London Breed’s Campaign Pledge to be Tested by Weiner/Farrell Attack on Rent Control

by Dean Preston, 2013-01-28

Three months ago, in an interview right before the election, London Breed “pledged to protect tenant’s rights and to oppose any attacks on rent control if she were to be elected to the most progressive and tenant-heavy seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.” She made this pledge in the face of criticism that her financial backing from landlords and realtors tainted her candidacy for District 5 Supervisor. Now, as Supervisors Scott Weiner and Mark Farrell are advancing legislation to permanently eliminate rent control for nearly two thousand units, Supervisor Breed has a stark choice: honor her campaign pledge or undermine her credibility.

Candidate Breed understood that to be elected in District 5 she needed the support of tenants. Tenants make up about 80% of the district and the district votes heavily in favor of protecting rent control. On her campaign website, the issue section on housing features “I support rent control” at the top of her list of positions. She repeatedly stated the same thing on the campaign trail.

When challenged on her support from landlords, Breed issued a press release stating: “The hit pieces are flying accusing London of opposing rent control. That might be funny if it wasn’t such a blatant lie.”

Asked by Luke Thomas of the Fog City Journal on Nov. 2, “Can you state categorically that if you were elected that you would not in any way, shape or form, support any attack on tenant’s rights or rent control?”, Breed responded “Hell, Yes.” She went on to confirm: “I will not do anything as supervisor to destroy the integrity of what rent control represents. I will not do anything that’s against rent control and I will do everything to protect tenant’s rights in this city as a supervisor.” Thomas clarified yet again: “And, if elected, you would not vote in support of any attack on tenant protections?” “Hell, no.” Breed responded.

Apparently, enough voters believed these promises and trusted that, despite the campaign donations, Breed would stand up for tenants and rent control once taking office.

Meanwhile, realtors and landlords were apparently confident that Breed would back their previously unsuccessful attempts to dismantle rent control in San Francisco by increasing the conversion of rent control units to condominiums. Increasing conversions is one of the few things the Board of Supervisors has the power to do to undermine rent control. Other attacks on rent control would require going to the ballot to change the original, voter-approved, rent control law. So real estate interests backed Breed with major campaign contributions and a realtor-led independent expenditure committee.

Breed has barely had time to move into her office and is already facing a crucial test of whether she will hold true to her promise or bow to the will of the real estate interests that funded her campaign.

The reported statement to the Fog City Journal couldn’t be clearer – Breed pledged to oppose any attacks on rent control. Before the board is Supervisor Weiner and Supervisor Farrell’s direct attack on rent control. It will be heard at the Land Use Committee of the Board of Supervisors on January 28. A full board vote could follow in early February. The measure would allow nearly two thousand rent control units to be converted to condominiums, which under state law would make them forever exempt from rent control.

The Weiner/Farrell plan would be one of the biggest eliminations of rent control housing in recent San Francisco history. That’s why every tenant rights organization in San Francisco opposes the measure. No supervisor can legitimately claim to support rent control while voting for this measure.

As the supervisor for District 5, Breed should already be forcefully criticizing this attack on rent control. Particularly given her campaign promises, she should have immediately condemned the Weiner/Farrell proposal. She should have announced in the same unmistakable terms used in her Fog City Journal interview, that she opposes this Weiner/Farrell attack on rent control and will do whatever it takes to defeat it. Instead, she has said nothing. To date, she has not met with tenant advocates.

Breed won office with only 28% of the first place votes. She ran a strong campaign, but most voters in the district don’t know her. A vote in favor of the Weiner/Farrell measure would undermine Breed’s credibility in the district before her term has even gotten off the ground.

I predict a recall campaign in District 5 if, after promising to protect rent control, Breed votes to eliminate thousands of rent control units to line the pockets of real estate industry campaign donors.

Dean Preston is Executive Director of Tenants Together, California’s statewide organization for renters’ rights. He is a resident of District 5 in San Francisco.