SF mayor defiant in State of the City: 'like air, I rise'

  • by John Ferrannini, Assistant Editor
  • Thursday February 9, 2023
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San Francisco Mayor London Breed delivered her State of the City address Thursday. Photo: Screengrab via SFGovTV
San Francisco Mayor London Breed delivered her State of the City address Thursday. Photo: Screengrab via SFGovTV

Mayor London Breed made downtown revitalization a key part of her State of the City address in the city's Dogpatch neighborhood midday Thursday, in a defiant address where she said San Francisco has seen tough times before, yet has always survived prophecies of impending doom.

She also mentioned the city's LGBTQ Castro neighborhood and said the city would continue to uplift the transgender community, which at the national level is the subject of fierce bigotry and anti-trans legislation.

It appears that San Francisco's downtown will be forever changed due to the COVID pandemic.

"There's a whole ecosystem of naysayers around San Francisco," Breed said, mentioning pessimism after the 1906 and 1989 earthquakes, the Summer of Love, and the dot-com bust. "I want to say something to the media talking heads ... 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 write in pencil."

The mayor used the speech to discuss her Roadmap to Downtown San Francisco's Future, a nine-part plan that acknowledges in-person office work in the city's core may never return to pre-COVID pandemic levels. The issue has garnered national press attention.

Downtown San Francisco is "perhaps the most deserted major downtown in America," the New York Times reported late last year, with office buildings at about 40% of pre-COVID capacity "on any given week." The Times also reported the vacancy rate has quintupled to 24%.

As major companies have made work-from-home permanent or have left the city entirely, the city has started experiencing budget shortfalls, with a $728 million deficit expected over the next two fiscal years. The outpouring of downtown workers has also led small businesses that had benefited from foot traffic before, during and after office hours to shutter.

The plan for the city's financial district and surrounding areas, announced in a news release from Breed's office, includes proposals to improve street conditions, increase flexibility in zoning to allow for more bars and restaurants (including the creation of an Arts, Culture, and Entertainment zone), create financial stability for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and implement Breed's housing strategy, Housing for All.

"We have to acknowledge a tough fact," Breed said. "San Francisco's downtown as we know it is not coming back, and you know what? That's OK. Empty office buildings downtown fueled dire economic predictions ... but let's keep some perspective here. In 1907, downtown was mostly rubble and ash. That's way worse than a shift in how people are working."

The mayor proposed offering "tax breaks for three years for any company that wants to start business in San Francisco."


Breed then went into her housing plan, which would create 82,000 new homes over the next eight years, as required in the Housing Element city officials recently sent to the state. However, the mayor acknowledged completing this goal would require building three times as fast as the city did in the past decade.

Still, "we actually created most of the housing we need — on paper," Breed said, adding that 52,000 units have been approved "but for a variety of reasons simply aren't being built."

She blamed unnamed forces she characterized as being against housing construction.

"People who say homelessness is about housing, nothing but housing, are often the same people who block new housing time and time again," Breed said to applause. "Time and time again."


Breed said that for all the negative headlines the city generates around its homelessness crisis, "San Francisco was the only county in the Bay Area to reduce homelessness in the past three years," touting a 15% reduction in unsheltered people on the street. She added the city was able to get 2,400 households into permanent supportive housing and 7,000 into shelters. It also provided rental assistance and other support to some 10,000.

Breed specifically praised gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman's efforts to connect unhoused people with care and services in the Castro, which is part of his district.

"With Supervisor Mandelman we're starting to see some success in the Castro with people who've refused services for years," Breed said. "That targeted, coordinated, consistent approach is working and we need to export it to other neighborhoods."

Mandelman told the B.A.R. after the initial online publication of this report, "I thought it was a solid speech. She identified the obvious challenges, laid out her plans at a high level and pushed back on the doomsayers."

Breed also thanked San Francisco voters for electing Mandelman's gay colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey in the South of Market and District 4 Supervisor Joel Engardio in the Outer Sunset. The two were elected over more progressive opponents — Engardio defeated incumbent Gordon Mar — and Breed characterized their elections as part of "a mandate to get the basics right, to deliver the basics ... to put results before posturing."

"Thank you for electing Supervisors Matt Dorsey and Joel Engardio, who champion public safety and who, like me, refuse to accept rampant drug sales and struggling schools," she said.

Dorsey thanked Breed for her speech in a statement to the B.A.R. Thursday afternoon.

"Kudos to Mayor London Breed for articulating a bold, solutions-oriented vision on public safety, downtown recovery and addressing the myriad - and too often deadly - harms of our drug crisis," Dorsey stated. "Mayor Breed's State of the City speech was unflinching about our problems, yet optimistic about how we solve them. That's the leadership our city needs right now, and I'll continue to be a full partner with her and my board colleagues to help lead San Francisco's comeback."

Engardio said he was not able to attend the speech due to an emergency in his district.

"I had to miss the address because of a house explosion and three-alarm fire in the Sunset," Engardio said. "I rushed from City Hall to the scene."

An explosion on the 1700 block of 22nd Avenue left one dead, two injured, and damaged three homes Thursday morning, according to the San Francisco Fire Department. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

More funding for police proposed

Breed said she is proposing more police funding to make drug arrests. The San Francisco Police Department is currently understaffed by around 500 officers.

"I will be introducing a $25 million budget supplemental to fund overtime and keep our officers walking beats, making drug arrests, and addressing retail theft," she said. "I want to make one thing very clear: I am not OK with open-air drug dealing in this city. Period. The families who are losing people to fentanyl are certainly not OK with it. And the people who work and live in the Tenderloin are not okay with it either."

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Breed met recently with a group of Tenderloin business leaders who had threatened to withhold tax payments to the city, like those in the Castro, as the B.A.R. previously reported. On Monday the police launched what is being called "Operation Disruption," aimed at arresting drug dealers in the neighborhood.

"We will be closely monitoring police action and plan to stay in communication with the Mayor's office and the police. Progress will be acknowledged and encouraged. Stagnation or regression will be protested," stated the Tenderloin Business Coalition in an email sent out Thursday morning prior to Breed's speech.

Helping the trans community

While reiterating existing policies, Breed also gave a shout-out to the transgender community and pledged that the city "will continue uplifting and defending trans people in the face of unspeakable bigotry around the country."

The Transgender District declined to comment.

Breed concluded that "we will never give up" on the city.

"In this city, anything is possible. We turn ships into hotels and offices. Power plants into housing and new neighborhoods. We build satellites that sweep across the sky," she said. "And we create a world where young girls from the projects can live their dream to serve as mayor."

Updated, 2/9/23: This article has been updated with comments from Supervisor Rafael Mandelman.

Updated, 2/10/23: This article has been updated to indicate a fatality and injuries at the house explosion that Supervisor Joel Engardio responded to Thursday.

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