San Francisco politics can be divisive. As we battle over issues like affordable housing percentages and Navigation Centers for the homeless, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact we are often guided by shared fundamental values.
When the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce led our annual advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., last week, we spoke with the voice of one San Francisco. We pushed for our federal priorities including immigration reform, Caltrain electrification and affordable housing. We wanted to know what challenges lay ahead to our city and the region, and whether there would be cuts to federal funding at the expense of all of those who work, live and visit here.
Our delegation of almost 50 local leaders included Board of Supervisors President London Breed and supervisors Jeff Sheehy and Hillary Ronen, in addition to leaders from the Port of San Francisco, the Mayor’s Office, the Department of the Environment and the Public Utilities Commission. We also had broad representation of the business community, from the San Francisco Giants and Hathaway Dinwiddie Construction to health care providers and small business owners. We were one San Francisco.
Here are some highlights of our federal priorities that we advocated for on Capitol Hill:
End chronic homelessness: San Francisco is realigning efforts to develop more supportive housing. Members of the Board of Supervisors made the case for the addition of approximately 1,000 more units of supportive housing to reduce the cycle of chronic homelessness. We urged lawmakers to support $75 million in additional supportive housing vouchers to house nationally 10,000 additional chronically homeless veterans.
Oppose repeal of the Affordable Care Act: With a strong voice from our medical community, we made clear that any repeal of the ACA must have an accompanying plan to replace it with continuing health care coverage for those currently covered by the ACA. We must require insurers to continue to cover pre-existing conditions, support no cost preventive screenings and prohibit lifetime caps on insurance coverage. Additionally, we must preserve Medicaid expansion to care for 74 million people across the U.S.
Support comprehensive immigration reform: All of our delegation was in agreement that we need to address our broken immigration system. We must recognize that we are a nation of immigrants, and our immigration laws should work to reunify families and encourage the individuals we train in our world-class institutions to stay and develop new technologies and industries in the U.S. rather than abroad.
Increase the quota for H1-B visas: To ensure San Francisco continues to be the innovation capital of the world, the federal government should ensure companies have access to highly skilled foreign workers by maintaining or increasing the quota for H1-B visas.
Make high-speed rail a reality: The Chamber reiterated its longstanding support for additional funding for high-speed rail to support the California High Speed Rail Authority’s financing plan, including early investment in Bay Area projects. Caltrain electrification is essential to make our regional rail system compatible with the coming high-speed rail trains in a blended system from San Jose to The City. The 2017 Federal Budget package that was enacted by Congress yesterday includes a $100 million investment in the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project. More than 25 percent of Caltrain’s total federal funding request is immediately available to start construction of the project, which would create more than 9,600 jobs in California.
While these are just a few of our top priorities, we have many others including protecting San Francisco’s sea wall and water rights and supporting critical transportation infrastructure projects like the Transbay Transit Center Program.
As Leader Nancy Pelosi told us last week, the beauty of San Francisco is “in the mix” — it’s in our diversity of thought, political beliefs and lifestyles. Let’s be proud of where we come from, but humble in our own beliefs, and work together to drive change.
Jim Lazarus is senior vice president of public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.