Is SF moving to the right?


The Bay Citizen/New York Times thinks so. The headline on the story -- "more conservative is the new normal" -- says it all. Matt Smith (formerly of our price-fizing rival SF Weekly) and Gerry Shih say the Nov. 8 election signals a turn to the right for this famously liberal city:

But Tuesday’s election signaled a palpable shift: In addition to Lee, a pro-business moderate, voters overwhelmingly picked George Gascón, the law-and-order former police chief — and former Republican — as district attorney.

“To whoever thinks San Francisco is loopy and left-wing, this election basically said, ‘No, it’s really not,’” said David Latterman, associate director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at the University of San Francisco. “We just elected an ex-Republican, pro-death penalty district attorney by a landslide. Just ponder that.”

Well: It's interesting that they call Lee a "pro-business moderate," which is probably accurate but differs from how Lee's more progressive supporters see the new mayor. But while they talk about Gascon, they conveniently leave out the fact that San Francisco has elected the first solid progressive to a citywide office in a long, long time. Ross Mirkarimi -- a former Green Party member and without a doubt one of the most left-leaning supervisors -- won a tight, contested race for sheriff running honestly as a progressive. I think you have to go back to 1987, when Art Agnos ran for mayor as the candidate of the left, to find another example of a progressive champion winning all across town.

The interesting element of all of this -- and something I think Smith and Shih got absolutely right -- is that the demographic makeup of the city is changing, and has been for a while:

"From a political perspective, the tech companies are employing young workers who often prefer to live in San Francisco, even if they commute to Silicon Valley, said Wade Randlett, a Bay Area technology executive and top fund-raiser for President Obama."

Wade Randlett is not my favorite person in local politics, but the point he makes is valid -- and it's not happening by accident. Virtually all of the new housing that's been built in San Francisco in the past decade has been aimed at wealthy people, a lot of them young tech types who commute from the city to Silicon Valley. The other people moving into new housing are empty-nest retirees from places like Marin County. If you walk through the new condo buildings in Soma, the residents are mostly white, with a few Asians; there are almost no African Americans, very few families and essentially zero working-class people.

For years, downtown groups (including Randlett's former employer, SFSOS) have pushed for this kind of housing, and some of them have been very open about their goal: By bringing in more rich people and tech workers, you can change the politics of the city. Housing activist Calvin Welch puts it succinctly: Who lives here, votes here.

That's the reason why land use and housing are so critically important in this town. If poor and working-class people are pushed out to make way for a more upscale set of residents, then progressives who talk about taxing the wealthy to provide services for the poor will have a harder time getting elected.

It's not a conspiracy; it's an open, stated policy goal of the people who spent vast sums of money electing Ed Lee.