Opinion | San Francisco’s Decline Frustrates Even Democrats Like Me
Many of these changes were prompted by referendums, which are an integral part of city elections and often controlled by the board. Since 2000, 321 initiatives have appeared on the city’s ballot papers. This process has produced eight different corporate taxes over the past decade that have doomed many small businesses as well as large corporations whose headquarters are now in less hostile environments. This has resulted in a sharp drop in projected tax revenues, which, as usual, will result in cuts in city services for those most in need.
Then there’s the fact that San Francisco is a one-party city. The San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee Nominating Committee has an impressive track record of supporting candidates seeking their first electoral victory as members of local transportation and education committees. These slots bring candidates onto the conveyor belt to higher office. Inbreeding is not healthy – especially for politicians.
Even Superman with a lightsaber wouldn’t be able to rule San Francisco.
The state of San Francisco—mirrored by conditions in other cities across the country—has much to do with how machinic politics, with its many flaws, has given way to power fragmentation at City Hall. This makes it much more difficult to engage in traditional struggles between a well-defined machine and an equally vibrant reform movement. Gouging out city newspapers, in our case The San Francisco Chronicle, also contributes to bad governance. And San Francisco, like a growing number of blue cities, suffers from a lack of middle-class voters who could provide a stabilizing influence.
Fortunately, there is an increasing movement for changes in the mechanics of the San Francisco City Government. Frustrated with the state of the city, in 2020 I helped found and fund TogetherSF, which is now an active organizer of community events and has begun playing a role in election contests through its sister organization, TogetherSF Action. Several parent initiatives are also calling for improvements. Last November, for the first time in 20 years, an elected acting manager was not re-elected. The district attorney and three members of the city’s school board were also removed last year.
I’m optimistic about San Francisco’s long-term prospects, in part because of some changes I’ve seen since I arrived in 1983. Once the warehouses and railroad yards in the area now known as Mission Bay, the area is now home to one of the world’s leading medical centers, mixed-use housing, home of the Golden State Warriors and Visa’s new world headquarters. Fueled by civic pride and a combination of private and government funds, this example shows what is possible — even as many other proposed changes that would have a positive impact on the city have been nullified and delayed.
There are many reasons to believe that Democratic San Francisco can once again become a frontrunner for the nation – this time by turning around a city held hostage by the political class. There is growing recognition that voters have repeatedly been duped. And the call for change is growing. It will not be easy. It will take time, persistence, magnanimity and the contributions of many. But eventually, Tucker Carlson will be forced to eat his words, and San Francisco will work out better for everyone.
Michael Moritz is a partner at Sequoia Capital. He also funded Crankstart, a San Francisco-based foundation, and San Francisco Standard, an online news organization.
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