By Frederick H. Lowe
Voters have elected London Breed, the first black woman mayor of San Francisco, a city with skyrocketing housing costs and a large and growing homeless population. Though it has a reputation as being one of the nation’s most-progressive cities, the city by the bay also has a long and sordid history of bulldozing African-American neighborhoods to force black people to move elsewhere.
Mike Farrell, San Francisco’s 44th mayor, on Wednesday congratulated Breed, the city’s mayor-elect on her victory.
“I want to offer my sincere congratulations to Mayor-Elect London Breed on her election victory. I commit my full support, both personally, and through my staff, to make this transition between our administrations as smooth as possible,” Farrell said.
Before her election, Breed was criticized for her close ties to the area’s tech industry, which has raised real estate prices, making San Francisco unaffordable for many. But San Francisco Bay View published in an editorial that Breed’s clout with the tech industry could help increase jobs for blacks.
Breed, a San Francisco native, claimed victory after Mark Leno, a former state senator, conceded the election to Breed, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
The election was held June 5th, but the results were not released until Wednesday because the outcome was too close to call. San Francisco residents use ranked-choice voting for local elections, meaning voters marked their first, second, and third choices for mayor on the ballot last Tuesday.
Breed will be sworn into office in July.
She will serve as mayor until January 2020, completing the remainder of the term for Mayor Ed Lee, who died of a heart attack while in office, said Willie Brown, the former mayor and San Francisco’s first black mayor. Breed was sworn in as acting mayor when Lee died. Farrell replaced her.
The San Francisco Bay View newspaper said racism was at the root of Breed being pushed out of office. “Acting Mayor London Breed was snatched out of office when other supervisors feared the very popular black woman would win the June 5 mayor’s race by the advantage of incumbency. She didn’t need that advantage, nor did the Black community miss the message,” the paper published in an editorial.
The 43- year-old Breed can seek a full four-year term in 2019.
A Declining Black Population
Forbes magazine reported that San Francisco’s black population has dropped by 50% to less than 49,000 or 6% of the city’s population between 1970 and 2010. In 1970, blacks comprised 13.4% of San Francisco’s population which was 715, 674, according to the Bay Area Census. San Francisco’s population was 878,887 in 2017.
Much of this was due to the physical destruction of black neighborhoods, including the Western Addition and Fillmore. This occurred at the same time many blacks called the Bay Area the epicenter of the “Black Power Movement.”
Blacks were victims of government-sponsored urban renewal or as B.B. King called it “urban removal or negro removal.” The San Francisco Bay View newspaper reported that San Francisco has been pushing blacks out since 1858 when nearly 1,000 fled to Victoria, British Columbia, after the city’s leading citizens called for black re-enslavement. California’s legislature barred blacks from attending the city’s public schools, the newspaper reported.
Last year, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors began looking into changing the name of M. Justin Herman Plaza in downtown San Francisco because Herman, who headed the city’s Redevelopment Agency from 1959 until his death in 1971, bulldozed African-American neighborhoods forcing many to move out of the city.
Breed grew up in Plaza East, a housing project in the Western Addition with her grandmother and three siblings. The family survived on $900 per month and food handouts from the government. The tough existence was hard on everyone, and some family members were defeated by the grinding poverty. One Breed’s sisters died of a drug overdose and a brother is in prison.
Despite Breed’s background, she was unstoppable. Breed graduated with a bachelors degree in 1997 from the University of California at Davis, and she earned her master’s degree in public administration from the University of San Francisco in 2012. After her election, Breed told supporters they can do anything they want to do.
High Housing Costs
The cost of housing in San Francisco is extremely high. Some 27 percent of residents complained during a recent survey that high housing costs would force them to move elsewhere.
In the Bay Area, the median price of a home recently was a record $820,000. Redfin, the real estate site, found that San Francisco lost more residents than any other U.S. city in the fourth quarter of 2017.
Finding a place to rent is also very difficult. Because of the severe housing shortage, some landlords demand that potential renters write an essay explaining why they want to rent an apartment in a building. The renter who writes the best essay in the eyes of the landlord is awarded a lease.
A Large Homeless Population
San Francisco also has a major homeless problem, which is easy to see in the city’s downtown as black men, black women and others sleep in doorways as tourists either step over or around them. Some of the homeless stumble through streets holding styrofoam cups with shaky hands covered with dirt begging for quarters, nickels or dollars.
There are an estimated 6,600 homeless in the city, according to the San Francisco Homeless Project.
The city ranks second to New York in homelessness. There are 795 homeless people per 100,000 residents. New York has 887, followed by Seattle with 487, and Philadelphia with 384.
Breed told the New York Times that combating homelessness is a top priority, including keeping the streets clean and reminding people they cannot urinate in the streets. Breed also said she would set up safe injection sites for the homeless who are drug addicts.