With calendar pages flying and the proverbial clock ticking down, The Mayor’s Office turned in paperwork to the Department of Elections for a major teacher housing ballot initiative precisely 18 minutes before deadline. A stamp on their ballot measure’s cover sheet says exactly so.
But though Mayor London Breed’s ordinance is aimed at helping our city educators live, work, and thrive in an increasingly unaffordable San Francisco, it’s missing one key set of backers:
San Francisco’s two major teachers unions, United Educators of San Francisco and the American Federation of Teachers 2121, representing K-12 public school teachers and City College of San Francisco teachers, respectively, aren’t on board with our mayor’s measure.
That’s a pretty glaring omission, huh?
I mean, that’s almost akin to the San Francisco Giants swiping left on a “We love San Francisco baseball” ballot measure. Breed isn’t just getting the teachers unions’ cold shoulder, she’s getting their frostbitten backs.
Instead, the teachers are enthusiastically supporting the Board of Supervisors competing ballot measure, which on paper aims to do nearly the same thing as Breed’s — clear the way for public land to become teacher housing — but goes about its business entirely differently.
Now, voters are going to have to decide between the competing measures this November (not to mention two other complementary ballot measures by Breed on teacher housing) in what will undoubtedly manifest as a messy, confusing school cafeteria food fight.
It didn’t have to be this way.
And taking a step back, while many screeches under City Hall’s dome will center around what the proper height limits for developments are, and what the correct portion of affordable housing versus market rate housing should be, this bubbling brawl is not all about housing.
No, this is about failure of leadership. And it is becoming a pattern.
I tell you, it’s enough to make me miss our dearly departed Mayor Ed Lee’s governing style. (As opposed to just missing the man himself, who I think about surprisingly often.)
But let’s rewind a bit.
The competing ballot measures are dense and to dive into them and do them any justice will take far more space than I have in my humble column (which prints on dead trees still, after all).
Suffice to say, Breed’s ordinance, the “Accelerating Affordable Housing and Affordable Teacher Housing Program,” would flip a switch on the legal requirements for exactly what can be built where on public land.
In less-than-technical terms, if city land is zoned to only legally allow something other than housing — say, offices — to be built there, badda-bing, badda-boom, Breed’s ordinance (if approved by voters) would make it legal to build 100 percent affordable and teacher housing on that site.
The Board of Supervisors’ version, led by Supervisors Sandra Lee Fewer, Shamann Walton, Matt Haney and Aaron Peskin, also rezones public land for 100 percent affordable and educator housing.
Each side decries the other’s measure as poorly planned.
The Mayor’s Office claims that by not raising some height limits, the board’s measure makes affordable housing legally possible but economically infeasible to build, by not allowing enough units to be built for projects to pencil out.
They also claim the supervisors’ measure wouldn’t help the school district build any of its planned affordable housing initiatives, and would — not by name, but by design — effectively stop any affordable teacher housing from being built on the West Side.
“The Mayor’s ordinance focuses on making sure affordable and teacher housing projects are feasible, so that when we rezone these parcels, we will actually see affordable housing being built throughout the entire city,” said The Mayor’s Office spokesperson, Jeff Cretan.
The supervisors, by contrast, claim The Mayor’s Office ordinance by name restricts zoning clearances where there are single family homes — which also would exempt the West Side —
and that her proposal includes one-third market rate housing in “teacher housing projects,” an untenable amount of developer giveaways in what should be housing aimed at educators alone.
“That is entirely hyperbolic” for the Mayor’s Office to claim the supervisors measure would not allow West Side development, said Supervisor Peskin. “The Mayor’s Ordinance said single family home zoning districts are exempted.”
The respective teachers unions themselves had more nuanced views on the measures.
“The supervisors’ ballot measure is better because it doesn’t lock in changes that might not actually facilitate truly affordable housing,” Wynd Kaufmyn, vice president of AFT 2121 told me Wednesday.
Similarly, Ken Tray, the retired political director of UESF, told me teachers had “pretty productive” meetings with The Mayor’s Office, but it was the supervisors who got brought them in early in the process.
“They asked, ‘What do the teachers want? How do you look at this?’” Tray said. Because of that participation, he said, their ballot measure is designed to maximally aid San Francisco teachers.
And that brings us back to exactly how Mayor Breed lost the teachers support: It’s because she led this effort by fiat.
Remember Proposition C, the measure that pushed by the Coalition on Homelessness and billionaire tech CEO Marc Benioff to tax businesses to fund homeless efforts?
That was initially started under the late Mayor Lee, who was long-known as the “consensus mayor.” OK, in reality, he did not bring everyone to the table for every single decision, but he often did. And it was only in his death — and as Breed’s mayorship ascended — that talks over Proposition C broke down and the Coalition charted their own path.
Mayor Breed was alone in the wilderness as she opposed Proposition C, and was hammered on all sides, politically, for her misstep.
Insiders I’ve spoken with have noted this pattern again and again: In some matters, Breed doesn’t bring stakeholders into the architect’s office to help draw the political blueprints, instead, she reveals the already-built skyscraper and says, “How do you like the arches? The trusses? Not a fan? Too bad, because it’s damn-well built already.”
That’s not all-encompassing. I’m not saying Breed has never consulted necessary parties before acting, ever, in her political career. But she’s failed to do so in key matters recently, revealing what is perhaps one of her most glaring leadership flaws in what has otherwise been a mayorship marked by some shrewd moves, with an eye for the long-game.
There is still time to fix this teacher housing mess, as the Board of Supervisors are set to debate a charter amendment, proposed by the mayor, geared at enshrining into our city’s guiding document exactly who teacher housing is for.
(And believe you me, dear readers, as a columnist who oft-critiqued past Mayor’s Offices, I can’t believe I’m about to write this.)
To truly net a passing grade, Breed needs to take a deep breath, and remember the wisdom our dearly departed mustachioed mayor. The key word is “consensus.”
On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at email@example.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.