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

Trevor McNeil

Candidate - San Francisco District 4 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.

I think a major step towards increasing overall housing production is freeing up Planning Department staff from other labor-intensive and redundant tasks, so they can focus on processing and permitting major housing projects. I was supportive of the original draft of the Process Improvements Ordinance, which streamlined neighborhood notification requirements for things such as pop-outs and roof decks. The streamlined neighborhood notification requirements would have freed up two full-time Planning staff to work on critical housing development projects. As supervisor, I would re-introduce the original version of that legislation.

I was also deeply supportive of State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 827, and thought it was the right direction for San Francisco and the Westside. As Supervisor, I will reverse the Board of Supervisors resolution opposing SB 827, and ensure that City Hall’s official position to Sacramento is supportive of transit-oriented development. Furthermore, I would continue to expand and improve HOME-SF to also reflect greater density along transit corridors, along the lines that Supervisor Tang is already doing.

Within the district, there are various opportunity sites that must be developed. The development on Sloat and 47th (Ocean Park) has been under construction and has changed ownership hands for years at this point. We must hold both developers, and our approval processes accountable. We must also expand the construction of multi-bedroom BMR units. My family has been on the BMR list for three years and I can report that a good 85% or more of the units available are single bedrooms or studios. I will always be pushing to build more two and three bedroom units so that growing families are not forced to leave the City.

The way the MOHCD calculates BMR eligibility and production simply does not work for a family with children – the eligibility around income does not account for children. I would like to push for a re-evaluation of that math.

While as a native San Franciscan I support the neighborhood preference boost for BMR applications, I’m worried that it excludes those of us in districts who haven’t built ANY affordable housing in several years. I believe that our neighborhoods must overcome their resistance to affordable housing, and accept that this is a responsibility for all neighborhoods in the City. Towards that goal, I would push for a Sunset Area Plan that would re-examine the density limits across the district, and the transit infrastructure built to support them.

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 production first by tackling the red-tape, zoning restrictions, and permitting process that gets in the way of building on available land. Situations where NIMBY neighborhoods are allowed to block affordable housing, like they did in Forest Hill, is simply unacceptable, and stops affordable housing construction even when the funding already exists. I would push for affordable housing to be easily permitted throughout the City, and through ministerial approval if necessary.

I support affordable housing bonds, including the $4 billion bond on the November ballot. I also generally support tax revenue that is dedicated to affordable housing – but I am cautious about an over-reliance on using public revenue to spend out way out of the affordable housing shortage. When it costs over $300,000 – $400,000 to build a single housing unit, even $1 billion in revenue would only make a marginal impact on our housing shortage. Instead, we must focus on ways of making affordable housing cheaper and faster to build, and that starts with our absurd planning process.

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 absolutely support legalizing multi-family buildings and changing RH-1 neighborhoods into multifamily housing zoning. As someone who has had to struggle for years to find housing for their growing family in the Sunset neighborhood, I know how important it is to create more land that is zoned for multi-family buildings. The city of San Francisco has added around 4,500 people a year since I was born here – it hasn’t built as much housing. The population will increase. We need to plan for the future of our neighborhoods but also for our kids – my own children and my students. I think all our east-west commercial corridors – not just Irving and Noriega – are primed for denser housing. I think it’s important to look at the areas of the Sunset that are vibrant and where we go to be in community – Judah at the beach, Irving at 21st, Noriega at 20th, Taraval – these are areas with our few apartment buildings. Density is good for business, community, and my family’s future.

I understand the residents who are worried about massive demolitions, displacement, and a change in their neighborhood characteristic – I respect their perspective. We must balance new development with strong tenant and anti-displacement protections, such as the Right of First Refusal and free legal representation for evicted tenants,. We must also build stronger transit infrastructure to manage the influx of new residents in the Sunset. Both of these things can happen in parallel with new development, and as Supervisor I am willing to take leadership in that conversation.

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 did support 827 and I think that’s one of the reasons Senator Wiener has endorsed me. I especially liked the amendments. I also think the bigger idea behind was important – that the entire state of California must be engaged in the housing shortage, and all neighborhoods must participate. When you look at neighborhoods like the Inner Sunset, parts of the Richmond, and streets in the Marina, you can see that it’s very possible to have dense family housing that is also aligned with the neighborhood characteristic. In fact, there are many apartment buildings already in the Sunset, along Irving Street in particular (I used to live in one of them), and I’ve never heard anyone say that Irving Street has “lost its charm”.

Neighborhood characteristics aren’t something to run from in this debate – they’re something to re-define. I know D4 is primarily family housing – it’s the last chance my family had of surviving in San Francisco. The single family homes don’t “make” the neighborhood what it is, the families inside them do. I’m very grateful that 80 years ago someone decided to built a home on 28th ave – it added to traffic, messed up views, and must have been a stressful harbinger of change, but because someone did that then, my family was able to find a home now and stay housed in the city I grew up in. For these reasons I am in favor of implementing a local version of SB 827 that recognizes impacts of the housing crisis and re-defines neighborhood character as valuing the characters that make up a neighborhood.

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

Yes – absolutely! While Planning and design decisions should still be made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the lot size and particular parcel characteristics, we should adopt a policy that multifamily subsidized affordable housing must be built when it is viable. As I said earlier, situations where NIMBY neighborhoods (such as Forest Hill) can block affordable housing that is already planned cannot be allowed.

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 and granting automatic approval to zoning- and building code-compliant housing projects. I do think that by-right development projects may still go through an aesthetic design review process, as long as that process does not limit the height, bulk, or density of a project; and the process has a clearly defined deadline at which point the project must proceed.

There are a number of opportunity sites in my district that I think could benefit from by-right development. As supervisor, I would develop the empty lot at 25th and Noriega and Judah and 44th gas station. The development of the flower market on 19th at Quintara is a good step as well. I think a lot is being learned about how to talk with the community about such projects, and the need for such housing.

I think my candidacy can be of benefit to the housing debate – I can authentically talk about the need for density, up zoning and welcoming new families to San Francisco, as well as recognize the desire to protect those of us who already live in the City and sustain the diversity that only a city with affordable housing at all income levels can truly sustain.

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

By-right development and reforming the neighborhood notification process, both which I described above, would dramatically streamline the housing permitting process in San Francisco. Both of those changes, especially by-right development, would dramatically shorten the housing permitting process.

There are still many post-entitlement challenges that we face, especially with building permits from the Department of Building Inspections and the Fire Department. These departments must have a defined deadline in which they must issue their building permits after the original entitlement is given. In an extreme example, the ParkMerced project is still fighting for some of their basic building permits almost a decade after they were given their entitlement.

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?

I support inclusionary zoning, and believe it can be a tool to encourage the private market to build much needed affordable housing. I also do believe that you can create a inclusionary percentage so high that it kills development projects – creating less overall housing and less affordable housing overall.

I think it’s absurd how little hard research and data City Hall uses in determining the inclusionary zoning percentage – it’s clearly a political process. The fact that some developments are “grandfathered” in at a lower inclusionary rate, while other developments entitled only a month later are subject to a much higher rate, shows how broken the process can be.

We must determine the inclusionary zoning percentage after we do significant economic analysis of the market, construction costs, and the current financing landscape. We should prioritize the Controller’s analysis in determining the percentage – an objective, non-partisan report. While we should not continually jack up and down the inclusionary percentage, thus creating more volatility in housing production, the Board of Supervisors and the Controller should re-examine the housing market every year and explore whether an adjustment to the inclusionary percentage is appropriate.

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?

I think a jobs-housing balance is good policy – we need to always plan for more housing every time we plan to add more jobs. I do not believe that we should use the jobs-housing balance as an excuse to block office space development, but instead the jobs-housing balance should be a tool to push for more housing development every time we expand office space. We should consider that the jobs-housing balance ratio should lean towards “housing”, to catch up for all the office space development that has happened in the Bay Area without matching housing.

I think we should build housing everywhere. A growing economy is always a good thing, but if it causes displacement and if our city isn’t able to capture the benefits of that growth, then we have problems. I would support an “act two”, and would also call for a hearing because some common sense and transparency about the actual impact of economic growth without accompanying housing I think can only be a good thing.

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?

Supervisorial prerogative is a dangerous tradition that splits neighborhoods and blocks housing. Our city is interconnected – I love the Sunset, but since there were almost no BMR units in the entire neighborhood, my wife and I had to look all over the city. If community and neighborhoods matter, we shouldn’t force young families with deep ties to an area they love potentially uproot their existences. Supervisorial prerogative blocks housing in many family neighborhoods, and prevents families from building community and growing roots.

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.

I lived for five years in a rent controlled one-bedroom apartment in District Four and as my family grew bigger – three babies – we were harassed by our landlord. That experience has made me think of some family-specific renter protections I’m interested in addressing (stroller storage, extra recology volume etc).

I supported Right to Civil Counsel and love the work of many legal clinics because I intimately understand what happens when renters are victimized and have no representation. I also support the policy of Right to First Refusal – that if a tenant is displaced for any reason, they are given the opportunity to move back into their building or neighborhood as soon as it becomes available again.

I would like to explore reforming Costa Hawkins, but I do not agree with full-scale repeal. Costa-Hawkins is a complex piece of legislation, and full-scale repeal will result in unintended consequences, such as suburban cities making rent control on new development incredibly strict – as a way of blocking all new development.

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 absolutely support a vacancy tax for undeveloped parcels, as long as that vacancy tax also came with a policy of by-right development. Currently, many property owners have a legitimate argument around not developing their parcel because the permitting process is too difficult or the City will not agree on a development plan. If we allow by-right development, then the property owner should have a clear path towards development. If they still do not develop their parcel, then a vacancy tax is a legitimate policy path to pursue. I also understand the need for tenant protections on sites that get developed, but there are many examples of these kind of projects going forward protecting communities in place and expanding the housing stock at the same time.

I would explore the idea of a vacancy tax for empty housing units (that are already constructed). My understanding from the latest US Census is that San Francisco already has one of the lowest vacancy rates of a major city. Also, it makes the most economic sense that every property owner that could rent their housing unit has already done so – this is the best rental rate they will get on their unit in years. If there was data showing a dramatic surge in vacant housing units, then I would be interested in exploring the idea of a vacancy tax for existing housing units.

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 the reform and one day the repeal of Proposition 13. As a public school teacher, I absolutely feel the impacts that Prop 13 has had on our state budget and school funding. Growing up in California my family literally saw the school systems crumble from my sister’s generation (she’s 12 years older than me) to my own. It is having a dramatic impact on our education system and our future, it must be addressed.

Commercial Prop 13 has resulted in perverse ownership legal structures around several commercial properties. We must amend the legislation to accurately account for ownership changes, and close the legal loopholes that have been abused for decades. In addition, we must pursue a path where these properties have their taxes realigned where they are paying a fair share of revenue.

I do know a number of senior homeowners, in San Francisco and across the state, who depend on residential Prop 13 to afford their home. I believe that we must reform residential Prop 13, which is a major state subsidy for homeownership, but ensure that we are amending it in a way where it does not traumatically separate families from their homes with a dramatic and sudden increase in their property tax bill. It’s not fair to change the rules mid-game, but the negative effects of Prop 13 and the loopholes it contains are just too big to ignore and I’m so proud San Francisco’s contingent in Sacramento is united on these issues

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.

As I’ve said in other answers – folks in tents on the street are victims no matter how messy, unsightly, or otherwise burdensome they are to those of us lucky enough to have a roof over our heads. But that doesn’t mean they can stay and do whatever they want. The compassionate path is to find housing for them, get them off the streets.

Before we address enforcement, we must recognize that we do not currently have enough shelters or permanent housing for all our homeless residents at this time. We must tackle this challenge head-on, and build more permanent supportive housing and navigation centers in all our neighborhoods.

When we discuss enforcement, we often imagine police officers moving homeless people out of tents and off the streets. This is the most expensive and ineffective solution for working with our homeless residents. Police officer hours are some of the most expensive in the public sector – using them as our first response to homeless individuals is costing us a fortune. Police officers are also not naturally equipped to be homeless service providers or social workers – every interaction demands hours of paperwork, and the relationship can quickly become tense or misinterpreted. As a longtime member (and choir member) at Glide Church in the TL I was horrified at news that people’s tents and even walkers were being confiscated while they were getting a hot meal. That’s outrageous and the department basically said the same – there was clearly wires crossed and we have to make sure that kind of event doesn’t happen. Hearings, transparency, and a discussion around best practices (we aren’t the only city in the world with homeless encampments) is long overdue. The guiding principle should be “do no harm” so we can’t just wipe human’s property off the street making their situation all the worse. But at the same time leaving people in tents on the street IS harm – we must do more. Housing, services, and coordination.

When we discuss enforcement, we should expand out Homeless Outreach Team units significantly, and establish a unit in every neighborhood, throughout the week. They should be our first response to tent encampments and homeless residents, offering them permanent shelter and assistance. HOT units are far more effective as social workers, and far cheaper than police officers

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?

Within the Sunset District, I’m very interested in a north-south bike route. This is a critical
infrastructure improvement if we want to make the Sunset a bikeable neighborhood.

(I’m also interested in expanding a MUNI Express or “Presidio-Go”-type model that would connect our merchant corridors – a zig-zag from Judah at the beach, to Lawton and 43rd, to Noriega and 45th, to the Ortega library, then back up to Noriega and 30th, ending at Taraval and 24th could do WONDERS in bringing the Sunset together).

I support transit-first policies. However, I recognize that a lot of families on the westside are
dependent on cars – MUNI is unreliable, we lack Ford GoBike stations, and much of our neighborhood has been cut out of the “shared scooter” or “shared station-less bike” service area. As a parent who works a full-time job with three kids under three, I would never get to a doctor’s appointment on time if I relied on MUNI.

We must implement radical and important MUNI upgrades if we hope to reduce car dependency. The N-Judah is one of the most heavily used transit lines in the entire City. Not only do we need to run the N-Judah Express more often and for longer hours, we must improve the consistency in which the N-Judah travels with traffic signal preference and capital improvements. We must move our bus fleet towards faster and more efficient electric engines, and we must make sure that we are fully staffed on MUNI drivers at all times. The idea that we have buses available during rush hours, but no MUNI drivers to drive them, is unacceptable.

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

I take the City’s issues seriously because they make serious impacts on my family’s life every day. As a native San Franciscan raising a family on my public school teacher’s salary, issues about the cost of housing, tenant protections, and the future of our city aren’t abstract – they are real challenges for me. I will be one of your most passionate, active Supervisors pushing for pro-housing policies on the board. I have been a long YIMBY member and activist, and I would be honored to receive your endorsement.

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