Progressive Failure

Why San Francisco supervisors who call themselves progressives should get the boot in November

At least, not directly.

Last month, on the Friday before a Monday meeting, "progressive" Supervisor Chris Daly, who represents the part of the Mission that includes the armory and the printing plant, slipped an all-but-unnoticed item onto the agenda of the Board of Supervisors Land Use Committee. The item would have rezoned a small area of San Francisco in a way that seemed specifically designed to kill the armory and printing-plant projects.

In theory at least, even in San Francisco it's unconstitutional to pass laws specifically designed to punish one's enemies. So anti-development lawyer Sue Hestor came to Daly's office with a bill that punished developers of projects she objected to, yet maintained the appearance of a more generalized reform of zoning laws, a person familiar with the matter says.

What we may as well call the Hestor bill would shrink allowed building heights in the area from about nine stories to around three or four stories. The bill would, therefore, kill the six-story printing-plant project and the 184 units planned for the armory. The measure would also have killed a 36-unit, lower-income apartment project to be managed by the St. Vincent de Paul Society, as well as a 110-unit apartment building planned for the same block at 14th and Mission streets.

In all, the Hestor measure would have killed some 1,000 apartments in the area it addressed, developers' representatives and planning experts I spoke to said.

Those few who knew about the Land Use Committee hearing on the Hestor-written, Daly-sponsored bill could see for themselves that the apartment-killing aspect seemed to be the whole point of the legislation.

Progressive activists should be personally allowed to run San Francisco's planning process, one speaker at the hearing seemed to say. And land use that's best for the city at large isn't necessarily the favorite of Mission activists.

"This legislation is very important because this is how we've had to do it, we've had to do the planning piecemeal, and we've had to do it ourselves. This is why we're coming to the supervisors. Unless you guys do it, this concept of highest and best use is going to continue," said Luis Granados, executive director of the Mission Economic Development Association, speaking on behalf of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition.

New housing projects, meanwhile, are an aberration that must be stopped, Hestor suggested.

"People in the Mission have been asking for this area to be rezoned for years. Now we've got live-work projects and all this market housing approved. That's screwy," added Hestor.

When they were done, progressive Supervisor Jake McGoldrick chimed in with his own analysis: "It appears no nonprofit development has been happening on these parcels, and as Sue Hestor was saying, the land, because of its zoning, is way too high-priced for nonprofits to go in and compete with the for-profits."

To translate into the type of English spoken by nonprogressives: The proper response to this spate of law-abiding proposals to improve a blighted area and create new housing is to order political hits that will delay and eventually dry up the financing for the for-profit housing projects, so duly anointed, progressive, nonprofit developers can pick up the spoils at a discount.

A couple of years ago, the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition successfully urged the Planning Commission to reject an early version of Rosas-Maxemin's housing plans for the printing-plant site. Back then, the Mission Housing Development Corp., through a broker, sent a letter to the building's owner, offering to buy the property.

"The only thing I gathered after this letter was that they were trying to create the kind of atmosphere where I gave up, and then they would make a deal with me," says Mike Davos, owner of the printing plant.

Rosas-Maxemin, the project manager for the printing-plant conversion, is more blunt: "They were trying to sabotage my approval so they could buy it behind my back."

Luis Granados did not return a call requesting comment.

At last month's Monday committee meeting, progressive Supervisors Daly, McGoldrick, and Aaron Peskin voted to send the legislation to the next day's Board of Supervisors meeting. Progressive Supervisor Matt Gonzalez asked that his name be added as a co-sponsor of the bill. That Tuesday, at Daly's urging, the board gave the bill preliminary approval by a vote of 7-to-4, sans debate.

And so went, it seemed, another chapter of How Things Work in Progressive San Francisco:

Progressive nonprofits and activist allies extort concessions from their economic rivals, obtaining land through political maneuvers and government funding through political relationships, all while guaranteeing that as little housing and business space as possible gets built in San Francisco.

This multilevel maneuvering drives up prices for housing and small business space, thus perpetuating the perceived need for "anti-displacement," "economic development," and nonprofit "housing development" groups.

Everybody's taken care of -- except, that is, the people who need a job, or who wish their neighborhoods to become safer and more attractive, or, heaven forbid, who need a place to live in San Francisco.

All would have gone according to the above, oft-used progressive template but for an unusual turn of events. Hestor and her Mission nonprofit allies made an uncharacteristic miscalculation. Included in their downzoning proposal were as many as eight parcels of land owned by the pension fund of the Plumbers and Pipefitters Union Local 38. While trying to screw over the enemies of San Francisco progressivism, Hestor and her allies inadvertently took on the sleeping dragon of S.F. politics: organized labor.

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