Environment, Affordable Housing, Neighborhoods, & Public Health, vs Corporate Real Estate
From 2010 to 2023 there have been multiple attempts at the local and state level to block San Franciscans' access to environmental protections that help us challenge bad corporate real estate projects that gentrify cities, driving rents sky high and destroying neighborhoods and affordable housing.
These corporate attacks always attempt to 'streamline' (i.e. get rid of) environmental and community notification and review that allows San Franciscans to push the pause button on real estate development to make sure it will be good for the city and its neighborhoods. Behind the corporate attacks Big Real Estate always has the same objective - to more easily and quickly build unneeded, greenhouse gas polluting and gentrifying, high priced condos and rental high rises, to trade like gambling chips on Wall Street.
The Fake "Housing Shortage"
These pro luxury housing bills are always peddled with the constantly repeated and completely false claim that housing is too expensive because there is somehow a "shortage" of housing, and if we just build more housing (no matter how high priced) this will supposedly lower the price by increasing the "supply".
What these claims absurdly leave out is the fact that nearly every city and state in the developed West has a vast surplus of vacant housing. According to the U.S. Census, San Francisco has over 61,000 vacant housing units! Los Angeles has over 200,000 vacant units, and the state of California has a whopping 1 million vacant units! That's not a "shortage" its a huge glut of extra, mostly overpriced homes - enough to house every homeless person several times over!
The "housing shortage" myth is relentlessly repeated over and over again by the Big Real Estate funded, fake "nonprofit" front group known under multiple monikers such as "GrowSF". But its most well known name is "YIMBY" (standing for Yes In My Back Yard). For an exposť on this industry front group and its funding, see: YIMBYs: The Darlings of the Real Estate Industry.
The YIMBYs make expansive claims of supporting afforable "working class" housing while doing exactly the opposite, and they have even engaged in disrespectful racist attacks on lower income people of color who are fighting to stop Big Real Estate gentrification from driving them out of their neighborhoods.
Local Victories Against Deceptive "Housing" Bills
In 2010 and 2012 Our City coordinated a broad coalition of environmental, neighborhood, environmental justice, and housing justice organizations, to fight back against deceptive San Francisco "housing" ordinances, cynically launched by politicians like then supervisors Scott Wiener and Michela Alioto-Pier (who had gotten major campaign donations from the real estate industry). The coalition not only sent Wiener, Alioto-Pier and the corporate gentrifiers packing, we won stronger environmental and community protections.
State Level Attack Worsens The Fight
SB-423 has made it much easier for Big Real Estate backed local politicians like Mayor London Breed, along with Supervisors Joel Engardio, Matt Dorsey and Myrna Melgar, to justify local San Francisco bills that seek to pull the rug out from under environmental and community review. These attacks are being led by Mayor Breed who won her last election with the support of massive real estate and corporate landlord donations to her campaign.
Local Coalition Fights Back!
As in 2010 and 2012, Our City is again coordinating a coalition, San Francisco California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) Defenders, to fight back against the new attacks. The first such attack in 2023 was an ordinance from Supervisor Myrna Melgar meant to vastly expand 4-plex, 9-plex, and 12-plex luxury condo and apartment construction.
Together SF CEQA Defenders and the housing justice coalition REP SF (with the help of Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Dean Preston) fought hard to heavily amend Melgar's bill. When the ordinance passed on July 31 2023, local neighborhood noticing of all housing construction was restored, the demolition of rent controlled housing was banned, and stronger protections against corporate real estate speculation were included.
Mayor's Bad Bill Rushed Through Under State Threats
Unfortunately the fight is not yet over. The Mayor and Supervisors Engardio and Dorsey managed to pass a sweeping and dangerous "housing" ordinance which covers much more of the city, pushes construction of much larger luxury high rise condos and rental towers, and threatens lower income neighborhoods with the same type of 'Urban Renewal' which destroyed San Francisco's historic Fillmore District.
In 2023, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors resisted and sidelined the Mayor's ordinance for over eight months. But in December of that year, they reluctantly passed an amended version of the ordinance after receiving a letter from the state of California threatening to level severe sanctions on the city in 2024 (under Scott Wiener's SB-423) if they didn't pass the measure.
Our City, SF CEQA Defenders, and REP SF won important amendments to the Mayor's bill which protect rent controlled housing, preserve some community noticing, and limit corporate housing takeovers, but some of the previous hard won protections gained in the 2012 fight were lost.
Because of the sweeping nature of the Mayor's ordinance, San Francisco now faces the danger of demolitions and gentrification which will undermine afforable housing and damage neighborhoods citywide.
Progressive Supervisors like Dean Preston, Connie Chan, and Hillary Ronen have hinted that they will follow up with more legislation to prevent the threats posed by the rushed passage of Mayor's ordinance. Our City, SF CEQA Defenders, and REP SF will be there to help get this done.