Episode #3: Fixing City Government with Kanishka Cheng

Ben Kaplan
Ben Kaplan
min running time
August 1, 2023

In this week's episode of the WE ARE SAN FRANCISCO podcast, we sit down with Kanishka Cheng, founder and executive director of the prominent non-profit, Together SF. Fueled by the financial support of venture capitalist Michael Moritz, Together SF works diligently to confront some of the city's most critical issues: the ongoing drug crisis, rising homelessness, and escalating crime rates.

What makes Kanishka unique is her extensive experience across various branches of city government?. Having served in the mayor's office, as an aide to board of supervisor members, and in various government agencies, including SF Planning and the Office of Workforce Development. Kanishka has harnessed this deep-rooted understanding of the city's operations to pioneer political and charitable community-based non-profit organizations, addressing the heart of our city's challenges.

Today, we delve into two significant questions. First, what strategies can we employ to combat the deadly spread of fentanyl in our city? Second, how can we optimize the efficiency and effectiveness of San Francisco city government to better serve its residents? There are no easy answers, but we remain hopeful for the future of San Francisco. Join us as we explore these critical issues and more in our conversation with Kanishka.

Episode Insights:

  • One of the fundamental problems in San Francisco is that the power within city government is held by so many different people that no one is actually accountable and in charge.
  • We’ve got a big leadership void:  Instead of coming together and finding common ground to get things done, every elected and appointed official can point a finger and blame our problems on someone else.
  • In San Francisco, we actually agree on 95% of what needs to be done but the remaining 5% gets in the way.
  • If we could set aside some of those differences and get aligned with a unified, 360-degree plan, we could make tremendous progress — and much faster than most people think.We have a $14B budget and tens of thousands of employees in the city…. that’s more than enough resources.  But as a result, the bureaucracy continues to grow and grow and grow without anyone critically assessing what's actually working and what's not.
  • We need elected and appointed officials — from the mayor of board of supervisors on down — with a broader range of experiences than just having worked in government.  Currently, we tend to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
  • Imagine if you walked into a city government office or department and it felt like everyone working there had your back and was working hard to help you succeed.   If we changed the culture of our city government, WE could make the city’s government incredibly responsive, efficient, effective, and quick to act.
  • Our elected officials represent US and should respond to what WE want them to do.  But we’ve got to tell them what WE want in one collective and unified voice.

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