San Francisco’s mayor could have confounded and neutralized the city’s political left for years by embracing homeless measure Prop. C. Instead, she isolated herself, rejecting it with specious arguments.
Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.
London Breed is the mayor, and you are not. We have “takes.” She makes “decisions.” The mayor’s decisions carry weight. They are tangible.
And weighty, tangible decisions, as you’d expect, leaden the wings of a candidate who, in large part, floated into office on the strength of her intangibles.
So, make no mistake: Breed’s firm rejection of homeless measure Proposition C — a choreographed Friday announcement coming in lockstep with Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman David Chiu — was a crushing and credibility-destroying decision.
This was rendered even clearer by Monday’s splashy announcement from Marc Benioff, the city’s favored benevolent billionaire, that he was going all-in on supporting Prop. C. The measure’s backers had, previously, likened themselves to David battling the Downtown powers-that-be Goliath.
Well, one of this city’s leading Gods of Philanthropy just showered $2 million worth of manna from Salesforce Tower onto David. That kind of money buys a lot of rocks for your sling.
So much for the stilted arguments presented by Breed at al. that Prop. C would be “anti-business.” So much for any efforts to coalesce the tech and business communities against a measure that would tax the wealthiest of this city’s wealthy companies to potentially double the resources allotted to homeless and housing issues — the consensus top problems facing San Francisco.
And so much for what could have been a career-defining thunderclap of a political move by Mayor Breed. If she had embraced the homeless measure created and promoted by her ostensible political enemies, she would have confounded and routed them. Our so-called moderate mayor would have, perhaps permanently, destroyed the narrative that she, first and foremost, serves the interests of this city’s establishment players.
That narrative is — tangibly and unsubtly — reinforced by donation patterns and donor lists. And, now, actions. But pushing for Prop. C would have socked Breed’s most sanctimonious critics right in the mouth and shut them up — for years. It would have redefined her, in much the way erstwhile San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom is now better remembered for his positions on same-sex marriage than his punitive measures on homelessness and begging. And it would have lent credence to the political mantra a more profane Breed coined in 2012: “I don’t do what no-motherfucking-body tells me to do.”
Alas. Breed could have owned this. She could have owned this even though the money and hard work to craft and pass Prop. C are coming from elsewhere. She could have owned the political goodwill even if, as San Franciscans often do, the homeless measure is voted down. Reps. Nancy Pelosi and Jackie Speier — hardly left-wing firebrands — are backing Prop. C. So are Angela Alioto and John Burton — and SPUR.
But that’s not the route Breed chose to go.
Marc Benioff may fashion himself this city’s Daddy Warbucks, but London Breed is our mayor. She has, in the wake of Benioff’s largess, defended her move as the fiscally responsible, if anticlimactic, obligation.
That sounds defensible. That would be defensible. But the arguments Breed has made to couch this decision — they’re not defensible.
A fellow newspaper columnist once told me he could eke out a full-time beat just writing articles stating “The report doesn’t say what you say it did.” That’s funny, but it’s also true.
Put succinctly, the report doesn’t say what Mayor Breed says it does.
“Proposition C’s new taxes will decidedly harm our local economy,” the mayor claims.
In actuality, the report noted that Proposition C’s “impacts are small in the context of the city’s job market and economy, equal to a 0.1% difference, on average, over 20 years.”
That’s the “harm” predicted here: 0.1 percent. To give you an idea of how small a number 0.1 percent is, it’s one-quarter the percentage of real butter in Mrs. Butterworth’s syrup. To give you an idea of how many jobs Egan believes are going to be vanquished by Prop. C, if the city would have created 1,000 jobs in a Prop. C-free environment, the report predicts Prop. C will result in the creation of a mere 999.
Breed also bemoans that Prop. C will shower funds upon a system in which we don’t seem to adequately know where money is going and where current funds are not well-spent. Prop. C, she continues, does not call for an audit of the new funds it will bring in.
Perhaps, but calling for either the controller or budget and legislative analyst to undertake an audit is something that can be arranged in a matter of hours; here, in fact, is a 2017 audit of an underperforming nonprofit serving the homeless.
In truth, we know damn well where the money is going: Largely to housing. Any candidate for office in this city should be able to recite our homeless spending totals and priorities the way a schoolchild knocks out her times tables.
The controller monitors the performance of this city’s departments, including the Department of Homelessness, and the Department of Homelessness monitors the performance of the homeless nonprofits working with city money. The raison d’être of the Department of Homelessness over the past couple of years has been to eliminate redundancies and curtail city funding to low-performing nonprofits.
The mayor’s apparent argument that this city doesn’t know where its money is going or what it’s doing is inaccurate — and even cynical. It seems designed to appeal to voters’ visceral anger and disgust (“I PAY TOO MUCH FOR RENT AND THERE’S SHIT EVERYWHERE!”) rather than explain what the city really is doing and how government really works.
It’s a dangerous thing for city officials to wield citizens’ low expectations as a shield.
We can always do a better job with the resources we have, but squeezing the efficiencies out of our current system is not going to make a tangible change in what is an out-and-out humanitarian crisis on our streets.
Taken on their face, Breed’s arguments about the inadequacies of our current system are actually self-defeating: If our mayor has a problem with the performance of our homeless infrastructure, it’s her obligation to initiate changes. If she had a problem with the level of funding we have been providing to homeless services, she should have stated as much when she was Board President.
Gavin Newsom had a real skill at stealing other politicians’ good ideas. Sadly, Mayor Breed has stolen one of his bad ideas — that upping our homeless services will render this city a magnet for homeless people. That San Francisco will, quite literally, be given the bum’s rush.
“We have identified no research that found that expanded homelessness services or facilities increases homelessness,” reads the controller’s Economic Impact Report — which was, apparently, rather selectively cited to buttress Breed’s arguments.
In the coming months, this city will, finally, fully implement its coordinated homeless entry system and centralized homeless data systems. This city’s administrators — overseen, once more, by our elected officials — have crafted prioritizations of service. The Joad family is not hopping off a freight train and getting an apartment. To receive housing, one must document decades of street living. If Prop. C leads to its promised 4,000 housing units, perhaps this wait will be cut down to a mere five years of living outdoors.
“Come out here for 30 days and see how excited you are to wait five years,” says one longtime city homeless worker. “It’s not easy.”
No, it’s not. And, guess what: Homeless people are already coming to San Francisco. Perhaps, for many, it really is because you can buy cheap drugs here and essentially use them with impunity. But homeless people have lots of reasons to come to San Francisco, just as housed people do. They come because it’s San Francisco.
This is happening, as Newsom was wont to say, whether you like it or not.
Following Benioff’s announcement, celebrity support for the wonky-sounding Homeless Gross Receipts Tax flooded in online. Chris Rock said he’s with Marc. So did Jewel. It’s not exactly indicative of a healthy government or society when a hefty augmentation of social services requires private signature-gatherers, a billionaire’s support, and online commendations from comedians and singers. But that’s where we are.
And a ballot measure, unlike a candidate, at least has to ostensibly do what it says it’ll do.