Hey politicos, take this summer break to think about what you've done
EDITORIAL August is typically a slow month in San Francisco's political world, with the Board of Supervisors on month-long recess, the Mayor's Office fairly dormant, and even the active political campaigns more focused on running the gauntlet to endless endorsement interviews rather than trying to get the attention of the vacationing general public.
So we think this is a great time for San Francisco's politicians and the public to take a step back from the daily grind, gain some much-needed perspective, and reflect on the issues that this city faces, the direction we're headed, and what it will take to realize the long-term goal of ensuring the city remains vibrant, sustainable, and inclusive.
Then, we'd like them to come back and engage the public and each other in a real political dialogue, the kind of substantial, complex, honest, and values-based discussion that has been sorely lacking since Mayor Ed Lee and his downtown supporters swept back into power with their promise to "get things done" and create private-sector jobs at any price.
It's time to assess where that deceptive and simplistic "jobs" rhetoric is taking us. They've given big tax breaks and taxpayer-funded perks to Twitter in the name of job creation, but all the city has gotten for that effort are soaring commercial rents in the mid-Market area and one of the most under-utilized Muni lines in the city, the 83X, a gift to Twitter that the city says it can't afford to provide to neighborhoods where new bus lines are needed to relieve over-crowding.
They exempted stock options from the city's payroll tax just before Zynga and Facebook went public, depriving the city of more than $6 million in needed revenue, only to watch their stocks crash and confirm that both were built on the same speculative bubbles that Twitter seems to be riding. As one wry commenter put it: perhaps the city should have invested in real urban farms rather than Zynga's imaginary FarmVille farms.
Unfortunately, it looks Mayor Lee and the power brokers who put him into office are showing few signs of changing course. Venture capitalist Ron Conway, Chinatown's Rose Pak, and former Mayor Willie Brown — all of whom have serious conflicts of interest between their political advocacy and private financial interests — are clearly pulling Lee's strings. The fact that Lee renominated Republican dentist Michael Antonini to a fourth term on the Planning Commission, where he'll continue acting as the developers' "quarterback," is only the latest indication of how this city is being run by the rich and powerful, for the rich and powerful.
They have been very effective at exploiting people's understandable economic insecurities and making private job-creation the sole imperative at City Hall, squeezing out other worthy political goals, such as environmental protection, preventing the cost of living from soaring, maintaining strong development standards, neighborhood preservation, rebuilding the social safety net, and seeing to the city's long-term fiscal health.
So it's time for we the people, and the politicians who aim to serve us, to demand a broader political dialogue and set of priorities. Yes, we want jobs, but that's not enough. We need to diversify the city's economy with jobs of all kinds (including the those that use the light industrial spaces now being rapidly converted to market rate housing for the Google-busers) that pay a living wage and have good benefits (such as health insurance, and not the shady health care reimbursement funds many restaurants use). We also need to recognize that government jobs are important, and that cutting them to fund business tax breaks is bad policy.
In the city of St. Francis, elected officials should strive to protect the weak from the strong, not just cast their lots with the winners of the current economic system. That means stronger protections of small businesses from corporate competitors, a more robust commitment to affordable housing than what's on this fall's ballot, transit and cycling improvements that serve the people who need them most, adherence to development standards that limit building height and automobile use, better protections for the two-thirds of city residents who rent their housing, keeping parks and recreation facilities open to all, refusing to let the homeless or poor be harassed or demonized, and generally seeing to the city's business, not the business of big business.
San Francisco once set an example for the rest of the nation to follow — it's time to do so again.