Why should transportation advocates support ballot measures put forth by housing activists? And why should housing activists defend a gas tax against repeal? Three November measures, two state and one local, will affect all San Franciscans, and housing and transportation advocates should acknowledge how they interact.
Proposition 10, the state measure to repeal Costa-Hawkins restrictions on rent control, and Proposition C, the local measure to tax certain corporations and raise money for homeless services, both target housing accessibility and displacement. Proposition 6 would repeal the recently enacted gas tax that funds projects including new Muni and BART vehicles. How are they intertwined?
The annual cost of owning a car is approaching $10,000. Meanwhile, displacement through evictions and harassment has forced many families to outer suburbs, increasing their transportation costs. Those who drive into the city add to congestion and pollution. Oppressive rents can lead to the financial desperation that drives people to work for Uber and Lyft, increasing congestion and endangering pedestrians and bicyclists.
Yes, transit is overcrowded and unreliable, but starving it of resources is exactly the wrong way to solve those problems. And, yes, paying more for gas will hurt some of the very people being displaced to long commutes. But this conundrum is the crux of the connection between housing and transportation. The solution is to prevent displacement in the first place, not to kick people out of San Francisco, then fret about the costs of their drive back.
Proposition 10 would roll back the current ban on vacancy rent control, which now encourages landlords to remove long-term tenants and jack up the rent. Renters and low-income residents own fewer cars and drive them less than wealthier renters or homeowners. More money paying for that flat equals more cars on the streets.
Both state measures also involve local control. Local safe streets advocates chafe at state restrictions on the city’s ability to install automated speed enforcement cameras and to regulate ride-hail companies. They argue that cities should be able to respond to local conditions. The Yes on 10 campaign makes the same argument against Costa-Hawkins restrictions, which prevent cities from expanding rent control. Similarly, Proposition 6 would allow voters in rural counties and sprawl cities to nix funding for public transportation, forcing urban residents to follow an outdated autocentric model. Why should San Francisco remain powerless to enact its own policies?
Small businesses in the city face a double whammy. High housing costs force potential workers too far out to commute at the same time the congestion from ride-hail services degrades the walkability and bicycle access that feed foot traffic and produce customers. Losing gas tax revenue means losing transit and streetscape improvements that enhance retail appeal. Such improvements, particularly to transit, could also help reduce the financial burden on families by shrinking their transportation costs, perhaps saving that $10,000 a year for purchases in local retail.
California Safe Routes to Schools (SR2S) makes these connections, supporting Proposition 10: “Active transportation infrastructure and programming can only be effective if people can afford to live within walking or biking distance to school and other key locations, but the housing crisis and accelerating displacement our state has been experiencing for a decade makes that affordability and proximity harder and harder to maintain.”
SR2S also opposes Proposition 6 and its repeal of “last year’s increase in the state gas tax, which has injected long-needed funds into crucial programs.”
The local measure, Proposition C, addresses homelessness, another issue that links housing and transportation. Encampments on bicycle paths, such as the bridge over the Hairball, potentially drive a wedge between likely allies. Transportation advocates need to put these conflicts in perspective. The solution isn’t to crack down on desperate people; it’s to prevent them from becoming homeless in the first place (Yes on 10) or to help them find permanent housing (Yes on C).
We need to follow the clear thinking of SR2S and say yes to Propositions 10 and C and no to Proposition 6.
Fran Taylor is a member of Walk SF and the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition. Tony Robles is a housing organizer at Senior and Disability Action.