no sense.

This paragraph was really sneaky. Mr. Peskin didn’t actually say that he believed this program could be used on rent-controlled units. He said he a cafe owner told him that their landlord planned to use the program to demolish rent-controlled units. By using that clever rhetorical device (hearsay), Mr. Peskin can put misinformation out into the world without having to make the claim himself. 

The problem? Mr. Peskin is a city Supervisor. It’s his responsibility to dispel misinformation about government programs. If he has an honest beef with some aspect of the program, we certainly don’t get to hear about it here.


To be clear, I support density, but I think it’s time we had a real conversation about who we are building for and who is absorbing the burden of that development. District 3 has some of the city’s densest neighborhoods — you can find it easily on the AHDB map, bathed in color indicating it’s ripe for up-zoning. The Planning Department claims the program will net 15,000 units on 240 potential “soft sites,” yet it’s not targeted those, and the potential impact on historic rent-controlled neighborhoods where tenants and small businesses are already struggling to survive is clear.

Density: Less density is VERY costly to existing renters and small businesses. The State’s Legislative Analyst put out a report showing that neighborhoods with less development gentrify more rapidly than those with less development. Specifically in San Francisco, the city economist found that NOT building was likely causing more rapid displacement in the Mission. Density isn’t the problem. It’s that our city’s population grew by A LOT, but our housing stock didn’t.

Application of Soft Sites: “Soft sites” are places like abandoned gas stations or parking lots. These sites are ripe for turning into housing, but the program doesn’t just apply to those sites. Why? Again, the program applies to existing buildings because the state law applies to existing buildings. We can limit the AHBP, but that means that developers can use the state program to get more density and provide fewer affordable units.

My office is working to refresh an old piece of legislation I introduced during my first term, allowing the construction of accessory dwelling units citywide. Though we didn’t have a majority to pass the citywide law then, Supervisors Scott Wiener and Julie Christensen each passed district-specific versions last year. With the Planning Department projection that the District 3 legislation alone will net 3,000 units of rent-controlled housing stock, this is a far better citywide alternative than passing wholesale up-zoning of a city still struggling with concerns about incentivizing displacement. When the Planning Department’s projections are applied to all 11 districts, we’re looking at a minimum of 33,000 potential new units with tenant protections. This is just one tool to tackle the affordability crisis in San Francisco, and I haven’t even gotten to June’s Fair Share and Feasible Affordable Housing Charter Amendment or Rent Stabilization Act. Let’s pick this conversation up next month.

This is all great stuff! It really is, but it has nothing to do with the AHBP. In fact, no one ever suggested that AHBP was the only solution to the housing crisis. We need LOTS of different policy tools in our toolbox. This program does one thing: it helps turn entirely market-rate housing developments into partial mixed-income affordable housing developments

As we kick off the Year of the Monkey, we’re hoping the city benefits from some of the monkey’s best traits: cleverness, shrewd business sense, magnetism, and most important, mischievous fun. Gung Hay Fat Choy from District 3.

There are plenty of honest changes one could want to make to the AHBP. Supervisor Breed did just that by amending it to exclude rent-controlled units. Maybe Supervisor Peskin thinks that the affordable units generated by the program should be targeted at lower income populations (it currently targets people with “middle-incomes”). Maybe Supervisor Peskin knows that his constituents hate the idea of modestly taller buildings (many of them do). Personally, I wish the AHBP applied to all the single-family housing zones in the city (it currently can only be used on parcels zoned for 5 or more housing units). A perfect program, it is not. It is MUCH better than the alternative – no density bonus and no incentive for affordable housing development.

Supervisor Peskin doesn’t engage in any legitimate criticisms of this program in his article and that’s not fair to his constituents. They deserve deserve the facts and his honest opinion.

Perhaps there’s a political calculus in play, maybe Supervisor Peskin will alter the program in some way (limit it to soft sites only) that has no real impact on the program anyway and call it a political victory. I hope that’s the case here. Despite the fact that Supervisor Peskin spends much of this article congratulating himself on how many housing units have been produced in San Francisciso, we’ve gone far too long and done far too little. 

Can 2015 Foreshadow 2016?

One question I’ve been wondering about is “Do San Franciscans vote consistently?” In the most recent election, we found that the voters of District 3 do not. They voted for Mayor Ed Lee’s reelection and for his pro-housing development legislative initiatives, but they also elected Aaron Peskin who opposed the Mayor’s agenda. Why? My best guess is that the voters generally supported the Mayor and his agenda, but also really liked Aaron Peskin’s retail politics:


Aaron Peskin has quietly backed off some of his less popular positions, like further regulating short-term rentals (Prop F) or a development moratorium in the Mission (Prop I). Despite the fact that both of these initiatives were billed by supporters as necessary to “save the soul of San Francisco,” the rest of the city disagreed. With Peskin’s election, the Board of Supervisors ostensibly has enough votes to pass both initiatives, and yet nary a peep. Luckily for them, the progressive media and cabal of activists have given them a pass. Truthfully, the pall of next year’s election where all the Progressives are termed out of office (Mar, Avalos, Campos) or are facing another election (Peskin, Yee, Kim). As much as Mar, Avalos, and Campos might like to bring these issues up again, they probably don’t want to jeopardize the future electoral successes of their colleagues.

However, just because those issues aren’t going before the Board of Supervisors again doesn’t mean they won’t lurk over the 2016 election. Or, at least, that’s the question I am am here to posit. Do the 2015 election results have any predictive relationship to 2016?

A few caveats: Only 45% of San Franciscans voted in 2015, the 2016 presidential election will drive turnout much higher. The conventional wisdom is that higher turnout benefits progressive candidates and positions.

Note: Here is the key for the maps below. Blue means the Mayor won with over 50 percent. Darker blues indicate that opposition to Props F or I (or both). Pink/Red means the Mayor received under 50%. Darker reds indicate support for Props F or I (or both). Generally, the darker the blue, the more moderate the vote in that precinct was; the darker the red the more progressive the vote in that precinct was.

Lee > 50%, No on F, No on I

Lee > 50%, Yes on F, No on I

Lee < 50%, No on F, No on I

Lee < 50%, No on either F or I, but not both

Lee < 50%, Yes on F and Yes on I

Board of Supervisors

District 1: Fewer and Philhour

Progressive Supervisor Eric Mar is termed out of office and the two most visible candidates to succeed him are progressive member of the school board Sandra Lee Fewer and the moderate Marjan Philhour. While Fewer is the more well known of the two and has Mar’s endorsement, the results of the most recent election suggest that her positions aren’t necessarily in step with the District. If we look at the precinct-level results, we see that the Mayor and his legislative agenda carried the district. Though its worth noting that while the Mayor won most of the precincts, that doesn’t mean he won them by very much. Compared to the city as a whole, Ed Lee was slightly less popular and Props F and I were slightly more popular.


While this district has historically elected progressive supervisors (Eric Mar and Jake McGoldrick before that), but sometimes only by the thinnest of margins. Eric Mar won his first election in 2008 (where turnout was 81%) with only 50.67 percent of the vote. Demographically, this is toss-up and if residents vote in 2016 the way they did in 2016, than Fewer faces a slightly uphill battle.

It’s worth noting that Philhour seems to be out campaigning Fewer, at least initially. Philhour has many more followers on social media and posts daily with content from different events. Fewer has a twitter and facebook account, but you can’t necessarily tell from the content that she’s running a campaign for Supervisor. Additionally, it’s actually really hard to find Fewer’s website. It doesn’t come up in a google search, and the only link is in very small print on her Facebook page. If you do manage to find it, it isn’t that helpful. Meanwhile Philhour has a fully-functioning website that’s easy to find and has content in English, Russian, and Mandarin.









Social media and a web presence may not be that important to your average District 1 voter, but it may indicate a general level of campaign activity and sophistication.

If I’m using the results of 2015 to predict the results of 2016, than I have to bet on Philhour, but it’ll be a squeaker.

Update: Philhour raised a crazy amount of money for her race. No wonder her website looks so good. I think this is going to be the election to watch this year. These are two good candidates with strong institutional support duking it out in a competitive district.

District 5: Breed and Preston

Moderate Board of Supervisors President London Breed faces a tough reelection challenge from Dean Preston, the progressive director of Tenants Together. Unseating an incumbent supervisor is hard (it, like, hasn’t ever happened), so a Breed defeat would be historic. However, based on the 2015 results, Breed appears to have quite the fight ahead of her.


The Mayor is deeply unpopular in District 5. He was the first choice for only about 43 percent of voters.  Props F and I failed in District 5, but just barely. They were more popular here than in any other district except for District 9. Breed will clearly run strongest in the Western Addition, Fillmore, Japan Town, and Lower Pacific Heights neighborhoods.

I have to admit that I’m not very fond of Dean Preston. He wrote this hit piece about the San Francisco Bay Area Renter’s Federation (SFBarf). SFBarf is pro-development, but is also pro-tenant. His piece is so inaccurate it’s practically libel. SFBarf has no affiliation to nor did the organization oppose any tenant protection legislation. Even after being corrected, Preston did not edit or remove his piece.

My personal feelings aside, Preston has the advantage based on the 2015 results.

District 7: Yee and Engardio

At first glance this race looks like the mirror of the District 5 election. Incumbent progressive Norman Yee represents one of the most moderate districts in the city. Unlike District 1 (which was similarly blue), District 7 voters cast their ballots for Ed Lee and against Props F and I waaaaay more frequently the rest of the city.


Not only is he ideologically out of place, he won his first election in 2012 with only 50.27 percent of the vote. Norman Yee should be a dead man walking, but so far he doesn’t seem to be.

His opponent, Joel Engardio hasn’t yet received much attention or many endorsements (Only District 4’s Katy Tang has endorsed him). Why? I have no idea. Maybe everyone loves Norman Yee. He is our city’s most adorable supervisor. He also has great taste in restaurants.

Besides incumbency, Yee’s other advantage is that District 7 has its own brand of ideology. The District is very politically moderate, but it’s also fairly anti-development.  Yee has voted against legalizing accessory dwelling units and against removing the need for a conditional use permit for affordable housing, both are positions that are probably in line with his constituents. Engardio, on the other hand, is running on a platform that includes increasing housing density along transit corridors, which may be enough to turn off voters’ who like the leafy, suburban feel of District 7.

Still, the point of this exercise is to see if 2015 presages 2016. If that’s true, Yee’s going down.



District 9: Ronen, Lindo, and Arce

District 9 is one of our city’s most progressive districts. Supervisor David Campos is termed out and his chief of staff, Hillary Ronen, is competing against fellow progressive Edward Lindo and moderate Joshua Arce for the chance to replace him.

Ed Lee is so unpopular in District 9 that he performed worse than former Sherriff Ross Mirkarimi (who was charged with domestic violence battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness). Lee was the first choice for only about 37 percent of the voters in District 9.

District 9 is also the only District where Props F and I received over 50 percent of the vote, thought neither did so overwhelmingly. The two Props passed in ever precinct in the Mission, but were less popular in Bernal Heights (and unpopular in Portola). The lack luster performance of those Props suggests that the city as a whole has become more pro-housing development than it was just a few years ago.

Based on the 2015 results, this race is Ronen or Lindo’s to lose. Ronen appears to be the better funded and more active of the two. They have very similar views, so I imagine that under our ranked-choice voting system, their supporters will each select the other as their second choice.

I haven’t been able to find an election where any moderate candidate received any meaningful support in this district.


District 11: Alvarenga and Safai

Like District 1’s Eric Mar and District 9’s David Campos, District 11’s progressive firebrand (and almost mayor) John Avalos is term-limited out of office. If there’s a comparison to be made, it’s to the District 1 campaign between Philhour and Fewer.

D11-FIMIf Philhour is a moderate running aggressively in a slightly more progressive than average district, than the reverse is true here. Kimberly Alvarenga is a progressive running hard in a slightly more moderate than average district.

I say it’s slight more moderate than average because the mayor was slightly more popular here than he was city-wide. Prop F was hugely unpopular here; (it was so much less popular here and in nearby District 10, that I have to believe there’s more to the story that I don’t know). Prop I was slightly more popular here than in the rest of the city, though that mostly came from that small pocket of red in the Portola neighborhood. Props A (Affordable Housing Bond), D (development at Mission Rock), K (turning surplus city property into housing) were very unpopular here. This may be because the Balboa Reservoir (not an actual reservoir, just a huge parking lot) is nearby and many pro-housing advocates want to see it developed.

The current supervisor, John Avalos, won his first election with only 52.93 percent of the vote against Ahsha Safai, who happens to be running again. While I can’t find much evidence that Safai has been actively campaigning (another candidate without a web presence), I understand that he’s drawn a lot of endorsements and has been active in the district.

If 2015 is really predictive of 2016, than Ahsha Safai should win this election.

Possible Flaws in this Analysis

Vote Splitting

Voters are not always ideologically consistent. I wrote earlier about how the voters in District 3 elected Aaron Peskin despite the fact that they didn’t agree with his positions on Props F and I. Additionally, these same voters were more likely than average to vote for the Mayor’s re-election, despite the fact that Peskin’s candidacy emerged in response to, what many believe, the Mayor’s poor performance.

On the left is a map of Peskin vs Christensen (Peskin is red/pink) with the results of Props F and I (from my earlier post). On the right is the same map, but instead Peskin vs. Christensen, it shows precincts where Ed Lee received over 50% of the vote. Obviously, Ed Lee won a lot of precincts that Aaron Peskin also won.

D3 comparison

Voters can and will split their ballots. Maybe housing isn’t the number one issue on voters minds. Maybe one candidate is a better retail politician. Maybe the other candidate is weak or gaffe prone. These kinds of factors are hard to calculate, but (as D3 demonstrates) clearly have an impact on the vote.

Fundraising and Organization 

I am not (yet) trying to analyze the impact of fundraising or campaign organization. There are several races that we expect will be close (D1 & D11) or where an incumbent faces a strong challenge (D5 & D8). Candidates in these races who are able to raise more money and better organize will be able to move the needle in their direction. In races where the outcome is close, this kind of advantage could impact the final outcome.

That Being Said

I’m not actually trying to predict the next election. I’m trying to see (1) can the results of future elections be predicted by the results of the past, and (2) is the housing crisis the foremost issue on voters’ minds?

If the above is true, then I predict that Philhour, Ronen, and Safai will win their elections, while Yee and Breed will lose their re-elections. This doesn’t necessarily reflect what I want to happen, but it’s the hypothesis I aim to test.

Updated: Sally Field discusses diversity in cinema

Tonight at a screening of of her new film, My Name is Doris, Sally Field (joined by director Michael Showalter) says Hollywood has long had a need for greater diversity in film-making. Her (almost) complete comments are below. I missed a few seconds at the beginning.

Toward the end she implies that she voted for Straight Outta Compton and Beast of No Nation on her Oscar Ballot.

Update 1/31/16: It’s too bad more people didn’t pay attention to Sally Field’s comments. She made these comments the same week that Julie Delpy, Michael Caine, and Charlotte Rampling made news for their unfortunate comments. Charlotte Rampling, most-notably, said that she believe criticizing the lack of diversity at the Oscars was racist against white people.

In the miasma of so many unfortunate comments come from respected actors, I was left wondering “why isn’t anyone famous contradicting these sentiments?” But here, before my very eyes, was Sally Field doing just that. Her comments, however, didn’t get much press.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Sally Field should be showered with praise and adulation just because she didn’t say something overtly racist. Her comments, if anything, meet the bare minimum for racial sensitivity. Ta-Nehesi Coates, she is not. In fact, she took special care to let everyone know that she thought all the white male actors did a terrific job, lest the’re sensitive egos suffer a bruise. I mean, she’s right, but do we really need to worry about the feelings of Eddie Redmayne or Jennifer Lawrence? Don’t they have enough? Isn’t it more important to worry about all the children who won’t be able to see themselves in Ryan Coolger or Michael B. Jordan?

The reason I think Sally Field should have received more positive press is because our reaction shows others how to behave. If we only publicly chastise those who say overtly racist things (aka punish the wicked), then we’re treating silence and apathy in the same way as we treat those who actually do or say good things. By paying attention to Charlotte Rampling, but not Sally Field we’re letting public figures know that they can get by as long as they don’t say dumb things. We aren’t yet giving anyone any incentive to publicly stand in opposition to the system as it currently stands.

Had Sally Field’s comments gone viral, and her popularity and presence in the media increased, causing waves of new people to see her new movie then maybe more actors would follow her lead. Maybe more people who feel comfortable in their silence, would start to realize that they could benefit from helping to move the needle toward greater diversity in Hollywood.

Post-Election Post-Mortum: D3 and Voter Contradictions

An awful lot has already been written about the 2015 midterm elections in San Francisco even though there wasn’t actually a lot going on elections-wise. I’m finally getting around to writing my thoughts because 1) the act of moving to a new apartment took up every inch of mental and physical real estate that I had; 2) I went on vacation, and 3) the actual final election results weren’t published until November 19. Prior to that they were still counting all our ballots, which means that all of that journalism that was happening immediately after Nov 4 was based on incomplete numbers. Ultimately that didn’t change any of the results, but it does make some of that post-election analysis less meaningful.

There weren’t any national or state-level elections on the ballot. Nevertheless, after all the ballots were counted, 45% of San Franciscans cast their ballots for a handful of city-wide issues and candidates (of which the most high-profile was the reelection campaign of Mayor Ed Lee).

The issue at the heart of this election was housing. Local Measures A, D, F, I, J and K dealt directly or indirectly with the cost of housing. Several poorly funded candidates banded together to take down Mayor Ed Lee, whose policies, they felt, reflected close ties to moneyed interests. Similarly,  the District 3 Supervisorial election, where former progressive Supervisor Aaron Peskin took down the Mayor’s appointee Julie Christensen, was dubbed by many on the far left (the “progressives”) as a referendum on the more moderate Mayor.

The results are in: the Mayor won, but not by much, which is pretty bad for considering he faced only token opposition. Ed Lee’s reelection was worse than that of both his predecessors (Gavin Newsom, who, like Lee, faced little opposition; and Willie Brown, who faced a real challenger in Tom Ammiano). They were re-elected with 73 and 57 percent of the votes, respectively.

I’ll admit that this next comparison isn’t really fair, but I’m going to make it anyway. In San Francisco, we have ranked-choice voting. This means I get vote for my top three choices for mayor, in order of preference. Once all the votes are cast, the ballots cast for most losing candidates are transferred to the candidates those voters’ marked their second choice. This happens until either the ballots are exhausted or one of the candidates gets over 50% of the vote (and wins!. In Ed Lee’s first election he got almost 31% of the vote in the first round, and then won with almost 60% of the vote once ranked-choice kicked in. In his reelection, the ranked-choice votes didn’t matter because he was the first choice of over 50% of voters, but when you compare his winning total of 59% percent in 2011 to his winning total of 56% in 2015, it kinda looks like he did worse. Now, if you do include the ranked-choice voting (not including it is what makes it an unfair comparison) his 2015 total shoots up to 67%. That being said, in 2011 he faced at least six other serious candidates, so the contest, in general, was much tougher back in 2011. Anyway, I don’t totally know exactly how to splice the mayoral results other than to say that Lee was both extremely vulnerable but also his reelection was inevitable. Maybe both are true.

Inconsistent Results from D3 Voters?

Lee’s appointee to the Board of Supervisors for District 3, Julie Christensen, wasn’t quite as lucky. Aaron Peskin reclaimed his old seat with about 52% of the vote.

However, all of the Mayor’s ballot initiatives did really well. Props A (Housing Bond) and D (development at Mission Rock) soared. The mayor opposed the controversial and progressive-backed Props I (Mission District Market Rate Housing Development Moratorium) and F (stricter AirBnb regulations), which went down in flames. So why did San Francisco voters validate the Mayor’s legislative agenda, but then vote against him and his legislative representative in such large numbers? Or, conversely, how did Aaron Peskin get elected given his support for Props F and I. Aren’t voters sending mixes signals?

Did voters associate Ed Lee, Julie Christensen and Aaron Peskin with their positions on Propositions F and I and vote accordingly? Or were they able to separate these candidates from their positions on these few issues?

Here’s a map of the District 3 election results by precinct. Note: each precinct is coded with three letters; the first letter (P or C) indicates who won (Peskin or Christensen), the second letter (Y or N) indicates whether Prop F passed (Yes or No), and the third letter (Y or N) indicates whether Prop I passed (Yes or No). The combination of possible results is indicated with a color. Peskin wins are in shades of red/pink; Christensen in blue. Ties are purple (There was only one, and they voted no on both Props F and I). Some precincts reported combined results.


Julie Christensen supporters were the most ideologically consistent. She opposed Props F and I and she only won in precincts that voted against those Props (with one exception). Aaron Peskin also had a lot of ideologically consistent voters. He won all the precincts that supported Props F and I. However, he also won a lot of precincts where voters were against Props F and I. Additionally, he won quite a few mixed precincts where Prop I failed, but Prop F won (Julie Christensen only carried one mixed precinct).

Even though Peskin won more precincts, it’s important to remember that not all precincts are created equal. Winning a greater number of precincts (which Peskin did handily, 21 out of 30) doesn’t necessarily mean winning the election. Depth of support is also very important. If you overwhelmingly win a few precincts and hold your opponent to a tie everywhere else, you could still win. Julie Christensen didn’t do that either. In fact, Aaron Peskin won 8 precincts by over 100 votes, Christensen had only two (It’s crazy to think of 100 votes as being significant especially considering that this campaign cost the candidates and their PACs about $1 million each. As small as 100 votes sounds, fewer than 20,000 voted for either Peskin or Christensen in this race, so 100 votes can make a big difference).

The table below is sorted in order of precincts that most favored Julie Christensen to most favored of Aaron Peskin (the column called “Peskin Vote Lead”). Precinct 7308 (Telegraph Hill) was a tie, which is why the Peskin vote lead is zero. More red=more Peskin, more blue=more Christensen.

D3 table

Aaron Peskin won because he had breadth (many different precincts) and depth (several landslide precincts) to his support despite the fact that he was a progressive candidate who was in favor of two losing progressive causes.

Why might that be?: Even though Aaron Peskin associated himself with two losing propositions, it might be the case that those specific initiatives didn’t matter very much to District 3 voters. Prop I, which sought to ban market-rate housing development in one neighborhood, really only effected the Mission District . Even though Prop I was a big progressive cause, it didn’t actually impact voters outside of District 9. As a result, D3 voters could opine on this policy without actually having to live with the consequences. Prop F on the other hand almost passed in D3, and voting against it didn’t necessarily mean you didn’t want stricter regulations on AirBnb, it just meant that maybe you were uncomfortable with Prop F specifically, which was criticized for being too long and complicated.

Aaron Peskin, on the other hand, had several other things going for him. He’s very closely associated tenants rights and eviction reform. He was also an important figure in defeating the 8 Washington development, which was hated by both rich NIMBYs and affordable-housing advocates. He spends a lot of time on cases of individual constituents. He was instrumental in negotiating with developers on behalf of the flower vendors after they faced displacement from the Flower Mart. Christensen’s only real other association was with the mayor.

If you cared about defeating Props F and I, you probably also voted for Julie Christensen. If you cared about supporting Props F and I, you probably voted for Aaron Peskin, but if you didn’t really care all that much about them, then you also probably voted for Aaron Peskin; and you probably did so because he had done other things you liked.

Treading Carefully

Despite the success of his campaign, Aaron Peskin may need to watch out. District 3 is considered a “swing” district, which in San Francisco means that it sometimes votes for moderate (or neoliberal) candidates or causes, and it sometimes votes for progressive candidates or causes. Ed Lee and Julie Christensen are considered moderates; Peskin, and Props F and I are considered progressive. Let’s telescope out to look all the candidates and ballot propositions and their relative success in District 3.

d3 results in order of success

You can see that at the top here are the Propositions that passed overwhelmingly in D3 as they did citywide. These are Props G, A, K, D, C, and B, which all got more than 60% of the vote in D3. I haven’t yet poured through the results of every precinct, but I’m willing to bet there are very few where these Props didn’t pass.

After that we have Mayor Ed Lee, Prop J, and Vicki Hennesy (who beat Ross Mirkarimi for Sherriff) all receiving about 60% of the vote.

Then Aaron Peskin scoots over the finish line at 52%

Next we have Props F (48%), Prop I (44%) and Julie Christensen (43%), all losing in D3, but by less than 10%.

Everything below that was defeated handily.

The interesting thing here is that Ed Lee actually over performed in District 3. He received about 55% citywide, but got about 60% of the vote here. This points us to another contradiction from the voters in D3. They like the mayor here more than the rest of the city, but were deeply uninterested in electing the woman he appointed to represent them at the Board of Supervisors. That means a lot of people voted for the Mayor and against Julie Christensen. Where was this phenomenon most present? Where were voters most likely to vote for the Mayor and against Julie Christensen? Take a look at this table sorted by precincts where the Lee share of the vote most exceeded the Christensen share of the vote.

C percent minus L percent


The top three precincts (7322, 7329, and 7338) where Lee had the shortest coattails are all in (or contain parts of) Chinatown. Number four (7313) on the list is, at the very least, Chinatown-adjacent (if not actually in a more expansive definition of “Chinatown”). As is number six (7319).

A lot has been written about Aaron Peskin’s success in Chinatown. How Peskin’s win may have ridden on his ability to win over a neighborhood that really loves the mayor.

All of which seems true. Christensen won a few of the Chinatown precincts, but only by a slim margin. Meanwhile, Ed Lee stormed through Chinatown like Godzilla in Tokyo. Some take this to mean that Ed Lee’s support is really pretty shallow, which could be true. On the other hand it may mean that Aaron Peskin needs to tread carefully. He won Chinatown despite the fact that he wasn’t supported by the popular Mayor and was on the wrong side of both Props F and I. He has to face another election in 2016 (his election was only to fill the remainder of Julie Christensen’s appointment). Should he become embroiled in issues D3 residents oppose, he may draw some more well-funded opposition.

It’s obviously early in his term, but the progressives were crowing about finally being able to pass legislation. Yet we haven’t seen them reintroduce (or announce that they’ll reintroduce) any of the recently failed legislation, like stricter AirBnb regulations or a development moratorium for the Mission. Progressives said that both were critical to saving the “soul” of San Francisco.

I even tweeted to David Campos and Aaron Peskin to ask if another Mission Development Moratorium bill was in the works. I did not receive a response.


Part of the reason for that reluctance to move on these issues is that they’re pretty unpopular with most voters, including those in D3. Nowhere was that more true than in Chinatown. Should Peskin actually go head to head with the mayor he may see that support erode. I think Aaron Peskin is going to do his best not to find out if that’s true.

One note about Chinatown voting: the Chinatown voters were more critical for Ed Lee and Julie Christensen in D3 than for Aaron Peskin. Votes from Chinatown made up about 11% of Peskin’s support, whereas it was 12% and almost 16% for Christensen and Lee respectively. Cleaving some of those PNN precincts (of which Chinatown was a big part) away from Peskin will be primary task for any would be challenger.

With an eye to 2016, fending off possible challengers will be important for Peskin. The progressives have their work cut out for them. They currently have a one seat majority on the Board of Supervisors, but have a lot of big elections ahead of them, and having to re-defend D3 would force the progressive political establishment in the city to spread it’s resources (money, volunteers, etc.) more thinly. In Districts 9, 11, and 1 progressives Supervisors David Campos, John Avalos, and Eric Mar will be term-limited from seeking reelection. In district 7, progressive Norman Yee faces reelection in one of the city’s most conservative districts. Progessive Supervisor Jane Kim (D6) faces off against moderate Supervisor Scott Weiner (D8) for a seat in the state senate. Whoever wins, the moderate mayor will get to appoint their successor. They only have one pick-up opportunity, in District 5, where the more moderate London Breed will be seeking reelection in a progressive district. Despite their slim majority on the board, the progressives are playing defense in 2016, and that game starts now.

The Techie and the Lefty Should Be Friends. San Franciscans Should Stick Together.

City Divided” is an oft-printed headline here in San Francisco, but how can a city with a reputation for being on the liberal vanguard be divided about anything? “What could all those communists have to argue about,” my curmudgeonly and Republican father asks. Well, as it turns out, quite a lot, but nothing more so that the cost of the price of housing.

In San Francisco, the cost of housing is the singular political issue around which all others revolve. At least it is today. When I first moved here, a simpler time, we worried about was whether or not we should eat foie gras or finally make our local nudists cover up, but not anymore. Now we have real problems.

Housing is the sun around which all other issues orbit these days… as it should. Shelter is pretty important. I can’t think of a society that manages without it. Quality of life in San Francisco is flagging because of a lack of it.

You’d think that the laser-like focus on housing would prompt action. That fact that it hasn’t, is an indictment of San Francisco’s political leadership (I mean “political leadership” to include our elected officials and our un-elected political activist groups). It’s also an indictment of ourselves as voters (probably more so). It’s our job to hold our government accountable, and given that we can’t manage to be less expensive than New York I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all failed at that job.

How is this a political problem? The environmental and historic factors that gave birth to San Francisco and have drawn (and continue to draw) so many people to the area are mostly out of our control; like the fantastic climate, strong institutions of higher education, a close proximity to agriculture, a great shipping port, low interest rates, foreign investment, the way the complete collapse of the world economy coincided with the dawn of mobile technology drawing disproportionate investment to the Bay Area, etc.. The list goes on and on, and I don’t expect the Mayor of San Francisco to be able stop those things from happening. I wouldn’t want him to. Most of those things are pretty awesome (not the economic collapse part).

However, I do expect our political leaders to identify those factors and respond accordingly. We know that hasn’t happened in San Francisco because, despite the nearly universal hysteria over the cost of housing, it continues to skyrocket.

Instead, we have an extremely divided board of supervisors; a mayor that everyone loves, but is also completely loathed; and an upcoming local election that’s being pitched as the next Godzilla vs. Mothra.

“Oh naive boy,” I can hear you say to yourself, “when isn’t politics like that?”

I know, I know. It isn’t surprising, but it is just so terribly unproductive. Again, I hear you’re collective “no duh”‘s.

If the strife among our political class seems bad, its only a minor tributary compared to the great river of discord down which the general public water tubes.

In the great housing war of 2015, two rival narratives have flourished;  (1) a wave of unthinkably wealthy “techies” who, in the vein of Marie Antoinette, have thoughtlessly driven lower income families from their homes and into the streets;

gam_scum1 and (2) the long-time residents, or old “lefties”, who have lived under the protection of rent control for years, are butthurt now that their discount rent-party is over. They want prices and neighborhood character to stay the same, and if that means building a wall around their neighborhood, then so be it. If only these sore losers would stop blocking development, we could put Econ 101  into action and build housing for everyone!

While there have been some prominent examples that have perpetuated these narratives, I think that they’re generally cartoonish and uncomplicated by reality. Anyone who rents (more than half the city), be they lefty or techie, is harmed by the high cost of housing.

Instead of one city filled with people on the verge of ruin because of runaway housing prices, we’ve turned our guns on each other. The price of housing has turned this city into the Lord of the Flies. While we’re screaming at each other, or screaming past each other, almost nothing affirmative has been done to make life better for anyone.

As I wrote earlier, we’re fighting with each other over increasingly small and expensive slices of the same pie. I have always advocated for a much larger pie, but we also need to make sure that translates to larger slices at every segment of the population. Right now, a pretty politically active segment of the population doesn’t see that happening, and therefore, has no incentive to fight on behalf of more development.

Acrimony over the role of development has corrupted every topic that relates to housing, and left us nipping at the heels of fringe issues.

We can’t agree on what to do about Airbnb, foreign investors and pieds-a-terre, or whether market rate housing is good or bad. As a result, we have a series of non-initiatives. We have a toothless approach to both AirBnb and real estate speculation, a development moratorium that failed, and development proposals that also fail. The only successes either side have involve defeating the proposals of the other.

I won’t say there hasn’t been any movement. Recently, Supervisors Wiener and Christensen have passed legislation allowing for the construction of in-law units in pre-existing housing, but that only applies to housing in their districts. Only when compared to all that we haven’t done could this be considered an accomplishment. But something is better than nothing, right?

We’re spending a lot of energy to accomplish very little, which brings me to the title of this post:

The Techie and the Lefty Should Be Friends. If you haven’t seen Oklahoma!, you should. Or at least you should just watch this youtube video of the Farmer and the Cowman.

The cowmen (lefties) who pioneered life in Oklahoma (San Francisco), and are upset at the recent arrival of the Farmers (Techies) who “come out west and made a lot of changes.” The Farmers, in turn, look down on the Cowmen and need to be encouraged not to “treat ’em like a louse, make ’em welcome in your house.”

Ultimately the Territory folk come together under one issue from which they all will benefit. In the case of Oklahoma!, it was statehood:

“When this territory is a state and joins the union just like all the others, the farmer and the cowman and the merchant, must all behave themselves and act like brothers.”

Should they remain divided, they won’t be able to successfully lobby for statehood and lose the associated benefits. Like the Territory Folk, unless we can all get behind a comprehensive series of housing policies, our inability to get along means we will surely all continue to suffer together.

What are those polices? I’m not really sure. Whatever they are they must be policies that both spread the love and share the pain. Easier said than done, I know. That means policies that increase the housing stock at all price levels, and does so in a way that is visible. Maybe its allowing developers to build taller buildings, but also require a higher percentage of affordable units, like Prop D.

Maybe it’s proposals like the Mayor’s Affordable Housing Density Bonus program seems like a good start. The more affordable housing you build, the more you get to build.

Personally, I would really like to see all the neighborhoods zoned exclusively for single-family homes (the RH-1 zones) expanded to allow multi-unit dwellings up to 40 ft (which allows for small apartment buildings), and the height limit of the pre-existing multi-unit zones increased to 65 ft.

Why do I like this kind proposal?

It allows for thousands of new housing units. I’ve got 99 problems and each of them is that we don’t have enough housing.

Preserves character, prevents “gentrification bombs.” Allowing a lot of small scale development would ensure that most neighborhoods continue to look like they currently do, which is something people really want. None of the developments would result in lots of additional “luxury condos.” Plus allowing a lot of this kind of construction happen at once means that we’ll have more small landlords competing with one another for tenants.

One of the biggest hurdles to development is the cost of land. Land is so expensive that developers want to build extremely large buildings to recoup cost/increase profitability. This proposal would mostly impact people who already own land. A lower cost of production means that rent on those units could be lower. Of course current landowners could sell their properties to developers, but those developers wouldn’t be able build extremely tall building, which means they wouldn’t want to pay very much for those lots.

It doesn’t benefit “greedy developers.” Large-scale development will and should continue to exist, but one of the major objections to new large-scale development is that they require “spot upzoning” that “unlocks new value” for developers by allowing them to take lots in low-rise neighborhoods and build much taller buildings. This proposal “unlocks” a little value for a lot of people, and “unlocking” for so many people all at once actually minimizes the value that they can extract.

It doesn’t favor one neighborhood over another. Huge swaths of land in the city would be slightly affected. It just raises the floor on minimum development standards slightly. Ideally this would result in small amounts development and construction all over the city and help minimize the psychological trauma (and opposition to development that comes with it) from the perception that any one neighborhood is under siege.

Is my idea DOA? Probably (especially considering the resistance to in-law units that came from residents of West of Twin Peaks), but I hope that we find a way to start crafting policies that are demonstrably beneficial in ways that we can easily articulate. Unless we call some sort of truce between the “techies” and the “lefties” there will be very little measurable progress toward reining in the cost of housing in San Francisco.