San Francisco is not a city where one answer will solve all the problems

The Chamber of Commerce released its latest Paychecks and Pink Slips Scorecard this week. The annual report takes a look at which members of the Board of Supervisors voted for jobs and government efficiency, as defined by the chamber’s stance on certain issues. From a purely business standpoint, the board has changed radically from 2009, when the chamber released its first scorecard. But taking a larger view, there is also a deeper subtext to the issues surrounding the business climate in San Francisco, one that likely will be tested in 2014 inside City Hall.

San Francisco’s political winds have historically shifted as part of a reaction. The Board of Supervisors’ Class of 2000 was a reaction to, among other things, the dot-com bust and the Mayor Willie Brown era. The current, more centrist Board of Supervisors was a reaction to the political bickering at City Hall and the perception that elected officials were more interested in arguing than in solving real problems.

How this relates to the current business climate is simple: A minority of the sitting Board of Supervisors in 2009 was so opposed to anything coming from the business community that they would not even attend Chamber of Commerce events or listen to requests about proposed legislation from businesses in The City. In contrast, Eric Mar, the supervisor with the lowest mark on the latest scorecard, recently attended a chamber luncheon during which he was grilled with questions about his legislative agenda, which includes ideas many businesses could bristle at, such as sweeping chain-store limitations in neighborhood commercial corridors.

The current members of the board may not vote in line with the chamber’s recommendations, but they are willing to engage in a conversation with many of the stakeholders in San Francisco, including businesses. There should be a rich dialogue around many of the issues in The City, including housing, transportation, business, and affordability for companies and residents. There is a large difference between firmly believing in an issue and monomaniacal drumbeating about it — and San Franciscans should be wary of the latter.

This year, there could be many issues that test the supervisors’ ability to cooperate and engage in intelligent conversations. Residents, many with justifiable fears about the affordability of The City, will likely push back against more businesses moving here and the development of market-rate housing projects that are sure to crop up in an effort to create homes for the growing number of new denizens. Others will say that a totally free market, devoid of anything like rent control and below-market-rate housing built by The City, is the only way to solve the problem.

The real answer must fall somewhere between building a city that is completely unaffordable for low- and middle-income residents and stopping time to leave The City untouched without any further development or residents. No single person or group will have the answers for San Francisco, so all the voices need to be heard and the best solutions pushed to the fore.

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