The big landlords’ blackmail

Pub date September 30, 2008
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The landlords who are threatening the San Francisco General Hospital bond are thugs, and the supervisors and the mayor need to hold firm and refuse to pay their blackmail.

It’s almost too amazing to believe — an organization financed and controlled by the biggest residential property owners in town is trying to hold Proposition A — without which the city’s entire public health system will collapse — hostage to an unrelated policy dispute.

The landlords, represented by the Coalition for Better Housing, want the city to let them pass increased sewer charges through to their tenants. The sewer charges, a 9 percent hike, will pay for the massive rebuild of the city’s aging water and sewer infrastructure.

The supervisors have been reluctant to allow the pass-through, and for good reason. Even in this slack housing market, landlords in San Francisco have a great deal. Rents are strong, even rising, as would-be homebuyers find it hard to get financing. Property values in this city seem immune to the market forces that are devastating housing markets elsewhere. And the big property owners who run the coalition can hardly claim they are having problems making ends meet — most own hundreds of units and are very wealthy. They’ve all done quite well, thank you, under the George W. Bush tax cuts. And they prosper under Proposition 13, which keeps their property taxes artificially low.

We have no sympathy at all for big landlords who complain about paying a few bucks extra for public services. And it’s staggering to think that some of the richest people in San Francisco would be whining about what amounts to about $6 a month increase per apartment.

But we’ve seen these same folks take greed to mind-bending levels in the past, and we’re seeing it again now. The landlord group has filed papers to oppose Prop. A — and while virtually every elected official and community group in the city agrees that rebuilding San Francisco General is a top priority, a bond act needs 66 percent of the vote. And while polls show support for Prop. A at more than 75 percent right now, a well-funded and deceptive landlord campaign could trim that margin by enough to sink the measure.

So the Mayor’s Office is pushing the supervisors hard to come up with a compromise that would let the landlords pass half the new sewage costs along to their tenants. That’s a bad idea, and the board should stay firm.

Property owners benefit when the city’s infrastructure is improved. They have immensely favorable tax laws as it is. And as the economy tanks, tenants are hurting much more than landlords.

There’s no good argument for allowing the pass-through — and there’s a very good argument for blocking it. If these thugs can threaten a popular and essential public works program just to make themselves a tiny bit richer, then the mayor and the supervisors will forever be vulnerable to this sort of threat.

The board needs to call the landlords’ bluff. If the Coalition for Better Housing really wants to undermine the central public health facility in San Francisco and take the only trauma center in the city off the map, then the mayor needs to stand up and expose these folks for who they are.

We’re with Sup. Aaron Peskin, who says he’s "not interested in negotiating with terrorists." The supervisors should reject the pass-through with extreme prejudice.