A step forward and step back for SF's homeless families

Mayor Ed Lee appeared as yesterday's Board of Supervisors meeting.
Steven T. Jones

As San Francisco grapples with a record-high number of homeless families seeking shelter space during the holiday season, a pair of homeless policy discussions at yesterday's Board of Supervisors meeting highlighted shortcomings and missed opportunities in the city's approach to the issue.

Mayor Ed Lee announced that he is opening up more shelter space and public housing units for homeless families, finally relenting to weeks of pressure to address the pressing problem. Yet the board also narrowly approved turning surplus city property over to neighborhood residents rather than using proceeds from selling it to benefit homeless families, as city policies call for.

The property in question, 341 Corbett Avenue, is a vegetated hillside near Upper Market that the city declared a surplus property in 2004, transferring it to the Mayor's Office of Housing to either develop as housing for poor families or to put the proceeds from its sale toward that purpose. Providing housing for the homeless is what city policy calls for surplus property to be used for, according to 2002's Surplus City Property Ordinance. The property was assessed at $2.2 million, but it wasn't developed because of costs associated with the steep hillside, nor was it listed for sale.

Neighbors of the property have sought to use the property for open space and a community garden, so the district's Sup. Scott Wiener authored legislation to facilitate a community garden by transferring it to the Department of Public Works. The transfer would involve no money, leaving homeless advocates concerned about depriving homeless families of any revenues from the property.

“There are a lot of public assets we could sell if we wanted to fund this need or that,” Wiener told his colleagues, noting that neighbors would rather see a community garden on the site and that Upper Market lacks adequate open space.

But Sups. Jane Kim and Eric Mar led the opposition to the move, saying they didn't object to that kind of community use of this property, but that city policies need to be followed, particularly considering the dire need for more resources to address the needs of homeless families. “I do have concerns about the precedent we set and also being consistent,” she said, arguing for a delay in the action until city officials find a way to compensate MOH for at least some of the property's value.

“Overriding the surplus property ordinance is not something I want to do right now,” Sup. John Avalos said.

But the board voted 6-5 to approve the transfer, with progressive Sups. Kim, Avalos, Mar, David Campos, and Ross Mirkarimi in dissent. Housing advocates upset by the action directly their ire at the swing vote, one-time progressive Sup. David Chiu, with activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca sending out an e-mail blast saying, “david chiu betrayed us again -- he wouldn't support continuing the 341 Corbett item so that affordable housing advocates could try and work out a better deal with the Mayor's Office on Housing and others.”

Meanwhile, the skyrocketing number of homeless families has become a big issue in town since the Guardian broke the story on Oct. 13, with repeated stories in the Chronicle, Examiner, and other media outlets, and homeless advocates staging rallies outside City Hall and unsuccessfully pushing for a meeting with Mayor Lee on the issue.

During yesterday's monthly mayoral question time, Kim asked Lee what he was doing to address the “alarming rate” of homeless families in the city – with 267 families now on a wait list for emergency shelter space, a 356 percent increase since 2007 – specifically challenging him to expand the city's Rental Subsidy Program by 50 families and open new emergency winter shelters. She also noted three recent suicides in the city by individuals facing homelessness.

“I share your concern about family homelessness in San Francisco. My staff has been hard at work for a long time now trying to proactively respond to this very serious challenge and I'm proud to offer some very constructive, tangible solutions,” Lee said. He announced that his administration had just this week starting expediting the placement of homeless families into vacant public housing units, with 18 families now being processed and a goal of placing about 30 of the 79 families now in shelters into public housing units.

Lee also said that SalesForce.com CEO Marc Benioff is donating $1.5 million to the Home for the Holidays program the city is creating to provide rent subsidies and case management to 160 families, a donation that the city will match. “Their generosity is inspiring,” Lee said.

He also pledged to open up an unspecified number of new family shelter spots and, somewhat bizarrely, tried to wrap this issue into his relentless focus on promoting private sector job creation, mostly through tax breaks that actually cut into the city's ability to provide direct assistance to homeless families. As Lee said, “The long-term goal is to increase these families' incomes and to place them into permanent unsubsidized housing.”


ability to provide direct assistance to homeless families"?

Surely more private sector jobs means more payroll taxes and more wages getting spent generating sales and other taxes?

Do you hate the private sector so much that you even resent the taxes they pay? And would rather see more homeless people than more private sector jobs?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 14, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

First of all, as most economists attest, there's very little that elected officials can do to create private sector jobs. Public sector jobs, sure, but private sector, not so much. All this "jobs" rhetoric is mostly just bullshit heaped on a desperate and gullible electorate. The tools they do wield to try to stimulate the private sector involve tax cuts and public subsidies, which come directly from taxpayer-funded public coffers. Personally, if we're going to provide welfare payments, I'd rather give it to a desperate homeless families than wealthy corporations. And if it's the local economy you care about, my choice stimulates the local economy more because poor people tend to spend every penny they receive in local restaurants and stores and to a local landlord -- all of which creates jobs -- whereas corporate welfare tends to pool at the top and add to the obscene and growing gap in income and wealth in this country.

Posted by steven on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 11:36 am

certainly deter them thru excessive regulations and taxes. That's why so much business gravitates to areas with flexible planning controls, low taxes and a light touch for regulation.

I doubt you can find me a Fortune 500 CEO who will agree that high taxes and tight regulations help create jobs. So the ebst thing government can do when it comes to private sector jobs is - nothing. Get out of the way.

And the issue isn't about what the government should spent their revenues on so much as how to maximize those revenues. Tax too much and business leaves, like Twitter almost did. It's better to have a smaller share of a vibrant busienss climate than no share at all because they move 10 miles south to escape those taxes altogether.

Enterprise zones work which is why most cities and counties have them. First you attract the wealthy and then you tax them, but not so much as they turn around and leave again. It's all abour balance.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 11:47 am

States with the least regulation and lowest taxes also seem to have the hardest time attracting quality private business. If a state is "business friendly" it is usually a bad sign....

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

I guess just one third of all the new jobs in the US in the last few years isn't that great, right?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

they are not the kind of jobs highly educated people, like those who live in the Bay Area, aim for. And you constantly forget this with your incessant Texas-boosting - a huge reason for Texas' growth is the boom in the price of oil and the reserves opened up by fracking. Texas is a rentier state - thankfully CA hasn't and never will follow that path. Texas universities are crap, it has awful environmental laws with some of the highest pollution output in the United States and it has the greatest number of children without healthcare.

And these are the kinds of things you want CA to adopt? No thanks. If I wanted to live in Texas I would. And if Apple, Google, HP, Hollywood and all of other California's amazing companies wanted to relocate to Texas they would - notice how they're not beating down Texas' door?

If you like Texas and other southern states so much then why don't you move there? Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out!

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

They may keep labs here but manufacturering, marketing and other jobs are moving to other, cheaper, more flexible States.

Moreover, most growing locations start by taking low paid jobs but end up taking the high paying jobs too. Places like Japan and China started making low-priced junk but now make better stuff than we can.

The simple fact is that the US is a competitive economy, and investment will always seek out the most attractive location. So it's not a matter of me moving to Texas - it could be a matter of you moving to Cuba. I'm not the one whining about capitalism and a competitive free-market economy.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

Who hires a marketing firm in Dallas, Fargo or Memphis instead of hiring one in San Francisco, New York or Los Angeles because Texas, North Dakota and Tennessee are more "flexible" than California or New York? You are in short - talking out of your ass and clearly know next-to-nothing about that industry.

Manufacturing jobs, because of the "competition" factor you mentioned, specifically competition from low-wage labor in places like China and Vietnam, are lower-paid jobs. Those jobs will follow cheap labor costs elsewhere because generally they're low-skill jobs which one can be easily trained to do. But those kinds of jobs are also disappearing because of the mechanization of manufacturing - they are not the kinds of jobs California should be aiming for and investing in.

Genentech, Pixar, Apple, Twitter, Universal and Facebook are not going to relocate to Alabama or Texas because the cost of employing people is cheaper there - the kinds of jobs those companies employ people to do require advanced degrees from good universities - and the Bay Area attracts those kinds of people and has high-ranked research universities like Cal, Stanford and UCSF and hence - those kinds of jobs.

Creative thinking, the type of which usually occurs in places where a lot of intelligent and educated people congregate, places like New York, Seattle, Boston and San Francisco - is also in short supply in states like Texas. If it weren't then don't you think the entertainment, high tech and biotech clusters which have emerged in the places I mentioned would have also sprung up in Dallas, Atlanta or Little Rock? Do you think Silicon Valley happened here because of some grand stroke of luck?

I'm the one using your own example of competition and the marketplace to smash your idea of turning CA into a rentier state like Texas. If CA were more like Texas we wouldn't have the industries we have here. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 4:20 pm


After a lull in growth from the Great Depression, Austin resumed its development into a major city in the 1980s and emerged as a center for technology and business.[10] Austin is home to many companies, high-tech and otherwise: Fortune 500 corporations Freescale Semiconductor, Forestar Group, and Whole Foods Market, are headquartered there; AMD, Apple, Broadcom, Google, IBM, Intel, Qualcomm, ShoreTel, Synopsys and Texas Instruments have prominent regional offices there.[12] Also Dell's Worldwide Headquarters is located in nearby Round Rock, a suburb of Austin.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

And if you MUST have a regional office then Austin is clearly the only place to do it.

AMD - California company
Apple - California company
Broadcom - California company
Google - California company
IBM - New York company
Intel - California company
Qualcomm - California company
Shoretel - California company
Synopsys - California company
TI - Texas company

8 out of the 10 companies you just named are HQ'd in CA.

Clearly we are doing something wrong in this state. We should DEFINITELY be more like Texas - then everyone would want to move here.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

tech guys in CA then obviously we need to build housing for them, right?


Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

Unless The Guardian doesn't like what that neighborhood wants - then it believes in supplanting neighborhood wishes.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 14, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

The most "business friendly" state in America for 2011 is Tennessee. Which is why California businesses like Apple and HP and Lockheed are rushing to relocate to the beautiful blue grass state.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

certainly do them no harm. Not a bad start.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

Do you understand why biotechs, the film industry and Silicon Valley - industries of the future - didn't evolve in places like Tennessee?

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

What about country music and whiskey?

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 3:47 pm

Named after the PHD filled nuclear facilities in oak Ridge Tn. Some cool irony from such a terrible band.

The area now has branched out and is using that knowledge base for other things.


Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 4:09 pm

Kentucky is the Blue Grass State. I think Tennessee is the Volunteer State.

Posted by MatBastardson on Dec. 21, 2011 @ 12:29 am

Kentucky is the Blue Grass State. I think Tennessee is the Volunteer State

Posted by MatBastardson on Dec. 21, 2011 @ 12:32 am

If San Francisco has to retain business by becoming "business friendly" that is a gigantic red flag.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

need taxpayers, profits and vibrant employers.

Hmmm, I think you just made my point for me.

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 2:59 pm

A red flag for anyone not trying to dump ipo stock before it collapses.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 3:57 pm

And for the rest, well, I guess you can always "occupy".

Posted by Anonymous on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 7:07 pm

"Some of us know how to play the markets better than that."

Ha ha not Ed Lee voters. Or Jane Kim. Or David Chiu....I'm sure you're not in that list.

--Zynga Wants What Twitter's Getting


"If Twitter can get a tax break perk to stay in the City, why shouldn't Zynga?

The City's other social media startup with a valuation in the billions is reportedly threatening to move out of San Francisco if it does not secure a similar tax break that Twitter is about to get...."

Posted by Guest on Dec. 15, 2011 @ 10:36 pm

Here is an idea that might solve some of the problems, build high income homes to sell or rent. Use that money to build and house some of the homeless familes.

Posted by garrett on Dec. 19, 2011 @ 10:08 pm

But it doesn't. We wind up getting 15% affordable housing if we are lucky, when we need more like 65%.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Dec. 19, 2011 @ 10:53 pm