This week, the Board of Supervisors ended up kicking the can down the road on controversial housing legislation, including an upzoning plan that was picked apart in committee.
They also heard about the pitfall-laden road to restoring Laguna Honda Hospital’s federal funding, new legislation targeting open-air drug dealing and some stark foreshadowing for the coming budget process. (As always, wonks looking for the full kit and caboodle can check out the complete agenda.)
Housing Bills: Back to Development Hell
When District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman introduced legislation last year to legalize denser housing in districts zoned for single-family homes, there was some optimism among housing advocates. Since that time, the legislation has endured the political equivalent of development hell, with multiple amendments in committee and at the Planning Commission.
The bill, paired with another by District 3 Supervisor Aaron Peskin to curb certain “micro unit” developments, was expected to pass Tuesday, but Mandelman asked that the items be continued due to advice from the city attorney, who recommended further amendments.
- Over time, supervisors offered affordability amendments which evolved into making new units developed under the ordinance subject to rent control, among other potentially onerous restrictions.
- The Planning Commission suggested allowing duplexes in districts zoned for single-family housing, but in doing so also exempts San Francisco from state laws that expedite approval for such projects, allowing a return to the discretionary permitting model favored by NIMBYs.
- The Peskin bill would essentially ban certain kinds of studio apartments in the Tenderloin and Chinatown. It’s also being continued since state law won’t allow it to be enacted without the density bill also passing.
- The two bills are the latest round in the city’s housing policy shell game that housing advocates—including Mayor London Breed and California lawmakers like state Sen. Scott Wiener—say supervisors have been playing against their wishes and those of the public.
- Another showdown over the future of housing in the city is coming to the November ballot. The mayor and a coalition of housing advocates are gathering support for Affordable Homes Now, which aims to speed up many affordable and market-rate housing projects.
- District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan has fielded a rival measure with more stringent affordability requirements. Meanwhile, Peskin has proffered a measure to expand rent control to some new housing, and District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston wants to spin off and reorganize the Mayor’s Office of Housing.
Laguna Honda’s “Kafkaesque” Road to Recertification
The meeting also included a hearing on the crisis at Laguna Honda Hospital, which revealed the dilemma the facility now faces: in order to be recertified for federal funding, the hospital has to close down temporarily, forcing close to 700 patients to be transferred or be discharged.
Here’s some of what was uncovered:
- Laguna Honda’s patients receive different kinds of long-term care, from rehabilitation to hospice care. It’s the kind of facility that most other cities have given up on. The hospital has been in operation in one form or another for over 150 years.
- Federal regulators issued warnings to the facility over incidents involving resident patients who left the hospital during the day and then returned suffering from drug overdoses, as well as isolated safety and sanitation violations.
- The incidents reflect a change in the patient population at Laguna Honda, where younger people—often in conservatorship or other behavioral health care—are increasingly admitted.
- The violations culminated in a decision by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to terminate Laguna Honda’s participation in its programs, which account for up to two-thirds of the hospital’s budget. That is, up to $15 million a month.
- Health Network and interim hospital director Roland Pickens outlined the process, which revealed good news and bad news. First, the good news: recertification could happen by year’s end. The bad news? The hospital will have to transfer or discharge patients, and there are only a handful of beds available in the city—most would have to be transferred elsewhere in the state.
- Mandelman deemed the process “Kafkaesque” and “mind boggling.” Preston called it “bonkers.” Board President Shamann Walton questioned any assurances that the hospital has a chance of regaining certification.
- Representatives of the hospital union SEIU 1021, as well as public commenters, urged the city to take the issue up the chain of command—anything to avoid shutting down the hospital.
- In 1999, the last time the facility fell under federal scrutiny, 73% of San Francisco voters approved a $300 million bond to rebuild it.
- The hearing has been continued to Sept. 13.
New Business and Budget Foreshadowing
Supervisors held an emergency hearing on yet another beleaguered behavioral health provider: the recently merged Baker Places and Positive Resource Center. The facility provides drug treatment and care for AIDS patients at a number of locations, including a recently built “Hummingbird Center” psychiatric respite center in the Mission.
The nature of the hearing prompted District 9 Supervisor and Budget Chair Hillary Ronen to let slip a bit of a shocker about the coming budget process.
- Mayor London Breed, along with Mandelman and District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, sponsored grant agreement amendments totaling $3.2 million to bail the nonprofit out of fiscal problems that threatened to shut it down.
- Most of Mandelman and Dorsey’s colleagues were downright incredulous. Ronen, Peskin, Walton, along with District 7 Supervisor Myrna Melgar and District 11 Supervisor Ahsha Safai, demanded clearer answers from staffers at the Department of Public Health, which they didn’t get.
- Ronen noted that $1.5 billion in add-backs to the city budget were being requested by departments. That’s right, $1.5 billion—the highest amount of requests received in city history. It’s pretty certain that not all would be granted, but Ronen said “she couldn’t sleep at night” because of the list.
- Ronen moved that the combined aid in the related legislation be reduced to $1.25 million, as long as the funds be used only for staff pay and preventing patient displacement—at least until DPH could provide more information. The amended ordinances passed unanimously.
- More budget foreshadowing was introduced when Supervisor Chan, along with Peskin and District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, said they want $118 million to create an “API Equity Fund” as reparations for past policies that discriminated against people of Asian descent. The funds, which would be used by nonprofit groups for community reinvestment, would come out of the city’s rainy day reserves. Read more about it here.
- During Roll Call, Dorsey introduced legislation to create “Right to Recovery” drug enforcement zones where people looking for substance-use treatment can be shielded from drug use and dealing. Read more about that here.
- Finally Preston introduced a resolution urging alternative plans for the Plaza East public housing in the Western Addition, where Mayor Breed grew up. He voiced concern over MBS’ plans to include 300 market-rate units, and instead urged the builder to make any additions below market-rate where possible.
Mike Ege can be reached at [email protected]