On Guard: Don’t listen to the Mission housing moratorium smear tactics

Remember that old line from “Field of Dreams,” whispered to Kevin Costner in a wide-open field? “If you build it, he will come.”

If Costner was standing in the Mission, the line would be “If you build it, they’ll evict people.”

As developers increasingly look to the Mission to build trendy new housing for tech workers, people are losing their homes at unprecedented rates: 8,000 Latinos were displaced from the Mission from 2000 to 2010.

That’s part of why hundreds stormed City Hall on Friday, demanding a moratorium on new development in the Mission.

“It was incredibly powerful for hundreds of people to go to the seat of power in San Francisco and let our voices be heard,” Maria Zamudio of the advocacy group Causa Justa Just Cause said. But “it was a continued frustration that we’re not being listened to.”

More than 500 protesters stood on the balconies and filled the grand staircase. They then crowded outside Mayor Ed Lee’s office, but faced a closed door. The Mission’s disenfranchised were met by silence from The City’s elected leader.

Other elected leaders are less than silent. Supervisor Scott Wiener is one of the more ardent opponents of the Mission moratorium, and his argument runs counter to what we know about the plan.

“The question is: Is a moratorium going to prevent anyone from being displaced? The answer is no,” he told me. “If we have the moratorium it will not prevent one single displacement. It’ll put more pressure on our limited housing stock.”

Now I respect that Wiener is always willing to engage in a policy debate, and is respectful of those he disagrees with. That said, his argument in this case is pure malarkey.

The Mission moratorium has a simple premise: Hit the pause button on new, market-rate construction, and give city government time to craft a plan to halt evictions and help preserve the Mission, while simultaneously helping it grow.

The moratorium in and of itself won’t halt displacement, but as Gabriel Medina of the Mission Economic Development Agency, a local nonprofit, told me: “We need to have a pause to be able to make a plan.”

Emphasis on pause (not stop). In the eye of the tech storm, it makes sense that city planners need extra time to craft new solutions. The Mission has hundreds of affordable-housing units in the pipeline to be built now, Medina said, but it needs thousands.

When I told Wiener I felt he was misconstruing the moratorium supporters’ argument, he replied, “I think their argument is clear,” and zeroed in on two fears: That a moratorium would spur other neighborhoods to demand construction moratoriums, and that a moratorium may become permanent.

These are legitimate fears, so I talked to Supervisor David Campos, the moratorium’s main author. He said the pause could lead to the implementation of a lot of home-saving tactics.

“The reality is this,” Campos said. “We have very limited land in the Mission where we can build affordable housing. If things remain the same, The City can’t compete in buying this land. The lots will be snatched up by market-rate developers. We say let’s put a pause, so we give the city the time to acquire the limited land that’s there.”

The moratorium needs nine votes out of 11 at the Board of Supervisors to pass. Five supes are definite aye votes, while two are definite no votes: Mark Farrell and Wiener. But the remaining four supes might swing for it: Malia Cohen, London Breed, Katy Tang and Julie Christensen.

Urge your supervisor to address the moratorium on its merits, and not distort the message.

Take action

Do you support the Mission Moratorium? Email the swing-vote supervisors — Cohen (Malia.Cohen@sfgov.org), Christensen (Julie.Christensen@sfgov.org), Breed (London.Breed@sfgov.org) and Tang (Katy.Tang@sfgov.org) — and tell them. And, as always, remain On Guard.

On Guard covers issues concerning The City’s political left. It prints the news and raises hell each Tuesday. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

Update: Addressing Wiener's fear of a permanent moratorium, Campos said California law does not allow a moratorium to extend beyond two years.

“We are not seeking a permanent moratorium on luxury housing,” Campos said, but even if they wanted it, they couldn't get it. “Under California law a moratorium can only last two years. And, as a matter of law, the first phase can only last 45 days.”

Campos said Wiener's fear is unfounded. “There is no legal or factual basis for it,” he said.

Bay Area NewsDavid CamposhousingJoe FitzgeraldMission

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