Introducing San Francisco Mayor London Breed to a standing-room-only crowd of about 100 Bay Area Jewish community leaders, Abby Porth described a 2012 Israel Study Tour she co-led for her agency, the Jewish Community Relations Council.
“I was star-struck,” said Porth, who now serves as JCRC executive director.
In attendance at the Jan. 15 gathering at the JCC of San Francisco were representatives from an array of synagogues and Jewish institutions, including the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, the San Francisco Campus for Jewish Living, Jewish Community High School of the Bay, the Brandeis School of San Francisco and Congregation Emanu-El.
At the time of the 2012 tour, Porth said, Breed was the executive director of the city’s African American Art and Culture Complex and was simultaneously working on a master’s degree. With all of that on her plate, she still found time to go to Israel with the JCRC.
Turning to the mayor, who stood nearby, Porth said that Breed immediately demonstrated to the other trip participants an ability to handle just about anything. “She was indefatigable,” Porth recalled. “She was wise and strategic. On the bus, we’d be traveling between places in Israel. I’d see people get up and sit next to her and get her counsel and advice.”
Breed won a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2012, and in 2015 began serving as board president. She became acting mayor upon the death of Mayor Ed Lee a year ago, then won the job outright in last June’s nail-biter election, edging out former state Sen. Mark Leno.
Now, as mayor, Breed has made addressing the city’s tight housing market and homelessness crisis her top priorities. And in her remarks to the throng at the JCCSF, she focused almost exclusively on those two issues.
Breed is a wonk’s wonk. She delved deep into the policy weeds, describing legislation and executive proposals that would increase low-income housing units, shelters and shelter beds in San Francisco. She also spoke of reducing bureaucratic red tape, which slows down the delivery of services to the city’s needy.
“Just today, I introduced legislation declaring a shelter crisis in San Francisco,” she said. “We’re changing the process so we don’t have to go to the Planning Commission with conditional use permits, which gives us months of time, so we can get these shelters built and get people into them sooner rather than later.”
She said that since she took office last July, the city has “gotten almost 700 people off the streets.” Some have gone into step-up housing or single-room occupancy hotels, while others have been reconnected with family members.
“We’ve been working hard every single day,” Breed added.
Porth invited questions from three preselected community members: Sherie Koshover, chief advancement officer at the Campus for Jewish Living; Rebecca Prozan, a board member of Jewish Vocational Service; and Jim Shapiro, board president of S.F-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services.
Their questions addressed city policy on affordable housing, expanding employment opportunities and strengthening the safety net for vulnerable citizens.
Breed noted that San Francisco had recently “cut the ribbon” on a new homeless shelter, to which Google had contributed $3 million. She also touted her Opportunities for All initiative, which finds paid internships for San Francisco high school students at companies like Google.
“I was a handful when I was a kid,” Breed said, “and if it weren’t for an opportunity through the mayor’s Youth Employment and Training Program at age 14 — when I got my first job, with adults who taught me how to dress, how to answer the phone, how to show up on time — I don’t know where I’d be.”
In wrapping up her remarks, Breed expressed gratitude to the Jewish community for its support.
“There is a lot of work to do,” she said, “and I’m so grateful to the partners we work with to accomplish what we know we all want: a better, safer, cleaner, more prosperous city for all of us. We’re going to get San Francisco on track, and I know [the Jewish community] will help us do just that.”