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Editorial: Leno top choice for SF mayor

by BAR Editorial Board

Mark Leno
Mark Leno  

San Francisco is in crisis. Not enough affordable housing; lack of housing for people who are homeless, including LGBTQ youth; filthy streets and sidewalks strewn with needles, feces, and trash; and a certain status quo attitude at City Hall that we think needs to change. If city residents truly want a new direction, then we recommend Mark Leno as our first choice for mayor. Leno, a gay man, has decades of experience and public service. He's a former city supervisor and served as an assemblyman and senator in the state Legislature. That he would be San Francisco's first openly gay chief executive is not lost on many LGBTQs, but being mayor involves a deep understanding of how the city works, what changes are needed to make it better, and an ability to respond to an emergency quickly and with resolve. We think Leno meets those qualifications.

He has a solid plan for ending street homelessness and related problems by 2020. Key to his plan, he says, is utilizing 1,500 empty single-room occupancy hotel units that are spread across various buildings, making for complicated negotiations with multiple parties. "Now, will it be challenging to access them?" Leno asked at our editorial board meeting. "You bet. In my opinion, a day should not go by where the mayor of San Francisco is not sitting down and negotiating with at least one, if not more, of these property owners to gain access to those units." The cost would be about $1.2 million for 50 units, which would include wraparound social services, or about $36 million for 1,500 rooms. That's a lot of money, but there will be savings in the long run because the city will spend less on medical costs for treating homeless people who are brought to Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, for example. His plan will also house people, which is critical to their well-being and keeping them out of crises. In fact, central to Leno's campaign on the issues of homelessness and housing stabilization is that "the first step in all of this is keeping those who have a home in their home," he said.

But it's not just homeless people who need housing. Middle-class residents, such as teachers and service employees, cannot afford to rent or buy a home in San Francisco. "We need to have some sustainability and some certainty to our housing situation here and we just don't have it," Leno said. "Again, it is not specific to San Francisco. It is not unique; it is a regional statewide problem and a national problem. We see the worst of it here." To help solve that, Leno would advocate for less tax breaks for big corporations and more for increasing the construction trade workforce, which was devastated during the 2008 recession.

He would also like to change the city's budgeting process and demand real results from departments. Right now, he said, departments submit their budgets to City Hall, usually with a modest increase. But there's little review to determine whether departments' programs actually work or that the money is spent as intended. Leno would institute zero-based budgeting, by which the mayor's office can review line items for fraud, abuse, or waste. As Leno pointed out, the city can't afford financial inefficiencies right now. "And I, as mayor, can't allow any of that because I need money to do what I want to do," he told us. "And before I can ask anyone for a tax increase, we've got to be able to honestly say we're using your tax dollars effectively today and we need more for this or that."

Leno has been running a campaign to "shake up City Hall." He told us that he would conduct a managerial and performance audit of department heads - the implication being that changes likely will be made. The same is true of city boards and commissions, where Leno said there are attendance problems for many appointees and, as mayor, he would return to keeping records, as used to happen. A solution must be found if commissions can't meet because too many members are absent.

He would not commit to appointing an LGBT person to every city board and commission - we asked - but he did say he would commit to making sure commissions reflect the face of San Francisco. "So I will be there to support my community, the LGBT community, but I will be there to support the Chinese-American community because they're under-represented. I will be there for the Latino community, the African-American community. The commissions should reflect the face of San Francisco."

We believe Leno will be a mayor for all San Franciscans. And we think the time is now - when LGBTQs are often targeted by the federal government - to have an out gay leader for our city.

London Breed. Photo: Kelly Sullivan  

London Breed, second choice
San Francisco's ranked choice voting for mayor allows voters to select up to three candidates in order of preference. Our second choice for mayor is Board of Supervisors President London Breed. She briefly became acting mayor last December when Mayor Ed Lee died suddenly of a heart attack. But rather than keep Breed in that position as provided by the City Charter, the majority of her board colleagues decided that she should not be acting mayor, board president, supervisor, and a candidate for mayor all at the same time, and voted for Supervisor Mark Farrell to assume the duties of mayor in late January. That vote may cost some candidates in the June 5 election, as a backlash gave Breed's campaign a jolt of enthusiasm.

She, too, would represent change at City Hall. An African-American woman who was raised in public housing here, Breed has a very compelling life story that resonates. She has also evolved on key positions, such as supporting safe injection sites, and recognizes that the city must try new programs to address addiction issues among those who are homeless.

Breed also wants to try something new for LGBTQ homeless youth. Modeled after a similar program in Minneapolis, her host home proposal would match adults who are interested in taking in homeless youth. She's also interested in opening a Navigation Center-type shelter for homeless LGBTQ youth, though a location would probably be the biggest barrier. "I want to take people who are on the streets and I want to make sure they are housed," Breed said during our editorial board meeting. "But I want to keep them housed. And keeping them housed requires a lot of work sometimes, a lot of wraparound services. It requires a community."

Breed has already successfully negotiated the sale of the McDonald's property in the Haight to the city for new housing development. As acting mayor, Breed advanced the late mayor Ed Lee's commitment to get 1,000 homeless individuals off the streets during the winter by expanding shelter capacity and opening new units of permanent affordable housing for formerly homeless veterans at the Auburn Hotel.

Public safety is a concern for Breed. She acknowledged recent news of a police officer allegedly using religious and homophobic slurs against fellow officers and members of the public. She supports Police Chief William Scott (who is one of the finalists for the top job at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he used to work), but said she would move more aggressively to get any police chief to respond swiftly when addressing slurs because, as she told us, "words have power." She praised the San Francisco Police Department for its many good officers, captains, and command staff, and said she values their work in the community.

Breed also wants an improved budgeting process to include more accountability attached to dollars, not only for city departments, but for nonprofit agencies that receive city funding.

Jane Kim. Photo: Kelly Sullivan  

Jane Kim, third choice
Our third choice, District 6 Supervisor Jane Kim, is running a strong campaign for mayor. She is pushing an affordable housing bond to fund homeless services, possibly for the November ballot. She thinks the city has made a big dent in housing homeless families, and thinks the city should do everything it can to keep those at risk of homelessness in place. As she pointed out, the hardest group to house is the one people see everyday: the chronically homeless. She is committed to housing vulnerable groups like transitional age youth, LGBTQ youth, veterans, and others.

Kim's top priorities are clean streets, creating central units in the police department and district attorney's office to tackle auto burglaries, and improving shelter access and medical care for homeless people.

Long a champion of affordable housing, Kim's plan recognizes the need to build more middle-class and affordable housing while simultaneously preserving and maintaining the existing affordable housing stock. Her platform calls for increasing daytime hours and staffing at shelters so that homeless people have a place to go during the day and deploy city-operated portable bath/shower buses for homeless residents where and when they are needed citywide. She wants to streamline the process for homeless residents to access shelters and conduct an audit of SRO facilities to identify unoccupied or under-occupied units.

In our editorial board meeting, Kim also discussed problems in the police department and said she has zero tolerance for bigotry. "I want to be fair, SFPD is reflective, unfortunately, of our greater society as a whole," she said. "Just like we have not eliminated homophobia, and racism, and sexism from our society, we have not eliminated them from our police department." She has confidence in police chief Scott.

Each of these three candidates possesses individual strengths that would make them powerful mayors to stand up to President Donald Trump and his administration's policies that target immigrants, LGBTQ people, minorities, and progressive cities like San Francisco. The city is eager for innovation. Leno, Breed, or Kim promise change, and have ideas that would put San Francisco on a path to addressing homelessness and the acute affordability pressures that have overwhelmed many residents.


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