During this time of unprecedented public health crisis, I am as proud as ever to be a San Franciscan. I am grateful for all the hard work of our first responders, health care workers, educators and city workers, and for their dedication and service to keep our City safe and healthy. The quick actions from our city and state in response to COVID-19 may well save many lives in the coming weeks, and I remain hopeful that the City’s relief efforts will help provide some immediate support to our renters, working families, and small businesses.
Unfortunately, the social and economic impacts of this crisis will be devastating and far reaching. We may be facing a new era in which we need to fundamentally change how we live and conduct business. To address the impacts, I propose the New Start San Francisco plan. This plan will put forth transparent and coordinated efforts to leverage newly available state and federal funds to support job retraining and assistance for small businesses, invest in housing security for the homeless and working families and make much needed improvements to our public health system.
COVID-19 has demonstrated that our frontline and essential workers are not only our doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers — our transit workers, grocery clerks, food service employees, gig employees, and janitors are also essential. They risk their health and safety to ensure our families have food on the table, a clean neighborhood, and a ride to the grocery store.
This is why we must expand wage-worker protections, including unionizing workers, especially among mid-size and larger scale corporations. This will ensure our workers are paid a living wage and have a voice to fight for safer working conditions. We will also need to set up a local wage-worker protection system to help workers who are impacted through job losses or reduction in income, especially during disasters, to apply for benefits provided by our state and federal programs. And if they were left out by those programs, they should be covered by local funds. Our City can also directly help all workers impacted by business shutdowns through increased investment in Free City College. Job training and professional certifications can be offered to help laid-off workers retool their skills for jobs and industries that will be in demand.
Second, we have to make sure our small businesses are prioritized in any business assistance programs by providing them technical and legal assistance to apply for state and federal relief funds. Our small businesses are the backbone of our local economy, and we can help them sustain and grow through small business tax credits for local ownership and production; streamlining the small business permitting process with technical support; and business tax code reform that holds corporate and chain businesses to equal if not higher standards as our local merchants. We also need to continue our efforts towards public banking to further invest in small businesses, and expand the Legacy Business program to recognize more longtime anchors of our neighborhoods.
Third, this public health crisis’ stay-at-home order further manifested that we must continue and expand protections for tenants and keep people housed. The City should invest more deeply in our small site acquisition program to preserve rent-controlled apartment buildings and prevent tenant evictions. Then, for the long term, the City has to expand funding for first-time home buyer programs for working class families, and develop a supportive system for homeowners and renters on fixed incomes. We must also prevent further tragedy on our streets and pave a pathway to bringing our homeless population off the streets into Single Room-Occupancy (SRO) units and long-term supportive housing, invest in improving the conditions of shelters and SROS, and transition the current housing insecure population to workforce and permanent affordable housing.
Finally, our recovery will not be complete unless, and until, we do a complete analysis of our public health system with an eye to addressing the gaps in care and coverage in the current Healthy San Francisco (HealthySF) system. We will push for an inventory of neighborhood public health clinics to ensure equitable services throughout the City, improvement of services, expansion of access to dental coverage and mental health services, and the creation of a language access hotline for non-emergency healthcare for the City’s immigrant communities.
We must learn the lessons of COVID-19 and remember that for San Francisco to stay strong and thrive, we must invest in working people first.
Connie Chan is a longtime public servant, Richmond District resident and candidate for District 1 Supervisor.