Christina Olague

Perjury allegations against Lee gain more support


San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin has confirmed his role in extending a city job offer from Mayor Ed Lee to Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi if Mirkarimi had been willing to resign in March, bolstering allegations that Lee may have committed perjury when testifying under oath before the Ethics Commission on Friday.

But even as more media outlets report the possible perjury (a story we broke first here), which is further complicating the already complicated official misconduct proceedings that Lee brought against Mirkarimi, the Mayor’s Office and key Lee allies have refused to comment on the perjury allegations or the strange circumstances surrounding the alleged bomb threat that temporarily got Lee off the hot seat.

As we reported in this week’s Guardian, Building Inspection Commissioner Debra Walker said Lee was lying when he said that he hadn’t spoken with any members of the Board of Supervisors before charging Mirkarimi with official misconduct. Walker said Sup. Christina Olague told her she had spoken with Lee about the matter, which Olague now denies.

Lee also responded “absolutely not” when asked by Mirkarimi attorney Shephard Kopp whether he authorized Peskin or development consultant Walter Wong, a close Lee ally, “to convey to Sheriff Mirkarimi if he would stop down, you’d get him another job.”

At press time for this week’s article, Peskin was backpacking in the Sierras and couldn’t be reached, but he has now confirmed to the Guardian that he met with Wong at 11:30am on March 19 – just hours before Lee met with Mirkarimi to say he would be removed from office unless he resigned – at Cafe Trieste.

In that meeting, Peskin said Wong asked him to convey to Mirkarimi an offer from the mayor of a job with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission or the Airport Commission if Mirkarimi would voluntarily resign. Asked whether Wong indicated that he had discussed the offer with the mayor, Peskin told us, “He certainly left me with that impression.”

Mirkarimi refused to accept the offer, insisting on fighting to keep his job, which was one factor in Peskin’s subsequent public statement calling for Mirkarimi to resign. “There were a lot of things that factored into that,” Peskin said of his call for Mirkarimi to step down, although he wouldn’t discuss other factors on the record.

Efforts by both the Guardian and the Examiner to reach Wong have been unsuccessful, and messages to the Mayor’s Press Office on this and related issues also haven’t been answered. But just as Walker has offered to do, Peskin said he’s willing to testify under oath if asked.

“I am prepared, if subpoenaed, to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth,” Peskin told us.

Lee hasn’t had any public events or made any public comments on the matter since the scandal broke on Friday. The other unanswered mystery is why Lee was whisked from the hearing room just 15 minutes into his testimony, shortly after making the statements that Walker alleges amounted to perjury.

As we reported, neither the SFPD nor the Sheriff’s Department ordered the room evacuated, meaning that decision must have been made by someone within the Mayor’s Office. Press Secretary Christine Falvey’s last statement to the Guardian, on July 2, said, “Again, the mayor’s office did not recess the meeting. I still have to refer you to the Police Department which maintains Mayor Lee’s security or the Ethics Commission about the decision to recess the meeting for (I believe) about 90 minutes.”

Yet neither body seems to know who made the call, and follow-up questions asking the Mayor’s Office to disclose any information they have about that decision have gone unanswered. District Attorney George Gascon — whose office would need to pursue the perjury allegations considering the city’s official misconduct rules don’t apply to the mayor — also didn’t return our call asking generally how allegations of this fashion should be handled.

The official misconduct proceeding continue in front of the Ethics Commission on July 18 and 19 when Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, is scheduled to testify. But that has also been complicated by the Mayor’s Office’s refusal to authorize payment for a plane ticket for Lopez to return from her native Venezuela to testify. Mirkarimi and his legal team say they can’t afford to pay for that plane ticket after Lee suspended Mirkarimi without pay.

RCV repeal effort gets tricky with three alternatives


The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on July 10 whether to place a controversial charter amendment on November’s ballot that would largely repeal San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting (RCV) system, but the outcome of that effort has become murky with the introduction of two competing alternatives.

The original charter amendment, sponsored by Sup. Mark Farrell, would eliminate RCV for all citywide elected officials, instead holding a primary in September and runoff in November. The board rejected an earlier effort by Farrell to repeal RCV, but Farrell came back with a modified measure that was co-sponsored by Sup. Christina Olague, much to the dismay of her progressive supporters, particularly Steven Hill, the father of RCV in San Francisco.

Hill said runoff elections in September, a month notorious for having low-voter turnout, will invariably favor the conservatives who always vote in high numbers. He said that RCV is a fairer representation of what voters want and a November election allows for more voters to be heard.

After widespread criticism from her progressive constituents, Olague publicly turned away from the measure, telling Hill and board members she would remove her name from it. Yet instead of removing her name, in a surprise move she proposed her own amendment to the charter, which only angered progressives more.

“Progressives are pretty furious with Christina right now because she is working with conservatives and went back on her word,” Hill said.

Olague’s proposal would eliminate RCV for only mayoral elections, with the primary still in September, even though she previously told the Guardian that she opposes having an election in September. Olague didn’t respond to email inquiries from the Guardian, but she has maintained in previous interviews that she is only trying to create a compromise between opposing parties on the board.

It’s unclear whether Farrell and the other center-right sponsors of his measure might back Olague’s alternative, but her colleagues who support RCV have put forward an alternative of their own. Board President David Chiu introduced another proposal amending Farrell’s measure that keeps RCV intact—more or less.

Although Chiu told the Guardian he thought the current RCV method has worked well for the city so far and that most people seem to understand how to use the system, he offered the amendment to address certain issues which have arisen because of Farrell’s measure and Olague’s amendment.

“My amendment addresses the concerns that have been raised in an appropriately tailored way,” Chiu told us.

Chiu’s proposal incorporates run-off elections for the top mayor candidates, but only after rank choice voting has narrowed the field to two candidates. It supports elections in November with the mayoral runoff in December.

However, this still allows for a second election, which RCV advocates think is a costly and unnecessary alternative that RCV was designed to eliminate – an imperative they see as more important than ever given court rulings that now allow unlimited spending by wealthy individuals and corporations to influence elections.

Although Hill isn’t happy with any repeal of the current voting methods, he said he reluctantly supports Chiu’s amendment.

“These are poorly made proposals,” Hill said. “It’s like being at the factory and watching sausage getting made.”

Hill fears that if Olague’s co-sponsorship of Farrell’s charter amendment or her own proposed amendment are approved by the board and allowed on the ballot in November that conservative money and power would most likely influence the election enough to pass the RCV repeal.

Davis launches D5 campaign with fortuitous timing


When progressive activist Julian Davis formally launched his District 5 supervisorial campaign late last week with a well-attended kickoff party at the Peacock Lounge in Lower Haight, timing and circumstances seemed to be on his side.

Days earlier, Quintin Mecke – a rival for the progressive vote in this staunchly leftist district – announced to supporters that he needed to care for his ailing mother and wouldn’t be running after all. At the same time, appointed incumbent Christina Olague seemed to be rapidly falling from favor with many progressives.

First came the viral video of Olague gushing over all the support she’s received from Chinatown power broker Rose Pak during a fundraiser where she raised nearly $50,000, then her squirrely role in helping the moderates repeal ranked-choice voting, and finally the bizarre episode of clashing with a close progressive ally and friend to defend Mayor Ed Lee from perjury allegations.

Davis has sought to capitalize on the rapidly unfolding developments, today sending out a press release blasting Olague for having “joined the conservatives on the Board of Supervisors to repeal ranked choice voting for mayoral elections,” and telling the Guardian that Mecke’s exit will help clarify the choice D5 voters face.

“The fact that he’s out allows us to consolidate the progressive base,” Davis said, not mentioning that candidates John Rizzo and Thea Shelby will also be vying for the progressive vote.

At his kickoff party, Davis also demonstrated that he has substantial support from another significant D5 voting block – African Americans – for which he’ll be competing with political moderate London Breed, director of the African American Arts & Cultural Complex.

Davis said that with Olague’s support by Mayor Ed Lee and the city’s economic and political establishment, he’ll need to run a strong grassroots campaign based on “people power and shoe leather,” an approach that he’s also displaying with regular street corner campaigning.

“We’re at an economic, social, and political crossroads in San Francisco,” he said at his launch party. “Rogue developers are corrupting City Hall with a vision of luxury condos, corporate tax breaks, chain stores, and parking garages. It’s a vision of San Francisco that doesn’t include us. Everyday, progressive reforms are being dismantled and progressive values are being abandoned.”

Davis is hoping that Olague’s ties to Lee will drag her down in a district that voted almost 2-1 in favor of progressive John Avalos (whose campaign Davis actively worked on) over Lee in last year’s mayor’s race.

“Look what’s happening on the waterfront where Olague voted to approve the 8 Washington development. These are condos for the Kardashians, vacation homes for the ultra rich and the 1 percent. That’s not keeping it real for San Francisco,” he said at the kickoff. “So we’ve got to ask ourselves: how do they get away with it? The only way they can. By choosing your leaders for you. Over the past two years in San Francisco, we’ve had an appointed mayor, an appointed district attorney, an appointed sheriff, and an appointed District 5 supervisor. Does that sound like participatory democracy to you? Does that sound like your vote counts?”

And as Avalos also tried to do in his mayoral campaign, Davis says he wants to use his campaign to help restart the city’s progressive movement, which has been in tatters since being divided and nearly conquered by the politicians and political operatives who helped elevate Lee into Room 200 18 months ago.

As he told supporters, “We can re-launch the progressive movement in San Francisco from this district. We can take back City Hall. We will win this election with people power, street by street, block by block, neighbor to neighbor, shop by shop.”

Brown, Pak, and Olague


Christina Olague was a great planning commissioner. I’ve always liked her, and when she was appointed we pointed out how strongly she was rooted in the progressive community.

Olague has strong progressive activist credentials, from working with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition to protect low-income renters during the last dot-com boom to her more recent community organizing for the Senior Action Network. She co-chaired the 2003 campaign that established the city’s minimum wage and has been actively involved in such progressive organizations as the Milk Club, Transit Riders Union, and the short-lived San Francisco People’s Organization.

She also served two terms on the Planning Commission — appointed by Board of Supervisors then-President Matt Gonzalez in 2004 and reappointed by then-President Aaron Peskin in 2008 — where she was known for doing her homework on complicated land use issues and usually landing on the progressive side of divided votes.

We’ve had some disagreements since she took office — particularly around 8 Washington. (I also disagreed with the Labor Council on that one, and only three of the supervisors agreed with me.) And it’s not the first time an elected official I supported turned around and infuriated me on a development vote.

I want Olague to succeed; I want her to come to us in the fall with a record that makes us want to endorse her for a full four-year term. She’s been talking seriously about violence in the district and about young people, predominantly African Americans, getting killed. I feel like she wants to do the right thing.

But her reelection effort is starting to feature some bad actors.

At a recent fundraiser in Chinatown, former Mayor Willie Brown, who ranks as one of the most corrupt public officials in modern San Francisco history and whose administration was a disaster for poor and working-class people (he once even said that poor people ought to just get out of town because this city is too expensive for them), stood up and made a speech, warmly endorsed Olague and said he would be with her “all the way.” Olague then thanked Rose Pak, the Chinatown power broker, for “all of her support over the last few months.”

This makes me nervous. And it hasn’t helped my nerves that I’ve been trying to talk to Olague about these issues for the last week, and she keeps avoiding the conversation by not returning calls or cutting conversations short when I do reach her.

Willie Brown, with his Chron column, has taken on this funny, warm, man-about-town persona, but when he was running City Hall, everything was about money. He cut deals right and left that destroyed communities and neighborhoods. He oversaw, aided and encouraged what we called the “Economic Cleansing of San Francisco.” Tens of thousands of working-class people, artist, writers, young people … were driven out of the city by a steamroller of gentrification — all with the mayor’s blessing.

Now he’s working as a private attorney, and last time we checked was getting $200,000 a year to represent PG&E. We have no idea what other big corporate clients he has or what he does for them — but it’s clearly not writing legal briefs and handling litigation. He gets paid for being a political fixer. For the bad guys.

And he’s going to be with Olague “all the way.”


Under oath


Mayor Ed Lee and suspended Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi each took some lumps on June 29 as they were cross-examined by opposing attorneys in front the Ethics Commission, which is conducting the official misconduct case that Lee brought against Mirkarimi over a Dec. 31 domestic violence incident. But the hearings proved unexpectedly dramatic when the room was suddenly cleared for an undisclosed security threat — following testimony by Lee that a city commissioner alleges included perjury.

The incident raises a number of issues that officials hadn’t yet answered by Guardian press time. Was the security threat real? If so, why wasn’t the room or the rest of City Hall properly secured after the mayor was whisked away? If not, who ordered the room cleared and why?

Undersheriff Paul Miyamoto, who ran against Mirkarimi last year, told the Guardian that the San Francisco Police Department notified his office that a caller claimed to have planted bombs outside of City Hall and on the Golden Gate Bridge. Deputies conducted a search and found nothing, and his office didn’t order the recess of the hearing. “We did not evacuate anyone,” he told us.

Speculation about the incident was heightened during the break when Debra Walker, a Mirkarimi supporter and longtime member of the city’s Building Inspection Commission, told the Guardian that Lee committed perjury when he denied speaking with any members of the Board of Supervisors before filing official misconduct charges. Lee was responding to a direct and pointed question from Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp — one that that Lee’s attorneys had unsuccessfully objected to.

Specifically, Walker said that her longtime friend and political ally Sup. Christina Olague — who Lee appointed to serve the last year of Mirkarimi’s term for the District 5 seat — had told her repeatedly that Lee had asked her advice before filing the charges against Mirkarimi, and that Olague’s advice was that Lee should ask for Mirkarimi’s resignation but drop the matter if he refused.

That allegation, which was first reported on the Guardian’s Politics blog shortly after the commission went into recess (Olague had not yet returned a call from the Guardian asking whether she had spoken to Lee about Mirkarimi), prompted reporters to confront Olague in the hallway outside her supervisorial office, where she tersely denied the allegation and then took refuge behind closed doors.

When the reporters lingered and persisted, waiting for a more complete answer, Olague finally emerged, reiterated her denial, refused to speculate about why her friend Walker would make that claim, and said, “We’re not allowed to discuss this matter with anyone before it comes to the board…I may have to recuse myself from voting on this.”

It was unclear why she thought recusal might be necessary, but if she does disqualify herself from voting on Mirkarimi’s removal later this summer after Ethics completes its investigation and makes its recommendations to the board, that would hurt Lee’s effort to get the nine votes needed to remove Mirkarimi.

When the Ethics Commission hearing resumed after a couple hours, Lee was again placed in a position of denying specific factual allegations that others have made, again raising the possibility that he committed perjury in his sworn testimony, which could expose him to felony criminal charges while undercutting his moral authority to remove Mirkarimi over the single misdemeanor count of false imprisonment that he pleaded guilty to in March.

The second instance was when Kopp asked Lee, “Did you ever extend any offer through third parties that you would find him another job if he resigned?”

“I don’t recall offering Sheriff Mirkarimi any job,” Lee replied.

Kopp specifically asked whether that job offer had been extended on Lee’s behalf by permit expediter Walter Wong or by San Francisco Democratic Party Chair Aaron Peskin, to which Lee replied, “Absolutely not.”

Mirkarimi supporters have told the Guardian that Peskin had made that offer, which Mirkarimi refused, shortly before the party chair publicly called for Mirkarimi’s resignation. The outgoing message on Peskin’s cell phone said he was unavailable and wouldn’t be checking his messages until July 5. Mirkarimi’s attorneys said they’re still figuring out how to respond to the developments and had no comment, but Walker said she’s willing to testify under oath.

But the dramas underscore the treacherous grounds opened up by these unprecedented proceedings, the first involving the Ethics Commission and the broadened definition of official misconduct placed into the City Charter in 1996. As baseball great Barry Bonds and former President Bill Clinton learned, being forced to testify under oath about sensitive topics can be a tough trap to negotiate.



Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith also seemed to be trying to spring that perjury trap on Mirkarimi as he took the stand on the morning of June 29 following an hour on the stand at the previous night’s hearing. Keith reminded Mirkarimi that he was advised not to discuss his testimony with anyone and asked, “Who have you spoken to since last night?”

“My attorneys,” Mirkarimi answered.

“What did you say to them?” Keith asked, drawing objections about attorney-client privilege that Commission Chair Benedict Hur sustained.

“Did you stop for coffee?” Keith then asked, seemingly concerned that Mirkarimi may have discussed his testimony with someone at the coffee shop that morning, which Mirkarimi denied. Keith let the allegation go but maintained an accusatory, hectoring tone throughout the next three hours that he had Mirkarimi on the stand, two more hours than he had told the commission he would need.

Much of the time was spent trying to establish support for the allegation that Mirkarimi had dissuaded witnesses and sought to thwart the police investigation, which was triggered by a call from Ivory Madison, a neighbor to whom Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, had confided. But the testimony yielded little more than the city’s unsupported inference that Mirkarimi must have directed Lopez and his campaign manager, Linnette Peralta Haynes, to contact Madison after she had called the police and urged her to stop cooperating with them.

Mirkarimi has maintained that he did nothing to dissuade Madison or anyone from talking to police, and that he wasn’t aware of the investigation or that Madison had made a videotape of Lopez showing a bruise on her arm until hours after the police were involved. He even sent a text to Lopez saying there was nothing he could do, as he noted.

“It was after 4pm on January 4 when I first learned of any of this,” Mirkarimi testified, later adding, “I was very clear to her in saying you can’t unring the bell, we have to follow through with this.”

Yet Lee and the deputy city attorneys who are representing him also maintain that they needn’t prove witness dissuasion or other allegations they have made, and that the Dec. 31 incident and Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to a single misdemeanor count of false imprisonment are enough to constitute official misconduct and warrant his removal, an interpretation that Mirkarimi’s attorneys dispute.

Keith sought to hammer home how Mirkarimi should have admitted to and publicly atoned for his crime right away rather than telling reporters it was a “private family matters” (which Mirkarimi admitted was a mistake) or fighting the charges by trying to discredit Madison publicly, an allegation he denies.

After unsuccessfully trying to get Mirkarimi to admit to directing efforts to question Madison’s credibility in local media accounts, Keith asked, “Did you ever direct anyone not to attack Ivory Madison?”

“I never directed anyone to attack or not attack,” Mirkarimi replied.

Keith also clarified that Mirkarimi denies the allegation Madison made that the physical abuse on Dec. 31 went beyond grabbing Lopez’s arm once in the car, as the couple has maintained. “It’s your testimony there was no punching, pulling, or grabbing in the house?” Keith asked, which Mirkarimi confirmed.

Yet Keith said that given the totality of what happened, Mirkarimi should have known he couldn’t continue on as sheriff. “Under those circumstances, wouldn’t resigning be the honorable thing to do?” Keith said, to which Mirkarimi replied that it’s a hard question and that he’s doing what he thinks is right.

Faced with friendlier questions from his own attorney, David Waggoner, Mirkarimi apologized for his actions, saying “I feel horrible and ashamed,” but that he was “sad and scared” to have his family torn apart against their will. He also said that he believes he can still be effective as sheriff because “what makes San Francisco special is our forward-thinking approach to criminal justice.”

Longtime Sheriff Michael Hennessey — who endorsed Mirkarimi and continues to support him — established a variety of programs emphasizing redemption and rehabilitation, hiring former convicts into top jobs in the department to emphasize a belief in restorative justice that Mirkarimi ran a campaign promising to continue.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be an example of what this redemption process looks like,” Mirkarimi said, choking back tears.

But Keith had the last word before Mirkarimi left the stand, belittling the idea that Mirkarimi offers an example to follow by noting how much probation time and court-ordered counseling he still has to undergo and asking, “The process of redemption doesn’t happen overnight, right?”



Under questioning by Kopp, Mayor Lee admitted that he doesn’t have a written policy on what constitutes official misconduct, that his decisions are made on “a case by case basis,” and that he’s not sure whether conviction of a crime would always constitute official misconduct “because I’ve never confronted this before.”

“Were you aware that many members of the Sheriff Department have criminal convictions?” Kopp asked. Lee said he was not aware. Asked whether he was aware that Sheriff Hennessey had hired a convicted murderer into a top command staff position (see “The unlikely sheriff,” 12/21/11), Lee said he wasn’t.

Lee’s insistence that Mirkarimi’s crime makes him unable to deal effectively with other officials was also attacked by Kopp, who asked, “Isn’t it true that people get elected who have disagreements with other city officials?” He pointed out that City Attorney Dennis Herrera had nasty conflicts with Lee when they ran against each other for mayor last year, but that they’re working well together now.

Kopp also drilled into Lee about his decision to bring official misconduct charges before conducting an investigation or speaking with any witnesses besides Madison — an answer Lee blurted out just as city attorneys objected to the question. Much of Madison’s written testimony has been rejected by the commission as prejudicial hearsay evidence (see “Mayor vs. Mirkarimi,” July 27).

But the public’s perception of this case, if not it’s outcome, could turn on whether Lee is holding Mirkarimi to standards that he himself — as someone appointed mayor on a later-broken promise not to run for a full term — couldn’t meet. It was what Kopp seemed to be driving at before the bomb scare.

“You have asserted in your written charges that Sheriff Mirkarimi’s conduct fell below the standard of decency, good faith, and right action that is impliedly required of all public officials, correct?” Kopp asked.

“Yes,” Lee replied.

“We expect certain things of our elected officials, right?” Kopp asked.

After a long pause, in which Lee appeared to be thinking through his answer, he replied, “That’s generally true, yes.”

“And when the charter speaks of official misconduct, it doesn’t say we expect a certain standard for the sheriff, a different standard for the mayor, a different standard for the DA, a separate standard for the assessor, it just speaks in general terms about official misconduct for public officials, right?” Kopp asked.

Kaiser objected to the question on three counts, sustained on the grounds that it calls for a legal conclusion.

“Do you yourself believe there’s a separate standard for sheriff than for other elected officials?” Kopp asked, and this time the city’s objection was overruled and Lee replied, “It should be the same standard.”

“And would you agree with me that one of the things that is expected of elected officials is for them to be honest and forthright when dealing not only with their constituents, but with other elected officials?” Kopp asked, his final question before Chair Benedict Hur announced that the hearing would be suspended and the room would need to be cleared.

After the hearing reconvened, Kopp drew parallels to other city officials who remained on job after scandals, including former Mayor Gavin Newsom (who had an affair with a subordinate who was married to his campaign manager), former Sheriff Dick Hongisto (who was jailed for refusing to carry out a court’s eviction order), and current Fire Chief Joanne Hayes White (whose husband reported that she hit him in the head with a pint glass).

Asked about the latter case, Lee responded, “I don’t know all the circumstances around that and I don’t believe I was mayor at the time.”


Leaked documents add to CPMC’s credibility problems


Three key members of the Board of Supervisors today presented what they say are documents leaked by a whistleblower within California Pacific Medical Center showing it will likely shut down St. Luke’s Hospital by invoking an escape clause in the development agreement that the Mayor’s Office negotiated and the board is now considering.

The CPMC internal financial documents sent to the supervisors Sunday from an anonymous whistleblower predict a financial scenario in which the operating revenue will fall below a 1 percent margin by 2018.  The predicted loss would allow CPMC to exit its 20-year commitment to St. Luke’s and close the hospital in 2020, just five years after its scheduled reopening.  Sups. David Chiu, Malia Cohen, and Christina Olague say they worry the financial shortfall would also limit CPMC’s charitable donations while its Sutter Health parent company cuts hundreds of hospital jobs to save a projected $70 million per year.

 CPMC has promised to seismically retrofit St. Luke’s and run it for 20 years. In return, the medical group gets to build a massive hospital on Cathedral Hill. Inserted into the deal is what Chiu calls the fine print, which states if CPMC operating margin falls below 1 percent for two years it may close the hospital. Chiu said CPMC presented the escape clause as a very unlikely event, occurring only in a catastrophic scenario.

Instead, the leaked documents present a negative operating margin as an incredibly probably situation that CPMC has known about for months and misrepresented to city officials. “CPMC knew it was possible and likely they would default on their commitment,” Cohen said, adding that her greatest grievance is CPMC’s refusal to do anything about the situation.

Cohen said the financial revelations aren’t surprising considering Sutter Health has a reputation for shady practices. She said we should all wonder how a supposedly not-for-profit corporation is able to make so much profit.

CPMC spokesman Sam Singer said the documents are fraudulent, flawed financial reports that CPMC threw away a long time ago. He suggested someone must have dug them out of the garbage in a conspiracy like fashion. Singer said the mayor had learned about the document a few weeks ago.

Chui said that may help explain why  the Mayor’s Office recently acknowledged it reentered negotiations with the CPMC after becoming concerned about the viability of St. Luke’s, telling supervisors it was based on CPMC’s revised revenue estimates, sparking a controversy during last week’s hearing.

Whatever the reason, the three supervisors want more time to investigate the matter.

“Let’s be clear,” said Cohen said, “these contract negotiations should be informed by actual financial information and not just by the word of CPMC leadership, which we’ve unfortunately found to be untrustworthy.”



Mayor and Mirkarimi testify in Ethics probe before dramatic disruption


After Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi endured about four hours of questioning in his official misconduct proceedings, mostly from Deputy City Attorney Peter Keith, Mayor Ed Lee took the stand a little after 1pm. But just as Mirkarimi attorney Shepherd Kopp was beginning to pin Lee down on the selective manner in which he decided to launch these unprecedented proceedings, the commission suddenly announced the hearing was being suspended and the room would need to be cleared immediately.

There is speculation that there was a bomb threat or other security emergency, but officials have so far offered no explanation for the dramatic development or whether the hearing would reconvene today. Yet the room is still half-filled with journalists and audience members, some speculating that that the clearing of the room was simply an effort to get the unusually grim-faced Lee off the hot seat.

Kopp’s questioning included pointed questions about whether he consulted any members of the Board of Supervisors before deciding to bring official misconduct charges against Mirkarimi in March. The city’s objection was overruled after Kopp noted that the supervisors will ultimately decide Mirkarimi’s fate. Forced to answer under oath, Lee said no, he didn’t speak to any supervisors before filing charges.

But progressive activist Debra Walker says Sup. Christina Olague — women who are close political allies and speak regularly — has repeatedly told her that Mayor Lee asked her opinion before filing the charges. If true, that would mean Mayor Lee committed perjury, which is a felony. Yet as reporters confronted Olague outside her office, she denied ever speaking with Lee about the case and then barricaded herself in her office.

When the reporters lingered and persisted, she finally emerged, reiterated her denial, refused to speculate about why her friend Walker would make that claim, and said, “We’re not allowed to discuss this matter with anyone before it comes to the board…I may have to recuse myself from voting on this.”

It was unclear why she thought recusal might be necessary, but if she does that would hurt Lee’s effort to get the nine votes on the board needed to remove Mirkarimi.

We’ll have complete analysis of the testimony and other developments in next week’s Guardian.


Olague is the swing vote on voting system repeal


Conservative Sup. Mark Farrell’s effort to repeal San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system for citywide elected officials is headed to the Board of Supervisors tomorrow, and all eyes are on swing vote Sup. Christina Olague. She surprised her longtime progressive allies with her early co-sponsorship of the measure when it was introduced in March, but she’s now expressing doubts about the measure.

The board rejected an earlier effort by Farrell and Sup. Sean Elsbernd to repeal RCV outright, but then Farrell tried again with a measure that excludes supervisorial elections and has a primary election in September, and if nobody gets 65 percent of the vote then the two two finishers have a runoff in November.

“I’m not going to support something that calls for a runoff in September,” Olague told the Guardian, referring to the primary election, although she did echo the concerns from RCV’s critics who claim that it confuses voters. She also said that it hasn’t helped elect more progressives and that “some progressives I talked to aren’t 100 percent behind it.”

Such talk worries Steven Hill, the activist who helped create the voter-approved system, and who has been battling to shore up support for it in the face of concerted attacks by more conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, and downtown interests, all of whom preferred the old system of low-turnout, big-money December runoff elections.

“I think it’s working well. San Francisco saves a ton of money by not having two elections,” Hill said. He said downtown money will skew the runoffs elections even more in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Citizen United ruling allowing unlimited political spending. “With Citizen’s United,” he said, “they’ll just do a ton of independent expenditures.”

He said Olague had told him she intended to withdraw her co-sponsorship of the measure, but she hadn’t done so yet. Olague told us that she wanted to discuss the matter with Farrell before withdrawing her support, that she hasn’t been able to reach him yet, and that she’s been focused on other issues she considers more important, such as crime prevention.

The measure currently is being co-sponsored by the board’s five most conservative supervisors and Olague, meaning it will go before voters on the November ballot if they all remain supportive. Hill said that the measure may not be voted on tomorrow because of an administrative snafu dealing with noticing requirements, but the hearing would proceed anyway, possibly offering clues as to the measure’s chances of success.

The 8 Washington embarrassment


I wasn’t shocked by the vote on 8 Washington. I knew it was happening; I knew we’d lost when the EIR went through. I knew we couldn’t count on a solid progressive bloc any more. I knew that the lobbying was intense.

But I have to say, at the end of the day I was embarrassed. Because the supervisors sold the city cheap.

In the earlier board discussions, Sup. Christina Olague and Sup. Eric Mar mentioned their concerns about the heigh and bulk of the project and said they would work with the developer, Simon Snellgrove, on changes. But the final project was exactly the same size.

Olague and Sup. Jane Kim were concerned about the amount of parking; the developer agreed to cut 50 spaces. But the actual size of the garage won’t be reduced at all; the only promise: There won’t be valet parking, so maybe not so many cars will fit.

Yes, Snellgrove agreed to set aside some scholarships for low-income kids to swim in the pool, which is a great thing and I fully support it. For a project that, according to available figures, will net the developer $200 million in profit — according to Sup. David Chiu’s analysis, a 72 percent rate of return — the scholarship money is peanuts.

There’s an additional 50 cent parking levy to pay for surface improvements in the area.

But as Chiu asked at the June 12 meeting, “Is the city getting an appropriate level of benefits based on Snellgrove’s profits?” Project foe Brad Paul — a veteran of more than 30 years of the city’s development wars — doesn’t think so. “They got nothing,” he told me.

Here’s how it went down:

Chiu started off by introducing the board’s budget analyis, Harvey Rose. Rose said he’d reviewed the finances of the project, and concluded that the city would get $50 million less out of the project than the developer or the Port of San Francisco, which owns some of the land and is a primary proponent, had originally claimed. Chiu also noted that not all the documents were in the file, but nobody else seemed to care.

In fact, through most of the discussion — limited discussion — and final votes, it was pretty clear that nobody was swayed by any of the facts that Chiu put forward. This deal was done long before the board members took their seats.

Chiu offered a series of amendments, none of them terribly radical. He pointed out that the deal requires the city to pay the developer $5 million for open-space improvements. “That’s an anomaly,” Chiu said, and moved that it be removed.

Kim, who throughout the meeting was the strongest supporter of the project, argued that the city often reimburses developers for open space. More, she said, compared to what the city has asked other major residential developers to give, this project is just dandy. “I would not say this is not a fair deal for the city,” she told her colleagues.

The vote on the $5 million giveaway? Developer 6, SF 5. Siding with Snellgrove: Christina Olague, Scott Wiener, Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd, Mark Farrell, and Jane Kim. Siding with Chiu and project opponents: John Avalos, David Campos, Malia Cohen, and Eric Mar. It’s an odd lineup — Cohen doesn’t always vote with the progressives, and I have to say it’s strange to see Kim and Olague siding with the four most conservative supervisors.

Chius’s second proposal: Since the city’s benefits were $50 million less than advertised, why not add $14 million to the affordable housing fee?
Developer: 7. Affordable housing: 4. Voting for the developer: Olague, Wiener, Chu, Elsbernd, Farrell, Kim and Mar.

Okay, one last try. Chiu suggested maybe just $2 million more for affordable housing. Wiener, as is he way, went off on his usual complaint that too much of the affordable housing money is for poor people and not enough for the middle class. The final vote:

Developer: 6. Affordable housing: 5. Voting for the developer: Olague, Wiener, Chu, Elsbernd, Farrell, Kim.

Kim, again, took the lead in promoting the deal on the final vote, saying that a parking lot and a private club were not a good use for the space and that “we are achieving here is a higher and better use for the land.” That’s what every developer talks about, by the way — higher and better use.

She also talked about One Rincon, that hideous tower next to the Bay Bridge that was approved after then-Sup. Chris Daly cut a deal with the developer that the San Francisco Chronicle denounced as a “shakedown.

Kim said that, considering the much-smaller size of the Snellgrove project, the benefits were richer than the Rincon deal.

I never liked the Rincon deal — that tower’s a disaster, an ugly scar on the skyline, and there was nowhere near enough affordable housing money. That’s because I think that the city should be building six affordable units for every four market-rate units, that there’s no need for more housing for the very rich and that our current housing policy is a disaster. (The Guardian wrote an editorial at the time that said it was good that Daly had gotten that much money, but was dubious about the whole project. In retrospect, we were too kind.)

I think all my readers at this point know that. So does Daly.

But I asked the former supervisor anyway to comment on the difference between 8 Washington and One Rincon. His thoughts:

1. The Rincon Hill agreement was negotiated by the district Supervisor working together with the communities most impacted by the development. 8 Washington was opposed by the district Supervisor and many nearby residents.
2. Most people in the South of Market were not diametrically opposed to highrise development in that location. The Planning Department had been working on a Rincon Hill neighborhood plan and was recommending upzoning for the area.
3. Rincon Hill had no waterfront trust issues.
4. The Rincon HIll development impact fee was $25 per square foot (over and above the required inclusionary affordable housing fee even though the Mayor’s Office contended that over $20 per square foot would kill the deal.) According to Kim’s release, her 8 Washington deal netted an additional $2 million for affordable housing and a $.50 parking surcharge. This even though development in Rincon Hill is not as valuable as the northern waterfront.

Folks: I think the city got taken to the cleaners here. I’ll stipulate that I’m against this project for much broader reasons. And maybe I’m just an old commie who thinks that the richer you are, the more you should give back, that the affordable housing fees on the most expensive condos in San Francisco should be higher than normal, that if Snellgrove nets $200 million, then the city by definition left too much on the table.

But I don’t think I’m alone in believing that if you’re going to approve something that will make a developer this rich, and let him use public land to do it, on the waterfront, you ought to get your fair share. And that didn’t happen.


Why I hope Sup. Farrell is wrong about condos


So Sup. Mark Farrell thinks the Board of Supervisors is ready to turn its back on the tenants movement and vote for legislation that would increase evictions, eliminate rental housing and undermine one of the most important pieces of tenant legislation to come out of City Hall in decades?

Gawd, I hope he’s wrong.

From the Examiner:

Similar proposals have gone nowhere at City Hall. Farrell acknowledged it has been a “third rail,” but he suggested the political climate has shifted. “This is a different Board of Supervisors and this is a different time,” Farrell said.

Yeah, it’s a different Board of Supervisors. Five years ago, the 8 Washington project would never have been approved in its current form. Five years ago, Ed Lee wouldn’t have been elected mayor.

But I don’t think this board is ready to abandon the tenant vote.

Making condo conversions easier is a huge deal. When San Francisco put a limit on condo conversions more than 20 years ago, it was a landmark law that put the preservation of affordable, rent-controlled housing over the needs of speculators. Over the past decade, the single greatest threat to tenants in this city is Ellis-Act evictions done to create tenancies in common. And the only check on more of that happening is the disincentive posed by the limits on condo conversions.

If Farrell gets his way, and TIC owners can bypass the conversion lottery, tenant organizations will be furious. There are, at best, five reliable pro-landlord votes on the board, so It’s not going to happen without either David Chiu, Christina Olague or Jane Kim siding with Farrell. A lot of things suprise me in local politics, but that would be a shocker.


Mecke joins crowded District 5 supervisorial race


Progressive activist Quintin Mecke jumped into the District 5 supervisorial race today, echoing gentrification concerns raised this week by the Guardian and The New York Times and promising to be an independent representative of one of the city’s most progressive districts, a subtle dig at Sup. Christina Olague’s appointment by Mayor Ed Lee.

“The City is at an economic crossroads. As a 15 year resident of District 5, I cannot sit idly by while our City’s policies force out our residents and small businesses, recklessly pursuing profits for big business at whatever cost,” he began a letter to supporters announcing his candidacy, going on to cite the NYT article on the new tech boom that I wrote about earlier this week.

“What we do next will define the future of San Francisco; the city is always changing but what is important is how we choose to manage the change. One path leads to exponential rent increases, national corporate chain store proliferation, and conversion of rent-controlled housing. The other path leads to controlled and equitable growth, where the fruits of economic development are shared to promote and preserve what is great about this City and our district,” Mecke wrote.

Mecke came in second to Gavin Newsom in the 2007 mayor’s race and then served as the press secretary to Assembly member Tom Ammiano before leaving that post last week to run for office. Mecke joins Julian Davis and John Rizzo in challenging Olague from her left, while London Breed and Thea Selby are the leading moderates in a race that has 10 candidates so far, the largest field in the fall races.

Although he never mentioned Olague by name, Mecke closed his message by repeatedly noting his integrity and independence, a theme that is likely to be a strong one in this race as Olague balances her progressive history and her alliance with the fiscally conservative mayor who appointed her.

“Politics is nothing without principles; and it’s time now to put my own principles into action in this race,” Mecke wrote. “District 5 needs a strong, independent Supervisor. I am entering this race to fight for the values that I believe in and to fight to preserve what is great about District 5 and the city. I have brought principled independence to every issue I’ve worked on and that’s what I’ll continue to bring to City Hall.”

In an interview with the Guardian, Mecke said he sees the campaign as a “five-month organizing project” to reach both regular voters and residents of the district who haven’t been politically engaged, including those in the tech sector. He’d like to see the perspective of workers represented in discussions about technology, not simply the narrow view of venture capitalist Ron Conway that Mayor Lee has been relying on.

“Local politics needs new blood,” Mecke said, “it needs to hear from these people.”

8 Washington isn’t getting much better


When the Board of Supervisors approved the environmental impact report for the most expensive condos in San Francisco history, several members of the board said they weren’t entirely happy with the project. Supervisors Christina Olague and Eric Mar both complained about the height and bulk and Olague said she wanted a parking fee.

So now the project is back, and just won approval at the Budget and Finance Commitee — with only a few minor changes. There’s no adjustment to the height and bulk, although the parking has been cut from 255 spaces to 200 and a 50-cent parking surcharge has been added. Sup. Jane Kim wants to be sure that the pool built in the new facility will be open to low-income youth.

But the city’s not getting a dime more than the $11 million in affordable housing money that developer Simon Snellgrove has already offered — despite the fact that the available financial evidence suggests Snellgrove and his partners will make more than $250 million on the deal. Sup John Avalos made clear that the city’s not getting enough out of this project.

So now it goes to the full board June 12 — and if things go according to the normal San Francisco pattern, the developer will get what he wants and the city will get screwed.

See, when you give developers the opening, they take advantage of it. When you let them over the first hurdle with and 8-3 vote, they get pretty confident that they’re going to win. So why would they compromise on more than few details? Why cut the height and bulk when you know you have the votes?

I respect what Eric Mar, Jane Kim and Christina Olague said about their votes on the EIR — but imagine if it had been a 6-5 vote? Snellgrove might have gotten the message that this wouldn’t be easy. He might be calling Olague and Mar and saying: How much less height? How much less bulk? How much more affordable housing? We might have wound up with a much better deal.

Every time — every single time — a developer presents what is supposed to be the last, best deal it’s a scam. Every time the city has said No, the developer has come back and sweetened the pot. That would have happened here, too.

But no. I predict no height and bulk adjustments, no additional affordable housing money — nothing more than what Budget and Finance already got. Which isn’t enough.

Oh, and by the way: Everyone here already knows that I oppose this project because it’s too much housing for rich people, which we don’t need in this city, and puts the city’s housing balance further out of whack. But if we’re going to sell off the waterfront for all the wrong reasons, we should at least get the best deal we can.

Welcome back to SF President Obama! Now, say Supevisors, give us our marijuana


Not that it’s ever a good idea, but avoid driving downtown today like the plague — President Obama’s in town! And, (as reported by SFGate), SF supervisors want him to take a stance on pot. Sup. Christina Olague has penned a letter co-signed by Sups. David Campos, and Scott Weiner that is a solid finger-wag at the current federal administrations actions against the medical marijuana industry. Here’s the meat of it:


We believe strongly in addressing medical cannabis as a public health issue, and we will strive to fully implement state law by protecting not only our patients, but our property owners and dispensary operators as well. We want to work with President Obama on a public health solution for medical cannabis at the federal level, once he wins a second term. In the meantime, the Department of Justice must respect our laws and honor the President’s commitment on this issue. Honoring this commitment can start by taking no further action against the nine landlords of City-permitted facilities here in San Francisco.


Those “nine landlords” refer to the property owners of the five SF cannabis dispensaries that have already closed, and the additional four that are set to close this month. The federal government has sent threatening letters to dispensary landlords that posit extensive jail time and civil forfeiture for those landlords that continue to allow federally-illegal drug trafficking on their property. 

Kudos to the new Sup. Olague for taking a stand. Of course, the letter’s premise is that the Sups. are staunch supporters of Obama’s re-election, they’re just asking him to improve on this particular issue. It begs the question: why would he make capitulations to win support that is already in pocket?

Tickets are sold out for his lunch at the Julia Morgan Ballroom (465 California, between Montgomery and Sansome Streets), although his campaign website encourages you to get on the waiting list — be careful, general admission tickets start at $5,000. The President’s only other scheduled stop, says SFGate, is at a “small roundtable” at One Market Plaza. 

Afterwards, the President will head south to Los Angeles to attend the annual fundraising gala for the LGBT Leadership Council, where he will no doubt be greeted affectionately for his “I support gay marriage”isms of last month. 

Julian Davis announces for supervisor in the key battleground district for progressives (5)


Julian Davis, a widely known progressive activist and organizer in San Francisco since 2002, declared Tuesday  his intention to run for supervisor in District 5, the city’s most liberal district and a battleground district for progressives seeking to regain control of the Board of Supervisors.

He joins eight other challengers to Sup. Christina Olague, appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to replace former Sup. Ross Mirkarimi. He was considered by many to be  the board’s most reliable progressive. He succeeded Matt Gonzales, a strong progressive.  The battle will center on which candidate will be the most reliable progressive vote–Olague,  whose votes are being carefully watched by progressives, or by one of her challengers.

Davis, a Bay Area native,  is a graduate of Brown University and UC Hastings College of the Law, where he graduated magna cum laude. He has worked in government and non-profit and legal sectors on community development, civil rights, social justice, public power, and environmental causes. He has worked on several candidate and ballot measure campaigns including John Avalos for mayor (20ll), Jane Kim for supervisor (2010), Prop H (2008), Clean Energy Act.) He also led a succeesful campaign in 2007 to free journalist Josh Wolf from federal prison for refusing to reveal sources in a demonstration he was covering.

“I was drawn to San Francisco by the creative energy and culture of the city–by what makes this place so special,” Davis said. “Over the past l0 years, I’ve devoted myself to developing healthy communities. I’m running for supervisor to keep the city a vibrant home for the every day people that make San Francisco real.”  b3





The battle of 8 Washington

More than 100 people showed up May 15 to testify on a condominium development that involves only 134 units, but has become a symbol of the failure of San Francisco’s housing policy.

I didn’t count every single speaker, but it’s fair to say sentiment was about 2-1 against the 8 Washington project. Seniors, tenant advocates, and neighbors spoke of the excessive size and bulk of the complex, the precedent of upzoning the waterfront for the first time in half a century, the loss of the Golden Gateway Swim and Tennis Club — and, more important, the principle of using public land to build the most expensive condos in San Francisco history.

Ted Gullicksen, director of the San Francisco Tenants Union, calls it housing for the 1 percent, but it’s worse than that — it’s actually housing for the top half of the top half of the 1 percent, for the ultra-rich.

It is, even supervisors who voted in favor agreed, housing the city doesn’t need, catering to a population that doesn’t lack housing opportunities — and a project that puts the city even further out of compliance with its own affordable-housing goals.

And in the end, after more than seven hours of testimony, the board voted 8-3 in favor of the developer.

It was a defeat for progressive housing advocates and for Board President David Chiu — and it showed a schism on the board’s left flank that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And it could also have significant implications for the fall supervisorial elections.

Sup. Jane Kim, usually an ally of Chiu, voted in favor of the project. Sup. Eric Mar, who almost always votes with the board’s left flank, supported it, too, as did Sup. Christina Olague, who is running for re-election in one of the city’s most progressive districts.

At the end of the night, only Sups. David Campos and John Avalos joined Chiu in attempting to derail 8 Washington.

The battle of 8 Washington isn’t over — the vote last week was to approve the environmental impact report and the conditional use permit, but the actual development agreement and rezoning of the site still requires board approval next month.

Both Mar and Olague said they were going to work with the developer to try to get the height and bulk of the 134-unit building reduced.

But a vote against the EIR or the CU would have killed the project, and the thumbs-up is a signal that opponents will have an upward struggle to change the minds of Olague, Kim, and Mar.



The 8 Washington project is one of a handful of defining votes that will happen over the next few months. The mayor’s proposal for a business tax reform that raises no new revenue, the budget, and the massive California Pacific Medical Center hospital project will force board members to take sides on controversial issues with heavy lobbying on both sides.

In fact, by some accounts, 8 Washington was a beneficiary of the much larger, more complicated — and frankly, more significant — CPMC development.

The building trades unions pushed furiously for 8 Washington, which isn’t surprising — the building trades tend to support almost anything that means jobs for their members and have often been in conflict with progressives over development. But the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union joined the building trades and lined up the San Francisco Labor Council behind the deal.

And for progressive supervisors who are up for re-election and need union support — Olague and Mar, for example — defying the Labor Council on this one was tough. “Labor came out strong for this, and I respect that,” Olague told me. “That was a huge factor for me.”

She also said she’s not thrilled with the deal — “nobody’s jumping up and down. This was a hard one” — but she thinks she can get the developer to pay more fees, particularly for parking.

Kim isn’t facing re-election for another two years, and she told me her vote was all about the $11 million in affordable housing money that the developer will provide to the city. “I looked at the alternatives and I didn’t see anything that would provide any housing money at all,” she said. The money is enough to build perhaps 25 units of low- and moderate-income housing, and that’s a larger percentage than any other developer has offered, she said.

Which is true — although the available figures suggest that Simon Snellgrove, the lead project sponsor, could pay a lot more and still make a whopping profit. And the Council of Community Housing Organizations, which represents the city’s nonprofit affordable housing developers, didn’t support the deal and expressed serious reservations about it.

Several sources close to the lobbying effort told me that the message for the swing-vote supervisors was that labor wanted them to approve at least one of the two construction-job-creating developments. Opposing both CPMC and 8 Washington would have infuriated the unions, but by signing off on this one, the vulnerable supervisors might get a pass on turning down CMPC.

That’s an odd deal for labor, since CPMC is 10 times the size of 8 Washington and will involve far more jobs. But the nurses and operating engineers have been fighting with the health-care giant and there’s little chance that labor will close ranks behind the current hospital deal.

Labor excepted, the hearing was a classic of grassroots against astroturf. Some of the people who showed up and sat in the front row with pro-8 Washington stickers on later told us they had been paid $100 each to attend. Members of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, to which Snellgrove has donated substantial amounts of money in the past, showed up to promote the project.



But the real action was behind the scenes.

Among those pushing hard for the project were Chinese Chamber of Commerce consultant Rose Pak and community organizer David Ho.

Pak’s support comes after Snellgrove spent years courting the increasingly powerful Chinatown activist, who played a leading role in the effort that got Ed Lee into the Mayor’s Office. Snellgrove has traveled to China with her — and will no doubt be coughing up some money for Pak’s efforts to rebuild Chinese Hospital.

Ho was all over City Hall and was taking the point on the lobbying efforts. Right around midnight, when the final vote was approaching, he entered the board chamber and followed one of Kim’s aides, Matthias Mormino, to the rail where Mormino delivered some documents to the supervisor. Several people who observed the incident told us Ho appeared to be talking Kim in an animated fashion.

Kim told me she didn’t actually speak to Ho at that point, although she’d talked to him at other times about the project, and that “nothing he could have said would have changed anything I did at that point anyway.” Matier and Ross in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Ho was heard outside afterward saying “don’t worry, she’s fine.”

Matier and Ross have twice mentioned that the project will benefit “Chinatown nonprofits,” but there’s nothing in any public development document to support that assertion.

Chiu told me that no Chinese community leaders called him to urge support for 8 Washington. The money that goes into the affordable housing fund could go to the Chinatown Community Development Corp., where Ho works, but it’s hardly automatic — that money will go into a city fund and can’t be earmarked for any neighborhood or organization.

CCDC director Norman Fong confirmed to me that CCDC wasn’t supporting the project. In fact, Cindy Wu, a CCDC staffer who serves on the city Planning Commission, voted against 8 Washington.

I couldn’t reach Ho to ask why he was working so hard on this deal. But one longtime political insider had a suggestion: “Sometimes it’s not about money, it’s about power. And if you want to have power, you need to win and prove you can win.”

Snellgrove will be sitting pretty if 8 Washington breaks ground. Since it’s a private deal (albeit in part on Port of San Francisco land) there’s no public record of how much money the developer stands to make. But Chiu pointed out during the meeting, and confirmed to me later by phone, that “there are only two data points we know.” One is that Snellgrow informed the Port that he expects to gross $470 million in revenue from selling the condos. The other is that construction costs are expected to come in at about $177 million. Even assuming $25 million in legal and other soft costs, that’s a huge profit margin.

And it suggests the he can well afford either to lower the heights — or, more important, to give the city a much sweeter benefits package. The affordable housing component could be tripled or quadrupled and Snellgrove’s development group would still realize far more return that even the most aggressive lenders demand.

Chiu said he’s disappointed but will continue working to improve the project. “While I was disappointed in the votes,” he said, “many of my colleagues expressed concerns about height, parking, and affordable housing fees that they can address in the upcoming project approvals.”

So what does this mean for the fall elections? It may not be a huge deal — the symbolism of 8 Washington is powerful, but if it’s built, it won’t, by itself, directly change the lives of people in Olague’s District 5 or Mar’s District 1. Certainly the vote on CPMC will have a larger, more lasting impact on the city. Labor’s support for Mar could be a huge factor, and his willingness to break with other progressives to give the building trades a favor could help him with money and organizing efforts. On the other hand, some of Olague’s opponents will use this to differentiate themselves from the incumbent. John Rizzo, who has been running in D5 for almost a year now, told me he strongly opposed 8 Washington. “It’s a clear-cut issue for me, the wrong project and a bad deal for the city.” London Breed, a challenger who is more conservative, told us: “I would not have supported this project,” she said, arguing that the zoning changes set a bad precedent for the waterfront. “There are so many reasons why it shouldn’t have happened,” she said. And while Mar is in a more centrist district, support from the left was critical in his last grassroots campaign. This won’t cost him votes against a more conservative opponent — but if it costs him enthusiasm, that could be just as bad.

Housing for the super rich approved, 8-3


The progressive movement and the battle for housing balance and economic justice in San Francisco got walloped May 15 when eight supervisors sided with a developer who wants to build condos for the massively rich on the waterfront.

I watched it all, minus a few minutes while I was putting the kids to bed, all seven and a half hours of testimony and discussion, winding up with a series of pro-developer voters a little after midnight. It was stunning: Opponents of the project came out in droves, many of them seniors, others tenant activists and neighbors. Former City Attorney Louise Renne, who is by no means an anti-development type or any sort of economic radical, led off the arguments in favor of scrapping the environmental impact report and denying the conditional use permit that are needed for 8 Washington to move forward. They brought up so many points that by the end there was nothing more to say: This meets no housing need in San Francisco, further screws up the city’s own mandates for a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, caters to the top half of the top half of the 1 percent, is too tall and bulky for the site, offers the city too little in community benefits and is one of the great development scams of our time.

Then the other side spoke — the city planners who defended the EIR and, briefly, developer Simon Snellgrove. His supporters lined up — and almost all of them talked about the same thing: Construction jobs. I get it, we need construction jobs — but is that a justification for such a bad project? As Sup. David Chiu pointed out, “apartment construction is booming.  There are 22,000 units under construction and 50,000 more in the pipeline.”

Both sides were organized, but only one paid people to show up: At least five people seated in the front row, wearing pro-8 Washington stickers, confirmed that they’d been paid $100 each — in cash — to show up. They didn’t even speak, leaving once they realized that they were misled about the project. One source heard a construction worker say he knew nothing about the project and had been bused in from Sacramento.

And after hearing all of that, the supervisors did what they clearly had decided to do long before a word of testimony was uttered.

The vote to overturn the EIR went like this: favoring the developer were Supervisors Mark Farrell, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, Christina Olague, Malia Cohen, Carmen Chu, Sean Elsbernd and Scott Wiener. Opposing the project were Chiu, John Avalos and David Campos.

Approving the conditional use went along the same voting lines. Chiu couldn’t even get a continuance after arguing that there was no report from the budget analyst and no financial information about whether this is a good deal for the city.

That’s the lineup: Eight votes for the 1 percent. Three votes for the rest of us. I haven’t seen anything this bad in years.

Some fascinating information came out of the discussion. Chiu made clear that the developer doesn’t need the height-limit increase to make a profit off the deal. He estimated that the total sales revenue from the project would be around $470 million and construction costs about $177 million. That’s a huge profit margin, even if you add in another $25 million for upfront soft costs.

Snellgrove’s lawyer, Mary Murphy, tried to duck the financial issues, talking around in circles. Evenutally Chiu got Snellgrove to respond, and he said the costs would be higher and his profit would only be about $80 million. “The capital markets require a high return on these projects,” he said.
Still: $80 million is a lot of money. And while Snellgrove and his allies love to talk about the $11 million in affordable housing money for the city, that’s about 2.3 percent of his total revenue. Which doesn’t sound quite as juicy.

Chiu raised another good question: “Should a condo that sells for $5 million pay the same affordable housing fees as one that sells for $500,000?”
Mar, who is usually a strong progressive, was the big surprise of the night, not only voting the wrong way but teeing up softball questions for the city planners to make the project sound better. It was as if he was reading from the developer’s talking points.

In the end, he said he saw “a lot of benefits from this project,” but promised to work with the developer to advocate for “less bulk and less height.” Olague said the same thing.

But even if it’s a little smaller, this will still be a completely misalignment of housing priorities, a project entirely for the very rich. That’s not going to change.

If anything, they should push for more affordable housing money — a whole lot more. Because what we’re getting is enough for maybe 25 or 30 units, which means 80 percent of the new housing related to this project will be for multimillionaires and 20 percent for everyone else. Keep that pattern going — and there are few signs that it’s about to change — and imagine what this city will be like in 20 years.

It’s not over, not yet: The actual development agreement and the height-limit changes still have to come to the board early in June. And if the mayor signs off on it, opponents are talking serious about a ballot referendum that would be before the voters in November — just when Olague, Mar, Avalos, Campos, and Chiu will be up for re-election.

What the preservation vote says about the 2012 supervisors


UPDATE: Important update at the end of this story

What does it mean that a historic preservation law favored by developers and promoted by Sup. Scott Wiener passed the Board of Supervisors 8-3? Maybe nothing. Historic preservation is a strange poliltical issue, favored by some of the wealthy white homeowner types who love pretty buildings (and aren’t so good on other issues), and this thing was sold as a way to help low-income people and affordable housing. But the reality is that the Wiener measure will make it harder to declare historic districts, and thus will take away a tool that the left can use to stop uncontrolled commercial development. And remember: The affordable housing community wasn’t pushing this bill, and, for the most part, hasn’t had problems with historic preservation. The most progressive political club in the city, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club, came out strongly against the measure and urged Sup. Christina Olague, a co-sponsor, to oppose it:

We are extremely troubled that you appear to be buying into the flawed, bogus and self-serving arguments by SPUR and other supporters of this legislation that historic preservation is classist and leads to gentrification, interferes with the production of affordable housing and is a tool of San Francisco’s elite.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

There was a way to address the issues of low-income people in historic districts without making it harder to block inappropropriate development, but Wiener’s bill went much further. And while I respect Scott Wiener and find him accessible and straightforward, and I agree with him on some issues, he isn’t someone whose basic agenda promotes the interests of tenants or low-income people. His supporters are much more among the landlord class and the downtown folks. The San Francisco Chronicle, which is a conservative paper on economic and development issues, loved the legislation.

So what happened when this got to the Board? Only three people — the ones the Chron calls “the stalwart left flank of the Board” — voted no.

John Avalos, David Campos and Eric Mar. They are now the solid left flank, the ones who can be counted on to do the right thing on almost every issue. Once upon a time, there were six solid left votes. Now there are three.

What does this mean for the other key issues coming up, including CPMC, 8 Washington, and the city budget? Maybe nothing. As I say, this issue is complicated. Olague told me, for example, that she’s really worried about working-class people who can’t afford to comply with the increased regulations that come with historic districts. Her vote doesn’t mean she’s dropped out of the progressive camp, or that she (or Sups. Jane Kim and David Chiu) can’t be counted on in the future. I really want to believe that this was just an aberration, a vote where I’ll look back in the fall and say: Okay, we disagreed on that one, but nobody’s perfect

Still, it’s kind of depressing: The dependable progressive vote is down to three.

UPDATE/CORRECTION: I didn’t know when I posted this that Olague had spoken to the Milk Club leadership after the club’s statement went out and the club has since issued a correction:

Due to a misunderstanding, Supervisor Christine Olague’s position on the Historic Preservation Commission’s critical role in the life of San Franicsco was misrepresented in our weekly newsletter. Supervisor Olague is looking into ways to help continue Historic District status for the Queer community, the Filipino community in the South of Market area, and the Japantown area. She is specifically looking for wording that would help these plans remain viable and welcomes any questions on her position and on her plan. Our apologies to the Supervisor for this unfortunate mistake.

Wiener goes after historic preservation



Sup. Scott Wiener is pushing a bill that would make it more difficult to create historic districts in San Francisco, and it’s already cleared the Land Use and Economic Development Committee.

UPDATE: Milk Club calls on Sup. Olague to drop her support for the bill.

The measure hasn’t received a lot of news media attention, but it could have a far-reaching effect on development in San Francisco.

In essence, the Wiener bill amends two parts of the city planning code to tighten the requirements for designating a part of the city as a protected historic area — a designation that makes it harder to demolish or substantially alter buildings.
Developers and some property owners dislike the historic designation. Perservationists see it as a way to prevent the destruction of buildings and neigbhorhoods that are a part of the city’s heritage.

Classic example: In the 1980s, members of the Residential Builders Association were tearing down vintage Victorians in the Richmond district and replacing them with boxy, multi-unit apartments that were worth more money than a single-family home. The builders made a lot of quick cash; the city lost some elegant old houses that can never be replaced.

They couldn’t do that as easily in Alamo Square, which is a historic district.

On the other hand, the owners of those stately well-protected houses in these special districts have to go through increased Planning Department scrutiny any time they want to make any substantial alteration in the structure.

Context: Less than 1 percent of the developed part of San Francisco is currently in a historic district. It’s not a huge deal, and most people don’t pay any attention to this stuff.

But it’s important, and here’s why: One, this city doesn’t care enough about its past — but more important, preservation is a tool that can be used to prevent very bad things from happening.

If we’d had good historic preservation laws in the 1970s, the International Hotel could have been designated an historic structure and wouldn’t have been demolished. Same, possibly, for the Goodman Building. Preservation laws could have been used to fight some of the horrors of redevelopment, which mowed down African American and Filipino neighborhoods in the 1960s and 1970s.

Some of Wiener’s suggestions are relatively benign. He wants to exempt affordable housing units from the laws that apply to historic districts, and Sup. Christina Olague, his co-sponsor, wants an economic hardship exemption so that the owners of buildings, particularly in communities of color, can avoid expensive battles over minor repairs and alterations.

I’m fine with all of that. I’m all for it. Good idea. Although it’s not fair to say that this process was driven by a concern for affordable housing; I spoke to Peter Cohen, at the Council of Community Housing Organizations, and he told me that the idea didn’t come from his crew. Not one affordable housing activist showed up at the Land Use hearing to support the Wiener bill.

But the measure also adds more burdens to the process of designating an historic district. It mandates a written survey of all property owners and occupants in an area proposed for historic designation — an expensive and cumbersome thing that isn’t required for commercial development, demolitions, zoning changes, massive market-rate housing projects, full-on gentrification, or anything else that screws up neighborhoods.
It requires the Planning Commission to consider whether historic preservation conflicts with “the provision of housing to meet the city’s regional housing needs allocation,” which is odd because the commission didn’t consider that when it approved 8 Washington, which directly conflicts with the city’s housing needs allocation, or when it’s allowed 20,000 units of mostly high-end housing over the past decade without any provision for the proper corresponding amount of affordable housing.

In short, it gives opponents of historic preservation more ways to stop new protections. That’s going to make developers very happy.

I asked Wiener why he decided to do this, what the problem was that this law is meant to solve. His answer: There are lots of potential new historic districts (including where he lives, in the Duboce Park and Dolores Street areas) and he wants to be sure that there’s a “robust community process.” Excuse me, Supervisor: There’s a robust community process every time anyone does anything in this town, and designating a historic district is no different.

Also: “A lot of people believe that in some situations, historic preservation can be taken to the extremes. This is a real hot topic for the city.”

Now here’s where it gets interesting (and even more complicated). There’s a neighborhood group called the Mission Dolores Neighborhood Association that’s been trying for almost seven years to get the area between Market and 20, Valencia and Sanchez designated a historic district. Peter Lewis, a musician who has been leading the battle, told me that he got involved because developers were tearing down some important old buildings (a Willis Polk building on Dolores and 15th came down a few years ago) and he wanted to halt it.
The group’s got sophistication and resources — MDNA has raised $80,000 for the necessary studies and has been working the the Planning Department and the Historic Preservation Commission.

Wiener is opposed to the idea — particularly the concept of including the Dolores Street median (designed by John Mclaren, he of Golden Gate Park fame) and Dolores Park in the district. The median’s already a state landmark.

“He’s been very polite to us, but he’s made it clear he doesn’t want to see streets or parks included in any historic designation,” Lewis told me.
Why? Well, for one thing, the Planning Department is talking about building bulb-outs on Dolores as a traffic-calming measure. Historic designation for the median might make that more difficult. And Lewis opposes the bulb-outs for all the wrong reasons: “They just want to get people out of their cars,” he said, dismissively.

But really: Is this all worth pushing a measure that could undermine preservation and encourage demolitions and bad development all over the city? Is the current system really all that bad? Didn’t a measure to strengthen historic preservation (placed on the ballot with an 11-0 vote on the Board of Supervisors) just pass overwhelmingly two years ago?

Because it seems to me that this is a solution in search of a problem.


The two defining votes of 2012


The Board of Supervisors will be facing two votes in the next couple of months that will define this board, establish the extent of the mayor’s political clout — and potentially play a decisive role in the political futures of several board members.

Oh: They’ll also have a lasting impact on the future of this city.

I’m talking about 8 Washington and CPMC — one of them the most important vote on housing policy to come along in years, the other a profound decision that will change the face of the city and alter the health-care infrastructure for decades to come.

Both projects have cleared the Planning Commission, as expected. Neither can go forward without approval from a majority of the supervisors. And there will be intense downtown lobbying on both of them.

The 8 Washington project would create what developer Simon Snellgrove calls the most expensive condos ever built in San Francisco. A piece of waterfront property would become a gated community for the very, very rich, many of whom won’t even live here most of the time. If it’s approved, the economy won’t collapse, neighborhoods won’t be destroyed — but it will make a powerful statement about the city’s housing policy. The message: We build housing for the 1 percent. We are a city that caters only to one very tiny group of people. We are willing to let the needs of the few drive our policy over the needs of the many.

Face it: There is no shortage of housing for the people who will buy Snellgrove’s condos. There’s a severe shortage of housing for most of the people who actually work in San Francisco. And the city’s housing policy is so scewed up that it’s making things worse. That’s the message of 8 Washington.

Then there’s CPMC. California Pacific Medical Center wants to put a snazzy state-of-the art new medical center on Van Ness, which is all well and good. But the giant nonprofit Sutter Health, which operates CPMC, has been openly hostile to some of the city’s demands (for housing, transit and other environmental mitigiation) and the proposal that Mayor Ed Lee has signed off on is way out of balance. There’s not anything even close to a reasonable link between jobs and housing — which will impact the entire city. You bring in a lot of new workers and don’t help build enough housing for them and everyone’s rent goes up.

CPMC also wants to radically downsize St. Luke’s Hospital, the only full-service facility on the south side of town except for the overcrowded and overloaded SF General. Health care for a sizable part of the city will suffer.

This is a very big deal, and the Chamber of Commerce is pushing hard for the supes to approve it. A lot of labor and the entire affordable housing community is against it.

So put those two votes in front of a board where the progressive majority has been very shaky of late — and where Lee will be working hard to line up six votes — and you’ve got potential political dynamite. Supervisor John Avalos told me he has serious concerns about both projects. Sup. David Campos told me he feels the same way. Sup Eric Mar is unlikely to vote for 8 Washington and unlikely to oppose the health-care workers and the progressive leaders who want to block the CPMC deal and make Sutter come back with a better offer, but some elements of labor are pushing hard for 8 Washington and Mar is up for re-election in one of the city’s swing districts.

Sup. David Chiu is against 8 Washington. I’ve called Sups. Jane Kim and Christina Olague (who was not a fan of the project when she was on the Planning Commission) but they haven’t gotten back to me. Olague is running for re-election this fall in the city’s most progressive district, one that’s right on the edge of the CPMC project site; Kim’s district is on the other edge.

You can’t really count to six on either of these projects without getting Chiu and/or Kim and/or Olague. Chiu has no progressive opposition, but if he supports the CPMC deal, someone may decide to challenge him. If Olague supports either project, it will give her opponents plenty of fodder for the fall campaign (John Rizzo, who is running against her, told me he opposes both). If Olague opposes the two projects, it’s going to be much harder for anyone to run against her from the left since she will have demonstrated that she can stand up the mayor on tough issues.

I’ll let you know if I hear more.




Sorting through scandal


>>Read the Guardian Op-Ed by Eliana Lopez’s friend Myrna Melgar here.

On March 20, Mayor Ed Lee announced his decision to suspend and seek the removal of Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, taking the city into complex and uncharted legal and political territory. He did so with little explanation in a statement lasting two minutes. Then he went and hid.

Over the past week, the mayor has refused to expound on the reasoning behind his decision, won’t answer questions from reporters, and has held no public events where he might face the news media.

But he’s set off the political equivalent of a nuclear bomb, forcing the supervisors to take on a no-win situation in an election year and leaving the City Attorney’s Office, the Ethics Commission, and Mirkarimi’s lawyers scrambling to figure out how this will all play out.

At issue is whether Mirkarimi’s guilty plea to a misdemeanor false imprisonment charge — and his actions since the New Year’s Eve conflict with his wife, Eliana Lopez, that led to the three domestic violence charges that he originally faced — warrant his immediate removal from office without pay pending hearings that could take months. Mirkarimi, the mayor alleges, violated official misconduct standards written into the City Charter with little discussion in 1995, broad language that has yet to be interpreted by a court.

Mirkarimi and his new attorney, David Waggoner, responded March 27 by filing a court petition challenging that language — “conduct that falls below the standard of decency, good faith and right action impliedly required of all public officers” — as unconstitutionally vague and arguing Lee abused his mayoral discretion in suspending Mirkarimi and violated his due process rights by taking away his livelihood without a hearing. They are asking the court to order Mirkarimi’s reinstatement, or at least the restoration of his salary, until the long city process determines his fate.

“It makes it more difficult for the sheriff to fight these charges when he’s suspended without pay,” Waggoner told us.

To those who have been calling for Mirkarimi’s removal for the last few months, the case seems simple: Mirkarimi grabbed Lopez’s arm with enough force to leave a bruise, police and prosecutors got a video the neighbor made of the wife tearfully telling the story, and Mirkarimi tried to quell the controversy by calling it a “private matter” — infuriating anti-domestic-violence advocates who have spent decades trying to explain that DV is a crime, not a family issue. The sheriff ended up pleading guilty to a related charge.

That, many say, is plenty of reason to remove him from office: How can a top law-enforcement official do his job when he’s been convicted of a crime for which advocates say there should be zero tolerance? How can a man who runs the jails have any credibility when he’s pled guilty to false imprisonment?

“He has chosen not to resign and now I must act,” Lee said at a press conference he held shortly after the 24-hour deadline he gave Mirkarimi to resign or be removed.

But like everything in this politically fractured and passionate city, it’s a lot more complicated.


Lopez and her attorneys have consistently maintained that Mirkarimi was not abusive, that the video was created solely in case their deteriorating marriage devolved into a child custody battle, and that it was not an accurate description of what happened that day, suggesting the former Venezuelan soap opera star was telling a particular kind of story.

The Guardian and the San Francisco Chronicle (“Mirkarimi’s argument with wife detailed,” March 25) have pieced together some of what happened. Sources say the couple argued in the car on the way to lunch at Delfina Pizzeria about whether Lopez would take their nearly three-year-old son, who was sitting in the backseat, with her to Venezuela.

The couple had been having marital problems and Mirkarimi, worried that she might not return or that their son could be kidnapped for ransom, got angry. As the argument escalated, Mirkarimi decided to take the family home. On the way, Mirkarimi told her that he had spoken to a lawyer and learned that she needed written permission from him to take their son out of the country and that he wouldn’t do so.

That made Lopez angry and she got out of the car and tried to unfasten their son to leave when Mirkarimi grabbed her right arm, leaving a bruise that was clear in the videotape but which wasn’t visible a week later when she wore a sleeveless dress to Mirkarimi’s swearing in ceremony for sheriff.

That’s the couple’s version of events, anyway. There are no witnesses who can verify or dispute it.

Lee never called Lopez or her attorney to hear this story before deciding to remove him from office. But in the official charges he filed against Mirkarimi, Lee alleges “acts of verbal and physical abuse against his wife” and that he “restrained Ms. Lopez and violated her personal liberty,” plus unproven allegations that he was never charged with, including encouraging neighbors to destroy evidence, and of hurting morale in the Sheriff’s Department (based on a newspaper quote from a political opponent).

You don’t have to defend Mirkarimi’s conduct or belittle the serious crime of domestic violence — in fact, you don’t have to believe anything the sheriff or his wife have said — to ask a few basic questions. Is this extraordinary executive power warranted in this case? What harm would come from waiting for a recall election, the usual method of removing elected officials after a scandal? Why did Lee give Mirkarimi 24 hours to resign and did he offer anything as incentive (sources tell us he offered another city job)? Will he release the City Attorney’s Office advice memo, and if not, why?

The Guardian submitted those and many other questions to Mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey, who said she would answer them by March 23, but then sent us this message at the end of that day before going on vacation: “After looking at your questions, it seems Mayor Lee addressed much of this in his comments on Tuesday. After Sheriff Mirkarimi pleaded guilty to a crime of false imprisonment, Mayor Lee made a thorough review of the facts, reviewed his duties under the Charter and gave the Sheriff an opportunity to resign. When that did not happen, he moved to suspend the Sheriff.”

Very few progressives have stood up publicly and taken Mirkarimi’s side. One of them is Debra Walker, a longtime activist and city commissioner.

“This is about McCarthyism at this point, and not domestic violence,” Walker told us. “Instead of helping [Lopez], they have succeeded in breaking this family apart. It’s just bullying. It was always aimed at Ross stepping down and removing him as sheriff.”


So what happens next? It is, to say the least, unclear.

The last time a public official was charged with misconduct was in the 1970s, when Joe Mazzola, an official with the Plumbers Union, was removed from the Airport Commission because he refused to order striking plumbers back to work. The state Court of Appeal later overturned that decision, ruling that “official misconduct” had to be narrowly construed to be conduct directly related to the performance of official duties (a case Waggoner relies on in his petition).

But the City Charter has changed since then, and now allows removal for the vague charge of “conduct that falls below the standard of decency and good faith and right action impliedly required by all public officers.” That phrase gives extraordinary power to the mayor — and, given some of the conduct we’ve seen at City Hall over the years, could have been used to remove a long list of city officials.

The Charter states that Mirkarimi, as the accused, will get a hearing before the Ethics Commission, and that he can be represented by counsel. It’s silent on the question of what form that hearing will take, what the rules of evidence will be, what witnesses will be allowed, and what rights the defendant will have.

Four of the five Ethics Commission members are practicing attorneys, and before they can call a hearing, they’ll have to hold a meeting to discuss the rules.

In the case of former Sup. Ed Jew, who was accused of falsifying his address, Ethics was prepared to take only written testimony (Jew resigned before any hearing, partially to deal with more serious federal charges of shaking down constituents for bribes). But that’s not a hard and fast rule — this time, the panel could decide to allow both sides to present witnesses.

If the commission decides to allow evidence, someone will have to rule on what evidence can be presented and what can’t. Will that be the commission chair, Benjamin Hur, or the commission as a whole?

The answer is: Nobody knows for sure. Hur told us he couldn’t comment on anything related to the case; the City Attorney’s Office won’t comment, either, since the office is representing both the mayor (on the prosecution side) and the supervisors and the Ethics Commission, and the board and the commission haven’t made any decisions on rules yet.

Then it gets even trickier. The Board of Supervisors has to vote on whether to remove the sheriff, and it takes nine votes to do that. So if three supervisors vote no, Mirkarimi is automatically back in office.

There are no rules in the Charter for how the board will proceed; in theory, the supervisors could simply accept the recommendation of the Ethics Commission and vote without any further hearings. They could rely on the record of the Ethics proceedings — or they could hold the equivalent of a second trial, with their own witnesses and procedures.

To add another layer of confusion, Mirkarimi, as sheriff, is classified under state law as a peace officer — and the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights sets entirely different standards for administrative and disciplinary hearings. Among other things, Mirkarimi could assert the right to have the Ethics Commission hearing closed to the public and the records sealed.

State law also mandates that a peace officer facing suspension without pay has the right to a hearing and adjudication within 90 days. That’s not in the City Charter; under the Charter, the city can wait as long as it wants to decide the issue.

Nobody knows for sure whether the Peace Officers Bill of Rights trumps the City Charter.

It’s clear that Mirkarimi, like anyone accused of a crime or facing an administrative hearing, has the right to due process — but not necessarily the same rights as he would have in a court proceeding. It’s also clear that the supervisors will be sitting in a quasi-judicial role — and thus can’t take into account anything that isn’t part of the official record of the case.

They probably can’t, for example, hold a public hearing on the issue — and judges in a case are theoretically supposed to ignore the hundreds of calls and emails that are now flooding in to the board offices on all sides.

The political implications are equally complex. Lee would have been in a dangerous situation if he declined to file charges — if Mirkarimi ever did anything else this disturbing, some would say it was Lee’s fault for leaving him in office.

It’s a safe bet that none of the supervisors are happy about having to vote on Mirkarimi’s job, but it’s particularly tough for the progressives. Anyone on the left who votes against removal will be subject to a barrage of attack ads — and since the balance of power on the board will be decided in November, when David Chiu, John Avalos, Eric Mar, David Campos, and Christina Olague, all more or less part of the progressive bloc, will all be up for re-election, the pressure on them will be immense.

That, in and of itself, ought to be reason for the sheriff to step down, some progressives say: Is preserving Mirkarimi in the Sheriff’s Office worth potentially destroying the progressive majority on the board? It’s a good question — and one that Lee’s advisors were well aware of, too.

Supervisors hope to halt foreclosures with new resolution


John Avalos introduced a resolution today urging support for homeowners facing foreclosure in San Francisco. The resolution calls for several actions, including suspending all foreclosures until state and federal measures to protect homeowners are in place.

Sponsors of the resolution Avalos, David Chiu, Jane Kim, Eric Mar, and Christina Olague joined a coalition of community organizations to explain the resolution at a press conference.

The resolution would call for support of a statewide Homeowners Bill of Rights, a series of bills that would address predatory loans and robosigning, as well as California Attorney General Kamala Harris’s campaign for a statewide suspension on foreclosures in properties controled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It also “urges all city and county officials and departments to work proactively to ensure that San Francisco residents do not fall victim to unlawful foreclosure practices,” as Avalos explained.

Supervisors cited a report released in February by Assessor Phil Ting as one of the reasons for the resolution. The report found “irregularities” in 99 percent of foreclosure documents in San Francisco between 2009 and 2011, and “what appear to be one or more clear violations of the law” in 84 percent of cases. 

The resolution’s language also names “predatory banking practices that disproportionately targeted racial and ethnic minority communities, especially working class African Americans and Latinos” as an impetus for the resolution, noting that “from 2007 to 2008, Wells Fargo, and mortgage lenders it has since acquired, was 188 percent more likely to put African American borrowers and 117 percent more likely to put Latino borrowers into higher-cost, subprime loans.”

“What we see around foreclosures is that we have a systemic problem,” said Campos. Over 1,000 homes in San Francisco are currently in the process of foreclosure, 

Supervisor Kim connected the issue to another systemic problem affecting San Francisco, that has been a recent topic of discussion at City Hall: family flight. 

“We do have many low-income families that are actually homeowners in the city, primarily in the southeast sector. But how they afford to buy homes is by squeezing often two to three families in these homes in the southeast. So we’re talking about not just one household when we foreclose on a home, we’re often talking about two, three families with multiple youth and seniors,” said Kim.

“This is something that has been an important issue for many of our supervisors across the political spectrum, is how to retain families in San Francisco. Stopping foreclosure has to be a key part of that.” 

A few supervisors congratulated community organizers for focusing on the foreclosure crisis.

“I want to thank Occupy Bernal for not only shedding light on what’s happening in Bernal Heights, but realizing that the foreclosure crisis that we’re facing is something that involves all of us. Every single neighborhood,” said Campos.

The resolution was introduced to the Board of Supervisors March 20. It will be discussed further at the Land Use and Economic Development committee meeting April 2. 

If it eventually passes the Board of Supervisors, the resolution will be non-binding; a citywide foreclosure moratorium is likely not imminent. Yet many supporters expressed urgency and commitment for city action to address foreclosures. 

“When speaking with the sheriff about how we can stop evictions, what struck me most was he said that sometimes when we walk into these homes, we’ve found that people have committed suicide before the sheriffs even come in,” said Supervisor Kim. “This is a life and death issue for many of our residents.”


Olague explains her support for RCV repeal measure


  Sup. Christina Olague has drawn ire from progressive circles over her pivotal co-sponsorship of a proposed charter amendment that aims to eliminate Ranked Choice Voting in all citywide races. It takes six members of the Board of Supervisors to place the repeal measure on the November ballot and she is the sixth co-sponsor.

Olague has long ties to the progressive community and was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to the District 5 seat, one of the city’s most progressive, in January after Ross Mirkarimi was elected Sheriff. This week, she joined Sean Elsbernd, Carmen Chu, Scott Wiener, and Malia Cohen – all considered moderate/conservative supervisors – in supporting Sup. Mark Farrell’s proposal to replace RCV with runoff elections for the mayor’s race and other citywide offices.

“To me, this isn’t a progressive or moderate issue. This is a democratic one here in San Francisco,” Farrell said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, where he introduced the measure, which will have a hearing next month. “Ranked Choice Voting has continued to confuse and disenfranchise voters here for over a decade and, in my opinion, it’s time to restore our voting system to the one person, one vote rule.”

Farrell’s sentiments mirror a similar line trumpeted by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, a supporter of runoff elections and longtime opponent of RCV. A recent poll commissioned by the Chamber, which claims 58 percent of respondents prefer runoff elections, has been discounted as biased and based on misleading statements. Farrell, who was elected to the District 2 seat in November using RCV, said he would have prefers to eliminate RCV altogether in San Francisco but said, “This is a significant step in the right direction.” A proposed ballot measure by Farrell and Elsbernd to eliminate RCV was rejected by the Board of Supervisors last month.

Steven Hill, who helped crafted the city’s voter-approved RCV system, criticized the move to repeal it: “Critics of RCV have long maintained that voters are confused and even disenfranchised and yet they have offered no credible evidence to support these claims. In fact, the evidence shows just the opposite, that voters understand what they have to do with RCV, which is to rank their ballots, 1, 2, 3, and they are using their ranked ballots effectively.”

In an interview conducted as she was departing the Westbay Community Center on Thursday, Olague initially rebuffed our request to discuss her support for Farrell’s amendment (just as she had an earlier request by the Guardian), but she ultimately relented.

Here’s what she had to say:

Olague: “What it is is that it begins a conversation.  There was talk of eliminating RCV altogether, which I certainly don’t support.  There was talk from a lot of different corners, not just moderate circles, but progressive circles as well, that maybe we need to examine it and see how has it or has it not really been – has it really helped us reach our goals in the way that we had originally intended that it would.”

SFBG: What were those goals?

Olague: “I think it was to try to make sure that more progressives were elected… and make it easier for people who had lesser means to prevail… So I think maybe it is time to reflect on that a little bit.”

SFBG: What parts of RCV don’t you like or don’t support?

Olague: “Well, I think it’s just time to have a conversation about it.  I’m not even sure that I’m against it, per se. When I signed on to it, I believed it was looking at keeping some of the citywide races, where there are fewer numbers of candidates engaged, to reverting back to a runoff, and keeping the races where we have a diversity of candidates and numerous candidates, which are the district races, as they are – which is ranked choice voting.”

“Now there’s some people who say what we need to do is, well, maybe revisit that and maybe just, rather than have it apply to all citywide races, maybe it should just apply to the mayor’s race.”

“So I think there needs to be a conversation and there needs to be a reflection on its effectiveness.  I think that’s what [Sup. John] Avalos and even [Sup. David] Campos were thinking that there needs to be more education – and I do think there needs to be more education as it relates to RCV.”

SFBG: Voters don’t seem to be confused about filling out an RCV ballot, but maybe there’s confusion about how votes are tallied and candidates are eliminated.  It would appear that there’s a myth being spread that voters are confused about filling in a RCV ballot, but that doesn’t appear to be the case…

Olague: “Do you know that?  I think when you talk to people out there on either side of spectrum, politically, I think there’s still a lot of – I don’t think that people have necessarily concluded that this is the most effective way of achieving certain goals.  But, you know, I think it starts a conversation and it may end up that the voters decide, you know, let’s just leave it the way it is, we’re happy with it.”

SFBG: And how would you feel if RCV is completely eliminated?

Olague: “Well it’s not going to be eliminated because there’s nothing in the charter amendment asking that RCV be eliminated.  What I was concerned about was that there was a push to eliminate it altogether, which I don’t support.  What this does, I figured I’ll meet them halfway because I can’t support a complete repeal of RCV and currently the way this charter amendment is drafted, what is does is it keeps RCV in the District elections.  That stays the same, and the citywide elections would be reverting back to a runoff, so it goes to a more citywide for a runoff, ranked choice voting for District [elections]. There is an argument to be made for why that should be the case.”

SFBG: Wouldn’t this eliminate a diversity of candidates if there were a repeal of RCV in citywide races?

Olague: “So let’s have the debate and people may decide, you know, if it’s not a good idea. People may decide they want to push to amend the charter amendment as it is before us.  Some people are thinking it should just apply to the mayor’s race and not other citywide races like public defender and others. So maybe there’ll be amendments to the charter amendment before it even hits the ballot.”

SFBG: Why do you think some people are up in arms over your support on this?

Olague: “I guess, you know, I mean – I just think that everyone is going to sit around and wait for something, right?  They’re, sort of, laying in wait, right? So it’s just what it is, you know – it’s like people are going to agree with me sometimes, they’re not going to agree with me other times.  There are some things that I am doing that is progressive, there are some things people will perceive as not being progressive.”

SFBG: Did you come to this decision by yourself, or was there any influence or pressure from others to vote the way you did on this?

Olague: “No.  I just think it’s funny because it’s like I don’t really succumb to pressure.  I’m willing to start the conversation at some kind of a compromise.  To me, this is as close to a compromise as we’re going to get and then it can start the conversation. So I think the conversation will start and people can assume all kinds of things, and they will.”

SFBG: So you voted in good conscience?  You didn’t have any doubts about your vote?

Olague: “I vote in good conscience, but sometimes you have to go with a compromise.  It’s not completely what you want and it might not be completely what you don’t want, but the alternative might be something that is completely unacceptable, which could be the complete elimination of RCV.”


A version of this story also appears on Fog City Journal, which is run by Luke Thomas.

D5 candidates and constituents scrutinize Olague


San Francisco’s political lines are in the process of being redrawn. That’s true literally, with the current reconstitution of legislative districts based on the latest census, but it’s also true figuratively: old alliances based on identity and ideology are being replaced with uncertain new political dynamics. And nowhere is that more true than in District 5.

In a recent Guardian, we explored the implications of Sup. Christina Olague’s dual (and potentially dueling) loyalties between Mayor Ed Lee, who appointed her to the job, and the progressive political community with which Olague has long identified. Those seemed to play out yesterday when Olague bucked progressives to be the sixth co-sponsor of Sup. Mark Farrell’s proposed charter amendment to repeal ranked-choice voting for citywide offices.

Already, many of her progressive constituents – even those who have strongly supported her – have been privately grumbling that Olague hasn’t been accessible and expressing doubts about her ability to lead one of the city’s most progressive districts. Olague, who initially returned our calls immediately but said she’d have to get back to us about supporting Farrell’s legislation (I’ll add an update if/when she calls back), adamantly denied that she’s had a slow start.

“We’ve been working with constituents constantly,” she said, rattling off a list of nightly meetings. “I’m in the community all the time, getting coffee with folks…We’re working on multiple issues here.”

Michael O’Connor – who owns The Independent and other businesses and who ran in D5 in 2004 and may run again this year – supports Olague but questions the conventional wisdom that her progressive roots and mayoral support make her a lock for reelection this year.

“Olague is an awesome person and she would be a great supervisor in District 9,” O’Connor said, citing her strong ties to the Mission District and work with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition. “But she’s very beatable in D5 because she doesn’t have the deep connections to the community.”

That’s a belief that is shared by others, including London Breed – the executive director of the African American Art & Cultural Center for the last 10 years – who jumped into the race last week and threatened to cut into Olague’s support among Mayor Lee’s supporters.

With Attorney General Kamala Harris and other Lee supporters by her side, Breed cast herself as a more authentic and grassroots representative for the district where she was raised. Or as Harris said, “London understands the challenges and strengths of the district. She is, bar none, the best voice for District 5.”

Left unsaid was the split that her candidacy created among supporters of Lee, whose ascension to Room 200 was engineered largely by former mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown power broker Rose Pak. Brown (along with some of the city’s most influential African American ministers) strongly backed Breed for the D5 appointment, while Pak wanted her ally Malcolm Yeung, although she reportedly got behind Olague in the end.

Breed told us that she was supportive of Olague and that “I’ve been adamant about people giving her a chance and working with her.” But she said that it’s already become “clear that she just doesn’t have what it takes and was probably not going to get there,” based on “the feedback and phone calls I got with the experience people had in meeting her.”

“She’s familiar with planning, but not necessarily with the neighborhood and all its community groups,” Breed said. As for crossing Mayor Lee with her decision to run, Breed told us, “This was a hard decision for me to make because I work with many of these people and have good relationship with him.”

Progressive D5 candidates, such as City College Board President John Rizzo, are waiting to take advantage of votes on which Olague breaks with the progressives to carry water for the mayor. As he told us, “The mayor doesn’t get to make this decision, it’s the voters of this district that will decide.”

Like Breed, Rizzo also emphasized his long ties to the district. “I respect Christina and like Christina, but my connections are very deep,” he said, citing his 26 years of living and working as an environmental activist in the district. “I have a record of going out and taking the initiative and making things happen.”

Thea Selby, president of the Lower Haight Merchants and Neighbors Association, has also been running an active campaign for the D5 job, including highlighting Olague’s split loyalties. “She literally switched camps to help chair the Run Ed Run committee,” she told us. Julian Davis, who ran for D5 supervisor in 2004 and has been rumored to be mulling another run, said that it’s disconcerting just how many elected officials in San Francisco started off with the advantage of being appointed to the office: “It’s not participatory democracy the way we envision it.”

Selby and others will be closely watching how Olague votes this year, and trying to differentiate when those votes are significant (such as being the swing vote to place the challenge to RCV on the ballot) or not (including Olague’s early vote to override Lee’s veto, which fell two votes short of the eight needed). “We need to look and see how she votes on things – and when it matters and when it doesn’t,” Selby said.

Yet already, even before the really big and controversial votes like the upcoming 8 Washington and CPMC projects, Olague is feeling the polar tugs on issues such as bicycling. Many bike advocates are mad that Lee has delayed promised bike lanes on Oak Street and with a rash of tickets that cyclists on the Wiggle have received.

“I’ve long been an advocate of biking, but I know there are issues related to parking in the neighborhood,” Olague told us, straddling the issue. “Parking for some reason is a very controversial issue in the city.”

And where does she come down on the stepped up enforcement of bikes rolling stop signs on the Wiggle? “I want to sit down with the Bike Coalition and see what they think,” Olague said.

Meanwhile, Breed – who is widely considered a political moderate, which could cause her problems winning in D5 – is also trying to position herself as more independent than Olague. “I’m about being progressive,” she told us, citing her recent hiring of a case worker at the AAACC to help young African Americans work through barriers to success. “To me, that’s what being progressive is.”

Breed readily acknowledged her early political support from Brown, who appointed her to the Redevelopment Commission when he was mayor, but said that she would still take a tough stand against Lennar and other developers to ensure the needs of current San Franciscans are being met by new projects.

“I’ve told people, this does not mean you have my support,” Breed said of her political contributors and her support of Lennar’s massive redevelopment of the southeast part of the city. “As my grandmother used to say, all money ain’t good money.”

On Breed’s entrance into the race, Olague told us, “It was expected, so I’m not surprised.” Olague said that she’s begun to set up her election campaign, but that most of her focus has been on getting up to speed at City Hall and in D5: “I’m just trying to focus on the work of the district.”