Viewpoint: Why doesn’t San Francisco elect businesspeople anymore?
Nov 22, 2023
This article was first published in the San Francisco Business Times on November 9, 2023
In the bustling heart of San Francisco, the march toward mayoral elections unfolds. Yet our city’s dialogue on pressing social issues overlooks an essential component: the economic draw and sustainability of our business sector.
Gone are the days when the allure of San Francisco alone was sufficient to entice retailers and office tenants. The landscape has shifted, and a new approach is mandatory. Our city requires a mayor who not only understands the significance of business, but is also prepared to actively pursue tenants, creating an undeniable attraction for businesses to plant their roots here. This is not merely a domestic endeavor but an international one — San Francisco must assert itself on the world stage as a hub of commerce and innovation.
The recent closures of the North Beach Restaurant, the Financial District’s 24 Hour Fitness, and a series of Walgreens stores are more than individual business failures; they are harbingers of a potential economic downturn. These events serve as a wake-up call, highlighting the urgent need for a mayoral candidate with a clear, aggressive strategy for business attraction and retention.
Our city’s fiscal health is wavering. As Controller Ben Rosenfield, who has been the fiscal sentinel for 15 years, opts for retirement, we must interpret this as a sign of the times. With plummeting retail occupancy, office spaces growing vacant, and the looming threat of commercial property owners clamoring for tax reassessments, San Francisco stands on the precipice of a financial abyss.
The historical composition of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors included private business leaders, union leaders and attorneys — individuals with a wealth of experience who dedicated themselves to the city’s governance. Names like Peter Tamaras, John Barbagelata, John O’Rourke, and Quentin Kopp not only contributed to the city’s fabric but rose to become its mayors. Their business acumen brought an essential perspective to city management, a balance of fiscal responsibility and civic duty.
Contrast this with today’s scenario where not a single private business owner sits on the board. Our current leadership, including the mayor, stems largely from the nonprofit sector. While this is not inherently problematic, the absence of business leaders creates an imbalance, leading to unchecked spending without proper oversight. A case in point is the billions poured into addressing homelessness with scant success — a scenario unlikely to unfold under the watch of seasoned business leaders.
Our civic leaders, without the grounding presence of business acumen, often succumb to the pressures of special interest groups, fostering the growth of government and its regulations. They fail to ask crucial questions about the returns on every taxpayer dollar spent.
San Francisco’s mayoral race is not just about electing a city leader; it’s about selecting a guardian of our economic future. We need a mayor with a business owner’s mindset, someone who will ask the hard questions and demand tangible results for the city’s investments.
As we approach election day, let’s champion a candidate who recognizes the integral role that business plays in the prosperity of San Francisco. Let’s choose a leader who will carry on the legacy of those business owners who once led our city with distinction but also elevate our economic strategies to meet the challenges of today’s global marketplace.
Written by: Hans Hansson
Hans Hansson is the President of Starboard Commercial Real Estate. Hans has been an active broker for over 35 years in the San Francisco Bay Area and specializes in office leasing and investments. If you have any questions or comments please email [email protected] or call him at (415) 765-6897. You may also check out his website, https://www.hanshansson.com