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Exposing special interests in the room and at the ballot box

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Supervisor Aaron Peskin (Mike Koozmin/2015 S.F. Examiner)

Modern life is pretty overwhelming. It happens to all of us; we allow ourselves to become overcommitted, and our work suffers as a result. Members of the Board of Supervisors are no different. For two months in a row, Supervisor Aaron Peskin’s column in the Marina Times has contained pretty significant mistakes.

In his March column about the Affordable Housing Bonus Program, the supervisor identified the plaintiffs in the Napa density bonus lawsuit as “developers,” when, in fact, the plaintiffs were a farmworker group called Latinos Unidos del Valle de Napa y Solano. Latinos Unidos is a nonprofit that promotes the interests of immigrant laborers.

In his April column, Peskin corrected his March mischaracterization, but went on to make another blunder. He wrote, “This official census data [the American Community Survey] 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.”

In fact, the U.S. Census population estimates for San Francisco County shows the population has increased by more than 10,000 people per year, every year, since 2010. In particular, the population estimate for San Francisco in 2014 is 852,537. The estimate for 2015 is 864,816. This represents a population increase of 12,279, not 1,234. Peskin’s numbers leave out approximately 11,000 people each year who move to San Francisco by being born here.

The Controller’s report on the effect of last year’s Proposition I suggested about 64,000 new people moved to San Francisco every year since 2010. Based on the above census data, about 12,000 of those new people become a net addition to our city every year. Some of this net population increase is made possible by new building; some is made possible by crowding.

In order to make room for the 52,000 people who come here each year that aren’t accommodated by new building or by crowding, 52,000 current residents have to leave. This is displacement. Inevitably, the people who are displaced are lower income than the people who can stay and, inevitably, they are not homeowners. They are renters.

This is why I started the S.F. Bay Area Renters Federation. Too many of The City’s land use decisions are made by homeowners, like Supervisor Peskin. Since homeowners
cannot be displaced, the issue of displacement is theoretical to them. They can try to imagine what it might be like to live in fear of displacement, but they cannot actually feel the fear.

This is why homeowners, like Peskin (or Dean Preston or Dennis Richards), prioritize sentimental concerns like neighborhood character over practical concerns like housing San Francisco’s growing population and preventing the displacement of lower-income residents by new, higher-income residents.

Homeowners and landlords have a special interest in maintaining the status quo in their neighborhood. Exclusivity increases the value of their properties and, in the case of landlords like Supervisor Peskin (or Spike Kahn and Eric Arguello, supporters of last years’ moratorium on building in the Mission), it increases the amount of rent they can charge their tenants — or the debt of gratitude the tenants owe if they choose to charge below market rates.

In 2014, San Francisco built 3,514 homes and thereby saved 7,000 people from being displaced. Maybe next year, we can build 6,500 homes and save 13,000 people from being displaced.

To perfectly accommodate 64,000 new people a year, The City should aim to build 30,000 new housing units per year. We may never get there, but every new house we build will increase San Francisco’s net population by, and prevent displacement of, however many people live in that new house.

As a renter, I have a tenuous claim on the place I live. I can be pushed out by a higher-income newcomer. My special interest is to do everything I can to try to make sure that a higher-income newcomer has a new place to live, so I can protect myself from being displaced.

Sonja Trauss is the founder of the S.F. Bay Area Renters Federation and S.F. Bay Area Renters PAC.

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  • Rrekt1a

    “Donald Dewsnup, a member of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation (SFBARF), was booked into County Jail Tuesday on two felony counts of attempting to file a false or forged instrument and perjury by declaration…

    A statement by the District Attorney’s Office noted that Dewsnup used “false addresses in order to infiltrate a neighborhood association on Telegraph Hill, where he did not reside, with the purpose of advancing his personal political agenda.” In all he was charged with seven felony counts: three counts of filing a false document with a government agency, two counts of perjury, and two counts of false voter registration.

    But SFBARF founder Sonja Trauss said Dewsnup’s arrest smells like a witch hunt, since as far as she knows Dewsnup is homeless.“He registered to vote at an address that didn’t exist and when people asked him about it, he was cagey,” she said. ”

    “SF pro-development activist arrested on suspicion of voter fraud” San Francisco Examiner Thursday April 14, 2016

  • whateversville

    Dewsnup is an ass, but that doesn’t contradict anything in this op-ed.

  • Old Nimby

    Sonia Trauss represents people who believe that construction in San Francisco should occur without restrictions. If that construction turns parks into dark wind tunnels or destroys the quality of life in established neighborhoods, that’s fine with her. In her view, the needs of outsiders who want to live in S.F. outstrip the concerns of the people who actually built this community that is so desirable.

    San Francisco is already struggling to support the population it has now. BART and Muni are already stressed, CalTrain is overloaded, and traffic in the city has become intolerable. Our streets are already crumbling, and our sources of water are quickly drying up. The “build, baby build” approach is excessively simplistic and just not practical, which is why their views have gained no traction, either among owners or renters.

    As can be seen in this piece, they avoid the real issues by engaging in “us vs. them” tactics. They attempt to divide people into good vs. evil, so that the argument becomes emotional and angry. In their world view, renters and gleaming construction companies are good, while homeowners are bad, bad, bad. They frequently elevate leaders like Aaron Peskin to mythical levels of power and untold forces of evil. Neighborhood groups are similarly demonized, often with appeals to class warfare and ageist descriptions of people with whom they disagree. Until they propose realistic solutions and stop the personal attacks, they’re not going to have much success.

  • Victoria Fierce

    You know that SF is desirable because of the people, not because of the buildings, right? People don’t move here because they heard there’s some kind of pretty sunset.

    They move here because they need a job.

  • Jon Schwark

    Should also mention how much money he took from developers and real estate law firms, since that seems to be the focus of his attack on SFBARF. The hypocrisy is truly cringeworthy.

  • The author opines, “This is why homeowners, like Peskin (or Dean Preston or Dennis Richards), prioritize sentimental concerns like neighborhood character over practical concerns like housing San Francisco’s growing population and preventing the displacement of lower-income residents by new, higher-income residents.”
    Neighborhood character is not a “sentimental concern” but relates directly to quality of life. Preventing displacement that favors “new, higher-income residents” is critically important to the functioning of any city, but especially one like ours. Of course, the author who does not and never has lived in San Francisco would have no experience with that reality. What is the cut-off for who our city will house if we base it on income alone? A teacher’s salary? Your coworker in a mid-management position?
    This is economic darwinism with catastrophic results for our community. And it shows an ignorance of how cities work, and the connection between transportation systems, infrastructure for water, power, and so forth.
    It should be noted that the author proposes that what should be sacrificed are lower-paid residents. Why not sacrifice cars, and force an end to parking structures so more housing can be built? Or parks, because surely there are vast areas of our parks that aren’t 24/7 busy?? Or why not small businesses, which take up space?
    But I appreciate the author’s willingness to expose her values so we can make our own decisions on whether we want someone who doesn’t live here set the agenda for those of us who make this our actual home.

  • RealFakeSanFranciscan

    “whether we want someone who doesn’t live here set the agenda”

    That’s a pretty clever trick you all have going there: rig zoning to make it nearly impossible for anyone to move into the city, then dismiss people who criticize by saying “you don’t live here”.

  • At these prices, the city could build housing, rent it out at half of current market rate (with rent control), and make money doing it. The only downside is you’d have to deprioritize cars, but that’s more of a win/win.

  • Daniel Herriges

    “If that construction turns parks into dark wind tunnels”

    Hyperbole much? A lot of the city currently occupied by 1- and 2-story buildings could be occupied by 4- to 6-story buildings without creating any dark wind tunnels. Density doesn’t have to mean Manhattan. It can mean Paris. (Also, Manhattan is a pretty great place… with some wonderful parks at that!)

    “or destroys the quality of life in established neighborhoods”

    What makes you think more housing would destroy rather than enhance quality of life? Density is vibrancy, activity, things to do, things to see, enough patrons to keep local businesses in business, and enough riders to support ubiquitous, efficient transit.

    “BART and Muni are already stressed, CalTrain is overloaded”

    Those systems need a major infusion of funding to modernize and expand them, yes. Population growth and better transit can and should go hand in hand.

    “traffic in the city has become intolerable”

    The solution to this is to dramatically improve MUNI service and get more SF residents out of their cars for more trips, not to insist on capping the population for the sake of those who can’t imagine life without driving. Ever been to Tokyo? One of the largest and most crowded cities in the world, yet traffic is not intolerable there—because most residents rarely drive. The metro system is so good, and so many amenities are in walking distance of most residents, that they don’t have to. SF is already too densely-populated to be a car-dependent city—the solution is to go further down the path of sustainable alternatives to the automobile.

  • Diego Aguilar-Canabal

    Replacing parking lots with housing is a great idea. Tell that to opponents of the AHBP, including Peskin. :)

  • eean

    This is only possible for land the city owns or surprise upzonings. The price of land goes up along with rent and home values in general.

  • Tim O

    Go back to Philly.

  • sojourner_7

    Hey, let’s roll into the Bay Area from back east and stir up sh*t. Lets find a sugar-daddy to kick some cash, get some free PR by filing lawsuits in all kinds of areas where we have no standing. We are tired of getting drunk in the local bar, let’s go and play in city politics, furthering the conflict and divisiveness. Let’s become part of the problem instead of part of the solution.

  • sojourner_7

    Perhaps relevant as to the ethics, the motivations, the tactics and the makeup of the organization that the articles’ author represents. The Examiner ought to have higher standards.

  • whateversville

    Last I checked, anyone can join SFBARF. If you want to judge every organization by their worst members, I’ve got some bad news for you.

  • sojourner_7

    He was very visible, in the news, and supported by Trauss. Clues, for those who are observant. SF BARF’s reputation and brand has plenty of self-inflicted wounds. ‘Astro-turf’… that dogs are crapping on. Karma is in play.

  • sojourner_7

    “Local politics? You can take it over. If you’re bored with going to the bar every night and getting drunk, you can just take over your town. If you feel like it.”

    And she decides to lawyer up, against…. Lafayette??

    Trauss, quoted in The Grist on Sept 17, 2015

  • TRC

    Rent control!

  • eean

    Small cities like Lafayette have a lot of control over who their voters are. That’s why California has laws allowing excluded people from suing over capricious downzones.

  • sojourner_7

    [Citation needed]

  • Haighter

    I did not understand her article to say that what “should be sacrificed” is lower-paid residents. Instead, Ms. Trauss said that in the current situation that is what is happening (not that its what she wants). She wants to come up with a way for lower-paid residents to not be displaced. Her proposal, to which I agree, is that the amount of housing being built needs to severely increase, so that when higher-income people move in, they don’t take the houses of lower-income people. I’m sure she and many others will have concrete proposals on how to make this happen (maybe in future columns). One recent proposal was to allow 5 or 6 story buildings to be built in more places, for example.

  • Chad Fusco

    Sojourner_7, why don’t we debate the facts in this matter, rather than stepping around them? Are you disputing the census numbers the author presented above? Are you disputing the name of the plantiff in the Napa case? What is the actual substance (if any) of your argument? What IS your argument?

  • sojourner_7

    The entire premise and statements made by Trauss are disingenuous, calculated and twisted. She wants to bring up the additional people being born in SF as additions to population, but of course ignore those who die in SF. “Estimates” become “data”, left becomes right, and the real motives of Trauss are extremely suspect. Carpetbagger comes to mind. As does grandstanding.

  • Chad Fusco

    Are you seriously disputing Census data? You’re letting your hate of a single person blind you from truth and you aren’t making any sense. All you’re left with is name calling – “carperbagger,” “twisted”, “calculated.” All drama, no facts! Haha. I’m done with you.

  • Chad Fusco

    The whole “our transit system is overloaded so we have to stop building argument” is a nonstarter. Last time American cities built transit AHEAD of development was New York City in the 1910’s and 20’s. Those days are gone. The demand has to be there first. Saying to yourself “we mustn’t build beyond our current transit system” is leaving zero vision for the future. The US population is growing and infrastructure has to keep pace. So unless you have a magical power to keep couples from having children, we have to build. And if you care at all about sustainability, cities are the places that should accommodate this growth. Insisting that everybody else live far away from you so that you can enjoy a place is childish. Welcome to Earth – it’s crowded.

    I’m a renter in SF, and I favor your so-called “build, baby, build” approach (nice allusion to drilling). I hate the snobby exclusivity of SF, spurred on my homeowners who want to wrap the city in plastic, freeze it in time, and call themselves “progressives” and “preservationists”. Please. Like there’s an evil all-powerful city planner who wants to knock down the Painted Ladies. Like all of sudden Landmark regulations will disappear. Nimbys in this town fear monger and intimidate, and have only dumbed down the political dialogue in this city. If you don’t want new people moving into your neighborhood, fine. You were fairly honest about that – but most aren’t. SF can be beautiful AND dense. Parts of the city already achieve a pretty good balance between these two ideas – Russian Hill and Nob Hill especially. But too much of precious city land is wasted on empty lots, surface parking lots, and one story buildings. To me, this is ugly. I’d love SF to have more street life – I hate walking through SF’s deserted neighborhoods. Eyes on the street increase safety.

    Truth is, people like you don’t really want to live in a big city. My philosophy is that cities are meant for everybody. It’s where most of opportunity in our country can be found. Cities are cultural centers. Trading posts for ideas. If you want tight neighborhood controls, you want suburbia. It is the nature of the cities to change and adapt and greatest cities in the world are the ones who are welcoming to outsiders. If you don’t like change, you are a conservative, not a progressive – you are the antithesis of what cities are all about.

    In my opinion, of course.

    BTW, the reason for the Peskin hate is that he’s a deliberate liar. Jane Kim is as big of an idiot as Peskin, in my opinion, but the difference is that Jane Kim is mostly honest. Dumb, but honest. So you don’t see many editorials railing against Kim. But Peskin flat-out lies just to support his point. And that’s offensive to me, because not everybody has the time or resource to fact-check him. He purposely misleads voters. If you read the article above, even if you agree with Peskin’s views, I don’t see how you can be okay with his dishonesty. I just don’t get it. Go check the census data. All the proof you need that the city population is growing is there, along with many other surveys. Go read the publicly available documents for the Napa case. And then ask yourself, how far are you willing to forgive a politician’s dishonesty when you agree with his ideology?

  • She writes that nimby-ists “prioritize sentimental concerns like neighborhood character over practical concerns like housing San Francisco’s growing population and preventing the displacement of lower-income residents by new, higher-income residents.” I read this to mean it is sentimental to prevent displacement of lower-income residents rather than bring in higher-income residents.” If this is not what she meant, she should be much clearer in her writing as well as her thinking.
    For example, she assumes that the city’s rental capacity has been reached and only new construction can add units. However, studies by such groups as the Small Property Owners suggest that as many as 20,000 units are being kept off the market by their owners due to a variety of concerns. Some of those concerns include rent control, or at least eviction protections. No one is advocating those be changed. But if the concern is the cost of repairs needed to meet housing quality standards, a city subsidy to owners in exchange for an agreement that rents be set at affordable rates would be similar to the low-interest loans for retrofitting for earthquakes.
    The same would be true for low-interest loans for encouraging building accessory units that are within the current dwelling’s footprint. We now have a law that expands that option, but it can cost over $20,000 to win approvals and make changes even in existing inlaw units. A loan program would standardize those procedures to make them available to homeowners who are on fixed incomes and can not afford them.
    Her approach is driven by the high-end developers who fund her, with the money going in part to pay her own rent. Her approach is not based on the housing needs and options that make our city better.

  • sojourner_7

    Opinions are what we all are contributing. Trauss offers no facts, just assumptions. Glad you’re “done”. Adios, good luck finding “truth” with your biased position, and let us know when you fix the housing problems generated by SF special interests. Jeez…

  • goodmaab

    Fact is the twitter tax could have paid for the now sought after 20mil being tacked onto a seismic bond. And there still is no plan to seriously house the homeless and displaced in sf besides what the SFclt is doing which is buying property. Why does SFBARF not buy some property and house those that need it at rents affordable? they should stop giving to the SFHAC and SPUR groups and give all their cash to the SFCLT.

  • whateversville

    That sentence could be clarified as:
    “prioritize sentimental concerns like neighborhood character over practical concerns like housing San Francisco’s growing population[, which would prevent] the displacement of lower-income residents by new, higher-income residents.”