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Politics & Policy

Breed sick of Peskin’s ‘shenanigans’: Housing spat carves battle lines in San Francisco mayoral race

A group of people in safety vests and hard hats, with a woman in a purple blazer standing out at the center.
Mayor London Breed stands with members of the Nor Cal Carpenters Union on the front steps of City Hall during a rally in support of housing legislation. Breed and YIMBY activists are castigating Board President Aaron Peskin's record on housing, an issue that could be come red hot this November. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Just days after Board President Aaron Peskin planted the seeds for a possible mayoral run, battle lines are being drawn between the potential progressive challenger and those accusing him of undermining housing development at every turn as the November election nears.

Critics of Peskin's housing record now include an individual who could be his greatest roadblock in achieving his mayoral aspirations—Mayor London Breed—who conversely appears to be stepping up her rhetoric against the veteran politician in anticipation of what may be the most serious threat to her reelection bid yet.

Breed didn't hold back on Monday with her words about Peskin, lobbing criticisms that may end up highlighting a key wedge issue in the mayoral race, in addition to crime, homelessness, public safety and the post-Covid economic recovery.

"I'm sick of his shenanigans," said Breed about Peskin on the steps of City Hall. "You wonder what's gone wrong with this city? Everywhere you look around, there's a way to say 'no.'"

A man in a suit speaks at a clear podium, gesturing, with a blurred woman in the background.
District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin is expected to launch a bid for mayor. His critics accuse him of blocking housing at every turn. | Source: Philip Pacheco for The Standard

Breed's comments come after frustrations among YIMBY activists spilled out into public view on Monday, with claims that Peskin in recent months has been testing the waters on whether San Franciscans skeptical of building more housing are his ticket to the mayorship—all while the city faces a chronic shortage of affordable living spaces.

"This isn't his first anti-housing action," said Jane Natoli, organizing director for San Francisco's YIMBY Action, during Monday's rally. "He's actually accrued quite a long list, even recently."

YIMBY activists point to two recent incidents: At the beginning of February, Peskin was the sole vote in supporting opposition to a redevelopment project in Pacific Heights. And at the end of the month, an ordinance introduced by Peskin passed that imposes density limits on certain neighborhoods of North Beach, an effort he says was necessary to protect nearly two-century-old buildings in an area that has some of the city's most historic structures.

On Monday, YIMBYs continued to vent frustrations with Peskin after he made changes to a housing bill sponsored by Breed and Supervisor Myrna Melgar. They described Peskin's effort to change the bill as a "poison pill."

Breed and Melgar's bill would allow for denser housing along some of the city's commercial corridors, part of a wider effort by the city to comply with its housing plan submitted to the state.

Peskin's changes would require that any additional units built within a lot be subject to rent control, a policy that YIMBY activists claim discourages new construction by making projects financially untenable.

woman in purple suit sitting
Supervisor Myrna Melgar attends the weekly Board of Supervisors meeting at City Hall in San Francisco on Feb. 27. | Source: Morgan Ellis/The Standard

Peskin is also proposing that if units are added to a lot, the city cannot utilize the state's density bonus, which in turn shuts down the possibility for a building to see a height increase. On Monday, the Land Use and Transportation Committee sent the amended bill to the Planning Commission.

In response to criticisms coming his way, Peskin said in an interview that Breed was "politicizing something rather than having a mature policy conversation" and added that his suggestions were "going to be good for the people that we want to provide residential dwellings for."

"So, why is the mayor out there on the steps of City Hall?" Peskin asked as he was leaving the board's chambers. "Because it's election season, and maybe, although I haven't declared, I might be her opponent. It's a political game. But this is politics. I asked for it."