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Politics as Usual

San Francisco after Covid

Once things return to normal, we’ll discover what normal will be

Hugging. Apparently there will be a lot of hugging. That’s the answer given by many people when asked what they are most looking forward to once the sheltering-at-home phase of the pandemic is over. 

There have been many articles and reports over the past year about how the pandemic has forever changed the way we do X, Y, or Z. According to various claims, office space will never be the same, nor will air travel, amusement parks, casinos, movie theaters, grocery shopping, dating, education, sex, and sports. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Laurie Garrett told CNN that “four, five years from now . . . there will not be a single aspect of our lives that’s been unchanged. … It’s almost impossible to really fully envision what that will look like.”

What else do we have to anticipate, now that the vaccine rollout is zooming along and authorities are leading us to believe that by May, anyone who wants to be vaccinated will be able to do so? What will post-pandemic life be like? Well, no one’s ever tossed a Pulitzer Prize my way, but I’ll offer predictions of how a couple things will look in the near future. 

POLITICAL SCENE

Mayor London Breed will emerge from the pandemic stronger than she entered it, widely praised for taking first-in-the-nation action to shelter in place. She also is prioritizing issues that will determine whether the city successfully transitions to “normality” again or is subsumed under accumulating problems — small business health, crime, homelessness, racial equity, and education. There is much in there to please people from both the leftist and centrist wings of the local Democratic Party. And she could have some of her work done for her if recall efforts against the district attorney and the school board are successful.

A recall effort that is likely to fail is the Republican-led effort to replace Gov. Gavin Newsom (see “The trials of Gavin,” February 2021, Marina Times). Recently, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis crowed about his state’s middlin’ Covid death numbers and said it had accomplished that without shutting down like Los Angeles or New York did. But others have pointed out that Florida isn’t as densely populated as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and other places, and being in close quarters with lots of other people is a prime way to spread an airborne respiratory disease. (Many municipalities in Florida did impose restrictions, which their governor continues to fight.) Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom is doing a full-court press in defense of his actions, admitting mistakes, and pushing forward with reopening the state.

Politico’s Carla Marinucci notes that once the recall election really gets going, it’s likely to get very crowded. More than 130 candidates qualified for the clown show ballot that was Grey Davis’s 2003 recall, and let’s just say California has not gotten saner in the years since. It only takes $4,000 or 7,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. “That’s nothing when it comes to GoFundMe or social media,” said Marinucci. “I expect you could have hundreds of people signing up to run for governor of California — just for publicity purposes.”

The recall, which is largely fueled by anger over restrictions on businesses and places of worship, has been nationalized as Trumpist Republicans have raised money and spoken out — a move that plays so poorly in this deep-blue state that one is tempted to think it was arranged by Newsom himself. Joe Biden beat Donald Trump in November by a nearly 2–1 margin here. Newsom isn’t Biden, but with the recall effort draped in Trumpian rhetoric and money, Newsom’s challenger might as well be Trump.

And things are likely to continue to improve for the governor, as the shutdown abates, the economy roars back, employment rebounds, and kids go back to annoying teachers in the schools.

Now, that last paragraph is pretty much obvious. Anyone can say it. But what is worth noting both for Newsom’s political friends and his enemies alike is that he is a learning machine. He is famous for digesting briefing books and studies and expounding on their lessons regardless of whether you want to hear it. This first serious challenge to his political career since, arguably, his first mayoral race is not going to be missed by him as a learning opportunity. Always a fan of the big policy move — approving gay marriage in San Francisco, Care Not Cash, etc. — Newsom will likely release and stage manage a number of bold policy efforts for the remaining two years of his first term. 

And it’s looking increasingly likely it will be the first of two.

THE ECONOMY

O.K., enough about how the politicians will come out of this pandemic. How about you?

In this month’s Real Estate Observer column (p. 11), Garey De Martini shares some eye-opening statistics about the trillions of dollars that American households have accumulated during the past year. As many commentators have pointed out, this pandemic has been experienced very differently by people in this country; some prospered while others sank even deeper into debt, joblessness, and despair.

For those in the white-collar middle class and above who prospered, they have money they will spend or invest, either of which is going to give a boost to the economy. Locally, people who have complained about tech companies taking over the city can relax a little and come up with a business to occupy that office inventory that’s being freed up as Salesforce, Twitter, Yelp, Uber, and other companies reduce their footprints in the city. 

But eyes in the business world might well be focused on inflation; the Federal Reserve expects inflation to expand above the Fed’s preferred 2 percent level. It’s not talking about Weimar-era hyperinflation, nor even late 1970s inflation, but it could lead to a boost in interest rates sooner than the Fed would like, and that could hurt businesses looking for loans to rebuild or expand. 

And as for everyday life? That’s where you can tell the prognosticators to take a flying leap. Dating, sex, concerts, or even having sex on a date at a concert — these things won’t be permanently changed by the pandemic. There might be a delay in some activities resuming, and with any luck, we’ll see more people washing their hands regularly and it wouldn’t be a terrible thing if masks became a more frequent fashion accoutrement. But human nature will continue to be the same.

Send feedback to [email protected]; author email: [email protected].

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