Ask Mayor Ed Lee about the weather and he will invariably steer the conversation back to one single topic: jobs.
It makes sense that Lee has been focused on employment growth since first becoming mayor in 2011. At the time he assumed his post, in the throes of the economic downturn, The City's unemployment rate was an alarming 9.5 percent. Following the collapse of the housing market, unemployment surged here and across the nation, prompting widespread calls for politicians to do whatever they could to stimulate the economy and get people working again.
In San Francisco, Lee wisely pushed for a tax break in the mid-Market Street corridor — a move initially pitched to keep Twitter in The City. Before long, he was holding Tech Tuesdays, in which he visited different technology companies.
The wisdom of this strategy is now abundantly clear. According to a newly released study by UC Berkeley economics professor Enrico Moretti, each tech job in San Francisco creates five nontech positions. Overall, according to Moretti's study, tech employment supports 65 percent of the service work in The City.
But this influx of well-paid tech workers also has pushed up rents and made San Francisco profoundly less affordable for people working in service jobs — as well as for The City's shrinking middle class. Family flight from The City is well-documented, and now there are signs that the middle class is fleeing as well.
So while the mayor should be lauded for his unwavering focus on luring new high-tech workers to San Francisco, it is increasingly clear that The City needs to do more for its existing citizenry — many of whom are struggling with the ever-increasing cost of living. And while Lee is unquestionably right about the ways the tech boom benefits The City's economy, at times he can sound politically tone deaf when discussing the boom's impact on San Francisco's residents — and former residents.
Speaking at a recent tech conference, Lee was grilled about what The City is doing to minimize the boom's disruption to the social fabric of San Francisco. First the mayor highlighted The City's housing trust fund, which sets aside money to build affordable housing — always in short supply in development-phobic San Francisco. Then he touted the regional bicycle-sharing network that just debuted in The City and Silicon Valley.
The trust fund will add much-needed housing to The City, although the units it will eventually fund cannot help the many people being displaced today by skyrocketing rents. Once San Franciscans move elsewhere, they are unlikely to move back to The City years from now when new housing is completed. As for bike-sharing, while we support this program, it is mystifying how anyone could imagine that it will keep struggling residents from leaving The City.
The mayor should be credited for the work he has done to help encourage San Francisco's impressive employment growth. But with The City's unemployment rate down to 5.9 percent, it is time for him to focus on other concerns — such as expediting housing construction to help keep The City vibrant and affordable.