Mayoral meltdown

Mayor Ed Lee pushes back against ballot measures for affordable housing, transportation funding

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Mayor Ed Lee plays Whac-A-Mole with Muni and affordable housing ballot measures proposed by Sups. Scott Wiener and Jane Kim.
Illustration by Colin Andersen

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.