Is Trickle-Down Economics the Real Issue in SF Props. B and C?

San Francisco's waterfront (Nouhailler / Flickr)
San Francisco’s waterfront (Nouhailler / Flickr)

It might be about as off an election year as they get come, but San Francisco Props. B and C are generating plenty of heat. Or at least they did when Forum hosted representatives from both sides of the measures. Let’s just say host Dave Iverson earned his money that morning, reining in guests and keeping the conversation from devolving into a sophomoric episode of “he said, he said.”

At the heart of the propositions is a proposed luxury condominium development along the Embarcadero titled 8 Washington. Lots of issues related to the physical project were covered during the hour-long conversation: height restrictions, the amount of public open space that the development will create, dissatisfaction with the private health club and parking lot that occupy the site now.

But several ideological questions around affordable housing — the issue dominating mastheads and coffee shops across the region — came up during the conversation as well: Who should live in the Bay Area — those who can afford its rising costs or those who are already here? How much should housing cost? What shape should new housing take? Should affordable and low-income housing be built in prime locations, like the waterfront?

That question led Jon Golinger, campaign director for No Wall on the Waterfront, to accuse his opponents of practicing trickle-down economics. Here is the full exchange:

Tim Colen, executive director of the San Francisco Housing Action Coalition, which supports Prop. B:

“The irony here is when people say ‘Let’s build affordable housing on-site, we going to build less affordable housing in San Francisco than if we built it elsewhere in our city. With redevelopment having gone away, we are in a crisis here in San Francisco about affordable housing and we have less public funds than ever.  And if we can take some of the most expensive real estate in Northern California and in San Francisco and extract the maximum amount of money to buy housing elsewhere… ”

Host Dave Iverson:

“Let me ask the question this way, to go with Mayor Agnos’ 1 percent versus the 99.  Is your argument, Tim Colen, that ‘Yeah, you bet, we’re going to have this be for the 1 percent because actually that’s what would benefit the 99, because it would raise more money to support those 99’?”

Tim Colen:

“In simple terms, yes. And the idea that this is some working-class waterfront is sort of alien because 50 yards from the project site you’ve got some very, very fancy condos, a couple of plutocrats who are protecting their views, chip in what, half a million dollars to protect their view? So the idea that there are no people of means, or we’ve got to keep these people out — this is the waterfront, some very valuable land.”

Jon Golinger, campaign director for No Wall on the Waterfront:

“There’s another word for what Tim Colen just agreed is his philosophy here: It’s called trickle-down. And it hasn’t worked in other places and it doesn’t work in San Francisco either. Their plan and what they’re doing, what the Board of Supervisors and the Lee administration is doing now is approving, almost exclusively, luxury, high-end housing with this idea that they’ll build affordable housing someday.”

Iverson:

“Jon, let me press you on that because it’s not exactly trickle-down because it’s creating x amount of money that would be used to create affordable housing. It’s not just saying, ‘We’re going to toss you a few crumbs.’”

Golinger:

“Oh, that is what it’s saying. Let’s talk about this project: $500 to $600 million is what these condos are going to sell for. The developer who before the Board last year said they’d be the most expensive condos in the history of San Francisco: $2 million for a studio, $10 million at the top. They’re planning on putting $11 million in [to affordable housing]. That’s a fraction – if this is their argument that they’re going to put money into a fund, especially on public land, they should put in $100 million if they’re going to claim it’s neighborhood housing.”

Whether you care at all about what goes up along the Embarcadero or whether you hate the current tennis court/parking lot at the site , it’s hard to ignore that Props. B and C embody, at least partially, the topic on everyone’s minds: housing.

You can listen to the full discussion by clicking here.

 

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  • danisf

    As you say: I came away from that discussion with much respect to Dave Iverson. Very well moderated debate. Hats off!

Author

Amanda Stupi

Amanda Stupi is an interactive producer for KQED News. She grew up in Northern California, where her mother would woo her inside on warm summer nights with promises of The Monkees and CHIPS. Stupi is fascinated with the intersection between popular culture and the fine arts. Her idea of artistic perfection includes The Beastie Boys' Check Your Head, Joni Mitchell's Blue, Bull Durham, several episodes of Cheers, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice and most of Wallace Stevens' poetry. Stupi's life goals include watching every episode of Law and Order, finishing a screenplay and thanking her mom in an Oscar acceptance speech.

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