A look back at San Francisco’s crazy, competitive, roller-coaster year

On Guard column header Joe

San Francisco made electoral history, honored hidden history, and witnessed historically bad blunders in 2018 — a year that will set The City’s course for the next decade to come.

To take a look back at the year that crowned our new mayor, and may have finally set us on the path toward stemming our long-running homeless crisis, I went to you, dear readers, on Twitter and Facebook, to hear what news you thought was most impactful in 2018. And, of course, I knocked noggins with my editor, who graciously scoured our issues going back to January to pick out stories we all might’ve forgotten. It’s been a long year!

The following is a look at the top news stories — and news trends, importantly — that shaped the last year in our little seven-by-seven slice of heaven.

Mayor London Breed makes city history
Mayor Ed Lee died in late 2017, and everything changed.

We all know the story — from rags to representing The People, Breed pulled herself from a painful upbringing in San Francisco to its highest local office to become our first black woman mayor. But who expected the journey there to have so many impactful news moments along the way?

Perhaps it was such a rollercoaster ride because Lee’s death made the mayor’s race, which was originally slated for 2019, much shorter.

Either way, from our coverage of Ron Conway’s efforts to help smooth her path to mayor-hood behind the scenes, to the shocking vote by the Board of Supervisors to name Supervisor Mark Farrell mayor (which reached CNN and the New York Times, holy cow!), to the nail-biting near-loss due to Mark Leno and Jane Kim’s 1-2 ranked choice voting strategy, the mayoral election was undoubtedly a San Francisco showstopper dragging us all to the edge of our seats.

Homeless crisis splits San Franciscans
Proposition C, approved in November by San Francisco voters at nearly — but not quite — a two-thirds majority, will tax our richest businesses to fund shelter, mental health services, and more for our city’s homeless crisis. It is the single largest boost to our funding streams for homelessness in years.

It also drew attention for its warring billionaires: Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was for it, and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey was against it. Mayor London Breed also got some proverbial tomatoes thrown her way as one of the few leaders in San Francisco to fight it. Though Benioff was an influential voice, let’s not forget that the Coalition on Homelessness drafted it with the help of unhoused people themselves, who are vital to the discussion.

Hunters Point Shipyard
Falsified radioactivity tests rocked the headlines in 2018, making the name “Tetra Tech” synonymous with the word “phonies.” City officials dating back at least as far as former Mayor Willie Brown have long backed development at the long-gone Navy shipyard. But it’s important to note few people gave a darn about one of our last black enclaves, where residents have long complained of health issues related to the site, until roughly 12,000 homes for our seemingly endless newcomers were proposed there.

Scooters rev up SF’s temper
Bird, Spin and Lime were the Larry, Curly and Moe of the shared electric-scooter industry this year, at least as far as San Francisco was concerned. The billionaire-backed renegade tech scooter companies rolled out on public sidewalks in the spring without permits, sparking The City’s anger while gleeful riders zipped around on, and blocked, sidewalks. One short-lived ban and a permit program later, and companies Skip and Scoot have launched their own e-scooter efforts with nary a peep, leaving the original scofflaws to complain and file lawsuits.

The Year of the Ban
Menthols, fur and plastic straws, oh my! Years after the entire United States made fun of former Supervisor Eric Mar for trying to restrict Happy Meals, today’s San Francisco supervisors netted wide support for banning Naughty Things Consumers Shouldn’t Buy™. An effort to ban workplace cafeterias also drew wide attention, but has since been greatly scaled back.

Marriott Strike
Hotel workers fought hard for raises, and won. UNITE HERE Local 2 President Anand Singh and thousands of workers no doubt had happy holidays after their contract was ratified in early December.

The little socialist group that could
The San Francisco Democratic Socialists of America revived themselves in a big way this year, utilizing people power to knock out the Police Officer Association’s widely-despised Taser policy ballot measure, Proposition H, in June.

And although DSA took a tumble when they backed supervisor candidate Tony Kelly in District 10 this November, who lost big, they should take heart: Without their spur-of-the-moment volunteer work to collect ballot signatures alongside YIMBY Action, San Francisco never would’ve seen Proposition C take off at all, and our homeless neighbors would be out of luck.

Smoky the City
The deadly Camp Fire will darken our memories of 2018 for a long time to come. San Franciscans will viscerally remember our Mad Max-esque, post-apocalyptic red skies, when every little hardware store sold out of N95 particle masks.

Also, call-back to the DSA SF once again, who handed out far more masks to the homeless than our city leaders did. How embarrassing.

Bail reform
This year, lil’ ol SF set the way for canning money bail statewide. To wit: The fight for bail reform in California came to a head when San Francisco Public Defender’s Office doggedly pursued the Humphrey case. Kenneth Humphrey, 64, was jailed in May 2017 for allegedly robbing his 79-year-old neighbor, and could not afford $350,000 bail he needed to leave the clink.

A January ruling by a California appeals court found it was unconstitutional for judges to set bail without considering a person’s ability to pay. That not only led to Humphrey’s release in May but blew major wind into the sails of the statewide money bail reform effort.

In August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed historic legislation eliminating money bail, the effects of which are still being sorted out.

From Transbay to Muni Meltdown, transit screwups mount
It’s been called “San Francisco’s $2.2 billion bus station.” The cracked steel beams found at the Salesforce Transit Center closed the station mere weeks after it opened and dominated headlines, but they weren’t the only transit misstep this year.

A worker died on the job during the Twin Peaks Tunnel retrofit, which tens of thousands of Muni riders are whisked through every day. Central Subway construction woes continued to trouble Chinatown, and Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit construction shuttered at least one Van Ness business, as others struggle.

And San Francisco Examiner investigations exposed many Muni misdeeds: From a contractor laying 3.2 miles of the wrong steel in the Central Subway to a hidden summer service meltdown stranding thousands of riders due to an ongoing operator shortage, and a culture of sexual harassment that resulted in Mayor Breed appointing a special ombudsperson to right the agency’s course. Hopefully, 2019 will bring a Muni renaissance.

Goodbye, beloved local joints
Though 2018 was hardly the first time we’ve lost beloved local cultural touchstones, let’s not forget to pour one out for Elbo Room and Hemlock, among other local venues that closed this year. And while we’re thinking of those we lost — RIP, Virginia Ramos, our beloved “Tamale Lady.”

Progressive bloc wins big — in the Sunset too!?
Though progressive mayoral candidates Jane Kim and Mark Leno lost the bid for Room 200, as politicos call The Mayor’s Office, lefty-lefts won in nearly every other other corner possible in San Francisco’s June and November races.

Who can forget the surprising deflation of former District 8 Supervisor Jeff Sheehy, who lost by stunning margins to Supervisor Rafael Mandelman in June to represent the Castro and other neighborhoods? In November, Matt Haney handily won District 6 against two candidates backed by Mayor London Breed. Supervisor-elect Gordon Mar became the first progressive ally to win a seat in District 4, the conservative, sleepy Sunset district, in as long as anyone can remember.

Progressive democrats now have not only a majority on the Board of Supervisors, but a possible super-majority to thwart any mayoral vetoes. The question is — what will they do to make San Francisco better while wielding that power?

A historical reckoning
San Francisco decided to remove references to racists of the past in 2018, including Columbus Day, Justin Herman Plaza, Julius Kahn Park and Phelan Way (now Frida Kahlo Way, thank you very much), and tore down the Pioneer Days statue depicting a subjugated Native American. I wonder how many corners of San Francisco are left to rename, at this point?

Legal cannabis blows away old offenses
In the first year of legal recreational cannabis, San Francisco approved a complex citywide set of regulations — among them, chiefly, an equity permit program designed to boost those hurt by the war on drugs. Despite having one foot out the door (he’s not running for his office again next year), District Attorney George Gascon also became the first prosecutor in the state to take action to proactively expunge prior cannabis offenses. Smoke that, Nixon.

Worryingly, however, not a single equity applicant has actually made it through the process yet and won approval, and The City’s supervisors have approved a ban on cannabis retailers in Chinatown, potentially opening the door for bans in other city neighborhoods.

Housing density bill refuses to die
Senate Bill 827, the housing bill authored by YIMBY-in-chief State Senator Scott Wiener, which would have increased density around transit lines, was shot down by a figurative firing squad from all quarters of California. But despite these losses, SB 827 looks poised to rebound in the coming year as SB 50, and with Wiener taking up new leadership in the senate, it’s well placed to pass.

Quote of the Year

“At the end of the day it’s going to be are you for the homeless or are you against the homeless? For me, it’s binary. I’m for the homeless.” — Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff

The San Francisco Examiner’s most-clicked news stories of 2018

Our most impactful or even top-talked about news stories are not always the most clicked. So for the curious, here are the Examiner staff’s top clicked news stories of 2018.

1. July 24, 2018 — ON GUARD: Supervisors move to ban workplace cafeterias.

2. Aug. 30, 2018 — City to Investigate after Twitter video shows two men forcibly throwing young man off Muni

3. May 31, 2018 — Driverless cars ok’ed to carry passengers, but companies can’t charge riders

4. March 18, 2018 — Follow the Money: San Francisco is officially $10 billion in the hole

5. March 21, 2018 — SFO terminal renamed in honor of Harvey Milk

6. October 4, 2018 — Blue Angels Flight Schedule and Fleet Week Traffic Guide

7. April 29, 2018 — Follow the Money: To solve affordability crisis Bay Area housing stock must grow 50 percent in 20 years

8. January 2, 2018 — ON GUARD: Haight neighbors claim 100 percent affordable housing project at McDonald’s is too tall

9. Sept. 6, 2018 — ON GUARD: Candidate tell Chinese supporters she still opposes transgender restrooms, gives different message in English

10. May 31, 2018 — Activists block tech bus commute, say e-scooters treated better than homeless

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email Fitz at joe@sfexaminer.com, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @FitztheReporter, and Facebook at facebook.com/FitztheReporter.

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