Defining problems and shaping solutions

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EDITORIAL Our attitudes and ideologies shape how we see the world. How we define the problems and challenges we face in San Francisco and other Bay Area cities shapes the menu of solutions that we may choose to pursue. Perspective is everything, something progressives seem to understand better than many political moderates, who like to think of themselves as somehow transcending ideology and social bias.

Consider the issue of homelessness, a perennial concern here in the city of St. Francis. Are you someone who sees homelessness as primarily about poverty, a symptom of the larger problems of wealth concentration and economic inequity? Or do you see the homeless here as a quality-of-life issue for the rest of us, hurting tourism and public safety and subjecting everyone to disturbing sights and smells?

There have always been strong strains of both attitudes here, although those who hold the latter view try to avoid publicly making crass statements condemning "the degenerates" on the streets, as prominent techie Greg Gopman expressed last week, for which he was widely condemned, although many of his Facebook friends defended him and his comments.

Gopman apologized, and was subjected to the standard round of politicians condemning and distancing themselves from the impolitic comments, but neither were very reassuring. In fact, on the day after the story broke, Dec. 12, Mayor Ed Lee actually told the Examiner that he wanted to enlist Gopman's help in addressing the homeless issue.

When we asked Lee Press Secretary Christine Falvey, "How do these intolerant comments qualify Gopman any kind of public policy role, and why would [Lee] be rewarding this behavior with an advisory position?" Falvey took issue with our "advisory position" label, but she otherwise refused to clarify or amend his statements, telling us, "I'll let Mayor's comments stand."

Lee and his allies have long seen the homeless problem in terms of aesthetics and public safety. It's similar to their views on other byproducts of late capitalism — from gentrification and evictions to global warming and underfunded public services — seeing them as nuisances divorced from the economic agenda that they're actively promoting.

But these issues are connected and they need to be addressed holistically.

We were happy to see Lee starting to follow the advice we offered in this space last week ("Tech leaders must engage their critics") by convening a closed-door meeting with top tech leaders on Dec. 16, hosted by conservative venture capitalist Ron Conway.

Yet as long as that insular crowd understands these issues as mostly image problems, divorced from the economic system they're helping to overheat, then all they're doing is damage control and cosmetic work.

We would welcome their participation the real public discussion that we've been calling for, one in which a variety of community voices helps define the problems we're seeking to solve. And once that happens, we'll be asking this thriving economic sector to share some of its wealth and not just its clueless commentary.

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