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Politics & Policy

Fearing tall buildings, westside homeowners look to Aaron Peskin

The image shows a man with gray hair and a beard, holding a large "STOP" sign, with a comic-style hand raised in a stop gesture, against an aerial cityscape.
Many moderate westside voters are finding themselves attracted to Aaron Peskin for his stance on rezoning—despite his progressive record. | Source: AI illustration by Jesse Rogala/The Standard; photo by Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Within San Francisco’s relatively narrow political spectrum, Michael Nohr, a Sunset District homeowner, thinks of himself as a moderate.

He supported the recalls of former District Attorney Chesa Boudin and three progressive school board members in 2022 and prefers a more business-friendly environment. Most importantly, he wants a more cautious approach to building dense apartment buildings on the west side of the city.

In the upcoming mayoral election, Nohr is struggling over whether to vote for the most left-leaning candidate—Supervisor Aaron Peskin—because of his similar views on housing.

A man is standing with arms crossed, wearing a dark long-sleeve shirt. He's outside with a blue sky, houses, and greenery in the background. His expression is serious.
Michael Nohr, a moderate voter, says that he's struggling with whether to vote for Aaron Peskin, a progressive candidate for mayor. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

“It is truly a conundrum,” Nohr told The Standard. “Peskin and I are not in alignment on most policies, but he is the only candidate currently making sense on the issue of housing.”

San Francisco’s west side, which generally refers to the area west of Twin Peaks, had been largely zoned for single-family homes, with multi-family buildings banned on most of the land. But as the city grapples with how to meet a state mandate to accommodate 82,000 new homes and city officials look to loosen zoning restrictions, the opposition is mounting on the west side as residents fear mega-projects that they believe would crowd streets and threaten neighborhood character.

A paradox is emerging in the mayor’s race: Peskin, who’s considered progressive on most issues, has been outspoken about prioritizing neighborhood preservation instead of building market-rate housing. That seems to be resonating with homeowners on the west side, who are typically some of the city’s most moderate-conservative voters.

Campaigning on the west side

In early June, Neighborhoods United SF, which is organizing against the city’s rezoning proposals, hosted a town hall meeting on the west side of the city. In an area where progressive politicians typically get a cool reception, Peskin was the star of the show.

In his speech, Peskin said that San Francisco’s coastline and natural beauty are what makes it special. He won applause for his recent fight over building restrictions along the northern waterfront.

“I need your help because it takes a lot of political courage to stand up to the well-funded organizations that are pushing this agenda,” Peskin said.

A woman speaks at a podium labeled "Town Hall Upzoning Impacts." Two men sit beside her, attentively listening in a room with a wooden floor and technical equipment in the background.
Supervisors Joel Engardio and Aaron Peskin attends a town hall meeting focusing on the upzoning impacts in San Francisco as Lori Brooke speaks. | Source: Courtesy Michael Nohr

Lori Brooke, the event organizer and an outspoken critic of rezoning, said that the housing issue has become a priority for many moderate voters. They are looking to Peskin to stand up against rezoning, she said.

“If they were potentially a more moderate voter, this issue has opened their eyes to leadership that would actually fight for the neighborhoods,” Lori told The Standard.

The process of rezoning and building new housing will take a long time. Lydia So, a planning commissioner, doesn’t expect zoning laws to change dramatically before the mayoral election. But the question remains as to whether the housing issue will override other concerns among moderate voters.

Matt Boschetto, a westside homeowner who’s running for District 7 supervisor, said that “extreme housing and planning policies” will drive many westside moderate voters to become “one-issue voters,” supporting a candidate that they agree with on housing but disagree with on almost every other topic.

“In the face of a public safety, mental illness and addiction crisis, this would be tragic for the city,” Boschetto said.

In a statement, Peskin’s campaign said it is gaining momentum on the west side of the city.

“We are finding strong support [on the westside] for Supervisor Peskin’s effective leadership and record of giving neighborhoods a voice at City Hall,” the statement said.

NIMBY or not?

There’s a precedent for progressives and conservatives joining forces on urban development in San Francisco.

In 1986, a ballot measure to cap office building growth in the city was considered one of the first battles that united the progressive anti-displacement activists and conservative homeowners, according to Jane Kim, a former city supervisor and progressive advocate. 

“There’s a very long time history of struggle between what I would call neighborhoods and downtown,” Kim said. “It was the fight of everyday neighborhoods versus big downtown.” In 2018, Kim herself was part of such an alliance. When she was running for mayor as the most far-left candidate, she found some common ground with westside homeowners against a pro-housing state bill.

A woman with gray hair in a ponytail, wearing a dark plaid blazer and a necklace, is standing indoors by a mirror with her reflection visible, surrounded by beige curtains.
Rita O’Hara says Aaron Peskin and Mark Farrell are her top two choices for San Francisco mayor. | Source: Tâm Vũ/The Standard

Rita O’Hara, a Richmond District homeowner who identifies as a moderate voter, said she’s torn between Peskin and Mark Farrell for mayor. Farrell, a businessman with a tough-on-crime message, is considered the most conservative of the top candidates.

“There are many things that I completely disagree with Peskin,” O’Hara said. “What’s important is he’s all about the preservation of San Francisco.”

O’Hara and Nohr both rejected the “NIMBY” label, arguing that they support affordable housing and the city should focus on better utilizing existing vacant units.

“I’m neither a YIMBY nor a NIMBY. I am a YIMBYIDP—If Done Properly,” Nohr said in an email.

Peskin has long been targeted by pro-housing groups as a NIMBY mastermind who has blocked and stalled new housing during his years in office. Peskin counters by saying he backs affordable housing instead of the “luxury towers that none of us can afford.” Breed is considered the most pro-housing-development candidate, while other leading candidates fall somewhere in between Peskin and Breed.

Jason McDaniel, a political science professor at the San Francisco State University, said many voters are not that politically engaged and don’t necessarily sort themselves by the same moderate or progressive labels that political insiders do. 

“I’ve long said that Peskin is the progressive politician who very skillfully appeals to homeowners and he talks about communities, neighborhoods, protection and preservation.” McDaniel said. “He is trying to appeal to those portions of the electorate.”

McDaniel said the winner of the election will be the candidate who can build a broad base of support with second, third and fourth place votes in the city’s ranked-choice voting system. Peskin’s victory is possible if some of the moderate voters put Farrell or Breed as their top choice and Peskin as their second choice, he said.

“If you look at the progressive candidates in citywide elections for the last few elections, they usually get at least 30% to 35% of the [first choice] votes,” he said. “There’s a path for [Peskin] to win this election.”