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Black Tie Old Hat as San Francisco Awaits a Blue-Collar Mayor

December 21, 1987|MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — Art Agnos will not take the oath as the 39th mayor of San Francisco until Jan. 8, but trendmongers in the local newspapers and leading nightspots already have declared that a "new style" is reshaping the city:

Black-tie is out, they declare. Blue collar is in.

In some ways, they could be right--even if they only see the difference in personal style between Mayor-elect Agnos, a father of two who hails from the unassuming Potrero Hill district, and current Mayor Dianne Feinstein, an elegant aesthete from blue-stocking Pacific Heights.

San Francisco is unlikely to lose its image as an archetypal post-industrial city--banks, hotels and other service industries still employ far more people than do foundries and factories.

But both Feinstein, who is prevented by the City Charter from a third four-year term, and Agnos have said the city must diversify to remain economically strong. The city must, they suggested, nurture its biggest industries--tourism and finance--while at the same time try to revive those blue-collar crafts and trades so eagerly sloughed off over the last three decades.

"That's really the way to go," Feinstein said. "We're a big white-collar city; the need is to develop blue-collar jobs in addition to that."

Range Contemplated

The goal is not to reinvent Detroit, but to focus on smaller companies that could include anything from film making to fishing, upscale garment manufacture to applied biotechnology.

A rediscovery of the virtues of the blue collar--or, as Feinstein prefers, the "new collar"--is but one of the different directions San Francisco may be taking as it prepares to install its first new mayor in nearly a decade.

As more than one civic leader has noted, San Francisco, hub of the nation's fourth largest metropolitan region, faces some critical issues. Will high-rise restrictions make the city more livable or less affluent? Will banning multifamily dwellings preserve quaint old houses or merely push high housing prices even higher? Will the development of old, disused railroad yards--the biggest potential home of the new manufacturing companies being touted--give the city more jobs and needed housing or congestion and blight?

At the same time, the city faces a particularly crushing problem with AIDS, which kills on average three San Franciscans per day, and with a projected budget deficit next year of at least $77 million. Adding to this are a sizable number of people without homes and office buildings without tenants.

Cities Forced to Choose

"Every so often, cities get to the point where they have to choose between development and deterioration," said Paul Wright of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. "San Francisco is at that point now."

Not all is gloomy. San Francisco boasts a jobless rate of only 4.7%; the highest household income, $32,218, of major U.S. cities; a vital, old downtown shopping district and an ever-growing tourist and convention industry, as well as what Dun and Bradstreet Corp. says is the country's highest rate per capita of business starts and new-business successes.

"With the start-up rate of business; the way things are going here, it (the city) is not in decline," Feinstein said.

But many people believe the city has reached a critical turning point--and that Agnos, swept into power with 70% of the vote, will be the person choosing which path to follow.

So far, Agnos has given little hint of his intentions.

"Do we want tourism, high tech, low tech or biotech?" he asked during the campaign. "We can't be what Los Angeles is: all things to all people. We must become as Boston is to New York . . . (and) pursue specialized competition."

As with Boston, San Francisco's nearest megalopolis is considerably larger. Metropolitan Los Angeles encompasses about 12 million people; metropolitan San Francisco, only about half that many. The city of Los Angeles alone is home to about 3 million people; the city and county of San Francisco, about 750,000.

Unclear on Relationship

However, Massachusetts-born Agnos has been unclear about how San Francisco should complement Los Angeles. Before the election, he merely said that "San Francisco needs a business plan around which consensus is built." After the election, he went on vacation in Hawaii, where aides said he could not be reached.

Some clues can be gleaned from his platform. Among other things, he called for reviving the waterfront and fishing industry, which he said should be "a diverse employment base . . . particularly in meeting the increasing demand for blue-collar jobs."

At the same time, the future mayor proposed a city program to provide homes for people other than "wealthy, upper-class professionals." The high cost of housing--an upscale three-bedroom house sells for $385,000, a Coldwell Banker real-estate survey found--is blamed for persistent suburban flight by middle-class families, leaving only the very wealthy and the very poor in San Francisco.

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