California’s Big City Mayors Ask State for Help With Crime and Office Vacancies

California’s Big City Mayors Ask State for Help With Crime and Office Vacancies

(L-R) Big city mayors Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, London Breed of San Francisco, Patricia Lock Dawson of Riverside, and Rex Richardson of Long Beach gather at the Capitol for the first meeting of the Assembly's Select Committee on Downtown Recovery in Sacramento, Calif., on April 8, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

4/10/2024

Updated: 4/16/2024

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SACRAMENTO—Mayors from across the state gathered at the Capitol on April 8 to ask lawmakers for help reviving downtowns that are struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels of economic activity.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed voiced concerns about needed regulatory reform and called on the state to help the city address retail theft issues.
She also suggested more marketing efforts to highlight the opportunities the state provides as a unique destination for tourism and a world leader in business investment potential.
Some are unaware of the improvements occurring in San Francisco, she said, referring to recent reports that crime was down by 32 percent in the first three months of 2024.
“There are perception challenges that we need to continue to work on because the perception does not meet the reality,” Ms. Breed told The Epoch Times after the hearing. “What the numbers reflect is just a real shift, and in 2023, we saw a significant drop in crime—one of the lowest crime rates we’ve seen in 10 years.”
Such changes are the result of collaborative approaches between state, federal, and local officials, she said.
“What is different is all of the help and support we’re getting,” Ms. Breed said. “It’s not that we’re just saying we want it to happen, it’s what we’re doing to make it happen.”
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg asked lawmakers for funding to help counter the loss of government workers downtown.
“Where you can invest one-time capital money in helping us deal with the loss of revenue from the loss of state workers, that would be wonderful,” Mr. Steinberg said while also requesting ongoing funding to add housing units and “regulatory relief” to expedite processes. “That would help ... the state be a partner with the city and region of Sacramento to reimagine our downtown.”
High levels of office vacancy following a change from in-office work environments to hybrid and work-from-home norms after 2020 are negatively affecting California cities, the mayors told the first meeting of the Assembly’s Select Committee on Downtown Recovery—newly formed by Speaker Robert Rivas.
Pointing to the benefits of remote work, Mr. Steinberg suggested the trend was already developing before the pandemic but was expedited by the regulations put in place at the time.
“Remote work is happening for good reason: It’s better for workers, it’s more convenient, and it’s cheaper when you consider the cost of transportation, childcare, and long commutes,” he said during the meeting.
Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson at the Port of Long Beach, Calif., on Nov. 29, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson at the Port of Long Beach, Calif., on Nov. 29, 2023. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

Such is taking a toll on the local economy, he said.
“We have seen the impact of not having as much foot traffic,” Mr. Steinberg said. “We’ve decided there’s only one way forward, and that is with positivity and actually implementing a different and new and maybe more exciting vision of what downtown can be.”
Newly passed Proposition 1, a $6.38 billion bond measure to address mental health and homelessness, is an opportunity to exhibit accountable leadership, he said.
“Outcome-based accountability around the implementation of those dollars is essential,” Mr. Steinberg said. “In my experience at the state level and local level, I would say humbly that government at all levels does not do a very good job with outcome-based accountability.”
Substance abuse and mental health issues are compounding problems downtown by leading to public safety concerns, the mayors advised.
“We know that public safety is important to prosperity,” Patricia Lock Dawson, mayor of Riverside, told the committee. “We cannot have prosperity without public safety, and since the pandemic, we’ve seen an increase in residents and businesses feeling unsafe, and this has been true across the state regardless of what the data shows.”
A lack of housing and vacant buildings are contributing to the problem, but mutually beneficial solutions are possible through redevelopment projects, she said.
“One way the state can help is to take stock of some of these empty government buildings that are around, or the lots they own, and evaluate the cost to convert these spaces into housing,” Ms. Dawson said.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks with local residents on Oct. 22, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

San Francisco Mayor London Breed speaks with local residents on Oct. 22, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)

No one building should have any less than 10 purposes, she said, suggesting moving toward plans whereby empty spaces are repurposed to a mixture of community gathering spaces focused on arts and entertainment, among other uses.
Regulations and high costs of redevelopment are hampering progress but could be alleviated with rule changes and incentives, she advised.
“I think the state can help make this process easier for developers through legislation or incentives,” Ms. Dawson said. “Development incentives for cities would allow us to grow our downtown with mixed-use developments.”
Assemblyman Matt Haney, chair of the newly formed committee, noted the opportunities and “unique and significant” challenges facing cities around the state.
“This committee ... was created to help, it was created to be in partnership with our local communities, with our cities, and to develop policies that can truly support the recovery of our downtowns,” Mr. Haney said during opening remarks. “Sadly ... our downtowns have struggled to recover and return to normalcy.”
He blamed the issues, in part, on the ratio of office buildings to housing units in many downtown areas.
“Many of our downtowns were built with far too little housing, forcing our local economies to depend on daily commuters and local businesses,” Mr. Haney said. “This is not a San Francisco or Bay Area issue; this is a California issue.”
Collaboration at the state and local levels could help overcome such challenges, he said.
“We all must be part of the solutions. The state must lead in partnership with our cities,” he said. “California will struggle if our downtowns are struggling.”
Another mayor said the state could improve the outlook for downtowns.
Assemblyman Matt Haney, chair of the Select Committee on Downtown Recovery, speaks at the first meeting of the group at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on April 8, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

Assemblyman Matt Haney, chair of the Select Committee on Downtown Recovery, speaks at the first meeting of the group at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., on April 8, 2024. (Travis Gillmore/The Epoch Times)

“We can establish the vision; we can set the big goals,” Rex Richardson, mayor of Long Beach, said during the hearing. “But in order to achieve that vision, we need the state to step up and be a partner for us.”
Acknowledging the state’s fiscal dilemma—facing a deficit of about $73 billion—he said money for housing is crucial to the success of downtown regions.
“I know it’s difficult budget times,” he said. “But we want to make sure we prioritize [housing assistance program] funding in the budget.”
He also noted the value of homeless encampment resolution funding.
“I can’t say enough how important those resources have been for us,” he said.
The mayor also noted the need to bolster local journalism to help local communities share their stories, calling for lawmakers to support Assembly Bill 886, introduced by Assemblywoman Buffy Wicks and known as the California Journalism Preservation Act.
“We’re seeing a local storytelling emergency in our cities,” Mr. Richardson said.
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Travis Gillmore

Travis Gillmore

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Travis Gillmore is an avid reader and journalism connoisseur based in California covering finance, politics, the State Capitol, and breaking news for The Epoch Times.

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