Amid growing public discontent about San Francisco's direction and a darkening economic forecast, Mayor London Breed attempted to rally the business community for support in helping to push through her political agenda.
“The sad reality is now we are starting to experience what happens when you put forth bad policies. It’s crippling business in San Francisco like never before,” Breed told an audience of around 500 business and civic leaders at the annual Chamber of Commerce CityBeat breakfast at Pier 27 on Tuesday.
She specifically named public safety, homelessness and housing, and efforts to reform the city’s tax code as her main priorities. She also touted recent developments in AI that are centered in San Francisco, her funding boost to law enforcement and proposed zoning changes to transform the city’s central business district as examples of progress made.
“I need the business community to have the courage to stand with me. I need the business community to be willing to take chances,” she said. “I’m counting on you and counting on your support to help us get through the next couple of years.”
It’s clear, at least according to the results of a CityBeat Poll sponsored by the chamber, where residents see the arrow pointing. The survey found 76% of San Francisco voters say that the city is heading on the wrong track and 73% said the quality of life has gotten worse over the past few years.
Breed may need all the support she can get: A separate poll commissioned by the San Francisco Deputy Sheriffs’ Association found that 53% of San Francisco voters felt she didn’t deserve to be reelected in 2024.
GET THE INSIDE SCOOP: Power Play is The Standard's new insider email newsletter covering City Hall and politics. Sign up here.
The number of people who named crime as a major issue ballooned from 26% in 2020 to 60% in 2023, according to the City Beat Poll. While a vast majority (91%) of San Francisco voters agreed that a thriving Downtown is critical to the city’s economy, only 64% said they feel safe visiting the area during the day, and a mere 30% said the same at night.
The economic picture is not looking much brighter. The overarching message from Jeff Korzenik, the chief economist at Fifth Third Bank who spoke at the event, was “we’re running out of time” to turn things around. Economic indicators, including an unprecedented labor shortage, are pointing to a possible recession, he said.
In her speech, Breed pitched some blue-sky ideas that could help revitalize Downtown. The Nordstrom space at the Westfield San Francisco Centre could become a new lab or R&D facility, she said. Or perhaps the roof of Moscone Center could transform into a new soccer field.
“We have to look at the Westfield mall not as a mall losing stores — which probably most people didn’t shop in — but as a place right for reimagining from science to technology or lab space,” Breed said. “We have to be bold. Some of it may never happen, but that shouldn’t stop us from putting pen to paper.”
Breed made sure to throw a jab at “others in the news media who don’t even live here” to scattered applause in reference to the barrage of negative headlines about the city in recent months.
Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin also spoke at the event a few hours prior to a rare public hearing at United Nations Plaza Tuesday afternoon, during which the board tried to question Breed about the city’s drug crisis before the event was cut short by heckling and moved indoors.
Peskin discussed cutting through factionalism to get the basics of city government right, a bit of an ironic point from someone who’s been a near-constant presence atop city government for two decades.
“This is a time to get back to basics," Peskin said. "There are no progressive or moderate potholes to fill, so to speak. There are just potholes to fill.”
Peskin, whose district includes a wide swath of Downtown, said “everything is on the table” for its recovery.
“This is a time to check politics,” Peskin said. “A lot of folks who lived in their own silos who demonized other voices are starting to talk to each other because we don't have the luxury not to do so.”
Among Peskin’s examples of this growing comity are his efforts to clear the way for the conversion of 435 Mason St. into 56 units of housing and developer Boston Properties finding a home for shuttered Mexican restaurant Don Ramon's in the Embarcadero Center.
He also alluded to the upcoming budget negotiations, which will require widespread cuts as the city looks to digest a nearly $800 million dollar deficit over the next two years, in part due to the staggered recovery of Downtown.
“Fiscal prudence is a progressive value,” Peskin said. “We've got a lot of ‘want to haves.’ We've got to get back to the ‘need to haves.’”
Kevin Truong can be reached at [email protected]