Like any big city, San Francisco has big problems. Rampant homelessness, an opioid epidemic, widening income equality and deep political divisions. What’s stopping the city from fixing itself? Where are the creative solutions? And what happens when one person’s solution is another’s root of the problem? Host Laura Wenus and producer Cintia Lopez are on a quest to find out, one San Francisco story at a time. SFNext: Fixing Our City is part of the San Francisco Chronicle's SFNext project. Unlimited Chronicle access: sfchronicle.com/pod. Twitter: @sfnext Got a tip, question, comment? Email us at email@example.com
- ‘No Moderate or Progressive Potholes’: Board President Aaron Peskin Says Now is the Time to Come TogetherAaron Peskin, president of the Board of Supervisors, has spent the majority of the last 23 years in office in San Francisco, representing District 3. His district includes North Beach, Chinatown and the Financial District, but the role of president means he must broker compromises between his colleagues and the mayor. On complex crises like the coronavirus pandemic, fentanyl use and homelessness, he says he also helps coordinate siloed city departments. And with so many crises at hand, Peskin says, this is no time for divisive politicking — which is why he collaborated with Mayor London Breed on legislation easing restrictions on building use downtown. “There are no moderate or progressive potholes,” he says. “There are potholes and they need to be filled.”
- Soup With the Supes: Ronen Says Local Solutions Ignore Root CausesSupervisor Hillary Ronen represents the Mission, the Portola and Bernal Heights, but she has been trying to tackle problems in those neighborhoods since before she was elected. Now, she’s termed out, and she says she’s conflicted about trying to address the fallout of national issues with a municipal toolkit. While San Francisco’s government has its shortcomings, she says, it’s grappling with effects of poverty and inequality around the country — from homelessness to drug dealing to the housing crunch — that are more visible than ever.
- Soup With the Supes: Catherine Stefani on Police and Public SafetySupervisor Catherine Stefani represents a part of San Francisco that does not have a reputation for violent crime — District 2 includes the Marina, Pacific Heights, Cathedral Hill, Laurel Village and NoPa. But shortly before SFNext: Fixing Our City interviewed her, a violent assault in the Marina made headlines, though it wasn't yet apparent that there was allegedly more to that story. Stefani describes how she would like to handle challenges with hiring cops, what we expect police officers to do, and why public safety is such a critical issue for San Francisco.
- Soup With the Supes: Matt Dorsey Lays Out His Drug PolicyDistrict 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who lives in the Mid-Market area and represents downtown as well as SoMa, Mission Bay and Treasure Island, expresses some hope that the city’s economic engine is coming back to life. The former police spokesperson has experience with drug and alcohol abuse and talks about his own setbacks during the pandemic. One reason he ran for office was to represent people in recovery. Now, he has ambitious plans for the police department and its role in addressing drug dealing.
- Soup With the Supes: Connie Chan Is a Budget Wonk and Chowder EnthusiastSupervisor Connie Chan keeps a decorative sign in her office that says “I’ll be nicer, if you’ll be smarter.” She is chair of the Budget and Finance Committee and has made it a point to call for hearings about department overspending or inefficient spending. As part of our Soup With the Supes series, Chan tells the story of how she was introduced to clam chowder in a bread bowl and shares her vision of San Francisco’s economic future.
- Overdoses Have Spiked. How Will San Francisco Respond?San Francisco has consistently seen more than 600 overdose deaths a year, and the rate of fatal overdoses has recently spiked. Dr. Jeffrey Hom, director of the city’s Office of Overdose Prevention, is optimistic that the city can turn the tide on overdoses, but acknowledges a long road ahead. The health department released a plan last year to reduce fatal overdoses, which calls for expansions in medication treatment and Narcan distribution as well as establishing safe consumption sites. Despite opposition in some quarters, opening safe consumption sites has broad support in city government, but they are against federal law.
- The Cases For and Against Safe Consumption SitesHundreds of people are dying from drug overdoses every year in San Francisco, and the rate of deaths has spiked. In the same time frame, thousands more overdoses are reversed. Public health and harm reduction workers battling the opioid crisis are calling for the creation of safe consumption sites, which offer a place to use while trained staff are on duty to intervene if someone overdoses. Critics fear they would attract crime and open drug use and enable addiction, but city leaders have almost universally supported establishing a site in San Francisco. Despite that support, plans to establish them appear stalled. In this episode, we explore why that is. Advocates Madeleine Sweet, an overdose survivor in recovery, and Ellen Grantz, with the group Mothers Against Drug Addiction and Death, delve into the controversy around safe consumption sites.
- Housing Wonks on a Mission to Shorten S.F.'s Permitting ProcessSan Francisco has a unique system of “discretionary review,” and YIMBY advocate Bilal Mahmood (with the pro-development Yes In My Back Yard group) and California Assemblymember Matt Haney see this process as a major roadblock to new housing. Mahmood went down the rabbit hole to suss out exactly how tangled this bureaucracy is for a Chronicle opinion piece. Haney has crafted two pieces of state legislation intended to make the process of getting new housing or office conversions approved a little more predictable, and thus faster. They explain how that could spur housing construction and how all this could help reshape downtown.
- How to Help Homeless People? Outreach Worker Uses “Radical Hospitality”When Castro neighbors see Erica McGary doing outreach, they sometimes assume she’s a volunteer. But McGary works for the Department of Public Health, and it’s her job to get to know people in the neighborhood — whether they’re unhoused, working or have a home or apartment there. Building relationships with chronically homeless people and newcomers alike helps foster trust in city services, which can be a major obstacle to accessing services. The approach has already helped several people find a path to housing, shelter or treatment, and the city intends to replicate it in other neighborhoods.
- Soup With the Supes: Rafael MandelmanSupervisor Rafael Mandelman wonders whether a local government needs a system of checks and balances and, over matzo ball soup, explains why he thinks certain controversies have been exaggerated. Mandelman represents District 8, which includes the Castro, Diamond Heights and Twin Peaks. He says San Francisco government has too many checks and balances for its size. He describes the huge fight over “killer robots” as blown out of proportion and says San Francisco is not failing to solve homelessness, but rather, is failing to manage public spaces.
- These Teens Love San Francisco, but They’re LeavingThree local high school students who are active in their communities share their concerns and hopes for San Francisco: They’re frustrated with the high cost of living, lack of support for educators, distant politicians and persistent damaging narratives about race. We take a hard look at the city from their perspectives and hear why all three plan to leave.
- How Could San Francisco Defy a Doom Loop?We’ve painted a grim picture of the future if Downtown doesn’t bounce and San Francisco doesn’t reinvent itself. So we got some smart people together to come up with ideas to save the city. Panelists Desi Danganan from Kultivate Labs, Ixchel Acosta from Avenue Greenlight and Sujata Srivastava from SPUR share ideas for policies and personal civic engagement. The crowd at Manny’s chimes in with their own creative proposals.
- Why You Should Care About Downtown Office Buildings Losing ValueThe move to remote work has created a self-reinforcing phenomenon of empty downtowns and sluggish recovery. It has also led to office building depreciation. A group of New York economists are warning that this could spell disaster. The economic activity that office workers fuel, and the tax revenue their activities yield, are essential to the city’s budget. But cutting services may drive out even more workers, and the city could get caught in a “doom loop.” Arpit Gupta of the NYU Stern School of Business explains why it’s worse here than on the East Coast, and what might help steer us clear of the death spiral.
- Soup With the Supes: Dean PrestonYou know him for being a Democratic Socialist who is passionate about affordable housing. Did you also know his office has pored over the police budget item by item, and that he says he could cut millions out of it without any effect on public safety? The District 5 supervisor, who represents a diverse set of neighborhoods in the city’s center, digs into some phở and the details of his stances on development, public safety and a disconnect between the Board of Supervisors and Mayor London Breed.
- Soup With the Supes: Supervisor Ahsha SafaíIn October, San Francisco Supervisor Ahsha Safaí was the victim of a home burglary. Thieves made off with his stove, of all things. What he took from that incident features prominently in this entry in our Soup With the Supes miniseries. Over tortilla soup, the representative for District 11 in the southern part of the city talks about what the task force dedicated to addressing retail theft has accomplished, how he handled constituents’ fierce opposition to a parking site for vehicle dwellers near Balboa Park, and what keeps him up at night.
- Soup With the Supes: Supervisor Joel EngardioJoel Engardio was elected in November to represent District 4, which consists of a chunk of the west side: The Sunset, Parkside, and Outer Sunset. A moderate, he unseated progressive incumbent Gordon Mar. Over stewed lemongrass coconut chicken soup, he lays out his case for increasing the police department’s budget to help hire officers, critiques the city’s district supervisor system, and talks about how he would cut red tape to foster small businesses.
- Soup With the Supes: Supervisor Myrna MelgarWhat would San Francisco Supervisor Myrna Melgar do if she were queen of San Francisco for a day? In this episode of SFNext: Fixing Our City, we kick off a new feature — Soup With the Supes. Members of the board talk about local issues while eating soup with host Laura Wenus and producer Cintia Lopez. Over pozole, Melgar shares her thoughts on some of the city's most pressing issues.
- At This Stanford Lab, Government Interventions Are the ExperimentsStanford’s RegLab designs real-world scientific experiments to test the outcomes of government interventions. Derek Ouyang is a research manager there and he also co-founded City Systems, an organization that explores potential fixes to municipal problems. Ouyang is exploring equitable solutions to local cities’ most intractable challenges. And he has some ideas about how to fix San Francisco’s problems, toontific experiments to test the outcomes of government interventions. Derek Ouyang is a research manager there and he also co-founded City Systems, an organization that explores potential fixes to municipal problems. Ouyang is exploring equitable solutions to local cities’ most intractable challenges. And he has some ideas about how to fix San Francisco’s problems, too
- Privacy for Safety Is a Bad Trade, Camera Foes SaySan Francisco is experimenting with expanding police access to live monitoring of third-party security cameras. Privacy advocates warn that any new surveillance capacity has the potential to be abused, and hold that it doesn’t actually work to reduce crime. Second of two parts.
- Can SFPD Access to More Security Cameras Help Stop Crime?A security camera mounted on a pole captured damning evidence of the police killing of Tyre Nichols in Memphis. San Francisco is blanketed by security cameras too. But unlike in other cities, police aren’t monitoring them around the clock. Their ability to monitor private feeds live was recently expanded, but will that work to curb crimes like theft and drug dealing?