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News + PoliticsCity HallNo, San Francisco is not riven by a left vs. left ideological...

No, San Francisco is not riven by a left vs. left ideological split

This old story is back, and it's still wrong: There are real, serious issues between the progressives and the corporate power structure


I am really, really tired of this story. I’ve heard it over and over, from the national press to the local press, and every time, I have to respond, and it makes me crazy.

But here we go, all over again. In the Aug. 15 SF Examiner, Al Saracevic tosses out the same old crap I’ve been hearing for decades: San Francisco politicians are all liberals, and the differences are minor, and it’s all about ideology, and that means nothing happens.

Big downtown businesses have had one agenda. The progressives have another.

Check this out:

You can see the schism in any developing story in San Francisco, and California for that matter. Be it safe injection sites or safe streets. Housing or crime. The political discourse is largely split between left and lefter, with neither side giving any ground. You’re either with us or against us, which is exactly what’s been happening on the national stage since the days of Newt Gingrich.

The result of this constant bickering? A lot gets said. Little gets done.

Okay, let’s get rid of safe injection sites first. Nearly every politician in San Francisco supports the idea; there is no “split discourse.” The center-right folks like State Sen. Scott Wiener and Mayor London Breed are entirely on board. So are the progressives. The only argument here is whether signing the bill will alter Newsom’s chance of getting elected president of the United States—which is a very different argument that has nothing to do with San Francisco politics.


A more moderate brand of liberals pointed to a potential presidential run, warning that signing a bill helping addicts inject drugs could be political suicide among a national electorate. Nobody stated the obvious: Safe injection sites will do nothing to solve our drug epidemic. We need a massive increase in drug addiction services and a statewide mental health system. Full stop.

Who are these “more moderate” liberals? They aren’t Breed, or Wiener, or anyone else I know in San Francisco.

And dude? “Full stop?” Um, full wrong. All the evidence—all the evidence from all over the world—suggests that safe-injection sites save lives, and help get people into treatment. There is nobody who works in the medical and social world of drug overdoses who thinks this is a bad idea or that it will do “nothing to solve our drug epidemic.”

Vitka Eisen, the CEO of Healthright360, is a former IV drug addict, says that this approach is the only thing that will address drug-overdose deaths.

There is no debate here. Just Gavin Newsom’s maybe, possibly, run for president, which might or might not be a good idea anyway.

Full stop.

Oh, and Al: the debate over road closures is by no means a left vs. not-so-let split. There are people across the political spectrum on both sides of this one. I agree it’s far from the most important issue facing the city, but it doesn’t fit into this narrative.

But let’s go deeper here, because this kind of shit gets shared and helps form a political reality that is fundamentally flawed.

The debate over San Francisco’s “soul” has never been about narrow ideological differences. It about who runs the city: Big corporate interests, who see SF as a place from which to extract wealth, or residents who see San Francisco as a place into which to put community energy.

This battle has been going on for decades. At its heart is a divergent vision of what a city is, and how it should operate. For the big-business interests and the neo-liberals, a city is fundamentally a place of capital, a place where making money is the primary goal. For many of us, a city is first and foremost a community, a place where people live and love and create culture.

You can’t have a thriving city without an economy, of course. But it’s a matter of priorities. Is capital more important than community?

That’s the battle here. That’s why progressives (real progressives, not people who just use that label) consider income inequality a massive issue and favor programs like higher taxes on the rich, strict controls on rents and evictions, non-market affordable housing, protecting vulnerable communities from displacement, better wages for working people—and a democratic process that is not for sale to groups like Neighbors for a Better San Francisco.

The neo-liberals who call themselves moderates favor market-based solutions to most problems, particularly housing. The sided with the tech companies on taxes and (non) regulations. They favor property owners over renters, support law-enforcement approaches to social problems, and listen to, and enjoy the support of, plutocrats like Ron Conway.

Those are not minor ideological debates.

From John Elberling at TODCO:

And what’s this about nothing getting done? During the worst global panemic in a century, San Francisco housed more than 5,000 homeless people in safe hotel rooms, preventing thousands and thousands of deaths. That was a progressive campaign (opposed by the mayor).

The only reason developers have to build any affordable housing in San Francisco is because progressives pushed the issue.

Progressives got Muni reopened. That $300 million that is coming online to address homelessness? A progressive ballot measure that the mayor opposed. The right of all tenants to have a lawyer when they face eviction? A progressive campaign.

This city still has massive problems, many of them stemming from the economic inequality that has plagued San Francisco for years, getting much, much worse under neo-liberal mayors Gavin Newsom, Ed Lee, and London Breed.

Those mayors have consistently created problems by doing the will of big developers, big landlords, big corporations, and big tech, and blocked the viable solutions.

That’s why there’s conflict in the city. It’s not left/sorta-left. It’s the agenda of the rich and powerful against the agenda of the rest of us.

Full stop.

48 Hills welcomes comments in the form of letters to the editor, which you can submit here. We also invite you to join the conversation on our FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.

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