I was talking the other day to the mayor’s chief political advisor, Eric Jaye, who thinks we should endorse his client for reelection. "Gavin Newsom," he told me, "is the most progressive mayor in San Francisco history."
Well, I haven’t been here for all of them, but in my 25 years or so, the competition hasn’t been terribly stiff. Newsom vs. Dianne Feinstein? That’s a no-brainer. Newsom vs. Frank Jordan? Uh, what was the question again? Newsom vs. Willie Brown? Things are pretty bad now, but I never want to go through another era like the Brown years again.
Newsom vs. Art Agnos? Well, Agnos had a lot of potential and did some good stuff, but he also sold the city out to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and became such an arrogant jerk that he alienated a lot of his allies and nobody could work with him anymore.
So on one level, Jaye has a point: we’ve had some pretty rotten characters in room 200 at City Hall, and his guy isn’t by any means the worst.
But I keep coming back to my basic complaint: what has Newsom actually done about the crucial issues facing the city? Where is the leadership?
A few days earlier, I’d had lunch with Jack Davis, the gleefully notorious political consultant, and we got to talking about housing and rent control, which I’ve always strongly promoted and Davis’s landlord clients have always bitterly opposed. And we realized, two old opponents, that on one level that battle is over: it was lost years ago, when San Francisco failed (and then the state preempted our ability) to regulate rents on vacant apartments. The wave of Ellis Act evictions has damaged the situation even more. The limited rent control in San Francisco today can’t possibly keep housing even remotely affordable. The only way to fix the problem would be to roll back all rents to their levels of about 15 years ago; anyone (besides me) want to take on that campaign?
So what, Davis asked, would I do about it?
Since Newsom is going to be reelected this fall anyway, let me suggest how he could live up to Jaye’s billing.
Imagine if the mayor of San Francisco called a meeting of all the key players in the local housing market the residential builders, the big developers, the nonprofits, the tenant activists, the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition folks, the Board of Supervisors president, the neighborhood groups and said something like this:
"San Francisco needs about 15,000 new affordable-housing units in the next five years. That’s housing for low-income people, housing for people who work in San Francisco … family housing, rental housing, land-trust housing, supportive housing, a mix of units at a mix of prices, but none of it out of the reach of blue-collar and service-industry workers.
"So here’s the deal: you people sit here and figure out a way to make it happen, including how to pay for it and until you do, not one new market-rate project will get approved by my Planning Commission."
You suppose we might get a little action here? You think the developers who see a gold rush in the San Francisco housing market might be willing to play ball? You think that the mayor might show leadership on the most pressing problem facing residents and businesses in this town, the most serious drain on the local economy? It sure wouldn’t hurt to try.