City Hall 2015: dominated by housing crisis, capped off by political change

San Francisco’s City Hall has said goodbye to another year of rising rents, evictions and an increase in homeless people.

But unlike the past several years, the year ended with a political shift in the election of Aaron Peskin in District 3 over Mayor Ed Lee’s appointee, Julie Christensen, which has already shaken up some of the entrenched policies and approaches to those aforementioned challenges since he took his seat Dec. 8.

Peskin’s victory was among the most significant stories of 2015, and the race largely colored the political inner workings of City Hall — as soon he threw his hat into the ring in March.

Housing policy dominates

Housing has remained on the forefront of City Hall politics as stories about the impacts of the housing crisis and the proposals to address those impacts continue to garner much attention. Mayor Lee announced a “blueprint” for achieving a goal of 30,000 new or rehabbed housing units — with one-third below market rate — by 2020, and succeeded in passing a $310 million housing bond. The Board of Supervisors approved the legalization of in-law units in District 3 and District 8. Supervisor Jane Kim also passed increased protections for tenants to counter “gotcha” evictions.

The year saw a number of large public gatherings at City Hall, indicating both the unrest and significance of the debates over housing policies.

One of the largest turnouts at City Hall by the public was a protest in support of a Mission moratorium on market-rate housing. Supporters argued the method was needed to place a priority on below-market-rate housing to counter gentrification and displacement. The board failed to approve the proposal in June and voters later rejected it as well.

Progressive shift

Another large turnout met with success in December. Those who opposed a new jail proposal, which cost $240 million without debt service, convinced the board to defeat the project as they called for greater investment in housing and rehabilitation services instead.

The jail defeat, which came after Peskin assumed his seat, was seen as emblematic of the political shift his presence has affected, turning the board into a progressive majority and challenging the mayor’s political agenda.

Politics under the influence

Tech investor Ron Conway, Mayor Ed Lee’s most prominent backer, faced increased criticism, even drawing protests outside of his home as he continued to sink large sums of money into local elections, including against Peskin. Conway became even more of the much maligned “boogeyman” by those blaming the tech industry for displacement.

The mayor became embroiled in a scandal when evidence in a sweeping corruption probe alleged two former city employees solicited bribes and laundered campaign contributions for the mayor’s 2011 election. The mayor has denied any wrongdoing and the former city employees have not been charged with a crime.

The mayor ran unopposed by any mainstream candidates for his re-election bid in November but only secured 55 percent of the votes, bolstering the opinion the mayor is no longer as popular as he once was in 2011 and faith has significantly eroded in his leadership.

Homeless hurdles

With an increase in the homeless population, the issue remained a large focus for much of 2015. The year brought innovative solutions to much fanfare like a Navigation Center and other solutions which had mixed reactions like “snitch app” allowing residents to report homeless persons using The City’s 311 government mobile phone app. That citations for sleeping or camping in the parks have soared under Mayor Ed Lee’s administration also drew complaints.

The severity of the homeless challenge and the housing crisis was illustrated in a number of ways. Among them, more than 10,000 adults or families signed up for the waitlist for public housing units when it was opened for homeless people during a six-day period in January 2015.

Pushed out

Nonprofits struggled as they face steep rent hikes. Some 16 nonprofits like Women’s Audio Mission, a 12-year-old all-female-operated recording studio, were able to hold on after receiving financial assistance from a new board-approved fund.

The Arts Commission illustrated just how severe artist displacement was during the year. A survey found 70 percent of the nearly 600 respondent artists were displaced or were being displaced from their homes, workplaces or both. Twenty-eight percent, or 125, said they were at risk of displacement.

Looking into 2016

Many of the challenges of 2015 will continue into the new year. The debate over regulating Airbnb short-term rentals is expected to return to the board.

The continued political tension over the December police shooting of Mario Woods, a black man, and bias policing is also is expected to continue into 2016 as calls persist for Police Chief Greg Suhr to step down.

As The City’s progressive political faction concluded the year with a significant victory with Peskin returning to the board, the left-leaning faction hopes to continue its progressive majority by winning the open seats on the Board of Supervisors in November for districts 1, 9 and 11.

And another must-watch political contest will heat up this year, with supervisors Jane Kim and Scott Wiener vying for the State Senate District 11 seat.

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