Head of developer Presidio Bay blasts SF Supervisor Aaron Peskin 

Cyrus Sanandaji accuses mayoral candidate of “calculated blow” to YIMBY coalition

Head of Presidio Bay Ventures blasts Supervisor Aaron Peskin
Presidio Bay Ventures' Cyrus Sanandaji and Supervisor Aaron Peskin (Presidio Bay Ventures, Getty)

San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin has blown up the city’s pro-housing movement.

Cyrus Sanandaji, founder of San Francisco-based developer Presidio Bay Ventures, has concluded that the leading challenger to Mayor London Breed has “dealt a calculated blow to the city’s fragile, moderate, pro-housing coalition,” according to a column in the San Francisco Standard.

His 900-word opinion piece took Peskin to task for his move to limit residential development while preserving historic Jackson Square and the city’s Northern Waterfront. The progressive challenger led supervisors to override a Breed veto on zoning, choosing history over density.

And that, Sanandaji said, widened a fracture between pro-housing centrists and radical elements of the YIMBY movement who want to” build, build, build highrises everywhere.”

“Everyone who wants more housing in San Francisco should pay heed because, like a camel’s back, the coalition won’t need much more straw to collapse,” the managing partner of Presidio Bay wrote. “We can’t let that happen.”

There’s one area that the developer agrees with what some have dubbed the NIMBY candidate: It’s not about policy; it’s about politics. “It was an absolute triumph of politics over good governance,” Sanandaji said of Peskin’s legislative maneuvers.

Peskin, for his part, has positioned himself as the political moderate, standing between developers and their backers who would destroy historic parts of the city with highrises, and selective growth.

A longtime proponent of historic preservation, he has said, “I don’t think we have to destroy the city to save it.”

“We can be both pro-neighborhood and pro-housing — period,” Peskin has said.

Sanandaji said the Peskin drive to limit housing density in San Francisco has six implications for the city.

First: San Francisco is still not serious about building housing. 

“This is a red flag for both the state and, more importantly, the capital markets,” Sanandaji said. “Peskin’s bill treats every parcel of land alike, from legitimate historic sites to blighted parking structures. Meanwhile, the city already has standards to deal with demolition and major alterations of buildings in historic districts.”

Second: Divisive politics threaten the moderate pro-housing coalition.

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“The unexpected support for overturning Mayor London Breed’s veto from (Supervisor Catherine) Stefani and Supervisor Rafael Mandelman underscores the need for a more nuanced approach to the housing debate,” Sanandaji said. “While the YIMBY movement has been effective, the ‘all or nothing’ attitude of its radical wing needs to be replaced with a more flexible stance to avoid alienating centrists.”

Third: Upzoning alone will not boost housing production.

“The true obstacles to new construction are a dysfunctional city permitting system, unnecessarily burdensome building codes and administrative policies born of decades of regressive legislation sponsored by anti-growth radicals, including Peskin and his allies,” Sanandaji wrote.

Fourth: A blow to Breed.

“The vote effectively renders the mayor a lame duck in the eyes of many moderates,” Sanandaji noted.

Fifth: Moderates must unite around bigger-picture goals.

“Citizens should demand that candidates address the substantive issues facing our city: Creating clean and safe streets, reducing high business taxes, drug dealing, addressing mental health treatment and homelessness, and improving our public schools,” he explained.

Such are the prerequisites, Sanandaji said, “to attracting investment to San Francisco to build housing, and tackling them requires both a moderate mayor and a moderate majority on the Board of Supervisors.”

And sixth: Peskin could become mayor under ranked choice.

“Moderate candidates need to stop infighting and unite against Peskin,” Sanandaji advocated. “Citizens must understand how ranked choice voting works — a candidate with few initial votes could win if people don’t rank multiple additional candidates beyond their first choice.”

“By building and maintaining a broad-based moderate coalition on housing development,” the developer concluded, “we can avoid perpetuating a Doom Loop and accelerate a Boom Loop, ensuring a more prosperous future for all San Franciscans.”

— Dana Bartholomew

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