Tenants

SF supervisors vote to legalize and regulate Airbnb’s short-term rentals

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The San Francisco Board of Supervisors today approved controversial legislation to legalize and regulate short-term housing rentals to tourists, voting 7-4 on the package after supervisors narrowly rejected a series of amendments to rein in an activity that has taken thousands of units off the market for local residents.

Amendments to limit hosted rentals to 90 nights per year, to require that Airbnb pay about $25 million in back transient occupancy taxes it owes the city before the legislation would go into effect, to exclude in-law units from eligibility for short-term rentals, and to limit rentals in single-family home neighborhoods failed on a series of 5-6 votes.

Sups. John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, Norman Yee, and Jane Kim voted as a block on the amendments to limit the scope of short-term rentals facilitated by Airbnb and other companies, as a broad coalition that includes tenant, landlord, labor, neighborhood, and affordable housing groups had sought. Kim parted from that block to vote yes on the final legislation, which the others opposed.

Amendments proposed by Kim to give housing nonprofits the right to file injunctive lawsuits to help enforce the legislation and by Campos to ban short-term rentals in units that have been cleared of tenants by Ellis Act evictions were approved 8-3. But because those changes were substantial, they were turned into trailing legislation that must go back to the Planning Commission.

Despite a series of amendments since Board President David Chiu proposed the legislation over the summer, its basic tenets have changed little. It requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city and rent out only their primary residence, which they must live in for at least 275 days out of the year, with the Planning Department enforcing the regulation on a complaint basis.

That effectively limits the rental of entire homes to 90 days per year, but Chiu, Airbnb, and its hosts strenuously rejected calls to extend that cap to hosted rentals, such as spare bedrooms that might otherwise be available to permanent city residents. Chiu said his legislation was “framed through the lens of our housing affordability crisis,” arguing that many San Franciscans rely on Airbnb income to make their rent.

Avalos said he understands that position, but he said tourists shouldn’t be displacing San Franciscans, proposing the 90-day limit on all short-term rentals. “I think it’s important to maximize our residential housing stock to the utmost,” he said. Mar also voiced strong support for extended the cap, criticizing the “cult-like” beliefs by some home-sharing advocates.

As I’ve been reporting in the Guardian over the last two and a half years, Airbnb and its hosts have been openly defying city laws against short-term rentals, as well as ruling by the Tax Collector’s Office that the city’s transient occupancy tax (aka hotel tax) of about 15 percent applies to short-term rentals.

Airbnb just began to collect that tax for its guests last week, but Campos argued that it should pay those back taxes going back to the city ruling in the spring of 2012 before the city legalizes and validates its activities. Company representatives have said its TOT collection would total about $11 million per year.

“I believe it’s only right that Airbnb make good on its back taxes before this legislation becomes law,” Campos said, arguing this $10 billion company is being rewarded for defying city regulators. “Do we give special treatment to a multi-billion-dollar company?”

But supporters of the legislation were anxious to move it forward, despite the dizzying series of complicated amendments, something Avalos said was unusual. “I’m surprised it was given the green light to leave today,” Avalos told reporters after the vote. “There was a lot of pressure to move it forward.”

Now the question will be whether the Planning Department can effectively enforce the regulations, particularly given that Airbnb has been unwilling to share data that might help in that effort. City officials have seemed powerless to enforce laws against short-term rentals that have been on the books for decades, even with rising public concern about the issue over the last year.

“I’m concerned that the legislation simply isn’t enforceable,” Kim said, arguing for the private right of action component that will be returning for board consideration in the coming months.

The other question is whether we’ve heard the end of an issue that has polarized city residents, or whether the coalition of opponents will succeed in a threatened initiative campaign to put more stringent new short-term rental regulations before voters next year.

Sup. Mark Farrell thanked Chiu for taking on the issue despite the intractable positions on both sides, saying, “I think everyone recognizes this to be a no-win situation.” Wiener are referenced the wide emotional divide on the issue: “The views around it are so intensely divergent.”

“The status quo is not working. This system of home sharing is happening in the shadows with little or no oversight,” Wiener said. “It’s time to bring it out of the shadows.”  

Even supporters of the legislation, such as Breed, said they would continue closely monitoring the situation to ensure the legislation helps curbs widespread abuses of lucrative short-term rentals, including landlords evicting rent-controlled tenants to use Airbnb and entrepreneurial tenants renting out multiple apartments through Airbnb, practices Chiu sought to curb.

“The one thing that I think everyone can agree upon is the status quo is not working,” Chiu said early in the hearing.

After the legislation — which comes back to the board for a perfunctory final vote next week and goes into effect in February barring legal challenges — Airbnb’s Public Policy Director David Owen told the Guardian, “It’s a tremendous step forward and we have a lot of work to do.”

Opponents seek changes in Airbnb legislation before big hearing

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The broad and diverse coalition opposing Sup. David Chiu’s legislation to legalize and regulate Airbnb and other short-term housing rental companies — which the Board of Supervisors will consider tomorrow [Tues/7] — have boiled its many concerns down to three particular demands.

The coalition of tenant and landlord groups, affordable housing and neighborhood advocates, hotel workers and homeowners, and asundry other community leaders held another in a series of rallies on the steps of City Hall on Friday, again raising a variety of concerns.

But now, they’re penned a letter that has “three core recommedations.” The first is a call to limit rentals to 90 nights per year. That has been a feature of Chiu’s legislation from the beginning for unhosted rentals, given that it requires hosts to be permanent residents who live in their units at least 275 days per year, but the legislation still allows hosts to rent out a spare bedroom through Airbnb with few limits.

“If this is not done, the current proposal will allow year-round tourist rentals in every residential unit in the City which will drive up housing prices, create further economic incentive to increase evictions, further deplete housing stock for residents, and deteriorate the quality of life in our residential neighborhoods,” the coalition wrote in a letter to Chiu.

The supervisor had been a little cagey about the 90-day limit in the past, but when we pressed him on the issue during his endorsement interview with the Guardian last week, he confirmed that his legislation would allow spare bedrooms to be rented for more than 90 nights per year.

Chiu said his primary concern with the legislation was ensuring entire homes can’t be rented more than 90 nights per year, which he said was the main threat to the city’s rental housing stock, but he was open to amendments that would limit the rental of spare rooms, although that’s a practice he still wants to allow.

“We are grappling with the idea of what that balance is,” he told us.

The coalition is also asking for the legislation to explicitly ban short-term rentals of below-market-rate units and other affordable housing built with public subsidies. The third recommendation seeks to include “expedited private right of action” in the legislation, allowing neighbors and other third parties to file enforcement actions with the courts without waiting for city enforcement processes to slowly play out first.

That’s been a big problem recently as the San Francisco Tenants Union and other groups try to file lawsuits against landlords that have evicted rent-controlled tenants in favor of tourist rentals through Airbnb and other sites, but they’ve been prevented from doing so by foot-dragging in the Planning Department and Department of Building Inspection.

Members of this coalition will also present individual demands tomorrow, but the coalition also conveyed its opposition to supervisors approving this legislation tomorrow:

“We are unanimous in our position that the process being pursued by Supervisor Chiu is rushed. The City will live with the intended (and unintended) consequences of this legislation for many, many years. We implore you to amend the legislation with the recommendations articulated above, and as necessary postpone the Board hearing on this measure. This is one of the most important housing policy issues the City has faced in a decade, and the ‘solution’ by the Board of Supervisors must be done right and not hurried.”

The legislation will dominate the otherwise sparse agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, which starts at 2pm in City Hall. We’ll be live-tweeting the action, so follow along @sfbg or check back here for the full report. 

Guardian Intelligence: Sept. 24 – 30, 2014

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MASONIC MOONWALK

Beck brought his endlessly funky band to the new Masonic Sept. 19 for opening night, where they ran through melancholy new tunes from this year’s Moon Phase before switching gears toward his more upbeat hits for a serious dance party (there was caution tape involved). See a full review and more photos on our Noise blog at SFBG.com PHOTO BY ERIN CONGER

TIFF TAKES

Bay Guardian film festival correspondent Jesse Hawthorne Ficks returned from the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival, having deployed his usual tactic of seeing as many films as possible — and then writing about them at length on the Pixel Vision blog at SFBG.com. Visit the Pixel Vision blog for his series of posts, including takes on the trend toward ultra-long films (FYI, he’s a huge Lav Diaz fan…), Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence (pictured), Bennett Miller’s Foxcatcher, and other buzzed-about titles. PHOTO COURTESY OF TIFF

DEATH TO CAPITALISM!

The Bay Area’s edition on the Sept. 21 Global Climate Convergence was held on the edge of Lake Merritt in Oakland, where some of the best speakers went full-on commie in connecting capitalism to the climate crisis, calling for revolutionary change. Socialist Action’s Jeff Mackler brought the old-school Trotskyite class analysis while up-and-coming Socialist Alternative (the party of Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant) had a strong presence. The Coup’s Boots Riley opened with an a cappella “Love for the Underdog,” followed by some fiery oratory and a couple more strong songs, including the militant anthem “Ghetto Blaster.” Power to the people!

EXPORTING CYCLETRACKS

San Francisco pushed the envelope in building cycletracks, bike lanes physically separated from cars, before state law allowed them. But on Sept. 20, when Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1193, a bill by Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-SF) that inserted cycletrack standards into state transportation codes, they suddenly became a legal, easy option for cities around the state to start building, just like they already do in Europe. So as cyclist safety improves in California, they can have San Francisco to thanks. You’re welcome.

GLOVER INSPIRES

Major kudos to actor and local hero Danny Glover for his recent visit to the San Francisco County Jail Reentry Pod. “With that great smile and laid-back style, Danny connected with inmates about preparing to get out and staying out,” said Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who spent some time with Glover and inmates preparing for release. “Be the example.” The reentry pod stems from a collaboration between the Sheriff’s Department and Adult Probation, to prepare AB109 prisoners from state realignment for their release. PHOTO COURTESY SF SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

EVICTION PROTECTION

Now you can don condoms against evictions! At Folsom Street Fair, activists handed out condoms adorned by the face of Ellis Act evictor (and leather lover) Jack Halprin. Why are the protesters equating him with an ejaculate receptacle? Halprin purchased a San Francisco property on Guerrero two years ago and filed to evict the tenants under the Ellis Act, one of whom is a San Francisco elementary school teacher with a 2-year-old son. From the condom wrapper: “Jack be simple, Jack’s a dick! Jack’s evictions make us sick!”

TRI-VALLEY POUR-A-THON

This issue of the Guardian is all about delicious travel — here’s something close to home that will have beer lovers gripping their steins. The new Tri-Valley Beer Trail lights up Pleasanton, Livermore, San Ramon, Dublin and Danville with foamy craft goodness — reinstating that area as one of the original homes of California beer (the region formerly contained one of the largest hops farms in the world). Fifteen stops, innumerable beers to try, and warm weather all the way. See www.visittrivalley.com for more details.

OPEN SEASON

Art Explosion Studios, the Mission’s largest artist collective, prides itself on supplying affordable studio space to local painters, sculptors, photographers, jewelers, fashion designers, and other creative types. An affordable situation for artists? In the Mission? What is this, 1994? Support this organization and meet the artists (over 100 in total) right where they do their makin’ at the annual Art Explosion Fall Open Studios. Hit up the opening gala Fri/26, 7-11pm, or stop by Sat/27-Sun/28 from noon-5pm. 2425 17th St, SF; 744 Alabama, SF; www.artexplosionstudios.com.

SHADY TRANSIT DEAL

A wonky tale of woe just got a happy ending. Developers looking to make big bucks from the construction of the new Transbay Terminal tower, now the SalesForce tower, were looking to skim money off San Francisco by reneging on their required taxes, possibly costing the city $1.4 billion dollars. After the developers hired slick ex-Mayor, lobbyist, and SF Chronicle columnist Willie Brown to smooth the deal, they almost got away with saving hundreds of millions of dollars that would go to Muni, pedestrian safety, and infrastructure. At the last minute, the city changed its tune, and now the SoMa area will get the funding it was promised. The people win, and the fat cats lose.

 

This Week’s Picks: Sept 17-23, 2014

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WEDNESDAY/17

 

 

Multiple Mary and Invisible Jane

Flyaway Productions, the aerial dance company that aims to “expose the range and power of female physicality,” will use an 80-foot wall offered up by the UC Hastings College of the Law to perform its new, site-specific dance created for the Tenderloin. If you’ve never seen aerial dance before, get ready to hold your breath as you watch dancers careen, tumble, and pirouette some seven stories up into the stratosphere. But the social justice themes for this performance keep its spirit on the streets, while dancers Erin Mei-Ling Stuart, Alayna Stroud, Marystarr Hope, Becca Dean, Laura Ellis, and Esther Wrobel fly through the air: Multiple Mary and Invisible Jane was choreographed by Jo Kreiter to narrate the experience of homeless women in San Francisco, in a neighborhood where extreme privilege and poverty collide. This afternoon’s performance will also have tabling with housing activists from Tenants Together. (Emma Silvers)

Wed/17-Thu/18 at noon and 8pm; Fri/19-Sat/20 at 8 and 9pm; free

UC Hastings School of the Law

333 Golden Gate, SF

(415) 672-4111

www.flyawayproductions.com

 

THURSDAY/18

 

 

 

Quaaludes

Some know quaaludes as a sedative that was popular in the disco era for its dizzying side effects. Others more hip to San Francisco’s independent music scene know Quaaludes as an all-girl quartet from the city by the Bay. Combining elements of grunge, post-punk, and riot grrrl, the band is unapologetically fierce when it comes to its live shows and lyric matter. In the band’s latest conquest to conquer a primarily male-dominated scene, Quaaludes is releasing its newest 7″ EP, dubbed Nothing New, on Dollskin and Thrillhouse Records this week. In celebration of this and their upcoming tour, the band will be playing with Generation Loss, Bad Daddies and Man Hands at everybody’s favorite Bernal Heights’ dive bar, The Knockout. (Erin Dage)

With Generation Loss, Bad Daddies, Man Hands

10pm, $7

Knockout

3223 Mission, SF

(415) 550-6994

www.theknockoutsf.com

 

 

FRIDAY/19

 

 

Eat Real Festival

Do you like noshing on food that’s as tasty as it is wallet-friendly? (If the answer is negative, the follow-up is: Do you have a pulse?) Oakland’s Eat Real Festival lures some of the most tempting food trucks and vendors in the Bay Area to Jack London Square, none of which will charge more than eight bucks for whatever’s on the menu. Besides affordable, sustainable and local are other key buzzwords at play, but the loudest buzz of all will be emanating from the hungry as they feast on mac n’ cheese, tacos, BBQ, falafel, vegan delights, sweet treats, and more. (Cheryl Eddy)

Today, 1-9pm; Sat/20, 10:30am-9pm; Sun/21, 10:30am-5pm, free

Jack London Square

55 Harrison, Oakl.

www.eatrealfest.com

 

 

 

 

Cine+Mas 6th Annual SF Latino Film Festival

Filmmakers, young and old, parading their versions of the provoca-creative relationship between the eye behind the lens and the image in front of the camera. This 6th edition of the San Francisco Latino Film Festival not only highlights most genres and styles of cinematography but a substantial example of the new Latin American film current. The result might well outshine Hollywood. In El Salvador, there is still a lot to do to settle scores with one of its most prolific (and ignored) poets, and the film Roque Dalton, Let’s Shoot the Night! (Austria, El Salvador, Cuba) is one step forward. In Peru’s Trip to Timbuktu, teenagers Ana and Lucho use love to hide from the social unrest of the ’80s. The festival opens with LA’s Alberto Barboza Cry Now. Films will also be shown in Berkeley, Oakland, and San Jose. (Fernando A. Torres)

Through Sept. 27

7pm, $15 (prices and times vary)

Brava Theater

2781 24th St., SF

(415) 754-9580

www.sflatinofilmfestival.org

 

 

 

Beck

In case you hadn’t heard, the Nob Hill Masonic Center recently had a little work done — a nip here, a tuck there, the installation of 3,300 brand-new seats, a few new bars, food options, and a rather expensive state-of-the-art sound system. Kicking things off at the new-and-improved music venue that will henceforth be known as The Masonic is Beck, who seemingly never ages, and whom you can count on to christen the stage but good with his idiosyncratic blend of funk, rock, and melancholy blues (this year’s Moon Phase was on the mopier side of the spectrum, but in a darn pretty way). The last time we saw him we were freezing our butts off at the Treasure Island Music Festival, so we’re excited to see him moonwalk again (hopefully!) in slightly cozier pastures. (Silvers)

8pm, $85-$120

Masonic

1111 California, SF

(415) 776-7475

www.sfmasonic.com

 

SATURDAY/20

 

 

 

 

“Silent Autumn”

Good news, SF Silent Film Festival fans: The popular “Silent Winter” program is now “Silent Autumn,” and its movie magic (with live musical accompaniment) arrives at the Castro months earlier than usual. The day is packed with top-notch programming, but if you must narrow it down: The British Film Institute-curated “A Night at the Cinema in 1914” showcases newsreels (think votes-for-women protestors and World War I reports), comedies (early Chaplin!), a Perils of Pauline episode, and more; while the freshly restored, memorably creepy German expressionist classic The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) gets its US premiere. (Eddy)

First program at 11am, $15

Castro Theatre

429 Castro, SF

www.silentfilm.org

 

 

 

Samhain

After the breakup of the original Misfits in 1983, Glenn Danzig built upon the horror punk foundation of his first band and added even darker lyrical content, and later on, a more metal sound to the mix, creating Samhain — a group that would go on to release three records before the singer re-tooled the lineup and adopted the eponymous moniker of Danzig. When original members Steve Zing and London May join Danzig on stage in San Francisco tonight — one of only seven gigs that the band is playing on this special reunion tour — you can be assured that “All Hell Breaks Loose!” (Sean McCourt)

With Goatwhore and Kyng

8pm, $30-$45

The Warfield

982 Market, SF

www.thewarfieldtheatre.com

 

 

 

SUNDAY/21

 

 

 

Berkeley World Music Festival

Telegraph Avenue is enough of a spectacle in and of itself on an average day, but on day two of this free fest — which marks the first time organizers have thrown a fall party in addition to the spring festival — the whole street will become a stage, as organizers have closed the Ave to cars between Dwight and Durant. Get ready to hear Zydeco and Canjun sounds, Klezmer tunes, Moroccan Chaabi pop, Zimbabwean dance numbers, Sufi trance, and just about every other kind of international music you can think of. A kids’ section will have puppet shows and street art, while a special beer garden on Telegraph at Haste serves to benefit Berkeley’s beloved Ashkenaz Music & Dance Community Center. No passport necessary. (Silvers)

Starts Sat/20, noon to 6pm, free

Telegraph between Dwight and Durant, Berk.

www.berkeleyworldmusic.org

MONDAY/22 The Raveonettes Grafting lush harmonies, catchy song structures, and timeless production values from 1950s rock ‘n’ roll pioneers such as Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers onto a modern indie approach, The Raveonettes have created an ethereal sound that is virtually all their own. Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo have added fuzz-tone guitars and more on top of their history-steeped musical foundation over the course of several records to great effect, including their latest, Pe’ahi, which hit stores in July. Based on tracks like “Endless Sleeper,” it appears that living in Los Angeles has added a ripping surf twang to their guitar sound — along with other welcome, varied instrumentation. (McCourt) 8pm, $28 Bimbo’s 365 Club 1025 Columbus, SF (415) 474-0365 www.bimbos365club.com TUESDAY/23 Robin Williams Double Feature: The World According to Garp and The Birdcage What is there to say about the beloved comedian that hasn’t already been said? Better to let him speak — rant, sing, preach — for himself, in any of the countless, ridiculous voices in which he spoke. The 1982 adaptation of John Irving’s novel sees Williams in the title role of Garp, alongside Glenn Close making her feature debut, plus John Lithgow’s Academy Award-nominated turn as a transgender jock. And The Birdcage, Mike Nichols’ classic, uproarious 1996 adaptation of La Cage aux Folles, pairs Williams with two of the other finest comedic actors of his generation, Hank Azaria and Nathan Lane, for the original Meet the Parents, so to speak. (Hint: It’s funnier when one of the couples owns a gay nightclub in South Beach.) Shoes optional? (Silvers) 4:45pm, 7pm, 9:30pm, $11 Castro Theatre 429 Castro, SF www.castrotheatre.com George Thorogood Celebrating 40 years of bringing blues and booze-fueled good times to fans around the globe, George Thorogood and The Destroyers continue to be the unabashedly best bar band in the world. Just hearing the first few notes or verses of songs like “Move It On Over,” “I Drink Alone,” “Who Do You Love,” and of course, “Bad to the Bone” transports listeners to a jumpin’ juke joint of yesteryear, where you forget all your daily troubles and just dance the night away — and you know what to order when the bartender asks. Of course, it’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer!” (McCourt) 8pm, $38.50 The Fillmore 1805 Geary, SF (415) 346-3000 www.thefillmore.com The Guardian listings deadline is two weeks prior to our Wednesday publication date. To submit an item for consideration, please include the title of the event, a brief description of the event, date and time, venue name, street address (listing cross streets only isn’t sufficient), city, telephone number readers can call for more information, telephone number for media, and admission costs. Send information to Listings, the Guardian, 835 Market Street, Suite 550, SF, CA 94103; or e-mail (paste press release into e-mail body — no attachments, please) to listings@sfbg.com. Digital photos may be submitted in jpeg format; the image must be at least 240 dpi and four inches by six inches in size. We regret we cannot accept listings over the phone.

Still not sharing

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news@sfbg.com

As controversial legislation to legalize and regulate Airbnb and other short-term housing rental services operating in San Francisco headed for another contentious City Hall hearing on Sept. 15, the San Francisco Treasurer & Tax Collector’s Office quietly unveiled new policies and mechanisms for hosts to finally start paying long-overdue local taxes on their rentals.

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu’s legislation attempts to strike a balance between protecting housing for permanent city residents — including tenants in rent-controlled units who are being displaced in favor of visiting tourists — and allowing San Franciscans to sometimes rent out rooms through companies such as Airbnb. That practice has mushroomed during the Great Recession even though such short-term rentals of residential units have long been illegal in San Francisco (see “Into thin air,” 8/20/13).

Among other provisions, Chiu’s legislation would require hosts to register with the city and live in their units for at least 275 days per year (thus limiting rental nights to 90), create enforcement procedures for city agencies, and protect below-market-rate and single-room occupancy units from being used as short-term rentals.

But Airbnb has also been snubbing the city for more than two years since the Tax Collector’s Office held public hearings and concluded that short-term rental companies and their hosts are required to collect and pay the city’s Transient Occupancy Tax (aka, the hotel tax), a surcharge of about 15 percent on room rentals usually paid by visiting guests (see “Airbnb isn’t sharing,” 3/19/13).

After other media outlets finally joined the Bay Guardian in raising questions about the impact that Airbnb and other companies was having on San Francisco — and with cities New York City, Berlin, and other cities taking steps to ban short-term rentals — Airbnb announced in March that it would begin collecting and paying the TOT in San Francisco sometime this summer.

But that still hasn’t happened, even though Tax Collector Jose Cisneros recently unveiled a new website clarifying that Airbnb hosts must register as businesses and pay taxes and created a streamlined system for doing so. The office is even allowing Airbnb and other companies to register as “qualified website companies” that collect and pay these taxes on behalf of hosts.

“The law does apply to these transactions,” Cisneros told us. “And the set of requirements are the same for the hosts and the website companies.”

Airbnb didn’t respond to Guardian inquiries for this story.

Meanwhile, an unusually diverse coalition of critics continues to raise concerns about Airbnb and the regulatory legislation, including renter and landlord groups, neighborhood and affordable housing activists, labor leaders, and former members of the Board of Supervisors (including Chiu predecessor, Aaron Peskin) and Planning Commission. They penned a Sept. 15 to Chiu calling for him to delay the legislation.

“Individually and collectively, we have advanced nearly two dozen additional amendments that address the issues raised by short-term residential rentals. While we are not of one mind on every issue or every suggested amendment, we are unanimous in our belief that the process you are pursuing is rushed,” they wrote. “The City will live with the intended (and unintended) consequences of your legislation for many, many years.”

Sources in Chiu’s office had already told the Guardian that he planned to keep the legislation in committee for at least one more hearing so the myriad details can be worked out, as Chiu said at the hearing as well.

“We want to have the time to continue to vet and hear all of the perspectives, and at the end of the day what I hope to do is to be able to move forward and build incentives around something that is far better than our current status quo,” Chiu said at the hearing. “This is a very complicated issue, and we all know that we need to get this policy as right as we can.”

Planning Director John Rahaim conveyed concerns from the Planning Commission that the legislation beef up the city’s ability to regulate short-term rentals.

“The commission does believe that the law should be updated to create a legal avenue for those who do want to host,” Rahaim said. “However, currently there are about 5,000 units in the city engaging in short-term rentals. It’s very difficult to know if there are units not being lived in by a full-time resident.”

A long line of speakers wound completely around the packed chamber in City Hall, awaiting their turn to speak publicly to supervisors and city residents, from 20-somethings making a lives renting out their homes to longtime tenants fearing that home-sharing will hurt city’s character.

Airbnb was represented at the hearing by David Owen, a former City Hall staffer who is now director of public policy for the company, and he was publicly confronted by Chiu on the tax issue. Chiu criticized Airbnb for failing to start collecting those taxes as promised.

“As of now, we are extremely close and you will be hearing from us about that in the near future,” Owen said, provoking audible disbelief from many in the crowd. “We have been working diligently alongside the city. This is a complicated set of issues and those involved have all worked in earnest to facilitate this request.”

When Owen was asked about enforcement of the maximum number of nights a tenant has rented out his unit, he said Airbnb’s cooperation is “akin to the city asking Home Depot.com for a list of home care purchases to see if anyone had illegally renovated their bathroom.” But city officials say they need the company’s cooperation to address its impacts. “We don’t want data, just the number of nights per permanent resident so that we can ensure that the bad outcomes of this setup aren’t occurring,” Sup. Jane Kim said. “Airbnb profits from this industry, and therefore [is] accountable to the city.”

Grassroots campaigns work to counter the influence of big donors

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Big money is pouring into a few campaign committees for the fall election, with Big Soda targeting the soda tax, Realtors gunning for the anti-speculation tax, and the Fisher family last week giving $500,000 to promote artificial turf playing fields in SF (Yes on I, No on H), according to campaign filings. But low-budget grassroots campaigns are still having a strong presence at public events like the Sept. 14 Sunday Streets in Western Addition.

San Franciscans Against Real Estate Speculation, Yes on G, had activists out in force even though it has only raised a few thousand dollars. Its biggest contribution so far is $5,000 from attorney Dean Preston of Tenants Together, who was out there spreading the word near Alamo Square Park, along with campaign consultant Quintin Mecke, the runner-up in the 2007 mayor’s race.

One of the more surprising grassroots campaign of the season is No on L, San Franciscans Against Gridlock, which is campaigning against the pro-motorist Restore Transportation Balance initiative, a measure aimed at undermining the city’s transit-first policy and promoting more free parking.

The Yes on L campaign hasn’t shown much sign of life since the summer when it spent nearly $50,000 on its signature-gathering effort out of about $83,000 raised (including $49,000 from tech titan Sean Parker), but it was sitting on nearly $35,000 in the bank as of July 16.

But the No on L crowd is taking this attack on sustainable transportation policies seriously, and it’s hoping to fill its fairly meager coffers ($5,000 from Daniel Murphy on Sept. 6 is its biggest donation) this evening [Tues/16] from 6-8pm with a fundraiser at Public Bikes, 549 Hayes Street.

That event is hosted by a bevy of transportation activists and Sup. Scott Wiener, David Chiu, and Jane Kim. As the campaign says, “If you care about helping to build a better transit system, a more walkable and bicycle-friendly city, and reducing car congestion in San Francisco, the No on Gridlock, No on L campaign needs your support to raise money to educate voters.”  

Tenants face absurd lawsuits as “low-fault” evictions increase

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An annual report issued by the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC) highlights some of the outrageous reasons landlords use to evict tenants. Since 2009, EDC reported, there’s been a 62 percent increase in the number of breach-of-lease cases citywide.

Violations cited in the report included offenses such as “parking outside the parking lines,” or even cooking during nighttime hours.

One tenant, Clifton Reed, was evicted along with his young family after a sudden $1,000-per-month rent increase, which the landlord claimed was for storing construction equipment in the garage of their Bernal Heights home, something they’d previously done without a problem. “We were tenants living in the neighborhood for 20 years,” Reed told the Guardian.

The family sought assistance from EDC, who fought the eviction charges and negotiated a settlement with the landlord.

The drawn-out eviction case eventually ended with an $8,500 settlement and a 90-day timeframe for him and his family to move out, Reed said. After evicting the other tenants in the building following Reed’s eviction, the landlord eventually sold the property for approximately $1.8 million. 

Reed, who now lives in Vallejo but still commutes to the city, said the recent wave of evictions in San Francisco has particularly impacted artists and musicians from his old neighborhood. “They’re targeting income levels, and musicians don’t make a lot of money,” he said. “It’s really a shame.”

According to the EDC report, 20 percent of evicted households assisted by the nonprofit legal aid group – which represented 94 percent of San Francisco tenants facing just-cause eviction lawsuits in 2013 – had at least one child under 18 years old.

Families weren’t the only disproportionately impacted group, as 88 percent of total tenant households targeted with eviction lawsuits were also low-income, defined as making at or less than $36,950 per year for an individual. And 29 percent of the eviction cases concerned tenants housed in units owned by landlords who receive city funding, such as supportive housing in single-room occupancy hotels.

The EDC report also signaled that San Francisco’s communities of color remain at the forefront of the eviction crisis. According to the report, although San Francisco’s black population is only 6 percent, people who identify as African American represented 29 percent of those impacted by eviction in 2013. Additionally, 40 percent of tenants evicted from the Bayview neighborhood identified as black or African American.

Non-English speakers were also targeted, as 22 percent of evictions from the Mission District impacted households who spoke a language other than English.

The rise in “low-fault” evictions in 2013 occurred on a parallel track with no-fault evictions, which have received a great deal of media attention. Evictions that are based on an alleged action or violation by a tenant, as opposed to no-fault evictions initiated under the Ellis Act, for instance, grant less time for a tenant to vacate their unit. They’re easier on landlord’s wallets and don’t restrict subsequent use of a unit.

Low-fault evictions, or minor breach-of-lease cases, are providing the ideal platform for landlords to oust their tenants while still claiming some type of violation, the report indicates. The lengthy, complicated suits are often difficult for tenants to defend themselves against.

The EDC report showed an absence of court appearances in 38 percent of the 3,423 Residential Unlawful Detainers cases in 2013, demonstrating that tenants did not respond to the eviction notice in within the five-day deadline. 

“Tenants just miss this narrow window,” said Tyler McMillan, executive director of the EDC. “It’s one of the shortest timelines in the court system.”

Eviction notices have demanded tenants leave in as little as 10 days, as was the case of EDC client Joann Agnew-Porter. Agnew-Porter’s daughter, who lived in the unit, was laid off her job and scraping by on a fixed income. Their rental building, Friendship Village, an affordable housing community in the Western Addition, had been paying back-rent, when suddenly the mother and daughter pair received an eviction notice, giving them 10 days to come up with $2,100 of back-rent or leave the premises.

“I couldn’t come up with that,” Agnew-Porter said. “We’ve always been good tenants; we’re working people, we haven’t had loud music or people hanging out outside, none of that,” she added. After receiving assistance from EDC, a court determined that the apartment manager had mistakenly charged them that amount of back-rent.

“The story of increasing “low-fault” evictions is one that impacts some of San Francisco’s most vulnerable communities and ultimately threatens the diversity that makes San Francisco so unique,” the EDC report said.

The full report is available online at the EDC website here.

Viracocha is legit! Here are five things from the past five years that we wish we could’ve written about

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As you may have heard by now, Viracocha — everyone’s favorite Never-Never Land of a music venue/spoken word performance space/speakeasy/antiques store/beautiful place to stop and use the bathroom should you find yourself having to pee on Valencia — has gone legit.

After nearly a year of fundraising, inspections, and meetings with the city’s Entertainment Commission, the dreamily lit basement stage that has played host to so many awesome events will now be operating with an official venue permit.

No longer working under the veil of semi-secrecy, the folks who run the space (the tireless founder Jonathan Siegel, with help from new business partner Norah Hoover and a slew of local artists and musician employees) have spent the last six months renovating the space to meet city standards, and will now be free to actually publicize the venue’s shows. They’ll celebrate tonight with a free little gathering/party at Viracocha from 8pm to midnight — open to the public, legally, for the first time. [See a note Siegel sent to supporters early this morning at the end of this post.]

The booking process is also on the up-and-up, so bands, bookers — if you’ve always wanted to play that room but were unsure about the logistics of setting up a show you weren’t allowed to promote? Drop ’em a line.

Now, full disclosure: Roughly half the people I love in the SF arts scene have at one time or another played there, worked there, or lived there. I’ve watched Siegel give jobs to kids who arrived in San Francisco with very little, and then watched those kids make it a home. If employees or event attendees are there late and anyone seems drunk, he’ll order five pizzas. It’s been problematic, it’s seemed improbable, it has at times appeared to almost be a parody of itself and/or San Francisco. There’s a goddamn lending library in the back room that looks like it was built by whimsical 19th century fairies and chipmunks. But I adore Viracocha, and have wanted it to thrive the way you fall for the runt of any litter, the way you root for any underdog.

What this has meant, practically, as a music journalist, is that while the place is very close to my heart, it’s also been exceedingly frustrating to watch awesome shit happen there and not be able to write about it. Especially since the illegality meant that all things were basically equal and welcome — if that tame poetry reading you want to host is illegal, and so is the free workshop on tenants’ rights? Well, there’s nothing really more illegal about an aerial dance performance/dinner party/burlesque show. It was anything goes, and truly, anything went.

In closing: Congrats, Viracocha. And here are five-plus things that may or not have happened there that I really wish I could’ve written about.

1. The week after Amy Winehouse died, a bunch of local cats (many of whom normally command a pretty penny for live shows) got together to throw a last-minute tribute night revue of sorts. Folks dressed up. There was much sad drinking.

2. Jolie Holland played a week-long residency there, living in the tiny attic apartment attached to the store, and playing shows every night, lulling the packed room into a breathless trance.

3. That there video above (which is not great in visual quality I realize…but oh man, that voice) is also from a regular poetry/music/anything-goes revue called You’re Going to Die, started by writer Ned Buskirk, which continues to bring out some of the city’s finest writers and spoken word artists in addition to musicians. See SF writer and Rumpus film editor Anisse Gross reading at another one here:

4. A staged reading of an early, weird, rarely performed play by Louis CK, starring The Coup‘s Boots Riley as a dumb cop.

5. Hella music video shoots, with both local and big-name folks. Below: Wolf Larsen, and  Atmosphere.

6. Porn. (Supposedly.) (Did not see with own eyes.) (Unfortunately do not have video.)

Viracocha’s at 998 Valencia.

See you tonight?

Dear Steadfast Supporters, Family & Friends,

Viracocha is now open to the public, as a live venue in San Francisco!

Through many a trial — months of obstacles, pitfalls, setbacks, missteps, and hard choices — and by the unwavering energy, dedication and resolve of our staff & crew…we finally made it!

Five years ago, Viracocha began as space where creative people and their work could find advocacy. Our contributors arrived from many walks of life and varied circles within the local arts and performing community. That is, until December 2013, when we closed our doors, temporarily, to begin the process of legalizing our venue with the city. We created this underground space, despite the risk, because we felt that San Francisco needed a cultural anchor for its diverse artistic community  a place to gather and express who we are. There is a voice within each of us that yearns to be heard. In a city like ours, it’s easy to feel reduced to a face in a crowd, a point on a graph, a nameless number. We built our venue to become an intimate, welcoming place, where people can feel understood, connect, and feel less alone.

At times, Viracocha seemed to exist beyond the parameters of logic and pragmatism. We’ve had to be discreet when we talk about our space, and at times we’ve been misunderstood, misinterpreted, or misquoted.  When people asked “What is Viracocha, exactly? Who, actually, is behind it?” — the answers were as varied as the items in our shop.  Does secrecy create it’s own allure?  Perhaps so…but now’s the time to put secrets to rest, and open our doors to you! Come and meet the people who call Viracocha home — the poets, artists, and musicians who have worked and played here, laughed and cried, performed and shared. This place was built for you (yes you!) and for all of us — come on by!!

— Jonathan Siegel

Rising tenant buyouts in SF targeted by new legislation and map

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A new interactive map published today by the Anti Eviction Mapping Project shows the spike in tenancy buyouts over the last year in San Francisco, just in time to raise awareness for Sup. David Campos’ proposed legislation to document and regulate tenant buyouts, which has a hearing later this month.

The map only records buyouts reported to the San Francisco Tenants Union, up 126 percent from 2012 to 2013 and expected to be even higher when data for 2014 is collected, but the Tenants Union estimates the number to be only about one-third of the buyouts actually taking place.

Campos’s legislation, which will go before the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee on Sept. 22, seeks to record any buyout taking place in San Francisco with the rent board, and to guarantee the information of tenants rights to the tenant being bought out. [UPDATE: Because of the likely fiscal impacts of the legislation, it has been moved to the Budget & Finance Committee for its first hearing, with no hearing date scheduled yet]. 

“Regulating and recording buyouts isn’t going to stop them, we don’t believe that’s something within our power or within our rights,” Erin McElroy, a member of the Anti Eviction Mapping Project, told us.

The legislation will, however, impose the same condo conversion prohibitions that are already in place for no-fault evictions. The buyouts were virtually nonexistent before 2006, when San Francisco passed legislation severely limiting the conversion to condos of units that had been cleared of tenants use no-fault evictions.

“Buyouts are really the main way that landlords are evicting tenants,” Ted Gullickson, executive director of the Tenants Union, told us. “They threaten them with an Ellis Act eviction, then come in sweet with a buyout. We need legislation that takes away the incentive for one of the biggest methods of displacement in the city.”

“There are just so many components to the housing crisis [in San Francisco] that we need to know all that we can,” McElroy said. “Most tenants don’t know their rights and they often aren’t being offered enough.”

But groups with opposing views don’t believe that keeping a public record of a private contract is legal.

“Buyouts are mutually beneficial for both landlords and tenants. A tenant can get the money they need so that they can put down a mortgage on their own home,” Charlie Goss from the San Francisco Apartment Association told us. “It’s also a private contract. At face value, there is nothing wrong with recording buyouts, it just may not be constitutional.”

Both sides of the aisle are heated, and Gullickson expects a long fight before the legislation makes any progress, but he thinks that if the tenants side can persuade the more moderate supervisors, it can go through.

Realtors give $600,000 to defeat anti-speculation tax

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Two Realtor groups have dumped nearly $600,000 into the campaign against Prop. G, the tax on flipping properties to discourage real estate speculation and evictions in San Francisco, a massive early donation that could signal the beginning of a campaign onslaught by the Realtors.

A campaign group calling itself Stop the Housing Tax, No on G, and Coalition of Homeowner, Renter, and Real Estate Organizations received a $425,000 donation from the California Association of Realtors Issues Mobilization PAC on Sept. 4 and $170,000 from the San Francisco Association of Realtors on Aug. 26, according to filings with the Ethics Commission.

Apparently, the Realtors recognize they have a strong financial stake in encouraging the flipping of houses within one to five years of being sold, on which the measure would levy a graduated tax of 24-14 percent in order to discourage. Such quick turnarounds often involve evicting tenants in order to increase a home’s market value.

Representatives for the Realtors didn’t immediately return our calls, but Sara Shortt, executive director of the Housing Rights Committee of San Francisco and a supporter of Prop. G, told us the huge donations indicate what’s really driving opposition to the measure.

“Make no mistake: the polished No on G mailer you receive spouting lies such as ‘G will hurt homeowners’ is coming directly from the mouths of the Realtors, the very people who have the most to gain by continuing to allow for evictions and flipping of apartments,” Shortt told the Guardian. “These are the same players who dumped piles of money to kill Ellis Act reform in Sacramento. And these are the same people who are making windfall profits by evicting low income tenants in San Francisco and wreaking havoc on our neighborhoods.”

UPDATE: Jay Cheng with the SF Association of Realtors just sent us an email that said, “We are working to raise funds to defeat the tax on housing, which will make San Francisco even less affordable to middle class families. We’re proud the people who know the most about housing are stepping up to defeat this tax, which will only backfire and make housing more expensive.”

Know the most, or profit the most? We asked a follow-up question about whether financial self-interest prompted the donations, and we’ll update this post if and when we hear back.  

Tom’s legacy

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steve@sfbg.com

At a moment when San Francisco politics has slid toward the slippery center — when one-time progressives align with business elites, the political rhetoric seems hollow, and the vaunted value of “civility” in City Hall increasingly looks more like a deceptive power grab by the Mayor’s Office — it feels so refreshing to talk with Tom Ammiano.

For one thing, he’s hilarious, always quick with quips that are not only funny, but often funny in insightful ways that distill complex issues down to their essence, delivered with his distinctive nasally honk and lightning timing. Ammiano developed as a stand-up comedian and political leader simultaneously, and the two professional sides feed off each other, alternatively manifesting in disarming mirth or penetrating bite.

But his humor isn’t the main reason why Ammiano — a 72-year-old state legislator, two-time mayoral candidate, and former supervisor and school board member — has become such a beloved figure on the left of state and local politics, or why so many progressives are sad to see him leaving the California Assembly and elected office this year for the first time since 1990.

No, perhaps the biggest reason why public esteem for Ammiano has been strong and rising — particularly among progressives, but also among those of all ideological stripes who decry the closed-door dealmaking that dominates City Hall and the State Capitol these days — is his political integrity and courage. Everyone knows where Tom Ammiano will stand on almost any issue: with the powerless over the powerful.

“Don’t make it about yourself, make it about what you believe in,” Ammiano told us, describing his approach to politics and his advice to up-and-coming politicians.

Ammiano’s positions derive from his progressive political values, which were informed by his working class upbringing, first-hand observations of the limits of American militarism, publicly coming out as a gay teacher at time when that was a risky decision, standing with immigrants and women at important political moments, and steadily enduring well-funded attacks as he created some of San Francisco’s most defining and enduring political reforms, from domestic partner benefits and key political reforms to universal health care.

“He has been able to remain true to his values and principles of the progressive movement while making significant legislative accomplishments happen on a number of fronts,” Sup. David Campos, who replaced Ammiano on the Board of Supervisors and is now his chosen successor in the California Assembly, told the Guardian. “I don’t know that we’ve fully understood the scope of his influence. He has influenced the city more than most San Francisco mayors have.”

So, as we enter the traditional start of fall election season — with its strangely uncontested supervisorial races and only a few significant ballot measures, thanks to insider political manipulations — the Guardian spent some time with Ammiano in San Francisco and in Sacramento, talking about his life and legacy and what can be done to revive the city’s progressive spirit.

 

 

LIFE OF THE CAPITOL

Aug. 20 was a pretty typical day in the State Capitol, perhaps a bit more relaxed than usual given that most of the agenda was concurrence votes by the full Senate and Assembly on bills they had already approved once before being amended by the other house.

Still, lobbyists packed the hall outside the Assembly Chambers, hoping to exert some last minute influence before the legislative session ended (most don’t bother with Ammiano, whose name is on a short list, posted in the hall by the Assembly Sergeant-at-Arms, of legislators who don’t accept business cards from lobbyists).

One of the bills up for approval that day was Ammiano’s Assembly Bill 2344, the Modern Family Act, which in many ways signals how far California has come since the mid-’70s, when Ammiano was an openly gay schoolteacher and progressive political activist working with then-Sup. Harvey Milk to defeat the homophobic Briggs Initiative.

The Modern Family Act updates and clarifies the laws governing same-sex married couples and domestic partners who adopt children or use surrogates, standardizing the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved. “With a few simple changes, we can help families thrive without needless legal battles or expensive court actions,” Ammiano said in a press statement publicizing the bill.

Ammiano arrived in his office around 10am, an hour before the session began, carrying a large plaque commending him for his legislative service, given to outgoing legislators during a breakfast program. “Something else I don’t need,” Ammiano said, setting the plaque down on a table in his wood-paneled office. “I wonder if there’s a black market for this shit.”

Before going over the day’s legislative agenda, Ammiano chatted with his Press Secretary Carlos Alcala about an editorial in that morning’s San Francisco Chronicle, “Abuse of disabled-parking program demands legislators act,” which criticized Ammiano for seeking minor changes in a city plan to start charging for disabled placards before he would sponsor legislation to implement it. The editorial even snidely linked Ammiano to disgraced Sen. Leland Yee, who is suspended and has nothing to do with the issue.

“I’ve had these tussles with the Chronicle from day one. They just want people to be angry with me,” Ammiano told us. “You stand up for anything progressive and they treat you like a piñata.”

He thought the criticism was ridiculous — telling Alcala, “If we do a response letter, using the words puerile and immature would be good” — and that it has as much to do with denigrating Ammiano, and thus Campos and other progressives, as the issue at hand.

“Anything that gets people mad at me hurts him,” Ammiano told us.

But it’s awfully hard to be mad at Tom Ammiano. Even those on the opposite side of the political fence from him and who clash with him on the issues or who have been subjected to his caustic barbs grudgingly admit a respect and admiration for Ammiano, even Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who told the Guardian as much when we ran into him on the streets of Sacramento later that day.

Ammiano says he rarely gets rattled by his critics, or even the handful of death threats that he’s received over the years, including the one that led the San Francisco Police Department to place a protective detail on him during the 1999 mayor’s race.

“You are buoyed by what you do, and that compensates for other feelings you have,” Ammiano said of safety concerns.

Finally ready to prepare for the day’s business, he shouts for his aides in the other room (“the New York intercom,” he quips). The first question is whether he’s going to support a bill sponsored by PG&E’s union to increase incentives for geothermal projects in the state, a jobs bill that most environmental groups opposed.

“That is a terrible bill, it’s total shit, and I’m not going to support it,” Ammiano tells his aide. “It’s a scam.”

As Ammiano continued to prepare for the day’s session, we headed down to the Assembly floor to get ready to cover the action, escorted by Alcala. We asked what he planned to do after Ammiano leaves Sacramento, and Alcala told us that he’ll look at working for another legislator, “but there would probably be a lot more compromises.”

 

 

SPARKING CHANGE

Compromises are part of politics, but Ammiano has shown that the best legislative deals come without compromising one’s political principles. Indeed, some of his most significant accomplishments have involved sticking to his guns and quietly waiting out his critics.

For all the brassy charm of this big personality — who else could publicly confront then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at a Democratic Party fundraiser in 2009 and tell him to “kiss my gay ass!” — Ammiano has usually done the work in a way that wasn’t showy or self-centered.

By championing the reinstatement of district supervisorial elections and waging an improbable but electrifying write-in campaign for mayor in 1999 (finishing second before losing to incumbent Willie Brown in the runoff election), Ammiano set the stage for progressives to finally win control of the Board of Supervisors in 2000 and keep it for the next eight years, forming an effective counterbalance to Gavin Newsom’s pro-business mayoralty.

“I just did it through intuition,” Ammiano said of his 1999 mayoral run, when he jumped into the race just two weeks before election day. “There was a lot of electricity.”

After he made the runoff, Brown and his allies worked aggressively to keep power, leaning on potential Ammiano supporters, calling on then-President Bill Clinton to campaign for Brown, and even having Jesse Jackson call Ammiano late one night asking him to drop out.

“That’s when we realized Willie really felt threatened by us,” Ammiano said, a fear that was well-founded given that Ammiano’s loss in the runoff election led directly into a slate of progressives elected to the Board of Supervisors the next year. “It was a pyrrhic victory for him because then the board changed.”

But Ammiano didn’t seize the spotlight in those heady years that followed, which often shone on the younger political upstarts in the progressive movement — particularly Chris Daly, Matt Gonzalez, and Aaron Peskin — who were more willing to aggressively wage rhetorical war against Newsom and his downtown constituents.

By the time the 2003 mayor’s race came, Ammiano’s mayoral campaign became eclipsed by Gonzalez jumping into the race at the last minute, a Green Party candidate whose outsider credentials contrasted sharply with Newsom’s insider inevitability, coming within 5 percentage points of winning.

“I just bounced back and we did a lot of good shit after that,” Ammiano said, noting how district elections were conducive to his approach to politics. “It helped the way I wanted to govern, with the focus on the neighborhoods instead of the boys downtown.”

Perhaps Ammiano’s greatest legislative victory as a supervisor was his Health Care Security Ordinance, which required employers in San Francisco to provide health coverage for their employees and created the Healthy San Francisco program to help deliver affordable care to all San Franciscans.

The business community went ballistic when Ammiano proposed the measure in 2006, waging an aggressive lobbying and legal campaign to thwart the ordinance. But Ammiano just quietly took the heat, refused to compromise, and steadily lined up support from labor, public health officials, and other groups that were key to its passage.

“Maybe the early days of being a pinata inured me,” Ammiano said of his ability to withstand the onslaught from the business community for so long, recalling that in his 1999 school board race, “I really became a pinata. I got it in the morning from the Chronicle and in the afternoon from the Examiner.”

Ammiano kept Newsom apprised of his intentions and resolve, resisting entreaties to water down the legislation. “I kept talking to him and I told him I was going to do it,” Ammiano said. “Eventually, we got a 11 to zip vote and Newsom couldn’t do anything about it. That was a great journey.”

In the end, Newsom not only supported the measure, but he tried to claim Ammiano’s victory as his own, citing the vague promise he had made in his 2007 State of the City speech to try to provide universal health care in the city and his willingness to fund the program in his 2007-08 budget.

But Ammiano was happy with the policy victory and didn’t quibble publicly with Newsom about credit. “I picked my battles,” Ammiano said, contrasting his approach to Newsom with that of his more fiery progressive colleagues. “I tried to go after him on policy, not personality.”

Ammiano isn’t happy with the political turn that San Francisco has taken since he headed to Sacramento, with the pro-business, fiscally conservative faction of the city controlling the Mayor’s Office and exerting a big influence on the Board of Supervisors. But San Francisco’s elder statesman takes the long view. “Today, the board has a moderate trajectory that can be annoying, but I think it’s temporary,” Ammiano said. “These things are cyclical.”

He acknowledges that things can seem to a little bleak to progressives right now: “They’re feeling somewhat marginalized, but I don’t think it’s going to stay that way.”

 

FLOOR SHOW

Back on the Assembly floor, Ammiano was working the room, hamming it up with legislative colleagues and being the first of many legislators to rub elbows and get photos taken with visiting celebrities Carl Weathers, Daniel Stern, and Ron Perlman, who were there to support film-credit legislation

“Ron Perlman, wow, Sons of Anarchy,” Ammiano told us afterward, relating his conversation with Perlman. “I said, ‘They killed you, but you live on Netflix.’ I told him I was big fan. Even the progressives come here for the tax breaks.”

When Little Hoover Commission Chair Pedro Nava, who used to represent Santa Barbara in the Assembly, stopped to pose with Ammiano for the Guardian’s photographer, the famously liberal Ammiano quipped, “You’ll get him in trouble in Santa Barbara. Drill, baby, drill!”

Ammiano chairs the Assembly Public Safety Committee, where he has successfully pushed prison reform legislation and helped derail the worst tough-on-crime bills pushed by conservatives. “We have a lot of fun, and we get a chance to talk about all these bills that come before us,” Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont), who chairs the Judiciary Committee, told the Guardian when asked about Ammiano. “You can see how these bad bills get less bad.”

Ammiano gave a short speech when his Modern Family Act came up for a vote, noting that it “simplifies the law around these procedures,” before the Assembly voted 57-2 to send it to the governor’s desk, where he has until Sept. 30 to act on it. “I think he’ll sign it,” Ammiano told the Guardian, “even though it’s about reproduction and naughty bits.”

“He’s a hoot,” Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) said of Ammiano, whose desk is right behind his own. Jones-Sawyer said that he’d love to see Ammiano run for mayor of San Francisco, “but he’s waiting for a groundswell of support. Hopefully the progressives come together.”

Jones-Sawyer said Ammiano plays an important role as the conscience of a Legislature that too often caters to established interests.

“There’s liberal, progressive, socialist, communist, and then there’s Tom,” Jones said. “As far left as you can go, there’s Tom, and that’s what we’re going to miss.”

Yet despite that strong progressive reputation, Ammiano has also been an amazingly effective legislator (something that might surprise those supporting the campaign of David Chiu, which has repeatedly claimed that ideological progressives like Ammiano and Campos can’t “get things done” in Sacramento).

Last year, Ammiano got 13 bills through the Legislature — including three hugely controversial ones: the TRUST Act, which curbs local cooperation with federal immigration holds; the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights; and a bill protecting transgender student rights in schools, which was savaged by conservative religious groups — all of which were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“A lot of it is personal relationships, some is timing, and some is just sticking to it,” Ammiano said of effectiveness.

Some of his legislative accomplishments have required multiyear efforts, such as the Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, which was vetoed in 2012 before being signed into law last year with only a few significant changes (see “Do we care?” 3/26/13).

“Tom Ammiano was so incredible to work with,” Katie Joaquin, campaign coordinator for the California Domestic Workers Coalition, for whom the bill had long been a top priority, told the Guardian.

The large grassroots coalition backing the bill insisted on being a part of the decision-making as it evolved, which is not always easy to do in the fast-paced Capitol. But Joaquin said Ammiano’s history of working with grassroots activists made him the perfect fit for the consensus-based coalition.

“That’s difficult to do in the legislative process, and working with Tom and his office made that possible,” Joaquin told us. “He wanted to make sure we had active participation in the field from a variety of people who were affected by this.”

When the bill was vetoed by Gov. Brown, who cited paternalistic concerns that better pay and working conditions could translate into fewer jobs for immigrant women who serve as domestic workers, Joaquin said Ammiano was as disappointed as the activists, but he didn’t give up.

“It was really hard. I genuinely felt Tom’s frustration. He was going through the same emotions we were, and it was great that he wanted to go through that with us again,” Joaquin told us. “Sometimes, your allies can get fatigued with the long struggles, but Tom maintained his resolve and kept us going.”

And after it was over, Ammiano even organized the victory party for the coalition and celebrated the key role that activists and their organizing played in making California only the second state in the nation (after New York) to extend basic wage, hour, and working condition protections to nannies, maids, and other domestic workers excluded under federal law.

“He has a great sense of style,” Joaquin said of Ammiano, “and that emanates in how he carries himself.”

 

 

COMING OUT

Ammiano came to San Francisco in 1964, obtaining a master’s degree in special education from San Francisco State University and then going on to teach at Hawthorne Elementary (now known as Cesar Chavez Elementary). He quickly gained an appreciation for the complex array of issues facing the city, which would inform the evolution of his progressive worldview.

“In teaching itself, there were a lot of social justice issues,” Ammiano said. For example, most native Spanish-speakers at the time were simply dumped into special education classes because there wasn’t yet bilingual education in San Francisco schools. “So I turned to the community for help.”

The relationships that he developed in the immigrant community would later help as he worked on declaring San Francisco a sanctuary city as waves of Central American immigrants fled to California to escape US-sponsored proxy wars.

Growing up a Catholic working class kid in New Jersey, Ammiano was no hippie. But he was struck by the brewing war in Vietnam strongly enough that he volunteered to teach there through a Quaker program, International Volunteer Service, working in Saigon from 1966-68 and coming back with a strong aversion to US militarism.

“I came back from Vietnam a whole new person,” he told us. “I had a lot of political awakenings.”

He then worked with veterans injured during the war and began to gravitate toward leftist political groups in San Francisco, but he found that many still weren’t comfortable with his open homosexuality, an identity that he never sought to cover up or apologize for.

“I knew I was gay in utero,” Ammiano said. “I said you have to be comfortable with me being a gay, and it wasn’t easy for some. The left wasn’t that accepting.”

But that began to change in the early ’70s as labor and progressives started to find common cause with the LGBT community, mostly through organizations such as Bay Area Gay Liberation and the Gay Teachers Coalition, a group that Ammiano formed with Hank Wilson and Ron Lanza after Ammiano publicly came out as a gay teacher in 1975.

“He was the first public school teacher to acknowledge that he was a gay man, which was not as easy as it sounds in those days,” former Mayor Art Agnos told us, crediting Ammiano with helping make support for gay rights the default political position that it became in San Francisco.

San Francisco Unified School District still wasn’t supportive of gay teachers, Ammiano said, “So I ran for school board right after the assassinations [of Mayor George Moscone and Sup. Harvey Milk in 1978] and got my ass kicked.”

Shortly thereafter, Ammiano decided to get into stand-up comedy, encouraged by friends and allies who loved his sense of humor. Meanwhile, Ammiano was pushing for SFUSD to name a school after Milk, as it immediately did for Moscone, a quest that dragged on for seven years and which was a central plank in his unsuccessful 1988 run for the school board.

But Ammiano was developing as a public figure, buoyed by his stand-up performances (which he said Chronicle reporters would sometimes attend to gather off-color quotes to use against him in elections) and increased support from the maturing progressive and queer communities.

So when he ran again for school board in 1990, he finished in first place as part of the so-called “lavender sweep,” with LGBT candidates elected to judgeships and lesbians Carole Migden and Roberta Achtenberg elected to the Board of Supervisors.

On the school board, Ammiano helped bring SFUSD into the modern age, including spearheading programs dealing with AIDS education, support for gay students, distribution of condoms in the schools, and limiting recruiting in schools by the homophobic Boy Scouts of America.

“I found out we were paying them to recruit in the schools, but I can’t recruit?” Ammiano said, referencing the oft-raised concern at the time that gay teachers would recruit impressionable young people into homosexuality.

As his first term on the school board ended, a growing community of supporters urged Ammiano to run for the Board of Supervisors, then still a citywide election, and he was elected despite dealing with a devastating personal loss at the time.

“My partner died five days before the election,” Ammiano said as we talked at the bar in Soluna, tearing up at the memory and raising a toast with his gin-and-tonic to his late partner, Tim Curbo, who succumbed to a long struggle with AIDS.

Ammiano poured himself into his work as a supervisor, allied on the left at various points in the mid-late ’90s with Sups. Sue Bierman, Terrence Hallinan, Leland Yee, Mabel Teng, Angelo Alioto, and Carole Migden against the wily and all-powerful then-Mayor Brown, who Ammiano said “manipulated everything.”

But Ammiano gradually began to chip away at that power, often by turning directly to the people and using ballot measures to accomplish reforms such as laws regulating political consultants and campaign contributions and the reinstatement of district supervisorial elections, which decentralized power in the city.

“People frequently say about politicians, when they want to say something favorable, that they never forgot where they came from,” Agnos told us. “With Tom, he never forgot where he came from, and more importantly, he never forgot who he was…He was an authentic and a proud gay man, as proud as Harvey Milk ever was.”

And from that strong foundation of knowing himself, where he came from, and what he believed, Ammiano maintained the courage to stand on his convictions.

“It’s not just political integrity, it’s a reflection of the man himself,” Agnos said, praising Ammiano’s ability to always remain true to himself and let his politics flow from that. “A lot of politicians don’t have the courage, personal or political, to do that.”

 

 

WHAT’S NEXT

Ammiano’s legacy has been clearly established, even if it’s not always appreciated in a city enamored of the shiny and new, from recent arrivals who seem incurious about the city’s political history to the wave of neoliberal politicians who now hold sway in City Hall.

“Tom has carried on the legacy of Harvey Milk of being the movement progressive standard bearer. He has, more than anyone else, moved forward progressive politics in San Francisco in a way that goes beyond him as an individual,” Campos said, citing the return of district elections and his mentoring of young activists as examples. “He brought a number of people into politics that have been impactful in their own right.”

Campos is one of those individuals, endorsed by Ammiano to fill his District 9 seat on the Board of Supervisors from among a competitive field of established progressive candidates. Ammiano says he made the right choice.

“I have been supportive of him as a legislator and I think he’s doing the right things,” Ammiano said of Campos, adding an appreciation for the facts that he’s gay, an immigrant, and a solid progressive. “He’s a three-fer.”

Ammiano said that Campos has been a standout on the Board of Supervisors in recent years, diligently working to protect workers, tenants, and immigrants with successful efforts to increase tenant relocation fees after an eviction and an attempt to close the loophole that allows restaurants to pocket money they’re required to spend on employee health care, which was sabotaged by Chiu and Mayor Lee.

“I like his work ethic. He comes across as mild-mannered, but he’s a tiger,” Ammiano said of Campos. “If you like me, vote for David.”

But what about Ammiano’s own political future?

Ammiano said he’s been too busy lately to really think about what’s next for him (except romantically: Ammiano recently announced his wedding engagement to Carolis Deal, a longtime friend and lover). Ammiano is talking with universities and speakers bureaus about future gigs and he’s thinking about writing a book or doing a one-man show.

“Once I get that settled, I’ll look at the mayor’s race and [Sen. Mark] Leno’s seat,” Ammiano said, holding out hope that his political career will continue.

Ammiano said the city is desperately in need of some strong political leadership right now, something that he isn’t seeing from Mayor Lee, who has mostly been carrying out the agenda of the business leaders, developers, and power brokers who engineered his mayoral appointment in 2011.

“Basically, he’s an administrator and I don’t think he’ll ever be anything but that,” Ammiano said. “We are so fucking ready for a progressive mayor.”

If Ammiano were to become mayor — which seems like a longshot at this point — he says that he would use that position to decentralize power in San Francisco, letting the people and their representatives on the Board of Supervisors have a greater say in the direction of the city and making governance decisions more transparent.

“I don’t believe in a strong mayor [form of government],” Ammiano said. “If I was mayor, all the commission appointments would be shared.”

But before he would decide to run for mayor, Ammiano says that he would need to see a strong groundswell of public support for the values and ideals that he’s represented over nearly a half-century of public life in San Francisco.

“I don’t want to run to be a challenger,” Ammiano said. “I’d want to run to be mayor.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alerts: August 27 – September 2, 2014

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THURSDAY 28

 

SF MIME TROUPE PERFORMANCE

855 Treat, SF. www.sfmt.org. 6:30-7:30pm, suggested donation $20. The old commie, the tech newbie, and the flag-waving beautician, all trapped on a boat. It sounds like a reality show … or a performance by San Francisco’s Mime Troupe, called “Ripple Effect.” In case you’re tired of experiencing the struggles of SF’s rising rent in real time, here’s a theatre performance concerning just that.

 

 

Mission community meeting

Episcopal Church of Saint John the Evangelist, 1661 15th St., SF. plaza16.org. 6pm, free.

The focus of this Mission community meeting will be on seeking unity, as organizations and individuals face a crisis of displacement and gentrification. Organizers of the Plaza 16 Coalition will also provide updates regarding current and proposed development in the Mission, and in particular the proposed development at 1979 Mission Street.

FRIDAY 29

 

SF Tenants Union: Stop the Flip in the Richmond and Haight

The Panhandle, 267 Central Ave., SF. www.sftu.org. noon, free. Join the San Francisco Tenants Union in its campaign to stop real estate speculation and displacement in San Francisco. Come learn about Proposition G, the anti-speculation tax, which will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.

 

SUNDAY 31

 

35th Annual Xicano Moratorium Day

1701 E. 19th St., Oakl., tinyurl.com/xicanamoratorium. 11-4pm, free. It’s been nearly 44 years since the largest anti-war protest came out of the Chicano movement, and this daylong festival will commemorate that history while providing a space for dance, performance, and discussion about a Bay Area community movement against displacement.

 

MONDAY 1 Attack of the typewriters: Old School Letter Writing Party Make-out room, 3225 22nd St., SF. tinyurl.com/letterattack. 6-8pm, free. Letters tend to have a nostalgic and romantic feel to them, falling under genres like “love letters,” or “letters to grandma.” Then there’s letters to council members and politicians — the sort that might feel trivial, but deserve to be celebrated. At the Old School Letter Writing party, you’ll be provided with a typewriter, stamps, envelopes, paper, and the unusual feeling that you’re not the only one who cares enough to write to the president.

San Francisco Democratic Party decides on endorsements for November election

At a meeting lasting about four hours last night [Wed/13], the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, the steering committee of the city’s Democratic Party, decided on its endorsements for the Nov. 4 election.

A lengthy round of voting followed nearly two hours of public comment, in which San Franciscans chimed in on everything from school board nominations to Proposition L, a motorist-friendly proposal that amounts to a step backward for the city’s transit-first policy. (The formal oppositional campaign slogan is “No on Gridlock, No on L,” but opponents who spoke at the meeting shortened it to the edgier “’L No.”).

Prop. L went down handily. Prop. E, the sugary-beverage tax, easily won the DCCC’s endorsement, as did Prop. J, the proposal to increase the city’s minimum wage.

But Prop. G – a measure crafted to stem the tide of Ellis Act evictions, known as the anti-speculation tax – was a close contest.

Before the DCCC members got down to the business of voting, many local advocates voiced support for Prop. G.

Housing activists lined up across the room while Dean Preston, executive director of Tenants Together, called for meaningful action on the city’s housing affordability crisis.

But the proponents’ show of support was followed by the opposite plea from a second group, which included a contingent of Asian property owners, who crowded into the front of the room to tell DCCC members that they felt the proposed increase was unfair. “We don’t deserve this!” A speaker said, conveying anger and frustration. “Look at our faces, we work hard for our properties.”

In the end, the vote came down to four abstentions, 13 votes for “no endorsement,” and 15 votes in support, tipping the scales in favor of Prop. G by a tiny margin.

Among those who abstained on that vote were Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jackie Speier, and Assemblymember Phil Ting, all of whom voted by proxies. Sup. Scott Wiener voted “no endorsement,” while Sup. Malia Cohen abstained.

Decisions in the races for Board of Education and the city’s Community College Board were time-consuming, since it took several elimination rounds before the final candidate lists were settled.

The school board candidates to emerge with DCCC endorsements were Shamann Walton, Emily Murase, and Trevor McNeil. Notably, that list didn’t include Hydra Mendoza, an incumbent who also serves as education advisor to Mayor Ed Lee.

Endorsements for Community College Board, meanwhile, went to Amy Bacharach for a two-year term, and Thea Selby, Anita Grier, and Rodrigo Santos for four-year terms.

Things got interesting in the contest for BART board of directors, between longtime Republican director James Fang and a well-funded Democrat, Nick Josefowitz, who is in his early 30s.

The vote was complicated since SEIU Local 1021, a labor union with a long history of backing progressive causes in San Francisco, is pulling for Fang, who supported workers during last year’s BART strike. Yet Josefowitz has the backing of other progressive organizations, including the Sierra Club. “I think that BART needs new blood,” Sierra Club representative Rebecca Evans said during public comment.

In the end, the DCCC voted “no endorsement,” with that selection getting 17 votes, five abstaining, and 10 voting in favor of Josefowitz. The votes followed a round of comments.

“The Democratic Party is a means to an end,” DCCC member Rafael Mandelman said. “And the end that we are using the Democratic Party to achieve is a more socially just and better world… There are few local entities [to advance that] than SEIU Local 1021. I think it is acceptable for us to take ‘no’ position in this race.”

Several piped up to say they thought Josefowitz deserved the endorsement of the Democratic Party simply because he’s a viable candidate and registered Democrat in a race against a Republican.

But DCCC member Arlo Hale Smith weighed in to critique of Fang’s performance as a director. “I used to hold this BART Board seat 24 years ago,” Smith said. “He’s missed a third of the meetings and he doesn’t return phone calls. He hasn’t returned my calls in a year. This is not the kind of person who should be reelected. Period.”

In races for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and citywide offices, endorsements went to incumbents Carmen Chu for assessor-recorder, Jeff Adachi for public defender, Sups. Mark Farrell for District 2, Katy Tang for District 4, Jane Kim for District 6, Wiener for District 8, and Malia Cohen for District 10. No second- or third-place endorsements were made in the Board of Supervisors races despite multiple challengers.

Just before voting for endorsements began, DCCC member Alix Rosenthal admonished her colleagues for scant attendance during the candidate endorsement interviews, which were held the previous Saturday. “Only 12 out of 32 people showed up for interviews,” she noted. Half-jokingly, she added, “I know Outside Lands was happening.”

Real estate speculators physically push out Ellis Act eviciton protesters

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Native San Franciscan Benito Santiago, 64, joined a protest Aug. 12 in an attempt to remind his evictors that he’s a human being – not a roadblock to profit.

Santiago is facing an Ellis Act eviction from his 47-year Duboce Triangle home, where his monthly rent is just below $600.

Clad in a stylish blue fedora, Santiago and a dozen or so protesters filed into Vanguard Properties to deliver a letter asking Vanguard co-founder Michael Harrison to rescind his eviction. Harrison initiated an eviction proceeding against Santiago last December through his corporation, Pineapple Boy LLC. But by the end of the protest, Santiago and other tenant activists were physically pushed out of the building by Vanguard representatives in a show of aggression.

Before it got to that point, protesters called out Harrison for exploiting the Ellis Act for profit.

From the letter:

“We do not believe that you, Michael Harrison, are ‘going out of business’ which is the purpose of using the Ellis Act. We know that instead you are exploiting a loophole in state law for your greed.”

Suffice to say, Vanguard representatives didn’t accept the letter. But the message still got across: The protesters brought a bullhorn.

“My name is Benito Santiago,” Santiago blared, standing at the front desk, but was soon interrupted. A young-looking man in a grey suit approached protesters and asked them to leave.

“I’m calling the San Francisco police,” he said. Santiago may have approached the business with a bullhorn, but he has much to lose. 

While Vanguard may perceive Santiago merely as someone who doesn’t offer monetary value, he’s of much value to the developmentally disabled children he teaches at San Francisco Unified School District. 

The protesters intended to make these points to the folks at Vanguard. But before words could be exchanged, a crowd of Vanguard workers (real estate agents or employees, perhaps?) swooped in and physically carried out the protesters.

Fred Sherbun-Zimmer held her protest sign and chanted as one Vanguard agent placed hands on her back and swiftly pushed her out. Peter Menchini, a videographer, held his camera high and away from the snatching hands of real-estate experts turned vigilantes. Poet and activist Tony Robles had a paper slapped out of his hand by a Vanguard employee, before protesters were pushed out in a wave behind him.

Vanguard Properties Employees Assault Photographers & Activists 12 Aug 2014 from Peter Menchini on Vimeo.

 

 

As you can see from the video, things turned downright nasty as the real-estate representatives shoved and pushed the anti-eviction protesters as well as journalists there to document the event. (They even tried to yank my phone out of my hand.)

By the time the SFPD arrived, things had settled down. No arrests were made, and after a few sidewalk declarations by bullhorn, the protesters cleared the scene.

Afterwards, Santiago told us his housing prospects aren’t looking good. The Bill Sorro Housing Program helped him file many affordable housing applications, but he hasn’t gotten any word back yet. The rent he pays now eats up a hefty chunk of his paycheck, leaving little for basic expenses by the end of the month.

“I’m getting lots of positivity from family,” he said. And he does have an extension, until December, to find a new apartment. But, he noted, with median rents almost reaching $4,000 in San Francisco (they’re actually at $3,200, but that’s still bad), his chances of staying in the city are slim.

“I might be bad at math,” he told us, “but that seems like shooting for the moon.”

Vanguard Properties co-founder Michael Harrison was dubbed a “property flipper” by the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project. 

From its brief on Harrison:

Michael Harrison is the co-founder of Vanguard Properties, where he specializes in “residential investment properties.” He is a property flipper: his shell company Pineapple Boy LLC bought the building in November 2013 and tried to evict Benito and the two other tenants immediately. Vanguard Properties is currently involved in a number of luxury property developments in the Mission District and Duboce Triangle area including the development at 19th and Valencia that in February 2014 set record sale prices for the neighborhood. 

Santiago did have some flickering hope when an in-law unit behind a garage next door went on the market for rent. His hope was deflated, though, when his friend told him the rent for the single room.

“Eduardo said, ‘guess how much it is?'” Santiago told us. “It’s going for $4,000 a month.” 

Airbnb must work with SF

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EDITORIAL

Airbnb and other companies that facilitate illegal short-term apartment rentals to tourists visiting San Francisco need to engage in a more honest and direct dialogue with this city’s political leaders and stakeholders, something that became clear during last week’s Planning Commission hearing on legislation that would legalize and regulate short-term sublets.

This is a complicated, vexing issue that defies simple solutions, as Board of Supervisors President David Chiu learned as he and his aides spent more than year developing the legislation. They did a pretty good job at striking a balance between letting people occasionally rent out their homes and preventing Airbnb from being used to remove apartments from the already strained local housing market.

A key provision for striking that balance was to limit rentals to no more than 90 nights per year, but the Planning Commission — dominated by appointees from Mayor Ed Lee, who has long coddled Airbnb’s scofflaw approach to the city (see “Into thin air,” 8/6/13) — removed that provision, which the Board of Supervisors should reinstate.

The commission also seemed to side with landlords who want to prevent their tenants from renting out rooms, calling for landlords to be notified when their tenants seek to become Airbnb hosts, another provision the board should reject. Landlords using Airbnb to get around rent control laws is at least as bad as tenants who violate their leases by subletting rooms, and this legislation shouldn’t favor one group over the other.

If the city decides to end its decades-old ban on short-term apartment rentals, it should have a compelling reason to do so. Maybe we want to allow struggling city residents to make some extra money while they’re out of town, or to have some flexibility in renting out rooms without taking on permanent tenants, which are legitimate if difficult policy questions.

But it seems like much of the discussion is about how to rein in the widespread violation of city housing and tax laws caused by Airbnb, which has refused requests to share more of its occupancy data, dodged its obligation to collect the city’s transient occupancy tax, and failed to even send a high-level representative to last week’s hearing. Yet the legislation would require the company’s cooperation to help enforce the regulations.

If Airbnb and its hosts want the city to legalize lucrative short-term rentals in San Francisco, then the company should be willing to engage in high-level public discussions with city leaders to shape this important legislation, rather than simply whipping its hosts into a libertarian frenzy with deceptive public relations campaigns.

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has gotten rich with a business model that is illegal in its home city, so the very least he can do is show up at City Hall next month to make a good faith effort to help solve the divisive problems that his company is creating.

 

Chinese youth rally for a brighter future

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High school students with Youth Movement of Justice Organizing (Youth MOJO), a teen leadership program affiliated with the Chinese Progressive Association, rallied at San Francisco City Hall Aug. 7 in a show of support for two citywide measures slated to appear on the November ballot.

The first would raise the city’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2018. The second, known as the anti-speculation tax, would impose a steep financial penalty on real estate investors who sell apartment buildings within five years of purchase, an effort to reverse the rising trend of Ellis Act evictions and limit skyrocketing rental prices.

High school student Alice Kuang, who has been active with Youth MOJO since last year, said she felt the effort to preserve affordability was critical for Chinese families who typically earn low wages. “I lived in an SRO in Chinatown for 13 years,” she explained, referring to a single-room occupancy hotel, a dormitory-style housing complex. Throughout the city, thousands of low-income tenants rely on SROs for affordable housing, but these units have been subjected to price increases and have started to become lost as affordable housing stock when they’re listed as short-term rentals on Airbnb.

“In the SRO, it was like one big community,” Kuang said. “Everyone supported each other. Like my mom knew exactly who was boiling water and then, to make sure the water didn’t spill over, she would run up to knock on people’s doors and be like, hey, your food’s done. It was a really strong community. I remember living there since I was born. It was a very small room. The four of us lived in it — we had a bunk bed, and another bunk bed, basically.”

Jessica Ng, a recent high school graduate and Youth MOJO member, said she was focused on advocating for the minimum wage proposal. “One of my parents became unemployed last year so it really took a toll on me, and made me realize that I have to also help,” she said, “like paying my part of the bill, or paying for groceries even.”

She said an internship with Young Asian Women Against Violence helped her earn some supplementary household income. “When I started getting a paycheck every three weeks or so, I started to pay my part of the bill,” she said. “With an increase in the minimum wage, it would really help with people who are my age who are going to college and want to help their families.”

 

Trans former prisoner honored as civil rights hero

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For 38 years, the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club has celebrated queer progressive politics in San Francisco with its annual Dinner and Gayla, held this year at the Mission campus of the endangered City College of San Francisco.

A slew of awards went out to commemorate the contributions of elected officials and advocates who went to battle to save City College from losing its accreditation, a fate that would bring the college’s 79-year history to a grinding halt while leaving 90,000 students in the lurch with few other options. Activists from San Francisco’s Housing Rights Committee also won accolades for organizing to defend long-term tenants from eviction.

The evening’s keynote speaker and guest of honor was CeCe McDonald, a transgender African American woman who served a 17-month prison term for what she’s described as an act of self-defense in response to a transphobic attack. She was with friends in Minneapolis in July 2011 when an attacker made racist and homophobic comments and then assaulted her; in the end, he was fatally stabbed with her pair of scissors.

A campaign clamoring for McDonald’s freedom drew nationwide attention as supporters rallied in her defense, saying she shouldn’t have been incarcerated for surviving a hate crime. Her story is now the subject of a documentary that’s being co-produced by actress Laverne Cox, who portrays an incarcerated trans woman in Orange is the New Black.

Honored with the Milk Club’s Bayard Rustin Civil Rights Award, McDonald gave an emotional speech.

“I never thought I would make it past the age of 16, and to know that I’m here, 10 years later, really means a lot to me,” she said. “It’s really important for me to have a voice. There is a revolution brewing, and I’m so glad that I’m a part of it. … For me, I’ve been through so much, and I would never regret one part of it, because it made me a stronger person. It made me realize that I’m worth something. It made me realize I’m put on this planet for a reason. Nothing is ever going to take that away from me. I swear I’m going to fight the fight to the end.”

Mayoral meltdown

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joe@sfbg.com

When he launched an unexpected mayoral bid in 2011, Mayor Ed Lee campaigned on a platform of changing the tone of San Francisco politics. The appointed mustachioed mayor claimed he put the civility back in City Hall, marking a sharp departure from the divisive tone of city politics as progressives battled former Mayor Willie Brown, followed by Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“We’ll continue the high level of civility in the tone we’ve set since January, and solve the problems with civil engagement,” he told Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, then his mayoral opponent, at a 2011 debate.

Yet over the past two weeks, Mayor Lee has started swinging hard against supervisors who have introduced measures that go against his own priorities. So much for civility at City Hall.

 

COMPROMISE EVERYTHING

When asked about the outcome of her newly revised affordable housing measure, Sup. Jane Kim did not sound enthusiastic.

“It was definitely a compromise,” Kim said. But compromise is a word you use when you find a middle ground. By most accounts, Mayor Lee weakened the measure by hammering the right pressure points.

Kim crafted a novel solution to the city’s housing affordability crisis for the November ballot. Her initial Housing Balance Requirement would have established controls on market-rate housing construction, requiring a reevaluation whenever affordable housing production falls below 30 percent of total construction. The goal was to ensure that a certain amount of affordable housing would be built — but it was unpopular with housing developers.

Lee immediately drummed up a ballot measure in opposition to Kim’s, the Build Housing Now Initiative. The nonbinding policy statement asked the city to affirm his previously stated affordable housing goals. So what was the point?

It contained a poison pill which would have killed Kim’s Housing Balance Requirement. If Lee’s measure was approved, Kim’s would fail. The two politicians were in heated negotiations, trying to diffuse this ballot box arms race up to the very moment Kim’s measure went before the Board of Supervisors for approval at its July 29 meeting.

By the end of that process, Kim’s measure had been gutted.

Mirroring the mayor’s Build Housing Now Initiative, the new Housing Balance Requirement is a nonbinding policy statement asking the city to “affirm the City’s commitment” to support the production or rehabilitation of 30,000 housing units by 2020, with at least 33 percent of those permanently affordable to low or moderate income households.

Kim said she’d won funding pledges and promises for a number of affordable housing projects from the mayor. But Lee did not sign any agreement.

Essentially, the revised measure is a promise to promise, a plan to plan. Kim told us flatly, “We didn’t get the accountability we wanted.”

Political insiders told us the Mayor’s Office put pressure on affordable housing developers, who backed the original measure but later asked Kim to revise it to reflect the mayor’s wishes. The Mayor’s Office allegedly threatened to cut their funding next year, or divert projects to other affordable housing organizations.

Everyone acknowledged the mayor was pissed.

Tenants and Owners Development Corporation, an affordable housing developer in SoMa, sat in on the negotiations. The city paid $170,961 in contracts to TODCO last year, according to the City Controller, and over $250,000 the year before. John Elberling, president of TODCO, and Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, denied the mayor influenced them to ask Kim to revise her measure.

“I didn’t hear my phone ringing saying we’ll pull funding for affordable housers if you don’t do X, Y and Z,” Cohen told us. Yet he acknowledged the mayor “brought certain leverages to bear” in the closed-door negotiations to “compromise” on Kim’s ballot measure. Then everything changed.

“Yes,” Cohen said, “we then convinced the lead supervisor to change her position.”

Despite being labeled as a “compromise,” many observers read this as a sign that Lee had prevailed. Now the same hammer is coming down on Sup. Scott Wiener.

 

BALLOT BATTLE

“I agree with the mayor on many things,” Wiener told us. But the mayor is targeting Wiener’s new Muni funding ballot measure, hoping to knock it off the ballot.

“It’s not personal,” Wiener said. “It’s a policy disagreement.”

The mayor has a transportation bond on the ballot, asking voters to pony up $500 million to fund Muni. But Lee already blew a $33 million hole into Muni’s proposed budget when he decided to pull a Vehicle License Fee measure off the ballot. When that measure began to poll badly, he got cold feet, and withdrew it.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s budget outlined a doomsday scenario if the funding ballot measures failed to pass. It would be impossible to improve transit travel time, reliability, or to fund pedestrian and bike safety projects, the SFMTA staff noted in recent budget presentations.

Seeing the potential fallout due to the mayor pulling the VLF measure, Wiener placed his own measure on the ballot, tying expansion for Muni funding to the city’s growing population. If passed, Muni could see a $22 million bump just next year.

Openly, the mayor told reporters he would hold the supervisors who supported Wiener’s ballot measure “accountable.” Lee then initiated a conversation about slashing funding to city programs, signaling that supervisors’ favored projects could be jeopardized.

“Last week, the Board of Supervisors sent a measure to the ballot that the budget does not contemplate,” Kate Howard, the mayor’s budget director, wrote in a memo. She directed departments to cut their budgets by 1.5 percent, and asked for “contingency plans” including a “revisit” of hiring plans and scaling back existing programs and services.

Wiener issued a statement describing the move as “an empty scare tactic.”

“For whatever reason,” he wrote, “the Mayor’s Office felt the need to issue these emergency instructions now — a full year before the fiscal year at issue, in the middle of an election campaign, without even knowing whether the measure will pass.”

John Elberling, president of TODCO, recalled when then-Mayor Willie Brown used the same schoolyard-bully tactics to ensure his favored measures passed.

“The punchline is there were competing ballot measures, one from our side and one from Willie’s side,” Elberling told the Guardian. “There was an effort to reach a compromise, but that failed. I was in the meeting where he shot it down.”

“He said ‘I will make the decisions,’ quote unquote. ‘There is no compromise unless I say there’s a compromise.’ That was quite memorable,” Elberling recalled.

When things didn’t go his way, “Willie Brown took a housing project away from us,” Elberling said.

But Mayor Lee’s bluster and anger is new, and Elberling said it should be taken with a grain of salt. “Is it a bluff? That’s always a question. Real retaliation like Willie did, that’s a real thing. But huff and puff, that goes on all the time.”