Jan 5, 2024
52 min
Episode 9

We Are San Francisco: 'Reversing City Dysfunction' with Myrna Melgar

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.

Ben Kaplan  00:26

This is the podcast. That's more than a podcast for Cisco. They are the world champion. We are San Francisco. Hey San Francisco. Today we're chatting with Myrna Melgar, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who represents District seven, including neighborhoods like Lakeside Golden Gate Heights, inner sunset, and Westport was first elected back in 2020. And up for reelection this year, you're gonna chairs the land use and transportation committee, and considers urban planning, economic development and housing policy. Her key passion areas were in a previously served as president of the City Planning Commission, and vice presidents of the building inspection commission, roles, which became a central figure and sometimes controversial debates around the construction of new housing in the city. Me or not also formerly worked as executive director of the Jamestown Community Center, and Deputy Director of the Michigan Economic Development Agency. And did you know she's quite a dancer, with more on that later? So is there a divide between the services we provide on the east side and west side of San Francisco? Have we been prioritizing the downtown core at the expense of other neighborhoods? Let's find out the supervisor and your nelga. Myrna one of the things that you've mentioned to me is that we ought to be more forward looking than looking into the past. And you have a definition of forward looking that comes from being a mom of three daughters being very involved in housing. But what does it mean to be forward looking instead of being stuck in the past, or even some of the issues of the present? Yeah.

Myrna Melgar  02:10

So you know, we, in previous generations have made decisions about what our city looks like, and what we prioritize in terms of the built environment around us and the infrastructure that supports our life as the city, those decisions at work based on a whole set of cultural assumptions, sometimes based on race, like who we want living around us, sometimes based on the way other generations wanted to live, you know, car dependency, for example, or efficiency of our homes in terms of, you know, climate change and burning carbon. And so when I say forward looking, I think that there are a whole host of things that future generations are going to have to deal with, like the climate crisis, like, you know, transportation close to home, so that we don't have to burn so much fuel to get to our jobs, working from home now has changed the patterns in we are dealing with a housing crisis, still, we chose to zone most of the west side at low density for single family homes, for example, because our grandparents, our parents wanted to live that way. So that's what I meant, you know, there are many decisions that we have made, that we are needing to look at, and adapt so that the future ensures that our kids can thrive here. And

Ben Kaplan  03:38

how do you sort of weigh all of that with the immediate needs of the presents? Meaning, if you ask the constituents right now, a lot will tell you number one concern is public safety. And the issues related to public safety. There's a sense of sort of civic disorder from all those things. And we're going to make decisions that deal with those crises now, but also, how do we kind of like I guess, walk and chew gum at the same time he like make good decisions for now, but then set ourselves up for the future? Or do we have to choose one or the other? Are we going to be short term or long term thinking?

Myrna Melgar  04:13

Yeah, you know, Ben, I am a firm believer in the walk and chew gum at the same time camp. I think we can do both. This is what's wonderful about San Francisco is that we have so much brainpower here. You know, we have like the smartest people in the country, who are inventing things, just looking at things creatively and differently. And what has defined San Francisco always throughout our history is that ethic of reinvention, we have reinvented ourselves so many times. It also provided a culture where people could come here and reinvent themselves. Whether you are you know a man and want to live your life as a woman or you are fleeing racial strife somewhere else in the country, or an indifferent country and coming here for freedom, you know, we have been that place where people can reinvent themselves. So I have no doubt that our population will be able to come up with solutions for tomorrow. And, you know, we're seeing it on our streets, we have cars being driven by robots, we have all kinds of things that are not happening in other places. But we are also suffering from things that are ailing other cities. So, you know, we're not the only city dealing with a Fentanyl crisis or the homelessness epidemics. I think that the decisions that we have made, have exacerbated the homelessness situation, for sure. But I think that we are able to get ahead of it by making sound decisions, it's not going to be immediate, I am under no illusion that we will immediately solve the safety crisis because I think that during the pandemic, a lot of people fell through the cracks. And our, our systems just cannot keep up. So I think it's gonna take a little bit. But I do think that part of what I'm saying in terms of rearranging the deck of how we do things, is that so I represent the west side, which has always been made up of like, you know, safe neighborhoods, right neighborhoods where people raise their kids, it's lower density, it's quieter. But you know, most of what you hear about right now in San Francisco is about homelessness and drug use, mostly concentrated in the tenderloin, Soma, you know, civic center area, but we have a public transportation system that's open, and you know, great. And guess what's at the other end of the tunnel, it's Westport all. So you know, folks have been drifting over to the neighborhoods, and we have absolutely no way to deal with it. Police in taraval is only 77%. Staff, we have not a single site that provides homeless services, we have no social workers, we have nothing. But yet we're dealing with this. And my folks, my residents, you know, in district seven are seeing that big change in safety is at the very top of the agenda. And I can't even tell you how many texts I get every day from my constituents saying there's, you know, somebody's having a crisis at the corner of cuidar and 17, Theano. And, you know, the folks from the homeless outreach team or card or any of the things that we have set up, never come out out there, you know, they're mostly concentrated downtown. So I think part of what we need to do is figure out, you know, now that people are not going downtown for their jobs or working from home, does it make sense to concentrate all of the services on the east side of town? Does it make sense that we have this transportation system that's all underground, but only downtown? Does it make sense that we have zoned the west side for very low density and single family homes? Does that reflect our needs for the future? And we are making those decisions right now.

Ben Kaplan  08:20

Do you think that city hall, generally speaking, has prioritize the downtown core at the expense of other neighborhoods that are not in the downtown core? Let me give you an example. It seems like for a lot of the issues we're facing, we need plans. One of the most common things when I talk to people like I always seems like we don't have a plan. And we have some policies, but we don't really have a plan. And there is something which is a downtown revitalization plan it from the mayor that exists. But then when I talk to small business owners that are not part of downtown, they said, Well, what about us? What about our we're struggling here to? Do you think that we've, you know, we've put too much emphasis on downtown core at the expense of other places? Yes,

Myrna Melgar  09:02

I do. I'm in that camp. And, you know, the fact is, downtown has always been the biggest slice of our income in terms of taxes. That's a fact. Which is why I think there's this desire that folks have to preserve it, right. And so in our entire public transportation infrastructure, has it spine through downtown, and that's like, billions and billions of dollars of investment. Right. So this is why people don't want to let it go. Or whether reinvented and I'm all for that. But you know if you remember, Macy's gave up its men's store. What like seven years ago, it wasn't lately. It wasn't during the pandemic. It was a long time ago. Right. So we've been seeing the signs of the changes in retail for a decade because when somebody brings you a little box to your door, what incentive do you have to go to the eighth floor of Nordstrom anymore, you know, So, you know, we chose to zone, you know, Union Square for retail only from ground floor to eighth floor, you know, and have resisted the changes in retail that have been happening. And then we chose to concentrate all of our commercial office space, or, you know, around that area, and have resisted spreading it out in other places. And I think that that decision is what led to when the pandemic hit, and people stopped going to work, how acute we felt that how much it is that San Francisco differs from other cities that have a little bit different pattern. So I think in the future, we do need a plan. And we need a plan that acknowledges all those changes that I talked about, you know, working from home, the artificial intelligence, our need to burn less carbon, you know, all of those things. And I think that we can do it, but we have not done it. And we've resisted doing it in many ways,

Ben Kaplan  11:00

in your sort of description of that, which if I was gonna paraphrase, you're saying that, hey, 2017 2018, there were signs of issues that were coming. And we just chose not to really pay attention to that at the time because we didn't have an urgent need to do so. But then you mentioned one other thing, which is you said that we collectively are governmental policies and the city exacerbated the situation. So is it just that we had our eye off the ball, we saw the signs, and we should have acted faster? And then pandemic had been bam, now you really feel it? Or is it that we actually did things that exacerbated the situation? And the thing I remember, for all my, I don't know, friends who went to medical school, they would always say, you know, oh, we're taking the Hippocratic Oath, which is first do no harm. Did we do harm, as opposed to just take our eye off the ball? Yes.

Myrna Melgar  11:52

So I will agree that it's both. And I, you know, as you started, we started this conversation talking about how polarized our city is, politically. I am the middle point on this board of supervisors. And I kind of relish that, you know, because, you know, I'm a refugee from a war in El Salvador, my family came here when I was 12. And I have family on both sides, right. And so I'm used to like engaging and loving people that I disagree with. But I think that predating our current progressives and moderates in city government, San Francisco government has always been inefficient, and corrupt, we have dealt with this for decades. And the thing is, we've always had a lot of money, San Francisco is a very rich city. So even though our budget has doubled, we've always had a very lucrative bunch of businesses within the city, the poor, the airport, PUC. And we've been able to paper over a lot of those inefficiencies with money. So we've always had enough money that we could create another department, or, you know, create a special assistant position for so and so, or create another commission, you know, and that kind of has led to a bunch of decisions that are inefficient. And what happened during the pandemic, is we needed that money, right to house people to put them up in shelter, you know, because it was like an emergency. And then all those cracks got wide open, and people fell through them. Right. And so I think that the question that I would be asking right now is, what are we going to do? Do we stay in that same dynamic of like blaming each other? It's because of the progressives, it's because the mayor does this and that, or do we actually look at ourselves and say, Hey, maybe creating that commission wasn't the best thing maybe this department could be merged with three other departments and, you know, have one agency that handles housing instead of like five and that would lead to better policy. So you know, I think that we are doing some of this work and rooting out corruption folks have been very visible in that, you know, area people have gone to jail. But I do think that there is a long way to go to make our city more efficient. And I think that we have made decisions that have exacerbated our current situation in


the kind of the business world or the private sector I used to way back when via via case writer at Harvard Business School, and one of the themes is that companies could have too much funding that if you had too much funding, it led to a lot of you know, you don't want too little but you don't want too much either because it just lead to inefficiencies and and not being really wise with how you're spending and not demanding results because he got plenty of money and to use your phrase you kind of paper over things with them. Honey, do you think that is that some of the root of our problem that the fact that $14 billion, we should have enough to do whatever we want? In fact, we've gone from 10 billion to $14 billion in a very short amount of time. So it's increased yet. People would often say like, Well, what did we get for the extra, you know, 4 billion since 2017, it doesn't feel like we got 4 billion more services. In fact, we probably thought we were getting better services back in 2017, from the city than we are now. So how do you reconcile that? How do we even begin to tackle the efficiency problem you raise when there's just a lot of money floating around?

Myrna Melgar  15:36

Yeah. So you know, you're never gonna get me to say, Oh, we have too much money. But I do think that that the fact that we've had a lot of money has gotten us into behaviors that are not, you know, good, good policy. I will say that, I just want to sit you know, when people say, you know, $14.3 billion budget, you have to remember that includes all the things that I listed, right, the port, the airport PUC in those are kind of moneymakers for us, you know, so the fact that they grow and they bring in more money is a good thing, I would say, but you know, I was in Paris in May, which is a really lovely, well run city. And like San Francisco, it's old. And it has tourists from all over the world. Twice as densely populated with a budget of $9 billion a year for 2 million people. You know, so, you know, it just really struck me that we spend a lot more for half the people and seems to not get as much done because, you know, Paris has its share. I mean, I definitely saw folks, you know, on drugs, on the streets, sleeping in mattresses, there is all that. So it's not that I'm pretending that it's, you know, three of the issues that we have, but, you know, they do have a robust infrastructure in terms of a metro that rent on time runs off in great schools, you know, all those things that we seem to not quite be getting right right now.

Ben Kaplan  17:14

And how do you think about, you know, there's kind of the the headlines that might come from, you know, work on the board of supervisors, or the mayor and a policy and a big debate or a big vote or a new charter amendment, there's all of that. But then, how did we fix some of the implementation after that's all done, right, something passes, it's a new law and this idea that, you know, in that last mile of implementation, we might screw up good ideas, there may be good policies, because you know, why? Because, you know, hey, this is a good policy that costs $10,000 a unit, but at $100,000 a unit, it's a horrible way to spend money. Or another way to look at it would be, sometimes there'll be a certain policy that will come in or a law, and maybe those implementing it, don't 100% buy into it, right? It was a it was a bit of a divide. And here's an example like, you know, mental health conservatorship, right, and maybe there's something we need to implement, but then those implementing it don't totally buy into that. So they're not really fully committed to doing it. So how do we get to just the bureaucratic implementation of things? That might be great ideas, but then they turned out? Well,

Myrna Melgar  18:27

you know, I think accountability is a foundation of our democratic process, right? I mean, we are all up for reelection regularly. I think that there has been some hiccups and outright sabotage, in some instances, and I will give you an example. So last year, we passed a new policy called the shelter for all that was a legislation that was written by my colleague, supervisor mandelman that had been stuck at the land use committee for two years. And then when I became chair, I was like, No, we're gonna schedule it and work on it until we get it right. And, you know, it is it is time consuming to, you know, negotiate with a stakeholders, people who disagree and come up with just the right word. But I do think it's necessary work in a city that is as polarized but also as diverse as ours with people with different agendas, different backgrounds, but we did it and it passed unanimously at the board. Now what the policy said is, hey, we are going to prioritize having enough shelter beds so that people don't have to sleep on the sidewalk in tents while they are waiting to go into permanent supportive housing. So that policy passed, it took a year before the budget was redirected to reef lacked that policy, and it still hasn't been made or reality, some of it is that the department kind of defines its work in a very different way. It's like the Department of supportive housing, not the Department of homelessness and shelter, you know what I mean? And so I think that, that you are right that in the implementation, that's when good intentions, you know, kind of fall apart, I wish that we had a body politic in the city that was more amenable to collaboration. And, you know, we are, unfortunately, so polarized that often we do not talk to each other or hear each other. When we're saying things that we actually agree on. Everybody agrees that having people exposed to the elements, sleeping outside is not a good thing. Why

Ben Kaplan  20:50

is the culture the way it is? Is it just because I'm talking about the political culture, which is one, you know, San Francisco is looked at as kind of a, it's a symbolic city, right. And it's a symbolic city traditionally, for kind of liberal and progressive values. And so, you know, people will say, like, oh, everything here takes symbolism, because we're battling, you know, for the city, but we're also battling these bigger themes, and it will get covered in national news. So what some people say that other group of people say, Well, you know, the political culture is the way it is because


of the nature of how the city government is structured. And it's this, you know, hey, the mayor represents the entire city, we have individual districts, there's more special interests, and it kind of butts hats, other people will say, No, it's because, you know, there's a lot of political climbers in San Francisco. And there's not an easy way to say it. But like, you know, lots of some folks have reached the national stage at the highest levels of governments. And so everyone's trying to get to the next step. And the way you raise yourself up as you push other people down, and that's the culture, those are three theories, you're in the middle, as you describe yourself, maybe a swing vote on things, you maybe both sides, or somebody's willing to talk to you when they're not willing to talk to each other. You might be the bridge, what is your perspective on that? So I

Myrna Melgar  22:09

think it's all of the things that you just said, it, I don't necessarily think those are bad things, actually. So I think that the fact that San Francisco has produced, the leadership of the Democratic Party in the nation, and the state is a good thing, this place is complicated it you have to have a lot of skill, to be able to get elected into advance, you have to have the ability to articulate to convince the voters, which is something that translates to the state into the national stage. And I think that that's actually a really good thing. The thing about our, the way that we are set up the Charter, the distribution of powers between the legislative, the executive does lead to a sort of balance of power, but also a competition for power between the supervisors and the mayor in when there's disagreement. Some mayors, I've been around for a long time, you know, so some mayor's relish that and, you know, we'll try to negotiate, I think the person that I saw, doing it the best was Willie Brown. But some mayors get more combative. And, you know, it just depends on their leadership style. And then some supervisors, as you said, are, you know, trying to get to the next step. And depending on where their folks are, they're their base of support. Some folks are more performative, because that's what works for their base. And some folks, you know, are more in the weeds. So I think it's all over. I don't think those things are necessarily bad things, because that is who we are. But in terms of like, fixing it, there is no question in my mind that what we need is a sense of common purpose, and unity, rather than this unity. I think that this unity is not helping any of us. I think that, you know, just echoing what Fox News is saying about San Francisco these days is not going to lead to collaboration, or fixing some of the entrenched systemic issues that we have, because in order to do that, we have to work together. Absolutely.

Ben Kaplan  24:34

And that's one of the reasons not only in the podcast, but the other work that I've been doing is like we've got to, you know, we've got to come together I've called the movement we like we is always greater than me, and it sometimes feels like in the political culture, it's like me is above we write you know, what do I need? What do I want? How do I influence things I'm up for reelection? I power and and yeah, at all of us, I would sort of argue you have these like, we have our better angels, and our our less good angels, right sitting on our shoulders. And we have our most collaborative self and our most United self and our most altruistic and generous and for the greater good self. And we probably have another version of that that is less. So what do you think like from, you know, Dean Preston all the way to Katherine Stephanie, the mayor included? What would it take to get everyone united in together? Does everyone just need to, like have dinner at someone's house? And you know, someone's responsible for cooking? And you're not allowed to say anything? Not nice at that dinner? Would that help? Like, what would we need?

Myrna Melgar  25:43

I don't think it's just a social thing. I think, you know, in fact, we socially all get along. Well, everybody's cordial here. That hasn't always been the case, you know, but the thing is that I think we do lack a common vision and sense of purpose for where we're going with the city. And where we started is that I think that some of my colleagues like San Francisco the way it was in 1982, because that's the hay day that we remember, you know, and then some of the folks are also at their bases support is those a lot political alliances that lead to the city of 90 Bailey do right. So it's complicated. I think that we have not all yet at gotten into a vision of San Francisco today. That is looking forward to tomorrow. And I think that that's something that, you know, perhaps someday somebody will come up with, and we can all sign up for it just

Ben Kaplan  26:46

be blunt about that. Is that is that Mayor breed's fault? Is it top of the pyramid? You know, there's plenty, plenty of blame to go around. But should the mayor be projecting that vision and bringing everyone together? So

Myrna Melgar  26:57

I would be I would not subscribe to it's her fault. Because I don't think, you know, faults are not productive, like pointing out faults or, you know, shaming someone for not having done it, I don't think is a productive exercise. I do think that the mayor is in a unique position to articulate that vision. And to put together the implementation steps and two will cajole at Romans, everyone who has a part in it to make it happen. I do think that that is something that, but it's also something that the President of the Board of Supervisors could do, as the leader have that body in terms of just like articulating a vision and making sure that we're all going towards the same direction.

Ben Kaplan  27:49

Given that we have elections coming in 2024. Can we make progress between now and then? Or is it going to be increasingly focused on election, meaning you're up for reelection? Obviously, there's a big mayoral election coming up. There's people talking about the, you know, election in March, not just November. So for like, who's going to be on the kind of D, Triple C? Can we get things done before then? Or do you think it's going to be increasingly sort of like posturing for the election that's going to drive people's actions,

Myrna Melgar  28:22

unfortunately, I think is going to be posturing for the election. Because that is like immediately before that, and I don't have any evidence that it otherwise. But I will say the election is not that far away, it's a year away. And I think that, you know, those small victories that we have in between do mean a lot for people. So you know, getting the beat cops back on Ocean Avenue have done like a world of good on Ocean Avenue. Right. So those are the things that, you know, people see, you know, replacing the garbage cans, making sure that that light gets fixed. So those small things do have a sense of community that they build, you know, that the city actually is taking care of its citizens. But there are some things that are up in the air that I'm very worried about. So the teachers are considering going on strike, and our school district still is not paying them adequately. As I said to you, you know, the sort of cleaning up of downtown has led to a lot of stuff drifting into the neighborhoods and people are seeing, you know, the change and feeling it. So I'm worried about that. But I do think that we can come up with ways of addressing those small things that, you know, make it better for the citizens. Now in terms of like our politics of you know, whether or not we are going to stop this like polarization before the election? I don't think so. And I don't see any evidence but I think at the long term, San Francisco has always been able to overcome social Drive, fires, earthquakes, all kinds of things. And I have no doubt that we will the same again,

Ben Kaplan  30:08

if you were the new head of the streamline San Francisco governments, we won't say a commission, right? We don't need our commission but committee or efforts or initiative and you were going to do that? How would you tackle that? What would be like the 123 have streamlined, you've mentioned that certain functions are spread out between a lot of departments, would you start there? Would you start out from I don't know, the experience of a residence, right, you go in, you need this done? Because you're opening a small business, you're opening a restaurants in your district, and this is the experience you have when you start there? How would you streamline things given your experience with city government? Yeah,

Myrna Melgar  30:45

so you know, where I would start number one thing is the use of technology. So we are, you know, the place that has exported at technology to the rest of the world, Silicon Valley, you know, in we are terrible at it. And city government people in some departments are still doing by and triplicate, you know, signed in originals and sending paper checks with a postage stamp. And we have different systems, so don't talk to one another. So for example, the building inspection database doesn't talk to planning, it doesn't talk to DPW. So part of those years that it takes to entitle a housing project is that between one system, another system, thanks, get lost, you know, things don't match. And you have to spend so much the acumen staff time in making sure that it all fits together, that could very easily be automated, you know, if we have the will to do it. Part of the problem is that, you know, that decision making, it's like DBI puts it in their technical budget, or that Department of building inspection, I'm sorry, I'm using the acronyms. Blanding puts it in their budget, and, you know, they sort of fight over like, what flavor should it be. So I think that, you know, by making a decision that we are going to electronically deal with permits, with all of these things, other cities have done it, I think that we could do that as well. So that is the number one thing, the second thing that I would do is to look at policy, and start from policy rather than program in terms of how we serve the citizens. So one of the best examples is housing. So we have like five different agencies dealing with different aspects of housing, we have the Department of homelessness, we that used to be housed in human services. But Mayor Lee broke it away, which I personally think was a mistake, because now we have this one department dealing with that we have the Mayor's Office of Housing, that does a financing for affordable housing development. But for example, the lottery at the Mayor's Office of Housing does not talk to the coordinated entry list of homelessness. So if you're homeless, and you want to go into low income, affordable housing, you can't really do that easily, you know, because they're two completely different systems. It also doesn't talk to Section eight. So if you have a section eight voucher, you know, you can't just take that to the Mayor's Office of Housing and say here, can I get a unit and you know, it's a, it's a completely different system. So

Ben Kaplan  33:20

that's what you said, because not being at the program level, because if it's at the program level, you just divide out this programs, indoor A, this programs indoor B as other programs indoor C, and you might be a person who could use all doors, right? You just want to get housed, and the city hasn't invested interest in getting you house, but yet you're going to each door and they don't talk because we've done this at the program level. But it was should we then just consolidate departments, it's not really a get rid of sounds like we're just like, oh, they don't exist anymore. But no, just like we're trying to streamline it or but people separated them out because the thought was back then that it was getting lost inside something and we needed a more clear purpose. So we separated or do you just think we need fewer departments more consolidation? So we can improve communication?

Myrna Melgar  34:06

I think it's a little bit of both, but I don't think it is just, you know, merging departments. I think that it's being strategic with the functions and how we leverage the work of others. So I think that the move towards technology will lead to some efficiencies. And you know, through attrition, I think we can shrink some of the things that we're doing right now that are duplication of efforts, or worse, that are efforts that are counter to one another.

Ben Kaplan  34:38

Do we know all of those? Do we have a sense like you're someone who's very involved in housing, so do you know where there's duplication and redundancy and, you know, lack of communication, or do we need like, if you were in building a website, it'd be some called a user flow, in this case would be a resident flow like here's the residents going through the process and here's all the things they have to go To win, you know, the 12 different offices they have to go to, and then we look at what they experience and then try to improve that experience? Or do you think it's very known what the duplication is by people who work in it every day, and we just need to have the will to change it?

Myrna Melgar  35:16

I think it's a, you know, a little of both. So I know what I know, right? I don't know everything. My areas of expertise are, you know, land use housing, because that's where I've been my whole life. But, you know, I know that folks complain about the redundancy, the bureaucracy, the inefficiency in other areas that are not those health and human services as one that is, you know, a big one, the Department of Public Health is our largest department. And there are a lot of silos and people not understanding what their colleagues are doing in a different department. So I do think that it is known, you know, in different areas. And part of it goes back to what you said at the beginning, it's a structure, right, so we are in other cities, there is a city manager that oversees kind of like city wide implementation of things. We don't have a city manager in San Francisco, we have a city administrator, who is in charge of some things, but not all things. And so I know that one of the things that Mayor breed is thinking about is empowering the city administrator to do more things. And I think that that is a really good thing. We happen to have one of the most competent city administrators right now are meant to who is like, great, and she has fixed a lot of things. But she's not in charge of everything. She's only in charge of some things. And

Ben Kaplan  36:40

in terms of moving us into the future. on an issue like public safety, how would you move us into the future, but also bring a sense of urgency to the crisis? Now, I have talked to a lot of people who are like, they went and talked to their precinct captain and asked about the situation and said, How long is it going to take to fix this? And they heard, oh, it's going to take five years or seven years and kind of discouraged, because they said, like, I you know, I can't imagine living like this for five years. What would it take to give that sense of urgency to speed up everything?

Myrna Melgar  37:15

So I will use the same answer for this one, because I think that we could see immediate change in some things by better using technology in the police department, which we have not yet empowered them to do. And that was a decision that was made by the board before I got on the board. And that is around our surveillance policy. So you know, for example, at one of the things that happened during the pandemic is a change in patterns of where tourists go. So you know, not so much downtown or Fisherman's Wharf anymore. We have a lot more tourists coming up to Twin Peaks to look at the city are going to the beach, or the Moraga steps, for example. And we saw a change in the patterns of crime that came with that, because the criminals you know, who bid the cars now know that the that the tourists are parked at Twin Peaks, and so they'll go break the windows and sterile their stuff. But the police department deployment is hasn't caught up with that. So you know, it is considered still a very low crime neighborhood. So we don't get as much patrols, if we had drones, if we had cameras, if we had things that would enable us to do live surveillance, you know, and make it really visible. I think that that would really improve the situation. Other departments are using drones are using technology, for example. DPW is using it to look at where illegal dumping is happening in the city great use of technology, but we're not doing it on safety. Yet. There are concerns about civil liberties, for example, around that, I will say if you have one of these a phone, in our Instagram, you are already a public person, you know, the the our sense of privacy with technology is changing. It has already changed. And future generations are going to have different expectations. And I think that we should adapt to that make better use of technology that is something that would be felt immediately. And yes, it's going to take a while to recruit a workforce and the police department that mirrors our 21st century ambitions. And it's going to take some policy changes at the police department. But I think that we can do both at the same time. We can both have a police that uses less force against citizens, you know, based on their race and have a police force that is technologically proficient that has all the tools that they need to do their jobs and that are empowered to do it.


Well. And it makes me wonder too about how can we what can we do to make the police department more efficient, in terms of there's a lot of things that officers are responsible for that isn't the core of policing, like the only things they can do. There's a lot of administrative tasks. And maybe there was a reason for those administrative tasks. I think when there was abuses in the police department before, and people's rights being violated, this, let's documents more of this, let's document to make sure we're doing this in the proper way. But I also wonder, if we're having problems recruiting police officers, maybe we could recruit more administrative help, maybe we could recruit more video surveillance officers to help with processing video so that police officers can focus on policing, we can get more out of the things that's in limited supply, and have the other things that are maybe in less limited supply supported to make that run more efficiently. Do you do you agree or disagree?

Myrna Melgar  40:59

Absolutely agree. Yeah, you're speaking to by heart. That's exactly what I think needs to happen. But I also think you know, that there are changes that needs to happen in the culture of the police department that, you know, are not just technology based, for example, one of the things that our police chief has signed on to is a nationwide effort to recruit more women, to the police department. And the goal is like, 30% by 2030, right. That's the national goal. In women, you know, I'm gonna generalize here a little bit, but we are all the hole in American society socialized to be more sort of collaborative and cooperative in terms of like social interactions, rely less on force, and more on words, you know, this is a way we socialized in terms of gender, in our, in our culture in American culture. So I think it is a good thing to recruit women to the police force, if they bring with them an outlook and skills that I think would be an asset to the police force. But you know, just this week, there was a story by NBC, about women in the police force, who are new mothers, and there's no lactation rooms, or the lactation rooms out there are, are like, really dirty, not inviting, and they feel like they're not welcome at the police department. So it's a very small thing, just provide a nice lactation room, you know, put like, make it clean, have a nice couch, but some flowers, right? May that wouldn't be just one thing that would make women feel welcomed, or providing childcare that's nearby. I mean, you know, that would help both women in all parents, younger folks coming into the police department. So I think that that has not been something that was so viewed as part of the recruitment culture for the police. But again, doing thinking about a 21st century Police Department, those are the things that any modern employer will tell you are good things for recruitment, and I think we can adapt.


We've talked about political culture, what can we do to improve it? We've talked just there about culture in something like the police department, you know, very obviously, very important department for the city. What about the culture overall between how residents, constituents it interact with the city government? Is there anything culturally there we can improve? Because there is this sense, and you see the surveys where that's like, confidence in the city government is down. People don't think that it reflects their values, or they're out to, you know, improve their situation, or that is responsive to their needs. And I'm generalizing. And of course, there's, you know, individual cases, but generally speaking, there's a dissatisfaction, what would it take to improve the political culture of government and residents and working together? And aren't we all on the same team? We just want a better community a better city, yet? Sometimes it feels like, oh,

Ben Kaplan  44:02

you know, those folks over there don't care about us.

Myrna Melgar  44:05

Yeah, I mean, I hear this a lot. And I particularly hear from older residents in my district, you know, who, you know, don't so much do. You know, Twitter, you know, communicate in the ways that government now communicates they hate it, that things are not open, and they can go talk to somebody. I think part of it is just a generational change. But I also think that we could be more transparent and more open in listening to what citizens are saying. I think that we have meetings here at City Hall once a week and we expect people to come here for public comments, you know, and we have a committed group of gadflies, who always do, but I don't think that that should be the only The way that citizens can weigh in, I think we should have a platform where people can tell us depending on their neighborhoods and their walk of life, what it is that they're worried about, then some of us do like town halls and, you know, have community meetings, I do that in my district quite a bit. Because I know people, especially after the pandemic, when it come talk to me in person. But I think that as a city, we don't really have the system. To do that in we should. And

Ben Kaplan  45:29

I'd love that. And I think one of the reasons that what we're trying to do with with our organization we is trying to get insights from 15,000 San Francisco residents have what their interests are, their experiences are, there is, of course, the real census, which is like a population count. But what if we had sort of this experience census of what people are really facing going through whether they feel like they're being heard or not, at minimum, you would have a lot of more engagement and wanting people to get engaged. But I would love to find a way that if we want to be that future, city and community, we want to leave, and we if we envision that that's going to be responsive to the needs, and we're going to be quick, and we're going to be agile, and we're going to, you know, realize that your point earlier that times are changing, and we need to adjust and patterns are changing, it seems like that has to start with really listening to the people. And of course, that's easier said than done. But I would love to see that. Because I think it would make people feel a lot more confidence. Or we could gain tremendous insights to be like, Hey, this isn't a city that has to be top down and how it's run, it can be from the community up.

Myrna Melgar  46:39

I think that new ways of communicating, like what you're doing, Ben Kaplan, is a really good start. I think people being engaged in the civic life of San Francisco, understanding the political decisions that are being made. And above all, having a forum to discuss them is really, really important. I think part of what ails us right now is that we're not talking to one another, we're not listening to one another. And in a city as diverse and culturally rich as San Francisco. That's the only way that we can, you know, thrive together on these seven by seven square miles. So more power to you. Thank you for what you do. And I hope you keep doing it.

Ben Kaplan  47:23

Well, thank you for being on the podcast. And the one other thing we'd be remiss if we did not say that can bring people together. And I know you're you're a fan of this, and I know there's good video that spreads of this is the power of dance people don't know this about you. But But But one, you're a Samba dancer, I'm a salsa dancer, to you just did this amazing performance. I think the event was dragged for a cause. And so if it just got the city dancing, that might even bring people together. Maybe that is that is not the solution of supervisor Miller, we just need to dance more. Yes,

Myrna Melgar  47:58

I do think that's a solution. Be dance, it could be playing the guitar. I mean, you know, we have such a rich history in terms of culture, right. So I have done Carnival in the mission every year since I was 18 through three pregnancies. And then I did it when my girls were born with them. You know, I have one who's a stilt dancer and two others who are dancers as well. And that is a community celebration. That's when 1000s of people come out, you know and dance on the streets. And I think that's really good and healthy because we have to remember why we love it here.

Ben Kaplan  48:38

According to supervisor Myrna Melgar 2024 isn't just an opportunity to deal with pressing issues. It's also a unique moment to really decide what we want San Francisco to become. Myrna says that San Francisco's post pandemic struggles are a direct result of poor planning at City Hall. And that by putting all of our eggs in one basket, in terms of both of our industry focus, and neighborhood focus, we've left ourselves vulnerable to macro economic events that radically shift residents and worker behavior. According to Myrna, San Francisco has been inefficient and corrupt for decades. But those in power have mostly managed to hide it. Because we're a very rich city. With lucrative businesses like the port, the airport, and the Public Utilities Commission. There's a lot of money coming in, it's harder to see where all of the money goes. That's not all. San Francisco style of solution making has traditionally been a bureaucracy first approach got a crisis to solve. Let's create a new department for maybe a special assistant position. Wouldn't a new commission be cool? Oh, yeah. At the same time, too many elected leaders in the city have become maestro's at assigning blame, to give voters the impression that they are solving problems instead of actually solving them. They have learned to find a scapegoat when things don't improve and that poisons our political culture. elected and appointed officials learn to raise themselves up by pushing someone else down. Someone with a different position is not a person to find consensus with. Instead, they are the enemy. Is there another way in 2024, there just might be for City Hall just like a junior doctor loans. First, do no harm. The bureaucracy first approach has got to stop, because it's a breeding ground for inefficiency, and corruption. Second, the blame game ends today. Most really hard problems won't be solved by a single person, department, entity or government agency, we've got to work together. Third, simplify. Even if a program or plan is brilliant theory, if it has too many moving parts that require perfect execution, it won't be achievable by a government bureaucracy. Plus all that complexity gives lots of opportunities for corruption to hide, and all its nooks and crannies. Simplify it to improve it. Finally, if in doubt, just dance. The rhythm of change is all around us. The drumbeat is being led from the community up rather than the top down. Can you hear the music? You just have to listen? We are San Francisco


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