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wolf among sheep

Sowing Discord

Big money ‘neighborhood’ groups step up campaign of take-over tactics.

•••••••••• January 19, 2023 ••••••••••

Julia Pitta
Julie Pitta

San Francisco’s billionaires are waging war on Progressives, spending millions in a disinformation campaign that is as disingenuous as it is relentless.
The battle plan is to rouse voter discontent, most notably over the conditions on city streets. The misery on San Francisco streets is all too real. The billionaires’ assessment of its causes is deeply flawed.

Billionaires blame Progressives policies when nothing could be further from the truth. The City’s ills are the direct result of decades of so-called moderate mayors who prioritized big business over struggling San Franciscans.

The City’s mayor enjoys extraordinary power, controlling most of the discretionary part of San Francisco’s nearly $14 billion budget as well as appointments to most departments and commissions. In fact, legislation passed by the Board of Supervisors cannot be funded without mayoral approval.

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More than a year before the November 2024 election, the billionaires are once again taking aim. Several months ago, GrowSF announced campaigns to “Dump Dean” and “Clear Out Connie,” referring to District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan. Preston, who has a long history fighting for tenants’ rights and advocating for affordable housing, is painted as anti-housing. Chan, who as budget chair recommended a handsome 8.5% increase for the San Francisco Police Department, is called anti-police.”

San Francisco hasn’t had Progressive mayor since Art Agnos left office more than 30 years ago. Progressives held a majority on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for a single election cycle, one that ended in 2022.

The truth is that Progressives have been largely alone in fighting for solutions to bring a modicum of relief to struggling San Franciscans. They’ve consistently pushed for higher minimum wages, affordable housing and programs for unhoused San Franciscans, often facing staunch opposition from pro-business mayors.

Those programs frequently call for sacrifices on the part of those who’ve made their fortunes in the Bay Area’s fertile landscape. The billionaires have little interest in paying their fair share for doing business in San Francisco and its environs. They’re using disinformation to vanquish any opposition to their selfish interests.

It all began with a series of richly funded recall campaigns.

Political Action Committees (PACs) like GrowSF and Neighbors for a Better San Francisco came on the scene during the recalls of former school board members Alison Collins, Gabriela Lopez, and Faauuga Moliga.

These wealthy PACs capitalized on parent discontent over pandemic-forced school closures. The three board members were criticized for their caution; no matter that San Francisco’s aging schools were woefully unprepared to make in-person teaching even remotely safe.

One recall begat another. Their next target was District Attorney Chesa Boudin, elected on a platform of reforming a deeply unfair criminal justice system. Boudin became fair game once he promised to prosecute white collar criminals. Again, piles of PAC money funded a cynical disinformation campaign: Boudin was blamed for changes in crime patterns regardless that his scant year in office could have little impact on crime patterns one way or another.

The accusations stuck, as they do, when millions are spent to spread half-truths and outright lies. Collins, Lopez and Moliga were ousted as was Boudin.

Between the school board and Boudin’s, San Francisco billionaires had their finest moment. The Redistricting Task Force, a nine-member panel appointed by the mayor, the Department of Elections and the Board of Supervisors, set about to redrawing the City’s 11 supervisorial districts. The mayor’s appointees to the commission were all, but handpicked by the City’s corporate elite. At least one was a member of GrowSF.

Among the factors the task force was charged with was ensuring that the voting power of communities of interest (defined as ethnic, political, social and economic minorities) remained intact. Instead, the pro-business majority created a map that diminished the power of the communities the task force was sworn to protect.

That was always the plan: Districts with a concentration of minority voters tend to vote for Progressive candidates.

The results were immediate: District 4 Supervisor Gordon Mar, a respected member of the Board of Supervisors and a Chinese-American in a neighborhood with a large Asian population, was defeated by the narrowest of margins. Mar was replaced by Joel Engardio, a onetime member of GrowSF. Billionaire money fueled the disinformation machinery, blaming Mar for a myriad of sins including a crime increase that even law enforcement says was the result of COVID-19.

More than a year before the November 2024 election, the billionaires are once again taking aim. Several months ago, GrowSF announced campaigns to “Dump Dean” and “Clear Out Connie,” referring to District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and District 1 Supervisor Connie Chan. Preston, who has a long history fighting for tenants’ rights and advocating for affordable housing, is painted as anti-housing. Chan, who as budget chair recommended a handsome 8.5% increase for the San Francisco Police Department, is called anti-police.
 
Last February, Michael Moritz, TogetherSF’s billionaire backer, wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times complaining that Progressive policies had ruined San Francisco, saying the City is suffering from “the tyranny of the minority.”

Moritz has spent $11 million during the last 15 years to buy influence at City Hall. He, and business leaders like him, enjoy all the access and power that money can buy. The pain on city streets is the direct result of policies they’ve pushed and elected officials they’ve bankrolled.
San Francisco’s problem isn’t the tyranny of the Progressive minority, it’s that of billionaires like Michael Moritz.

Julie Pitta is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times and senior editor at Forbes Magazine. She is a neighborhood activist and an officer of the San Francisco Berniecrats. Email her at julie.pitta@gmail.com. Follow her on X (Twitter): @juliepitta

 

January 19, 2024

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