Supervisor's Report

Exposing special interests in the room and at the ballot box


I love that this column is actually stirring up conversation in neighborhood meetings, cafes, and online chat rooms. Print journalism is one of my favorite mediums, so I’m grateful that the Marina Times is still independent, alive, and kickin’ in an age of media consolidation. Thanks to those of you who have written to me or to the editors with your thoughts and questions — keep it coming! I also want to respond to some inaccuracies disseminated by the BARFers (an affectionate acronym for the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation) regarding my last column.

The main point of contention was who benefited from a 2013 court ruling in Latinos Unidos del Valle de Napa y Solano v. County of Napa, where the First District Court of Appeal overturned a portion of Napa County’s local housing density bonus ordinance. The central issue in my column was not the legal particulars, but that the court’s decision had unintended consequences: affordable inclusionary housing requirements now “count” toward city density bonus concessions statewide. In San Francisco, this decision essentially became a sweet developer freebie, allowing them to not build additional affordable housing units in return for significant benefits conferred upon them like height or density increases. My analysis stressed the broader implications of the court decision, which has led Mayor Lee and the Planning Department to introduce legislation for a local Affordable Housing Density Program.

BARFers also had questions about the out-migration data from the American Community Survey (ACS), which our own city economist compiled for the Planning Department. This official census data shows a one-year in-migration of 63,991 people, with an out-migration of 62,757 residents — a net population increase of 1,234. Not an epic growth spurt, and certainly not justification to blindly expedite poor planning process to the rally cry of “Build, baby, build!” The ACS analysis also doesn’t consider critical factors like race and ethnicity, income, length of residence for out-migrants, origin and destination ZIP codes, etc. — in other words, the “growth” is likely a “replacement population.” There is a clear race, class, and neighborhood dimension to the story, and one that the city economist’s summary is not capturing. To make informed policy decisions about whom we are building for, it’s important to know who is leaving and why.


I am delighted that at the beginning of March, after months of deliberations and negotiations, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to put the Inclusionary Affordable Housing Charter Amendment (Prop. C) on the June ballot, which, if passed, will allow the board to require more affordable housing in new construction projects. Ironically, the only opposition to this measure has come from SFBARF.

Which brings me to some questions of my own: who is SFBARF and who is funding their efforts? Founder and West Oakland resident Sonja Trauss was featured in a San Francisco Examiner story last year where she confirmed that her organization had a simple strategy: to ally itself with the wealthiest interests in the room to push a “Build whatever!” vision for San Francisco. And wealthy interests they are, as reported by the San Francisco Business Times. Trauss raised $10,000 from the Political Action Committee San Francisco Moderates and other private sources she refuses to disclose, and another $10,000 from Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman. She has no experience in land use or planning, so one wonders what the donor appeal is for a tech millionaire and a conservative political group.

The bottom line is that far from being advocates for renters, SFBARF leaders are pro development-funded advocates who have invested significant capital trying to infiltrate esteemed organizations like the Sierra Club, as reported in Vice magazine, because the club’s environmental model was at odds with SFBARF’s “build at any cost” agenda. In fact, a few months ago SFBARF posted an agenda of its methods, including a plan to “disrupt the alliance between rent control advocates and affordable housing advocates.” SFBARF’s divide and conquer strategy is pretty clear, as is its disingenuous claim to represent San Francisco renters.


If you are a renter in need of support, information, or legal counsel, get connected to the San Francisco Tenants Union, Housing Rights Committee, or Eviction Defense Collaborative. They are longstanding and respected advocacy groups with trained and committed staff that have been working in the trenches as community organizers for years.

SFBARF’s deceptive charade is just one of the many reasons I have joined the good company of former Congressman John Burton, former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, and fellow Supervisors Jane Kim, David Campos, Eric Mar, and Norman Yee, among others, in a bid to represent a return to some pragmatic progressive values and to restore balance and integrity to the Democratic County Central Committee. This June 7 we have an opportunity to take our Democratic Party back from special interests and return it to the hands of our communities

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