Theo Ellington #1, Shamann Walton #2 for San Francisco District 10 Supervisor

November 2018 election

District 10 includes the Bayview Hunters Point, Potrero Hill, Dogpatch, and Visitacion Valley neighborhoods, and is currently represented by my recommended Board of Equalization candidate Malia Cohen. Three leading candidates include Human Rights Commissioner Theo Ellington, artist Tony Kelly, and nonprofit director Shamann Walton.

Only Ellington acknowledges the necessity of additional housing supply — including market-rate housing — in addressing San Francisco’s most pressing crisis: exorbitant cost of living. Kelly opposes market-rate development, and Walton’s views fall between Ellington and Kelly’s.

Ellington is the pro-housing candidate

Ellington is the only candidate who unequivocally supports building market-rate housing, and who knows how to do it. As he said in his opening remarks to the YIMBY questionnaire (emphasis mine):

In order to address the housing crisis we must increase the overall production of housing. I firmly believe supply and demand is a real thing. I also believe, as stated in the Regional Housing Needs Allocation, the State must apply pressure so all cities partake in providing the additional supply of housing needed to reach our goals. My policy approach will consist of removing barriers from the planning process and identifying creative land-use strategies to build more housing in our city.

He reinforced these first two sentences by overtly supporting market-rate housing:

Build more homes for folks at every income level. We simply must increase the supply of available housing.

The third sentence is especially controversial: Ellington is saying that California should have more power to ensure cities meet housing needs. He’s right. Cities routinely approve commercial buildings over housing to generate city funds and avoid diluting incumbents’ local voting rights, and this has contributed to California’s 4-million-home shortage. State legislation to make zoning more consistent across the state can help, and Ellington supported the strongest such bill, SB 827, which would have legalized apartments near transit.

Ellington also backs up his final sentence with specific policy proposals, such as:

I would consider a by-right process for zoning for projects that include a majority of or all affordable housing units.

A by-right process is one in which a building that meets all regulations — environmental, safety, etc. — can be built without discretionary review, which often gives neighbors and the planning commission endless opportunity to hold up projects. YIMBY Action had started working on a ballot measure to give by-right approval to 100-percent affordable housing and teacher housing projects, before shifting to electoral priorities. By-right development would generate more housing more quickly, and is within reach with a pro-housing Board of Supervisors.

These put Ellington far ahead of the competition, but some of his views could suppress housing development:

  • “I will push for the highest inclusionary percentages [share of units in new buildings reserved for low-to-middle-income tenants] possible for all projects.” Negotiating on each project rather than setting clear rules creates uncertainty for developers considering building housing here, and violates rule of law. The drop in housing proposals following a 2016 ballot measure raising the inclusionary rate demonstrated that developers respond to what is in effect a tax.
  • “every approved project in the city should avoid displacement at all costs.” Minimizing displacement is a worthy goal, but, depending on how displacement is defined, avoiding it at all costs can mean losing out on projects that could benefit the community. If a building owner wants to replace their 3-unit building with a 100-unit building, and there are no nearby vacancies for those 3 families to move into, blocking that project deprives 100 families of homes.
  • “[SB827 had] no clear tenant protections.” SB827 had significant tenant protections.

Kelly opposes market-rate development

In the San Francisco Democrats questionnaire he said:

…we cannot build our way out of our housing crisis [because] we are losing too many affordable units to a market that treats housing as a commodity.

His website also said:

Progress starts with a Board of Supervisors who are independent from luxury condo developers.

Kelly only supports 100% affordable (subsidized) housing, which cannot meet the need:

I’m also a strong proponent of building 100% affordable housing on 100% public land with a 100% public bank.

A public bank — central to Kelly’s platform — does not remove the drive for investors to earn a return; if San Francisco becomes the investor, we’re effectively just using city funds to subsidize that housing.

Walton supports housing at a high level, but specific policies are less pro-growth

I’m committed to building thousands of affordable housing units for all income levels over the next 8 years.

This seems to support market-rate development. He goes on to say:

By bringing my experience developing affordable housing to City Hall, I will ensure our district increases supply and leads the City in affordable housing units.

Maximizing affordable units is a far better proposal than maximizing the affordable share. These are two sentences Kelly would not utter, and for that Walton is clearly preferable.

However, much of his other views on specific policies would make it harder to build housing:

  • “I believe zoning and planning should remain in the hands of the local leadership and community because we are the ones affected by environmental impacts of developments.” Local control tends to suppress housing development. While District 10 deserves to have its voice heard — it includes some of the lower-income neighborhoods in the city and has built more new housing than any other district except District 6 — advocating local control across San Francisco would hurt production.
  • “I support a full repeal of Costa Hawkins and believe we need to prioritize creating additional rent control legislation.” As I wrote in opposing Proposition 10, which would repeal Costa Hawkins and enable cities to enact virtually limitless rent control policies, expanding rent control reduces the incentive to develop, and has other harmful effects like higher rents for newcomers.
  • “while there may be some specific locations in the city or specific circumstances where by-right development within San Francisco could be appropriate, I believe it would have to occur only on a case-by-case basis in pre-approved locations.” Selecting by-right development on a case-by-case basis negates many of the benefits of by-right development itself.

Aside from housing, Walton’s emphasis on local hiring — excluding newcomers from job opportunities — is concerningly nativist:

the first legislation I plan to introduce would be a Local Mandatory Hiring policy that requires all sectors of employment, not just in construction, to hire from existing San Francisco communities and neighborhoods.

If elected to the Board of Supervisors, Theo Ellington will advocate for more housing of all types in District 10 and across San Francisco. Tony Kelly will oppose projects that aren’t 100 percent subsidized, which in practice means the vast majority of projects. As Supervisor he would worsen the housing shortage that hurts us all, and do so in the name of ideology. Vote Ellington #1 and Walton #2 to prevent that outcome.

Written by

Economist. Founder and president of the UBI Center. Studied at MIT and UC Berkeley. YIMBY. Former Google data scientist.

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