A new progressive agenda

Pub date September 13, 2011
WriterTim Redmond

Over the past three months, the Guardian has been hosting a series of forums on progressive issues for the mayor’s race. We’ve brought together a broad base of people from different communities and issue-based organizations all over town in an effort to draft a platform that would include a comprehensive progressive agenda for the next mayor. All told, more than 100 people participated.

It was, as far as we know, the first time anyone tried to do this — to come up with a mayoral platform not with a few people in a room but with a series of open forums designed for community participation.

The platform we’ve drafted isn’t perfect, and there are no doubt things that are left out. But our goal was to create a document that the voters could use to determine which candidates really deserve the progressive vote.

That’s a critical question, since nearly all of the top contenders are using the word “progressive” on a regular basis. They’re fighting for votes from the neighborhoods, the activists, the independent-minded people who share a vision for San Francisco that isn’t driven by big-business interests.

But those of us on what is broadly defined as the city’s left are looking for more than lip service and catchy phrases. We want to hear specifics; we want to know that the next mayor is serious about changing the direction of city policy.

The groups who endorsed this effort and helped plan the forums that led to this platform were the Harvey Milk LGBT Club, SEIU Local 1021, the San Francisco Tenants Union, the Human Services Network, the Community Congress 2010, the Council of Community Housing Organizations, San Francisco Rising, Jobs with Justice, and the Center for Political Education.

The panelists who led the discussions were: Shaw-san Liu, Calvin Welch, Fernando Marti, Gabriel Haaland, Brenda Barros, Debbi Lerman, Jenny Friedenbach, Sarah Shortt, Ted Gullicksen, Nick Pagoulatos, Sue Hestor, Sherilyn Adams, Angela Chan, David Campos, Mario Yedidia, Pecolio Mangio, Antonio Diaz, Alicia Garza, Aaron Peskin, Saul Bloom, and Tim Redmond.

We held five events looking at five broad policy areas — economy and jobs; land use, housing and tenants; budget and social services; immigration, education and youth; and environment, energy and climate change. Panelists and audience participants offered great ideas and the debates were lively.

The results are below — an outline of what the progressives in San Francisco want to see from their next mayor.




Background: In the first decade of this century, San Francisco lost some 51,000 jobs, overwhelmingly in the private sector. When Gavin Newsom was sworn in as mayor in January 2004, unemployment was at 6.4 percent; when he left, in January 2011, it was at 9.5 percent — a 63 percent increase.

Clearly, part of the problem was the collapse of the national economy. But the failed Newsom Model only made things worse. His approach was based on the mistaken notion that if the city provided direct subsidies to private developers, new workers would flock to San Francisco. In fact, the fastest-growing sector of the local economy is the public sector, especially education and health care. Five of the 10 largest employers in San Francisco are public agencies.

Local economic development policy, which has been characterized by the destruction of the blue-collar sector in light industry and maritime uses (ironically, overwhelmingly privately owned) to free up land for new industries in business services and high tech sectors that have never actually appeared — or have been devastated by quickly repeating boom and bust cycle.

Instead of concentrating on our existing workforce and its incredible human capital, recent San Francisco mayors have sought to attract a new workforce.

The Mayor’s Office has, as a matter of policy, been destroying blue-collar jobs to promote residential development for people who work outside of the city.

There’s a huge disconnect between what many people earn and what they need. The minimum wage in San Francisco is $9.92, when the actual cost of living is closer to $20. Wage theft is far too common.

There is a lack of leadership, oversight and accountability in a number of city departments. For example, there is no officiating body or commission overseeing the work of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. Similarly the Arts Commission, the chartered entity for overseeing cultural affairs, is responsible for less than 25 percent of the budget reserved for this purpose

There’s no accountability in the city to protect the most vulnerable people.

The city’s main business tax is highly regressive — it’s a flat tax on payroll but has so many exceptions and loopholes that only 8,500 businesses actually pay it, and many of the largest and richest outfits pay no city tax at all.


Agenda items:

1. Reform the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development to create a department with workforce development as a primary objective. Work with the San Francisco Unified School District, City College and San Francisco State to create sustainable paths to training and employment.

2. Create a municipal bank that offers credit for locally developed small businesses instead of relying on tax breaks. As a first step, mandate that all city short-term funds and payroll accounts go only to banks or credit unions that will agree to devote a reasonable percentage of their local loan portfolios for small business loans.

3. Reform procurement to prioritize local ownership.

4. Link economic development of healthcare facilities to the economic development of surrounding communities.

5. Link overall approval of projects to a larger economic development policy that takes as its centerpiece the employment of current San Francisco residents.

6. Enforce city labor laws and fund the agency that enforces the laws.

7. Establish the Board of Supervisors as the policy board of a re-organized Redevelopment Agency and create community-based project area oversight committees.

8. Dramatically expand Muni in the southeast portion of the city and reconfigure routes to link neighborhoods without having to go through downtown. Put special emphasis on direct Muni routes to City College and San Francisco State.

9. Reform the payroll tax so all businesses share the burden and the largest pay their fair share.

10. Consolidate the city’s various arts entities into a single Department of Arts & Culture that includes as part of its mandate a clear directive to achieve maximum economic development through leveraging the city’s existing cultural assets and creative strengths and re-imagining San Francisco’s competitive position as a regional, national and international hub of creative thinking. Sponsor and promote signature arts programs and opportunities to attract and retain visitors who will generate maximum economic activity in the local economy; restore San Francisco’s community-based cultural economy by re-enacting the successful Neighborhood Arts Program; and leverage the current 1-2 percent for art fees on various on-site building projects to be directed towards non-construction-site arts activity.




Background: Since the office market tanked, the big land-use issue has become market-rate housing. San Francisco is building housing for people who don’t live here — in significant part, for either very wealthy people who want a short-term pied a terre in the city or for commuters who work in Silicon Valley. The city’s own General Plan calls for 60 percent of all new housing to be below-market-rate — but the vast majority of the new housing that’s been constructed or is in the planning pipeline is high-end condos.

There’s no connection between the housing needs of city residents and the local workforce and the type of housing that’s being constructed. Family housing is in short supply and rental housing is being destroyed faster than it’s being built — a total of 21,000 rental units have been lost to condos and tenancies in common.

Public housing is getting demolished and rebuilt with 2500 fewer units. “Hotelization” is growing as housing units become transitory housing.

Planning has become an appendage of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, which has no commission, no public hearings and no community oversight.

Projects are getting approved with no connection to schools, transit or affordable housing.

There’s no monitoring of Ellis Act evictions.

Transit-oriented development is a big scam that doesn’t include equity or the needs of people who live in the areas slated for more development. Cities have incentives to create dense housing with no affordability. Communities of concern are right in the path of this “smart growth” — and there are no protections for the people who live there now.

Agenda items:

1. Re emphasize that the Planning Department is the lead land-use approval agency and that the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development should not be used to short-circuit public participation in the process.

2. Enact a freeze on condo conversions and a freeze on the demolition of existing affordable rental housing.

3. Ban evictions if the use or occupation of the property will be for less than 30 days.

4. Index market-rate to affordable housing; slow down one when the other is too far ahead.

5. Disclose what level of permanent affordability is offered at each project.

6. Stabilize existing communities with community benefits agreements before new development is approved.




Background: There have been profound cuts in the social safety net in San Francisco over the past decade. One third of the city’s shelter beds have been lost; six homeless centers have closed. Homeless mental health and substance abuse services have lost $32 million, and the health system has lost $33 million.

None of the budget proposals coming from the Mayor’s Office have even begun to address restoring the past cuts.

There’s not enough access to primary care for people in Healthy San Francisco.

Nonprofit contracts with the city are flat-funded, so there’s no room for increases in the cost of doing business.

The mayor has all the staff and the supervisors don’t have enough. The supervisors have the ability to add back budget items — but the mayor can then make unilateral cuts.

The wealthy in San Francisco have done very well under the Bush tax cuts and more than 14 billionaires live in this city. The gap between the rich and the poor, which is destroying the national economy, exists in San Francisco, too. But while city officials are taking a national lead on issues like the environment and civil rights, there is virtually no discussion at the policy level of using city policy to bring in revenue from those who can afford it and to equalize the wealth disparities right here in town.

Agenda items:

1. Establish as policy that San Francisco will step in where the state and federal government have left people behind — and that local taxation policy should reflect progressive values.

2. Make budget set-asides a budget floor rather than a percentage of the budget.

3. Examine what top city executives are paid.

4. Promote public power, public broadband and public cable as a way to bring the city millions of dollars.

5. Support progressive taxes that will bring in at least $250 million a year in permanent new revenue.

6. Change the City Charter to eliminate unilateral mid-year cuts by the mayor.

8. Pass a Charter amendment that: (a) Requires the development of a comprehensive long-term plan that sets the policies and strategies to guide the implementation of health and human services for San Francisco’s vulnerable residents over the next 10 years, and (b) creates a planning body with the responsibility and authority to develop the plan, monitor and evaluate its implementation, coordinate between policy makers and departments, and ensure that annual budgets are consistent with the plan.

9. Collect existing money better.

10. Enact a foreclosure transfer tax.




Background: In the past 10 years, San Francisco has lost 24,000 people ages 12-24. Among current youth, 5,800 live in poverty; 6,000 have no high school degree; 7,000 are not working or attending school; 1,200 are on adult probation.

A full 50 percent of public school students are not qualified for college studies. Too often, the outcome is dictated by race; school-to-prison is far too common.

Trust between immigrants and the police is a low point, particularly since former Mayor Gavin Newsom gutted the sanctuary ordinance in 2008 after anti-immigrant stories in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Some 70 percent of students depend on Muni, but the price of a youth pass just went from $10 to $21.

Agenda items:

1. Recognize that there’s a separate role for probation and immigration, and keep local law enforcement from joining or working with immigration enforcement.

2. Improve public transportation for education and prioritize free Muni for youth.

3. Create family-friendly affordable housing.

4. Restore the recreation direction for the Recreation and Parks Department.

5. Implement police training to treat youth with respect.

6. Don’t cut off benefits for youth who commit crimes.

7. Shift state re-alignment money from jails to education.



Background: When it comes to land use, the laws on the books are pretty good. The General Plan is a good document. But those laws aren’t enforced. Big projects get changed by the project sponsor after they’re approved.

Land use is really about who will live here and who will vote. But on a policy level, it’s clear that the city doesn’t value the people who currently live here.

Climate change is going to affect San Francisco — people who live near toxic materials are at risk in floods and earthquakes.

San Francisco has a separate but unequal transportation system. Muni is designed to get people downtown, not around town — despite the fact that job growth isn’t happening downtown.

San Francisco has a deepwater port and could be the Silicon Valley of green shipping.

San Francisco has a remarkable opportunity to promote renewable energy, but that will never happen unless the city owns the distribution system.


Agenda items:

1. Promote the rebirth of heavy industry by turning the port into a center for green-shipping retrofits.

2. Public land should be for public benefit, and agencies that own or control that land should work with community-based planning efforts.

3. Planning should be for the community, not developers.

4. Energy efficiency programs should be targeted to disadvantaged communities.

5. Pay attention to the urban food revolution, encourage resident owned farmers markets. Use unused public land for local food and community gardens.

6. Provide complete information on what parts of the city are fill, and stop allowing development in areas that are going to be inundated with sea level rise.

7. Prioritize local distributed generation of electricity and public ownership of the power grid.

8. Change Clean Energy San Francisco from a purchasing pool system to a generating system.