Toshio, one of the authors of the Truth Out clusterfuck, wrote to me at 4:10 pm April 25th, the day before an all day trip to Sacramento. I wrote back to him after I got home from Sacramento. Toshio was very nice during our correspondence and I appreciate him reaching out, although once I read the article I was confused about why he even bothered.


Hi Tosho,

We got home from Sacramento at 3:30 and then I immediately had to go to an appointment at 4. I’m back on the computer now! I answered the questions inline. Hopefully it’s still helpful.

On Wed, Apr 26, 2017 at 4:01 PM, Toshio Meronek <toshio.meronek@gmail.com> wrote:

Hi — sorry we missed each other — I’ll be offline most of the rest of the day and have to file the story early tomorrow but if you have a chance before 7:00 pm or so tonight to get back on any of these questions it’d be a huge help.
What brought you to Sac today? Is there new legislation you’re supporting?

We went to Sacramento today to support SB 35 (Wiener), AB 678 (Bocanegra) and to oppose AB 915 (Ting) This page has some info about AB 678 and AB 915. AB 678 is our bill. It strengthens the Housing Accountability Act. The HAA is (supposed to) stop localities from disproving proposed zoning complaint housing developments, but it is hard to enforce. We started a non-profit to enforce the law with lawsuits: www.carlaef.org

Do you align with any political parties? Independent?

As a practical matter we are aligned with the Democratic party because locally in SF and Oakland, and also in the whole State of CA, all of the action is in the Democratic party. A plurality of our members started out as registered Democrats, and we register people to vote and as Democrats as they become involved. We do have some people who are registered with the Libertarian or Republican parties, and quite a few members who can’t vote at all in CA because they aren’t citizens.

The New Yorker piece that ran a couple months back mentioned that you’d breakfasted with Peter Thiel last year — was there hope at that time that he’d back the YIMBY cause?

Yeah, I went there to raise money from him. He had complained in public and in private that because of building regulations, productivity gains were going to landlords, (and not to capitalists like him, let me find my tiny violin). Since he was talking a good game on my issue, I eventually got an introduction to him from a mutual acquaintance. He wound up declining to donate money because of the SEC no pay-to-play rule which prevents Investment Advisors that manage city money (like pension funds) from donating to the campaigns of elected officials. That rule doesn’t actually affect donations to us, because we have an Independent Expenditure Committee — I wasn’t raising money for candidates — but he couldn’t be bothered to figure out the difference.

An activist I spoke to for the piece, Tory Becker (with an anti-gentrification group called LAGAI), called YIMBYism “trickle-down Reagonomics dressed up in a progressive sheep’s costume” — I’m guessing you’d disagree with this characterization?

It’s much too complicated to describe our motivating theory as any kind of economics. Is it economics when you notice that you have 15 eggs, and the egg carton only has holders for 12 eggs?

In the 1970s, demographers predicted SF’s population would be 1 million people by now. If that’s right, then demand for housing just in SF is 1 million people large, but only 865,000 people live in SF. 1,000,000,000–865,000 = 135,000 people displaced from SF by underbuilding. Those people live in the east bay, or the north bay and have long commutes. Or they moved to Seattle, Portland, Reno, LA, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico … and in some of those places are contributing to housing shortages there. Every time San Francisco builds a housing unit, an average of 2.3 people are saved from being displaced. (Because the average people per unit ratio is 2.3)

Because the way we distribute housing currently is via the price mechanism, the way most people experience their displacement is by being priced out. But distributing the housing stock we have by some other method wouldn’t solve the displacement problem. If we distributed the limited housing we have by lottery, 135,000 people would experience displacement as losing the lottery. If we distributed it via political favoritism, people’s experience of displacement would be finding out their application for housing wasn’t granted, or their name isn’t on a secret list. Either way it doesn’t matter. If a million people want housing, and you only have housing for 865,000 then 135,000 people are out of luck, no matter how you cut it.

There’s a great quote about shortage in the book Red Plenty, “What’s the difference between able to afford something that’s not available, and not being able to afford something that is available?”

Another housing advocate, Erin McElroy (with the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project) claims that YIMBY support for rent control is inconsistent with YIMBY movement aligning itself with certain organizations — she named SPUR, and some realtors associations that supported the last YIMBY national convening. Do you have a response to her claim?

I don’t know what the point of that comment is. Allying with organizations one agrees with, on issues in common, in order to achieve a shared goal, is the most basic activity of politics. (“[England has] no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual…” that’s a famous quote from the 1840s.)

SPUR and the Realtors are pro-housing, we are pro-housing, so we work together. If there was a pro-housing dog-catchers group, or group of Scientologists, we’d work with them too. We don’t work on rent control, although after the recent Costa-Hawkins repeal debacle, I’m wondering if we have to take that on too.

If you talk to Erin again, ask her if she’s so pro-rent control, why didn’t she or any SF tenant advocates run any letter writing campaigns, petition drives, pep rallies, lobby days or phone call drives to support Assemblyman Richard Bloom’s proposed Costa-Hawkins repeal. It was introduced Feb 17th and died 6 weeks later. Bloom got thousands of calls from landlords, and nothing from tenant advocates.

Much appreciative.

Sorry it’s all so late!