The San Francisco Chronicle has suddenly discovered that the middle class is leaving San Francisco.
Staff writer James Temple broke the news on the front page of the Sunday, June 23 paper with a lead sentence that boggles the mind in its insight and news value: "The number of low- and middle-income residents in San Francisco is shrinking as the wealthy population swells, a trend most experts attribute to the city’s exorbitant housing costs."
I don’t want to downplay the importance of this story. It could have (and should have) been written a decade ago, when Willie Brown was mayor and city planning policy, combined with the dot-com boom, started San Francisco on the path toward becoming the first fully gentrified big city in America. And I’m always frustrated when a daily newspaper reports after the fact on something that could have been prevented, or at least slowed, back when the story first became a story.
But the news is still news today, and the fact that the Chronicle has facts and figures and demographers denouncing and community leaders deploring means the problem will be getting some additional attention this fall. That matters, because this November, the future of San Francisco will again be on the line.
And that could be a very good thing.
Calvin Welch, who has been fighting for a progressive city longer than many of today’s activists have been alive, remembers the summer 1972 state ballot: "You had George McGovern. You had the Coastal Commission [Act]. You had the farmworkers [labor law]. You had marijuana [decriminalization]. And you had every constituency on the left coming out to vote for them all. And they all won."
This fall in San Francisco we will have perhaps an even greater perfect storm: a proposed rebuild of SF General Hospital, which is a huge priority for organized labor. A housing justice measure that sets aside money for affordable housing (and could help address the single biggest issue in the city, something even the Chronicle now puts on page 1). A green energy and public power measure (which would shift energy policy toward renewables and bring in millions of dollars). Two new revenue measures that tax the wealthy. Six seats on the Board of Supervisors, including three swing districts that will determine whether the progressive majority that has controlled the board since 2000 will remain intact. And all of that will happen in the context of the Obama campaign and a massive statewide mobilization to protect same-sex marriage.
We are a fractious crew, the San Francisco left, but if we can come together this fall, share resources, and run some sort of large coalition campaign for progressive values, this could be an election for the ages.