What the candidates need to tell us

Pub date July 22, 2008
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL The traditional kick-off date for fall campaigns is Labor Day, but in San Francisco, the candidates for supervisor have been in full campaign mode for months now, and some of the races are beginning to take shape. As political groups start making endorsements, it’s worth looking at what’s at stake here — and what the candidates ought to be talking about.

For starters, it’s going to be a crowded fall ballot, and there’s the potential for a broad progressive coalition to come together around a clear agenda for the future. Among the proposals headed for the ballot are an affordable housing plan, a green energy and public power measure, two new tax plans that focus on bringing in revenue from the wealthy, and a huge bond act to rebuild San Francisco General Hospital. All of the progressive candidates should be backing those measures and working together for their passage.

But the candidates also need to offer long-term solutions to the serious problems facing San Francisco. This is a city under enormous pressure, and unless some dramatic policy changes take place, San Francisco will continue its rapid slide toward becoming a city of and for the very rich.

A few items that ought to be on every progressive candidate’s platform:

<\!s>The city’s energy future. The fall ballot measure, the Clean Energy Act, will lay the groundwork for a sustainable local energy policy, although the supervisors will have to aggressively push the key element: creating a city-run electric utility. As long as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. controls the local grid, San Francisco will never meet its environmental goals. Rates will remain high, conservation will be an afterthought, and PG&E will resist any type of renewable program it doesn’t control. The candidates need to make clear that they’re committed to a full-scale public power system and tell us how they will move the goals of the Clean Energy Act forward.

<\!s>The housing crisis. San Francisco’s housing policy today is utter insanity. If it continues, the city in 10 years will look nothing like it does now. The middle class will be gone. Families with kids will be a vanishing species. Tens of thousands of people who work in this city — and keep its economy going — will be forced to live far away. Fancy new towers filled with millionaires will destroy entire neighborhoods and displace the city’s remaining blue-collar jobs.

The affordable housing ballot measure is a good first step, but much more is needed. Solutions aren’t easy, but they start with one premise: the city doesn’t need any more housing for the rich. Affordable-housing programs that set aside, say, 20 percent of new units for non-millionaires are a losing game because they accept as reality the prospect of a city where 80 percent of the residents are millionaires.

San Francisco needs a comprehensive policy that forces the city to meet its General Plan goals, which call for 64 percent of all new housing to be available at below-market rates. We need to hear how the candidates would make that happen.

**The structural budget deficit. San Francisco is a wealthy city, but there’s never enough money in the budget for the level of services residents want and need. With the exception of the rare boom years, the city has always had a revenue shortfall. Sup. Aaron Peskin’s two tax measures could bring in another $50 million per year — no chump change by any means. But the city needs about $200 million more per year to make the numbers balance. The candidates need to talk about where that will come from.

**The Muni meltdown. You can’t have a transit-first policy without effective transit, and Muni’s in trouble. Budget cuts are a big part of the problem, but the city needs a modern transit program — and that’s barely even on the drawing board. How are the candidates going to fix one of the city’s most important services? Will the candidates support the long-overdue completion of the city’s bicycle network and other bold efforts to decrease reliance on the automobile?

**The war on fun. As the city gets richer, it gets more uptight. Street fairs are under attack. Clubs are facing police crackdowns. Permit fees and red tape are making it almost impossible to hold events in Golden Gate Park. Sup. Ross Mirkarimi has a ballot measure to make some of the permitting easier, but what are the candidates going to do to end the Gavin Newsom–era attack on arts and entertainment?

There’s much more: The police aren’t solving homicides. Small businesses feel utterly ignored by City Hall. The Planning Department is run by developers. The list goes on. And the next Board of Supervisors will need to address all those issues. Over the next few months, the candidates that want the progressive vote need to give us some clear explanations of where they stand.