Key Action Items for San Francisco’s New Mayor
London Breed becomes Mayor of San Francisco on July 11. She is ready to hit the ground running. Breed told the SF Chronicle on July 7 that her first year goals were to “eliminate tent camps, expand the city’s police force, and cut the red tape suffocating the city’s ability to create more housing.”
Breed can best achieve these goals by taking bold actions in her first 100 days. Three specific actions would send a powerful message that Mayor Breed is moving aggressively on longstanding city problems.
A New Housing Approval Process and Culture
San Francisco cannot build the housing it needs without a new approval process for housing. The city must stop fetishizing “neighborhood input” and start prioritizing building homes for people to live.
As I detail in my upcoming book, Generation Priced Out, “neighborhood input” in San Francisco primarily helps owners of million-dollar homes to slow or stop new apartments in their neighborhoods. A progressive city should not design an approval process to enrich homeowners promoting exclusionary housing policies. Yet that is what San Francisco has done.
San Francisco’s notoriously slow housing approval process drives up project costs and discourages new applications. While many criticize the process as nonsensical, it actually makes perfect sense—if the goal is for the city to not build much housing.
Breed proved in her battle for neighborhood preference in affordable housing that she is willing to take on entrenched interests. Now she must take visible action at the SF Planning Department to ensure that expediting housing projects become a priority.
This requires appointing a new, strongly pro-housing Planning Director.
New mayors routinely pick their own planning directors. Current Planning Director John Rahaim is not to blame for the city’s glacial approval process but he is not the person to fix it. Rahaim sees his role as a neutral broker of competing housing perspectives when what the Breed Administration needs is an unapologetic and strong housing advocate. Breed’s Planning Director should relish aggressively pushing for housing projects before the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and in neighborhood meetings.
It will take such a strong advocate in the Director’s position to lead the mayor’s critical efforts to build housing on the Westside. Breed needs a strong leader who can go toe to toe with Westside anti-housing activists in making the case for more housing.
Breed should accompany a new Planning head with a Deputy Director empowered to ride herd on all housing development projects. No longer should a planning staffer’s leave put projects on hold for months, or should planning staff hold up projects over internal design issues. Breed should put an end to the era where new projects wait months before even being assigned to planners.
New leadership and a new culture at Planning will also mean that neighborhood planning processes will no longer hold up new projects for years, as anti-housing activists demand more and more “input.” Neighborhood planning in San Francisco has too often just become another vehicle for neighborhood activists to delay or kill needed housing.
As I have previously written, (“Should Cities Tax Huge Homeowner Profits From Stopping Housing?, April 10), neighborhood opposition to new apartments is a lucrative game. San Francisco single family homes increased over $200,000 in value last year, largely because the city has allowed homeowners to drive up prices by artificially restricting supply.
There are current Planning staff and others who can provide the housing leadership Mayor Breed needs to fulfill her agenda for the future San Francisco. Appointing new leadership will send a powerful message that Mayor Breed is aggressively moving to fulfill her campaign pledge to build a more inclusive city.
Confusion at SFMTA
Mayor Breed should also move in her first 100 days to install new leadership at the SFMTA.
SFMTA has become so Balkanized that staff working on one street are not in regular contact with those working on nearby areas. Yet traffic reductions on one street invariably impact other areas.
It’s easy to get support for traffic calming when you ask residents of a street if they want less cars. But SFMTA is not asking residents of the streets where new traffic will be diverted if they support the changes.
San Francisco needs an SFMTA leader more directly connected to core constituencies impacted by the agency’s plans. And a leader who will not tolerate the seemingly endless delays associated with new transit and bike lane projects in the city.
Geographic Equity in Homeless/Police Services
Mayor Breed unveiled an ambitious homeless plan in her campaign and is likely to get moving on it upon taking office. I encourage her to require geographic equity in the placement of new services so that they are not simply directed toward already heavily impacted neighborhoods.
The same is true with police services. To my knowledge the SFPD has done no analysis of the allocation of officers by district since the 2015 redistricting. Giving the SFPD more officers that do not end up serving in areas of high public drug dealing makes no sense; yet a curtain of secrecy surrounds police staffing.
Why this secrecy? Because politics rather than crime stats seem to determine police staffing. That’s why Southern Station retained so many officers despite shifting nearly all of its high crime areas to Tenderloin Station (“Blame SFPD’s Bloated Southern Station for Market Street Crime”, March 13, 2018)
Mayor Breed has an opportunity at the start of her administration to send a new message about how police are distributed in San Francisco. Let’s hope she takes it.
Addressing the housing crisis, homelessness, and police staffing in the first 100 days is a surefire strategy to ensure Mayor Breed faces no major opposition in November 2019. It’s a case of good policies also being good politics.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.San Francisco News