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A YIMBY Action Endorsement Questionnaire. View all November 2018 Questionnaires.

John Dennis

Candidate - San Francisco District 2 Supervisor

How would you increase overall housing production? Give us a few policy ideas you think would be most impactful, making sure they are genuinely relevant to the position you hope to be elected to.

Require that all code compliant projects be delivered to the Planning Commission within six months. Increase planning staff and, more importantly, retain the most productive members of the planning staff by increasing pay and benefits. Increase fees to appeal Planning Commission approved projects to approximately 1% of the value of the project.

How would you increase Affordable Housing production? Would you support bonds (such as the $4 billion dollar bond on the CA November Ballot) or increased taxes, and in what amounts?

I would increase Affordable Housing by increasing overall housing production. I would reduce the percentage of BMR’s to encourage development. I would not support additional bonds or taxes.

Do you support legalizing multifamily buildings or “upzoning” single family home only neighborhoods, such as the west side of San Francisco or ? What do you think is appropriate for currently zoned low-density neighborhoods, those with parcels limited to one or two units? Please be specific and use examples relevant to your area.

I support up zoning. If a project pencils it should be built.

Did you or would you support Senator Scott Wiener’s bill SB 827 to eliminate density restrictions and upzone residential areas near transit, in its latest drafted iteration or with minor amendments? The bill would have allowed four to five story multifamily buildings within a half-mile of transit stops, and a right to return for displaced tenants. Would you pursue implementing a local version of a transit-oriented upzoning in your city or town?

I’m torn by SB 827. Principally, I support subsidiarity “the principle that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level.” However, I have witnessed, and been subject to, the politicization of the Planning Department and of the Appeals process. Before ceding authority to the state of California over planning I think we should make the effort on the local level to solve the problem. Rejecting Supervisorial Prerogative now and taking away Supervisorial Oversight ultimately are two big steps toward depoliticization of Planning, and ultimately more housing.

Do you think every neighborhood should build multifamily subsidized Affordable Housing, and if so how do you plan on accomplishing that?

Yes, the market is in such desperate need for housing that I support existing programs and incentives that encourage building subsidized Affordable Housing. More importantly, the market builds the lion share of housing, and I would give real estate entrepreneurs as much incentive as possible just be removing city impediments so that market rate housing in any and all property classes can be built.

By-right development grants automatic approval to zoning- and building code-compliant housing projects (both Affordable and market-rate), removing review of those projects by local commissions like the Planning Commission. It does not apply to any projects seeking variances from existing city law. Yes or no, do you support by-right development? Please be specific.

I support by-right development.

How would you streamline the housing permitting process in your city or county? Describe some pre- and post-entitlement changes you would make.

As stated in answer 1, hiring and retaining the best possible staff, combined with a requirement that all projects be presented by the planning commission within six months. If the Director of Planning cannot reach the goal he/she should be fired and replace with someone who can. Another issue in the last few years in the post entitlement phase is site permit approval, which in years past took 60 days and is now taking 9-12 months. Building staffs must also be improved, and metrics for the
department have to be set and strictly enforced.

What is your philosophy on inclusionary zoning, which mandates that market-rate housing pay for a certain percentage of lower-income units? Do you believe there is an inclusionary percentage that will create less overall housing and less low-income housing, ie that we can kill the golden goose with rates like 50% inclusionary?

As a developer, I know that inclusionary housing discourages building because it is a cost. I would rather see a freer market in development so that real estate entrepreneurs can meet market demand. Having said that, given the current environment, I wouldn’t fight to eliminate BMR’s completely, but would like to see the rate be much lower than it is now, say 10% or less. And yes, I know that 50% inclusionary rates will kill projects. If 50% inclusionary housing was required of my 40-unit project, it would never be built. I made that exact point when I participated in almost all of the MAP 2020 meetings.

What do you think about the idea of a jobs-housing balance? For example, San Francisco’s Central SoMa Plan? The area plan adds 40,000 jobs and 7,000 housing units, and is likely to be passed by the the Board of Supervisors without accompanying housing. Do you think San Francisco should have an “act two” for this plan and zone for more housing, and if so where? Generally, do you think we should build housing to accommodate a growing economy?

Any plan that increases housing production is good, generally speaking. But, and I beg your pardon if my responses are repetitive, the most powerful force for creating more housing is a free market and entrepreneurs willing to risk capital for the reward of meeting demand. So yes, by all means, build more housing. On this topic, we have to review height limits as well.

Currently, many governing boards will follow the wishes of a district official on housing in their district, even if other officials disagree. Would you follow this tradition? For instance, would you adhere to the informal custom at the Board of Supervisors to give “supervisorial prerogative” to district supervisors when deciding on housing projects in their districts? Do you think officials should be able reject housing in their districts?

I strongly oppose supervisorial prerogative and would not participate in it. I have been subject to it first hand and it is a rigged system that retards development. I say this knowing well the risk that the current board may retaliate against me, but I am willing to take on that fight.

How would you strengthen tenant protections? Give us a few policy ideas you think would be most impactful. Feel free to explore issues such as Right to Civil Counsel, your position on Costa Hawkins, etc.

Current tenant protections seem fine to me, especially in light of the passage of Proposition F. I am always open to issues which I may have overlooked.

Do you support a vacancy tax for empty units and/or undeveloped parcels? Cities like Paris and Vancouver collect vacancy taxes on homes that are not the primary residences of their owners in an attempt to encourage use of those units. Other municipalities are exploring taxes on vacant parcels to encourage development. What are your thoughts?

I do not support vacancy taxes. There is a market value in real estate for caretakers of parcels not ready for development. As for empty units, I generally oppose prior restraint of property as I oppose prior restraint in speech. I support easy rezoning of vacant retail units for those who wish to repurpose them to housing. Lastly, we need regime certainty in housing so that developers know consistently what to expect of the development process.

Do you support the repeal or reform of Proposition 13? Prop. 13 is a state law that caps property taxes at 1% of their assessed value at purchase. The law allows only property tax reassessment increases up to 2% per year or allows reassessment if the property changes ownership by being sold (but not inherited). The law also requires state and local tax increases to be approved by a two-thirds majority. Please speak about your position on both commercial and residential Prop 13.

I support Proposition 13 as a restrictor on Sacramento spending. But I also recognize that it has a stagnating impact on the housing market. If Proposition 13 could be replaced with another equally strong measure that restricts Sacramento’s ability to tax I would consider it to gain housing market dynamism. I am skeptical however that such a plan will emerge. And while Proposition 13 is in effect, I do not support the split roll, which I see as the first step towards repeal of Proposition 13. The goal we should strive for in the housing market is dynamism, where property owners can largely do what they wish with their properties, and the few rules we have in development are enforced strictly, equally and politics free.

What is your opinion on street tent encampments and people living in vehicles? Do you support enforcement action against unhoused people living in tents, RVs and cars? Give us some alternative policies you think would be most impactful in addressing homelessness.

I do support enforcement action against people living on the streets. I have called for the sit-lie ordinance to be beefed up and enforced 24 hours per day, as opposed to the current 7am-11pm. People sleeping fall, largely, into two camps, pardon the pun: those who need help and those who chose street living as a lifestyle. For the former there are services for which City Hall spends, conservatively $40,000 per homeless person. Those who need help should be moved from the streets into the support services offered. For the latter group, the should be continually moved until they find stable, legal shelter. The most important thing San Francisco must do now is find leverage through the law to get people off the streets, as much for their sake as for the city’s residents.

What local and regional transit or other multimodal initiatives would you propose? Give us ideas of new transit lines, fare integration, bike lanes, infrastructure upgrades, etc. How can we expedite these policies and move away from car dependency?

Our transit leaders have failed San Francisco. They see the demand to live here as obviously as we all do, but it’s hard to imagine a less creative, less robust response. I am for any feasible means to move San Franciscans and their guests. I am for widening bike lanes, and that those lanes be shared by scooters and other single person modes of transportation. We should consider elevated lines of traditional and new forms of transit.

Is there anything else you would like the membership to know about you or your positions?

I am a developer, someone who has been through the process of getting a project developed. It took almost four years, two project killing ballot measures, gazillions of dollars and a level stress to which I have never been subject in other projects. Unless something in the city changes, I won’t consider developing here again. If I win, I will be the only person on the board with development experience in the city, or elsewhere for that matter. If you honor me with your endorsement, you will not have a stronger advocate for building more housing on the Board. Thank you for your consideration.