I have a lot of issues with Mayor London Breed’s State of the City speech, and I will get to that in a moment.
But I have to say: I have been in San Francisco since 1981. I have lived through Mayors Feinstein, Agnos, Jordan, Brown, Newsom, and Lee. And I have never heard a mayor of San Francisco utter these lines:
Yesterday, PG&E declared bankruptcy. There’s a lot of talk about what this could mean, but let’s talk about what we know: San Francisco knows how to run a clean power system. And we are going to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. And if this bankruptcy provides an opportunity for public power, we will take it.
I have never seen the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission general manager send out a letter like the one he sent Tuesday to his entire staff, which reads in part:
Right now, our team is studying the near and long-term impacts of this bankruptcy and is working to identify all possible options to ensure continuity for all San Francisco power customers. This includes the possibility of acquiring or building electrical infrastructure assets and the creation of a completely community-owned power utility in San Francisco.
When PG&E’s behavior reaches the point where the mayor and the SFPUC are seriously talking about the possibility of public power – and where the mayor directly defies the main argument that PG&E and its allies have made over the decades, that the city is not competent to run a utility – there’s a real potential for a change that could impact the city’s financial and environmental future in a very positive way.
So that’s the good news.
The mayor also talked about building more affordable housing, and about a $300 million housing bond she wants on the ballot in the fall. That’s a fine idea; it’s about five percent of what we need. A $10 billion housing bond might actually make a big difference; $300 million is good, but it’s not going to solve the problem.
But two things really frustrated me.
First, Breed never acknowledged that decisions she made on the Board of Supes have helped create the problems she now wants to solve. She voted to allow Airbnb to decimate the city’s rental housing stock. She now wants to tax Uber and Lyft, but she and former Mayor Ed Lee allowed those companies to flood the city with tens of thousands of cars, with no regulations at all.
She never challenged the Lee agenda that it was fine to encourage and promote more tech jobs for people who were moving here from somewhere else when there was no place for all those workers to live.
She still seems to believe that more market-rate housing will make housing more affordable:
And as we keep people in their homes, we need to build more new housing. Lots more. In 2018, the City built around 3,000 homes. That’s not nearly enough. We have to get better.
That’s why I have already hired a Housing Delivery Director to deliver projects faster, and implement policy reforms that cut the time it takes to permit housing in half. I have directed our departments to end the backlog of hundreds of in-law units and make it easier for people to build them going forward. And passed legislation to prevent the loss of thousands of units in the pipeline.
When the evidence suggests the opposite.
Politicians never want to admit they made mistakes, so I’ll let that one slide.
The bigger problem is this:
Yes, we have our challenges, and I see them every day. Just like you. I am frustrated by them every day. Just like you are. But I am also motivated. Because there is no problem we can’t solve together. There is no challenge we won’t face together.
There is, as President Clinton said, nothing wrong with San Francisco that can’t be fixed by what’s right with San Francisco.
It won’t be easy, but working together we can tackle any impossible problem.
When I took the oath of office six months ago, I never pretended I could solve all our problems.
I believed we could solve them together.
Every political consultant who talks about messaging thinks that “together” sells. The first contested mayoral race I covered was Agnos vs. John Molinari in 1987; Molinari’s motto was “together, there’s nothing we can’t do.” Forget the double negative; he was talking about working with the downtown developers and PG&E and the landords and (oh, yeah) the neighborhoods and the tenants. Maybe.
Agnos ran as someone who would stand up to downtown and PG&E. The race wasn’t even close.
Agnos had a lot of problems as mayor, some of them of his own making. But in his campaign, he got the concept: This idea that everyone in San Francisco is working “together” is a fundamental fallacy that undermines any attempt to understand or improve local politics or policy.
There’s a class war on in this city. We didn’t declare it; the real-estate speculators and the developers and big corporations did that. We are only fighting to save our homes and our city and our community.
But let’s not make any mistake about it: The interests of most San Franciscans and the interests of Ron Conway (who was a big Breed supporter) and Urban Green and so many others trying to make money by hurting the community are diametrically opposed.
We are not “working together.” They have an agenda that has devastated the city; the rest of us have an agenda that seeks to keep its soul alive.
To win our agenda, we have to defeat theirs. Sorry, Mayor Breed, but that’s the way it is. And I think a lot of us want to know not how we can all work “together” – but when it comes to a fight, which side you’re going to be on.