Saturday, December 01, 2007

More advice for Mayor Newsom

Like other Newsom critics, BeyondChron's Randy Shaw has some post-election advice for the mayor:

Just as he took bold steps in his first term to address homelessness, gay marriage and universal health care, he should continue trying to make San Francisco a national laboratory for urban reforms. Policy stagnation at this point would show that he has either run out of ideas, or lacks the political skills to implement them...With three elections next year and little chance for legislative initiative after July, Newsom needs to introduce a bold-second term agenda by the end of March 2008. 

National politics will dominate the interests of San Franciscans in 2009, and if the mayor runs for Governor in 2010, that year will not see him focus on local initiatives. So Newsom’s future legacy as San Francisco mayor will be heavily shaped by what he proposes early next year. And in a world where voters only care what politicians have done for them lately, Newsom will need an entirely new set of accomplishments to continue his political rise.

One could more plausibly argue the opposite: the last thing Newsom should do now is introduce any more "bold" initiatives. The most telling criticism of Newsom thus far is that he's introduced a lot of policy initiatives, large and small, but failed to follow through on many of them. National politics may preoccupy city residents to a certain extent, but the condition of their streets, their parks, and Muni is what they expect their mayor and their district supervisors to address. 

And some of the bold ideas popular in planning circles---the Better Neighborhoods Program, Bus Rapid Transit for Geary Blvd., and the subway to Chinatown---are just dumb and/or ruinously expensive and should be opposed. But Newsom has shown little skepticism about the trendy---and potentially disastrous---policy ideas emerging from the Planning Dept. and MTA, including of course the bicycle fantasy.

As I've pointed out before, Newsom's initiative on gay marriage was a political disaster for both the Democratic Party and the country, contributing significantly to President Bush's 2004 victory over John Kerry. And the jury is still out on the "universal health care" program for San Francisco, since it's still not clear whether it will be practical or, as we head into a recession, affordable for the city to provide health care for all of its uninsured residents.

But once again Randy Shaw disagrees with city progressives in recognizing the success the mayor has had on homeless policy since his election in 2003, probably because he himself is in the business of housing poor people with the Tenderloin Housing Project.

But it's on homeless policy that the city most needs new policy initiatives, not on some nebulous "urban reform" agenda. Thus far Mayor Newsom has done a good job on homelessness by initiating Project Homeless Connect, Homeward Bound, Care Not Cash, and shifting the city to a supportive housing policy, instead of, in effect, enabling the homeless to continue to live on our streets and in our parks, city policy before Newsom. Thousands of the homeless have been housed and/or removed from city streets in the last four years. Despite continuing opposition and sniping by city progressives, Newsom has done the city a huge service by turning around a situation in San Francisco that seemed all but hopeless four years ago.

But there are more hard policy decisions yet to be made to take the city to the next phase in dealing with the continuing squalor on our streets. Why have the homeless remained such a visible presence on our streets despite the mayor's successes on the issue? The answer: because San Francisco is a destination not only for high-end tourists but also for a lot of marginal, potentially homeless people from all over the country. A lot of these folks end up on the streets and camping in the parks, drinking and drugging with their pals as a way of life.

A good percentage of the homeless---25% is a common estimate---are mentally ill. As the Chronicle's C.W. Nevius has pointed out, these are people the city is not dealing with effectively, when they are dealt with at all, beyond hospital emergency rooms and the city jail, which is both ineffectual and expensive. The mayor needs to focus on how the city can enforce Laura's Law to help these folks off our streets.

Beyond implementing Laura's Law---and continuing to implement supportive housing, Homeward Bound, and Care Not Cash---what can the city do to stop being a magnet for marginal and/or homeless people from other parts of the country? In other words, how can we stop being Chump City without becoming cruel and heartless?

City progressives don't see this as a problem at all. Hey, come one come all! It's all cool and good! City progressives are now planning a "shooting gallery," where drug addicts---especially the homeless---can safely shoot up. This is proposed as a solution to the many used needles found in Golden Gate Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.

We should at least understand this much after the experience of the last four years: The city will have to confront this problem without any help from city progressives, the SF Bay Guardian and the "progressive" majority on the Board of Supervisors. To hear city progressives tell it, homelessness in the city is only about poverty and housing, not a continuous influx of a population of the mentally ill and the drug/alcohol-addled.

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