Most start-up political organizations like a splash. They hold news events, press conferences, big galas to say: We have arrived. This is who we are, this is our agenda, and this is what we are going to do about it.
But a new, well-funded group headed by two old-San Francisco families and a crew of political consultants just appeared on the scene almost entirely on Facebook – and has made a point of being a stealth operation.
If you are in this city, and you are on Facebook and active in politics (and given Facebook’s demographics, that means you are probably not in your teens or 20s) you can’t have missed the ads: “No Tent Encampments in Golden Gate Park. Don’t let crime break San Francisco.” And on and on.
And the only link is to the very vague website of “San Francisco Works for Everyone,” which has nothing but a platitude of, to be honest, neo-con language that is radically out of touch with what the city, and much of the non-Trump country, is thinking right now.
The group says it’s a nonprofit that is going to do politics. It has not registered with the Secretary of State or filed any paperwork with the San Francisco Ethics Commission.
But it has a lot of money, and an alarming agenda. And so far, it is decidedly disinterested at best, and hostile at worst, to the local news media.
There’s one interview with founder Daniel Lurie, of Tipping Point (and the Haas family, heirs to the Levi’s fortune) in the Business Times. He says he’s unhappy with car break-ins and homeless people on the street.
He offers absolutely no suggestions for policy solutions.
His partner in this venture is Brandon Shorenstein, grandson of Walter and heir to one of the biggest real-estate fortunes in San Francisco.
Joe Eskenazi at Mission Local dug into the group a bit, and his sources and mine both confirmed that political consultants Nate Ballard, Jack Davis, and Eric Jaye are all involved.
Which means there’s a big payday. None of these would work for cheap.
Ballard is an old City Hall hand who has worked for Gavin Newsom and Ed Lee. Jaye was most recently the campaign consultant for Jane Kim, who ran a progressive challenge to state Senator Scott Wiener and Mayor London Breed, and then went on to work for Bernie Sanders.
The positions she took in those races are pretty much diametrically opposed to what this new group is talking about.
Davis once worked for Willie Brown, supported Donald Trump in the last election, and is still angry that the city wouldn’t let his client, Maximus, build the Monster in the Mission on 16th Street.
If Davis is heavily involved, there is probably big Maximus money on the table. Not that they need it – Lurie and Shorenstein are both fabulously wealthy.
Davis confirmed his involvement to me. Jaye, who is normally quite accessible to the media, has not returned my calls or texts. Ballard never talks to me, but he talked to Eskenazi and said he’s part of the team and that 4,000 people have already signed up on the website.
So what exactly is this organization going to do? We don’t know. Nor do we know what exactly they are offering as an alternative.
Here’s what the website says:
We believe in caring for the homeless without turning our streets and parks over to homeless encampments.
Here’s Lurie in the BizTimes:
“The issue that is really important to me, and I think most San Franciscans, is the homelessness crisis,” said Lurie, who remains chair of Tipping Point, which raises money for homeless services and other needs. “We know what works. The solution to homelessness is a home. It’s not a tent on the street. Long-term, it’s not a hotel room. It’s housing.”
Yes. We all agree. Now how are you going to pay for it?
Well, not with taxes on your rich compatriots. From the website:
Tax increases may be necessary in the future, but not before we’ve taken a hard look at current spending.
Most of the site has similar arguments. They take on harm-reduction:
We embrace proven solutions like requiring those who are a danger to themselves and others to get treatment instead of indulging in ill-conceived polices like providing free drugs and alcohol.
They attack people of color who are, in this moment of a national reckoning on race, trying to get rid of racist murals and institutional names.
We want our government to stop distracting us, and themselves, with political battles like changing the name of a high school and painting murals,
They are decidedly on the wrong side of the police-reform movement.
We support reforming our police and stopping the wave of crimes that degrade our quality of life. Public safety strategy must be more effective and equitable, and no longer tolerate professional drug dealing in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin.
Here’s what Joe Wilson, executive director of Hospitality House (who has far, far more on-the-ground experience with all of these issues than all of these rich people and consultants have combined) has to say:
The recent media campaign launched by wealthy scion Daniel Lurie, “ A San Francisco That Works for Everyone” is the latest grand vision in Lurie’s seemingly endless reservoir of big thoughts and things – proving once again that money can’t necessarily buy intelligence, but it buys plenty of advertising space. Lurie’s campaign offers this astute analysis –
Tents are not the solution…
Brilliant – and that’s just the beginning. On the campaign website, the irrepressible Lurie skewers harm reduction, student activism, muralists, taxes, overpaid bureaucrats, and professional drug dealing – apparently far more problematic than unprofessional drug dealing. Lurie also issues a courageous call for greater accountability. Not sure who’s arguing the other side of such a bold statement. And again –
Tents are not the solution…
Lurie also assures us that San Francisco doesn’t just belong to “…the loudest voices nor to those with the largest bank accounts…” Classic Orwellian ‘double-speak’ coming from a multi-millionaire shouting into a gold-plated megaphone from the heart of San Francisco’s Financial District.
Tents are not the solution…
Bear in mind, Mr. Lurie, the shelter reservation system has been closed since March. Shelters have been downsized or repurposed in response to the pandemic. Hotel rooms are being phased-out, not ramped-up. Lastly, according to the CDC, in the absence of shelter or housing options, to avoid infection or risk spreading it to others – tents save lives. Permanent housing — even more lives saved. Simple isn’t it?
Here’s another tidbit. According to Forbes Magazine, San Francisco is home to nearly 40 billionaires – perhaps some friends of yours – and their collective wealth is nearly $92 billion. Yes, $92 Billion – more than SEVEN times the entire city budget for nearly 900,000 people. Contrast this with the nearly 200,000 San Franciscans who have filed for unemployment since March – approaching one-fourth of the city’s population. If you’re serious about a San Francisco that WORKS for everyone – start with the unemployment line, Mr. Lurie. Or homeless families. One percent of one percent of $92 billion is $9.2 million, enough rental assistance for more than 200 families to exit homelessness for an entire year. Billionaires can still keep 99.99 percent. That seems fair, doesn’t it?
And this: It’s a medical fact that for a long-term drug or alcohol user, abstinence can be potentially fatal. If enabling a drug user can keep them alive until the help they need arrives – I’m with the enablers. If changing the name of a school gives young people a glimmer of hope that change is possible – let’s pick a new name. Next time a revenue measure like Prop C is on the ballot to help the city go big to build homes, I expect to see you there, Mr. Lurie. If a street mural reminds all of us that BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER and there’s only one side to be on that – I’m grabbing a brush and some paint.
Tents are not the solution. That’s correct, Mr. Lurie, they are not. But if you’re serious about making San Francisco work for everyone, please put down your gold-plated megaphone – and pick up a paint brush.
This, it seems to me, is exactly the problem with this group. They have no policy solutions.
“If they had an idea to address homelessness that might actually work, I would totally embrace it,” Sup. Aaron Peskin told me. In fact, the progressive supes have taken giant steps to take on the problem, including allocating money for 8,000 hotel rooms for homeless people in the pandemic. Progressives put Prop. C on the ballot, which will, if it holds up in court, provide vast new resources for supportive and affordable housing.
Daniel Lurie and Brandon Shorenstein were nowhere in those efforts.
So what, exactly, do they want, except lower taxes on the rich and a policy that tries to hide homelessness? How do they propose to fix the problems? I want to hear their ideas.
Nobody from San Francisco Works for All will tell me.
As Eskenazi notes, lots of these big-money groups appear from time to time in the city, and typically fade out when it’s clear that they aren’t in favor or anything – just against candidates and measures that will cost the wealthy and the big industries some cash. Maybe this will be the same.
Maybe they will come forward with real proposals, that can be debated in the public forum, with spokespeople who can not only spin a message but answer questions about it.
Or maybe they will pour millions of dollars into local supes races and ballot measures just to try to undo the tide of progressive politics. That hasn’t worked in a while.
In the meantime, Peskin says, this is more than a bit embarrassing.
“At a moment of profound social change,” he told me, “to see the children of Old School San Francisco Wealth being on the wrong side of history is wrong and hurtful. It’s disgusting.”