"What Will Hot Issues be at S.F. City Hall in 2015?"
If 2014 in San Francisco was the year of the eye-popping economic boom, 2015 will be the year City Hall politicians try to figure out how to deal with the affordability crisis it helped generate.
Or at least that’s what they’re saying now. You know how New Year’s resolutions work out — as you loosen that belt buckle one more notch or check that less-than-impressive savings account total. Am I right?
The year ahead at City Hall will also include some big news in the interesting intersection between sports and politics and a potentially controversial November ballot.
Mayor Ed Lee’s focus will be his “affordability agenda” — and he has a big incentive to stick to that pledge. After all, he’s seeking re-election in November, and it’s not just tech titans and real estate barons who get to cast a vote.
(Granted, Lee has no competition so far. But from the way his communications team at City Hall is touting his dedication to “sharing prosperity” and his campaign team is hyping his history as a tenants rights advocate, it’s clear they’ll be stressing that theme for the next 10 months.)
Lee will give his annual State of the City address in the next couple of weeks and will emphasize the need to spread the wealth.
“Jobs are back, the economy has rebounded, and for the first time in decades, the mayor’s not asking department heads to cut their budgets for a year,” said Christine Falvey, the mayor’s spokeswoman. “Next year, it’s going to be about sharing that prosperity. It’s not hitting all levels in the city.”
Falvey wouldn’t divulge specifics, but said Lee will make some announcements regarding strengthening public transportation and public education. But the main concentration will be affordable housing.
Lee’s housing working group, composed of developers, affordable-housing advocates, policy wonks and others, has come up with ideas to spur affordable-housing creation and pay for it. The mayor wants to advance those ideas this year, but the details have yet to be determined.
Gabriel Metcalf, executive director of SPUR, an urban planning think tank, said there will likely be an affordable-housing funding measure on the November ballot and that it will be “an Ed Lee-style, get consensus measure.”
Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, said it’s essential that City Hall politicians spend 2015 trying to preserve housing stock, keep tenants in their homes, build affordable housing in the heart of the city and keep nonprofits and small businesses viable.
“Maybe a bull market has a lot of benefits, but when the bull starts behaving like it’s in a china shop, we need to do something,” he said. “We actually need to get that much more aggressive — to confront the bull, harness it and maybe put it back in its pen.”
Helping the needy
City Hall is also expected to continue to press private businesses to give to the needy — such as Google’s recent $2 million donation to homeless services and Kaiser Permanente’s $5.5 million in new grants to programs for low-income people, including $3 million to rehabilitate decrepit public housing projects.
Supervisor London Breed, who represents the Western Addition where there are several public housing developments, recently persuaded the San Francisco Association of Realtors to donate staging furniture, kitchen appliances and other goods to homeless families moving into public housing projects. So far, 42 families have moved into vacant public housing units, and many have received help from the realty group.
“I think it’s time for everyone to be part of helping to make this city better for those who are less fortunate,” Breed said. “There are a lot of folks who have built a lot of wealth, and I would just hope that many of them feel obligated to give back.”
Of course, there’s more on tap for the city than the affordability questions. There’s also sports. Plenty of them.
San Francisco should find out within the next several weeks whether the U.S. Olympic Committee decides to select it — or Los Angeles, Boston or Washington, D.C. — as its contender to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.
Rumor has it San Francisco is a front-runner for the American bid, though the ultimate choice belongs to the International Olympic Committee, which is also considering Rome, Paris, Budapest, Istanbul and other cities. It’s unclear when the host city will be named.
Breaking arena ground
Final planning will continue all year for Super Bowl 50, which will be played in Santa Clara but celebrated in San Francisco in February 2016. Development of the Golden State Warriors arena in Mission Bay — which no longer looks like a toilet bowl — is expected to continue apace with ground broken on construction by the end of 2015 and the grand opening in 2018. And the Giants will not win the World Series since this is an odd-numbered year.
The November election probably will include a ballot measure reining in Airbnb short-term rentals and perhaps requiring the company to pay millions in back taxes, and one to save the beloved San Francisco Flower Mart from a planned redevelopment of its South of Market site.
November will also mark the first year of consolidated city and county elections, meaning the mayor, city attorney, district attorney, treasurer and sheriff will all appear on the ballot.
So far, nobody’s challenging those first four — but for Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, it’s another story. After weathering a domestic violence scandal shortly after his election in 2011, Mirkarimi already has a challenger in Vicki Hennessy who filled in as interim sheriff while Mirkarimi was suspended.
Considering the big bucks that tech investor and mayoral pal Ron Conway is expected to spend to defeat progressive Mirkarimi and the bitter taste the sheriff’s behavior during the scandal left in many voters’ mouths, it’s hard to see how he wins re-election.
“The sheriff is like Sean Penn in that movie — he’s a dead man walking,” said Democratic strategist Nathan Ballard. “He stands virtually no chance of being re-elected.”
Speaking of which, it’s been three years since the Mirkarimi scandal began — a veritable drought at the often scandalous City Hall.
“I think we are due for a scandal,” predicted political consultant Jim Ross.
For political columnists, truer words were never spoken.
Heather Knight is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer who covers City Hall politics. E-mail: email@example.comTwitter: @hknightsf