District 6 Supervisor candidate Sonja Trauss speaks during a debate at the headquarters of Cloudflare in Mission Bay on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Mar moves to block appointment of YIMBY activist to regional planning role

Update (10:20 a.m.): YIMBY leader Sonja Trauss’ appointment to an advisory committee to a regional housing agency was confirmed Thursday amid opposition from San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar.

Trauss was nominated to serve on the Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) by Mayor London Breed, along with San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and San Francisco County Transportation Authority Public Policy Manager Amber Crabbe.

All three appointments have been confirmed, according to an ABAG spokesperson. Trauss, Mandelman and Crabbe will begin their service at the committee’s next scheduled meeting on December 4.

Trauss’ nomination was opposed by Mar, who cited Trauss’ controversial leadership style, at Thursday’s ABAG executive board meeting.

“ABAG Executive Board members represent diverse interests, and must be able to bridge the divisions that exist across the region, across neighborhoods, and across ideology,” said Mar, who added that Trauss has sued cities that are “represented by the body she is nominated to serve on.”

“Sonja Trauss has a history of inflaming these divisions, rather than working across them,” said Mar, adding that this history includes “the declaration that ‘gentrification is what we call the revaluation of black land to its correct price’” and “forcefully shouting down Chinatown community elders.”

“Ms. Trauss’ nomination needs careful consideration, and I cannot support it today,” said Mar.

Original story: Mayor London Breed has tapped polarizing YIMBY leader Sonja Trauss to serve in an advisory role to a regional housing agency, the San Francisco Examiner has learned.

Trauss, a former candidate for District 6 supervisor who is known nationally for her rabble-rousing and pro-density housing advocacy has been nominated to serve on the Regional Planning Committee of the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), which works on regional land use planning.

But Trauss has long been a divisive figure in Bay Area housing politics. And already a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is seeking to block her appointment.

“I was pretty surprised to say the least that the mayor would appoint Sonja Trauss given how controversial a figure she is,” said San Francisco Supervisor and ABAG board member Gordon Mar, who described Trauss’ “views and her work” as “quite extreme, even within the YIMBY and pro-housing movement.”

Her appointment was expected to be ratified by ABAG’s executive board on Thursday evening, but Mar said ahead of the hearing that he would introduce a motion to continue the ratification.

San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman and San Francisco County Transportation Authority Public Policy Manager Amber Crabbe have also been nominated.

In regard to nomination to the ABAG committee, Trauss said that she is “there to represent the mayor’s office.”

“It’s not the Sonja Trauss show. I’m part of a team,” said Trauss.

But Mar pushed back, and said Trauss may be a problematic appointment.

“Especially [for] ABAG, I’m surprised. Her main work right now is suing cities,” said Mar, adding that he plans to continue the ratification so that “myself and Mandelman can have more dialogue with the mayor.”

Trauss, who co-founded YIMBY Action in 2015, recently split from California Renters Legal Advocacy and Education Fund (CaRLA), an organization she also co-founded to sue suburbs that denied housing on the basis of exclusionary zoning . As first reported by SF Weekly, Trauss left amid an internal dispute and founded YIMBY Law, which also sues exclusionary suburbs.

While Trauss lost her election to Supervisor Matt Haney by a wide margin last year, with 24 percent of the vote compared to Haney’s 56 percent, her appointment comes at a time when Mayor Breed is set to reappoint another notable YIMBY ally, Sam Moss, to the Department of Building Inspection commission.

Breed endorsed Trauss in her race against Haney.

How Trauss’ leadership style will carry over to her role on a standing committee for ABAG is an open question, one of her former allies has said.

“YIMBYs outside of San Francisco seem to understand that we [have got to] meet people where they are instead of dragging them to where we want to be … And that there’s a way to do that with compassion that lets people find their own way there instead of an existing road,” said Victoria Fierce, co-executive director of East Bay For Everyone.

Fierce organized with Trauss at YIMBY Action in San Francisco, and has known her for years. Fierce fears Trauss may become a source of controversy on ABAG, and harm the effort to help recalcitrant suburbs change their minds to allow more housing to be built in the Bay Area.

“I’m worried that Sonja being appointed to an ABAG body would [result in] possible allies [becoming] galvanized against her and start acting out of spite against her instead of concern for the region,” said Fierce.

The agency, which shares staff with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, works closely with The City’s Planning Department to shape strategies like Plan Bay Area 2050, a regional roadmap for addressing the economy, the environment, housing and transportation.

It’s the Bay Area’s policy arm with a focus on helping cities plan for future economic, housing and population booms.

“We do a lot of research and analysis. We are a regional forum to discuss issues that aren’t just jurisdictional,” said Leah Zippert, senior public information officer for ABAG-MTC, adding that regional planning “activities” like Plan Bay Area or the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), which sets required number of market-rate and affordable housing targets for cities and counties, “go through the Regional Planning Committee for review and approval.”

The RHNA is updated every eight years, and if Trauss’ appointment is approved, she will be serving on the committee as ABAG is in the midst of developing a methodology ahead of a new RHNA cycle next year to allocate the regional housing total to local jurisdictions.

Trauss said that due to her day job, her personal “angle and expertise” is “getting cities to carry out the zoning that they developed in response to the previous Plan Bay Area.”

“I have insight into how that winds up looking when the rubber meets the road,” she said. “That’s what I hope to contribute. That’s why the mayor’s office thought I would be a good person for this. It’s not theoretical.”

Trauss said that she plans to push for equitable housing distribution in the region.

“The rest of the Bay assumes that San Francisco is just going to build all the housing, which is not equitable,” said Trauss. “We want geographic equity, and to make sure we are building housing in every part of the Bay Area.”

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez contributed to this report.

lwaxmann@sfexaminer.com

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