Should Lobbyists run the SF Democratic Party?

Who do you think the San Francisco Democratic Party should be working for: giant corporations and the real estate industry or regular people struggling to eke out a living and praying they don’t get evicted from their home?

If that sounds like a no-brainer in this overwhelmingly Democratic city that has been considered for years to be among the most liberal places around, then here’s a reality check: Lobbyists for the biggest business interests in town are literally in charge of San Francisco’s Democratic Party. And they are flexing their political muscles on behalf of their corporate clients every chance they get.

San Francisco’s Democratic Party is run by a governing body consisting of 24 people elected by Democratic voters every few years, along with eight other “ex officio” seats held by the state and federal elected officials who live in San Francisco. The last Democratic Party election in 2012 resulted in a corporate takeover that installed as party chairperson the chief lobbyist for the San Francisco Association of Realtors.

The Realtors Association is the well-funded lobby group for real estate interests that killed Ellis Act reform in Sacramento, spent hundreds of thousands on mailers to defeat the Proposition G stop-speculation initiative last fall, and is lobbying officials all over City Hall right now to defeat measures to preserve affordable housing and strengthen unfair-eviction protections. As chair, the Realtors’ lobbyist has not only voted against affordable housing measures and flexed major political muscle to sway other votes, but that lobbyist has been able to appoint other lobbyists to fill the vacant seats on the Democratic Party Committee, including lobbyists and lawyers paid to represent technology companies and construction interests.

The result is a San Francisco Democratic Party governing body that is badly out of touch. You can see evidence of that in last year’s overwhelming citywide vote to pass a measure to protect our waterfront by requiring voter approval for increases to height limits, which I worked hard to win. We were opposed by the San Francisco Democratic Party which, by just one vote — that of the Realtors’ lobbyist — reversed its previous position in favor of protecting waterfront height limits and sided with the luxury condo developers who want to build a tall wall of high-rise towers on the public land along the waterfront.

And just last month, lobbyists sitting on the San Francisco Democratic Party again cast the deciding votes to reject a proposed resolution to help preserve land for affordable housing in the Mission district. This despite the fact that a poll by David Binder Research found that nearly two-thirds of city voters would overwhelmingly approve such a measure.

At its June 17 meeting, the leadership of the San Francisco Democratic Party will face another test of who they are really working for when a resolution to support strengthening rent control in San Francisco comes up for a vote. Proposed by member Kelly Dwyer, the Rent Control Resolution would put the Democratic Party’s considerable clout behind updating state and local law to extend rent control in San Francisco to apartments built since June 1979 and to single-family homes. At a time when The City is in the midst of one of the worst housing crises in city history, with families, seniors, young adults, artists and working people continuing to be priced out and pushed out of The City by skyrocketing rents and a wave of evictions, will San Francisco’s Democratic Party help renters or remain captured by the agendas of the corporate lobbyists who are in charge?

As my hero, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, has said, “We don’t run this country for corporations — we run it for people.” One year from now, in June 2016, San Francisco voters will next get to decide who runs the local Democratic Party. Perhaps then it will be the lobbyists who get evicted so that reality can reflect Senator Warren’s powerful words.

Jon Golinger is an environmental attorney who lives in North Beach

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