Why won’t San Francisco save itself?
America's most progressive city has overlooked its own degradation
April is the cruellest month — or at least it is in San Francisco. The city is already well known for its chronic problems with homelessness, drug abuse and crime, but the negative headlines are now piling up.
In the last two weeks alone, a tech entrepreneur was left to die in the street after being stabbed; the city’s former fire commissioner was battered with a crowbar; a homeless woman gave birth on a sidewalk; a council meeting to discuss policing was cancelled due to vandalism; and, under siege from shoplifters, the city centre branch of Whole Foods has closed its doors.
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That last one might seem the most trivial, but it is also the most iconic. Whole Foods is the ultimate rich liberal brand — an upmarket grocer overflowing with fresh produce. If you can’t get organic quinoa in San Francisco, then what’s the point?
Nor is this the only retailer to retreat in the face of unchecked criminality. For instance, Walgreens — a pharmacy chain — has had to shut branches across the city. Elon Musk, who is among other things a local business leader, tweeted: “Downtown SF looks like a zombie apocalypse. People who’ve not been there have no idea.”
But what about the people who live there? They do know what’s going on, so why aren’t they angrier? Why haven’t the architects of this disaster — San Francisco’s progressive politicians — been voted out of office? A few of them, like Chesa Boudin, the ultra-liberal former DA, have been given the boot; but the city’s Democratic establishment is still firmly in control. In the 1990s, New York — another deep-blue city — voted in a Republican mayor to restore order, but there seems little chance of anything like that happening in San Francisco.
Instead, we see victim-blaming, with retailers facing criticism just for trying protect their businesses. According to CNN, business leaders are reluctant to see their security problems become politicised.
But how could this not be political? Upholding the law is the first duty of government to the governed — and when politicians fail in this regard, they deserve to lose power. The trouble is that voting them out of office would require the city’s residents to admit that they were wrong, too: that they didn’t just choose the wrong leaders, but also the wrong ideals.
San Francisco brings to mind Omelas, a fictional city in the famous short story by Ursula Le Guin. Omelas appears to be a utopia: a place of prosperity, liberty and culture. However, its success hinges on a horrible secret: the misery of a single child, forced to live alone in wretched conditions. Why this is so is never explained — and it doesn’t need to be, because the child is an allegory — but it serves as a symbol for all the things we’re willing to ignore to maintain our way of life.
Politically, Le Guin is very much a progressive writer — it’s therefore an irony to see the Omelasian mentality so obviously at work in America’s most progressive city. San Francisco clings to its illusions while overlooking its own degradation.
But as in Omelas, not everyone can live with the truth. Hence the closure of businesses and the steady stream of residents leaving San Francisco, Los Angeles and the rest of California. Unwilling or unable to bring about change, they just walk away.
Civility is a very thin, and very artificial, veneer. Squalor is the default setting for the noble savage.
Well said. Habit and custom keep us clean. If not them, then ruthless authority. Squalor thrives between the erosion of the first and the rise of the second, as we fall from civility to decadence and enter a new Dark Age.
And an appreciation for habit, custom, and dare I say it law and order keep civilization civilized. The Left Coast cities are an experiment in What Happens When You Let the Inmates Run the Asylum. Caveat emptor.
There is nothing noble about what is happening…
But what about the people who live there? They do know what’s going on, so why aren’t they angrier?
Because anyone who complains is called a racist.
All too true in so many American cities. The pols “perform” racial grievance to a hungry audience.
my brother lives in an outer suburb, rolls his eyes and says ‘if ya dont go into the city it aint a problem’ – it is the usual media beat up that affects only a few etc etc. Downtown SF is only a very small part of wider SF.
If your brother thinks that this will remain confined to the downtown, he’s in for a rude awakening. Rot spreads
Except some of the problems do migrate. Also, why should so much of a great city be off-limits?
I live in New York but love San Francisco. It’s criminal how progressive ideological claptrap has ruined the city.
Prediction: California cities, and possibly the entire state, will soon require departing corporations to complete some kind of “community impact assessment” and possibly pay an “exit fee” to offset supposed damage to the local community caused by their departure.
Were that to come about, the “impact assessment” might be simplified to a single line:
No one will ever set up business here, ever again.
Business execs and other SF leaders are either completely captured by the wokery, or have capitulated, or have departed. Until the people there come to their senses, local leadership will continue to follow the mob to dystopia.
On the up-side, if all these people are leaving San Francisco then there will be lots of housing for the homeless.
On the downside, aren’t they just carrying their egalitarian delusions with them – rather like those refugees who drag their most precious posessions along in a handcart? Texans are reportedly worried that refugees from the failed state of California, are bringing in their narrow orthodox belief system.
I was in Idaho (a state bordering crazy-liberal Washington), and saw a truck with the window sticker, “We’re full. Leave us F-ing alone.” Had to agree.
Red states might need to institute a “path to citizenship” for emigrants from blue states that would involve relearning – or learning for the first time – certain principles of free societies: free speech, personal responsibility, parental rights, limited government, etc. After a probationary period they could earn full rights like voting.
That’s what I’d have thought, too, but in today’s article Tech bros are destroying weird Austin it says: –
Meanwhile, house prices are so high in San Francisco that even software engineers at mega companies struggle to afford accommodation
suggesting demand still outstrips supply. There’s probably an obvious explanation; anyone?
Sure, I’ll take a crack at it. It’s all along the fringes.
It seems to me that so much of media is focused on the crazy stuff. Most of us simply live very boring lives that do not make for good copy.
And that “most of us” aren’t giving up our houses in SF.
Similarly with business. Walgreens has 75 stores in SF. 22 operating as CVS—although I believe CVS owns Walgreens. Regardless. Two close. That is less than 3%. Whole Foods had 10 stores. And 1 closes and that makes 10%. And 99% of news stories focus on the closings While a very large majority of the stores chug along. But who, outside of investors, wants to read about: “Company soldiers on, making solid profit, and steadily employing people.”
When thinking about this, perhaps we do well to remember George Harrison’s take on Haight-Ashbury during the summer of love. He thought it “would be something like King’s Road (in London), only more. Somehow I expected them to all own their own little shops. I expected them all to be nice and clean and friendly and happy.” Instead, he said, he found the hippies “hideous, spotty little teenagers.” He further noted, “I went there expecting it to be a brilliant place, with groovy gypsy people making works of art and paintings and carvings in little workshops. But it was full of horrible spotty drop-out kids on drugs, and it turned me right off the whole scene.”
SF was never a Mecca. Rather, parts of it are no different than a dirty port city. See East Hastings in Vancouver for Canada’s version. But the majority of the city? A half decent city with nine Whole Foods. But that’s not much of a story …
The majority of the city has a terrible homeless and crack and meth problem. I found it extremely shocking when I visited, there was a level of deprivation and hopelessness I hadn’t seen even in some of the poorest countries in the world. If you can live in that environment and consider it a half decent city – and I mean the general you, not a personal insult – I’m afraid you have lost some crucial element of humanity.
Nice, accurate summary. Most of the apocalyptic stories are anecdotal and make better newspaper copy than reality. If you stay out of the Tenderloin, it’s no worse than any other American city. Maybe this is a problem—the increasing ghettoization of the neighborhoods—but it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
The SF rot is evident to my US and visiting friends who have visited there over the years. This, the reports I read and coverage I see on TV definitely put me off going to SF, which was one of my desired destinations. Seattle the same… my friend who lives there had her house ransacked and she could not get the police to come. Defund the police remember. These policies have real results and we are watching the decay of California and the Pacific North West. Don’t minimise the problem – be alarmed at the negatives because that is the trend.
I’m sure that, in due course, you will not be left out as the garners seek fresh fields to plunder.
Thank you for everyone’s comments. It is good to know I warrant some of your time.
I think it important to consider that most needle drug addicts don’t really get around much at all.
I think it relevant to see it in terms of opium dens. Most of the people in there don’t move much when they are wasted because … they are wasted. The vision of the jacked up junkie makes good video/streaming/movie viewing but is mostly a myth. Just like razors in apples and meth in candy.
As an aside. Did you know not a single razor blade apple was ever reported or shown to the police? Or a media outlet? But still the narrative took hold as each Halloween we were told to keep or eyes out for them. And yes there were pictures of razor bladed apples behind the newscasters. So in sense, I suppose, they did exist. But only in the props department. And now in computer files.
Back to my main point. That is not to say I think we should let junkies—or alkies—rot in their own vomit on the street or in their homes. Far from it. I do not wish that fate on anyone. Ever.
How the problem might be solved is certainly beyond me at the moment. And for what it is worth—which is likely not all that much—I’ll probably put some of the rest of my life into thinking about how to solve it; because, for whatever reason, it matters to me. And maybe I’ll have a coherent thought and will gladly share it here.
I don’t believe that there is a solution. Hogarth’s gin alley. Huck Finn’s father. Skid rows in every city. And probably in every era. Some of we people are condemned by mental issues, addiction, and sometimes by simple preference to live detached from the norms. The explosion in numbers I believe is largely in consequence of mistaken subsidies for the conduct. In a recent interview, a lady explained how it was a great lifestyle. Tents, food, and other necessities brought right to your tent flap, at no cost or effort on your part. Compassion yes. Assistance in becoming a contributing member of society, yes. Subsidies, no.
very important to have on the ground reality info thanks.
In Britain, poor people used to clean the front door step and the pavement outside their home. There front parlour was kept immaculate. Cleanliness was next to Godliness. Where Non Conformism was strong, along with heavy industry, rugby, hymn singing, Chapel going and Sunday School, people may have been poor but they were hard working and honest. South Wales would be a good example of this tradition. I may be poor but I am honest was common saying. Keir Hardie and the founders of the Labour Party NCs often Methodist lay preachers who supported self help an self respect, many were teetotellers and gambling was frowned upon.
There are people, mostly from Asia, who find that San Francisco, indeed the entire San Francisco peninsula, is a place that offers a social environment that is more accommodating than other places in the US.
Only when the “establishment” attacked something that the Asians valued, education, that they rose up and threw out the woke progressive clowns that were more concerned with renaming schools (after all Lincoln was a racist so Lincoln High School must be renamed) than getting children back in school.
If housing was their only problem. I live in a city with low prices and a surplus of housing , but there are still rough sleepers.
The mentally deranged, which make up a very large percentage of the homeless, rarely are employed and wouldn’t qualify for a mortgage.
Nor are they tolerated for long in homeless shelters, share houses and low-cost housing.
Haha, guess that was meant as a joke. Unless the City purchases the houses of leavers, those houses probably will be bought by the permanent optimists. Most homeless have serious mental problems and drug addictions. Downtown San Fran looks like some futuristic hell house.
So far homeless people haven‘t moved on to Silicon Valley, where the house prices are still rocket high. But I guess, even this will change over time, as many more of smaller tech companies move. Since Covid, the company my son works for, decided on permanent home office for its entire work force. No more expensive head quarter to rent, no more expensive housing for the work force as most people moved away, greatly improving their family‘s finances and life style. Profit is up and so far it seems to have been a brilliant decision.
The homeless have moved down the Peninsula. One trip to Palo Alto is all you need to see it. Downtown Mountain View and Redwood City has a few also.
Except that the hardcore homeless, those who choose to remain homeless despite government and NGO groups proffering housing, will stay in their tents, or on the street. Part of it is a refusal on the part of the illuminati to admit that a huge number of those souls are mentally ill, drug addicted, or both. They frankly need institutional care and inpatient rehab, not the “killing with kindness” that passes for social policy these days in liberal West Coast cities.
Babylon by the sea. This is the terminus of woke ideology. Welcome to hell.
If San Fancisco goes down the tubes then the problem resolves itself. The people who would rather be ‘right on’ than sensible will have moved elsewhere and those remaining can vote in whoever they want.
But… the process could take decades, and people have been led to expect ‘instantaneous’ fixes, completely unrealistic and outside the normal short political timescales, so I expect there will much complaining and casting of blame.
This whole situation reminds me of a story I was told 44 years ago when I was in the Marines. The question by the presenter was how do you boil a frog? His answer was one degree at a time. That’s what’s happening in San Francisco
I have not read that Ursula Le Guin story but the concept sounds half-baked – and perfectly attuned to woke-sensibilities. More evidence that the journey from liberal-progressive boomer to the moral fanaticism of woke has taken only a couple of generations. Are we supposed to see third-world poverty or skid-row addictions in that ‘hapless child’ allegory? Perhaps it’s just intended to provoke a bit of moral self-doubt about first-world achievements.
Rather than yet more journalistic pondering on the San Francisco problem I would like to see some research into why the residents are not angrier with their governing class. One serious investigative report is worth a hundred opinion pieces.
From what i hear most of the better off are not effected by downtown SF – is that the reason ??
Ursula Le Guin does not do half-baked. I mean, why comment on something you haven’t read?
San Francisco is now a dead host.
In the 70s it seemed like NYC was certain to die and become a ghost town. Then we watched the slow death of Detroit and Baltimore and the other Black-Democrat cities. Yet all these places are still going. What to make of this? Were the stories of doom simple exaggerations or are cities harder to kill than some thought? Today one reads of Seattle and Portland and SF at death’s door, and yet, again, their deaths seem to have been exaggerated. The way folks describe SF, you’d think that everyone would have left by now, but no.
Detroit and Baltimore have suffered population decline for decades. Yes, they “keep going” because of certain industries, hospitals, universities and tourism; but so does the blight “keep going”. Drive around the outskirts of Detroit or Baltimore, or even just beyond downtown Baltimore, and you will encounter vast areas where the only remaining people either can’t leave, don’t know where else to go or are involved in drugs and prostitution.
Ray, the slide can take a while. I grew up in SF, and even in the 70s and 80s, the seeds of its current decline were evident and germinating. I left in the early 90s to finish my professional training, ironically enough in Seattle, another West Coast uber-liberal city now working hard to catch up to SF in the social decay sweepstakes.
A lot has to do with virtue-signaling and unwillingness to admit that the ruling worldview isn’t working, plus the all-too-common leftist notion that setting up more government or quasi-government agencies and throwing more money at the problem will solve it. IMHO, a huge amount of it is the permissiveness that has been part of SF’s core nature for, well, forever. I see that in Seattle too, inalong with the huge income inequality between the residents of Pacific Heights and the Tenderloin, or Madison Park/Mercer Island and the Seattle tent cities. Tolerance is one thing, but “anything goes” will eventually get you to the present pass.
I recently visited Salt Lake City on a family vacation. Are there homeless there? Yes. Is it liberal in relation to the rest of Utah? Yes. But it has far less crime, graffiti, refuse, and in-your-face squalor than SF, Seattle, or Portland. Why? And, from what I read, the Utah economy has much less income inequality and more reception for entrepeneurs than CA, OR, or WA. Why? It’s a red state, it should be a social and economic backwater, at least according to the liberal folks I grew up with in SF.
An MD colleague of mine once asked me why I was so conservative, given that I grew up in SF. I replied, “Because I grew up there.”
Michael Shellenberger has written an excellent book (San Fransicko) about the causes of the appalling situation in SF and other progressives run cities, and likely solutions
Well worth a read/listen to this:
The tenderloin has taken over? The future of Haight-Ashbury is hateful ass-bearing?
The good people of the Mission should send Missionaries to the rest of the city.
If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to take some gospels in your hands. In the streets of San Francisco, there needs to be a revival there, lest the saddening of gomorrah’s tomorrow turn a lotta life into saltpillar.
I lived in progressive Bay Area and Portland, where common sense ruled and issues like Race and homelessness was not a problem. Black/White lived in harmony and did not allow normal reality become skewered by crazies of the Political Elitists. Elitists and Race Baiters just overkilled and now do not know how to solve the Bizarro Cities they created. Sick elitist created their Zombies and have no idea but blame the Normal for their Frankenstein.
Good article here – great graphics too:
Look deeper, dude. Very low violent crime rate. Average property crime rate. Sure a lot of ugly homelessness. But whose fault is that? A city whose resources are obviously inadequate to solve a national problem? Or the inevitable outcome a social bargain where the 1% rob the rest of us blind. Did the smug tech bros now running most noisily for the sunnier climes of Texas help out? Why no they didn’t. They made things worse. Like private equity, they bought the place, strip mined it, then left in a huff with their ill-corn lucre. I’ve lived in core San Francisco for 40 years. Walk and bike everywhere. I have yet to be the victim of a crime.
How ironic Stephen, that you have been downvoted by Brits who know jack-s**t about SF. How dare you speak from experience lol.
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