San Francisco’s Best and Worst of 2013

by Randy Shaw on December 17, 2013

San Francisco was the talk of the nation in 2013. Its tech and development boom reduced unemployment, boosted city coffers, and helped make an already expensive city even less affordable. There was much talk about the downsides of the city’s economic resurgence, though a December poll found that 69% of voters felt the city was going in the right direction. This was the year when the Ellis Act’s economic terrorism finally generated anger beyond tenant groups, as the mayor and city and state officials pledged to push for state changes to the misused law. The landslide defeat of 8 Washington and the Twitter IPO led to conflicting assessments of how the boom is impacting the city’s future, but there is a strong consensus toward protecting residents from speculator greed. Here are some of the best and worst of San Francisco in 2013.

Best City Agencies: DBI and DPW

People rarely say good things about government agencies, but I regularly hear people praising the Department of Building Inspection and Department of Public Works.

If you want to understand what a difference DBI makes, San Francisco just went through a record cold spell and you did not read anything about thousands of tenants living without heat. Yet prior to the Department’s creation in 1995, the lack of heat for tenants was an annual December media story.

DBI’s vigorous enforcement of heat and other housing codes has made San Francisco’s housing stock the best of any major city. The DBI Commission has aggressively promoted enforcement, and its efforts have been backed by legal support from our great City Attorney, Dennis Herrera. DBI also efficiently processes building permits, advancing the city’s economic resurgence.

As for DPW, Director Mohammed Nuru deserves his title of Mr. Clean. He and Dariush Kayhan of DPW’s Bureau of Street Environmental Services and Urban Forestry have made city streets and sidewalks the cleanest in decades.

Best Unsung Activist: Jen Fieber

San Francisco has many great activists, and some work out of the public limelight. Jen Fieber is among them. In 2013, Fieber worked with others to create the Ellis Act mapping project that proved such a powerful symbol of rising Ellis evictions. Fieber also put countless hours in 2013 uncovering illegal tourist rentals in apartments, an effort that will return hundreds of rent-controlled housing units to the residential market. And Fieber has done all this great work as a volunteer for the SF Tenants Union. The city owes Jen Fieber great thanks.

Best Activist Group: SF Bike Coalition

It’s truly remarkable how San Francisco’s attitude toward expanding bicycling has changed in recent years. Bike lanes are being expanded and more and more people get to work by bike. Much of the credit for this success goes to the SF Bike Coalition. The SFBC has mobilized and engaged a previously non-activist majority to support increased bicycling, and the entire city has benefited.

The SFBC’s next big goal for 2014 is turning Market Street into a bicycle thoroughfare by banning private cars all the way to the Ferry Building (they are currently 14% of traffic) This would greatly boost retail activities along Mid-Market, and reduce congestion on Muni due to increased bicycling to work. It will also turn Market Street into one of the great bike routes of urban America.

Best Mid-Market Development: ACT Breaks Ground

Mid-Market made a lot of progress in 2013, but I think the single most important step was the October groundbreaking for ACT’s Strand Theater project at 1127 Market. ACT will not only bring people into a long dark area in the heart of Mid-Market, but its location across the street from UN Plaza could improve that key area as well.

Best Demolition (tie): Cathedral Hill Hotel, Trinity Plaza

For all of the issues surrounding CPMC’s new hospital at Van Ness and Geary, nobody questioned the demolition of the awful Cathedral Hill Hotel. In 1965, my family stayed at the former Jack Tar Hotel during my first trip to San Francisco and I thought it was the greatest place. But its positive design features were removed long gone, and in October CPMC began demolishing this eyesore. Angelo Sangiacomo did the same in April 2013 for the last vestige of the former Del Webb Townhouses on the site of the new Trinity Plaza.

For me, the best San Francisco development this year was the Tenderloin’s continued improvement and rising optimism about its future. While problems remain, the neighborhood turned a corner in 2013.

And now the worst:

Worst Public Decision: Threat to Close CCSF

When the ACCJC shut down progressive New College, there was little public attention to the actions of this rogue agency. But when it made the outrageous recommendation to not simply reform CCSF but to close it down, ACCJC’s track record came under harsh scrutiny.

Unfortunately, serious damage to CCSF has already been done. Enrollment is down 23%% from last year, which will cost the school millions. Students fearing the school’s loss of accreditation are no doubt waiting for the ACCJC investigation to end, showing how the ongoing uncertainty is itself undermining the school’s stability.

Worst Business Practice: Restaurant Health Care Surcharges

In May, dozens of restaurants settled charges filed by City Attorney Dennis Herrera regarding their alleged pocketing of the health care surcharges added to patrons’ bills. But just as annoying (though not illegal) is the practice by upscale restaurants like Delfina to add such surcharges in the first place. These restaurants could cover the cost of health care through food pricing, but prefer to make a reactionary political point about San Francisco’s decision to provide health care for residents (Healthy SF). They should know better.

Worst Property Owner: Urban Green Investments

It is truly despicable when those born into wealth use their unearned riches to wage economic terror against the poor and vulnerable. Urban Green CEO David McCloskey’s father Tom McCloskey is a multi-millionaire and Chairman & CEO of Cornerstone Holdings (Colorado) and McCloskey and Company (Hawaii). He is also a senior menter with the Aspen Institute, while serving Chairman of his son’s business profiting from destroying the lives of longterm tenants.

If Keith Olbermann were still announcing his “Worst Person in the World” award, David and Tom McCloskey would be our co-winners for 2013.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron and Director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, whose attorneys represent tenants defending evictions by Urban Green.

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