On May 1–3, a delegation of 35 of Bay Area business and civic leaders joined the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce for our annual advocacy trip to Washington DC. This year’s CityTrip focused on San Francisco’s top issues: innovative solutions for reducing our homeless population, increasing affordable housing, expanding accessible transportation, and strengthening our infrastructure.
The delegation attended many productive and informative meetings with elected representatives and their Chiefs of Staff, focusing on top Bay Area issues. We met with US Travel about the importance of travel and commerce in the Bay Area, as well as a robust discussion at Uber on emerging mobilities. Each meeting highlighted the importance of a regional approach to San Francisco’s top issues, from infrastructure to housing and homelessness.
We kicked off our CityTrip DC with a welcome reception at the AT&T Forum. Our guest speaker, Eve O’Toole of Holland & Knight’s Local Government Group, and the City’s main lobbyist on the Hill, spoke with our delegation, prepping us for our upcoming day at the Capitol. O’Toole shared the most effective ways for our Delegates to hone their message when speaking with elected officials and shared many examples of how federal policies directly impact local work.
At the federal level, O’Toole gave examples of ways the federal government’s policies are directly impacting local issues and consequently holding up natural disaster funding. She noted that our trip presented an effective opportunity for the delegates to demand and shape ways the federal government can and should partner to address major local and regional issues.
We jump-started our next day on the Hill with Congresswoman Barbara Lee. The Congresswoman noted issues like marijuana justice and climate change were among the top issues in her district, which encompasses Oakland and Alameda County. Rep. Lee’s work with Women in Climate Change is currently focused on the causes of rising sea levels, which pose a serious threat to infrastructure like the Bay Area’s seawall. In the days before our meeting, there had been bipartisan agreement that $2 trillion should be invested in America’s infrastructure and our infrastructure workforce. Lee’s staff also noted that their office is working on tax incentives for electric cars and strengthening our health and human services to address mental health and other issues contributing to homelessness around the Bay.
Following Congresswoman Lee, our delegation spoke with Rep. Anna Eshoo’s Chief of Staff, Matthew McMurray. Rep. Eshoo and her office represent a strong voice in public health, as well as supporting the increase of affordable housing and improving regional transportation. McMurray also mentioned the office’s focus on prescription drug pricing and their hopes that bipartisan legislation will be introduced soon. Drug pricing represents one effort by House Democrats to stabilize the Affordable Care Act, which is threatened by Republicans and the current administration. Our United Airlines delegate, Melinda Yee Frankin, brought up a major local issue facing San Mateo County: sound levels from flight paths to and from SFO. McMurray noted that the FAA is working with the Congresswoman and her office, but it has been difficult as currently, no representatives from the Rep. Eshoo’s district are on SFO’s roundtable concerning this issue.
Our day on the Hill was also underlined by the questioning of Attorney General William Barr regarding the Muller Report, later followed by calls for Barr to resign. Each meeting touched on the environment created by such a report, but none more so than the office of Congressman Adam Shiff, who has been an outspoken opponent of the current administration’s actions and values. Many of our delegates hoped that November’s shift to a Democratic majority in the House could bring about change in a tumultuous and unconventional political landscape. Though this was an important shift for Democrats, Schiff’s Chief of Staff, Jeffery Lowenstein, was hesitant to say more than that and noted, on a national level, that attitudes towards the current administration largely differ from region to region. Lowenstein reminded us that politics begin at the local level and reinforced the importance of staying abreast of local issues, critical measures for ensuring the creation of meaningful and effective policies.
During our next meeting with Rep. Jackie Speier, we discussed topics ranging from workforce housing to the permitting of alcohol delivery by the USPS to protecting democracy in the US. It was clear Congresswoman Speier feels strongly that in the coming election it is critical for us to preserve democracy and work against outside actors like the Russian hackers, who attempted to sway the 2016 election. Speier also points to tech as a source of power for the Bay Area to do better in terms of workforce housing and addressing the mental health and homeless crisis. Rep. Speier noted her admiration for Mayor Breed’s work on addressing the homeless crisis in San Francisco and looks forward to the improvements that will reach across the Bay.
Following a humbling meeting with Congresswoman Speier, Rep. Zoe Lofgren joined us for an honest discussion on the Bay Area’s regional issues, many of which are extending into the Central Valley. Her focus on workforce issues stemming from inefficient H1-B visa processes for highly qualified and educated candidates and a lack of housing for a workforce that is flocking to an explosion of jobs in the Bay Area was fascinating. Rep. Lofgren is currently working on an agriculture workforce bill, which she introduced in the House, and Senator Feinstein has introduced in the Senate. She is collaborating with United Farm Workers Union and the Western Growers and hosting productive conversations among traditionally dueling groups to find solutions to assist California’s farmers. Lofgren deems high-speed rail as critical infrastructure for expanding the footprint of tech and job generation beyond the Bay Area and in aiding with issues of poverty and unemployment facing the Central Valley, especially because of its connection to the Central Valley. The Congresswoman demanded our delegation be as “big and bold” in fortifying our infrastructure as California’s economic strength allows. She felt strongly that these improvements will pave a path for the middle class to live more comfortably in California.
Next, we made our way to the Capitol for an electrifying meeting Senator Dianne Feinstein. With San Francisco in the heart of both the Senator and each CityTrip delegate, the conversation centered around easing the burden of living in the Bay and focusing on what makes the city great. The Senator called for bold measures concerning mental health and homelessness, housing, bridging the gap between the tech industry and the government, and creating more and better transportation in and out of the city.
The Senator also remarked that mental health is one of the most difficult contributions to homelessness and needs to be addressed directly in order for the current situation to change. She noted that the closure of the state facilities put a lot of people on the streets, who in turn are not receiving the care they need. She also felt strongly that this issue, though highly visible in San Francisco, needs to be attacked with a multi-governmental effort. The Senator also asked the Delegation, but especially the Chamber, to seek and create alternatives and solutions to building a third crossing in the Bay.
District 2 Supervisor Catherine Stefani brought up another infrastructure concern: the deteriorating historic pier at Aquatic Park. While Senator Feinstein advised the Supervisor work to put a local measure on the ballot, Sup. Stefani noted it was in National Park jurisdiction and receives federal funding. Senator Feinstein promised to assist Sup. Stefani in raising the $100 million needs to refurbish this historic landmark – a highlight for all delegates.
Much like Rep. Schiff, Senator Feinstein was also embroiled in the questioning of the Attorney General and reactions to the Mueller Report. During the discussion, the Senator took a moment to address the realities that lie outside the unconventional theatrics of the current administration. She discussed the recent passing of former East Bay Congresswoman, and her dear friend Ellen Tauscher, who served as a long-time advocate for our greater California community. As we reflected upon a remarkable female public servant, Mary Young of the Chamber asked the Senator’s thoughts on the return of the Year of the Woman. She felt its return has reinvigorated the House and the Senate and brought hope for continued growth in diversity and representation in Congress and looks forward to watching our democracy grow and bring in new changemakers and voices.
In an exclusive visit to the Speaker’s Offices, our delegation met with Robert Edmonson, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Chief of Staff. Edmonson began with the Speaker’s most recent victories, including the passage of gun violence prevention bills, the efforts to keep working towards the goals of the US in the Paris Climate Accord, and the days-old agreement from both parties to a $2 trillion infrastructure investment. Edmondson also touched on major issues facing our delegation and the Speaker’s home district of San Francisco.
Transit has become a major focus for the Speaker, especially with the current administration’s threats to the federal funding on the California High-Speed Rail project. The Speaker is fighting for public transportation funding, hoping to release funds currently sitting the Department of Transportation. The Speaker is also working closely on the issues facing vulnerable communities, such as DACA recipients and those who benefit from the Affordable Care Act, which both have been targeted by President Trump. We also had the exclusive opportunity to meet with Wendell Primus, Pelosi’s chief healthcare staffer and a major architect of the ACA regarding further healthcare solutions and current policies. Our meeting with Edmonson left our delegation feeling hopeful.
Despite what has felt like great disdain in the media for both California and San Francisco, especially from the President himself, after our meetings on the Hill it remained clear – California is an economic powerhouse, a strong political presence in Congress, and an asset to the United States and around the world.
Before we got in our Ubers, buses, and, trains to depart DC, we rounded off this year’s CityTrip DC with a robust panel focused on transportation and urban planning. At Uber’s DC Headquarters, we met with Tracy Gordon of the Urban Institute, Joe McAndrew Director of Transportation Policy at the Greater Washington Partnership, and Jack McDougle, President & CEO, Greater Washington Board of Trade. The issues facing our transits systems are vast and multifaceted, varying from region to region. The reactions to the current solutions to the last mile issue, an issue in which commuters struggle to find ways to the efficiently commute from their front door to transit stations, have received different reactions throughout US cities. From electric scooters to rideshares to municipal transportation, it was agreed that a possible solution was bridging the payment gaps between each mode of transport. The creation of an all-inclusive transit application could solve some of the complications and time wasted during multiple payment processes and incentivize more to use alternate forms of transportation. McAndrew also noted the importance of a regional approach to transportation issues and pointed to Greater Washington Partnership‘s recently released Capital Region Blueprint for Regional Mobility, which details a plan for the advancement of the Capital Region’s transport system that spans across the District and into two states. Some of the major issues still facing transport systems include accessibility for parents with young children, safety, and working within cities’ current infrastructure and policies.
If you have questions about joining next year’s CityTrip DC or any of our upcoming CityTrips, please contact Mary Young, our Public Policy Manager.