San Francisco condo conversion allies rallying support 

click to enlarge City Hall insiders say Marlene Tran, left, of the Visitacion Valley Asian Alliance and her support for condo conversions could affect the District 10 supervisorial race. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • City Hall insiders say Marlene Tran, left, of the Visitacion Valley Asian Alliance and her support for condo conversions could affect the District 10 supervisorial race.

The condo conversion debate is gaining more political intrigue less than two weeks before a Board of Supervisors committee holds its second hearing on the controversial legislation. A vote was already postponed to allow the opposing sides to negotiate.

The proposal inflames San Francisco’s two core political bases — the progressive tenant advocates who oppose it and the moderate homeowner advocates who support it. And there’s plenty of political intrigue surrounding the supervisors whose votes are seen as instrumental to the legislation passing at the full board, which would take at least six votes.

An email surfaced in January suggesting District 5 Supervisor London Breed had committed to backing the legislation while on the campaign trail last year. She has denied making the promise.

In District 10, City Hall sources say, Supervisor Malia Cohen is facing political pressure to support the legislation since Visitacion Valley Asian Alliance spokeswoman Marlene Tran has come out strongly in support of condo conversions. Tran had a strong showing in the 2010 District 10 supervisorial race, buoyed by the district’s increasing Asian demographic, and could pose a threat to Cohen’s 2014 re-election bid.

Tran went on Sing Tao Chinese Radio recently with Supervisor Mark Farrell, who introduced the legislation. She also brought out an estimated 50 residents to support the proposal during a Jan. 28 board committee hearing, and Tran said she plans to continue advocating for its passage.

Yet she said she’s not using the issue to boost a potential District 10 run in 2014.

“I didn’t think of it that way,” Tran said. “We want to fund affordable housing.”

Tran also said she understands the dilemma of tenancy-in-common owners. She said she had wanted to convert a building she owned to condos several years ago, but then gave up on the idea after learning how challenging the process was.

Under the legislation, tenancy-in-common owners who participated and lost out in the 2012 and 2013 lotteries could convert by paying a fee of up to $20,000 per unit. The City’s lottery system allows 200 units a year to be converted into condos. Fees collected would go toward construction of affordable housing.

Tran said she has not received compensation for her advocacy or discussed campaign support with members of Plan C, the homeowner advocacy group pushing the proposal.

“I don’t barter for that kind of thing,” she said.

Tran said a member of the Small Property Owners of San Francisco Institute, of which she also is a member, told her about the proposal and that’s when she decided to get behind it.

“I feel like this is a worthy cause,” Tran said. “I do address a lot of issues.”

Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Lee is expected to weigh in on the proposal today. He has been asked to lay out his position during this month’s question  session at the Board of Supervisors.

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