london's calling

In Israel, S.F. Mayor London Breed looks to take lessons back to the Bay Area

Breed’s visit, which focused on economic development, included stops in Haifa, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem


San Francisco Mayor London Breed and Israeli President Isaac Herzog

San Francisco Mayor London Breed was at dinner in Tel Aviv on Thursday night as Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets were fired toward central Israel, setting off sirens around the city.

“I grew up where shooting was common. So for me, that type of thing… it’s not as if I was concerned,” Breed, who grew up in public housing in San Francisco, told Jewish Insider the next afternoon. “Part of it is the attitude [that], ‘We’re not going to live in fear.’ And I feel the same way. I grew up in a community where violence was naturally a part of the community, unfortunately. And in some instances, I did live in fear, because I was worried that somebody I cared about was going to get shot and killed.”

Having such an experience in Israel, Breed explained, “reminds me of that, knowing that there are people here who are going through the same thing, and so being here during the time that it happened, I decided I wasn’t going to allow it to ruin the experience. And I was just going to follow the lead of how the locals reacted to it and hope and pray for better days.”

Breed, a Democrat, is in Israel on a weeklong trip with the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area and the San Francisco-Haifa Sister City Committee that includes stops in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa, the latter which has been a sister city of San Francisco since the 1970s. While in Haifa, Breed signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mayor Einat Kalisch-Rotem, renewing the agreement between the two cities. In Jerusalem, she met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog.

Ahead of Breed’s trip, the San Francisco Chronicle suggested that the mayor “may face criticism” for traveling out of the city “given the multiple local crises that came to a head this week.” In recent months, San Francisco has grappled with economic challenges tied to its struggling downtown, which has relied heavily on foot traffic from office workers who no longer commute into the area as regularly due to the remote working options resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this month, retail giant Nordstrom announced it was closing two of its San Francisco locations, including its five-story outpost in the upscale Westfield San Francisco Centre.

But Breed, who last visited the country in 2012 when she was the executive director of the city’s African American Arts and Culture Complex, said her trip has helped to stoke ideas for how to address some of the Bay Area’s economic challenges. After venturing to Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market, which by day is full of storefronts and vendors before the area’s bars and restaurants open in the evening, she suggested that San Francisco rethink the structure of its financial district, which is quiet in the evenings once those who still commute into the city leave for the day.

“We can’t just think of things anymore as one thing,” Breed said. “We have to think about, how do we make something more than just what it is? And when we went out [at night in Tel Aviv], we went to the same neighborhood we went to the market, where…a lot of areas became available for the nightlife.”

In the Bay Area, Breed said, “it can’t just be [that the] financial district closes down at 5, 6 o’clock… How do we make it possible to do more with the space that we have so that it’s not just a 9-to-5 downtown?”

In Haifa, the delegation visited the Technion and the University of Haifa, where conversations centered around the shared challenge of economic revitalization.

“One of the things that I think is going to be important for our city,” Breed explained, “is not just the economy as it relates to finance and information technology, but all of these layers of technology — biotech, greentech, health tech, all these different layers — looking at the downtown area, as the place to be to develop all these new things, artificial intelligence, you know, San Francisco is really the hub. It’s like where artificial intelligence is exploding unlike any other place… in San Francisco, it is rapidly becoming very dominant and impacting the entire world.” 

Breed also visited Rambam Medical Center, which has a fortified 2,000-bed underground complex where its medical staff can attend to patients in the event of an emergency such as rocket attacks. The visit comes as the University of California, San Francisco is moving forward on building a new hospital at its Parnassus Heights campus, a multibillion-dollar effort that was approved last year. 

“We should tear down the old General Hospital, build it as big as we can, go underground, because in that area — it’s solid rock by the way — go underground and create exactly what they did at Rambam,” Breed suggested.

The group also met with scientists at Viz.ai, a San Francisco-based startup that aims to combine artificial intelligence and health care to procure earlier diagnoses and treatment. The company’s co-founders, Dr. David Golan and Dr. Chris Mansi, met at Stanford Medical School, where Golan, who is Israeli, was completing a postdoctoral fellowship.

Breed pointed out that her predecessor, Ed Lee, died in office after suffering a heart attack in 2017. Breed was appointed to replace him before winning a special election to serve the remainder of his term the following year.

“Something like what [Viz.ai is] trying to create could detect something a lot earlier…eventually the goal is going to be based on talking to Siri or monitoring you or you know, saying ‘Hey, you need to check this because something doesn’t seem right,’ even if it doesn’t give you the diagnosis,” she explained. “But once the diagnosis is done, then the ability to put together a team quickly to have a surgery that could be a difference in hours and a difference between life and death is going to be revolutionary.”

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