Behind the Scenes: Philanthropy’s Role in San Francisco’s Successful Local Hire Policy

It is welcome news to hear of the resounding success of San Francisco’s five year old Local Hire policy, which mandates that city residents account for at least 30% of hires on publicly-funded projects. This law is creating access to good-paying unionized construction jobs, and benefitting many minority and women workers who have faced systemic impediments to entering the building trades. And, as the Brightline Defense Project reports, recently released data shows that the 201 construction projects subject to the Local Hire law since 2013 have actually exceeded the mandated goal, hitting a 45 percent local hire rate. (This story was also covered on the San Francisco Examiner’s front page.)

This law came about as the result of smart activism in the community, along with leadership from local elected officials, including then-Mayor Gavin Newsom and the legislation’s author, Supervisor John Avalos. Several local funders, including the Walter & Elise Haas Fund, provided modest financial support for local community organizations, such as Brightline, at key junctures during and after the law’s passage.

The success of getting this legislation enacted is a great example of the role local philanthropy can play as an intermediary, not just a funder, in addressing thorny and important community issues. Here’s what happened behind the scenes:  Before the law was introduced, senior staff in the Mayor’s office asked for my help organizing and mediating a conversation between labor, developers, City Hall, and community leaders. The request was, in part, based on my history of having shaped the City’s first local hiring policies nearly 20 years ago, as well as my knowledge of the issues, people, and politics involved.

But, just as important, was that the parties involved saw philanthropy generally — and the Walter & Elise Haas Fund specifically — as a legitimate intermediary. As a result, a series of facilitated conversations unfolded that found common ground and clarified the key areas of disagreement.

This process didn’t end with everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya, but it did elevate the political discourse. Shortly thereafter, the legislation was passed by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and signed into law by Mayor Newsom.  Now other cities are following suit, using San Francisco’s Local Hire legislation as their model. We’re gratified to have been part of this successful collaborative effort that is providing access and economic opportunity for so many.

Brightline Defense Local Hire

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