On April 18, Supervisor Mark Farrell made a special appearance at the Board of Supervisors' influential Land Use Committee, of which he is not a member.
During a debate on whether the city should increase how much below-market-rate housing new developments must include — eventually approved on Tuesday, April 26 — Farrell spoke out in favor of an exception to the rule.
This exception would only be for projects turning a commercial building out of compliance with local zoning into housing, but only if a certain application had been filed by January 12, and only if the project was larger than 10 acres in size. It was awfully specific, and it also happened to apply to a specific project in Farrell's district: a proposal from prominent local development firm Prado Group to convert UCSF offices at 3333 California St. into housing, a rare large-scale residential development in Farrell's upscale District 2.
It also just so happened that on April 12, Prado Group CEO Daniel Safier cut Farrell a $2,500 campaign contribution. It wasn't the size of the contribution — other developers, including Russell Flynn, cut Farrell bigger checks that same day — but the timing that floored the moderate Farrell's left-leaning colleagues (who were behind the higher below-market-rate housing requirements).
Did a developer really just buy a friendly amendment — with the transaction laid out in public records?
Not so, according to Farrell, who called the whole affair a regrettable coincidence.
“I had no idea about the contribution,” he told SF Weekly, noting that Safier appears to have responded to a fundraising mass email.
“As soon as I learned about it, I returned it. … I said [to Safier], 'I appreciate your support, but this is distracting from the issue at hand.'”
Reached via telephone, Safier declined to comment to SF Weekly or explain the curious timing between the campaign contribution and the friendly amendment — which, if it was a quid-pro-quo arrangement, would run afoul of campaign finance laws. (It would, in fact, be rank corruption.) “I'm not talking about that,” Safier said.
No problem. Others, including Farrell, are speaking for him. Increasing below-market-rate housing requirements could threaten the financial viability of future residential developments — like Prado's Laurel Heights project, the supervisor said. “They [Prado] have significant concerns about the viability of the project,” he said. “I'm an advocate for more housing in District 2. … I am pro-housing.”
Not that Farrell isn't still in Prado's corner. After the exemption was withdrawn, Farrell was one of only two supervisors to vote against the exemption-less higher affordable housing requirements — which is perfectly legal, no contribution necessary.