Lee must pay for his promises

Pub date March 11, 2014


Mayor Ed Lee has made a lot of promises to San Franciscans, but he has been unwilling to pay for them with money from the city or his wealthy backers, transforming these statements in hollow political platitudes — or, less charitably, calculated lies meant to mask the true state of the city.

Lee pledged to build 30,000 units of new housing — a third of it affordable to those with moderate incomes and below — by 2020. By that same year, Lee set the goal of increasing bicycling to 20 percent of all vehicle trips in the City. Lee also directed city departments to develop strategies for reducing pedestrian deaths by 50 percent by 2021. And so Muni’s aging fleet can keep up with population growth, Lee’s SF2030 Transportation Task Force said the transportation system needs a $10 billion capital investment over the next 15 years, a target Lee endorsed.

These were all admirable goals, and in each case, city agencies studied the problems and developed detailed strategies for getting there. And in each case, Mayor Lee chose to fund just small fractions of what the city would need to make his promises come true.

Actually, the housing problem is still being studied, but nobody thinks this goal will be met — as even the pro-development San Francisco Business Times said in a recent editorial — particularly given how the Mayor’s Office structured the business tax reform and Affordable Housing Fund ballot measures in 2012, with giveaways to developers and favored economic sectors, such as tech.

Lee’s WalkFirst program would need $240 million to meet his modest goals — far more to actually realize the VisionZero goal of eliminating all pedestrian deaths, which Lee said he supports — and the Mayor’s Office has only pledged $17 million in funding. The cycling goals would take more than $500 million, not the $30 million currently pledged. Even with approval of the two transportation ballot measure proposed for this fall, and those planned for future years, that only gets the city about a third of the way to meeting San Francisco’s future transportation needs.

Meanwhile, a downtown SF congestion pricing charge that has been studied using federal funds — which would reduce traffic and pedestrian deaths while raising $80 million annually — is being ignored by Lee, as is the once-promising idea of downtown transit assessment districts. Lee is refusing to seek the city’s share of the tremendous wealth now be generated in this city.

As a result, Lee is making promises that he knows he won’t deliver on. And last week, in the five-year budget projection his office is required to issue, we all saw the results of Lee’s economic policies: growing budget deficits for this booming city. Next year’s $67 million deficit is projected to balloon to $340 million by 2017-18. Mr. Mayor, “getting things done” requires more than just words, it requires the political courage to make your promises comes true.