BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor
The announcement that the Bay Area may vote on a $10 billion to $20 billion housing bond measure next year left me with a sense of deja vu.
I remember in the fall of 2016 how San Mateo County’s board of supervisors was pushing for Measure K, a sales tax to supposedly provide housing to the poor.
It didn’t work out that way. San Mateo County still has a horrible housing shortage seven years later.
Moreover, we learned a few months after Measure K passed that the county didn’t need the $85 million a year it brought in. That’s because the county was sitting on $700 million, which would be used for better office county buildings and other structures.
One five-story building, now under construction, will have a fancy hearing room for the board of supervisors. Maybe the homeless can sleep in the supervisors’ hearing room?
Then we learned that part of Measure K included a political slush fund for the five supervisors. Each year a supervisor could give money to whomever they choose with no push back from the other four supervisors.
Remember when Supervisor Ray Mueller gave $30,000 to the group Green Foothills? They’re using part of the money for a meditation program called Healing in Nature. Why blow $30,000 on something like that? It didn’t have anything to do with housing. But longtime Green Foothills leader Lennie Roberts endorsed Mueller in last year’s election.
Then there’s the $114,000 Peninsula Ballet Theater got in Measure K money in 2021 from then supervisor Carole Groome. Or the $50,000 for art at the county’s new 240-bed homeless shelter in Redwood City.
San Mateo County residents might have trouble paying the rent, but they can enjoy the ballet and trendy modern art. Let them eat cake!
So now we’re hearing about a new housing tax that will cost the typical homeowner a couple of hundred dollars a year. How do we stop another ripoff?
A few things to think about:
First, what’s the record for each Bay Area county when it comes to spending previous housing taxes? How many units were built? How many people were able to move into housing they could afford? Were housing funds diverted to other purposes?
Second, if the money is misspent, what recourse do voters have? To spend the money, the Legislature has created a housing authority. Since the authority’s board isn’t elected (they’re politicians who are elected to smaller offices), how do we remove them? If the authority goes seriously astray, how do we claw back the money? (And don’t tell me there will be a citizens oversight board. Bond measures always have those and they have no teeth. They’re powerless to stop corruption. But at election time, politicians like to say they’ll have an oversight board just to trick the voters into supporting a bond.)
Third, how many people will this new Bay Area housing agency hire? The real objective might be to create another bureaucracy of high-paying do-nothing employees, like the California High-Speed Rail Authority. Will they get a fancy office building like other regional agencies have at 375 Beale St. in San Francisco?
Fourth, will the housing agency spend the money on high-density housing in single-family neighborhoods? If that’s their plan for the $10 billion to $20 billion, what assurances will they offer about keeping traffic and crime down? The record of Bay Area leaders on crime isn’t very good.
Fifth, before a final decision is made about whether to put this on the ballot, will both sides get a fair hearing? At last week’s San Mateo County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor David Canepa was ready to endorse the measure without hearing both sides. He has conflict of interest since he’s on the housing authority’s board, which will benefit from this bond measure. If this measure is a good idea, what’s the harm of having an old-fashioned public debate between opponents and proponents?
Finally, is the need for this bond measure overstated at a time when people are moving out of the Bay Area? Major employers in San Francisco are closing their doors and moving to other states with lower taxes, less regulation, less filth and lower crime. If trends continue, will this bond measure even be necessary?
Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].