The GrowSF Report: The Corruption Edition: TODCO and John Elberling
PLUS: Join us for the New Liberalism Conference
What You Need To Know
Here’s what happened around the city for the week of March 13th, 2023:
Special Feature: TODCO Corruption
- TODCO spends big on politics while its tenants deal with infestations, gunshots, and overdoses
- Supervisor Stefani & Senator Wiener call for local & federal investigation of TODCO
- San Francisco’s bureaucracy a corrupting force in city life
Your regular roundup:
- Support funding for new shelters before March 21st
- Join us March 31 for the New Liberalism Conference
- BART’s financial cliff
Special Feature: TODCO Corruption
TODCO spends big on politics while its tenants deal with infestations, gunshots, and overdoses
Overdoses. Rats. Roaches. Broken elevators. Gunshots.
That’s just a smattering of what TODCO’s tenants have been enduring for years as they “ramped up spending on political campaigns at the expense of investing in its buildings and the health and safety of its poverty-stricken tenants.”
In one instance, a 57-year-old man’s body was found days after he overdosed—his apartment filled with insects.
A new investigation by the SF Standard details the abysmal conditions inside this politically influential nonprofit’s decrepit buildings.
As TODCO’s pockets swelled from $2.8 million to over $6 million per year from taxpayers via million dollar contracts with City Hall and federal subsidies, they tripled executive pay, spent nearly 100x on lobbying, and spent 4x on management. All while steadily decreasing the share of money they spent on providing low-income housing. Today, they spend less than half of their money on their core mission.
Spending on political campaigns ramped up, too, while conditions deteriorated.
A woman living at Hotel Isabel said a maintenance worker “does the best he can,” but management waited a year to adequately address roaches in a neighbor’s apartment.
“Roaches were coming out of everywhere,” she said. “Oh, man. I was in tears.”
Elberling launched his political arm in 2014, and since then has spent millions of taxpayer dollars on politics.
“Here is this guy who has all this money, and instead of using it to reinvest in his properties or continue on the mission of his organization, he uses it basically to buy political influence and enjoy the self-aggrandizement that it brings,” said Sonja Trauss, a housing activist and executive director of YIMBY Law.
This isn’t the first time John Elberling and TODCO have been in the news for their political spending. The Chronicle detailed their political spending back in 2021, and in 2016.
We hope the next time they’re in the news that it’s to announce federal charges.
Supervisor Stefani & Senator Wiener call for local & federal investigation of TODCO
In some immediate, and positive, fallout from the SF Standard’s investigation of TODCO, Supervisor Catherine Stefani and State Senator Scott Wiener are both calling for a robust investigation.
“I want to be very clear: Public resources must not be used for political or personal gain, period,” [Supervisor] Stefani said. “Profiting from the taxpayer and public subsidies and at the expense of the city’s most vulnerable is absolutely shameful.”
Senator Wiener is calling for the US Inspector General to launch a federal investigation of TODCO. “An investigation would absolutely be warranted,” Wiener said.
This isn’t the first time that elected officials have called for a federal investigation of TODCO’s use of taxpayer funds to play politics. Back in 2016, Supervisor Mark Farrell called for a federal investigation:
“Profiting from taxpayer subsidy and funneling those profits into local political campaigns is reprehensible,” said Supervisor Farrell. “I am calling for an immediate investigation to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that public resources were not used for political purposes.”
— Supervisor Mark Farrell, 2016
Ultimately, it seems, the government took no action. We hope this time is different.
San Francisco’s bureaucracy is a corrupting force in city life
What do Mohammed Nuru, Rodrigo Santos, Bernard Curran, Walter Wong, and John Elberling all have in common? They’re all caught up in active investigations or credible allegations of corruption, all enabled by the massive city bureaucracy.
The SF Chronicle Editorial Board is out with a scathing review of SF’s bureaucratic culture and how its design doesn’t just enable corruption, it fosters it.
These scandals offer undeniable evidence that befuddling bureaucracy creates incentives and opportunities for those with money or insider knowledge to game the system.
Give the full editorial a read at the SF Chronicle.
Support funding for 2,000 shelter beds
Our friends at RescueSF put together a cost-effective proposal for 2,000 shelter beds. With more than 4,000 unsheltered people living on our streets, their proposal would make an immediate impact on bringing people inside.
Read the details and use our tool to tell the Supervisors and the Mayor that you want to see their proposal for 2,000 shelter beds funded in the next budget.
Join us March 31 for the New Liberal Conference
GrowSF is cohosting a one-day conference with our friends at the Center for New Liberalism (CNL) on March 31 at the SPUR Urban Center in SoMa.
Join us for two open bar happy hours, lunch, and panels on:
Registration is free and open to the public, but space is limited: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/nlas-west-tickets-581028340407
NLAS West (New Liberal Action Summit) will feature elected Democratic leaders from the region, activists, policy experts, and political analysts as well as business and civic leaders. The discussion will center on issues of local, regional, and national significance – driving down housing costs, managing fiscal issues in an era of unprecedented inflation, assuring public safety, reinventing public education, modernizing America’s outdated immigration laws, exploring the future of Section 230, and discussing the nation’s bioscience innovation ecosystem.
We invite you to join us and over 100 pragmatic liberals in San Francisco later this month! RSVP here.
BART’s financial cliff
For close to 50 years, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has been a point of pride for the Bay. A critical connector for the disparate cities and counties that comprise the Bay Area, BART was funded primarily by fares, rendering it largely self-sufficient. The pandemic destroyed ridership, however, and fares dropped precipitously, turning a perennial strength for the service into a weakness.
BART is now faced with an existential crisis: a projected $143M budget shortfall by 2025. Service cuts or steep fare hikes may result in a “transit death spiral”, where these actions result in fewer riders, and hence lower revenues. Longer term stability may require subsidies from state and local taxpayers, which will require either convincing Southern California lawmakers to support the agency, or a ballot measure in 2026. These solutions may not come to fruition in time.
A Bay Area without BART would be a severely diminished place, with more traffic and less connection - in every sense. We implore our elected officials to come together and find a solution.
Celebrate San Francisco
There’s a lot to love about our city. Here’s what makes it great:
SF’s Chris Gaither is 1 of just 4 Black sommeliers in the world
It’s an amazing tale of perserverance and achievement: after seven attempts over 10 years, Chris Gaither, co-owner of Ungrafted wine bar in the Dogpatch, passed the Master Sommelier test, an exam with a 5% pass rate. This achievement makes him just 1 of 4 Black sommeliers in the world, a fact that was part of his motivation to seek this incredibly difficult certification. Chris hopes to make the wine world more approachable to people who otherwise might not feel welcome. Take advantage of Chris’s knowledge, and learn more about wine, at Ungrafted!
Finding non-alcoholic paradise in this Outer Richmond tavern
Ocean Beach Cafe, located in Outer Richmond, offers a unique experience for those looking to enjoy a night out without the booze. Founded by Joshua James, the cafe opened in 2021 and aims to have the best selection of non-alcoholic drinks on the West Coast. Their popularity has surged due to a rise in non-alcoholic drinkers and a trend toward lower-alcohol drinks.
The cafe offers "temperance tastings," giving patrons the opportunity to sample non-alcoholic beverages like Ritual's rum alternative, Monday's zero alcohol whiskey, and Prima Pavé's sparkling rosé. Low- and non-alcoholic drink sales have boomed worldwide, surpassing $11 billion by the end of 2022, with Gen Z leading the charge in consuming less alcohol.
Read more about Ocean Beach Cafe’s non-alcoholic experience at The Bold Italic.
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