Two good questions for Mayor Lee

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C'mon, Mr. Mayor, just answer the questions.
Steven T. Jones

UPDATED When Mayor Ed Lee appears before the Board of Supervisors this afternoon (Tues/12) for the voter-mandated monthly “Formal Policy Discussions” (aka Question Time), he will be asked a couple of good, relevant questions with no easy answers. This is exactly what voters and progressive supervisors intended, a serious policy discussion, rather than sterile, hollow ritual that our current crop of politicians have turned it into.

The first question is by Sup. Eric Mar, who asks, “The Municipal Transportation Agency recently released its Draft Bicycle Strategy, which lays out an aggressive plan to upgrade San Francisco's bicycle facilities. It supports biking for everyone, including seniors, families, and persons with disabilities. However, I am hearing growing concerns both in my district and city-wide about the mismatch between verbal commitments to better bicycling and budget realities. Currently, bicycle projects account for just 0.46 percent of all MTA capital. This is not enough to get us to the goals laid out in the Bicycle Strategy. How will you fund the Bicycle Strategy to make San Francisco a national leader in bicycling safety and use?”

Great question! This report, which came out in December, has the modest, realistic goal of increasing the share of vehicle trips taken by bike from 3.5 percent last year up to 8-10 percent by 2018. That already seems to abandon the official city goal – heavily touted by Lee and Board President David Chiu – of 20 percent by 2020. But even this new plan isn't fully funded, so the question is simply asking the mayor whether he will put his money where his mouth is.

The second question comes from Chiu, who is trying to find a way to mediate the very real and challenging dispute between the city's renters and those trying to convert more apartments into condos. Understanding where Lee stands on the issue is important to solving this problem, and Chiu's question seems to genuinely seek guidance from the chief executive.

He asks, “Mr. Mayor, the Board of Supervisors is considering legislation to allow existing owners of Tenancies in Common (TICs) to bypass the condominium conversion lottery and be converted after the payment of a fee. I recently asked supporters of the legislation and tenant advocates to engage in negotiations, which Supervisor Farrell and I are hosting.

“What is your position on this pending legislation? What protections would you support to prevent the loss of rent-controlled housing in our increasingly unaffordable city? How would you address the concern that if we allow the current generation of TIC owners to convert, we will replace then with a new generation of TIC owners and additional real estate investments that will lead us right back to an identical debate within a short time?”

Again, excellent questions that go right to heart of one of the central struggles facing this city: Who gets to live here? And given Lee's role in relentlessly promoting taxpayer-subsidized economic development strategies that are gentrifying the city and fueling this clash, one could argue that he has a moral obligation to help find a solution to this problem, or at the very least to say where he stands so voters can judge him accordingly.

Mayor Lee received these questions last week, so he and his staff have had plenty of time to think about them and prepare real, substantive answers. Will we get real answers or just the normal political platitudes that kick the can down the road in dealing with these pressing problems? We'll see. Tune in at 2 pm to SFGOVTV to watch yourself, or check back here later and I'll tell you what Mayor Lee said.

4PM UPDATE: And the winner is...meaningless political platitudes, misleading data, and shameless fence-sitting.

“I can't say that I have a magic solution to this issue that will make everyone happy,” was how Mayor Lee answered Chiu's question about the condo lottery bypass legislation, after saying he understood the positions of TIC owners who want to convert to condos and tenant groups concerned about the loss of what he called “the precious few rent-controlled units.”

Lee said he hopes that the two sides can find a “consensus solution” to the problem, which seems to indicate that he does indeed believe in magic considering the diametrically opposed viewpoints of the two sides and the zero sum game this issue represents. Afterward, I told the mayor that he didn't seem to take a position on the issue and asked him to elaborate on what should be done, and he maintained that, “I actually did take a position, even though it didn't sound like it, because I actually believe they have good points on both sides.”

Yet when KCBS reporter Barbara Taylor tried to help discern what that position may be, asking whether we could at least say that Lee didn't support the legislation in its current form, he wouldn't even agree to that weak stance. No, his position was that both sides have good points, even though they're opposing points, and he's hoping for the best. Next question.

Lee didn't provide a clear or responsive answer on the bike question either. He reiterated his support for cycling improvements and said, “SFMTA's prime responsibility is to ensure the streets are safe for all San Franciscans, and that includes bicyclists.” And he tried to dispute Mar's point about how less than a half of 1 percent of the agency's capital budget goes to bicycling improvements.

“To look at the percentage might not tell the whole story,” Lee said, citing how the SFMTA and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority are now seeking about $40 million in state and federal grants for transportation projects that would include cycling infrastructure improvements.

And that might have seemed like a somewhat responsive answer to the casual listener who isn't aware that the price tag for improvements identified in the SFMTA Bicycle Strategy total about $200 million, of which the agency has only identified about $30 million in available funding. So the question of “How will you fund the Bicycle Strategy?” remains unanswered.

Perhaps it was too much to expect straight answers from a politician.

Comments

Bike lanes don't necessarily slow down transit. But they need to be studied to determine whether or not they do and if they do whether those delay impacts can be mitigated. If they can't, I'm all for not building bike facilities and prioritizing transit first as attractive transit makes cycling safer and more attractive than any one bike facility.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

when i was at work and firefox farted on my name.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 6:31 pm

heading south off Market that is two lanes wide that always has a cab racing down it, that thing is dangerous. I'm sure "they do it in Europe" or some such thing, but I avoid that bike lane when I'm on my bike. Feel free to get crushed by a car in your safe bike lane.

Your "Bicycle lanes don't slow down Muni. Private cars do." makes no sense. I think that comment is the product of some sort of conditioning.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

The 8th Street Bike Lane is not intuitive to motorists, especially those who turn south from Folsom. It is like a mixed-use lane. The City gets the latest fashion into its craw and decides that every problem is a nail and they've got a hammer.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 6:23 pm

Putting in real cycle tracks, and everything is solved.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 1:12 pm

Except when I want to veer left to pass and there is a slab o'concrete there.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 1:37 pm

streetcars and cable cars. Is that what you meant?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

That was such an easy one to predict, and low and behold I was correct.

There is no reason to trust the city at this point around anything like this, the goal is to soak up funds for their own departments anyway they can.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 5:28 pm

“I can't say that I have a magic solution to this issue that will make everyone happy,” was how Mayor Lee answered Chiu's question about the condo lottery bypass legislation, after saying he understood the positions of TIC owners who want to convert to condos and tenant groups concerned about the loss of what he called “the precious few rent-controlled units.”

Reading between the lines:

Not surprisingly, he's for the TIC owners because he says he "understood the position of TIC owners" and then says, "the precious few rent-controlled units." "Precious few?" He's minimizing the rent-controlled units with that statement. That tells me where he stands (with the Real Estate Industrial Complex). Also, he's a corporatist.

So, he's for the TIC owners as I would expect him to be, regardless of his newspeak (“I actually did take a position, even though it didn't sound like it, because I actually believe they have good points on both sides.”)

Thank you for the update.

International Troll Society Member #12360969212

Posted by International Troll Society Member #12360969212 on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 5:39 am

about 200,000 RC units in SF. So what does ir matter what happens to a few hundred of them that are already owner-occupied anyway?

Posted by anon on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 7:41 am

To my knowledge, the City Family has never told us how many housing units are under rent-control and their breakdown by unit size and location; how many housing units are owner-occupied, including those in TIC buildings; how many units have been vacant for more than 1 year; how many housing units are not under rent-control and their breakdown by unit size and location; and how many housing units are mere investments and vacation homes used sporatically by the world's financial elites. They don't even keep adequate records about the demographics, including other housing the buyers may own, of the people who have bought newly constructed units over the past 15 years.

A number of co-workers banded together to buy a few of units at One Rincon and other newly built luxury projects and made a substantial profit both from renting out the units as landlords/speculators (and getting lucrative tax write-offs in the process) and then flipping the units a couple of years later at very low capital gain tax rates. Each speculator made a small fortune on the deals.

How the Planning Department can "plan" when it has little idea of who is buying what is one of the many intrigues of The City Family's incestuous relationship to real estate speculators, developers, landlords, and property flippers.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

There was a report commissioned by the Board of Supervisors from the Rent Board in the early 1990s that laid that all out. Check the Rent Board website archives.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

Early 2000s, typo.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 6:47 pm

You may be right, but when I heard Mayor Lee say this I thought that he or his staff had been reading SFBG articles and comments since this has been one of the most forceful arguments against Wiener's massive condo conversion plan: the rent-contolled units are gone forever after condo conversion and rent-controlled units are, in fact, some of San Francisco's most valuable ("precious") housing units for generations of future SF residents. I detected some potential political vulnerability over the issue after hearing his "precious few" comment, although it's true many politicians are master word manipulators.

Wiener's and Farrell's goal to convert 2,000 currently rent-controlled units into condos could be used to breathe some fresh blood into the city's many housing organizations since it seems clear one of the goals Wiener and Farrell are hoping from the legislation is to encourage more tenant evictions so that more TIC units can be created. Self-preservation is a powerful organizing force. Being dumped into the gutter by a future TIC converter won't be a very pleasant experience for most current tenants.

Every tenant in D2 and D8 should be made aware that their supervisor thinks it's better to have unaffordable condos over rent-controlled housing, and that these superviors are deliberately pitting two groups of SF residents against one another. Perhaps some will decide to get involved to make sure this legislation doesn't get passed, and maybe a few others will work to defeat these supervisors and any others who support the legislation.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 6:10 pm

My point was that there are far more than "a few." That's what seemed minimizing. You're exactly correct.

"and that these superviors are deliberately pitting two groups of SF residents against one another."

That's been the status quo of the D8 supervisor since he took office. To pit one group against the other (such things as sit-lie, nudity ban, etc.) A most divisive politician.

International Troll Society Member #12360969212

Posted by International Troll Society Member #12360969212 on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 6:38 pm

Is Mirkarimi's TIC in the condo lottery?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 10:58 am

I'm fairly sure some other so-called housing activists have has shared-ownership deals though - Hestor, Welch and of course our very own homegrown hypocrit, marcos.

Posted by anon on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 11:13 am

His TIC partner is an elementary school teacher.

http://www.sfethics.org/files/ATT6GNGM.pdf

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 11:36 am
Posted by anon on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

I'm no Ed Lee fan, but he's right when he says that there are good points on both sides. TICs do represent an easier path to home ownership, and not all--not necessarily even most--will be occupied by their owners. And it's true that this also represents a reduction in available rent-controlled units. But as usual, the Guardian's editors see no nuance, only a zero sum game.

He should take a position on this legislation, and propose changes that will ameliorate the bad consequences either way. That would show some real leadership. (I don't expect him to.)

Posted by Hortencia on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

and not implement the policies of the opponent that the people rejected by a huge margin - Avalos.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 1:42 pm

Why are you and other Lee believers still campaigning for your god Lee, pleb? The election is over and has been for months, pleb. Your god only got 30% of the vote in the first round and 59% in the final round. No "mandate," pleb. Insipid amateur troll. You are an embarrassment to legitimate trolls.

International Troll Society Member #12360969212

Posted by International Troll Society Member #12360969212 on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

final "runoff" vote is a healthy step in the right direction, and might actually help you understand why SF politics are going in the direction that it is doing.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 4:11 pm

Pleb, Unlike you, I'm not partisan. I can't stand partisans with their team mentality. I'm objective which is why I "admitted" your god Lee got 59% at the 12th round! It's not an "admission" pleb. I was merely stating fact according to the DOE, pleb. Simpleton.

International Troll Society Member #12360969212

Posted by International Troll Society Member #12360969212 on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

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