A voter revolt is brewing in San Francisco. That’s according to a new citywide poll of 602 likely voters, conducted last month by David Binder Research for the nonprofit housing group TODCO. The poll found that San Francisco voters believe City Hall is failing so badly at stopping unfair evictions, preserving the existing housing stock, creating new affordable and middle-class rental housing, and stopping displacement that voters themselves are now fired up and ready to take action at the ballot box.
Among the key findings of the poll:
• By a nearly 2 to 1 margin voters disapprove of the way the City’s Planning Department is addressing the impacts of growth and development and preparing the City for continued growth. Only 27 percent of voters citywide say they approve of the City Planning Department’s decisions while 46 percent of the voters say they disapprove.
• Voters would overwhelmingly support a ballot measure to dedicate city-owned public land to be used only for affordable housing for low- and middle-class San Franciscans. Sixty-three percent of citywide voters would support a ballot measure to zone city public land only for affordable housing while just 25 percent of voters would oppose that.
• Voters citywide would strongly support a ballot measure enacting a temporary moratorium on new project approvals in the Mission District until the City adopts a policy to protect or provide spaces for displaced small businesses and arts groups. Sixty-five percent of voters support this ballot measure while only 26 percent would oppose it.
Despite loads of lip service from City Hall politicians, they have not just failed to mitigate the crisis but are making things even worse by rubber-stamping a glut of luxury condos to occupy our increasing limited land instead of prioritizing the affordable housing we badly need. The latest “Residential Pipeline Memo” from the Planning Department indicates that over 84 percent of the 14,448 new housing units the city has greenlighted are exclusively high-income and luxury units. According to the State Department of Housing’s Regional Housing Assessment, that will mean San Francisco has now either built or entitled more than 200 percent of the number of high-income and luxury housing units that the City needs. In contrast, just 16 percent of the approved new housing units will be affordable to low or middle income San Franciscans. When Olson Lee, the Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing, was asked at a community meeting last month about City Hall’s plan to create desperately needed rental housing for the middle-class, he bluntly responded: “We don’t have a program right now to build middle income rental housing.”
Two decades ago, with rents on the rise and evictions increasing, citizens took action by collecting thousands of petition signatures to put three measures on the ballot that helped keep thousands of San Franciscans in their homes until the crisis cooled. Voters said yes to strengthening rent control by eliminating minimum automatic rent increases (Prop. H in 1992), yes to closing legal loopholes that exempted smaller buildings from rent control (Prop. I in 1994), and yes to stopping the eviction of seniors, the disabled, and other long-term tenants from their homes by abuses of owner-move in laws (Prop. G in 1998).
With voter unrest once again rumbling, it’s not surprising that the Chamber of Commerce and their empire are striking back, using slick PR to try and calm the roiling waters by painting a rosy picture of the state of the city. At the same time, developers’ favorite politicians are plotting to restrict the ability of voters to put initiatives on the ballot at all with a Charter Amendment aimed for this November’s election that would increase the number of petition signatures citizens need to be able to qualify voter initiatives and block people from being allowed to collect petition signatures at all until City Hall politicians have first had their say.
They can run but they can’t hide forever. San Francisco voters are loudly and clearly saying they are ready to take action. The only question now is when the voter revolt will begin.
Jon Golinger is an environmental attorney who lives in North Beach