Mayor Race and business leaders pledge vision for New City SF.


New York City’s famous grouch Fran Lebowitz had some particularly poignant words for San Francisco on Feb. 1 at the Sidney Goldstein Theater’s Urban Arts and Talks event.

“There’s no city as murdered as San Francisco,” she told the Inquirer’s Manny Yekutiel. “Killed by covid. Killed.”

She blamed tech companies for leaving the city, which she spent walking around downtown during her visit. But if Mayor London Brad is the doctor charged with bringing San Francisco back to life, she’s been sitting at the patient’s bedside waiting for a miracle for a long time. “Get back to work!” She says companies and their employees ignore her.

Finally, on Thursday, the mayor gave a broad outline of her medical plan in her annual State of the City address, and the ideas are worthy if delayed. Gone are the days when all City Hall — and all San Franciscans — can focus so intently on downtown because the fate of our city largely depends on its revitalization.

Before the pandemic, downtown provided 70% of the city’s jobs and most of its tax revenue. Considering the city supervisor estimates that there will be a $1.4 billion increase in spending over the next five years and a $1.2 billion budget gap if no action is taken, treating downtown is important. This is what funds the programs we hold dear – homeless services and drug rehab, affordable housing and street improvements, parks and schools.

Homelessness is one of San Francisco's most pressing concerns.

Homelessness is one of San Francisco’s most pressing concerns.

Jessica Christian/The Chronicles 2022

Lebowitz was right that downtown San Francisco was hit harder by the epidemic than any other North American city. Cell phone data shows that the downtown core is seeing 31 percent of recreational activity in 2019. Other California cities fare much better: San Diego sits at 99% of pre-pandemic levels, Sacramento at 75% and San Jose at 68%. . Lebowitz’s own New York City returned 74%.

The consequences of San Francisco’s foot-dragging are dire. BART, for example, has only recovered 40 percent and is at risk when federal pandemic funding runs out in early 2025. If ridership doesn’t rebound significantly, the agency could be forced to stop trains at 9 a.m. weekdays, eliminate weekend service, close some stations, add 60-minute wait times for trains and lay off employees, spokeswoman Alicia Trost told me.

Trost said San Francisco officials’ sense of urgency to restore downtown pales in comparison to efforts like “New York.” A 148-page plan from Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mayor Eric Adams and civic leaders was unveiled in December.

“We can’t survive without something significant happening in downtown San Francisco,” Trost said. “New York has an amazing plan, and I haven’t seen anything like it in the Bay Area.”

Brad said she relied on the business leaders who advise her, and at least one admitted they spent 2022 hoping the economic outlook would improve and workers would return to the office.

“There’s been a lot of denial in government and business that the city’s situation isn’t bad,” said Wade Rose, president of Advance SF, a business advocacy group. “That time has passed, and now it’s time to try to find a solution.

Brad shared the highlights of her “Road to Recovery” address Thursday, but her advisors shared more about what’s to come with me.

A group of business leaders — including representatives from Advance SF, the Chamber of Commerce, the Bay Area Council, SPR, the Hotel Council and the Golden Gate Restaurant Association — have been meeting with the mayor’s office since April to discuss a route to downtown Juice. With 49 ideas he’ll be showing off in public over the next few weeks, they’re confirmed in the oh-so-ideal image of San Francisco.

“There is no silver bullet,” Rose told me. “There is only silver and silver.”

And he means that downtown revitalization requires small ideas that hopefully come together and build on each other.

Among the 49 proposals is to allow builders to defer license fees until after their projects are built, rather than up front. In this way, they earn money by renting out or selling their properties.


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