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In bid for West Side support, Jane Kim announces opposition to housing density bill

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Supervisor Jane Kim speaks at a small rally to oppose California Senate Bill 827, a bill that would rezone most of San Francisco, allowing greater density and building heights near transit, across from the West Portal Muni Station on Thursday March 15, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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Just days after the news broke that Supervisor Jane Kim’s name is soaring in mayoral polls, the candidate has grabbed on to the greatest fear of West Side voters and clenched tight: Manhattanization.

Thursday morning Kim announced her opposition to a state bill that opponents fear would see eight- to ten-story developments spring up like daisies across The City. (Frankly, some would argue that barely resembles Brooklyn, but I digress.)

The law in question is Senate Bill 827, authored by Kim’s one-time opponent, state Senator Scott Wiener, which would increase residential density and raise zoning heights near transit stops across California. Thanks to San Francisco’s Muni system, according to Planning Department analysis, that’s essentially the entire dang city.

From the Richmond to the Sunset, and down to Parkmerced, this move is the political equivalent of Jane Kim standing outside West Side voters’ homes with a boombox. Is it obvious? Yes. Does that matter? We’ll see.

Kim announced her opposition Thursday morning at a rally attended by just over a dozen folks outside West Portal Station. The old fashioned train station is surrounded by squat buildings, and would be rezoned by SB 827.

“We are not against housing,” Kim told reporters. “This is not the right way to build.”

Kim’s arguments largely mirrored points made by the California Sierra Club in an opposition letter to Wiener’s SB 827: Essentially, the club warned upzoning near transit may discourage low-rise suburbs from building more transit. Kim also decried the bill for overriding San Francisco’s autonomy in housing planning.

Granting taller heights is a key bargaining chip, she said. A bargaining chip Kim has used more than once to negotiate for more affordable housing in projects in her district.

“It’s a giveaway to developers without anything in return,” Kim told the crowd.

It was about this time in Kim’s speech that East Bay For Everyone activist Victoria Fierce shouted “Thanks for gentrifying Oakland!” (The assertion being that by building less housing, San Francisco has become more expensive, people have been displaced to Oakland, and prices there have subsequently skyrocketed.)

The rain drizzled down, but the neither the dampness nor the shout deterred West Side activists. One of those activists, George Wooding, is president of the Coalition of San Francisco Neighborhoods, and writes a column for the Westside Observer.

Wooding said Kim’s opposition to SB 827 would endear her to West Side voters, especially the older home-owners who most often show up in low turnout elections (which June may very well turn out to be).

“They all vote. They would get off their deathbed to vote,” Wooding said.

Board of Supervisors President and mayoral candidate London Breed has voiced support for SB 827, which Wooding said will take its toll among those same groups. “Breed doesn’t know what she stepped into,” Wooding said.

The votes of the Western neighborhoods may decide the election, some political consultants have said. David Latterman, principal at Brick Circle Advisors, told me earlier this week that many of the Eastern neighborhood votes are already “locked up” for specific candidates.

Strategically then, “the West Side is what’s in play,” Latterman said.

Though Breed and Angela Alioto both have a chance to sway West Side voters, Latterman said Kim is already strong there, because “she’s the only one who’s run a citywide race in a long long time. She ran a serious citywide race two years ago. There’s residual name recognition there. It’s that simple.”

Though the coalition of West Side organizations at today’s event voiced vocal support for Kim, some have already called out her opposition as a brazen electoral play.

Wiener told me Thursday “Clearly what Jane Kim is doing is to appeal to some voters on the West Side, when her actual politics are very inconsistent with the West Side. She’s supported tents on sidewalks and opposed increased funding for police officers.”

Okay, sure, opposing his bill will appeal to the West Side, but it’s hardly inconsistent with her past positions.

Kim opposed another density-encouraging bill, SB 35, as well. And it’s not just the West Side against SB 827. Representatives from the Mission District, Chinatown, and all across San Francisco opposed the measure at a Monday Board of Supervisors hearing. Candidates often politically benefit from measures they truly believe in.

Bulls get riled up at red capes, and as far back as Bruce Brugmann’s original On Guard column in the San Francisco Bay Guardian decades ago, the West Side has chomped at the bit when plans for dense developments wave their way.

For Wooding, if Kim had said she’d negotiate with Wiener to amend his bill, or taken a cautious stance on it, West Siders would have revolted. “She’d have lost all of them,” he said.

Housing takes a precedence over any other issue, he said, even ones where Kim and the West Side don’t see eye-to-eye.

“We don’t always agree,” Wooding said, “but we agree enough.”

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

This column has been updated from its original version.

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