State of the City: spin over substance

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It was maddening to watch Mayor Ed Lee deliver his annual State of the City address on Jan. 17. This was pure politics, from the staged backdrop of housing construction at Hunters Point Shipyard to the use of "regular people" props to the slate of vague and contradictory promises he made.

"This place, the shipyard, links our proud past to an even more promising future," was how Lee began his hour-plus, invite-only address.

Later, he touted the housing construction being done there by Lennar Urban as emblematic of both his promise to bring 30,000 new housing units online by 2020 — the cornerstone to what he called his "affordability agenda" — and the opposition to unfettered development that he is pledging to overcome.

"A great example is the place we're standing right now. This took us too long," Lee said after decrying the "easy slogans and scapegoating" by progressive activists who place demands on developers.

But that implication was bullshit. As we've reported, progressive and community activists have long encouraged Lennar Urban (which has a close relationship to Lee) to speed up development on this public land that it was given almost a decade ago, particularly the long-promised affordable housing, rather than waiting for the real estate market to heat up.

That was just one of many examples of misleading and unsupported claims in a speech that might have sounded good to the uninformed listener, but which greatly misrepresented the current realities and challenges in San Francisco.

For example, Lee called for greater investments in the public transit system while acknowledging that his proposal to ask voters this November to increase the vehicle license fee isn't polling well. And yet even before that vote takes place, Lee wants to extend free Muni for youth and repeal the policy of charging for parking meters on Sundays without explaining how he'll pay for that $10 million per year proposal.

Lee also glossed over the fact that he hasn't provided funding for the SFMTA's severely underfunded bicycle or pedestrian safety programs, yet he still said, "I support the goals of Vision Zero to eliminate traffic deaths in our city."

Again, nice sentiment, but one disconnected from how he's choosing to spend taxpayer money and use city resources. And if Lee can somehow achieve his huge new housing development push, Muni and other critical infrastructure will only be pushed to the breaking point faster.

Even with his call to increase the city's minimum wage — something that "will lift thousands of people out of poverty" — he shied away from his previous suggestion that $15 per hour would be appropriate and said that he needed to consult with the business community first: "We'll seek consensus around a significant minimum wage increase."

But Mayor Lee wants you to focus on his words more than his actions, including his identification with renters who "worry that speculators looking to make a buck in a hot market will force them out."

Yet there's little in his agenda to protect those vulnerable renters, except for his vague promise to try to do so, and to go lobby in Sacramento for reforms to the Ellis Act.

Lee also noted the "bone dry winter" we're having and how, "It reminds us that the threat of climate change is real." Yet none of the programs he mentions for addressing that challenge would be as effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions as the CleanPowerSF program that Lee and his appointees are blocking, while offering no other plan for building renewable energy capacity.

Far from trying to beef up local public sector resources that vulnerable populations increasingly need, Lee said, "Affordability is also about having a city government taxpayers can afford."