5 years of Ed Lee: How San Francisco has changed under the mayor

By Heather Knight : sfchronicle – excerpt

Mayor Ed Lee checks out the inside of a new Muni bus. He has beefed up the city’s transit fleet with new vehicles.

When the Board of Supervisors appointed Ed Lee the city’s interim mayor in January 2011, they characterized him as a caretaker who would diligently keep city government chugging along until voters picked their real leader.

Not only did Lee, who had been city administrator, surprise the supervisors by running for and winning his own four-year term, but he has proved to be far more than a mere minder of the store. Instead, the bureaucrat-turned-politician’s policies have helped dramatically reshape San Francisco.

Five years ago, the city was known mostly for its out-there liberal politics, its tourist-friendly attractions, and its diverse and eclectic neighborhoods. If it made the national press, it was usually for a cutting-edge policy like issuing same-sex marriage licenses or banning plastic bags.

Half a decade later, San Francisco is the center of the world’s technology boom. Construction cranes are only half-jokingly called the city’s new mascot, the median house price has risen a remarkable $560,000 to $1.16 million, unemployment is virtually nonexistent, and the city’s annual budget has swelled by more than $2 billion… (more)

The Economist recently likened working in tech in San Francisco circa 2015 to living in Florence during the Renaissance.

“When you consider how vibrant the economy is and how tough it is to get things done in San Francisco, I think he’s done a really incredible job,” political consultant Sam Lauter said of Lee’s tenure. Lauter helped discourage his longtime client, state Sen. Mark Leno, from entering the Nov. 3 race for mayor because he believed — still believes — Lee is unbeatable.

But plenty of Lee’s critics wish somebody with name recognition was challenging the man who has so drastically altered their city. They see the affordability crisis, rash of evictions, grimy streets and worsening homeless problem as not so much like the Renaissance, but the French Revolution.

“It’s a tale of two cities when it comes to the mayor’s performance,” said Supervisor David Campos, who represents the Mission District, the center of attention for gentrification and evictions. “We’re the wealthiest city in the country, but many people are being left out of that prosperity.”

Corey Cook, a former political science professor at the University of San Francisco, said both viewpoints are valid.

“The city has a booming economic engine and yet people earning a significant salary are feeling unprecedented economic pressures and housing insecurity,” he said. “What drew people to San Francisco in the first place — the cultural diversity and the feel of San Francisco — has undoubtedly changed.”

Less than a month from the election, here is a look at Lee’s five years in office and how they have affected the city in the areas that matter most to its residents.

The Economy

When Lee took office, the city was just beginning to emerge from a crippling recession. His predecessor, Gavin Newsom, who left office a year early after being elected lieutenant governor, had projected a $380 million deficit in the city’s $6.8 billion budget.

Lee’s first budget, which went into effect that July, included across-the-board cuts. Now, thanks to huge increases in tax revenue, the city’s budget stands at $8.6 billion and next year is projected to hit $9 billion — more than at least 10 states. The current budget includes money to hire 1,178 new city employees and funding increases for every department.

The seeds of all that growth were planted under Newsom and sprouted under Lee in the form of the Twitter tax break, which persuaded Twitter and other tech companies to move into Mid-Market. The long-derelict stretch of the city’s main thoroughfare has gradually improved.

Twitter’s move to San Francisco helped persuade more tech companies to follow. Countless start-ups have set up shop in San Francisco — and Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest and Dropbox alone are valued at about $100 billion combined. A.T. Kearney, the global management consulting firm, rates San Francisco as the city with the most potential worldwide to be booming in 2024…

He has fulfilled quite fully the saying, ‘You gotta dance with them that brung ya,’” said former state Assemblyman and Supervisor Tom Ammiano. “I think we’re paying for that.”

San Francisco has the fastest growing income inequality gap of any major city in the country, according to the Brookings Institution….


Drivers are irate over increased traffic and parking difficulties thanks to more people working in San Francisco and more construction projects around the city. Lee has also been criticized for giving on-call ride service companies, including Uber, too wide a berth, damaging the taxi industry. And the mayor’s initial willingness to allow the corporate shuttles commonly known as Google buses — at one point a symbol of the new tech world — to use Muni bus stops for free was slammed until the city started charging them a small fee…

Here are some changes in San Francisco between when Mayor Ed Lee took office in January 2011 and now.

City budget: $6.8 billion in 2011, $8.6 billion in 2015

Median price of houses and condominiums: $660,000 in 2011, $1.16 million in 2015

Median rent for apartments of all sizes: $2,595 in 2011, $4,225 in 2015

Unemployment: 9.4 percent in 2011, 3.6 percent in 2015

Homeless people: 6,455 in 2011, 6,686 in 2015

Sources: Paragon Real Estate, Zillow, Priceonomics, Chronicle research… (more)


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