San Francisco's interim leader of the Board of Supervisors is a dramatic departure from her predecessors.
She hails from the homeowner-heavy Sunset, was appointed to her position as supervisor by Mayor Ed Lee before winning election in November 2013 and, in what could become a contentious position, is open to modifying San Francisco's rent-control law.
Katy Tang, who turns 31 on Dec. 10, may be the final piece of a political shift that has occurred in recent years and coincides with a technology-industry boom that has helped make San Francisco's rental market ever more exclusive. The more left-leaning faction of the Board of Supervisors — and for that matter its constituents — has significantly diminished from the days when it reigned just a few years ago.
But even before last week's surprising turn of events that put Tang in the interim board president seat, she readily admitted that she was reluctant to take the six-week stint from Dec. 1 to Jan. 8. She will be taking over for David Chiu, who will become the state assemblyman in District 17, which covers San Francisco.
Tang was selected amid protests over Chiu calling for a vote while he was still in office and while Supervisor David Campos, who was Chiu's opponent in the Assembly race, was away on vacation.
Tang will serve as board president for just two meetings before the Jan. 8 vote on a two-year president. However, she will be in the best position of any supervisor to land that full term.
What is concerning to the more left-leaning political base is her voting record since coming into office as the mayor's appointee in February 2013. Tang was in the minority in opposing reporting tenant buyout offers, increasing relocation payouts for tenants evicted under the state Ellis Act and the imposition of a 10-year moratorium on condo conversions.
Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco, a nonprofit that represents tenants, would like to see Tang as a mere caretaker.
“She is the only supervisor I am aware of who has publicly expressed that she is anti-rent control,” Shortt said. “We would not be comfortable with her role being anything more than a caretaker one until a new member is voted in next year.”
Tang refutes the charge, saying that in fact “I support rent control right now,” although she added that she was “open to looking” at proposals to amend the law.
“Rent control was put into place for very particular reasons,” Tang said of the law that applies to units constructed before 1979. “We had to protect our most vulnerable populations, whether it's seniors or the disabled community. Now obviously over time it has morphed into people who are able to pay market rent are not paying market rent. That's where the problems lie.
“Yes, we want to continue protecting the low-income — that should always remain in place. But if you are able to make market rent, then … I don't know what the solution is.”
However, she said she had no plans to lead a charge to reform the law.
“I'm not going to spearhead that. If someone wants to, I'm open to listening to them,” Tang said. “I don't want you to think I'm going to take on rent control, absolutely not.”
Supervisor John Avalos was critical of Tang's politics and how she arrived on the board.
“[She is] arguably the most conservative member of the board and as a mayoral appointee is also likely the least independent of the mayor,” he said.
For the mayor, who may be facing a tough re-election challenge next year from state Sen. Mark Leno or other contenders who might emerge, Tang likely gives him the path of least resistance to implement his political agenda.
Tang counters criticism such as that from Avalos by saying she arrives at her own conclusions.
“Of course we are going to be aligned on many policy areas,” she said of Lee. “People confuse that similarity to him telling me what to do and me being a rubber stamp for the Mayor's Office. I do all of my own research on legislation and policy issues. I have a mind of my own. I've never forced or asked to do anything that I haven't wanted to on my own.”
Tang said the board discusses the right issues but often errs in addressing them. For housing matters, Tang supports increasing the income levels for residents to qualify for housing programs for below-market-rate units and homebuyers' assistance. Tang also said she is “the first supervisor on the west side of town to talk about the idea of developing units in the Sunset. It's a little bit more daring than what we have seen in the past.”
Avalos, who was runner-up in the 2011 mayor's race, was resigned to the fact that the board's left-leaning bloc, often called progressive, has no chance of appointing one of its own as president.
But Avalos said progressives “would like a seat at the table.”
“She or whoever else is elected [in January] can work to include progressive voices in the committee structure or ice us out,” he said. “We shall see.”
In general, Tang said she sees the president role more as an adviser than anything else — a far cry from the charismatic personalities of former recent board presidents who battled mayoral politics.
“Some people make it out to be a big deal,” Tang said. “To me, I see it as a very parliamentarian role. I hope to bring to the board some peace. I'm not here to create drama.”
Tang was a legislative aide when then-Supervisor Aaron Peskin was board president.
“I admired President Peskin's great oratory skills and understanding of the laws,” she said of the progressive politician. “I would just say that I bring a different style.”