The Budget and Appropriations Committee is about to start work on Mayor London Breed’s proposed budget, and already we are starting to see some serious problems—cuts to critical programs and big business and developer giveaways.
At the Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council meeting in May, Debbi Lerman, director of the Human Services Network, argued that budget cuts need to avoid three categories: Life-and-death services, nonprofit services that depend on city funding to leverage other outside funding, and services that will be hard to rebuild later. (Thanks to Tes Welborn of the Haight Ashbury Voice for reporting on this.)
I would add one more: Don’t give money, including tax breaks, to those who don’t need it.
The mayor is violating all four rules.
Here are some early examples, and more will come out as all of us dig into the budget:
Breed wants to take money away from permanent affordable housing for youth and families, some of the most vulnerable communities facing homelessness. She plans to divert that money to more shelter beds; that’s part of a larger plan that she and Sup. Rafael Mandelman have been pushing.
Shelter beds are cheaper than housing—and if the city can claim it has enough shelter, even if it’s congregate, temporary, unsafe, and unsuitable for many people, then it can more easily engage in sweeps and evict people living on the streets.
Mandelman has been very clear that he wants all the street encampments removed, but a federal court ruling says the city can’t criminalize homeless people where there is nowhere for them to go. So: More money for shelters to get people off the streets (and out of sight), instead of more permanent housing for the most vulnerable.
(Mandelman and Breed say, with some justification, that it’s hard for one city to come up with the money for the level of affordable housing we need, but I have never heard them say: Where was Speaker Nancy Pelosi when Democrats controlled the White House and Congress and could have passed federal housing legislation? Breed can have secret meetings with Pelosi to bring more cops onto the streets, but not, apparently, to get federal money for social housing.)
The budget would cut $30 million from a city program that helps child-care providers, particularly in vulnerable communities. How? By exempting big businesses that make more than $1 million in commercial rent from having to pay a fee that was voted into law as Prop. C in 2018.
From a press release by the Early Care Educators of San Francisco:
Additionally, the mayor’s proposed budget shows a 13% cut to the Department of Early Childhood (DEC) in fiscal year ‘23-24 alone, 10% more than any other City department! Due to the mayor’s proposals, in the first year there will be $47M fewer dollars to support essential child-care investments. The investments at risk include needed infrastructure for child-care sites, expanding subsidized access to families earning up to 200% area median income (AMI), and the creation of educational pathway programs that will help close the child-care educator shortage San Francisco is facing.
Pat Sullivan, who runs Baby Steps Nature Preschool, told me that early childhood education “has always been underfunded, it’s hard for us to stay in business.”
The Prop. C money, she said, allowed providers to get better quality educators, “to allow people to go back to school, get their credits, to help people who get lost out of the city system to get plugged in.”
She said that out of 240 child-care programs in the city, only ten are owned and run by Black people. The Prop. C money can be used to help “roll out new providers” who are sensitive to community needs and have language skills.
“During the pandemic, she called us essential workers, but she clearly didn’t mean it,” Sullivan said. “The stress this has caused is overwhelming.”
She also had a message for Breed: “The big real-estate operators and the police don’t all live in San Francisco. All of us do, and we vote.”
Ironically, the cuts come as the SF program is getting national attention: NPR just ran a piece using this as an example of ways to improve the nation’s child-care crisis.
Breed’s office said there’s no cuts in existing programs. In a message to the advocates, Parisa Safarzadeh, a mayoral spokesperson, said:
Due to a surplus of funds from the commercial rent tax collections during previous years, there will be NO reductions in CURRENT levels of services for young children and early educators through the Department of Early Childhood. We are not reducing. Rather, excess funds that could go unused are supplementing other areas but this does not impact all current levels of investment and programming. The city is facing a massive budget deficit and there are going to difficult decisions, but rather than cutting key budgets that invest in key priorities, like early Ed and children, all current funding will be maintained and continue into the new budget.
Let us remember: The vast majority of outfits that pay more than $1 million in commercial leases are big businesses that can afford to help pay for child care in the city. They are getting a tax break. That’s what this cut is: A tax break for the rich, which Breed says will help economic development. This is called trickle-down economics.
As Sara Hicks-Kilday, director of the San Francisco Childcare Providers Association, notes:
The mayor’s office is cutting current programs for family ands support services beyond the COVID-funded programs that are phasing out. There will be $5.4 million in cuts to family resource centers which are under the Department of Early Childhood. Family Connections Centers, one of the many FRC’s, said their nonprofit is looking at service cuts due to about $197,000 they stand to lose out on because of Breed’s budget proposal.
Family Connections Centers money in question pays for important services: a food pantry and two case managers who provide assistance to families, including by helping them access housing, mental health care and other needed programs.
The mayor is correct that existing child-care services have not been cut in this current budget, however, this framing is misleading as the mayor’s office knows existing programs is not the intent of Prop C. Prop C was passed by voters, and it specifically states that the ordinance is intended to be additive to support new programming that will get us to a universal high quality child care system for 0-5 year-olds and (as a necessary foundation) that pays educators a living wage. Right now, our “success” pays child-care providers in the city funded system at least $28/hr which is still less than $60,000 a year, and already falling below a living wage. We still have a long way to go until child-care providers have a living wage, retirement, and health care benefits. Furthermore, there are still many SF families that do not qualify for reduced price child care. Prop C is meant to eventually allow middle class families (up to 200 percent of AMI) to get city assistance for child care. All of these future expansions are at risk.
The purpose of Prop C was to move toward universal child care from 0 to preschool, and we are nowhere near there.
The budget would involve deep cuts to a program that both landlords and tenants agree is working: The Code Enforcement Outreach Program. That program, run out of the Department of Building Inspection, funds nonprofit tenant—and landlord—groups that work together to make sure that apartments meet basic habitability standards.
The $4.6 million program is cut to zero in Breed’s proposed budget.
From the Business Times:
“When we do our best, we are tag-teaming it with DBI inspectors. We often go places they don’t go,” said [Fred] Sherburn-Zimmer [director of the Housing Rights Committee] “Our job is to actually do the outreach in the workshops with tenants. Tenants call us because they have a repair problem. They call us because their landlord is harassing them. We have a lot of community trust, especially with new immigrants.”
“The DBI commission never even approved this. So it was a unilateral decision,” said Randy Shaw, executive director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a low-income tenant advocacy organization that could lose close to $620,000 for the Central City SRO Collaborative program and another $526,927 through CEOP. “It wasn’t like anyone produced an audit saying that these programs were not highly effective. We have programs across the city where people have questions about their performance levels and meeting standards. So why would you attack programs where no one is criticizing their performance at all? There’s kind of a random quality to this budget.”
“We had gotten no previous heads up from anybody — DBI or the mayor’s budget office. The commission has considered this and rejected this as a cut. So it came to us as a complete surprise,” said Matthias Mormino, chief of staff at Chinatown Community Development Center, a Chinatown-based affordable housing developer.
CCDC runs the Chinatown SRO Collaborative, which stands to lose over $500,000 in funding. CCDC also receives $276,000 in funding through the CEOP program, which is money that is at risk.
The problem here is that DBI is funded entirely through fees that applicants pay for construction projects. When nobody’s building anything, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes and the cost of construction, the department faces deep deficits.
So: this program everyone likes is on the chopping block.
So, apparently, is the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. Food programs will lose at least $10 million this year and another $10 million in 2025, and the Food Bank will take a 40 percent cut. From MissionLocal:
“We vehemently disagree with Mayor Breed’s budgetary decisions,” Crosby wrote in her email, going on to say that “the stark reality is the current hunger crisis will only worsen, if local resources are not prioritized to prevent the Food Bank and its community partners from having to reduce critical anti-hunger services that serve thousands of low-income San Franciscans.”
The Food Bank provides 150,000 meals a day to people facing food insecurity.
Tanis Crosby, executive director of the Food Bank, told us:
The decision to slash the budget for critical food programs in San Francisco will cause great harm to our neighbors struggling to put food on the table. The Food Bank is tremendously disappointed to see our city deprioritizing the social safety net. Together with our network of more than 350 partner organizations we serve thousands of people who are trying to balance the rising cost of groceries and other necessities while social safety nets like CalFresh are eroding. The Food Bank and our 350+ community partners are serving 72 percent more people than pre-pandemic and we are spending five times the amount on food. There will not be economic recovery in San Francisco without first ensuring everyone in our city can meet their basic needs. We hope the Board of Supervisors will agree and reject any budget that does not include more support for food programs to ensure a stronger social safety net for our city.
Meanwhile, more money for the cops, tax cuts for the rich, and a lack of accountability. It’s not going to be an easy sell.