Why, if I were a Supervisor, I would vote for the moratorium even though I think it’s a bad idea

Right now, as I type this, the Board of Supervisors is debating Supervisor Campos’ “Interim Moratorium on Certain New Residential Uses and Elimination of Production, Distribution, and Repair Uses in a Portion of the Mission Area Plan of the General Plan,” or as it’s more frequently called, the  “Mission Housing Moratorium.” The public comment has been going on for approximately 6 hours, and shows no sign of ending any time soon. Folks have been standing in line for hours for a chance to express their thoughts on the subject. The overwhelming majority seem to support the moratorium.

If there was any doubt in your mind that housing affordability is the issue around which all of San Francisco politics orbits.

Supervisors Campos, Jane Kim, John Avalos, Norman Yee, and Eric Mar sponsored the legislation.  Supervisors Tang, Breed, and Cohen haven’t disclosed how they’ll vote, but it doesn’t matter because Scott Wiener, Mark Farrell, and Julie Christensen have announced that they’re voting against it, which means that the moratorium doesn’t have the nine votes needed to pass.

David Campos’ argument in favor of the moratorium has become a little more nuanced since his initial proposal. He argues that a moratorium is necessary because there are only 13 sites left in the Mission that would be suitable for affordable housing development. As I’ve said, I don’t think the moratorium is a good idea. Much of the city is already under a de facto moratorium, and its only exacerbating our inability to house all of our residents. Even if the moratorium does allow the city the time it needs to acquire these sites, it won’t stop the wave of evictions and displacement currently underway, nor will it provide anyone who lives in regular, run-of-the-mill privately-owned apartment buildings. Additionally, the number affordable units that will eventually be constructed will be too low (SF BARF construction estimates) to make up for the displacement that took place during construction.

That being said, if I were a Supervisor, I would vote in favor of the 45 day moratorium.

Why?

Tensions are running extremely high. Mission resident after Mission resident (Hundreds? I wasn’t able count) testified to the personal trauma they’ve experienced as a result of the displacement. Thousands have signed moratorium-related petitions. These people are desperate for a solution, (and while I don’t believe that the 45 day moratorium is the right solution), and its obvious that the folks in the Mission believe their government has abandoned them. Approving a brief moratorium will go a long way toward rebuilding trust with the Mission community. Building trust with the community is going to be necessary if we want any hope of developing a plan that uses all the available policy tools –higher affordable housing mandates, upzoning less dense neighborhoods, increased section 8 subsidies, building dense affordable housing on city-owned land, etc.– from a city-wide (instead of a neighborhood-by-neighborhood) perspective.

It may pass as a ballot initiative anyway. If the moratorium fails in the Board of Supervisors, it will almost certainly end up as a ballot initiative. If the ballot initiative passes, we’ll have a moratorium without a coalition trying to build that holistic plan that the city desperately needs. We should learn from the 8 Washington development. It was approved by the City and lost when the development went to the ballot box. That site remains a parking lot and a tennis court, which isn’t helping to house anyone. 8 Washington was creamed by a strange and disparate alliance between (1) people who were upset at the lack of affordable housing and took out that frustration on a luxury development and (2) wealthy home-owners on Telegraph Hill who were afraid of a “wall on the waterfront.” The folks on Telegraph Hill got what they want, but the affordable housing folks didn’t get anything.

For frame of reference, take a look at the buildings already around that area and tell me it doesn’t look like a wall?

It could cost Julie Christensen her seat. The same enthusiasm that could carry a ballot initiative to victory, would also be likely to cost Supervisor Christensen her seat on the Board of Supervisors. Her main opponent, Aaron Peskin, is running on an affordability platform (though his website doesn’t propose a single policy iniative). The problem is that he was President of the Board of Supervisors from 2001-09, which is exactly when the policies that incubated the current crisis were developed. Peskin is know for opposing development, new libraries, restaurants, and public transit. If Aaron Peskin is elected, I think we can kiss any hopes of upzoning, increased density, or large scale development goodbye.

I wrote to my Supervisor, Mark Farrell, to encourage him to vote in favor of the moratorium for the reasons I detailed above. However, I would vote in favor because we need to develop a wide variety of policy initiatives that specifically address (1) rapidly increasing housing costs, and (2) displacement. To do that, city leadership needs to unify the community behind a comprehensive solution, which requires rebuilding trust with the community and having a bench of leaders that are committed to enacting such a solution. Letting the energy behind the moratorium explode in a way that doesn’t generate a long-term comprehensive solution would be an incredible waste. I see voting for a short term moratorium as taking one baby step backward to better ensure two large strides forward.

But I might be wrong about all of that.

Update: at 11:46 pm. After 7 hours of public comment, the moratorium failed. Sups Tang, Farrell, Wiener, and Christensen voted against it. I find it pretty lousy that Sup Tang voted against the moratorium given that her district is pretty much under a permanent moratorium. That just seems hypocritical.

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