That is the word San Mateo County Harbor District President Nancy Reyering used on Twitter to describe affordable housing advocates whose behavior she found extreme. Upon some self-reflection and a lot of backlash, she says it is not a term she would use again. Alas, the word “Nazi” is difficult to unhear — particularly when a public official amplifies it across social media.

Some back story: Before deleting her Twitter account last week, Reyering took aim at San Francisco residents who had the temerity to oppose a request before the California State Historical Resources Commission to add St. Francis Wood to the list of protected places. This gets a bit arcane, but, in a nutshell, the residents of the relatively wealthy enclave in the city were seeking the designation to protect the neighborhood from what they consider unwanted development.

The fine citizens of St. Francis Wood may well be history buffs. They are very likely hoping the historic designation prevents the kind of infill, affordable housing the state mandates through SB 9, which waives environmental reviews for certain relatively dense housing options.

Ironically, it isn’t the first time St. Francis Wood residents were interested in excluding the rest of us. When founded in 1912, the San Francisco Standard reports that developers included covenants banning Black and Asian people from buying into the neighborhood.

Enter our Harbor Commission president. Reyering’s last tweet read, “Class war news of the day: Today some Nazis, I mean YIMBYS, are casing St Francis Woods in SF because 100 years ago there were restrictive covenants. What’s next — Molotov cocktails @SenJoshBecker @GavinNewsom @AGRobBonta.” Given that she lives inWoodside and not San Francisco, and is elected to represent residents in San Mateo County, this is a particularly tony hill for Reyering to die on, metaphorically speaking.

Becker thought so too. Since he was specifically called out in her tweet, he answered on the platform, noting that his ancestors were killed by actual Nazis and that he doesn’t appreciate trivializing the Holocaust in this manner.

There is an internet-age term for what Reyering now admits was hyperbole: Godwin’s Law. More than 30 years ago an attorney named Mike Godwin noted that any online argument, if it goes on long enough, eventually devolves into reductio ad Hitlerum — “playing the Nazi card.”

Reyering is hardly the first person to tweet before thinking. You could consider deleting the account an attempt to redress her own poor online behavior. Reached by email, she said she apologized for her “poor choice of words” and noted she has been subject to a lot of vitriol online as a result. Now that she started this fire, she would like to snuff it out.

So, why should we care?

Well, two reasons. First, the Harbor District she leads is a Coastside landowner. The tweet was a window into her thinking about affordable housing, which is perhaps the most pressing issue facing the region. If you were looking for the Harbor District to contribute to the housing stock — perhaps by developing housing over retail tenants at Pillar Point or some project at Oyster Point — know that the commission president does not seem predisposed. Then there is the dismissive tenor of the tweet, which will sound familiar to anyone following Harbor District business over, say, the last two decades. If you are one of the few local residents able to watch the virtual Harbor District meetings hidden in the middle of your work day, you will have noticed the caustic tone of public comments. Thoughtless tweets compound the problem.

Our elected officials are expected to treat their constituents with a modicum of respect, on public social media platforms as well as at public meetings. They should be aware that what they scrawl in 280 characters can reveal another kind of character. And, surely, they should know better than to call political opponents Nazis.

— Clay Lambert

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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(3) comments

Sabrina Brennan

San Mateo County Harbor Commissioner Nancy Reyering owns a 6 million dollar horse farm in Woodside. She strongly opposes lot splits in Woodside and previously opposed Senate Bill 9 (current law) that allows developers to build duplexes on single-family lots. You may recall, the City of Woodside cited mountain lions as the reason for their opposition to the legislation.

Nancy Reyering's “Nazis” tweet to Gov Newsom and Senator Josh Becker made headline news in the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate. In response, Ray Muller, a district 3 supervisor candidate, renounced Reyering’s endorsement and condemned her “inflammatory rhetoric” and State Senator Josh Becker who’s relatives were killed in the Holocaust also publicly renounced her on Twitter.

Sadly, this rebuke wasn’t enough to temper Reyering’s entitled attitude at the May 25, 2022 Harbor Commission meeting.

Local Yokel

While I completely agree with you in that the use of "nazi" is extremely inappropriate, let's not forget the political climate of not so many years ago when a sitting president was openly called a nazi along with all of his followers. To be clear, that sort of name-calling was coming from average citizens, not politicians. But is it any surprise that the word "nazi" gets thrown around so carelessly to label a person one disagrees with, and now even by public figures?

John Charles Ullom

I remember when Rush started calling people Femi-Nazi's. And I recall Obama being vilified as a Islamo Fascist from Kenya by a President. I remember James Watt going off abut Eco-Nazis.

So yeah. Lots of Nazis.

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