Why San Francisco is Broken!
“Moderate” political group TogetherSF seeks to change City government
•••••••••• February 9, 2023 ••••••••••
On 1/25/23, 100 San Franciscans poured into a Mission building to find out "Why San is Francisco Broken! (And How to Fix It)." The event was organized by TogetherSF a public benefit non-profit that works to educate the public about City government - and to hold City officials accountable. TogetherSF's seed funding came from Michael Moritz's Crankstart Foundation. Currently, "an array of individual, foundation and corporate donors" provide support per Executive Director, Kanishka Cheng.
The evening was hosted by Ms. Cheng. Civic engagement impresario Manny Yekutiel, of Manny's Gathering Space, animated the crowd with a political version of the game show Jeopardy. Why? Well, because San Francisco "is in jeopardy." The evening's premise was; "Rising crime, an out-of-control drug crisis, dysfunctional public schools, and unaffordable rent affect us all." Cheng explored 5 reasons why such problems persist and distributed an informative booklet on these topics.
Since the Mayor needs the Board of Supervisors to pass legislation, gridlock occurs if they are not aligned. But the benefits of such checks and balances evaporate when "factions" divide the Board and inhibit progress. Together SF asks; "Imagine running a company but having an oppositional board of directors." One example cited was Mayor Breed's repeated efforts to streamline housing construction in the City. When Breed placed Prop D before the voters in 2022; "The oppositional Board responded by placing the opposing Prop E on the ballot. Both ballots failed, and no change was made to expedite the production of housing in SF."
According to TogetherSF, the root of this gridlock is District elections for Supervisors.”
According to TogetherSF, the root of this gridlock is District elections for Supervisors. In recent years just 38% of District voters have participated in supervisor races. These active voters comprise just 25% of District residents. "As a result, supervisors are not only representing a small section of the city; they're representing a small percentage of that small section.
Often they start to cater to a vocal minority in order to win re-election instead of making decisions that would benefit a larger number of constituents." Because the Mayor is elected by the entire City in higher-turnout elections, "She is therefore responding to a different electorate than the supervisors with whom she must work closely." The proposed fix is to return to at-large board seats to get more done for the whole City.
All or Nothing Ideology
TogetherSF posits that; "A culture of prioritizing pure ideology over real-world solutions has infected San Francisco politics." For instance, the demand that new housing be 100% affordable means stalemate. That's because "It has become financially impossible for almost anyone – including city government – to build housing that is 100% affordable." The solution proposed is to allow market rate or mixed-affordability developments.
Similarly, advocating for permanent supportive housing for all homeless persons means that; "The waiting line for permanent supportive housing is tents on city sidewalks." The solution is to build more shelters. Likewise, the ideological fixation on personal liberties impedes interventions against public drug use and dealing as well as conservatorships for the mentally ill, resulting in chaos and misery on City streets. The proposed solution is to "elect candidates who focus on real-world solutions instead of ideology."
While commissions theoretically provide transparency and oversight for city departments "they do so at a high cost." Since commissioners aren't elected, they aren't accountable to voters. And, they can fire department heads. For example, the Elections Commission decided to release John Arntz, its capable 20-year Director, in order to pursue more hiring diversity. It took a huge backlash for the Commission to reverse its ideological decision. TogetherSF also cited the 4 separate oversight agencies tied to the Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing. The outcome: "All Oversight, No Action." Moreover, "Commissions also have a reputation for breeding political infighting because their appointments are traded favors among political elites." TogetherSF recommends reducing the power of commissions over City departments.
San Francisco "doled out" $1.4 billion across 600 non-profits in 2022. Yet, homelessness, drug overdose deaths, and mental illness have all risen. As exemplars of a broken system, TogetherSF points to the fiscal mismanagement at the homelessness/drug treatment non-profit, Positive Resource Center/Baker Places, as well as the United Council of Human Services. Urban Alchemy effectively patrols unruly City streets, yet its contract lacks outcome measures. Because of the City's laxity in setting and monitoring goals for its homelessness and drug treatment contractors, "residents and businesses pay high taxes without commensurate returns." Accordingly, merchants' associations in 2 neighborhoods have threatened to stop paying taxes if street conditions don't improve. While the Controller's Office does conduct fiscal audits of service providers, TogetherSF contends that; "there is no similar system for efficacy." The solution offered is to implement a "performance-based contracting system."
Endorsements Run Amok
The City's Democratic County Central Committee (SFDCCC), "a Goliath that moves lots of votes", represents the national Democratic Party. "The SFDCCC's endorsement allows candidates to access party money and reach more voters… However, over the last few elections, the SFDCCC has fallen out of touch with the average voter by (promoting) candidates and policy ideas that the majority of voters do not support." The SFDCCC opposed the recalls of 3 members of the Board of Education and former District Attorney, Chesa Boudin - despite a majority of voters supporting those recalls. Instead of "working behind the scenes" to endorse unpopular candidates and initiatives, TogetherSF wants the SFDCCC to focus on registering Democratic voters and strengthening Democratic Party efforts for upcoming Presidential elections.
Kanishka Cheng remarked that the City's impending budget crisis could bring "an opportunity to closely examine contracts and non-profit spending." She urged the audience to host events to discuss issues.
TogetherSF organizes other relevant and informative meetings – from a "moderate" political perspective. For example, on 2/1/23 the group tackled "What We Can Do About San Francisco's Drug Crisis." The answer: mobilizing San Franciscans to push City Hall to eliminate open-air drug markets and invest much more in Drug Recovery programs. Opportunities to participate in these activities and future public forums can be found at TogetherSF Action.
Dr. Derek Kerr is a San Francisco investigative reporter for the Westside Observer and a member of SPJ-NorCal. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
February 9, 2023