The mayor of San Francisco stopped by Oct. 1 to tell us why we should endorse his reelection, and I walked away with a lot of information. For starters, the mayor is unhappy about a lot of things: he’s unhappy about the murder rate, he’s unhappy about Muni, he’s unhappy about the Housing Authority … he’s even unhappy about his mayoral ride (the Town Car ought to be running on alternative fuel). In the hour-long interview, he must have said he was "not satisfied" a dozen different times.
Which at least shows that he recognizes that the city has a few problems. And there’s no doubt that Gavin Newsom has come a long way in four years. He’s much more self-assured and confident in his positions.
In fact, he was argumentative a lot of the time; he kept saying he wasn’t going to accept the premises of our questions, most of which had to do with major areas in which he’s falling down on the job Muni, violent crime, housing, open government, public power, and overall leadership, among other things. You can listen to the entire interview, unedited, here. But let me talk a bit about housing, since that’s the biggest issue in the city and Newsom’s comments were a perfect explanation of why things are getting worse.
I asked the mayor if we are moving in the right direction on housing, since most of what the city is building is housing for the very rich, the city’s General Plan says that 64 percent of all new housing should be below market rate, and there’s absolutely no city plan to get there.
"I’m not going to accept the frame of your question," Newsom said (although he didn’t explain why).
He talked about the money (much of it federal and state) that he’s spent on affordable housing, then went on to say, "Since I’ve become mayor, we have permitted more housing than we have literally in a generation…. We’ve also been building as a consequence of that more-affordable housing. Is it 67 percent? I’m not sure it is in Chicago, New York, or LA. Maybe it is in Belgrade, [Serbia,] but I’m not sure it is in the United States, and I’m not sure any city can achieve that ambitious goal overall."
Me: "What you’re building is expensive, for-sale condos … virtually no rental, virtually no families with kids…. You’re bragging about building 6,000 new units of market-rate housing [per year], but it’s not doing anything for the city."
Newsom: "I’m not bragging about it. I’m saying we can do better and we can do more…. [But] we are not a socialist society. We cannot come in and say we are just going to build this housing without the ability to fund it."
Allow me to translate: Newsom thinks a large part of the answer to the housing crisis is to build more condos and be happy that the developers give the city a few morsels. In other words, he’s OK with a city where 80 percent of the new housing is only for the rich. And he thinks that in capitalist America, we have no other choice.
But no developer has a divine right to build anything in this town, and there are all sorts of ways to raise money for affordable housing, and blaming it all on capitalism won’t fly. I’m sorry, Mr. Mayor, but I’m just not satisfied.