Ed Lee needs to realize he can't be another Gavin Newsom
EDITORIAL There's so much on the to-do list for San Francisco in 2012 that it's hard to know where to start. This is a city in serious trouble, with unstable finances, a severe housing crisis, increased poverty and extreme wealth, a shrinking middle class, crumbling and unreliable infrastructure, a transportation system that's a mess, no coherent energy policy — and a history of political stalemate from mayors who have refused to work with progressives on the Board of Supervisors.
Now that Ed Lee has won a four-year term, he and the supervisors need to start taking on some of the major issues — and if the mayor wants to be successful, he needs to realize that he can't be another Gavin Newsom, someone who is an obstacle to real reform.
Here are just a few of the things the mayor and the board should put on the agenda for 2012:
• Fill Sup. Ross Mirkarimi's seat with an economic progressive. This will be one of the first and most telling moves of the new Lee administration — and it's critical that the mayor appoint a District 5 supervisor who is a credible progressive, someone who supports higher taxes on the rich and better city services for the needy and is independent of Lee's more dubious political allies.
• Make the local tax code more fair — and bring in some new revenue. Everybody's talking about changing the payroll tax, which makes sense: Only a small fraction of city businesses even pay the tax (which is not a "job killer" but is far too limited). Sup. David Chiu had a good proposal last year that he abandoned; it called for a gross receipts tax combined with a commercial rent tax — a way to get big landlords and companies (like law firms) that pay no business tax at all to contribute their fair share. That's a good starting point — but in the end, the city needs more money, and the new system should be set up to bring in at least $100 million more a year.
• Create a linkage between affordable and market-rate housing. This has to be one of the key priorities for the next year: San Francisco's housing stock is way out of balance, and it's getting worse. The city's own General Plan mandates that 60 percent of all new housing should be available at below-market-rate prices; the best San Francisco ever gets from the developers of condos for the rich is 20 percent. The supervisors need to enact legislation tying the construction of new market-rate housing to an acceptable minimum level of affordable housing to keep the city from becoming a place where only the very rich can live.
• Demand a good community-benefits agreement from CPMC. The California Pacific Medical Center has a massive new hospital project planned for Van Ness Avenue — and so far, CPMC officials are refusing to provide the housing, transportation and public health mitigations that the city is asking for. This will be a key test of the new Lee administration — the mayor has to demonstrate that he's willing to play hardball, and refuse to allow the project to move forward unless hospital officials reach agreement with community activists on an acceptable benefits agreement.
• Make CleanEnergySF work. A recent study by the website Energy Self-Reliant States shows that by 2017 — in just five years — the cost of solar energy in San Francisco will drop below the cost of Pacific Gas and Electric Company's fossil-fuel and nuclear mix. So the city's new electricity program, CleanEnergySF, needs to be planning now to build out both a large-scale solar infrastructure system and small-scale distributed generation facilities on residential and commercial roofs and set the agenda of offering clean, cheaper energy to everyone in the city. The money from the city's generation can be used to purchase distribution facilities to phase out PG&E altogether.