The Big Zero – SF version

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By Steven T. Jones
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I can’t stop thinking about Paul Krugman’s wonderfully biting recent commentary, “The Big Zero,” and his persuasive point that in the last decade, “we achieved nothing and learned nothing.” The Nobel laureate economist was talking about the national economy, but I think his point can also be applied to other realms as well, and specifically to San Francisco.

Sprawl development and over-reliance on the automobile have strained public resources and contributed to global warming, bad air quality, and diminished quality of life. The bursting of the housing bubble and its related lies shows clearly that most people can’t afford to buy a home and must rent. Stagnant wages, decimated 401Ks, and the dead promise that we’ll be OK if we work hard and play by the rules show that we’re all in the same boat, equally vulnerable to hard times and ultimately dependent on government and each other if things really get bad.

So what are we doing with these lessons learned? The core of this city’s housing policy is to simply let an untrustworthy, financially weak corporation, Lennar, build 16,000 homes – the vast majority for sale at pricey market rates – in the two most isolated parts of the city: southeast SF and Treasure Island (which will need to be severely hardened against rising seas). And to make it worse, Mayor Gavin Newsom’s big revenue idea is to let rich people buy their way out of the condo conversion lottery, further depleting the rental stock relied on by two-thirds of city residents.

We’re promoting shitty private sector jobs at all cost (including refusing to adequately tax big corporations) and cutting public sector jobs that have good pay and benefits without a thought, in the process hurting our public health and social service functions. Newsom is still taking his cues from the realtors, landlords and Chamber of Commerce – who have all been so obviously wrong in their advocacy this decade – and refusing to even meet with advocates for tenants, immigrants, environmentalists, and the working class, the very people who most need the help and attention of the Mayor’s Office.

To me, being a progressive simply means that we can do better, that we can progress, that we can learn from the past to improve the future. So Krugman’s insightful column should be a wake-up call, a needed reminder that the economic conservatives like Newsom have been dangerously wrong and that we need to chart a new course.