Mayor London N. Breed's 2021 State of the City Address

Mayor London N. Breed's 2021 State of the City Address

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Twice before we have gathered in late January—first at the National LGBTQ Center for the Arts, then last year in the rotunda of City Hall—so I could share with you my view of the state of our city.

As we gather virtually today, you don’t really need me to tell you the state of our city.

We are anxious. We’re frustrated. We’re impatient. And we are lonely.

I know it because I feel it myself. And I know, in many cases, folks are hurting even more than that.

But if I can impart anything to you today, it is that we deserve—we need—to feel two more things: pride and hope.

Pride because we have pulled together to weather storms like we’ve never seen before;

hope because we can see a brighter future.

The fact is the state of our city is resilient, and it is resilient because of what all of us, every one of us, have accomplished this past year.

 

I am speaking to you today from Moscone Center, but I want to start a few miles from here, at Laguna Honda hospital.

Laguna Honda is one of the largest skilled nursing facilities in the country.

For 155 years, since it was founded to care for aging pioneers, Laguna Honda has served the neediest people of San Francisco, through thick and thin.

My grandmother, Ms. Comelia Brown, spent her last twelve years in that hospital. 

Dementia had taken her ability to speak before she arrived. But it never took her personality, not all of it anyway.

Ms. Brown loved chewing gum. She had lost her teeth by then, but she loved chewing gum. So the nurses and staff there would bring pieces in their coat pockets and hand it to her to brighten her day.

Ms. Brown was always very particular about her hair and nails. She was a Southern lady at heart, and a lady must look the part. So the staff painted her nails. They left each other careful notes to make sure her hair was done just right.

She couldn’t speak, but her caretakers were making sure we understood: our Grandma was still in there.

We’ve all been reminded of something in the last year, something that I think I’ve known for a long time:

The men and women at Laguna Honda, the nurses, doctors, paramedics, and staff there, along with all those taking care of people in need across the City: they are heroes. They are the best of us.

At the outset of the pandemic, we saw frightening news accounts of outbreaks in nursing homes all around the country.

Some called Laguna Honda a “ticking time bomb”—a “powder keg.” It’s true, the virus could have easily swept through Laguna Honda and killed dozens. Hundreds.

But thanks to our frontline workers, the Department of Public Health, and everyone who did their part, COVID was contained at Laguna Honda.

And so it was with great relief, and great pride, that only a couple weeks ago we saw the staff and the residents of Laguna Honda get their vaccinations, the very definition of our most vulnerable San Franciscans, among the very first to get vaccinated.

That filled my heart. That’s who we are.

 

A year ago, I declared a state of emergency.

Ten months ago, with our neighbors around the Bay, we implemented the first Shelter-in-Place order in the country.

And from there we continued to make difficult decisions—heartbreaking decisions—all year long.

Today, I’m standing in Moscone Center, which has been the beating heart of our emergency response.

It was here where city workers from so many different departments came together to do whatever it took to protect this City.

When we didn’t have enough testing to know where the virus was, they were here.

When we didn’t have enough PPE to go around, they were here.

When we didn’t have a federal government ready or willing to lead the way, they were here.

The hours were long, the days were chaotic, and any sense of an ending to all this was impossible to see.

But day after day, rain or shine, our city employees came and did the work. And I want thank each and every one of them who has walked through these doors or been out in the community, and those who are still here working today. 

Back in March, a neighbor in Midtown Terrace wrote this on Nextdoor: “When you go out and see the empty streets, the empty stadiums, the empty train platforms, what you’re seeing is love in action.”  

What you’re seeing is how much we care for each other, for our parents and grandparents, for our doctors and nurses, for people we may never meet.

Take a moment to look into all that emptiness, and marvel. It is the most remarkable act of solidarity we have ever witnessed.

 

San Francisco’s response to COVID-19 has been hailed as a national model.

We have the lowest death rate of any major city in the United States. And though every life lost is a tragedy, we have saved thousands of lives. 

And now we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We were able to do this not just because our City government was collaborative, flexible, and full of dedicated public servants—though it is.

We were able to do this not just because our hospitals, nursing homes, and medical professionals are some of the best in the world—though they are.

We did this because of you. We did this because of the sacrifices you made, the losses you endured, the love you showed for people you may never meet.

Years from now, people will look back on what we’ve done, and I hope they will remember not the frustration and pain we feel now, but the love we showed, the lives we saved.

Take pride in that, San Francisco. Find hope in that.

Each of these lives is precious, every one of them.

Each is one more grandmother, grandfather, mother or father, brother or sister, son or daughter, who will be there for the next birthday. The next wedding. The next anniversary. 

Each life saved is precious.

So yes, it has been hard; and no, we’re not out of the woods yet. But we have been fighting for something real. We have been fighting for each other.

Don’t forget that.

 

And there is reason for hope.

On Monday, the Stay-at-Home Order for the Bay Area was lifted.

Today, San Francisco can begin to recover. Today, we can begin to re-open our doors, re-open our businesses, begin to resume our lives. With some restrictions, and many, many precautions, of course … but we are reopening.

We are vaccinating more and more people each day, and very soon we will open another large vaccination site right here at Moscone Center. And with support from the state and—thank God—the new Biden-Harris administration in the White House, we have a plan to administer ten thousand vaccinations a day.  

We can see the light.

Folks, our recovery starts now.

 

So I want to say something to all the people who are writing us off; to those who are writing obituaries of San Francisco.

We’ve read these all before. We’ve proved them all wrong before. And we’ll do it again.

Cities aren’t a collection of buildings. If they were, the year 1906 would’ve been our last. Cities are people.

Working from home doesn’t spell the end of urban life, because cities aren’t merely a collection of jobs.

Cities are people. Cities are passions, culture, vibrancy, and change.

But look, we San Franciscans have thick skins. 

So we’ll show the rest of you how we bounce back.

When you get restless and you want to come: dance to live music, see Steph Curry do his thing on the court, eat at the world’s best restaurants, drink at the best bars, start your next business, host a convention right here at Moscone Center, or just watch the Giants from your kayak…we’ll be happy to have you.

 

San Francisco has always been and will continue to be a magnet, a destination, a place that draws people. We are the City of Pride.

Today, with hard lessons learned, and so much yet to do, I believe we are at the start of an incredible recovery.

We aren’t just going to repair. We are going to reinvigorate. To come back even stronger.

We will put people back to work. Our businesses will flourish. Opportunities will expand.

And as we do all of that, our recovery will focus on moving our city forward and putting people first.

 

We will continue our work to cut the red tape for small businesses, because it’s more important than ever.

For example, in November voters passed our small business streamlining measure—Proposition H—and it’s already working. One small immigrant-owned business that wanted to convert a hair salon to an ice cream shop, saw their approval time cut from the normal 6 to 9 months down to one day. One day. We’ll build on this success and make it even easier to turn an idea into a thriving small business. Bureaucracy cannot keep getting in the way of people.

Our recovery also means building housing now, during this economic downturn. As we rise again, lets not repeat the mistakes of the past. We will put affordable housing dollars to work, and streamline the approval process—even if it means going to the voters to do it. We will keep pushing to meet our goal of building 5,000 new homes each year.

And can we finally put to rest the fantasy that supply-and-demand doesn’t apply to our housing situation? You may have noticed, rent prices went down, way down, last year … why? Because demand went down. When it goes back up—and that is a “when” not an “if”—let’s be ready with more supply, more housing, so everyone can afford to live here.

We will continue to aggressively push forward our Homelessness Recovery Plan, which includes the largest expansion of permanent supportive housing in the last twenty years. And we will implement mental health reform, so we can get more people off the streets and safely indoors.

We will continue to divert 911 calls from the Police, through innovative solutions like our Street Crisis Response Team, so people struggling with addiction and mental illness get better care, and -- just as importantly -- so our police officers can focus on their work to address violent crime, and the burglaries and break-ins happening in our City. We want nothing more than to prevent crime from happening in our city and sadly when it does, it is just as important to hold people accountable for the crimes they commit.

We will continue to enliven our neighborhoods through outdoor dining on our sidewalks, our streets, and in our public spaces.

We will do more for families, starting with getting our kids back in school. Our city can’t fully recover until our students are supported and our schools are open. And I will continue to do everything I can to help get our kids back in the classroom. 

We will invest in people by investing in infrastructure. We can put San Franciscans back to work by harnessing the power of public investments. We will strengthen our seawall; build parks, police and fire stations, and mental health facilities; and improve public transportation. Yes, public transportation is the lifeblood of a great city, and making Muni work—better than ever—is critical to our economic recovery.

In all, I plan to move forward on more than $3.5 billion in city projects. Just this week, for example, we opened our new Navigation Center in the Bayview. This 200-bed shelter will serve some of our most vulnerable residents. But the project also created 330 jobs, during the height of the pandemic. That’s 330 people who can provide for themselves and their families.

And our recovery also needs to be about the arts, our cultural institutions and culturally diverse neighborhoods, and the public spaces we all miss so much. We will also help music venues, clubs, and bars—who have lost so much—get reopened and get back on their feet.

 

2020 was a year like nothing we’ve ever experienced. 

This terrible pandemic tore through our neighborhoods, tore through our businesses, tore us from one another.

It’s taken lives, destroyed businesses, savaged our economy and torn at the very fabric of community.

We suffered months of wildfires that choked our air. We always told ourselves: “The sun will still rise tomorrow.”  Until one day it didn’t. 

The streets of San Francisco and cities around the country erupted with protest, as our nation’s legacy of racial injustice, white privilege, and violence against Black people boiled over.

I will never shake the image of George Floyd on the ground, a knee on his neck. That knee…that knee’s been on the necks of Black Americans for four hundred years. And it’s the knee of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Briggs Initiative, Japanese Internment, redlining, Urban Renewal, children in cages, and transgender discrimination.

San Francisco is in many ways a collection of people who were tired of living under someone else’s norms or knee, and came here to find common cause. 

Our diversity, our acceptance, our spirit is what makes us strong. And no virus—whether it’s named COVID or HIV—will ever take that away. Quite the opposite.  It will only make us stronger.

 

It is in times of crisis that San Francisco has shown its true grit.

We’ve been tested before.

Earthquakes. Fire. Recessions. Shocking assassinations. AIDS.

Every time, we were shaken, and we were tested. And every time, we didn’t just bounce back, we pushed forward.

Out of ashes, we built an even greater city. Out of despair, we formed even stronger alliances. Out of tragedy, we forged even greater humanity.

Let’s not remember 2020 only as the year we suffered. It was the year we learned what matters most. What binds us together. It was the year we sacrificed to save each others’ lives.

The hard winter is almost behind us, and hope lies ahead.

As Amanda Gorman said just two weeks ago at the Inauguration:

Even as we grieved, we grew

Even as we hurt, we hoped

Even as we tired, we tried

And when day comes we step out of the shade,

aflame and unafraid

The new dawn blooms as we free it

For there is always light,

if only we're brave enough to see it

If only we're brave enough to be it.

 

My fellow San Franciscans, there is light.

Let’s be proud. Let’s be hopeful. Let’s be brave.

 

Thank you.