Last week, Livable California was startled to receive a link from an ally in L.A., to a 3,400-word long-form article published by Curbed SF about Livable California — for which Curbed did not conduct a single interview of a Livable California board member, volunteer or close ally.
Curbed SF is openly pro-developer, but this article is jammed with factual errors that can only occur when a news outlet goes out of its way to avoid interviewing the subject of its reporting.
Below, we publish the list of 18 needed corrections — in part to assure the record is set straight somewhere, if not on Curbed SF — and in part to give ourselves and our members statewide a pat on the back. Apparently, we’re a threat to the “trickle-down” status quo, led by state Sen. Scott Wiener, who continue to erroneously insist that California’s housing affordability crisis can be lessened by rewarding luxury housing developers.
Here is our letter sent on Feb. 24 to the editor of Curbed SF:
CORRECTION REQUEST FROM LIVABLE CALIFORNIA
We thank Curbed SF for the article published on Feb. 20, 2020, but regret that the reporter made no effort to contact the board of Livable California or any of its key social justice, historic preservation, working-class, or community leadership allies spread across California. Because we were never contacted for this in-depth profile about us, unfortunately the Curbed article contains important inaccuracies that go well beyond a few typos or honest misunderstandings.
The story focuses on people and groups who neither run the organization nor play key roles in our work. We would have appreciated a normal fact-check or routine interview which could have prevented these inaccuracies, but unfortunately neither was attempted by the writer.
We do thank the reporter for getting these two facts correct:
1) The group recorded a huge win in January when Wiener’s Senate Bill 50 failed to advance for the second year in the row. … But the SB 50 debate proved more complex than a YIMBY-versus-NIMBY debate. In addition to anti-density advocates, anti-gentrification activists in San Francisco and Los Angeles opposed the bill.
2) Isaiah Madison of South Los Angeles recently became the first person of color to join Livable California’s board, according to the Mercury News.
We request Curbed correct the below errors immediately. Thank you.
- “… residents who broadly oppose new housing construction in their communities.” (Correction: We strongly support new affordable housing. We agree with UCLA renowned researcher Michael Storper, in opposing the concept of luxury trickle-down housing that displaces people and gentrifies their communities, digging a deeper hole in the housing crisis as shown by San Francisco’s Nexus Study. We do not broadly oppose housing construction in communities.)
- “Marin County-based activist and founder of Livable California Susan Kirsch sees no problem with the NIMBY moniker.” (Correction: Kirsch has not been involved in, or part of, Livable California for nine months. The Livable California board emphatically rejects the NIMBY moniker for all who are fighting for affordable — not luxury trickle-down — housing.)
- “Leaders of homeowners collectives like the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council and the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods are regulars at meetings. (Correction: We do not hold meetings in the Bay Area and neither of these groups is a regular at these non-existent meetings. The writer is welcome to listen in to our statewide teleconferences with community leaders across California, in order to avoid future errors about our work.)
- What unifies these groups is an opposition to high-density housing development, which they say will strain city services and threaten neighborhood character. (Correction: Our key fight does not involve maxed-out city services or neighborhood character. Our key work focuses on bringing rational thinking to Sacramento to create affordable housing rather than the state’s current disastrous approach, which is to wrongly blame cities for the state’s growing missteps: Sacramento housing bills, driven by luxury housing developers, have clearly worsened the affordability crisis. Many of our members would accept additional density gladly for 100% affordable housing – but not for $1M condos.)
- “We take offense at referring to it as a crisis,” says Kirsch. (Correction: Livable California categorically rejects that view. The reporter could have gotten it correct by merely visiting our site and reading our robust News page filled with our views on how to tackle the housing affordability crisis, or by calling anyone on our board. The reporter chose to do neither.)
- “The widely recognized report that estimates California has a shortage of over 3.5 million homes.” (Correction: We are putting tremendous effort, as are others, into getting past the false 3.5 million figure conjured up by consultants at McKinsey, and cited by Curbed without a fact-check. A groundbreaking study of the state’s housing data, now well-known to legislators, shows that California needs 1.2 million units by 2025, not 3.5M. Thanks to research by a think tank, we know that 10 of the 14 most populous regions of California will hit or blast past their state-assigned housing approvals by 2025. We suggest the reporter read the widely shared “California’s 3.5 Million Housing Shortage Number Raises Questions,” and the more recent study “California Cities Surpass State’s RHNA Housing Goals.”
- “Anti-density advocates claim over a dozen city councilors across the Bay Area among their ranks. In 2018, four candidates endorsed by Livable California won a seat on their local city councils. Cupertino mayor Steven Scharf and new city councilors Liang Chao and Jon Willey are all affiliated with the anti-density movement. (Correction: Livable California did not endorse any candidates in 2018, and does not endorse candidates now, a factual error the reporter could have avoided with a call or email to anyone on the Livable California board. The writer is apparently confusing a post-election certificate of appreciation awarded by Livable California to several candidates who won and lost their races.)
- “The coalition also had success lobbying for statewide bills. Marin County’s state representative, Marc Levine, passed a 2014 bill reclassifying Marin County as “suburban” rather than “urban” for planning purposes. The bill has been criticized by nonprofit Housing Association of Northern California for allowing Marin County to get away with building little to no affordable housing. (Correction: Livable California did not exist before 2018, and did not lobby for Mark Levine’s reclassifying of Marin County, as we don’t possess a time machine. More importantly, we would NOT have lobbied for this, as it enacts special favors for select high-income areas, which we strongly oppose.)
- “On the Peninsula, success has come to area NIMBYism in the form of delaying high-density housing projects. In Cupertino, anti-density advocates have been fighting the development of both office space and 2,400 homes at the abandoned Vallco mall. Better Cupertino successfully mobilized around a ballot measure to defeat the project in 2016. The group is now suing the developer while the developer attempts to use a state law to override community opposition. A 100 percent affordable housing project in Moss Beach has now been delayed for four years and 50 community meetings, in part due to efforts from a group called Resist Density.” (Correction: Livable California is focused on Sacramento, and does not fight any local projects including those referenced by the reporter.)
- “A non-exhaustive list of Bay Area cities where anti-density advocates have been elected to public office.Photo: Google Maps” (Correction: While this map is interesting, Livable California played no role in the campaigns of officeholders noted on the map and is focused solely on statewide – not regional – issues. The map has no apparent relationship to our efforts at Livable California.)
- “Marin Supervisor Damon Connolly was endorsed by Marin Against Density when he won his seat in 2015, according to local blog the Greater Marin. And while Kirsch’s slatemate Kevin Haroff was not elected to the Board of Supervisors, he continues to serve on Larkspur’s City Council. Kirsch cites Novato’s Pat Ecklund and Mill Valley’s John McCauley as other allies of the movement. Though these candidates are celebrated by staunch supporters, their elections have also been enveloped in controversy.” (Correction: Livable California did not endorse any of these candidates, and does not endorse candidates as a matter of policy.)
- 12.Kirsch is succeeded as president of Livable California by Rick Hall, a retired oil and gas executive and a San Francisco homeowner. (Correction: It is regrettable that the reporter failed to cite Rick Hall’s current and longtime position fighting gentrification in the Mission District along with poverty groups, as a volunteer with United to Save the Mission.)
- “East Bay for Everyone’s Owens isn’t surprised by the division within the organization. ‘Depending where NIMBYs are located, they’ll adjust their rhetoric,’ says Owens. ‘They’re ultimately pushing policies which are antagonistic to the working class.’ Resolving these internal tensions is important for the organization, because it will impact anti-density advocates’ ability to work with other opponents of statewide housing legislation.” (Correction: We are working to bring together working-class and social justice leaders, city officials, historic preservationists, community leaders and urban planners to battle Sacramento special interests and disastrous bills like SB 50. Thus we embrace what this reporter wrongly describes as “division.”)
- “‘There were offensive things that were said during these hearings, about low-income people, ‘uneducated’ people, moving into the community,’ said Schaaf.” (Correction: We were not present at the Cupertino hearings, and made no such comments at them — or at any other gathering.)
- “While Chao and Palo Alto Councilwoman Lydia Kou railed against California’s 2020 Tenant Protection Act, which enacted statewide rent caps, Livable California board member Larry Gross sat on the board of Tenants Together, a group that promoted the bill.” (Correction: Larry Gross, the widely-known founder of Coalition for Economic Survival in Los Angeles, who has been a featured guest on our statewide teleconference speaking out against SB 50, is NOT a board member of Livable California.)
- “The group has since opened a political action committee (PAC) under a different name, A Better Way Forward to House California. A Better Way raised over $169,168 in 2019, including a $50,000 donation from San Francisco-based affordable housing developer TODCO. They want to use this PAC money to launch their own statewide initiative—a ballot measure protecting local control.” (Correction: The reporter could have avoided this gross error with a single call or email. We did not open a PAC, and we are not on the board or staff of this PAC. We are not party to any decisions it may make regarding a statewide initiative.)
- “While [Jackie Fielder] joined the SF Tenants Union in opposing SB 50, she has ruffled feathers at Livable California by admonishing NIMBYism on social media. ‘Cupertino, St. Francis Wood, the Marina, Beverly Hills, and other ultra-wealthy neighborhoods in California need to allow more housing so moderate and above-moderate income earners don’t displace people in gentrifying places like the Mission and the Bayview,’ Fielder tweeted.“ (Correction: The reporter cannot possibly know if feathers have been ruffled since she did not contact Livable California. But to correct this patently false claim, we embrace the growing debate and warmly welcome Fielder’s views.)
- “Still, Bauters notes that Livable California as an organization chips away at inclusion. ‘People pretend communities have always existed the way they exist today,’ says Bauters. ‘The reality is that there are a lot of discriminatory policies that helped shape their whole communities.”” (Correction: Unfortunately, the author of this 3,404 word report made no effort to reach out to Livable California — a blatant journalistic no-no. Thus the article is entirely silent regarding our actual efforts on inclusion, our mission, or our policies.)