Farewell, Mayor Ed Lee: The San Francisco Mayor Whose Impact Extended to Oakland

After the tragic passing of Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco earlier this week, the press has focused a great deal on his impact on the city he managed. Yet little has been focused on how Ed Lee changed the greater Bay Area, and, in particular, Oakland.

One of the late Mayor’s first acts was to pass a temporary payroll tax exemption to drive tech companies into his city’s neglected Mid Market area. This is widely considered to have driven tech companies from the south bay into San Francisco, moving the center of Silicon Valley north.

The payroll tax exemption has had a major impact on housing in Oakland. It drove up rents in San Francisco, causing many to seek refuge in what was once the cheaper East Bay. Some 31.5 percent of all new arrivals into the East Bay from 2010 to 2014 were from San Francisco. 

These refugees, largely attracted to Oakland’s close proximity to BART and diverse community, moved into town. Oakland suddenly found itself with former San Franciscans as well as newcomers who found work across the bay, but who couldn’t afford to live there. From 2010shortly before Lee’s tax breakto 2016, Oakland’s population increased by roughly 30,000 residents. 

The population boom has had many impacts on Oakland. While the city has lost many of its long-time and lower-income residents to gentrification, it has gained more than 45,000 jobs, seen its average household income increase by 41 percent, and had its housing prices more than double from $295,000 to $680,000.

Oakland has grown more serious about housing. Residential projects are booming across the city. As of August, 18,800 housing units were approved for construction or in the entitlement process. And in 2016, city residents, responding to displacement concerns, passed stronger rent-control measures.

While Oakland’s own politicians certainly deserve a great deal of credit for Oakland’s economic and population booms, Ed Lee and his policies played a large role in driving people and money to our city.   

Then there is the matter of Mayor Lee’s self-proclaimed “legacy project.” Lee was a major proponent in getting the Warriors to build a new stadium in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood. While the basketball team leaving Oracle Arena is a major loss to Oakland’s spirit, it will help the city begin to think about ways it can revitalize and re-envision the area around the Arena, even if the A’s choose to remain nearby.

Mayor Lee also made more direct contributions to Oakland. Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf credits her late colleague with getting Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff to generously fund summer work programs for kids in Oakland. Hundreds of Oakland kids participated in the program this last year.

Mayor Lee was widely regarded as a very good man whose policies, for better or for worse, will have a lasting impact on San Francisco. He may not have intended it to be this way, but that impact also extends to Oakland.