1. A Note from Fred Blackwell, CEO
  2. Community Conversation: World Café
  3. Strengths and Hard Stuff
  4. Trends
  5. Bold Steps and New Opportunities
  6. Messages to TSFF
  7. Participants
  8. Keep the Conversation Going

VOICE: San Francisco County

The San Francisco Foundation

VOICE: San Francisco County
The San Francisco Foundation
A Note from Fred Blackwell, CEO

Growing up in a house of community advocates where social justice was an everyday conversation – from the dinner table to car rides to and from school – the importance of place and purpose is deeply engrained in how I believe change can happen.

That is why I am so grateful for the conversations we are having in the five counties we serve. We at TSFF are thinking about our course and how we can best set a clear and purposeful direction to address the unfortunate but true influence of race, economic status, and place on opportunity in the region.

The conversation in San Francisco hit on the highs and lows of what this means in the Bay Area and all that comes to the surface when we work to address issues of affordability, access, and opportunity for families in our region. We heard many stories of families who cannot make ends meet, children who aren’t able to move back home after college and live in the neighborhoods they grew up in, and how policies and practices not just in San Francisco, but across the region, are having a day-to-day impact on the lives of San Franciscans.

We heard how San Francisco is a city of fewer and fewer families, and questions about the implications of being a city with so few children. We heard about the continued out-migration of communities of color, and that the very people who are working hard to serve those in most need in San Francisco are not able to maintain affordable housing in the current rental market.

We also heard bold solutions that in particular called for work beyond city silos, embracing a regional platform that looks at the interconnectedness that our region is and continues to become.

The trajectory we’re on in terms of concentrated income and wealth, and growing gaps in achievement and opportunity in the region is not sustainable. We can’t have such a small group of people benefiting from and contributing to the well-being of the community. That’s why for TSFF, equity is the issue of our day.

Each of the VOICE: Bay Area sessions are a critical part of setting our course as we define strategies and tactics to reach our north star: expanding opportunity in the region. We’re hearing common threads through the region – affordability, isolation, fear around displacement. That said, we know that there nuances in what residents are experiencing in cities and neighborhoods across the Bay, from Bayview to Fremont, from East Palo Alto to San Pablo. As we build our regional agenda, the nuances at the community level will be at the heart of a successful strategy.

Below you'll find more information about what was shared with us at VOICE: San Francisco County. We also encourage you to check out more photos and notes, and visit bayareavoices.org where you can continue to #ShareYourVoice with us online by submitting a story about your personal experience living and working in the Bay Area.

Community Conversation: World Café

VOICE: Bay Area is a listening series taking place across the five Bay Area Counties, hosted by The San Francisco Foundation’s new CEO, Fred Blackwell, and his team to hear firsthand about the daily struggles, challenges, inspirations, and successes of residents as TSFF moves into the next decade of its work.

The topics of the day were discussed using the World Café method. This format brings participants together in groups of four to five for meaningful conversations around a specific set of questions, and participants' deep understanding of the issues facing the community, as well as creative thinking about how to address them. Participants had the opportunity to engage with many other attendees as part of the Café, both in small group conversations and as a whole. Below are the themes and deeper questions experienced in the small group conversations that participants shared with the larger group and a graphic recorder. A Café conversation is a creative process for leading collaborative dialogue, ensuring that everyone's voice is part of the conversation.

Strengths and Hard Stuff

We asked participants, "If a friend was moving to this county, what would you tell them about its strengths and treasures and the hard stuff?" 

Participants shared the following:


  • We’re a county and city, we have so many activists and nonprofit organizations. I think we have a real opportunity to be progressive in equity.
  • Injecting the arts in a region or neighborhood is a hugely successful way to bring change.
  • I'm a fourth generation San Franciscan. My family moved to this neighborhood in 1890s. Change is good. The City has not always been like this (inclusive, diverse) – I am glad that we’ve changed. We need to be careful about demonizing the change. If we had that thought in the 70s we wouldn’t be here today. It’s about how we manage change.

Hard Stuff

  • There’s no middle class, you’re either poor or wealthy.
  • I’m Excelsior born and raised, and now I work in the mission – I ask myself where do I stand now in my own city, that’s a challenge and I’m trying to figure that out.
  • I'm extremely concerned about out-migration of African-Americans. I see stores closing and people leaving. 
  • I was born in Chinatown, I’ve lived in various neighborhoods and now I’m raising two daughters in the Richmond. If you’re not white, male, under 30 and not in tech, you’re invisible.
  • People are moving to this city for just a short-term and it is hard to construct community and do community work with people who are only here for a couple of years.
  • San Francisco is as racially segregated as Johannesburg under apartheid.
  • The City is becoming more heterosexual.
  • It is difficult to maintain a sense of place when families and kids who grew up here want to be here, but it's a big challenge and burden on the younger generation to make San Francisco home.
  • San Franciscohas lowest rate per capita of kids in the US. What does that mean to not have kids thriving in our city?
  • Raising a family in the City is getting harder and harder, lots of things changing, financial, transportation, no outdoor access, education.

We asked participants, "What have been the biggest changes (patterns, trends) you have seen in the last five years? Which changes are the most concerning to you? Which are most encouraging?"

Participants shared the following:


  • What’s the market producing and who is it producing for? Big luxury homes or small units – it's not producing for middle or working class families. We can’t have a city with families without also having policies to protect them.
  • Keeping the city diverse in race, culture and housing – it’s important at a practical level in the City to enact a policy on housing. We need to push our mayor to keep balance. The burdens will only get greater if we don’t.
  • We’ve got two fundamental policy problems on creating a welcoming city for families with kids. We’ve had almost 2,000 household evictions in 2014, that’s about 4,000+ people. There’s the question of folks who voluntarily left San Francisco, that’s debatable, too. How do we stop the purging of our families? There are economic forces that are driving families out.

Affordability, Jobs, and the Economy

  • The core of it all is disparity, economic disparity that correlates with a decline in the city.
  • If we continue to live in the “twin city of SF”, we become the talk of two cities. It’s not only about losing diversity, it’s also about the spirit and contribution. It’s an important social justice issue.
  • San Francisco used to be more of a worker / union town. Now we're more of a contract economy. How do we transition that into something where these innovative platforms can be more pro-worker?
  • I’m a nonprofit worker, I want to continue to do that and stay in the city where I grew up. I do not see that future for myself in San Francisco. Very sad for me and my friends who’ve had to or will have to move out. I’m a young person, I don’t work in tech and don’t plan on it – what about people like me? Where will we live?
  • Our people/clients keep people coming back to San Francisco. I understand my city and talk to my clients about it. I’m here to represent young people who are not in tech!
  • We need the City to really think of the working class – what does that mean, what kind of jobs do we need?
  • How do we benefit from a boom economy?
  • Displacement of local artists and culture bearers. Artists are leaving. We need venues and places to host.
  • Change is good but it has to be respectful in a way where we could all stay here.


  • There's been a tremendous explosion of employment in the tech sector. We were in the midst of the worst economic recession in our lifetimes, and then had a whiplash into this growth. Wealthy, smart young people are moving in – we keep focusing on the negatives of that, mostly the housing. However we have failed to build enough housing for San Francisco’s residents. This has been going on for decades and is not new because of tech. The rich are displacing the poor and that’s a horrible thing. We need to focus on the potential of the demographic shift – how do we use this opportunity of new folks coming in making this city better? How do we partner with them?
  • AOL has a partnership with local schools, but at the same time the city is cutting budgets so that there are no IT or computer classes to teach our kids how to use the technology. This is a disconnect, and we need the two pieces to work in tandem.
  • Lots of people in tech are just as anxious as we are to not do harm to the City. Many feel disconnected from community, which means there is a great opportunity to engage them. The more we do the more we will make the cultural change that will build the San Francisco of tomorrow.

Organizing and Advocacy

  • We need to ask our city to ask for more than a community benefits agreement and not be scared that companies will run away to another city.
  • We need to harness youth power. There are clear opportunities for systems change. We need to incorporate young people’s voice without adultism. There’s a real opportunity there.
  • San Francisco is 49 square miles. This culture we have today should not be limited to San Francisco – it needs to be a regional communication and dialogue. We need to talk about it in Oakland and in neighboring cities. There's been a lack of housing in San Francisco for decades, and we need to be upfront that progressives have actually stopped housing from being built. A growing trend to be thankful of is the administration is increasing the housing in San Francisco.
Bold Steps and New Opportunities

We asked residents, "From what you've heard today, what bold steps or new opportunities do you feel might make a difference in your community?" 

Participants shared that:

  • Free public higher education for everyone that resides in San Francisco.
  • We’re all in this together. We need everyone to give all of what we have and make our city better together.
  • We need to teach the new generation cultural differences, give them vocational skills so those jobs remain in the community. Give them those skills so they can go on and continue working in the community. 
  • Tax the wealthy.
  • Bring back redevelopment.
  • We need a real regional housing strategy. We need all the counties to own it. When I heard google is going to build 10,000 units in Santa Clara, our housing will go up, too. Between here and Silicon Valley, there won’t be cranes – we need thousands of units, not just 25 every once in a while.
  • We need some compliance. We have all this construction but no hiring and training of locals for the jobs. We need training for the people who’ve been in the city.
  • I believe in advocacy and that’s what we need the most in San Francisco.  When we talk about building housing, we need to talk about for who? The policies are not working and chasing the dollars in the wrong way – there is huge capital moving through San Francisco. We need to hear from the people who are negatively affected by all the changes. We need to redistribute wealthy in a way that creates equity – we need the policymakers to see the effects of what they’ve been doing.
  • We’re undergoing social change driven by technology and revolution. I’m hungry for BOLD courageous visionaries with a plan to come forward and say here’s an idea and plan, it’s not perfect but it’s a plan. Right now it feels like we're little kids playing soccer where we swarm for the ball. We need to be better at it.
  • I want to put out being bold enough to embrace governance – something old and slow moving, the kind of organizing that Angelica was speaking to, to reach a regional scale – policies, tax issues, etc. We need to not shy away from governance because it’s people driven.
  • San Francisco has always been a leader and model that embraces tolerance, diversity, and respect. We have a booming economy, a lot of social ills, but we have the opportunity to solve them and become a model for the rest of the country. We’re a small city with a booming economy and deeply embedded communities. It’s about bringing business and community together like today.
Messages to TSFF

Throughout the day, there were a number of ways for participants to share with each other and TSFF. One of those included an opportunity at the end to share one message that they wanted The San Francisco Foundation to hear that they hadn't yet had the opportunity to share.

On a big board with post-it notes, participants shared a number of reflections and messages with The San Francisco Foundation.

Below are some of the notes that were shared with us:

  • Many new companies build philanthropy and volunteerism into their business plans. What if the City required this of all companies and set the level for them?
  • What if San Francisco nonprofits redesigned their work to engage newcomers, new San Franciscans?
  • Expand the President's Brother's Keeper Program.
  • We are becoming a one-industry town. The challenge and opportunity of this is that the tech industry lacks gender and ethnic diversity as widely demonstrated from its own audits. How can we, as community-based groups, help integrate/welcome the new tech immigrants to our city so their organizational culture does not become our own new city culture.
  • Support grassroots organizations, not just for a program but infrastructure to make them viable and lasting institutions. We are not all YMCA's and we should not be to serve those who need most!
  • Be great to have a campaign (media?) about the bold solutions out there that are addressing the trends.
  • Advocacy and civic engagement is what will create real change. We need real, huge, investment in advocacy and civic engagement!
  • Invest in moms! Help them get tech skills!
  • We need to make sure the voices from the community are being heard and invested in to impact policy.
  • Ask for more than a CBA.
  • Set policies for in-migration of African-Americans.
  • Free public college education.
  • Figure out how to pay for college.
  • Contradiction: $7B/year investment – 3,000 homeless SFUSD students.
  • Form an "impact funding" model with city government, foundations and community-based organizations to strategically fund systems change.
  • More housing and must also have more parks and open spaces.
  • More youth voices and youth engagement.
  • Resource generation: help techies give to the community.
  • Support childcare subsidies.
  • Make sure new housing supports a beautiful aesthetic city.
  • Leaving not feeling like I know what people in San Francisco care about. People need places to live and then what?! So that Oakland kid lives 15 more years – to do WHAT? Where is the vision??
  • Every organization, church, community group should have to do one thing to build bridges and grow community beyond their "usuals."
Keep the Conversation Going

#ShareYourVoice at bayareavoices.org