Are Yee's anti-tenant votes about courting contributions from landlords?

Sen. Leland Yee hopes to continue his long career in elected office as Secretary of State.
Keeney and Law

Sen. Leland Yee has never been a vote that renters could count on, from his days on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to his representation of San Francisco’s westside in the California Legislature. But now that he’s preparing a statewide campaign for Secretary of State, tenant advocates say he’s more squirrely that ever.

They’ve been rankled by a couple of key Yee votes this year — and by Yee’s apparent unwillingness to engage with them or explain any concerns he might have — particularly Yee’s vote yesterday against legislation that would allow cities and counties to reinstate requirements that developers include some affordable rental units in their housing projects, which the California Supreme Court took away in 2009 with its infamous Palmer v. Los Angeles decision.

That legislation, Assembly Bill 1229, was narrowly approved by the California Senate yesterday despite an aggressive opposition campaign by landlords and developers who initially got overwise supportive Democrats to take a walk and abstain from voting, although tenants groups were finally able to stiffen enough spines to win passage. It now awaits the signature of Gov. Jerry Brown, who hasn’t yet taken a position on the measure.

“It directly overturns [the Supreme Court’s ruling on local inclusionary housing laws] and puts us right back where we were before the Palmer decision. It’s a hugely significant affordable rental housing measure,” Dean Preston, head of the statewide Tenants Together, told the Guardian.

But Yee, who provided the Guardian with a written statement in response to our questions, dismisses the bill’s significance: “SB 1229 is a piecemeal solution, offering a chance at lotteries in housing developments scattered randomly throughout the state. I'm proud to stand by my record of supporting effective legislation to provide affordable housing, supporting inclusionary housing and protecting rent control.”

Preston told us the statement “makes no sense and it doesn’t explain why he supported the same thing two years ago that he now opposes,” referring to Sen. Mark Leno’s SB 184, which died in the Senate two years ago.

But Preston did say that he’s happy to hear Yee explain himself, something that he’s been unwilling to do so far this year, including on his vote against Leno’s SB 603, who would have created sanctions for landlords that illegally withhold security deposits from their renters. It stalled in the Senate back in May.

“SB 603 would have invited lawsuits against landlords throughout the state, honest and otherwise, which would inevitably lead to property owners taking units off the market and driving up prices,” is how Yee now explains that vote to the Guardian.

But Preston said that explanation also doesn’t make sense, noting that Leno’s bill is already law in Alabama. “There’s no disincentive whatsoever for landlords to illegally withhold deposits,” Preston said, noting the he and other activists have fruitlessly tried for months to reach Yee on the issue. “It’s good to finally hear any explanation for his vote, months later.”

“There’s a pattern emerging with him where he won’t even explain his votes,” Preston said, noting that Yee “is running for statewide office and he’s trying to appeal to landlords and developers.”

Indeed, Yee will need to raise buckets of cash to reach a statewide audience, and he certainly understands who has the money these days. But Yee denies that he is carrying water for landlords, citing other pro-tenant votes: “I’ve always been proud to fight for tenants. Earlier this year, I cast the deciding vote for SB 391 which directs an estimated $720 million in state funds annually to the construction, rehabilitation and continued preservation of low and affordable affordable housing for everyone, families, seniors, veterans, people with disabilities, the unemployed, and the homeless. I spent years fighting for redevelopment agencies, one of only three Democrats to do so, which put a billion dollars a year into providing affordable housing throughout the state. These are programs that have been proven to be effective, an example of good results rather than just good intentions.”

UPDATE 3pm: Leno just returned our call from the floor of the Senate, where he said that Yee mischaracterized SB 603. "Those are the talking point of the industry and they're just plain wrong," Leno told us.

Leno said he modified the bill significantly to win support, including removing provisions that would have required landlords to keep deposits in separate accounts and pay interest on them. "All that remained is the penalty for a landlord that is was determined by the courts had illegally kept a deposit," Leno told us. "And it still stalled. It's the power of that lobby."


we shouldn't be giving handouts to people who choose to live in SF when they know they cannot afford to be here?

If Yee is taking this position with a view to being elected, as you imply, then that also implies that he doesn't think most voters are pro-tenant. Perhaps he is correct given that 2/3 of CA voters do not rent.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

well put.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

You missed the point. Fundraising. Statewide nobody will know or care about this vote except for real estate/development money flows to Yee for his SOS bid.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

tenants for every landlord, Yee should take the other side.

Unless, of course, Yee understands that even tenants think setasides are bad policy, as the courts have said.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:12 pm

Unlike New York and Chicago, with large buildings owned by corporations and REIT's, CA buildings are typically small in scale and owned by individuals and partnerships. Their political contributions are not going to make or break a campaign at this level, and arguably a few million tenants can contribute more than a few thousand landlords. Likewise there are far more tenants who vote than landlords.

so while you may dislike any Sac politicians who doesn't vote the way you want, your conspiracy theory here isn't apt, and many of us ordinary folks do not like the way developers are extorted because it reduces the number of homes that get built.

Posted by anon on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 1:00 pm

achieve broader success at the State or Federal level without moving more towards the moderate majority of the voters, and away from the very leftist nature of SF politics?

Just one?

What does that teach you?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 1:09 pm

Mark Leno is a more progressive state legislator than he was a supervisor, and he has enjoyed enormous success for doing so. Tom Ammiano has also refused to moderate his progressive positions and has also become a respected senior legislator for it.

Posted by steven on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

Nor achieved Federal office.

Wanna try again?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

which appeal to all the voters of CA - not renters from San Francisco. He should also rethink his opposition to the ban on the sale of shark fins while he's at it.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

You can only be a hopeless idealist like Steven if you are careful never to have any real responsibility for anything.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:13 pm
Posted by Guest III on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 8:43 pm

is applicable in only a few municipalities - San Francisco, LA, Berkeley, Palm Springs etc... It's not a pressing issue to the majority of CA Democrats or voters.

Get outside the bubble sometime.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 8:51 pm

Please elaborate.

Posted by Guest III on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

Available widely.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 10:12 pm

rent control, and there is also 70% home ownership rates. Beetween those two factors, the tenant vote isn't that important State-wide, even though SF pols drone on tediously about it.

Likewise, landlords aren't a big political deal either, State-wide.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 05, 2013 @ 5:34 am

Your info is wrong. Over 40% of Californians rent.

And landlords are a big political deal statewide because they give gobs of money to candidates of both parties. Yee knows this. That's why he voted against AB 1229 a mere two years after he voted in favor of the same bill. Somehow it was good policy two years ago but is bad now? Please.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 9:05 am

And they are more likely to vote than tenants as well, so call it 2/3 of actual voters own their own home.

Things can change in two years and it may be that CA doesn't have the funds any more.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 9:16 am

a pressing issue for the majority of CA Democrats or voters??

Posted by Guest III on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 9:33 pm


Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 9:48 pm

Please elaborate.

Posted by Guest III on Sep. 05, 2013 @ 7:03 am

It's about inclusionary housing. Approx 170 cities have such laws in CA.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 8:57 am

Over 15 million tenants in CA.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 9:01 am

Which is why Prop13 will never be repealed.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 9:15 am

Although the formula is getting a little bit ole.

It always starts with a big accusatory headline. Wow, Yee must be selling his votes for contributions from big landlords.

And then you read the story and they can't substantiate the accusation at all. It must be something that the SFBG said just because it makes the feel good to do so.

This is a great week. Jon Stewart and Steven T Jones are both back and providing world class political satire to keep us laughing.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

Headline is fair. No other real explanation has been provided for his anti-tenant votes. Yee's quote is laughable. Basically says inclusionary housing is bad policy and he stands by his record of supporting inclusionary housing ?*&!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 9:07 am

It's a back door tax on providing homes to working Californians.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 9:25 am

Do we really want another S.F idiot politician like Leno or Migdon at the state level? Please no!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 04, 2013 @ 2:20 pm

Arguing in the 'comment' section is like running in the Special Olympics.

Even if you win, you're still retarded.

Posted by the 'real' Guest on Sep. 05, 2013 @ 11:43 am

San Francisco has always tried to cater to the lowest common denominator in people ( i.e. feral humans) So it should come as no surprise that this has dragged the city down to becoming a cesspool covered in urine and feces, as well as legions of zombies roaming and sleeping on the streets. I say clear them out and welcome the rich!

Posted by Guest on Sep. 07, 2013 @ 8:17 am

If you're a failure, a loser, a felon or a moron, the city loves you.

If you are a success, a winner, law-abiding and smart, you are deemed to be undesirable.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 07, 2013 @ 8:31 am

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