Reinventing San Francisco

We need to make sure development isn't just code for finding new ways to gentrify neighborhoods and displace existing residents


By Christopher D. Cook, Karl Beitel, and Calvin Welch. 

OPINION It's hard to trust hope these days — to imagine that our world, or even our city — could be different. But for the next 10 or 15 minutes, as you read this, we invite you to suspend the cynicism and disbelief that hang over contemporary life, and allow your mind to imagine that, yes, a different San Francisco is possible. Just for 15 minutes, although we hope this helps kick-start a much longer-term revival of hope and urban reimagining.

It's time to create something new in San Francisco — a visionary movement for constructive change that's bold and unapologetic. Imagine, for instance, if San Francisco became a national model for how cities can reinvest local profits (public and private) and assets to expand economic opportunity and social equity. Imagine if, instead of promoting a dispiriting and volatile blend of corporate development and Darwinian "free-market" anarchy, San Francisco transformed how American cities define success by creating concrete alternatives to the chaos of capitalism.

Now imagine that San Francisco had its own public bank — a fiscally solvent, interest-generating financial force (potentially a half-billion dollars strong) dedicated to public financing and economic stimulus, that functioned as a vigorous incubator for homegrown industries and sustainable, true-green job creation.

We are proposing no less than a reinvention of San Francisco — a dramatic shift in priorities, resources, politics, and culture that marries the very best in both creative innovation and urgently needed reforms to make our city socially equitable and sustainable, both ecologically and economically.

Toward this end, the Community Congress, Aug. 14-15 on the University of San Francisco campus, will stimulate ideas, discussion, and planning to reinvigorate civic engagement and inspiration and create a concrete, locally actionable agenda for reshaping the city. You're invited. (Visit for more information.) The congress is a conversation starter and idea incubator — an opportunity to begin reimagining San Francisco as a socially equitable, racially inclusive, ecologically sustainable city that grows its own food, supplies its own energy, and is an affordable haven for working-class people, immigrants, artists, and creative folk of all stripes.

We humbly propose a city that embraces cosmopolitanism and international exchange while empowering its residents to achieve a decent and livable quality of urban life. We are not trying to turn back the clock; we are trying to create new forms of social and economic value that give people meaning and sustenance, and hope.



Couldn't we save such sweeping aspirations for a rainy day? The sky isn't falling yet, is it? Not quite, but the present constellation of crises San Francisco is ensnarled in — massive and rising structural deficits, a boom/bust economy that's profoundly unstable and inequitable, deepening economic and social divides that destabilize communities, to name a few — is simply unsustainable.

San Francisco's economic and fiscal crisis is not a passing moment. Rather, it signals long-term structural flaws in the city's economic policies and planning. San Francisco has lost roughly 45,000 jobs since 2000, and each "recovery" is marked by steadily higher unemployment rates (currently resting at 9.2 percent). More critically, as jobs and wages have grown more precarious and housing prices have steadily risen (over the long term), thousands of San Franciscans have been displaced.



Calvin Welch has been paid to do this work for the past several decades. Over the past several years, Welch has folded for each and every profitable development scheme that the Newsom administration has cooked up. Since Calvin Welch has been paid to do this work, the position of working San Franciscans has fallen further and further behind.

Calvin Welch is the last person to whom San Franciscans should look for guidance on how to move forward because his fifteen minutes should have been up once he has failed to adapt to changing circumstances and others suffered for his arrogance.

None of what is to be discussed at these meetings will ever see the light of day until San Franciscans organize before, during and after elections to make it so.

Currently the between elections organizing is relegated to the "community based organizations" of the nonprofit constellation in San Francisco.

These nonprofits are dependent on City money and don't bite the hand that feeds them. The advocates frame their approach in terms favorable to the Mayor and bureaucracy. They also jealously guard their political territory to ensure that nobody else competes for the cash.

We've learned over the past decade that once elected, progressive pols need to be coerced into keeping their promises through organized force. It is the nonprofits who are sponsoring this event who have failed to follow through on that and are using events like this to mobilize to elect friendly supervisors who will continue to feed them through the add back process at the expense of moving the broader, non poverty progressive agenda.

"Imagine the world of the possible" sounds great until you realize that these people have been the ones who have refused to move on those goals for the past decade but still get paid.

Just like labor is realizing what happens when the spread between public employee compensation and benefits increases to unsustainable levels, so will the nonprofiteers see a similar day of reckoning when the coalition who benefits from their services dwindles past the point of political relevance, and they discover that San Francisco's reserves of liberal guilt have long since been depleted.

I warned labor years ago and was dismissed as anti labor. You all have been warned.


Posted by marcos on Aug. 04, 2010 @ 12:31 pm

Its hard not to be cynical, who is going to show up at this? The same old faces bemoaning developers, bankers, capitalism etc. I find it hard to believe that this will be a true Community Congress, when the majority of the community won't be there; most SF residence enjoy a good life style in SF because of capitalism.

Posted by Chris Pratt on Aug. 04, 2010 @ 3:58 pm

The answer from the "community" will be to do what they progressives have already done to drive away jobs, just more of it.

Posted by matlock on Aug. 10, 2010 @ 7:41 am

No cynicism here, just a fresh dose of reality slapping you in the face. We know that showing up with good ideas is not sufficient. If all you needed were good ideas, I'd be Mayor of San Francisco for life. No, it takes much more to deliver progressive policies. In order to bring progressive change, enough people must be mobilized after the election to give the electeds no other choice. Otherwise, corporate San Francisco will continue to succeed and push their policies in the other direction because they have more money that god and are working 25/8/366 to fuck us.

Nonprofit employees and their slim constituencies are not sufficient in numbers to effect this kind of change. Amongst the bulk of the progressive constituency, the reserves of liberal guilt have been depleted to nil. Tim Redmond's incessant hand wringing about how our electeds are folding early and often like chairs only digs us in deeper. Those who have a "good thing" under current deteriorating arrangements are loathe to embrace any steps which might cut them out of that "good thing."

Thus, instead of pleading for the plight of the most vulnerable, progressives are going to have to expand the scope of activism to include those who are not vulnerable yet who are excluded from the corporate governing coalition. This is basic mathematics.

Not only are the policy priorities going to have to accurately reflect the breadth of the progressive coalition so that constituents feel as if they're bought into the project as full and equal partners, but the door is going to need to be taken off of the hinges and the entire coalition is going to have to be invited in. Otherwise, the nonprofits will continue on their path to take the ship down with them so long as they get paid.


Posted by marcos on Aug. 05, 2010 @ 8:09 am

"Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity"

Posted by matlock on Aug. 10, 2010 @ 7:56 am

Can't you just skip these intermediary steps and move straight to the mass suicide?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 10, 2010 @ 8:35 pm

I agree with Marc on this - he says it all here.

Posted by mark on Aug. 13, 2010 @ 2:01 pm

Libertarian market chaos is not anarchy.

If similar disrespect were shown for the ideology of the poverty nonprofits or of whatever ideology drives the primacy of immigration as a local issue over other immigration issues (H1-B) or issues that directly effect voters, the professional left would be up in arms.

Apparently, pretending that immigration law does not exist does not qualify as anarchy to the leftist.

Anarchy would mean that communities would be able to take steps on their own to check bulbous accumulations of wealth that drive gentrification, private speculative property rights, what property rights?

Such intellectual disrespect lends credence to the notion that community congresses like these are organizing events thrown by latter day Leninists who think that they are of the vanguard and act on behalf of and in the interests of the vaunted working class. One nonprofiteer asked me how we would fund activism if not with city money through nonprofits? Indeed.

Anarchy also denies the validity of nation states and borders, so don't even go there.


Posted by marcos on Aug. 14, 2010 @ 9:27 am

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