The city might be “breaking America’s heart,” but its economy is booming. On Friday, Mayor London Breed announced that the city’s 2019-2020 annual budget had risen to $12.2 billion. As a reminder, last year we saw a $937 million increase to hit just over $11.05 billion.
Budgets are generally a dry read, but when perused with a critical eye they offer a peek into the true moral center of a city. Most of our annual budget is already earmarked, but where the rest is spent speaks to our political and social priorities. As San Francisco struggles with a widening wealth gap, homeless crisis, and housing shortage, the budget gives us an opportunity to look ahead, to dream a little about what could be done if money is only moved from here to there.
This year’s budget announcement was made at an odd location for disclosing our massive wealth: a basketball court in the middle of the long-suffering, incredibly-dilapidated housing projects in Sunnydale. The streets outside the buildings — which had doors hanging off the hinges and peeling paint — were lined Friday morning with Mercedes and Audis owned by top city officials making six figures, as everyone gathered to see how big of a slice their departments will be getting out of our very large pie.
Breed did have a motive in her choice of location. She’s dedicated $140 million to building and renovating affordable housing — an effort that has already begun in Sunnydale. The first new set of 55 units will open in the neighborhood in October of this year. Residents will begin moving in this fall, and their existing units will be knocked down and rebuilt. This is a model Breed hopes to replicate in other areas around the city; in addition to her budget, she announced a $600 million affordable housing bond which will rest in voters’ hands this November, and pledged to get rid of the bureaucratic red tape that ties up the construction of affordable housing units for years.
Housing was front and center in Breed’s budget plan, but a few other items stood out. She committed nearly $12 million to street cleanliness, which includes more big belly trash cans, seven new pit stop bathrooms, and more cleaning patrols.
Services to help our homeless neighbors will receive an additional $100 million this year, part of which will be dedicated to Breed’s plan of opening 1,000 new shelter beds by the end of 2020.
Vision Zero efforts — to eliminate traffic-related fatalities by 2024 citywide — were granted $2.5 million, which include the construction of 20 miles of new bike lanes over the next two years. Another $130 million will go toward road repairs.
And, $9 million is earmarked for small businesses, which could include everything from facade renovations to financial support in making spaces ADA accessible.
Finally, with mental health being front and center in conversations at City Hall this spring, Breed pledged $50 million to expand our under-resourced behavioral health services, which will be dedicated to creating 100 new treatment and recovery beds citywide.
It’s hard to find fault in what Breed chose to fund with this year’s $12.2 billion — housing, safe streets, and cleanliness are all things that San Franciscans sorely care about. But in the coming months, news will no doubt emerge about what she chose not to fund, as supervisors battle to save the projects they put forth which were rejected. The city’s Budget and Finance Committee — chaired by Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer — will be reviewing the budget in the coming weeks, proposing cuts and rearrangements in an attempt to fund everything they can.
Because, while allocating money to any of the above causes certainly sounds like a good idea, oversight, accountability, and the effectiveness of existing systems remains to be seen. Will $12 million make a dent in street cleanliness, for example, if our population of homeless people living on the streets continues to rise? Or, will an added investment in affordable housing be successful in preventing displacement under the current definitions of eligibility?
More than anything, this year’s budget allocations seem incredibly safe. For better or worse there were no wild cards, but instead a strong commitment to funding already existing programs. Looking at the high-level choices made, it appears San Francisco is heading on the same path it’s been on for a while, albeit with a fatter wallet.