Jackie Fielder’s State Senate Campaign Puts Working People First
GUEST POST BY: IAN FIRSTENBERG
The March 3rd California primary has garnered national attention as a contested and messy presidential race that could be solidified for the frontrunning Senator Bernie Sander. But all politics are local and as such, it’s important to pay attention to local officials as well as national politicians to understand the larger political trends.
San Francisco politicians, despite their national reputation, are largely neo-liberal. They are acquiescent to big business and developer’s interest and have been for many years now. San Francisco has not been home for the worker’s politician in a long time.
Jackie Fielder, a 25-year-old Mexican/Indigenous organizer hopes to change that narrative in California’s 11th State Senate District, which covers all of San Francisco as well as Colma, Daly City, and South San Francisco. Originally standing with protesters against the DAPL pipeline in 2015, then co-founding the Public Bank Coalition here in SF, Fielder has been closely aligned with worker’s rights and people’s protests for a few years.
This tireless work has won recent victories but is a small portion of what Fielder’s political organizing is focused on. She is a worker much like the voters of District 11, working as a server while also lecturing at SF State (go gators!). She has experienced the brutality of the Bay Area’s housing market first hand and she understands that politicians of San Francisco have been inextricably tethered to Wall Street, Tech and Real Estate capital for far too long.
Her experience and record speaks loudly but her personal connection to workers of the Bay Area is one of the many glaring and important differences between her and her opponent Scott Wiener. She was recently endorsed by the San Francisco Bay Guardian.
Wiener, the incumbent and former Supervisor in the City has floundered as of late. His sponsored legislation, SB-50, recently failed to pass in the state senate, exemplifying the problems Fielder and other affordable housing advocates have been touching on for years now.
Wiener touted SB-50 as a crucial step towards addressing the Bay Area’s housing crisis by streamlining “neighborhood multifamily project” development near transit centers, both through permit approval and developer incentives.
Neighborhood multifamily projects, as stated in the bill text, means dwellings housing up to four residents developed either on vacant land or land that does not require “substantial exterior alteration into a multifamily structure.”
SB-50 was flawed both in structure and ideology. In short, Wiener’s approach was focused on building housing for wealthier residents rather than the workers despite what he said publicly; SB-50 had the support of California’s largest real estate association. It’s not difficult to follow the through line of profit, realtors want to increase profit…they clearly saw SB-50 as a great way to do that.
In a statement regarding the bill after the senate vote Wiener expressed disappointment categorizing the no vote as a, “missed opportunity to take meaningful and serious step to address California’s massive and debilitating housing shortage.”
While that may have been how he saw the bill, it hardly seems like a meaningful step when it has support from the largest groups perpetuating this ongoing housing crisis.
In contrast to her opponent Fielder not only has a much more comprehensive policy proposal but also a crucially different view of housing her in the state.
“I take the approach that housing is a human right, it’s not a good to be commodified and speculated for profit and it actually puts money to that promise,” she said.
It cannot be overstated how important this distinction is; San Francisco’s ostensibly progressive politicians (with a couple of delightful exceptions, Dean Preston and Chesa Boudin we’re looking at you) understand politics fundamentally as a game played amongst the ruling class as opposed to a contest of resources between ruling class and working class. With this framework it is IMPOSSIBLE to effectively combat capitalism and its destruction on the living conditions of workers.
While her opponent has been continuing the SF tradition of bending the knee to capital, Fielder sets her campaign apart by her supporter base, her platform and her contributors.
“I’m not accepting contributions from the real estate lobby or corporate landlords…” she said.
Fielder offers voters this refreshing political insight on education and climate change as well.
“I am of the belief that public education should remain a public good and not a private good for profit margins,” she said. “I’m a product of public schools and public schools are under attack, not just at the federal level but here in California as well.”
She criticized Wiener’s acceptance of charter school money and drew from personal experience to guide her policy proposals around public education.
“We need someone in the state capital who is not going to accept money from charter schools and the current state senator was awarded legislator of the year by the Charter School Association in 2018,” she said.
One of the qualities that is most striking when talking with Fielder is her thorough and in-depth knowledge of how and why California got to this housing crisis, and who should be held accountable for it. She talked about the failures caused by Proposition 13, a 1978 bill that drastically decreased property taxes and has been incredibly influential for maintaining owner’s economic interests. She expressed an immediate desire to repeal Costa Hawkins and Ellis Act when elected, two acts that have solidified power of the real estate lobby. Fundamentally she is able and willing to take a hard line against the interests of the City’s decadent and wealthy ruling class.
“Right now, there are two laws in place that uphold the vicious cycle of displacement and of speculation. Those two acts are the Costa Hawkins Act and the Ellis Act, we can’t have meaningful universal rent control across California without repelling Costa Hawkins, which was attempted in 2018 and the current state senator had an opportunity to put his name on a list of supporters after promising in 2016 to reform Costa Hawkins, but he did not put his name on the list of supporters. That measure failed because certain organizations poured millions of dollars into making sure it was going to fail. Namely the California Association of Realtors and Apartments Association,” Fielder explained.
The Ellis Act gives landlords a right to evict tenants on spurious grounds while Costa Hawkins limits the type of rent control cities can enact. In practice both of these laws serve to bolster property owner’s profits and maintain the untenable housing status quo.
What Fielder proposes is an inversion of our state’s current housing policy where legislation, development and upkeep are at the behest of massive real estate interests. Her proposal is bottom up and for working people of our state.
This inversion is spearheaded by a $100 billion proposal drawing the money from the “wealthiest corporations and billionaires in the state.” It would take a two-pronged approach which would simultaneously remove 200,000 units from the speculative market and build 100,000 new publicly or non-profit owned green homes. This, in combination with universal rent control and the Anti Displacement Act, in conjunction with community planning, make Fielder’s housing proposal far and away the most comprehensive and feasible approach to solving California’s housing crisis.
“We need to make sure that especially the wealthiest enclaves in our state are contributing to the herculean lift we all need to be making to provide more deeply affordable housing and there are certainly many places like the Mission that have disproportionately borne the brunt of producing houses that, the majority of which aren’t even for people who live there right now ,especially working class people of color,” she said.
Fielder also reframed this housing debate; often corporate media decries the lack of supply, that the issue could be solved by MORE housing and the right kind of MORE housing.
California lost more than 400 rent-controlled apartments a year in the decade following the housing crisis while development in the City skyrocketed.
“California has a surplus of 300,000 units for above moderate income housing, the majority of the housing that would be produced by SB-50, not even produced but fast tracked by SB 50, would not be for the majority of Californians that are disproportionately bearing the brunt of the housing crisis,” Fielder said.
Approximately half a million Californians are evicted yearly. Hundreds of thousands of units sit empty entirely based on profit margins. The local backdrop of this is much more insidious as rent has continually increased, up to 70 percent higher since 2010, despite these evictions and vacancies. This is amoral and unsustainable.
Another key strategy Fielder discussed is licensing for landlords similar to physician or chiropractor licensing. Much like a doctor or therapist, landlords are accountable, in part, for people’s well-being. As rent has increased and as capital has tightened its grip on the City’s real estate market, horror stories abound of predatory landlords.
“… if someone’s providing a stable place for another to rely on and move into, housing should be considered a public good to be regulated because there are certainly bad actors and a licensing system would allow us to root out bad actors, like Wedgewood Properties or Veritas, who capitalize on the housing crisis here in San Francisco,” she said.
The neo-liberal 90s of Clinton and Albright, carried on by the Obama administration, have failed us; examples abound globally but we have to look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to find one of the most oafish. Our future cannot be one defined by the fecklessness, wealth consolidation and privatization of the foregone liberal era. We quite literally will not make it out alive.
In the clusterfuck of the modern American political landscape, proper context it is often helpful for framing these contests in their appropriate setting: ruling class vs working class. There is no clearer exemplification of this fight San Francisco’s real estate market: a cluster of wealthy landowners gawking at the gall of workers who are asking for little more than respect and decency. The landowners look down and scoff.
Scott Wiener certainly won’t check the ruling classes homogenization and consolidation of the City’s land. He has no interest in stopping his steady cash flow, and to be totally honest why would he?
We need representatives like Jackie Fielder who unapologetically stand up for workers and refuse to back down in the face of the wealthy oligarchs of this city.
“So many people, everyday working people, don’t have the time to participate in land use planning even though it definitely affects their lives in dramatic ways. The way that we empower communities to come up with their own plans is providing funding for them to do that. We need to make sure that we’re not writing policies that are not informed by community and that communities, especially tenants and vulnerable communities, have a seat at the table when it comes to land use planning and policy planning,” Fielder said.
California’s primary is March 3rd.