The Board Report

Welcome Wagon

written by Eric R. Andresen, CPM

Here’s to San Franciscans working together for cleaner streets, effective and accessible programs for the homeless, and housing for all—led
by Mayor London Breed.

The road to any political position in San Francisco, and even across the nation, can be a strangely difficult one, fraught with peril and twists and turns. But no road has ever looked quite as circuitous as the one Mayor London Breed traveled to land herself in Room 200 at City Hall. She has traveled a route that even most GPS devices would have a difficult time navigating.

London grew up in the Western Addition and graduated from Galileo High School. She earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Davis and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco. Her political career started under Mayor Willie Brown, who appointed her to the Office of Housing and Neighborhood Services. She then went on to become the executive director of the African American Art & Culture Complex before she was named to the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency Commission. Mayor Gavin Newsom then appointed her to the San Francisco Fire Commission before she ran for and was elected to the Board of Supervisors. She now sits at her well-earned seat at the Mayor’s desk.

What’s hard to believe is that she’s not yet done. Mayor Breed has, for now, only been elected to complete deceased Mayor Ed Lee’s term, which ends in January 2020. So while she’s made it to the Mayor’s Office, she’s had to hit the ground running—she’s up for re-election in just a couple years. No “honeymoon” period for this Mayor; she has to start making a difference, and she has to start now.

But I, for one, am excited by what’s in store. Besides the fact that she’s only the second woman, and first black woman, to ever hold the office of Mayor in San Francisco, she’s the first to have come up through San Francisco’s public housing community, giving her an incredibly unique and qualified perspective on the housing needs of low- and middle-income families.

And while her time in the public spotlight of politics and policy has been comparatively short, her impact has already been tremendous. From co-sponsoring HOME-SF, which allows for a greater number of affordable housing units along transit corridors, to her Neighborhood Preference legislation, which prioritizes neighborhood residents for affordable housing units in a community, London Breed has already made a difference.

And she “gets it.” In one of her position papers, she wrote, “We need to build more market rate housing to take the pressure off existing housing stock and reduce displacement. The economy is growing, and we are creating many jobs in the Bay Area without adding the housing needed to absorb the residents. Supply and demand is real and we will see rents continue to climb if we don’t address it. More housing at every level is critical to solving this crisis.”

Mayor Breed supports programs to help with housing the people who need it most. For example, she supports expanding the Good Samaritan Program that was sponsored by then-Supervisor Scott Weiner (and supported by SFAA), to help house people who have been displaced due to a fire or another disaster.

The Mayor wants to create a supportive In-Law Unit/Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU) program through which the city would pay for the development of ADU units and management of the permitting process, in exchange for the property owner making the unit permanently available as affordable housing to tenants who need the support. And in September, Mayor Breed issued an Executive Order to direct departments to expedite the ADU process. Clearly, our new Mayor is already proving that she’s willing to hold departments accountable to bring more housing on line faster and to clear the backlog and bureaucratic hurdles that have severely hampered the ADU development process.

This is not to say that we’re not going to disagree on some issues, in fact, probably many issues. One worthy program the Mayor supports, Housing For All, would support the creation of thousands of affordable housing units for first-responders, teachers, and middle-income families. It’s an appropriate idea and the housing is needed, but this program would depend on a tax that could impact some SFAA members, so we’re taking a careful look
at the funding formula.

Once thing is for sure, though: Mayor London Breed is laser-focused on doing what’s right, to being a fact-based leader, and to finding rational solutions based on reliable, meaningful and truthful data. For too long, San Francisco housing policy has been based on the anecdotal stories produced by special interests, clearly skewing information in their favor. But London Breed is not easily duped by such rhetoric, and I’ve seen her question, dig, and relentlessly require that people back their opinions with facts. I’ve seen her openly challenge some of the most respected people in our town in her quest to get to the truth. It’s refreshing and heartening to see her in action, even if the eventual decision might not be in our favor.

San Francisco isn’t just facing a housing crisis—even though a housing crisis like ours would be enough by itself for any mayor to take on right out of the gate. We’ve also got major issues with homelessness, drugs and general filth across our City by the Bay. We’ve reached critical mass on every one of these issues, and I know I’m not alone in demanding that these issues be addressed and solved, now, once and for all. But if there were quick and easy solutions, these issues wouldn’t be the significant challenges that they are.

Homelessness in San Francisco has reached a nearly intolerable level. There are so many people living on our streets, that it’s almost impossible to believe the problem could ever be solved. However, Mayor Breed is supporting several programs that might actually make an impact. One of which is Homeward Bound, a program that helps homeless people find their way home to friends and family. She supports building more effective Navigation Centers, in particular, those that accept pets, partners, and possessions, making it easier for people to get the help and direction they need. She’s interested in a program that would encourage the construction of modular homes using general obligation bonds and private funds, to house homeless individuals quickly and responsibly. She also recognizes that many of San Francisco’s homeless population are suffering from mental illness, which is why she strongly supports the state conservatorship law Assembly Bill 1045 (sponsored by Scott Weiner). AB 1045 would allow the state to take conservatorship over the most severely mentally ill on the city’s streets. The bill was passed by the Senate and Assembly, and at the time of this writing is awaiting Governor Brown’s signature.

As for the intolerable filth we see building in the streets day after day, increased funding approved through the recent budget process will provide $72.5 million to Public Works, which means new programs will be implemented to clean up our streets. There is a new Hot Spots crew, tasked with washing down homeless camps and removing biohazards. There is even a new Poop Patrol, which spends its days hunting down and cleaning up human waste. There’s $3.1 million earmarked for portable toilets, called Pit Stops. And the Department of Public Health has been given additional funding for a new needle cleanup squad—including a minivan—to go out and safely clean up needles and other biohazards related to drug use.

In September, legislation allowing San Francisco to start a pilot program of safe injection sites passed in both State houses. Mayor Breed backed this legislation, knowing that the program could not only stop used needles from being discarded on the streets, but also decrease unsafe and open drug use in public parks and streets. It’s no secret that this is a controversial idea, but the reality is, people suffering from addiction will continue to use until they receive real rehabilitation—until that time comes, I think it’s better they have a clean and safe setting, as opposed to using on public sidewalks, in front of our buildings.

It’s obvious that cleaning up our streets is a priority for Mayor Breed. She has been regularly getting out of her office, walking the streets, personally making unannounced spot checks for cleanliness. Something I find refreshing. She even brings along unsuspecting department heads and news reporters. I am glad that she is leading the way for everyone else in taking a closer look.

While London Breed has proven her competence and intentions, she can’t do this alone. We’re all going to have to step up, roll up our sleeves, and help her make things happen. This means that moderates, progressives and conservatives will have to find a way to come together, work together, and support programs that might not necessarily fit their ideals, but could effectively begin the long process of cleaning up our city and housing the people who live in it. I am convinced that London Breed has the strength and capability to pull these groups together, and I’m eager to do my part to help her make it happen. I hope you are too. Welcome aboard, Mayor Breed, and let us know how we can help.

Eric Andresen has served twice as President of the SFAA, and has served on SFAA’s board for more than 20 years. He owns both West Coast Property Management and West Coast Property Maintenance companies. Eric can be reached at eric@wcpm.com.