Time to Roll up Sleeves at City College

Since the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) voted to revoke City College of San Francisco’s accreditation if it cannot right its course within the next year, there has been much posturing and finger-pointing over the commission’s judgment and the process it used in reaching its decision.

City College faculty has demanded the commission rescind its determination. The American Federation of Teachers has filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education. City Attorney Dennis Herrera started a legal challenge to block the commission from doing its work. While these tactics may provide a temporary distraction for the status quo, they do not change the facts: City College’s system of governance and fiscal planning is broken and it must be fixed or our city will lose one of our most important higher education institutions and workforce development pipelines.

According to the ACCJC, City College must make serious reforms in order to keep its accreditation. These include some very basic and specific steps such as developing a staffing plan and equipment budget; hiring a comptroller; tightening financial controls; upgrading the computer system for payroll, finance and student records; and several other commonsense actions that are essential to any organization’s management.

When California Community Colleges Chancellor Brice Harris met with the Chamber’s Board of Directors last month, he reiterated that the best path to maintaining City College’s accreditation is to follow the commission’s recommendations and make the necessary changes to keep the institution compliant and solvent. Robert Agrella, the Special Trustee appointed to change the college’s course, is also focused on meeting accreditation goals. State and local officials have made it clear that any other alternatives – such as merging with San Francisco State University or another Bay Area Community College – are not viable. The only solution is reform.

The loss of City College would be devastating for San Francisco employers and the economy. With over 85,000 students, City College is California’s largest public school. It is also the largest workforce trainer in San Francisco, delivering career training in 150 occupation disciplines ranging from automotive repair, to biotech, to culinary arts, to health services and many other professions. According to a study just released by the city’s Budget Analyst’s Office, at least at least $300 million in economic activity would be lost annually if City College were to close.

San Francisco needs a thriving and accredited community college. The future of City College now rests on the focused and diligent work of Special Trustee Agrella, City College faculty and staff, and our committed community of supporters across the city. It’s time to stop fighting the ACCJC and roll up our sleeves to meet accreditation goals and keep our city’s most critical workforce pipeline open and thriving for years to come.

PG&E fine could do more harm than good

The 2010 San Bruno gas pipeline explosion and fire was a tragic event. Those effected – and Californians across the state – are saddened, angry and rightfully concerned about pipeline and infrastructure safety.  A significant penalty is an appropriate response for this terrible accident. However, as the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) considers the severity of the fine it will impose on Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) – and whether or not the company can apply portions of it to pipeline safety projects already underway – it must be careful it does not do more harm than good.

The current fine proposed by some CPUC staff is set at $4 billion – a fine so severe it ranks as one of the largest penalties on record, more than double that against BP for the Gulf oil spill and 40 times more than the largest fine on record for a similar tragedy. Reacting in part to the severity of the proposed fine, the Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services last week revised its outlook on PG&E from stable to negative. When combined with other risks, this rating carries with it serious financial implications for PG&E including the possibility of bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy is a bad outcome for everyone. We all need a healthy utility company that can continue to access capital and make needed infrastructure and safety improvements.  Under the new leadership of CEO Tony Earley, PG&E is moving forward with billions of dollars in capital improvements that will make the utility’s infrastructure safer and more reliable. A penalty too severe will only slow that process by making it harder and more expensive for the company to make the investments required.

It is also in our best interest for PG&E to continue expanding and growing our economy. We need multi-billion dollar investments in the local electric grid, to support companies from Tesla to Twitter to neighborhood retailers. A reliable power grid, both gas and electric, has never been more important than it is today.

And anyone who remembers the PG&E bankruptcy during the California energy crisis understands the devastating impact it had on our local economy. This company is headquartered in San Francisco and has an economic impact that is significant across the Bay Area. PG&E has been creating jobs, contracting with local businesses and supporting charitable organizations for more than 100 years. Crippling their ability to do so hurts us all.

San Bruno has suffered and PG&E should pay a price for that. But that price should not be so high that we harm our economy, put jobs at risk and diminish a key source of charitable giving. Most importantly, the price should not be so high that it hinders much needed investments required for long-term public safety and economic growth.  The CPUC must be careful that any fine it imposes does not do more harm than good.

Time to Rethink CleanPowerSF

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) stood up for our city’s utility customers Tuesday when it pulled the plug on the CleanPowerSF program. Crafted pursuant to a state law allowing local entities to compete with investor owned utilities, this Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) project was flawed from the start.

CCA came out of the energy deregulation crisis of a dozen years ago and was designed to inject competition in the generation of electrical power, with the goal of driving prices down.  In fact, the stated goals of city’s 2007 CCA ordinance were to “meet or beat” PG&E rates for all rate classes, maintain rate stability, provide at least 51 percent of the power load from renewable sources and find a supplier for a long term contract who would take all the risks.

The program that came before the Commission this week did not come close to meeting these goals. It proposed a premium rate under a short term contract, with no new green power (it would buy renewable energy credits), with all liability resting with the taxpayers and PUC ratepayers. The plan is simply not what it was intended to be.

Another big concern is that the program is not entirely voluntary. Because the city is limited by the state CCA law, residents would be automatically enrolled in the higher-priced program. If they are not informed or don’t remember to “opt out” they are in the program whether they like it or not. This hardly seems fair for low income residents and small businesses that could end up paying more for their energy without even knowing it.

Despite these issues, the Board of Supervisors and organizations such as the Sierra Club have tried to pressure the SFPUC to adopt these premium rates, with all the risks and lack of real green power. Thankfully, three commissioners stood-up for utility consumers and said “No.” The Chamber applauds Commissioners Ann Moller Caen, Vince Courtney and Senator Art Torres for doing so.

However, even with this week’s SFPUC vote, you can be sure this won’t be the last we hear of CleanPowerSF. After nine years and millions of dollars spent trying to launch this flawed project, it’s time to rethink CleanPowerSF. Public and private renewable energy projects right here in San Francisco would go a lot further in creating real green energy for the statewide power grid – a goal everyone can get behind.

Balance Don’t Ban Formula Retail

How to best balance formula retail with non-formula retail, including small locally owned business, is a pressing question facing San Francisco. We are a city that values small business and we want to protect the independent character of our neighborhoods. We are also a city of innovation, where locally owned start-ups should be encouraged to grow and expand, and where large headquarter companies should be able to pilot new concepts. These ideals are not mutually exclusive.

Resistance to formula retail is nothing new in San Francisco. For years the city has banned “chain stores” from Hayes Valley, required conditional use authorization in neighborhood commercial districts and mandated notification in many neighborhoods when new formula retail is proposed. City lawmakers have made a total of 16 incremental changes to broaden the definition of formula retail and further restrict it in our city.

Now, there are nine new legislative proposals to restrict formula retail making their way through City Hall. Supervisor London Breed is seeking to expand the city’s definition of formula retail and restrict it in new commercial retail districts along Divisadero and Fillmore Streets and in the new Hayes-Gough Neighborhood Transit Corridor. Supervisor Jane Kim has proposed interim controls on formula retail in the Mid-Market area, a key neighborhood the city is aggressively working to revitalize. Legislation to further regulate formula retail has also been proposed by Supervisors Malia Cohen, Mark Farrell and Scott Wiener for sections of Third, Fillmore and Upper Market Streets.

While some level of policy is necessary to support small business and protect the character of neighborhoods, the recent proliferation of restrictive new proposals is concerning. Thankfully, the Chamber is not the only one that has taken notice. Last week, the city’s Planning Department announced that it will undertake an economic study to evaluate current formula retail rules and their economic implications in San Francisco. The Chamber, which represents hundreds of small businesses as well as a number of national retailers, has also convened a coalition of small business advocates and formula retailers to dialogue with city officials about this issue in the months ahead.

Now is not the time for hasty action. The Chamber encourages lawmakers to take pause on pending legislation until the Planning Department can complete its study, and stakeholders can engage in productive dialogue to find common ground. Small businesses and formula retail both have a place in our city. Both are important to our neighborhoods and both are important to the economic vitality of San Francisco. Finding the right balance is achievable if we use real data to create appropriate policies that serve our city’s residents, visitors, local merchants and business owners.

A Solution in Search of a Problem

At a time when two-income households are the norm and women make up more than half the workforce, no one disagrees that adopting family-friendly policies for parents and caregivers is important. However, defining what “family friendly” means, how policies should be administered and how they will be enforced has been the subject of much debate in recent weeks.

Last month, Supervisor David Chiu introduced a ballot measure that, if passed in its original form, would have given parents and caregivers the right to request a predictable and flexible work schedule including part-time employment, telecommuting and/or schedule shifts. It would have mandated that employers comply with all requests as long as they did not create an “undue hardship” for the business. It would have created a complicated appeal process, taking day-to-day scheduling decisions away from employers and putting them in the hands of city bureaucrats. And, it could have imposed penalties on businesses the city determined were not in compliance.

Not surprisingly, this proposal – developed with no input from the business community – was met with strong and swift opposition from the Chamber and nearly every other business and merchant group in our city. Business owners are rightfully concerned about the impact the measure could have on their business operations and success. Restaurants, retailers and small businesses were particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of the legislation.

Responding to these concerns, Supervisor Chiu has amended the legislation to lessen its harmful impacts on employers. The latest version enables employees to formally request – up to twice per year – a flexible or predictable work schedule. Employers have 21 days to provide a written response and can deny requests for good-faith business reasons. Employees denied requests can still make a complaint with the city’s Office of Labor Standards Enforcement. However, unlike the original proposal, the labor office can only ensure that employers are following the prescribed procedure, not question the employer’s decision for denying a specific request. The legislation applies to businesses with 20 or more employees, about 8 percent of private employers and 76 percent of private-sector employees in San Francisco.

There is no doubt that if employers want to retain a quality workforce, they must try to accommodate the needs of parents and caregivers. Both flexible schedules and certainty in weekly work shifts are important to families, and most employers in San Francisco are already doing their best to accommodate the needs of their employees. Family-friendly policies are one tool to help retain talent, and that’s good for business.

Supervisor Chiu’s amended proposal is a vast improvement over what was originally proposed from the employer’s point of view. However, as the job-creators in our city, we must ask, is this ballot measure really necessary? Will it help to address the issue of family flight, or just add another layer of bureaucracy for businesses already operating in a highly-regulated environment? Would other policies like affordable housing or school choice initiatives be more effective in keeping families in our city?

As the dialogue over “family-friendly” policies continues, these are the questions that must be asked. In coming weeks, the Board of Supervisors will vote on whether or not to place this measure on the ballot. We hope it will address these complex questions, so that voters won’t have to this November.

No Time for Scapegoating

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the impact on tech workers on our city. Many people are concerned about the availability and rising costs of housing, the displacement of minority and low-income residents and the gentrification of neighborhoods. Others are frustrated with corporate buses, traffic congestion and parking on city streets. Some observers have gone so far as to say we have reached a tipping point, where the influx of young entrepreneurs has changed the culture of our city forever.

Unfortunately, these unchecked concerns have escalated into some very bad actions that reflect poorly on our city. Last month, threatening graffiti appeared in the Mission District targeting tech entrepreneurs. In May, a group of protesters held an “Anti-Gentrification Block Party” and smashed a Google bus piñata before the police intervened. These actions are senseless and do nothing to help address the issues of affordable housing, transportation and diversity.

What is notably absent from the public discussion about our changing city is the positive impact the tech community has on our community and economy.  San Francisco is now home to more than 1,800 tech companies. These businesses employ 42,000 people and create 7.5 percent of the city’s jobs. What’s more, high tech jobs have a significant multiplier effect, creating thousands more jobs in other sectors in San Francisco and across the Bay Area.

According to leading University of California Berkeley professor and economist Enrico Moretti, Facebook alone employs 1,500 employees, but has created 53,000 jobs in app development and 130,000 more in related business services. Cupertino-based Apple has 12,000 employees, but has created more than 60,000 indirect jobs. On a smaller scale, local tech companies have had the same positive impact on local job creation. In an economy where every job counts, these significant economic contributions should not be overlooked.

From the Gold Rush to the dot com boom, San Francisco is a city that attracts innovators, risk takers and those seeking a better way of life. We are – and always have been – a city that thrives on the density of like-minded people and ideas. This is what makes us unique and what is now fueling the growth of the technology industry and the knowledge-based economy that is powering our recovery.

Recently, there has been a lot of discussion about the impact on tech workers on our city. Many people are concerned about the availability and rising costs of housing, the displacement of minority and low-income residents and the gentrification of neighborhoods. Others are frustrated with corporate buses, traffic congestion and parking on city streets. Some observers have gone so far as to say we have reached a tipping point, where the influx of young entrepreneurs has changed the culture of our city forever.

Unfortunately, these unchecked concerns have escalated into some very bad actions that reflect poorly on our city. Last month, threatening graffiti appeared in the Mission District targeting tech entrepreneurs. In May, a group of protesters held an “Anti-Gentrification Block Party” and smashed a Google bus piñata before the police intervened. These actions are senseless and do nothing to help address the issues of affordable housing, transportation and diversity.

What is notably absent from the public discussion about our changing city is the positive impact the tech community has on our community and economy.  San Francisco is now home to more than 1,800 tech companies. These businesses employ 42,000 people and create 7.5 percent of the city’s jobs. What’s more, high tech jobs have a significant multiplier effect, creating thousands more jobs in other sectors in San Francisco and across the Bay Area.

According to leading University of California Berkeley professor and economist Enrico Moretti, Facebook alone employs 1,500 employees, but has created 53,000 jobs in app development and 130,000 more in related business services. Cupertino-based Apple has 12,000 employees, but has created more than 60,000 indirect jobs. On a smaller scale, local tech companies have had the same positive impact on local job creation. In an economy where every job counts, these significant economic contributions should not be overlooked.

From the Gold Rush to the dot com boom, San Francisco is a city that attracts innovators, risk takers and those seeking a better way of life. We are – and always have been – a city that thrives on the density of like-minded people and ideas. This is what makes us unique and what is now fueling the growth of the technology industry and the knowledge-based economy that is powering our recovery.

Instead of targeting the techies, we should embrace them and engage them in our communities. The Chamber represents many tech companies and they are as much a part of our community as businesses from any other industry sector.

In San Francisco, we all have skin in the game. We all need housing. We all need jobs. We want mobility and a safe and vibrant quality of life for ourselves and our families. Whether you get on a Muni bus or a Google bus to get to work, we are all San Franciscans. It’s time to stop scapegoating one industry or another and work together on the important issues that impact us all.

Instead of targeting the techies, we should embrace them and engage them in our communities. The Chamber represents many tech companies and they are as much a part of our community as businesses from any other industry sector.

In San Francisco, we all have skin in the game. We all need housing. We all need jobs. We want mobility and a safe and vibrant quality of life for ourselves and our families. Whether you get on a Muni bus or a Google bus to get to work, we are all San Franciscans. It’s time to stop scapegoating one industry or another and work together on the important issues that impact us all.

Making Mobile Business Work in S.F.

Mobile Retail Trucks provide an exciting alternative for businesses seeking to establish themselves and expand their presence in San Francisco. They boast lower start up costs, lower annual operating expenses and provide significant flexibility for innovating entrepreneurs. Mobile businesses can also benefit the city by providing access to unique products and help to fill gaps in services in neighborhoods where they are needed.

However, Mobile Retail Trucks will also bring challenges to many brick-and-mortar businesses that are already heavily invested our communities. One needs only to look at the recent debate over Mobile Food Trucks, which now flourish in our city, to see what lies ahead in establishing mobile retail in San Francisco.

After the introduction of Mobile Food Trucks, many restaurants objected to the city’s permitting process including concerns over truck locations, loss of parking and unfair competition with businesses operating on public streets. According to the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), its members have seen a daily revenue loss of up to 40 percent when food trucks park outside their business.

Earlier this week, the Board of Supervisors passed legislation providing tighter rules for Mobile Food Trucks, which should help address some of the key issues. The new rules require a 75-foot buffer zone around existing restaurants; legalize food trucks on hospital and college campuses; and streamline procedures for enforcing citations against trucks that operate in locations where they are not permitted.

As the city evaluates a new permit for Mobile Retail Trucks, it must consider the issues of certainty and equity that caused conflict with its food counterparts. Should the city move ahead with its plans, San Francisco will become the first major U.S. city to regulate mobile retailers. It is important to get it right at the start.

Businesses should be able to innovate and our city should embrace new ways to grow commerce. But the growth of one new industry should not unfairly impact the businesses in another, especially those businesses that continue to invest in our communities.

We’ve made good progress on creating a more predictable system and better balance when it comes to food trucks. Now, we need to do the same for mobile retail.