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Politics & Policy

Board of Supes roundup: Housing, dirty laundry and lots of hearings

San Francisco City Hall. | Camille Cohen

The Board of Supervisors spent much of Tuesday’s relatively short meeting discussing housing-related issues and putting the final touches on the relaunch of the city’s rent relief program. But they still found time to talk a little trash, literally and figuratively. (As always, wonks looking for the full kit and caboodle can check out the meeting’s complete agenda).

As reported previously, San Francisco is restarting its Covid-19 rent relief program—picking up where the state’s program, which stopped taking applications at the end of March, leaves off. 

The goal is to assist tenants who need help covering rent this month, or who faced barriers to applying for state relief. The program will also help tenants already in eviction court through the Tenant Right to Counsel program. 

To that end the board approved two bills. One, principally sponsored by Supervisor Dean Preston, extends the rent relief program and makes some changes to how certain payments are delivered. Another, sponsored by Mayor London Breed, authorizes larger grants for nonprofit organizations working in the program. 

These items were approved unanimously, but not before Supervisor Hilary Ronen aired concerns about internal squabbling at a subcontractor for the program. 

During discussion, Ronen noted that Gabriel Medina, the recently appointed director of La Raza Community Resource Center, had been lobbying members of the board for amendments to include the organization in eligibility for grants under the program. 

Ronen said that the lobbying was “incredibly troubling,” alluding to internal conflicts between Medina and long-serving staffers at the nonprofit, which she said should preclude its eligibility for contracts under the rent relief program. She went on to say that any amendments to accommodate the nonprofit “would not be good fiscal stewardship.” La Raza Community Resource Center does some work in the program as a subcontractor. 

During further discussion, it was noted by staffers from the Mayor’s Office of Housing that passing the legislation would not bar the nonprofit from eligibility to work for the rent relief program after further review. Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Ahsha Safai expressed concern over the airing of the internal dispute, with Melgar commenting that it made her “deeply uncomfortable… it’s a mistake to have those dynamics be part of the process.” 

The board also approved a resolution approving a $1.8 million settlement by the city with former planning commissioner Dennis Richards and partners. Richards alleged in a lawsuit that the scandal-plagued Department of Building Inspection launched retaliatory inspections and permit revocations against an investment property he was selling after he publicly criticized the agency. 

The case became heated enough that Richards told DBI employees to “go fuck themselves” at a December 2019 Board of Appeals hearing. It also produced allegations that he had used tenant buyouts to expedite the sale of another property while serving as a commissioner. Richards would eventually resign from the commission over the controversy. 

Before voting, Melgar recused herself from the vote, citing her service as president of the Planning Commission during the period Richards served and resigned, and noting she had “strong feelings” on the matter. The supervisors signed off on the settlement by a vote of 10-0. Richards and his partners had originally sought $12 million. 

Also passed was a non-binding resolution sponsored by Supervisor Aaron Peskin urging Assessor-Recorder Joaquin Torres to make all information regarding property transactions in the city available on the web at no cost. As we recently reported, Peskin had introduced similar resolutions upon the swearing in of previous Assessor-Recorders, whose office currently requires members of the public wanting to examine property transactions to physically come to City Hall and use in-house terminals to view the information—paying $3 per page for any printouts they want. 

Roll Call was dominated by hearing requests, though there were two substantive pieces of legislation introduced. Melgar introduced legislation amending the city’s ordinance on Ellis Act evictions, raising the tenant relocation payments to $10,000, and harmonizing language with recent amendments to state law. Supervisor Matt Haney introduced legislation to simplify certain zoning rules in the SoMa in benefit of small businesses. 

Meanwhile, Peskin highlighted recent revelations at the Department of the Environment of solicitation of behested payments from Recology in possible connection with a pending landfill contract, deeming them “more than deeply disturbing,” in requesting a hearing on contracting practices at the department. 

Preston requested a hearing on the recently released recommendations of the Housing Stability Fund Oversight Board, which oversees use of fund revenues in part derived from Proposition I, the surtax on multi-million dollar property sales approved by voters in 2020. 

This may mean a rerun of the fight between Mayor Breed and the supervisors over how to use those funds, which technically are from a general tax and should go to the city’s general fund. In the Summer of 2021 Breed wanted to use the funds to address homelessness and other pressing issues exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Supervisors overrode her veto of a resolution to dedicate the funds to rent relief and social housing programs.

Citing a recent shooting at Alice Chalmers Playground and a recent study by a labor advocacy group on violent crimes against fast-food workers, Safai requested hearings on safety at the city’s fast-food establishments, as well as on public safety strategies for the city’s parks, including the installation of security cameras and the hiring of more Park Patrol officers.