Board Notes

Written by William Chadwick. Posted in News, Opinion, Politics

Published on July 30, 2010 with 5 Comments

William Chadwick

By William Chadwick

July 30, 2010

Tuesday’s protracted meeting of the Board of Supervisors focused on two main points of interest. The most excited moments were found in the ebb and flow over the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan, and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd’s one-man stand in attempting to keep Community Policing and Foot Patrols off the November ballot.

In the first instance, Supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly were keen to investigate and amend the Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan (BHPRP) further, before moving forward. On the other side, the board heard Supervisor Sophie Maxwell’s impassioned plea for solidarity from her colleagues in pushing through the plan, thereby bringing “hope and change for the people of Bayview and San Francisco.”

District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell

Maxwell, whose district encompasses the impoverished Bayview and Hunters Point area, argued that a plan this “necessarily large,” was needed to “transform a neglected landscape.” But Daly insisted that figures within the plan for affordable housing – a big sticking point – were not nearly high enough.

Affordable housing must be defined, argued Daly, by rental and purchase units that can be afforded by current residents of Bayview and Hunters Point. With such a massive and expensive redevelopment proposal, there is, said Daly, bound to be a “property value spike, moving outwards from the area. How will we make sure there isn’t a secondary displacement effect on the inhabitants?”

However, Michael Cohen, Director of Economic & Workforce Development, who has been working closely with Lennar on this project for many years, countered that, as a percentage of affordable units, “50 percent is not financially viable.” He repeatedly stressed the phrase, “What we stand to gain,” in his rhetoric, and made no reference to ‘what we stand to lose’ if this deal goes sour, whilst reading from a pre-written text in his best monotone – nearly masking the occasional excited lilt in his voice.

Mayor's Office of Economic and Workforce Development Director Michael Cohen

Cohen’s insistence on pushing through this deal in the face of more prudent requests to examine and possibly improve the terms from every angle was somewhat concerning, and drew similarities with other recent public-private partnership deals that were rushed through without full analysis and investigation, including the Sunset Reservoir Solar Project. What does Mr. Cohen have to gain by pushing this deal through for an out of state developer on an un-remediated Superfund site?

Could it be the political pressure from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Senator Mark Leno and Mayor Gavin Newsom was so great that political expedience trumped principles of precaution?

As an employee of this City, why should Cohen be so eager to dismiss any concerned amendments (of which this meeting saw many) by the Board which was merely trying to ensure the City and its residents get the best deal possible, as well as ensure the Superfund site is fully remediated to the highest standards possible before construction begins? Can Mr. Cohen explain why he is so ostensibly and wholeheartedly on the side of Lennar, one of the largest and richest property developers in the country, rather than being keen to secure the maximum amount of affordable homes for the largely disenfranchised residents of Bayview and Hunters Point?

“It makes no sense to have affordable housing above the market rate. It’s not affordable to people living in these communities,” Daly said.

Affordable housing champion Supervisor Chris Daly

Finally, despite the reservations of many, at 7.40pm, after many ‘thank yous’ and further emotional speeches, the development plan was passed 10-1, with Supervisor Daly dissenting.  The meeting immediately went into recess as the room got to its feet in a mixture of relief and celebration.

District 10 Supervisor Sophie Maxwell receives congratulations from Michael Cohen and San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Fred Blackwell following the historic Bayview Hunters Point Redevelopment Plan vote.

Supervisor Maxwell receives congratulations from San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commissioner Leroy King and San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson.

Lennar point man Kofi Bonner receives congratulations from Chinese Chamber of Commerce President Rose Pak.

Board President David Chiu congratulates Lennar point man Kofi Bonner.

Before the vote was cast, Supervisor David Campos commented, “We need to re-examine how the Redevelopment Agency works, and whether or not the Board should take over the agency.”

Supervisor David Campos.

Elsbernd’s parliamentary obstruction

Turning to the other flashpoint of the day, Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, acting in accordance with the mayor’s wishes, attempted to pull a rabbit out of his hat with a parliamentary trick in a transparent attempt to upend efforts by progressives to place a foot patrol ballot measure, sponsored by District 5 Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, on the November ballot.

Supervisors were provided an opportunity to vote on two versions of the legislation.  An amended version included language inserted by Board President David Chiu, that would effectively nullify a Mayor Newsom backed Sit/Lie measure on the same ballot should the electorate pass Mirkarimi’s foot patrol legislation with with more votes than Sit/Lie.  Elsbernd, knowing full well the amended version of the legislation would pass the Board with 7 votes (only six were needed), attempted to split the file with a motion that does not require a second, but would effectively stall consideration of the legislation beyond the deadline for submitting ballot measures.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi

Suddenly there was tension in the air. The journalists in the press box hushed their listless chatter and sat up in their seats. Had Elsbernd really just done this? As an appointee of Mayor Gavin Newsom, one can only assume that this stance was based on not angering Newsom’s strong power base that comes from the SFPD.

After a moment to gather his thoughts, Supervisor Mirkarimi tabled a motion in response to have the two halves of the motion stuck back together, saying that it was time to “Depoliticize the debate and offer it to the voters.” On the other ideological side of the room, Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Michela Alioto-Pier and Carmen Chu sided with Elsbernd.

The motion was successfully stuck back together, bringing a brief moment of relief, before the bullish and rather smug Elsbernd swiftly split it again. More jaws hit the floor. This farce played out for several minutes before a recess was called which provided Supervisors Daly, Mirkarimi and Chiu to huddle and seek alternative methods of neutralizing the persistent and calculating Elsbernd. During the recess, Elsbernd remained aloof from press questioning, knowing well that if he stayed silent, he cannot be quoted, a tactic often utilized by Supervisors voting on controversial matters.

On resuming the meeting, Elsbernd’s opponents offered a motion to terminate the debate, but it failed after only garnering 7 of the 8 votes required. As expected, Supervisors Alioto-Pier, Chu, Dufty and, of course, Elsbernd dissented.

A sense of stalemate pervaded the room with both sides searching to gain an upper hand.

More pizza was ordered. Supervisor Carmen Chu, who remained conspicuously silent except to vote as ordered, nibbled on a cupcake.

Eventually, after skipping back and forth between all the other legislation items of the day, the meeting and discussion resumed with Board President David Chiu issuing a ruling and a rebuke.

“Supervisor Elsbernd has made repeated motions that I believe would result in a filibuster of our attempt to resolve this issue tonight,” Chiu stated. He “has engaged in dilatory motions which are defined under Robert’s Rules of Order as motions that ‘seek to obstruct or thwart the will of the assembly’ as clearly indicated by the existing parliamentary situation.”

Board of Supervisors President David Chiu

Citing Robert’s Rules, Chiu said, “If a member could demand a division on every vote – even when the result was clear – business could be brought to a standstill. Under Robert’s Rules, it states that, ‘when a chair becomes convinced that a member is using a parliamentary form for obstructive purposes, he should either not recognize that member, or rule that such motions are out of order, and it is the duty of the presiding officer to prevent members from misusing legitimate forms of motions, or abusing the privileges of renewing certain motions merely to obstruct business.’”

President Chiu made clear it was Elsbernd’s intent to obstruct the proceedings and ruled that a vote on the divided items would resolve the issue. At this point, Elsbernd was barred from using his obstructionist tactic. The votes continued resulting in Mirkarimi’s legislation, with Chiu’s Sit/Lie amendment in tact, being approved 7-4 for the November ballot. Supervisors Alioto-Pier, Carmen Chu, Bevan Dufty and Elsbernd, as expected, dissented.

When asked why he attempted to obstruct the peoples business, Elsbernd told FCJ, “I was trying to protect the voters using rules that are in the Board rule book. The president decided to ignore those rules and has sent a measure to the ballot illegally.”

The truth of matter is Elsbernd was not protecting voters as he claims. He is a willing surrogate of Mayor Newsom who is playing politics with public safety and has rebuffed, and continues to rebuff, all efforts by progressives to implement proactive foot patrol solutions to deter crime.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd

Luke Thomas contributed to this article.

William Chadwick

William Chadwick is a young English writer who has recently moved to San Francisco from London. He has worked on-and-off in journalism for almost ten years. He is passionate about the theater, and has directed and written several plays. He is currently trying his hand at teaching English.

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  1. I live in Miraloma Park and we are extremely unhappy with Sean Elsbernd. Developers just won a huge precedent to increase housing density in MP and Mssr. Elsbernd was totally deaf to the universal opposition to a project that would build 3 new homes on the former backyard of a home on Foerster and Los Palmos. At the final appeal on Oct. 5, 2010, Elsbernd recused himself and scurried out. The remaining 10 supes just paid lip service to the many good people from MP that showed up and presented many solid arguments that the project is way out alignment with the character of the neighborhood and violates city ordinances that prohibit sub-sized lots under these circumstances. The supes voted 10 to zip to affirm the project.

    Sean, perhaps Gavin has a job lined up for you in State Govt? The people of MP universally despise you.

  2. I’d also like to applaud Chris Daly here, who will leave the Board with the sole untarnished voting record with regard to this whole BVHPRP Lennar debacle.

    And David Campos’s remark:

    “We need to re-examine how the Redevelopment Agency works, and whether or not the Board should take over the agency.”

    Indeed, but it seems we’ve heard this before, from Mirkarimi, Daly, and, way back, Gonzalez. Is anybody serious? Hard to imagine, given this vote.

  3. This is so bleak. Ever occur to anyone else that Bayview Hunters Point is San Francisco’s Palestine? We’re always talkin’ about it and it never gets better for the people there, but it’s got resources to steal and/or exploit—-land, including waterfront.

  4. Supervisor Maxwell, I am ashamed of you for not requiring more affordable units. Under your watch your community has diminished in size to under 6% of SF’s population. Your plan will wreak havoc in Bayview.

  5. Nice story,

    Great photos goes without saying. This is mostly a gutless Board. They get rolled all the time. Lennar get’s over 700 acres of SF for $1 and there will never be regular foot patrols without a Progressive mayor. The SFPD used the excuse that they were understaffed to refuse to implement them for years and now with fewer retirements (would you quit if you could make $300k total to stay?) they are overstaffed for the first time in memory. If they can’t find enough bodies when they are overstaffed they never will. Only a strong mayor from the Left will change that.