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'Recovery Starts Now': Mayor London Breed Highlights Housing, Business Approvals as Key to Comeback

  • In a speech this week, San Francisco Mayor London Breed pushed back on pessimism surrounding the City's prospects post-pandemic

  • Breed said that Proposition H, a recently approved measure to speed up new business activities, along with a potential ballot measure to streamline housing approvals, will help lay the groundwork for the City's economic recovery

  • With COVID cases and hospitalizations decelerating, San Francisco businesses were permitted to reopen with restrictions on Jan. 28

  • Other initiatives include spending on public infrastructure such as transit, seawalls and homeless navigation centers to stimulate job growth

In a speech this week, San Francisco Mayor London Breed sent a message that the City is readying a comeback and highlighted efforts to slash red tape and lay the groundwork for a future economic recovery.

Speaking from Moscone Center, which has served as the headquarters of San Francisco’s emergency operations since COVID struck last March, Breed pushed back on pessimism surrounding the City’s outlook in the wake of a pandemic entering its 11th month, widespread business closures, and the apparent flight of many residents and companies.

“Working from home doesn’t spell the end of urban life, because cities aren’t just a collection of jobs,” she said. “San Francisco has been, and will continue to be, a magnet.”

Breed said that between the ongoing vaccine rollout and the recent opening of certain business and social activities the City’s “recovery starts now.”

With hospitalizations and positivity rates waning in San Francisco, newly permitted activities include: Outdoor restaurant dining; indoor personal care on a limited basis; outdoor museums, zoos and entertainment venues; one-on-one indoor fitness; and small outdoor gatherings, among others. Indoor business activities, like retail and grocery stores, may also expand their capacity.

Since March, thousands of San Francisco businesses have shuttered, either temporarily or permanently, alongside extended restrictions.

Breed pointed to Proposition H, a law approved by voters last November that seeks to simplify and expedite approvals for new business activities, a notoriously slow and byzantine process in the eyes of many small business owners.

Breed also hinted at plans to speed up housing production by introducing a ballot measure that would expand by-right approval for new housing developments. The proposal was initially floated in February 2020, but was scrapped in part because of the difficulty in gathering the necessary signatures as stay-home orders took effect.

The proposal, which was dubbed Affordable Homes Now, would exempt developments from San Francisco’s lengthy bureaucratic process, which can drag out for years, if they are either 100% affordable or include 15% more affordable units than would be otherwise required by the City.

“Our recovery means also building housing, now, during this downturn, even if it means going to the voters to do it,” Breed said.

Public infrastructure projects, such as expanding San Francisco’s seawalls, transportation initiatives and building new homeless navigation centers, will also be a priority in the coming years according to Breed.

With San Francisco facing severe budget deficits tied to the pandemic, along with a long-term "structural deficit", enhanced federal government spending may play a role in funding any such projects, along with other forms of relief.

San Francisco is expected to receive $68 million in direct rent relief, Breed said earlier this week.

The White House has also indicated that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will increase and extend reimbursements for COVID emergency spending, likely including the City’s hotel program for homeless and other at-risk individuals.

Local transit agencies are also set to receive millions in cash support from the latest round of federal relief.


Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup

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