Panel: Progressives and the 2015 mayoral election

Mon Jul 27, 2015 10:38:00 am

On Thursday, July 23, San Francisco for Democracy cohosted a discussion program on the upcoming mayor's race.  The panel, put together by the S F Progressive Democrats, and moderated by KALW's Rose Aguilar, was largely devoted to possible wins for progressives in this election.  Panelists included Tim Redmond of, housing activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca, and mayoral candidates Amy Farah Weiss and Francisco Herrera.  You can watch the video here.

Rose Aguilar started things off by letting us know about some shows she's been doing on local issues likely to be addressed in the discussion, including solutions to homelessness and the effect of global investment capital on our housing prices.  In the future she will also be hosting discussions on local transit issues, boot camps for renters, and land trusts.

Tim Redmond said he had spent most of the day rueing the deterioration of the SFDCCC over the past few years – it's become dominated by real estate and other right-wing interests. The previous night, the once-progressive body declined to endorse a proposal by the Public Defender's Racial Justice Committee that the SFPD redouble efforts to assign minority officers to minority neighborhoods (in line with the President's call), adopting instead one congratulating the SFPD on its 21st century policing methods.  We must do something about this organization and its endorsement power to have any hopes for progressive gains in 2016.

It's going to be very hard for a challenger to win the Mayor's race, says Redmond; not only will the media not cover you, they're calling Lee “unopposed.”  The way to score wins is probably less a matter of runningi against the Mayor himself, but against his policies, which are unpopular throughout the city, and likely the best way to get people out to vote, hopefully for progressive candidates.

This election can be a referendum on the Ed Lee administration; in particular the measure to regulate AirBnB, which Lee opposes. In every neighborhood people are unhappy with what AirBnB has done. Additionally, winning the mission moratorium, which the mayor also opposes, and the District 3 supervisor race against his appointed supervisor would send a message that the way things are now is not acceptable.  Redmond claims that we can win District 3 with 6500 votes.

Tommi Avicolla Mecca he has worked for the Housing Rights Committee for fifteen years, and started a number of institutions to take care of the needs of low income people. He said that tonight's discussion reminded him of the 1999 write-in Ammiano campaign, when the city was also in a housing crisis being ignored by the city government.  Ammiano ultimately didn't win, but the campaign mobilized a lot of people and brought international attention to the issues that not only brought housing wins, but resulted in a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors.

This time around, Avicolla Mecca is emphasizing direct action: getting large numbers of people to planning meetings and Supervisor votes.  These tactics have already resulted in wins, such as the $50 million the Mayor's housing bond would allocate to affordable housing, and the development at 490 S. Van Ness, which will now be 100% affordable.  But, as the sticker he was wearing proclaimed, it's not nearly enough – a paltry few new units in a sea of evictions.  People are losing their homes all over town - “Imagine if the Haight, the Castro, SOMA, Chinatown, North Beach did what the Mission did” in getting residents to City Hall protests.  The rest of the city needs to be organized and brought out to campaign for their rights.

It was despair over the 2014 election results that drove Amy Farah Weiss to run for mayor. A longtime neighborhood activist, Weiss started the YIMBY (Yes In My Back Yard) movement, because she felt there needed to be an emphasis on the positive - what can we do, rather than what are we against.  “We have to ask ourselves what is our righteous and strategic yes.”

Weiss points out that a grassroots mayoral campaign could get assistance from Bernie Sanders – he showed up in Richmond, after all.  San Francisco is the epicenter of the kind of economic inequity that he campaigns against.  Other than that, progressives need to cooperate, to use ranked choice voting “for what it was intended for,” to have a chance.  This is something San Francisco for Democracy has repeatedly stressed over the years, to little avail.

Amy compares San Francisco to a garden, and sees large businesses replacing small local ones with their “GMO monoculture,” and getting rid of the very things that make the city special.  Our government has the power to prevent this, but they aren't doing it.  She also does not understand why Ed Lee, a former Chinatown activist, is doing nothing to stop evictions now.

Weiss pointed out that, since the city is at the center of the contractor economy, we are the ones who should start to do something about the whittling away of the rights of workers.  Something also needs to be done about owners keeping storefronts empty, and about the failure to obtain an EIR for employee ("google") buses.  In response to the media's calling the election a “cakewalk” for Lee, Weiss is holding an actual cakewalk in front of City Hall on August 17. Be sure to take her voter survey at

Francisco Herrera is a professional interpreter and a founding member of such organizations as the Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, the Coalition to Assist Survivors of War and Torture, and Oakland's Catholic Worker House.  He agrees with Weiss that progressives need to properly use ranked choice to have any hope of winning.

Herrera sees an “oligarchical city moving towards tyrannical,” as the executive has too much power, and too many powerful "friends."  San Francisco is a “third world city,” with a small group of extremely rich people at the top, and a huge underclass who don't have enough to live.  People with full time jobs are having to live in their cars, and 2700 children are living either in cars or in other people's living rooms.  We are short 300 teachers because teachers can't afford to live here. One consequence of the lack of affordability is that 70% of city workers can't vote on city issues, because they can't live here.

Lack of planning is a big part of the problem in Francisco's eyes, not only on the city's part, but on the part of progressives. With a good plan, we know how to move ahead together.  Like the other speakers, he sees displacement as a citywide problem that can be leveraged to win political victories.

Rose mentioned the influx of international capital into San Francisco from places like China, Canada, and England, being used to build large numbers of high end investment units that nobody is living in, some of which are selling for up to $20 million per condo.  Tim agreed that investment capital is pouring into the city at an unprecedented rate, and that housing decisions are not being made based on need, but where the highest return is.  But developers do not have a natural right to build whatever they want - voters can control what they want built in the city; they just have to do it.

Unlike the previous dot com boom, Redmond doesn't see this one as likely to crash. This means that our current issues are long-term ones that we have to to find solutions to.  The city needs to put its foot down with regard to things like high-end housing, and there's no reason it can't do so.  Everyone does not have to be allowed to move here; if companies are going to come, they need to help with the planning and funding for transportation and housing of their employees. He cited a recent study that found that every 100 units of market rate housing built creates demand for 40-50 units of affordable housing.  We haven't built any of the latter yet.

Avicolla Mecca recapitulated an interesting encounter he had with Ron Conway.  Once when Conway was bemoaning the plight of San Franciscans losing their housing, Avicolli Mecca challenged him to donate $1 billion to the community land trust, a local institution that buys land and leases it to the tenants' co-op for 99 years.  Conway showed interest, and instructed Jeremy Wallenberg, director of sfcity (Conway's tech charity) to follow up.  Avicolli Mecca has hopes this will bear fruit - "the tech industry is the only thing around that can bail us out of this."

Herrera noted that it's important to counter the idea that just because you have a lot of money, you can do anything you want with it.

An audience member asked about attempts to regulate people buying houses but not living in them. The problem is knowing when this is the case, said Redmond.  Even the Mayor has complained about the inability to regulate vacant units.

Another questioner asked about efforts to strengthen / augment rent control.  Any such efforts are severely restrained by the state's Costa Hawkins law of 1995, said Amy.  Most Sacramento pols are from rural areas that do not understand the need for rent control, and can easily be paid to defeat it.  Herrera pointed out that the city has a lobbyist in Sacramento who should be working on this and other similar issues.

What is the current relationship between the city and tech companies, and what are the latter doing to help with the situation?  Redmond responded that the only thing they ever seem to want to donate is tech services and training. He offered an anecdote about a nonprofit he's part of, that provides legal support to seniors.  It used to be located on mid-Market, but when the tech boom raised rents there, it had to move to a steep part of Sutter street; now the old folks it's supposed to serve can't get to it anymore.  “What we need is rent subsidies . . . Nonprofits can't move to Oakland.”  He doesn't think tech workers are taking responsibility for what they've done to the city.  Herrera pointed out that of the 40% local hires promised by Twitter, they've barely managed 11% so far.

How do candidates plan to get the new tech population to vote for them? Amy responded that she spends a lot of time on twitter and facebook, and that she finds “bridge people” who work in tech but lived in SF before the boom, to be a big help. “Once people have been here for three or four years, they feel like part of the place.”  Herrera said you motivate people to vote by giving them a vision of the future. According to Redmond, many of the recent arrivals are not registered to vote; they spend most of their time on the peninsula and aren't very involved in local politics.  The city has lost a lot of voters the past few years.  He also pointed out that no one is very motivated to register new voters these days, since campaigns tend to focus on people already known to turn out.

The issue of homelessness came up.  Eviction is the #1 cause of homelessness in San Francisco.  29% of homeless people are still LGBT; also the homeless population is getting progressively older and sicker and moving from developing areas to the Marina and Castro.  Bevan Dufty has tried to bring some of the small homeless “communities” as groups into the navigation center to get them into hotels, an effort which brought praise from Avicolli Mecca.  He pointed out that San Francisco has always been a city of refuge, but the refugees can't afford it any longer; even if they find a job the can't pay the rent.  There's also a nasty phenomenon in the Castro, where neighborhood groups are turning anti-homeless.

Francisco pointed out that, in this wealthy city, 100 people die on the street every year, and that a lot of evictees are living in cars or sharing the living room of someone they know.  Homelessness has a lot to do with mental and physical health, and there is not enough public health outreach.  Amy saw opportunities to use city land for interim housing that the homeless can build themselves.

Be sure to check out the website for Amy Farah Weiss at

Also Francisco Herrera's at


Tags: Tim Redmond, Tommi Avicolli Mecca, Amy Farah Weiss, Francisco Herrera, 2015 mayoral election, Rose Aguilar


Quote of the Day:


Play Whack-a-Murdoch

Join our Yahoo group
(discussion, etc.)

Progressive Radio!