Instead of finally settling a dramatic fight about legislation that would allow landlords to charge a portion of water and sewage costs to tenants, the Board of Supervisors opted on Tuesday to let the matter stew another week.

The decision to postpone came after a landlord rights group retracted its threat to campaign against a bond to rebuild General Hospital if they failed to get their way on the water costs. The bond is on the November ballot.

Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier, the sponsor of the measure who requested pushing off the vote another week, told Mission Local the yes votes she needed were still “on the cusp.”

The city increased household water rates last year to help finance a 2002 bond to restore the Hetch Hetchy valley.  The proposed legislation would allow landlords to pass on 50 percent of the increased rates for water and sewage services—an a estimated $5 to $15 a month—to tenants who currently pay no water or sewage fees.

The proposal has set landlords and the city’s Public Utility Commission on one side and tenants rights organizations on the other.

Things got particularly nasty last month when the Coalition for Better Housing, a landlord interest group that favors the bill, threatened to launch a campaign against Proposition A — an unrelated ballot initiative for a $887.5 million bond to renovate San Francisco General Hospital.

The threat to supervisors was direct–pass the measure on water charges or the coalition  will campaign against the bond measure favored by Mayor Newsom’s office and all eleven supervisors.

At an October 1 hearing on the water measure, the political shenanigans continued when the San Francisco Tenants Union unexpectedly countered the landlords.  They too might oppose the hospital bond if the Supervisors were to vote with the landlords.

But other Mission-based organizations representing tenants were appalled by the Coalition on Better Housing’s attack on the hospital, which is a major healthcare resource for the Eastern Neighborhoods.

“They are trying to make a gain on the back of low income tenants, but are also threatening the services that literally keep people alive in the neighborhood,” said Nick Pagoulatos of the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition about the landlords’ strategy.

As it turned out, the landlords’ threat to launch a campaign against the hospital bond was actually just hot air.

“We are not following through,” Coalition for Better Housing Executive Director Brook Turner said by phone on Tuesday after making a similar announcement last week.  “We decided that there really wasn’t a connection between the two issues.”

Turner said the idea to launch an anti-hospital bond campaign came out of frustration that the matter had been pending since April with no movement.  Though the political theater worked to get the issue on the agenda, the postponed vote reflects a possible loss of momentum.

The Public Utility Commission proposed allowing landlords to pass on some of the rate increase to tenants, but Turner pointed out that it was originally intended as environmental legislation.

Alioto-Pier said the legislation is part of the city’s greening effort and addresses a way to make conservation feasible in a city in which  70 percent of its residents rent.

“What we have found is that when people aren’t paying their water bill, they are not paying attention to the amount of water that they use,” Alioto-Pier said, explaining that under the proposed legislation, all residents would receive a water bill—though renters would only have to pay a small portion of that bill.

But Maria Jose Lopez of the Mission-based tenants rights organization, St. Peters, is still skeptical of the legislation’s intentions—should it actually go anywhere one day.  She called the measure “just another way for the landlords to take advantage of tenants to raise the rent.”

Lydia Chávez

I’ve been a Mission resident since 1998 and a professor emeritus at Berkeley’s J-school since 2019 when I retired. I got my start in newspapers at the Albuquerque Tribune in the city where I was born...

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