The "No B.S. Voter Guide" cover
The "No B.S. Voter Guide" put together by TakeActionSF.

A billionaire-backed San Francisco big money group that ostensibly supports Mayor London Breed’s goals made a political faux pas this week: It funded a voter guide that is opposing the mayor’s affordable housing bond on the March 5 ballot.

Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy, a nonprofit heavily involved in local election financing, donated $110,000 to a slate-mailer organization that is urging San Franciscans to vote no on Proposition A, according to state campaign finance filings.

The measure — which Breed put on the ballot — seeks to raise $300 million to build affordable housing in the city. Mission Local first reported Neighbors’ giving on Feb. 19. 

The donation led to consternation from both sides of the city’s political aisle.

“There’s no way quicker to make yourself irrelevant in San Francisco politics than to say ‘I’m going to oppose affordable housing,’” said Todd David, the head of the political advocacy group AbundantSF and a longtime housing advocate and YIMBY

After reading about Neighbors’ donation in Mission Local, David did some stumping for dollars himself, bringing in pledges of $100,000 to bankroll the flagging Yes on A campaign. 

Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who is corralling donors to support Prop. A, said the message sent by Neighbors for a Better San Francisco was clear: “They want to save a few nickels on their property taxes.” 

“I don’t need the billionaires’ support, but I certainly don’t need their opposition,” he said. “That is destructive.”

The so-called “No B.S. Voter Guide” that opposed the housing bond was printed and posted by the group TakeActionSF. Angela Tickler, the group’s treasurer, said TakeActionSF started “a few years ago” as a website with voter recommendations. 

The donation from Neighbors to TakeActionSF was labeled as supporting California Proposition 1, a $6.4 billion mental health bond, and opposing San Francisco’s Proposition B, a measure to tie police staffing increases to identified future revenue. 

Donors to slate mailers can fund portions of voter guides related to a particular measure or candidate. But Neighbors’ $110,000 was the bulk of TakeActionSF’s funding, and the slate mailer then put out a voter guide labeling Prop. A as “more bond debt” and urging voters to reject it. 

The measure is the lone housing bond on the ballot this year, and could finance more than a thousand units of affordable housing.

Its success is no sure thing. Prop. A requires a two-thirds majority to pass, and supporters are already blaming Breed for doing little to ensure its success. She put the measure on the ballot, but she is instead directing fundraising to her other propositions, like those for police deregulation and drug screening for welfare recipients, to the tune of millions.

That has left Prop. A scrambling for funds: Its biggest backers are both market-rate and affordable housing developers, who have put in some $702,000 towards the measure. That is far less than previous housing bonds, which in 2015 and 2019 passed with nearly $3 million in backing.

“Historically, we have failed to pass more bonds for affordable housing than we’ve passed,” said a concerned affordable housing developer. “That’s just the truth.”

Neither Neighbors for a Better San Francisco Advocacy nor its sister organization responded to multiple requests for comment.

For his part, Jim Ross, a longtime political consultant, questioned the value of an unknown voter guide in the first place, saying a slate from the Democratic Party or Planned Parenthood may be effective, but one from an unknown group like TakeActionSF? Less so.

“They’re basically a good tool to get out mail,” he said. “They’re not necessarily that persuasive.” 

TakeActionSF has grown quickly…

TakeActionSF was a seemingly small-time operation until late last year: City records show that the group filed to be an official slate-mailer organization in November 2023, and it has received at least $123,500 to print voter guides since then, according to state records

TakeActionSF, the slate mailer, is also connected to Marie Hurabiell, a longtime Republican and Trump appointee who became a Democrat in 2022 after she announced a run for City College board.

Hurabiell is the head of the public pressure group ConnectedSF, which was a reportedly influential force in the 2022 redistricting process. ConnectedSF has taken at least $535,000 from Neighbors for a Better San Francisco. Tickler said that Hurabiell is a volunteer with TakeActionSF, but the slate mailer and ConnectedSF also share an address.

Stop Crime SF, another political pressure group, shares that same address. Stop Crime SF is pushing two tough-on-crime candidates for judge in the March election, and TakeActionSF has recommended those two in its voter guide.

TakeActionSF’s recommendations skew right. In the past, it has opposed various tax increases, and recommended keeping JFK Drive open to cars. This year, it supports candidates hoping to oust progressives, and backs measures that would loosen police oversight and require drug screening of some welfare recipients.

…as has Neighbors for a Better San Francisco

Neighbors for a Better San Francisco is the biggest of more than a dozen interconnected public pressure groups financing candidates and causes across San Francisco, groups that have set out to reshape San Francisco and are backed by millions of dollars from deep-pocketed tech and real estate donors.

More on the Big money groups spending heavily on elections

It is unclear how or why Neighbors decided to fund the slate mailer. Political consultants agreed that anyone donating such funds to a slate mailer should ask about the voter guide’s other recommendations. And the No B.S. Voter Guide’s position should have been no surprise: In 2022, the voter guide also opposed the $400 million Muni bond, claiming that it would raise taxes; it narrowly lost.

Neighbors for a Better San Francisco is bankrolled by some of the wealthiest players in San Francisco election finance, like Ripple chairman Chris Larsen, venture capitalists Ron Conway and Jeremy Liew, heiress Diane “Dede” Wilsey and real estate scion Brandon Shorenstein. Liew, for his part, is also funding Prop. A, to the tune of $25,000.

Neighbors is led by Nick Podell, the developer behind a massive mixed-use housing development in the Mission, which generated neighborhood opposition but eventually donated land for affordable housing equivalent to some 40 percent of its units — a record at the time.

The organization is also heavily financed and partly led by Republican mega-donor William Oberndorf. Neighbors gave the majority of funds towards the recall of Chesa Boudin and supported the school board recalls with tens of thousands of dollars. Its political action committee has quickly become the best-funded in the city, and it is throwing around hundreds of thousands of dollars in the 2024 elections.

And, while Neighbors itself does not list housing as an issue, its supporters and donors are broadly pro-housing.

Breed’s own committee to pass Proposition E, which would loosen police department policy on chases and surveillance, among other things, contributed to TakeActionSF to the tune of $1,500. Maggie Muir, Breed’s consultant, said $1,000 of that was for a mailer that did not oppose Prop. A, and that the campaign asked for the other $500 back when it learned of the voter guide’s stance. 

The voter guide has also taken money on behalf of candidates, including District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani, District 9 supervisorial candidate Trevor Chandler and District 1 supervisorial candidate Marjan Philhour. All are running for Democratic County Central Committee, the San Francisco branch of the Democratic Party, and the guide is pushing them for that race.

The voter guide labeled those candidates with an asterisk, indicating it received money to support them. It is not clear, however, if the candidates themselves backed the voter guide or if funds were contributed on their behalf.

The committees behind Albert Zecher and Jean Roland, running the tough-on-crime campaigns hoping to unseat incumbent judges, are also putting in funds, as is the police union, which is officially against Prop. A. 

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Joe was born in Sweden, where half of his family received asylum after fleeing Pinochet, and spent his early childhood in Chile; he moved to Oakland when he was eight. He attended Stanford University for political science and worked at Mission Local as a reporter after graduating. He then spent time in advocacy as a partner for the strategic communications firm The Worker Agency. He rejoined Mission Local as an editor in 2023.

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    1. How long before the BART at 16th housing gets built? It feels like the money never gets spent for housing. And the Mayor wants more money? Bonds are not free, they have to be paid back with interest added on.

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      1. That project is estimated to be at least three years away if one consults HSH’s manifesto for the tiny homes encampment that will open on the site next month.

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  1. Neighbors for a Better San Francisco are values voters. Property values, that is. Isn’t that what politics is really all about in San Francisco?

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  2. Uh, “thwart” means “oppose successfully.” Unless you can see the future, I think you mean “oppose.”

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  3. I opposed all bonds.There is plenty of money.They just waste most of it on worthless projects with no expectations of success.Just look at all the scandles.

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  4. Who could have ever guessed that billionaires spending large sums of money in an attempt rule our government and all of us in San Francisco, are really selfish, support tweets wishing violence and death upon those with whom they disagree and are psychopaths?

    Of course, this doesn’t apply to Benioff and others who are like him, if they exist.

    What a disgusting group of entitled people. We must learn how to counter their toxic plans.

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    1. Wise Mr. Benioff built a huge (oversize) office building that I now think is empty. He might have his name on lots of hospital buildings and that is good, but the eyesore he built in downtown San Francisco will be with us forever. I call him selfish on that building and I would guess that our government bows down to him.

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  5. The entire article spreads hate and creates division within San Francisco. This country is not one-party, and citizens have the freedom to change their minds in this free country. Why attack someone for exercising their freedoms? There is so much ‘he says, she says,’ but why is there nothing about the pros and cons of Proposition A? The recalls of the school board were supported by overwhelming majorities in San Francisco. Will Mission Local label everyone who voted for the recalls as Republicans? I am a lifelong Democrat, and I do not criticize anyone who made a different choice or changed their mind. It’s a free country. Mission Local should also not overreact with one-sided reporting on financial backers just because some people are more successful at fundraising. The ‘Yes on A’ supporters and other campaign groups are also receiving a lot of money, so what is your point? It’s almost like you don’t understand how campaigns work.

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  6. My comment is short and civil. Initially the status of my first comment states awaiting moderation, minutes later you deleted it from the queue. Can you please explain why? This city doesn’t need more one sided reporting and I hope Mission Local can do better at educating the public on truth and facts. This article has so much ‘he says, she says,’ but why is there nothing about the pros and cons of Proposition A?

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