Mayor Lee's Op-Ed's
- November 2011 - Jobs in Our City
- October 2011 - Remembering the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake
- September 2011 - Remembering 911
- August 2011 - The America's Cup
- July 2011 - Road Repaving and Street Safety
- May 2011 - Creating a More Solvent San Francisco
Since becoming your Mayor in January, I have been travelling across the city meeting residents, talking to them about my priorities, and asking them what is going on in their neighborhoods. Whether I am on a merchant walk, at a community meeting or a Budget Town Hall, San Franciscans have been very clear about what concerns them. They want government to focus on providing basic city services and live within our means.
You have probably heard much talk already about the City’s fiscal outlook. There is no greater challenge we face as a City family than balancing our budget while providing important city services to our residents. We are facing an estimated $306 million deficit next year. If we do not take action on long-term budget solutions, the deficit is projected to grow to $642 million in just two years. There are no easy answers, but we are working tirelessly to find savings and tighten our belts. Make no mistake, balancing the budget in a way that protects basic City services is among my top priorities.
At the many Budget Town Halls I have co-hosted with the Board of Supervisors, I am sharing my guiding principles that I will use to make tough choices that need to be made in order to submit a balanced budget on June 1st. My decisions are guided by three principles: ensuring our city is Safe, Solvent and Successful.
When I talk about a safe city, I am talking about public safety. People who live, work, and visit here deserve to feel safe everywhere they go. But by safe, I also mean we need to protect our local social safety net that support San Francisco seniors, youth, and low-income and working class families.
Fiscal solvency is a challenge because the City’s budget projections over the next few years paint a bleak picture. A significant issue is the cost of pensions and benefits. These costs are hitting our general fund to the tune of $100 million a year and rising fast. If we don’t take action, costs will escalate quickly and squeeze out funding we need for services. City employees have worked hard and deserve a dignified pension, but we must provide pensions we can afford. I am working closely with every group, member of the board, and all concerned parties about this issue so that I can propose a fair, reasonable and feasible pension reform plan to San Francisco.
Finally, we need to ensure that our City is successful. From supporting our neighborhoods to making sure our parks are clean and safe, to paving our streets, we need San Francisco to remain a strong, successful city. Creating and keeping jobs in our city is one of the best things we can do to be successful. Whether improving the city’s payroll tax structure, or creating legislation that encourages businesses to thrive here, I am working to make sure companies locate and stay in San Francisco, not just so these companies can stimulate our local economy, but so that our residents can find jobs.
I want to thank everyone for their input and ideas over the last few months. There are still a few Budget Town Halls scheduled. To get information about the budget or where the next Budget Town Hall is, go to www.sfmayor.org. As always, call 311 to request city services.
San Francisco road conditions are at a critical juncture. Since I took over the Mayor’s Office, I went to countless meetings and talked to as many people as possible. Among all the concerned issues, potholes and street conditions were on the top of the list.
Many of you, who walk, bike, take transit or drive in the city, are familiar with the crumbling streets and sidewalks. The longer we wait to address the growing backlog of urgently-needed repairs, the more expensive it will cost to fix our streets down the road. Though more money has been invested into the repaving of our streets in recent years, we, as a city, still have difficulties financially to adequately fund the rehabilitation of our streets.
There is a significant backlog that the general operating fund just cannot afford, given our fiscal responsibilities and realities. Recently, with strong support from a majority of the members of the Board of Supervisors, I introduced a $248 million Road Repaving and Street Safety Bond for the November ballot that will significantly improve the condition and safety of our streets and infrastructure while modernizing them to suit the changing needs of the City.
A general obligation bond is a common finance mechanism for major capital assets and is appropriate for our City’s streets. Streets have an average 20-year life span. Maintenance such as the day to day filling of potholes will continue to be funded through the City’s annual operating budget. This bond is designed to secure funding for the City to repave our streets and eliminate potholes. It will fund the maximum number of street repairs possible for each of the next three years. It is a recommendation of the Citywide Ten-Year Capital Plan, which prioritizes infrastructure needs and investments. The bond will allow us to make long overdue and urgently needed repairs now to create a safer driving, transit, walking and biking experience for everyone.
Also, repairing bridges and stairways is equally critical. The bond will fund necessary repairs and seismic strengthening of our deteriorating City-owned bridges, overpasses and stairways throughout San Francisco. Our City is committed to creating safer streets for pedestrians, bicyclists & people with disabilities.
With ever increasing pedestrian and bicycle travel in San Francisco, we need to ensure that our streets are safer and up to date to optimize traffic flow and decrease congestion. The bond will also help redesign streetscapes and install sidewalk and curb ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to help people who use wheelchairs, walkers, canes, scooters and parents with strollers.
One of many important components of this bond is that it will hold the line on property tax rates. The bond measure has been specifically designed to ensure that property tax rates will not increase as a result of this bond. By complying with the City policy of only issuing new bonds as old ones are repaid, this measure’s full costs can be funded at current tax rates with no increase.
While this bond is helping the City get sufficient funding to repave and repair our streets, it also gives us the opportunity to create more jobs. It is estimated to create more than 1,000 jobs in construction and related activities. Coupled with our commitment to increase local hiring over the next few years, it will provide a significant boost to San Francisco’s economy and put many San Franciscans back to work.
This Road Repaving & Street Safety Bond is a smart and fiscally responsible investment that will repave crumbling streets, fix deteriorating bridges and overpasses and improve the safety. Let’s take advantage of this opportunity before the costs and conditions become untenable.
The America’s Cup, as the premiere international sailing race, oldest trophy, and third largest sporting event in the world, has the potential to be a transformative event in San Francisco with many lasting legacies and economic benefits for our neighborhoods and our City.
The two separate nine-day regattas on the Bay in the summer of 2012 during the America’s Cup World Series will give us a preview of the excitement we can expect on the larger wing-sailed AC72 catamarans competing in the Louis Vuitton Cup Challenger Series July 13 to September 1, 2013 and America’s Cup Finals September 7-22, 2013. Tens of thousands of sailing enthusiasts, spectators, and tourists from around the world will be coming to San Francisco where, for the first time in the nearly 160-year history of the America’s Cup, it will be viewable from land in the spectacular natural amphitheatre that the San Francisco Bay provides.
Since San Francisco won the right to host the America’s Cup on New Year’s Eve, City staff has been hard at work to ensure that the events are a success not only for participants and spectators but also for San Francisco businesses and residents who call San Francisco home. This includes the recent issuance of the 2,271-page Draft Environmental Impact Report (available at http://tinyurl.com/meacases) as well as the creation of eleven implementation plans detailing the shared vision of the City and the America’s Cup Event Authority on everything from sustainability to transportation, public safety, youth involvement, and workforce development.
These plans detail our shared commitment to bringing direct benefits to the diverse neighborhoods, residents and businesses of San Francisco including an estimated 8,800 jobs and nearly $1.4 billon in economic impacts distributed broadly across the food and beverage, construction, transportation, and hospitality sectors. For more information on these plans, including draft plans you can download and comment on, please go to: http://www.oewd.org/
We are planning not just for the arrival of one of the world’s leading sporting competitions but to leverage this unique and exciting opportunity to create a positive legacy for San Francisco for many years to come. When the best sailors come to San Francisco on the world’s fastest boats, they will be doing so on seismically retrofitted piers, in the core and shell of what will become the James R. Herman Cruise Ship Terminal and along a northeastern waterfront home to the new Exploratorium, Brannan Street Wharf, Pier 43 Promenade and renovated Marina Yacht Harbor.
We have every hope that the America’s Cup will be another successful international event in San Francisco and one that reflects our values as leaders of environmental sustainability, accessibility, youth involvement, and workforce development. For more information on this exciting project, visit www.americascup.com or the City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development at http://www.oewd.org/.
A decade after the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001 we continue to struggle to make sense of the terrible images we saw on that day.
While more than 3,000 miles away from our City, the attacks, the devastation and the loss were felt keenly here in the City by the Bay and we will continue to remember and honor those who perished, some of whom were from San Francisco and the Bay Area.
There will be many civic remembrances across the country on this 10th Anniversary. One such event in San Francisco includes the Opera, their community partners and the Interfaith Council who will present a special Opera in the Park concert to honor the memory of those who perished and celebrate the service and heroism of the Bay Area’s first responders, including fire fighters, paramedics and police, among others. You can find information about this event and other 9/11 San Francisco events at www.sfmayor.org.
Another way we can remember and honor the tragic events from 10 years ago is to make sure that as a city, as families and as individuals, we are prepared for emergencies, whether manmade or natural disasters. September marks National Preparedness Month and the City’s award-winning website, www.72hours.org, stands ready to assist you with information about how to make family emergency plans, build disaster kits, train you on what to do before a disaster occurs or how to volunteer afterwards. I strongly encourage you to visit this website and take action. Many of the items in an emergency kit can be found around your house -- you may be much more prepared than you realize. The information is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, Russian and Vietnamese. Log on and share with friends and family.
Since September 11, 2001, as a city, San Francisco has enhanced preparedness throughout City departments, using homeland security grants to conduct planning, training and exercises. The Bay Area was also awarded a $50.6 million grant to build a broadband communications network for public safety agencies. This network is the first of its kind in the nation and will allow fire, police and other public safety officials to transmit information quickly and efficiently during day-to-day operations and major emergencies.
On the day of the 9/11 attacks, we witnessed hundreds of courageous firefighters, police officers, and many brave men and women who charged into the crumbling towers in a desperate attempt to save their fellow Americans. Some of our heroes even fell victim to the collapse themselves. Their sacrifice stands as an eternal monument to the risks our public safety officers make for us every single day and we are ensuring that our first responders have the best communications and the best equipment available to make sure they can do they job as safely as possible.
It is now 10 years later and, fortunately, we are a stronger country and city. The attacks on September 11th represented an unimaginable tragedy in the history of our country, but at the same time the lessons learned from that day can help us to grow as individuals, as a country, and as a city.
October marks the 22nd anniversary of the devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which rocked our City and the Bay Area for 20 seconds and continues to have an impact on our region to this day.
Today, while we remember those who lost their lives during the earthquake, we also need to ask ourselves if we are better prepared for the next disaster.
As a city that lies between several fault lines and has survived a number of earthquakes, we must do all that we can to ensure that we are prepared and ready. San Francisco has made significant progress based on lessons learned, but we can never let up on our work to seismically reinforce our infrastructure and facilities to withstand a major earthquake or other type of disaster and to make sure our residents and businesses are prepared for the next disaster.
Since 2004, the City has conducted approximately 100 disaster exercises with our City’s Department of Emergency Management leading these efforts. Additionally, first responders and other key City agencies have conducted 250 discussion-based trainings and workshops across the City. Many of these trainings and exercises are held in conjunction with non-governmental, faith-based and community-based organizations, businesses, and schools.
We are doing what is necessary to communicate with our residents before during and after an emergency. The City’s Outdoor Public Warning Siren system was revamped using homeland security funding. Today, there are 109 sirens with voice and tone capability located throughout the City. As part of the regular Tuesday noon test, recorded announcements in English are followed by announcements in Spanish or Cantonese.
As we are doing our best to prepare ourselves for future emergencies, the 5.8 magnitude earthquake on the East Coast in August serves as a clear reminder that earthquakes can hit anytime and anywhere.
Last month, we broke ground for a new Public Safety Building in the Mission Bay neighborhood. It is funded by the Earthquake Safety and Emergency Response Bond that was passed by SF voters in June 2010. This state-of-the-art building will house the San Francisco Police Department’s Police Command Center, the Southern District Police Station and a neighborhood Fire Station. The bond was the first phase to ensure public safety facilities are structurally safe so that police and fire can rapidly respond to an emergency and provide the critical communication and leadership to promptly coordinate emergency services.
We are striving to make sure that San Francisco’s structures are safer, but each member of our community needs to do their part as well. Every family needs to be as prepared as they can be. The good news is we may be more prepared than we think, and there are some simple steps we can take to be even more prepared. To find out how, I recommend visiting the City’s award winning website, www.72hours.org.
Another good resource is the Department of Emergency Management’s interactive website, www.quakequizsf.org. There, you can test your knowledge of what to do if an earthquake strikes while at home, driving, on public transit, at the beach or at work. I also encourage you to register for AlertSF, a text-based message system that delivers emergency information to cell phones, other text-enabled devises, and email accounts, at www.alertsf.org.
If you want to get even more involved in getting prepared, register for the Great California ShakeOut, the statewide Drop, Cover and Hold On drill taking place on October 20th at 10:20 a.m. (to register, go to http://shakeout.org/california/register/). And finally, you can learn how to help your neighbors after a major emergency by signing up for free Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) training (www.sf-fire.org).
By making yourself familiar with the programs the City has put in place to protect you and your loved ones, you can be ready for whatever may happen, whenever it happens.
San Francisco is one of the most vibrant places to live and work in the world. Many of us are proud of the fact that our City attracts creative and innovative people and companies to start businesses here, stay here and grow here, adding job opportunities for our local residents and boosting our economy.
San Francisco is also a place that attracts world class national and even international events, like Oracle World, Dreamforce, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Fleet Week, and the America’s Cup that will take place in 2013; the third-largest sporting event in the world right after the Olympics and World Cup.
This is exciting not just because the world is watching and visiting our City, but because, like the attraction of new sectors like tech to our City, these events create jobs.
The America’s Cup alone will generate nearly 9,000 jobs across the construction, hospitality, transportation and tourism industries and bring more than $1 billion in economic impacts over the next two years.
We are working with our partner, the America’s Cup Event Authority, to make sure San Franciscans and our small businesses will benefit. There is a business connect portal at sf.americascup.com/business and a jobs connect portal at americascup.com/connect. I encourage you to log on and see how you can participate.
My top priority continues to be putting more San Franciscans back to work. In September 2011, San Francisco’s unemployment rate was 8.3%, down from 9.3% in September 2010. That means 4,900 fewer unemployed San Franciscans compared to a year ago. But, while we have the third lowest unemployment rate in the State, we still need to focus on job creation.
We recently launched JobsNOW2 , a program that creates business incentives to hire unemployed San Franciscans. Just last month, we launched JobsNOW 3, a program that employed 200 out of work San Franciscans as public service trainees who are now working on cleaning and maintenance jobs, getting a paycheck and getting the job skills and training they will need for future success.
We’ve also recently launched several significant infrastructure projects that are creating job opportunities.
Our new Public Safety Building in Mission Bay will house the Police Command Center, the Southern District Police Station and a neighborhood Fire Station in a seismically safe facility while creating 700 construction jobs. The General Hospital Rebuild project is well under way and when it is complete, will have generated 3,000 jobs.
In addition to fixing our infrastructure, the City’s economic development strategy is working to attract new businesses, help existing firms grow and create a dynamic ecosystem for new companies to start. San Francisco is home to more than 1,500 tech companies, 74 life sciences companies and 225 cleantech and green businesses.
We have seen how innovation has becoming a key driver of San Francisco’s economy - in the first six months of 2011 more than 4.6 million square feet of office space was leased in San Francisco, 1.6 million square feet of office space was leased by tech firms. New and expanding companies like Twitter, Autodesk, DropBox, Mozilla, Zendesk and Kabam are keeping our residents employed and have made San Francisco a tech capital.
I will continue to work diligently as your Mayor to expand opportunities for our City’s local economy, create jobs and put San Franciscans back to work.