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Politics & Policy

Mayor Breed blasts housing critics, media in State of the City speech

San Francisco Mayor London Breed delivers a State of the City address at Pier 70 in San Francisco on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023. | Noah Berger for The Standard

Mayor London Breed used a good chunk of her annual State of the City speech to tell a very long story about a very old ship, and we could repeat all the details of the tortured metaphor involving the majestic Niantic but, alas, who’s got time for that?

Below are the top five moments of Thursday’s speech at Pier 70, where the mayor talked about San Francisco’s ongoing recovery efforts from the pandemic, how the city will meet its housing goals and why the media has it all wrong.

1. Will the Downtown Area Ever Recover?

Mayor Breed used her speech to reset expectations on the dire situation in Downtown, which has been largely abandoned by office workers since the start of the pandemic.

In truth, there just isn’t much a mayor can do when it comes to forcing companies to have employees show up at an office five days a week. Shrugging it off and finding new solutions is, in fact, the only solution—at least politically.

The mayor did go out of her way to note that the situation isn’t as bad as the recovery effort from the 1906 earthquake, which destroyed most of the city, so there’s that.

“Let’s keep some perspective. In 1907, Downtown was mostly rubble and ash,” Breed said. “That’s considerably worse than today’s shift in how people work.”

2. Wait, So Does the Mayor Have a Plan?

Mayor Breed does have a plan! 

Her newly announced “A Roadmap for the Future of Downtown”—not to be confused with her other road maps—will require legislation to pause taxes on retailers, hotels, the manufacturing sector, and arts and entertainment businesses. New companies in San Francisco will get three-year tax breaks.

Breed suggested the City Controller’s Office and supervisors will hash out a thoughtful plan, which she added is preferable to “the endless cycle of one-off tax measures thrown on the ballot without any real thought or analysis.”

The mayor also floated a new Arts, Culture and Entertainment District, which presumably will be Downtown. However, city officials haven’t decided exactly where.

3. What Was the Funniest Moment of the Speech?

Mayor Breed is apparently a big backer of artificial intelligence, and she wasn’t alone Thursday. 

While the mayor championed the “groundbreaking industry” of AI and how it’s growing right here in San Francisco, a man in the crowd raised his fist in solidarity. With AI. 

4. What About the $728 Million Projected Deficit?

Mayor Breed’s ambitions for the next year have obviously been tempered by the massive budget shortfall expected to hit San Francisco. She suggested Supervisors Aaron Peskin and Connie Chan, who are president of the board and budget chair respectively, can be trusted to help the city achieve its goals.

She paused to grin—or maybe more accurately grimace—at that thought of that $728 million shortfall.

“We won’t solve all of San Francisco’s problems in a year, and we can’t fear trying new things,” Breed said. “Because if we stand still, we fall behind. When we push forward, even if we stumble, we stumble forward.”

No issue has had more stumbles in San Francisco than housing, and the mayor’s ambitious new “Housing for All” plan will be controversial.

“You cannot say you want to address homelessness without building homes,” Breed said. “And yet so many of the critics who claim homelessness is all about—and only about—a lack of housing are the same critics who block pro-housing policies time and time again. Not anymore.”

5. What Line Got People Going?

Mayor Breed’s best line of the day, which received a standing ovation, focused on the media for printing stories about the city and its crises, as well as its elected officials. I have no idea why she would say such a thing.

“I want to say something to the media talking heads,” Breed said, “the critics, to the men who point out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better: As Maya Angelou said, ‘You may shoot me with your words […] But still, like air, I rise.’

“So you can write us off, but you better be writing in pencil.”

This was by far the most authentic moment of Mayor’s Breed 30-minute speech, proving she is not afraid of a good fight. It would have been nice to see her bring that smoke from the start instead of waxing poetic about a ship.

Josh Koehn can be reached at