Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
One San Francisco mayoral candidate is making "Yes in My Back Yard" her mission statement.
Will San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee coast to reelection?
That's what The San Francisco Chronicle seems to think. Neither California State Senator Mark Leno nor former Mayor Art Agnos nor former Assemblyman Tom Ammiano plans to oppose him in the run-up to the November 2015 election, according to the report. Other leading contenders are sitting this one out, too.
But will Mayor Lee run unopposed? Not so fast: There is at least one outsider mounting a longshot campaign against the incumbent. And she's running on a rather unlikely platform: YIMBYism.
Amy Farah Weiss, a San Francisco activist and community organizer, is running on what she describes as a Yes-in-My-Back-Yard campaign. According to her website—YIMBY/WEISS for Mayor 2015—she is the only person who has mounted an official mayoral candidate committee (other than the incumbent).
Maybe it's no surprise that "YIMBY" appears so prominently in Weiss' campaign materials. YIMBYism has emerged as a rallying cry in many cities. The roots of YIMBYism are pretty obvious: It's a popular counteractive to NIMBYism, the pejorative term for neighborhood resistance to new development (you know, not-in-my-back-yard). It should be old hat at this point, but in broad strokes, YIMBYism is a grassroots approach to local-government reform or neighborhood-level organization—especially when it comes to housing. YIMBY Toronto, for example, hosts lectures, workshops, and an annual festival to encourage residents to look at change with gimlet eyes.
New York YIMBY advocates aggressively for the kind of developments that neighborhoods love to hate, including super-tall, super-skinny, starchitect-designed towers. In a recent post, New York YIMBY's Stephen Smith writes up a town-hall meeting in which a state senator blames gentrification for the lack of grocery stores in Clinton Hill; the real culprit, Smith writes, is a zoning code that simply doesn't allow for new grocery stores. For a more hardcore example of YIMBYism, check out the site's defense of oligarch gentrifiers.
So can Weiss make any gains in San Francisco on a YIMBY campaign? First, she'd need to actually run on one. Her platform has little to do with the kind of technocratic, neoliberal urbanism that typically characterizes YIMBYism. Weiss generally opposes profit-driven development, supports strict Airbnb regulation and enforcement, and seeks to tax "social media and technology companies that profit off of targeting San Francisco residents through online advertising." Weiss likes tiny houses, but single-family homes are absolutely not a solution for land-strapped San Francisco—even very small ones.
Here's an example of NIMBYism as YIMBYism in action: The local news site Hoodline relates how Weiss opposed a Chase bank branch moving into the Haight Ashbury in 2011, replacing two well-loved local businesses. She and others protested outside the bank—and they did so by carrying signs proclaiming their love for local San Francisco credit unions. Say yes by way of saying no!
There's a lot to admire about Weiss' politics. But on some issues, especially San Francisco's housing crisis, her platform is doctrinaire NIMBYism. She is likely not the last candidate to brand herself specifically as a card-carrying YIMBYist—and definitely not the first politician to claim a word as meaning its opposite.