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Debate heats up over proposed commission to oversee mayor’s housing, economic offices

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Added bureaucracy — or needed transparency.

That seems to sum up the debate over a measure that would create a commission to oversee the Mayor’s Offices of Housing as well as Economic and Workforce Development.

Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who proposed the city charter amendment for San Francisco’s November ballot, has argued the measure would improve city operations in providing oversight, transparency and policy guidance.

But the measure was sharply criticized Thursday during the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee by Todd Rufo, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development, and Olson Lee, director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, as an unnecessary layer of interference.

They argued the proposed five-member Housing and Development Commission would only slow down construction of affordable housing, add delays to doling out workforce grants and hinder other city programs.

Rufo said his department annually doles out some $20 million in city grants for workforce programs, but Peskin’s proposal would “delay our ability to grant these dollars out by at least three months.” He added the department’s efforts already receive public oversight by having to go through other city commissions for approval, such as development agreements through the Planning Commission.

Similarly, Lee warned of slowing down affordable housing development and increasing costs

“We are really challenged in San Francisco in terms of being able to keep our costs down,” Lee said. “We shouldn’t be trying to do things that we know will increase those costs.”

Lee also argued the measure could impair efforts to secure state and federal funding.

“As a department head reporting to a commission that does not quite carry the same gravitas as being a part of the Mayor’s Office when negotiating with individuals from D.C. or when negotiating with people from Sacramento,” Lee said.

Supervisor Eric Mar, however, suggested the criticism was stemming more from politics than good policy.

“The elephant in the room is the change” of the departments from the Mayor’s Office to “more of a shared oversight and governance,” Mar said.

Supervisor John Avalos said a commission could yield improvement, such as a public vision for economic development and housing. He suggested expanding the powers of the Small Business Commission to oversee Economic and Workforce Development functions instead of having one new commission oversee both.

More responsive results to address residents’ concerns could also stem from a commission, Supervisor Malia Cohen said.

“Personally, it’s been difficult in working with your department,” Cohen told Lee.

Cohen said she has spent two years trying to improve the Mayor’s Office of Housing outreach and advertisement of below-market-rate housing units to communities of color. “I’ve gotten nowhere. It’s been incredibly frustrating,” she said

Supervisor Katy Tang said she didn’t see the need for the proposed commission. “I don’t really know what we are trying solve,” Tang said.

Adding to the interest surrounding the charter amendment is that the measure includes two poison pills to counter two November ballot initiatives being pursued by the San Francisco Association of Realtors. The Realtors’ measures would broaden the qualifying incomes for below-market-rate housing and redefine the bidding process for affordable housing projects.

The debate will continue July 7 when the Rules Committee holds a second hearing on the measure, during which amendments could be made. It would take six votes from the full board to place the measure on the ballot.

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  • sfsoma

    Another set of bureaucrats controlled by unethical politicians to funnel money to favored contractors.

  • sffoghorn

    Sunshine over public allocation of tens of millions of dollars is always a good thing. The allocation of affordable housing dollars needs to be approved in open session on the public record.