San Francisco election fails to end affordable housing angst

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco voters overwhelmingly approved a $310 million bond for affordable housing this week, acknowledging all is not well in the city marked by skyrocketing rents driven by high-paid tech workers.

But except for the bond, the election did little to clarify the direction San Francisco will head concerning its hot-button issues of housing and growth.

Voters did re-elect pro-development Mayor Ed Lee and reject two proposals seen as obstacles to his growth agenda.

However, they also elected Aaron Peskin as a city supervisor expected to tilt the Board of Supervisors away from the tech-friendly policies seen during the mayor's five years in office.

"The electorate kind of punted until next year," said David Latterman, a San Francisco campaign consultant. "We are going to see all these same issues come up next year."

Long known as a diverse city that provided shelter to people of all incomes, the tech boom has turned San Francisco into a place where newcomers pay well over $3,000 for a modest one-bedroom apartment, while long-time tenants battle evictions intended to make way for new upscale housing.

Perhaps the most divisive measure on the ballot Tuesday was one that would have limited short-term rentals provided in the city by Airbnb and similar companies.

San Francisco-based Airbnb spent more than $8.3 million to defeat the measure, drawing national attention to the rentals that some say are whittling even deeper into the availability of affordable housing.

Backers of Proposition F, who raised $400,000, said they were disappointed by the defeat but not surprised given the amount of money spent by Airbnb.

They plan to lobby City Hall for more changes to regulate short-term rentals, which they say is prompting evictions and ruining the character of unique San Francisco neighborhoods.

"Going to the ballot is not anybody's preference," said Dale Carlson, who led the campaign for the proposition. "If the mayor vetoes it, then we go back to the ballot."

Voters also defeated Proposition I, which would have frozen luxury housing construction in the popular Mission District. The mayor opposed both measures as not doing anything to make housing more affordable.

Critics say Lee has catered too much to Silicon Valley and cite his support of a tax break in 2011 to benefit Twitter as part of a remake of downtown.

Lee's campaign has argued that the city struggled with housing long before he became mayor.

On Wednesday, his campaign touted the success of Proposition A, the bond measure intended to develop and maintain housing for middle- to low-income households. With broad backing from Lee and the Board of Supervisors, as well as tech titans such as Airbnb, the measure collected the two-thirds vote needed to pass.

The last time voters approved a housing bond was in 1996. Two others were rejected in 2002 and 2004.

Lee's campaign also offered congratulations to Peskin, a former supervisor and board president who handily beat the incumbent backed by the mayor for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

Peskin supported the proposal to curb Airbnb.