SAN FRANCISCO—“San Francisco is back on track and building a solid economic foundation for all residents,” said Mayor Ed Lee at his first State of the City Address at the educational nonprofit College Track in Bayview on Monday.
The speech was understandably optimistic, with the first-ever balanced two-year city budget signed during the past year, and a drop in unemployment from 9.6 in 2011 to 6.5 as of last month. The mayor attributed the rise in employment largely to the slew of development projects throughout the city.
“San Francisco is back—you want proof? The 26 cranes across the skyline—26 cranes, meaning thousands of good construction jobs, our own residents back at work building San Francisco’s future with their hands, their skills, and a whole lot of heart,” Lee said.
Nearly 710 projects of varying sizes in the city are underway, according to the Fourth Quarter 2012 Pipeline Report released by the Planning Department this month. These projects would add a net total of 14 million square feet of nonresidential office and retail space, as well as 43,600 new housing units.
Mission Hiring Hall (MHH), established in 1971, is one of the city’s employment centers and has helped 2147 residents seek employment in the 2011–2012 fiscal year.
“Mission Hiring Hall averages over 500 job placements per year and we are exceeding the expectations of all of our current contracts,” Elias Martinez, a program counselor at MHH, wrote in an email. “We help clients find employment in nearly every industry, providing assistance across the board.”
MHH specializes in hospitality and construction sectors and has partnered with CityBuild, an employment program under the Workforce Development Division of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.
Unemployment in San Francisco county has seen a steady decrease since June 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Lee attributed the improvement in the economy of the city to transparency and putting “people’s priorities ahead of politics at City Hall.”
“We must not, we cannot, relent from our commitment to fiscal prudence with the taxpayers’ money. We must not turn back from the path of reform,” Lee said, calling on all departments to strive to create more employment opportunities in the upcoming year.
Construction actually saw a 1 percent decrease in employment in the San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont area, according to a BLS report released for Oct. 2010-2011, despite the .9 percent overall increase in non-farm employment. However, in the San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City Metropolitan area, employment in construction rose by 3.1 percent.
Professional and business services saw the highest growth in employment in the past year, followed by education and health services.
Employment in trade, transportation, and utilities, however, was lacking and saw an overall decline.
“Funding, building, and maintaining a reliable public transportation system in our city are among one of the most critical challenges we face,” Lee said. “Our Muni system and our streets, not to mention our regional BART and Caltrain systems, are in dire need of comprehensive coordinator vision and long-term strategy to meet not just the needs of today, but for our future.”
“I know that some consider Muni as a third rail of San Francisco politics. ‘Don’t touch it! Don’t get close to it!’ political consultants … will say,” Lee said. “But friends, on this, as on our other challenges we have to tackle, we cannot let politics be our guide. Truly great cities have great transportation systems.”
Economics instructor Allan Lacayo says the lower unemployment rate has to do with the city’s diversity, plus increasing cost of living.
“As a great place to live, San Francisco is very expensive, and the unemployed exit very quickly, disappearing from San Francisco and reappearing as unemployed in lower cost areas,” Lacayo wrote in an email. “We often blame politicians for high unemployment and give them too much credit when unemployment is low.”
Public housing was another point of interest in Lee’s address. “If we can’t mend that structure, we should end it,” Lee said of the current housing system. After Lee met with U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan early this year, HUD will be partnering with San Francisco’s Housing Authority to develop a set of executable recommendations to improve the housing situation by July 1.
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