Will San Francisco bounce back from COVID-19? Mayor Breed envisions bustling, safe city

ByKen Miguel and Phil Matier KGO logo
Saturday, March 27, 2021
Will San Francisco bounce back from COVID-19? Mayor Breed thinks so
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San Francisco's Mayor London Breed is optimistic the city will bounce back from COVID-19 and return to the bustling, safe metropolis it once was.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- San Francisco's Mayor London Breed was almost giddy when she announced the city and county would enter the orange tier, allowing many businesses and buildings to significantly increase their capacities.

And she's hopeful the city can move to the yellow tier in a couple of weeks.

Others however worry that the city may have turned a corner and never return to its former self.

PATH FORWARD: Lessons learned, SF's journey ahead 1 year into the COVID-19 pandemic

But Breed is emphatic.

"San Francisco is going to come back. This is one of the most significant cities in the Bay Area," Breed said as she walked down Stuart Street in the Financial District.

"This is where it's happening, folks are not going to want to stay home forever, and they're going to want to come back to the city, not just to work, but for our restaurants, for the parties for the events for the sports, the entertainment, the nightlife," Breed said.

Maybe, but many of the city's biggest employers are publicly pushing the idea of working from home.

VIDEO: How will San Francisco's downtown Financial District bring employees back to work in high-rise offices?

Breed, however, says her private talks with CEOs tell a different story.

"Their employees, for the most part, they want to come back to an office where they can be creative to an office where they're around their colleagues, where they can go and have a drink after work and talk about new ideas. People want to get together. They want the human interaction. So I don't think this work from home thing is gonna last long. Yes, people will do it more than they used," Breed said.

"These companies, they thrive on innovation, they thrive on being around other people to create. So that's not you can't do that over a Zoom screen. You can't do that over computer screen," Breed said.

RELATED: How will San Francisco's Union Square, downtown businesses recover from COVID-19 pandemic?

In the meantime, local businesses that serve the downtown continue to suffer.

"I think about even my own dry cleaner, who I haven't used as much this year. And other businesses, my shoe repair and all these things that used it. Yet, some of those businesses, sadly, have already closed, and there are businesses that probably won't come back as a result of this pandemic. And what San Francisco has done specifically not including what the state and what the feds have done. But we've invested close to a billion dollars in supporting our businesses. We've not only delayed fees that they've had to pay the city, we've eliminated the fee, so we're doing everything we can, but it's still going to be a struggle for someone who's not been able to open for someone who doesn't have business in the first place," Breed said.

And when will it come back?

"Probably we're looking at maybe the end of this year, maybe sometime next year, because it's a process," Breed said.

The tourism and convention business is one area where the process is moving particularly slow.

VIDEO: Experts weigh in on what it'll take to get tourists back in San Francisco

Believe it or not, California is the only state that has yet to set guidelines for reopening conventions.

"It's a giant business. But we also have to make sure that people feel comfortable coming here in large crowds. I mean, we haven't even started our nightlife and entertainment industry where people are able to gather together yet. So we want to proceed with caution. We want the conventions, we want the festivals, we want the events, but we have to see how the numbers go," Breed said.

The price is that conventions may go to other states and other cities.

"I understand that, Phil, but we can lose lives, too. So as we move forward, we are proceeding with caution. We don't want to do all this hard work and be this densest city, almost in the country and save lives and then all of a sudden go backward, because we're being irresponsible about moving too quickly," Breed said.

Speaking of moving, a key component to bringing the city back is transit. Are people going to be willing to get on MUNI, do you think are they going to get on BART in the numbers? Because they were sketchy about it before? And if they don't have to come to work? And they say no, I'm going to spend two days home or three days long, because they don't like to, how do we bring them? How do we bring the transit back? You're worried about that?

"I am worried about it," Breed said. "But the good news is that some of the stimulus support has helped to fill a hole in our MTA budget. So we expect to gradually increase our Muni service as schools reopen as businesses reopening."

RELATED: Here's what Bay Area transit leaders are doing to prepare for return of San Francisco workers

One element that keeps coming up is what can be done to improve the streets of San Francisco to make them safer to get the mentally ill off, you know, so that when people come back, they feel good about being here?

"Yeah. And I think part of our street Crisis Response Team, it's a new team that we set up to deal with those who are mentally ill people who are struggling where we see you, you've seen him out in the middle of the streets having a bit of a challenge. It includes someone from the fire department, a paramedic, a clinician and peer support. And it's a whole system now. And we've responded to over 100 calls that would have typically required the police and we've been able to help half of those people into supportive services. It's been absolutely amazing. And we hope that that program will help make a difference in people's experiences in San Francisco," Breed said.

And then there is the question of when will the Cable Cars - the very symbol of the city will return.

"The cable cars are coming back," Breed said.

Muni, however, says the cars may not return until the fall - something that caught the mayor off guard.

"The fall? Not 'til the fall? You know what? I'll see what I could do,' Breed said.