Inside City Hall

My two main responsibilities at the office are staffing the reception desk and doing clinic projects. On the atypical days, I get to accompany the organizers out of the office to various events and actions. While I find most all of the work here exciting, these outings are the most extraordinary and have been the most memorable parts of my summer. About a month ago, I accompanied a group of members (clients who have joined for political education/support/community) and an organizer down to the San Francisco City Hall to provide childcare while the group attended an important vote on the TIC-Condo Conversion Ordinance. It was a day of firsts for me: first time on the steps of City Hall, first time inside City Hall, first time witnessing a municipal legislative body vote on anything, first time inside a city supervisor’s office, and (perhaps most importantly) first time playing Tic-Tac-Toe with two children under the age of 10 inside the office of an elected official.

San Francisco City Hall (Wikimedia Commons).

I waited in our office as the members gathered to put on their matching t-shirts and hear the organizer’s spiel about the vote and why their presence was mattered in the chamber that day. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors had been debating a vote on a ten-year moratorium on T.I.C. to condo conversion for and was to vote that afternoon on the final decision. A moratorium would be a victory for tenants rights organizations like ours: generally speaking, the increased conversion of rental apartments to privately-owned condominiums would eliminate a larger chunk of the already-scarce affordable housing available to working-class folks in San Francisco. Our presence that day for the vote would remind the supervisors of the impact of their decision on affordable housing in the city.

After the bus ride over to City Hall, we gathered on the steps for a short rally. Three different representatives of various pro-tenant organizations from across the city voiced their support for the moratorium while the crowd passed around neon-orange stickers to wear into the chamber. I found my three new friends (age 6-8) and we split off from the group to spend the afternoon entertaining ourselves in a generous supervisor’s office. Thus my experience of the vote itself was caught over the monitor in snippets while I tried to concentrate on keeping the kids engaged and simultaneously eavesdrop on the supervisor’s assistants’ behind-the-scene quips. After several hours filled with checkers, the box game, tic-tac-toe, metallic stickers, and deliberation over in the chamber, I was released of my charges and went into the Hall in time to catch the final vote.

Spoiler alert: this isn’t actually a surprise, because it happened over a month ago. The Board passed the tenant-backed ordinance, voting to prevent condo conversion until 2024. I watched the members and organizers celebrate together; I felt elated too, although my contribution to the total fight lasted about 2 hours out of many months. The organizer explained that the victory was a huge relief for tenants in SF – the next ten years can be spent organizing around other progressive, housing rights-oriented causes and not defending against condo conversions that remove predominantly low-income tenants from their homes. The afternoon’s proceedings were an excellent window into to the day-to-day life of the city legislature, and probably the most unconventional encounter with city government I might ever have in my lifetime.