As the City Goes so Goes Potrero, Except for Mayor

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A slightly higher percentage of registered voters in Potrero Hill cast a ballot during last month’s election than did so citywide; 46 percent compared with 45 percent.  The modest participation suggests significant voter apathy, even in the face of what some called a referendum on San Francisco’s future. 

With the exception of the mayor’s race, Hill votes were similar to those citywide.  While Mayor Ed Lee won 56 percent of the overall vote, on the Hill he secured just 47 percent.  Possibly buoyed by the Potrero Hill Democratic Club’s endorsement, mayoral candidate Amy Farah Weiss garnered 17 percent of Hill voters’ ballots, compared with 12 percent citywide. 

Much of this election cycle’s media attention, locally and nationally, went to Proposition F, a measure that would’ve tightened regulations on short-term residential rentals.  Fifty-nine percent of Hill voters opposed the initiative, compared with 56 percent citywide. 

J.R. Eppler, Potrero Boosters president, wasn’t surprised by the Proposition F outcome, but thinks it’s likely that short-term residential rentals will be back on the ballot if the issue isn’t dealt with legislatively before the next election. “There was a broad set of opinions on Prop F in Potrero Hill,” Eppler said. “There was both a divide over the wording of the proposition as well as among people who see issues with short-term rentals in the City and those who don’t. These aren’t easy issues.  Regardless of where folks stand on an issue, people need to take the opportunity that the various community venues provide, to get together and talk.”

Proposition A, a $310 million bond to support affordable housing, public housing rehabilitation, and assistance to first-time middle-income home buyers, was approved by 76 percent of Hill voters compared with 73 percent citywide.  It’s the first affordable housing proposition passed in San Francisco in nineteen years.  Measures on the ballot in 2002 and 2004, which also involved property tax increases to pay for affordable housing, failed to secure the necessary two-thirds vote to pass.    

According to Jeff Thomas, San Francisco Center for the Book’s executive director, Proposition A’s passage reflected San Franciscans’ anxiety about ever increasing housing costs. “There’s not much hope of stopping the train,” said Thomas. “Especially for book artists; for the most part, these artists have left San Francisco.  There are still opportunities to help out arts organizations that have been displaced.  The challenge is that some of the growing sectors of business are not in the habit of supporting the arts.  We are hoping that Mayor Lee will encourage the business sector to do what they can to support the arts, such as by serving as board members for these organizations.” 

Thomas pointed-out that Mayor Ed Lee increased funding for the arts this year through the Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund.  He also mentioned that the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) provides support to artists and art organizations to help them stay in the City.  SFAC works with the Mayor’s Office of Housing and Community Development to distribute funds to San Francisco arts organizations facing eviction, and offers technical assistance to social service nonprofits which cater to low income artists and their families. 

The Mission District was the focus of much debate leading up to the election due to Proposition I, which would’ve suspended market-rate development in that neighborhood for eighteen months. Potrero Hill voters decided against the measure, by 57 percent, the same percentage it was defeated citywide. Mission voters favored the moratorium by 56 percent.

When asked whether there’s similar concern about evictions and housing in Potrero Hill, Eppler commented, “There is a problem with affordability in Potrero Hill.  Much of the recent development has scarcely had any affordable housing.  Structurally, we have more affordable housing than the Mission District, but we could always do better.  There will be quite some time before these affordable housing initiatives come online.  We have to start balancing development in Potrero Hill with livability.”

Dan Adams, Rebuild Potrero’s executive director, and a Lee supporter, found hope in the election results.  “Mayor Lee has been a staunch advocate and partner in the prioritization of affordable housing.  We are also ecstatic that Prop. A passed with an overwhelming majority, and feel that Ed Lee and the Mayor’s office have showed leadership on this issue.”

The election marked a nineteen year trend of an incumbent mayor winning reelection.  In 2011, Lee only garnered 31 percent of votes running against fifteen opponents.  This year his win was against five other candidates who ran modest campaigns.  With unemployment down and the economy buzzing, Lee promised to spend his next term addressing poverty, housing the homeless, and building adequate affordable housing for working communities.