Aug 15, 2023
50 min
Episode 4

We Are San Francisco: 'Rethinking City Planning' with Rachael Tanner

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

Hey San Francisco. Today I'm chatting with Rachael Tanner. She currently serves as president of the San Francisco Planning Commission. That's the body that advises city leaders on San Francisco's long range goals, policies and programmes related to land use, housing, transportation, and more. The Commission also holds a weekly public hearings maintains the San Francisco General Plan. We'll talk more about that in a minute, and approves all permits and licences subject to the planning code. Rachael's had a long career in planning, including a San Francisco Palo Alto in Long Beach, and she has a unique perspective on the role of planning in a city's future. So to San Francisco have the right plan in place, or any plan in place to turn things around? Let's find out with Rachael Tanner. Rachael, one of the first things that we should talk about is what specifically is the role of the San Francisco Planning Commission? What is it? But also what is it not? Because sometimes people have a misconception about both the commission and also someone like yourself, who serves on the commission as president, what your role actually is? Yeah,

Rachael Tanner  01:47

so a great question, a great place to start. The Planning Commission is a body that is responsible for oversight of the San Francisco planning department, which is a department that is staffed by, you know, civil servants, folks who are serving the city, many of them planners, also other roles as well to doing the work of the people. And so we are that oversight body, there are seven of us, four of us are nominated by the mayor and need to be confirmed by the Board of Supervisors, and three are nominated by the Board of Supervisors, and awesome be confirmed by a majority of the board of supervisor members. So seven folks overall charged with that. And what is the planning department do? Well, the planning department and thus the commission is really responsible for the administration of the San Francisco planning code. So that's laws and ordinances, maps and other legal kind of elements that say, for more or less sunrise, like what can you build? Where? And what can you do? Where and what kind of business? Can you operate? Where what can your house or building or other kind of activity look like? And where can it occur in the city. So a plan for how to use the land of the cities, and what uses are appropriate. One

Ben Kaplan  02:52

of the things that we've chatted about previously is that sometimes people think, for instance, that being president of the SF Planning Commission is a full time job, it's actually not a full time job, even though you've had a long history in planning, whether that's with the city and county of San Francisco, of course, but also the City of Palo Alto, you have other work that you do as well. So what is the other misconceptions you get about your specific role that are like that, so people can understand how the commission functions?

Rachael Tanner  03:20

Yeah, I think I think it's important to know that in whether you're you know, in San Francisco, we obviously listing because your interest in San Francisco, but maybe you live in another city or lived in another city, most cities have a planning commission, or some type of land use body that's very similar. I don't think there's hardly any that are full time. So everybody who's serving as serving as a volunteer, we're not elected, we're appointed by elected officials, but we're not elected ourselves. And so that's important to know. And we're all doing this in our free time. In our extra time. The Planning Commission for San Francisco is a pretty hefty volunteering, because we meet every week, every Thursday with a few exceptions for some holidays, and a couple times a year, but it's you know, kind of pretty intense in that regard. So that's, I think a misconception is like, it's not a full time job. It's a volunteer job. And well, I mean, I think just, you know, we're all seven individuals. So even here today, I'm the president, which is great. But that doesn't really mean a whole lot. It means that I get to have an officer's meeting with the Vice President every other week to kind of look ahead at the agenda. I can maybe make some suggestions around ordering things or calendaring different items during the hearing itself. I'm kind of presiding over the hearing. So who gets to talk? How long do you get to talk to people get extra time some of the actual procedures of the unfolding of the meeting, but don't get extra rote? You know? So one of the seven votes. And so while certainly important role that I'm really honoured to have, I wouldn't say that I have, you know, more authority for very many things than any other planning commissioner has. And even today while I'm speaking to you all, I'm not speaking as the president. I'm speaking as Rachael Tanner, and speaking on my own behalf and sharing my views I'm because I haven't been authorised by the Commission to speak on behalf of the commission or on behalf of the department. So we

Ben Kaplan  05:05

have a little bit of our San Francisco Planning Commission one on one. Now I want to actually talk about some of the other kind of guiding documents related to the planning commission and related to the future of San Francisco that have not a lot of people know exist. For instance, when I talk to whether it's elected officials, appointed officials, people who work in government, as well as general residents or citizens, the general consensus now is, you know, San Francisco, we've got to change our trajectory, we're not headed in the right direction now. And then that begs the question like, well, what is the right trajectory? There's policy positions on different issues, which are very challenging, but what is do we have a plan does a plan exist, and there actually is something called the San Francisco General Plan that I want to start with the background of this plan is that it was first adopted by the Planning Commission and 1945. And it has a set of objectives and goals. But what's interesting about it, and you can take us through this is that there's parts that are updated more frequently and other parts that, you know, maybe haven't been updated in decades. So what is this general plan for San Francisco? What is it supposed to be about the direction of our future? Because like, lots of people want to know, what's our future coming up? And they don't realise that there actually is a document whether or not that reflects reality, we can discuss that. Yeah.

Rachael Tanner  06:23

So certainly general plans. And that is that kind of general plans have different elements. So you have like a general plan. And then you might have the housing element, the safety element, environmental protection, recreation, and open space, transportation, some of those names, you can kind of imagine what topics they're around, right, and what they may contain. And the idea, and maybe a good analogy I've heard I think is appropriate to that, you know, the general plan is kind of like the city's constitution. I mean, technical constitution will be the charter, but in the sense that it's like a guiding document that lays out kind of ideals, policy positions, directionality of the city, what is that we're trying to achieve. And then you would have our actual ordinances, the San Francisco Municipal Code that actually says, Here are the laws and how we want to like achieve those policies, how we want those values to be kind of lived out in the day to day. So kind of the general plan is either when you get to give out this kind of foundational direction setting document that's kind of guiding the growth, development and changes of the city on and arrange a range of topics that they

Ben Kaplan  07:27

will and it seems like it's grown over time, right? In terms of the topics, right, because it sort of has this notion of, you know, as part of the planning commission, it's like the development of like, actual land in the city. What's its use, going to be, of course, underpins all of this. But if I'm just glancing at it now, and I have things in the general plan for air quality, and arts and community facilities, and urban design, and environmental protection, those aren't necessarily things that have always been there. But it seems like the scope of that plan has expanded, but different parts of it sort of get different amounts of attention or updates, and even sometimes updates by law, in the case of the Recently Updated housing element. Yeah,

Rachael Tanner  08:09

absolutely. Um, you're absolutely right. And I think one thing that is interesting about the general plan is that it really isn't just for the planning department just for land use. It is the general plan for the entire city. And so when you think about some of these, even the housing element, we'll we'll stick with that there are many items in the housing element that are not necessarily about land use, for example, we have goals around how do we increase homeownership? How do we increase homeownership among people of colour, which certainly like a house is a land use, but it's really programmatic, right? The way we're going to get to that goal is by having programmes that in that, in those cases, the off the Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, they're likely going to be the ones who are running or operating a programme around home ownership, for example, or it could be even touching with the Public Utilities Commission. If we want to have an environmental element, and we want to go green, we want to use less greenhouse gas emissions, while there's a land use element to pretty much anything, but it may be the PUC in some cases, that might be the leader on helping us to go green in some ways that we're using energy and how we're using our natural resources. So it really is a general plan for the whole city. And so many of those elements may call upon different departments to be the lead in carrying out and fulfilling different policies, goals, objectives.

Ben Kaplan  09:22

And do you think that we ought to use it more as a guiding document, my feeling is, is that we're in a situation now, that is a very challenging situation, right? There's multiple crises affecting San Francisco, whether you want to call that the Fentanyl crisis, or the homelessness crisis, or crime and safety overall, those are big, challenging problems. And what I wonder about is if we sort of need this guiding direction, we do need a plan and a plan is more than you know, most of those are crises probably because I think most people would agree that there's many facets to these kinds of people. problems, right? It's not like you do one thing and it's solved like, Okay, here's the one thing we do and Fentanyl crisis is solved? No, it's because there's many issues that relate to actual drug abuse, it could relate to mental health, it could relate to homelessness, it can relate to crime and safety, that all have to work. And the issue is that way, city governments are divided, and you got more than 70 city departments that many have to come together for all parts of that to kind of solution. So you kind of do need a guiding document. And it makes total sense that we would have a plan. But does that plan reflect reality? Because if it was set, like, Okay, this is our overall goal that was set, you know, 10 or 20 years ago, and it hasn't been updated. But like, we've got people with the kind of drug addiction that we haven't ever seen before. And it needs action. Now, should we be updating these more frequent? Do we need a more like San Francisco 2023 plan,

Rachael Tanner  10:53

I would say, in my experience, as a planner, the general plan is not the best tool to deal with something's acute. And so I think, you know, my analysis of kind of where we are in San Francisco, a, you know, get into that, but it kind of what do we do about it, I think we need acute kind of very focused and targeted planning, that's very short term, one to three year timeframe. Whereas general plans are intentionally kind of setting out at least a decade, or even more, right in their outset of like, what the time horizon is, and just, practically speaking, updating an element of the general plan in San Francisco, whether good, bad or otherwise, a several year project. So we need to be getting things together that are very quick and very responsive, not beginning of planning process that historically, you know, wouldn't even be finished, until like two to three years from now. That's far too long.

Ben Kaplan  11:44

So even our planning process is slow. Why is it so slow? Why does it take two, three years just because there's lots of voices that have to be agreed? Or why does it take that long?

Rachael Tanner  11:54

It's a couple of things, I think part because it's a long term document, if you're thinking, Okay, this is gonna be a 10, or 20 year document. And as you noted, some of our elements have been around for more decades than that. But even if you're saying it's gonna be a 10 year document, they do have taking two to three years to plan that doesn't sound so crazy. And we do have a city that has a strong history of lots of engagement, lots of involvement, making sure we have all the voices in the room. And we also have a history of not always agreeing on things. And so things can get sideline, things can get extended, things can take, you know, more time, which in some ways is the purpose and the way the democratic process is supposed to function, right? That people can raise their hands and say, hey, it's not good enough. We need more of this, we need more of that, and that our elected leaders, and appointed leaders even to be responsive right to the needs of people, we can also talk about the fact that there can be the opposite side of that in democratic process, it can be kind of last person standing right, the person with the most time the most resources to kind of keep saying, This is not good enough, I want my way. Other folks can get tired and go home, right and have to go do other things with their lives and may not be able to be that last voice standing. And that's where I think we are a disservice to the general public, when instead of listening to what most people want, and what's going to do the most good or, or helping, maybe populations that get overlooked. Sometimes it can be a battle of you know, who can outlast each other in a screaming match. And the person who lasts the longest they get to win.

Ben Kaplan  13:22

What you're saying is that, hey, when you have a plan, that is a long term plan, that makes sense that it takes a long term, it takes a while to get it because you're trying to get it set. But then we're in sort of this moment now, where there are acute crises, there are things that you know, we can't wait 10 years to like, address fentanyl, right? We have to do something. So what exists in its place. Now, is it largely the budget, in your opinion being used as that because the budget kind of reflects changing priorities, and you've got to have, you know, the mayor has to submit it every year, and the Board of Supervisors has to approve it. And that's our plan, by default, basically follow where the money goes, and you'll see our priorities. Is that what you think? Or is there something else? Or ought we to have something else? So

Rachael Tanner  14:07

I think there are several different plans underway that kind of lived and are kind of kept by different parts of the city, whether it's like the city formally as government or different, even maybe private or public sector actors that are throughout the city. So the first that I would direct folks to if you're really interested is the roadmap to downtown San Francisco's future. And that is being spearheaded by Mayor breed. And from that, I think they're one it's a really easy to read, website and set of documents. It's not you know, like our general plan documents are hundreds of pages, the downtown roadmap to downtown, the future is much more accessible, and really just talks about a set of strategies to achieve and help recover downtown. And why is downtown so important? You may have talked about this in other episodes like it is an economic engine, so not only does it help to fund our tax base, and which helps to fund the city services, it's where a lot of tourists Though and tourism is huge for local businesses, or arts, entertainment, etc, like they get a lot of their income and their resources that then become tax dollars from people patronising hotels and conferences, and going out to eat and all these other things. And so having a really strong downtown, really vibrant downtown is really, really important not just to downtown itself, but important to the whole city, if you live in San Francisco, so yeah, that's a great example of like, a very put together in a expedited manner because of the acute problems that we have with downtown after kind of this kind of remote work hybrid work environment. And I think that's the kind of planning that we need to do. As

Ben Kaplan  15:37

someone who's worked in city government, whether in San Francisco or otherwise, for a long time. What is your feeling of the area plans specifically, like if people go now and if you go to the general plan, and there's a there's a section on it that has area plans, and you'll see those plans from everywhere, from a Civic Centre area to mission to Bayview Hunters Point to sub areas like candlestick and others that may have changed? How do we work in neighbourhoods and very specific answers? Because you can have the same issue that has a very different approach to neighbourhoods? Right? Like if you talk about drug crisis, Fentanyl crisis in the tenderloin, it's going to feel different than maybe some of the outer neighbourhoods. So to what extent do we need like, this? Is our master plan for the city on this issue? And to what extent do we need like, really neighbourhood specific thinking? Because it may be totally different in a certain neighbourhoods? Just what the concerns are?

Rachael Tanner  16:32

Yeah. You know, yeah, it's good to think about kind of, you know, how do we help the Fentanyl crisis in general, right across the city, there may be programmes that help, you know, people in a variety of neighbourhoods, right? It's not really based on your location, it's based on what you need. But that yeah, and certain neighbourhoods, the way that crisis shows up, the way it manifests itself might call for a set of actions to take place there and a set of strategies that you don't necessarily need to deploy in the entire city. So just want to make that distinction. And I would say, my favourite planning answer, it depends. You know, it depends what crisis we're talking about. And it depends on kind of power, we're planning for it, just to use the housing element. As another example, again, an extension of the general plans we just completed, just adopted January of this year 2023, by the Board of Supervisors and signed by the mayor, that is a plan that lays out things for the city, how we're going to accommodate 82,000 housing units in the city. And what we're getting ready to do now is a rezoning plan for essentially the western portion of the city to change the zoning for that area. And so it won't necessarily affect the entire city. But it will be some was planned specifically around how the zoning is going to change there. And again, for those one zoning, zoning is what you can do, where can you do it? How much can you do it for that part of the city?

Ben Kaplan  17:47

Do you think we're at a disadvantage in San Francisco? Because I don't think most people would say like, we're like lightning fast and getting things approved another discussion, we've had it on the podcast before about discretionary review, this idea that like even an individual person or organisation for whatever reason can hold things up. But I think most people would say like, we're not like a lightning fast city government and making progress. But the situation now, though, is that there's a lot of things changing. And that was changes that were brought about by COVID. And pandemic changes related to that, that change about maybe the notion of, you know, work in an office or work from home. Certainly, other crises like the rise of fentanyl, which made it something that was highly addictive, and at the same time, inexpensive, which is a really bad combination for a city, those two things together. So we've got like stuff changing, it would seem to favour those who can change fast, but that's technically not a strong suit of San Francisco that it kind of puts us at a disadvantage. It seems like Do you agree or disagree?

Rachael Tanner  18:49

I would agree. I mean, I think the times we were in call for like very swift action and kind of coalescing, but I would the one thing that I would say, is, I don't want to say that say, hopeful, but to show what's possible, the way that we rallied, and were able to respond very quickly to COVID.

Ben Kaplan  19:06

Absolutely right. Lots of people came together in short order. And suddenly, all this stuff had been like two years of debate. We got done fast. Absolutely. So it's possible.

Rachael Tanner  19:15

So if we can apply that same level of both like this is a crisis and we need all hands on deck, and we've got to just like put aside differences and do what's best.

Ben Kaplan  19:24

What's interesting, though, is from your seat on, obviously, the planning commission, but also just a long time in city government, aside from COVID, what would it take to bring people together like that? Because you see, it's not impossible in our season, when you see examples of like, if you look at what Houston has been able to do with homelessness, where a lot of different public and private groups came together and got aligned. You see some interesting examples in Rhode Island with homelessness and the drug crisis, again, more alignment. So other places do it and obviously a lot of good, smart, talented people in San Francisco, but somehow, it's like we put all those good, smart, talented people in a certain environment. With a certain canvas, and we don't produce the best result that we could get, so what would it take to get that kind of alignment? Or is it just too polarising? And it's even it's even weird for me to say polarising because it's polarising. We're like, nine out of 10 people in the city are Democrats. Right? It shouldn't be polarising. Yet. It feels incredibly polarising.

Rachael Tanner  20:20

Yeah. I mean, I think there's a couple responses, like opening about like, the big areas like what would it take to come together? I don't think it's like one thing in one area, I think there are both structural changes. So we think about, for example, in our city, we kind of have a strong mayor, but also not really, like, let's just use the example of my appointment. I'm getting nominated by the mayor. But then the Board of Supervisors has to approve me, which means like in the theory would be that there'd be a compromise finding somebody that the Board of Supervisors like, and the mayor's likes, but at the end of the day, then is it really the mayor who's who has gotten there are persons on the planning commission to then make decisions. So if you look at the way that the mayor doesn't have certain powers, we don't have like somebody in our city where the buck stops, like in some jobs, like in the mayor, or like the president, you can say, if we get rid of the mayor, we were the president, we get this new person in there, they're going to have the power to make changes. The mayor's power after Willie Brown was mayor, the Board of Supervisors and others curtail the power of our mayor. And so the power is very diffused in San Francisco, even just look at the planning commission, there's seven of us more from the mayor, three from the Board of Supervisors, you know, four of us have to align for any action to be taken. So like, you have to have a lot of alignment amongst a lot of different folks in San Francisco structurally to move things forward. And then you have us kind of culturally, where we fight over very, very small differences. And I think there are reasons where certain groups get funding, they are kind of like set up, and they get their bread and butter by having a certain ideology and a certain perspective, and like maintaining that perspective is in their advantage, versus coming to a compromise position where it's like, Let's do what's best for everybody, or, like, Let's do what's the most good, even if it isn't exactly perfect. And there are a lot of folks who call into the planning commission, who are part of certain decision making tables where the perfect is the enemy of the good, and like good is not sufficient. And they really want it to be perfect. I mean, it's people who say, Oh, I like housing, but just not there. Oh, I like this housing, but there's not enough affordable Well, I like this housing, but could it also, and it's like, you know, we have to just say that it's not perfect, but it's better than zero. And so I think culturally, and structurally, there has to be some significant changes, to be able to cut through kind of this vitriol that can really harm us up from moving forward in ways that are not even just productive, but like ways that are necessary, if we are going to stem the downward cycle that we're kind of currently on.

Ben Kaplan  22:45

Well, I'd also sometimes the notion of compromise, or another way to put it is just like get everyone on board, right? Like we're on board this train together, all aboard, let's get on this train. But to actually implement things, you might need everyone on board, right? You can't be a train where your locomotives go on this way. And your Caboose is going this way. And this other cars going that way. And we need alignments, right from all the stakeholders, we kind of got everyone involved. One of the issues is you could take a good policy, a good law, and in that last mile of implementation totally make it ineffective, based on what costs are associated with it. How is it efficiently executed, what departments oversee it. And it's where you get maybe good intentions. And you end up with people kind of like the headlines of a $61,000 toilet, right or like $100,000, temporary housing or all of that because maybe even it came from a sensible place. But in that last mile, right that time to execution, then we just didn't quite look at it closely enough. And we don't have everyone assigned to do that when you say and, and so that's why it's almost I feel like even like a brilliant law, or position or plan if it's overly complex. And if it's not transparent enough for what actually happens, is almost doomed to fail. Because we can't oversee it enough to make sure we get the result we want. So we get the opposite of the result we want, which is usually we spent a bunch of money on something that was totally ineffective. And we've got to figure a way, I think, to simplify things, because complex things are hard to implement. Unfortunately, I

Rachael Tanner  24:22

would agree with that. I think part of sometimes sometimes not all the time. Sometimes let me get was a complexity, though, is the compromise process, right? If we're trying to have a programme that pleases all the stakeholders, instead of maybe focusing on the results that we want, or it's your point, maybe we don't have enough information in the policy design phase. So we have a great idea, but we don't know it costs 100 grand and you know what I mean? That would be good information when we say well, it's a good idea, but it's not $100,000 Good. You know what I mean that that cost benefit there should help us to rethink the way we're structuring the policy. But again, hopeful sign prop ah, which was passed by the voters a couple years ago unfortunately passed by the voters It could have been passed by the board of supervisors as a law, but unfortunately had to be taken to the voters to be voted on. Again, because it was not alignment. There was not agreement amongst the leadership of our city. But it said, Hey, city departments, you've got X number of days to process these applications for small businesses. And lo and behold, we figured out how to do it and we are doing it day in and day out, we are meeting those deadlines. So again, we have clear deadlines, to your point that are simple and actionable. Like we can make progress, we can do this. But when we put too many ornaments on the Christmas tree, what happens? The Christmas tree falls over, right? And nobody has Christmas, and we're sad. So like, we want to make sure that we're actually just kind of, you know, I hate to use it, because it sounds like so conservative, like getting government out of the way. But it really is like we can't micromanage every single aspect of how a programme, especially a programme that's helping a living person is going to work because the variable is that living person, right. So the, the less specific the programme is, to some degree, the more people that can serve, and like the more it can be easily executed and implemented and like have a greater chance of success. I wonder about

Ben Kaplan  26:03

the notion of all the different government bodies that are there to enforce rules of the city, which are important rules, right rules exist, because for fairness, for equity, for access, so that there can't be abuses or people taking advantage of the system. But have we gotten so far in that direction that maybe we've forgotten, like, hey, if someone comes in and wants to start a small business in the city, and hey, wants to put their small business in downtown, where we need a revitalization, and it is going to take up one of those abandoned storefronts and do something with it, we should be championing that person like, hey, come give me a high five. That's awesome. I'm coming on opening night to support you. Let me help you get through the things we have to do to make sure that it's done in the right proper way. Do we need an attitude change, particularly in times of crisis, where we need growth in certain things to say like, you know what, in the city, we're champions for people doing things that improve the city, and right now, if you're going to create something, or build something, or start a business, or grow something, or do something that's going to impact our city, great job, we're your cheerleaders, let us help you get through this process, as opposed to saying we're the enforcer of the rules. And these are all the things you have to do. Otherwise, you can't do it. Do we need an attitude change?

Rachael Tanner  27:14

I mean, I think the attitude you describe is certainly one that, you know, every city employee that is working kind of in that public facing role with the grappling with customers and and residents and other stakeholders like that certainly should have that attitude. I would say there are many that do. Right, there are many city agencies, city staff, individuals who are working in that way. And we made some big improvements to help that. So if you go to the second floor of 49, south and north, which is the new home of the planning department and the new home of our permit centre, on that second floor, you'll find planning, the Department of building inspection, you'll find the Office of Small Business, you'll find other agencies that have a hand in like, let's say you're opening a small business or restaurant, which is like the most difficult from a permitting standpoint open. Because you've got to get the health department, you've got to get filled in, you got to get planning, you've got to get these different agencies to approve your plans to come inspect your actual physical location, sign off on everything, let alone all the other business planning that you've got to do. They're co located now, literally, Before, we used to have to tell people to like go a couple blocks away, oh, you got this part now. But for your next form, you actually need to go to another part of the city, because that agency is located over there. And not only does that help with customer service, but again, the attitude of like, Hey, I'm so into, I'm planning, but you need to talk to so and so in this agency, let me walk you over there or like when you get over there, I'm going to you know, let her know and understand what's happening. But certainly, that can do attitude that can help attitude. At the same time. We are the enforcers of the rule, we have to treat everybody fairly, but to your point is how do we provide guidance, and there are cities that choose to provide more concierge service. But there are literally people whose role is to help people from soup to nuts, right all the way through their permitting process. They don't work for any one agency. Instead, they're really guiding and shepherding people through and trying to unstick the log jams that can happen as people are navigating the city agencies.

Ben Kaplan  29:04

And a metaphor that I will use to explain is Like recently I was in a new town I went to the supermarket because I had to get you know, I have young children had to get some baby diapers or stuff that could not wait. And it seemed like okay, where do I find the diapers? And you go ask someone and there's a couple ways like first person I asked was like, Yeah, you go over to the back of store and take a left over there. And you can find it over here. And you know, we might be all out and like look down below, but if you want this go over here, and then another person because I got lost, you know, instead well, how do I find the baby diapers and actually like walking? Oh, let me show you. Yeah, it's a little bit confusing. We move okay, let me let me go over here. There's this there's this and they just like showed me. And so what I wonder is I'd love to do that everywhere in the city. But let's say we can't do that tomorrow, at least in these priority areas that so affect our future, and what would those might be? That might be like, Okay, you're a person who is on verge of being homeless. You're right on that edge. And we know that one if we can prevent you from Being homeless instead of you becoming homeless, your odds of success are much greater, it's a lot less expensive for the city. It's all of those things. So there's resources that people don't know for emergency funds so that you don't lose your apartment. And that would be an area where like, man, we ought to have amazing concierge service. What's another situation, I mean, someone who is on the streets now is actually at that moment, which is difficult to find where they might want to get help for, which is a hard thing to do for a drug addiction. And like, now, I've got to go to all these different agencies, like if we could get that concierge service at that moment, maybe it is something like starting a business or a restaurant, because everyone's trying to revitalise areas that have been hit hard, like downtown, and maybe it's like, you know, we're gonna do it. So what do you think about that idea of almost like, we've got to have these priority areas, these objectives, where the city's interest is in making sure this person is successful, and we've got to ensure their success. And maybe if it's super complex, we have an auto like, you know, sort of private sector world, it's called a user flow, have someone entering like, Okay, I want to accomplish this, what do I have to do? What are all the steps? Let's look at all the things they have to do from their perspective, and then make it way simpler, because we understand that, you know, a lot of people that have to go to 14 offices are gonna not make it all the way through. Well,

Rachael Tanner  31:14

yeah. I mean, would you I mean, I'm honestly shocked every day, and so happy that people are opening small businesses in San Francisco because of the level of challenge, right, that it has. I mean, I think conceptually, I totally agree with you, like, how do we get more of our service providers, whether it's at their city staff, providing the service or a nonprofit, to be able to have like, the knowledge skills and like the ability to provide that type of concierge level kind of direction, to whether it's clients or whomever, um, so they can really come to understand, again, I think, just to underscore complexity can be good, because you're addressing something very specific, right, with a specific, let's say, team or a specific niche. And it can help to address that problem really, really specifically. But then we get to the point we have overly specialised, right. And then it's like, well, I know my thing. But I don't know about your thing. And therefore somebody is in caught in between us, neither of us are really skilled in helping them. And so whether it's, you know, some people talked about, you know, I even think about, okay, if I were, if I lost my job tomorrow, and suddenly was going to couldn't make my house payment, who would I call, besides like, friends and family and relatives, what I know what I would call if I was about to become homeless, but I could maybe not become homeless, and the fact that like, I don't know, the answer is 311, could they help me, but to your point, like, some of these problems that we know, we want to prevent, or we want to like, solve, how do we have something that's as simple as 911? Right? We know when to call that, right? How do we have somebody who do you call when you're really going through a crisis that can then help direct you to some resources

Ben Kaplan  32:45

as well. And it was interesting, because I think the Benioff Foundation had done some research into homelessness in California. And what they found is that a lot of people just use that example didn't know all of the resources available that were available to them, like, Oh, I didn't know there was a place that would help I, you know, I thought I was on my own right. And you weren't, that's a shame, because we actually did all the work to have the resources there. And it was purely a communication issue that prevented maybe a really bad outcome from happening, certainly for the person and the family, but also for the state, right, the state has a vested interest in that person getting to resources that prevent a lot worse condition. I want to move topics a little bit to talk because one of the things you do deal a lot with is the housing element. Specifically, that housing element is significant because it hadn't been updated. And since 2014, it was, you know, kind of approved by the Board of Supervisors in January of this year. And one of the questions I have about it is that is our ladder up against the right wall in terms of all the goals and objectives we had because I just looked at the document and ended you know, it's organised in a series of goals. Go on recognise the right to housing as a foundation for health and social and economic well being goal to repair the harms of racial and ethnic discrimination against American Indian black and other people of colour. There's goal three, foster racially and socially inclusive neighbourhoods through equitable distribution and investment of growth. And it goes on from there. When I hear people when I talk about, you know, specifically housing in San Francisco, what is the issue, it's like, we just need to create more housing, right, we have a housing shortage. That's the number one thing and as a result, we have incredibly high housing costs. We just need to fix that across the board. I sort of expected to see that there. And there are some things I didn't read the whole document about some things about especially affordable housing later on, that gets reflected as a goal. But I expected to see like we need to make more housing, increase the housing supply, the you know, a priority for the city. And I expected that to see number one, and maybe some of the other things mentioned, there would be other things too, because we want to do in the right way, but I didn't see that. Why is that? Was it missing? Is it just the nature of writing these things? I just felt like, oh, this was just updated. It's gonna be hot off the press. It's gonna reflect the moment now and everyone talks about we need to Just like streamline this process and get more housing and get more supply. Yeah, I didn't see that at all, really, at least in the goals of the housing element? Well,

Rachael Tanner  35:07

I mean, we have a number of goals, right. So the way that element is organised as goals, and then there's objectives, and there's actions. And so as you look deeper and deeper into them, I mean, there's 350 or 340, some actions that are called for in the housing element. So the goal is going to be the highest level of detail. And so you're gonna see a lot of those actions relating to things you talked about production streamlining. But again, it's not in I was, I guess, I would say, when we think about the challenges that we're faces for housing, we they're Myriad. They're not just one, certainly supply supply is a huge challenge, we have under Bill as a state for decades, San Francisco is no exception. In terms of the amount of house that produced it's been way too little. And in particular, this housing element cycle for all the region's across the country or across the state, rather, is asking folks to build significantly more housing than they've ever built, proportionally and numerically in any previous housing element to address that supply issue. So I would say supply is built into the housing element as kind of like just a general thing of what your element is going to do, it is going to increase the housing supply period.

Ben Kaplan  36:15

One other related thing, though, which you mentioned a little bit earlier, that also deals with how services are distributed in the city. And you mentioned community benefit districts, which are this public and private partnership, essentially, there's residents have a certain neighbourhood might agree to pay into an assessment of people who are in that neighbourhood, and there's additional services that result in that area. The practical implication is if do you live in a community benefit district? Or do you not live in a community benefit district, you get a different commitment of services, because you might have cleanup that's done, you know, once a week from the city, but that community benefits district puts additional services on top of that. So what do you think about this notion of community benefit districts? And aren't we had to have something that elevates law, the places that oh, if you're like, on this side of the street, but not the side of the street, then you're in one, you're not in one, then actually things get distributed? Because it all came from a good place of we want to be able to do more for our local neighbourhoods. But does that actually we need to like lift everywhere up? Because sometimes this committee business is just going great. And this other one's not going? So well, this other neighbourhoods not going so yeah, that's a great question.

Rachael Tanner  37:24

Um, planners Love Community Benefit districts, which are also sometimes called Community Benefit districts, if you look in local law or other cities. And so I think what are important remember them is that what happens is the land owners, or whoever the stakeholders are, vote to tax themselves to raise additional funds to provide those services. Right. So it is not like they're just getting something extra, they are giving something extra, they're taxing themselves at a higher rate than folks who are not in that district in order to provide those services. And so I think, you know, could it be good for everybody to have that level of service? Possibly, but, you know, do they want to raise the level of service, the level of funds needed to provide that service? I mean, I think certainly one of the challenges we have that is limiting our community benefit districts is that they spend so much money on clean and safe streets, they can't do some of the other stuff that you'll see CBDs and other communities do like hosting festivals and having fairs and like promoting local businesses, and like, you know, really having let's do some art, let's do something extra, right? That's additional to just keeping the streets clean, and making people feel safe. So I would love to see our city be able to handle keeping it clean and safe, so that our CBDs can do the fun stuff, right? That's going to really make that no business district pop. So that again, we can keep our small businesses like you know, alive and well and healthy. And then that benefits the neighbourhoods as well. So I don't know that specifically answers your question. But I do think maybe the last thing I'll say is unevenness of CBDs can be reflected in like, similar like, Are there too many? Are some of their boundaries too small, could they consolidate, share resources better, so that instead of my CBD and your CBD that might be right next door, having two different cleaning staff or two different whatever? Could we combine and collaborate and have some economies of scale? Right? So then again, we have more resources to do the fun stuff, right? And do more collaborating together, I would love to see see more of that happening.

Ben Kaplan  39:18

And this notion of basic services that the city should provide, and you can tell me if you agree or disagree, but to me clean or unclean streets and issues like property crime, to have an oversized influence on how people feel about their city. And why because it's just like evidence around you have disorder, civic disorder, how somehow like the rules that we supposedly live by to be in a productive, creative, compassionate, innovative society that we all want to live in San Francisco that we all believe in. is not working is breaking down. Why? Because we can see it because we're afraid to park a car on the street because We think it's gonna get broken into. So somehow we have to elevate that, because that's gonna make us feel like we're on the right trajectory. But to do it, it actually, I know, a tonne of people in CBDs, who do amazing work and good work. And I'm actually real fans and champions of the work, but it's like, I would love to see that everywhere. It shouldn't be like, you have to have a CBD or you're going to not be in good shape on your street. That shouldn't be a requirement. And it feels like sometimes it is.

Rachael Tanner  40:26

Yeah, I would absolutely agree with that. I think, you know, and I and I will say I struggle with this question. I don't know the answer, you know, where did we get so off in the way that we treat each other in public in the way we treat our public space? You know, where did it become? I mean, certainly, we can think about and it's kind of easy to blame, like unhoused folks, or people suffering from substance abuse, certainly, they can be like, rummaging through trash and leave it everywhere. Certainly, I've seen like a suitcase on the side of the road that's been filtered through like, Oh, I know, someone's car got broken into. And they're all their belongings been rifled through, and whoever got it just like, left it there on the side of the road, until we see this disorder. And it's like, where's the source of it? But it's also like the person walking their dog who doesn't pick up their dogs who, right, who has means has the ability, but it's just like, whatever. You know, I was walking down the street the other day, and there's this kid, like, wasn't a kid and youngest man, I probably made I don't know, just like tagging on the building. And I actually look back and I said, Why are you doing that just shrugged his shoulders? Like, why are you just tagging people's buildings? Like, what's the purpose of that? And so I think it's just trying to figure out I struggle with like, why are people okay with treating our public streets, our shared spaces in this manner? And what will it take to stop it? Is it just cleaning it up more, and people feel like, oh, it's clean. So I feel less less empowered to litter, which is kind of a broken windows theory of things like keeping things looking nice. Makes people want to treat them like they're nice. Is it something deeper kind of in our social fabric and the way people have been socialised in San Francisco for what's tolerable? And what's intolerable? I don't know. I don't know if you have any thoughts, Ben, I'd love to hear though, a

Ben Kaplan  42:01

complex question. But I do think this notion of, hey, JFK is famous quote,


not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country. If

Ben Kaplan  42:11

we're going to apply that to our city, right? Ask not what your city can do for you ask what you can do for your city. That's a tall order, if you're going to do it alone, if you feel like it's me against, you know, it's like, okay, um, you know, Rachael, no one else is doing it. But you're gonna do because you're such a good person. And we do have actually, people in the city who do do that, who are amazing people. Yeah, but it's much easier if you're like, you know, I'm doing this because my neighbours doing this, and other people are doing this. And we're all coming together. So what I wonder is, is the solution to that not going to be necessarily like an elected leader, or a government official do so. But it's like the community coming together working together. And it starts with your neighbours, your friends, and coming together to do things. And really, we need a community movement to do this. And when you're part of something bigger than yourself, you're willing to commit more. And the ironic thing, though, is there's so many compassionate people who care about other people in San Francisco, there's people who want to do it, you don't want to be the only one, right? You want to be part of a movement to this. So if we could all come together in some way, then I think a lot of people would be willing to do that. But we've got to figure out how to join hands, and not feel like you're on your own. And the problem is, when you're gone downward spiral, it can feel like you're on your own, it can feel like no one has your back. But we've got to come together at least that's my opinion.

Rachael Tanner  43:26

I think that's a great, I think that's great. And I would I would even add more encouragement to say, and I'm a big believer in the 8020 rule. So doesn't even take that many people, it's gonna be like, 20% of the people who decide to make the change is gonna impact the rest of 80%. You know, and so I think it doesn't take a lot of people to come together and say, like, we're gonna keep this block clean, or, you know, I'm gonna do one little thing, what can I do, and if enough people are doing it, it doesn't even take that many to be enough. It really can kind of leverage states and change the tide of saying,

Ben Kaplan  43:53

I don't even do one would better for you. Because we you know, for some of my other work that I do in day job, when I'm not exploring issues of the city is a 1% rule for bringing change in a population. So if you want like an idea to spread, it's often you need 1% of that population line. So San Francisco 800,000 plus people 1% is 8000. People. Imagine if we had 8000 people, only 1% of the city, but like, aligned and like, we're going to make a difference. We're going to clean this up, we're going to rally together like 8000 people in San Francisco, a lot of the board of supervisor races, that's more than the total number of votes for a board of supervisors, man, right, like 8000 people can have great impact. And if we could even align 1% That would be a great start. And maybe if we do on 1%, we get up to your 20%. And maybe we sweep the whole city. So

Rachael Tanner  44:36

then what are we going to decide on? What are we going to rally around?

Ben Kaplan  44:38

Let's work on it. Let's Let's rally that together. And let's do it out. Brainstorm offline together. But Rachael, just to wrap up, I totally appreciate all your thoughts and and maybe final thing is that given all your experience with city government, what are we not doing now are not talking about now. And maybe it's something in the corner of the government that no one sees. It's not the headlines in the Chrono. coal or the standard or elsewhere? What should we be doing? If you just had your way and could shine a spotlight on something that we're just not talking about? What would it be given that you see all the nooks and crannies of how the government works?

Rachael Tanner  45:11

I think we're not talking enough about countability. I mean, granted, our budget is taking a hit this year, in terms of our tax base, we had to make some budget cuts to the city, but like, we spend a lot of money in the city on a lot of things. And I think we're not as focused, there's been a few headlines, some supervisors leading the charge and like, what are we getting for our money? And really, again, how are we being accountable, whether it's through contracts, staffing, etc, to actually achieving the policy, and like quality of life objectives that our budget reflects, right, our budget is a statement of our values. But for most of the things we do, it takes people to get it done. It takes a planner, it takes a person at the Rec and Park Department, it takes somebody in MTA it takes a bus driver, right? Like there are actual individuals who are living out the values of our budget, and like how do we have accountability of like, are those individuals when they come together, achieving the outcomes that we've laid out? And if not, we got to ask why. And see what adjustments we can make. So implementations, the long haul, it's not sexy, and accountability. Nobody really likes it. Because you might have to be mean to somebody. But that's what it's going to take to really make sure that we have the things we want. I

Ben Kaplan  46:20

would 100% agree with you. And I think that one of the things that accountability does, besides just getting the outcome on the actual task that you're being accountable for is it builds trust, and it builds trust, and we absolutely need more trust. Now we need more trust, from residents to city officials, we need more trust from progressive faction to moderate faction that we can work together, we need more trust that, you know, if your car gets broken into that people are going to follow up that it's not just going to be lost or forgotten about we need trust across the board. But usually trust forums because what is trust, someone says they're gonna do something, and then they do it. And you're like, and then you have a tracker and you're like, Okay, I know, Rachael said, she's gonna do this. She did it. Therefore, I trust Rachael, to see this through. And if we all did that, and maybe we could come together more, and maybe there would be more work across the aisles and all of this kind of thing. So I 100% it with you agree. And I think accountability pays off twice, once on the initial task and twice because that trust we have. And if we have that trust, that's a great asset we could deploy to change the city. And

Rachael Tanner  47:25

we can do more with that trust. We have that trust, we can even go higher. The next time we're working together. Absolutely agree.

Ben Kaplan  47:34

According to RachaelTanner, San Francisco needs more agile planning to deal with acute city problems. Issues like crime and safety, homelessness, and the Fentanyl crisis. Only one problem. Being lightning fast respond to new challenges isn't typically how you describe San Francisco city governments. Does it have to be this way? As Rachael points out, there's actually recent precedent for coming together with Swift and speedy, coordinated decision made. That's exactly what happened during the COVID crisis. But why haven't we tackled other crisis with this sense of urgency? As Rachael says, we need all hands on deck, we need to save our city now. In San Francisco, we needed our city leaders to use the bully pulpit, instead of just bullying the other side to get more alignment and consensus. Some of the greatest powers of the mayor, for instance, is the ability to shift priorities, change the narrative, and create laser like focus for 39,000 city employees, powers that aren't necessarily codified in any charter or law. So what if we scrapped the eight year plan that takes three years to develop and instead developed a single, unified and urgent plan for 2023 and 2024? What if instead of proposing a budget, that's pretty much more of the same? We implemented some radical pragmatism radical because we need a dramatic change from a status quo that isn't working and pragmatism because we can't afford making big expenditures with no results. What if we asked ourselves What if a little more frequently? Once we have that plan, Rachael says it's all about accountability. Who is minding the store? And do we have such a person in every city department? Even a great plan gets poor results if we don't follow it all of the way through? I'm talking about contracts, staffing, clear outcomes. We've got to be a students and implementation. How many good ideas and miserably failed in San Francisco? Because what was supposed to cost $10,000 came in price 10 times higher. So let's come together. We don't have to do it alone. We is always greater than me. I'm Ben Kaplan and remember, we are San Francisco.


This amazing episode was brought to you by TOP Thought Leader. Don't forget to rate review and subscribe

New episodes will always updated regularly

Waste of resources our competitors are jumping the shark.
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.