SF supervisor candidates differ on housing ballot measures

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday November 2, 2022
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San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey, left, and his challenger, Honey Mahogany, both support the Proposition D housing measure; board President Shamann Walton supports the competing Proposition E; and Supervisor Gordon Mar supports both. Photos: Courtesy the candidates
San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey, left, and his challenger, Honey Mahogany, both support the Proposition D housing measure; board President Shamann Walton supports the competing Proposition E; and Supervisor Gordon Mar supports both. Photos: Courtesy the candidates

Housing has been a political hot button issue in San Francisco for decades, and this year is no exception. It has been a top concern among the candidates running this fall for even-numbered supervisor district seats, as city leaders work to meet a state mandate that they build 82,000 units of housing by 2030.

How to do so is the focus of dueling local measures on the November 8 ballot. Proposition D, known as the Affordable Housing - Initiative Petition, aims to streamline the approval process for housing developments while requiring prevailing wages and health care for workers.

Among its backers are Mayor London Breed and gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco). In fact, Wiener is featured in commercials touting Prop D and urging voters to reject Proposition E, titled Affordable Housing - Board of Supervisors.

Supervisors Connie Chan and Aaron Peskin worked with a majority of their board colleagues to place Prop E on the ballot. They argue it will assist in building affordable housing while also ensuring there is local control over the design and impact of the projects.

Opponents, however, criticize Prop E as containing provisions that will do nothing to speed up approval for housing projects and complain it will still subject 100% affordable housing projects to stringent environmental review. Both measures need simple majority votes to pass, and if both receive 50% or more of the vote next Tuesday, then the one with the most total votes will prevail.

The Bay Area Reporter asked in its questionnaire for this year's crop of supervisorial candidates where they stood on the two ballot measures. Their answers ran the gamut from either supporting or opposing them to being neutral on one of the two.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who represents the Castro district where high housing costs have been blamed for driving out its LGBTQ residents, is a hard no on Prop E. But he is remaining neutral on Prop D, although he did vote for the local Democratic Party to have a "No Endorsement" on it as a member of its governing body. The party is against Prop D and endorsed Prop E.

Mandelman told the B.A.R. that both of the measures are "flawed" but that Prop D appears to be the better of the two, as "it seems likely to actually produce housing. It does this by allowing some projects that have been 100% union labor to proceed with a lesser degree of labor protection and by freeing developers from the obligation to negotiate community benefits packages or higher affordability levels with the neighboring community."

The tradeoff, noted Mandelman, is that Prop D will set minimum labor standards, such as a prevailing wage for workers, and slightly enhanced affordability requirements for how many below-market-rate units projects need to deliver.

"I am not formally opposing Prop D, because it at least represents a serious effort to address our need for more market-rate housing production, but I remain uncertain that it gets the trade-offs right and I am concerned that it locks these developer protections in for perpetuity without any opportunity for modification by the board," wrote Mandelman.

His opponent Kate Stoia, a lawyer and straight married mother who lives in Noe Valley with her family, told the B.A.R. that she supports Prop D "because it will actually get housing built."

This housing project was approved in November 2020 after first being proposed in 2019 at the site of the old Sparky's diner, which closed in 2016. Rendering by Kerman Morris Architects  

While she didn't address why she opposes Prop E, Mandelman told the B.A.R. he opposed placing it on the ballot because he questioned its authors' sincerity in wanting to speed up the construction of new housing in the city.

"I voted against Prop E at the Board of Supervisors because it did not seem to me to represent a serious effort by the board to grapple with the challenge of needing to increase housing production in the city, but rather seems almost entirely an effort to undermine the mayor's measure, which at least is a serious (if flawed) effort to get more housing built," wrote Mandelman.

Supporting Prop E is Board President Shamann Walton, who represents District 10 where Black residents of Hunters Point and the Bayview have also decamped from the city because of high housing costs. Referring to it as the Affordable Housing Production Act, Walton predicted Prop E would create an average of 30% more additional affordable units on-site citywide if it were to pass.

"It defines a range of low to middle incomes capped at $3,600 for a 2-bedroom home, has construction worker protections to provide apprenticeship training, and pathways to union jobs for local workers," wrote Walton, a straight ally who is the first Black man to be board president. "It also requires affordable units to include 2 or 3 bedroom homes for family housing instead of just studios and sets a construction timeline within two years."

District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, a straight married father who represents the Sunset District, supports both Prop D and Prop E. As for why he has endorsed both measures, Mar explained to the B.A.R. it is because he believes "in the production of affordable housing units, and finding ways to supply new housing options for San Francisco's low-income families and educators."

His opponent, gay former journalist Joel Engardio, is supporting Prop D and was critical of Prop E for focusing "less on middle-income housing and, according to an analysis by SPUR 'places onerous new labor standards and inclusionary requirements on mixed-income projects that will only make it harder to build affordable housing.' If we want families to stay in San Francisco, we need to build middle-income housing."

Engardio argued that Prop D "will create more middle-income housing and let a larger pool of workers get good-paying construction jobs."

Criticism of rejected project
He was critical of Mar and his board colleagues' vote a year ago that rejected a development proposal to build 495 units, with 24% affordable, on a parking lot South of Market at 469 Stevenson Street. Such decisions make it hard for the city to meet its housing obligations, argued Engardio, and put it in danger of having local control over such projects taken away by state officials.

"We can't keep the status quo of not building anything. Forces greater than the Board of Supervisors are going to take over," wrote Engardio. "Governor (Gavin) Newsom says San Francisco isn't doing enough to build more housing. With our housing approval process under state review, we risk losing local control of how and where housing is built."

Gay District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, appointed to fill the vacancy created when Matt Haney departed in the spring for the state Assembly, also opposes Prop E and backs Prop D. He noted to the B.A.R. that he was "proud" to be the first supervisor to endorse Prop D.

"The proposal will make it faster and easier to build affordable and new homes in San Francisco for low- and middle-income San Franciscans, public school teachers, and those who work in public schools or at community colleges," wrote Dorsey. "This will support a more sustainable transit-first vision for the city that will make it easier for our educators to both live and work in the city — avoiding hours-long commutes from far-off locales as congestion and gas prices worsen."

He also brought up the Stevenson project vote and told the B.A.R. he would have voted in favor of it. Haney had championed the project and was critical of his former colleagues for rejecting it.

Dorsey praised his opponent, local Democratic Party Chair Honey Mahogany, for also endorsing Prop D. But he called her decision to abstain from voting on Prop E when the party's governing body weighed in on the ballot measures "as wholly disingenuous."

"It's intellectually dishonest to be neutral on a measure whose success would kill the measure one is ostensibly supporting, and I feel it's a level of political game-playing we don't need more of on the Board of Supervisors — especially when it comes to housing," Dorsey told the B.A.R.

Asked about Dorsey's criticism, Mahogany told the B.A.R. that she abstained from taking a position on Prop E because she "knew how important it was to both labor and community organizations fighting for deeply affordable housing." She added that she didn't want "to burn bridges" with people behind the measure who need to be part of the solution going forward to address the city's lack of affordable housing.

As for why she supports Prop D, Mahogany argued it "would set a foundation to streamline future housing through by-right development, and ensure we can build much needed affordable and teacher housing in our city as fast as possible."

Mahogany, who had worked for Haney at City Hall as his chief of staff, noted that she had been the lead staffer on the 469 Stevenson project. She was critical for how opponents of new housing in the city have used environmental review processes to block such projects.

"We definitely need to make sure we are protecting our environment, but we cannot afford to keep blocking good housing from being built," wrote Mahogany, who would be the first transgender individual and drag queen elected supervisor in the city.

Watching the Stevenson project "get struck down for political reasons has only motivated me more to make changes to our approval process," Mahogany told the B.A.R., adding that if elected she would focus on ensuring the city meets its housing goals required by the state, "and I strongly believe we need to rethink our approach to housing in the city."

Meanwhile, District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, a straight married mom who is running unopposed for reelection, backs Prop D. She told the B.A.R. she believes it will make it easier to build housing in the city.

"There is no question that there is too much red-tape when it comes to addressing our housing affordability crisis as people are priced out of the city we love," wrote Stefani, who represents the Marina, Pacific Heights, and Cow Hollow neighborhoods. "Teachers and low and middle income families have nowhere to go and we need to do more. In my opinion, Prop D does more to remove that red tape while Prop E includes poison pills that will make it harder to build."

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