Mayor London Breed delivered an upbeat message in her State of the City address Thursday about the future of San Francisco, which has been battered in the past year by the COVID-19 pandemic, declaring “we are at the start of an incredible recovery.”
Breed delivered the address virtually, unlike past years when it was made to large crowds, and from Moscone Center where The City has set up the COVID Command Center. It comes 10 months after San Francisco issued along with other Bay Area counties a shelter-in-place order and the first wave of COVID-19 cases were diagnosed.
“I believe we are at the start of an incredible recovery,” Breed said. “We aren’t just going to go back to the way things were. We aren’t just going to repair. We are going to reinvigorate. To come back even stronger. We will put people back to work. Our businesses will flourish. Opportunities will expand.”
The note of optimism was struck on the day The City permitted restaurants to reopen for outdoor dining and professional services businesses like barber shops and nail salons to resume operation after the state lifted a stay-at-home order Monday. And it comes as more people are being vaccinated against COVID-19; 53,383 residents, or 7 percent of those over the age of 18, have received their first dose.
But The City continues to face significant challenges with homelessness and an alarming increase in fatal drug overdoses. Many businesses remain shuttered under COVID-19 restrictions or have limits on their operations. The tech advocacy group SF.citi released a survey Wednesday warning of the economic impacts of tech companies and their workers leaving San Francisco.
Breed promised San Francisco will “bounce back” as she laid out a vision of helping small businesses, building more housing and addressing homelessness.
“We will continue our work to cut the red tape for small businesses, because it’s more important than ever,” Breed said. She hailed the success of November’s voter approved Proposition H, which loosened restrictions on where certain types of business can open and eased the approval process.
“It’s already working,” Breed said. “We’ll build on this success and make it even easier to turn an idea into a thriving small business.”
While she didn’t offer specifics, Breed added that “we will also help music venues, clubs, and bars—who have lost so much—get reopened and get back on their feet.”
She vowed to “keep pushing to meet our goal of building 5,000 new homes each year” and to streamline the approval process of development “even if it means going to the voters to do it.”
Breed said that rents went down during the pandemic because demand decreased, asking, “And can we finally put to rest the fantasy that supply-and-demand doesn’t apply to our housing situation?”
“When it goes back up—and that is a ‘when’ not an ‘if’—let’s be ready with more supply, more housing, so everyone can afford to live here,” Breed said.
Her plans around homelessness were focused on her previously announced Homelessness Recovery Plan, which Breed said she will “aggressively push forward” and it “includes the largest expansion of permanent supportive housing in the last twenty years,” some 1,500 units.
“We will implement mental health reform, so we can get more people off the streets and safely indoors,” Breed said.
On Wednesday, Breed announced that she hired Dr. Hillary Kunins as the new director of Behavioral Health Services, who will lead the newly launched Mental Health SF, a program intended to improve care for those struggling on the streets, and “find innovative ways to address the overdose crisis in our city,” which claimed the lives of 699 last year.
In reaction to the speech, Rodney Fong, president of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said, “We are thrilled to see that small business recovery was a major part of the Mayor’s State of the City speech.”
“Since March, the city has seen a nearly 50% drop in the number of open small businesses,” Fong said. “We need to protect our small businesses through this difficult time with federal relief and local leadership.”
Supervisor Connie Chan, who represents the Richmond, said, “I appreciate Mayor Breed’s commitment to a strong recovery for San Francisco. And I agree that we must face our economy and housing crisis head on.”
“We know the reality is the demand is affordable housing, and as a supervisor, my job is to push for policy solutions and incentives to supply affordable housing,” Chan said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues and our Mayor to do that.”
Supervisor Dean Preston said he was “pleased to hear the Mayor state her commitment to building affordable housing, but the proof is in actions, not words.”
“We know the supply of affordable housing has been nowhere close to the demand in San Francisco,” Preston said. “Fortunately we just passed a ballot measure, Prop. I (a tax on the sale of properties valued at $10 million or more), that will allow us to create more permanently affordable, social housing, and we look forward to working with the Mayor to create as much affordable housing as possible, and then some.”
Meanwhile, Supervisor Myrna Melgar praised the speech for its overall tone.
“It was a message of hope and perseverance and an acknowledgement of the spirit of survival and grit that has carried us through so much as a City,” Melgar said.