It’s difficult to come up with a valediction for 2018, an overstuffed year that was to San Francisco political developments what Buca di Beppo is to portion size and sensible interior decor.
In short, there was so much loaded onto our plates that, by the time we were halfway through with one course, we’d forgotten what came only just before. There was just too much to get through; it left us all feeling a bit sick.
San Francisco held not one but two blockbuster high-stakes elections in 2018. London Breed started out the year as mayor, was unseated, was in June elected by the voting public, saw the voting public spurn most all of her significant wishes in a disastrous November election — but enters the new year as the prohibitive favorite to win a mayoral contest that may or may not feature serious opposition.
Our electorate favored local and state representatives with potentially incompatible views on land use and local control; voters here, intriguingly, both reinforced and reproached the status quo.
This was a year that could’ve used an editor.
The year 2018 was a consequential one for this city. But, in the distant or even not-too-distant future, it may be seen most of all as an inflection point. San Franciscans were offered a distinct set of personnel and policy choices — two roads diverged in a peninsula…
We made our decisions. In the coming year, for good or ill, we will live with them.
It was George Carlin who noted that he put a dollar in the change machine, but nothing changed. In San Francisco, donors put millions of dollars into our political machine, but it’s hard to argue all that much has changed.
Perhaps that was the point.
London Breed was — and is — a compelling politician. There were — and are — compelling reasons to vote for her. But the office-seeker overtly supported by the city’s establishment and its entrenched bureaucracy, and with an inner circle in part cobbled from the last three mayors’ inner circles is not ostensibly the change candidate.
Accordingly, the mayor’s most visible actions have come around quality-of-life issues (“She talks a lot about poop on the ground,” confirms a City Hall ideological ally). Quality of life issues are important — hence the term “quality of life” — but it’s not something to storm the barricades over.
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The city now spends a stunning $65 million cleaning its streets. That’s some quality of life right there.
So, in the run-up to the 2019 election, it figures that Breed will continue to stress quality-of-life issues, and govern the way she has governed so far — in an even-keeled manner that doesn’t rock the boat, and hasn’t led to sweeping change.
Other than departed Department of Public Health boss Barbara Garcia — who resigned after city investigations alleged fiscal impropriety — no city department head has been shown the door. Breed sent a sternly worded letter to Muni director Ed Reiskin after it was uncovered that the transit agency clandestinely took buses and drivers off major routes to run shuttles during the Twin Peaks Tunnel upgrade, inducing a summertime Muni meltdown.
Muni officials, cavalierly, did not inform the mayor’s office they were doing this. Nevertheless, Reiskin asked for three months to show benchmark improvements. He didn’t meet them. He’s still on the job.
Muni’s transit director, John Haley, would all but certainly still be on the job, too, if he hadn’t been sued by a former underling alleging sexual harassment.
Intentionally kneecapping your own transit service and inconveniencing hundreds of thousands of daily riders — and, cynically, hiding behind Muni’s hyperbolically crappy reputation — won’t cost you your job in today’s San Francisco. But that will.
More than one sports-literate governmental observer likened Breed’s leadership style thus far to the old four-corners offense — a methodical, milk-the-clock strategy for a basketball coach who wants to preserve a lead.
If you wanted a mayor who’d take a figurative power washer to the interior of City Hall in addition to applying a literal one to the city’s fetid exteriors, you probably didn’t vote for Mayor Breed. If you have issues with a four-corners style of governance, you probably didn’t vote for Mayor Breed.
But she could be mayor for quite some time. San Franciscans were presented with a choice in 2018, and we selected Mayor Breed. Depending upon who files to run for mayor by the June 11, 2019 deadline, the 2018 election may be the last seriously contested mayoral race for many years to come.
Personalities don’t transfer. Ideals and beliefs transfer. San Franciscans elected Mayor Breed — and, not insignificantly, like Mayor Breed. But we didn’t like who or what she told us to vote for. Three of the four supervisor candidates she backed lost. And, despite a lived history unlike that of any prior San Francisco mayor, Breed still espoused the Chamber of Commerce position on homeless measure Proposition C, which she adamantly opposed. Some 61 percent of city voters saw things differently.
We’ll be sorting through the ramifications and recriminations stemming from these 2018 decisions in 2019 (and beyond).
The board of supervisors likely hasn’t had this much potential leverage and power since 2001, following a progressive sweep of Mayor Willie Brown’s handpicked slate. It remains to be seen how this board will govern and what issues our legislators will take up, but this much seems clear — a majority of them owe Mayor Breed nothing.
As such, Breed, making amends for her position on Prop. C, has proposed putting $181 million in windfall money toward homeless issues. But nine of the 11 supervisors-to-be have already essentially come out against that plan.
So, that’s interesting. Also interesting: Nearly every public-sector union’s contract is up in 2019. Which is, again, an election year — and that may just play into how these deals are cut.
Thanks to the leadership decisions we made in 2018, Mayor Breed will be deploying chief of staff (and labor bête noire) Sean Elsbernd to cut these deals — which will, in turn, come under the scrutiny of the labor-backed board of supervisors we just elected. (And if you think the Muni drivers’ union has forgotten that it was Elsbernd who authored the charter amendment that altered their pay structure — they remember).
- While we’re at it, the union that did the most to elect London Breed, the firefighters, will be eagerly awaiting her decision on who the next chief will be (Chief Joanne Hayes-White, whose ouster was openly called for by both the union and Breed in recent years, has announced she’ll retire in early 2019).
- While we’re at it, it remains to be seen if a board of supervisors elected as neighborhood character types and newly minted State Senate housing chair Scott Wiener’s relentless push for increased density and against local control have put this city’s local and state representatives on a collision course.
- And while we’re at it, it warrants mentioning that we adopted a Central SoMa Plan in 2018 without resolving exactly how to handle the Proposition M allocations that limit San Francisco office construction. City sources note there are seven or eight major project sites, but only the path forward to build on two or three. Competing developers, jockeying like crabs in a barrel, may in 2019 see fit to shower funds upon the mayor’s re-election campaign and politically favored SoMa nonprofits.
There will be land-use conflicts. Big money will slosh around the city. There will be a caucus fight. There will be an election. It all may be rather divisive; there will be calls for unity following the caucus fight and election. We’ll drink champagne on New Year’s Eve. Cal will probably lose the Big Game.
In 2019, we’ll play the hand we dealt ourselves in 2018. The past informs the present and the present informs the future. Best of luck to everyone in this year. And every year.