EDITORIAL San Francisco is headed for a showdown. Those who see the city as primarily a place to make money and who want to leave its fate to the mercy of market forces are being confronted by a growing and increasingly well-organized movement demanding aggressive action on the related issues of evictions and gentrification.
The former group, led by Mayor Ed Lee and a handful of his wealthy benefactors and supportive media voices, has so far been content to just plow forward with what they euphemistically call their “jobs agenda” while throwing some token bones to average income San Franciscans.
But there are signs that the pendulum is swinging against the economic elites, who could pay a heavy political price for being so heedless of populist concerns, just as they did at the height of the last dot-com boom in 2000, when progressives won a majority on the Board of Supervisors and held it for almost a decade.
Even pro-growth cheerleaders like SPUR are now decrying the “hyper gentrification” of San Francisco. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a front page article Oct. 27 questioning whether the city was receiving enough benefits for the $56 million tax break it gave to Twitter a couple years ago — tax breaks the newspaper wholeheartedly supported at the time. The San Francisco Business Times has finally joined the Bay Guardian in calling for Airbnb to stop stiffing the city and pay its transient occupancy taxes, in an Oct. 11 editorial calling the company’s intransigence “difficult to defend.”
Those chinks in the armor of establishment San Francisco are a recognition of how bad things have gotten and how tone-deaf the tech industry and its political supporters have been in responding to it. And that recognition was forced by the rising tide of populist outrage at what’s happening to the city of St. Francis.
As we report in this issue (see “Tenant proposals and Guardian forum address eviction crisis”), tenant advocates have proposed an ambitious but reasonable legislative package to address evictions, and we enthusiastically support it.
San Francisco is facing a moment of crisis, as this eviction epidemic compounds the last one to alter the future of this city in unacceptable ways, and our politicians will need to decide which side of history they want to be on. That moment of truth is coming faster than they may appreciate.
Mayor Lee needs to decide whether he’s still the same person who started his career defending tenants in the International Hotel. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi may soon be faced with the difficult choice of whether to refuse to carry out a legal but unjust eviction, as his predecessor Richard Hongisto did with the I Hotel.
San Francisco is at its best when it acts boldly in defense of progressive values, as it has done on immigration, medical marijuana, and marriage equality. So now is the time to aggressively defend this city’s tenants and low-income residents from real estate speculators, greedy landlords, and predatory corporate interests.