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SF Democratic Party’s Support of Unlimited Housing Could Pressure Mayoral Candidates

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State Sen. Scott Wiener swears in the new DCCC members at the April meeting of the Democratic County Central Committee. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/KQED)

The San Francisco Democratic Party put itself on record backing the building of unrestricted market-rate housing after a Friday night vote.

The new policy may push candidates running for mayor and the Board of Supervisors to modify their positions on housing if they want the backing of the Democratic County Central Committee or DCCC.

In most elections, the DCCC sends mailers to voters with its official stamp of approval for candidates, which can sway a segment of voters. The candidates appearing on party mailers this November will likely have pro-market rate housing views.

Mike Chen, a member of the DCCC and co-author of its housing policy, told KQED he hopes candidates heed the party’s new direction.

“There are many candidates who are still movable, who have issue priorities that are not necessarily housing,” Chen said. “This is a chance for candidates to take feedback from the party.”

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Catch up fast: Most of the two dozen moderate Democrats who ran for the DCCC won in the March primary, flipping the board from its previous progressive majority.

The new housing policy embraces the platform of San Francisco YIMBY, an advocacy group that said building market-rate developments as quickly as possible will help bring down rental prices. Progressive Democrats said market-rate construction is akin to luxury housing that most people can’t afford.

Mayor London Breed is a vocal supporter of YIMBY policies. The DCCC’s new approach to housing may benefit her when she seeks the party’s endorsement.

Democrats on the Democratic County Central Committee at their first meeting since the March primary on April 19. From left to right, Michael Lai, Cedric Akbar, Mike Chen, Lily Ho, Trevor Chandler, Matt Dorsey, Nancy Tung and Marjan Philhour. (Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez/KQED)

Who loses out: Some DCCC members may now think twice before backing the mayoral candidacy of Mark Farrell, a former mayor and supervisor. Farrell rankled pro-housing Democrats last month when he said he doesn’t believe San Francisco “needs to upzone every neighborhood” in an interview with Joe Eskenazi, Mission Local’s managing editor and columnist, on stage at Manny’s. Upzoning is the process cities use to grant taller housing to be built in an area.

Other mayoral candidates, like Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who talks about protecting the character of neighborhoods from the construction of tall housing, and Supervisor Ahsha Safai, are unlikely to gain the party’s backing. Safaí lacks the allies on the board to gain an endorsement. It’s unclear if Daniel Lurie, a mayoral candidate and philanthropist, has enough DCCC allies for an endorsement.

The opposing view: A few progressives remain on the party board, including Peter Gallotta, who successfully got the moderate Democrats to write clauses supporting renters into the new housing policy. “I think it’s important that we reiterate and underscore that our party is also pro-tenant,” Gallotta said. “I do think we need to make sure we’re calling out our support for the protection of rent control in San Francisco, that we support preservation of our existing rent-controlled housing stock.”

What we’re watching: The meeting was the party’s first since moderates flipped the board. The moderates flexed their newfound power by pushing for several new policies. Besides the housing platform, board members voted to approve a resolution backing more police officers for public safety and new bylaws that limit the amount of public comment they’ll listen to in a meeting.

The public safety and housing policies have no actual teeth in changing San Francisco’s operations.

The moderate Democrats also voted in Nancy Tung as the new party chair. Tung is a career prosecutor in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office who ran for DA in 2019 but lost to Chesa Boudin.

The party also passed a resolution backing the labor community. The policy statement angered Kim Tavaglione, the executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council, a powerful group that unites labor unions across the city.

Tavaglione said the policy lacks basic elements in the state Democratic Party platform, like endorsing specific training language for the building trades, a living wage recommendation and anti-charter school statements that public school teachers back.

“If they don’t appreciate labor’s voice, we don’t have to play with them,” Tavaglione said. “We’re happy to walk away.”

Tavaglione said she would recommend labor unions withhold resources from the DCCC, which would help progressive Democrats in the November election.

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