Mayor: Stuart Schiffman, Amy Farah Weiss, Francisco Herrera
Sheriff: Ross Mirkarimi (or write-in for Sheriff Lobo)
District 3 Supervisor: Aaron Peskin
Other Candidates: Unopposed or do whatcha feel
Unlike my other posts, this one is not really built to last. If you go back and read my piece on the Neighborhood Wars of San Francisco, written nearly four years ago (Christ), it still holds up, except that now the Mission is the new Marina and SoMa is even worse. But this piece is going to focus primarily on the upcoming San Francisco city elections, which will take place in about a week. Also, if you’re not in San Francisco, a lot of this might be lost of you. Don’t worry—I’ll try to make it funny. And educational! We’re not only here to laugh, we’re hear to learn.
Before I discuss the election, it might help to give a brief explanation of San Francisco politics. In most of the U.S., the two main political groupings are “liberals,” who generally support expanding government to provide more services to those with less at the cost of those with more, and “conservatives,” who prefer to keep government small and reward those who work hard at the cost of those who don’t. There’s also this bizarre conservative obsession with Jesus that has somehow infiltrated every facet of their political leanings, but I don’t have the time or the inclination to explore that any further in this post. A liberal who wants extreme change is a “radical.” A conservative who wants things to go back to how they used to be (in the good ol’ days—when men were men) is a “reactionary.” Most liberals support the “Democrat Party,” while most conservatives are “Republicans.”
In San Francisco, nearly everybody is already a liberal Democrat who abhors organized religion (except for certain strains of Paganism), so the population is divided into “progressives” and “moderates.” Progressives are similar to reactionaries in that they want to revert San Francisco to the way it was in the past, except in this case “the past” is 1967, when everybody smoked a ton of pot, wrote profound poetry, and constantly copulated in the streets. Everybody who is not a progressive is a moderate (although of course there are plenty of “moderate progressives” and “progressive moderates” thrown in the mix to spice things up). See if you can spot the progressive in the following photograph:
Needless to say, I am a progressive. Also, to put things in perspective, the most right-leaning moderate in San Francisco would still be seen as a baby-killing, queer-loving, G-d-hating, gun-stealing, pinko commie Obama Bernie Sanders Eugene Debs Jew bastard by the vast bulk of American conservatives.
The city is split up into 11 districts, each with a District Supervisor. The Board of Supervisors makes all major decisions in the city and arguably wields far more power than the mayor. Generally, the wealthier and quieter districts (Marina, Richmond, Sunset, Twin Peaks, etc.) tend to vote moderate, whereas the poorer and louder districts (Haight, Tenderloin, Mission, Castro) tend to go progressive (setting aside the fact that the current supervisor of the Castro, Scott Weiner, might be the most moderate supervisor in the history of San Francisco. Harvey Milk is rolling in his grave).
Conventional wisdom dictates that in the U.S., there are cumulatively more liberals than conservatives, but most cantankerous old people who like voting are conservative, thus liberals do better in presidential election years when everybody votes, and conservatives do better in mid-term elections when only those with a lot of time on their hands make it to the polls. Similarly, there are more moderates than progressives in San Francisco, but most cantankerous old people who like voting are progressives, and so progressives have the best chances of victory on years when Obama or Hillary are not up for election (e.g., 2015). Considering that the largest growing demographic in San Francisco is the crucial young-nouveau-riche-who-work-for-tech-and-whom-progessives-hate block who, if they cared at all about their self interests, would always vote moderate, we progressives really double down our efforts in the odd years.
I know that it’s not normal for the younger crowd to be less left-leaning, or for the left-leaning contingent to be less populous, but you need to understand that San Francisco is not a normal city. That’s why I love it here so much!
So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty, shall we? Here’s what’s happening in the upcoming election, to take place on Tuesday, November 3rd:
Our current mayor is Ed Lee, who was appointed mayor 5 years ago when Gavin Newsom resigned to become Lieutenant Governor of California. Ed Lee rose up in the San Francisco political scene in the late 70s and early 80s, when, as Managing Attorney of the Asian Law Caucus, he fought to protect elderly tenants in Chinatown from being evicted by their greedy landlords who were genuflecting to wealthy developers. Here is my favorite quote from Ed Lee in that era (borrowed from David Talbot’s Season of the Witch):
“You can go to law school to make money, or you can go to help the community. I fought landlord-tenant battles where I could face off against people I went to law school with. They were working for corporations trying to evict people, and I was trying to stop them. Landlords—many of whom were absentee, and many of whom were Chinese—hated my guts. They saw me coming and said, ‘there’s that communist Ed Lee!’”
Here is Ed Lee being a straight-up badass in 1978:
Then, at some point in the past 10 years, Ed Lee befriended Ron Conway, a superstar tech investor who is essentially the Koch Brothers of San Francisco (although probably without the whole Jesus thing). Ron Conway had this great idea that if we let Twitter build a huge office on Market Street but don’t make them pay taxes, then Ron Conway would make a shit-ton of money. From a political perspective, this was somehow very beneficial to Ed Lee, and thus the firebrand communist was welcomed into the world of cut-throat capitalism.
To give Ed Lee credit, he has done amazing things for the city of San Francisco. San Francisco is now “world-class,” with the best restaurants, bars, and shops around for people with lots of money. Millions of people want to live here, all major conferences want to be held here, and if the world is currently undergoing a “tech revolution” as many claim, then San Francisco is at the center. Or in tech parlance, San Francisco is the “epicenter of paradigm disruption.” On top of that, the city has become much cleaner and was featured in the newest Terminator movie.
On the other hand, Ed Lee has done not-so-great things for the people of San Francisco—or at least those who have lived in San Francisco for more than 5 years. With all of the monetary success, normal human beings can no longer afford to live in San Francisco, and thus the city now faces a critical shortage of artists, teachers, police officers, nurses, and waiters, while the city is experiencing a sharp uptick of people whom I want to punch in the face as they speak very loudly into their Blueteeth about their latest valuations in the queue at Fresh Roll when I’m waiting to order an overpriced banh mi. For more on this, read every single entry in my blog in the category “San Francisco,” or just get me started talking when you have a few hours to kill.
The bad news is that there are no major candidates opposing Mayor Lee. The kind of good news is that this guy who goes by the moniker “Broke-Ass Stuart” (who is sort of like me but with a web site that people actually read [http://brokeassstuart.com/]) has come up with a plan. The plan is to vote for people who are not Ed Lee. In SF, you get to put in your top three choices for mayor, so the catchy pneumonic to remind people of this plan at the ballot box is “1, 2, 3, anyone but Lee.” You can sing it in your head to the tune of the classic Bobbettes song (which I first heard on the Stand By Me soundtrack):
I think technically for the plan to work you’re supposed to put Stuart Schuffman, Amy Farah Weiss, and Francisco Herrera in the top three spots (in any order). That’s what I’m doing.
Our current Sherrif, Ross Mirkarimi, was charged with domestic violence, battery, child endangerment, and dissuading a witness for an incident with his wife a few years ago, and pled guilty to false imprisonment. His opponent, Vicki Hennessy, is endorsed by Mayor Ed Lee and the evil District 5 Supervisor London Breed, my supervisor of whom I am not particularly fond.
So really, it’s a lesser-of-two-evils type of affair. The teachers support Hennessy, but the Tenants Union and League of Pissed Off Voters support Mirkarimi. Mirkarimi is also pro-pot and anti-gun. I guess you can say Mirkarimi is the more progressive option, so I’m supporting him, because I’m a knee-jerk progressive like that.
Other Candidate Races
The candidates for City Attorney, District Attorney, Treasurer, are running unopposed, and I have no idea who the people running for Community College Board are. I thought Thea Selby was but I don’t see her name on the ballot. I’ll vote for her for ANYTHING.
As you know, I support Aaron Peskin for District 3 supervisor. He is the O.G. baby-killing, queer-loving, G-d-hating, gun-stealing, pinko commie Obama Bernie Sanders Eugene Debs Jew bastard.
America has this great system of representative democracy, in which we elect people to make decisions so that we don’t have to–because let’s face it, people are idiots and should not be trusted to choose anything. However, in California, for whatever reason, everything important is voted on directly through ballot initiatives, and once something is approved it’s extremely difficult to reverse (except via another ballot initiative). And in San Francisco, because we (think we) are so darn smart, we have more ballot initiatives every year than possibly any city in the country.
This year there are eleven ballot measures—and bear in mind that this is an odd year with no state or federal candidates or initiatives on the ballot. I’m not going to discuss all of them in detail. In fact, I’ll skip the measures that are de facto unopposed. If you’d like to know which measures fall into this category, look at the ones for which “Dr. Terence Faulker, J.D.” has penned the opposition argument. Faulkner is a self-professed Republican, so you can imagine that none of his views are very popular in this town. G-d bless him though—being the lone voice of opposition against the tyranny of the majority is a thankless job, but somebody has to do it. In theory.
The measures Faulkner opposes (and on which I am therefore voting YES) are:
Prop A: Should SF issue $310 Million in bonds to raise money for affordable housing?
Prop B: Should City Employees get the paid parental leave they deserve?
Prop C: Should lobbyists be regulated?
Prop H: Should SF kind of try to use renewable energy? Note, Prop H is tied to Prop G, which at this point is a mistake and on which everybody is voting NO.
So thank you, Dr. Faulkner, you made this whole process a bit easier.
Next up: Props D and I, which are both related to building more housing. To discuss these, we need to dive into what has become possibly the biggest argument between moderates and progressives: how can we lower rents in San Francisco? Ever since rents have skyrocketed in the city, the rallying cry of the moderates has been “it’s because of San Francisco’s draconian laws that place restrictions on building heights.” The moderates love to use that word—“draconian.” Admittedly, it is a beautiful choice; my fifth-grade teacher would have probably referred to it as a “seventy-cent word.” And I will concede that San Francisco has a lot of laws that limit the heights of buildings—this is a fact. Believe it or not, but back in the 1970s when these laws were drafted, nobody anticipated that San Francisco would suddenly become the most popular destination in the country for extremely wealthy youth, and thus city officials, desiring to preserve the beauty and charm that came with San Francisco’s small-town feel, placed limits on how tall buildings could be. Now, thirty years later, there is an unprecedented influx of skilled twenty-four year olds who are willing to pay $3500 per month in rent, and no place to house them.
The moderate solution: build, baby, build! Build as many housing units as possible in all neighborhoods, and eventually supply will meet demand and rents will decrease. And while you’re at it, get rid of rent control!
The progressive solution: Stop letting rich techies live in San Francisco and let us maintain the beauty of the city!
Neither solution is particularly realistic. The moderate approach would work if demand outweighed supply by maybe 10,000 or 20,000 units, but the truth is that San Francisco would have to build somewhere between 100,000 and 1,000,000 additional housing units before rents would decrease to pre-Twitter levels (the numbers I’ve read vary dramatically so I can only give you that range—and bear in mind that right now the population of San Francisco is roughly 800,000). In the mean time, every new housing development is for luxury apartments, and the influx of rich people to formerly not-super-rich neighborhoods drives up the prices of food and household goods for all those who live in the area.
To me, the moderate solution sounds a lot like “trickle-down economics,” the notion that if you give the rich more money, it will some how trickle down and benefit the poor. If we build enough luxury apartments for the ultra-rich, then eventually we’ll be able to house all of the ultra-rich so we can build some housing for the not-quite ultra rich, and so on down until we’re finally ready to build a few buildings here and there for the middle and lower classes. By helping the rich, we help the poor! As you may recall, the term “trickle-down economics” was coined in the 1930s to describe the economic practices of the Hoover administration…and now Herbert Hoover is routinely categorized as one of the worst U.S. presidents of all time. Here is another champion of trickle-down economics, demonstrating the theory in action:
The progressive solution probably won’t work, because we can’t actually keep rich tech kids out of the city. That’s not actually something that can happen. I know we really want it to happen, but that’s not how the world works. Period. There’s also something in the progressive playbook about building more affordable housing, but nobody is convinced that that’s truly a viable option.
Most progressives, myself included, have now conceded that we need to allow some building to occur in San Francisco. I personally think that we should build thousands of luxury apartments in the Marina. We could make all of Chestnut street into a wall of 30-story, ultra-modern, super-sexy highrises for the tech elite. Also, SoMa—most of the community in that neighborhood was already destroyed by Justin Hermann in the late 60s/early 70s, just please preserve the Filipino area and 6th Street.
Yes, I know this makes me a “NIMBYist,” but you know what, greedy developers and the techies who love them already built in my backyard. In fact, they built the ugliest fucking building in all of San Francisco literally across the street from me, where once stood a very charming community farm:
People throw around “NIMBY” like it’s an insult, but there are neighborhoods in San Francisco that are charming, with tasteful architecture, and that have actual communities—where people leave their homes and interact with local business owners instead of having everything delivered to their apartments and where children exist and want to play in local parks and attend decent schools. These neighborhoods should not be corrupted by hideous developments packed with wealthy newcomers who have no desire to belong to a community that isn’t virtual.
So on that note, let’s discuss the propositions:
Prop D: Should we develop on top of an old, creepy parking lot out by the ballpark? This is a perfect candidate for development for us NIMBY progressives because it’s not in an area where building is likely to adversely effect an existing community, and even if the development is heinous, it’s probably better than the existing parking lot. I give it a YES (as does most everybody, except the Sierra Club, for some reason).
Prop I: Should we set an 18-month moratorium on big, ugly luxury apartments in the Mission District? For those of you who don’t live in San Francisco, the Mission does actually have a strong community (it has historically been the Latino center of the city) and charm, so it is not a good candidate for building housing for the ultra-rich. However, the Mission also has good weather and is quite walkable, so many ultra-rich people really want to live there. The only way to keep them from ruining the neighborhood (more than they already have—just go to Kilowatt on a Saturday night and you’ll see what I mean) is by passing this law.
Just to give you an idea of whose interests are being served, here are the supporters of Prop I:
David Campos (Supervisor for the Mission)
Committee to Save the Mission
San Francisco Tenants Union
Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of San Francisco
Mission SRO Collaborative
The Women’s Building
Mission Neighborhood Building
Latino Cultural District
In other words, the people and organizations that actually exist in the Mission.
Here are the opponents of Prop I:
Scott Weiner (see above)
SF Association of Realtors
Professional Property Management Association of San Francisco
Residential Builders Association
Mayor Ed Lee
I’m sure these people have the local tenants’ best interests in mind.
Note: that was sarcasm.
Other note: There are other opponents of Prop I who probably aren’t as bad (SF Young Democrats, UA Local 38, Plumbers and Pipefitters, etc.) and who genuinely think that the time has come to just build everywhere, as much as we can, in order to hopefully lower rents. Also, to be fair, by law 12% of all new housing must be “affordable,” so a moratorium on new luxury apartments is estimated to also prevent 70-200 affordable housing units from being built. However, given that the vast bulk of organizations that advocate for people who actually need affordable housing are for Prop I, I will stand with them and vote YES.
Next up: Prop F, a.k.a. the “Airbnb law.”
Prop F: Should we make life worse for Airbnb and a number of other assholes?
I’ll begin by saying that when I first heard about Airbnb, I liked the concept. I had friends who took a three-week vacation and were able to use Airbnb to easily find a short-term sublettor so that they could get a little cash for their apartment when they were gone. But then I learned that people were using Airbnb to convert their buildings into hotels, because renting out a room for $300 a night was more profitable then renting it out for $1500 (or $2000 or $3000 or $4000) per month. This led to even more of a decrease in available housing in San Francisco.
I wasn’t the only one who noticed, and the Board of Supervisors passed a law saying that you could only rent out a room for short-term rentals for 90 days per year.
Then, just a few months later, the people of San Francisco got together and prepared a revised version of the law that:
-reduces the allowed days of short-term rental to 75 per year
-prohibits short-term rental of in-law units
-includes notice, registration and reporting requirements and other enforcement mechanisms in order to actually enforce the 75 days of short rental limit and to make sure that proper taxes get paid
-allows neighbors to sue each other for violations
This revised law is Prop F. The main arguments against the proposition are that it’s poorly-written and that laws passed via ballot proposition are virtually irreversible and we need to wait to see how the current law works before trying to fix it. While these are valid points, in absence of the reporting and enforcement provisions included in the current proposition, owners who convert their apartments into hotel rooms are essentially telling the city “scout’s honor,” and we’re hoping that this is actual deterrence. I call bullshit on that, and so I’m voting YES.
As a side note, for those of you who don’t live in San Francisco (or simply don’t pay attention), we need to discuss Airbnb’s $8 Million campaign against this proposition. Last week, the following image started floating around the Facebookosphere:
This was supposedly an ad posted on public bus stops around the city. After we all expressed initial outrage at this completely tone-deaf, arrogant, “let-them-eat-cake-cuz-we-pay-our-taxes” attempt at somehow garnering some sympathy for Airbnb, there were various posts suggesting that this was Photoshopped, or that those ads were put up by anti-Airbnb groups looking to poke some fun at the corporation.
Then it came out that no, those were actual Airbnb ads. For those of you who don’t work in a mid-sized tech company like Airbnb, you need to understand that a great deal of thought went into those ads. It wasn’t just the decision of one rogue copywriter, there was an entire marketing team, and potentially even an outside marketing firm, involved in creating them. Furthermore, it’s highly likely that somebody very senior in the organization, potentially the CEO of the company, had to give those ads the greenlight before they were put up. And still, not a single person in the chain had the wherewithal to say, “you know what, using these ads is really shooting ourselves in the foot at a time when we need all of the support we can get.”
In Airbnb’s defense, it’s impossible to know what is appropriate for an ad displayed in a public bus stop when nobody in your company actually rides a public bus to work.
Are you really still reading? There are just a few more, and I’m only really going to talk about one, which is Prop J.
Prop J: Should we give subsidies to “Legacy Businesses” that have been around for 30+ years, and the landlords who support them?
If you care about community at all, then you get a little sad when the old Italian restaurant around the corner you’ve been going to forever closes, or when the funky antique store two blocks away that has been there since you can remember announces that it’s going out of business. Businesses close—that’s part of life—but sometimes they are forced to close when a landlord raises the rent, and, to quote Marcel Proust, that sucks donkey balls. Unlike residential units, there is no rent control for commercial spaces in San Francisco, so if there’s an old business that you like a lot that isn’t a super-popular restaurant or bar, chances are that it only exists today because the owner is on excellent terms with the landlord. Prop J is designed to create a fund that will give grants to business owners who own “Legacy Businesses” that have been around for 30 years that contribute to the neighborhood’s history or identity, and to landlords who grants leases to such businesses for at least 10 years. This will hopefully incentivize landlords to let our favorite old businesses stay…just a little bit longer.
The two main arguments against Prop J are that the criteria for becoming a “Legacy Business” are more difficult than the existing criteria (there is currently a registry for Legacy Businesses, but not the grants), and that the grants will cost money. Regarding the first point, most of the businesses that would be affected don’t seem to mind, so I’m not concerned. Regarding the second point, I’m a tax-and-spend liberal, so this doesn’t bother me. Further more, I’m terrified at the prospect of Rookie Ricardo’s record store and Noc Noc closing (they’re both currently 29 years old, and I think next year they should both be eligible to be Legacy Businesses). So I’m voting YES on Prop J.
There are two more propositions:
Prop E: Should there be all kinds of crazy broadcasting and comment requirements for public meetings?
Prop K: Should the city expand the uses of surplus property to include affordable housing?
Both the ultra-moderate SPUR (San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, or as I call it, Supposedly non-Partisan, Ultimately Republican) and the ultra-progressive San Francisco League of Pissed Off Voters vote NO on E and YES on K. That’s enough to constitute a city-wide consensus in my mind, so I’m voting accordingly.
Jeebus, that was longer than I thought it was going to be (that’s what she said!). If you actually read this, I love you forever. And most importantly, whether you agree or disagree with me, I don’t care—just vote. It’s really, really, really important. Of course, if you don’t agree with me, I guess I’ll let it slide if you skip the polls this time.
For wee bit more information (like you really need it), I present to you both sides of the story:
League of Pissed Off Voters voter guide (same picks as me, but with different explanations): http://www.theleaguesf.org/guide
I think this classic from Mr. Young is an appropriate outtro to this post: