Newsom Offers Little New at Second Inaugural

by Randy Shaw on January 9, 2008


San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom offered a one-hour list of his accomplishments and pledges toward future plans in a less than scintillating inaugural address on Tuesday. Whether it was due to City Hall’s poor acoustics, the lack of an energetic re-election campaign, the contrast with Barack Obama or the rainy conditions outside, the often-fiery Newsom failed to ignite the large crowd filling the rotunda. The Mayor’s boldest announcement was his plan to redesign the city’s costly shelter system in a way to better serve those with acute medical and mental health needs. His most controversial was his thinly-veiled description of the November 2008 charter amendment for a housing set-aside as a “political gambit” that did not offer “sound public policy.” The Mayor also promoted Lennar’s June ballot measure impacting Bayview-Hunters Point, and pledged that the city would lead the way in “promoting exercise and healthy eating.”

Having recently given a State of the City speech touting his accomplishments, there was a sense of déjà vu to Mayor Newsom’s second inaugural address. Nevertheless, amidst the pledges to make San Francisco carbon neutral by 2020, to enroll 40,000 more residents into the city’s health care program, and to improve Muni, a few of the Mayor’s comments stood out.

First, the Mayor appears ready to make long overdue reforms to the city’s shelter system.
The city’s shelters are often more costly than permanent housing, and, as Newsom noted, do not represent an exit from homelessness. Given public clamor for the Mayor to go beyond Care not Cash, the Mayor is likely to transform at least some of the city shelters into medical respite clinics focusing on those with acute medical needs living on the street.

Second, the Mayor clearly feels defensive about his opposition to the housing set-aside charter amendment. He touted his record on affordable housing, committed to the one for one replacement of all public housing units, and said San Francisco would spend more money rebuilding public housing than would be spent in the rest of the nation combined.

Related to this, Newsom sounded more invested than ever in the Lennar-backed June ballot initiative that the Mayor described as offering financial security to existing residents of Bayview-Hunters Point. The Mayor stated the measure would build 10,000 housing units and create 5000 jobs; it will be up to opponents of the initiative to remind voters that Lennar has had a vested right to build units in the Bayview for years and not proceeded.

Third, Newsom pledged to mandate a community service requirement in all high schools. He probably lacks jurisdiction over this issue, which is more problematic than it sounds.

Those who have had kids in high school know how the combination of classes, homework, athletic and extra-curricular activities have made this the most over-scheduled generation in history. Finding time for mandated community service would not be easy.

And more importantly, mandating community service sends the wrong message to young people. It makes it sound like a punishment rather than an activity that will enrich their lives.

With his candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign imploding, Mayor Newsom will have more time than expected to push through his agenda this year.