Dec 29, 2023
42 min
Episode 8

We Are San Francisco: 'Empowering Local Business' with Rodney Fong

Ben Kaplan  00:00

Hey, BART Rider. Hey San Francisco. I'm Ben Kaplan and this is the podcast where we define who we are and who we want to be. We are diverse, we are innovative, we are inclusive. We are change makers, problem solvers, activists, leaders, citizens, we are open minded, optimistic, because hope for a better tomorrow and you and you and you got to get in the hole. This is the podcast. That's more than a podcast for Cisco. They are the world champion. We are San Francisco.

Ben Kaplan  00:40

Today we're chatting with Rodney Fong, President and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. In this capacity, Rodney oversees a membership organisation comprised of about 1300 San Francisco businesses, with more than 60% Being small businesses. As a fourth generation San Franciscan, who grew up in the Richmond District, Rodney operated the original Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf as a family business for nearly three decades. In addition to running his own real estate, business and Family Foundation. He also previously served on the San Francisco Planning Commission as president of the San Francisco port commission roles where he became well versed in issues related to land use, transportation, industry, and neighbourhood planning. So what can we do to better support commercial activity in both the downtown core and other San Francisco neighbourhoods, and to San Francisco now have a once in a generation opportunity to change its future? Let's find out with Rodney Fong. Rodney, it's certainly an interesting time for the city, a challenging time interesting and challenging time for the chamber as well, to start off with a recent city poll that you do, vast majority of San Franciscans think we're headed in the wrong direction. Why do you think that is? Why does everyone have the sort of pervasive sense? And how did we get here to begin with? Because it wasn't always this way. And yet, it feels like we're caught in the middle of this and it feels like it's difficult to reverse?

Rodney Fong  02:09

Well, it's a really good question, Ben. And thanks for having me. The City Beat polls actually been going on for about 15 consecutive years, and asking almost the exact same questions. Are we headed in the right direction? How's the mayor doing? What's your feeling about government, and over the last 15 years is a really consistent thread seem that San Francisco has not been going in the right direction from a business perspective, from a livability perspective, from a cost of living perspective. And I think that COVID really exemplified all of this direction. Over the last 1520 years. Obviously, we were accelerated by Agent hate and public safety. And I think on top of COVID really forced many of the businesses to consider closing leaving San Francisco, which was not good. It's a compilation of I think, some maybe even conflicts that we have internally as San Franciscans, because I think we all for the most part are very progressive in San Francisco. And I think we when we go to the ballot box, often, we may even have a different sort of tone of that progressiveness when we fill in that little bubble, and that we want the best for schools for kids for the unhoused in a very compassionate, loving way. But I think sometimes also that catches up, it has caught up with us, in that we believe at the chamber to be progressive, you've got to be successful. And we have to have a certain level of productivity in the city certain level of economic benefit of the city, to be able to afford, frankly, all of the great social things that we all believe in and want for our city. But we've got to be successful in that way. Sure.

Ben Kaplan  03:47

The notion of the actual word progressive is progress. And to make progress to move forward, you certainly need results. And your background is interesting, because you're a fourth generation San Franciscan, you were born and raised in the city, but you have multiple levels of parents and grandparents and who were also born and raised in the city. And given that perspective, does this feel the situation the challenges we're in now feel different than other times? I mean, San Francisco has had difficult moments before, there's many things that have happened. But what is the nature of this moment, kind of this post COVID posts changes in behaviours of people maybe working in the city and downtown and who's living here and who's not and who's moving away? What is your perspective, just as a longtime resident for where we are now,

Rodney Fong  04:36

I want to clarify, like I often talk about our family's history here in San Francisco. And it really means nothing except that I grew up hearing stories out about San Francisco that were before my lifetime. So as a kid, you know, you start to hear these stories from your grandparents or whatever. And you start to visualise what San Francisco really was and what it really felt like from their from their lips, and then you put it together with your own history and research and and you'll have a deeper understanding, I think what's changed for, let's say, our generation maybe than our than our grandparents is that, you know, we have fewer and fewer multi generational families in San Francisco to carry on some of the political movements, some of the investment in San Francisco. And the transitory nature of San Francisco is a blessing and a curse. We have so many people that aspire to be here for so many reasons, which are beautiful and wonderful, to fight to identify with themselves and find themselves and not be typecasted, as they might be somewhere else. But that also means that there's a lot of education needed for those new residents understand how the city actually ticks and works, the cost of certain things that we may think are social benefits and progressive, there's a real hard cost to those, I think we saw them outward migration of people leaving during COVID. That's actually Unfortunately, nothing, nothing new to San Francisco. And, for example, all my high school friends no longer live in San Francisco, they all migrated for essentially the same reasons, the cost of living, the difficulty of raising kids in San Francisco. And maybe they're inaccurate, but lack of faith in the school system and feeling like the only choice is to go to a private school in San Francisco, all terribly expensive to do and to raise the families is tough. So, you know, I think it's interesting where we are now, I think that there are great movements as we speak today. And I come back to present day of organisations like we love San Francisco that are popping up, that are finally bringing together people who took it for granted, that's after school was who was going to run by itself because we had $14 billion. Now I think we're all like understanding and knowing who our supervisor is, people now understand maybe what district they live in, and actually can call it out by number, understand a little bit about how the Department of Public Health works or who actually runs Muni, who runs the parking programme and ticket programme in San Francisco and really starting to get into the underbelly of the city. And I say that, and I encourage that, but not necessarily in a critical way. But just really understanding how San Francisco works. It's complex. It's frankly, has been my hobby, and my profession. Just you know, I'm curious how the city works out how it works underground, under under the under the street, and how it ticks. So So my background is actually really kind of colon, you did a weird way to be in this particular role. At this particular time understanding the planning, you know, I was on the planning commission for eight years and understanding how GPS, city planning works, serve on the port commission, understanding how the port works, and Fisherman's Wharf, etc.

Ben Kaplan  07:39

It's interesting you and I have chatted this before about whether this is a moment for us. So we can talk about this notion of these challenges, in some ways are unprecedented. Some of that could have been anticipated, maybe I mean, to your point earlier, there was a trend even before COVID have certain challenges rising up. But some of that is COVID related and other things that maybe it was a little bit more difficult to anticipate. But there's a feeling. And I feel this all the time through whether it's through the podcast or through our organisation, we San Francisco that lots more people want to get involved than before. It used to be just like San Francisco is amazing. There's amazing opportunity and people and networking and beauty and culture and all this stuff. And you could just come here and enjoy and just you know, enjoy, and you didn't really have to give back that much. But now, a lot of those people and and people that weren't really interested in maybe giving back and being committed and helping build the community, they might have already left. So the people that are here are here for a reason. They're here by choice. They're here by connection. And there's this energy forming of people that maybe were never never been involved in civic engagement, never been involved in government politics that suddenly are now like, we're stepping up were stepping in do you feel that too, because to me, it's palpable, man,

Rodney Fong  08:54

this is right on in exactly where we are. This is a once in a generational opportunity for San Francisco. And we are San Francisco we are San Franciscans, you know a lot of people who didn't leave San Francisco are here to try to help fix it. And I think a lot of people left because they had to or opportunity reasons, but those who stayed I think are really really committed so you've got a real kind of like almost like a broth of bully on the consummate that's been boiled down to people who are here right now today that want to fix San Francisco, and to our SharePoint and energy, people are paying attention. And it's not necessarily bad guys versus good guys and good guys versus bad guys. It's just really understanding how the city works. And more importantly, I think we all have a role as we're all becoming more informed, to call out a vision to call out a direction of where we want to go we all want change. But the next step is to really call out that vision of what San Francisco wants to be when it grows up in its next the next version. And we get I get personally very excited about that. I get very excited and firstly what we do that city B poll to find out where resin czar where voters are and their mentality, how do they enjoy that, that open space and that commitment to our park system? Do they enjoy the VISTAs? Do they enjoy the freedoms of San Francisco? But what parts? Do they not enjoy? What parts have sort of fallen potentially, and need to be corrected? So how we get people on the same page of what the vision is? This is something we share at the Chamber of Commerce, and we believe there are certain great opportunities, visions for the city, in the coming future here. For

Ben Kaplan  10:29

downtown, do you feel like we need a sea change? Like a really big shift in what downtown is? Or do you feel like that is overblown? From your perspective? And what I what I mean by that is just for some context, I mean, you will hear ideas thrown around, even for the mayor, like, you know, oh, we need like a soccer stadium downtown or something like we're really, really radical or like, what are we going to do with Westfield Mall or like a huge change your other ideas that like, Okay, we need to bring more government buildings and offices and services in California system universities in the downtown like something totally radical, or do we need more like incremental change where those are really big things, but hard things to do also, and we just need to focus on little are things that can accumulate, what is your opinion on all the things

Rodney Fong  11:12

you mentioned, this is a time to think out of the box. This is the time to think boldly, audaciously crazy out of the box ideas, both on the social side, on the housing side, as well as the downtown and how we use it. So all of those things that you mentioned, all are opportunities to think big right now. I'll share with you our our thoughts, or at least my thought is that because San Francisco had a different reaction to COVID. And because our downtown very specifically had a different reaction than other downtown's, in my opinion, we have more of an opportunity than any other city. And we did an interview with The New Yorker about San Francisco being a potentially a beacon, the first person in to think about and reimagine what downtown's and what urban settings are for how they're used. And so I don't know, maybe I'm overthinking it. But that's kind of like a big responsibility to be able to call out what downtown's and business former central business districts might have been before. It's kind of a clean slate that San Francisco has, or at least a cleaner slate than other than other cities. So yet again, whether we like it or not, San Francisco is at the cutting edge of so many different things technology medicine, and here we are, in my opinion, with an opportunity to be on the cutting edge of an urban planning solution, a design problem, more than anything else, a design problem for San Francisco, and what we all want to try to achieve.

Ben Kaplan  12:39

And do you think that we should take this notion of there's going to be fewer people working downtown, as a given and an input and we just deal with it? Or do you think we ought to think about how do we get more people coming back to downtown? Where is it in the incentives of companies of individuals, it's a better experience? So do you think it's like, oh, it's a given and it's just changed? And we're just going to adapt and change the nature of what downtown is? Or no, no, it doesn't have to be that way. Let's bring people back. And if we're giving people a reason to come, they'll come. I

Rodney Fong  13:15

think it's a 5050. And I think we would be in make, we would make this mistake again, by putting all of your eggs in one basket. And I think you have to think about down San Francisco as an investment portfolio and and diversifying our uses the types of people when they're here, how many. And so half of the job is to calling people back to office and I think we'll start to see a little bit more. But our the days were nine to five, whether you like it or not, you have to be in front of your desk, or you're going to be marked down as tardy or absent that day. I think those days are gone. I think that in San Francisco in particular, we have a really high intellectual community. And for the most part, they're responsible, they they're, they're task oriented, they're inventing something, that creating something, and it's not because they're forced to be there necessarily is because they're there on a personal mission to solve something in the bioscience world that drives people in for those type of motivated people, highly educated people. It doesn't matter where they are, they're going to get their their puzzle solved. They're going to do their their work. So we're calling people back to office, but then also thinking about how we use the downtown, and our dependency on BART, Bart and mass transit, you know, Bart was really designed to make to help San Francisco be that hub? Well, that's still going to be possible and important, but they're all their hubs that are happening in the Bay Area. And often we think about San Francisco is just Francisco and no, some might argue that we are the epicentre of it, but the Bay Area is so powerful from Sacramento to San Jose, all of our infrastructure, all of our other businesses that circulate around San Francisco, the investment opportunities, the academia is so important to any major city. And when we're asked sometimes by other countries, what's secret sauce of the Bay Area in San Francisco, we often come back to it's academia. It's Stanford University is it's UC Berkeley, it's Hastings Law School. All of these these places are creating and attracting really good talent. And because I think the natural beauty and climate of San Francisco, that talent who ends up going to school often ends up staying here, but maybe more more than other universities and other university towns. So I think that an investment in academia in the downtown is really critical. Thinking about the age demographic, you know, what, San Francisco and all of these booms and busts, it's always been a younger audience that's brought it back, whether it's a music audience, a poetry audience, a tech audience, audience, it's a younger group. And so in a weird sort of way, we have to be thinking about that person who may be 16 years old right now. And in a couple few years, that person is going to be going to high school college and a couple years after that, they're going to be looking for a job, they're going to be wanting to be in a place that's cool except for disco, that they can go out and find a music scene, find the art scene, but also do some really serious work during the day or night. So you know, looking towards youth looking towards academia, having a full mix of San Francisco, you know, I'm not saying anything different, because this is actually what Central School loves, is its diversity of people age, food, ethnicity. And so we just got to keep doing the same and keep the mix mix. And,

Ben Kaplan  16:22

to me an analogue to this, that is from the world of business is when you had what happened between retail stores, and online displacement, right, you had the rise of ordering online, and that caused some stores that were retail but didn't really have a great experience or a reason for being that, you know, basically gave you exactly what you could buy online. But maybe they had higher overhead, it wasn't as cheap, they struggled. And a lot of those companies maybe went out of business don't and don't exist anymore have a smaller footprint. However, there are other retail stores that they provided something that you couldn't quite get online that you could see something, you could touch something, you could experience something, you could do it differently. And those businesses have thrived even with the Amazons of the world and everything else where you can get a lot delivered to your door. So to me, what do you think about that as an analogy, like if the city is our store, we've got to figure out how do we provide a great experience that you can't get anywhere else that if you're a stay at your home, you can do a lot of things to interface with the same people. But it's not quite we bring that out so we can have a really successful city like a really successful store.

Rodney Fong  17:30

It's a great question. I'd love to talk to someone sort of like in retail marketing Siri behaviour. But you know, just a basic observation. That experience it starts maybe even online where you're checking out a phone or a new car, or lucid Motors car. And then there's an it all to the experience. And there's a cool invitation to come sit in one. It was a cool invitation to experience the showroom it at Stanford shopping centre or wherever Corte Madera, there's an invitation to experience a test drive, there is maybe an electronic digital invite that comes to you to check out a showcase night. But I think it's all about the experience. And those retailers that you mentioned that are doing well and have pivoted in that sense. It's all about the experience, Apple Store Lululemon store, it's before you even walk into the store that you're expecting a really nice experience. And maybe Nordstroms, even though there's irony, and at closing in San Francisco, there's some irony that they started off with customer service is most important. And, you know, maybe they had it right in the beginning. And, and for whatever reason, you know, shoes were easier to buy online. And that experience was different. But I think you know, what's, what's so funny is that while it's a digital world, what I just mentioned, is still a very human interaction. I don't Ben, What size are you have those look good on? Yeah, then we get them belt that matches the shoes that you just tried on? I mean, those are personal experiences, I think that people still need enjoy. And this is why we live in cities. This is why I think we gather gravitate towards each others as humans for that type of energy, that type of feedback, how they choose, and look pretty good on you. You know, that is good, positive reinforcement that I think humans humans need.

Ben Kaplan  19:14

You know, it's interesting, because I when I think for a year, I lived and worked in Santiago, Chile, there was a programme there called Startup Chile. They had, you know, startup companies from 75 countries around the world all gathered there. And what I can tell you was, they all wanted to come to the Bay Area, they all wanted to come to San Francisco. And the question is why? What was it? Well, I mean, there was sort of practical reasons of like, you know, at that time, there's a lot of funding, you want to get your company funded. There are sort of other things that to be a big time startup, you want to come be in the major leagues and stuff like that. There's that but if I had to boil it down to what it was, it was that there was this notion of, you're going to have these happy, accidental collisions with other people, other companies. other interactions that you can't predict, like, basically, you're coming to the world capitol of serendipity, and positive things that can happen because of those interactions. And what I feel like is that hasn't changed. That's still at the root of it. And in fact, people are almost hungry for it. Because we've we've been kind of social distancing. And for while we're more disconnected, we're not together in the same office as much, there's even a hunger for it even more, don't you think that could be at the heart of this experience, where all of these opportunities that relate from our relationships and people and things that can't be planned are here and come back and experience that? I

Rodney Fong  20:37

think that's why so many people are attracted here. That's why so many people who are here, stay here, it's that chance of collision with someone. And it's not about money. That is doing something really cool that you're sitting next to on the bus at a movie theatre, odds are that person is doing something pretty cool. It could be an artist could be a teacher, could be a tech person, could be a finance person could be a bioscience person, all of that literally could be a one movie theatre, and isn't one movie theatre, if you'd sort of ask polls and talk to the person next to you. So that chance and collision is important, I think. And I think it is part of the secret sauce going back to academia, you know, and maybe this is why academia and in person learning and campuses are so important. So if you think about maybe another parallel Ben is San Francisco as a campus, where you have recreational areas, quads, lawns, you have a sort of a dining area, you have a dorm experience, you have theatres and speaking halls, which are a different type of experience. But when you push everyone together into into one confined, which San Francisco is seven by seven space, there's a lot of energy that is collapsed into one funnelled into one space. And I think part of San Francisco's smallness is also what helps with that, that clip those collisions.

Ben Kaplan  21:57

Well, and you sit at an interesting space, because in your role, you sort of have a lot of the liaison role between business sector and government sector, and how does that work together? Do you think? I mean, here's what I hear from a lot of business people and tell me if you agree or not, there's some scepticism on what is the role of we're going to turn around our trajectory? What's the role of government in this? And what's the role of private business and private sector in this, just because there's been many examples of San Francisco spending a tonne of money, and not getting a very high return on that money, like big projects. And whether you talk about homelessness, or you talk about other crises that we've had before, like, what did we get for that? So there's some scepticism on like, do we need a big government programme to turn around downtown? Or is it more of the connections between all of us and alliances and partnerships in public and private and all of that? What is your feeling on that? Because people are sceptical? Like, you know, is government going to be the solution on this where we don't have a great track record of being really efficient with how we deploy resources to get results?

Rodney Fong  23:01

That's a really good question, Ben. And, you know, it to me, it's not about the size of the budget. It's about the social contract that is unwritten.

Rodney Fong  23:12

And we actually saw a good example of a social contract during COVID, when people were asked to stay home and stay in shelter, there was no hard and fast rule was that people understood for the betterment of the society, we were going to do this, the social contract from a business, private sector and government side, you know, businesses, people pay taxes. For that there's some very simple basic requirements to adhere to that contract from the government side, good schools, safe streets, clean water, safe streets, again, because that's so important. And when residents feel like regardless of how much they're paying, that that contract is broken, then I think you start to have the critics come out about government. It's a very fine line, I think, to balance do we need to rethink our government system potentially? Do we need folks in office big and small and higher positions, department heads as well as electives, to think and be reminded that San Francisco or any major city or any small town needs to coexist with private sector and government it can't be all on the private sector can all be on government, and there's a fine balance tipping point balance point between those as of late I think that San Franciscans don't have that confidence. You see businesses that left that definitely felt they didn't have that contract that social contract in place, and they weren't receiving the same kind of value that they were what's interesting and you going back to our his your history question, you know, over time, San Francisco's budget right now is close to $14 billion dollars $1 billion spent on homeless services in specifically. You know what, San Francisco, a much worse city when it was $7 billion, half of that and did we get twice better do we did we as well? As to receive receive twice as many benefits, super clean streets, asphalt, paved roads, more parks, some, I think some would argue that the park system in particular, has gotten much, much better. But other aspects, I don't know if they've gotten twice as good. So I think a little bit examination of how we spend our monies, whatever the budget is, and accountability, probably everybody now, just in our own struggles to survive in San Francisco, have to have our kitchen table economics have some, some budgeting on the kitchen table, and some accountability of where the monies are spent, how they're spent, are they most productive? Are they doubling, double duty and doing sending three different organisations to the same thing, so accountability within departments, much like you would any business to make sure that you're just most efficient?

Ben Kaplan  25:47

You bring up an interesting point on the budget, because to me, budget is how we spend money, but it's also an indication of where our priorities are, where do we choose to spend, where's the relative priority? It makes me feel like, do we just need a reset, because like, maybe a lot of other entities, San Francisco seems to just add on layers and layers and other things and bigger bureaucracies. And I kind of think back to like, let's say 2017, right? Instead of $14 billion budget, we were at a 10 billion budget level, and a lot of people probably had probably a higher degree of confidence in public safety, and less of a fear of civic disorder felt like things were run better. And so the question is, do we just need a reset, but yet, it seems like in the city, that reset is hard, we just wanna like reset back and say, Hey, that was a pretty good level, things were pretty good, let's reevaluate, and what is the root of that it feels like it's the root of all of these niche, special interest groups, which may have a point on a certain issue. But then when we want to take into account all of those interests of all of those groups, you just get layers and more budget and more things, and no one, everyone's so afraid of offending anyone that might have, you know, saying, like, we need to reset the budget back to 2017, instead of what it is now, because we've got to rally our community around our key priorities. And what you do is important, but it's just not a priority right now, because of the crisis we're in. It just seems like we're afraid to offend. And so we just because we have a lot of money in the budget, we just keep adding to it, you know, keep that group happy, keep that group padding, they'll vote for me, I'll get reelected. And then there's no counterbalance to that. Agree or disagree.

Rodney Fong  27:23

I think that that was the past, I think it's changing now. I think that people are becoming less fearful of calling, calling it out what it is. And you, you saw that with the owner of gumps, who wrote a very strong,

Ben Kaplan  27:38

recent full page ad letter to city and state officials.

Rodney Fong  27:42

That's right, calling out and calling what it what he thought it was. And so you know, what it I don't know, I don't know if like a word is reset. I don't know, if it's not a full mutiny. It's not an overthrow, but I think it's just very natural to reset priorities. And we shouldn't be bashful about it, we shouldn't be ashamed about it, the world changes faster, and is changing faster. And reestablishing the priorities that San Franciscans have five years ago, 10 years ago might be very different going forward, we're all changing and evolving, you know, autonomous cars would throw that into the mix. So that's, that's part of change. It's uncomfortable changes, the most difficult thing there is to try to figure out as a human, but it's really important, I think that we change and that we look just a little bit around the corner, not try to reset just for today because it's going to change again. And so, you know, the sort of the idea, maybe this is maybe how I was sort of brought up and maybe you were as well to think a little bit ahead and measure twice, cut once, think about the convertibility of, of how we use land use and buildings and hospitals may be turning into residents and thinking about that when we design them. Because telemedicine becomes more popular as we go forward. All these things I think are important, but change is inevitable. And San Francisco's, again, secret sauce is being able to adapt to those changes, both in a policy way, but also the technology manner. So you know, appropriate prioritisation answer your question is not a bad thing.

Ben Kaplan  29:12

To extend our conversation from downtown to all the other areas and neighbourhoods and especially from a business perspective, how do we make it feel like because we have maybe a shared interest in downtown from the point of view of the health of the city and also drive a lot of the economics of the city, which to your point earlier allows us to afford things that we want to do. But how do we make it feel like I suppose I talk to business owners that are not located downtown, that like, oh, there's so much focus there that we're kind of an afterthought, and we don't need big bets. We need small bets. And I'll give you examples talking to some different business owners in inner Richmond out of Richmond restaurants in the corridor, and they'll tell you frustration of hey, we thought the city said rules for our parklet that we're going to put outside our restaurant and it was one way and we built the whole thing and And they changed the rules on us, they had a new set of rules and regulations that would cause us to have undo 1000s of dollars spent 1000s dollars more and change this whole thing. And if they just could have specified that earlier stuck with it, we would have a parklet. But now we're just taking it down, because it's not even worth it for us to comply. And there's frustration there. And there's frustration that like we're a small business in the outer Richmond, and we're an afterthought. What do you say to that? Or what can we do so we can improve downtown, but like everyone feels like they're a part of this. They're being taken care of. And 10 other districts, dozens other neighbourhoods don't feel like they're forgotten? Well,

Rodney Fong  30:35

you know, I might be too much of a planner. But you know, we have long, long, long before COVID dreamt of San Francisco being even more European than it is. And maybe you remember this, people talk about why why can we have outdoor dining, we have the best weather in the world. And we don't have enough outdoor dining, why don't we have rooftop bars, they have rooftop bars in Chicago, New York, it snows there to pre design those kinds of things. And think about them. As the world changes, there's going to be an earthquake, there's going to be kind of catastrophic loss in certain parts of the city to reimagine those things now and have them somewhat in the can and have public approval in the process. Easier said than done. But really important. And to have a go back to the very first example of Bartlett's to have thought about the design criteria, the maybe even templates available to people to design and create a parklet to think about four or five years ago to think about how the San Francisco Fire Department may need access to the sidewalk to get ladders across in this park that shouldn't be over a certain height. So they can swing a ladder to get to a rooftop to get someone out to talk to PGE about the manhole covers that may be parked that's were built on top of and how that was not a cool thing. So all of those things, I think, are avoidable, or were avoidable. And there are going to be many other things going in the future that are avoidable. If we think about them now and plan for them now and design them.

Ben Kaplan  32:00

Now. To me, it's not only the substance of okay, there's a new ordinance that says we have to change our parks or whatever it is, but it's just the tone of it. And what I wonder is to me, Rodney, you're an advocate, you're a champion for businesses of all sizes, as I think we've talked about before, you know, 1300 members of the Chamber of Commerce over 60% are small business, you're their champion. And I would love people to feel like in their city government, that there are champion to that, like a little bit of Rodney could rub off on others to say like, Hey, we want you to be successful. We want your business to be successful. Because when you're successful, we're successful. And right now we absolutely need that. And so I wonder how do we change a bit of the culture and also the perception of the culture that the government is not there to create a roadblock and create an obstacle that impedes me, they're there, because we're part of the same community to help us succeed, what can we do to make that a little bit like rub off a little bit more,

Rodney Fong  32:56

I think it really starts with a vision. And this is a really difficult thing to do. But San Franciscans, if you really throw them all into a room, I don't think we're really that far apart from all the things we ultimately want. And if we can get to that unified vision, boy, the power of that is so strong when everyone is rowing in the same direction. And there's less confrontation, because we know where we want to get by 2030 2040, you see that power, you know, watching the Maui fires, and watching how the community is reacting to that. And there's a common goal, a common enemy, maybe even to rebuild, and for the Hawaiians and the Maui residents to feel a part of that rebuild. But that's a common goal. And unfortunately, a tragedy through that force that to happen about if San Francisco could find a goal that maybe we all wanted to be the cleanest, greenest city in America by 2040. And we knew what that meant, from a my business perspective. You know what that meant, in your residential perspective? If you're a government worker, okay, man, 2040 Clean isn't greedy Sydney to America, I can understand that we all want to bro that direction. I think it just makes it really a much easier to have those pillars that are part of a vision,

Ben Kaplan  34:08

what I would love to see, I totally agree with you about the importance of rowing in the same direction. And the question is, how do we make it in everyone's best interest to do that, and I really mean everyone, and whatever the labels are moderate or progressive, whatever the demographic labels are, whatever your ethnic background is, because the issue is, and that's why I feel like we need a movement of people of the community because if you feel like all your other people in this boat with you are all doing whatever, looking out for themselves, making sure that they have, you know, the cushiest seat in the boat, then the tendency is to do the same for yourself because there's no point in us having this common vision. And so how do we get ourselves and what can we think to say it's all in our collective best interest because we actually would go much further if we all just wrote in the same direction, but Lots of things block us. And also, some people don't even feel like they have maybe a fair seat in the bow. I mean, both you and I are from the Asian community, and you feel like Oh, are we often considered an afterthought, even though we make up over 1/3 of the city, unless it's election time, people need votes or something like that. So how do we want people make everyone feel like they got a seat in the boat, and too, it's in everyone's best interest to row together to your point to the vision of the future?

Rodney Fong  35:24

Yeah, you know, equal vote voice is so important. And not to get too philosophical. But you know, the sufferings that people have, I think you really have to look at that. And when you say when I say suffering, people's imagination goes to maybe people in deep, deep poverty to people with drug addiction, but there's some even common suffering in San Francisco, of people just trying to make it in San Francisco, the overhead and the stress of a $2,500 apartment for one bedroom for a young person, the stress of a mortgage, the stress of trying to get your kid into into school, the stress of trying to hold down a job and pick up the kids at school, that there's a lot, there's a lot of that weighs on all of us, you know, I don't know how the city would be if there if the stress level came down a little bit. And that suffering came down a little bit if we would be less competitive with each other and trying to claw and, you know, get to the top, the flip side of that my own comment is that this is a very successful city because it's competitive, competitive in a business perspective, competitive in an intellectual property perspective, it's a race, and big cities, gravitate, I think, a lot of the call for a lot of those types of people. I don't know your answer. I would love to help try to figure that out, and ease the suffering and let people become more civic minded for people to think about their neighbour, it sounds so basic, but it maybe goes back to the beginning question our conversation about so many transient people in San Francisco? Do we really know each other? Ben? Are we really San Francisco, are we San Francisco, and I've got a really good friend who is born and raised here as well. And she says we you know, people just don't say hi to each other anymore, Rodney, I go down the street. And people come in like this. Maybe it's COVID. But they're kind of like, don't want to engage. And so she's going to start a campaign that's Hello, San Francisco, hi, San Francisco. And very, basically encouraged people to say hi to each other, the start a conversation up, it doesn't have to be the biggest conversation in your life. But just to start a conversation, chopping off for all of us to get to know each other. So maybe that room feels crowded and competitive and elbow elbow, because people don't really understand themselves. One of the benefits of COVID I think is we got to literally know our neighbours a little bit, obviously. Hopefully you did. We certainly did. So I don't know. It's pretty basic. It's like neighbourhood society, trusting each other a little bit more trusting each each other's actions a little bit more not being so suspicious, frankly. And

Ben Kaplan  37:54

that's why to me, and just to wrap up. I mean, don't underestimate the power of community. And what community is, is that, you know, we have more in similar than maybe we have different that we want similar things that we know that there's the wrong gradients of what makes San Francisco greatest still here, because we're all still here to do it is just these things on the surface that have just gotten in the way and blocked. And so that's why I think even for a crisis that we're in now, don't underestimate connection. Don't underestimate saying hello, don't underestimate fun. Don't underestimate, trying to find common ground and connection. And the thing that probably frustrates me most is just when we can't say this really powerful phrase, which is we agree to disagree. You know what, let's agree to disagree. And let's go out and let's have a coffee and have a beer and sit in the park and work together. And we can disagree on this little thing because there's so much more that connect and agree us if we just had a whole bunch of people saying that relatively small number of San Francisco is doing that then all of our problems get easier to solve a summons we just forget to your point some of the basics

Rodney Fong  39:07

that's right in crisis can do that Christ because like we're in right now can can bring people together again, you look at the Hawaii fire fire, and that sense of ohana family. What is San Francisco's Ohana and I see those pictures of people using their own private boats to get supplies to and their neighbours are waist deep and water carrying stuff over it and chain gang way like that's really family that's really community what San Francisco's version of ohana.

Ben Kaplan  39:36

According to Rodney Fong 2024 represents a rare opportunity to really set the course of San Francisco's future for decades to come like a soup that's been boiled down to its essential flavour. And because of the exodus of those bas committed to San Francisco. We now have a concentration of people here in the city who are absolutely positively committed to fixing it and that That's incredibly powerful. But do we need to think big? Or do we need to think small, until our city government proves that it can execute big projects efficiently and effectively will get better returns from the little things we do. So set aside talk of soccer stadiums, and let's get the basics right. If any company announces they will be leaving downtown or San Francisco as a whole, let's call them up and fight to keep. If companies are leaving other locations in California, the western US or the country at large, let's invite them one by one to come to San Francisco. As Rodney points out, if we have progressive ideas to create social improvement and change, we absolutely need a strong commercial base to fund those changes. So let's roll out the red carpet. Or maybe in our case, rainbow coloured carpet, and tell small business owners and big businesses alike, that San Francisco is open for business. We need you, we want you and we will do everything in our power to ensure that we're the place for you to succeed. If San Francisco companies don't need as much physical office space as before, let's diversify to industries that do generative AI companies check. Hey, finance industry, you're acquiring workers at office. We've got you. Academia, state governments, you need office space, come on down. If San Francisco is like an investment portfolio, let's diversify uses of our city and seek to deliver a fantastic experience across a range of use cases. Maybe San Francisco is a campus. Maybe San Francisco is a storefront. Whatever the metaphor, San Francisco needs to create value for both businesses and its residents. To do this, we need a vision. We'll have to reset our priorities. If 2023 was about impending doom, what if 2024 was about an upcoming boom? It's up to us to make it happen. We are San Francisco


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