Prop M Halts SF Small Business Assistance

by on October 13, 2016

Prop M Halts SF's Popular Invest in Neighborhoods Program

Among the 24 measures on San Francisco’s local ballot is Prop M. It’s backers argue it “will bring genuine public participation and oversight into the decision-making on housing and development.” They also claim that “we simply cannot deliver the promise of an affordable San Francisco without an open and transparent system.”

But the Prop M campaign is misleading voters on its core impact:  Prop M will bring city financial and technical assistance to small businesses to a halt. Prop M removes control of city funding for small business and economic development from those with experience in the field and transfers it to political appointees who are not required to have any relevant experience.

Prop M also requires every employee of the city’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) to reapply for their jobs. That ensures gridlock at the agency, whose employees will be preparing job applications and undergoing interviews instead of processing loan and grants to neighborhood small businesses.

Anyone familiar with the City and County hiring process knows that creating the new Housing and Development Department could easily take a year. That’s among the reasons why SEIU Local 1021, certainly no fan of Mayor Lee, endorsed No on Prop M. Meanwhile, while job interviews at the new department proceed, small businesses needing help are out of luck.

Marketed as an initiative to address the city’s affordable housing crisis, Prop M instead brings a wrecking ball to the city’s successful programs for small business. A truly “open and transparent” discussion of Prop M would not ignore this damage.

Prop M Goes Beyond Housing

While  Prop M will not increase affordable housing or reduce the housing crisis, my feeling—which I expressed when testifying on the measure—is that if nonprofit housing groups want a Commission to allocate funding for their projects, that’s fine by me.

What’s not fine by me, however, is housing groups recklessly attacking the city’s small business assistance program by including it in Prop M. Many of these groups have a poor record in selecting quality ground floor retail tenants. They are the last people who should be put in charge of economic assistance activities to the city’s small businesses.

Under Prop M, specific Commission seats are designated for appointees with required homeless and housing experience. But not a single seat is designated for a Commissioner with a background in small business.

Think what that means. Small businesses across San Francisco benefiting from skilled OEWD staff in the popular Invest in Neighborhoods program will now have their assistance dependent on a Commission with no expertise.

That makes no sense. Why should voters trade control of small business assistance from people with skills and experience to political appointees who may have none?

Hasn’t the current presidential race demonstrated that experience in a field matters?

More than Attack on Mayoral Power

Opponents of Prop M see it as an attack on mayoral control of city policies on housing, small business, and economic development. That’s why former mayors Feinstein, Brown and Newsom all oppose Prop M.

Prop M so deeply assaults mayoral power that one must ask why proponents think a weak mayor form of government is better for governing cities. I’ve seen no such examples. To the contrary, Oakland and Los Angeles improved their governance after moving to a strong mayor system (Jerry Brown prioritized a strong mayor ballot measure soon after his election as Oakland’s mayor).

But Prop M’s core problem is that it’s terrible policy. It would effectively halt  San Francisco’s model of giving on the ground city staff the flexibility to assist neighborhood small businesses.  I know firsthand that such on the ground help is particularly important in long struggling areas like Mid-Market and the Tenderloin, where prospective businesses need to know that city assistance is available and that staff will be there to help.

OEWD just launched a restaurant division to help such business owners navigate the complex path to opening. If Prop M passes, there is no way to know if this initiative will continue. At best it will be put on hold for at least a year while people reapply for jobs and the new Housing and Development Commission bureaucracy is created.

The major candidates in the current supervisor races all talk about their support for neighborhood small business. But Prop M prevents these businesses from getting needed assistance for at least a year, and then vests control of the process in a Commission lacking the necessary skills and experience.

Since Prop M was first raised, I have not heard any small business groups say the city needs to impose a Commission and new bureaucracy over its economic assistance programs. With all the problems facing San Francisco, a ballot measure to undermine widely popular and successful small business programs makes no sense.

Prop M devastates the city’s widely heralded small business assistance programs. It should be rejected.

Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond Chron.

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Randy Shaw

Randy Shaw is the Editor of Beyond Chron and the Director of San Francisco’s Tenderloin Housing Clinic, which publishes Beyond Chron. Shaw is the author of four books on activism, including The Activist's Handbook: Winning Social Change in the 21st Century, and Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. His new book is The Tenderloin: Sex, Crime and Resistance in the Heart of San Francisco

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