Ida Mojadad’s wretched March 28th San Francisco Weekly article on San Francisco’s “Development Impact Fee” is so factually erroneous that it deserves to be deconstructed for the propaganda it is. Far too often, reports in San Francisco are P/R repeaters, and I have noticed this type of fake news seems to crop up quite often when Supervisor Matt Haney is cooking up a kickback.
First, “development impact fees” are clever ways concocted by lawyers to impose taxes without going to the electorate as required by the constitution by calling them “fees.” California even passed the "Stop Hidden Taxes" Constitutional Amendment about this (Prop 26) back in 2010. The twisted logic is the “fees” reimburse the city for its costs related to a new “development impacts” so they're not a hidden tax, somehow. The specific “jobs-housing-linkage development impact fee” assesses new commercial developments (i.e. buildings with offices or stores in them) for the city’s costs providing affordable housing that is somehow related to the new development. Never mind that the city’s net population swells by 250,000 every workday from commuters and the city is under no obligation to provide any housing to either them or the new workers in the new commercial development. It’s just a legal mumbo jumbo “linkage” backed up with the full faith and credit of the City Attorney’s office.
Consider Mojadad’s statement “the city’s current formula for funding affordable housing by charging office-space developers is based on a 1997 study.” Later she describes “one of the ways in which the 1997 study has become outdated” and “San Francisco is required to release a Nexus study to prove why it is allowed to charge a certain amount, and a feasibility study will accompany its release.” The implication is San Francisco has not considered its development impact fees for 22 years. This is simply not true. In 2007, the Controller’s office issued a City-wide comprehensive development impact fee study considering the individual fees holistically by several “nexus justifications” (“nexus” is legal mumbo jumbo again): development impacts for “Child Care Nexus” “Fire Facility Development Nexus” “Recreation and Parks Development Nexus” “Transit Impact Nexus” and “Residential Nexus.” (The SFUSD imposes development impact fees independently without policy coordination. How it wastes this money is worthy of its own article).
Of those, only Transit Impact has any real legitimacy – a new development can result in more traffic. There is, of course, no oversight or enforcement that actual fees charged are used on projects that address the specific impacts created by a specific development. Delving into the city’s nine-page fee schedule detailing the city’s 32 development impact fees, we also learn that the city indexes the "fees" for inflation, further discrediting Mojadad’s implication the fee is somehow “outdated.” The SF Controller’s website indicates the fee studies are “biennial” There's a study from 2016 - this is not 1997. The two are different years. So, the City Attorney has suddenly asserted “office spaces are denser” as if cubicles or newfangled “tech spaces” formed “linkages” the way airlines measure legroom. What about the City Attorney’s own office space it rents in Fox Plaza from Swift Real Estate Partners? Did they pack in the same number of city attorneys per square foot in 1997?
Mojadad slips into a typical P/R trick in her statement “Community groups like SOMCAN have criticized the Central SoMa plan for a lack of plentiful affordable housing.” Never mind that Mojadad just assumes everyone just knows what the SOMCAN acronym is, and we are left to have faith that SOMCAN is, in fact, a “community group.” The SFWeekly has fact-checkers, after all. We have faith in them to call out astrotufing, right?. Who gave SOMCAN (whomever they are) any authority to speak on the subject? Why did Mojadad cite their “criticism?” and not someone else’s (such as the Libertarian Party’s of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers' Association?) Is SOMCAN’s very act of criticism itself – packaged somewhere in a press release - the very mechanism though which “news” is generated? A simple internet search can reveal SOMCAN administers city contracts for social work – a euphemism for functioning as “gatekeepers” for “clients” to get into new “affordable housing.” Come to think about it, Jim Jones did the same thing when he sat on the board of the housing authority.
Like any horrid piece of propaganda regurgitating some P/R rep's charm, Mojadad’s article is more manipulative in what it leaves out. What about the detrimental “linkages” of affordable housing “lock-in?” (the process by which households in affordable developments tend to stay in them longer than would be to their benefit and/or limit their long-term career and life aspirations due to their current housing situation). SF Weekly’s enlightened journalist fails to mention the landmark 2016 conclusions of the California State Legislative Office,
“While affordable housing programs are vitally important to the households they assist, these programs help only a small fraction of the Californians that are struggling to cope with the state’s high housing costs.”
That small fraction undoubtedly includes the patronage cronies surrounding the SFWeekly and Haney's P/R team.