Lee ducks tough questions about Alvarez and diversifying SF's economy

What happens when the bubbles pop? Don't ask Mayor Lee.

For a career bureaucrat who was appointed mayor supposedly as a sort of straight-shooting un-politician, Mayor Ed Lee today once again demonstrated a real talent for addressing tough questions with a whole lot of words that don’t seem to say much at all. First came his non-responsive answers during Question Time at the Board of Supervisors meeting, followed by the hollow filibuster with reporters asking about the Housing Authority scandal as he briskly walked back to his office.

Asked why he continued to stand by Housing Authority Director Henry Alvarez despite the scandals and accusations of mismanagement and unethical conduct on the job that have placed a cloud over the agency, Lee said he’s just waiting for the investigations and lawsuits to play out, dismissing “the so-called cloud that you referred to.”

Given the obvious problems that Alvarez is now having running an agency whose employees and clients have such a problem with his leadership, I asked whether Lee has considered suspending him, to which he responded that Alvarez hasn’t been convicted of any crimes. So, apparently professional misconduct is a personal matter, but personal misconduct unrelated to one’s job warrants suspension. This is all very confusing.

Even more bewildering was Lee’s answer to the question from Sup. John Avalos. He prefaced his question with one from constituent/comedian Nato Green asking what the city is doing to diversify its economy beyond “the highly paid finance or tech jobs and their low wage servants,” noting that City Economist Ted Egan also recently asked that question in a report calling for “a more balanced distribution of job opportunities.”

So Avalos asked, “What is your plan to create living wage jobs in local-serving industries to prevent the City’s working and middle classes from being displaced by people moving to the city for new upper income jobs in the creative (including high tech), financial, and professional services industries?”

It’s a great and important question that has been increasingly raised by those who understand the risks of placing all our eggs in one economic basket, particularly given this city’s experience with the last dot.com bubble bursting.

But even though Lee had plenty of time to think about the issue and develop an answer, he clearly didn’t have a good one, instead singing the praises of the booming tech industry and his Tech.SF program for training new tech workers, just like his main financier, tech mogul Ron Conway, wants.

Now, Lee did cite industry studies that every tech job sustains four other jobs in the city, mostly in restaurants and tourism-related sectors (ie the “low wage servants” Green mentioned). And Lee touted the construction jobs created by his developer buddies, praising Avalos for his local hire ordinance.

But even the much-praised local hire standard of 25 percent means that 75 percent of those workers are living outside the city. It's a similar story for the restaurant, retail, and bar jobs that the influx of well-heeled new residents are creating demand for, none of which answers Avalos’ questions about how to diversify our economy and create good jobs for most San Franciscans.

“Trickle down economics can only get us so far and without a specific and far-reaching plan to create local living wage jobs for San Francisco’s working and middle classes, we’ll see us falling behind,” Avalos told the Guardian after hearing the mayor’s “answer.”

But instead of a plan or a direct answer, we got political platitudes from Lee such as, “We’ll be investing in the greatest asset of our city and that’s the residents, our people, and ensuring San Francisco stays a city for the 100 percent.”

To which Avalos responded, “His comment about the 100 percent really means that by favoring the 1 percent, the 99 percent benefit. Well, as a country, we’ve been doing that for years and wealth disparities have only widened.”