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The GrowSF Report: City nonprofits wasting money on politics, not delivering results
PLUS: Are harm reduction strategies making things worse?
What You Need To Know
Here’s what happened around the city for the week of May 22, 2023:
- City nonprofits wasting money on politics, not delivering results
- Are harm reduction strategies making things worse?
- San Jose Mayor Mahan announces plan to end street encampments
- Mayor Breed proposing legislation to increase density along commercial corridors
- Companies are coming back to the office
City nonprofits wasting money on politics, not delivering results
From $550k to design a trash can, to $200k to design a bus stop shade, wasteful government spending is rampant. Part of the problem is the government outsourcing work to nonprofits, rather than do it themselves.
Noah Smith writes that since the mid 70s the amount of government funds spent on outsourced work increased substantially. The goal was to hire experts who could do the job cheaper and better, but the results have been catastrophic. Rather than invest in building competency inside government, we instead built a complex web of interconnected nonprofits all incentivized to spend as much taxpayer money on themselves as possible. Government departments should be able to do the things they’re in charge of, not just be a middleman.
While the term “nonprofit” might make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, it does not mean you’re going to get quality results. In fact, nonprofits are often inherently inefficient. Since they have no incentive to control costs, they tend to over hire and over spend. (Editor’s note: GrowSF only has two full-time employees and one part-time editor for The Bold Italic, we’re very efficient and we don’t take any taxpayer money :) )
But it gets worse. Outsourcing government functions can end up actually directing taxpayer money to the specific people who help politicians win elections, who can then make the funds conditional on the election help.
This could mean, for example, elected officials granting government contracts to nonprofits who help mobilize people to vote for those officials.
That’s obviously an open invitation to a vast waste of public funds, because it creates a bargain where elected officials have an incentive to pay ever more public money to their clients.
—Noah Smith in “Nonprofits are sapping the progressive project”
We must audit nonprofits that receive city money and end contracts with those that don’t show results or use taxpayer money to try to buy elections. This is why we support Supervisor Stefani’s legislation to audit nonprofits and hold them accountable.
Are harm reduction strategies making things worse?
Harm reduction strategies are supposed to…reduce harm. The hope is that by giving people who are addicted to drugs access to clean supplies, a safe place to consume, and treatment, we can reduce the spread of chronic disease and death.
Is harm reduction working? Jared Klickstein writes in the New York Post that it is not, and is in fact making things worse. In 2022 alone, 109,680 died of fentanyl overdose in this country. Some of the SF data is shocking:
San Francisco alone allocated $268 million to nonprofits in the name of “homelessness prevention” in 2022, all of which must follow a harm reduction approach in order to receive funding.
This number – the highest in the nation – is nearly 50 percent more than in New York, a city eight times larger than San Francisco.
In 2021 alone, [San Francisco] allocated $1.1 billion to its Department of Homelessness and its budget has risen 500% since 2016.
The results: Homelessness actually increased 64% during the same period.
Of that nearly half a billion spent last year in San Francisco on permanent housing, none of it came with sobriety requirements.
Of the 515 residents the city tracked in permanent housing since 2016, 25% died, while 21% returned to the streets.
Harm reduction is an important tool to help people dealing with addiction, but it can’t be the only option. We must also invest in abstinence based recovery methods, and make sure resources are available to the programs and nonprofits focused on sobriety.
San Jose Mayor Mahan announces plan to end street encampments
Homelessness continues to pose a significant challenge in San Francisco. While we must expand permanent housing options, these solutions are costly and difficult to build. They can’t be our only option. One potential solution that has shown promise is the implementation of pre-fabricated shelters. These structures can be put up in a fraction of the time and cost.
The Mayor of San Jose is making a big bet on this strategy, recently announcing the construction of 204 additional “quick-build” shelters, according to San Jose Inside.
“We know we can do it, and we know that it works,” he said, saying that the city is making headway “in reducing the number of people suffering on our streets.”
“These units may be temporary but our progress isn’t. Most of these people will not be returning to the streets.”
The quick-build units, the mayor said, “give people a chance to get back on the right path – a chance for a better future. And the data tells us they’re taking it.”
We would love to see this kind of urgency and action from our leaders in San Francisco, and a willingness to try scalable solutions such as quick-build shelters.
Mayor Breed proposing legislation to increase density along commercial corridors
Last month Mayor London Breed announced Housing For All, her strategy to build 82,000 homes over the next 8 years, as required by state law. Housing For All is not a single action, but a series of legislative and operational changes that will allow San Francisco to build more housing quickly.
Mike Ege at the SF Standard writes that Mayor Breed and Supervisor Melgar have announced one of those changes: legislation to remove density limits along some commercial corridors including Cow Hollow, Haight, and the Inner Sunset. "Creating the opportunities for more housing in all of our neighborhoods means more homes for workers, families, and seniors,” Mayor Breed said.
San Francisco desperately needs to build more housing, and there's no better place for dense housing than along commercial corridors where residents can walk to local businesses and easily access public transit. We’ll be watching this legislation closely as it makes its way through the Land Use Committee and the full Board.
Companies are coming back to the office
Covid required many companies to go fully remote to keep their businesses running while maintaining safety. And for a while it seemed like there was no going back. But now, at least some companies are finding benefits in coming back to the office and working together.
Last month, the New York Times reported that Lyft's new CEO announced employees will be required to be in the office at least 3 days per week. “Things just move faster when you’re face to face,” he said.
The best builders, companies, investors — everyone’s here. You find yourself immersed in the most cutting edge ideas when you’re here, through random events or dinners.
It’s not just about the money, or the success. It’s also about being at the center of the biggest technological revolution of our lifetimes. History books will be written about this place, this time. It is unclear why one would decide to be anywhere else.
Downtown recovery won’t happen overnight but we hope that as some companies choose to go back to the office, and other startups grow, we’ll see increased occupancy and energy.
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What we’re celebrating
San Francisco’s first drag laureate, D’Arcy Drollinger
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What we’re doing this week
Carnaval San Francisco
A 60-contingent lineup that has more than 3,000 artists return to parade this year. They represent the cultural heritages of Brazil, Mexico, Panama, Bolivia, Cuba, Peru, Puerto Rico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobago, Guatemala, El Salvador, and more.
WHEN: May 27-28, with the parade happening on the 28th from 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Parade route begins at 24th and Harrison streets.
WHEN: June 3rd 8 P.M. - Midnight
WHERE: The Chapel 777 Valencia St.
Impulse SF is kicking off Pride month with a queer prom night for the ages. Come dressed in whatever makes you feel fabulous and be ready to dance and kiki the night away. Saul Sugarman — editor in chief of The Bold Italic — is designing many gowns that any attendee can sign up and wear. Tickets for this event are free.
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