III. Municipal Reform

1. Introduction

The new economy is about what we build after the financial collapse, not an attempt to return to 2006. The new economy should not be dependent on the latest venture capital fad or boom-and-bust cycles, but instead should be about creating a resilient and sustainable economy.

We want development with equity. The concept of “smart growth” needs to be taken back from those who use it as another term for more hyper-development, and instead infuse it with a vision with equity at its core, that serves all San Franciscans, not just development to attract some future population while leaving our current residents behind.

We need to redefine livelihood. “Jobs” has become a wedge issue, a red herring to buy support for real estate speculation, when we need to rethink the kinds of sustainable, long-term, career pathway jobs that we want out of development. We need to redefine work and livelihood as meaningful economic opportunities for everyone in a community.

Finally, we need to be clear about the role of government. We need to make explicit the connection between the “economy” and public policies and investments. We need to reverse the hollowing out of local government that has occurred over the past two decades, where the main role of government had become to promote “the market” rather than to shape the economy. San Francisco’s current economic agenda has been about attracting new upscale residents, rather than serving the people and communities who already live here. San Francisco is employing less San Franciscans now than in previous decades, and this is not a sustainable model for a city.

It is time to rethink both the context and strategy of economic development in a manner that mobilizes underutilized local resources and governmental capacity, and that seeks to rebalance the emphasis on “external” linkages with a conception of development attuned and reflective of the needs of existing residents.

We propose a vision for City economic development that produces a healthy and growing economic base, that provides diverse goods and services to residents, that promotes a strong fiscal basis for local government, that combats economic disruption and commercial / residential displacement, and that offers entrepreneurial and employment opportunities for residents while providing affordable housing and services to all, particularly working class and lower income populations. Government is presently not structured to propose, much less carry out, a program to achieve that vision. Historically it has deferred responsibility to the private sector whose incompetence and greed have produced the present economic crisis.

To this end, we propose that any re-conceptualization of local development be rooted in the following principles and strategies.

  1. One, definitions of economic growth and development must be expanded to include a concern for the total urban environment. This includes not only policies that can increase the local revenue base, but equally critically policies that contribute to the health and well-being of local neighborhoods, provide decent wages, are attentive to overall impact on the urban environment, and that directly favor alternative business models and forms of ownership.
  1. Second, economic policy must seek to balance the need to promote “external” market linkages with the use of governmental powers to create more locally and regionally based, and democratically accountable, forms of development.
  1. Third, any serious effort to rethink the objectives and possibilities for developing a local economic development must recognize the role of local government as a driver of local economic development both through infrastructure provision and via direct public sector employment.
  1. Fourth, we must find innovative ways to tap and mobilize existing financial resources, including the City’s substantial capital reserves, to finance local projects that balance economic viability with commitment to social goods such as reduction in inequality, enhanced wages, greater accountability to local residents, and environmental sustainability.
  1. Fifth, local government must provide conduits and arenas for enhancing local neighborhood-based participation in shaping the context of local development. To this end, we propose the formation of deliberative forums and planning bodies tied to a newly proposed local economic planning commission (see below) and newly created funding source (the Credit Union of San Francisco) to enhance the voice of ordinary residents in the economic development planning process; and to encourage representation of sectors and constituents typically excluded from the local policy determination process.

The following sections outline both the basis for placing local government more squarely at the center of any economic development policy, and some proposal for administrative reform and creation of new funding mechanisms based on the principles outlined above.

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