San Francisco Fall 2015 Voters Guide

For San Francisco residents voting in the fall 2015 election I’ve outlined how I suggest you vote. This is a very important election for the city, with several important propositions that could set the cities future direction on housing policy. Propositions A, D, F, I, J and K are all related to the same fundamental issue, which at its core is simple, but its causes are complex and nuanced. The fundamental issue is lack of supply of housing and commercial real estate in a very desirable city.

For those interested in understanding how we got here, What’s the Matter With San Francisco is a good place to start. Additionally, Kim-Mai Cutler’s epic SF Housing article is also worth a read.

I generally agree with the SPUR Voter Guide on most points. Please refer to it if you need more in-depth analysis than I’m providing below.

My general opinion on propositions is one should default to voting No unless there is a very compelling need. Propsitions are very difficult to undo, and aren’t always well written or well considered. In the worst cases, they leave us with a decades long legacy of problems. See the never ending debate on Prop 13.

Additionally the District 3 supervisor race is a very contentious one, and could shift the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors. I happen to live in District 3, so I’m watching this race particularly closely.

Yes on A: Affordable Housing

This is a bond to raise $310 million for subsidized housing in San Francisco. Given the price of building a unit of housing in San Francisco you can easily do some napkin math to discover this is a drop in the bucket, and realize there is no amount of realistic government spending that will get us out of this problem with subsidized housing. That said, to maintain a diversity of income levels in this city over the long term, we need more subsidized housing. As it is we lose it nearly as quickly as we build it.

Vote Yes.

Yes on B: Paid Parental Leave for City Employees

While I don’t personally have the same passion for this issue as I do for housing issues, I do think it’s the right thing to do. My employer already does this. I think the city should too.

Vote Yes.

No on C: Expenditure Lobbyists

I certainly think we need to find ways to limit the money influence on politics, just look at what is happening in the race for District 3 Supervisor. Roughly $200 per vote is being spent! That said, I’m not convinced this legislation is the right thing to do. I believe it would make the job of great organizations like SPUR more difficult.

Vote No.

Yes on D: Mission Rock

I’m upset that this is even a thing we vote on in San Francisco, I think this should be up to the planning commission to decide, but thanks to Proposition B approved by voters in the June 2014 election, that’s where we are. This project provides significant new housing, building an entire new neighborhood, brings in many construction jobs, and be 40% affordable housing. It might block some people’s views of the bay.

Vote Yes.

No on E: Public Meetings

I don’t have very strong opinions on this one, but it generally seems like a burden on local government without providing additional resources to shoulder that burden. When was the last time you had a worthwhile debate online? Is that what we need to bring to local politics, that are already very contentious?

Vote No.

No on F: Short-Term Residential Rentals

This is essentially doubling down on the local trend of trying to control miss-aligned market incentives with ever increasing regulation. The local problem with AirBnB is an interplay between strict rent control, strong tenant protections, combined with a insufficient rental and hotel supply, making short term rentals worth the extra trouble. I believe there is also a significant population who can only afford to stay in this city by renting out an extra room, or staying with friends part time. I’ve hosted more than one friend for a weekend while they rented out their apartment on AirBnB so they could make rent in a tough month.

That said, AirBnB and similar short term rental’s are probably making the cost of rents higher in San Francisco, but I don’t think this legislation is the right way to fix it. This Medium post gets to the core of the issue better than I could.

Vote No.

No on G: Restrictions for CleanPowerSF

This pair of propositions is incredibly confusing, and good example of what is wrong with our proposition process. G and H essentially cancel each other out, but of the two, G is worse. This proposition essentially sets up rules for what can be called “green energy” and makes the rules different for CleanPowerSF than they would be for PG&E. The original organization that put this on the ballot has now rescinded their support and is supporting H which they negotiated with the Board of Supervisors.

Vote No.

No on H: Defining Renewable Energy

This is the counter to G, neither should be on the ballot.

Vote No.

No on I: Mission Moratorium

Simply terrible policy. Preventing new housing in the mission will do the opposite of what this proposition supporters intend. It will actually increase prices in the Mission and create more incentive for evictions as wealthy owners and tenants out-compete the existing population. SUPRs guide lays it out very clearly:

As the Mission’s own history has shown, failure to build new housing simply increases the pressure on a popular neighborhood’s already limited housing stock. The Mission became hyper-gentrified with virtually no new housing development for decades.


San Francisco’s chief economist has found no evidence that a temporary moratorium on market-rate construction in the Mission would do anything to stop evictions or slow gentrification

The real agenda behind this proposition is to create an opportunity for the city to buy a few sites in the Mission to build affordable housing. While the intention there is good, there must be a better way.

Vote No.

No on J: Legacy Business Preservation Fund

I’m often saddened to see a well loved business have to shut down due to rent increases, and I’m certainly worried that ever increasing commercial rents will drive out long time businesses that contribute to a neighborhood, but aren’t able to continue in the face of higher rents.

But as this proposition is written, it ties subsides to a politician’s endorsement. This seems ripe for abuse. Additionally, it seems it may create an incentive for property owners to increase rents in anticipation of their tenants subsidies.

Vote No.

Yes on K: Surplus Public Lands

This is a generally well considered proposition written by four members of the Board of Supervisors, prioritizing public lands for use as subsidized housing. We need more housing any way we can get it, and this helps. The down side, as with all propositions, is it will be hard to change in the future. This doesn’t need to be on the ballot, but since we need housing so badly.

Vote Yes.

Julie Christensen for D3 Supervisor

If you’re in district 3, vote for Julie Christensen for Supervisor. As I write this at at a coffee shop in D3, there are people on most street corners holding “We Need Aaron” signs and handing out flyers. Peskin represents the old school of San Francisco politics that lead to this housing mess in the first place, and he’s doubling down on the same policies. It’s interesting that this is the Progressive arm of San Francisco politics. The reality is it’s about maintaining the status quo, and actively fighting against change. Peskin’s rhetoric is all about affordability, but I don’t believe his policies will actually improve affordability for many. He has a history of fighting new development, which certainly helps property values increase, but it doesn’t help make a more affordable city.

The Chronicle does a solid job of laying out the case for Julie Christiensen, and talks about some of their differences and Peskin’s history.

I believe Christiansen generally has a balanced and practical view, backing plans to build additional housing, and improve transit in the city.

The most important aspect of this race is how it could shift the balance of power on the Board of Supervisors. If Peksin wins, the balance shifts to the Progressives, who have a record of preventing development, preventing market rate housing (which comes with requirements to build affordable housing, or contribute to the city fund) and backing things like the Mission Moratorium.

Vote Julie Christensen for D3 Supervisor.

Written on November 1, 2015