Mayor London N. Breed's 2020 Inauguration Speech

Mayor London N. Breed's 2020 Inauguration Speech

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Thank you all for being here today. And thank you to the people of San Francisco for trusting me to continue to serve as mayor of our city.

As we welcome a new decade, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come in the last one. In 2010, San Francisco was deep in the Great Recession and our workforce was in trouble. Our unemployment rate had more than quadrupled since 2000 and was at a 20-year high.

Ten years later, we are riding the longest period of economic growth in our history, with one of the lowest unemployment rates in our history. The homicide rate has dropped to the lowest it’s been in more than 55 years.

In the last decade, San Francisco’s leadership on marriage equality, affordable health care, and medical cannabis became the laws of the land. We began the transformation of public housing, and passed two massive affordable housing bonds. We made record investments in our parks and libraries. We modernized Muni’s fleet and made it free for those in need.

We launched our clean energy program and dramatically reduced our greenhouse gas emissions. We even got our hands dirty replacing our city’s sewer system. We passed paid family leave, a 15 dollar minimum wage, and made City College free for all. We built bike lanes, repaved our streets, and rebuilt the Presidio Parkway and Moscone Center.

We welcomed the Warriors home. We watched the Giants win it all. Then do it again. And then once more.

Our Congresswoman gave up her gavel and won it back—and we became the capital of the Resistance.

We’ve made great progress, but through it all, we grappled with the twin troubles of homelessness and housing affordability. At the dawn of this new decade, they remain our greatest challenges. And they are what I want to talk about today.

I was an intern in the Mayor’s Office right here a quarter century ago. I had the privilege to walk up these stairs every day as a member of the Board of Supervisors. This building’s beauty is timeless. Its spirit is an inspiration.

Earthquake and fire destroyed San Francisco’s first city hall. But we built another, even more magnificent than the first. Why? Why do we build these monuments? What do these marble stairs and golden dome mean to us? It isn’t excess or vanity. 

It is a reminder.

We build this temple of our civic democracy—and we swing the doors open for everyone because it reminds us: that our government is a collaboration, that our successes are shared, that our responsibilities are shared too, our potential unbound, and that none of us will be left in the cold.

I take the oath of office today, remembering that not too long ago, my ancestors were in chains. I’ve never found out exactly where they lived, but I know a bit about how they lived.

I know their masters sat at tables, eating generous meals they didn’t prepare. I know they huddled outside, threadbare and beaten. I know they ate mush from a wooden trough, not with spoons, but with naked hands and makeshift tools. That they lived in a world, where as Frederick Douglass said: "justice was denied, where poverty was enforced, where ignorance prevailed."

The Civil War ended the bondage, but the inequity had only begun. The slaveowners kept their land. The former slaves kept the nothing they already had. So, with that nothing, most went back to the farms. They rented their labor as sharecroppers or, if they were lucky, tenant farmers.

Generations of poor African Americans scraped by, living in fear that if they protested too loudly, men in hoods would come. When the Depression hit, two of those sharecroppers, a young couple with 11 children, moved from Louisiana to Texas.

Sometime later, their daughter, Ms. Comelia Brown, came to San Francisco. She came in search of work. She came for something better. She came to raise her children in a place where they might be equal. My grandmother came here to believe in a city of hope, a city where a young black girl can go from public housing to the mayor’s office.

And she was right to believe. San Francisco is so much more than our home. It is the refuge of gay, lesbian, and transgender brothers and sisters from all over the country. It is the start of a new life for immigrants from Guatemala to Guangzhou, and all points in between.

It is the hope of a dozen generations of my family. It is the promise that everyone has a place in this city. That no one should be left out in the cold. 

So when we come to this Hall, or walk down Market Street, and see the suffering of thousands of people right outside our door, it hurts. It hurts – not because we are callous, but because we care. The suffering on our streets—it offends our civic soul. And it should. 

But if we’re going to do something about the conditions on our streets, we need to level with each other. Homelessness isn't new. It isn't easy. We are not the only city struggling with it.  And quite frankly, we are not going to solve it in a hundred days, or in a year, or even, entirely, in this term. 

I'm not sure “solve” is the right word anyway. While the City has helped thousands of people out of homelessness, thousands more took their place. Sadly there will always be people whose addiction or mental illness or poverty leads them down a dark path, or puts them in need of help.

Los Angeles has more than 36,000 homeless residents and a skid row that is its own tragic city within a city. Three years ago, San Diego had a hepatitis outbreak among its homeless population that killed 20 people. They had to spray their sidewalks with bleach to fight the infections.

I point this out not to criticize those cities. I know how hard they are fighting to address these problems. Cities up and down the West Coast — Seattle, Portland, Oakland, Santa Rosa, and us—are waging this difficult fight.

Homelessness is a national epidemic, with too many American cities grappling with drug addiction, over-stretched resources, and insufficient housing.

Now: we haven't stopped sending taxes to Washington DC, but they stopped sending back anywhere near enough for homelessness and affordable housing. So each year, San Franciscans write bigger and bigger checks, and we ask ourselves: Why isn't this getting better? Why do we keep spending more money, and yet our homeless counts keep going up?

First, let's dispel some of the common -- but inaccurate -- explanations we hear. It’s not because we aren’t funding solutions. It’s not because we are indifferent. We are all living with it every day, working on it every day, frustrated every day.

Homelessness is so severe, so acute, up and down the West Coast for a few simple reasons: housing is too expensive, working class jobs are too uncertain, their wages too outpaced by the cost of living. Drugs – opioids and meth in particular – are too common. And decades after the state closed its mental hospitals, California still hasn’t come to grips with how we are going to care for those with severe mental illness.

Homelessness isn’t just a problem; it’s a symptom. The symptom of unaffordable housing, of income inequality, of institutional racism, of addiction, untreated illness; and decades of dis-investment. These are the problems. And if we’re going to fight homelessness, we’ve got to fight them all.

And we are. We will meet our goal of opening 1,000 new shelter beds by the end of the year. We just opened the Embarcadero Navigation Center and our new Bayview Shelter breaks ground shortly. We just opened our first Safe Parking Facility to help people who live in their vehicles.

We’re adding more than 200 new mental health beds, expanded treatment and outreach, and we are transforming how we deliver mental health and substance use treatment in our city.

We have more Permanent Supportive Housing units per capita than any major city in the country, and we have 300 more supportive homes opening in the next six months. We’ve expanded rental assistance and emergency problem-solving funds to help people avoid homelessness in the first place.

We are expanding our new conservatorship program, so we can finally help people with mental illness, who are suffering on our streets, who are unable to help themselves. We are working to open meth sobering centers, safe injection sites, and managed alcohol facilities so we can stop walking by addiction spilling out on our streets, and start treating it like the healthcare issue that it is.

I have directed City Departments to re-prioritize spending toward making our streets safer and cleaner for all. We are writing ballot measures to build more mental health facilities, and reform our business taxes to help support these programs.

We are fighting for more support from the state, and in this election year, we will fight for a federal government that actually helps Americans in need, not one that uses human despair as a political weapon.

To be clear, with these efforts will come a measure of what my grandmother used to call “Tough Love.” We are no longer accepting that “compassion” means anything goes on our streets. Yes, many people are sick and we will offer them help. But if they don't want – or can’t – accept services, then we will bring them into treatment.

We will continue to expand our services, shelter, and housing so that there is a place for everyone in need. And when we have a place for people to go, we cannot allow them to languish on the sidewalk. It’s not humane, It’s not compassionate, and it’s not safe for anyone.

Every day, so many City workers – from our nurses, doctors and social workers, to our street cleaning crews, police officers, and medics are out there helping people, and working to make a difference in our neighborhoods.

I am grateful to work alongside these dedicated public servants. They don’t get the credit they deserve, but please know we appreciate your work. But even those city workers—just like the people they spend every day helping—will be in trouble if we don’t address the biggest issue of our time: housing affordability.

If firefighters, teachers, Muni drivers, nurses – the hearts and souls of San Francisco – can’t afford a home in the city they serve, how is someone who struggles with low wages, or no job at all, supposed to stay housed?

Frankly, I am tired of hearing about our “housing crisis.” Crises are unpredictable; they happen suddenly, and policymakers usually try to avoid them. Our housing problems were entirely predictable. They are the result of decades of almost intentional under-building, and the decision decades ago to down-zone almost three-quarters of the city and ban apartments.

We don’t have a housing crisis. We have a housing shortage.

If we want to relieve the pain on our streets, and stop seeing our friends and families pull away in moving vans, we need to build more housing and preserve more homes. A lot more.

Over the next decade, in addition to our work preserving thousands of permanently affordable homes, we need to BUILD at least 50,000 new homes. At least 17,000 of which should be affordable.

To get to 50,000, we can’t let disingenuous warnings of shadows and height get in the way of badly needed new housing. To get to 50,000, we need to recognize that density is not a dirty word.

To get to 50,000, we have to push for solutions to build homes faster, and support policies like SB 50 that will allow more multi-family housing all over the Bay Area.

I’m committed to working with my fellow Mayors across the region and the state to create more housing because, just like homelessness, this is a regional and statewide issue. I will be going to Sacramento to fight for these changes, because we need more homes for workers, families, and seniors. Because our retail shops and restaurants can’t hire people who can afford to live here. Because San Francisco should be viable for all San Franciscans, of all income levels.

We can't say we need more housing, and then reject policies that actually allow us to actually build that housing. I wasn't here decades ago when we imposed restrictive laws to prevent new housing,

But I will be here when we start building more homes again throughout San Francisco and the entire Bay Area. It is time.

So here’s what I want the next decade to look like.

I want this to be the decade when we no longer walk by a person shouting, or shooting up, or suffering on our streets, and shrug our shoulders, or turn away, or wonder, “What should I do?”

I am determined, over the next four years, to create enough places to take in people with addiction or mental health problems, so that, when you encounter someone in need, you can make a call and know that person will get the help they need.

As I said before, “compassion” can no longer mean “anything goes.” I want this to be the decade when residents and visitors to our city can enjoy every neighborhood, every single day, without fear of crime or unacceptable street behavior.

We have a beautiful city, an incredible city. I want it to be lively. I want it to be diverse. I want it to be safe. And I know you all want that too. And I want this to be the decade when San Franciscans – from the

multi-generation native to the just-arrived immigrant – can live with confidence that he, she, or they and their children, will be able to call this city home for generations to come.

We can be a vibrant and welcoming city. A city of affordable and diverse homes, a city where we come together to meet our challenges with clarity and conviction. A city where we care for one another, where our streets are safe, and no one is left out in the cold.

San Francisco can be the city that a sharecropper’s daughter dreamed it to be.

San Francisco can, and will, be a city for all of us.