There’s a narrative about San Francisco that is as persistent as it is incorrect: The city’s post-pandemic struggles are the result of progressive policies run amok.
This was certainly the sentiment behind billionaire Elon Musk, who reportedly lives in Texas, calling for me, a democratically elected representative in San Francisco, to be “fired.” His post on X, formerly Twitter, alleged that I was arguably the person “most responsible for the destruction of San Francisco.” In late September, he wrote that I “should go to prison.”
If one believes the constant drumbeat from the billionaire class, socialist policies and ideas are standing in the way of a safe, affordable and well-functioning city. But this is a classic case of projection. The reality in San Francisco is that a combination of the real estate industry, large tech companies and billionaire venture capitalists have driven massive inequity here, leaving the overwhelming majority of people unable to afford the cost of living. This has resulted in mass displacement of low-income communities and persistent homelessness.
The latest installment of this story, however, is not widely recognized. A global pandemic sparked the adoption of many progressive policies, but when these policies started working, billionaires lashed back ferociously. That’s what we’re seeing right now. The very solutions — federal, state and local — that were working in a crisis to save lives, extend a hand to those in need and improve our city have been falsely declared failures in a self-serving effort by the rich to prevent fair taxation and a more equitable society.
Pandemic Programs See Success in SF
In 2020, San Francisco was among the first cities to shut down in the face of the pandemic. We did some things right, especially in our public health response. We also took some major steps — mostly out of necessity — that progressives have been urging for years. To put it simply, they worked.
We banned evictions and launched unprecedented rent relief programs, resulting in the lowest pandemic eviction rate of any city in California. We funded workers with a “Right to Recover” to provide income while recovering from illness. We offered free health care connected with COVID-19, including vaccines, boosters and testing for everyone. We opened the city’s first safe consumption site which helped 400 people per day, moving drug use off the streets and reversing hundreds of overdoses.
We rented hotel rooms at shelter-in-place hotels and moved those experiencing homelessness from the streets to safety, something first piloted in my district. We purchased buildings for supportive housing at unprecedented rates. As a result, unsheltered homelessness decreased by 15 percent, and overall homelessness dropped by 3.8 percent. In a global pandemic, when our mass shelters were shut down, San Francisco was one of the only cities in California where homelessness decreased — at least, until the billionaire backlash.
Importantly, we taxed the richest of the rich to do this. In the middle of a pandemic, when pundits warned that no taxes would pass, voters overwhelmingly passed taxes on big corporations and billionaires to fund basic human needs like housing and health care. Our progressive taxes have raised hundreds of millions of dollars and saved San Francisco from deficits for three straight years during the pandemic.
Make no mistake about it: These advances toward a more equitable city were a major threat to some interests.
Wealthy Interests Strike Back
The billionaire class saw what was happening: Voters were willing and eager to tax the rich to fund social programs that were working. Even their millions of dollars donated to campaign committees weren’t working to stop left candidates and progressive taxation. In response, they launched the all-out political and media offensive that we’re witnessing now.
Billionaire investor Michael Moritz epitomizes the problem. He’s poured millions into his own “news” site to produce political hit pieces and celebrate reactionary policies, created countless bogus “civic organizations” that are the list-building part of the echo chamber, and funded toxic political action committees that engage in little more than character assassination and disinformation. Moritz, and billionaires like Musk, Bill Oberndorf and Jason Calacanis, are attempting a hostile takeover of San Francisco. They want a government that works for the rich and nobody else.
San Franciscans are living the impact. The real estate industry, venture capitalists, tech billionaires and conservative interests sprung to action after the first two years of the pandemic to reverse the successes of progressive initiatives. Here’s what they and their political allies have done: They recalled a reform district attorney, massively increased police budgets to ramp up the war on drugs, and launched a campaign to arrest people for drug use. Crime hasn’t gone down, overdoses have increased, and in neighborhoods like the Tenderloin, shootings have gone up and become more brazen as drug markets are disrupted with no comprehensive plan.
They blocked affordable housing that could be housing thousands of working-class San Franciscans, refusing to spend money raised by voters and appropriated by the Board of Supervisors to fund acquisition of housing for community land trusts, limited equity co-ops and other forms of affordable housing. As a result, working people continue to leave San Francisco in search of affordable homes.
They cut tens of millions from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank’s budget and allowed the slashing of food security payments that were nearly $300 per month to under $30 per month, impacting 100,000 San Franciscans, and causing hunger and desperation for families across the city.
They shut down the sole overdose prevention site in our city without a replacement. Since it was shut down, drug use on United Nations Plaza and around the site has gotten much worse, and San Francisco’s overdose fatalities have surged.
There’s a pattern here. Evidence-based solutions were working and voters were willing to keep taxing the rich to fund them. So the billionaire class launched multimillion-dollar misinformation campaigns. In place of proven solutions, they are pushing a war on the poor, and predictably, homelessness, crime and drug overdoses are increasing. Policies that punish the poor and deny people their basic needs are the cause, not the solution, of our current problems, and the last few years prove it.
We know what works, and we need more of it: Supportive housing for those experiencing homelessness. Investments in things that actually keep communities safe, rather than just giving unlimited money to police with no accountability. Overdose prevention sites to lower overdose deaths and connect people to the help they need, including drug treatment. Public investment — soon through a public bank — in affordable housing, small business and green infrastructure. And yes, further taxation of the rich who remain significantly undertaxed in our society.
These things freak out the billionaires, but they work, and no amount of corporate spin will change that.
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