Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Political Notebook:
Battle brewing over SF housing density proposal


The heights of buildings such as those that house Harvey's bar and other businesses on Castro Street could increase under San Francisco's Affordable Housing Density Bonus program. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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A battle is brewing over a proposal that would allow developers to build denser developments in various San Francisco neighborhoods in return for including increased amounts of affordable housing for low to moderate and middle income residents.

Known as the Affordable Housing Bonus Program, it would award projects that include higher amounts of affordable housing than what is currently required with such development incentives as increased density, heights, and limited reductions in other zoning requirements, according to city planners.

The target would be for at least 30 percent of on-site units to be set aside as affordable. As it is now, developers of buildings with 10 or more units are required to set aside 12 percent as below-market-rate if provided on-site or they can pay an in-lieu fee to the city toward the building of affordable housing elsewhere.

But opponents of the program fear it will lead to the demolition of the city's rent-controlled housing stock, ruin the character of the neighborhoods covered by the proposal, and lead to the loss of various structures of historical importance.

Mayor Ed Lee and District 4 Supervisor Katy Tang formally introduced the density bonus proposal last fall. It came out of a housing work group the mayor had organized in 2014 to look at ways to solve the city's affordable housing crunch. In includes additional incentives for developers of 100 percent affordable housing projects.

In recent years rents and home prices in San Francisco, as well as throughout the Bay Area, have skyrocketed as the local economy has boomed. A lack of housing inventory as well as an ever-growing influx of new residents seeking careers at hi-tech, social media, and sharing economy firms have combined to drive the spike in housing costs.

During his re-election campaign last year, Lee made housing a top priority and helped pass a $310 million affordable housing bond. He has also been a vocal supporter of seeing underdeveloped parcels throughout the city be turned into large mixed-use developments with housing over ground floor retail spaces.

The planning commission is scheduled to vote on the density bonus proposal at its meeting next Thursday, January 28. The Board of Supervisors would then take up the proposal, and District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener has already said he will support it.

"We are required by state law to adopt this," Wiener told the Bay Area Reporter. "It is important for us to create something that works for San Francisco."

He noted that, "The density bonus will allow us to incentivize developers to do 30 percent or designate 30 percent of their units as permanently affordable for both low income and middle income."

But housing activists contend the density bonus program could lead to a further reduction in the city's rent-controlled housing stock. They have been demanding that buildings with rent-controlled units be excluded from the program. Board President London Breed is sponsoring an amendment that would add such a provision to the program.

"My concern is rent-controlled buildings could be torn down and those tenants could be displaced. In the Castro it also means displacing a small business on the ground floor," said queer housing rights activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca. "You are looking at long-term tenants in the Castro and businesses being displaced then them putting up housing that is market rate and some affordable. It is questionable how affordable they will be."

At a talk he gave last week about LGBT historical sites in the city, historic preservationist Gerard Koskovich said that the housing density proposal "evokes" for him the redevelopment plans city leaders instituted in the 1950s that devastated minority neighborhoods like the Fillmore.

Even if buildings with rent-controlled units are spared, he pointed out that three sites with ties to LGBT history faced with demolition do not include housing and thus would be covered by the density bonus incentives. One is Polk Gulch diner Grubstake, a haven to transgender and gay male sex workers in the 1960s.

The others are the Elbo Room on Valencia Street, which formerly housed lesbian bar Amelia's in the 1980s and prior to that several gay bars; and upper Market Street bar Lucky 13, which was the site of several gay bars and in 1977 was where Harvey Milk held his victory party after being elected the city's first gay supervisor that November.

Should the density program be adopted, Koskovich predicted, "One of the outcomes likely will be the annihilation of legacy LGBT businesses and historic sites."

The fear of seeing the program reduce the city's rent-controlled housing stock is overblown, contended Wiener.

"It is almost impossible to get a permit to demolish rent-controlled units that have not been red tagged already," said Wiener. "We will see this kind of development play out overwhelmingly on empty lots, gas stations, or parcels not already housing."

Those arguing against the program, he said, are against seeing any new housing be built in San Francisco.

"And we are in the predicament we are in because we have not produced enough housing as our population has grown," said Wiener. "If we don't build housing as the population grows, we end up with astronomical rents. And that is terrible for low and middle income people."

The planning department has been hosting a series of meetings throughout the city to explain the density bonus program and gather feedback from the public. On Thursday (January 21), it will be hosting the District 8 meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Parish Hall at St. Philip the Apostle Church, 725 Diamond Street just off 24th Street in Noe Valley.

For more information about the proposal, visit - areas.


Milk club re-elects male president

Despite talk of a last minute attempt to defeat him, Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club President Peter Gallotta secured a second term Tuesday night to lead the progressive political group.

As the B.A.R. noted on its blog, hours prior to the election Mahnani Clay, the club's former vice president of political affairs, announced she would nominate attorney David Waggoner to return as the club's male co-president and Kin Folkz, a black and indigenous Choctaw two-spirit queer woman, to serve in the female co-president position.

Yet Waggoner said he had too many personal commitments this year to lead the club, while Gallotta rejected having Folkz serve alongside him as co-chair due to not knowing her all that well. In the end, Gallotta said no other candidates were formally nominated either before or at the meeting prior to voting. 

A majority of the club's members supported the board slate Gallotta had nominated. Although the club will not have a female co-president this year, women now hold 10 of the 19 board positions. It is an increase from years past, noted Gallotta.

In a post on Facebook in which he thanked the club's members for their support, Gallotta said the evening was "very special" for him.

"I am honored to serve as president with an amazingly talented executive board in what is shaping up to be one of the most important years for progressive politics in San Francisco," he wrote. "This has been a big learning experience for me, and my hope is that this year we can work together to make a more inclusive, transparent, and participatory Harvey Milk club. This is my pledge. Thank you for this honor."


East Bay LGBT Dems to host Barbara Lee

The East Bay Stonewall Democratic Club is hosting a breakfast reception for Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) that will also feature gay former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank.

San Francisco's two LGBT Democratic clubs, Milk and Alice B. Toklas, have joined on as co-sponsors of the event. Other hosts include Assemblymen Tony Thurmond
(D-Richmond) and Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and former Assembly members Nancy Skinner and Sandre Swanson, who are now running against each other for state Senate.

The fundraiser for Lee, who is seeking her 10th term this fall, will take place from 8 to 9:30 a.m. Monday, February 8 at Bell Investment Advisors, on the 16th floor at 1111 Broadway in downtown Oakland.

Tickets begin at $250, while a $1,000 sponsorship includes a photo with Lee and Frank. To RSVP, email or call (510) 663-1207.

In other Stonewall club news, current president Brendalynn Goodall is likely to be re-elected to lead the club for another two-year term. She has led the club since 2012.

"No, I haven't recruited a successor," Goodall told the B.A.R. last week, adding that, "I will likely run for re-election."

The club will hold its board elections at its February annual membership meeting.


The Political Notes online column will return Monday, January 25.


Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail



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