Five Areas San Francisco Needs to Make Progress on in 2020

This city has the potential to set a sterling example for others, but it needs to act swiftly and decisively.

The year 2000 came with a certain amount of fascination and fear. 

It was a big round number, the biggest and roundest in 1,000 years, and it reminded us that the future was just around the corner. The future is always right there, but something about zeroes and calendars inflates some dates with more perceived importance. The year 2000 not only came with a big calendar shift, but a scary problem of our own making also related to a bunch of zeroes. Fortunately, enough people worked hard enough and long enough that the Y2K bug didn’t lead to a complete technological meltdown, and people were free to focus on stuff like Elián González getting sent back to Cuba and the Supreme Court voting 5-4 along ideological lines to stop a full Florida recount in the presidential election. 

Twenty years later, people have more human-created problems to deal with and another momentous presidential election. Instead of short-sighted code, the world must contend with decades of environmental neglect and win-now thinking from a cavalcade of interests. Without progress in these areas, it’s unclear what would stop a slow, downward slide for everyone into decay and ruin. It’s not a hopeful thought to contemplate. 

But united action on these fronts could produce a great deal of happiness for everyone. It’s easy to read U.N. reports about how the world has 12 years to completely change its fuel habits or else the apocalypse will happen, compare this with your inability to get your coworker to stop microwaving salmon in the breakroom, and throw up your hands and declare humanity hopelessly lost. But humanity has recovered from seemingly hopeless situations before (world wars, famine, plagues, a wide variety of awful genocides), so it’s reasonable to think people will be motivated to work together again. Humans have discovered vaccines, gone to the moon, and invented air conditioning. 

Here are five areas San Francisco needs to make progress on in 2020 to set an example for cities and people elsewhere. 

Housing

San Francisco continues its reign as the poster child for wealth and housing inequality. That will only stop if — wait for it — more housing units get built. That’s going to be tough with construction costs through the roof. In a detailed breakdown of why building stuff here costs so much by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Roland Li, data and industry experts point to insufficient construction workers and red tape as some of the key factors. Also, proposing pretty much any construction anywhere in the city is opposed by someone, often a lot of someones, often a lot of vocal and extremely stubborn someones. 

Despite the difficulty, more housing needs to happen. A report from the nonprofit planning organization SPUR projects 2.3 million more Bay Area residents by 2040 and 1.3 million new jobs. An October report from the city’s Budget and Legislative Analyst’s office suggests that housing production in San Francisco is way out of whack: not enough homes, especially not enough affordable homes. 

A ray of light could happen as early as this month, though. 

Senate Bill 50 would change zoning laws and clear the way for taller apartment buildings near transit. The bill, proposed by state Sen. Scott Wiener, got stymied last year by a senate committee, but could get voted on in January. San Francisco politicians past (Governor Gavin Newsom) and present (Mayor London Breed) have expressed support for the bill while the Board of Supervisors remains opposed

Homelessness

Finding new ways to help the homeless (beyond building more housing) is also key to San Francisco’s future. 

The Board of Supervisors passed legislation in December that would create more mental health resources for those who need it (even though the supervisors aren’t sure how they’ll pay for it).  

Climate change

Last year, San Francisco created a broad outline of what it needs to do to achieve net zero emissions in a timeframe that would actually matter for the environment. It involves intimidating milestones like 80 percent of all trips in the city taking place by biking, walking, or public transit by 2030, and every single car and truck on the road being electric by 2040. There’s no time like the present. 

Pedestrian Safety

San Francisco wants to stop having traffic-related deaths by 2024. Twenty seven people have died in traffic-related instances this year according to the Dec. 5 Vision Zero monthly fatality report, a step backward for the program. Pedestrian advocates have made some progress: As of this month, personal vehicles will be banned from Market Street between Steuart and Gough streets. Supervisors have voiced support for more car-free areas in San Francisco. 

Empathy

Getting through 2020, which promises to have one of the most divisive and bitterly fought presidential campaigns ever, will require a little extra understanding for your fellow person to get through with any degree of sanity. That could be as basic as voting in the best interests of most people (even if it isn’t necessarily you) to taking on a little more professional risk on behalf of others. Some tech workers are already doing this by making attempts to unionize their workplaces (or, failing that, trying more instances of collective action).  

There were more recorded instances of collective action in the tech world in 2019 than in previous years. If 2020 can continue that trend it could make San Francisco — the flagship of tech — a kinder, more hospitable place for everyone from the janitorial and cafeteria workers to the social media moderation contractors to software engineers. More collective action means better and more ethical working conditions, which means an overall improvement for everyone involved. But it all starts with thinking about others first. 

Richard Procter is the editor in chief of SF Weekly. You can reach him at rprocter@sfweekly.com.

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