Mayor Lee Pledges a City for the 100%

by Randy Shaw on January 9, 2012

Insisting that creating jobs is essential for making San Francisco a city “for everyone,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee used his January 8 inauguration speech to reaffirm jobs as his top priority. Saying that “we will only realize our true promise and potential when we serve the needs and aspirations of each and every one,” the Mayor announced plans for a November ballot measure creating a permanent source of funding for affordable housing in the form of a local housing trust fund. Lee sees this measure, a longtime dream for housing advocates, along with ongoing job creation as essential for San Francisco to remain a “city for the 100%.” In a particularly encouraging sign, Mayor Lee announced that he would not be swayed by the media poking fun at him for constantly talking about jobs; to the contrary, the mayor made it clear that job creation would be his top priority every day of his administration.

Mayor Ed Lee took office pledging to prioritize jobs, spent all of 2011 on this agenda, and won a landslide victory based on a campaign that talked almost exclusively about job creation. Nobody should be surprised that he has now made jobs the centerpiece of his first full term.

Nancy Pelosi was sitting a few rows ahead of me at the January 8 inauguration, and I am sure she was thinking what a different place both she and the nation would be in today had President Obama had focused on jobs from the very start with the tenacity of Ed Lee. Even Lee acknowledged that his approach to governance can be “a little boring – but that’s okay. As long as we’re getting things done, I don’t mind being called boring.”

If any statement defines Ed Lee and separates it from nearly all other elected officials, it is this self-definition. This is why voters saw him as putting the city’s interests first, and why his low-key, no-drama demeanor hits a chord.

The Housing Trust Fund

San Francisco has never had a permanent funding source for affordable housing. We have used housing bonds, federal and state money, and Redevelopment funds, all of which are nearly depleted.

The Mayor announced a plan to create this permanent housing funding source (called a “trust fund” because it cannot be used for other purposes) through a process involving all stakeholders. Many believe that the result will be the earmarking of funds through a real estate transfer tax hike that will raise an estimated $50 million annually.

A guaranteed annual appropriation eliminates the longstanding problem of funding uncertainties that have delayed and raised the cost of new projects. It also makes up for lost Redevelopment and federal dollars.

Housing advocates have sought a local housing trust fund for decades to no avail. If anyone can get it done, it is Mayor Ed Lee.

“The Innovation Capital of the World”

The only idea Lee promoted as often as jobs was innovation. He described San Francisco as the “innovation capital of the world,” and showed he was trying to go with the new age by interrupting his speech to send his first tweet.

Lee emphasized that “innovation” went beyond technology to include new approaches to all aspects of government services. He acknowledged that this is even more critical in light of federal and state budget cuts that continually require San Francisco to provides quality services with less funds.

But technology is key to what most associate San Francisco innovation, and the Mayor highlighted the contributions of Ron and Gayle Conway and Mark and Lynne Benioff. Benioff’s Salesforce.com announced last Friday that it was entering into the largest long-term lease in the City in more than a decade, occupying 400,000 square feet at 50 Fremont to eventually accommodate 2,000 employees. The expansion is in addition to its 2010 purchase of 14 acres in Mission Bay for the company’s Mission Bay campus.

Does Mayor Lee deserve credit for this wave of technology companies opening and expanding in San Francisco, or would these developments have occurred regardless who was in the mayor’s office? There’s no way to know for sure, as no company president wants to go on record saying a mayor had nothing to do with their decision.

But based on off the record conversations I have had with some of these companies (not Salesforce), they like Mayor Lee and feel he cares about their business. San Francisco offers a host of benefits that attract these companies, but the fact that company leaders have a great working relationship with the mayor certainly helps.

New Level of Civility

I wrote on February 14, 2011 that there was a “new spirit in San Francisco,” and that the first month of the Lee Administration “has witnessed an extraordinary transformation in San Francisco’s political life.” Many people challenged my view, saying that it was only occurring because Lee was an interim figure who was not seen as a politician. Pundits claimed the tone would change if Lee became a candidate for mayor, ignoring Lee’s personal commitment to doing politics differently than how they have occurred in the past.

Lee proved the pundits wrong during the campaign season, and reminded us yesterday that he came into office “determined to bring a new level of civility to City Hall. And despite a few rough patches (it was an election year after all) for the most part, we worked in an atmosphere of mutual respect and civility.” He is committed to continuing this new level of civility, which underlies an approach whereby “we can solve big problems, if we just set aside small differences.”

If you are still trying to figure out Ed Lee, reread the preceding paragraph. This is a Mayor who knows how to get things done, and who believes acrimony, name-calling and political self-righteousness keep us from doing what the people of San Francisco want accomplished.

Lee did not announce this during his speech, but today swore in Christina Olague as the new District 5 Supervisor. We will have a full story on Olague’s appointment in Tuesday’s edition.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.

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