Sonja Trauss, founder of the San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, says her group's goals are aligned with those who have money. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

SFBARF goes for progressives’ political jugular

On Guard column header Joe

The San Francisco Bay Area Renters Federation, or SFBARF, is waging a holy war.

Housing is religion, and construction, the gospel. Now, SFBARF is on a mission to flame anyone who may be minorly construed as against more housing construction in San Francisco.

As Monty Python would say, “No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!” And much like the vaunted comedians, SFBARF popped up with a merry band to accuse former supervisor and current candidate for the board Aaron Peskin of wrongdoing.

At a press conference Monday, SFBARF founder Sonja Trauss said Peskin lives in a two-­unit building he purchased in 2002, as a single-residence home for himself and his wife. What a sin.

They also alleged Peskin illegally used his sway as supervisor to overlook this allegedly unapproved conversion, when others who owned the same property failed.

Peskin said, “It was declared to be legal before I bought it, and legal after I bought it,” of his home.

It’s also an old accusation, formerly trotted out by his one­-time supervisorial opponent, Brian O’Flynn, in 2004, he said.

No matter, Trauss told me. “The upshot is Aaron Peskin lost us two rent­-controlled units.”

The cavalier accusations are troubling, as SFBARF’s opinions are carrying more political weight in San Francisco by the day.

The group recently drummed its supporters to join the local chapter of the Sierra Club, so SFBARF could vote out the club’s leaders. The Sierra Club, Trauss claims, betrayed its own mission statement by abandoning support of compact housing — traditionally found in high­-rise developments.

“They kept passing resolutions against height increases,” Trauss said. Another “sin.”

Forget, of course, the affordable housing The City would acquire in the Mission Rock project, a development that’ll exceed height limits. That concession was aided by the No Wall on the Waterfront proposition, which passed in 2014 and was, on paper, against high-­rise development.

This high-­rise-opposing proposition bears similarity to the Sierra Club’s opposition. No Wall on the Waterfront, however, helped extract affordable units from projects like the Mission Rock development — which is as tall as they come.

That nuance is sometimes lost in the “build more housing units or bust!” battle cry of SFBARF.

SFBARF’s funding is growing — most recently, Yelp CEO Jeremy Stoppelman donated $10,000 to the group, according to the San Francisco Business Times. This makes them loud.

Trauss is oft­-quoted in the San Francisco Chronicle and the Business Times. Her group’s voice adds a “people power” veneer to the goals of deep­-pocketed developers, who are allied with Mayor Ed Lee.

Far from being an “astroturf” group, Trauss said, SFBARF’s goals are simply aligned with those who have money.

“We’re not fighting The City,” she said. “The City is with us. Minions of affordable housing, service providers, they’re used to holding up [development] projects to extract concessions for the developers.”

Even Peskin is nuanced when it comes to housing. He’s opposed some projects but also backed the Eastern Neighborhoods Plan, which transformed South of Market into a density lover’s paradise.

Still, for all the political Molotov cocktails Trauss has thrown, she’s eager to listen, and engages in respectful dialogue. So I was frank: Does SFBARF’s voice drown out the voices of activist groups, because SFBARF is aligned with monied interests?

Trauss responds with another question. “Have you read ‘The Prince?’” referring to the 16th-century political treatise by Niccolo Machiavelli.

“He said that what you want is equal and strong kind of lords,” Trauss said. Public factions advance their interests, she explained, by allying with wealthy classes who in turn advance their own interests.

Following her train of thought, SFBARF has simply allied itself with the wealthiest interests in the room. And as long as they do, SFBARF’S voice will be elevated.

No matter what they say.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email him at

Aaron PeskinSFBARFSierra Clubsupervisor race

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