Sometime early this spring, while most of Washington, D.C. was watching the cherry trees bloom and thinking about the impending Iran-contra hearings, a few senior administration officials began discussing a plan to help domestic steel companies shut down underutilized plants by subsidizing some of the huge costs of pension plans for the workers who would be laid off.
The officials, mostly from the Departments of Labor and Commerce, saw the plan as a pragmatic approach to a pressing economic problem. With the steel industry in serious trouble, they argued, plant closures are inevitable — and since the federal government guarantees private pension plans, some companies will simply declare bankruptcy and dump the full liability on the taxpayers. Subsidies, they argued, would be a far cheaper alternative.
But the plan elicited sharp opposition from members of the Council of Economic Advisors, who acknowledged the extent of the problem but said the proposal was inconsistent with the Reagan economic philosophy. The problem, The New York Times reported, was that “such a plan would be tantamount to an industrial policy, an approach the president has long opposed.”
For aspiring conservative politicians, the incident contained a clear message, one that may well affect the terms of the 1988 Republican presidential debate. To the right-wing thinkers who control the party’s economic agenda, the concept of a national industrial policy is still officially off-limits. In San Francisco, the ground rules are very different. All four major mayoral candidates agree that the city needs to plan for its economic future and play a firm, even aggressive role in guiding the local economy. The incumbent, Dianne Feinstein, has established a clear, highly visible — and often controversial — industrial development policy, against which the contenders could easily compare and contrast their own programs.
The mayoral race is taking place at a time when the city is undergoing tremendous economic upheaval. The giant corporations that once anchored the local economy are curtailing expansion plans, moving to the suburbs and in many cases cutting thousands of jobs from the payroll. The once-healthy municipal budget surplus is gone. The infrastructure is crumbling and city services are stressed to the breaking point.
By all rights, the people who seek to lead the city into the 1990s should present San Francisco voters with a detailed vision for the city’s economic future, and a well-developed set of policy alternatives to carry that vision out.
But with the election just three months away, that simply isn’t happening. Generally speaking, for all the serious talk of economic policy we’ve seen thus far, most of the candidates — and nearly all the reporters who cover them — might as well be sniffing cherry blossoms in Ronald Reagan’s Washington.
“San Francisco’s major challenge during the next 15 years will be to regain its stature as a national and international headquarters city. This is crucial to the city because much of its economy is tied to large and medium-sized corporations….The major source of San Francisco’s economic strength is visible in its dramatic skyline of highrise office buildings.”
—San Francisco: Its economic future
Wells Fargo Bank, June 1987
“In San Francisco, you have the phenomenon of a city losing its big-business base and its international pretensions — and getting rich in the process.”
—Joel Kotkin, Inc. Magazine, April 1987
IN MUCH OF San Francisco’s news media and political and business establishment these days, the debate — or more often, lament — starts with this premise: San Francisco is in a bitter competition with Los Angeles. At stake is the title of financial and cultural headquarters for the Western United States, the right to be called the Gateway to the Pacific Rim. And San Francisco is losing.
The premise is hard to deny. If, indeed, the two cities are fighting for that prize, San Francisco has very nearly been knocked out of the ring. Just a few short years ago, San Francisco’s Bank of America was the largest banking institution in the nation. Now, it’s third — and faltering. Last year, First Interstate — a firm from L.A. — very nearly seized control of the the company that occupies the tallest building in San Francisco. The same problems have, to a greater or lesser extent, beset the city’s other leading financial institutions. A decade ago, San Francisco was the undisputed financial center of the West Coast; today, Los Angeles banks control twice the assets of banks in San Francisco.
It doesn’t stop there. Los Angeles has a world-class modern art museum; San Francisco’s is stumbling along. The Port of San Francisco used to control almost all of the Northern California shipping trade; now it’s not even number one in the Bay Area (Oakland is). Looking for the top-rated theater and dance community west of the Rockies? San Francisco doesn’t have it; try Seattle.
Even the federal government is following the trend. A new federal building is planned for the Bay Area, but not for San Francisco. The building — and hundreds of government jobs — are going to Oakland.
In terms of a civic metaphor, consider what happened to the rock-and-roll museum. San Francisco, the birthplace of much of the country’s best and most important rock music, made a serious pitch for the museum. It went to Cleveland.
For almost 40 years — since the end of World War II — San Francisco’s political and business leaders have been hell-bent on building the Manhattan Island of the West on 49 square miles of land on the tip of the Peninsula. Downtown San Francisco was to be Wall Street of the Pacific Rim. San Mateo, Marin and the East Bay would be the suburbs, the bedroom communities for the executives and support workers who would work in tall buildings from nine to five, then head home for the evening on the bridges, freeways and an electric rail system.
If the idea was to make a few business executives, developers and real estate speculators very rich, the scheme worked well. If the idea was to build a sound, firm and lasting economic base for the city of San Francisco, one could certainly argue that it has failed.
NOT EVERYONE, however, accepts that argument. Wells Fargo’s chief economist, Joseph Wahed, freely admits he is “a die-hard optimist.” San Francisco, he agrees, has taken its share of punches. But the city’s economy is still very much on its feet, Wahed says; he’s not by any means ready to throw in the towel.
Wahed, who authored the bank’s recent report on the city’s economic future, points to some important — and undeniable — signs of vitality:
* San Francisco’s economic growth has been well above both the national and state average during the 1980s — a healthy 3.67 a year.
* Per-capita income in San Francisco is $21,000 a year, the highest of any of the nation’s 50 largest cities.
* New business starts in the city outpaced business failures by a ratio of 5-1, far better than the rest of the nation. * Unemployment in San Francisco, at 5.57, remains below national and statewide levels (see charts).
San Francisco, Wahed predicts, has a rosy economic future — as long as the city doesn’t throw up any more “obstacles to growth” — like Proposition M, the 1986 ballot measure that limits office development in the city to 475,000 square feet a year.
John Jacobs, the executive director of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, came to the same conclusion. In the Chamber’s annual report, issued in January, 1987, Jacobs wrote: “The year 1986 has been an amusing one, with both national and local journalists attempting to compare the incomparable — San Francisco and Los Angeles — and suggesting that somehow San Francisco is losing out in this artificially manufactured competition. Search as one might, no facts can be found to justify that assertion.”
Wahed and Jacobs have more in common than their optimism. Both seem to accept as more or less given the concept of San Francisco as the West Coast Manhattan.
Since the day Mayor Dianne Feinstein took office, she has run the city using essentially the policies and approach championed by Wahed and Jacobs. Before San Franciscans rush to elect a new mayor, they should examine those strategies to see if they make any sense. After nearly a decade under Feinstein’s leadership, is San Francisco a healthy city holding its own through a minor downturn or an economic disaster area? Are San Francisco’s economic problems purely the result of national and international factors, or has the Pacific Rim/West Coast Wall Street strategy failed? Is the economy weathering the storm because of the mayor’s policies, or despite them? And perhaps more important, will Feinstein’s policies guide the city to new and greater prosperity in the changing economy of the next decade? Or is a significant change long overdue?
The questions are clear and obvious. The answers take a bit more work.
SAN FRANCISCO’S economy is an immensely complex creature, and no single study or analysis can capture the full range of its problems and potential. But after considerable research, we’ve come to a very different conclusion than the leading sages of the city’s business community. Yes, San Francisco can have a rosy economic future — if we stop pursuing the failed policies of the past, cut our losses now and begin developing a new economic development program, one based on reality, not images — and one that will benefit a broad range of San Franciscans, not just a handful of big corporations and investors.
Our analysis of San Francisco’s economy starts at the bottom. Wells Fargo, PG&E and the Chamber see the city first and foremost as a place to do business, a market for goods and a source of labor. We see it as a community, a place where people live and work, eat and drink, shop and play.
The distinction is far more than academic. When you look at San Francisco the way Wells Fargo does, you see a booming market: 745,000 people who will spend roughly $19.1 billion on goods and services this year, up from $15.4 billion in 1980. By the year 2000, Wahed projects, that market could reach $229 billion as the population climbs to 800,000 and per-capita income hits $30,000 (in 1986 dollars), up from $18,811 in 1980. Employment has grown from 563,000 in 1980 to 569,000 in 1986. When you look at San Francisco as a place to live, you see a very different story. Perhaps more people are working in San Francisco — but fewer and fewer of them are San Franciscans. In 1970, 57.47 of the jobs in San Francisco were held by city residents, City Planning Department figures show. By 1980, that number had dropped to 50.77. Although more recent figures aren’t available, it’s almost certainly below 507 today.
Taken from a slightly different perspective, in 1970, 89.17 of the working people in San Francisco worked in the city. Ten years later, only 857 worked in the city; the rest had found jobs elsewhere.
Without question, an increase in per capita income signifies that the city is a better market. It also suggests, however, that thousands of low-income San Franciscans — those who have neither the skills nor the training for high-paying jobs — have been forced to leave the city. It comes as no surprise, for example that San Francisco is the only major city in the country to post a net loss in black residents over the past 15 years.
The displacement of lower-income residents highlights a key area in which San Francisco’s economy is badly deficient: housing. San Francisco’s housing stock simply has not kept pace with the population growth of the past five years. Between 1980 and 1984, while nearly 40,000 more people took up residence in the city, only 3,000 additional housing units were built.
Some of the new residents were immigrants who, lacking resources and glad to be in the country on any terms, crowded in large numbers into tiny apartments. Some were young, single adults, who took over apartments, homes and flats, bringing five of six people into places that once held families of three or four.
But overall, the impact of the population increase has been to place enormous pressure on the limited housing stock. Prices, not surprisingly, have soared. According to a 1985 study prepared for San Franciscans for Reasonable Growth by Sedway Cooke and Associates, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in 1985 was $700 a month. The residential vacancy rate was less than 17.
Housing is more than a social issue. A report released this spring by the Association of Bay Area Governments warns the entire Bay Area may face a severe housing crisis within the next two decades — and the lack of affordable housing may discourage new businesses from opening and drive existing ones away. When housing becomes too expensive, the report states, the wages employers have to pay to offset housing and transportation costs make the area an undesirable place to do business.
WAHED’S WELLS FARGO report shows a modest net employment gain in San Francisco between 1980 and 1986, from 563,000 jobs to 569,000. What the study doesn’t show is that the positive job growth statistic reflects the choice of the study period more than it reflects current trends. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, San Francisco experienced considerable job growth. By 1981, that trend was beginning to reverse.
According to a study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researcher David Birch, San Francisco actually lost some 6,000 jobs between 1981 and 1985. The study, commissioned by the Bay Guardian, showed that the decline occurred overwhelmingly to large downtown corporations — the firms upon which the Pacific Rim strategy was and is centered. Since 1981, those firms have cost the city thousands of jobs. (See The Monsters that Ate 10,000 jobs, Bay Guardian DATE TKTKTK).
Some of the firms — B of A, for example — were victims of poor management. Some, like Southern Pacific, were caught in the merger mania of the Reagan years. Others, however, simply moved out of town. And no new giants moved in to take their places.
What drove these large employers away? Not, it would appear, a lack of office space or other regulatory “obstacles” to growth: Between 1980 and 1985, San Francisco underwent the largest building boom in its history, with more than 10 million square feet of new office space coming on line. In fact, the city now has abundant vacant space; by some estimates, the vacancy rate for downtown office buildings is between 157 and 207.
The decision to move a business into or out of a city is often very complicated. However, Birch, who has done considerable research into the issue, suggests in the April 1987 issue of Inc. magazine that the most crucial concerns are what he calls “quality of life” factors. Quality-of-life factors include things like affordable family housing for employees; easy, inexpensive transit options and good-quality recreation facilities and schools — and good-quality local government. In many cases, researchers are finding, companies that need a large supply of “back office” labor — that is, workers who do not command executive salaries — are moving to the suburbs, where people who are paid less than executive salaries can actually afford to live.
“Today the small companies, not the large corporations, are the engines of economic growth,” Birch wrote. “And more often than not, small companies are growing in places that pay attention to the public realm, even if higher taxes are needed to pay for it.”
For the past 20 years, San Francisco has allowed, even encouraged, massive new highrise office development, geared to attracting new headquarters companies and helping existing ones expand. In the process, some basic city services and public amenities — the things that make for a good quality of life — have suffered.
The most obvious example is the city’s infrastructure — the roads, sewers, bridges, transit systems and other physical facilities that literally hold a modern urban society together. A 1985 report by then-Chief Administrative Officer Roger Boas suggested that the city needed to spend more than $1 billion just to repair and replace aging and over-used infrastructure facilities. Wells Fargo’s report conceeds that that city may be spending $50 million a year too little on infrastructure maintenance.
Some of that problem, as Boas points out in his report, is due to the fact that many city facilities were built 50 or more years ago, and are simply wearing out. But wear and tear has been greatly increased by the huge growth in downtown office space — and thus daytime workplace population — that took place over the previous two decades.
To take just one example: Between 1980 and 1984, City Planning Department figures show, the number of people traveling into the financial district every day increased by more than 10,000. Nearly 2,000 of those people drove cars. In the meantime, of course, the number of riders on the city’s Municipal Railway also increased dramatically. City figures show more than 2,000 new Muni riders took buses and light rail vehicles into the financial district between 1981 and 1984. Again, city officials resist putting a specific cost figure on that increase — however, during that same period, the Muni budget increased by one-third, from $149 million to $201 million. And the amount of General Fund money the city has had to put into the Muni system to make up for operating deficits rose by some 737 — from $59 million to $102 million.
The new buildings, of course, have meant new tax revenues — between 1981 and 1986, the total assessed value of San Francisco property — the city’s tax base — increased 767, from $20.3 billion to $35.8 billion. But the cost of servicing those buildings and their occupants also increased 437, from $1.3 billion to to $1.9 billion. In 1982, San Francisco had a healthy municipal budget surplus of $153 million; by this year, it was down to virtually nothing.
The city’s general obligation bond debt — the money borrowed to pay for capital improvements — has steadily declined over the past five years, largely because the 1978 Jarvis-Gann tax initiative effectively prevented cities from selling general obligation bonds. In 1982, the city owed $220 million; as of July 1st, 1987, the debt was down to $151 million.
However, under a recent change in the Jarvis-Gann law, the city can sell general obligation bonds with the approval of two-thirds of the voters. The first such bond sale — $31 million — was approved in June, and the bonds were sold this month, raising the city’s debt to $182 million. And this November, voters will be asked to approve another $95 million in bonds, bringing the total debt to $277 million, the highest level in five years.
The city’s financial health is still fairly sound; Standard and Poor’s gives San Francisco municipal bonds a AA rating, among the best of any city in the nation. And even with the new bonds, the ratio of general obligation debt to total assessed value — considered a key indicator of health, much as a debt-to-equity ratio is for a business — is improving.
But the city’s fiscal report card is decidedly mixed. For most residents, signs of the city’s declining financial health show up not in numbers on a ledger but in declining services. Buses are more crowded and run less often. Potholes aren’t fixed. On rainy days, raw sewage still empties into the Bay. High housing costs force more people onto the streets — and the overburdened Department of Social Services can’t afford to take care of all of them.
What those signs suggest is that, in its pell-mell rush to become the Manhattan of the West, San Francisco may have poisoned its quality of life — and thus damaged the very economic climate it was ostensibly trying to create.
MAYOR DIANNE FEINSTEIN’S prescription for San Francisco’s economic problems and her blueprint for its future can be summed up in four words: More of the same. Feinstein, like Wells Fargo, PG&E and the Chamber of Commerce, is looking to create jobs and generate city revenues from the top of the economy down. Her program flies in the face of modern economic reality and virtually ignores the changes that have taken place in the city in the past five years.
Feinstein’s most visible economic development priorities have taken her east, to Washington D.C., and west, to Japan and China. In Washington, Feinstein has lobbied hard to convince the Navy to base the battleship USS Missouri in San Francisco. That, she says, will bring millions of federal dollars to the city and create thousands of new jobs.
In Asia, Feinstein has sought to entice major investors and industries to look favorably on San Francisco. She has expressed hope that she will be able to attract several major Japanese companies to set up manufacturing facilities here, thus rebuilding the city’s manufacturing base and creating jobs for blue-collar workers.
Neither, of course, involves building new downtown highrises. But both are entirely consistent with the Pacific Rim strategy — and both will probably do the city a lot more harm than good.
Feinstein’s programs represent an economic theory which has dominated San Francisco policy-making since the end of World War II. In those days, the nation’s economy was based on manufacturing — iron ore from the ground became steel, which became cars, lawn mowers and refrigerators. Raw materials were plentiful and energy was cheap.
By the early 1970s, it was clear that era was coming to a close. Energy was suddenly scarce. Resources were becoming expensive. The economy began to shift gears, looking for ways to make products that used less materials and less energy yet provided the same service to the consumer.
Today, almost everyone has heard of the “information age” — in fact, the term gets used so often that it’s begun to lose its meaning. But it describes a very real phenomenon; Paul Hawken, the author of The Next Economy, calls it “ephemeralization.” What is means is that the U.S. economy is rapidly changing from one based manufacturing goods to one based on processing information and providing services. In the years ahead, the most important raw materials will be ideas; the goal of businesses will be to provide people with useful tools that require the least possible resources to make and the least possible energy to use.
In the information age, large companies will have no need to locate in a central downtown area. The source of new jobs will not be in manufacturing — giant industrial factories will become increasingly automated, or increasingly obsolete. The highways of the nation’s commerce will be telephone lines and microwave satellite communications, not railroads and waterways.
IF SAN FRANCISCO is going to be prepared for the staggering changes the next economy will bring, we might do well to take a lesson from history — to look at how cities have survived major economic changes in the past. Jane Jacobs, the urban economist and historian, suggests some basic criteria.
Cities that have survived and prospered, Jacobs writes, have built economies from the bottom up. They have relied on a large number of small, diverse enterprises, not a few gigantic ones. And they have encouraged business activities that use local resources to replace imports, instead of looking to the outside for capital investment.
A policy that would tie the city’s economic future to the Pentagon and Japanese manufacturing companies is not only out of synch with the future of the city’s economy — it’s out of touch with the present.
In San Francisco today, the only major economic good news comes from the small business sector — from locally owned independent companies with fewer than 20 employees. All of the net new jobs in the city since 1980 have come from such businesses.
Yet, the city’s policy makers — especially the mayor — have consistently denied that fact. As recently as 1985, Feinstein announced that the only reason the city’s economy was “lively and vibrant” was that major downtown corporations were creating 10,000 new jobs a year.
Almost nothing the city has done in the past ten years has been in the interest of small business. In fact, most small business leaders seem to agree that their astounding growth has come largely despite the city’s economic policy, not because of it. That situation shows no signs of changing under the Feinstein administration; the battleship Missouri alone would force the eviction of some 190 thriving small businesses from the Hunters Point shipyard.
San Francisco’s economic problems have not all been the result of city policies. The financial health of the city’s public and private sector is affected by state and federal policies and by national and international economic trends.
Bank of America, for example, is reeling from the inability of Third World countries to repay outstanding loans. Southern Pacific and Crocker National Bank both were victims of takeovers stemming from relaxed federal merger and antitrust policies. In fact, according to Wells Fargo, 21 San Francisco corporations have been bought or merged since 1975. Meanwhile, deep cutbacks in federal and state spending have crippled the city’s ability to repair its infrastructure, improve transit services, build low cost housing and provide other essential services.
To a great extent, those are factors outside the city’s control. They are unpredictable at best — and over the next ten or 20 years, as the nation enters farther into the Information Age, the economic changes with which the city will have to cope will be massive in scale and virtually impossible to predict accurately.
Again, the experiences of the past contain a lesson for the future. On of San Francisco’s main economic weaknesses over the past five years has been its excess reliance on a small number of large corporations in a limited industrial sector — largely finance, insurance and real estate. When those industries took a beating, the shock waves staggered San Francisco.
Meanwhile, the economic good news has come from a different type of business — businesses that were small able to adapt quickly to changes in the economy and numerous and diverse enough that a blow to one industry would not demolish a huge employment base.
But instead of using city policy to encourage that sector of the city’s economy, Feinstein is proposing to bring in more of the type of business that make the city heavily vulnerable to the inevitable economic shocks that will come with the changes of the next 20 years.
THE CANDIDATES who seek to lead the city into the next decade and the next economy will need thoughtful, innovative programs to keep San Francisco from suffering serious economic problems. Those programs should start with a good hard dose of economic reality — a willingness to understand where the city’s strengths and weaknesses are — mixed with a vision for where the city ought to be ten and 20 years down the road.
Thus far, both are largely missing form the mayoral debate.
For years, San Francisco activists and small business leaders have been complaining about the lack of reliable, up-to-date information on the city’s economy and demographics. The environmental impact report on the Downtown Plan — a program adopted in 1985 — was based largely on data collected in 1980. That same data is still used in EIRs prepared by the City Planning Department, and it’s now more than seven years out of date.
In many areas, even seven-year-old data is simply unavailable. Until the Bay Guardian commissioned the Birch studies in 1985 and 1986, the city had no idea where jobs were being created. Until SFRG commissioned the Sedway-Cooke report in 1985, no accurate data existed on the city’s labor pool and the job needs of San Franciscans.
Today, a researcher who wants to know how much of the city’s business tax revenue comes from small business would face a nearly impossible task. That’s just not available. Neither are figures on how much of the city’s residential or commercial property is owned by absentee landlords who live outside the city. If San Francisco were a country, what would its balance of trade be? Do we import more than we export? Without a huge research staff and six months of work, there is no way to answer those questions.
Bruce Lilienthal, chairman of the Mayor’s Small Business Advisory Commission, argues that the city needs to spend whatever money it takes to create a centralized computerized data base — fully accessable to the public — with which such information can be processed and analyzed.
A sound economic policy would combine that sort of information with a clear vision of what sort of city San Francisco could and should become.
What would a progressive, realistic economic development platform look like? We’ve put together a few suggestions that could serve as the outline for candidates who agree with our perspective — and as an agenda for debate for candidates who don’t.
* ADEQUATE AFFORDABLE HOUSING is essential to a healthy city economy, and in the Reagan Era, cities can’t count on federal subsidies to build publicly financed developments. Progressive housing experts around the country agree that, in a city under such intense pressure as San Francisco, building new housing to keep pace with demand will not solve the crisis alone; the city needs to take action to ensure that existing housing is not driven out of the affordable range.
Economist Derek Shearer, a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles and a former Santa Monica planning commissioner, suggests that municipalities should treat housing as a scarce public resource, and regulate it as a public utility. Rents should be controlled to allow property owners an adequate return on their investment but prevent speculative price-gouging.
Ideally, new housing — and whenever possible, existing housing — should be taken out of the private sector altogether. Traditional government housing projects have had a poor record; a better alternative is to put housing in what is commonly called a land trust.
A land trust is a private, nonprofit corporation that owns property, but allows that property to be used under certain terms and conditions. A housing trust, for example, might allow an individual or family to occupy a home or apartment at a set monthly rate, and to exercise all rights normally vested in a homeowner — except the right to sell for profit. When the occupant voluntarily vacated the property, it would revert back to the trust, and be given to another occupant. The monthly fee would be set so as to retire the cost of building the property over it’s expected life — say, 50 years. Each new occupant would thus not have to pay the interest costs on a new mortgage. That alone, experts say, could cut as much as 707 off the cost of a home or apartment.
* DEVELOPMENT DECISIONS should be made on the basis of community needs. A developer who promises to provide jobs for San Franciscans should first be required to demonstrate that the jobs offered by project will meet the needs of unemployed residents of the city. Development fees and taxes should fully and accurately reflect the additional costs the project places on city services and infrastructure.
Land use and development decisions should also be geared toward meeting the needs of small, locally owned businesses — encouraging new start-ups and aiding the expansion of existing small firms.
* ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT programs should encourage local firms to use local resources in developing products and services that bring revenue and wealth into the city instead of sending it to outside absentee owners and that encourage economic self-sufficiency.
Cities have a wide variety of options in pursuing this sort of goal. City contracts, for example, should whenever possible favor locally owned firms and firms that employ local residents and use local resources. Instead of just encouraging sculptured towers and flagpoles on buildings, city planning policies should encourage solar panels that decrease energy imports, rooftop gardens that cut down on food imports and utilize recycled materials that otherwise would become part of the city’s garbage problem. (Using recycled materials is by no means a trivial option; if all of the aluminum thrown away each year in San Francisco were recycled, it would produce more usable aluminum than a small-to-medium sized bauxite mine.)
Other cities have found numerous ways to use creative city policies to encourage local enterprise. In Minneapolis-St. Paul, for example an economic development agency asked the U.S. Patent Office for a list of all the patents issued in the past ten years to people with addresses in the Twin Cities area. The agency contacted those people — there were about 20 — and found that all but one had never made commercial use of the patents, largely for lack of resources. With the agency as a limited partner providing venture capital, more than half the patent owners started businesses that were still growing and expanding five years later. Some of those firms had actually outgrown their urban locations and moved to larger facilities out of town — but since the Twin Cities public development agency had provided the venture capital, it remained a limited partner and the public treasury continued to reap benefits from the profits of the businesses that had left town.
* CITY RESOURCES should be used to maximize budget revenues. For example, San Francisco currently owns a major hydroelectric power generating facility at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park. A federal law still on the books requires San Francisco to use that facility to generate low-cost public power for its citizens; that law, the Raker Act, has been honored only in the breach. That means every year PG&E takes millions of dollars in profits out of San Francisco (the company is based here, but very few of its major stockholders are San Franciscans). The last time we checked, San Francisco was losing $150 million (CHECK) in city revenue by failing to enforce the Raker Act and municipalize its electric utility system.
Meanwhile, PG&E continues to use city streets and public right-of-ways for its transmission cables at a bargain-basement franchise fee passes in 1932 and never seriously challenged. Other highly profitable private entities, like Viacom cable television, use public property for private purposes and pay highly favorable rates for the right.
Those ideas should be the a starting point, not a conclusion for mayoral debates. But thus far, we’ve seen precious little consideration of the issues, much less concrete solutions, from any of the candidates.
The mayor’s race, however, is still very much open, and the candidates are sensitive to public opinion. If the voters let the candidates know that we want to hear their visions of the city’s economic future — and their plans for carrying those visions out — we may see some productive and useful discussions yet.*
Learn how to solve the Rubik’s Cube with the easiest method, learning only six algorithms.