Cutting Through the Red Tape

Insights into the City Hall Fellows Program

March 08, 2015

By Jessica Huey.

I can still remember the phone call.

It was late March 2008 and I was in my last year at Brown University. Startled by the vibration of my phone, I looked down and saw an unrecognized number. At about this time before graduation, any college senior knows that an unrecognized number is usually one of three things: 1) a job; 2) no job; or 3) irrelevant.

As I ran to the hallway to take the call, I got the news. I had just been selected for the first class of City Hall Fellows. I’d be moving back to California and starting my career in San Francisco city government. I was beyond ecstatic. However, after the excitement settled, the questions started coming. What exactly would I be doing? Was a fellowship the best way for me to start my career? Did city government really have that much to offer?

I’ll spare you the suspense; my time as a City Hall Fellow was the beginning of a five-year relationship with San Francisco city government and a long-lasting passion for the important role cities play in all aspects of our lives. City Hall Fellows gave me the platform and the tools to not only begin a career in city government but to understand the complexity of cities – something useful in any career. So, if you’re interested in City Hall Fellows, here’s what you should know:

  • City governments are where the action is.

Think city governments are boring? Retrace the steps of your day so far. From the public works crew that cleaned the streets you used on the way to school/work to the public utilities that maintained the infrastructure to keep the lights on to the biofuel coordinator who made sure your favorite restaurant isn’t clogging water pipes with grease, city governments are directly involved in almost every aspect of our daily lives.

  • City government services are more complex than you think.

City services are far from one-dimensional. If you think public libraries and their paper books are a thing of the past in this digital age, think again. Cody Zeger, CHF’15 or Christopher Norman, CHF’14 will tell you that libraries are far from being just about books. Rather, they play a vital role as a community resource for all types of individuals – from students or job seekers who need the space and computers to study or apply for jobs to those without a home who for a few hours each day have a welcome place off the streets. Similarly, it’s an educational community space for families, book clubs, and cultural organizations who utilize the public space for a wide variety of events like Youth Speaks.

  • City Hall Fellows is more than just a placement.

So, what about City Hall Fellows? More than helping you get a foot in the city government door, City Hall Fellows provides you with an accelerated civic learning environment on steroids. With the weekly Civic Leadership Development Program with different topics/presenters throughout the year, full-time work on a specific project with a city department, exposure to the role cities play in state and federal government through trips to the state and national capitols, and group consulting projects for city officials or agencies, you’ll be getting a comprehensive look at the roles cities play in just about everything. Additionally, the cohort structure allows you to learn from your other Fellows who bring a richness and diversity of experiences; I was completely humbled by the individuals who I was able to call my peers.

  • City Hall Fellows is about stepping up.

Perhaps most importantly, City Hall Fellows is about empowering the next generation of civic leaders to take action now. For my placement, I worked with the Workforce Development Division with the Department of Human Resources. I had absolutely no background nor – to be frank – much prior interest in this area. In fact, before I started I had this flash of panic that my experience would end up being glorified, yet predictively bureaucratic, paper pushing. Instead, I was immediately thrown into meetings with top policy officials, union organizers, and engaged citizens working to advance forward-looking policies for the City – and people were asking me to roll up my sleeves and be a part of the conversation.

For my projects, I worked on a citywide Civil Service Reform project aimed at modernizing outdated rules and procedures while at the same time digging deep into workforce statistics to help produce a Workforce and Succession Planning report and conference. Through these projects, I saw how important it was to maintain strong labor relationships – and how closely connected labor relations was to budget and policy planning. After my fellowship, I had the opportunity to join the City’s Labor Negotiations Team as they worked to help solve a historic $500 million budget deficit. I would never have known about this opportunity nor had the skills to perform the role had it not been for City Hall Fellows throwing me into the ring and helping me to develop my skillset.

  • Understanding city governments isn’t just for those interested in careers in the public sector.

Finally, to put it simply – city governments are hot places right now. People are increasingly seeing city governments as platforms for innovation and realizing just how influential they are on the local economy. In December 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies invested $45 million to expand its Innovation Team program aimed at improving the capacity of City Halls to improve citizens’ lives through new approaches using data, open innovation, and strong project and performance management. The value proposition being that if cities can better innovate, then the benefits will extend out to the community and citizens. Similarly, the explosion of the sharing economy and civic startups has refocused the spotlight on cities’ role in regulating or bolstering new economies. Understanding how cities work is becoming of greater importance to more than just individuals in the public sector.

If you decide to apply, best of luck to you! City Hall Fellows is an incredible platform to not only start a career in public service but also to better understand just what it takes to keep our cities running.

“Fortunately, cities and metros—and the networks of leaders who govern them—mayors for sure but also business, civic, community, business, labor and environmental leaders—are responding with pragmatism, energy and ambition to, as we say in America, ‘get stuff done.’” – Bruce Katz, Metropolitan Revolution

Jessica Huey is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Prior to graduate school, she spent five years working in San Francisco city government on labor negotiations and workforce development initiatives.  Jessica was a member of the inaugural class of City Hall Fellows (2008-09) and later Co-Chair of the City Hall Fellows National Advisory Board (2012-13).

Welcome to Wastewater…

February 23, 2015

By Jennifer Lee, 2015 City Hall Fellow.

Everything that I have ever done in my life has led me to this point. I often find myself thinking about my previous experiences, what I have learned from them, and how they have shaped who I am today. I came into the City Hall Fellows fellowship with two years of working experience, which includes being an Outdoor Education Instructor, Clean Transportation Intern for the San Francisco Department of the Environment, and an intern for Assemblymember Kevin Mullin. I was drawn to this fellowship because of the opportunity to create change in San Francisco. Not many people around my age are able to do that so early in their career, which is why this fellowship means a lot to me.

As an environmentally conscious individual, my goal in life is to create sustainable behavior change among the public. One of the ways I hope to achieve this is by working for local government and in a department that has programs to incentivize people to change their behaviors. I am placed in the SF Public Utilities Commission under the Wastewater Enterprise. In my division, I work on Resource Recovery and Pollution Prevention. At first, it seemed to me that the Wastewater Enterprise was already doing a great job at treating stormwater and wastewater. So I wasn’t quite sure how I could contribute to these already in-tact programs. However, I quickly learned from my first week at my placement that there was more to be done. It turns out that most of San Francisco has a combined sewer system, which means that the city treats both its stormwater and wastewater. However, there are parts of the city where stormwater is not treated and leads to the San Francisco Bay or Pacific Ocean. This is where my position comes in. As a new City Hall Fellow for this division, I will have the opportunity to work on welcome kits, community workshops, and art murals to educate the public about San Francisco’s Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewer Systems (MS4s). These three projects are ways where the city will be trying to engage with the public to educate them about MS4s. Although there may be fewer people today than in the past who throw litter in our drains, this is an example of a behavior we want to help change.

It is difficult to change someone’s habit. But I think that it can be possible if we make the process interactive and fun. The welcome kits are great tangible items for new residents in the Mission Bay neighborhood to learn about their sewer systems. It is not every day where people receive welcome kits for moving into a new community, but if it does happen, it’s memorable. Additionally, the community workshops will be another opportunity to engage the public in a forum for discussion and questions. Lastly, the art murals will be a wonderful visual for anyone passing by a storm drain to see a beautiful graphic that conveys the message of the MS4s. All of these programs and more are things that the PUC is doing to foster behavior change.

Creating change starts somewhere. For me, I would not have expected it to come from sewer systems. But now that I have gained a better understanding of the wastewater enterprise, I think that there are plenty of more habits that could be changed.

A Comprehensive Approach to Local Government in San Francisco

February 09, 2015

By Jared Leung -

The first five months in my placement in the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector provided me with great insight and knowledge into the intricacies of local government. It’s been an incredibly enriching experience thus far, as I’ve able to learn more about how a major business tax reform is being implemented and administered in the City. It’s not very often that one gets to be a part of such a major shift in policy in a large city like San Francisco. As such, I’m very excited to be a part of this process and am looking forward to what lies ahead.

One aspect that I’ve enjoyed observing is the collaborative efforts of different departments and agencies. With the implementation of the Gross Receipts tax, it’s not just one department working on the policy change; it’s a wide variety of departments working together to discuss the policy from their own areas of expertise. This has been very enriching and has encouraged me to think analytically about the tax from different perspectives, whether it’s through an economic, political, legal, business, or implementation lens. This process inevitably lends itself to a more thorough outcome, as the policy is being considered from multiple perspectives.

From my time in local government thus far, one of the biggest takeaways for me has been learning that implementation and operations are perhaps some of the most important aspects of a major policy shift in government. Coming into the fellowship, I perceived government work in general to be very focused on “policy.” In other words, I thought that people in government are constantly working to create and evaluate potential policies that could be adopted in any given city, state, or country. While in academia, we may tend to focus on the creation of the policies and attempt to assess the overall impact of any given policy; I’ve learned that the implementation and administration are just as important as the creation of the policy. Focusing on operations is an incredibly detailed process that ensures that once the policy is fully implemented, everything runs smoothly. It’s easy to overlook this process, but my time as a Fellow has emphasized just how essential this component is to the function of local government.

One aspect that I’ve taken an interest in is San Francisco’s approach to using data as a key driver in making decisions. Whether it’s agency or departmental data being readily available to the public to make the City’s work more transparent or using data analytics to help improve the functions of any given office in City Hall, it’s fascinating to see this development take place across different departments and agencies. While one might perceive the use of data to be more common in the private sector, I think San Francisco is being incredibly innovative in its approach to making data more accessible to the public and also many offices have increased their efforts to utilize data to make more informed decisions that can improve the lives of San Franciscans. While data isn’t the end-all to making better decisions, it can certainly be a catalyst in improving government functions.

Overall, my placement in the Office of the Treasurer-Tax Collector has been very exciting. In addition to being part of a major policy shift in the City, it’s also been great way to understand how government works: whether it’s the creation of a policy and understanding its impact on the City, collaborating with different departments and agencies, or working on administering the policy change successfully, it’s been a very comprehensive experience thus far.

 

SPUR-of-the-Moment City Escapes

January 20, 2015

By Isaiah G. Reed

While walking through the urban landscape of the city, it is a breath of fresh air to stumble upon a green space and escape from the persistent automotive fumes, sewer smells and the musty congestion of human bodies moving in packs. Thinking about these escapes, I drift back to thoughts of picnicking in Regent’s and Hyde Park in London, playing soccer on the National Mall in D.C. and sunbathing in Delores with some delicious Bi-Rite in hand; in fact, some of my favorite days spent in nature were not out in the wilderness, but rather right in the heart of major metropolitan areas.

Green spaces in urban environments provide an immense value for the populations they service. These spaces are positive for health considerations (both body and mind), they provide communal areas for arts, recreation and general social activity, and ultimately they offer beautiful landscapes to allow an escape from the traditional concrete structures that tend to dominate the urban environment.  Among these green spaces in San Francisco, exist the POPOS (privately owned public open spaces). (1)

San Francisco has implemented guidelines (2) for growth in the downtown area to include “the creation of more publicly accessible open space.” (3) These open spaces include “plazas, terraces, atriums, small parks,” and are all unique in scope, which provides little oases for workers and tourist to relax away from the streets. (4)

These areas are “provided and maintained by private developers” and are all well identified by logo brand displays at “every pedestrian entrance,” which will direct those looking to utilize the resource to the designated “interior or rooftop space.” (5)

SPUR, a nonprofit city planning organization, has released a guide documenting fifty six of these locations in San Francisco’s downtown area — available here: http://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/migrated/anchors/popos-guide.pdf. The guide provides the location of the POPOS, the year it was established, their own rating, a brief description of what the space offers and the occasional picture to showcase the beauty of the atmosphere. Ultimately, their brochure acts as a sort of “Hollywood Guide to the Stars” for some of the more exclusive city escapes in the downtown area. (6)

While San Francisco has its own amazing parks — Golden Gate, Presidio, Alamo Square, Lake Merced, Washington Square, etc. — small spaces like the POPOS represent a unique way to engage the urban landscape for the benefit of the city’s population. When given the time, exploring these spaces can be very rewarding; and even if it is just for a moment, soaking in the serenity of an urban oasis can be just the right impetus to spur you on for the rest of the day.

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  1. See Secrets of San Francisco: Where to find our city’s POPOS—privately owned public open spaces, SPUR, (1/1/2009), http://www.spur.org/publications/spur-report/2009-01-01/secrets-san-francisco.
  2. See the 1985 Downtown Plan.
  3. Secrets of San Francisco: A guide to San Francisco’s privately-owned public open spaces, SPUR, http://www.spur.org/sites/default/files/migrated/anchors/popos-guide.pdf.
  4. Planning Department, Privately-Owned Public Open Space and Public Art (City & County of San Francisco, 10/6/2013), http://www.sf-planning.org/index.aspx?page=3339.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Note: An enhanced version of the guide is also available as an application on the iPhone and Droid platforms – Downtown San Francisco’s Secret Spaces and Oases.

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