SAN FRANCISCO — Voters head to the polls on Tuesday, and in some Bay Area cities, the housing issue is high on the ballot. Voters are increasingly being asked to make decisions even as trust in elected officials has declined.
Jake Price spent his Sunday door-to-door in San Francisco’s Sunset District in a last-minute effort to secure the vote for Proposition D. A little further down the Great Highway, other activists were also pushing the same measure.
“It says that if a project meets all the rules, it’s automatically approved. It takes the oversight board out of the process,” said Todd David, a Prop D supporter from the Housing Action Coalition.
Proponents of a competing initiative – Proposition E – say it’s what it takes to solve the cumbersome bureaucratic process that stands in the way of more affordable housing.
“So that would bypass that, streamline it and make it much more efficient and therefore lead to more affordable housing production,” said Prop E supporter Rudy Gonzalez.
Meanwhile, another housing measure is Proposal M, which would impose a vacancy tax on investment homes if they remain unoccupied for more than 182 days. SF supervisor Dean Preston supports this initiative.
“They’re going to dump it when they think the market is high,” he said. “They’re not really interested in owning it and not really interested in living in it. They’re only interested in appreciating the value and leaving it empty.”
A similar measure is on the ballot in Berkeley. So what’s going on? Why is so much housing policy put to the vote of the people? United Way Bay Area’s Kevin Zwick thinks he knows.
“I think there’s a lot of frustration in a lot of places with the situation around affordable housing in the Bay Area,” Zwick said. “When people are frustrated and they don’t see legislation passed by the state or by local city councils, then people go to the polls and I think that’s a good sign.”
It’s probably not surprising. Everything that has been done so far has not brought down housing prices and residents have lost confidence that government at all levels is willing or able to create the amount of housing needed. Thus, citizens engage in a small policy of self-defense.
“Citizens are banding together and saying, like, ‘our elected officials have let us down’ and they’re grabbing the reins,” Todd David said. “And what will happen, as these measures become more popular and successful, elected officials will follow behind. But citizens will take the lead in solving our accessibility and mobility crisis.”
Legislating through the ballot box can create its own set of problems but, for better or worse, California empowers citizens to take government into their own hands when they get mad enough – and few things are more infuriating. than trying to find an affordable place to live in the Bay Area.