A housing project with some affordable housing included
Photo by Mimi Chakarova

On paper, virtually every last vestige of San Francisco political power supports Proposition A, Mayor London Breed’s $300 million affordable housing-bond. Some of the most gregarious BigMoneySF groups are for it, and so is The League of Pissed-Off Voters (which presently has $10,000 in its bank account, and has fundraised a shade over $109,000 since 2015). 

Accordingly, both pro-housing devotee Sen. Scott Wiener and slow-growther Calvin Welch showed up at the Proposition A kickoff. You can only imagine that conversation: 

Welch: Hello, senator. It’s good to support Prop. A. 

Wiener: It sure is, Calvin. Well, see you in 2028 for the next housing bond. 

So, publicly, everyone is happy, happy, joy, joy. Privately? They are losing their shit. 

Major Prop. A backers hailing from across San Francisco’s political spectrum tell me they’re legitimately stressed that the affordable-housing bond, which requires 66.7 percent approval for passage, won’t make it. They’re also frustrated that Breed has done little to help, leaving Board President Aaron Peskin to scramble for dollars.

Breed is, instead, favoring the measures she placed on the ballot, especially Prop. E — which would ease restrictions on police chases and surveillance, and reduce reporting requirements when cops use force against the general public — and Prop. F, which would mandate drug screening and treatment for welfare recipients.

Big-money donors hoping to impress the mayor are clearly intuiting where to put their money, and the affordable-housing bond ain’t it. If they were having trouble figuring this out, mayoral fund-raising emails sent to frequent donors and obtained by Mission Local overtly call for giving to Props. C, E and F, but not Prop. A. Members of the donor class tell us they’re getting calls on C, E and F, but not A. When the mayor speaks at community events, she talks about C, E and F, but not A.

And donors have responded. Props E and F, especially, have been generously funded, and are being backed by some of the city’s richest residents. 

“Say what you will about Mayor Ed Lee, but that guy got out there and stumped for those housing bonds.” 

Whither Prop. A? As of Feb. 15, the big bond had amassed just over $648,379, emanating almost entirely from affordable- and market-rate-housing developers  — a comparatively paltry sum, considering that affordable housing bonds in 2015 and 2019 each finished up with the better part of $3 million. 

“Say what you will about Mayor Ed Lee,” says a frustrated city politico, “but that guy got out there and stumped for those housing bonds.” 

But that’s not happening now. In fact, mind-bogglingly, it’s actually the opposite. Not only are the tech barons and captains of industry whom mayors leaned on to give generously to housing bonds in 2015 and 2019 not giving — and, it seems, not being asked to give — they are, indirectly, throwing down to sink the $300 million affordable-housing bond. 

The billionaire-funded Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy, the biggest of the BigMoneySF groups, has given $110,000 to TakeActionSF, whose “No B.S.” slate mailer urges San Franciscans to vote down the bond. And, jarringly, the mayor’s Yes-on-E campaign — her own candidate-controlled committee gave $1,000 to TakeActionSF.

Breed’s consultant, Maggie Muir, says the donation was meant to fund a TakeActionSF mailer not mentioning Prop. A.  

And, no, that isn’t a hell of a lot of money. But it is a hell of a statement: The mayor’s committee donated to an outfit urging voters to reject the mayor’s affordable-housing bond. 

Mayor London Breed in November 2018. Photo by Abraham Rodriguez

So, that’s bad. And, come election day, things could get worse. There is recent precedent for this.

In June 2022, voters were asked to weigh in both on recalling DA Chesa Boudin and showering $400 million on San Francisco’s sclerotic transit system.

It was predictable what was going to happen, in the same way one could predict misfortune from locating a Zippo lighter factory next to a dynamite factory. Voters drawn to the polls after a years-long campaign depicting San Francisco as an anarchic and shit-strewn hellscape, and dead-set on booting the liberal DA, are not your target audience for a massive taxpayer-funded handout to a costly and underachieving city transit agency.

On election day, we wrote that the better the recall did, the worse that the transit infrastructure bond would do. And that happened. And this isn’t just barstool prognostication of the if Dre Greenlaw didn’t rupture his Achilles, the Niners would’ve won the Super Bowl-variety (though that’s true). Mission Local’s Will Jarrett ran a statistical analysis and found an extremely high correlation between voters opting to boot Boudin and spurn Muni — or voting to retain Boudin and fund Muni.

We’re telling you this because, in 2024, the same storm is gathering for Prop. A. The natural “yes” voters for Props. E and F are natural “no” voters for Prop. A. People who buy the mayor’s argument that the cops need to be unleashed, and unelected pinhead bureaucrats are holding them back, or that dope fiends need to have their allowance taken away, are not necessarily going to be receptive to handing a fat check to the city. San Francisco’s well-documented irresponsibility and fecklessness are the unsubtle justifications for taking Props. E and F to the voters in the first place.

The collision course here, once again, is easy to foresee. Everyone says they want more affordable housing. But this is a matter of priorities, and the effort — or lack thereof — put into fundraising speaks volumes. 

That was a political calculation. But, as of last week, the equation changed. 

A man in a suit standing in front of a baseball netting.
Mark Farrell at his mayoral campaign launch at the San Francisco Baseball Academy. Feb. 13, 2024. Farrell’s call to bring cars back to Market Street appealed to a certain swath of voters. A successful push to pass a $300 million affordable housing bond would, ostensibly, appeal to a goodly number of others. Photo by Kelly Waldron.

When Mark Farrell announced his intention to run for mayor in a batting cage, it was a lot of things. But it wasn’t subtle. Among other policies, the former Marina supervisor and appointed mayor called for a “zero-tolerance approach and policy for all crime in San Francisco,” which is, quite simply, a hell of a thing to say. 

But, more germane to this subject, he also made bringing cars back to Market Street a major plank of his candidacy. Well, that, too, seems to be a political calculation. 

But it’s not one every voter will love, even voters who hardly qualify as wild lefties by this city’s standards. There are plenty of San Franciscans whose politics align with London Breed’s, and who are turned off by attempts to favor cars over transit — and who would value efforts to build affordable housing. 

“From an urbanist point of view,” sums up a mayoral backer, “she has been good.” 

As such, Prop. A is more politically relevant today than it was before Farrell stepped up to the plate in that batting cage. The affordable-housing bond measure is now, arguably, as politically important to the mayor as C, E or F, assuming the mayor wants to seal the deal with the Scott Wiener urbanists. But failure to pass it, or even break a sweat in attempting to do so, would reflect poorly. 

“The number of times politicians say ‘we need more affordable housing’ is infinite,” says a major Prop. A backer and housing advocate. “But we are not getting support.” 

No, they’re not. At all. So the question is: Who will they support?

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. It’s Supervisor Preston’s fault that Breed is incompetent. At least that’s what she says. So do all of her groupies.

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  2. The article asks about why support for the 2024 bond measure should be different from other similar props in 2015 and 2019. One factor might be that interest rates are much higher now. So even if the sum raised is no more, the cost of paying off those bonds over their life could be significantly higher.

    That may not change the initial math, but it could make the project uneconomic over time, since the low rents charged may be inadequate to pay the running costs of both the bonds and the maintenance costs of the building. Isn’t that always the problem with affordable (i.e. subsidized) housing?

    A related issue is whether the folks who buy these bonds are put off by SF’s “doom loop” publicity. If those institutions and investors are then they will demand a higher interest rate for the bonds. As will the underwriter who will get stuck with the bonds if they do not sell well.

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  3. London Breed will go down in San Francisco’s history as the WORST MAYOR EVER. She is consistently mean. Transactional. Petty. Power tripping. Flatulent. Short sighted. Ungenerous. Myopic. Selfish. Divisive. San Franciscans are sick of Breed punishing our most vulnerable people in order to make other office holders and department heads look bad. She could have led, attempted better outcomes and collaborated with other electeds to enact solutions for this beautiful city. Instead, she used the immense powers of her office to power trip. Vote her out.

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    1. A perfect example of this (turning a blind eye to the suffering of SF’s vulnerable in order to make an individual supervisor look bad) occurred at a recent Question Time at the Board of Supervisors. Since 2018 when Breed became mayor, the elevators in the city’s SROs have needed repairs. Currently elderly and disabled people are literally trapped in their rooms because they cannot navigate 6 and 8 flights of stairs. With the recent notoriously sketchy redistricting (really gerrymandering) process, some of the most challenging areas of the Tenderloin were “gifted” to Preston. Coincidence? Accident? Preston could ask for the exact same things Breed gifts to other supervisors and she would still refuse him. The elevators are a fairly easy fix to do with quality of life, mobility and human decency that has worsened on Breed’s watch. Breed says she is committed to making the repairs and that the money is set aside. Preston asked for a date when the funds will be released and the repair work can be done. Breed would not say. By punishing powerless people, the very people Breed claims to care about most in order to damage a colleague, an elected office holder, is despicable. Vote her out.

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  4. My issue with Prop A is that it’s just more of the same policies that have done nothing to really address the problem. $300 million to build 300-400 new units? No. Let’s get real and spend $500 million for a 5,000 bed shelter. No more camping. Everyone gets a shelter bed. Once that’s in place, then we can focus money on more permanent housing for folks.

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  5. I’m retired muni operator when ever a employee offers suggestions its shut down because supervision didn’t think of it I’ve watched san franciscans cry about foolish streets like mission where your forced to turn so you don’t cruz they killed business and have no idea how to draw people and business alike back to san franciscans only way out is vote this mayor out

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  6. Thanks Joe for another great interpretation on the political circus we are living in. The splits among the funders are pretty obvious. SF Bike Coalition is no longer running the show. Everybody but SFMTA has figured that out. SFMTA, for years the most hated department, has a lot of competition now from the Police, Health, Rec and Park, DBI, and countless homeless coordinators running the Mayor’s programs. How can so much money produce so little results? Somebody did the math and figured SF spent $125,000 per homeless person.

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  7. Should Prop A go down, D1 flip, and Farrell is elected mayor, then it is curtains for CCHO.

    The cartel has outlived its usefulness to the dominant political class. The “soft and fuzzies” of affordable housing can’t bridge the chasm between the nonprofits and residents.

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  8. Why keep pushing these inane and expensive housing bonds? So the city can spend $800,000+ to build “affordable units”? Which can then be “managed” by incompetent non profits (looking at you MEDA, among others) who are in way over their heads. Last I heard they had dozens of finished units sitting empty due to management incompetence!

    This is classic big-dumb-SF-money chasing way-out-of-their-league-affordable-housing-providers.

    These mucho dinero housing bonds are a total balljack!

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