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Letter to the proponents of San Francisco proposition E 2015

I received email promoting prop E and sent the following letter in response:

 

Mr. [David] Lee,

 
I have already voted against this proposition primarily because it does not provide any provision for managing the inflow of non-local comments. I don't mean people who live nearby because of our over-priced city and who are personally affected by the matters discussed, I mean the same kind of people in other states and even other countries who spend their time trolling the comments on SFGate.com. A lot of those folks are there because they don't like San Francisco values. They're burning time and attention to stir things up and slam the city and its people. It's bad enough in our newspaper discussions (and other SF-affiliated online comment spaces); we don't need it in our government. Have you already forgotten the out-of-state involvement in Prop 8?
 
Further, the idea of scheduling specific times for comment will hinder the ability to work through many items at public meetings. I've attended lots of local government meetings and many times have attended at the last moment because I was able to get there unexpectedly. I'm not alone in that. There's no predicting how many people will want to comment on an issue. There's no predicting how many people who came will decide to comment or not comment based on the statements of the primary parties involved. Scheduling specific times will produce unnecessary constraint in number of speakers (or, one hopes, an overflow into the next scheduled slot so that no local voices are unheard). Also at these meetings there's often a postponement of an item, for example when an interested party was unexpectedly not present at a recent Board of Appeals meeting I attended. Should the Board and all the attendees for the next matter on the agenda have had to sit silently for half an hour until a scheduled time came up? That's not efficient or a good use of anyone's time.
 
 
 
Yes, more livestreaming would be great. We need it.

Yes, methods for those who live, work, or study in SF to contribute to these meetings without attending in person would be good. But it needs to be done in a manner which doesn't clog the process with those who are not impacted by the matter at hand.

Yes, improved handling of the timing of high-interest agenda items would be great. But those running these meetings are already incentivized to make that happen and unfortunately the variability in matters to be covered—e.g. how long it will take to approve the minutes of the prior meeting, or to resolve other routine start-of-meeting matters, or to work through any given agenda item—means that a schedule is very problematic. You can't legitimately cut anything short to stay on track and you don't want dead time in order to stay on track; it's got to be flexible.
 
Proposition E did not address those major 'But's and needs to be re-worked in future to earn my yes vote.
 
 
 
I hope you will share my letter with your students so that they understand a defeat on this proposal is most definitely not because we don't want to hear their voices.
 
Technology is not the only part of improving a challenging civic function like this; it needs community management skills—just like any good online discussion space—and careful implementation and problem resolution planning before a mandate of methodology can be laid down.
 
sincerely,
Dinah Sanders

Posted on October 30, 2015 at 11:04 AM in Current Affairs, politics & philosophy, San Francisco | Permalink | Comments (0)

SF Election Slate November 2015 2015

San Franciscans! Here's all the election info. Note the voter info booklet and sample ballots under "Voter guides and sample ballot".

This time it's almost all really about housing. Very exciting to see so much potential progress on offer for us.

 

Mayor: Ed Lee
Not perfect, but overall a decent balancing act through some very odd times. 
Broke-Ass Stuart and some of the other candidates clearly love this city in all its messy complexity, but I doubt their ability to effectively manage an economy of San Francisco's size, let alone their ability to negotiate the minefield of the city's political power structures.

 

Sheriff: Vicki Hennessy
Hard to imagine a better candidate with a broader base of support. She did a great job as Interim Sheriff and has both a humane view of the role of the department and the essential support within it to make effective policy changes.

 

City Attorney: Dennis Herrera
And a standing ovation. We are so lucky to have him.

 

District Attorney: George Gascón
SF Treasurer: José Cisneros
Seem to be doing a good job.

 

For the local ballot measures below I've linked the proposition description to Public Press's overview.

Proposition A: Yes
Affordable Housing Bond
"It’s been two decades since city voters gave a housing bond the green light" Public Press points out and boy do we need to address affordable housing in this city. The special set-aside for helping teachers live here is particularly appealing. This is a sound investment in the city and we're in good economic shape to make it now.
Good broad base of support.
Oppositions statements are from the usual clump of anti-public-spending folks (Quentin Kopp and assorted libertarians) who seem to believe that someday a magic Reagan angel will rise up and make trickle-down economics actually work.

 

Proposition B: Yes
Paid Parental Leave for City Employees
A modest improvement to benefits for new parents who are city employees.
Once again, good broad base of support.
Opposition statements are only that same Terrance Faulkner dude who's opposing lots of things this time because why should non-ladies need to care for a new baby (insert eyeroll here) and Libertarians because why should non-young-single-white-guys get special treatment (insert world's smallest violin here).

 

Proposition C: Yes
Registering Lobbyists
Creates transparency about who's spending big money—$2,500 a month or more—to have other people lobby city government on their behalf.
Proposed by the SF Ethics Commission.
Opposition statement by Terrance Faulkner again, who seems to be missing the key fact that the non-profit exemption terminology in this proposition brings it in line with that for direct lobbying.

 

Proposition D: Yes
Mission Rock Waterfront Development
This is a well-crafted project worked out with years of community input, located on what is currently a parking lot in a former industrial area. It will create about 600 affordable housing units, which the city desperately needs, plus another approximately 900 market rate units. (40% affordable is an exceptionally good percentage.)
Broad base of support.
Opposed by the Sierra Club, whom I respect, but who I think are flat out wrong on this one. This is a city and some amount of growth is appropriate—and this is a great place to locate this development. It doesn't create a "wall on the waterfront" (like the ill-considered development north of the Ferry Building which the voters fortunately stopped in a past election); rather all buildings are at least 100 feet from the waterfront, and step down in height towards the water.

 

Proposition E: No
Requirements for Public Meetings
I support increasing public access to civic decision-making, but this throws the whole process in danger of being continually bogged down by non-locals submitting comments on issues which do not actually affect them. We don't need our public participation in government turning into something like the comments on YouTube or SFGate.
There are people I respect on both sides of this issue, but I come down to it not being well-crafted enough to avoid serious problems that could result in less rather than more local voices being heard in city decision making. Not ready for prime time; supporters should improve the proposition and try again later.
(Bonus trivia: this is one of those rare things on which Quentin Kopp and I are actually in agreement on which way to vote. It's expensive and counter-productive.)

 

Proposition F: Yes
Regulating Short-Term Rentals. For this one the City's summary is even clearer than Public Press'.
Okay, stay with me here. This is long, but it's because you're probably as in the dark on how it actually works as I was before spending a few hours going through it all.

This area of city law is all about keeping residential rentals from being lost to the market and only used for tourists.

It is essential in evaluating this proposition to compare the way it is now, under SF Ordinance No. 218-14 which took effect February 1st of this year, to the proposed changes. Many of the mailings and editorials about this proposition speak in such general terms they obscure the actual change this law would make.

"Current law requires hosts to register with the city, after which they are allowed to rent out entire homes for up to 90 days per year — unless they are staying on site, in which case they can rent out rooms year-round. But to date, only about 700 hosts have registered, implying that thousands of others are flying under the radar. City Hall currently has no way to find them." [source]

Note that hosts under current law must live in the residential unit which will be offered for rental (or partial rental) for at least 275 nights of any given calendar year. Non-resident hosts renting out their place(s) are, as I understand it, violating the requirements of the City’s Residential Unit Conversion and Demolition Ordinance (Administrative Code Chapter 41A) or the Planning Code, and that doesn't change with Proposition F.

So, the registry of hosts and the limited rental days per year for non-resident hosts already exist. Voting Yes on proposition F means you support changing the limit from 90 days to 75 days per year, and subjecting resident hosts to the same limit as non-resident hosts.

Currently there is no restriction on offering affordable housing (built with assistance from the city) or in-law units as short-term rentals; a Yes on proposition F means you support preventing those uses. (The in-law unit is a big factor in SF right now because in hopes of adding much needed housing the city has just created pathways to legitimize currently illegal in-law units; obviously if those units are eaten up with tourist rentals the whole aim of creating more residential housing is defeated.)

Currently no reporting is required from either the hosts or the services like AirBnB which facilitate short-term renting; a Yes on proposition F means both hosts and services are required to provide data to the city. That would expose the non-registered hosts, increasing city revenue and helping to offset the costs of the new Office of Short Term Rental Administration and Enforcement. (This agency was already created as part of the law which went into effect in February, so SF will be paying for it regardless of whichever way Prop F goes.) Proposition F also will allow fining companies such as AirBnB for listing unregistered hosts.

Proposition F adds notification to interested parties (such as neighbors) of registration of a unit for short-term rentals.

Currently, interested parties defined in detail (e.g. the neighbor) may sue the violator (i.e. the host). Proposition F will also allow them to sue the hosting service which promoted the violating rental. (I don't really buy this as a financial incentive to spy on neighbors; the hassle and expense of a lawsuit against a company with in-house legal counsel who handle this stuff all the time doesn't seem worth it except in extreme problem cases.)

My big takeaways on digging into this proposition:

  • It's currently a misdemeanor for a non-resident to rent out their place for short-term rentals (e.g. through VRBO, AirBnB, etc.) and Prop F doesn't change that.
  • The city currently doesn't have any way to penalize listing services for facilitating those short-term rentals because the city doesn't require any reporting from those services or from hosts. Prop F does change that, and when you realize they wouldn't be able to list unregistered hosts without risking fines from the city or lawsuits from neighbors of the unit it becomes a lot more clear why AirBnB has spent $8million trying to shoot this proposition down.
  • Prop F will drive non-registered hosts (which, importantly, includes all those who do not live in the rental unit most of the year) underground. This will probably have a dramatic negative impact on their ability to use their place(s) for short-term rentals. Whether that will result in more places coming back into the residential rental market remains to be seen, but I do think Prop F would slow the outflow of units from residential to short-term usage by cutting off that easy revenue stream.
  • Prop F will further limit the amount of short-term rentals available, not only through the reduction of the maximum for a unit from 90 to 75 days per year, but also through the minor hassle of registration with the city and reporting. (Though it's strongly in the listing services' best interest to make that reporting easy for their users so I doubt it will be a big issue.) With short-term rentals constrained, those wanting to earn money renting out part of their home will be incentivized to consider normal residential rentals instead, potentially adding more housing to the market.
  • Prop F makes it harder to use potential residential units for short-term rentals. It thus creates an incentive for those currently operating multiple units for this (illegal) purpose to transfer their business into legitimate small hotel activities.

So, in the short term—say the next few years—if Prop F passes, I'm guessing we see some apartments return to the residential market, some additional spots for shared-housing residential rentals, and some new small hotels created. I think those "some"s add up to a significant number, so that's all good. We also see fewer short-term rentals available and that's a drag, but does put a nice ceiling on city-disrupting convention events like Dreamforce. Bottom line: unregulated hotel rooms, with all their issues and annoyances, decline in favor of registered short-term rentals with insurance etc, legitimate hotels, and residential rentals.

 

Proposition G: No
Proposition H: Yes
Defining ‘Clean’ or ‘Green’ Energy
SF has a plan for switching the city over to a greater percentage of sustainable energy sources. The intent under this CleanPowerSF is that compared with PG&E’s energy portfolio, CleanPowerSF will draw from more renewable sources without charging customers more than they currently pay.
Prop G attempted to define it one way (in PG&E's favor & less sustainably). Prop H uses the state's definition.
Prop G has been withdrawn by its original proposers (PG&E employees) in favor of Prop H, which has a broad base of support.
Guess who is opposed? Yes! Terrance Faulkner.

 

Proposition I: No
Mission District Housing Moratorium
Halts basically all construction in the Mission which isn't 100% affordable housing for 18 months. Which is to say, halts all construction in the Mission, even projects with exceptionally high percentages of affordable units. City Controller estimate in September is that it halts building of 750-800 units.
The arguments in favor falsely equate "luxury" with "under 100% affordable". Yes, we need more affordable housing, but this is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Yes, the Mission is undergoing massive change, but not for the first time and this proposition does not offer any solutions. The argument against is clear:
"What the proponents didn’t consider in their rush to the ballot is if we don’t create new homes at all income levels, the city’s problem of displacement will worsen. Thousands of people will still move to San Francisco, and if Prop I limits the supply of housing, they will bid up prices of existing homes, increasing displacement."

 

Proposition J: Yes
Legacy Business Historic Preservation Fund
This fund to support local, 30+ year old businesses which are significant to the history or identity of their neighborhood and which are committed to retaining that legacy.
The fund is subject to future budget cycles so it is nicely suited to protecting old businesses in boom times without overdrawing the city in lean times.
Opposed by Quentin Kopp, the Libertarian Party, and the Republican Party in their privileged belief that "If an enterprise is truly a “healthy” business...it will exist."
I'm siding with the true character of the city and with protecting it from short-term monied interests.

 

Proposition K: Yes
Using City Land for Affordable Housing
Streamlines the process for taking unutilized public lands within the city and turning them into affordable housing, prioritized toward the homeless.
Wish this had been done 10 years ago with the old freeway lots bounded by Octavia, Fell, Oak, and Laguna! We need housing for everyone, not chained off vacant lots.
Opposed by Quentin Kopp and the Republican Party. Supported by pretty much everybody else.

Posted on October 17, 2015 at 07:55 PM in politics & philosophy, San Francisco | Permalink | Comments (0)

Buh-bye, Facebook. 2015

Last June I quit using Facebook both personally and professionally. I'd been feeling pretty queasy about their creepy terms of service switcheroos already, but pile on real name policy problems and ever-increasing revenue-generation interference with having your posts actually seen by your followers and I was pretty dubious already. But it seemed necessary. "You've got a brand! How can you not be on Facebook?!" So I held my nose and stuck with it, at least for my Discardia and Art of the Shim social media presence.

The turning point came when news broke that the Facebook app was going to start quietly recording background sound while you worked on a post. WTF?! Ostensibly to identify music or TV and include it in the post, but really? Facebook, do you think we don't know you're not going to sell that marketing info and let the NSA listen in? How dumb do you think we are? 

That was it. I posted an announcement with a link to a video explaining why everyone should be leaving Facebook and I deleted the apps from my devices. No more social media posts via Facebook.

You know what? It did absolutely no damage to my brand. It didn't affect my sales. It didn't reduce my reader interaction as an author/publisher. 

Turns out, Facebook needs us waaaaay more than we need Facebook. And we don't need it at all.

 

Over the past year I've been duplicating all the content from my Facebook accounts onto my own sites and today I finally made time to copy over the last of it. Time to permanently delete my account. Ahhhhh, how nice!

For posterity, and an illustration of just how much a professional account contains attempts from Facebook to get you to spend money to reach your own followers, here are screenshots of the page as it now appears. Amusingly, because the last thing I posted was the 'Delete Facebook' video, all the automatically mocked-up ads they want me to buy use that graphic.

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 4.30.14 PM
Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 4.31.41 PM

 


Facebook's constant clawing for additional personal information is very visible in my old personal account:

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 7.26.23 PM

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 7.28.18 PM

Posted on October 3, 2015 at 04:38 PM in politics & philosophy, The Web, tools, warnings & kvetches, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

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