Much attention this election cycle was focused on the Presidential race–and for good reason. Fortunately, American voters saw fit to fire NIMBY in-chief Donald Trump. In contrast to Trump’s divisive rhetoric about “saving” the suburbs from affordable housing, President-elect Biden’s housing plan includes policies to eliminate exclusionary zoning and increase the supply of housing, Federal leadership is vital to solving the housing shortage and we look forward to a new administration’s work on federal housing policy. But how did things shake out locally?
More YIMBYs In Sacramento
Peninsula for Everyone and South Bay YIMBY are pleased to welcome back all of our incumbent state legislators. Housing champion Scott Wiener won reelection for state Senate against a compelling challenger while other pro-housing incumbents including Assemblymembers Kevin Mullin, Evan Low, and Marc Berman cruised to victory.
We’re also thrilled to welcome new members to the state legislature, including YIMBY-backed Alex Lee, who won his race for AD25, becoming the first Gen Z and first openly bisexual lawmaker in California history.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese was endorsed by South Bay YIMBY and won a very competitive race against fellow Democrat Ann Ravel to fill Senator Jim Beall’s Senate District 15 seat. The Senate District 13 race was won handily by Josh Becker, who defeated a NIMBY Republican to win the seat vacated by former Senator Jerry Hill.
Electing state legislators who will advance state-level housing solutions is crucial to success for our region, as we cannot expect the most exclusionary communities to dismantle segregation on their own.
Local YIMBY Incumbents Triumph
Pro-housing incumbents also fared extremely well in local races: All of the 12 incumbent candidates endorsed by Peninsula for Everyone will be returning for another term.
Redwood City Councilmember Alicia Aguirre won her re-election bid against two challengers in a newly districted race. Despite being a top vote-getter in previous at-large elections, Aguirre’s seat appeared to be at risk, as her new district skewed wealthier and whiter than the rest of the city. Despite demographics, Alicia won alongside a diverse group of candidates in other districts–Michael Smith, Jeff Gee, and Lisette Espinoza-Garnica–ensuring that the new City Council will be more representative of the community it serves.
Amourence “Amo” Lee, an appointed incumbent candidate in San Mateo, won her first election, despite significant spending from a landlord PAC on behalf of her opponent. Amo’s win ensures a pro-housing majority as San Mateo completes their General Plan process.
Other pro-housing incumbent winners include Juslyn Manalo for Daly City City Council, John Goodwin for Colma City Council, Mark Nagales for South San Francisco District 2, Rico Medina for San Bruno Mayor, Michael Salazar for San Bruno City Council, Sam Hindi for Foster City City Council, Davina Hurt and Tom McCune for Belmont City Council, and Lisa Gauthier and Carlos Romero for East Palo Alto City Council.
In Mountain View, we also saw the return of former electeds Pat Showalter and Sally Lieber. We’re glad to have their leadership again and look forward to a more progressive and pro-housing Mountain View.
NIMBY Incumbents Ousted
Whereas pro-housing incumbents sailed to victory, several prominent housing opponents lost their seats. Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf, who declared in his 2019 State of the City address that he wanted to “build a wall around Cupertino and make San Jose pay for it,” was fortunately defeated in his re-election bid. Scharf will be replaced by YIMBY-endorsed Hung Wei. And in Foster City, Patrick Sullivan edged out incumbent NIMBY Catherine Mahanpour, helping to pump the brakes on an emergent local anti-housing insurgency.
Further north in South San Francisco, 18-year incumbent Rich Garbarino, lost to YIMBY-endorsed James Coleman, the youngest ever South City Councilmember at age 21. Because Garbarino served on the Association of Bay Area Government’s Executive Committee, his defeat means that this influential seat could be filled by a more pro-housing representative.
New Houser Councilmembers
Although it was a particularly strong year for local incumbents, many YIMBY newcomers were elected this year. A total of 13 YIMBY fresh faces were elected this year from South San Francisco all the way down to Gilroy.
In Menlo Park, Jen Wolosin won despite a NIMBY smear effort. Jen’s win will flip the council to a majority that is interested in advancing equity within Menlo Park. Alysa Cisneros won her Sunnyvale District race decisively and will be joined by fellow newcomer Omar Din. Sergio Lopez also won in his hometown of Campbell. In Santa Clara, Suds Jain and Anthony Becker defeated incumbents to join the City Council. And down in Gilroy, South Bay YIMBY member and firefighter Zach Hilton won alongside labor leader Rebebca Armendariz.
In San Jose, YIMBY and labor-backed David Cohen defeated incumbent Lan Diep, flipping the City Council majority from the Chamber of Commerce to labor. We’re hopeful that the new City Council of the Bay Area’s most populous city will advance policies like opportunity housing, which would allow the creation of small “plexes” in neighborhoods that previously allowed only standalone houses.
Mixed Bag for Ballot Propositions
2020 was a disappointing year for ballot propositions at the state and local levels. One bright spot was regional Measure RR, which provided a dedicated source of funding for Caltrain as the transit system was in danger of shutdown due to dramatic declines in ridership during shelter-in-place. Measure RR earned over two-thirds of the vote in Santa Clara, San Mateo, and San Francisco counties, ensuring that the transit backbone of the peninsula stays on track.
Other local measures had disappointing results. Voters in Mountain View supported Measure C, which restricts RV parking on streets and will likely result in the displacement of many Mountain View vehicle dwellers. Activists are now working to ensure that vehicle dwellers are not harmed as this measure is enforced.
In San Mateo, forces for maintaining exclusion prevailed as Measure Y, which limits heights and density, was passed with the thinnest of margins: only 42 votes. In the end, this outcome may backfire on Measure Y proponents, as San Mateo is still required to identify sites to meet regional housing requirements but because bigger, denser buildings near transit will be prevented, single-family neighborhoods are likely to be upzoned.
At the state level, ballot propositions that would have been the most impactful in advancing equity were rejected by the voters. Proposition 15, which would have removed property tax breaks for big businesses to provide needed funding to schools and communities failed in a close race. Prop 16, which would have ended California’s ban on affirmative action fell short. And Prop 21, which would have ended unjust restrictions on localities’ ability to implement rent control also failed. We’re hopeful that future legislative and electoral cycles can reverse this trend and help move our region in a more equitable and sustainable direction.
I’m pleased to announce that I am joining YIMBY Action as full-time staff for Peninsula for Everyone! Find the story of how I came to the movement below. I hope you will join us and help us grow to build a better future for our region.
Quitting my job as a psychologist to become a housing advocate may strike some friends and family as odd, but I can think of no more vital and urgent thing to do at this place and time. In 2016, I moved back to the Bay Area, where I grew up, and was excited to apply my many years of addiction and PTSD-focused training to serving veterans escaping homelessness. I eventually started working in a community-based setting (“in the field”) providing mental health services at veteran’s homes, in shelters, or in public places. The work was often rewarding, always challenging, and eventually unbearable as the systemic problems in our housing system became too great a barrier to ignore. Despite having access to a Federally-subsidized housing voucher, a social worker, and a housing specialist, few of my patients could get housed anywhere close to needed VA jobs programs and treatment due to prohibitively expensive rents near VA campuses in Palo Alto and Menlo Park. I broke the sad news to hundreds of veterans that they were extremely unlikely to be able to find a home in a location that would keep them connected to their VA community.
I started hoping we might get a functioning oven or a doorknob in the bathroom, but we got a for-sale sign instead.
The City of Palo Alto gave me a lesson in the policies perpetuating our housing shortage. As an early-career psychologist, I rented a small 1-bedroom rundown bungalow near downtown Palo Alto. Suddenly, the owners started sprucing the place up with new landscaping and fresh paint job. I started hoping we might get a functioning oven or a doorknob in the bathroom, but we got a for-sale sign instead. The property, which included 2 apartments in addition to our bungalow, was sold for $3.5 million. A redevelopment sign appeared shortly thereafter, indicating a plan to demolish the 3 small homes to build one large stand-alone house. I called the city, sharing my concerns about our dire housing crisis, but city staff explained that the property was zoned single-family and that the third unit on the parcel was illegal to build in the first place. As I learned more about local policies and processes that thwart housing, it became clear that homelessness will only get worse until systemic reforms were enacted.
Palo Alto’s harmful policies roused me into action: I started making public comment and canvassed for a pro-housing City Council candidate, but the power of the entrenched opposition was overwhelming. My voice was easily dismissed at meetings, as long-time homeowners advocating for “sensible zoning” dominated discussion. The candidate I supported lost his bid for re-election after a nasty campaign including misleading attack ads. Wresting power away from those benefiting from the status quo would not be easy.
Fortunately, I began to go to public hearings in other cities and got connected to other housing advocates. We bonded over shared experiences like being yelled at in City Hall and swapped stories about awful NIMBY comments. In 2019, I helped to convene our first official general meeting, at which we named ourselves “Peninsula for Everyone.” Since forming, we’ve grown in membership and influence, advocating for higher heights, more density, less parking, and more neighbors. However, to overcome NIMBYs who have been organizing for decades, we will need to grow our membership rapidly and focus our energy where it will make a difference. In transitioning from part-time volunteer to full-time staff for Peninsula for Everyone, I plan to help move us to a place where our power is undeniable, our voices are heard, and policies are enacted to help move our region toward a more equitable and sustainable future.
On Nov. 13, the South San Francisco City Council will be voting on a mixed-use development, including 800 new homes, on a former San Francisco Public Utilities Commission site. In October, the Planning Commission recommended the development for approval after hours of public comment with supporters and opponents – and now it’s on to the next step.
This is a great location for a higher density development – on a trail, close to BART, and on public land. In addition, the development will include open space, recreational opportunities, connections to the city’s civic campus development, childcare (which is also very much needed in South City!), retail and a market hall.
Everyone in the Bay Area can agree that there is a housing crisis. In San Mateo County, the jobs to housing imbalance is significant, with 12 jobs created for every 1 home built between 2010 and 2017. In South San Francisco, approved developments result in a ratio of 15 jobs per housing unit! This project would provide in 800 new housing units, including 160 affordable units, at a time when we so desperately need it.
There has been significant public opposition to this project, despite the many benefits this would bring to the local community and the region. We need your voice at the City Council meeting! Please join on 7 p.m. Nov. 13, at Municipal Services Building, Council Chambers, 33 Arroyo Drive, South San Francisco. If you can’t make it, please consider sending a letter to the City Council.
This coming Tuesday June 18th at 7pm, Redwood City’s Planning Commission will be holding a public hearing about a proposal to make it more difficult to add Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). The meeting will be held at Redwood City City Hall, 1017 Middlefield Road in Redwood City. You can view the agenda and materials here.
Especially in the case of smaller lot sizes, one smart way to build ADUs is to add them on top of an existing one-story garage on the property. A small group of residents in Redwood City have organized in an effort to make this second-story option much less available and attractive for their fellow homeowners to build. They propose height limits and incentivizing single-story ADUs over second-story units. We believe this will result in the creation of fewer new ADU homes and are strongly against this proposed change.
We encourage renters, homeowners, and other housing supporters to join us at the meeting to share feedback and stories in support of this valuable piece of the housing mix.
For more on ADUs and the proposed change, read on…
Since 2017, California state and local governments have been updating regulations to make it easier than ever for homeowners to build ADUs. We’re excited about this — ADUs provide more opportunities for housing that can provide benefits such as:
Multi-generational family housing
Space for a caretaker to live with a family
Room for aging homeowners to live in a smaller, smartly-designed unit and rent out their main house — providing income and independence without having to leave their community
There are many reasons people are so excited about ADUs:
They’re thoughtfully developed by homeowners who manage them personally. In nearly all cases, ADU owners are required to live in either the primary residence or the ADU itself. As the person living closest to the unit, ADU owners are highly motivated to make the ADU situation a great one for both themselves and their neighbors.
Second-story ADUs blend in well, often matching the height of the main residence and other surrounding homes. They also allow residents to leave vegetation and trees where they are, instead of tearing it out to build more one-story housing.
Silicon Valley’s housing crisis means that many local workers commute in from up to two hours away. ADUs are a fantastic solution that allows workers to live locally in the communities where they work, thereby reducing traffic, emissions, and stress for everyone.
Smaller homes overall have less of a carbon footprint, with only 60% of the carbon emissions of a “normal sized” counterpart. Small living is lightweight living!
Research shows that ADU residents tend to drive less, especially when near transit, downtowns, and services, or are inhabited by “ageing in place” seniors. This benefits traffic, parking, and overall carbon emissions by reducing the amount of driving residents need to do.
Adding more rental stock to the mix also reduces displacement of those who live in our communities today.
Please help us advocate for second story ADUs on Tuesday:
When: Tuesday, June 18, 7pm
Where: 1017 Middlefield Road, Redwood City, CA 94063
What: Encourage the Planning Commission to not pass height limitations on ADUs, or incentives that favor single-story ADUs only.
And whether or not you can make it, please contact the Redwood City Planning Commission to voice your support: