Most of us are in various stages of grief and disgust about the presidential election, the ascension of a racist, misogynistic carnival barker. So looking ahead to San Francisco’s agenda for 2017, the first and most important question is: What is The City’s government doing in the face of a Donald Trump presidency?
Not backing down an inch.
Mayor Ed Lee emphasized San Francisco’s unwavering stance as a sanctuary city and held a well-attended unity rally at City Hall the Monday after the election. The following day, Board of Supervisors President London Breed introduced a resolution affirming The City’s commitment to the rights of immigrants, women and LGBTQ people, to religious freedom, police reform, climate change efforts and universal healthcare. The election, she wrote, “cannot change who we are, and it will never change our values.” Breed’s resolution passed unanimously.
With that said, what’s on The City’s docket in 2017? What are the major decision points, and who are the “deciders?” (To quote a president whose lousiness almost seems quaint in retrospect.)
After exhaustive 2016 elections, voters are off the hook for 2017. Barring an unlikely special election, polls won’t open again until June 2018.
Mayor Lee faces some important choices in the next few weeks. He’ll be selecting a permanent police chief and, with Scott Wiener headed to the state Senate, appointing a new District 8 supervisor.
The District 8 supervisor will join new supervisors Sandra Fewer, succeeding Eric Mar in District 1; Hillary Ronen, succeeding her boss David Campos in District 9; and Ahsha Safai, replacing John Avalos in District 11. Only the Avalos-Safai transition represents a marked change, though that could be enough to shift the board’s balance on many issues.
Speaking of issues, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s corporate shuttle regulations return soon for revisions and renewal. We’ll likely see another round of short-term rental legislation, too. Airbnb has adopted a more collaborative tone lately, which may finally enable steady, consensus regulations.
And there’s a debate looming about affordable housing percentages. Proposition C, which voters passed in June, set an initial requirement for 25 percent of new units to be affordable and created a process for that percentage to be refined based on economic analysis. The analysis is showing that a lower percentage may result in more homes and lower rents. It’s the dreaded confluence of math and housing politics.
Fundamentally, though, 2017’s agenda will be about money. It isn’t dire, but it won’t be easy either.
First, The City must reconcile what just happened on the ballot. Voters approved about $42 million per year in net new taxes: $15 million from soda (Proposition V) and $27 million from real estate transfers (Proposition W). Voters also approved a $19 million budget set-aside for street trees (Proposition E), a $44 million and rising set-aside for seniors (Proposition I), and a $150 million set-aside for homelessness and transportation (Proposition J).
Unfortunately, the homeless and transportation spending was entirely dependent on the companion sales tax measure, Proposition K, which voters rejected.
So there’s no new funding for the planned navigation centers for the homeless, road repaving, Muni vehicles and so on. Meanwhile, there’s an expectation that the board will fund free City College, at about $15 million per year. So the question becomes: Does the soda, real estate and potentially street tree money go toward filling the homelessness and transportation hole, and what does that mean for City College?
Second, there’s the structural issue, the anticipated budget shortfall likely more than $350 million for the coming two years. We’ve resolved these shortfalls in recent years because revenues have been skyrocketing. The City’s gained 25,000 jobs per year for the last five years — 8,000 more per year than during the dotcom boom. That growth will pass, and with it a budget reckoning will come.
Third, between now and June 30, The City is negotiating labor contracts with most of its 30,000-plus employees. Each 1 percent wage increase represents about $25 million from the General Fund.
And all of this occurs against a backdrop of tremendous federal uncertainty. San Francisco receives $450 million from the feds plus another $1 billion from the state, much of which is relayed federal money. So whatever the asinine or callous threats are about cutting sanctuary city funding or repealing people’s health insurance, the impact to our budget could get big quickly. And The City may simultaneously spend more to defend its priorities, e.g. the pending $5 million proposal for universal immigration defense.
We’ve got tough choices to make in the year ahead, but one path is clear. San Francisco will lead the fight for our values, no matter the national winds. We have a world-class city to run and an example to set for all who depend on, or even demean our promise. May we spend less time fighting amongst ourselves and more time fighting for each other.
Conor Johnston is chief of staff to Board of Supervisors President London Breed, and co-founder of the East of Twin Peaks Neighborhood Association. The views here are his own.