by Randy Shaw on August 1, 2022 (beyondchron.org)
City Hall Must Go Bigger
“It’s time the reign of criminals who are destroying our city, it is time for it come to an end. And it comes to an end when we take the steps to more aggressive with law enforcement. More aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerate of all the bullshit that has destroyed our city.” Mayor Breed, December 15, 2021
The bullshit remains. San Francisco must take urgent action to revitalize its Mid-Market and Tenderloin neighborhoods. There is no more time to waste.
What do I call “urgent” actions? Read on.
Mid-Market was on track for an historic revival until the pandemic devastated its economy. Its ground floor restaurants and cafes depended on office workers who were no longer coming to work.
The problem these establishments had getting weekend business was going to be fixed by four major housing developments under construction when the pandemic began. Unfortunately, all four (including the final project at the New Trinity Plaza and the beautiful 1028 Market in photo above) opened after Mid-Market workers associated with WeWorks, Twitter and other tech companies departed—many for good.
The non-return of most nearby federal and state workers has added to Mid-Market’s problems. Their continued absence from offices remains inexplicable. People are not going to open new businesses when the office-worker dominated customer base is gone; while most of San Francisco is reopening Mid-Market remains a ghost town.
City Hall can help solve this problem in two ways.
First, the city can lease vacant storefronts on Market between 5th and 9th Streets. The city would then accept applications for small businesses to operate, with landlords waiving rent until a business actually opens. The city should offer generous rent abatements until the businesses get going. Rent subsidies and property tax abatements should be offered to keep existing businesses going.
Second, if the city does not want to lease the spaces it can offer the same financial package to existing landlords. Many invested heavily in Mid-Market not expecting a pandemic; they deserve financial incentives to restore the area’s ground floor business activity.
Some may ask, “where does city get the money to fund this?” San Francisco just had a $74 million budget surplus. None was spent on the direct economic revitalization of Mid-Market. This spending is an investment. It will pay for itself with increased sales tax revenue and employment. The area’s revival will also allow funding for security and police to be diverted elsewhere.
San Francisco has spent roughly $20 million on a “Linkage Center” that was an anti-revitalization strategy. The Center’s operation has left UN Plaza with more drug dealers than ever. Dealers are killing the Farmers Market. Dealers also discourage people taking MUNI or BART to Mid-Market, the Tenderloin or Civic Center because many don’t want to confront the open drug market in UN Plaza.
When the Linkage Center closes at the end of the year the space must become an engine for the area’s revitalization. City Hall can request proposals for businesses for the space and select a business with a plan for transforming the area. The city should offer financial incentives such as free rent for at least a year and below-market rent thereafter.
Many of us have spent years urging the city to turn UN Plaza into a positive for the surrounding neighborhoods. Instead, the city spent $20 million making things worse. It’s been terribly unfair to ACT, the Proper Hotel, and other nearby businesses that have invested heavily in the area.City Hall cannot just leave the Linkage Center space vacant after it closes—-recruiting a new, visionary user is essential.
I’ve heard all the reasons for the city not investing in Mid-Market—I heard them for decades before Mayor Ed Lee, backed by D6 Supervisor Jane Kim, saw the longtime economic wreckage of the Mid-Market and Tenderloin and moved boldly to attract Twitter to 9th and Market. The city’s targeted tax break for net new hires dramatically boosted investment in both neighborhoods.
It brought more investment in Mid-Market and the Tenderloin than was seen in the prior sixty years. And did so without causing the displacement of residential tenants in the area that critics predicted would occur.
Mayor Lee went big on the so-called Twitter tax break. Contrary to what some argue, it was an incredible success.
These bold city actions will be bolstered by the eventual opening of IKEA at Market and Mason and Joy Ou’s sparkling new tourist hotel across the street from Ikea (950 Market) which opens in the fall. Together, city and private investment can get Mid-Market back on track.
The time for action is now.
The Tenderloin’s Problem is Drug Dealers
Contrary to what many believe, the Tenderloin is not beset by complex problems. At least 95% of the neighborhood’s problems have a single cause: open air drug dealing. The city turned the Tenderloin into a tent city and drug dealer containment zone; the latter is gone but drug dealers are more numerous than ever.
Unlike Mid-Market, the Tenderloin has the residential base to support restaurants, cafes, and small businesses. But City Hall has failed to protect the Tenderloin from open air drug activity.
My book on the Tenderloin (“The Tenderloin: Sex, Drugs and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco“) describes the neighborhood’s long struggle around crime and drug dealing. People who say the Tenderloin has always had this level of dealers don’t know what they are talking about—the dealers were never anywhere close to this widespread.
The Mayor should order as many police as needed to patrol the Tenderloin until the drug dealers are gone. Bernal Heights, the Haight-Ashbury, Union Street and other neighborhoods would not settle for less—and the Tenderloin deserves the same level of protection.
The Mayor and Chief showed last November at Union Square that they can find the officers to temporarily flood neighborhoods. This has never happened in the Tenderloin! Never happened! Never happened despite national media coverage of Emergency Orders and City Hall’s public commitment to such action.
It needs to happen now.
Until open drug markets are stopped, every impacted Tenderloin small business should be granted a refund of all city fees and taxes. And property taxes in impacted areas should be at least partially refunded.
Why should people and businesses pay the same taxes and fees as those in other neighborhoods who are not impacted by the city’s failure to provide basic protections? If the city is going to allow dealers to prevent apartments and hotel rooms from being rented, and small businesses from attracting customers, the city should not accept the full amount of taxes and fees owed.
Our new District Attorney Brooke Jenkins recognizes that the Tenderloin depends on closing down drug markets. Mayor Breed agrees but has not been able to get the SFPD to mobilize toward this goal. When you see drug dealers openly being served lunch without police interference, something is very wrong about how the SFPD is serving the Tenderloin.
Revitalizing the Tenderloin is easier than Mid-Market. The foundational residential elements are in place (and will grow when Hastings’ 14 story residential building at Golden Gate and Hyde opens in 2023). But it takes a commitment to roust dealers that City Hall has vocalized but has not made happen.
Mid-Market and the Tenderloin have not gotten their fair share of city resources for over seventy years. Urgent action is needed to remedy this.
Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw’s latest book is Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America. He is the author of four prior books on activism, including The Activist’s Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. He is also the author of The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco