Another organization has joined the San Francisco housing fray: Vision SF, a group led by Salon founder David Talbot, 48 Hills editor Tim Redmond and other San Franciscans, held a two-hour kick-off rally Saturday afternoon to push for a group of contentious housing measures on the ballot in November’s election.
Some 250 people came to the Brava Theater to hear speakers ranging from Supervisor David Campos and former state assembly member Tom Ammiano to filmmaker Lou Dematteis and San Francisco Poet Laureate Alejandro Murguia. The speakers spoke of gentrification, lambasted city hall for a perceived lack of action on housing, and emphasized the importance of the upcoming election. But unlike other opposition groups, they refused to see tech workers as the enemy.
“When I see the Google buses my initial impulse is to take a brick and throw it through the fucking window,” said Cleve Jones, an AIDS and LGBT activist from the Castro, to loud laughter and applause “And sometimes I yell at them ‘Take the goddamned train!’”
But such tactics are counterproductive, Jones said, and community organizations should work on reaching out to tech workers and “give them a way to contribute” instead.
“There are people on those buses who we need to reach,” he continued. “We need to be really smart and compassionate and thoughtful and find the right vocabulary and the right words to reach those people.”
In his opening remarks, Talbot said, “We all have to fight and join this campaign to make sure that those measures get passed in November. That’ll send a huge signal to the powers that be in this city that we’re not dead, that we’re still in this city and fighting back.”
Vision SF is meant to be a long-term organization to “change the political dialogue away from the needs of the few to the needs of the majority,” according to Talbot, who helped found the organization because he saw no alternative to the status quo in San Francisco.
“I was stunned when no mayoral candidate came out against Ed Lee,” Talbot said, before that candidates like Broke-Ass Stuart are good political alternatives but don’t have “a long track record of political officeholding.” He also said that Vision SF would look at supporting alternative think tanks, news sources, and politicians for San Francisco.
“We need a new generation of political officeholders,” he said.
Saturday’s event — the organization’s only event before the election — primarily sought votes and volunteers for five ballot measures that all concern housing or gentrification.
“Our immediate goal here at Vision SF is to get you activated…for those crucial November ballot campaigns,” Talbot said during the rally.
Prop. A would give $310 million towards affordable housing city-wide, with $50 million earmarked for the Mission. The measure has strong support in city hall, but must get a two-thirds majority among voters.
Prop. F is more contentious, increasing regulations on short-term rentals by requiring platforms like Airbnb to only list hosts with valid city registrations. It is opposed not only by Airbnb — which has raised $8 million to defeat it — but also by the San Francisco Chronicle, evidence to many at the rally of the need for alternatives.
“I’m sick of the circle jerk that’s happening in San Francisco — the mayor, Ron Conway, the fucking Chronicle,” said former supervisor and state assembly member Ammiano. Conway, a Silicon Valley investor with financial ties to Airbnb, backed Mayor Lee to the tune of $600,000 in 2011 and has fought against regulations on short-term rentals for years.
Prop. I, the 18-month pause on all market-rate housing in the Mission, is supported by non-profits like the Mission Economic Development Agency but opposed by a group of realtors calling itself San Franciscans for Real Housing Solutions. The “Yes on I” campaign is vastly outspent, having raised some $80,000 to the opposition’s $500,000.
Prop. J would allow grants to “legacy businesses” that have been in the city for more than 30 years, while Prop. K would prioritize building housing on city-owned surplus land such as parking lots and empty buildings.
Despite the dry subject-matter, there was an even mix of political speech and entertainment. Speakers like Sara Shortt of the Housing Rights Committee gave way to those guitarists like Tom Heyman and comedians like 20-year-old Mike Evans, who remembered a bygone era of drinking 40-ounce malt liquor at Dolores Park.
“The techies fucked up Dolores Park by cleaning it! It’s terrible,” Evans said. “When I’m drinking a 40, the last thing I’m thinking about is ‘Where am I going to go recycle this right now?’”
Supervisor Campos, one of the final speakers, lauded the choice of venue within the Mission District given the intensity of gentrification facing the neighborhood.
“I think in many respects it is very fitting that we are having this meeting here in the Mission, because the Mission has become ground zero for this fight over who we are in this city,” he said. “So when we talk about Vision SF — Vision SF, whatever that [is going to mean], is playing out in this neighborhood right now.”
Campos also supported Prop. I and criticized the idea that building market-rate housing would “trick down to the middle class” and put less pressure on housing stock city-wide, saying “Reaganomics did not work in the 1980s and it ain’t gonna work in San Francisco.”
And Silicon Valley venture capitalist Conway was again criticized: Campos went after Conway and his perceived proximity to city hall, comparing the investor to Donald Trump.
“It’s one thing for us to have Donald Trump at the national level, but here we have Ron Conway,” Campos said. “There’s a story floating around that Ron Conway [told the New York attorney general] that he owned city hall in San Francisco. I want to send Ron Conway a very clear message today: ‘You don’t own San Francisco. San Francisco belongs to San Franciscans.’”