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Supervisor Safai’s political support crumbling over housing proposal

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Supervisor Ahsha Safai, right, has put himself in the middle of a political tug of war over affordable housing in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)
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Supervisor Ahsha Safai is in trouble.

The freshman supervisor’s first piece of controversial legislation, an affordable housing proposal he co-authored with Board of Supervisors President London Breed, is drawing rebuke from his key allies.

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In essence, the people who helped him get elected in the first place are up in arms, asking, “WTF Ahsha?!” They’ve got good reason to be confused.

Safai and Breed’s inclusionary housing proposal — yes, I know, please resist snoozing — would essentially require developers of new housing in San Francisco to build fewer affordable units for the poor and more for those with middle incomes: Six percent of the units would ultimately be for lower income folks, out of a total 18 percent affordable housing.

The rest would go to The City’s moderate and middle-income earners.

A competing measure by supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin features a different ratio, with 15 percent of what’s called “inclusionary housing” slotted toward lower incomes, and nine percent on top of that for moderate to middle-income households.

It’s led to a behind-the-scenes tug of war over who needs the most help to stay in San Francisco.

“What I’d like to do is get the two sides to figure something out,” said Breed, noting she’d also fight “tooth and nail” for the proposal to help families.

Safai was mum for this piece. I contacted him but received no response.

Safai and Breed’s proposal, critics say, would essentially rob Peter to pay Paul. Now, Safai’s old pals in Chinatown and beyond are mounting an opposition.

Last Friday, On Guard is told, the politically powerful but little-known Community Tenants Association voted to denounce Safai’s proposal, a position mirroring a letter it co-signed against the legislation when it was first proposed by Mayor Ed Lee.

“We believe the elimination of housing committed to lower income households is fundamentally wrong and unfair,” reads the letter, critiquing the changes as excluding “tens of thousands of working families from qualifying for the inclusionary [housing] program.”

I couldn’t get a hold of the CTA, but background sources with knowledge confirmed the vote.

The Chinatown Community Development Center, which readers may recognize for its connections to the late Rose Pak, also took a staunch position against the “Safai swap” for middle-income housing.

“We are firmly opposed to pit off lower-income housing against middle-income housing,” said Gen Fujioka, policy director for the CCDC.

Though the CCDC is a nonprofit that cannot back candidates, some of its members were personally involved in Safai’s campaign.

In January, members of the CTA sat at a fancy banquet at the New Asia Restaurant in Chinatown to celebrate Safai’s election. Malcolm Leung, deputy director of CCDC, was so intimately tied to Safai’s campaign, he introduced him to the banquet stage.

If Safai doesn’t budge on his proposal, bet on cold stares over their next round of walnut prawns. And the heat in that kitchen translates into a real problem for Safai: Chinatown supporters essentially carried him across the finish line in November. He needs them.

Even from his union backers, Safai can’t catch a break.

Cue a letter sent to all 11 members of the Board of Supervisors from the San Francisco Labor Council that, if you translate the politico speak, reads, “Let’s not start World War III over this, OK?”

“We all agree that the options under consideration should address the great need for family housing,” reads the letter from the labor council. “… Further, legislation should avoid pitting poor and working people against each other in their access to affordable workforce housing.”

Tim Paulson, executive director of the labor council later told me, “We don’t need a fight on this one.”

The kicker? The letter was signed not only by Paulson, but council president Mike Casey and secretary-treasurer Olga Miranda.

That was no accident.

Casey is politically close to Supervisor Peskin. Miranda is Safai’s most vocal supporter.

Miranda repeatedly roasted Safai’s predecessor, John Avalos. She also touted Safai’s bonafides from the highest mountaintops and even organized her union members for his campaign.

Now, Miranda is co-signing a letter telling Safai to chill.

With all of his former friends and allies carrying torches to light up his legislation, you’d think Safai would be willing to bend just a bit, perhaps offering to raise the amount of affordable housing for low-income communities to quiet his critics.

Safai’s most prominent behind-the-scenes backer, Pak protege David Ho, told me, “Let’s just say he’ll land on the right side of this one. I have no qualms about telling you that.”

This is Safai’s first real challenge, Ho said: “Spring training is over.”

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.

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