A YIMBY Action Endorsement Questionnaire. View all November 2018 Questionnaires.

Sonja Trauss

Candidate - San Francisco District 6 Supervisor

How would you increase overall housing production? Give us a few policy ideas you think would be most impactful, making sure they are genuinely relevant to the position you hope to be elected to.

To reduce (or eliminate) homelessness we need to build more supportive and affordable housing, more emergency shelters and also fund the recently passed right to civil counsel program to help keep people in their homes in the first place.

In order to build more supportive housing, we have to increase the amount of land available for this type of housing. Currently, affordable housing is effectively illegal in almost 80% of San Francisco. I would introduce an affordable housing overlay, legalizing affordable housing everywhere in SF.

Most San Franciscans don’t realize that it is illegal to build affordable housing in 78.6% of San Francisco. Affordable housing developers have to be able to build at least 50 units at a time. This means they have to be able to build at least medium sized apartment buildings, but apartment buildings are illegal in most of San Francisco. In most residentially zoned areas, current city zoning law prohibits buildings with 5 or more apartments.

Typically, politicians have presented San Franciscans with a false choice, which creates false scarcity. We are led to believe that market rate housing has to compete with affordable housing because we don’t have enough room for both kinds of housing. In fact, we have plenty of room. San Francisco has the potential to have ten times as much land available for affordable housing as we do now.

How would you increase Affordable Housing production? Would you support bonds (such as the $4 billion dollar bond on the CA November Ballot) or increased taxes, and in what amounts?

I support the affordable housing bond on the November state ballot. In addition, I am supportive of the Coalition on Homelessness’ ballot measure to tax gross receipts to pay for housing, shelter, mental healthcare and homelessness prevention. If this ballot measure doesn’t succeed, I would put something similar on the ballot as a supervisor.

Do you support legalizing multifamily buildings or “upzoning” single family home only neighborhoods, such as the west side of San Francisco or ? What do you think is appropriate for currently zoned low-density neighborhoods, those with parcels limited to one or two units? Please be specific and use examples relevant to your area.

Yes, absolutely. The Eastern Districts have borne responsibility for producing new housing and providing people experiencing homelessness with services for too long – we all have a part to play to help our fellow San Franciscans, not just D6 residents.

I will introduce an affordable housing overlay legalizing affordable housing everywhere in SF, including in the transit-rich Westside. I want to make sure that developing affordable housing is a legal and viable option for affordable housing developers and that it’s possible to to build the “missing middle” of 4-8 story apartment buildings allover San Francisco.

Did you or would you support Senator Scott Wiener’s bill SB 827 to eliminate density restrictions and upzone residential areas near transit, in its latest drafted iteration or with minor amendments? The bill would have allowed four to five story multifamily buildings within a half-mile of transit stops, and a right to return for displaced tenants. Would you pursue implementing a local version of a transit-oriented upzoning in your city or town?

I supported SB827 and I will work on an Affordable Housing Overlay for San Francisco and would also support other local or statewide versions of transit-oriented upzoning bills.

Do you think every neighborhood should build multifamily subsidized Affordable Housing, and if so how do you plan on accomplishing that?

Yes, as previously mentioned, I believe that all supervisoral Districts need to be responsible for ensuring that San Francisco produces sufficient housing to help our homelessness and affordability crises. One of the ways in which I will achieve this is by introducing an Affordable Housing Overlay to legalize multi-family housing that is affordable to people making 55% AMI or below in every part of San Francisco that is already zoned for residential use.

By-right development grants automatic approval to zoning- and building code-compliant housing projects (both Affordable and market-rate), removing review of those projects by local commissions like the Planning Commission. It does not apply to any projects seeking variances from existing city law. Yes or no, do you support by-right development? Please be specific.

Yes, I support by-right development.

How would you streamline the housing permitting process in your city or county? Describe some pre- and post-entitlement changes you would make.

I want to make it easier to build housing at all income levels in several ways:

First, streamlining the approval process to make it rules- and data-based instead of based on politics. Second, we need to make it legal to build mid-rise apartments everywhere in the city, what I like to call “four floors and corner stores”.

Currently it’s illegal to build apartments in 79% of the city. Third, we need to make it legal to build 100% Affordable subsidized housing everywhere in the city, not just a few neighborhoods on the East side.

What is your philosophy on inclusionary zoning, which mandates that market-rate housing pay for a certain percentage of lower-income units? Do you believe there is an inclusionary percentage that will create less overall housing and less low-income housing, ie that we can kill the golden goose with rates like 50% inclusionary?

The best aspect of inclusionary zoning is that it creates integrated buildings with mixed income households, which is an outcome I support. I believe that cities who want to require it should pay for the subsidy required out of their General Funds as a means to increase the availability of affordable housing.

San Francisco’s inclusionary zoning requirement kills development and adds to the unaffordability of living here. I am more in favor of height bonus or density programs to incentivize developers to produce additional affordable units. Denser or taller housing developments are inherently more environmentally friendly than lower-density housing, and I believe that San Francisco and California need to continue to our leadership as green jurisdictions.

Our current mandatory inclusionary percentage is an expensive way to create affordable housing and will not help San Francisco out of its homelessness and affordability crises.

What do you think about the idea of a jobs-housing balance? For example, San Francisco’s Central SoMa Plan? The area plan adds 40,000 jobs and 7,000 housing units, and is likely to be passed by the the Board of Supervisors without accompanying housing. Do you think San Francisco should have an “act two” for this plan and zone for more housing, and if so where? Generally, do you think we should build housing to accommodate a growing economy?

I believe that the Central SoMa plan continues San Francisco’s dangerous imbalance between housing and jobs. Our city has added eight jobs for every unit of housing produced for the past eight year which has contributed to rents increasing 43 percent in the past decade.

According to the University of Chicago study “Housing Constraints and Spatial Misallocation”, U.S. communities forfeit $1.6 trillion in GDP per year due to the housing crunch. This would amount to an annual wage increase of $8,775 for the average worker, much needed in our age of stagnant wage growth and upcoming inflation.

San Francisco should absolutely zone for more housing in all supervisorial districts, including west of Twin Peaks – this is fundamental for a healthy economy.

Currently, many governing boards will follow the wishes of a district official on housing in their district, even if other officials disagree. Would you follow this tradition? For instance, would you adhere to the informal custom at the Board of Supervisors to give “supervisorial prerogative” to district supervisors when deciding on housing projects in their districts? Do you think officials should be able reject housing in their districts?

I do not believe that the supervisorial prerogative is helpful when 8,000 of our neighbors are experiencing homelessness.

How would you strengthen tenant protections? Give us a few policy ideas you think would be most impactful. Feel free to explore issues such as Right to Civil Counsel, your position on Costa Hawkins, etc.

I am supportive of the Right to Civil Counsel and I find it unfortunate that Prop F excludes tenants who rent from a master tenant or live with their landlords.

The biggest change I want to see for tenants statewide is that I think whether a person has rent control should depend on how many units their landlord owns, not only on how old their building is. Tenants who have corporate landlords should have more rent control, and more protections from their landlord generally.

For all tenants, no one should have a rent increase greater than 10% over 3 years for any reason. These are the kinds of ways I think Costa-Hawkins should be amended. Working on tenant protections at the state level could bring new protections to tenants all across the state. As close as San Mateo county, tenants have no rent control or just cause protections at all.

Do you support a vacancy tax for empty units and/or undeveloped parcels? Cities like Paris and Vancouver collect vacancy taxes on homes that are not the primary residences of their owners in an attempt to encourage use of those units. Other municipalities are exploring taxes on vacant parcels to encourage development. What are your thoughts?


Do you support the repeal or reform of Proposition 13? Prop. 13 is a state law that caps property taxes at 1% of their assessed value at purchase. The law allows only property tax reassessment increases up to 2% per year or allows reassessment if the property changes ownership by being sold (but not inherited). The law also requires state and local tax increases to be approved by a two-thirds majority. Please speak about your position on both commercial and residential Prop 13.

Yes, we need to to regularly reassess commercial as well as residential property in our state.

What is your opinion on street tent encampments and people living in vehicles? Do you support enforcement action against unhoused people living in tents, RVs and cars? Give us some alternative policies you think would be most impactful in addressing homelessness.

I do not support enforcement actions against people experiencing homelessness and I believe that working towards producing more affordable housing is a more meaningful way to solve our livability issues than the band-aid solution of harassing our neighbors.

What local and regional transit or other multimodal initiatives would you propose? Give us ideas of new transit lines, fare integration, bike lanes, infrastructure upgrades, etc. How can we expedite these policies and move away from car dependency?

According to SPUR, the Bay Area may have the most fragmented regional transit system in the Nation. Additionally, our transit usage is nowhere near where it should be, with only 12% of trips made on mass transit. We can learn from European and East Asian systems where fare integration is a reality and where multiple transit agencies work together to align their routes and work in a complementary rather than a competing manner by having fare zone based pricing across all agencies. This also reduces the burden on commuters who require inter-agency transfers to get to work, school, or to care for friends and family.

As mentioned earlier, I am a strong proponent of protected bike lanes, road diets, sidewalk widening, and connection of small streets/alleys to reduce block size and improve the hospitality of our streets towards non-drivers, especially in SoMa. I believe that where right turns involve motorist interaction with bike lanes/where delineator posts are interrupted, motorists should have to yield to bike traffic and that there should be street signs and enforcements of the bike right of way.

I also support the extension of the Central Subway to the Marina, the creation of the Treasure Island Ferry, the creation of a new Transbay Tube or bridge (for BART and/or regional rail) before considering low-density BART extensions such as Livermore, and I believe in converting lanes in wide streets in D6 (especially in SoMa) into clearly marked bus-only lanes.

Is there anything else you would like the membership to know about you or your positions?

I want to make a difference as District 6 supervisor and want to set a precedent of a D6 that’s highly responsive to constituent needs. I will regularly talk with residents and businesses and make the political process more accessible to everyone.

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