Demanding Greater Accountability in SF
San Francisco Mayor London Breed has only been in office since July 11 but is already making a mark. Breed has targeted new resources to the longstanding problem of dirty sidewalks, pushed for faster housing approvals, and allocated $3.9 million for tenants’ right to counsel in eviction cases. She is also demanding higher performance levels from city department heads, which might be the biggest change of all.
Here’s my take on what Mayor Breed has accomplished in her first 75 days and the areas that need greater mayoral attention.
Breed came into office amidst public anger over trash filled streets where people shoot up with impunity. She quickly increased resources for trash pick up, used her pulpit to promote cleaner streets, and continued her longtime advocacy for safe injection sites.
Breed also demanded additional police attention to UN Plaza, the area that likely gets the most public complaints. The increased police presence is being combined with an innovative strategy to ensure safety in UN Plaza on a longterm basis. If Breed’s strategy produces the same systemic improvement at UN Plaza as has occurred in neighboring Civic Center Park, she will have accomplished something that every mayor has failed to do since at least the 1970’s.
On housing approvals, Breed intervened to stop the logjam over ADU approvals and vowed that all qualified projects would be approved within six months. Demonstrating what may be her single best quality as mayor, Breed’s six month vow implied that there would be personnel consequences for city officials if the logjam were not cleared.
I am not endorsing a return to the days when some department heads could not get a good night’s sleep due to anxiety that Mayor Feinstein would call them to complain in the middle of the night. But some top San Francisco officials have been in their jobs for longer than usual for such positions and have either gotten complacent or not been held accountable for weak performance.
London Breed is simply demanding the high level of performance that San Francisco taxpayers deserve. I’ve heard some question why the mayor would call out SFMTA head Ed Reiskin without then removing him, but the idea is to use such pressure to elevate performance so that firings are not necessary.
Last week Breed announced she wants to extend the time for 3400 housing units whose entitlements would be lost absent the extension. This action reflected Breed’s recognition that the approval process is far too slow, and her again acknowledging this publicly is a plus.
But extending projects due to a slow process is not the same as expediting the process. The Breed Administration is working on expediting approvals with the Planning Department, Mayor’s Office of Housing and community stakeholders, and let’s hope that this process does not itself fall prey to lengthy delays.
It did not get much publicity (tenant groups are apparently still mad that Breed has not given public credit to Prop F sponsor Dean Preston) but money to implement the tenants’ right to counsel in eviction cases has already been awarded to legal organizations. It has to be among the fastest RFP processes in city history, which I attribute to Mayor Breed’s insistence that the money hit the streets as fast as possible (the program will start October 1).
Mayor Breed has also been widely praised for appointing Ivy Lee to the Community College Board, Vallie Brown to her former District 5 supervisor’s seat, and Joaquin Torres as head of OEWD. Torres has played a critical role in securing city support for the Tenderloin’s La Cocina Municipal Marketplace at 101 Hyde, and yesterday joined Mayor Breed, Supervisor Kim and community supporters at a bread breaking at the site (Breed noted that her grandmother used to sell food out of her apartment in the La Cocina tradition).
Whoever is working with the mayor on her appointments is doing a solid job.
Work to Be Done
I titled this section “Work to Be Done” because it is still too early to fault a new mayor for taking action on every campaign priority. It is not premature, however, to consider where mayoral action remains needed.
That means taking actual action in 2018 to expedite housing approvals. Mayor Breed knows the system is broken but rising construction costs make it imperative that change happens as soon as possible. Those who felt my July 10 call for “a new, strongly pro-housing Planning Director” was premature told me that significant reforms to the approval process could be implemented with existing personnel; I still await them.
On homelessness, Mayor Breed’s March 19 plan, “A Bold Approach to Homelessness,” called for increased step-up housing. Yet no city funding has been allocated for any specific projects. The Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which I head, reached agreement to lease the 57 room all private bath (plus penthouse apartment) Bristol Hotel at 56 Mason Street but the deal has been jeopardized by lack of approval from the Department of Homelessness.
THC reached this agreement after the Bristol was going to become market rate housing because a for-profit operator outbid the city. Mayor Breed then encouraged me to make a new effort to secure the property and the owner agreed to take a lower rent for a city-funded project. Now, delays by the Department of Homelessness has put the project at risk.
The city is on the verge of losing a beautiful vacant, all private bath hotel with communal kitchen and laundry facilities for housing the formerly homeless. Instead of adding 58 affordable units to its stock, absent imminent action the city will allow these units to instead go to market rate housing.
This makes no sense.
We can have supervisors backing new Navigation Centers in their districts but we need to provide exits via permanent housing. That means not turning down rare opportunities to secure quality affordable housing units.
In the big picture, those who saw major strife between the “moderate” mayor and “progressive” Board have to be disappointed. Breed has joined nearly all of the supervisors at media events and is doing the relationship building that underlies successful mayoral administrations.
Mayor Breed’s fast start reduces the likelihood she will face a serious challenge in 2019.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and the author of the upcoming, Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, which is out in mid-October and can be pre-ordered now.San Francisco News