Nov 16, 2022 - News

GrowSF counts its "common sense" midterm successes

GrowSF

Steven Buss and Sachin Agarwal of GrowSF. Photo: Courtesy of GrowSF

The day after last Tuesday's election, Sachin Agarwal and Steven Buss, who run the political action committee GrowSF, were all smiles, as several local issues the group supported were poised to pass.

Driving the news: GrowSF's midterm voter guide was seen by about half of the 300,000 city residents who cast their ballots last week, Buss estimated based on website traffic.

  • The PAC's biggest win looks like it will come from District 4, where they backed Joel Engardio. If he holds off Gordon Mar, it'd be the first time a challenger has unseated an elected incumbent supervisor in over 20 years.
  • GrowSF also endorsed District Attorney Brooke Jenkins and District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, as well as keeping JFK Drive car-free.

What they're saying: "This is our moment," Agarwal told Axios.

  • Yes, but: GrowSF likely won't get its way on Prop. M (the vacant home tax, which it opposed) or Prop. D (the effort to streamline housing creation, which it supported). SF Mayor London Breed-appointed and GrowSF-endorsed Ann Hsu may also lose her seat on the school board.

Context: GrowSF, which launched in summer of 2020, says it wants to "create a San Francisco that works for everyone," with housing, transit, public schools and public safety as its top priorities.

  • Earlier this year, the PAC advocated for recalling District Attorney Chesa Boudin and three school board members, whom they called "incompetent."
  • GrowSF is also known for its ties to the tech industry: Agarwal and Buss previously worked at Lyft and Google, respectively.

Why it matters: Supporting moderate candidates and advocating for issues like preserving outdoor recreational spaces, appear to be resonating with San Francisco voters based on Nov. 8's election results.

  • GrowSF also seems to have struck a chord with the city's tech community. While its founders say donors come from many backgrounds, most of GrowSF's top contributors are well-known tech figures, including Chris Larsen (co-founder of the crypto company Ripple) and Garry Tan (a venture capitalist who will soon run Y Combinator).

Ryan Delk, CEO of education startup Primer, said he contributed to GrowSF because "there was no one actually fighting for what I felt like [most] of the people that you meet in San Francisco want … [like] increasing the housing supply, public safety and making it easier for small businesses to open and operate."

The other side: The League of Pissed Off Voters, which authors another well-known SF voter guide, told Axios it took issue with the tactics GrowSF used to influence voters, calling Google search ads that placed the group's guide over its competitors', misleading.

  • Meanwhile, D5 Supervisor Dean Preston recently told the SF Examiner he's concerned with GrowSF's "clumsy attempts to intimidate, bully and silence political voices they disagree with" after they launched a campaign to oust him in 2024.
  • Preston, a Democratic Socialist, said he wasn't fazed by the effort, claiming the group was "out of touch with the needs of our district."

The bottom line: "The pendulum in San Francisco is swinging back towards a more commonsense and pragmatic brand of politics," Tan told Axios, adding he thinks GrowSF has "been a driving force behind this shift."

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