Editorial: SF not progressive? Think again

  • by BAR Editorial Board
  • Wednesday March 13, 2024
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San Francisco Mayor London Breed claimed election night victories for three of her ballot measures. Photo: Rick Gerharter<br>
San Francisco Mayor London Breed claimed election night victories for three of her ballot measures. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The chattering classes were out in force last week declaring that San Francisco can no longer be called a progressive city because moderates have apparently won most of the seats on the Democratic County Central Committee and voters passed three local measures backed by Mayor London Breed. Supporters said those would improve public safety (Proposition E), drug test single adults with addictions as a condition to receive county assistance and get them into treatment (Prop F), and encourage housing in commercial spaces downtown (Prop C). While we did not endorse Props E and F, their passage doesn't mean San Francisco is no longer progressive. It's not like what happened in Huntington Beach, where voters passed Measure B, which bans the city from displaying the Pride flag, with a whopping 57% of the vote. By contrast, we'd call what happened with Prop E an overreaction — one that voters will hopefully redress — to the perception that crime is out of control. The drug crisis, on the other hand, is very real, but penalizing poor people by cutting off their general assistance if they're using is draconian.

These measures passed in large part because progressives didn't offer any alternatives. David Campos, a gay man, progressive, and former supervisor, told the San Francisco Chronicle that progressives need to better articulate ideas and solutions that make people feel safe.

To be sure, we have serious concerns with Prop E, especially regarding vehicle pursuits. The Chronicle recently ran a series detailing how, over six years, more than 500 people across the country have died as a result of police chases. San Francisco, as we've noted, tightened its policies on police chases several years ago; now that work threatens to be undone because of Prop E. We hope that cooler heads prevail. We're concerned about the surveillance aspects of Prop E, as the Board of Supervisors adopted a comprehensive surveillance policy in 2019. And we're worried about how Prop E will affect the police commission, which is supposed to provide independent oversight and is doing that.

Gay District 8 Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, who was once president of the progressive Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club, told members of the Castro Merchants Association last week that the city took a turn toward "pragmatism." "We got a whole bunch of shifts to the reasonable in this election," the supervisor said. "Don't worry — San Franciscans are still crazy lefties. We'll be back, but for now there is some desire for some pragmatism." On the other hand, Mandelman pointed out voters passed a $300 million affordable housing bond, which bodes well for helping the city in addressing its housing crisis.

Pragmatic, however, can be defined in many ways, and unfortunately, we don't see that in Prop F. The passage of Prop F signals to us that voters don't seem to support harm reduction like they used to. Breed at one time was much more vocal about support for supervised consumption sites, for example, which is a form of harm reduction. By requiring those who receive County Adult Assistance Program funds (single, 65 and under with no dependent children) to be screened for substance dependence, San Francisco sends the wrong message. Realistically, the measure scapegoats poor people who are addicted, and the important thing to remember is that treatment doesn't work unless the person is ready for it and, when they are, there is space for them in a program. Voters who think there are massive numbers of people who will be kicked off their benefits are incorrect. So is the argument made by proponents that those who may be in line to lose their cash benefits will get treatment options. The city can't even implement its own 2022 Overdose Prevention Plan, as Prop F opponents noted.

We supported Prop C because it could help revitalize downtown by having developers convert office space into housing. This possibility has been discussed as the city emerges from the COVID pandemic, but it's not easy or cheap. That was the impetus behind Breed's proposal to exempt real estate transfer taxes the first time a property is transferred after being converted from a commercial to residential use.

By and large, San Francisco is a progressive city, especially when compared to other locales in California and beyond. The city remains a beacon for LGBTQ people, with three cultural districts supporting the community in different ways, including entrepreneur incubators that help queer people learn about starting their own businesses. Many political leaders considered moderate here would be "crazy lefties" almost anywhere else. And that's a good thing.

There may be some hiccups, and the city will need to correctly implement the new measures. If police vehicle chases increase and innocent people start getting killed, we think some immediate corrective action will be in order. The same is true of Prop F — the city needs to ramp up treatment options before it starts screening people.

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