Trevor McNeil #1, Jessica Ho #2 for San Francisco District 4 Supervisor

District 4, which includes the Sunset and Parkside neighborhoods, votes on a new supervisor following Katy Tang’s decision to not seek re-election. Vying for the spot are eight candidates, of whom three are most prominent: Jessica Ho, a legislative aide to Supervisor Tang; Gordon Mar, a nonprofit director; and Trevor McNeil, a public school teacher.

Of these candidates, only McNeil seeks the serious reform needed for District 4 to contribute a fair share of the city’s growth. Ho is pragmatic but less pro-housing, and Mar wants to preserve District 4’s power to remain exclusionary.

District 4 has ignored San Francisco’s housing crisis

San Francisco is now the world’s most expensive city, driven by a rapid increase in demand to live here and a meager corresponding increase in supply. We’re finally wising up to this, but progress has been uneven: over the past decade, District 4 has built only 0.1 percent of San Francisco’s new housing units, less than any other district.

This shirking of a shared duty for growth has robbed people of the opportunity to live here, and by focusing development in lower-income areas, fueled concerns of gentrification (justified or not). Those concerns have in turn hindered development, preventing progress toward affordability.

Source: Vadim Graboys

The geographic inequity of San Francisco’s development is codified into law. For example, most of the Sunset district is RH-1, meaning zoned for single-family homes only. Its next supervisor has the opportunity to reform that zoning toward sustainability and equity.

McNeil is paying attention

Only McNeil acknowledges the responsibility that District 4 shares with the rest of the city. In his YIMBY questionnaire he promotes allowing apartments in single-family neighborhoods:

I absolutely support legalizing multi-family buildings and changing RH-1 neighborhoods into multifamily housing zoning.

Re-zoning isn’t just important for overall growth, but also for below-market-rate housing. As District 6 Supervisor candidate Sonja Trauss points out:

Affordable housing developers have to be able to build at least 50 units at a time. This means they have to be able to build at least medium sized apartment buildings, but apartment buildings are illegal in most of San Francisco.

Resistance to rezoning therefore isn’t just resistance to density, but also to subsidized housing which could bring lower-income residents. McNeil addresses this point specifically:

I believe that our neighborhoods must overcome their resistance to affordable housing, and accept that this is a responsibility for all neighborhoods in the City. Towards that goal, I would push for a Sunset Area Plan that would re-examine the density limits across the district, and the transit infrastructure built to support them.

Mar favors the status quo

Where McNeil wants to rezone RH-1 neighborhoods to legalize affordable housing and give developers predictable rules, Mar prefers the current strict regulations so that each development can be negotiated:

Increased height and density is the best leverage we have to negotiate with developers for increased affordability requirements and community benefits. Granting height increases without asking for anything in return is a giveaway to developers.

Of course, height increases (variances) can still be granted if height limits are raised, it just might be from 3 to 4 stories instead of 1 to 2. More fundamentally, this mindset is antithetical to the concept of rule of law, where government sets rules and firms abide by them. If every transaction is a negotiation, why have laws at all?

Mar goes on to defend arbitrary processes for allowing developments, even those complying with zoning codes:

I think the entitlement process is valuable for gaining community input on decisions that directly affect them.

He also likes negotiating the inclusionary rate — required share of units reserved for low- to middle-income families — rather than setting it in law, despite the negative effect of higher inclusionary rates on supply:

I support inclusionary zoning, and would negotiate with developers to have the highest inclusionary rates possible on a per-project basis, based on what pencils out for each project.

This all boils down to Mar wanting neighborhoods to have absolute control over development in their districts, which has historically means absolute control to reject new development. To this end, he wants supervisors to have the implicit power to reject any proposed development in their district at the Board of Supervisors, known as supervisorial prerogative:

I support supervisorial prerogative because it speaks to the core value of district elections: that communities and neighborhoods should have a voice in the decisions that directly impact them. If elected, I’ll be elected to represent the constituents of my district, their views, and their values; and yes, representing those views will absolutely be my prerogative.

Ho likes ADUs, inclusionary rate feasibility studies, and local control

Ho is between McNeil and Mar. On one hand, she supports an evidence-based inclusionary rate, rather than making it as high as possible:

…we must conduct an economic analysis to determine the appropriate inclusionary zoning percentage.

On the other, she opposed SB 827, the bill which would have legalized apartments near transit statewide, because it removed some local control:

No, I did not support Senator Scott Wiener’s bill SB 827 as written because I think it should be up to the local jurisdictions to determine zoning and city planning.

She also emphasizes accessory dwelling units — ADUs, a.k.a., in-law units — for addressing the housing shortage. While this can help, it would only make a fraction of the impact of zoning reform.

Vote McNeil #1 for the real reform needed from District 4, and Ho #2 to keep Mar from restricting equitable growth.



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Max Ghenis

Max Ghenis


Co-founder & CEO of PolicyEngine. Founder & president of the UBI Center. Economist. Alum of UC Berkeley, Google, and MIT. YIMBY. CCLer. Effective altruist.