A New Path for San Francisco?

by on June 7, 2018

What Would Mayor Leno Do?

While tens of thousands of ballots are still to be counted, many wonder if Mark Leno’s potential victory in the San Francisco mayor’s race would set the city on a new path. Leno is the first candidate primarily identified with the city’s “progressives” to win the mayor’s office this century. He vowed to be an agent of “Change, bringing “progressive” policies and people into a City Hall  staffed by self-identified “moderates” since January 2004.

Should he ultimately prevail, Leno could redefine what San Francisco means when it talks about a “progressive” vs. “moderate” mayor.  Here are some key  areas where this distinction could emerge.


Let’s start with housing. Housing was a surprisingly non-issue in the mayor’s race other than the brief flare-up over SB 827. While Breed staked out the most pro-housing positions, Leno insisted he was committed to building 5000 affordable units each year.

Some pointed out that Leno’s belief he could annually build 5000 affordable units was infeasible given the city can barely build 5000 units total in a year.  The estimated $1.5 billion annual cost also lacks a funding source.

But Leno’s adding 5000 units per year would make Mayor Lee’s ambitious affordable housing agenda even more progressive. In contrast, Leno’s reducing Lee’s affordable housing production could not be deemed a more “progressive” approach.

What was never clear to me during the campaign even after talking to Leno is how he will respond to proposals for market rate housing. Will he appoint Planning Commissioners who oppose rental housing on the Westside and who side opponents of market rate developments? Or will he support various projects and open himself, as former Mayor Art Agnos did, to charges from the left of being too “pro-development”?

It’s market rate housing that many who elected Leno want to see stopped. Yet stopping housing development will not lead to Leno’s goal of enhancing affordability.


Leno pledged to end street homelessness by 2020. We should all hope he succeeds.

I was critical of some features of Leno’s homeless plan, calling it “flawed.” But if Leno wants to be more aggressive at using SROs to house homeless persons I am all for it and will do whatever it takes to make it happen. Leno will just have to provide the money needed to provide this supportive housing, which groups have had trouble getting in past city budgets.

Every San Francisco mayor has at one time call outed the police to deal with homeless encampments. When Leno inevitably does this, will former allies denounce him for not being “progressive.”? That was the charge  homeless advocates leveled at former mayor Art Agnos when he finally cleared “Camp Agnos” of tents.

Leno will also have to figure out how how the city can end street homelessness when entire supervisor districts (D-7) accept no services. Or when North Beach has neither a major city shelter, Navigation Center nor master leased supportive housing hotel.

Maybe Leno can change this.

I do hope Leno’s “outside the box” approach creates an opportunity for at least a pilot Micro-PAD for the formerly homeless.  The Micro-PAD offers the best chance for Leno to meet his ambitious 2020 goal of ending street homelessness.

Safe Streets

Mayor Leno can also chart a progressive course by demanding the police treat public drug sales in low-income neighborhoods the same way they do in affluent areas. San Francisco progressives support protecting low-income neighborhoods from gentrification but allow the city to subject low-income families in the Tenderloin to a daily dose of drug activity that gentrified neighborhoods are allowed to avoid.

Our next mayor must ask the SFPD to take a fresh look at how it allocates its existing police officers. Former Chief Suhr is long gone but his failed 2015 police redistricting plan remains; it badly under serves the Tenderloin.

Mayor Leno used to live in the Tenderloin and is a longtime advocate for the neighborhood. Nothing could better show how a progressive mayor can make a difference than to finally allow low-income Tenderloin families to walk down sidewalks free of drug dealing.

What About Tech?

I am very interested in seeing how Mayor Leno promotes a more progressive approach to tech. The left’s biggest criticism of Mayor Lee was in his alleged obedience to tech, notwithstanding that Jane Kim and Eric Mar voted for the Mid-Market-Tenderloin tax credit and the entire Board backed the elimination of taxes on stock options used by tech employees.

Will Leno move to strengthen the city’s short-term rental law? Impose new taxes/regulations on car services like UBER and LYFT? Go after Google Buses and scooters?  Anti-tech forces are at the core of what defines San Francisco’s left and they expect Leno to deliver. I would expect Mayor Leno to go all in on regulating tech as the political upside for his base goes a long way.

SFMTA/Transit Problems

Leno can also leave an imprint as a “progressive” mayor by eliminating the traffic/transit/bike path/snarls that  continue despite changes at City Hall. Every project seemingly takes longer than expected and runs into “unexpected” problems.

Talk to people around the city and the stories will soon roll out (I have my own from the Tenderloin, where it took a decade to install two way streets on Eddy and Ellis. When they finally got to finish Eddy, SFMTA realized that a TNDC development project at Taylor—-which had remained a hole in the ground from 2008-2017—was now in the way.

Why didn’t the city coordinate that portion of Eddy for the years prior to construction to accommodate a project that was hardly a secret? These are the type of questions Mayor Leno needs to find the right person to answer.

This is just a few of what a progressive mayor Leno could do. And accomplishing these type of big picture, “outside the box” policy changes is the best strategy for Leno to avoid a tough election fight in November 2019.   (I will have a similar story on London Breed’s plans as mayor should she retake the lead).

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron. His upcoming book on the urban housing crisis, Generation Priced Out, will be released in October from UC Press.

Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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