Once a political gaffe leaps into the public, it’s tough to stuff the genie back in the bottle.
That’s what housing developer Oz Erickson, president of the Emerald Fund, is discovering. In August of last year, he penned a letter to the “real estate community” and likened the rhetoric against his peers to victims in Nazi Germany.
That went over well, as you can imagine.
It’s tough to picture the families, starry-eyed activists and other neighborhood folks pushing for the “Mission Moratorium” as Hitler-stache sporting militiamen, but that’s who Erickson told fellow developers they faced.
It was a surprising allegation coming from such an influential titan in the local housing market. In 2013, the San Francisco Business Times called Erickson the “Cal Ripken” of San Francisco housing development, toughing it out no matter how bitter the battle.
Erickson and Emerald Fund were responsible for more housing production in The City since 1975 than any other company, the Business Times touted, and he’s influenced countless housing policies locally, too.
The Nazi-allegation letter was obtained by Joe Eskenazi at San Francisco Magazine. Now it’s coming back to bite him in the ol’ sig-heil during crucial negotiations with progressive city supervisors.
Supervisors Jane Kim and Aaron Peskin — ever the dynamic duo — are in heated negotiations with the real estate community and the Mayor’s Office over a ballot-box modification to The City’s charter to up the required amount of affordable housing in developments over a certain size.
The affordable housing required in such buildings would jump from 12 percent to 25 percent, under the pair’s proposal. There’s a lot of money at stake in this, and as many as 8,000 units of housing, as well as a whole boatload of ego.
To say the negotiations are delicate is an understatement. The Mayor’s Office is batting back with its own proposed ballot initiative. The whole fight feels akin to a swing-for-swing slugfest, balanced on a tightrope, suspended over snarling bears.
This is where Erickson comes in.
In a letter Friday to the supervisors on behalf of the developer community, Erickson said the 25 percent charter ordinance “gives no extra density; it just adds horrific costs to housing production.”
Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission district — and apparently, the Hitler-esque neighbors — took issue with Erickson spearheading the talks.
“Given your comments about the Mission Mr. Erickson, equating activists to Nazis, it is very difficult to take anything you say seriously,” Campos wrote in response.
Erickson responded, “Ah, David, a low blow. I thought Prop. I (the Mission Moratorium) was an anti-housing proposition, and I still do.” He then touted his Jewish-Hispanic wife, whom he said is the child of two Holocaust survivors. He added he regretted the comparison.
The two continued their back and forth for a few emails over the weekend, with Campos writing that it was Erickson who was responsible for the “low blow.”
“And because of that,” Campos replied, “you have lost a great deal of respect and credibility on this and other issues.”
This didn’t change Campos’ desire to negotiate, he said, but added, “My suggestion to you, the mayor and the industry is that you find another messenger.”
Erickson responded that he would.
He wrote, “David, that solution is just fine with me. I have zero desire to become a personal issue in this affair. Housing is simply too important for The City, and if my involvement is costing support for a sensible solution, it is with enormous pleasure that I step away.”
Speaking to On Guard, Erickson said he was more than willing to bow out of the talks. If he got his druthers, The City would conduct an analysis on the effects of raising the below-market-rate housing requirement to 25 percent.
Right now, the negotiations are still ongoing between the supervisors and the Mayor’s Office, and both sides have until March 1 to pull any proposed initiative off of the June ballot. The swing votes are potentially supervisors London Breed, Malia Cohen and Norman Yee.
As for Erickson, if he’s got to leave, he’ll leave.
“I don’t have an ego about this,” he said. “If some other thing blows up, I’m not spending the rest of my life on this for sure. I’m 67, I’ve got other things to do.”